The best way to make a change in your life and how you feel about it is to start trying new things. Everybody knows this, but we all sort of get busy with our lives and push new ideas aside because it’s so much easier to stick with our old routine. Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to go ahead and put on your big girl panties, suck it up and put yourself out there.
As a person who has a lot of anxiety about interacting with people, this is no easy task for me. Sometimes hanging out with my own friends can be tiring and nerve-racking, so making new ones is not something I’m especially good at or used to. But after weeks of talking about it with my therapist, I’ve finally found some motivation to take the plunge and actually try.
So what am I trying? Well, it’s just baby steps for now, but I’ve been focusing on: a) Cutting back on people-pleasing so damn much and actually doing what’s right for me, b) Making more of an effort to socialize with my roommates and in general, and c) Trying things that I am interested in instead of just letting opportunities slip by. How I’ve been doing this is: a) I told my roommates I want to live somewhere else this fall. I just can’t live with pets anymore without some sort of allergic reaction, and even though that’s not my fault, I was really dreading the idea of telling them I want to move out. I didn’t want them to think I was being unreasonable or hurt their feelings, so I really considered just staying where I’m at, but in the long run I know moving out is the better choice for me. b) On Monday nights I set aside time to watch The Bachelor with my roommates. Honestly, I think the show is super sexist and ridiculous, but it’s something they enjoy, and I like watching it with them because we all add our own commentary. It’s a good bonding activity, especially when we break out the wine. c) I’ve been searching for a club to join this semester that fits in with my schedule and is something I maybe won’t get the opportunity to do after college. So next week I’m going to a Tango Club meeting, because I suck at dancing and I’d like to be better at it. I’m not setting up any high expectations—I’ll go, and if I like it I’ll keep going. If I don’t like it, I won’t go, and I’ll probably try to find some sort of craft club to join. My therapist used an interesting metaphor for this; she said that it was sort of like gardening, where right now is the time to just try to plant a bunch of seeds. Some of them won’t grow into anything, but others hopefully will, and after time they can turn into something great that I can pick and make into jam or some shit. So basically, I’ve got to try some new things, find what I like, stick to the ones I enjoy the most, and eventually it will bring me a sense of purpose or some friends or at least a fun way to spend a Wednesday night. (For all of you non-therapy goers, metaphors always turn up eventually, even though it’s so stereotypical, and they are almost always something strange that sound stupid in any other situation.) Anyway, I’m planting my seeds, readers. Hopefully something will grow.
In other news, I’ve also had some good changes with Jessie, my ex-partner living in Central America. Since allowing each other to see other people, we’ve become more honest with another and more realistic about our relationship. Now that I feel less pressure to tie my future to his*, I actually feel more inclined to. But I’m not making any sort of promises still, because there’s more work I need to do about figuring out how I want my life to be. In a strange way, I think we are sort of better than ever at this point.
Being honest means I’ve fessed up to seeing someone else in the past few weeks. Now, by “seeing someone” I just mean hanging out and intimacy—it is not a relationship with labels and I intend to keep it that way. Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed spending time with this guy (who will be anonymous for now) and it has taught me a lot about the kind of person I am looking for. After looking back at some of my old relationships I now see them in a different light; where I once thought I had serious, adult love I recognize that it was young, foolish love that was based on a naïve dream. Now I know that while it is fun to spend time with people who are free spirits and idealists in your 20’s, the person I want to marry one day is someone I could count on, who is responsible and reliable. And that’s not to say that free spirits and idealists aren’t great people…I just know now that I’m going to need someone who I can both dream with, and conquer reality with.
I had a funny sort of inspiration for all of these realizations lately. Yesterday I was sitting in my car outside my therapist’s office, looking out the window, and thinking about what it would be like if I were pregnant. Mind you, I have no desire to be a mother any time soon, but since I’ve lost track of my periods I was a little concerned about this at the time. (Just for the record, though, I’m not pregnant.) Anyway, I sat there picturing myself with a little boy who was mine and I suddenly saw this attainable version of myself that I’d like to be someday. I was independent, and I trusted my instincts though I was sometimes scared, and I stuck to important values that I wanted to pass on to my kid. Values like being honest instead of proud, being kind and fair, especially when you don’t agree with someone, and learning about the things you don’t understand instead of dismissing them. I know it sounds sort of silly, but when you think of the life you’d like to give to someone you love with all of your heart, it becomes clear what you think people deserve. And I think if you can take that idea of life, and apply it to yourself instead, you realize that maybe you deserve that too.
So this is my journey in becoming someone I can admire and aspire to. It’s not going to be easy (in fact, it will most likely be pretty uncomfortable as I push myself to do new things), and it’s going to take time and work, but I’m trying because at the end of the day if I tried, at least I did something different.
