It can be hard in this post-apocalyptic world of ours to stay focussed on what’s important: you and the better you inside you just waiting to get out of you — like the giant tapeworms which helped bring down our civilisation.

People don’t change. (Unless they’re infected with tapeworms or the zombie virus, or if they’ve been injected with a nanite swarm by our robot enemies). Most people still look for secrets, amazing tricks and life hacks that will make everything better right away.

Unfortunately there are no “overnight successes”, not even last night’s successful overnight raid on the rival scavenger camp which had been hoarding all of those tins of premium dog food. We got the dog food, but lets never forget we had to leave old Vernon behind to slow down the human-tapeworm hybrids chasing us.

Most people still look for secrets, amazing tricks and life hacks that will make everything better right away.

Vernon was slow. He didn’t adapt. Not to the end of the world as we knew it. Not to the bullets I put into his leg as we fled the scavenger camp. And certainly not to the challenge of all those tapeworm people burrowing in through every orifice.

But think of all the incredible, adaptable people you truly admire in our post-apocalyptic world today. They didn’t succeed because of one power move. They succeeded because they followed my Top Five Amazing Self Improvement Hacks That You Need to Action Today. So stop aiming for radical personal change. A magic bullet cannot save you. But five well-aimed conventional bullets into a slow-poke like Vernon almost certainly can. I’m not saying it’s easy. But there is no more chance of escaping the hard work of self-improvement than there is of escaping the robot slave mines of Area 7. So, stop looking for “quick hacks” that bring faster results. The only hacking that works since our computers went dark is the sort involving machetes and the undead, and of course my Top Five Amazing Self Improvement Hacks That You Need to Action Today.

So stop aiming for radical personal change. A magic bullet cannot save you.

  1. Think of your time as money. OK. We stopped using money after the banks collapsed, but we do barter and we only have a finite amount of things to barter with. Time is finite. It’s more important than ever to learn when to delegate a task rather than do it yourself. Do you really need to sharpen all the stakes guarding the zig-zag road into the strategic hamlet? Is dragging a heavy rock to the trebuchet commanding the riverine approaches the best use of your time? Probably not, now that Vernon’s comely young hand-fasted woman is single again and that big old yurt of hers can get cold and lonely on a nuclear winter’s night.
  2. Improvise, adapt, overcome. When those tapeworm-human hybrids sprang their ambush, I improvised a distraction for them. I adapted to the situation, the same way that Vernon will soon adapt to his new life as a giant flesh-eating nematode. And I will overcome his woman’s objections to sharing her yurt and bed roll with the guy who, lets face it, murdered her husband, by offering up a dinner of delicious dog food that Vernon’s unavoidable murder made possible. I improvised, adapted, and will overcome. You can too.
  3. Schedule your energy. It can be difficult to filter out the noise and actually achieve what we set out to do, every day. Rather than trying to avoid distractions completely, we should schedule around our energy instead. Plan to do, say, an hour’s work hammering and grinding salvaged tea spoons into arrow heads, followed by five minutes of rest. Read the Facebook on the hamlet bulletin board, to catch up on who’s had their face cut off by the Inquisition lately. Check on your mail, if the postman still lives. But just be aware of and prioritise around your times of maximum productivity and avoid the infamous afternoon slump when more than one sleepyhead has found themselves waking up in the communal cook pot.
  4. Networking. Did you know that over one hundred percent of people still find their jobs through networking? You can safely bet that successful hamlet elders didn’t get to the top by living in a bubble. Not since the last domed city collapsed. Now more than ever, networking is a necessity. So how do you pull it off? It doesn’t involve throwing yourself at everyone you meet. Truly effective networking involves being your authentic, fabulous self, and becoming your own best cheerleader since we’ve already eaten the rest of the cheerleaders. Looking to grab up that sweet, sweet gig as village herbalist? Think you’ve got what it takes to replace the blacksmith one day? You could spend all your time chewing bark and grass or begging for an ironmongery apprenticeship. Or you could just make friends in the Assassin’s Guild. In the modern world, it’s not who you know. It’s who they’re willing to kill in return for a couple of tins of stolen dog food.
  5. Get started early. One thing that hasn’t changed even as everything else has? Successful people get an early start on their success. That crucial hour before dawn, when most people are still hiding from the vampires, you could be up cutting a deal with our vampire overlords to guarantee your position as hamlet chieftain in return for guaranteeing them a regular supply of human blood going forward.
  6. Always under-promise and over-deliver. I promised Five Amazing Self Improvement Hacks, but I’m going to give you Six.

Eliminate ANTS.

