I realized that I haven’t written anything in a while. I think I stopped writing because I didn’t feel like it. And then I stopped feeling like myself because I stopped writing, a vicious cycle indeed. So I've committed to breaking that cycle, and it feels good to be back.
I’ve been unemployed now for 8 months(!) Being how my longest vacation ever had been 2 weeks, that's quite alot of time. In these months, I’ve had the luxury to simply stop and listen to myself, my mind, my body, my soul. (I know it sounds cheesy.) I’ve been able to discover aspects of myself I wasn’t aware of and also rediscover aspects I had forgotten. Not only have I learned much about myself but much about life in general. I intend to share those learnings with you (dear reader.)
1: Money doesn't equal happiness.
I’ve known this on a theoretical level for quite some time. I’ve heard it and read it countless times, but it becomes more and more real each day. You’d think that since I’ve saved up enough to retire at the age of 35, I’d be bursting at the seams with joy every waking minute of every day. I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy my life. It has much improved since years past. But I still have my troubles, worries and anxieties; they just look a bit different now. Being grateful for what you have, whatever that may be, is a strength that needs practicing every day, regardless of your situation.
2: Be intentional with your time, even when you have alot of it.
I’ve had a serious windfall of free time. For the first time in my life, I feel freaking time rich! As awesome as that sounds, it’s amazing how strong the urge is to fill your time with literally anything once you realize you have alot of it. I would argue that “being busy” is a drug to which many are addicted. Different from most addictions, this one is a badge of honor, making the urge to fill your time with something (anything!) that much stronger. I’ve recently found myself doing things I wouldn’t normally do. Why? Because I have the time. Unfortunately, some of these time-fillers (or time wasters) has not meaningfully improved my life and has kept me from pursuing other worthy goals. I'm actively working on becoming more intentional with how I spend my day, creating boundaries on how much time is spent on certain activities and constantly asking myself: "Am I just doing this because I have the time or is this something that will meaningfully improve my life?" This realignment and re-prioritization of my time and attention has brought me back to focusing on activities that I enjoy, like writing. Which brings me to . . .
3: Don’t forget what you’re good at.
When I was a teenager grocery shopping with my mom (many moons ago!), one of my past school teachers came up to me and asked: “Do you still write?” I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I do now. I used to love writing, especially creative writing i.e. poems, short stories, etc. I even wrote a children's book complete with pop-up illustrations that I still have in my memory box. Writing came easy to me; I was good at it; it’s where my creativity thrived. Unfortunately, I didn’t capitalize on this information. I became an engineer instead and continued to wonder why I wasn’t happy... Sometimes your greatest talent is staring you in the face, and it has been for years. Don’t ignore it. Nourish it, in whatever way you can. You never know where that will lead you. That being said...
4: Being good at something won’t necessarily make you want to do it for money.
I’ve seen people argue that once you’re an expert on something, you’ll enjoy making a living out of said skill. Well... that wasn't the case for me. Oh yes I had grand ideas of going back into engineering in some consultancy fashion after I took a few months off. I’ve even had dozens of people reach out to me on Linkedin or via email for various job opportunities regarding my particular engineering expertise. Many of them go unanswered, as I don't have the heart do tell them I’d rather do almost anything than take them up on said offers. Turns out, you can be really good at something and still not be passionate about it. (I believe certain personality types i.e. ambitious people are motivated to become good at whatever is put in front of them. However, that doesn't mean they should spend their entire lives doing said thing. A great blog on this topic: Climbing the wrong hill.)
5: Don’t forget what brings you joy.
I’ve made some pretty significant life changes in the last year i.e. quit my job, sold my stuff, moved to a new city, moved in with my partner, etc. Sometimes I feel like my world has turned upside down. Exciting yes but also truly exhausting and draining. I've since realized that I’ve forgotten some of the things that brought me joy and energized me before all of these changes occurred. For example, I used to enjoy listening to music and dancing around my living room like a fool. I don’t do that anymore, probably because I don’t want to embarrass myself. Ha! But I also just plain forgot that I used to do that and how much joy it brought me. If you live on planet Earth, you've probably experienced some significant life changes in the past 2 years due to the pandemic. I implore you, don’t forget what brings you joy and continue to incorporate that into your life regardless of what life throws at you. And if you can’t think of anything that brings you joy, try something new! It’s never too late to discover new people, places or activities that bring you joy.
6. Try new things.
When I first moved to Houston, I became depressed. I went through a bad breakup, I had no hobbies, my job didn't turn out to be what I thought . . . I was miserable. I needed to find something that would bring me joy, because filling my days with just work and sleep wasn't cutting it. I recently found out about Flow and decided finding a hobby potentially bring me joy, or at least give me a momentary respite from the sadness I was enduring. So I made a list of activities to try. First on my list was cross-stitch. (Don’t ask...) I bought a starter kit off Amazon and then quickly realized it wasn't for me. Second on my list was learning how to DJ. I took an online course, bought some equipment and the rest is history. In less than a year I was DJ’ing at charity events, private parties and bars around town. Yes, me the introvert, stood in front of crowds of people and played music. It was definitely uncomfortable and challenging at times, and it would've been so much easier to stay at home. But I'm so incredibly grateful that I did that, that I put myself out there. Because not only did it get me out of the funk and forced me to interact with strangers who became friends, it taught me that I can do hard things.
Recently, I joined a running club in my new city. Mind you, I have never been considered slow, but WOW was I humbled when our first run was charging up a mountain. My lungs felt like they were going to explode. I vowed to keep at it every week and even signed up for a trail race where I got my ass handed to me. Why? Because challenging yourself can make you a more resilient person, and being resilient is important because..
7. Life is the obstacles.
I've had this thought pattern throughout my entire life that goes something like: "I can’t wait to get through all of these challenges and then I can FINALLY start enjoying my life!" Ha! I was listening to a podcast where Tim Ferris interviews Susan Cain who wrote one of my favorite books, Quiet. (She also has a new book out which I can't wait to read.) She discusses with Tim how "longing" is a universal feeling and that feeling (and embracing) sorrow can increase your resiliency. During the interview, Tim mentioned this quote:
“I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking, ‘If only that hadn’t happened, life would be so good.’ Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path.” - Janna Levin
A lightbulb went off in my head. One of the other reasons I haven't written is not just because I didn’t feel inspired, but because I haven’t felt particularly joyful lately. Life has contained obstacles: Living with someone else (for the first time in a long time), moving to a new city where I know no one (aside from my partner), not having a steady constant like a job to keep me grounded, etc. Some days, I feel like I’ve been lifted up out of my world and dropped down on a different planet. Where am I, and what am I doing here? I kept thinking to myself, "When life gets easier, I’ll write again. When I get through all of these obstacles in my life, I’ll write again." I realize how silly that sounds now. Life is the obstacles. That’s what makes life interesting. And honestly, that's become my new favorite mantra. So something bad happened today? Okay that's life. Embrace it. Life is the obstacles. Embrace the suck. Obstacles are what make your life richer and helps you become a more rounded resilient human being which brings me to my last lesson:
8. Embrace uncertainty with gratitude.
The "funny" thing about lots of free time is that it gives you the mental space and capacity to question your past life decisions. Yay! "Why did I become an engineer? What prompted me to move to Houston when I knew practically no one? What would my life be like if I had never left Atlanta?" These questions haunt me, if I let them. The truth is, I don’t know the answer to these questions and I never will. Instead, it's a much better use of my mental energy to focus on being grateful for how my life is today. I live in a beautiful house in a beautiful city with someone who loves me. I don’t worry about money or shelter, and I largely dictate how I spend my time every day. Those are much better thoughts to dwell on.