There’s this meme going around Facebook right now, saying “If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, your side hustle started, or more knowledge, you never lacked time. You lacked discipline.” Thankfully multiple people have already skewered it, but it continues to be shared around by the sort of person who is trying to one-up everyone else, or who’s just plain clueless–or, for that matter, just trying to guilt you into buying whatever they’re selling.
Now, there’s not a damned thing wrong with self-promotion. That’s how indie artists, authors, and other self-employed folks get the word out. You have to be able to talk good talk in order to get people’s attention. But leading with this meme? Guilting people for not leaping from sudden unemployment straight into the thick of the ever-shifting gig economy? That ain’t gonna fly, Brocephus.
You Have Good Reasons to Slack
Excuse me while I dust off my counseling psych degree a sec, here. *ahem* We are in a very sensitive, turbulent time right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century in the Western world. We are in a hugely traumatizing situation here. Not just for the financial losses, but the fact that COVID-19 has killed thousands of people and left many more with permanent lung damage. We still haven’t gotten a handle yet on exactly how contagious this thing is, how long you’re contagious for, or whether you’re immune once you’ve had it, assuming you survive. We don’t have adequate testing, emergency rooms estimate that for every positive test there are 10-20 people out there infected and untested, and everyone with a cough is suddenly Schroedinger’s COVID case. Governments worldwide are slow to react in spite of the rising death toll. People have had friends and family die horribly from this thing in a short period of time. Even people who didn’t already have issues with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses are feeling stressed, strained and scared–and, yes, traumatized. This image is guilt-tripping people who are actively being traumatized.
So we’re already starting with a populace that is dealing with this collective trauma, as well as whatever personal trauma each individual is experiencing. Not always easy to seize the day when you’re going through that. And I can think of a few other reasons that might further complicate this whole “Just get a side gig!” thing:
–They’re a parent who suddenly has all their kids at home, all the time, demanding time and attention and food, AND they still have to work eight hours a day from home, or maybe even more if their S.O. is unemployed/sick/etc. By the way, if someone trots out Isaac Newton or William Shakespeare or some other historical guy who managed to do epic things during a pandemic, remember that they usually had wives or servants to do all the laundry and cooking and cleaning and (if applicable) childcare for them.
–They’re disabled or chronically ill, and don’t have the ability/energy/etc. to just go and make something happen, just like that. Imagine if you just randomly got the fatigue from a really bad flu, and you never knew whether it was going to last a day or a month. And if you tried exerting yourself when you were feeling better, chances are you’d slip back into fatigue-land. That’s what a lot of my chronically ill/etc. friends have to deal with, to say nothing of issues with accessibility of resources for starting a side gig.
–They don’t have any money for the supplies needed to start a side hustle, or the supplies have been hoarded by hobbyists preparing for a Pandemic Staycation.
–They don’t have the skills for something that just requires what they already have (like, for example, writing on a laptop you already happen to own). Often these skills are things that can’t be perfected in a few weeks at home, but may take years to develop before they’re really marketable–like, for example, the skill to make a decent living on side hustles.
–They have anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions that make it hard to function even in the best of times, but even moreso in this…well…mess. Even people who were mentally healthy before are going to be developing diagnosable anxiety and depression disorders before all’s said and done. And speaking from personal experience, those of us who look successful on the outside can still be internally hamstrung by these conditions at times.
–Plus there’s the fact that we’re not supposed to, you know, leave our homes, which narrows down the field of potential side gigs by a lot.
