Why I Keep So Much Stuff I Don’t Need: Life Lessons from a Closet De-Cluttering

why-i-keep-so-much-stuff-i-dont-need

A few months ago, I listened to an episode of The 5AM Miracle Podcast featuring guest Joshua Becker, creator of the website Becoming MinimalistIn the interview, Becker recounts the story of how and why he went from leading a typical suburban lifestyle to embracing a philosophy of minimalism. He describes the ways in which paring down his possessions has enabled him and his family to live more fully and create more physical, mental, and emotional space for the things that truly matter. Intrigued, I jotted down the title of his new book, The More of Less, on my “to read” list. If nothing else, I thought, getting rid of some stuff will make my upcoming cross-country move far more manageable.

So last week, when I found myself wandering the aisles of my local public library (a characteristically Paige pastime), I thought of the book and decided to see if it was available. It was, so along with a Jodi Picoult novel and a biography of the Blessed Mother (a characteristically Paige combination of reading material), I checked it out.

Thanks to Becker’s charismatic writing style, I was only a few chapters in before I began to experience the overwhelming urge to chuck my belongings out the window and start a new life free from the chains of clutter and consumerism. Today, my closet, tomorrow, the world! And within 24 hours of starting the book, I actually began chucking stuff. I yanked piles and piles of possessions from my drawers and shelves, only putting back the things I truly wanted to have around. I was the Sorting Hat of crap and tchotchkes, carefully discerning whether each item rightfully belonged in the House of Keep, Donate, or Sayonara Buckeroo

hands-purple-child-holding
“Hmmm, very difficult. A great deal of nostalgia, I see…Not overly large, either. And yet, rather lacking in utility. Better be…Donate!”

But Becker’s book is about more than just getting rid of things; he also emphasizes the importance of understanding why we, as a society, tend to accumulate so much stuff in the first place. He explains, for example, that we all have an innate need for security and often attempt to satisfy this need with material goods. In addition, most of us are more vulnerable than we’d like to admit to the persuasive tactics of the media and advertising industries. Becker’s insights prompted me to further examine my own personal motivations for keeping so much stuff around, particularly when it comes to things I don’t use or even like all that much. So in addition to security needs and sneaky ads, I came up with several viable explanations:

1. I hold onto things because I like to be prepared, and you never know when you might need [insert item that is actually pointless in 99.9% of scenarios]. Remember when I admitted to toting around the contents of a small convenience store in my purse just in case? Yup. If I were a superhero, I’d probably be Preparedness Girl–able to develop a checklist in the blink of an eye! (Not overly endearing or catchy, I know, but we can’t all be Wonder Woman.)

So as I went through my stuff, I found that I still had, among other useless things, each and every one of my notebooks from my high school French class–because what if I finally plan my dream trip to Provence someday and want to parler a little francais while I’m there? What then?!

I’ll download an app or a podcast, that’s what. Au revoir, French notes.

2. I hold onto things that make me feel like I could be anyone or anything. I’m still working on the whole “accepting myself for who I am” deal, as I bet you are, too. (And if you do happen to have this figured out, please visit my Contact page and let me in on your secret.) In the meantime, I tend to hold onto things that really aren’t “me,” because I want to think that they’re “me,” or could be “me” someday.

All of which is a long way of saying that I had not one, not two, but three different shades of blue eye shadow because heck, maybe someday I’ll be That Girl who knows how to pull it off.

The blue eye shadow doesn’t represent a look so much as a persona that I have always wanted to channel: the girl who takes risks, who wears what she likes, and who is unafraid to be herself and stand out in the process. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. But on a practical level, guys, I don’t even like how I look in blue eye shadow. Warm colors are a far more flattering accompaniment to my skin tone.

brown-brown-eyes-iris-gene-46279
Totally awesome…On someone else.

So one by one I toss out the blues but vow to hang onto the spirit behind them. As such, I keep my vintage Mickey Mouse sweater, and my cat cardigan, and my elephant scarf, and my leg warmers, and my fake red glasses. Because I wear and treasure these items on a regular basis, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. They honor who I am now, not who I might be–or feel like I should try to be–someday. I guess that’s kind of edgy after all.

