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Just roll with it

I’ve spent more time than I can count looking out at the ocean, but it’s always mattered more to me when I’m in it. A few times, swimming near the break, I’ve been rolled in a wave. It’s a pure-instinct terror, no matter how well you know the right steps. But when you are quite literally flipped end over end, the only thing that matters is getting your head above water.

We, as humans, have a remarkable ability to detect which was is up even when we feel like we’ve got no clue. So you push, and find the surface. And nothing feels as wonderful as that first breath. Until the next wave hits.

But this time, hopefully, you were ready and scanning, and can dive mostly under the impact. More breaths. Eventually, you make enough progress to move in past the break and then the waves can actually help you to shore.

Of course, I’m not just trying to teach a water safety course here (though seriously, don’t mess around with the ocean — she is unpredictable). Life can feel that way for a lot of us sometimes. It definitely has for me lately.

The last couple of weeks have been… a lot. Like, story-all-about-how-my-life-got-flipped-turned-upside-down a lot. But minus the sitcom happy ending every half-hour. I could’ve crumbled. I felt like it on several occasions. I could’ve acted like everything was fine. I’m not very convincing at that. So instead, I’m trying to be as honest as possible about how chaotic life can sometimes feel, even when you know that ultimately you’ll be okay.

Sometimes adulting is about just putting one foot in front of the other, even when it’s hard, and even when every part of you wants to be laying on the floor and avoiding complete sentences. There is, of course, a balance to trying and giving yourself room to rest and to breathe. But the only way out is through — even if progress takes a while.

So here’s to every step forward, every second with your head above water. Here’s to facing the next wave, and knowing you’re strong enough to swim through.

A lot of folks I know are dealing with a lot right now, so instead of a question to wrap up, I’d love it if you took a moment to post a small encouragement or a quote that’s helped you persevere in the comments below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. This pic is from my favorite beach in the whole world — the water is very cold, but it’s held some of my best memories.

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Follow the sunbeam back up to the sun

Anyone who’s spent more than a few hours with me has probably heard me quote or reference C.S. Lewis. He has long been my favorite author (though ironically not the author of my favorite book), and portions from his writings have informed my perspectives on the world, life, and myself.

The little lesson I’ve been contemplating on recently is the idea of gratitude. Life has been full of a lot of ups and downs lately, and even the good things can sometimes feel overwhelming. A friend mentioned that one of her favorite ways to stay centered is gratitude, specifically listing things she’s thankful for. I realized that I’ve been doing a poor job of that, and have been working to change it.

Gratitude, at its most basic level, is acknowledging good things that affect you, and crediting the source of the good thing. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm, to be grateful is to follow the sunbeam back up to the sun. Seeing a sunbeam in a forest or feeling its warmth is the good thing, and tracing it back up to the sun is the act of gratitude.

The most interesting thing about gratitude is that, if you let it, it’s a chain reaction. If I feel the sunbeam and am grateful for it, I can extrapolate that to being grateful for the sun and the earth (and the atmosphere that makes the proximity hospitable), and the sheer improbability of it all existing in just this way, which for me is then a segue to faith. If I keep following the rabbit trail, I would never stop listing all the things I’m thankful for.

Externally it can be the same thing. An attitude of thankfulness and appreciation spreads among people so, so quickly. Part of that is thanks to our ingrained reciprocal, social nature as humans, but we all know that it also just feels good.

Growing up we were all taught to say thank you at the necessary times, but it’s surprising how much extra meaningful it can feel when unprompted. Maybe that means an extra thank you to your server at a restaurant, maybe it means writing a coworker a note to tell them how much you appreciate them. Maybe it means randomly sending a family member or close friend a text about why you’re grateful for them.

It can also be through gestures, not just words. Buying someone a cup of coffee or completing a task that makes things easier on them is an easy way to share your gratitude. I really like to bake, so now and then I bake treats for my office to boost morale after we’ve done a good job on a project.

