Oh, look! I made it to 2022 without committing suicide. That is a pretty terrible thing to say, but if you know me, then you also know I am a pretty terrible person—at least, when it comes to: (a) Dealing with most people; (b) Pot roasts; and (c) Matching my underwear to my bra. (Though bonus points for really wanting to be that person. Do you know how many times I’ve bought matching sets, only to completely and totally rebel against my own underwear? Take that, rules!)
So, HI! How’s your neck?! How’s your brain? Is it stunningly gorgeous, with a marble fireplace flanked by Hague Blue No. 30 paint from Farrow & Ball? Or is your brain currently decorated with faux wood paneling from the 80’s, and a popcorn ceiling with a big, yellow stain?
If it’s the latter—and especially if there’s a boob light peeking out somewhere—I have a writing exercise that might be helpful. (And this is coming from a girl who doesn’t “do” writing prompts.)
The Least Annoying Writing Exercise Ever for Figuring Out Your Next Move
You know why I know this writing exercise is a good one?
Because I did it and I didn't hurl. I started asking myself this question over the holidays, and found it to be incredibly useful when asked daily, and answered truthfully. You see, I am one of those people who likes to totally burrow away during the winter, without a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g on my agenda, so I can take time to think. You know how hard it is to find time to think? No one’s got time to think! Especially not when every moment of every day feels like stepping up to the podium and letting 10,000 people throw bananas at your head. Isn’t that how life feels sometimes? So many bouncy bananas. (Should that be our band name?)
Because I am my mother’s daughter, I have this fierce anti-social streak that happens every winter…and it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It’s a forced automatic reset. I don’t want to know about your dog, I don’t want to chat about the weather, I don’t want to have to plaster a fake smile when you are clearly the worst, most galling human being ever.
And you know what happens when I stop talking to people for a couple months?
I can actually hear my own thoughts! There are no more bananas flying at my face—only me, myself, and this slightly runny bucket of cream cheese. (Don’t worry, I’m reviewing that relationship, too.)
And that’s when I start writing. Writing what you think is always the best way to know what you think, especially when you haven't been sure.
SO ANYWAY, this year I wanted to address some of the “ew” I’ve been feeling about the internet—why is everything so artificial & contrived? why do I suddenly want to get on a plane to the Sahara? —and it’s forced me to re-evaluate how I want to show up. I took a looooonggggg timeeeeeee over the holidays asking myself one question, over and over and over again:
What do I actually want?
And get this: do you know that if you ask yourself that question on paper, it is MUCH harder to lie to yourself?
Go ahead, I dare you. Write down that actual question on an actual piece of paper: “What do I actually want?” Emphasis on the “I.” Not what your clients want, or what your advisors want, or what you have been telling yourself you SHOULD want—to keep up, to grow your brand, to earn more, to do whatever.
What do YOU actually want?
Go ahead, write it down. “What do I actually want?” And then, look at that piece of paper, and you answer it. Then, answer it every day for a while. Because I promise you, what comes out of your hand is going to be shocking.
My answer certainly was (more on that in a minute).
Performing, Performing, Performing, Like a Sad & Sucky Sock Puppet?
Seriously, what are you, me, any of us doing with our lives? Throughout my entire career writing on the internet—a whopping 13 years now—the heart of my work always comes back to this very question. I’ve posed it to the world in a million and one different ways, via my blog, via my books, via podcast interviews, via napkins written in bars. And I have asked it of you, of myself, and of the world for this long because it is the one question that never expires; it is the one question that can call us out, over and over again, because we are ALWAYS going back to what’s comfortable. We’re always going back to what we know. We’re always “sticking to the plan.”
A moron once told me that was a good idea. That moron was me, of course: a decade younger, a decade more foolish. I also had a way better jawline (touché, gravity), and I was under the impression that plans were a sign of happiness: the type of thing you have when you are sure of what you want to be doing.
I mean, for the sake of argument, why else would commitment exist? Commitment is literally you, showing up to life’s basketball court, and being all: yes, I am VERY sure about this thing. Somebody give me a pen! Pass me a ball and a legal document! I want to sign my name on this here dotted line, because that is how sure I am I’m gonna nail this!
What a luxury, right? Can you imagine that mental ease? This is what I always imagined happiness to be: I thought happiness was certainty.
Of course, I was still a moron then. I didn’t know the truth about plans. I didn’t know that most people who stuck to them, despite their obvious failings, never had much of an imagination.
It’s easy to commit when there’s only one groom.
