Food Is Hard, Man

Here’s a post you never asked for

Like most all people in western society, sometimes I get onto these “food kicks” where I amp up my already-not-that-shitty diet and try to be more mindful of what I’m eating.

The first challenge is always deciding which “flavor of crazy” sounds best — there are more diets and plans than I care to keep track of (and you should feel the same.)

You start digging into one diet and it contradicts another diet you follow. You like some elements of this diet, or hate some elements of that one (and all of this is outside of the issue of “willpower” — don’t come at me with that. That ain’t what we’re here for today) and every time I think I’ve found something, I have to bump it up against everything else and why can’t someone just organize this for me already?

Here are my “always” rules:

Totally non-negotiable


No, Saaandra, I don’t eat fish. Yes, eggs and cheese are okay. (Do you even know what “vegetarian” means?!)

As a total aside, even though I eat both eggs and dairy and we love to group them together, I don’t see them as the same. I love eggs like a crazy person (sometimes eating a dozen a day) and while I like cheese, I’m fully aware that the fat:protein ratio just ain’t all that.

(And DYK there are other terms for both vegetarians who eat eggs but not dairy, and those eat dairy but not eggs, but let’s quit while we’re ahead, shall we??!)


Seriously, the minute one of these diets starts getting into “Delicious Recipes,” complete with photo albums of glistening glazes and garlic cloves spread about the counter just so, I click out of that shit faster than your Mormon mom tripping onto porn at the public library. I don’t care that it’s only 41 ingredients and only takes half my life. I am not here for it.

Because in case it wasn’t already clear when I mentioned “several things I do not want,” I. Do. Not. Cook.

It’s not that I’m bad at it — any dickhead can read and follow directions on enough “easy peasy” recipes to fill a calendar year.

It’s more a… “better things to do with my time” thing? A “holy shit why do we need 18 ways to heat some cauliflower?!” thing. A “why would I spend all this time fucking with my food and primping it like a poodle when I could just eat it??” thing.

Ain’t nobody got time for this!

I have nothing in common with people who “love cooking.” Every time someone says this to me, I’m already eyes-narrowed and sizing them up, because all I hear is “I have no idea what to do with my day, and I need novel ways to make a basic necessity take as long as humanly possible.” (I’m looking at you, Sandra!)

Even shit like French presses seriously piss me off. I once dated a dude who only had a French press and [the one that goes on the stove] at his place, and my sheer annoyance at having to work a damn farm and mill impatiently about the stove for 22 minutes just to make coffee in the morning was literally near-dealbreaker.

My threshold for “cooking” is heating water for tea or boiling eggs (because I don’t eat them raw — I’m not an animal!) And I have been known to make a decent frittata, but purely as a show of my love for eggs, and only during a strict “courtship” period with a new love interest, after which any mention of “frittata” is received with sworn ignorance of ever having heard of such a thing. (I’m kidding. I make them periodically. And by that I mean once a year.)

Also, I will not “meal prep”

I mean, that should probably go without saying after the above, but it might be worth calling out separately. These people who take selfies with all their carefully-portioned glass containers lined up like little soldiers for the week have a screw loose.

Here are my “often” rules


I went vegan for approximately 18 minutes (read: 2 weeks) back in my mid 20s, and the only thing that convinced me to give a try it was when I realized “raw vegan” was a thing.

Because the biggest downside of being vegan? (Even worse than having to eat socks and losing all your friends?) All the bad, fake food. Some of it is both bad and fake (see: meat substitutes), and some of it is just bad (the sheer amount of fat and sugar in most vegan products; also, fries are vegan…) But then I heard about raw vegan and was like “oh now this is my jam!”

Pro: no scary star-shaped “chikken” cutlets made out of repurposed Barbie bodies (because for as weird as these people are about processed meats, it’s amazing how fast they wrestle to get their mitts on the vegan equivalent.)

Con: I was traveling as a consultant at the time and literally couldn’t eat anything (even roasted nuts are off-limits), trying to subside on mealy airport apples that had been thoroughly palmed by the general public until I finally lost it.

Real food please!

Not the same as “unproccesed,” because to me “real food” is also about cream over skim milk and eating the damn yolks. (No, Sandra, not all 12 a day (ffs), but 1 or 2? Hells yeah.)

Look, I’m not here to lie to anyone: I definitely eat some processed food from time to time. But given my preference, I freaking love fresh food. Like, I could eat a salad twice a day for the rest of my life and be so happy.