*In the past, I’ve used she/her or they/them pronouns for Jessie (or tried just avoiding using pronouns altogether), however recently I learned that Jessie’s correct pronouns are he/him, so that’s what I’m going to start using!
Life is a constant struggle between being yourself and wanting to be your ideal “you”. We love to prove to ourselves that we can be smarter, beautiful, successful, accomplished, talented, in amazing shape, likable, and anything else that we desire. We want to have quality relationships, we want to have financial stability and flexibility, we want to rise through the ranks in our professions. We want it all, but we are also plagued by mediocrity. And as much as you can resent yourself for not being a superhero, it’s just not productive. So we must balance reality and expectations. Not a simple task.
I used to be that driven kid. In middle school I was on student council, art club, the school newspaper, choir, National Junior Honor Society, and I was also an aspiring writer, guitar player, and artist. All of that was in addition to a schedule stuffed with advanced classes, and a new stack of books I read for fun each week. And all of that was to impress colleges who didn’t even know I existed.
Then in high school I changed. I started out on the same track: choir, National Honor Society, drama club, speech club, renaissance club, and more advanced classes. But then I traded hobbies for friends, got a job at 16, and after a terrible semester in junior year I snapped. I couldn’t do it all, I wasn’t perfect like I wanted to be, and it was exhausting trying to look pretty every day after a nights of furiously trying to finish homework on break at work. Most of the classes I took that year were for college credit, and trying to balance being a student, an employee, and a soon-to-be girlfriend in my first relationship wasn’t working. So I snapped. I admitted to being depressed and began medication, I quit my job, and school took a backseat to happiness. My new philosophy was “Fuck it!” and I blocked out everything that challenged me.
Now, after a year (almost a year and a half!) of college, my philosophy has changed again. I focus on what makes me happy, but I’ve also started to push myself from time to time to be that ideal version of myself. The ideal “me” runs everyday, completes all of her assignments days before they are due, volunteers, is an active part of the university feminist group, eats healthy, hangs out with her friends a lot, writes her aspiring novel, draws and reads in her spare time, and maintains a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend and friends back home. But I’m not this girl. I run sporadically, complete my assignments, is trying to volunteer a bit, hardly attends the feminist meetings anymore, “tries” to eat healthy, hangs out with her friends at school and back home, reads sometimes but not enough, hardly draws or writes, and maintains the healthy relationship with my boyfriend. I’m not doing terribly, but I’m not super close to the ideal “me”. And sometimes that bothers me, and sometimes it doesn’t.
We all want to be in control of our lives, to control our destiny and be the best, but life isn’t a to-do list you can make. Sometimes things get in the way, sometimes our ambition is second-priority to our emotions. So how do we not get stuck in our laziness for fear of stress (but also not get burnt out on trying too hard)? The balance. Trying to balance your life is always the goal that comes back to haunt you, because nine times out of ten your conflicts derive from a lack of balance (i.e. not spending enough time with loved ones because of work, getting behind at school because of your social life, one partner in a relationship picking up too much slack because the other partner is not doing their share, etc.). But balancing our lives is much easier said than done. So how do you do it?
I’m no expert, but so far this semester I’ve had success with balancing ideal “me” expectations, and realistic probability of achieving those tasks. Here’s what I did:
- Stop beating yourself up. You’re never going to accomplish anything if you are too busy telling yourself that you suck. You can’t do everything, but you can do more than nothing. Believe that you can do this, and remember all of the times you accomplished something and was proud of yourself. Start of by treating yourself to something nice that you normally don’t do, maybe buy yourself that dress you’ve been eyeing for weeks, or that new album from your favorite band. Show yourself you can accomplish something if you want it.
- Now make a realistic list of stuff you want to do. Keep it small, maybe the top five things you want to accomplish in the next month/four months. Don’t go thinking about the whole year, because you’ll forget about your goals or put it off if you have too much time. Now set some sort of timeline for your goals. Try to do one thing at a time, so you aren’t taking on too much.
- Do the first thing. Don’t feel discouraged if it takes longer than you thought or you feel like an amateur while doing it. As long as you are CONSISTENTLY trying, you are being successful! Promise yourself you’ll do something fun after you accomplish it!
- Don’t feel like a terrible person if you give up for a while. Sometimes we aren’t ready to do something because you have four exams that week, or you are going through a fight with your friend. Life happens, it’s okay, but vow to try again as soon as things calm down.