With The Great Resignation fully underway, a lot of people are re-evaluating their plans for life, realizing that perhaps merely having a plan doesn’t mean you have planned well. Most people have been living the equivalent of a maximum-security prison sentence for, what, the past twenty years? Fifteen years? Ten years? Nine-hundred? They feel trapped by their best-laid plans, instead of feeling comforted by them, and it’s akin to being a modern-day sock puppet, running around performing, performing, performing, performing, following a dizzying labyrinth of “next logical steps” instead of actual heartfelt ones.
That’s exhausting. It’s so exhausting to live this way; to have your life dictated by your plans, rather than you being the one doing the dictating.
To What End Are You Doing This Crap?
This is another fan-favorite question of mine. By constantly, to the point of fervid obsession, asking yourself “to what end?” you force yourself to make better long-term decisions instead of constantly getting distracted by the shiny object in front of you. Does the end justify the means? Are you actually happy putting all of this pressure on yourself, day after day after day, and…for what? Do you get a donkey at the end? Perhaps a golden kazoo? Money is cheap and can be made in any which way: the real question is, are you enjoying the way you spend your days?
I am glad—so very, very glad—to be able to answer “YES” to that question. (And even here, in public, on quasi-digital paper!) The end, for me, has always been an adventurous life supported by creativity, writing, and a slick pair of high heels.
But, when I asked myself the other question—”What do I really want this year?”—another answer came slinking onto the page.
Always more writing.
A bigger, brighter, sassier Middle Finger Project, full of unorthodox ideas for living a happier life. A Middle Finger Project full of even more truth & honesty. A Middle Finger Project that questions the rules and asks us all to think critically about the choices we make and how they affect our wellbeing.
And all of that? Is officially here. Welcome to the new, reinforced, steel-beamed Middle Finger Project! See you in your inbox every Wednesday. 💃 (And please, please come follow the new IG account, full of delightful fuck-off nuggets!)
But you know what else crept onto the page for me? The other thing I really wanted from 2022?
Even MORE writing—and in a new and unexpected way.
A new and unexpected way?! What does that even mean?!?!?!?!! Shall I write about corpses? Maybe those tiny little sand fleas that accost you on the beach?
Not yet. (Though I’m sure the day will come.) Rather, what it meant was:
I don’t only want to write about being a courageous contrarian who eats Barbies for breakfast.
I also want to write about the other part of the equation: the second part of what makes for a well-lived life.
I want to write about joy.
Courage and joy—these are the only two things that matter. And yet, so much of our daily lives are full of terrible news & deciding whether or not we need to be on TikTok, that we neglect our own joy in so many ways.
So, in true Ash Ambirge fashion, I’ve decided to do what I often advise you to do when you’ve got a new idea you’re passionate about: give yourself the job.
And, that’s exactly what I’ve gone and done (for better and for worse, so help us all).
Introducing my brand-new column:
Welcome to my new joy column! I’ll be writing this in addition to The Middle Finger Project each week, and I’ve assigned myself the mission of exploring the world in search of joy: where to find it, and how we can all get a little bit more of it in our daily lives.
It’s travel writing through the lens of joy—full of my usual irreverence & snark, of course.
And this is my new special space where I’ll be writing exclusively about travel, culture, food, experiences, and the ways in which people around the world are finding their own little moments of joy.
FUN, RIGHT? I know. My new year resolution is always to have more fun than I did the year before, and I am here 👏🏻 for 👏🏻 it.
And, I hope you will join me over there as well: as soon as you do, you’ll get one of my first articles, on my DELIGHTFULLY TERRIFYING experience of eating sea snails on the Basque coast titled, “Sea Snails in France: Tiny Little Terrorists in Your Mouth.” I mean, how can you go wrong?!
Regardless, however, I hope that the biggest message remains clear:
The best way to get the job of your dreams? Is to hire yourself.
And then keep hiring yourself. Go, go, go. Let your ideas lead the way. Don’t overthink it. Don’t talk yourself out of every decision. Give your ideas a fighting chance on their own. Without your belaboring; without your input and noisy opinions. Then, let ‘em battle it out for your attention: which ones rise to the top, naturally? Which ones are you delighting in spending your time on? Which ones do you get excited about doing, and which ones do you dread? TAKE NOTE. Then, act accordingly.
Remember, you aren't here to carry out a bunch of mediocre, unremarkable duties. You’re here to have fun and enjoy your life. So, it’s worth considering: what does that actually mean?
IT’S OKAY TO WANT MORE FOR YOURSELF, EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE NICE THINGS.
It’s okay to evolve. To ante up. To try something bigger and crazier and more interesting, simply because you are curious. There’s plenty more good where that came from—and you will always find your way.
Remember, you don’t have to be certain of the plan.
You only have to be certain of yourself.