Problem? Most salads you find out in the wild are total garbage. I’m convinced that one of the major reasons most people think they hate salads is because most salads are sad sacks of sorrow, either all-styrofoam or half-wilt, the obvious “check the box” afterthought of a dildo chef / manager.

But good fresh foods are the shit, ride or die.

And thank god someone came up with some clever marketing for this!

So, paleo. Great. Seems simple on the surface, but then you dig in and… apparently no legumes? No black beans, peas or peanuts… No dairy (they didn’t have milk back then? How in the actual… just kidding, I get the logic — don’t @ me with it.)

Pro: finally having others rallied behind my personal disdain for corn and potato. (Those two poseurs are by far my least favorite “vegetables.”)

Cons: being the kind of person “doing paleo.” Go sit with the gluten-free fucks and vegans and think about what you’ve done.

Dude, that’s a lot of sugar…

Nobody should be eating that much sugar. Sugar should be called out — even the kind from fruit. (Do you guys realize how much sugar is in a single apple?? If not, look that shit up. I’ll wait.)

Paleo allows for honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave, and coconut. Does anybody mention that these are all sugar? Not to mention fruit! My god, people! You all need bumpers on the bowling lane!

There’s plenty out there to read on sugar detoxes if you’re interested. Lots of mom blogs, but some legit ones too. In short: sugar is bad. It’s not even sort of bad, it’s always bad. There’s no nutritional value and, unlike fat, it can’t even aid the body in any way. It’s addictive, it causes all kinds of health problems, and part of the reason fat was made out to be the bad guy was because sugar had louder lobbyists.

Keto, technically. Great.

Pro: dat low-shuhgs lyf.

Con: keto breath is real. (Source: I dated someone who periodically did keto and it was pure roadkill within two feet of his face each time.) Also, the meat thing. Because, see requirement numero uno: I don’t eat it.

And that’s pretty much where I am for right now

No meat, no cooking, no processed shit, no legumes (?!), low sugar. Keeping booze to a minimum, passing on cookies, and only having a serious, for-real ugly-eat binge on a salad with dried cranberries like once in the last week. (Good on me, right?!)

I’m eating a ton of almonds (ideally raw, but I’ll take roasted), largely because they are widely available — i.e., every Starbucks has some.

And here’s where else I’m at right now…

Everything is sweet

The almonds are sweet. The dried cranberries I inhaled smelled sweet in passing for sure. The idea of beer sounds like drinking straight up syrup. And some greens taste “buttery.”

Coffee, however, is more fucking delicious than ever.


Nobody tells you (yes they do) that you will get insanely thirsty when you eliminate sugar (including or even limited to alcohol) from your diet.

I don’t drink alcohol for the first part of every year, and one of the biggest parts of that experience is how insanely thirsty I become.

Same with any kind of sugar, apparently. I am stupid thirsty. Like “pound an entire bottle of water and immediately feel like I want to down another” thirsty. Every day.

Also, cigarettes smell amazing (?)

I don’t smoke. I mean, I’ve smoked before, but I haven’t smoked for years, and even then it was that “social” bullshit so many of us do for funsies, at two different periods:

  • Once between sophomore and junior year of college, spanning from late spring (when I was also dating this hippie dude who was mediocre at both guitar and poetry but excellent at spending too much money on stupid shit, and went on to be a pro ski bum) to that fall, when I was studying abroad.
  • And another during the summer I got my first bike. (Damn. I should write about that summer I got my first bike…)

I definitely bought a pack or two of my own on occasion during those times, but I also carried them so irregularly that I had to buy a new pack and lighter any time I wanted to smoke one, so by the time I got over the smoking thing like three months later, I had like 27 lighters in my junk drawer. (Boyfriend at the time found them and was like, “can’t we throw some of these away?!” And I was like “not really, son — they all work.” But then we did anyway. Because we live in the western world, as I noted, and we do shit like that.)

Anyway, it’s been years since I’ve smoked — or even wanted to! And yet here I am as recently as today, for no discernible reason, cozying up to smokers outside buildings and striking up friendly conversation, busying myself with being positioned downwind and standing as close as possible without triggering “stranger danger” alarms.