3. I hold onto things because they bring to life cherished memories–and given the uncertainty of the future, I want to hold tight to any and every reminder of happy times. Woah. This realization really hit me hard. In my last post I described why I tend to harbor so much anxiety regarding the future, but prior to the Great Purge, I hadn’t realized how much my fears have driven me to stockpile items from my past. I discovered souvenirs and trinkets from countless experiences, ranging from the memorable to the mundane–my childhood state quarters collection, piles of free t-shirts from random events throughout college, a plastic trophy from a 5K I ran in high school, an old favorite scarf that I never wear anymore, the ticket stub from a One Direction concert, a fancy pen from an awards ceremony, dozens of cards and letters from friends and family over the years–and on and on.

In some of these cases, it was truly difficult to decide what to keep and what to toss. After all, I want to get rid of the excess stuff–the stuff that doesn’t serve me or bring me any joy–not pare down my belongings to nothing more than a mattress and a toothbrush. And some of the crap and tchotchkes really do enrich my life. So ultimately, I chose to keep the handwritten notes that warm my heart every time I read them, but I tossed the trophy, donated the scarf and t-shirts to Goodwill, and deposited the state quarters in my bank account (like a real adult!). These latter items were simply taking up space and collecting dust, and I already feel lighter (not to mention $12.50 richer) without them.

4.  I hold onto things because I want people to like me and I worry that I, alone, am not enough. Yikes! Another deep and not-so-flattering revelation. If I don’t have trendy clothes, or chic apartment decor, or fancy kitchen equipment that allows me to whip up unpronounceable appetizers to impress party guests (you know, should I actually decide to throw a party), then no one will want to hang out with me, right?

tea-tea-time-person-summer-42322
Because who would deign to join me for tea if I didn’t serve it out of the world’s cutest teapot, on my magazine-worthy garden patio, while wearing my Sunday best?

Uhhh, maybe in a TV commercial or a parallel universe, but not in my world. People who like me for me won’t care what I’m wearing or what my apartment looks like, and people who care about those things aren’t the kind of folks I’d like to be friends with anyway, thanks. But more importantly, regardless of whether everybody loves me, hates me, or couldn’t care less, I am enough. Material items may affect my net worth, but they bear no relation to my true worth as a human being. The same goes for you, dear reader. I think we all need to be reminded of that every once in a while.

I still have quite a ways to go on this journey towards a less cluttered lifestyle, in terms of owning less, acquiring less, and ultimately, wanting less. I’m not even close to the enlightened phase in which I can stroll down the aisles of Target and not experience a burning desire to buy all the things, and I doubt that I’ll ever be a diehard minimalist with only a few dozen possessions to my name. But after tackling just my bedroom and bathroom, I already feel less encumbered and more in tune with myself. I can definitely see how clearing out physical space also creates a lot of untapped room in the mind and heart, and I look forward to continuing on this path. I’ll keep ya posted. 

Do you tend to hold onto things you don’t need or want? Why do you think that is? 

What’s your best advice for deciding when it’s time to get rid of something–and then actually following through with your decision?

Advertisements

Faith, Fear, & the Five-Year Plan: Re-Examining the Notion of Staying “On Track”

Faith, Fear, & the Five-Year Plan: Re-Examining the Notion of Staying "On Track" | My default approach to new opportunities tends to be fear and trepidation rather than excitement and curiosity. In today's post I explore why--as well as what this mindset says about my faith (or lack thereof) and desire for control.

The highlights of this past Thanksgiving were many: delicious food, Christmas shopping, more food, Christmas crafting, even more food, a family Mannequin Challenge–and did I mention that we had a few things to eat? Perhaps my favorite part, though, was getting to catch up with loved ones, many of whom I don’t get to see very often. It can be challenging to carry on a conversation in a group as large as ours–we totaled around 45 people, even with over a dozen family members unable to attend–but once the meal was over and the younger children ran off to play, the adults gradually broke off into smaller groups, and the real discussions began.

During one such conversation, the topic of my blog came up. As one of my relatives opened up about her own experiences with anxiety as a younger woman, she made a statement that really resonated with me:

“I used to approach everything with such fear and trepidation.”

Fear and trepidation–what a simple, succinct way to sum up my own default reaction to new opportunities and experiences. Fear, a word that makes me think of running away, of hiding. And trepidation, a word that brings to mind tip-toeing, whispering, constantly doubting.

All of this begged the question: Why do I tend to approach life in this way? Sure, I may just naturally be on the cautious side and sure, I’ve experienced some tough times. But overall, my past really doesn’t warrant the darkness and gloom that I so often cast on my anticipated future. So why is this my response?

download
You’d think my life was a horror movie, given how I tend to tiptoe up to new situations and jump at every unfamiliar sound.

