When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.– Lao Tzu
It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of adulting. You’ve got a job to do. You’ve got a larger career to work toward. You have interests and hobbies to pursue. You have family and friends to spend time with —
Wait a minute. Aren’t these all good things?
In the hustle and bustle of adult life, sometimes doing the very things you enjoy can start to feel like more piling up on the to-do list — like a never-ending mountain of chores. When you catch yourself feeling this way, it may be time to reevaluate some things.
Take the experience of one of my closest friends.
Like we all do from time to time, my friend hit a stressful point in her life last year. She had just finished school and went out on the job hunt with high hopes and a fresh-out-of-college, I-can-do-anything mindset.
But the job hunt got to her. She kept getting interviews but wound up hearing a lot of those “We’ve decided to hire a candidate with more experience” responses.
After three or four months of this, she started to get down on herself. As a result, she ended up taking a job she didn’t particularly want back in her small college town. She decided to make the best out of the situation, though, by going into that job with a great attitude and telling herself this would put some experience on her resume for future interviews.
Unfortunately, her positive attitude didn’t change the job itself, and the moment her contract was up, she left that unfitting position and moved to a bigger city.
Unsure what to do next, she turned to her best friend — literature. She reread some of her favorite books and started questioning why her life didn’t resemble these characters’ — so full of adventure and promise and uplifting friendships.
Then it hit her — fictional characters have it easy. Their stories only exist because adventure comes to them. She, on the other hand, needed to bring the adventures she wanted into her own life. If she didn’t make it happen, it wasn’t going to happen.
Armed with this sudden epiphany, she started making some changes.
She set aside the ultimate job hunt for a moment and decided to instead take a part-time position, giving herself time to explore and pursue her actual interests and passions. She also made a social calendar — literally. She made up a calendar that declared once-a-week girls’ nights, twice-a-month group game nights and regular dinner dates with her family.
These few, small steps really added up for her. By making time to pursue her interests, she has rediscovered a few old passions and opened the doors to several new ones. And by finding ways to regularly spend time with her favorite people, she has reawakened her old smiley self.
In the last few months, I have watched her go from downtrodden to eager for the next adventure, and it’s infectious. Wednesday nights — our girls’ nights — are now my favorite time of the week.
Rules to Learn From This Story
I’ve found myself thinking a lot about her journey, and I keep coming back to four lessons I’ve learned.
1. Stop Making Excuses
When you find yourself in a cycle of perpetual discomfort or depression, it’s time to take action. Right now. For my friend, this meant ignoring the social pressure to get the perfect job on the first try.
Yes, it’s tempting to just say, “I’ll make that change soon,” or “Something’s gotta give,” but that’s not enough. You are in charge of your life, and so it’s up to you to pinpoint the source of your grief and get rid of it.
I apologize in advance for the cliché, but life’s way too short to hold off on finding happiness. Chase that joy now. The sooner you pursue it, the sooner you’ll find it.
2. Start Prioritizing
Seizing the day takes some courage, especially if you feel like my friend did — like the changes you need to make are pretty major.
For some, making a change for the better is as simple as having an epiphany and projecting a new attitude. For others, writing or talking out some thoughts helps them prioritize. For still others, a guiding voice — like that of an understanding therapist — provides the push they need. No matter which kind of person you are, don’t wait. Start prioritizing now and acting on your epiphanies as soon as they hit you.
But don’t stop there. Once you get the ball rolling, keep pushing for even more. Challenge yourself every day to make your life — and the lives you affect — even better.
3. Be Present With Others
If you don’t already maintain a strong social calendar, I highly recommend it. Waiting to call your buddies until your head’s about to explode just isn’t healthy. You need regular doses of positive people — meaning the ones that add real value to your life.
But remember that socializing isn’t just for you. It’s for them, too. So be present with the people in your life. When they have something to say, really listen. Turn off the TV and have a real conversation. Don’t let your mind wander. Don’t just be waiting for your turn to talk. Listen, empathize and react like a friend.
Yes, this one does take some practice. But honing your listening and empathy skills makes you a better communicator and a better friend. Not only that, but regularly being present with others means always having new opportunities to gain and share a fresh perspective.
4. Be Present With Yourself
Being present with yourself is just as important as being present with others, and the premise is similar.
Seek out and really listen to your inner voice. When something feels off — when you’re feeling lonely, lost or out of place — that means you need to sit down with yourself and explore the root of the feeling.
If this kind of meditation feels foreign to you, that’s okay. It takes some practice to really connect with your inner self. But even if you aren’t sure how to fix an “off” feeling, you do know when you’re having one. And when those moments strike, don’t hesitate to explore possible solutions with meditation, reflection, therapy, discussions with friends or good old trial and error.
A New Kind of Happy Ending
The thing about gaining a new perspective is that you never really reach a “happy ending.” That’s not to say the new viewpoint doesn’t make you happy. It’s just that your life is still going. You won’t reach an ending — just a new chapter of your life.
Let’s check back in on my friend as an example. Her life didn’t magically become perfect. She didn’t land a job earning six figures at a big corporate office. In fact, she did quite the opposite — right now, she’s volunteering at a non-profit she truly believes in, she’s working part-time at a local store, she’s taking French classes for fun and she’s spreading the joy by smiling. A lot.
When I asked her what she plans to do next, she smiled — of course — and said, simply, “I’m going to take my time right here where I’m at. I’m helping people, I’m learning new things and I’m questioning what kind of career I want to have. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
If that’s not a fresh perspective, I don’t know what is.