Featured

So long 2018

2018 ended fairly similar to how it started: not the way I had envisioned. Of course, this time it was alone on my couch instead of asleep too early on a friend’s bedroom floor, but you get the picture. Actually, not what I’d envisioned sums up the whole year pretty well.

The last year has included some of my most treasured memories and proudest achievements — getting engaged to the person I love more than anything, moving out and starting my first full-time job, surprising my little sister for her 10th birthday and my family for Christmas, my first tattoo, a phenomenal trip to Europe, getting my writing accepted for publication, and so many wonderful moments with loved ones.

But I have to be honest. Between those gems, the rest of the year has felt like a slog and sometimes worse. Not that I ever expect life to be easy, but this year was the most difficult one I’ve been through, period. It both dragged on and raced past, and was always ready to dole out another hit as soon as I got back up (sometimes before). The stuff that happened a year or even 6 months ago feels as blurry as things that happened several years ago.

Some of it I don’t care to remember. Some of it will never leave. Some of it is far from over. It has been a constant struggle to stay tender-hearted enough to avoid apathy or resignation, and to stay strong enough that every new thing life sends my way isn’t completely overwhelming.

Still, there’s a lot to be thankful for. I’ve learned and grown and have been incredibly fortunate in a lot of regards. But if all the things that have happened in the last year — good and bad — have one collective lesson to offer, it’s this: There will always be pain and there will always be beauty, and all you can control is how you respond to them. The world is a wonderful, meaningful, screwed up place. People are capable of unfathomable good and unimaginable malice. Life doesn’t stop or slow down, no matter how much to want it to — whether it’s to savor the moment or catch a break.

Very little is constant. Love, hope, and faith are — but you have to nurture them. I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions, and there’s no way to know what a new year will bring. But whatever does come, I’m hoping to respond to the good things more readily and not let the challenges drag me down. I changed a lot in the last year, and it’s hard to say how much of it was growth. This year I’m hoping to grow more instead of just reacting.

What lesson do you want to bring into the new year? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and here’s to adulting in the new year!

Big, scary steps

I am not the kind of person who likes to take initiative. At all. (If you listen close, you can hear my best friends laughing from hundreds and thousands of miles away.) I have to work up the courage to join conversations I was literally invited to. I once wrote myself notes just to ask my boss about taking a day off. Significant moments in my life literally would not have happened if I’d been left to initiate.

But I do like to plan. Pretty much whatever I can get my hands on. Which means when I set big life goals, part of me wants to panic and avoid everything about it forever, and the other part of me wants to plan every possible detail so I can be prepared for whatever happens. Neither of those is realistic. But life keeps coming, so at some point we all have to face the big, scary steps head-on.

I don’t know what big step or goal or change you might be facing, but most of us have one. Maybe you’re looking at the next step after graduation, maybe you’re eyeing a change at work. Maybe you’re moving or taking the next step forward in a relationship. Maybe you’re committing to taking better care of your health, or are planning a big trip. I know emerging adults who are in all of those situations, and as much as they can be exciting they’re also often intimidating. One of the most important things they have in common, though, is that such changes — or at least being successful through them — rarely fall in your lap.

Grad school and jobs have to be applied for, promotions have to be asked for and negotiated. New places have to be rented (since hardly any of us will be buying for some time), and relationships have to be nurtured. Healthy habits have to be stuck to, and even the best trips take a fair amount of planning.

I know it can be easier to hang back in the land of the undecided. I’ve been that person. Sometimes it seems completely overwhelming to take big steps and make big changes. But here’s the good news: Big steps start with little steps. Send in one application, take small risks at work. Have a difficult conversation, set small goals for your health plan. Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, and we’re still in the starting stages of adulthood. It’s completely okay to tackle life’s big tasks a little bit at a time. But you’ve got to take initiative. It’s something that I’m still not great at, but am steadily working on. And I’m excited to see what opportunities it opens up, for all of us.

Any advice for facing big life moments? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because oops I already used my one cool staircase photo.)

Nobody gets to decide your dreams for you

What did you dream of when you were younger? Do you dream of the same things now? As much as I am a planner at heart, I was always very careful not to dream about my own future too specifically. I knew things I wanted: to travel, to enjoy my work, to write, to eventually get married and probably have kids. But I wanted feelings more than things; feelings like hope and peace and wonder.

