Random thoughts from another airport.

Here I am sitting in another airport waiting to fly across the country to tell people god doesn’t exist.  I have the best job in the world.

It’s strange though.  I never knew how exhausted I could get doing something I absolutely loved.  I mean, I love public speaking, I actually like airports, and I like hanging out with fans.  I actually hate the word “fans”.  I find “friends” to be much better since it doesn’t feel like it paints me as being better than anyone.  It actually took Greta Christina and Jen McCreight a lot of nudging to get myself to admit I had fans.  I think that’s good though.  As a public figure, you get a lot of people telling you how awesome you are, and everybody (including me) loves flattery.  It would be pretty easy to let it go to my head, and I worry about that constantly.

And yet, being on the road is the most tiring thing I’ve ever done.  After I get off stage after a talk, I usually just want to collapse.  Public speaking is actually pretty tiring.  And as for the travel, I just got back from a three-week speaking tour which was preceded by a two-week tour.  Now I’m on the road after a day’s rest for another week, then another, then another.  And I feel guilty for wanting a break, like my tiredness is somehow indicative of a lack of gratitude for this wonderful life.

Last week, at American Atheists, I finally broke.  I’ve always made it my policy to stay out of my hotel room as much as possible to be around all the other attendees.  But Greta has warned me for a while that eventually I’d learn that I need to take breaks and in Austin I did.  I spent a fair amount of time in my room recuperating.  And I felt guilty for that.  It’s not like I don’t like hanging around other atheists.  I love it!  But over weeks, it’s still draining.  I’ve come to realize that in order to really engage with people at my best I need to take personal time.  Admitting that was a particularly hard cheese to swallow.

I’m very lucky.  Even though I write and speak for a living, I’ve always endeavored to do it on my own terms.  If I want to post about video games, I do it, even though it’s not my niche.  If I need to take a day for myself when I don’t feel like writing, I do it, even though conventional wisdom says that’s bad for blog traffic.  I remember why I started being an activist and a writer: I felt compelled to read the news and I had thoughts about it I wanted to put down.  When you’re not getting paid, you do it because it’s fun, and I think I’ve been good at keeping it that way.  And even though I’ve gotten pushback for my style in the past, now I’ve established my own niche.  If I don’t want to wear a suit when I speak, I don’t.  If it would amuse me to use impolitic humor, I can.  I think, in the whirlwind that has been my life over the last few years, along with the constant flattery that comes with being a public figure, it would be easy to lose myself, to recreate myself into what I think readers would want with just a hint of myself thrown in.  I’m glad I’ve never done it.  It keeps the work fun and allows me to own myself.

It’s like Sheriff Bart says in Blazing Saddles: once you establish yourself, they’ve got to accept you.  :)

And I think that’s why the realization that I need to rest while on the road at times bothers me.  Rest cuts into fun time, and I want to spend all my time with (*grumble*) fans.  I feel like if somebody who wants to hang out with me doesn’t get to then I’ve let them down (and let myself down).  What a thing to complain about, right?  Talk about first world problems.  “Gee, it’s so hard being popular!  Fuck you man, I work at Taco Bell!”  But the truth is that even though I never want to do anything but this for the rest of my life, the things that come with it can be hard, and up until this morning I’ve confused my tiredness with ingratitude.  I need to stop that, since I suspect I’m the only person who takes it that way.

I just think it’s funny how life evolves, and how our perspective of the perfect life can change.  As a younger activist, when I saw people I admired giving talks I thought to myself “that looks freaking awesome!  I’d love to do that someday!”  And I was right – it’s great.  It just never occurs to you from that side of the fence that it won’t actually be perfect once you get there, and that it’s just life, not something wrong with you.  It’s harder than you think to connect the dots that by taking personal time on the road I’m not letting anybody down, I’m just being human.  As my audience has grown, I’m fortunate that I’ve never relented to the pressure to try and be superhuman.  That could drive a person crazy.

I guess I’m writing this because, like everybody else, I want to be understood by others, especially my friends.

Anyway, just random thoughts from another airport.  I have a lot of things to write about saved in my queue, but I may not get to them until tomorrow.  *hug*  Love you guys.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Loqi

    Blazing Saddles is a great source of wisdom.

  • Nothing

    JT, you’re fucking awesome!

  • Rikitiki

    J.T, the basic thing in all that is: If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be there for others – whether they are fans, sitting-on-the-fence folks, or xian-apologists. Or you certainly won’t be at your best for them. So, as much as you can, drop the guilt by realizing that stretching yourself too thin helps no one.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    I hadn’t thought about this before, but the lifestyle of the atheist activist public speaker is very much like that career you could have had, opera singer. I’m a classical music recording engineer, and see what you’re talking about a lot. The life of the young, hotshot, up-and-coming musician is very much the same — negotiating gigs, learning new repertoire, schmoozing with adoring fans, performing in all kinds of situations, and, I suspect, living with a secret terror of performing badly. Just the travel is very stressful (do you have recurring nightmares about being lost in an airport, unable to find your flight? I do.).

    I wish I could impart the secret for success, but I don’t think there is one. Some artists become prima donnas, some burn out and quit, and some seem to strike a sustainable balance and have long, productive careers.

    I think I can speak for most of your readers, and, yes, friends, and say that we would much rather know you as a happy occasional blogger and public speaker, than as an unhappy prolific one!

  • pjmaertz

    You are awesome JT, and I certainly consider myself a fan of yours. Although we’ve never met, I can tell how passionate you are for the cause. If you want to drink delicious beer or something else that is awesome while in Minneapolis, I would be interested in participating. I’m thinking Skeptech is going to be pretty awesome all around.

  • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    If doing what you love doesn’t exhaust you, either do more of it, or find something else you love and do that too.

  • http://fengardice.wordpress.com Fabio García

    WOOOO I’m your fan, does that mean I can be your friend? Will you replay SNES games with me?

    Also, you tell people God doesn’t exist? Does that mean agnostics are wrong?

  • baal

    I’m a firm believer in taking care of yourself first and everything else second. At the very least, it means other folks get a better you when you’re available. I’m extremely protective of my alone time in particular (then again i grew up in a big family in countries where there are literally people everywhere).

  • John Horstman

    To quote another brilliant movie: “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”