Alternative: “ambient abuse.”
1. A form of sophisticated psychological manipulation intended to cause a victim to question her own sanity
2. Withholding factual information from, or providing false information to, a victim, having the gradual effect of making her anxious, confused, and doubtful of her memory and perception
The President has advisors and a staff of dozens to function as his external brain. The rest of us are stuck with this measly glob of gray matter. That, and whatever spreadsheets and task-apps we’ve managed to cobble together.
On the hostile shores of the 9-hour day, another question lands. Another and another. Almost none need a simple response. Almost all demand contortions of reason and planning that border on the gymnastic. The terrain is littered with the debris of the unfinished.
In every job description, the ability to “prioritize” in a “fast-paced environment” is listed as a requirement. The mastery this entails becomes clear when watching the tidal swell of a deadline bear down from the horizon line. These are not abstract squares on the calendar. No, these are public commitments to have a physical, tangible structure in place for someone — perhaps hundreds of someones — to inhabit. The someones will converge, expecting function and clarity. The someones will not hang back an extra day or three just because it’s all so very much. There is no pressing pause on the rising wave. It comes. Its force carries everything. The only choice is to equip and flex.
As for breath? Grab it while you can.
Here is what roils under the requisite readiness:
A whisper. Words, but not quite.
This is too much.
There’s no way.
I don’t have any idea how to make this work.
It starts to pick up volume and swagger.
Seriously? People are taking this s**t too seriously.
This project isn’t what really matters.
Go for a walk. Grab something to eat. You’ll think better after a break.
Save your creative energy for things that are more “you.”
It rewrites history. It directs the narrative.
See how you screwed up that exchange? This is not a skill you’re ever going to master.
Look at the trail of mistakes you’ve left in your wake.
It’s just a matter of time before you drop the ball on something even more important.
You stumble around in a fog most days. Half of them already know what a phony you are.
The rest will learn soon enough.
Then it gets downright cutting.
Go ahead. Try giving it your meager all. It doesn’t matter. You’re never going to get ahead.
Talent can’t be learned. You either have it or you don’t.
Anyway, this project is as trivial as your chosen line of work. There’s no room for growth even if you succeed.
You’re not just a phony. You’re a failure.
Doubt turns to fumbling. Fumbling, to mistakes. Mistakes to insomnia. Insomnia to hiding. Then the voice doesn’t even need the distortion of a whisper. It’s the sound of me, in the most familiar register.
I’ll just keep on plugging away at the small, manageable things.
It’s not like I’ve earned the right to more than holding down a job and feeding my kid and paying my mortgage.
I should be thankful I still wear this title, considering how little I’ve done with it.
This is the best I can do, and it’s good enough.
Some of us forgo the abuser. Why bother with the middleman when we can beat ourselves into submission?
Today as I stand at my desk and face a fusillade of demands, I can do this:
Hear the voice and recognize it as the liar it is.
No matter how fierce the wave bearing down, keep on responding.
Finish this small piece of work here in this moment.
Notice the accumulation of finished tasks coalescing into a composition with some depth and heft.
Allow the career of someday to take its shape from this work right here.
Speak in my whole voice against the gaslighting. Against the temptation of insanity:
I’m not supposed to know how to put this all together.
The answer doesn’t exist yet. That’s what makes it a project and not a kit.
The trick is to puzzle through it like every creative person and every decision-maker on the planet.
Like my kiddo, when he begins with the blank page and a single marker.
Like the President, when he begins with a panoply of needs and a single choice.
One task, one question, one motion, one focus.
Today (and tomorrow, too):
I can tell the crushing, crazy-making voice to go stuff it.
Then my gloppy brain and I can get back to work.