That meant that trying to explain my future goals to people often felt difficult, and often led to me likely coming across as more indecisive than I really was. Most of the things I dreamed about when I was younger are still things I want, and some of them I’m a lot closer to. I have a job I enjoy, graduated in 4 years with a degree I deeply cared about from a place I by and large enjoyed my time at. I’ve gotten to travel, and had my eyes opened. I’ve got a ton of people who care about me, and still live within reasonable driving distance of most of my favorite places.

When I was in the process leading up to those things, I had a lot of encouragement. I also got a lot of questions, and even some doubt and opposition. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today — or who I am today — without all of those things. The challenges made me reconsider what I wanted until I was sure beyond anything, and the encouragement picked me up every time I stumbled, so that the goal was never lost.

Emerging adulthood is a time when a lot of us are trying to figure out if we can finally make happen all the things we’ve been dreaming of — and when there are more opportunities than ever to veer or get knocked off course. Maybe your dream is college or getting married or going to Thailand or being an auto mechanic. As long as you’re positively benefiting your environment and the people around you, and you enjoy it, guess what? Go for it.

There will always be someone to tell you that it isn’t a good idea. As is my usual policy with advice, listen, but do not necessarily live by it. I realize that it’s very much an upper-middle class, individualist attitude to take, and not everyone is willing or able to seek out the things that most draw them in. But it is important to figure out how to live a life you’re content with.

When it comes to big decisions, I tend to consider three main questions, and the answers usually tell me what the best decision is.

  1. What and who is it going to help? Is there anyone or anything it will hurt? I’m not saying I’ve never made decisions that came with hurt, but the benefits have to outweigh the drawbacks.
  2. If I don’t do this, will I regret it? Regret itself isn’t something I spend a lot of time focusing on because it’s rarely helpful to get mired down in the past. But considering whether I might regret a particular choice is usually a good metric of my gut instinct on a decision.
  3. What story do I want to be telling my grandkids one day? I make mistakes all the time, but especially with big decisions I want the stories I tell my grandkids to be ones I’m proud of, with thoughtful reasons behind them — not things I’m ashamed of or disappointed in.

It can be really difficult to commit to following a dream or goal, and sometimes it might be wiser to take it in small steps rather than one giant leap. But as emerging adults, we’re still relatively early on in life, and have the chance to do some things we’ll be really proud of. One of the challenges we face is actually making those decisions, and dealing with the risks and rewards they bring.

What dream or goal are you most excited about? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Setting goals you won’t hate yourself for

Happy New Year’s Eve! As much as I enjoy the holiday, and am grateful that I get to spend it with family and friends, there’s one part about it I really don’t care for: New Year’s resolutions. I don’t think I’ve made one in years, because for me (and quite a lot of other people) it’s just a nice little goal that never gets fulfilled.

For me, that meant I simply stopped making resolutions. Instead, if there’s something in my life that I want to change, I change it as soon as I’m able. And then if I mess it up and stop following through, the easy excuse isn’t to wait until the next New Year. Amidst all the other changes this year, I didn’t have a ton of goals that I worked on, but starting to exercise consistently was one that I am really glad I’ve stuck with. At some point last year, I decided I wanted to go to more concerts, and I ended up going to seven in less than a year.

If you’re into New Year’s resolutions, more power to you. There’s no reason to knock them if you can keep them. But there are also other ways to approach goal-setting. So if you’re iffy on making a resolution this year, but have something you want to change, these are some of the tips I’ve found most useful:

  • Have multiple reasons to motivate you. When I started exercising consistently, the main motivation was to reduce my asthma symptoms. But the additional benefits are getting in shape and building strength; so when one of those reasons doesn’t feel like enough, the other gets me to put my shoes on and get going.
  • If you slip up, that isn’t the end. I haven’t exercised the last two weeks (oops), but the first week I was traveling, and last week I was both working long hours and sick. This week, I’m going to pick it back up and keep going. As much as it’s a bit of a bummer, breaking a streak doesn’t mean your goal is out the window.
  • Goals that stretch you are good, but don’t set ones you can’t reach. Because goals are centered on change, they should push you a bit outside your comfort zone. But if you set goals that are too lofty, you won’t reach them, and then it will be harder to stick with a new goal.
  • If a goal isn’t working, adjust it. If you set a goal and find that it was too much or something doesn’t fit well with your schedule or needs, don’t feel bad changing the goal. It needs to be something that can reasonably work for you. (Note: This should not become an excuse to adjust because you haven’t kept up; make changes for circumstances, not laziness.)
  • On that note, you can always move the finish line. If you set a goal and reach it, or are making progress more quickly than you had anticipated, don’t be afraid to adjust your goal to something bigger. Maybe it takes you longer to reach your new goal, but earning a new goal is an accomplishment to be proud of.
  • Set rewards for reaching (or even sticking with) a goal. If your goal is to eat healthier, maybe set up a small treat for the end of every week or two that you keep with it. The treat also doesn’t have to be relief from the goal — if you’re eating healthier, your treat can be dessert or it can be taking yourself to a movie.

