Young Directionless

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I Forgot How to Play

firework

Sitting in my therapists office I realized suddenly that I forgotten how to play.  I know how to fill a weekend, but I don’t know how to have fun.  When I have time off, I get caught up in productive things like paying bills, and cleaning my house (ok, who am I kidding that rarely happens), and cooking.  When asked to name “fun” things I say I read, or go for a walk.  But deep down I realize none of these things are thrilling. They aren’t FUN.  Like capital F-U-N.  The emotional reality of this hit me like a ton of bricks.  I know it resonated with me, because I started bawling, and was still bawling as I clutched at my steering wheel on the way home.

What happened?  I used to play as a child, building RVs for my stuffed animals to call home, and stitching leather jackets so they could join a Hell’s Angels-esqe motorcycle gang, and dreaming up elaborate stories.  In college I hosted tea parties, and held a midnight picnic in the sculpture garden that was quickly broken up not by the cops but the nocturnal emergence of (eekk) cockroaches!!!

Yet while I had dreams when I was younger (of making movies, writing a screen play, doing stand up comedy) lately it seem I know what to do with myself.  I can’t tell you what a fun weekend would look like. I don’t have a favorite movie, or a favorite artist, or a favorite book.  I feel like I have become a nobody.  If I was told I was dying and had eight hours left on earth, I don’t know how I would spend them  .  Scratch that.  I would spend all those hours frantically writing down everything I ever thought but never got down on my blog, and trying to create something that could remain.

I have been a highly successful person, but I haven’t been a particularly creative one. I have spent the last seven years desperately trying to be an adult in the face of the worst economic disaster in almost a century.  Once I decided after college not to go abroad and teach English and be an international nomad, at every juncture I’ve done the most responsible thing: avoided debt, saved money, gone back to school, built my resume, and leveraged it into a pretty respectable life for myself.  From the outside, I look highly successful.  I’m happily married, have a good job, we just bought a house.  Yet I haven’t been successful at being happy.  I hardly recognize the stressed out person I see in the mirror.  She doesn’t have many friends, she doesn’t feel passion for life, and she is short tempered, negative, and way too uptight.  And today when I looked deep inside I realized I don’t want to live this life any more.

So I’ve decided to start playing.  I’m going to focus on finding the things that speak to me, make me lose track of time, and feel joy.  The things I feel compelled to do and energized by.  I’m not going to throw my whole life overboard. I have a bunch of good things going for me.  But I do plan on tweaking where I am, and what I am doing, and use it to reevaluate where I am going.

And that sounds like a lot of work.  So first I am going to focus on having fun.  And getting my play on.

Learning How to Suck at Things

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Do you know how to fail?  We focus all the time on how to succeed, and what we should be doing, but the reality is that at least some of the time we should be failing.   The prospect of waking up tomorrow and doing everything perfectly sounds nice, but you can’t learn or grow if your perfect.  And no one is perfect, so if you feel like you are you probably aren’t taking the kinds of risks and pursuing the opportunities that  are going to help you build the life you want.

You don’t have to suck at everything.  You just need to pick something outside your comfort zone or skill set that you can work on doing over and over again.  My husband points out that video games  are great for this.  The game designers purposefully build in a learning curve so that you rarely get each task right the first time.  He tried to get me to play, and I nearly threw the controller through the television.  That was when I realized that I had  perfection problem (and should switch to pinball).

But I’m just not that motivated to stick with video games, so instead I decided to take up pilates.  Because if you really want to suck at something choose the most perfection oriented exercise class out there.  Especially if you haven’t worked out in several years.

Boy did I suck!  The first class I could barely keep up.  I didn’t always understand what the instructor wanted, even though I had done pilates years ago.  I tried to watch the other students, and the instructor helped orient me, but it was tough.  Everyone had those cute little gym outfits that cost more than my normal work wardrobe (and that I will never understand),  no one was sweating, and when I had to take momentary breaks because my quads were literally on fire I looked over to see heavily pregnant women powering through. I wanted to die.  And cry.  And quit.  I felt like the most uncoordinated lump of suck.  But I didn’t. Because damn it I had bought an unlimited month pass and those things are expensive!   I calculated how many classes I needed to attend to break even and get below the per class cost to have made this worth it.  Then I saw how much better my abs and butt looked after I staggered to the mirror the next day after only one work out.

I slowly got better.  The fact that I was sore for two to three days afterward for the first five classes had me a bit panicked about hitting my numbers.  It was tough with the delayed onset muscle soreness that meant I needed to take three days off every time, and the challenge of coordinating my work schedule with the limited evening offerings and the need to be n a beginner appropriate class.  Judging from both the schedule, childcare and the very blond women dripping with diamonds and lulumon, pilates is very much oriented around the schedule of the stay at home mom. Somehow between the combination of the economic theory of sunk costs and positive reinforcement from the results I was seeing, I kept going.

