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Pickle Me This

January 11, 2019

I think your bullet journal is stupid.

Slightly insulting confession: I think your bullet journal is stupid. I’ve always felt one could get her shit done way faster if she just does it rather than mapping out a plan to do so in especially decorative ways…but then I have really terrible handwriting and always lose my good pens, so I would think that, wouldn’t I. It’s also possible that I’m jealous of your bullet journal, because if I had one, if would probably look like my grade nine math book. And that I wanted to write a provocative headline to get you to read this post.

Which is unfair, kind of, and I also don’t really know what bullet journals are, except that people share images of theirs on Instagram (and I swear I once read a post where a person was complaining about how difficult to was juggle all seven of the bullet journals she maintains, which seems pretty obvious). I’ve also been very fortunate in that I’ve not really required lots of strategizing in order for professional opportunities to happen for me. This spring marks ten years since I quit my job to become a freelance writer, which is something I did without any of how to make it work. It seemed slightly scary at the time, but I was also caring for a new baby, which was ten times more terrifying, and my professional life really did seem to require less maintenance in comparison. So if you asked me now to recommend a route to making a living as a writer based on my own experience, my advice would be mainly: wait for people to email and ask you to do stuff. NOT HELPFUL. (Note though that nobody’s going to do that if you’re not chipping away at building your blog oeuvre, which would these days be considered “building your profile,” but I wasn’t thinking in those terms, which is probably why I was even enjoying what I was doing.)

Part of the reason I’m also resistant to bullet journals is because they seem to be part of the online entrepreneurial culture that I’ve been resisting with all my heart and soul. The kind of culture where you use hashtags like #GirlBoss and #SheHustles, and sell skincare products via a pyramid scheme, and it’s so entrenched in capitalism in the very worst way, and for most people is a dream that never comes true regardless of the hustling. I was once trapped on an airplane full of women arriving at a multi-level marketing conference, and as we were stuck on the platform, the woman beside turned and said, “So: what’s your Plan B?” And I wanted to die and there was no escape, and sometimes the internet in general feels a little bit like that.

And it’s the opposite of everything that, for me, is fundamental to blogs and online connection. It’s about human voices, not selling products. It’s about telling stories, being a human, not being a brand. My blogging courses have always been defiantly anti-marketing, anti-strategy. Don’t target your audience. Don’t outline your goals. Instead, make it up as you go along. Figure it out and grow in the process. Dare to get lost, and then report back from the place you ended up. My blogging advice was never for people who wanted to grow their audience, but instead for people who wanted to write a blog that could serve them and be sustainable. And while these days I feel like I know less about blogging than I ever did (not necessarily a bad thing— ‘It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.’ —Tom Stoppard, Arcadia), I still believe in all that. A blog, like all the best things, is a wild thing, and should refuse to be tamed with plans and bullets.

And yet. I know that while this is true, I also know that part of my resistance to being more strategic and entrepreneurial in approach to my career is that I am afraid any other approach might end in failure. When your aim is to get lost, it doesn’t really matter where you are, but when you’ve got a plan, a goal and a strategy, and well, if you fall flat on your face, people are going to know about it. But something else I’ve learned from blogging is that sometimes being afraid of something is the very best reason to go there.

But then I start to worry again—and of course I am overthinking this. To be a successful blogger is to have made a career out of overthinking things. But I also think that 75% of the nonsense people are peddling online in terms of empowerment and entrepreneurship is absolute nonsense. I probably wouldn’t even be writing this post right now if it weren’t for these sponsored posts I kept coming across on Instagram by this woman—who I hadn’t even followed because she was way too much of a shallow marketing shill—about how I can grow my business via Pinterest. Which at first I dismissed as meaningless to me and irrelevant to my interests…but then at a certain point I thought, “Gee, maybe I should sign up for her free webinar!” And there it is: I have brainwashed. The moment I consider engaging with anything called “webinar,” it’s all over. Next up, I’ll be hash tagging #bossbae. It’s like a cult, and I don’t want to join it.

But I also know that I could certainly use a little direction, professionally. How many more books could I sell, followers could I get, opportunities could I receive, readers I could find, if I set out with intentions of being more deliberate in these areas? If I gave any considerations to being deliberate at all, instead of wandering, exploring, making it up as I go along. I’ve got a lot to show for ten years of approaching things in that direction, but aimlessness comes with its own wasted energy. I’m not saying I want to hustle, but surely there is some way we can meet in the middle.

Today I listened to Amanda Laird’s Heavy Flow Podcast with Kelly Diels on “resisting the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand,” which articulated a lot of my discomfort on this topic. Sarah Selecky does much of the same in her novel, Radiant, Shimmering Light, which surprised me when I read the book because Selecky herself has been so successful with an online business, and yet she’s also able to critique it in a really pointed way. I still don’t remotely know what I think of anything of this yet, but I’ve decided to find out by setting three professional goals for this year relating to developing my career. Which is really scary, actually, but also exciting, and I’ll keep you posted—and if I get lost, at least I’ll have something to report back on.

2 thoughts on “I think your bullet journal is stupid.”

  1. kate says:

    orughrhg. thank you so much . now i can bumble around saying its all intentional. but really, its good to know there’s a future that doesn’t require a bullet journal. i’ve got enough on my plate just to think the things…

  2. Laura Frey says:

    I love my bullet journal, and also think most people’s bullet journals, especially the ones on instagram, are stupid. Mine is 80% used for work, 10% home stuff (meal plans etc) and 10% for tracking reading and blog stuff. And I buy my favourite pens in bulk now!

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