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!

Old stomping grounds

This weekend, I visited my college for the first time since graduating. Granted, it had only been 5-or-so months, but going back to somewhere you used to belong is a textbook example of strange. I didn’t know how much would have changed or if everything would be basically the same as it had been when I left.

The first thing I was forced to grapple with was realizing I wouldn’t be able to do it all in a short visit. There was no possible way to see everyone, eat at all the old places, take in all the old views, relive all the old times. On the one hand, that kind of sucks. But I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in that somewhere, and learning to be content with doing less than everything is definitely something I need to practice.

Of course it was fantastic to be able to see so many friends and a few past professors — and it didn’t hurt to be close to the beach again (yes, I lived by the beach for 4 years). A few things had changed, but overall I was surprised that it almost felt like I never left. Almost.

Where I hadn’t expected to notice change was, frankly, in myself. I graduated less than 6 months ago, and my life hasn’t undergone any more big transitions, so it was odd to feel like somehow I had changed more than the place I left. But I have changed. I’ve become more sure of myself and less sure of where I’m at, somehow even more independent and determined. I haven’t necessarily become less anxious or forward-thinking, but I am more aware of how those qualities affect any given day.

Nostalgia was still a factor, and it will always be difficult to drive away from a place that means so much, with no idea when I’ll be back. But it also hammered home what I was pretty sure of when I graduated — I was ready to move on. It made the 4 years I spent there feel simultaneously near and small, and it made me wonder what I might be feeling similarly about in another 4 years. To quote my very favorite ‘80s movie, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Going back to a place that was home for 4 years reassured me that I didn’t miss out on life as it passed me by, but was also a big reminder that it does move fast and it doesn’t stop for anyone. I was talking with a good friend recently about major milestones in life, and emerging adulthood is a period when some really big ones can happen in quick succession. Each will be one to look back on, but more importantly a new place to move forward from.

What transition has felt the most significant in your life so far? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thank you for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. For all the amazingly kind people who brought up this blog over the weekend, you’re the best and I’m honored to hear your feedback. Thanks y’all.

Weak is a four-letter word

Not-so-fun fact: I have asthma. Technically it’s a condition where the air passageways in your lungs inflame and keep you from being able to take in enough oxygen.

But if you haven’t had the chance to talk to someone with asthma about what it actually feels like, the best metaphor I’ve found (and the only way I’m able to clearly communicate the severity) is like an animal sitting on your chest. There’s a weight there, big or small, shrinking the space needed to breathe and making anything else more difficult. Sometimes it’s just a fat guinea pig, and it isn’t fun but it’s manageable. Sometimes it’s a gigantic dog that weighs more than I can lift.

This is not a new thing I’ve been dealing with. I’ve struggled with asthma for as long as I can remember, and it was quite a bit worse when I was really little. (Even then I was lucky in that I never had to go to the hospital or be put on much consistent medication because of it.) A lot of people at least mostly grow out of it, but it rarely goes away entirely. When I was younger it was often allergy-induced, but since late elementary school it’s been mostly exercise-induced.

I was running late yesterday and near-sprinted to make it on time, but after maybe 200 yards had to slow down and power walk the rest of the way because my asthma made the biggest resurgence it has in years. When I got where I was going I used my inhaler, but proceeded to cough for the next 3 hours while waiting for my breathing to feel fully normal again — which, unfortunately, took another 8 or so hours.

Now I’m not bringing this up for any sort of pity party, but rather because it highlights another, deeper issue that we all face in different forms: feeling weak.

I hate that I have asthma. I hate that my lungs don’t work properly and that any cardio-heavy activities are a risk. I hate not having enough oxygen to fuel my muscles on a run, and that more than a couple points of full effort when I play tennis means an immediate drop in my performance because, well, I can’t breathe.

I don’t like admitting that I have limitations, that certain things are more difficult for me than they are for most other people. It’s pretty likely that there’s something in each of our lives that makes us feel like this, whether it’s a physical impairment, mental health struggles, work-related difficulties, or something else entirely.

Demons come in all colors and contexts, but the common thread is making us feel weak or incapable. It’s true that we can’t do everything. We do have limits. But just because how you do something is limited doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of reaching your goal.

Start small. “Baby steps” is a clichéd phrase, but building up your confidence and ability makes a huge difference. A lot of obstacles will feel conquerable if you face them little by little. For my asthma, that means small amounts of consistent exercise.

