Portland born Sam Lansky spent his adolescence in New York City. During that time he struggled with addiction and his subsequent recovery was the subject of his 2016 memoir, The Gilded Razor — currently being adapted to a feature film with Oscar-winning filmmaker Dustin Lance Black.
Now, the Time editor is out with his second book, Broken People, an autobiographical novel—which he calls “a kind of spiritual sequel” to The Gilded Razor. It’s a story about intimacy in a time of alienation, wellness in a time of chaos and mysticism in a time of materialism.
He sits down with Thrive to share how he’s navigating this new normal, shifting his expectations and what gives him energy.
Thrive Global: How are you navigating this new normal?
Sam Lansky: By staying connected. Being stuck with yourself is so challenging—I’ve really tried to emphasize nurturing my relationships, even in an era of distance, to make sure I’m not getting too isolated.
TG: What are some ways you are working now that differ from pre-pandemic?
SL: I have to make more of a conscious effort to take time away from my inbox and feed—otherwise I’ll just spend all my time looking at screens. I used to find relief and comfort in being out of the house spending face-to-face time with people, which created a sense of work-life balance. Now that’s more of a conscious practice.
TG: How are you staying focused at this time?
SL: I’m not, and I’m the first to admit it. I think under these extraordinary circumstances, staying focused is a high bar to set for ourselves. Instead, I’ve been trying to examine my impossibly high expectations of myself, that I would manage to stay focused at all during a time when I’m constantly distracted by the ambient drone of my anxiety.
TG: Tell us a little about your book. What makes it unique?
SL: It’s a novel, but I wanted reading it to make you feel like you’ve just read a self-help book—not in a cloying way, more like you’ve been inspired to think differently about your own life and your choices, even though you’ve been on an entirely narrative journey.
TG: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? Do you have a time saving trick for the morning?
SL: I stumble out of my living room like a bear wandering into a campsite and yell at the speaker to play my chanting playlist, so I don’t have to look at a screen first thing, then I sit with my coffee and chant mantras from kundalini yoga for ten or twenty minutes. This is my one sacred part of my day before I disappear into the vortex of my phone—it’s really important for me to create that space and orient myself in something spiritual, even if it’s all downhill from there.
TG: What gives you energy?
SL: Putting my body in motion, even if it’s brief—otherwise, I feel half-asleep all day. I’m a big fan of The Class By Taryn Toomey, which has streaming workouts, including quick ones on demand that can reenergize me and turn my day around, even when I have a lot of resistance to doing it.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
SL: Sobriety. I got sober when I was nineteen and the hours I’ve gotten back from never being intoxicated or recovering from a hangover have made all the difference.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
SL: Absolutely not! I leave my phone charging in the living room so I only begin to engage with it when I feel ready to and have gotten myself in a good headspace.
TG: How do you deal with email?
SL: I live on inbox zero, which is challenging, but feels important for my mental health—it’s hard for me to focus if I have inbox dread. I do a lot of flagging emails that I know will require extra care to come back to later in order to move through the queue gracefully.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
SL: I think burnout, especially in the pandemic era, is something many of us are struggling with, myself included. I’ve compared it to an app that’s running on background draining your phone’s battery: We are managing new forms of anxiety, and the subconscious effects of that are substantial. But I’m a big believer in taking small ways to recharge: Putting my phone on Do Not Disturb for a couple hours, or taking a streaming yoga class, even if it feels like my schedule won’t permit it, can do wonders.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
SL: To some extent, failure is a narrative choice—certainly it’s a real thing to fall short of someone else’s expectation, or to harm someone, but one of my growth areas is seeing failure as a teacher instead of something to punish myself over.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
SL: I’ll kick it to the inimitable Dolly Parton here: “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”
TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?
SL: It sounds so obvious, but taking it one thing at a time. I make a lot of to-do lists, knowing that not everything I set out to accomplish in a day will get done, but the sense of momentum I get from checking things off is very sustaining.
TG: With so many distractions and interruptions coming at us throughout the day. What are your tips to stay focused?
SL: Putting your phone on Do Not Disturb is the best gift you can give yourself. One of the most damaging, distorting features of our always-on culture is that anyone who has your contact information is entitled your attention at any given moment. Taking time to respond is an act of respect to yourself.
TG: When you notice you’re getting too stressed, what do you do to course correct?
SL: Pause. Breathe. Unplug. Come back to it. Everything gets done in its right time.
TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?
SL: I have been chanting mantras for several years from a playlist I made on Spotify, and I always laugh when my Spotify year in review is a mix of kundalini yoga gurus and pop stars. It’s a good reminder that we all contain multitudes!
TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?
Making gratitude lists—even if it’s just five quick things I’m jotting down in my Notes app—always resets my day and puts me into a better headspace.
TG: What brings you optimism? In this time of great reckoning on so many fronts—but particularly the conversation in recent weeks around racism and police brutality in America—seeing so many people take to the streets for these important causes has made me feel so hopeful for the future.
TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?
SL: I make a gratitude list and send it to a friend, which keeps me accountable, then take about sixty-five different supplements.