Monday, March 20, 2017

Ten Things to Count On

I'm turning 28 next Wednesday. After the year I've had, I'm feeling very ready for a new age. I like to be able to break things down like that: 25 was a great year, 27 was a hard year, you get the idea. Hopefully this time in 2018 I'll be able to say something about how 28 was my best year yet, but let's not get too far ahead of things.

I don't know how the next 12 months are going to unfold, but there are 10 things I know today that are helping me find stability anyway; 10 things I know right now that make all the infinite things I don't know about the future not so scary; 10 things I can count on today that let me know there has been more than a little bit of good in this past year.

1. I will not be an unemployed 28-year-old. After months, or maybe years (depending on how you look at the situation), I accepted a job offer and am beginning a new full-time role Monday. For a quick recap: July '15 I left my job of 3+ years with a sigh of relief (I was miserable, not sleeping, terribly depressed), an offer I knew I couldn't accept (it was a 40% pay cut for a full-time role, meaning not a livable salary and not enough time to fill in gaps with side work), and a promising interview. August '15 I got placed on a temp role by a creative recruiter and learned I didn't get the "promising interview." October '15 I left the temp role and transitioned it to a remote freelance gig, and picked up a whole bunch of others. By March '16 that anchor position had faded away to less than 10% of my promised work. By June '16 I confronted the "I never wanted to do this full-time freelance thing in the first place, why am I here exactly???" ghost and started looking for real jobs again. September '16 I get a contract role, to find out in October '16 that the recruiter totally misrepresented the length of the contract. November '16 I'm out in the cold again, stringing together an income on a few writing gigs and yoga teaching. By the start of March '17 I had been rejected from a handful of jobs I felt SO good about, and just never brought to the top of the 250+ pile of hundreds of others I applied to. On St. Patrick's Day I accepted an offer with more enthusiasm than I've done anything in months.

2. New York in the spring is almost actual magic. There's something about buds budding in a concrete jungle that makes it feel like magic is taking place before your eyes. Flowers will soon be blooming in Riverside Park and the trees that line my city streets (that you never really think to insert in your mental imaginings of New York) will grow into their green. If these trees can bloom beside the subway station and the flowers can grow beside the cobblestone paths, if the grass in its small patches can become this vibrant, then what isn't possible in New York in the spring? This year I get to witness it every day, and I'm more grateful for that than I ever thought I would be.

3. It's okay to ebb and flow from your own labels. Runner, writer, yogi. Labels I've struggled with to differing degrees over the past 20 months. It seems like sometimes I could only get two out of three to feel deserved, or even just one at some points. But not only do these self-assigned labels not really matter, it's okay if they aren't consistent. No one will die if I don't go running because these days self-care looks more like yoga and hot showers and reading. If my professional title doesn't include the word "writer," I no longer give a shit. (Lots of thoughts on this; maybe full post to come later.) Not one of you or I will fall apart if I don't update the blog. My yoga mat will still be there when I find the time and heart to go back to it after a week off. It's okay.

4. Adjustment periods are necessary to helping us make room for new things and truly appreciate old things.

5. My neighborhood is rich, vibrant, diverse, beautiful, and full of amazing food and sights. There's nothing more I could ask for from the place I live. I share it with a man who is supportive, encouraging, sweet, funny, smart, and patient. There's nothing more I could ask for from my person.

6. If it doesn't open, it's not your door. What's for you will not pass you.

7. I may define myself by my thoughts, but the world and the people in it will define me by my actions. I know what my best intentions are. I know what thought processes lead me to my conclusions or actions. But writing them in my journal or throwing a condensed version of them here on the blog doesn't mean a damn thing. The actions I take, the things they hear me say, and the energy I produce will be what people around me see and assess me based on. And on the one hand, I don't change my behavior specifically to please anyone or any ideal; I follow my true north whenever I see it. But that doesn't mean that the presentation doesn't matter, and it doesn't mean that other peoples' assessment of me won't impact me. I mean, I've been on enough interviews in the past three months alone to understand that. But it matters for family and friends, too. For example, it mattered to me that during my period of unemployment I didn't appear to anyone as a leech, a downer, a fun-sucker, or lazy. I may not have been 100% successful at presenting myself how I intended to 100% of the time, but the effort matters.

