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The timeline is relative

Based on our current understandings of the universe and physics, time is relative. It does not pass exactly the same at different elevations, speeds, or levels of gravity. And that’s super cool if you’re a physicist. For the rest of us, it can seem like that has little impact on our everyday lives (fun fact: it’s actually a necessary element in GPS satellite calculations, but you get my point).

However, colloquial relativity is all around us. Kids grow and learn at different rates after all. Still, up until we graduate high school a lot of big steps tend to happen to us at about the same time as our peers: moving up grades, learning to drive, and so on.

Recently I was chatting with a friend about how we try so hard to remind ourselves that everyone does — and should — do things at their own pace.

Because after high school, all the structured timelines kind of go out the window. Some people don’t go to college, some people take longer for a bachelor’s, some people do graduate degrees. Some people climb the ladder quickly and some spend more time bouncing between jobs or careers. Some people settle into long-term relationships quickly, and every relationship moves at its own speed. Some people have kids, and those who do might have them soon or wait until they’re well-established adults.

There might be a timeline that’s best for you or for someone else, but there’s no guarantee that those will align. Nor is there any need for them to.

It’s easy to feel like you’re behind or you’re missing out if it seems like peers (or just people you see on social media) are doing all the things you haven’t done yet. But chances are you’ve reached milestones they haven’t yet. There’s no one right path, and there’s no rulebook. And as much as that can feel really intimidating when we’re new to the whole grown-up thing and would just like a little guidance, I’m coming to realize that it’s one of the most freeing things about being an adult.

So here’s to us, living life and learning, each in our own time.

Chime in below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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It only takes a word

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how soft skills, especially in terms of communication, are underappreciated and under-emphasized by so many people. Of course, this is coming from someone who majored in communication, but I’ve heard the same sentiment echoed from folks in fields from business to STEM.

Some people espouse that to get ahead — particularly in one’s career — you can’t be kind or agreeable, or at least not too agreeable. And of course there is an element of balance; if you only ever say positive things, it will be hard to make your own ideas known and to point out risks or issues in the ideas of others.

Especially when I’m busy, my default is to be fairly stressed and fairly serious. I’ve had to learn how to make time to build good professional relationships, even if it means a task takes a little longer. But on the flipside, it’s also hugely important to me that everyone be as content with a given situation as possible and that I take regularly opportunities to boost morale. Often that means bringing in treats for coworkers or saying “thank you” more times than perhaps necessary. And these are great, but they’re also a little shallow.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have some absolutely phenomenal bosses and mentors as I’ve gained work experience. I’ve also had the chance to be a boss or mentor to other folks, and to experiment with what comprises a successful leadership style.

Some of the elements are fairly standard: clear training and instruction, open communication channels, well-rounded feedback that includes praise for elements done well and actionable critiques on ways to improve.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned from my mentors, though, is how incredibly important it is to empower those who are learning from you — whether the setting be professional, familial, or otherwise. While “empower” has become a bit of a buzzword and lost some of the meaning it ought to possess, it captures exactly how we should be made to feel by those we’re learning from (and how we should be making those we’re teaching feel).

As an example, a brief anecdote: Yesterday was not a great day for me. I’m behind on a lot of at-home tasks (*ahem* cleaning) and my at work my number of tasks and the stakes are increasing. It was just one of those days I felt ill-equipped for all I was facing. During the course of separate conversations, both my boss and a former boss/mentor offered unsolicited, generous compliments on my competency and the impact of my work. They both absolutely made my day.

The comments meant so much because both of them conveyed that they actually believed in me. Which, for starters, is something we could all stand to hear a little more often. But it also made me want to prove them right, instead of trying to prove negative thoughts or voices wrong.

I’ve long held to the belief that small kindnesses can have radical impacts in people’s lives. For emerging adults in particular, it’s crucial that we not only embrace that idea in our personal lives, but also our professional ones. As we do so, we can foster and eventually create environments that encourage people’s growth through support or cooperation rather than relying on competition.

In the future, I’ll be looking for and taking more opportunities in which I can offer a word or gesture to help other folks feel as valued and full of potential as comments like the ones yesterday made me feel. I just hope we all do.

As always, comments, questions, and miscellaneous input welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. I know it’s yet another sunset ocean pic, but this place was home for a long time and not only taught me a lot of what I covered in this post, but could use any extra love available as the community continues to heal from tragedy.

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Calm the [bleep] down

Okay so we are 9 days out from my wedding (!!!), and while I am enormously excited, it seems like everything in my life decided to get really hecking busy at the exact same time. Literally all of ‘em. Work, wedding, the water leak in my apartment that turned into big holes cut in the drywall.

Luckily I’ve got great people around me and we are making do, making it happen, etc. in all areas. But that doesn’t make it magically not busy, or not stressful. Some of the things are worth getting a little worked up about. Last weekend was crammed with wedding stuff. Tuesday I woke up at about 7:10 and then remembered I had an 8 a.m. meeting at the office. Still, the adulting lesson I’ve been working on lately is that the stakes are lower for most of this than I often feel.