Now, full confession: I like the smell of cigarette smoke, especially on a good summer afternoon. The reason for this is because my first experience with the smell was standing in line for rides at the amusement park, where my brother and I had season passes (and thus were, to my recollection, devout weekly park-goers.) I guess you could smoke in line (which seems crazy, right?) and now I associate the smell with that childhood bliss.

Oh, and what do “cigarettes” have to do with food? I don’t know — you tell me, bud! But the craving strikes a similar feeling as food.

Our relationship with food is fascinating

It’s amazing how infrequently I’m actually hungry when I go for something — “I’m here,” or “well, if everyone else is ordering” or everybody’s favorite go-to, the emotional eating “fuck you, crackers, get in my face!”

And maybe I’m the one with the screw loose, but I just don’t want to make food into this big that we love making it into. I don’t want to “love food.” I don’t want to poodle it up. I want to make it boring AF, because when it is, I can discern between actually wanting it and amusing myself with it.

It’s part of the reason I prefer “bad” coffee over fancy, “better-tasting” shit. I don’t want to ruin my palate for boring coffee. I don’t want to chase. I just want my coffee and I want to move on.

It’s become a game, if I’m being totally honest, breaking down appetite and desire; understanding what’s real — heyo! — and what’s not; understanding what I really want to eat.

There Are Only A Few Types of People

And they fall on only a few binary spectrums

S Khan

Let me just walk you through two high-level binary scales, the second of which is broken out into four sub-groups.


We’ll get to the last two in a second.

THINGS are tangible objects. Things are also systems.

Science, engineering, mechanics, and medicine are all things. Art, perhaps surprisingly, is also a thing.

What’s not a “thing:”

“Logic” is not a thing. “Ideas” are not a thing. “Organization” is not a thing (or system.) “Philosophy” and “theory” are not things. “Action” is not a thing. “Business” is not a thing. This article isn’t even a “thing.” These fall under other categories. We’ll get to that.

PEOPLE are, of course, people.

They are individuals or groups. They are friends, family, clients, customers, colleagues, teams. “The market” is people, and unless you’re heads down on product or establishing / maintaining systems, “business” is people. Creating something within the direct context of someone else consuming it is “people.” (Conversely: creating something simply for the sake of creating it, regardless of whether anybody likes it, is “thing.”) “The human experience” is people.

What’s not “people:”

“Extroversion” is not people — it’s just extroversion.“Sensitivity” is not people. It is “feeling.”

If you’re best at LOGIC

Good on you! But even if this is true, you still secondarily fall under people or systems/things — and it’s probably not the one you think.

If you get off on playing devil’s advocate or debating just for the fuck of debating, I know this is going to fire up your defensive engines and piss you right off, but: logic is, even if only secondarily, “people,” not “things.”

True “things” people don’t care enough about people to even debate shit with them or get angry over logic.

And I say this as one of you. For years I didn’t think I was “people” oriented because a.) I am an introvert, b.) people are not as important to me as what’s in my head, and c.) I would keep them at arm’s length with “logic.” But what do we feel compelled to do with logic? And how do we feel when people don’t “get it?” Wanting to articulate logic is “people.” Wanting to debate with people is “people.” Being affected — or angered — by people’s “lack of logic” is “people.” “Things” people don’t care.

Regardless of your field, if your focus is primarily client or prospect-facing, or “market-driven,” then you are “people,” not things. And I say this as someone who has a degree in finance and started my career in private equity and corporate banking. My focus was always more logic and people than systems.

Note that this also includes people who just like tinkering for the sake of tinkering — even when it’s tangible shit, like mechanics. They touch things, but their real drive is “understanding,” and they are still primarily logic (people.)

Aren’t “systems” logical?

Yes, but “systems” people are still primarily motivated by the systems themselves — getting them into place, maintaining them, using them to achieve specific goals — and the “logic” behind systems is simply a means to an ends. “Logic” people don’t really care about systems — they love “logic” in and of itself.

Systems are exacting, specific, singular, and meant to achieve something. 
Logic is stand-alone.

If you‘re best at FEELING

If you are sensitive, self-expressive, authentic, and unique; someone who speaks their truth or loves adventure etc.—then make your art and have your journey, because you are “things.” (It’s just that your “things” are not science and engineering, but objets d’art or expressions.)

True “people” people don’t really care about art (or poetry or performance or crafts, etc) — and they don’t care that much about being unique — as much as they just want people.

