By Anne T. Donahue
For most of my working life, I was an insufferable keener. I wrote back to emails right away, bragged about being a text message inbox zero, and felt actual guilt if something sat without response for more than three hours. “I am excellent at communication!” is an embarrassing thought I had more often than I’d care to admit. “I get it done and don’t waste time!”
I am fun and always have been.
But in retrospect, I have no idea what “it” was, nor why I equated replying to emails to having excellent communication skills. I don’t know why I believed in my core that anybody who messaged me expected a prompt response (unless they went out of their way to say so), nor why I believed my speedy approach to fucking emails mattered at all. (Emails! EMAILS!!) Ultimately, I think we cling to and try to control stupid things as proof that we’ve got some handle on our own lives, even if said lives are spinning out of control. In my case, much was doing exactly that, so I took empty inboxes as a sign that maybe I wasn’t an incredible failure.
Yet that said, who cares? Who cares if I’m fucking up, and who cares how quickly I can type “Sounds good!” on my phone while in the car with my dad, making fun of every person alive. Who cares how many text messages I can get to, and who cares if it takes me just as long to reply to somebody who’s not exactly prompt in their correspondence. WHO CARES. Do I care? About the response habits of other people? (Only when waiting for a dire response or an explanation for why I haven’t been paid yet.) About how quickly somebody I know can reply all? About the status of another person’s inbox? Absolutely not, oh my God, please let me die. I’ll get back to you when I get back to you, and also I am very tired.
So here’s how I plan to strategize my email game going forward: I’m not going to have one. Unless something is important or not writing back quickly would be rude and insensitive (because it’s also important not to be a dick if somebody’s waiting for you to answer a question), I’m going to politely reject my old habits and write back when I can. When I feel like it. When I have a little spare time and I can give the message the attention it deserves instead. The thing is, I’m a writer. A writer! And while I’d like to think that I am a very important and in-demand person, I am not even remotely those things, and not a soul on this planet is sitting in wait, hoping beyond hope that they’ll hear from me within 20 minutes of their initial reach-out. I like to write, but holy shit: nobody cares. And nobody especially cares about how good I am at a speedy reply. It’s 2021 and the world is on fire: to believe my emails or texts are fodder for any discussion even remotely is delusional, bless my heart.
Admittedly, once upon a time, I’d have thought this was a wild move. But the older I’ve gotten and the more shit we’ve all had to endure, the more I understand that I’m not nearly as important in the universal professional writing narrative as I liked to think I was. And that’s thank God! Honestly, it’s great! Who cares about any of it? It’ll work out! I’m very sorry for the months and years I spent bragging about getting that “You’re caught up!” graphic on Gmail, and I’m sorry to everyone I still owe a response to. You’re wonderful, and please don’t take it personally. Which you won’t, because it’s text messaging and email. Two things that matter but also don’t really at all, so may we all liberate ourselves from the pressure we put on ourselves to be around all the time for even an indifferent, “K!”
I’m pivoting to carrier pigeons now. Or, at the very least, a simple meme that sums up everything. (A sloth with bangs.)
Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!