Because I’ve got so many changes coming up, I’m not sure I’ll be setting new goals for a little while, but I’m excited to keep pushing toward progress on the goals I have set. How do you keep up with goals? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and have a happy New Year!

NaNoWriMo

For those of you that don’t know, I love writing. As a kid, it was rare to find me without a book in my hand, and that spilled over into writing. I used to write a lot of stories, have been semi-regular about journaling since junior high (the photo above is all my journals), and now do this blog, but in college realized that my favorite thing to write is actually poetry. I’m always reticent to tell people that because caring about it deeply makes it feel personal and vulnerable (not things I’m often big on), but I’ve been trying to work on the part of adulting that means being willing to step outside my comfort zone. I’ve also been working on goals.

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Traditionally, writers across a whole lot of the Western hemisphere will all band together to jointly motivate each other, and each person will write an entire novel (or 50,000 words) within the 30 days of November. I have a friend who is participating this year, and asked if I wanted to as well. I didn’t exactly have a budding novel idea on hand, so my friend — who knows my writing well — said I could just write poems instead.

For the record, the last 30 poems I’ve written were done over the course of about 16 months. So 30 in a month felt pretty intimidating. But I wanted to try. And so far, it’s been going well. I’ve written seven poems and one short prose piece, and it’s felt really good. Of course, writing isn’t everybody’s thing, so instead I’m going to break down the process as general goal-setting and accomplishment — useful in any adulting journey.

Step 1: Prep

For me, this meant going through about 5 years’ worth of phrases I had collected, writing them on index cards, and pinning them to a corkboard in my room. I now had 50-something prompts from which to choose, so that ideas would never be a problem. I also set up parameters for myself: one poem per day, any length, any style, and it has to be “done” but not perfect. For any goal, make sure you have the tools and logistics taken care of ahead of time so that you have fewer roadblocks and fewer excuses.

Step 2: Tell someone

Full disclosure, I waited to post about this on the chance it fell through and I didn’t keep up with a poem a day. You don’t have to tell the whole world about your goals from the get-go. But do tell someone, so that they can keep you accountable. I told a few close friends and family, but most importantly one friend offered that we could do the challenge together. Now we keep each other accountable, and get to see/enjoy/improve the other person’s work.

Step 3: Start

It sounds silly, but that is a really big and often scary step. You just have to do it. Getting off the ground is the hard part because you don’t have any momentum yet. But once you start, you’ll start building a practice of working toward your goal, which will make a lot of efforts seem easier.

Step 4: Give yourself some grace

When I started this I thought I was going to write the poem every morning. Turns out, that’s not super practical for me. So I still make sure that I pick a prompt every morning and can think about it throughout the day, but if I don’t have time to write in the morning or feel creatively stuck, I let myself walk away and come back later. And that’s okay, especially since a lot of research has shown that you actually need time away from a problem/project in order to let your subconscious mind work on it.

Step 5: Push through the lows

If you’re just in the drudges of something, keep going. It’s easier said than done, but it’s something you’ll be really proud of when you accomplish your goal. As another example, I’ve been working out a couple mornings a week, and yesterday ran in 41 degrees with asthma and a couple cramps. It sucked. But I did it, and my lungs are (slowly) starting to build up a tolerance to exercise.

Step 6: Be proud of yourself

You don’t have to show or tell what you did to everybody you meet, but tell a couple people who care about you. Be proud that you accomplished the thing you set out to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my poems when the month is up, but I do know I’ll be really happy I accomplished the goal.

What goals are you working toward, and how do you stay on track? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!