I hate being sick, but I find myself being sick constantly. Okay, not constantly, but whole months of my year might disappear going from a cold to a sinus infection to the flu.

Not to mention the rare days when my intestines decide they need to be forcibly kickstarted or else I’ll face constant abdomen pain.

In the past two months, I’ve spent about three weeks fending off colds hoping they don’t become infections and one long night fixing my internal processing after it went haywire. I lose energy, time, and spends days feeling exhausted wishing I was instead getting things done.

Things like writing and turning Beyond Surrealism into something sustainable and awesome.

But, bodies suck.

What can I do to better pursue my dream of being a full-time writer and creator and overcome my guilty feelings that I don’t do enough?

Let’s look into why I feel the way I do, the reality of the situation, and what I can realistically improve on.

Achievement and Morality

I’m fortunate in a lot of ways. My work has time flexibility. I’m able to get rest when I need to get well (even though my creative output suffers). And, I don’t have any chronic illnesses or physical challenges that make life a constant hard mode.

In the last six months, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Now, I have a CPAP machine to keep me breathing throughout the whole night which has been a big help.

So, no woe is me and I don’t have grand suffering. But, I still feel like I’m falling short of being successful.

I’m horrible at being a healthy and energetic person. I’m not a workaholic. I’m not a health nut. I’ve realized a good chunk of me being quiet is that I’m just sleepy and kinda out of it.

For comparison, I’ve met CEOs and successful business leaders. The kind of people that get interviewed. They go, go, go on schedules I can’t imagine surviving for more than a couple days.

Four hours of sleep every night? Flying across the country, or even the world, and working a full day immediately? Nope.

Sometimes I lose motivation to watch more than 2 episodes of TV in a row and end up on YouTube or Twitter instead.

But what does my natural low energy and frailty say about me and why am I compelled to compare myself to these people?

This was the first result when I searched stock images for “hard work.” I can relate.

Americans tend to attribute the ability to work as a combination of proper willpower and strong ethics. You’re a good person if you work long hours without complaint. Even more so if you’re working on your own self-started business. Spending over 40 hours working each week is a badge of honor. No one brags about part-time.

There are stories of successful authors working their full day at the factory and coming home to their typewriter. Athletes putting in the extra hours of training. Even being the first to show up and the last to go home at any job is seen as a sign of true dedication and zeal. These are not just successful people, but good people (according to America’s cultural norms). They earn their wealth and prestige with their time and effort.

That’s not me.

So, am I lazy? Lacking in willpower? Immoral? Undeserving of success? If I was serious about being a full-time writer and creator and not being sick all the time, shouldn’t I be embracing every healthy habit possible and burning the midnight oil?

Video games, desserts, Netflix, books, fast food, friends? All of these are distractions and chains. As soon as you remove everything you enjoy about life, you can finally “get sh*t done.” Put away those M&Ms and get out the celery stalks. Got a cold? You get high on Dayquil and you show up. Feel terrible? Well, stop it. You think Steve Jobs stayed in bed for the day when he had a headache and a low-grade fever?

I assume he didn’t. But I’m not Steve Jobs. In fact, I lack a lot of the qualities traditionally associated with successful people in America. That explains why I feel guilty about the disconnect of wanting to fulfill my dreams, but not acting like I’m told I should to do so.

The Power of Circumstances

So, what am I to do? How am I to bring my dream of writing and creating to fruition with the body and personality I have? What’s wrong with me and how can I fix it?

Short answer: keep trying. Every day I write, every day I click publish, and every day I share something I’ve done is a win.

But let’s look at the longer answer. You know, the one that’s an actual explanation.

First off, I don’t think business success and moral good should have any sort of connection. Sure, hard work ethic and earning your own dollar are positive traits, but I don’t think your value as a person is connected to how much time you labor or how much money you earn.

Frequently, the money you earn is related to the opportunities given to you by your natural status in society and your personal life (aka your privilege). There are always exceptions, but most “highly successful people” had some sort of advantage or strong investment made in them by someone else.

There’s no way this guy got his job based on talent alone.

Doesn’t mean you didn’t work hard and doesn’t mean you didn’t earn your success. But, it means I need to stop comparing myself to others and getting caught in the mindset that strong work ethic equals good and deserving person.

Example time!

A few months ago, I read a Twitter thread by a pretty successful guy about how proud he was of his young son for going out and shoveling driveways for cash. The kid quickly learned several tenants of business (supply/demand, pricing, business partnerships) and made a good bit of money in one day to save towards a fancy computer. And good on him! Lots of kids wouldn’t want to spend a day shoveling snow no matter how much you paid them.

But he didn’t do well just because he was hardworking. The kid was lucky to be located in the kind of neighborhood where people had disposable incomes to pay someone to shovel their driveway. A lot of families don’t have $10 on hand to give to a local kid. Imagine if he lived in an apartment complex or out in the country. No quick buck shoveling snow no matter how ambitious he is.

Now if he was a kid in less fortunate circumstances, he might learn the best way to make a buck with his enterprising spirit and go-getter attitude is selling weed to the neighbors. Same spirit and same business lessons, but instead you get jail time if you’re caught. Is it the kid’s fault that the local market couldn’t sustain a snow shoveling business, and they instead turned to a high-demand item to market?