And sometimes it’s just for you. Being an emerging adult is hard (no matter what anyone tells you), and being grateful is often the best way to shift your perspective if you’re feeling overwhelmed or negative. So here’s a quick list of some tips for practicing gratitude:

  • Write a list of things you’re thankful for — you can also keep a journal for this if you want something you can look back on
  • Tell or show someone why you’re grateful for them
  • Go for a walk or spend time outside with no agenda except to experience some part of nature that you enjoy
  • Look through some pictures or memorabilia that represent good memories
  • Think about things you’re looking forward to
  • Name some things you’re proud of about yourself, and then consider what/who helped you achieve those things

I also want to note that in no way is this intended to be flippant. While I do believe there are always things to be grateful for, it’s important to allow space for other emotions as well, especially in times of pain or crisis. It’s okay to be sad or angry or exhausted. Healthy gratitude will never replace those things, but it can come alongside them and hold you up when the rest of life feels heavy.

At the end of the day, you made it this far, you’ve got people who care about you, and you’ve got it in you to keep going. Sounds like some good things to be grateful for.

What are your favorite ways to practice gratitude? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because somehow I don’t have any of these?)

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It’s okay to set heavy things down

There’s a lot of heavy in the world right now. There always is, but in recent years it’s been paraded and pushed at us with greater speed and numbers than in times past. One of the downsides of our technology. I firmly believe that we have an obligation and a responsibility not just as adults (emerging or otherwise) but as human beings to be aware of and engage with the heavy things happening around us. It’s important. It’s how we protect, heal, learn, and grow.

But I’ll be the first person to say that I find myself feeling bogged down and disheartened increasingly quickly these days. Part of that is my personality and where I’m at in life; I know everyone’s circumstances are different. But part of it comes from the heaviness of the topics I’ve been engaging with. Natural disasters, violence, hatred, war, famine, inequality, illness, injustice, deceit, ignorance. None of the moths from Pandora’s box are new.

They’re realities we have to grapple with, but it’s frankly unrealistic and unhealthy for us to expect ourselves or anyone else to face all or most of them all or even most of the time. I learned a long time ago not to watch scary movies in the evening, or I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep well. Now I’m realizing I also have to be able to disengage from the heavy things and allow myself to engage with lighter things not only right before bed, but throughout my day.

A lot of the media I’ve been consuming lately has been really serious, covering a number of the topics mentioned above. I’ve had conversations, read articles and books, watched films. But there has to be a balance there, which might mean watching videos of cute animals or sitcom reruns, reading one of the happier poetry books I own, or just sending memes to friends.

And it’s not just broad or global heavy things that have to be set down sometimes. One day last week was awful on pretty much all fronts — the worst day I’ve had in months. So I baked 4 dozen cupcakes for my coworkers and roommates (and me obviously). Did it fix the other stuff? Not even close. But it did add some light in when I’d nearly been convinced the heavy stuff would never let me up.

Some heavy stuff should really be set down permanently, especially feelings like guilt, shame, or even grief. They can be a useful initial catalyst to point out an area that needs to be addressed, but clinging to them will do you no good. Then you have room to pick up things like grace and hope.

All of that is much easier said than done, especially if the issue is close to your heart. But if it’s a balance we strive for consistently, it’s one we’ll get much closer to achieving.

What’s your favorite way to add some lightness in when life feels heavy? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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We should hang out soon

We’ve all said that one a lot and then never actually made plans. It’s normal. We’re busy. As an adult you no longer have the confines of school to encourage and facilitate social interaction. But it can be a bummer when we really do want to make plans with friends and it just doesn’t seem to happen.

This has been a particularly striking topic for me lately, mostly because I don’t have many friends in the area I’m living. I have roommates (who thankfully are also friends) and like one other friend. Three other old friends live back near my family, a couple of hours away, a few friends live in other parts of the state, and a lot of friends live in different states or even countries. It makes casual hangouts kind of hard.

That being said, carving out time to spend with friends is super important, and something I’ve been trying not to let slide. I got to see some friends from college a couple of weeks ago, which reminded me how much I missed being able to take trips and do things with a group of friends. And a couple days ago, an annual trip with a different group of friends got booked for later this summer, which I’m super excited about.