By mid month I no longer felt as sore after class. I could go back to class within two days instead of three.  My form was improved and I could follow the class instructions better.  Dare I say I no longer sucked?

The other night I was feeling tired and particularly unmotivated. I considered not attending class, but I auto piloted to the studio any way.  As I signed in the teacher smiled at me–“you’re all set” she said.  As class started she asked me if I was expecting a normal class. I stared at her blankly while I considered whether this was a trick question, and said yes.  “This is interval.  It will be hard but you should totally stay.”  I momentarily panicked.  This was an advanced class.  You’re supposed to attend at least ten classes before you even take the express class.  But she didn’t  kick me out, and she had let me sign up for it, so I stayed.  And I suffered. I had sweat pouring down my face.   We were being asked to do things with our bodies that were not physically possible, and yet everyone was doing it without complaint, and  even I was somehow trailing slightly behind right along with them.   I write this two days later, and I can still barely sit or stand up I am so sore.

But I survived! So I don’t totally suck, but I still sorta do.  And that’s ok, because sometimes if you aren’t doing it wrong–you’re doing it wrong.

How to Day Dream Successfully

DSC_0083I love to daydream. In my mind I invent whole new lives for myself, with fantastical careers, and adventures in new countries and cities.  While fantasizing about life’s possibilities can be fun, it can reach a point of being destructive rather than helpful.  There is never a satisfying end or resolution to day dreaming, and it is easy to find yourself drawn into an endless string of ruminations.  Suddenly, you look up from your computer hours later and realize day dreaming has kept you from writing and other creative endeavors.

Day dreams should be about orienting where your life is going and how to get there, not hold you back.  If you find yourself loosing track of time, or day dreaming too much, recognize day dreaming can be a symptom of depression, too. Yet visioning your life can be incredibly powerful.  How to strike a balance between daydreaming and catastrophe thinking is as easy as following these four tips:

Don’t be a Passive Day

Try writing your dreams instead of simply thinking about them.  Start a journal, and write your morning pages.  The key is to get out of your head.  If you don’t like to write find a friend to talk to who can help you day dream out loud about possible scenarios.  Sometimes we day dream because we are lonely and what we really need is interaction with others, and a chance to bounce ideas off one another.   Create a support group of friends, or even an article club to help build a circle of friends to support each other.

Go Offline

Don’t day dream online.  It’s too easy to get sucked into the internet or facebook. Since day dreaming can also be a sign of depression, this puts you at risk of using the internet to escape.  Instead, set a goal to find a way to bring your day dream into concrete reality.  Book a small trip (or even a big one), or if you can’t swing that get a book by a travel writer about the country or city you are fantasizing about living in.  Here are some excellent ones for those of you fantasizing about living in Paris, restoring a Tuscan village, or putting yourself out there and starting over with a new life.  Consider taking  a class that can get you out of your rut and closer to your goal.  You might even meet like minded people who share your interests.

Set Daily Goals and Tasks 

Don’t float through the day.  Instead set daily goals and tasks, and work to accomplish them early in the day.  Prioritize yourself and put the really important ones that you want to accomplish in your life first (like writing).  As for the others if you find yourself avoiding getting to these tasks, set a timer for 20 minutes and force yourself to at least get started. If you consistently hate your daily tasks, consider taking a day off to relax and recharge.  You may just be overstressed, and spending some time relaxing should make you more productive when you come back. Unless of course you realize that no amount of time off will help.  Then you need to consider either finding a way to hand that task off (hire a house keeper, buy prepared food, reassign work tasks or get an intern), or quit.

Practice Being Mindful

Most of all, recognize your tendency to escape into your own head. Make sure that you aren’t using day dreaming as a way to escape a life that is making you unhappy.  Try meditating, or yoga.  Or even better start reading Zen Habits for daily dose of reality in the kindest and most inspiring form possible.  Because if you are using daydreaming as a way of escaping a life that is making you unhappy, you need to recognize that and work to escape into a life that will make you happy instead.

 

Generational Differences in the Workplace are Catching Up

We hear all the time how terrible Generation Y is.  We’re a bunch of spoiled millennials who all think they should be running the place, when what we really need is to hang up our trophies and get with the program.

Well, in one sign that millennials are ahead of the curve Corporate America is finally starting to get rid of voice mail! Gen Y stopped listening to and leaving voicemails years ago.  Voicemail is wildly inefficient, time consuming, and frankly annoying.

phone

Death to Flippy

Now can someone please kill the fax machine?