Being a Type A, organized-to-the-T, enneagram 1 person, my default mode is not what most would describe as overly chill. In a lot of ways, it’s really helpful. We’ve got a fairly intense Google Drive folder for the wedding, despite the constant stream of new adventures at work I manage to remain organized and at least decently on top of things, and I can usually find whatever I’m looking for in my apartment. The downside is that it feels like everything is urgent and that if it’s not done as perfectly as humanly possible, that the whole house of cards might come crashing down. Not exactly a recipe for relaxation.

Maybe I’ve finally started listening to my fiancé, or maybe I’m actually starting to grow up in this area, but lately I’ve been able to occasionally pause the stress, mentally lower the stakes, and calm down.

There is a balance that we each have to find of being chill/letting things happen and getting stuff done. But even when getting stuff done, not every single decision has to be fretted over and examined in excruciating detail. My job does not involve any life-or-death situations, so while there are a lot of urgent things going on right now, I do what I can, and then leave it be at the end of the day.

The wedding is very soon, and has involved a lot of big details and important decisions, but when it comes down to it, I’m just excited to celebrate with so many people I care about. The rest is icing.

Reminding myself that none of these situations include saving lives or rocket science — plus a few deep breaths and learning when to take a break — has proved incredibly helpful in the last few weeks, and I’m counting on it for the next 9 days.

Bonus thing that helps remind me to calm down is this scene in a show called Schitt’s Creek (seriously watch it if you haven’t yet) where David, one of the main characters is stressed out over potentially making a mistake and his sister Alexis just keeps telling him that no one cares. At first it seems flippant and dismissive, but he finally realizes that all she means is that it isn’t nearly as big of a deal as he believed it was, and therefore can finally relax and get through it. So on really crazy days you may occasionally hear me muttering, “No one cares, David” under my breath.

What helps you the most when everything starts to pile up? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

 

P.S. I’m still going to try to get a post out next week, but after that I’ll be stepping away for 2-3 weeks while I’m on my honeymoon and actually relaxing, instead of just squeezing a little calm into the chaos.

(Photo is a free stock photo because just looking at it is like 10 minutes of deep breaths or the bliss of my weighted blanket.)

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I do not belong in a magazine

Full disclosure: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve cried this week, despite two prescriptions acne is a constant companion, I am somehow neither a morning person or a night person, I have a witheringly small social circle, procrastination is melded into my daily life, I can barely stay awake long enough to read the last few pages of a book I’ve been excited about for months, and it feels like the piles of things I should have under control is growing faster than I can scramble to keep up.

Of course, there are lots of good things: I’ve been excelling at work, my wedding is coming up soon, there have been small moments for time with friends, and despite all my worries enough gets done each day that I make it to the next one. At the end of the day I’m still here and the sun still rises.

But it’s still really hard not to fall into the trap of feeling like I’m falling apart while everyone else is killing it. Objectively, that’s a misunderstanding, but it’s still an exceptionally difficult thought patter to get out of. Blame it on social media, celebrities, psychology, whatever you want. It’s been a problem for a lot of people for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I would love to offer some poignant, timely answers on how I avoid getting stuck thinking that everyone’s got it together and I’m the only one falling behind. I don’t really have them this week.

This week has been more about gathering what energy I’ve got left to do the small things that make me feel more like me, whether that’s reading a bit, a bite of dessert, listening to a song or podcast I really enjoy, or asking for a hug when I feel a bit on my own. It’s also being aware of my mental state, and when it would be better for me to set something down or walk away instead of letting whatever apparently-picture-perfect thing sell me on the idea that I’m the only one who’s missing out.

It’s not an answer, but it has to be enough for now. I’m not sure what your week has handed you, but I hope this offers a little solidarity whenever you find yourself needing it.

As always, comments and questions welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock image, because it’s a small, lovely thing growing in spite of it all.)

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(Being good at) solo travel

Last weekend I was up in the Portland area for a dear friend’s wedding, and got the chance to spend the better part of two days exploring a city I’d never been to before. The more that I saw and did, the more I thought about how grateful I am that I know how to travel alone.

There are, of course, some caveats. Being female, I have to be more careful and conscientious of potential safety risks than men often need to be, and that does tamper some of the brazenly adventurous spirit that I sometimes slip into. I’ve also done almost all of my solo travel in cities for the simple reason that there is lots to see in a small radius, and it’s easier to get around by oneself with fewer resources. My hometown necessitates a car; my favorite cities do not. Lastly, as much as I love traveling alone I don’t always prefer it — nothing can replace the joy of sharing new experiences with other people.

However, I am super glad that I’ve learned how to enjoy independent travel. Some of it is inherent to my personality. I’m pretty introverted, and actually like being anonymous in a big crowd. I am sometimes fiercely independent, and it gives me a joyous opportunity to report to no one and do, basically, whatever I want. Sometimes I’ve traveled alone for the simple reason of not letting other people stop me from seeing things I wanted to see. My parents also did a phenomenal job setting me up to travel well, from teaching me the right balance of enjoying being a tourist to paying attention to the locals, showing me how to make good use of public transportation, and reminding me that there’s always more to explore.

