Recently, I found myself falling down the digital rabbit hole. You know, that one where we’re checking the social media profiles of people who we think have it all together. The people who make us wonder how much harder we have to hustle to get where they are.
As a professional writer, there are publications that I ~*dream*~ of being published in one day. On this list is one publication in general that I can’t seem to crack. Editors have long-since been regarded as an incestuous click, and it’s hard to join the in crowd from my remote office in upstate New York. I’m cool with that. But what I’m not cool with is feeling like I’m being bypassed for contributor opportunities that I’m wholly qualified for, which seems to happen all the time with this particular publication. Clearly, we have a contentious relationship, and sometimes I can’t help but laugh at myself because I’ve been published in much more prestigious outlets than this one. But I can’t stop thinking about what if.
What if I’m not a good writer at all?
What if I’ll never get this byline?
What if I can’t stop saying “what if” and I never get any work done?
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens when I fall down the rabbit hole of reading bylines and scrolling through Twitter profiles. It gets me absolutely nowhere, but I still have to be conscious not to do it. Because besides the fact that doing this puts me in a negative headspace, there’s also the issue that all that Internet sleuthing is losing me money.
This realization hit me in the face like a pile of bricks. Being that although I work from home, I still institute guidelines for my work hours, and I try really hard to make sure I finish the day’s work by the time I’ve scheduled myself to clock out. Being self-employed is much like working for a big corporation in this sense; there are days where I can’t help but work late and clock extra time. But in general, I attempt to stay in the zone, and within my designated office hours.
That is, unless the rabbit hole sucks me in. My income varies greatly depending on the project and client I’m working with, but I generally try not to take on work that won’t gross me at least $40 an hour. That means for every hour I spend reading another writer’s bylines solely for the sake of jealousy, I’m losing $40. And when you’re reading article after article and tweet after tweet, that time adds up. On that recent afternoon when I fell down the digital rabbit hole, I did the math and realized that I’d lost $135 before lunch. Yes, over a hundred dollars.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, that might not seem like much money. Indeed, I spend more on shoes, handbags, and denim. But the point is that when you compound this with how many times you may fall down the rabbit hole a week, month, or year, that could add up to thousands of dollars. Dollars you could be using to buy a house, or plan a family, or travel the world, or buy that Givenchy handbag you’ve been eyeing.
This doesn’t even apply just to those of us who are self-employed or have side hustles. Even in the corporate world, we can be too busy paying attention to someone else’s output, promotions, or workplace interactions to better our own. And while you’re busy being envious and critical, you’re hurting your own chances to excel and earn those accolades, promotions, and raises that you desire.
That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t systemic issues in the workplace. The publication with which I both love and hate, for example, is notoriously non-diverse. All their contributors are cisgender white women, and they could seriously do well to broaden their horizons — particularly as a publication that claims to be #woke. But it’s important to balance resistance with self-preservation. Now more than ever it’s important to speak up against discrimination — civilly, personally, and professionally — without letting it cloud your focus so much that you are suffering emotionally, mentally, and financially.
I’m not saying that I’ll never again feel that competitive urge that quickly turns into jealousy and sends me down the digital rabbit hole. But I am committed to trying. Because every time I get lost in a sea of emotions about being less than, I’m missing chances to better myself. I’m losing money. And I’m sacrificing my mental health as well. So here’s your friendly reminder that a little honest competition never hurt anyone, but the digital rabbit hole may very well hurt you and your pocketbook.
Alexis Dent is a poet, essayist, and the original White Collar Dropout. Her first poetry collection, Everything I Left Behind, is out now. Read her newsletter for dreamers, doers, and hustlers by joining the White Collar Dropout collective.
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