How to survive when everything sucks.


In 13 days, I’ll celebrate my one-year entrepreneur-a-versary.

I am really, stupendously, riotously proud of myself.

My business is bangin’, my clients are beyond compare, and the personal transformations I’ve rollicked through over the past 12 months have been nothing short of astounding. Growth, baby. Lessons. Vision. Fantasies = enacted. Income = tripled (hey there, Recession. How’s it hanging?). And a plan for the future that aligns with my true strengths.

I didn’t always feel like this.

In fact, 15 months ago (and change) I was one sick, sad puppy. I’d handed in my 9-to-5 notice, and knew my bi-weekly paycheck had a termination date. I had a couple months of savings in the bank, a vague vision for a personal branding business, a few small freelance projects on the docket … and an overbearing sense of impending doom. Well, not quite true. I had no doubt that I’d succeed — at whatever the heck I was doing — eventually. But I knew that the immediate future would be bleak. Like, sobbing-in-the-ladies-bathroom-stealing-free-pizza-from-the-lunch-room-maxing-out-my-credit-cards bleak. And I was committed to the temporary bleakness. I believed — with all my heart — that it was the awkward birth canal to freedom.

Now, a life lived ferociously is bound to include more than a few awkward birth canals. Grotesque break-ups. Nasty business splits. Clients that go A.W.O.L. “Brilliant” choices that bomb. Bad hair. Despair. And every degree of misery in between.

My approach? When life sucks, don’t pretend that it doesn’t — but make sure the suckiness has a limited shelf life. And while you’re crawling towards the shiny neon light at the end of the disco tunnel, LIVE a little, for heaven’s sake. ‘Cause it’s universally impossible for everything to suck. Somewhere, somehow, someone is grinning. So there.

33 Ways To Survive When Everything Sucks

Dig INTO the misery. Really roll around in the muck — for a limited-time (not for-life). Fill your days with The Smiths. Black hoodie sweatshirts. The Amanda Show (we all grieve in our own ways).

Get (playfully) dismal. Write down your worst-case scenario. And revel in it.

Fill up your comedy tank. Preferably with British, Canadian or Kiwi petrol. Try: The IT Crowd. The Mighty Boosh. The Kids In The Hall. Or the original Flight of the Conchords BBC Radio 2 program.

Get some healthy perspective. (Helloo, Japan. And helloo to you, too, New Zealand.)

Rally the troops. Who are your FUCK YEAH friends? Who are your True Believers? Tell them what you’re up to, and get some rah-rah coffee dates on the books.

Go pro. If you can afford it, invest in a professional muse, ass-kicking guru or communication coach. Major life changes are like emotional Olympics. Who’s gonna help you win the gold?

Go slow. Protect your sanity. Slow down to a snail’s pace. Slash every non-urgent to-do off your list. Empty your calendar.
Take an email hiatus. Drop offline. We’ll miss you, but we’ll be waiting with high-fives when you get back.

Symbols & tokens. Would a heart-shaped moonstone serve as a visual reminder to speak with compassion? Would a sapphire engagement ring remind you of your commitment to radical self-love? Would a miniature light saber on your desk inspire you to use the force, Luke? Select a sacred image or item that confirms your commitment to possibility. Hold it. Wear it. Keep it close.

Traditions & Rituals. Rowdy transitions, funks & slumps are a swell time to forge new traditions & rituals. How ’bout a 1-woman Sunday Night book club? Or a nightly 5-minute Gregorian chant break?

Alternative enhancement. If circumstances beyond your control make it impossible to move from the city you loathe, or quit the job you detest, or launch the website you want — right this second — focus on alternative enhancement. Experiment with raw food. Master the art of calligraphy. Learn an impressive parlor trick. Pour your energy into a sector of your life that you CAN enhance, and let the positive rush of achievement flood the rest of your universe.

School yourself. High-impact education is so readily available, it’s staggering. Buying a Mac computer? For $99, you’re entitled to free 1-on-1 training at your local Apple store–for a year. Master iMovie, Garageband, Pages, and every other app under the Mactastic sun. Or see if your city has an Experimental College, where anyone can take — or teach — free classes. No EXCO in your ‘hood? Start one, professor.