So what’s the trick to making plans with friends actually come together amidst busy and often very separate adult lives? The bad news is there isn’t one answer. But these are some of the things I’ve found most helpful:

  • Group texts – Yeah, yeah, I know how annoying they can get. But they also keep us together, even if it’s just through sending memes
  • Social media – I know we can’t always hang out, but I do like seeing what you’re up to (at reasonable levels of posting)
  • FaceTime/Skype – Y’all, Google Hangouts are how my boyfriend and I made long distance work through 4 years of college. Now, I try to FaceTime friends on occasion so we have a chance to catch up even if it isn’t in person
  • Meeting in the middle – Maybe a friend lives just a little too far to be a convenient quick trip, but you can always meet partway and spend some time together
  • Offering food – If I’m inviting friends over to my place, I always sweeten the deal with food. We usually cook together, which gives us something to do, and then it’s a meal they don’t have to otherwise worry about
  • Reunion trips – That’s the one I’ve got coming up this summer. It will be our sixth year doing the same trip, and every time is different but it’s always a perfect chance to hang out and relax, especially since we don’t get to see each other super often anymore
  • Find an excuse – Maybe it’s someone’s birthday or something bigger like a wedding, but creating an additional reason to get together can help keep plans from falling through quite so easily
  • When you say, “let’s hang out,” ACTUALLY MAKING PLANS – This is the one that I’m worst at. If we do not make plans right then and there, I will probably forget and we will probably not hang out anytime soon. So let’s set something up

What are your favorite ways to make sure you spend time with friends? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

The balancing act

First off, happy Easter if you celebrate it! If not, I hope you’re having a peaceful and pleasant weekend. Because it’s Easter, I’m out of town and away from the computer, which also means I’m away from anything work-related.

Of course, achieving a good work-life balance is something that a lot of people talk about without being straight about how elusive it can be. I’m really lucky. My hours are (more or less) 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. I’m usually at work early and stay late whenever needed, but my company is flexible about sometimes leaving work early when there isn’t anything to do, or taking days off now and then. I know it isn’t that simple for a lot of people.

But on occasion (like lately), work gets hectic and I end up putting in extra hours or working on weekends. I also freelance, which means nights and weekends have previously been spent working when I would have preferred to be reading or watching tv. During a major transition at an old job I spent — out of my 3-day weekend — 24 total hours working. (After that, we made some adjustments.) During times like that, which is a lot of people’s consistent reality, finding a healthy work-life balance can be really tricky.

For emerging adults in particular, we’re often so new that we either feel obligated to or are required to put in extra time and effort to make a good impression. Not to mention that a fair number of us grew up with such a pile of academic, extracurricular, and/or family responsibilities that we’re used to being overloaded. And the goal of that is good; none of us should ever shy away from hard work. But if your work is consuming you, then an adjustment may be in order.

So here are a few thoughts and reminders when it comes to achieving that balance:

Work should be a top priority. Your safety and well-being, the urgent needs of loved ones, and major life milestones get to trump work. But shirking responsibility or avoiding effort isn’t cool — especially when it pays your bills. Fulfilling your commitments and putting in full effort will not only be good for your career, but your character.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with taking a day off just because you could use one. A couple of weeks ago I took a day off for no other reason than I wanted to. I’d been at my job almost 3 months, hadn’t taken any formal time off, and knew I wouldn’t be taking more days for a while. So I put in for the day off, my boss approved it, and it turned out to be much needed because the previous work days that week had been insane.

When you work you get paid, but you’re also losing valuable time that could be used in other ways. It isn’t just a work = money, fun = no money thing here. Spending time with friends, volunteering, or maintaining a hobby can all actually add value to your life. It’s important not to discount that.

Work-life balance doesn’t just mean your job. It also means balancing chores and other adult responsibilities with doing fun stuff and, you know, having a life. I am in general a very responsible person, so unfortunately I actually lean toward having too little of a life, and I’m working on it. I’ll limit chores for the day or say that at whatever time, I’ll put any work away and just relax for the rest of the evening. Now and then I try to take a full day off and not handle any responsibilities that aren’t crucial (dishes are usually the exception).

It’s a process. Don’t expect balance to happen overnight, or for it to be balanced forever once you feel like you’ve got a good thing going. As circumstances fluctuate, so will the balance. Go with its flow, and adjust as needed.

What are some of the best tips you’ve learned for moving toward a better work-life balance? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!