Night Thoughts

Somehow my best ideas come at night when I am drifting off to sleep. I always swear I will remember them (but I won’t). I have written brilliant french poems at 4 am in the morning only to wake and realize the only tendril I can hang on to is that it was about un chapeau.  The rest of my creativity is lost to the fog of sleep.

chapeau

 

Ce ne sont pas un chapeau

So tonight I am going to place my idea book next to the bed.  I’m going to will myself to wake up and grab a pen and face the harsh shining realm of the nightstand light and blast myself out of bed to write down my ideas.  

Let’s see what my night thoughts bring.

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Tonight I am grateful for second sleep, coffee, and hats.

Delicious Summer Food Reads

It never feels like summer until you have watermelon dripping down your face, and bags from farmer’s market cutting into your arms. What to do with all that bounty? Summer food reading of course! Take a break from thinking about your career and your life and savor the simple pleasures.  The best beach reading is the reading that propels you off to a good meal and a nice glass of wine, and transports you even if you don’t have the budget or the vacation time to travel.

asparagus

Here are my recommendations for the Best Summer Food Reading:

My Life in France

An amazing account of Julia Child’s life in France as told by her nephew.  An intimate portrait and fun read.

United States of Arugula

For an overview of the American food movement and its history, look no further than this fun and fact filled read.

Beard on Food

A first person (and tasty) perspective on the evolution of the American food movement as told through the palate of the man who helped shape that history.

Under the Tuscan Sun

This is pure #foodporn joy.  Fantasize about a sun drenched villa and enjoy recipes such as thyme roasted vegetables and marscapone cherries that will transport you to Bella Italia.  I read and cooked my way through this book my last semester of undergrad, and it changed me forever.

Enjoy!

The Decision Trap and Creativity

Every day we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the right decisions.  Eat healthy, save money, say the right thing.  As women we face the unrealistic societal expectation expressed by my boss’ favorite comedian of going to work, taking care of the kids, and then coming home to cook a great meal, and be multiorgasmic.  Life is a series of decisions, and the unrelenting pressure we place on ourselves to make the best ones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At least most life decisions are easier
than  solving this glittery rubik’s cube

Yet research indicates the human brain eventually suffers from decision fatigue. Making good decisions  is easier when you can make fewer of them.  That’s why Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg where the same outfit every day.   To paraphrase Barack Obama you don’t want to have to worry about what you are eating or wearing when you have so many other decisions to make.   Smart women can do this, too.

I don’t wear the same outfit every day, but to the extent possible, I’ve tried to automate the things I don’t care about, and focus my energy and attention on the things that do.  I want a cleaner house, but I don’t actually want to clean it so I read Living a Simple Life and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and got rid of stuff.   My husband and I live where we can walk downtown so we get our exercise without having to motivate ourselves to get off our couch to do boring mindless laps around a suburban block.   I want to write and be creative, but I realized some months ago most of my creativity was going into cooking and choosing what to wear each day rather than my writing, so I made some adjustments.  When my life seems most off track, I will make a list of my values and priorities, then make a list of how I actually spend my time:  there is nothing like comparing the two to see where an adjustment is needed.

Seeing the results of how you spend your time and the life you live contrasted with the life you actually want for yourself, and the ways you currently spend your time can make achieving your dreams seem impossible.  How did you end up here?  Why should things be any different?  Maybe this is who you really are.  All of these thoughts make the life you want seems so far away.  But the reality is that you can use the fact that life is a series of decisions to your advantage, too:

Terence J. Tollaksen wrote that his purpose became clearer once he began to recognize the “decision trap”: “This trap is an amazingly consistent phenomena whereby ‘big’ decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.”

You don’t get where you want to be by making one big choice.  Life is made up of the smaller choices we make every day.  So don’t sweat it if you aren’t where you want to be.  Spend some time thinking about where you are, and what you want.  Then start spending time doing what you want, and look for the small decisions that can help you get there.  All these little decisions will make it so when you do have a big decision to make, you’ll be ready.  And if you are still overwhelmed, just remember the 85% rule:  You don’t have to be 100% certain, or even 100% ready. In fact, you probably never will be;  content yourself with being 85% certain, and when you get to 85% give yourself permission to act.

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Today I’m grateful for cherry clafouti, feeding peanuts to scrub jays, and my husband.

Releasing My Inner Cheapskate

I’m a pretty high strung person. I have a hard time letting go, and I like to feel in control of everything.   I want to know how long it is going to take me to get somewhere, what traffic lies in my path, and whether it would be more efficient to go one way or duck down a side street.