- Recognize when you do something good. After you complete a task, even if it is as simple as taking out the trash, remember you have one less thing to do! If you forgot something to do that day, think of all the things you remembered to do. It’s important to be positive throughout the process of productiveness. Just try your best, and remember you are only human! Also, try not to compare yourself to other people, because everyone has their own life and their own unique set of problems.
- Always make time for happiness and relaxation. You are not a machine, and it is vital to release stress in order to keep on track. Just remember to put a time limit on your Netflixing or naps. For every episode write another paragraph of your paper due on Friday, or plan to be productive after dinner, then do it! Keep your promises to yourself, because the more you break them, the harder it will be to convince yourself to get to work. Remember that these goals are in your best interest and why you want to achieve them.
I hope that helps, to whoever is interested in finding their balance between their ideal self and where they are at now. Before you go into making these goals, though, I think it is important to appreciate who you are now, and how far you’ve come. We all want to be better, but in order to do that we must find our strengths and count our blessings. (You could always be worse off!) Anyway, feel free to let me know how you’re doing with your goals or if you have a suggestion for others about what helps you get stuff done! 🙂 Good job to all who are trying, and good luck to all who want to try sometime soon!
It’s after three in the morning and I can’t sleep. After organizing my stuff to pack up for school, I decided to lay down and close my eyes. That was around 2am, and here I am an hour later after listening to my brain come up with my schedule for the rest of the week, the route I’m going to take to get to my dorm Saturday morning, possible ideas of what to do with my grandparents when I visit them tomorrow (besides just sitting there flipping through magazines after an hour of twenty questions), something me and my mom can do together before I leave, and a fleeting idea of taking swimming lessons at school to conquer my long-time fear of water. It’s a mess. I also can’t help thinking that I should really be trying to go to bed sooner so when the first week of classes hits I can actually wake up sometime before noon.
For some reason it makes me want to talk to Charles. He always knew what to say to shut me up about my anxieties, mostly so we could focus on his problems, but there’d also be rare moments when he’d make me see something about them that I couldn’t before. I could imagine our conversation going something like this:
“Hey. I’m sorry to wake you up at three-thirty in the morning but I can’t sleep no matter how hard I try because I just can’t stop thinking about school starting next Monday and moving in on Saturday.”
“(heavy sigh) You realize you owe me for this, don’t you? I was having a dream about [some outrageous nonsense that he will go into great detail over] and you just woke me up from it.”
“What?! I’ve listened to you plenty, and even though I feel bad about waking you up, I don’t owe you squat.”
[then we’d argue for a few minutes, pointing out specific instances of us putting up with the other person’s crap]
“Alright, I’m too tired for this. Just tell me about school so I can go back to bed.”
“Well…I’m just nervous, okay? I don’t want to screw it up and be like last year.”
“And why was last year bad?”
“I didn’t make a lot of friends and I missed my boyfriend all the time and… It was like everyone else was having the time of their lives, and I was just getting through day-by-day. I just holed up in my room and watched Netflix a lot and I didn’t really do anything that made a difference. I didn’t explore the town that much and I quit running and spent most of my time wishing I was with my boyfriend.”
“Then don’t do that.”
“You say that like it’s simple. I knew I was isolating myself and felt really bad about it, but I didn’t know how to make friends after everyone seemed to stop looking for new ones. I was insecure, and my self-esteem was crappy, and I was scared to try to fill up my schedule at the risk of becoming super stressed out.”
“Look, if you want to make this year different then you will. You will find reasons to try rather than reasons not to, and if you don’t then that’s your own fault and you’ll have another crappy year. Do something about it, and stop worrying. If you want to be with your boyfriend then you’re going to just have to accept the fact that you’re going to miss him all the time, and not have the closeness other people have. If you want more friends then go find them, and quit expecting them to show up at your doorstep. You’ll be fine, you always are.”
“…..You’re right. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now I’m going to bed, because I’ve got stuff to do tomorrow and can’t sleep in, unlike some people.”
“[eye roll, which he wouldn’t have seen anyway, but still completely relevant] Okay, sorry…So, I can do this?”
“You can do this.”
“Okay…Thanks again, Charles. Goodnight.”
Even though it’s pretty silly of me to type out this imaginary conversation, it makes me feel a lot better now. Almost as if it really happened. I guess what this all boils down to is believing in myself, something Charles has always done (even if he’s been snarky about it) and I’ve had trouble with. Even though we aren’t friends anymore, and might not ever be again, something about him always makes me want to prove to myself that I am strong. Maybe it is the tough-love friends, not the sympathizers, that I need to be searching for this year. People to push me out of my comfort zone, to do my best. Anyway, my subconscious’ advice is right: if I want to make a difference this year, then I will. I know what not to do this time, and the worst is over. Now is the time to be brave and embrace the change.