Sunday, March 31, 2013

moving out is moving on is moving forward is moving toward.

I just finished my last solo dance party in my first DC apartment. In the thirteen months I’ve lived here, I’ve had a lot of those. It’s one of those things that reminds me that, oh yeah, I am only 22.

I hand back my copy of the key to my landlord this week. And while I’ve already been living with my new roommate Maxie for a month and my stuff hasn’t been here for a while, it’s just hitting me that moving out means leaving this apartment behind. 

The thirteen months I’ve lived here have been a little turbulent. I moved in with a significant other, loved it, hated it, and then watched it all turn to hell. I realized that the college major I’d picked – while fascinating – wasn’t the right career field for me. I struck out on my own then realized I wasn’t ready for entrepreneurship either. I took what was supposed to be a temporary job while I “found myself” and ended up finding myself loving it. I realized where my real future is – in teaching.
I did a juice cleanse for the first time while in this apartment. I started caring about what I put in my body, cut out a lot of processed trash, started eating mostly organic foods, and decided that not all green things are terrible. I found out that I actually kind of like running, and finally, finally got into a yoga routine. I got “too busy” and too obsessed with my job to take care of me then reclaimed that time for myself that had always been built in during school. 

While living here, I found a few friends I don’t think I can ever give up, strengthened friendships with some people back home and have watched some of those other bonds start to fade. I dated a much older man, cared too much for someone else – someone I shouldn’t have – and I completely broke someone else’s heart. For God’s sake, I even gave life-long celibacy some serious consideration while I lived here.

I lost someone very close to me while living here: a beautiful, strong woman that helped raised me. And while I’m still not ready to talk about it, I know that my mom is who my grandmother raised her to be, and so every time I speak with her, I’m speaking with my grandmother too, in a way.

I learned two very big lessons while I lived here: The first is that it’s okay to be wrong. I’ve always held myself to ridiculous standards and I hate being wrong. But celibacy? Wrong. Career in politics/non-profits? Wrong. Getting emotionally involved with someone I shouldn’t have? Wildly, ridiculously, borderline-anxiety-attack-inducing-what-the-actual-fuck-was-I-thinking? wrong. And you know what? Everyone may not make the same mistakes, but we all make mistakes. And that – while horrifying in the moment – is as important as it is forgiving.

And the second lesson? I learned to stand up for myself while having solo dance parties in this living room. I learned to stop taking shit from people, and to say no when it needs to be said. I’ve just barely started to grasp the meaning of the phrase, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I’ve spent a lot of time fighting with myself over the kind of love I think I deserve. (And I’ve read Perks of Being a Wallflower a hundred times.)

I’ve done a lot of crying and a lot of drinking in this apartment. (Sorry, Mom.) But I also learned that finding the bottom of a bottle doesn’t make me feel any better. And tonight, as I walk out and turn off the lights for the last time, I think a little part of me will want to cry again, both for the memories of what transpired here and the freedom to have a dance party whenever the fuck I want.

But that’s what moving out – and moving forward - is, isn’t it? Leaving some things behind to accept and embrace the new things that are coming. We have to hold on to a positive perspective in order to make it through without always looking back. Leaving this apartment and the freedom of living alone means I get to have the company of a roommate (and an adorable cat!) and the financial freedom to save money for grad school. 

 And hey – I am only 22. I don’t think I’m ready to give up dance parties in my living room yet, if ever.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

habits, things that work until they don't, and time for the things that matter.

{Even Gmail gave up on counting my unread email - I don't blame 'em.}

Here's the thing about systems: They work until they don't. But if they never worked, they never will. You can't just close your eyes and cover your ears and whistle and then poof! Zero inbox, organized desk, schedule that works for you, clean apartment, healthy body, etc., etc., INSERT WHATEVER GOAL HERE.

I've fought against the ideas of systems, habits, and routines since I was a kid - I thought that since I'm all a 'free spirit' and an artist, I didn't need routines and deadlines and systems because, you know, I was above that. Habits and systems and routines were for Wall Street and "boring people."

And then? Then I found myself drowning in my email - I still have ~300 unread emails as we speak. I had all but completely stopped blogging, and reading others' was all but impossible. Learning French was NOT going well. Writing became a rare privilege instead of a daily thing. I rarely used my camera - and I was supposed to be running a photography business! I was losing contact with my friends. I was forgetting little things at work. My apartment looked like it had been ransacked and robbed, regularly. And I don't even want to talk about my finances.