IMPORTANT: WHY “LOGIC” or “FEELING” should still align with people or things

Look, if you’re happy with where you’re at, and have all you want, then that’s all you have to have! Go for it. You don’t need to align with people or things.

But for people who want more:

The reason to embrace either “people” or “things” is because nothing happens in your head!

Statistically speaking, the highest-earning people are those whose primary, driving focus is one of those two. (The lowest earners are those who don’t.)

If you have less than you want, it’s because you spend too much time mulling over your thoughts or emotions and not enough time putting shit out into the real world. So when you’re ready, that’s where it has to happen: people or things. If you’re logical, apply it to people (“the market,” a team, or open debate.) If you love your individuality and experience, apply it to “things” (or art, adventure, or performance.)

Can’t I be JUST “logic” or “feelings?”

No. They’re always paired — logic and people, feelings and things. You’re just stronger in one than the other.

Can’t I be “logic + systems” and “feelings + people?”

Not technically. I know that seems the most logical (lol), but it’s not the way cognitive functions work, for all of the reasons I explained above.

Well. I still think I am!

You’re still technically not. But okay.

Plenty of “feelings” people make more headway with people than physical expressions, and plenty of “logic” people are more comfortable with tangible things. You do you.

If you feel like you’re not on this list

First of all: you are. Everyone is either people, things, logic or feeling (either primarily or secondarily.)

But if you prefer insights, ideas, organization, action, etc. — we’ll get to that.

How this plays out…

In business: you have to love the product — or you have to love the people.

“Things” people will double-down on the product or system. They’re obsessed with it, consumed with knowing its in and outs, digging all the way to the depths of what it is or what it could be (though rarely both), knowing it front and back, in a linear fashion, or developed in a multitude of ways.

“People” people love: taking care of and coaching their teams — or being cared for by their manager. They love their clients or customers. They love their market.

As leaders: you have to develop and invest in people — or you have to develop and invest in product and systems.

Mediocre managers are lukewarm on both. Great leaders are obsessed with one of the two (and too few fall in this category.)

On a team: You have to be competent or you have to be likeable.

(And yes, Janice, because I know you’re just dying to ask — of course you can be both. But most people are more one than the other, and being successful at work means leaning into the right one, and having the right job.)

Job security depends on one of these. I once read that employees are either good, likeable, or deliver on time, and that you have to be at least two of them. (The point was that you could slip on the third and nobody would care.) And sure, that’s true, but it’s also true that you have to be either great at what you do or personable, regardless of whether or not shit’s done on time. (And, it goes without saying, you have to be at least decent at the other one in most workplaces.)

If you want to build a business: you have to be a builder, or you have to be a seller.

Obviously builders are “things” people; sellers are “people” people.

And it’s worth noting:

Builders don’t need permission to build. They don’t care about whether or not anybody wants to buy it, because all they care about is building it.

Sellers don’t need to sell their own product. They don’t care what they sell, so long as it’s good, and they don’t give a fuck if its “their” sweet baby product or not. They’d rather work for someone else, selling a better product, than work alone selling something mediocre that they hobbled together.

Pretty much every business ever starts with two founders — one who knows the product and one who sells it. If you want to be a founder, you’d better figure out which you are. (And if you don’t know which you are, knowing whether you are “people” (or logic) or “things” (or feelings) helps out a lot.)

And with only a few exceptions (one being Sam Walton at Walmart (systems/thing), another being Zuck at facebook (thing)), most all of the great founders we think of were “sales” people, with the “builders” tucked away somewhere in the back — the public-facing “founders” of McDonalds, Starbucks, Apple, and Nike were all built by “sellers” who just knew how to throw down on a good product when they saw one — and communicate the right feedback to the “builders.”

If you wanted to start a business but weren’t sure what to do — or actually thought you could get away with being the “ideas” person (lolol) — you should realize by now that it’s only one of these two. “Ideas vs. execution” is a thing, but only later. Early on, it’s everyone’s job to have ideas. And it’s everyone’s job to actually execute on more than coming up with them — i.e., doing either product or sales.

There are many entrepreneurs who get away with both building and selling — I certainly did when I had my business — but they either cap themselves out as a “lifestyle” business, burn themselves out, or eventually hire for whichever of the two they’re not as good at.

If you’re still just internally screaming, “neither people nor things are my favorite!”

(And presumably neither is “logic” or “emotion” — because, like, dawg, we covered that.)

