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How to train yourself out of a short attention span

I don’t usually go for such clickbaity titles, but it seems like this skill is something we could all use a little more of. I know that both at work and at home, I’ve had noticeable trouble paying attention to just one thing for any significant length of time, and that the problem has gotten worse as I’ve shifted into emerging adulthood.

Not that I had some insanely impressive attention span as a kid, but if it was something that mattered (either directly or indirectly), I could usually gather up the will to focus on it until it was done or I judged it time to move onto something else. (Note that this wasn’t always the case early on in project deadlines, but procrastination is a whole other issue.)

In college, it was a little tougher, in part because there were so many things to be juggling and my schedule was constantly shifting not just between semesters, but from day to day and week to week. So I often brushed off any problems focusing with being tired or lacking routine, and I assumed it would get easier once I had some steadiness post-college. Of course, life circumstances that could be called steady took a while to achieve — like a lot of recent grads, I moved back home and worked part-time. Then I moved to a new area with a new job. Then I changed jobs and moved again. Whew.

I’ve been in my new jobs and new digs for several months now, but I still find myself often struggling to focus for long stretches of time, or even to devote myself entirely to a single task for a shorter amount of time. And frankly, it’s annoying as heck.

So what to do about it?

First things first, I had to stop making excuses. Sometimes I really am tired or the thing I’m working on is just super boring, and that genuinely is the main cause of my inattention. But that’s rarely the whole reason. And that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taking steps to address it. (Super important note there that while all the stuff I mention below can help, prolonged or increasing issues with focus may be part of another issue like ADD or ADHD. If you think that might be you, definitely talk to a doctor and/or psychriatrist.)

Give yourself breaks, but make sure they’re structured. I have a bad habit of looking at my phone whenever I reach a pause in concentration, and guess what? It literally makes my problem worse. One recommendation is to use the 25-5 approach, where you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break (the times can be adjusted based on personal need, but this number seems to work well for a lot of people). The trick is confining breaks to that time, and then when it’s time for a break fully embracing the distraction.

Get off your phone. I absolutely hate being told to do this, most connective electronics (phones, computers) are quite literally filled with stuff meant to distract us from whatever else we’re doing. The internet is never-ending, and social media and video games offer little dopamine hits every time we use them, which then trains our brains to want more, and it becomes harder to stay away from them when we should be focusing on something else. I often put my phone face down out of arm’s reach (and my line of sight), or even on do not disturb, to make it feel less easily accessible. I also have all notifications that aren’t text, calls, or email turned off.

Stop multitasking. Unless I’m doing something truly mindless, I’ve been trying to avoid multitasking. As much as we like to boast about it, humans actually aren’t that great at multitasking precisely because our divided attention means we often miss crucial elements of one or both tasks. So I might listen to a podcast doing simple edits on a document, or plan the grocery list while I drive home, but once it’s time to pay attention I just go one thing at a time.

Pay attention to your body. If you’re hungry, thirsty, exhausted, or even the wrong temperature, focusing is naturally going to be more of a challenge. Make sure you have snacks and water available, and adjust your temperature surroundings if you can. I find all of these help me feel less tired, but if I’m truly falling asleep at my computer I’ll use my short break mentioned above (I actually do 7-9 minutes in this case) for a power nap.

Find a change of scenery. Often when I’m struggling to focus, moving to a different spot in the office or my house will reset whatever was stuck in my brain, and then I don’t move from that spot (or at least back to my original spot) until the task is done.

On that note, just move around. A couple minutes of walking or a few quick stretches can settle your body enough to focus more readily on a non-physical task. Exercising daily or at least a couple times a week also seems to be linked to better focus long-term.

Alternate the types of tasks you’re doing. I find that I feel bored less readily if the kinds of things I’m doing don’t all feel the same. For example, at home I’ll sit down to do the budget, then get up and clean the kitchen, alternating mental/stationary and more physical chores so it feels kind of like I’m getting a break even when it’s just to do another task.

