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The Korean Vegan

Toxic Productivity, Tips on Going Vegan, and Holding Close to Love.

published7 months ago
9 min read

Don't have time to read this week's newsletter? LISTEN to it instead.

One of my earlier TikTok videos was a "Day in the Life of a Lawyer in Chicago: Quarantine Edition." In it, I describe a typical day (as the title suggests), from my morning run all the way through dinner, with snippets from my office, as well as a cooking demo I did that evening after work. I thought it was a cute enough video that demonstrated--as well as possible within 60 seconds--what it was like trying to juggle a regular "day job" while also fueling a passion project (content creation). As sure as sunrise, though, someone commented:

"It looks like you don't work very hard."

And the worst part? She was a fellow female lawyer.

We can save the discussion on "women hating on women" for another day, other than to say: Don't do that.

Weaponizing Productivity To Shame People.

The truth was that I was working harder at that point than I'd had in years. I was in the middle of one of the biggest cases of my career, working through a succession of 12+-hour days, while also trying to run about 30 to 35 miles a week. In my "spare time," I was writing my first cookbook and creating TikTok videos. It's hard to fit all that, while maintaining client-confidentiality and thematic coherency, in a 60 second video.

But the problem wasn't just that the commenter was flat out wrong (you know what they say about making ASSumptions right?). It was that she weaponized productivity to shame me at all. What if all I did was work a 4 hour day, come home and make some videos, eat dinner, and go to sleep at 8:30 pm? Why is this something to be ashamed of?

Should We Be Ashamed Of Reclaiming Time For Ourselves?

Of course, the 4-hour work day was never something I'd had a real opportunity to experience until recently, when I shifted from being a full-time lawyer to being a full-time small business owner. Wait, what? I know what you're thinking: small business owners work harder than anyone on the planet! Harder than Jeff Bezos!

I transitioned to full-time TKV right before my book tour. From approximately August through December 2021, I worked around the clock, while training for either a full marathon or a half marathon. It was exhilarating, exhausting, and yes, very productive. In January 2022, though, I decided to take a break.

And the God's honest truth is that I haven't come back to "working around the clock" since.

There are days when I get up at the crack of dawn, hit the running path, grab a mug of coffee, and then just dive right into my emails, Zooms, and videos and not come up for air until it's time to sleep. And then, there are days when I wake up a little later, allowing my body in lieu of some arbitrary time that I can later humble-brag about be the guide to when it's time to start the day. I might linger a bit in the kitchen, keep that heart rate steady and slow on my 5-mile run, scroll through TikTok for an hour, enjoy "second breakfast" with my husband, and then start working when many parts of the United States are well into "afternoon."

And for awhile, I used to feel really guilty about my "lingering" days.

The Disguised Thief Of Joy.

But then, I realized all the things that my toxic productivity was stealing from me:

  • Family. How many times had I said, "I'm so busy with work right now Omma," when invited over for dinner, a trip, or even just a phone call? The same can often be said for time with my husband: even though we work side by side more often than not, we would sometimes go weeks without sharing any real meaningful "relax" time together. Our walks to the coffee shop, our dinners, and even those precious few minutes before we nodded off to sleep would turn into ad hoc meetings on the business.
  • Sleep! Did you know that lack of sleep can literally lead to an earlier death? It raises your chances of diabetes, heart disease, and severely compromises your immune system. It also impairs your ability to make important decisions, focus on getting things done, and truly savor memorable experiences.
  • Friendship. Ask yourself--if you were to get [re]married tomorrow, who would you ask to be in your wedding party? I have to confess, one of the best things about getting married in Rome was that I didn't have to stress out about asking a bunch of women I'd barely spoken to in the past several years to stand at my wedding. The ugly truth is that I readily sacrificed my friendships for the billable hour and hardly ever saw any of my friends.
  • Mental Health. It should come as no surprise that depression, burn-out, and anxiety are all roommates in the house of toxic productivity. Sometimes, I felt like I actually exploited my "busy-ness" to avoid wrestling with the underlying causes of my anxiety and depressive episodes. I am definitely one of those persons who adopts an "I'll ignore it until it goes away instead of getting it checked out" philosophy; but, depression and anxiety are not things that will simply disappear however assiduously you bury them with activity. Eventually, they will catch up to you and then you will burn out long before you would have if you'd simply taken the time to exercise regular self-care.

Something To Truly Brag About.

I realize that we are not all in a position to fritter away half our day watching Korean dramas (boy, what I wouldn't give for those days in law school...!). But, if we are honest with ourselves, we can all unearth pockets of time during which we can re-inject stillness. More importantly, we need to recognize that the number of hours we work, how dark it is when we wake up, how little sleep we need to "operate," how often we eat at our desks or skip our meals altogether, how many times we use the phrase "I'm soooooo busy I can't even think straight!", how much like Tetris our calendars begin to feel--these are not the things that drive our worth.

I dare you, the next time you hear someone bragging about how much they're "hustling," brag about one of the following:

  • How early you went to sleep the night before
  • How late you woke up that morning
  • How many minutes of meditation you were able to get in before the kids woke up
  • How many chapters you read of Liane Moriarty's most recent book smack in the middle of the day
  • How many episodes of Hometown Cha Cha Cha you watched in one sitting
  • How many hours you spent drinking tea with the high-school friend you haven't seen in years
  • How many times you've spoken with mom or dad in the past week

Ask Joanne.