It’s okay to take a break. Sometimes it’s too much, and you will need room to regroup. Giving yourself grace is healthy, not lame.

Use the tools you have. That might be a friend to talk to or a website for resources — or in my case, my dang inhaler.

I don’t know if you’re feeling exhausted, scared, or psyched about what life looks like right now, but I hope you know that obstacles and limitations aren’t weaknesses. They’re opportunities to grow stronger, even if it takes a while. What tools do you find most helpful when things are in your way? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and go kick this week’s butt!

When motivation is MIA

When I was little, it was not uncommon to see me sitting at the family computer, legs dangling from the office chair, nearly or actually crying in front of a blank Word document. Even for someone who loved words, writer’s block was real — and it sucked. I had an assignment, and I could feel the deadline approaching like a specter, but I was still stuck.

By high school and college, those tears had mostly turned into quiet frustration, procrastinating by flitting between projects. I hated that I did it, but everything somehow managed to get done in the end. The closest I ever cut it was my junior year of college — I wrote a 3,000 word paper worth 45% of my grade in 8 hours the day before it was due. Oh, and I had to teach myself a new citation style for it and had chosen the topic the day before.

Sometimes I need the deadline to force me to finish a project. And sometimes even that isn’t enough (see: my best friend’s 6-month-late 16th birthday present). The point is that motivation and inspiration are hard to find and harder to hold onto. It would be awesome if we could wait for them to fall into our laps like autumn leaves, but we are rarely afforded such luxuries.

So how can we be productive when we are wholly and completely unmotivated? It’s a little different for everyone, but these are the tips I’ve found most helpful:

  • Procrastinate with other productive things. If you really can’t do the one thing you’re supposed to be doing, do something else that needs to get done for a while first. Then your to-do list is still getting smaller and you’ll feel less bothered by being stuck on that one task.
  • Breaking the big item up into smaller items. I know it’s silly and you’ve probably heard it a million times, but it really does make it feel less intimidating, and small achievements are the best way to get big things done.
  • Make lists. I am one of those people who derives great satisfaction from checking things off on a to-do list. So if I put necessary tasks on the list, I’m at least mildly motivated to want to check them off.
  • Set rewards for reaching certain points. Maybe when you get items A and B done, you let yourself watch TV or go outside before getting back to work and doing C.
  • If you have writer’s block, write through it. This looks different for everyone, but I will literally write stream-of-consciousness nonsense just to get my brain working, and often brainstorm ideas and plans for things I write on whiteboards because somehow they are my magical cure for writer’s block.
  • If you’re getting overwhelmed, take a small break. Breaks are okay. Four-hour naps after 6-hour Netflix binges are not. Take time to reset, and then get back to work.

What tools do you find most helpful when you’re feeling unmotivated? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

You have every right to be tired (and an obligation to keep going)

When people ask me how I’m doing, I usually respond honestly: “Pretty good, but definitely tired.” There is of course a scale of responses people offer, from the kind and thoughtful, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s got you tired?” to the awkward (but probably accurate) “Yeah, you look it.” However, my absolute least favorite is laughter followed by “Why would you be tired?”

Thankfully, I haven’t gotten this response in a little while. But last time I did was a week that I spent juggling my one steady part-time job, one freelance design job, two housesitting jobs, three babysitting jobs, plus a dentist appointment and the usual errands. It is no longer normal that an employed person — whether they have one full-time or multiple part-time positions — works the standard 40 hours a week. Unfortunately, these days people are often working far more than that. Need proof?

  • The week I just described, I did some rough math and I spent a little over 85 hours working. Now, this is skewed some by the fact that I was housesitting, but I did not count hours between 11 p.m. and 7 or 8 a.m. when I was asleep. I also did not count commute time and did not count overlapping hours when I was doing multiple jobs (such as designing while housesitting).
  • A friend who is training at a current job is encouraged not to do overtime yet — but in order to finish projects, still averaged 9-hour workdays this week.
  • My mom is a teacher, and is usually at her school for 8 to 9 hours a day, plus whatever work she brings home — usually several hours’ worth.
  • During my senior year of college, one of my friends was trying to balance an 18-unit course load and six other jobs. Some of them were only a few hours a week, but at least one was never less than 20, and this was on top of being a full-time student.
  • Gallup published the results of a study in 2014 showing that adults employed full-time in the U.S. are averaging 47 hours per week, with half of respondents saying they work more than 40 hours.