I can logically see how each of us have a unique set of circumstances that determine how and when we reach success. But, there are still the challenges of engaging with the emotions of guilt and finding practical action I can take to improve how much work I get done.

Escaping Guilt by Changing Routine (Oh No! More Guilt!)

To deal with my feeling of guilt (and unfinished writing tasks), I need to figure out the personal circumstances that have shaped me outside of my control and plan accordingly.

I believe my predispositions towards being sick frequently and having unhealthy habits are largely influenced by my genetics. I wouldn’t describe anyone in my close family as high energy. I share a variety of health problems (everything from being overweight to a predisposition to skin cancer) with my Mom, Dad, and Grandparents.

So, what I’ve been working on is finding ways to change the habits I can and predict areas where I’m likely to make mistakes or end up unproductive. Then, I counter them ahead of time.

Besides my genetics, another factor that holds me back is being a night owl. Like how we don’t all naturally fit the personality and circumstances for typical success, I think a lot of people, myself included, don’t fit the typical workday. I often get bursts of energy around 9-10 pm that can carry me for hours, but good luck trying to get me to work after lunch or first thing in the morning.

My face when someone tries to make me do work at the wrong time.

Being a night owl is outside of my control, but I can take steps to still be productive. My feelings of guilt are vanquished by knowing the situation isn’t just because I’m a bad person and that I can improve without hitting my head against a wall trying to be someone I’m not.

This past week instead of trying to fit myself into a 9-5 work schedule, I’ve been working on harnessing my late night energy. Dealing with an hour plus long wind-down routine to try and get myself asleep before 11 pm only to stay up well after midnight anyways was a constant pattern.

Even when I got into a good routine, all it would take was getting sick or a long weekend to throw everything off. I never lasted more than a week or two.

Now, I’m letting myself stay up till midnight or until I naturally feel tired. When my head hits the pillow, I’m asleep within 20 minutes instead of laying in bed hoping I fall asleep and counting the minutes until I have to get up.

I’ll admit this system only works because my current part-time work flexibility allows me to sleep in until 9 am. I’m not even attempting to be an early riser.

But this introduces a new kind of guilt. My wife and others aren’t so lucky to adjust their routines easily. Can I feel good when I know I’m only doing better because of my own privilege and advantage and not because of my hard work?

Short diatribe and side-note time: our world is built on the 9-5 (or its cousins 8-5 and 9-6). Heaven forbid your body doesn’t naturally fit the hours our society has decided are work and school time.

I think the fact that so many of us are forced into daily hours that are unnatural for us is why our society has two favorite substances for mental survival: caffeine and alcohol. We habitually use caffeine to force our bodies into the prescribed hours. Then to deal with the stress and annoyance we constantly feel with our work weeks, we commonly turn to alcohol. Or, we just collapse and veg out whenever we have a free minute (I know alcohol usage isn’t as common as caffeine, but trying to make a point here about using drugs to survive!).

Our society is constantly exhausted and one missed cup of coffee or beer away from a breakdown.

Importance of Making Lemonade (And Sharing!)

To summarize, I’ve realized that logically success isn’t tied purely to the individual. Figuring out factors outside of my control that inhibit me and actions I can take inside of my control that counter the outside factors helps alleviate my guilt and reach towards my long-term personal goals.

But what about having to use my own unfair advantages to overcome my shortcomings?

I see we’re feeling introspective today.

My recent success with sleeping better has only been because of my own privilege of not needing to work 9-5 every day.

There’s no way around it. I need to make use of every trick, habit, and advantage I can get if I want to succeed. All while understanding my limits and trying to be kind to myself.

Feeling guilty that I’m not spending more time writing or not having to overcome other people’s challenges won’t help me move forward.

Making sure I write at least a sentence every day guarantees I’m making progress. Yesterday, I only wrote 30 words (the first bit of this essay). Today, I’ve hit 1,340 so far (Hi past Josh, late-night Josh here doing the second draft, turns out we’re well over 2,000 words now!).

I need to know I’ll be sick sometimes and do extra work when I’m well to create a backlog to post while I rest and recover. If I try and do more than 30 hours of focused work each week, I know I tend to be less productive and have lower quality work. I time myself and keep track to make sure I only do 30 hours, but that 30 hours is spent actually working (no social media and no internet browsing while on my clock).

If Beyond Surrealism and myself are successful someday, it won’t be because of suddenly developing an amazing work ethic and immune system. It’ll be because I figured out every possible trick to eke out better work from myself while realizing what fundamentals I can’t change.

Success isn’t fair. The success I’ve already had and the future I hope to have are only possible because of my unique opportunities. My body frequently breaks and falls apart (just like everything), but I can write at least one sentence each day.

But simply making my own lemonade out my life isn’t enough. I need to share as well. That’s how I ethically deal with knowing my success is due in part to my own unfair advantages. As I grow an audience, I want to share that audience with other awesome creators. I want to share the opportunities I have as I go along that can help others achieve their dreams.

I want to encourage you to succeed at whatever goals you’re pursuing. Know that your progress can be as small as a single sentence a day, but that still means you can feel satisfied knowing you’re moving forward.

Also, I want to encourage you to wash your hands more and have your flu shot. I get sick a lot and need all the help I can get.