8. There's always at least one thing you can do. Whatever situation I'm staring down, or whatever is stressing me out, or whatever challenge I can't seem to get out in front of, there is always at least one thing I can do. A mountain of work? I can start with an outline of one article. Feeling depressed? Take a shower, or do my nails, or go for a walk. Out of shape? Go out and try to just run one mile, more if I can. Feeling stiff? Stretch for five minutes. Body feeling funny? Drink some water or eat a vegetable. Relationships feeling strained? Write an email, send a card, call to say, "I love you." And so on. That one action may not change the whole of the situation, but one of my favorite little nuggets of wisdom I've picked up in the last year is this: "That which is begun is half done." Of course it's not actually accurate, but it sure as hell feels that way to me. I try to remember now that when I'm staring up a mountain, taking the first step onto it suddenly makes me feel as if I've already climbed straight to the middle. It helps.

9. I am a simplicity lover. In Gretchen Rubin's book about habits, Better Than Before, she talks about identifying your Tendency (I am a Questioner) and your Distinctions and how identifying those things can help you create healthy habits and know yourself in a useful way. I am an owl, procrastinator, sometimes sprinter, an opener, a familiarity lover, more interested in promoting than preventing, and a devotee of small steps. But perhaps most importantly, I am a simplicity lover. Occasionally, and usually by influence (intended or not) of social media, bloggers, friends, and the psychological warfare known as advertising, I forget this and temporarily convince myself I need a 10-step morning and evening skincare regimen, eight-pronged approach to a morning routine, diverse and varied wardrobe, seven pages of habit trackers in a bullet journal and a paper planner to boot, or insert-whatever-here. But knowing myself and having the language to frame it—"I am a simplicity lover"—makes it so much easier to shrug off the "YOU NEED TO BE DOING THIS LIKE I AM" sounds that come from Other People and listen to the "No, you don't" sounds that come from myself. There are certain places where I like having options, but as a deep sufferer of analysis paralysis, I don't want to have to make a lot of choices just to get through the day. Getting up, getting dressed, getting out the door are best when refined to simple actions I can repeat on autopilot (I've basically built a capsule wardrobe without noticing it) and I am simply happier when I've uncomplicated as much of my daily processes as possible. Putting a tag on it—"I am a simplicity lover."—makes it easier to shut down the noise and retreat to my simplicity without feeling like I'm missing out on some ritual I should feel pressured to take part in.

10. There's a clearer path before me than I've seen in too long to remember. This alone is enough reason for brilliant optimism and unbridled faith.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It's Working

Over the past few months, I've tried to do something so new and foreign to me, I really wasn't sure I would be able to do it: I tried to give up some control and acknowledge that I am not in a position to plan for an uncertain future.

At the tail end of 2016, I was faced with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of impending new-ness that was still foggy. I was interviewing for a job that seemed a really promising prospect. David and I were planning to move in together, which meant moving out of my state for the first time in my life. Moving to New York City and starting a new job would have shook up pretty much everything about my life, but without anything certain, I couldn't picture or plan for more than a day in advance. I was used to planning weeks, months, years ahead. And that was a big, terrifying problem for me.

I made plans for things like what my financial priorities would be when a full-time income kicked back in, what my days would look like when I started living in NYC, what my days would look like when I started working in NYC, how to deal with David traveling four days a week for work for a length of time to be determined, how to find a studio to practice and teach in, how to juggle marathon training around all of that... I had plans A through G written down so that when any one was set into motion, I could spring into action. I wouldn't have to make snap decisions, I wouldn't have to act without really thinking things through. (Because I have historically been the type of person who needs to really think e v e r y t h i n g through, no matter how small its true impact or risk.)

Except it never, ever happens like that. It never had, and I was clinging to a method of planning that had never actually been useable, and that I was desperate to make work because I was afraid to explore an alternative where I had to make quick decisions or adapt to changes as they came.

I had a 101 in 1001 list where I kept goals like "PR the marathon," "Travel to the Pacific Northwest," "Start an investment portfolio," and "Read every book on this list." I kept fierce track of the list, updating it more often than it needed updating to indicate whether something was completed, in motion, or—shocking—if I had a plan for how and when to accomplish it. Updating an item as "planned" gave me some false sense of progress. I wasn't able to yet make a thing happen, but I was able to fill it in on the calendar with some imaginary dates that maybe I might possibly perhaps be able to take a trip, want to read that book, have enough money to reach that financial goal. Because as I saw it, planning was almost as good as actually doing.

