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The internet is full of advice on how to get the most out of self-isolation. Ignore it

No, you don’t need to learn a new side hustle or read five books about creativity to “succeed” at self-quarantining.

The internet is full of advice on how to get the most out of self-isolation. Ignore it
[Photo: Uniquely India/Getty Images]

Lately, I’ve seen more and more tweets that go something like this: If you do not leave quarantine with new skills/a new side hustle/more knowledge, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.

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People write these things to motivate others to make the most of the current situation. If this motivates you, carry on! I’m excited to see what you do with that energy. Personally, tweets like these make me feel like I’m not doing enough—as if I’ve never done enough.

I know better.

It took me more than 10 years to learn this, in an industry—design—that encourages behavior that will almost certainly lead to burnout. It took a year to recover from the worst burnout of my career.

Tweets like these motivate some people, but they push others down. If they make you feel guilty, read on. I’m writing this to tell you (and myself) why they shouldn’t.

This is not a normal time

We aren’t on a long weekend or a sabbatical. We’re in a pandemic. Our world changed overnight, and there’s no saying what’s to come next. We’re adapting to changes week to week, sometimes day to day. These changes upend our jobs, our relationships, and our lives. Adapting is exhausting. Anxiety, even more so. We’re worried about our families and friends. We miss people. We’re tired. The support networks we always turned to aren’t there—and, anyway, they are themselves dealing with these same things.

No one has done this before

No one on Twitter has gone through this kind of self-isolation and come out older and wiser. We’ve all been in isolation for roughly the same amount of time. That isn’t long enough to develop a new skill, let alone become a lifestyle guru. Much of the advice you see on Twitter and elsewhere online comes from people who have found something that has worked for them for a week, maybe two, in these circumstances. They’re working with as much—or as little—information as you.

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Side note: Yes, Newton might’ve “discovered” calculus while in quarantine, but someone who’s going to discover calculus is probably going to discover calculus whether or not they’re in quarantine. You might discover something new now, or you might discover it later. Quarantine itself isn’t what makes the difference.

We are not all equal

Sometimes we forget that although we’re in the same place online, we’re not coming from the same place in the world. Each person comes from a different context and has access to different resources. And that context and those resources might not even be what they were two months ago. Every day more people are laid off. Those lucky enough to have jobs are learning to do them in new contexts, with fewer resources. Parents are shouldering the role of teachers alongside their day jobs.

Change your social media habits

Social media platforms are a way for us to connect to the world. We don’t need to and shouldn’t abandon them because they’re inundated with unhelpful advice. Here are a few small shifts I’ve made.

  • I curate my Twitter feed. In the last month, I’ve discovered that I don’t agree with some of the people I follow. We have different ways of motivating ourselves and others. These days I’m unfollowing them quickly, almost ruthlessly, to keep my Twitter feed positive and inspiring.
  • I take inspiration instead of comparison. My knee-jerk reaction to a tweet about “the five books someone read about ethics in UX this weekend” is to feel bad. Not only did I not read five books, but I didn’t read anything about UX. A more thoughtful reaction—that does admittedly take more work—is to take inspiration from what others are doing. Did they read a book to learn about a new topic or to get a fresh perspective? I’m doing that, too. It just might be that my new topic isn’t at all related to UX. I might even be reading fiction.
  • I do what feels right for me. Recharging looks different for every person. It might look different for you today than it did two months ago. A few years ago, I spent my free time training for triathlons. It looked like work to everyone else, but I found it rewarding, and it energized me. These days I recharge by drawing. I’ve gotten into sketching comics. It doesn’t matter what my recharging looks like to you; all that matters is that it works for me. The same goes for the activities that fulfill you, whether you get joy from “starting your side hustle” or from baking your favorite cookies. I’ll cheer you on from over here—on my couch.

This is your time. No one in our generation has been through a global pandemic like this. You can come out of it older and wiser, or you could simply come out of it. Both are enough.


Jen Goertzen is a senior product designer at IDAGIO and cofounder of Caribou. Follow her on Twitter. This essay was adapted with the author’s permission. Read the original here. 

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