Growing up as a driven, stubborn girl who knew exactly what she wanted and how she was going to get there, imagine my surprise when at twenty-five, I’m not where I thought I’d be. Never would I have imagined things like imposter syndrome, depression, or executive dysfunction that comes along with ADHD taking over my life. It’s as if I so clearly saw the path in front of me, only to get older and my vision becoming dramatically worse. Suddenly, the path wasn’t so clear and I was scared to move in any direction, afraid it might take me the wrong way.
It wasn’t until recently that I could fully grasp that doing something, regardless of whether I fully decided it was the best/right/most perfect move, might not be the worst thing in the world. It’s not easy for me to decide that taking any sort of step, especially if it feels like it might be in the wrong direction, is the right move. My world has always existed in black and white, good or not so good. For the longest time, I seemed to mourn that little girl who knew what she wanted, frustrated I didn’t now feel the same way.
While this was going on, I failed to see that being an adult means that your world opens up wider than you could ever have thought possible. But instead of your parents being the ones enforcing the rules and placing limitations, now it’s you putting them on yourself. I could pack a bag today, and book a one-way ticket to India for tomorrow, and not tell a single person where I was going. In an hour, I could try to storm into the office of a large magazine and demand to be given a job. As adults, we are capable of doing literally anything we want, but for the most part, we don’t do spontaneous, irrational things like the above mentioned because of how we would be perceived by others and the consequences we would face.
That fear is oftentimes healthy to keep society in check, but what happens when we allow too much of it to seep into every decision we make? We begin to second-guess our brilliant ideas, push aside our dreams, and stay complacent, even if we’re uncomfortable being there. It’s easy to confuse the things We Shouldn’t Do (to not get arrested/have a search party sent for us) with the things We THINK We Shouldn’t Do (because we’re scared as hell.) And as someone that’s toed the line of the shore for the past eight years of my adulthood, looking for the right place to enter into the ocean and begin my life, I know it’s time for me to just take a step into the water, wherever I’m at.
As I go about doing this, I’ve learned it isn’t a quick or easy process. In order to grow, we must stretch the limits of our comfort zone. At certain times, we might encounter something difficult or unexpected that sends us spiraling back to where we started. And that’s okay. Each step forward into the unknown means that, when something sends us falling flat on our asses, we can get back to our journey a little quicker. That path, once scary and unknown to us, now becomes a little more familiar and a little less daunting. Here are a few ways to help you take the first few steps you and I both know you deserve.
Our Thoughts Feed Us.
We feel like shit all the time because our thoughts feed us. See how many parts of this you can identify with:
We wake up and immediately regret staying up late the night before, knowing work is going to be absolutely awful. We look for things That One Coworker is doing that especially annoys us today, where we can then not even taste our favorite lunch spot’s food as we recount all the shitty things That One Coworker did to our favorite coworker. We agree that these people are the worst and our day is the worst. Getting home, we become annoyed our significant other didn’t take out the trash, again, and sit on the couch to decompress because of how awful our day was. We’ll take a break by scrolling through Instagram and hate-stalking random celebrities before we get so overwhelmed by how far into their lives we’ve gone we have to put the phone down. Later, we get to bed, except we put off trying to go to sleep by yet again scrolling and thinking about how awful tomorrow is going to be.
I’m sure at some point through that paragraph, if you made it through, you thought to yourself, “holy shit what is WRONG with this person, I’m definitely not that bad” but the more you begin to pay attention, the easier it is to catch all the instances we do little versions of just this. All day. Every day.
It’s easy to think about all the things that go wrong when we’re already having an off day. We notice more of the bad, and end up attracting more of the bad with our mood and actions. It takes a lot of work to practice flipping the script in the middle of a shitty moment to say, “You know what? Actually, this isn’t as bad as I’m thinking it was. Traffic really wasn’t that terrible this morning. Erica is being less annoying than usual, and I kind of like how messy my bun came out when I did it ten seconds before leaving for work this morning.”
When we take the time to recognize how we feed ourselves with our thoughts, we can begin to find the good where it seemingly didn’t exist before. It won’t be perfect, but if we can get our baseline thoughts about the situation happening around us to be generally more of a positive experience, we start to cope with the bigger things better.
Catch yourself in your negative thoughts throughout the day and try to find something good, or even just neutral, to say instead. Be that annoying person that’s like, “well, Actually..” and you’ll find over time, it becomes second nature to look for the good. It’ll feel forced and weird at first, and at times disingenuous to how we think we’re really feeling, but it’s easy to forget our thoughts are not fact. We have the power to change how we look at a shitty moment, even when we can’t physically do anything about the situation.
Stop worrying about Those Seven People.
You know those times where you’ve fantasized about quitting your job, specifically to open up your dream bakery in the Catskills? Or toyed around with the idea to rent the space & equipment to start a podcast on the weekends? You can even throw in the time you pulled on those pair of bright red pants you bought six months ago on a whim but just haven’t found the “right” time to wear yet.
At some point during one of those thoughts, a certain negative voice came to the surface. Sometimes, it’s our harsh inner voice criticizing ourselves before anyone else can. More often than not that “inner” critic is the result of a certain friend, family member, or coworker that gives the side-eye to anyone doing something outside of the ordinary. For one reason or another, we’ve absorbed the message that doing anything outside of what is considered “normal” or “acceptable” is bad. And for some reason, we want to look good to those people. Whatever the case, we just know they would have something to say about the whole endeavor, confirming your worst fears.