Start hanging with your heroes. Who do you think is crazy-sexy-cool? Start popping up in their sight line. Leave a comment.
Take a course. Write a testimonial. Make a date.

Ramp up the gratitude. Write long-overdue (or better yet, pre-emptive) thank you notes.

Dangle a carrot. Right now, I’m dangling a media-free trip to Scotland (summer 2012, baby!) in front of my nose. In times of duress, I repeat my 3-word mantra: “Glasgow. Unplug. Gaelic.”

Write a letter to your future-self. Tuck it at the back of your Filofax. And do not open till Christmas.

Buy some glittery eyeliner. Ladies, this applies to you, too.

Enforce a mandatory disco break. During my final weeks of 9-to-5-ing, I blasted Tina Turner through my headphones from dawn till dusk. And occasionally, I “treated” my co-workers to some hot cubicle krumping action. (I didn’t get fired. It was too late for that.)

Clear your calendar, in the name of self-care. Do you really wanna go to that potluck? Maybe you just want to sleep. And maybe you should.

Get a penpal. Or! Take a cue from my brilliant sister-in-law Marisa Kuney and get yourself a snackpal. She and her bestie send parcels of gourmet treats (like luxury popcorn and burnt caramel sauce) to one another. Nothing like the prospect of edible treats in the mail to brighten your mood!

Check in with an old mentor. Get some guru-on-the-mountain time.

Write a fan letter. Or! Record a quick message and attach the mp3 to an email. It’s a fan letter … made audible!

Indulge in a heady, senseless crush. Need I go on … ?

Get witchy with it. Whether or not you “believe” in astrology, Tarot, runes or auras is beside the point. Being witnessed by a master intuitive is a powerful experience. Witchy men (and women) have a gift for seeing patterns (and solutions) that elude us, in times of stress.

Go on a money-saving bender. My BFF and I cheekily refer to this as the Austerity Program (or AP, for short). Can you use everything in your fridge, like an Iron Chef, before heading to the grocery store? Can you read every book on your shelf, before buying a new DVD set? Can you refrain from buying ANYTHING for a year, like Shopaholly?

Buy a roll of butcher paper. Write ENORMOUS quotes from floor to ceiling. I recommend Rumi, Neruda & Wilde.

Try lucid dreaming. And keep a dream journal.

Leetle treats. Create a weekly treat-budget — $5, $25 or $50 — and spend it on things (or better yet — experiences) that make you smile. Luxury donuts. ’80s movies. Shiny baubles. Museum passes.

Trip out on textiles. Take pleasure in simple, animal pleasures. DAMN that faux-fur pillowcase feels goooood! Holy SNAP those flannel sheets are niiiiiice!

Write yourself a new job title. Maybe you’re a “Group Wrangler & Functional Muse” (like Dyana Valentine). Or maybe you’re an “Interface Radical” (like Amy Hoy). Or an “International Playgirl” (like Gala Darling).

Get carded. Between jobs / genders / vocational identities? Get some personal calling cards printed by Moo. No job title or office line required. Just your name (or a nom de plume) and an email address or phone number. Et voilà!

Redesign your morning routine. Regardless of whether you’re a crack-of-dawn-er or a sleep-till-noon-er, the first hour of your day sets the tone for the rest of your rambles. Goddess Leonie’s How To Be A Morning Goddess e-book is a fun romp through 20 women’s morning routines, including Gwen Bell, SARK, and, uh, me.

Drink sparkling San Pelligrino H2O straight from the bottle, and pretend you’re a EuroTrash hobo.

Watch Leonard Cohen: Live in London. Start to finish. Sob. Rewind. Again.


You’re gonna be fine, kiddo.




creativity // inspiration grief // catharsis


Thank you.

Kristen Gann on Mar 19, 2011 Reply

You are the greatest. I laughed out loud many times and feel so inspired, even though at the moment my life does not suck. Can’t wait to hang again!

LOVE this.

