Sounds Like a Plan

Sound Advice Through Popular Song

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Dear SLaP,

I know it’s good to have work in this economy, but I feel like my job has taken over my life. If I’m not working, I’m worrying about work…or not working. Any advice to “pop” me out of this rut?

I like that Loverboy song, but...


Dear Loverboy,

First things first, try to figure out why you’re worrying about work. Are you worried you’ll get fired? Are you trying too hard to define yourself through your job? It’ll be helpful to clarify this for yourself.

But whatever the case, you’re clearly ready to put the “life” back in “work-life balance.” For now, it might be easiest to assign yourself a pastime. Maybe you should volunteer or join a partners dancing class—-something physical that requires both your attention and your attendance. That way, for at least a few hours a week, you’ll be forced to do something fun that can’t be accomplished if you’re fretting.

And if you want a soundtrack for this new activity, look to Indigo Girls’ “Hammer and a Nail,” a peppy ode to putting your energy toward something other than your own anxiety. As the ladies tell us:

"I gotta get outta bed and get a hammer and a nail,
Learn how to use my hands,
Not just my head,
I’ll think myself into jail.”

In other words: You’ve got a job. Good. But you’ve also got the rest of your life. Force yourself to do something—-something with your body, your hands—-so you can a literal hold on what else is available to you.

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markblankenship asked: Hey SLAP -- Every year, I get pressured into buying Christmas gifts for cousins that I rarely see and barely know. Is there a graceful way out of this tradition, or should I just stock up on gift cards now? -- Gift Horse

Dear Horse,

I’m going to go with my first instinct on this one, which was 1) that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and 2) who’s better at nailing that bleakness in song than Ms. Aimee Mann? Nobody, that’s who, and like the lady says on Bachelor No. 2, "Nothing Is Good Enough."

Ladies and gentlemen—
Here’s Exhibit A
Didn’t I try again?
And did the effort pay?
Wouldn’t a smarter man
Simply walk away?

Not to imply that you’re stupid for continuing this tradition, even unwillingly, or for worrying that stopping now will get you in dutch with the fam. But you have to ask yourself what you get out of persisting. It hasn’t increased your closeness with your cousins; it’s not doing anything for your bank balance; it just gives you agita.

And as Aimee astutely wonders on the next track off that album, “Red Vines,” “Would it really spoil everything / if you didn’t blame yourself?” In other words, the cycle of meaningless, resentment-filled gifting isn’t your fault — but that doesn’t mean you have to perpetuate it, either.

So, this year, make a donation in their names to a charity with meaning to you. Next year, revisit the question. But…”It’s not going to stop / it’s not going to stop / it’s not going to stop / 'til you wise up.”

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Welcome to Sounds Like a Plan

Do you see how carefully Christina Aguilera is considering what you’ve just said?

We taught her that.

That’s because at Sounds Like a Plan, we are the masters of blending personal advice and popular music. Ask us anything you like, and we will give you a thoughtful response paired with the song(s) that best illustrate our point.

That way, you’re not just getting advice. You’re also getting a playlist. You’re getting a soundtrack that will make your new life catchy, fun, and danceable.

So don’t keep living in the dark. Just ask, and you’ll be answered.