What takes so long? Fighting off panic

What are your priorities in life? What are your goals?

Having spent quite a bit of time pondering these questions, here are my thoughts:

I want to be happy.
I want to try out lots of different things.
I want to grow – personally, mentally, professionally.
I want to experience life intensely, taking my time to savor it.

I want to do all of this together with Aske, my husband. I want him to be happy too. I want the two of us to be happy together.

Being happy – in my view – involves eating nice food, having a place that I may call my home and being able to afford buying books, train tickets and hot chocolate. I need at least a few good friends. I need freedom. I need integrity.

I also very much want to travel and see some of the world.

I do not need (or particularly want): A car, a boat, a summer cottage, a swimming pool, expensive paintings, silverware or sumptuous red wine. I do not need fame. I do not need a fancy title.

I am writing this because I made a mistake.

Every now and again, someone asks me when my book is going to be finished. It is a perfectly reasonable question – and I always do my best to dodge it. Why? Because I don’t want to panic.

I do not work well under pressure. I work perfectly well when there is none. I like working. I like creating. I like learning. I like perfecting. And I like to reach milestones. I savor those moments when I can say: Done!

When there is no pressure, I sleep well at night. I get up in the morning with a smile on my face. I take the time to eat a proper breakfast. I plan in different activities during the day.  I allow myself to go for a walk, meet up with friends, make fun food, take Coursera courses, and enjoy life. But mostly, I simply sit down to work on my book. Because I want to.

I can work for hours on end. I forget about breaks. Sometimes I forget lunch. I usually remember dinner. Every now and then I work a bit too much and end up too tired for my own good. This is where the part about ‘no pressure’ becomes exceedingly important.

Without pressure, I simply acknowledge the fact that I have been working a bit too hard and need to sleep an hour extra in the morning or spend a day at the beach. Then I get back to work, feeling relaxed and hungry to get going.

Pressure changes the game.

When I feel pressured, I choke. I skip breakfast. I forget lunch. I hate ‘wasting’ precious time cooking dinner. I don’t go to the beach. I don’t sleep well. I work hard. Then I work harder.

As I start to work harder, I get less done. My mind wanders. I forget what I just read. Procrastination becomes a serious problem. I find myself spending hours zapping through social media sites. Facebook. LinkedIn. My bank account. Facebook. Wordfeud. News. Facebook.

Then the blaming game begins. I tell myself – repeatedly – to get my act together. Get going. Get done. …By the way: Why are you not done yet? Really, you should be!

Getting ‘done’ with stuff becomes the central goal in my life. Forget about happiness and personal growth. What will everyone else think if I fail to deliver? I said I would, didn’t I? I have to… I need to… I must…

Facebook. My bank account. Tax rules. Facebook. Wordfeud. Must get to work. There is so much work to do. So far to go. So much to lose. So little happiness. So much at stake. Facebook. Now, you had your break – get to work. What if…?

You get the picture. I definitely do not work well under pressure.

And this was my mistake: Earlier this year, I may have accidentally left a few people with a vague notion that maybe/possibly/likely my book would be available for sale by the end of the year. Once in the comment section of this blog. Once when talking to a couple of friends at the winter swimming club. And once when I had to fill in my preliminary assessment of income for the tax authorities.

Now… I am not saying that my book won’t get finished. I work diligently. I am making good progress, and I will get there. But I want to make an official disclaimer: I am not making any promises as to the exact release date. I am not. And I cannot say for certain that it will be this year. There is still a lot to do, and I have to do it my way.

I needed to get this off my chest, because the pressure was interfering with my ability to live my life and do the things I want to do – including writing my book. I know that this sense of pressure belongs to me. I don’t think I am the only person in the world to respond badly to stress. And I know full well that most – if not all – other people care very little about my book or about me reaching my goals.

But the pressure has been building, and I wanted to make a stand. This is my life. I want to be happy. I want to enjoy life and work. I don’t need a whole lot of money. I don’t need eternal fame. In fact – I have everything I want, right now.

I don’t know why I have to continually remind myself of this stuff. It isn’t rocket science, after all. Just basic common sense. Happiness is what counts. Panic does not bring happiness. Pressure kills my brain.

I feel a lot better now. I may just go find a nice place in the shadow and take a nap. Or practice some kanji. And when I start to get hungry, I will eat this book. And layout that second to last, exceedingly long interview, which really holds a lot of promise if I can just get it to fall into line with the rest of my book.

I will negotiate the details with each and every one of my interviewees, until everyone is happy with their contribution to the book. I will design a webpage for the book and maybe – just maybe – create a searchable collection of the most interesting articles and videos that I have come across while researching various related topics. I will think about graphic contents of the book and work on my front page. I will organize and find space for all the fun stuff I want to include.

I will not do all of this at the same time. But I will do it. And I will get there.

Most importantly: I will be happy. I will have fun. And I will not panic.

Because I said so. Right?

This is my commitment.

PS: Please don’t ever be afraid to ask me how things are, or how my book is coming along. I love discussing the nerdy details! Just don’t ask me when I will be ‘done’. I will tell everyone around as soon as I feel comfortable doing so. I promise.


Photo credit: Krysten_N / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)


  1. Suna Kate Palsholm

    I really like your thoughts about this. Probably you express what many others are feeling (but maybe are not aware of). A joy to read it. And good to know that you like to share the proces :-) Suna

  2. In january 2013 when you had just started your book project, I asked you about your time plan for finishing the book… You said: It would be fantastic if it could be finished around may (2013), but you were not quite sure if that was realistic, because you would be traveling in Nepal during most of April… If you thought it could be done in less then half a year, then now more then one and a half year later we can see this was quite optimistic. It is interesting to read your blog; I am glad you share your thoughts. I can learn from your project too.

    • joan

      Well, yes, you’re right, Jacob. I remember saying that. I kind of deliberately left it out of my account, but I guess it belongs to the story.

      It is slightly embarrassing, but this did turn into a much larger project than I had originally envisioned. Not accidentally, exactly – it is just that along the way I came up with more ideas and decided to go with them. I did realize that it would make the project grow, though.

      At some point (or rather, gradually, at several points) I realized that I might as well go all in and make this a learning experience instead of simply a matter of gathering a couple of personal stories and handing them over to someone else for publishing. I figured that the more I learn, the less the outcome of my project depends on the sales numbers.

      Most importantly: I realized that I could indeed simply decide to do this. It was, in fact, a viable option. Aske has my back. Earning more money than we need is not the only (or necessarily the best) way for me to contribute to our life together. For a number of reasons that has been a pretty hard thing for me to wrap my head around.

      I was terribly afraid of letting go of my regular job and allowing myself to slip out into the unknown without a backup plan. I was terrified by the thought of not immediately ‘getting back in the saddle’.

      At this point… Well. I am less afraid. Less often afraid. And I see it as an improvement.

  3. Juletta

    Great post Joan, when you do these brave and proactive things, you do them for everyone. Thanks. (That does not mean we are off the hook :-))

  4. Tine

    Another much more famous writer took 12 years to write book no 5 and 9 years to write book nr 6.

    (Hint: Clan of the Cave Bear)

    Don’t fret – you’ve got lots of time.

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