And Summer 2012? I’ll be your Scottish tour guide :)

…I needed this so SO much. Thank you.

Ms Franzen you are a peach!

Alternative enhancement is such a golden concept, also, snackpals!!! Just when I thought mail couldn’t get any better…

I love this! Starting not only freelance adventures but an entire company was really hard too. And just when I thought things were taken off, we took a pretty rough hit, financially speaking with the last show. Not to mention getting my heart pretty badly bruised last October (I used to say shattered, but she doesn’t deserve that). These are definitely some great tips! Although I learned some fun tricks too in my “awful” time. Never underestimate the power of star-gazing with your BFF and bottles of wine.

Yes, I said bottles, not glasses.

KRISTEN GANN :: You. Are. Welcome.

HELENE :: I can’t wait for our retirement villa in Tuscany, my beloved!

GENNA :: Oh, it’s ON.

MEG :: You. Are. Welcome. Also.

BRIDIE :: SnackPals are my new obsession. Seriously. Someone needs to create a SnackPal-pairing website.

KATY :: Stargazing, indeed! Bring it, spring …

Alexandra Franzen on Mar 20, 2011 Reply

The recorded MP3 note via email is my fave. So be ready for personal songs from me to you.

I love you AF

:: E

Hi! This is fantastic, lady. I feel like you should have a t.v show every week. I would watch that shiz.

p.s hi mentor! How are you? : )

I loved reading this, thank you! I’ve actually done quite a few of these myself, especially the wallowing. It does work too!

I really fancy trying the new title though, not done that, and get some business cards. I’ll make it my Easter treat. :)


I love these tips! I’m planning on going full-time freelance in 6 months time. If I ever need to, I will make sure to keep these tips in mind when “everything sucks.” Hope it doesn’t, but I know at some (many) points it will anyway!

This is pretty brilliant and exactly what I needed: I just failed a class that I had no idea I would fail. Pretty much I feel like dying on embarrassment and MAYBE DROPPING OUT OF SCHOOL FOREVER.

BRB being melo.

Bright on Mar 25, 2011 Reply

simply love. I’m ready to not spend a dime for months except for on some little treats and pelligrino so I can be a eurotrash hobo :-)

Brilliant! <3

Sammy Jo on Mar 25, 2011 Reply

Needed this. Thank you!

Maz on Mar 25, 2011 Reply

I snickered a little bit because the very first thing I do when I’m feeling down about things (like super down, like days down), is I listen to The Smiths on repeat, haha!

This is amazing, I’m suffering from stuck-in-9-5 woes at the moment, I recently started doing the reality check thing quite often. It really works!


I love this! Thank you for sharing!

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! You have no idea how much I needed a friendly piece of advice. I’m currently on a hiatus from college (due to financial reasons) and am not finding it NEARLY as cool as i thought it would be. Living at home has taken its toll on me, lol. The next time I find myself internally throwing a fit I shall consult this list and do every single thing on it!

Joy on Mar 25, 2011 Reply

Omigosh! I’ve had the toughest day and this just made is SO much better! THANKS!

Thank you for this. It really helped lift me up from this sucky, sucky week I had. Bon weekend!

ERIKA LYREMARK :: Your Marilyn Monroe-esque “happy birthday” voicemail remains one of my fondest audible encounters.

SHENEE :: I think I would prefer a radio show. Because then I wouldn’t have to wear pants.

RYAH :: Ooh, what shall your new title be? Do tell!


ANNCHING :: You will be fine, no matter what. Use the next 6 months to prepare yourself, and share the big news. Going freelance is kinda like preparing for childbirth — you’re gonna need extra support from your tribe.

BRIGHT :: I nearly failed a very basic math class in high school, because of silly hormones and hysteria and rejection and general teenage angst. And I dropped outta college during my sophomore year, to travel and expedite my grown-up-ness. Life is winding and peculiar. You’ll find your way.

ISLANDIA :: EuroTrash Hobos needs to become a band, methinks.

MELISSA DOMINIC :: You know it’s true.

KIM :: Reality chex keep us SANE!