At first, I reasoned that perhaps I tend to expect the worst so that I’m never disappointed, so that situations always either meet or exceed my expectations. But this explanation didn’t quite fit. I’m not a cynic; on the contrary, I tend to be an idealist. Even amidst the pain and brokenness of the world, I see how beautiful things could be–how beautiful things were meant to be–and feel called to make that vision a reality. Sure, I’m often disappointed along the way, but my light hasn’t been totally snuffed out yet. So I don’t think my fear and trepidation come from a place of inherent negativity.

Then I thought that maybe I approach everything with caution because I simply like to be prepared. After all, I adore plans and lists and lists of plans and plans to make more lists. I practically carry an entire Walgreens store in my purse just in case I–or anyone in the vicinity–need a Bandaid or a cough drop or a Tylenol or a snack or some cash or a library card or an expired coupon for hummus. I recently had a phone interview for a job and wore a nice outfit just in case the interviewer changed her mind at the last minute and asked to do a Skype call instead.

download
I also Googled “How to answer the phone for a job interview” right beforehand just in case my mind went blank and I forgot how to, you know, people and stuff.

But, I wondered, if I truly like to be prepared for everything, then why do I only brace myself for the bad stuff? Why do I never try to anticipate what might happen if things go well? If I succeed? If I actually make a difference or a new friend or a recipe that looks just like the photo on Pinterest? What then? I don’t know, because I’ve never actually thought about it.

Just ask my family members and friends–for the first few years months that my boyfriend and I were dating, I felt excited, sure, but also totally freaking confused because I had never actually imagined myself being in a relationship. After my comedy-sketch-worthy dating life in high school and college, I had adopted this mindset in order to prepare myself for the very real possibility that I remained single indefinitely. I had even begun to feel kind of okay about it! So when the potential for a relationship seemingly dropped out of the sky, I kinda panicked. Wait! I’m not ready for this! I don’t even know what to wear on a second date, let alone how to be someone’s girlfriend! I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Sometimes I still can’t.

download-1
When I finally stepped down from my role as the Mayor of Friend Zone City, I was wholly unprepared. What is this “dating” of which you speak, and where can I find the instruction manual?

So the preparation hypothesis didn’t quite hold up, either. I thought about it for a few more days, and I think the answer finally came to me as I was driving to church last Sunday.

My default approach to new situations and opportunities tends to be fear and trepidation because I’m constantly scared of making a mistake that will lead me off track from where I’m “supposed” to be. I worry that because of my own failures or poorly informed decisions, I won’t get the job I’m “supposed” to get, live in the place where I’m “supposed” to live, meet the people I’m “supposed” to meet, and have the experiences I’m “supposed” to have, and as a result, I won’t end up as the person I’m “supposed” to be. It’s like FOMO on an existential scale. And to make matters worse, I tend to view my past as a series of detours and missteps that have only served to postpone my arrival at some elusive destiny, which further fuels my anxiety about making these types of mistakes in the future.  

As I mulled over my newly discovered fear of somehow screwing up my fate, I realized 1) how irrational these thoughts are and 2) how weak my faith is. For the record, I don’t actually believe that we are all just puppets on a string, enacting some pre-scripted drama as God sits back in the wings, taking notes on His Almighty Clipboard. I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason,” especially in times of loss and tragedy. I do, however, believe that God can bring good even out of the worst circumstances, and that sometimes we do need to go through hard things in order to grow as individuals and better relate to those around us. Coping with my anxiety disorder, for example, has been more of a grueling trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (a la Reese Witherspoon in Wild) than a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park. But at the same time, I can identify a number of ways in which I’m better for the journey because of what I’ve learned along the way about life, love, and the freedom of vulnerability. And there will likely be even more good and beautiful things to come from these struggles in the future, some of which I may never fully realize.

So rather than label so many pieces of my past as detours from the “right” path, what if I viewed more of my experiences as important, even necessary, stops along the way? And rather than perceive my future as a laundry list of targets and deadlines to meet, what if chose to see it as a series of opportunities from which I can learn and grow–and who knows, maybe even find some unexpected joy? And what if I made peace with any mistakes, past or future, by knowing that God can still work with these decisions? That God can still work with me?

I will probably always be a planner and a list-maker to some extent. It’s part of what makes me who I am. My goal now is to jot these ideas with pencil, not carve them in stone, and know that if things don’t go according to my 5-day, 5-month, or 5-year plan, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it may actually be the beginning of something great.