Read a dang book. Or a long internet article. Or listen to an audiobook. I am fully aware that I have preached the virtues of reading many a time on this blog, and I am not sorry. One of the things that finally motivated me to work on my attention span is the fact I couldn’t get through even a chapter of a book in one sitting, let alone huge chunks like I used to. I’ve been extra intentional about making time to read lately, and I’ve noticed a correlation with my (slightly) improved focus.

Meditate. I am awful at being consistent about this, but meditation has been demonstrated to significantly help concentration. I have an app called Headspace that I like a lot for short meditations, and one of the podcasts I love releases semi-regular meditations as well. But you can also find lots of free options that offer everything from 1-minute to hour-plus meditations.

Sometimes, it’s also okay to just admit that you’re having a tough time focusing, and not be hard on yourself for it. We’ve all got a lot going on, and the world we live in doesn’t make it any easier to slow down and just pay attention to one thing.

What has helped you focus better? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo honestly because that’s all I had time for.)

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It’s the little things

Yesterday was a bad morning. I killed a plant and two more are sick, and that opened a door to a deluge of thoughts biting at my ankles and draining my carefully gathered positivity.

But that night — despite the day’s challenges and the dark corners in my head — I felt the best I had in a little while. Not just enjoying myself, but content with myself as I am. There was no dramatic moment behind the change. My plant is still dead and my to-do list is somehow longer. The shift came in small moments, when I opened myself up to the little things that make me feel connected to the world.

I watched the orange light on the hills as I drove past. I looked up to see planes landing and taking off just over my head. I played the music really loud. I went to my favorite yoga studio with my best friend. I bought dessert afterward at the grocery store. I sat down with a heavy blanket and finished a book, even though I (as always) have lots to do.

This isn’t meant to be some pithy call for “self-care,” at least the way it’s popularly understood. A lot of those those things were previously planned or even outside my control. The different was that I stopped clinging so desperately to my own thought patterns and actually let myself have space to enjoy those moments.

Today is my first day without plans in I actually couldn’t tell you how long. And I finally feel ready to enjoy it.

So enjoy your day. (If you’re from the U.S., have a responsible Fourth.) If you want, share a favorite little thing that makes you feel content in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. And as always, thanks for reading and happy adulting!

(Picture credit goes to my mom, for finding the best in every city.)

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Welcome to wherever you are

Ooh buddy, it has been a time recently. For starters, the disclaimer that this post will be more about sharing some of the challenges that emerging adulthood has thrown my way recently, a lot of which I don’t have a perfect answer or even adequate advice for. But I started this blog because I was frustrated by so few people talking about how difficult it can be, and I’m committed to doing just that.

Despite all the wonderful things going on in my life (like I’m marrying my favorite person in 3 months!), there have been a lot of negative thoughts floating around in my head.

Some of it comes from external situations, most recently the horrors of human rights abuses happening around the world, including at the U.S. southern border. I’m doing what I can to help correct and prevent the suffering of others, but my heart still breaks.

I’m also just plain exhausted, and no amount of sleep seems to fix it (though more sleep does make it less worse, in those exact words). I feel like I’m at the end of my rope once or more each week, and am starting to wonder if that’s the new normal.

Work is steady and I love my new apartment and wedding planning is going well, but I still don’t feel settled. Not that, to be honest, I have felt that way in a long time, if ever. There is always a big turn or change coming, and mental rest has been sparse.

I don’t know when or if things will start to feel settled, or when I will feel rested. Maybe once I finally hang up the last picture in the apartment, or after the wedding, or when it’s been a year at my job. Maybe never.

So I am trying — with mixed success — to find peaceful moments in the present, no matter how tumultuous it feels. I’m rewatching my favorite TV show, making time to visit with friends, reading and listening to podcasts, and also just going through the routine of normal life. When I get overwhelmed I talk to my fiancé or pray or meditate, or if I can’t handle any of those just breath in and out as steadily as possible.

I know I’m in a way better spot than this time last year, and I know that I still have a lot of room to grow. There’s a lot I’ve accomplished, a lot I still want to do, and even more that I have no idea about. And I guess when it comes down to it, that rings true for most of us.

Adulthood — especially emerging adulthood — is messy and challenging and wonderful and difficult. But we’re in it. So hopefully, together, we can figure out how to make the best of it.

