Question of the Month: Why do we constantly have to feel like we are moving forward?

DeathtoStock_Meticulous-07.jpgImage via Death to the Stock Photo

It’s occurred to me recently that I have a very hard time enjoying the present.

It wasn’t exactly easy to enjoy the present as it was in late 2015 and early 2016 so I’ll cut myself a break on those.

During that time, I convinced myself to focus on some key goals. I realized that a promotion was likely at least a year off but I committed to doing my job to the best of my ability and working toward an eventual promotion. I realized that getting frustrated with the seemingly far off promotion would be unproductive. I also knew that I was happy with my current gig and that it wouldn’t have been a good idea to start searching around for something seemingly better and high-paying.

In terms of my personal life, I knew that many of my friends would be experiencing huge milestones and my life would likely feel stalled for a while. And I learned to be okay with it. And as I discussed before, it became easier and easier to feel genuinely happier for my friends and acquaintances.

But as a self professed Type A person, I have realized that I’m really bad at not having the next milestone (whether personal or professional) in sight. I think that being able to enjoy the current moment is a truly impressive even resume-worthy skill. If you can do this, I envy you (and being in the moment on vacation doesn’t count, I’m sorry. I’m talking about living in the moment during your monotonous everyday routine). I’d also like to note here that I think I’m significantly worse about this than other people. I’ve usually spent every phase of my life preparing and waiting for the next phase.

Here’s the other thing: when I reach those milestones, I don’t even really enjoy them. It’s true! I got a promotion the other day and I’ve been working hard toward this goal for almost two years. I started comparing myself to others and didn’t fully enjoy or grasp what should have been a fun and exciting moment for me.

So, I’ve been making changes to try to teach myself this skill of appreciating the present more and I can say that things have improved a little. I’m hoping for gradual change over time. Here are some little things I’m doing to work on what I’d consider to be one of my biggest character flaws.

  1. Practice gratitude. I think of gratitude as a muscle you have to train. Honestly, it’s tough some days when it feels like there’s nothing positive about your day. Sometimes you have to be very creative. Sometimes it’s as small as “I’m happy that the Sweetgreen line server gave me an extra large serving of cheese on my salad today…” (I realize for some people that may be a nightmare but I don’t think the extra calories count when they are given to you for free or by mistake.)
  2. Try to find joy in the routine. There must be some things about your routine that you enjoy otherwise why are you doing those same things day to day? If you absolutely hate your routine, change it. I recently tackled the tough question of whether my morning workouts were something I hated doing or something that made my life better. Most days, I am motivated to get up at 5:30 am and over to the gym because I know it will make me feel better. On the days where I can’t be bothered, I don’t go and I have a different routine for those days. You have to have a backup plan that allows you some flexibility.
  3. Unplug. Technology makes enjoying the present much tougher in my opinion. For example, for a while I felt like my walks with my dog should also be productive. Like, I should be listening to an informative podcast or a book on tape while I’m walking my dog. Turns out, I’m not good at doing both at once. I often realize I’ve completely zoned out on the podcast or that I’ve not paid attention to my poor pup for more than a few minutes. Recently, I’ve been leaving my phone at home and enjoying nature in all her glory. I’ve seen my dog do some pretty entertaining and klutzy things on these walks when mesmerized by squirrels and I also like to think she’s sooooo appreciative of my full attention (sure).
  4. Learn to be okay with lazy days. Sorry I haven’t written a blog post since December. I’ve been spending my weekends doing basically nothing! Just kidding. I have a drive to be productive even on the weekends. Sometimes this is good (if I put off my taxes until April 18th, I would surely have a complete breakdown) and sometimes this is very bad. I’ve realized I’m best prepared for the week if I’ve given myself at least one morning with no alarm clock and at least a few hours to zone out with a book, a show or a magazine.

I’m a completely noob at living in the moment so I’d love to hear your thoughts on how I can become even better at this. What do you do? Also, do you think I’m crazy? Do you feel like this sometimes?

A pretty bad year – What worked (and didn’t work) for me in 2016

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(Picture c/o Death to the Stock Photo)

My marriage fell apart toward the end of 2015. 2016 was spent picking up the pieces of my life and putting myself back together. Like many people in my generation, the first thing I googled in the first months of the marriage-ending chaos was “surviving divorce.” I couldn’t find anything helpful. Then I googled “Surviving divorce at 30,” and again found nothing helpful. Very encouraging.

Instead, I spent over $100 on an assortment of self-help books (some divorce-themed and some life-themed) and I’m still not honestly sure I learned anything from them. I hope this post may help anyone who feels stuck in those first desperate months that seem to crawl by.

Please note: Luckily, we didn’t have any children (non-furry) so this divorce was less complicated and I don’t have to note anything child-related and I was able to focus on myself entirely.