In your head, you’re seeing them say things like, “Ew, no she looks terrible in those bright red pants.” Or, “That bakery in the Catskills idea of hers? It’s ridiculous and bound to fail, you know how spacey she is. It’ll be super sad to see her on Facebook admitting she’s looking for another job in six months.”
For whatever reason, they seem to be able to scream over anything good, or encouraging we’ve ever heard along the way. These are the voices we seem to prioritize over our own, allowing the thought of what they might say to cause us to be ashamed of ever having thought of the idea in the first place. We put our hopes and dreams and red pants on the back burner because we’re completely fucking terrified of what those 6-7 people might say to one another if we dare to make an attempt at what we truly want to do in life.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe we’re letting those people rule over our lives.
Begin to recognize the moments in our heads where those faces pop up and spew angry words, or knowing stares, and ask ourselves what is more important.
Option 1: Ensuring that Karen from the office will never roll her eyes while scrolling through your Instagram at 3 a.m. because you were, “so lame for leaving,” and, “never going to get big with that podcast, I can’t believe she wore those god-awful red pants to her first photoshoot for the podcast cover, ew.”
Option 2: Feeling like sprinting with joy out of that same office because you put in your two weeks’ notice. Checking your email at lunch to see your new podcast has another ten subscribers from the Instagram post of you at your first professional photo shoot. You splurged on the photographer whose work you loved to really make things official with this new business, and everyone in the comments is obsessing over how flattering those red pants look on you.
What one feels better?
Why do we pick the former so often?
Me deciding to publish this post is my way of pushing back against those six people I can see doing the above, and choosing to experience the pure joy I feel as soon as I hit publish instead of focusing on the inevitable eye-rolls and, “who does she think she is to write about something like this?”
One of the biggest things you can do to make changes and move forward in your life is to take the time to truly know yourself. It can be challenging to identify the things you think are helping, but are, in reality, doing the complete opposite.
On my way to my therapist’s office one day, I chose to read a book on dark tourism, a concept I’ve always been interested in and confused about. But as I began to read, I felt a growing sense of panic and had to put the book away. I mentioned this to my therapist and she asked if I felt that reading the book and getting whatever I was looking for out of it, was better than the reactions my body was having while reading it.
I sputtered out an excuse, caught off-guard by her question. Why would I knowingly do something that hurt me? Surely this book was a way of educating myself on the matter, and I just had to slog through the uncomfortable parts. But was that really the case?
We do things like this constantly and wonder why we feel the way we do. We’ll wake up and immediately scroll through Twitter, all while wondering why it’s so hard to get out of bed or start our days when we’ve just absorbed so much negativity. We can convince ourselves it’s to stay “current” or “on top of things.” But when it makes us feel hopeless and unmotivated, how much is it hurting, and how much is it helping, in those moments? Do we need to always absorb the world around us through the lens of an oftentimes negative social media platform? Somewhere we can easily dive further into the comments, threads, and opinion pieces whether or not we intended to?
It can also exist in the forms of “self-care” where we place all sorts of things that temporarily make us feel good or unwind, but leave us feeling even more empty afterward. Mine comes in the form of listening to podcasts about true crime, taking a break to watch “one” episode of something which turns into me binge-watching tv for the next few hours, and having a beer with dinner which can lead to a few more.
- Pay attention to the things you choose to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed or taking a break and write them down on a note in your phone. You can do this all at once or as it comes to you. Try to make sure you get all the small, seemingly innocent habits such as checking social media, scrolling through your Amazon app, hitting snooze a second time when you know it’ll make you rush around in a panic in 5 minutes.
- Write down the habits you want to do more of as well. These can be things you do sporadically or haven’t tried in a while such as going to the gym or meditating, where you somehow don’t have enough time or energy with your current schedule.
- Add all the good with the seemingly good and look at each one carefully. Picture yourself doing a habit, or go and try it. As you’re running through each one, sit with how it’s making you feel.
Has it left you feeling depleted and wanting to sit a little longer instead of working on a project? Or does it take you a bit to get going on the habit, but as soon as you do, you feel invigorated? What are the longer-term effects, and are they worth it?
Here’s an example I made for myself.
- Starting my morning listening to a motivational podcast episode.
- Catching myself already deciding today will be shit because of how early it is, and getting up immediately to put on some good music to erase those thoughts.
- Even though I’m tired after a job, going out to meet up with a friend that always makes me feel reinvigorated.
- Binge-watching/listening to my favorite murder-centric podcast before bed when I know it’ll be harder to fall asleep.
- Scrolling through Pinterest for 20 minutes in the morning to cope with how early I have to get up, thus making myself late.
- Feeling so cranky and exhausted where I ghost my friend for happy hour drinks to curl up on the couch at home, mad that I’m tired.
Finally, I’ll leave you with my version of a serenity prayer.
Universe, grant me the serenity to let go of binge-watching true crime shows before bed,
the strength to do things like go to the gym when I don’t want to,
and the wisdom to continue to know the difference between what helps me,
and what hurts me more.