But I had an awakening brought on by a confrontation where I was forced to take a series of big decisions one step at a time. I was trying to make a plan for something that was five steps ahead, in an attempt to avoid feeling anxious about the first five steps that I couldn't control or couldn't put in motion just yet. It was the emotional equivalent of digging my nails into my palms and turning my knuckles white in an attempt to hold on as tightly as I could to the illusion of control. About two months ago, I finally let go.

I have been easily tagged a Type A control freak for as long as I can remember. It's not just because I'm organized and color-code my Google Calendar and have more spreadsheets than any reasonable person needs and organize my bookshelf in a very specific way only I can understand and have never gone running without some method of tracking the data. All of those things are true, but none of them harmful. My insistence on being one step ahead in The Plan—it was harmful. My insistence on having a massive list of "goals" and running to do, to buy, to research lists that were forever growing—it was harmful. It just took me until two months from my 28th birthday (the 29th of this month, for anyone following along at home) to realize it. Here's why it was harmful:

It stands to reason that a person obsessed with this type of planning and tracking gets some fulfillment from accomplishing such tasks and putting said plans in motion, right? Of course. Well, the inverse is also true: The more boxes I left unchecked, the worse I felt about myself and the harder it became to continue on, to feel accomplished in any way, to feel motivated to try again or keep trying. I was draining myself of confidence and self-worth by maintaining a life on paper that I just wasn't in a place to enact in real life.

Here's the thing: I realized my 101 wasn't much of a goal list. Not in the way we really talk about *goals* for our lives. It was a long to-do list of things that I once really wanted to or thought I could do in a reasonable amount of time, that I no longer cared about making a priority. Either that, or I realized I didn't need a damn spreadsheet to get them done or hold myself accountable to them. Facing that list plus the many, MANY others I had outlining if/then steps and benchmarks and deadlines I had to constantly adjust to make up for the fact that my career was on hold became an exercise in self-torture. Seriously—I would open up the lists a few times a week and just stare at them, wondering how I would ever accomplish the things on them. I felt like a failure.

Until it dawned on me, over a series of conversations, journal entries, and list reworks, that deleting these lists was just as much in my control as creating them had been. Deleting the lists that served only to highlight the ways in which my life has gone off the course I had once imagined it on was the first best thing I did for myself in a lonnnng time. I wasn't a failure if I didn't hold myself to a to-do I wrote down a year and a half ago. I was a person who had lived through a series of big changes in a year and a half, a person with more information and insight than year-and-a-half-ago-me had. A person capable of assessing the situation and making a better decision today about where I am today than I had been many months ago.

Just from January through now, I: didn't get the job I was up for, went over a month without the phone ringing once, was put in a holding pattern as we waited to hear about our top choice apartment, had a procedure knock me out of commission (and emotional stability) for a few days, traveled to D.C. for a few days, and then moved to a new (and rather famously unforgiving) city. I was still unemployed and freelance income started to trickle, rather than stream in. I fell into a downward emotional spiral. My grandfather died and I had to go back and forth to NJ for a week. I went almost two weeks without following my marathon training plan. I was absolutely out of control of my own life, and for the first time ever, that fact wasn't yet another brick on the crushing tower of guilt and self-flagellating thoughts I buried myself under.

This week, I realized something: it's working. Not in so many words, I made a resolution this year to loosen the reigns, sit back and wait and watch a little bit, and continue to aggressively pursue only the things that were true priorities AND that would only benefit from my unrelenting charge. I decided to take things as they come, make the best decisions I can when I am actually presented with them and all the information I have at the time a decision needs to be made, and feel something other than heart-crushing uncertainty or self-hatred when timelines around me slowed or decisions came back in a different way than I wanted them to. Holy crap, it's working.

That's what I thought to myself this week as I arrived (99%—I still haven't pulled the trigger, but mentally I have) at the decision that I wouldn't run the marathon in April like I'd been planning. I'll drop to the half and sign up for a fall marathon. My training had fallen apart and rather than force myself to cram three months' worth of training into two and quite literally punish myself with the pain that comes from doing so, I made a decision that is actually in service to myself and the place I am currently in. A year ago, I couldn't have done that.

Another fun thing that's happened? Since I deleted all those lists I used to stare at and "update" or rework for hours each week, I have a lot of free time. Enough that I find myself actually feeling bored, which is pretty challenging when you live in New York City. I decided to pick up crocheting because I need something to do with my hands now that I'm no longer furiously typing on my lists and spreadsheets or journaling excuses for my failures.