P.S. This past week I had the privilege of publishing my first-ever guest post on one of my favorite blogs, Nina Kardia. If you’re striving to create a life and career that align with your passions, strengths, and grandest goals, then hop on over to Kamina’s awesome corner of the Internet and read the post here, my friend. (And when you’re done, be sure to follow Nina Kardia via e-mail, Twitter, Insta, Pinterest, etc., to infuse your inbox or newsfeed with a regular dose of wit, wisdom, and captivating honesty. You can thank me later!) 

The Worst Thing to Tell Yourself When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

The Worst Thing to Tell Yourself When Life Doesn't Go As Planned | None of us are completely in control, and it's important that our internal dialogue reflects this reality.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things just really, really don’t go your way.

Sometimes it’s a relatively minor inconvenience–like when you’re attempting to navigate a new city and end up driving in circles and paying $14 to park for 23 minutes in a garage 4 miles from your destination. (Shout-out to Google Maps for that little adventure.) Or when you really need to make a phone call at 4:45 pm on a Friday, but your service provider is experiencing outages in your area and you’ll have to wait until Monday. Or when you douse yourself in bug spray for a quick walk with the dog and still end up getting bitten on your eyelid. Your eyelid

Sometimes it’s a moderately discouraging event—like when you receive an email indicating that you’re no longer being considered for a job that you were really excited about, or that the position you applied for was simply cancelled due to The Powers That Be. Or when you never hear back from the company at all and are left to assume you didn’t make the cut.

And sometimes it’s a rather life-shattering realization–like when it hits you that your 25th birthday is in a few weeks and you’re unemployed and living with your parents and getting really tired of explaining to everyone you encounter that yes, you’re trying your best to get a job and yes, you’ve tried X, Y, and Z strategy–and still watching the tiniest hint of judgement, skepticism, or just plain confusion flicker in their eyes. I’m an INFJ, yo. I have radar for the things people try to hide but inadvertently show anyway.

The past few weeks have been filled with these moments and more. On one hand, it’s been kind of emotionally draining, and on the other hand, I’ve had some great opportunities to reflect on what it means when things don’t go “my way” and how I can best respond.

For me, things not going “my way” is often a huge source of stress and frustration, especially when I feel that I did everything I could to plan and prepare for a particular situation. I find myself second-guessing everything, including my own capabilities and self-worth: Did I not actually prepare as well as I thought I did? What was I missing? Do I just really suck at life? Does this happen to other people, too? Will things always be this way for me? And on and on and on….

The more I think about why I typically respond this way, the more I realize that in today’s highly individualistic society, it’s so difficult to remember how many aspects of life are actually outside of our control. We love to think that we determine our destinies–if we dream it, we can do it, amirite? But while this type of sentiment may look nice on a motivational poster at the local gym, I think it’s a dangerous mindset if taken too far. It gives us a false sense of authority over a whole host of factors that aren’t really up to us, thus setting us up for disappointment and placing a lot of undue pressure on us to make sure that things turn out a certain way.

The stress and frustration of derailed plans, then, often stems more from a mismatch between our expectations and reality than from the nature of events and circumstances themselves. As a result, we can manage a lot of pain and anxiety by bringing ourselves back to reality. One thing that I have found incredibly helpful in this regard is repeating a mantra in my head– a word, phrase, or sentence that helps me reframe my thoughts. I first learned about mantras through yoga and have used them to regain focus when I become distracted during my practice. But I’ve found that mantras aren’t just good for yoga–they’re good for everyday life, too! And repeating one is something you can do anytime, anywhere when you’re in need of a reality check.

The key to a good mantra, then, is that it does indeed reflect reality. I used to rely on telling myself “I am in control” to calm down my racing mind when I was feeling powerless and stuck. But as you can probably imagine, instead of imparting peace and perspective, repeating this misleading statement over and over only served to feed my frustrations. It’s actually the worst.

Instead, my go-to mantra is now “I have a say.” This is a far more accurate and helpful statement, and to me, its meaning is twofold:

First, in spite of all the factors outside of my control, I always have a say in how I react to a situation. I can be positive or negative; I feel sorry for myself or I can figure out what I’ve learned and what I can do differently next time. I can become angry and bitter and act like the universe is out to get me, or I can acknowledge that crappy stuff happens to all of us, let myself stew over it for a few minutes, and then move on with my day.

Second–and here’s the kicker for a people-pleaser like me–I often have more say than I might think in the parameters of my situation–if I am brave, open-minded, and resourceful enough to actually exercise my volition. How many times have I invited unnecessary stress into my life by not voicing my needs or by always saying “yes”? How many times have I set myself up for feelings of failure and disappointment by approaching a situation with unrealistic expectations of myself or others? How many times have I practically welcomed frustration, inefficiency, and stagnation into my world by not exploring alternate ways of doing things when my usual method no longer serves me? So many times, y’all. So many times. In the wise words of P!nk, “I’m my own worst enemy.”