Let me know your thoughts in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

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Beat the heat

I live in California, and in case you don’t live here (and haven’t been hearing us complain), it’s been rather warm lately.

I’m not stranger to hot temps — like my high school graduation legit got cancelled halfway through because it was too hot — but that doesn’t mean I like it. I’m also prone to heat stroke, so staying cool has higher stakes than avoiding sweat stains.

On a hot day in my old apartment, we’d just turn on the A/C to a manageable (read: affordable) temperature, and hope for the best. But my new place doesn’t have A/C, so I was a little nervous going into this heat wave. A bit of luck: My place is downstairs and really well-insulated, so it has a few advantages in terms of staying cool.

But emerging adulthood is about learning to take care of ourselves, often without all the resources we had growing up. So just in case you’re stuck in a summer heat wave, here are the things I’ve found most helpful when it comes to avoiding high temps.

Indooooooors (cue SpongeBob meme):

  • Close all your blinds, and keep them that way while the sun’s out. This isn’t my favorite if the weather’s nice because I don’t want to feel like I’m in a cave, but sunlight streaming in through windows is the fastest way to heat up a home, and makes it hard to get it cool again.
  • At night, open up. As soon as the temp outside drops below what it’s at inside, open up windows and shoot for a cross-breeze (if it’s stuffy in your place you can also open up when it’s a couple degrees warmer outside — the fresh air will be more noticeable than those few degrees). If it’s safe, you can leave the windows open overnight and close them as soon as you wake up.
  • Level up your fan. Fans are great, we know this. But if you don’t have A/C and are truly desperate, go to the store and buy a solid block of ice for a few bucks (or make one if your freezer has space). Plop it in a small plastic tub and put it in front of the fan. Hello, homemade A/C.
  • Turn off stuff that heats up the air. Logical, I know. But avoiding hot showers, running the oven, or even too much tech can help keep indoor temps from rising too quickly.

Outdoors:

  • That same fan thing, if you’ve got an outlet. Seriously, don’t knock it. (Misters are also great!)
  • Spend as much time in the shade as you do in the sun. And try to alternate time in shade vs. sun, as well as moving vs. being more still.
  • Wear loose clothes and light colors. They absorb less light, and touch you less. Cool? Cool.
  • Go swimming. But you knew this one.
  • Or you could just, y’know, go inside.

Your body is a heat source:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This is seriously the best way to avoid heat stroke and generally overheating. If you can hack it, go for cool water instead of cold because then your body won’t expend energy heating it up (and therefore heating you up).
  • Sit down. Not kidding. Even the energy that your body spends balancing, tensing muscles, etc. when you’re standing up is not helping the situation. And if you’re at all overheated, feeling lightheaded, or sick, sit immediately and tell a friend. More info on that here.
  • Splash water. Note that doing this on your face, neck, wrists, and ankles will be especially cooling as the water evaporates and air moves over your skin.
  • If you can’t minimize clothing, get your clothes wet. Obviously only some circumstances allow for this, but it will help cool you off so quickly, especially since most clothes dry much more slowly than we do.

How do you keep the summer heat at bay? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because I am not going outside right now to get that pic.)

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How to keep your dang house clean

[First, a quick announcement. I am officially moving post days to Thursdays because apparently that is now what works better for my schedule. Ta da, Thursdays!]

We’re all adults here. I’m going to assume you know how to use a vacuum and do your laundry. I’ll be gracious enough to assume you know how to complete most household cleaning. My parents made sure that I did before I left for college, and for the new or more specific things I’ve encountered, Google or a quick call home have served me well.

The thing I really had no way of knowing until I moved into my own apartment, though, was how often each type of cleaning needed to be done. I know how often my mom asked me to do stuff back home, but different living spaces get dirty differently. So, if you’ll forgive the pun, here’s the quick and dirty on how to keep your living space clean.

The “gotta start somewhere” clean

Also known as this is so overwhelming or I am exhausted but must get one responsible adult thing done before digging into the ice cream.