I changed my idea of what a goal should be, and the difference between identifying life goals, writing a life plan, and writing a to do list. I still have a to do list, but it's made up of tasks, not accomplishments. I have a loose outline in my mind of a life plan that involves finding a job I can do and doing it well, being a good girlfriend, sister, daughter, friend, and making a positive impact on the world while I'm here. I wrote down in my journal some life goals that include my version of financial freedom, work/life balance, and happiness at home. But there's not a lot I need to keep written down, because I've eliminated the physical and mental clutter and noise and the NEED to hold myself on-paper accountable to the time I said I wanted to visit Yellowstone. I really don't think I'll forget to visit Yellowstone or run another marathon if I don't keep it on a list in Google Drive.

There are still a lot of things up in the air, and I will have to make some big decisions soon. Decisions that are going to have a big impact on my life. Previously I would have agonized over every possible circumstance and outcome so that when the time came to make the decision, I would "be prepared." (Spoiler alert, I still never felt prepared.) So now I'm waiting for the time to decide to come. And anxious as I am to get a few shows on the road already, I feel more at peace with myself and the path I'm on than I have felt in as long as I can remember.

I guess that's what letting go gets me.

~ ~ ~

Note: This is 0% a commentary on anyone's version of setting goals, writing plans, or keeping a 101 in 1001 list (or whatever). This is my personal journey of finding myself trapped in those things and then finding my way free from them. If your 101 in 1001 keeps you happy, rock on.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Conversations Over Coffee, Vol. 2

I so loved sitting down to coffee with you last month that I think I'll make it a monthly trend. I've been living in New York for a few very chaotic weeks and don't have anyone nearby to meet for a real life coffee date just yet, so again, doing it virtually is just as well.

David and I have been living together for a month. It doesn't feel like that, though. See, before we moved in together, we spent time together in such a way that made it feel like we already did. For at least 2-3 nights at a time, sometimes more, one of us would move in with the other, and round and round we went. Before we made the move I had an insatiable obsession with reading articles about "what to expect when you move in together," but it was all pretty useless. Warnings about him seeing me without makeup or living with his bathroom behaviors or trying to figure out how to share a bed were all lost on us—been there, done that. We move quickly around here, I guess. The only things that really changed about our living situation were a) both of our stuff is in the same place, and b) we don't have to cross a river to get to each other.

But we have been in a bit of a weird situation. Pretty much the same week that we decided to start looking at apartments (meaning, we were prepared to move in a month's time—NYC real estate dictates that you work fast), David's job sent him to another state for a project that needed him. Luckily the work travel is just about over, but for the first month that we lived together, he was only here four nights per week. Because of that, we haven't fully established our weekday rhythm together. Weekends though... we've been pretty good at weekends.

Last weekend in the beautiful weather, we went meandering through our neighborhood. We live right at the top of Morningside Heights, right at the bottom of west Harlem. To our right is Riverside Park and the Hudson River, to our left is, well, Manhattan. We're right smack-dab in the middle of neighborhoods with such rich history and so many sights that make me go "Holy shit, I get to live here?" Last Saturday we walked almost all the way to the east side of the island, stopping to peek at nearly every menu in the south side of Harlem to scout out our next brunch spot. (So many eateries, not even remotely enough time.) After cutting back to the west side through Morningside Park and emerging near Columbia campus, just south of our apartment, we popped into Tom's Restaurant. You know the place as the exterior shot in Seinfeld. We (now) know the place as the diner with delicious 22 oz. milkshakes.
I have fallen in love with running in Riverside Park. I've ventured over to Central Park too, and I enjoy it as well, but fighting the streetlights and foot traffic to get there isn't worth it on a regular day. Riverside Park is literally half a block away from us, so access is easy. And I gotta tell you, it's damn pretty. Running south, the Hudson and views of my beloved New Jersey are on my right. On my left is block after block after block of beautiful old buildings. Think You've Got Mail—in fact, Riverside Park is the meeting place at the end of the movie. I ran past that garden the other day, and couldn't wait for spring. I can't wait to see how gorgeous this place is when everything turns green again.