So today, no matter how many times I get lost, no matter how many job rejections I receive, and no matter how many quarter-life crises I experience, I will remind myself that I have a say. Not total control, but an important influence. And that’s a distinction worth remembering and repeating.

Do you have a word, phrase, or saying that helps you get through challenging situations? Share it in the comments below!

5 Ways that Traveling Rejuvenates the Mind, Body, & Soul

Remember when I discussed my love-hate relationship with traveling? Below is a story that I’ve wanted to share on the blog for a while but haven’t due to a fear of sounding spoiled or ungrateful for “complaining” about an incredible opportunity. But I finally decided that in order to truly illustrate how crippling anxiety can be–and how much it can lead someone to think and act in ways he or she isn’t proud of–I needed to share. I also hope this post will serve to remind me, as well as anyone else who suffers from anxiety, of why it’s so important to travel anyway, worries and all.

5 Ways that Traveling Rejuvenates the Mind, Body, & Soul | Anxiety can tempt us to remain in the comfort and familiarity of our homes forever, but sometimes traveling is exactly what we need to calm our minds and lift our spirits.

Imagine having the opportunity to enjoy a two-week summer vacation in Europe with your significant other.

Even better, imagine that airfare costs are already covered, and you’ll get to stay with relatives who can help you navigate the unfamiliar landscape and plan all sorts of fun activities. Sounds pretty peachy, right? I mean, who wouldn’t totally jump on this once-in-a-lifetime chance?

Well, apparently me.

More specifically, the anxious and depressed version of me that was presented with this exact opportunity last winter.

At that time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by school, work, and life in general that the thought of any additional commitment, let alone one of this length and intensity, was simply too much to bear. My mind was so ridden with anxiety that I could think only of what could go wrong, and my heart was so depleted of hope and enthusiasm that I no longer knew what it meant to enjoy or look forward to things.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, was totally jazzed for the opportunity–as anyone in a healthy state of mind would be–and (lovingly) begged me to say yes. Thankfully, in between lengthy periods of fear and dread, I experienced a few moments of clarity that enabled me to see how much the trip would mean to him and to our relatives abroad. So after weeks of painful deliberation, I agreed, albeit with great reluctance. And in the months leading up to our departure in May, I continued silently dreading the trip and wanting to bail approximately every 5 minutes.

Things finally started to turn around for me during the week before we left, when I attended my first therapy session and got a much-needed dose of perspective (as well as some helpful strategies for managing my anxiety while traveling). By that time, I had also completed my final semester of grad school and gotten a few nights of decent sleep under my belt, and as I’ve said before, adequate rest truly does wonders for my general outlook on life. As a result, I was able to board our first flight with significantly less apprehension.

To make a long story short, as you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post, the trip ended up being fantastic in spite of all the worry and hype. I assumed that traveling would only further drain me, but instead, I found the two-week excursion to be completely reinvigorating. I’ve taken several smaller trips since then and have noticed similar effects, so I’m convinced that there’s something both energizing and healing about going somewhere new, even if the thought of doing so initially generates a lot of anxiety. Specifically, here are five ways that I believe my trip to Europe served to rejuvenate my mind, body, and soul when I needed it most:

  1. It provided a much-needed change of scenery. Although I had fantasized about spending my first few weeks of summer break lounging around and doing next to nothing, I’m not sure I would have been able to get the R&R I craved this way. I still had an ongoing research project to wrap up and a summer job to prepare for, so if I had remained within reach of my desk, laptop, and Bottomless Pit of Death and Despair e-mail inbox, chances are that I would have spent all of my time either working or feeling guilty about not working. By leaving everything behind and surrounding myself with brand-new sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, I was finally able to break free of old habits and thought patterns that only served to heighten my anxiety or spiral me deeper into depression.
  2. It allowed me to lose track of time. In my day-to-day life, I tend to be pretty obsessed with plans and schedules and staying “on track.” When I travel, though, I typically pay far less attention to the clock, only checking the time when I need to make a flight, dinner reservation, or the like. In Europe, I went with the flow and slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, and let activities and conversations last as long as necessary without feeling pressured to wrap up and move along to the next agenda item. And it. Was. Awesome.
  3. It enabled me to engage in many rewarding conversations. One of my favorite things about traveling with family members and friends is that spending extended amounts of time with these individuals naturally seems to spark awesome discussions. Long walks, relaxed meals, and late nights provide the opportunity to go beyond small talk and delve into the things that really matter. And being in a different city, state, or country always opens my eyes to new insights and observations about the world, providing the perfect springboard for a good heart-to-heart.
  4. It included plenty of rest, great food, and exercise. Vacations can definitely present an opportunity to skimp on sleep, eat a ton of junk food, and forgo exercise, but I think the most rejuvenating trips incorporate healthy habits in an organic way. On this trip, for example, we didn’t schedule any sort of daily workouts–but boy, did we end up walking a ton as we explored beaches, castles, markets, and more. We also didn’t adhere to any sort of diet plan, but in our efforts to enjoy the wide variety of foods we encountered, we ended up eating plenty of fresh, wholesome stuff along with the French pastries, Danish hot dogs, and other treats.
  5. It reminded me what I’m capable of. For some people–maybe even most people–going on an extended trip may not require much strength or bravery, but for me, it took a whole lot of both. So when all was said and done and I had accomplished the thing I had feared and dreaded for so long, I regained a bit of confidence that I could take on additional challenges in the future. And I regained a bit of hope that maybe anxiety and depression didn’t have to be my forever.

Your turn! Tell me, do you find traveling to be rejuvenating? Why or why not?

A Playlist for New Beginnings: Songs for Moving On & Starting Over

A Playlist for New Beginnings: Songs for Moving On & Starting Over | Here are some of my favorite songs for saying goodbye to the past, embracing the future, and remembering that it’s okay to not have it all figured out yet.

This past weekend, I attended a concert featuring Mat Kearney, one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters. As he strummed the first chords of his early single, “Nothing Left to Lose,” I was immediately taken back to the very first time I ever heard the song: 9th grade, on the school bus, in the dark of the early morning. The melody caught my attention as it played over the radio, and in typical 2006 fashion, I lamented over the fact that I didn’t know the name of the song or artist–and therefore wouldn’t be able to purchase the track on iTunes and download it to my brand new, hot pink iPod nano. (Will this be the “walk uphill both ways to school” story that I tell my future children?)

In that moment of reminiscence, I was truly awed by the power of music to so instantly and effortlessly transport us to a different time and place. Often, these times and places are from our past; for example, whenever I hear the Beach Boys’ hit “Barbara Ann,” I’m suddenly a little girl again in my old house on Heritage Street, and I’m dancing around the living room with my dad and younger sister as the tune plays on our stereo. And whenever I hear “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry, I find myself a college freshman once more, cruising in the car with my girlfriends on a sunny August day as we pass by a fraternity house and hear the song blasting from their speakers.

But I think that music also has a way of carrying us into the future–whether by lifting us out of a dark place and encouraging us to press onward, by enabling us to grasp the bigger picture and deeper meaning of our current situation, or by simply reassuring us that we’re not the first person to ever feel this way. So last spring, when I could finally begin to discern the light at the end of the grad school tunnel, I started searching for songs that took me to the place where I wanted to be. Over time, what began as just two or three tracks gradually blossomed into a full-fledged playlist that I’m excited to share with all of you today. The songs that comprise my “New Beginnings” soundtrack speak to a variety of emotions and experiences associated with moving on, from waving a hearty goodbye to the past and embracing the future in all of its uncertainty, to hesitating in taking the first steps forward, to remembering that it’s okay to not have it all together yet.

So without further ado, happy listening! I hope that wherever you are in your life right now, these songs will bless you with a dose of positivity and encouragement. And if nothing else, some of these tunes are pretty darn catchy! (I dare you to sit still through “Goodbye,” “Movin’ on Up,” or “Welcome to Your Life.” Go on, try it.) Then, when your jam session is complete, comment below with your thoughts on the playlist and/or tell me about your favorite songs for moving onward and upward!

Spotify users: If you’re currently logged into your account, you can click on any track below and start listening right away. If you’re not logged in, clicking on the playlist below will prompt you to do so. 

Non-Spotify users: Clicking on the playlist below will prompt you to sign up for Spotify. If you’ve never tried it, it’s a pretty amazing digital music service that I use practically everyday, so I highly recommend it! (I’m not receiving any sort of compensation for this endorsement; I’m just a huge fan!) But if you prefer to get your tunes another way, I’ve also created a graphic displaying all of the track and artist names. Enjoy! 