 

be happy

I am also kind of a penny pincher.  While I spend way too much money eating out for convenience (and my taste buds), I don’t hang out at the mall, and buy most of my clothing used (when I am not just shopping my closet).  I probably spend less than $50 on makeup in an average year.  My weaknesses are boots and hats from Anthropologie.

In the last week I’ve decided in honor of my birthday to let myself relax a bit.  I bought my dart board, and accidentally signed up for Amazon Prime.  Free two day shipping?  Yes please.  I plan to cancel after my two month trial ends, but hello Scotch nail polish!  Finally ordered my Palo Santo sticks and bought a used $5 copy of Finding Your Own North Star.  None of these will break the bank, but I’m excited to pick them up and spend a weekend relaxing and enjoying some of life’s simple pleasures for less than the cost of a manicure.  Sometimes it feels good to let your inner cheapskate go.

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I’m grateful for baby orioles,  Brazilian music, and storage.

Bullseye: Sometimes You Just Need to Play

I was rather impulsive the other day.  Remember when I wrote about the strain of being the primary breadwinner?  One thing I didn’t mention was this great article from Forbes on women feeling the strain.   See, there was this crazy suggestion in the article that the way to save your marriage was darts.  So I jumped on Amazon.com and added a dart board to my cart.

exactly

I considered it a belated birthday present for myself, because what adult doesn’t need toys?   I was so excited for my dart game to arrive.  Then I got busy at work and promptly forgot about it.  When the oversize package arrived, I was scratching my head.  Was this for my roommate?  What the hell was this?   But no!  The name on the box was mine, and after I hurriedly ripped open the package I remembered my impulsive purchase.   In fact, even though I was late for my meeting, I hurriedly hung it up, attached the fletchings  and fired off a few rounds.

Whoever said that darts was a great stress reliever was totally right.  It may have stressed my husband off everytime we missed and struck the stucco, but this is definitely my kind of game.  It’s zen, quick, decisive, and is great to play on the porch–and most importantly a board and darts can be had for under thirty bucks. I envisioned rousing games under the porch light.  I felt giddy and eager to play once I finally got home.

So for anyone feeling frustrated, get thee a dart board.

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Things I am grateful for today?  Chocolate.  James Beard. And Darts.

Gratitude Adjustment

My husband came home from a trip a few days ago, and when we had our first fight he said “Being away for all these weeks I really forgot how negative you are.” We said a bunch of other stuff, too, but that statement really stuck with me.  Am I too negative?  Do I criticize too much?  I had been in a pretty spectacular mood.  “You are not a miserable person,” he reassured me.   “I just think you spent too much time with your mother while I was gone.”

As annoyed as I was with him, when I tuned in to my own frequency I realized he might have a point.  Yes, I was having a streak of particularly bad work days, but I also caught myself in what seemed like a metronome of negativity: the steady, rhythmic beat of annoyed this and muttering that.   “This person is an idiot,” I thought while driving.  “Move your ass, lady, you’re standing in line wrong.” It wasn’t just my negativity but my Germanic sense that there was an exact right way for the world to do everything, and the world just wasn’t up to the task.

stand back

Ok, we’re laying down the marker.  Knock it off. 

“What if I stop complaining for 24 hours?”  I thought to myself.  “How about making like Oprah and practicing gratitude?”  Except the more I thought about strapping myself into a monastic system of habit change, the more I started to worry that cultivating perfection was in fact the last thing I needed.  What does it mean to practice self-help when you are an unhinged control freak?  Is the paleo diet really about eating like my ancestors, or my need to control everything on my plate?  Does not complaining for 24 hour silence the negative tape in my head, or is it just another more socially acceptable way of suppressing myself?  Do I need to restrict, or obsess anymore than I already do? Isn’t the obsessing what is causing all this in the first place?

So I decided to keep it simple. I gave up complaining for 24 hours. It was one minute after my decision when I sent my first snarky tweet questioning the whole project, and 10 hours before I came up with a coping mechanism borrowed from my Southern relatives that involved saying something that sounded nice, but was really a passive aggressive dig.

I don’t think I was very successful at not complaining, and realized I really don’t want to add “bless your heart” to every other sentence out of my mouth, but at least I’ve slowed the negativity somewhat.  In fact, instead of avoiding the negative, I decided to focus on the positive and start a gratitude journal.  Every day I will write down things I am thankful for.  It may not seem like much at first, but each positive thought can build on the last.

Tonight, I’m thankful for this blog. I am thankful I am writing again, even though no one sees it.  Most of all, I’m thankful for my voice–which has been too silent, too hidden, and ignored for too long.

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