So I would like to become vegan but the rest of my family does not want me to be. Do you have any advice for me? Should I start out with being vegetarian or should I go straight into being vegan? -A'shar

Dear A'shar,

Congratulations on your commitment to compassion! Whether you're doing it for the animals, the planet, your body, or any other reason, a choice to forego animal products in even a small way will lead to less suffering. However, going vegan (for most people) is not a "small" thing. This is particularly true if your family is unsupportive of your decision. So, my first piece of advice is to acknowledge that to yourself--you've made a big decision and it's ok to be intimidated by big decisions.

My second piece of advice is to take your transition at a pace that makes sense for you. Let me give you an analogy. My assistant told me she wanted to start running and asked me if I had any tips. I knew she hadn't run at all for many years and therefore, I suggested she take it slow. In fact, I told her she might want to just start with walking first and then jogging after her body became accustomed to movement. But, Kathy was a little stubborn and instead of taking it slow, she ran laps around an indoor track for several days in a row. When I asked her a couple weeks later how her running was going, she replied, "I stopped running. My knees. They can't handle running. I'm going to have find something else to do." Now, the truth is, it's not that her knees couldn't handle running. It was that they couldn't handle running instantly. My point is, if you try to switch your life altogether instantly, you may find yourself quitting before you've really given it a chance.

For my husband and me, we didn't go "straight into being vegan." We were vegetarians for about 3 weeks before we finally adopted an entirely plant based diet. And it was a year after that, that we began incorporating veganism beyond our diet (i.e., avoiding leather furniture, buying only vegan shampoo, etc.). Now, there are some people who have successfully transitioned directly into veganism overnight without any problems. My friend Nisha (Rainbow Plant Life) went vegan after watching one movie. But that may not work for you and that's ok.

The third thing I would take into account is making sure you are equipped to make the transition no more difficult than it needs to be. Any time someone starts running after not doing it for a long time, I always suggest that they get fitted for proper running shoes. Luckily, there are a lot of resources that are available for free for anyone interested in eating a more plant-based diet. My friend Erik runs a wonderful website called www.vegan.com that contains a TON of useful information. YouTube has thousands and thousands of recipe videos, how-tos, and guidelines on going vegan. There are a bunch of groups on Facebook that will not only help you answer questions and find solutions, they'll cheer you on from the virtual sidelines when you're discouraged and come up against some pushback.

Finally, the last thing I would counsel is probably the hardest--talk to your family. Yes, I know there's a good chance that they won't understand and will continue to express their disapproval of your choices. And, as a result, the path you've elected will be harder than it is for others. This is particularly true if your family (e.g., your parents) is in charge of feeding you. But keeping them apprised of your commitment will accomplish multiple things: (a) it will demonstrate just how committed you are (they may think you're just going through a "phase"), (b) it will guard against any misunderstandings about expectations going forward (theirs and yours), and (c) it might actually convince them to support you at some point!

If they are in charge of feeding you or you do not have full autonomy over your diet, then the most important thing is to not beat yourself up if you can't be a "perfect vegetarian" or "perfect vegan" right now. In fact, that's good advice regardless.

I actually did a video on the "how to go vegan" question if you want to check that out as well.

Wishing you all the best.

Announcements.

  • For TKV Meal Planner Members: Our next LIVE Event will be on March 27 at 7 pm CST! Make sure to mark your calendars and keep your eyes peeled for more information coming soon! Not a member of The Korean Vegan Meal Planner? Sign up here!
  • Did you listen to my chat with Kayty for Gather Intentional Living's podcast? Such a fun conversation about what it means to be intentional in our careers!
  • BOSTON BOOK SIGNING!! Yup! I'll be back on the road for another TKV Book Event! Boston friends, make sure to circle May 17 on your calendars! More details to follow! Can't wait for a signed copy? You can buy signed copies of my book here!
  • NYC Half Marathon, here I come! As you know, I'll be running the half marathon as part of Team NYLAG. I've been training for the past couple months and can't wait to cross that finish line! A BIG THANK YOU to my newsletter subscribers--you all raised over $2800 on behalf of NYLAG!! Those of you in NYC, make sure to say "hey!" if you see me on the course on March 20!!

Parting Thoughts...

A lot of us are struggling with a sense of helplessness. Our lives fundamentally changed in the beginning of 2020. I remember one of my partners at work reassured me, "Nope--this lockdown will be over in 6 weeks. Tops." But, here we are more than two years later and our lives continue to play out against the backdrop of the setting for "pandemic." In the past few weeks, we've seen the inevitable inhumanity of war splashed across our computer and television screens, not to mention the violence that continues to occur, unabated, right here at home for some of us. I wish I had an answer to the despair that threatens to swallow us, but saying stuff like "this too shall pass" feels obtuse and heartless. Experts in foreign policy, geopolitics, oil and gas, race relations, epidemiology, health, and various niche areas of law and politics have sprung up around us and it's hard to know who or what to believe.

In times like these, I ground myself with the only real truth I know: every moment with the ones you love is precious. So, hold fast to the loves of your life, today, tomorrow, right now.

Joanne.