If you’re thinking, “I love ideas the most!” Or “I just want to experience things!” Or “I get off on insight!” or “whatever — I just want things clearly-defined, organized, planned-out and stable” then I will say: yes, chickadee. I see you. And we’re getting to that right now:


What?! KG, this is literally not at all what I am thinking or just said!…

I know, bud. Hang with me here…

“Abstract” people

Like living in the fray, existing at the outer edges of society and doing what they want to do regardless of what other people are doing.

They don’t just have a high tolerance for ambiguity — they actively seek it. They don’t plan for the future — they live there, in their heads. They don’t just “think outside the box” — they often don’t even care about it.

There are two sub-types of “abstract” people:

  • “Ideas” types: never-ending brainstorming; a constant stream of expansive options, opportunities, adventures, experiences. They want “everything.”
  • “Insight” types: they don’t want “everything;” they just want singular, universal truths. This is me.

“Abstract + People/Logic:”

  • + “Ideas:” like “logic” more than “people;” often master debators, theorists, inventors, “idea person” entrepreneurs. (Also love leaving “logical” rage-comments and/or troll.)
  • + “Insights:” philosophers, writers, humanitarians, and coaches.

“Abstract + Things/Feeling:”

  • + “Ideas:” poets, artists, adventurers, motivated by their own experience.
  • + “Insights:” discrete systems (i.e., engineering) or expansive ones (i.e., conventional corporations.)

“Concrete” people

Want things literal, clear, and black and white. And even if they are more adventurous or less conventional or more well-traveled than their peers, they fundamentally do not want to live in the fray. They like things simple, and succinct. They almost always like history.

There are two sub-types of “concrete” people:

  • “Organization.” Like planning and structure. Might also enjoy “brainstorming,” but only as it fuels “the plan.” They don’t live and breathe brainstorming above their need for specifics.
  • “Action.” Those who just mothafuckin love action, regardless of “a plan”

“Concrete + People/Logic:”

  • + “Organization:” teachers, project managers, etc.
  • + “Action:” they’re, well, active — high energy levels and usually athletic. They often like “logic” over “people,” yet are almost always in professions involving others (sports teams, sales, etc.)

“Concrete + Things/Feeling:”

  • + “Organization:” systems, system admin, accounting, insurance, risk mitigation, security
  • + “Action:” often performers or crafters, channeling their emotions towards creative outlets

The people most comfortable with change: the “expansive abstracts” and the action-oriented “concrete” types — both “things” and “people” oriented.

The people most comfortable with this post: the “abstract” ones

The people most pissed off by this post: the “logical” and “emotional” ones (who, to be clear, are still totally different people, Bob!) even though we already went through it.

Why should I care?

If you’re happy, then you do you, boo boo.

But if you’re not happy, I’d be willing to bet it’s because you’re caught up in your head. You’re hung up on wanting to do “everything” (ideas), or rejecting everything, or being hyper-critical, or caring more about debating shit and “winning at logic,” or doing “what’s right,” and you aren’t getting shit out into the real world. Not “plans” or “organization” or “on paper/in my head” shit, but real shit — either people or products/systems.

If you want to see things happen, you have to make externalized efforts.

And knowing which type of person you are helps to direct those in the most meaningful and impactful ways. Throwing ourselves at “insights” or “logic” in our head will only end in circle-jerking, but conversations or tangibles + action triggers meaningful results.

You’re Not Entitled To Know Other People’s Feelings

Just like we’re not entitled to their every thought or very being

One of many people’s biggest complaints in a relationship is “when my partner doesn’t tell me how they feel” (or “open up” or “talk to me,” etc.)

Ask these people what’s “literally the worst thing” in love and — second only to the thought of their partner leaving them — they will tell you: the frustration of a partner not sharing their feelings.

So, overwhelmed with the anxiety of not knowing — and being ill-equipped to manage this anxiety in healthier, more constructive ways — these people rush their partner, crowding them emotionally and coercing them,

Talk to me! Tell me how you feel. I wanna talk about it. I want to know what you’re feeling. I just want you to open up. Share with me. Tell me. Talk to me.

Give me. Give me. Give me.

People like this think “love” means “always sharing” and “sharing everything,” and they think this behavior translates as “intimacy,” but in reality it’s just “disrespecting your partner’s personal space” and “steamrolling healthy boundaries.”