JOY :: You will SURVIVE! Don’t forget to go for walks and visit the library and get outta the nest, so you don’t go bonkers! This too shall pass.

AMY + JUSTINE :: I hope your sucky days have fizzled away! Peace + blessings.

Alexandra Franzen on Mar 26, 2011 Reply

Best thing I’ve read all week. I’m adding you to my google reader. xo.

Love stamp! Thank you so much.

pintsizedinFluence on Mar 28, 2011 Reply

Thanks again for posting this! It was totally inspiring.

So many good pointers here! Awesome!


First, let me congratulate you on your upcoming 1 year entreneur-a-versary! So happy for you and for all of your success! I hope to join the entrepreneurial ranks soon myself.

Followed a link from Goddess Leonie’s blog over here and am so glad I did! I love your ideas for dealing with all the ack from crappy days, of which I’ve had many recently. Things are improving, however. :-)

Renee on Apr 6, 2011 Reply

Late to this, but love it. “Find alternative enchantment” = new mantra. Thanks, Alex.

This is brilliant brilliant brilliant. It drives me crazy that people don’t like to talk about how to deal with how to survive when things are awful. Sometimes, they just are. Eventually I’you have to cowboy up and deal with it, but how do you deal when the monsters are temporarily at bay but you have the wreckage all around you? What to do then? These are some great, funny, and pretty useful suggestions. Thank you.

it made me feel betr.. my tears stopped n i smyled

adreeja on Mar 23, 2012 Reply

Absolutely loving this list!!! Going to print it out and pin it to my bathroom mirror! So I’ll never forget it! Brought a big smile to my face, thanks!!!

Barbara on Jun 22, 2012 Reply

I’m a new reader, and am reading through some links from the email newsletter you just sent out…congrats on two years, you have some great stuff on here!

Curious if you’ve taking your media-free trip to Scotland yet? (Hello, Summer 2012!)

I like your style, friend!


Jessica Mullins on Aug 22, 2012 Reply

♥ the pen pal snack share idea – How clever!
Congratulations & TY 4 your honesty.

exellent article…

What a bright, shining light you are! Thank you for this delightful list! My life definitely does not such at this moment, however I do believe I will be incorporating some of these survival tactics anyway. Especially: snack-pal. xo


– British humour can help any slump. Something about self-depreciating humour that makes you realise you’re going to be ok.

Alex, this is like awesome. Thanks!


This is insulting. Try really having your life irrevocably turned upside down. Our second child was born with multiple severe disabilities caused from a very rare random genetic mutation, is severely irritable and needs to be watched 24/7 due to high risk of sudden death due to seizures. Needless to say she has extremely high medical and care needs. Not only have we had to face the heartache of having a child who has a very low quality of life, but we have both had to stop working, make the big decision to not send our other daughter to the school we had prepared her for and enrolled her in, now we are also faced with having to sell our much loved family home because it is completely unsuitable for severe disability and we need to try and get rid of our mortgage. Even though my husband and I are degree educated we are unsure whether it is even going to be possible to have the luxury of participating in the workforce. What you have written makes me very angry, you have been through a setback from which it is possible to recover, move on and thrive, this does not constitute real problems. Real problems cannot be fixed by hard work and determination within 12 months and there are many people who are never (not matter what they do) able to recover from the circumstances life throws at them because they are facing impossible situations, with impossible choices – this is when life really sucks.

Belinda on Feb 2, 2014 Reply


It sounds like you’ve been through absolute hell, and I’m so sorry for the pain + loss you’ve experienced. If I could take it all off your shoulders, I would.

As a writer, I can only speak from my own personal experiences — what I’ve personally been through.

I try to offer advice + positive inspiration for people struggling with similar obstacles. Of course, my particular flavor of “advice” isn’t going to resonate with everyone, and I accept that. But I certainly never intend to offend or upset anyone, and I’m sorry this post had that effect on you.

I hope that you find some support out there — from another blog, website, community or resource — that feels helpful and appropriate, for you. I’m sure that you will.

And I hope this year is a (much, much) happier one for you.

Sending love …

:: A

Alexandra Franzen on Feb 6, 2014 Reply

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