Even doing something less financially-wrought like learning a new skill or subject takes time, energy, and sometimes money, any or all of which may be scarce for the reasons above and more.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
I am saying all of this as someone who is arguably an expert on the side gig. I have spent the past eight and a half years 100% self-employed (and a lot longer doing it part-time) as an author and artist, able to cover all my bills and expenses, and for a time I was the primary breadwinner of a multi-person household. I have like ten different things I was doing for a living before this all hit, a pretty diverse set of streams of income, even if most of them just up and evaporated in the past few weeks. And while I’m definitely a hell of a lot leaner now than I was a month ago, I still have my head above water for the moment. So I think I know side gigs.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m overall healthy. I have a dog who is a lot less demanding of my time than kids would be. I have my own space where I can focus more or less without interruption. More importantly, I have the skills, the knowhow, the drive and the personality to go out and seek new opportunities. And I’m used to fluctuations in income, though admittedly this one’s unprecedented. Don’t gauge yourself by where I am now. I’ve spent twenty-two years building up my art business, my first book came out in 2006, and I’ve had a series of really good opportunities come my way that I had the privilege to be able to make the most of. I am not your measuring stick, so don’t say “Well, if she can do it why can’t I? I must suck!”
If you’re feeling crappy because you aren’t hopping to it and carpeing the diem and getting everything done, here’s what I have to say to you: Look, you just had your world turned upside-down. Job loss, scarce commodities, sudden lack of outside childcare, restricted movement and inability to be around much of your support system, and did I mention a pandemic is happening, too? Any single one of those things would be difficult for just about anyone to deal with, never mind all at once. And I don’t even know what all else has already been going on in your life–unstable or unsafe living situation, other health issues, breakups and other losses, interpersonal conflicts. You know, normal life stuff.
You’re Not Lazy, or Screwing Up, or (Gods Forbid) Undisciplined
It is totally okay if all you’re doing right now is surviving. It’s okay if you feel like you’re drowning, overwhelmed by all that’s happening both on a global level and more personally. It’s okay if all you can manage right now is to get out of bed and stumble through each day a moment at a time, struggling with a tidal wave of emotions. It’s okay if you’re just trying to keep your kids busy, dealing with a crowded home every single day, or trying to keep COVID-19 at bay. It’s okay if, instead of firing up DuoLingo or opening an Etsy shop, you spend your evenings vegging to Netflix or reading a book or playing hours and hours of Animal Crossing.
Not every moment in your life has to be about being productive even in the best of circumstances, and that goes exponentially so right now. Be patient with yourself, and be kind. You may be one of those folks who literally has to spend all their time scrabbling to try to cover the bills or get some leeway from bill collectors, and you have to dedicate your waking time hunting for resources just to try to get through this week. Believe me, I feel for you, I have a lot of friends in that situation right now, and I hope all of you can find some relief and assistance.
May I suggest something? If you have the energy for something more than the bare essentials of getting by, put that energy toward self-care, whatever you can manage under the circumstances. You can use it to recuperate, to rebuild your emotional and physical resilience. That way if things get rough again in the future, you have more internal reserves to build on. If your usual methods don’t work or aren’t accessible due to lockdown, ask others what they’re doing to keep themselves grounded in this trying time.
Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you don’t have to throw yourself right into something productive! Don’t feel pressured to just go-go-go the moment you have a little freedom to move. If you do decide you want to try a side gig, or a new skill, or learn all about some specialized topic of interest, go for it! If you have the energy and attention and opportunity to pursue something new, it can be a great coping skill during this traumatic time. Just don’t pressure yourself; keep it fun.
One last thing: I want you to save the image I have at the top of this post. And then if you see someone post that meme, saying “Come on, you lazy bums, get up and make that side gig happen! Learn new stuff! Do all the things! No excuses!” you pull out this version, and you look at the edits, you remember that it’s okay to be where you are, and you get back to doing things at your own pace no matter what someone else says. (I find visualizing stapling a printout of the edited version to the offender’s forehead to also be therapeutic, but that may just be me.)
Hang in there, okay? It’s going to be a rough time, but you’re not alone, and what you’re feeling right now is shared by so many people. So just let yourself be where you are in this moment, and we’ll see what hope tomorrow brings. And remember that whatever you’re capable of in this moment: it’s enough.