I’m not going to delve into the health and quality of life side effects, but it is absolutely impossible to deny that a lot of us are working our butts off. And what that looks like is different for each of us, but this is why it bothers me so much when people question why someone my age would be tired. There is no shame in being busy; most of us are, and sometimes it’s necessary. But there is also no shame in being exhausted, and there is no age limit on that.

That said, I’m not sure any of us enjoys being tired. There are lots of ways to help: intentional time to relax, light exercise, sleep, or even scale back if you need to. Make sure that whatever schedule you set up isn’t going to burn you out or make life completely miserable. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be long days or weeks or seasons. In the midst of those, the important thing is to keep going, and to remember you’re not alone.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope this helped. Feel free to add a comment below, or follow on Twitter @ohgrowup and Instagram @oh.grow.up. Now go kick your to-do list’s butt.

Comparison is a losing game

One of the most distinctly negative personal realizations I’ve come to in the last year or so has been that I am far more capable of and prone to jealousy than I thought. I’ve never really been that type of person, and prided myself on that.

Until. Until living circumstances shifted and I found myself feeling like a little kid after their parents bring home the new baby. Until friends had full-time jobs right out of school and my plan still, well, didn’t feel like much of a plan. Until friends were moving forward in their personal lives and there wasn’t anything I could do about mine.

As much as I really am happy for all the people in these examples, I was surprised at how bitterly I wished I was in the same position. All the negativity I was feeling wasn’t directed at the people around me; rather, it’s a discontentment with my own circumstances because I got way too caught up in comparing my life to theirs. I don’t want to beat a dead horse on the whole “comparing yourself to others isn’t good for anyone” message, but there is truth to it. You’re you. They’re them. You will have different issues and different successes. Over time, comparison will hurt your self-happiness and can make it more difficult to connect with and care unselfishly about those people.

The decade after graduating high school is no longer just one fork in the road we’ve all been on up to now. Now the paths forks, twists, and turns, moving us at different paces and in different directions. It can feel strange, but it’s how we grow.

Of course, knowing that isn’t enough to stop bad thought patterns in their tracks. Maybe if I had done X, Y, and/or Z differently I’d be happier with my situation. While there are definitely things I could have done better, most of them were thankfully very minor. What helps the most is knowing I wouldn’t change the major life decisions I’ve made, which means for the most part I chose where I am now, and that I’m more or less where I’m meant to be.

Each of our paths is different, and they will continue to diverge and converge. Hopefully that means we run into some great friends along the way, and that friends whose paths differ from us will be able to teach us more than we would have known on our own.

What challenges and happy moments have you found on your path? Feel free to let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope each step feels a little more like the right path.

Qualifications: Over, under, and out of left field

I’m going to be very blunt about this: Job searching sucks. Cat’s out of the bag, in case everyone didn’t already know anyway. Maybe there aren’t very many positions open in the field you’re looking for, or maybe not in your area. Maybe you’re willing to move but can’t do so until you, you know, get the job. Or maybe you found the right position opening and the location is manageable, but the list of qualifications they’re looking for sounds something like this:

  • 5-8+ years experience (we know the position is entry-level, but we want to see that you’ve been committed to this career since before you were allowed to vote)
  • Skills A through Z (bonus points for inventing new letters!)
  • College degree in the field
  • Ability to work well under deadline pressure and adapt to needs of position (aka learn quickly or drown)
  • Cutting-edge knowledge of emerging news and trends in the field (be so cool you make us feel outdated but not insecure)
  • Oh, and of course, proficiency in Microsoft Office

Obviously that was a very sarcastic rendition, but that can be what it feels like. One friend I know — who also has a stellar blog of her own that you should check out — commented that she applied to nearly 100 jobs, finally resulting in exactly 3 offers. Three. I have another friend who applied to 23, and got 1 offer. Another friend went through seven rounds of interviewing before being offered his current job.

This kind of stuff makes hearing things like, “Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m sure you’ll get it!” and “You know, the job market’s actually improving” feel pretty empty. Because instead of feeling like there are other fish in the sea, you are just one fish and it seems like all the other fish have more experience than you.