A Playlist for New Beginnings | Songs for saying goodbye to the past, embracing the future, and remembering that it’s okay to not have it all figured out yet.

The Metaphor of the Mountain: Overcoming the Fear of Discomfort

The Metaphor of the Mountain: Overcoming the Fear of Discomfort | My first hiking experience taught me a lot about the "mountains" we face in everyday life.

Recently, while visiting relatives in California, I was invited to accompany several family members on a Sunday morning hike along the coast. To a native of flat, land-locked Indiana like myself, this opportunity was highly appealing–at least in theory. In reality, though, I am afraid of heights and really out of shape (a winning combination!). So my mind flickered back and forth between visions of me 1) toppling off a cliff and taking an unintended dip in the Pacific and 2) being (quite literally) left in the dust by my loved ones. My cousin, an experienced hiker, reassured me that the trail wasn’t as narrow and risky as it looked (!) and that we could stop and rest whenever I needed to do so. Despite her encouraging words, though, I was preparing to decline the offer–until at the last minute, something made me change my mind. Maybe it was a profound moment of bravery, or maybe it was a sugar high from the donut I had just eaten for breakfast. Whatever it was, whether pastry or perseverance, I decided to give it a go.

We weren’t far up the path before I went into Deep Life Reflection Mode and realized that my reasons for hesitating had run far deeper than concerns about my safety or physical fitness level. As my legs burned and my heart pounded and the people and objects at sea level seemed to shrink beneath my feet, I realized that what I had truly dreaded was discomfort: the discomfort of feeling my body struggle to make the climb after so many months of inactivity, of appearing weak and slow in front of my fitter family members, of not knowing for sure what lie ahead on the trail and if I would be able to make it, of wishing things were different or maybe that I were different–stronger, braver, more adventurous–and most of all, of feeling all these things and, with no distractions at my disposal, actually having to face them.

And you know what? This ain’t a fairy tale, and all of these discomforts were, in fact, present during the hike. It hurt. I was slow. I didn’t know what to expect at any given moment. In between gasps for air, I thought about how my life right now is so different from the way I had envisioned it as a child, a teenager, and even a college student. And there was nothing to take my mind off it all–it was just me and the mountain. But I did it anyway. And at the top, I got to share the victory (and the amazing view) with wonderful people who didn’t think any less of me for being Poky McWinded. 

When I told my therapist about the experience, I remarked that I can now truly appreciate why mountains are so often used as metaphors, and she and I proceeded to dissect the wealth of symbolism inherent in my own rocky adventure. (It turns out that you can take the girl out of AP English class, but you can’t take the AP English class out of the girl.) We discussed the obstacles that I had overcome, both literally and figuratively, as well as the new perspective I gained at the summit, when everything that had once seemed big and insurmountable was suddenly much smaller. I then asked her for advice on how to better handle discomfort, whether physical, mental, or emotional, moving forward. My aversion to leaving my comfort zone was my own personal “mountain,” and although I thankfully hadn’t let it prevent me from joining in on the hike, I had let it rob me of plenty of experiences in the past. Was it possible, I wondered, to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable?

She replied that although none of us will probably ever reach a point where we enjoy or intentionally seek out unpleasant situations, there are steps we can take to reduce the amount of distress we experience when we inevitably face these circumstances. Although it may seem counterintuitive, one of these tactics is leaning into the discomfort rather than pushing it away and attempting to find a distraction. She encouraged me to “stay curious” and explore what my discomfort could be signaling (e.g., an unmet need), since unpleasant emotions are essentially just indicators that something is amiss. She also urged me to let go of any expectations associated with the discomfort. In other words, rather than anticipating the countless negative outcomes that could arise and creating unnecessary anxiety (one of my many talents!), I should instead focus on what I can control, i.e., my thoughts and actions in the present moment. 

Leaning into discomfort and letting go of expectations will no doubt be a lifelong journey, but I am thankful for this clarity regarding the first steps. Reflecting back on the hike in light of my therapist’s advice, I can now see that my discomfort was signaling a mix of self-consciousness, disappointment, and a desire for belonging and acceptance. I created unnecessary anxiety by assuming that I wouldn’t be up to the task, that I would be judged for it, and that somehow these things would diminish my worth. My goal now is to perform this mini-analysis in the moment, before I let anxiety speak too loudly and before I let fear talk me into playing it safe. And whenever I’m feeling discouraged, I can mentally return to that mountaintop, with a sunny valley on one side and the foggy Pacific on the other, and remember what I’m capable of, discomfort and all.

