Sam Holstein

Stop Living For The Weekend

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had sensory problems. Loud sounds that most people can deal with, like the noise at a crowded bar, feel like little knives piercing my eardrums. Fleece and denim textures are intolerable to me, so intolerable I would rather wear clothes made of sandpaper. Bras are out of the question. Pulling my hair into a ponytail gives me a headache after no more than an hour. When two people speak to me at the same time, what they are saying blurs together in my head to create a dull roar.

When I was a child, these quirks were tolerable. People wrote off my overstimulation-caused crying jags as the emotional sensitivity of a little girl. As I became a teenager, though, they became unacceptable. For one reason or another, I never received a formal diagnosis, so teachers and authority figures interpreted my refusal to wear a bra or jeans as sloppiness. They interpreted my distaste for group projects and classroom settings, where many people often spoke at once, as laziness. My high school years were spent hiding in the back of the class wearing pajamas.

As a high schooler, I didn’t know any better. When teachers admonished me for being lazy and sloppy, I saw myself as lazy and sloppy and told myself I ought to be more like my primly-dressed valedictorian classmates.

My late high school and early college years were spent attempting to rid myself of the laziness I was sure I had. I bought a bunch of jeans and bras and forced myself to wear them day in and day out, waiting for hedonic adaptation to kick in. (It never did.) I forced myself to go to parties and social events, thinking that my struggles were just because of nerves. (Doing so gave me migraines.)

As I turned 19, I despaired. I hoped whatever was wrong with me would wear off with age, but it was only getting worse. No matter how hard I tried to be normal, it didn’t work. I was a freak. I wanted the world — but the world, with its bright lights and loud people and arbitrary clothing requirements, didn’t want me.

America offers people a bargain. The bargain is this: if they show up in a certain kind of outfit for forty hours a week to a certain place and do a certain thing, they will be rewarded with enough money to pay rent and buy food and buy toys like cars and computers and go to the shops and bars on the weekend and go on regular vacations.

Most people don’t find the kind of environment they’re supposed to show up at or the outfit they are to wear so objectionable, so they take this bargain. Thanks to my sensory processing problems, the cost of this bargain was too great. I was hung out to dry.

Most people today would cast this as a sad story of how someone with a disability was excluded from mainstream living and frame it as a call for more acceptance of those with disabilities. It is a sad story, and we do need to create a world more accepting of those with disabilities, but that’s not how I understand my story. More than anything else, I see all this as a blessing.

Thanks to this challenge, I learned something it often takes people a lifetime to learn before I was even an adult:

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Steve Jobs

Everything about the world which I find intolerable — the bright, loud, pounding pulse of society, the perception that the only legitimate way to make a living is by spending most of your time in meetings in an office building, the ever-present expectation to laugh and joke and socialize with anyone who may cross your path, and the cultural impression that anyone who doesn’t do these things is character-deficient — was invented by someone.

This realization applied not only to the circumstances of my work environment, but to everything. Most people who find themselves in my position try to create some kind of modified bargain. They try to find a job where they can make enough money to live without constantly being assaulted by their environment. They settle for less.

But, I realized, I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to try and conform to the bargain by settling for a job in which I could merely get by. I could create a job for myself where I could thrive. I didn’t have to bargain.

And you know what? Neither do you. All the rules and expectations around us are just a bunch of things some people decided at some point. My particular situation may be unique, but almost everyone finds something about the bargain unpleasant, be it an irritating boss or boring work or terrible conditions. Most people decide to swallow it, to grit their teeth and live for the weekend.

Problem is, you can’t just live for the weekend. Living for the weekend is an attempt to trade the unpleasant moments for the pleasant ones. But it will never work. You can’t trade one moment for another. You cannot escape the present moment any more than you can escape your own breath. The present moment, regardless of whether that moment is at work or at your favorite weekend karaoke bar, is all you have. If you suffer at work, you’re not playing your part in a trade for a good weekend, you’re just suffering at work.

Instead of spending your numbered days trying to escape what cannot be escaped, spend them creating a life you don’t want to escape.

I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. It’s not. Changing your life takes a lot of work. Changing my life so that I can earn all my income from writing is taking an enormous amount of work. That amount of work is unappealing, but really, what are your other options? Live out the remainder of your life doing stuff you don’t want to do and die wishing you’d done something else? Instead of waiting until then and wishing you’d done something else, take some time today and actually do it. You won’t regret it.