I say all of this knowing that I have more than four years of experience in my ideal job, having applied to 32 jobs (for a variety of positions), and actively working on 5 other applications. It’s daunting. But eventually hard work pays off.

If you’re feeling like you don’t even know what type of job you want, research. If the job you want doesn’t seem to be hiring, find people to call or talk to in person — it garners a much better response rate. If you keep on applying and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, switch up your search, or figure out what else you can do to show that you’re an impressive candidate.

Of course, all of those things are much easier said than done, which is why I’m adding a few more links to the Resources page and will try to grow it as much as possible. Check those out, or see if so-and-so’s dad knows somebody, or set a goal for how many applications you want to send in per week.

If you have any questions, or want to vent about the job hunt, feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @ohgrowup and Instagram @oh.grow.up. It’s a big endeavor, but with enough time and commitment, we’ll prove that we’ve got this.

Honesty and terror are roommates

At least in my head. Honesty and communication are two of the most important values/skills to me, and when it matters most there is a 99.97% chance I will suck at them. And that realization in itself feels awful — especially considering I have a degree in the latter. (It only adds irony to remember that I graduated at the top of my major.) Most of it boils down to bad past experiences and moderate anxiety.

I don’t say all of this for sympathy or a pity party, because honestly I hate admitting it. I’m saying this so that hopefully it helps someone else.

Anxiety, or feeling like you’re doing terribly at the things you’re supposed to be good at, is really intimidating. And it’s a thing that in reality most people deal with, but often we try to compensate for it and almost never talk to other people about it. I really want to change that; it would be naïve to think it’s easy, but I have to believe it’s worth it.

So here’s the honest truth:

I feel incredibly insecure when thinking about/talking about/encroaching upon the subject of job searching. I get nervous and clammy and defensive and I usually avoid all of that by talking about it as infrequently as possible. I often feel like I’m poor at articulating myself in a normal conversation, and think most clearly when writing, which makes phone calls and important conversations more difficult than it feels like they should be.

So when it comes to having conversations about this in-between phase so many of us are at in life, particularly with people who aren’t in that phase, it can be difficult to feel like the conversation is worth the anxiety and potential misunderstandings. I’m not the expert, but I also have to remember that other people don’t always know where I’m at and talking about it is the only way to shrink that gap.

I don’t know what things make you feel anxious or intimidated, but I do know that talking about it with someone who cares about you can help a lot, and that fears start to get smaller when you face them. What fears do you feel like you’re starting to conquer? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and I hope the week feels like a mountain you’re capable of climbing.

Every morning is square one

This conversation really happened yesterday:

12-year-old: What did you study in college?

Me: I majored in Communication.

12-year-old: For babysitting?

Okay, ouch. But admittedly that’s how it feels sometimes. I’ve been applying for full-time jobs, but in the meantime I’ve got a steady part-time job and I do a lot of babysitting and housesitting. For the record, this was not the purpose of my degree. And I hate that. Especially given how hard-won my college experience felt, it can feel super anticlimactic to just be doing odd jobs.

To be fair, I have a plan and am doing all of this right now to save up so that when I land that full-time job in my field (notice: didn’t say dream job) then I can actually afford to, you know, pay rent.

When everyone’s paths are diverging and moving at such different paces, this setup can feel a lot like I busted my butt for years only to be launched back to square one. I imagine anyone reading this can probably think of a time they felt similarly. Here’s the thing: We all go through it. It may look different for some than others, but the fact is we all feel like forward motion is easier said than done.

The thing that has probably helped me most — besides a good laugh, which is the best short-term solution to any problem ever — is to remember that every morning is square one. Today I have the chance to start over and make the day better than the one before it. It’s not a do-over, but it is a new page. And maybe in enough time, the residue from all the days I’ve spent will add up to enough that instead of starting at square one every morning, I’ll be starting at square three. The catch is then that will feel like square one.

See, progress is a perspective game. You can go further than you ever imagined, but it takes a lot of awareness and effort to both be proud of how far you’ve come and motivated by how far you still have to go. I’m looking forward to working on that, even if some days I have to start my progress all over.

As usual, if you want a heads up on new posts, follow on WordPress, Twitter @ohgrowup, and Instagram @oh.grow.up. Either way, take a deep breath, throw some tunes on, and good luck growing up.

P.S. If you want a song for this kind of a mood, I highly recommend “Forward Motion” by Relient K.