The Race Against The Clock

Illustration by    Justin Parpan

Illustration by Justin Parpan

In Los Angeles lots of creative people are racing the clock. It’s a painful obsession that eats your creativity alive. At times it feels impossible to stay sane because you feel like your career is encased in a ticking time bomb. But I know it is possible to have those feelings and fears sometimes, and still thrive.

I’ve lived in LA my whole life and I’ve seen close friends, family and clients who feel hounded by the passage of time and it’s correlation to their level of achievement lean into the emotional underpinnings of that panicked, urgent feeling and learn how to age gracefully in these agist industries.

While the details are different for different people, the common thread is a looming dread that if you haven’t accomplished a certain goal by a certain age, (be it sell a show, direct a film, have a hit song, whatever) you’re done. Finished. Wasted your life. Time to become an accountant.

The thing is, that’s not totally wrong. Los Angeles is full of cut-throat, agist industries. There are always younger, hungrier people who are willing to be paid less than you. So how do you manage to maintain sanity while living with that reality? How do you age gracefully in an agist industry? How do you manage to feel creative when you put so much pressure on yourself to succeed?

 There are no easy answers. In the end, It’s a bit like learning to live with a rude neighbor; you probably can’t make them move, but, you learn to understand why they make you so upset and from there have more space between your thoughts, feelings, and more control over your reaction to them.

There’s a thin line between “passionately driven” and “toxic obsession with success”. Through the course of a person’s life, it’s natural to go back and forth between the two- depending of course on circumstances and also related to things that might be going on emotionally. 

Here are some signs that you are feeling an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety related to the “race against the clock”:

  • Obsessive fantasies of success or failure

  • dreading birthdays and other milestones which are reminders of the passage of time

  • huge reaction to the success of peers

  • feelings of scarcity

  • feeling overwhelmed and like a tiny blip in a vast universe of people

  • hypersensitivity to feedback and criticism

WHAT TO DO/ QUESTIONS TO PONDER

You may not be able to change the industry, but what is VITAL is that you stop using it as a litmus of your value as a person.  How you ask? 

There are no easy answers but there are things you can practice to try and take the edge off. 

Gratitude without a guilt trip:  I know. Omg. Gratitude. SO Lame, you’ve heard it a million times. SERIOULSY,It can feel like a major slog but it’s worth attempting to feel grateful for what you have accomplished and what you currently have in your life. Even if you have to force yourself to think or write the words, it’s good exercise to review the things you could feel grateful for. 

I added without the guilt trip because ultimately, gratitude is not helpful if it’s a guilt trip disguised as gratitude, as in I should feel happy because there are a million people who would kill for my job and I still feel like a failure. People are dying of cancer. Who am I to be unhappy with everything I have?

Try being instead DOING 

In LA, a lot of people believe their value comes from the work they do, the things they’ve accomplished, their looks and clothing. To be fair, a lot of social currency and power come with those trappings in this city.  Even so, that doesn't make it healthy.

If you base your value solely on “doing” versus “being” you may have a deep, unexplored fear that if you don’t succeed you are unlovable or existentially worthless.
Maybe you’re afraid of dying without having made an impact. If you’ve lost track of what makes you essentially you, it might be worth spending some time getting to know yourself, beyond your career aspirations.  

Force yourself to invest time in something with no solid goal:
What else do you love? What else brings you happiness? It’s easy to lose track of who you are when you are obsessed with “becoming” something else. Maybe try doing something else that you enjoy, like exercise, or pick up a new hobby-  

CONSIDER THE CONTEXT YOU LIVE IN and give your self a break.
This shit is hard, and you are trying to accomplish something really difficult. You're competing against a ton of hungry, talented people. I know that can feel depressing and overwhelming. Thinking about it can bring up unresolved sibling rivalry from childhood and all sorts of other crap. But there can also be relief in accepting the world the way it is. Somethings are within your control while other things are not.

This could also be called acceptance. In Alcoholics Anonymous, acceptance and powerlessness are the cornerstones of recovering from addictive behaviors, and the same principles apply to the obsessive drive to succeed. I don't mean giving up- not at all-I mean accepting how hard what you are trying to achieve is, and how it may take a long time.

Work to understand why you are terrified, driven and obsessed:

A deep dive with at therapist into your psyche to understand the unique pieces of your temperament, psychology and family history that have led to this terror about time. Therapists also can help you explore and find solutions to obsessive thoughts and behaviors, while making sense of the underlying issues.

Are you Playing Goal Whack-a-mole?

What I’ve also noticed is that many driven people have Goal Whack-a-mole. The moment “THE GOAL” is achieved, it’s meaningless and the need for existential reassurance of meaning moves to the next goal. If you're doing this, I encourage you to explore why.

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Working with a therapist is a good way to make sense out of the complicated, confusing feelings you might unpack while exploring more deeply your relationship to your feelings about the race against the clock. Feel free to reach out I’m happy to answer any questions about what therapy is like, or how it can help.

Life is long, and we don’t know how things will turn out. Some goals will never be achieved, having nothing to do with your talent, skills or abilities. It’s a crapshoot, and you may or may not get lucky. Ultimately, wether you achieve your career goals or not, you don’t want to miss out on being alive while you’re working to achieve your goals. If you’re not careful, you could miss out on your family, your friends and your romantic relationships. From a creative perspective, you don’t want to lose the ability to enjoy making your work, for you. In the end, being creative isn’t all about external validation. Being creative and talented is a gift in and of itself.

What you consider success today may change over time and some people will never feel successful no matter what they actually achieve. 

In the end, what I’ve seen for most people is that the goal post is usually a mirage, elusive, dreamlike and ever-changing.