I’m not suggesting that shutting down and stonewalling is the path to a great relationship — that’s not good, either. Because love does mean sharing. It does mean “talking about how you feel” and “letting the other person in;”being vulnerable and open and honest — all of that’s great.

But there’s a huge difference between offering and being obligated.

Offering to share with our partner is intimate. Being pushed to isn’t. If webully our partners into sharing, we are directly undercutting the very intimacy we think we’re building. If we whine, or cajole, or get defensive, or pissy, or play any kind of emotional war games in response to them holding back, we are being shittier than they are.

Because other people’s emotions are first and foremost theirs, not ours.What they do with them is their prerogative, not ours. And hearing them,if they choose to share, is a privilege, not a right. We are not “owed” anything in their heads.

“Sharing is caring!”

But care is also about being fair. Love is about respecting boundaries and understanding what’s yours, what’s theirs, and what they want as well.

“Yeah but if I don’t know what’s wrong, then how can I fix it?”

I understand where this is coming from, but it’s also worth understanding: other people are not ours to “dig at” or “fix,” and doing so is only “loving” if it’s also welcomed. Our partners are not our personal puzzles and our relationship isn’t a game of codependency Clue.

“But I just want them to share!”

Mm hm. And you’d probably also like it if someone gave you a million dollars. But we are no more entitled to someone’s personal experience than we are to someone’s money.

“But why won’t they just tell me?! Why is that so hard?”

Because they don’t want to. Maybe they’re not ready, maybe nothing’s wrong, maybe the feelings are still half-baked, maybe now’s not the time, maybe they’re self-soothing, maybe it’s not a big deal, maybe they don’t like how you latch on when they share; it doesn’t matter. They don’t want to. We can’t push.

We can make ourselves available, we can ask, we can invite, we can listen.

But above all, we must respect boundaries and recognize that it’s their emotions — not ours. The good thing is that with that comes the beautiful treasure of understanding: when they finally do share, it’s because they wanted to. And when they’re ready, if it’s important, they will.

Do Something You Can’t Win At

And make it something you love


Some of the best things in life are things that can’t be “won.”

Like visiting your grandma. Raising children. Building a beautiful relationship. Building a great team. Doing improv. Knitting.

But also creating. Inventing. Building. Putting something new out into the world for the sole purpose of seeing it done.

These are all things that are inherently “win-less,” and though some people might try to game the system (I’m thinking of a few folks my age who have magically gotten back in touch with their grandparents now that they’ve realized more of the inheritance pie might be up for grabs), the only ones they are cheating are themselves.

Don’t try to win at knitting, guys. Don’t try to win at wrenching on a car.

Do something you love — and be genuine about that, especially outside of working hours — and then just focus on throwing more love at it. That’s how you get good at it. That’s how you truly win.

I’m going to talk about improv again, because I went to another show tonight — some of my classmates were doing their first one, so I went to show my support. And the thing with improv is this: the minute you try to “win” at it, you out yourself as the asshole on stage.

The way to “win” at improv is by making other people look hilarious. It’s by building on what others put out there, and making it real.

And the way to be crazy good at improv is just to love doing it. The people who are best at improv freaking love doing improv — not those who go out there hellbent on “winning” the scene.

And don’t get me wrong — after the second class, I definitely wanted to be “good” at improv. I spent hours watching videos; I went to class and gave it my all. And after six weeks, I am. But I never went into it trying to “win” by, for example, “beating others.” There was nothing extrinsic or comparative about it.

It’s the same with writing — there is no “winner” in writing. There might be best sellers and high earners, but I can almost guarantee that few of them got there by having “winning” as their primary objective.

Same with startups. Inventors. Artists. I mean, maybe Banksy was trying to “win” at graffiti — I don’t know the guy — but I doubt it was his primary motivation.

All of them are intrinsically — not extrinsically — motivated.

A lot of life is about winning — sure. Go for it. But a lot of life is also about shit that can’t be won.

Pick something in your life you can’t win. Not work, necessarily, but definitely something you’d be pumped to get happiness from. And then love on it hard instead.

What Even Is Happiness?

And if we don’t know, why do we chase it?

Last year was arguably the best year of my life.

That’s not to say this year won’t be — maybe it will, so calm down — but in terms of being able to look back on things with the clarity of not being balls-deep in them in real time, last year, of all the years, was pretty rad.