  • Make your bed
  • Put away any clean laundry, and toss what’s dirty in the hamper
  • Clean off tabletops and countertops, or at least put the junk in organized piles
  • Do the dishes
  • Take out the trash
  • Open and window and/or light a candle

The key here is creating a clean visual palette. Even though you didn’t physically clean very much, this dramatically reduces visual (and olfactory!) clutter, and is the fastest way to feel like you’ve got a freshened space.

The “mother-in-law” clean

My actual mother coined this one, but basically it’s how clean your place should be to have guests over.

  • All of the above, plus:
  • Sweep and/or vacuum all floors. (Pro tip: Move your furniture at least every other time you do this so you’re actually getting all the dust, hair, and other gunk chilling on your floor.)
  • Wipe down all tables and countertops. For wood, use a wet cloth and then immediately dry the surface. For tile or laminate, 409 is my favorite because it cleans and disinfects without being too harsh or toxic. For granite, use 409 and then a granite cleaner.
  • I’ve tried some different options, but a microfiber or otherwise fuzzy, dry cloth gently wiped over basically any horizontal surface is the most effective method.
  • Thoroughly wipe down the stove with 409 or soap and water, until it is sparkling clean and entirely residue-free. (Pro tip: For dark/stainless steel stovetops or other kitchen appliances, finish up with a little glass cleaner to avoid streaks.)
  • After you do the dishes, scrub the sink. Your dishes will not be clean if you do not wash the sink fairly often.
  • Wipe down cabinets, doorknobs, and other frequently touched surfaces. 409 or Clorox wipes are usually my preference.
  • Clean the bathroom properly. Scrub the inside of the toilet (pour in some toilet cleaner, let it soak for 10ish minutes, then scrub) and wipe down the outside — including under the seat, because ew. Scrub and rinse the shower with 409 or Scrubbing Bubbles. Do the countertops if you haven’t already. Clean the mirror with paper towels and a good glass cleaner (this one’s my favorite).

The “how did dirt even get there” clean

Also known as the deep clean, the spring clean, the once in a while but very necessary clean.

  • All of the above (yes, both lists), plus:
  • Mop. I hate mopping. It might be my least favorite chore. But we scrub everything else, we gotta do the floors too. (And tools like the Swiffer wet jet make it easier.)
  • Wash the windows. You don’t have to be intense about this if it doesn’t deeply matter to you, but at least be intentional with some glass cleaner and paper towels.
  • Clean under and around your stove. If you can get in between it and the counters, do that. Many electric stovetops actually lift up, so be sure to clean under there as well.
  • Polish any wood furniture by rubbing it down with Old English, followed by a soft cloth and plenty of time to dry.
  • Scrub the walls. Yes, I am serious. Yes, I do this every few months. You don’t have to get every square inch, but dude they get gross. Especially important in bathrooms, kitchens, and dining areas, take a Clorox wipe or cloth with a little soap and water and wipe down as much as you can in the 2-to-5-foot height zone — lower if you have pets or kids. Get realllllllly close to the walls. See the gunk. Clean the gunk. (This also means wiping down baseboards!)
  • Get in around your shower (or any other place in the bathroom that isn’t the same color it used to be), and scrub aggressively with a toothbrush, a little Soft Scrub, and a splash of water. At my old apartment mold built up kind of quickly in the shower, and this took care of it better than anything. Also works great for the kitchen sink!
  • If you can, clean any vents or filters (including those under and behind your fridge). This helps increase electricity efficiency as well as heating and cooling effectiveness, plus keeps your air quality from getting gross.
  • Clean your trash cans. Bet you forgot about that one. Think of all the stuff that thing touches. It should really get cleaned now and again.
  • Wash your comforters, mattress covers, and pillows. Admittedly, I’m not the best about this one, but it is important!
  • Purge your stuff. This is not traditional cleaning, but it makes a big difference in giving your space a fresh start.

I love having a clean space, but I do not love cleaning. But if I can see dirt I can’t go very long without doing something about it. You may not notice it, or the place you’re living may hide it well (for example, the tan speckled countertops at my new apartment hide dirt way better than the white tile at my old place). But it is still there, and sadly still needs to be cleaned.