Letting the Journey Unfold: How Living in the Moment Can Reduce Anxiety

Letting the Journey Unfold: How Living in the Moment Can Reduce Anxiety | It's incredibly freeing to let go of what we can't control and deal with each moment as it comes. Here's how I put these ideas into practice one night when things weren't going as planned--and ended up having a spectacular time.

It’s rough being both a night owl and a morning person.

On one hand, I relish the peace and promise of the morning, and on the other hand, I crave the depth and darkness of the night. Both are times when my creativity soars and I can imagine that I have the world all to myself. (No offense to, like, other people and stuff. I’m just an introvert; being alone is my jam.) Honestly, the afternoon hours are the ones I dislike the most; if I could hit the fast-forward button from approximately 1 pm to 5 pm each day, I’d be totally set. Reading an engrossing novel until 2 or 3 am? Yes, please. Sipping coffee with the sunrise? Count me in. Anything at 3 pm? No, no, and no. I’ve found some ways to lessen the sting of this long, harrowing trek from lunch to dinner (such as drinking lots of water and tea or taking a quick yoga break), but it’s still by far the worst part of the day. Perhaps we Americans could take it a step further and jump on the siesta bandwagon? Is that a political issue we could all get behind? #adultnaptime2k16

Anyway, so here I am, running on a grand total of 4 hours and 15 minutes of sleep, actually enjoying an early-morning writing session before work. My eyes are a bit puffy, and my mind is a tad slow, but the stillness and solitude are totally worth it. The reason that I was out so late last night was that I attended a concert in Indianapolis with my mom and sisters–although it might be more accurate to say that we kind of attended a concert, or that we attempted to attend a concert. First, we arrived at the outdoor venue only to find that the show was being postponed indefinitely due to the severe thunderstorms in the forecast. Then, although there was hardly a drop of rain during the entire 2-hour delay, it started pouring once the concert finally began, and lightning struck in the distance. So we stayed for a bit and then headed out before the final act.

But despite everything, I had a truly wonderful time, and I don’t think the enjoyable experience was an accident, either. I consciously tried to avoid my knee-jerk response of worry, regret, and negativity and react in a more positive and productive manner. Instead of panicking about how late the show would start or whether we would get caught in a bad storm on the drive home, instead of beating myself up for not monitoring the weather more closely or calling the venue ahead of time, instead of mourning the loss of the money we spent on the tickets or the time we spent waiting, I tried, as my therapist would say, to “let the journey unfold.”

Although this mantra sounds like one of those cheesy phrases you might find printed on the inside of a Dove chocolate wrapper, it’s also one of the hardest things anyone has ever challenged me to do. I don’t want things to happen to me–I want to happen to things! I don’t want to go with the flow–I want to be the force driving the current! I don’t want to “let the journey unfold”–I want to make checklists and itineraries and read reviews on TripAdvisor first!

But when we arrived at the venue and were informed of the delay, I saw disappointment creep across the faces of my two younger sisters and realized that I would play an important role in determining how the rest of the night would go. I could react how I normally did and plant the seeds of worry and negativity in those around me, or I could try to relax and look on the bright side and hope that ease and gratitude would flourish instead. Wanting to choose the latter, I smiled at them and said, “Well, there’s not really much we can do to change the situation. We’ll simply have to let the journey unfold.” I said this with a hint of sarcasm, poking fun at my own propensity to whip out the cheesy mantra at every opportunity. But I also said it as a serious reminder to myself to let go of things I can’t control (like the weather) and focus my energy on the here and now, come what may.

And you know what? It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies–we saw about an hour total of the show, missed the main headliner, paid twice as much as we were expecting for parking, and may have ruined a few pairs of shoes–but as I mentioned earlier, we had a darn good time overall. While we waited, we munched on the snacks we had packed, played the Head’s Up app on my sister’s phone, and generally distracted ourselves with talk and goofiness. And once the show finally started, we sang and danced and let the rain soak us through and smear our make-up and ruin our hairdos. It turns out that the great thing about living in the moment is that, bad or good, comfortable or uncomfortable, you only have the that moment to be concerned about. You don’t have to re-live all the ugly things that happened in the past or anticipate all the potential disasters that could arise in the future. You can focus on appreciating the joys and dealing with the troubles of the present–and the present only. Letting the journey unfold can be scary and unnatural at first, but it can also be incredibly rewarding and freeing.

So there you have it: morning reflections on late-night adventures. I’ve got to leave for work now, but who knows? Maybe if I take things one moment at a time, even 3 pm today won’t be so bad. 🙂