And I was even pretty sure of it at the time, which is truly fortunate in the grand scheme of things, but I gave it a full calendar year before confirming. And then I also told my partner so.

I said just that. “Last year was the happiest year of my life.”

And, because he’s like this, he asked, “why?”

Of course making me laugh as I answered, half in shock, “you!” And then laughed a bit more before clarifying, “yeah, and trees and work and humidity and road trips and a whole bunch of other things, most of which wouldn’t have even happened if it hadn’t been for you. So sure, they’re worth noting, but mostly you.”

And I guess this answer satisfied him, because he didn’t have any further clarifying questions.

And yet, when I look back, I can see the pangs of fear I’d buried, day to day. The days when I had first moved down here to the south and he was out of town for two weeks straight, before I’d found work and was too immersed in my own journey to find friends, when I rode to the bookstore every. single. day. and sat and read entire books in single sittings. Partly because I was on a budget. But mostly to be out in public. To remind myself I was tethered to other people in some way.

Those moments were framed by fear. And something a little like “loneliness,” albeit not real loneliness — just more like that sad loneliness we get when we realize winter is settling in each fall. Something very still, and a little scary. Something we’re socialized to smooth over with other things. Something we’ll bury regardless, whether we sit in silence or go out.

I had my own business the year before

And was dating a different partner whom I thought, at the time, made me happy enough. The key here is “enough.” I always knew I wasn’t ecstatic, but I thought it was okay for then. Apparently I am woefully bad at knowing what makes me happy, because I aggressively charged forward with the business and the boyfriend, willfully ignored all the signs until I got to the point of watching myself do things entirely unfamiliar to me.

Like the morning I had a panic attack, when I was so unfamiliar with the concept of a panic attack that I didn’t even know that’s what it was until I later described it to a friend and she stared at me in horror and then clarified for me, spoken slowly and in short words, “KG. That’s a panic attack. You had a panic attack.”

This was the same friend that had to explain to me that my relationship was abusive. Which it was. Which is why I had a panic attack.

And yet, during all of this, I thought it was good enough. “Relationships take work,” after all. Businesses, certainly, take sacrifice. We’re terrible at understanding how that should look — and where to draw the line. What’s happiness, and what’s hateful.

“You don’t know how to be happy.”

My boyfriend of five years, the one before the panic-attack one, told me that.

Actually, he didn’t tell me; he told my mom. And then she told me. But when it came to their weird-ass work-around relationship, it was kind of the same thing. They both had a lot of opinions about me, “supported” by “conversations” they’d never had with me and things I’d never said. Not that I’m bitter or anything. Because I’m totally not.

For a long time I thought that assessment was outright unfair at best; wrong at worst. And then for a brief period of time, I thought maybe it was true. Now I’m back to asking:

What is happiness even?

And if we don’t have a good answer to that question, what does it even matter?

Happiness vs. Meaning

And, arguably… “meaning” vs. something further still…

In a 2013 study, Stanford professors recognized that the sole pursuit of happiness leads to “a meaningless life,” and that:

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

Victor Frankl writes that work means more than happiness. And Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, emphasizes the importance of pursuing mastery of something over passive leisure (the latter of which many of us identity as “happiness.”)

We impose happiness on ourselves. And worse, we impose it on others, upholding the phrases “I just want you to be happy” as the pinnacle of love (and the suggestion that “you just don’t know how to be happy” as a tremendous threat.) When they’re not.

But after a while they both felt like the same: being shoved into some adorable little box you had no intention of being in. Conventional, sure, but uncomfortable nonetheless.

Happiness vs… something else?

Or, in the least, happiness redefined?

I’m not even sure life inherently needs to have meaning. We hold that over our own heads, too. And not to go full nihilist on your ass, there are a lot of moments, increasingly, when I’m like “yeah, but where’s the data on that though?” Who decided this whole thing had to have meaning, how is that not just our ego barking in our ear and, perhaps most ironically: how is that expectation not setting us up for the same unhappiness we were trying to avoid.

And if we suspend that assumption — don’t chase happiness; don’t chase meaning — rather than closing life off, it actually opens life up. Because we don’t have everything in a chokehold of expectation, and let things unfold as they are, we exist a lot more lightly — and, perhaps more importantly, with honesty and in alignment with the way things actually are.

Own Your Part

And show up here

Edina Tokodi

It’s real hard to write about your life without writing about your life, especially when you’ve got the inclination to write about your life.