What else is going on? Well, I'm still job-hunting, so there is that. I think I've said all I want to say on the subject—it's hard, it's depressing, it's depleting, and I just want to get to work. Oh, and if I have to read one more piece of vague advice about how cover letters are the secret key to landing a job but never read any two people agreeing on what a cover letter should look like (Be creative! Don't be weird. Stand out! Don't be off-putting. It doesn't matter how you open! Your opening is everything. Summarize your background! Don't summarize your resume. Really show the interviewer who you are! Don't write more than exactly 11 sentences.) I'm going to scream. Listen, recruiters/HR: if the cover letter is really this make-or-break, throw people a freaking bone. Better yet, I propose you only request a cover letter from the resumes you actually read for more than 1.2 seconds and don't throw in the trash. It takes me a half hour to apply for a job it takes half a second for you to reject people from...let's rethink things a bit. (I could go on about this for days; I'll quit here.)

I haven't taught a single yoga class in a month. On the one hand, I've enjoyed the break and the return to just being a student. On the other, I miss it tremendously, and I'm not even practicing nearly as much as I'd like to. My old studio felt like home; I knew all the teachers, could pick and choose classes based on what kind of practice I was in the mood for. I found a nearby studio that I do really enjoy, but making the 12-minute walk over there isn't always appealing, and I admit I've been more than a bit lazy. On the bright side, I'm starting to make more time for my home practice, which I have pretty much neglected for a year and a half now. I'm in talks with someone right now about getting a few classes to teach, which I hope is exactly the zap I need to reignite this machine.

A machine I was finally able to reignite though was my run game. It has taken me SO long to fall back into my groove; even when I was running on the schedule I gave myself (which was a bit more forgiving than it should have been, considering I've got a marathon coming up) I wasn't enjoying it or feeling the benefit like I used to. But I had a great rebound week and, come on, these views on the run? Would you stay inside?
The view facing north, the George Washington Bridge which connects NYC to NJ.
The view from a few miles south is just this, all along the water. That cluster of buildings on the far left is NYC's financial district. On Sunday, I ran all the way downtown and had picture-perfect views of One World Trade, Lackawanna Station in Hoboken, and just the most gorgeous river and skyscape shots. I wanted to take about a million photos; in fact, I feel that way pretty much every time I walk out the front door, and especially when running through Riverside Park. But I've found too that there's something that feels so nice about just having it there for me, knowing I can see it all and be awed by it every day. Trying to find one perfect shot would be almost a lie, because everywhere you look it just feels like you're in a movie.

The funny thing is, I say this as someone who never had "big city dreams" or thought she would settle in NYC. Don't get me wrong, I love this town and always have. Growing up across the river, how could I not? But I always thought NJ would be home, and that a marathon's distance away was close enough. And at the start of my residency here, I was almost embarrassed about the idea of being a doe-eyed New Jerseyan coming to Manhattan, looking around with eyes wide and feelings of grandness about everything I saw. How cliche and pedestrian! But the thing is, New York is all that. The Upper West Side is everything it's cracked up to be. It's as beautiful as it looks in movies; more so. It's as electric and vibrant and inspiring as every TV show has ever made it seem. It has its downsides too—I had to hold my breath walking out of the subway station today because it reeked of pee—but this city is a living, breathing organism. I knew that already; I felt it every time over the past 27 years when I emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel into midtown or walked the maze of the Lower East Side to get to my favorite bar and pizza place, and that's why I let David convince me to move here. I didn't realize until I got here though how much I needed its life, its breath to course through me right now.

There's more we'd chat about over coffee, I'm sure. I'd wish you a happy new month and mention I turn 28 at the end of this month—and confess that I have mixed feelings about it. We'd talk politics, because how could we not? We'd touch on the Oscars, and I'd annoyingly repeat my story about how I've seen every broadcast of the Academy Awards since literally the day I was born, because I was born on Academy Award night in 1989, during the announcement for Best Picture (Rainman). I'd wish you a happy Women's History Month and ask if you're participating in next Wednesday's Day Without A Woman.

I'd apologize for the lack of comments I've been leaving. I can only keep up with reading these past few weeks, but I am here and I do love knowing what's going on with you. I'd ask if you're reading anything good, and hope you're enjoying some spring-like weather. I'd ask how your spouse or SO is doing, and what's new with your family. I'd tell you I hope work is going well and your hobbies are keeping you entertained. Before we parted, I'd give you a sincere squeeze and tell you I hope to sit down for coffee again very soon.

Linking up with Kristen.
Linking up with Joey.