Why nice people are jerks online

Two people holding their phones.
Two people holding their phones.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

Spending an extended amount of time on the internet can feel like being in a bad relationship: You know it would be healthier to call it quits, but still, you can feel yourself being sucked in. And the longer you stay, the harder it becomes to recognize yourself.

Coming off a long, grueling election week in a long, grueling year, that feels truer now than it’s ever been: Our personas online, especially on social media, are often far from the people we want to be IRL. We pick political fights with relatives in the comments of a cousin’s Facebook post. Or we snark on strangers’ grammar mistakes. …

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Illustration: Draden Ferguson

Early in my career, I got a job offer so good, I thought it was a mistake. The work was interesting, my boss was awesome, and best of all, it paid more than I’d ever earned in my minimum wage life. On the way home from the interview, I called my mother with the good news. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe you shouldn’t risk what you already have. We’re lucky to have any job.” I was deflated. I sighed and stopped mentally shopping for all the new stuff I’d buy with my upgraded salary — namely, I was looking forward to moving out of my 200-square-foot apartment. But the next day, my mom called back. “I’m always so worried about what I might lose that I don’t think about what’s possible,” she said. …

There’s a better way to keep track of your goals

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Photo: Graiki/Getty Images

I’ve always had some version of a bucket list — road trips I wanted to take, skills I wanted to master, professional achievements to hit. With life on uneasy pause early in the pandemic, though, there wasn’t much I could do to make progress toward a lot of those someday goals. I could only stew over the things I wasn’t doing.

Then I realized: The stewing wasn’t anything new. The bucket list wasn’t inspiring; it was draining.

It had always been draining.

Even those of us who don’t identify as planners thrive on plans. It’s the way our brains are built: Anticipating the future is the psychological equivalent of taking our vitamins, a nourishing activity that makes us healthier and more resilient. And we all have things we’d like our future selves to accomplish, even if we aren’t actively working toward them right now: Maybe you want to learn photography, or travel to Japan, or write a book, or jump out of an airplane. …

Three strategies for getting comfortable with discomfort

Two women wearing face masks use binoculars to look in the distance.
Two women wearing face masks use binoculars to look in the distance.
Photo: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek/Getty Images

“It’ll get better,” my husband says as I review our budget, which has become tighter and tighter during the pandemic. “We just have to make it over this hump.”

But what is the hump exactly? And when does a hump become so large that “hump” is no longer the appropriate geographical designation?

At first, the hump was April. Then it was the summer. Now the hump is 2020, and probably most of 2021, too. The hump has flattened into the plateau. We’re in the eternal now, as Kelli Korducki put it in Forge — with the future so up in the air that staying in the moment is about the only thing we can do. …

We love certainty, and bullies are certainty in human form

Screencap of Logan Roy from “Succession.” He is wearing business attire and smiling at someone.
Screencap of Logan Roy from “Succession.” He is wearing business attire and smiling at someone.
Logan Roy from “Succession.” Photo: HBO

The only bosses you hear about right now are the charismatic bullies. Earlier this month, former employees of The Ellen Show accused Ellen DeGeneres of creating an abusive work environment. In June, Bon Appetit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned after a photo surfaced of him in brownface, prompting the magazine’s staff to publish an apology for a “toxic, top-down culture” of racism. This past December, Steph Korey, CEO of the luggage startup Away, stepped down amid reports of what the Verge described as “culture of intimidation and constant surveillance.”

The biggest bully of them all may be on TV. For those who didn’t spend the back half of 2019 talking nonstop about the HBO series Succession, let me fill you in: The show follows a family of media moguls vying to replace their arrogant but physically feeble patriarch, Logan Roy. Roy is a cunning leader, charming when he wants to be, and seemingly unshakably confident in his ability to helm Waystar Royco despite concerns about his health, but most of his power is derived from verbally, physically, and emotionally abusing everyone around him — a pattern that his children repeat, to varying lesser extents, in their own professional and personal relationships. The Roy family dynamic is often cringe-inducing, always toxic, and utterly impossible to look away from. …

No one improves themselves in a vacuum

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Illustration: Laurie Rollitt

The problem that Kenny Trinh was using self-help to solve was his shyness. The bigger problem was what it turned him into.

Trinh was a self-described “meek and shy” office worker who wanted to become a self-assured CEO type. “I wanted to be the smart, confident person in the room,” Trinh says, but “I was lacking in social skills and I didn’t believe in myself.” Looking for a transformation, he turned to self-help, reading a library of books on leadership and self-esteem. “I read them as if my life depended on it,” he says.

And according to Trinh, the strategy worked: He credits his whirlwind tour through self-help literature with giving him the confidence to launch his business, the technology-review site Netbook News, where he now manages a small team of workers. …

The human mind isn’t built to accommodate all the promises of self-help

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Photo: CommerceandCultureAgency/Getty Images

In a way, watching self-help go mainstream over the past several years — as buzzwords like self-care, mindfulness, and productivity exploded in popularity — felt like my own hipster moment: something I liked before it was cool. I’ve been reading self-help literature since I was a kid, when I first stumbled on my stepdad’s collection of Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins books.

Even at an age way below those books’ target audience, I was drawn to their optimism, the hopeful message they contained: If I wanted to live a rich, powerful, happy life, I could do it. As a kid, with the whole future stretched out ahead, it was a compelling promise. As I got older, it became even more so — in some ways, growing up is a continual shutting of doors, but here was a whole genre to remind me that getting to my ideal life was fully within my control. …

Consider who has the luxury of delegating

A photo of a woman working on her laptop on her living room floor with a stack of papers.
A photo of a woman working on her laptop on her living room floor with a stack of papers.
Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

A few months ago, the day before I was supposed to interview a productivity expert for a story, I realized he had never confirmed the time. I fired off an email and then spent a couple stressful hours waiting for him to reply, scrambling to move around my calendar and reschedule other interviews so I could stay flexible for this one.

The next day, minutes before our interview, he finally emailed me back, telling me he could do it now, if I had time. I scrambled to move things around to accommodate him.

After we hung up, I remembered a piece of advice I’d read in this expert’s book: If you want to get stuff done, you have to stop bothering yourself with mundane tasks, like constantly checking email — or, apparently, giving a writer the courtesy of confirming an interview. …

Seeing our colleagues in their home environment is giving us a chance to create a more compassionate work culture

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Photo: Tom Werner/Getty Images

I’m watching the weather on the local news.The meteorologist, from the earth-toned comfort of his home office, tells me to expect rain tomorrow. I can see out his window, where it looks like his neighbors are taking a casual stroll along the sidewalk. Briefly, his tablet stops working, and he sheepishly apologizes to me and everyone else who’s watching him.

I can empathize: I’m not on TV, but over the past couple months, I’ve subjected my coworkers to plenty of snafus: tech issues, background noise, views of the messy corners of my home. With so much of the world working from home right now, we’re getting rare glimpses into the personal lives of the people we work with. …

‘Ooching’ can help you move forward when you’re struggling to make a choice

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Photo: Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images

Even in quarantine, each day is an endless stream of choices: Whether to wear a mask when you go to the grocery store. Which recipe uses just enough of your stockpiled beans, but not too much. How to groom that pandemic beard.

If you struggled with decision-making before, living entirely within the walls of your home probably hasn’t made things any easier. Everyone’s chronic indecision looks a little different: Maybe you have a fear of responsibility. Or maybe you’re a perfectionist, and the idea of making the wrong decision sends your anxiety through the roof. …


Kristin Wong

Kristin Wong is a freelance writer and journalist. She‘s written for the New York Times, The Cut, and Refinery29.

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