I don’t really write about details because I’m never sure which to include. Safest bet is always the past, except when you consider that I’m far more interested in the present, future, or “non-time, pure-fluff theoretical” tense.

I don’t really write about where I live because I’m not sure it matters.

I don’t really write about work because, I don’t know, separation of church and state. Also it’s not really important. But mostly the former, because the only thing standing between this world and that one is the play-pretend model I have for keeping the two apart.

I also don’t really write about my partner day to day. I write about him at a high level, skirt around our story (“friends for fifteen years, but that’s enough of that — here I am going on and on!”)

But I want to write about what I write about, because writing is my part of the deal.

I can choose whatever form I want. I can talk theoretical, in wispy sentences that don’t have much weight. I can share real stories. I can sort of half-share a real story without sharing too much. I can mention things (improv; my mom) that implies a sense of intimacy without actually sharing anything.

I can make a reader feel something. I can give them something to relate to. I can offer them something in which to see themselves.

I can put the time in. I can type. I can spend part of my day, every day — part of my week; part of my life — putting posts out there. My Mac is only a year old and two of the keys have popped off from typing. And that’s all part of my end of the deal. I can work.

But I can’t decide for you what you want to do. I can’t decide what’s most important.

I can suggest a drink for you, and I can definitely pour it and put it in front of you, but I can’t promise it’s the one you wanted.

I can do my part of the bargain, but I can’t pick up more than you do when “the deal” is more your life than mine.

Decisions in your life are yours and not mine. I can weigh in, I can make suggestions, and I can most definitely back you up — hell, I’ll even jump and say when I think you’re wrong. But I can’t tell you how to live your life. I can’t make these major life decisions for you.

That work must first and foremost, by design, at least first fall on you.

Doing is Better Than Perfect

And your “planning” or “waiting for the idea” is bullshit at best

Sometimes, we do “just know.” And often, those are the best decisions — especially in work and love, if we’re lucky enough to land that sort of certainty. Because let’s be honest, you’ve gotta find the right combination of luck and readiness to get it, and not all of us do. We either never bump up into it or we weren’t aware when we did.

And it’s the rarity of “just knowing” that makes the other side so important — the part about doing when you don’t “just know;” what to do when you don’t have the locomotive engine of certainty at your back. Then what?

The answer isn’t in you

You have two options here…

1.) You could go your whole life waiting for “certainty” — and risk never finding it.

Many people go this route, and frankly there is no shame at all in choosing it — so long as you full-well understand the consequences, i.e., never finding it.

I used to work with a ton of individual women clients, and I don’t mean to scare you, but the “never-married, reluctantly single around 40 woman” is a very particular type of person. Maybe she truly never did find anyone (for many of these women, I doubt it — they were attractive enough and emotionally stable enough that, in my opinion, they could have — but they chased the wrong partners, or held out for something better, and then found themselves crushed up against a ceiling of fertility and freaking out. It’s terrible. Not the “single and without kids” part, because whatever, but the fact the fact that they didn’t get their head straight about their priorities. If finding “THE ONE” was truly that important, they wouldn’t be so messed up about being childless, and those that are lied to themselves about the necessity of “certainty” on the partner.

Happens for dudes too, of course. They just have a longer window.

Same goes for work. Some people go their whole lives waiting to “find their passion,” or even waiting to pursue it, and then wake up one morning to realize that they’ve just crossed some threshold, or had some transition, or experienced a life change, and time isn’t quite as “stand still” as they thought.

If “the one thing” is more important, being without it won’t be as bad as settling for second best. So if not having anything feels terrible, it means we lied to ourselves about the importance of certainty.

And, odds are, “nothing” is exactly what we’ll end up with, going this route.

2.) Experiment with imperfection

Because sometimes the one perfect answer isn’t coming.

Callie Byrnes said, “I’m starting to suspect this whole ‘finding yourself’ thing is bullshit,” writing,

“We love the idea that we have this specific purpose on Earth and we just have to find it. It makes feeling lost so much less scary because we know there’s a way to overcome it. We tell ourselves that at the end of our journey, everything will make sense, except in reality you get there and wonder where the hell you’re supposed to go next, because there’s not an instruction manual for what comes after ‘The End.’ Sometimes you just get lost all over again.”

And sometimes it’s just about moving in imperfection. Sometimes it’s just about making do. And sometimes “trying” is more important than waiting for perfection.