Don’t feel bad if spot cleanings have to get you by until you’re able to do a more thorough cleaning, but also don’t do the gnarly college student thing and just let grossness pile up. This is your home, and you are an adult. Even though it’s a chore, you should get to enjoy that.

What did I miss? What are your favorite cleaning tips? Let me know in a comment below or in Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(P.S. Usual disclaimer that I don’t get anything for mentioning or linking to specific products, I just mention them because I’ve used them for years and actually stand by how much I like them.)

(Photo is a free stock photo because taking a picture of me cleaning seems weird?)

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Growing a green thumb

I am, um, not a natural when it comes to plants. But I absolutely love them, so when I moved out I started making a concerted effort toward learning how to properly care for them.

I started really simple with a few air plants plus a couple of succulents I already had. The rule was that if I could keep a new plant alive (and relatively healthy) for 3 months, then I could get another one. This plan has been mostly successful, and I now have a small collection at my apartment, mostly on the patio where they get good sunlight.

As I’ve gotten more plants, I’ve also slowly escalated the level of skill needed to care for them. (And I do mean slowly.) This leveling-up has been:

  • Air plants
  • Succulents
  • Polka-dot plant
  • Spider plant
  • Aloe
  • Pothos
  • Basil (I’ll be adding more herbs very soon)

Moving and unpredictable weather have made it tough for a couple of these guys, but so far they’re hanging on. And while I aspire to have the sort of green thumb that would mean plants enjoy me as much as I enjoy them, I also fully admit we’re not there yet.

Throughout this process I have picked up some handy tips for helping our little green friends survive, and hopefully thrive:

Start small. As in don’t get a physically huge plant, and don’t get something super complicated. Pretty much everything I listed above is good for a beginner (except maybe basil), and are easily available in manageable, apartment-friendly sizes. Pro tip: Don’t start with seeds or sprouts either, as this portion of a plant’s growth cycle is particularly delicate. Pick a plant buddy who’s already established some roots.)

Do your research. Know what you want from a plant (air quality, foliage, flowers, etc.) and know the kind of environment you’ll be bringing it into (light level, humidity, temperature, etc.). Once you know those things, a few Google searches should bring up some suitable options.

Keep it natural. Whenever possible, design a plant’s environment to reflect its native environment (e.g. cactus-style potting mix for succulents or aloes; bright, indirect light for air plants; soft, but well-draining soil for basil). If you’re putting a lot of plants outside, or especially planting them in the actual ground where they may spread, try to choose plants native to your area. Not only will they grow better, but it’s more environmentally friendly! (Also stuff that encourages bees and butterflies, as their populations needs to be encouraged wherever possible.)

Water when dry. Seriously, it’s usually that simple. The best advice I’ve gotten on plant care is to wait to water until your plant’s soil is dry, and then give it a thorough watering. Overwatering a plant is often even more dangerous to a plant than under-watering, because it’s more difficult to fix. Pro tip: With air plants, I find that they do best when soaked for an hour or so about once a week in water, ideally with a bit of bromeliad fertilizer.

Go slowly with change. If a plant isn’t doing great, don’t make a ton of changes at once. For starters, it can shock the plant and further risk its health. Second, because plants can’t talk they can’t tell you what’s wrong. If you change a ton of elements at once, you may still not figure out what your buddy needs. Try making small changes, such as more or less light, one at a time. Give your plant some time with that change, and if it still isn’t happy try making another shift.

Trim as needed. If your plant has a dead or dying leaf, feel free to (gently) pull or cut it off. Often plants will devote extra water and nutrients to those leaves, which can hurt the health of other leaves.

Ask the experts. Feel free to swing by your local plant nursery and ask them about plants you have or are interested in getting. They can usually offer care tips, and can recommend what options might be best for your life and environment. One nursery near me even offers free classes on different gardening topics, which I’d highly recommend if you can find in your area.

And finally, the two types of plants I’ve loved having the most so far: air plants and pothos. Air plants are really fun and require minimal care, not even needing soil. They make really cool décor elements, and though they grow slowly it’s fun to see them flourish. Pothos are great for improving air quality and seriously love almost any light you give them — the one in the picture above has grown exceptionally well in my office. And if you do it right, they’re supposed to be easy to propagate! (I have not yet been brave enough to try.)