But not everyone has had the same opportunities. I started flying alone at 16, and started exploring cities on my own at 18. But I’ve only recently realized that it’s a skill not as many emerging adults have as I’d previously thought.

So here are some of the things that have helped me the most when traveling solo. (Note that I’m going to skip most general safety measures because most of us have had it drilled into our heads and that’s not where the adventure lies, but of course, prioritize your safety at all times.)

Figure out your tech. When I was in Portland this weekend, Google Maps was my best friend. But I didn’t want to use the data when I was in London, so I had a super handy pocket map of the city that I used to navigate me basically anywhere I needed to go. In Washington, DC, it was a mix of both. I always keep a portable charger (and often my phone charger) with me if I’m going to be out for a whole day. Your tech can be next-gen or analog, just make sure whatever you have will serve your purposes.

Find your ride. This becomes pretty city-specific, but look into what the transportation options are in any city you go to. My best friend gave me a heads up that Portland’s bus system is really convenient, and it cut my transportation costs within the city to $10.50 over 2 days (yes, you read that right). I’m really used to subways and trains, and you can always grab a cab or Lyft if needed.

That being said, you will see more if you walk. I love my mom. She’s great. But she also made me walk miles of San Francisco hills at a young age. Like I didn’t even know you could get a cab easily amount of walking. Now, if I’m exploring a place by myself I have no problem walking 5 to 7 miles in a day. Maybe that means building up your stamina before you go, maybe it means knowing when to walk and when to catch a ride. Most of the time, my rule of thumb is to walk if it’s less than a mile between destinations unless I’m on a time crunch.

Ask for recs. You will be by yourself, and yes the internet is helpful, but ask some friends or family for some of their favorite things to do/see/eat in the place you’ll be going to. I only found out about one of my favorite stops in Athens because I’d asked an old friend for stuff she loved in the city (the Benaki Museum, in case you were wondering). My friends who got married this weekend put a ton of cool stuff on their website that I was able to use to guide my trip planning. People know good stuff — pick their brains for it.

Pick out some must-sees. I tend to center solo trips on one or two things that I can’t miss. In LA, it was a killer Cuban restaurant and Griffith Observatory, both of which I’d been meaning to go to for ages. DC was the National Archives and Air & Space Museum. Portland was Powell’s Books and Washington Park. This provides a few benefits. One, you get to actually make time for the things you’re most excited about. Two, it provides geographical touchpoints that you can plan the rest of your travel around. Knowing that I wanted to see those two things in Portland meant that I not only planned out transportation between them, but that I focused my research on other experiences (mostly food, if we’re being honest) to close by those high-priority items.

Do your research. Things I always research ahead of time: transportation (and where I’m staying if that isn’t already handled), must-sees, some good restaurants, and often a short list of other items of interest. I might not use all of it, but then I have the info and I don’t get overwhelmed by the newness of everything at once. I also tend to save info either as emails to myself or notes on my phone, but do whatever system works best for you.

And know when to not have a plan. This is one of my favorite things about traveling, because while in most of life I hate not having a plan, when traveling it can add to the adventure. Of course the broad strokes are planned, but I make sure to leave room for detours, and lately have started building in time — often toward the end of a trip — that is quite literally meant for whatever I didn’t already get to do. If I actually did everything I wanted, I allow myself to visit a place again or even take a nap. The point is giving yourself the freedom to take your time and not be stuck in a strict schedule.

Bonus tips:

  • Ride public transportation like a local. Stay on the quieter side, bring a book, know your stop, and for goodness sake hold on. And of course, feel free to ask if you do need directions.
  • Have cash and card. A lot of cool, hole-in-the-wall places only take or prefer cash, and some places are now moving to card-only. Be prepared.
  • Tell someone you trust where you are. This is the one safety tip I will give, because it probably gives me the most reassurance. When traveling alone, I make sure someone knows my plan for the day, and periodically check in with where I am. Usually that just means sending a picture of something cool, but it’s also for safety.
  • Store your bag. I just found out about this one during my last trip, but if you’re not staying in a hotel you can store your bag for a while through services like Bagbnb (the one I used) or Vertoe for like $6 a day. If you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll usually hold your bag before and after you check out if you ask (it is best to leave a tip). If you’re really in a pickle and not staying at a hotel, you can always ask if they’ll store your bag, and offer a really good tip.
  • Balance paid with free, or at least inexpensive. I am not made of money. Most emerging adults aren’t. And the thing about solo travel is you can’t split the cost with friends. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid paid stuff — and you’ll have to pay to eat — but for every paid thing you do, have a couple options of free things as well. Last Sunday I spent half a day checking out tons of stuff in Washington Park, and only spent money on one entrance fee (to the Japanese Garden, which is absolutely worth it). Plus a lot of the best places to eat aren’t expensive!

What are your favorite solo travel tips? Hidden gems in cities you’ve been to? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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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.)