hand holding a journal amongst flowers

9 Stress-Busters, Modest Goals, and Indulgences That Keep a Comedy Maven Going

Tara Schuster didn’t set out to become a self-care expert. Or to publish a so-called self-help book (Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies) in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I had a breakdown at the beginning,” she says. “And I grew up in so many crises and was as prepared as anyone to deal.”

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A sharp-witted, coolly confident, and disarmingly funny Comedy Central alum, Schuster spent years trying to regain control of her life after struggling with intense residual aftershocks from a chaotic, neglected upbringing. On the outside, she was living on a hot streak—a twentysomething TV executive working on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Key & Peele, and more. And on the inside: “I was a mess, wreck, disaster of a person threatening to hurt myself after drunk dialing my therapist,” she says. “I wanted to save my life.”

And she did, after fine-tuning certain tools that enabled her to take responsibility and change her narrative’s course forever. “What you do not deal with deals with you always,” says Schuster. “You can’t outrun it. You can’t suppress it forever. So why not just deal with it?”

Earlier in May, we asked Schuster what tools she was leaning into and if she was still buying herself the lilies.



“I used to think that only egomaniacs were the kind of people who journaled. And also, who has time to journal? What a burden! But once I started doing it—and now I’ve been journaling for nine years, every morning—I realized it’s a shortcut to getting self-aware. I don’t know of a better practice for understanding what’s going on inside. I call it ‘DM’ing with your soul.’ You can get some serious X-rated thoughts out, the things that really want to be said that maybe you’d be shy about in real life. They tend to come up in your journal.”

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“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I challenged myself and said, ‘How can I try to take care of myself and enjoy some of this time?’ Because this is life. Life doesn’t start once the pandemic ends. We have to live now. And the very first thing I did was commit to making my bed. It sounds so basic. It is. But one of my good friends once said, ‘messy bed, messy head.’ And that really stuck with me. When I don’t make my bed, the entirety of my day is a disaster. I feel uneasy. I don’t want to live in a place I’d be embarrassed to have people over. That’s not good for my mental health. I want to treat myself at least as well as I treat a guest.”

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set modest goals

“This is very annoying of me, but I’ve really doubled down on working out. It is my number one anti-anxiety tool, and I was an indoor theater kid to the extreme my whole life. So I challenged myself to learn how to do a pull-up. And I f*cking did it. And that’s major. I’m not saying, ‘I need to find my life’s purpose in this pandemic.’ I’m simply saying, ‘I need to make the bed and do one pull-up.’ But little by little that adds up. People get obsessed with the big picture and how everything is going to turn out. But our lives are actually mundane details, all of our habits. So if I make my habits enjoyable, and if my habits give me pride, oh my god, my everyday existence becomes a more gleeful, confidence-building, awesome time. And then I am more awesome to people because I’m not scattered. I feel calm, like I’m accomplishing the modest goals I’ve set out for myself. My next goal? Two pull-ups.”

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“Just as you’d set boundaries in a relationship (I hope), you need to set boundaries at home. For example, one thing I let go of when the pandemic started was what time I woke up and went to bed—I was just like, ‘I’ll stay up till 1 a.m. watching Love Is Blind. I win!’ But then I couldn’t get up, wash my face, and do my morning routine or creative writing before work, which is so important to me. So I really had to go Mary Poppins on myself and give myself some discipline so I could get back to my prepandemic schedule. I don’t always nail it. I’m not perfect about it, but I have an intention and presets to fall back on.”

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“You’ve got the routine, and then you’ve got your space. I convert my space every day. In the morning, my dining room table becomes my work zone. And before I move the dining room table into the hallway of my very small apartment, it becomes the gym. So it was the gym, now it’s the workspace, and then at 6 p.m., it will convert back into a dining room. It’s these physical rituals that anyone can do in their current situation—and doesn’t it feel good? It feels good when you can smudge the air, clear your space, and say, ‘Now it’s yoga time.’”

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“I’m healthy. My family’s healthy. I have food. I have a roof over my head. It’s odd that it can become so easy for us to take for granted the miracles of our lives. It’s a goddamn miracle that I was born at this time and I live in this place and I get to do things like this. Cool! Last week I sat at my table writing a stack of thank-you cards to people I had been meaning to thank but hadn’t. I’m immediately calmer when I write a thank-you card. I call it nature’s Xanax.”

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“I’m a list-maker. And I started making a list of people I admire that I want to connect with in a more authentic way. If you’re working from home, and your office has suddenly become the Zoom happy hour, but by now you’ve had thirty of them…maybe that’s enough. There’s an opportunity to spend some of that time connecting with people you’ve always longed to connect with. So first on my list is Sarah Hurwitz. She was Michelle Obama’s speechwriter and she also wrote an incredible book about Judaism called Here All Along, and I’ve just always loved her, but she lives in D.C. So I reached out and said, ‘Can we hang?’ And she was, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ So we got on a two-hour Zoom, and we were just riffing and talking, and it was one of the best conversations I’ve had all year.”

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“I feel like this is going to be annoying, so I’m hesitant to say it, but I just don’t drink in a crisis. The edge might be keeping us from the abyss. If something went bad, I used to just pour the Pinot into it. But then I started leaving little Post-it notes in my house about how much the Pinot Noir was not helping me and why did I have such a headache and ‘Oh my god, of course you have, because you drank so much last night.’ You can trick yourself into that kind of behavior. But at the same time, if a glass of wine at the end of the day is what you want, to each their own. My question to you is: Is it helping you? If it is actually a treat and something lovely at the end of your day and you have a Zoom date with friends, awesome. If you find yourself drinking an entire bottle and then feeling regretful and angry at yourself and all these other weird shameful spiral things, then maybe investigate.”

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“Fortunately, Trader Joe’s is still stocking the f*cking lilies, so I’m still buying lilies as I talk about in my book. But I’d say my other ‘lily’ has become taking baths, and I’m taking so many baths. It’s the most decadent thing. It’s out-of-control indulging. I’ve never gone to this extreme, but basically, anytime I work out, I take a bath, which is every day. Morning baths, too.”

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Tara Schuster is a writer, a playwright, the former vice president of talent and development at Comedy Central, and the author of the part self-help book, part memoir Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies. She loves a good F-bomb and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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