What are your best plant care tips? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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Stories in all shapes and sizes

Recently, I’ve been making a really concerted effort to consume media created by people who are different from me. It’s not about diversity points, though this has made the media I’ve consumed more diverse. The point is to learn and to build compassion.

I don’t throw a whole lot about the details of my personal beliefs up on this blog for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that a one-sided “conversation” over the internet is just about the worst place to have constructive, life-giving interactions about subjects so closely tied to identity and other hot-button issues.

I’m not here to convince anyone of anything. Sure, I share advice and recommendations on this blog, but you’re free to take them or leave them. I’m sure years down the road I will have changed my mind about some of them. The point of this blog is to be a resource for emerging adults, because as an emerging adult, I felt frustrated by the lack of information and guidance in my sphere of existence.

But that’s just it. Over the course of my life (and the last couple of years in particular), my sphere of existence has grown immensely. I don’t mean how many friends I have — that number, in all reality, has gone down as relationship-building is no longer aided by the convenience of being in school together. I mean how I understand the world. How I see it, think about it, interact with it. And of course, how I see, think about, and interact with the people in it.

I’ve written before about how grateful I am that I grew up loving books, and how important reading is to building empathy and expanding one’s worldview. And it goes beyond books. TV shows, movies, podcasts, music, art or creative works of any kind are coming from a person (or group of people) with a history and a perspective.

And in theory, everyone’s perspective is different from my own. But there’s a lot of room for nuance in there. Someone who grew up in the same town as me and went to the same high school still has a different perspective on the world, but not in the same way as someone who grew up in a drastically different environment on the other side of the country or another continent. Innumerable factors play into this, but if I only listen to the voices that sound like me, think like me, look like me, and are treated like me, I would be drastically stunting the opportunity to learn about what’s beyond my own experience.

Particularly as someone who has had a great deal more opportunities and good fortune in life than, frankly, the majority of the world’s population, it is my privilege to push the boundaries of my understanding and create room in my life for voices that I haven’t heard from as often.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t consume or enjoy media and creative works from people who are very similar to me. If it’s enjoyable and benefits me without harming others, great. It’s simply about learning to find the balance between enjoying what I’m interested in, and noticing when what I’ve been taking in reflects too narrow a portion of the stories that are unfolding on this planet.

This goal, of course, is meant to be tempered by sensibility. I am not responsible to seek out voices that spend more time on vitriol than on empathy, or voices that cause or perpetuate harm — especially toward those who are especially vulnerable to such harm. I’m nobody’s keeper, but it is far more worthwhile for me to use what power I have to learn and grow — and when appropriate, to invite others to do the same.

A few of the ways I’ve been looking for media from different perspectives:

  • Asking for recommendations from others who have the same goal, or who are different from me. I’m in a book club right now that’s been great for that, but I also keep an eye out for social media posts, listen to podcasts, and get a few emails weekly that recommend new content to me.
  • Notice when media I’m consuming (visual art, music, TV, etc.) feels a little too much like what I’m used to. I was making a playlist a while back and realized that there wasn’t a lot of demographic diversity in the artists I was choosing — and that the musical diversity was suffering as a cause. I searched out some folks of different backgrounds that had a similar vibe to the original tracks, and found some new music I really enjoy in the process, while also supporting artists that likely get less airtime.
  • Enjoy it. As important as I think multiple perspectives are, there are also particular stories or creators that I go back to simply because their work connects with me, and that’s okay. My goal is never to exclude what I want to enjoy, simply to expand the horizons of what I perceive as available to enjoy.

Finally, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED Talk a few years back called “The Danger of a Single Story” that has really stuck with me, and encapsulates the importance of my point here far more poignantly than I’ve managed to. If you have 20 minutes, I would highly, highly recommend checking it out.

What are your favorite ways to find media recommendations outside your norm? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. I am still locked out of my Instagram account, and am afraid I may need to start over on that front. Please continue to bear with me for the time being (and also hit me up if you have any solutions, as support hasn’t been able to help)!

(Photo is a free stock photo because the title is both a metaphor and quite literal.)