Not the giant, man-eating fire ants which have proven all but impossible to eliminate, but the other, even deadlier ANTS: Automatic Negative Thoughts.

Negative thoughts happen to everyone, but the worst thing you can do is let them bring your day down. Focus on learning how you can change your perspective and realise your most fantastic self even as the world dies screaming all around us — it’s well worth the effort.

Negative thoughts happen to everyone, but the worst thing you can do is let them bring your day down.

Don’t think, omigod these human nematodes are going to catch up with us.

Think, omigod these human nematodes are my chance to finally get into Vernon’s hand-fasted woman’s hand stitched britches. Huzzah!

Staying optimistic keeps me almost as excited as those well stuffed britches. And by staying optimistic and excited, your day will always be worth it, no matter how few you have left.

John Birmingham

John Birmingham

John Birmingham is the critically acclaimed columnist, author & indie publisher of titles including the Axis In Time series, Stalin's Hammer, A Girl In Time and He Died With a Felafel In His Hand and the founder of subscription newsletter, Alien Side Boob. Subscribe to ASB for $4 a month on Gum Road: https://gumroad.com/l/aliensideboob.

The former Fairfax columnist has made a number of significant contributions to The Quarterly Essay, including A Time For War and Appeasing Jakarta.

He publishes regularly on Medium and on his website, Cheeseburger Gothic.

How do you spend your days?

I’d like to say I write, but realistically I spend a lot more time running around after kids and an ageing Labrador than I do at my keyboard. This is probably why I can’t afford that business jet I always wanted. Damned kids, ruining everything for me.

What drove you to focus on journalism and fiction writing? Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?

I always wanted to write, but initially I wanted to write fiction. Specifically horror fiction. I was a huge fanboy of Stephen King and as a teenager I filled my exercise books for school with really awful sub-King horror stories. Stephen King once made the point that horror and humour are two of the most difficult writing forms.

Done poorly, horror turns unintentionally funny. And badly written humour is just creepy. I never did find a way to make a living from ripping off Stephen King stories, but writing ten dollar features for student newspapers I did discover I could crank out jokes like a sausage machine. The first time I trousered ten bucks for doing that I knew I’d found my calling.

What drives you professionally?

Did I mention those kids? They’re really expensive.

In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?

I really hope climate change isn’t real, because otherwise we’re all gonna die screaming. But I suspect it really is the problem 99% of the relevant pointy heads say it is.

And because its a problem, and we often solve our problems through violence, I suspect the inability of national states to deal rationally with climate change will feed into state on state conflict for decades to come.

Or until we all die screaming.

Number three? That’s easy. The trillions of dollars in tax that corporations and the super wealthy refuse to pay.

If you hadn’t become a writer what would you have done?

I trained for a while as a spy catcher. That was fun, except for all the public service rules.
If I could have been a spy catcher but without having to fill in all those forms, that would have been sweet.

What led us to this moment in history?

History, obvs.

What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?

Regulation works.

The Australian banks complained for years that they weren’t allowed to get into the derivatives hot tub with all the other cool kids. And then the spa filled up with exploding piranhas and they went a little quiet.

But now, both here and in the US, there is a powerful lobby which wants to fill the hot tub again. With piranhas.

Can you list some ‘baby steps’ out of the current economic mess?

The Australian government’s recent win over Chevron is actually a very big step towards getting multinational corporations to actually carry some of the tax burden which has increasingly fallen on individual taxpayers.

Other revenue authorities in other jurisdictions will be examining it closely.

If you were a President or Prime Minister what would your first three pieces of policy be?

I think we all know who’d be paying more tax. I’d be using that revenue to fund basic education services, and then ramping up spending at a tertiary level down the track.

After that I’d be looking very closely at subsidies built into the fossil fuel economy and preferencing renewables by all means possible.

Tell us something you have been wrong about?

WMD in Iraq. Who knew? Besides all those stupid peace protesters.

You are stuck in a ski lift for twenty four hours - you can have one person (living or dead) with you who will it be?

As long as they bring a bucket, anyone will do. But I probably the blues legend B.B. King.

Name the book that changed you.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I could feel it reprogramming the language centres of my brain as I read it.

What would you do differently if you were to start all over again?

I’d get out of traditional publishing five years earlier.

Give our readers, members and subscribers a piece of advice that has served you well.

The story you most want to believe is the story you should question the hardest.

Anything you would like to plug?

I run a subscription newsletter, Alien Side Boob, which is delivered directly to your inbox, twice a week, for $4 a month. My attempt to find a new business model before the media apocalypse hits. Coz clearly the old ways aren’t working.

Twitter: @JohnBirmingham
Website: jbismymasternow.com
John Birmingham

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