Every once in a while I would sit down and spend time "catching up" and never really "getting ahead." It was exhausting. And it was taking up so much time - taking away time from the things that really mattered.

So I'd cover my ears again and sing to myself some more and close my eyes really tightly and hope - HOPE - I'd stop receiving emails or would just magically have time to do ALL THE THINGS. But as I've even talked about before, our time is limited

Slowly, I've started admitting I need systems to help me out - 2013 marks my third year with an Erin Condren planner. (And this year mine is color coded for different responsibilities!) My gmail inboxes - oh yes, plural - now all forward to one catch-'em-all email address so I don't have to log in to multiple accounts to check my email. I have discovered the Archive button - how did I live without it?

I'm admitting that you know, habits? Some of them - like folding laundry - ain't so bad. With them my apartment doesn't become a clusterhell of clothing and shoes and dishes and hey-is-this-clean? Like the Archive button in Gmail, now habits like immediately writing things in my planner are things I can't believe I ever survived without. And I think that's the best sign of a good habit.

I've still got some a lot of bad habits. (Damn you, Netflix 15-second auto-play feature!) But I keep coming back to three things that help me find the strength to work on replacing bad habits with new more helpful ones.
  • The first is this article from the Harvard Business Review: If You Don't Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will. McKeown talks about how to start framing moments in our lives as choices instead of obligations, which can make it easier to make the right choice for our priorities.
  • The next is the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I haven't even finished it yet and it's making me look at the relationship between success and habit wildly differently. Duhigg shows readers how we create habits, how we can replace habits, and how habits can lead to a happy, more successful life.
  • Asking Why the fuck? over and over for every commitment I make.
Listen, routine doesn't have to be bad. We can't change everything and start a million new routines that will simplify our lives all at once because - hey! starting a million things at once is effing complicated. But if you're feeling how I was, pick one thing and start there.

I started with just writing in a planner. When I started goal-setting, I learned that I needed to actually schedule action steps for myself. Eventually, I started to print my monthly goals off and frame them so I'd see them without opening the Word doc. Later, I started using Chrome exclusively so I could have the Any.Do to-do list extension to sync with the Any.Do app on my iPhone. Then, I forwarded all my email into one catch-all inbox that is organized with labels, then unsubscribed from a whoooole lot of email lists.

Notice though - Started. Eventually. Later. Then. It's taken a long time and I'm not done. (Next up is limiting how much time I spend checking/responding to email.) Building systems that work for you is sort of always "in the works." Because, to come full circle, your systems will only work until they don't. Having Reeder on my iPhone used to work for me for reading blogs, but now that I have a car and don't take the bus as much, it doesn't work for me anymore. I need to find a way to replace that system, but maybe it will work for you.

Do you guys have any good habits or systems that help you simplify your life to make room for the things you care more about?

Monday, March 11, 2013

the question of framing.

On February 26th, my grandmother passed away at 87 years old. She had been diagnosed with cancer a little over a year before - an aggressive cancer that had sapped her strength and left her exhausted soon after her prognosis.

I'm sad she's gone, of course, but I'm also relieved she's no longer in pain. I'll miss her and I regret that I hadn't seen her since September, but my desire to see her again is tempered by my relief that I never saw her when the pain got really bad, when she got really sick. My memories of her will always be ones full of health and happiness.

The only thing I'm struggling with though, is the framing of it. As society, we see cancer as a battle. "She's fighting cancer," we lament. Sometimes, we rejoice: "He beat cancer!" It's supposed to be empowering. And for many people with cancer, I think (hope?) that helps.

But what about when they don't beat cancer? I don't want to think of my grandmother passing away as her loss in a battle. I don't want to frame it as a "defeat."

My grandmother left El Salvador at the beginning of their civil war. She raised three kids - a son and two daughters - mostly on her own. She put them through school, my mother through UCLA, without having gotten a high school diploma herself. She hadn't learned English before moving to California, but she worked hard as a nurse to put food on the table, clothes on their backs, and create a life for them here.

She was strong. One of the strongest women I've ever had the fortune to know, let alone be related to. She worked hard, protected her family, and in many ways fought a lot of battles so my mother and her siblings wouldn't have to.

The idea of her losing to anything? Now? I'm not okay with that. I can't - won't - see it that way. But when someone isn't sure of Heaven and doesn't see death as "going home," and therefore a "win" (so to speak), how do you frame it?

No matter the answers, one thing here is clear - Don't miss out on a chance to go see someone, especially if they're sick. Hug your loved ones today and tomorrow. There may not be a day after.

And also? Screw cancer.