Things That Helped

  • I stopped comparing myself to others. This is key. For me, I was the first of the worst which was not a great feeling and made me feel like a giant failure. It was really tough on so many levels to be going through a divorce and also see my friends hit so many major milestones. I had to accept that this year was going to be a year of personal growth and self-improvement and I learned to be at peace with my perceived lack of forward momentum. Once I had accepted that, it was much easier to be genuinely happy for my friends and family celebrating their milestones.
  • I went to therapy. I’ve never been big on the therapy but I put out my feelers for a therapist the moment I knew things were irreversible. When you deal with a difficult situation, it’s nice to have a neutral party to help you talk through your decision-making. Friends and family are often incapable of providing unbiased input and I really credit my therapy sessions for getting me through those first few terrible months.
  • I kept working and I did not miss a day. Through it all, I managed to get to work on time and meet all of my critical deadlines. To be clear, I had notified my boss that I’d be going to therapy once a week (an extra long lunch) to cover my ass and he also knew basics about my situation. I consider myself lucky to have a boss who I felt comfortable discussing this with but I also wanted him to know in case I slipped.
  • I stopped caring about what others think. Amen – am I right? It only took 31 years to stop caring about what others think of me and I only wish I could have learned this earlier. The stigma of being divorced? It sucks but I quickly realized that I have to own it and use it as an opportunity to figure out how to come back from this better than ever. Under this category I’ll also include that I stopped worrying about pleasing people who were and are, frankly, shit friends. I just don’t have time for this anymore and I was able to critically re-evaluate some long-term friendships that weren’t working out for me. This is the year that I’ve learned that just because we’ve known each other for a substantial period of time, I can embrace the memories we’ve made while still making room for less toxic friendships.
  • I focused on figuring out what makes me happy. Many of the things in my life I was doing to make others happy and I realized that I needed to start from scratch to figure out what I like. Do I even like this restaurant or was I going there to make my significant other happy? What are MY favorite foods? Do I ever want to spend time making someone’s lunches ever again in my life? You get the idea. I spend more time now reflecting on whether I actually enjoy something before I agree whether to do it again and that’s been a major positive change for me.
  • I cut myself a break. Since college I had worked out 5-6 days a week, sometimes striving for seven. That may seem like overkill now but for the better part of 2016, waking up at 5:30 AM for my 6:00 AM class was not a priority. Instead I prioritized long walks with my dog and picking up a coffee. For the first time, I was listening to my body. Sure, I probably gained about five pounds this year and ditched some of the jeans that may never fit again but I accepted that this may be the new normal. Slowly, after trying new classes, I’ve incorporated a few early morning classes into my routine while still emphasizing long walks with my pup. Also, I ate plenty of candy and cake. Whoops.
  • I leaned on my friends. It was critical for me to discuss the things I was going through with a few close friends. Honestly, sometimes I felt like a broken record and I was really self-conscious about the amount of time I spent talking about myself. I hope I can repay each of these friends some day by being a patient and generous listener.

Things That Didn’t Help

  • I gave myself permission to have a fun spending year. Once I had my financial freedom back, I gave myself one year to buy things that I wanted and promised myself I’d start saving again after one year. I did manage to save some money this year so it wasn’t a total bust but I also bought a lot of stuff that didn’t make me any happier. Shopping at Whole Foods for groceries doesn’t make you any happier either… it only makes you poor.
  • I stopped cooking and ordered mostly takeout. Prior to my divorce, I made dinner 6 nights a week generally and prepared most breakfasts and lunches. Part of my promise to myself was figuring out what I liked which meant figuring out which restaurants, foods, recipes etc. that I liked and wasn’t making just to please my former partner. For some reason this involved a ton of takeout. I bought lunch at work at least 3 days a week. Many nights I met friends for dinner so we could discuss the current status of my life. On the other nights, I’m pretty sure I ordered my favorite pasta carbonara from the restaurant across the street from my apartment approximately 60 times during the winter. People. This is a way to gain weight and it’s also a way to spend a lot more money. I can make a damn good carbonara and it is way cheaper when I make it (and likely better for my waist).
  • I bought property. Since all my friends are getting married and having babies, I’m going to buy some property to fill the void! Just kidding, it was a much more practical decision than that but I’m still not sure it was smart to do this during such a stressful time in my life. It’s a lot of life lessons in one year. A divorce and then a broken AC unit that needs to be entirely replaced? Not fun. I must say, it was a nice distraction and I LOVE my home, so there’s that.

I have to be honest. I’m looking forward to a fresh start in 2017. I usually have better even numbered years but 2016 was mostly a bust. Part of this fresh start is deleting previous content and starting fresh with this blog.

Any additional tips or comments on this topic? I’d love to hear. Thanks for reading!

This post is dedicated to Buffy, the biggest loss in 2016. We will always miss you, my good friend.

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