Preparing for Takeoff: Finding Peace + Making Progress When You’re In a Waiting Period of Life

Preparing for Takeoff: Finding Peace + Making Progress When You're in a Waiting Period of Life | Regardless of what you're waiting for, viewing life's "in-betweens" as opportunities for learning and growth can help you make the most of these trying times.

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, then you’re familiar with taxiing–the part where your plane leaves the terminal and begins its slow crawl toward the runway for takeoff. The part where you pretend to listen as the flight attendants give their synchronized Vanna White-esque safety demonstrations, knowing full well that if a sudden loss of cabin pressure or an emergency water landing actually occurs, your plan is to panic and pray for a miracle. The part where you realize that you definitely should have used the bathroom prior to boarding, because now you have to wait until the plane reaches cruising altitude and the pilot turns off the “fasten seatbelt” sign. The part where you either awkwardly make small talk with the passengers around you or pretend to sleep in order to avoid such a horror. (Hey, no shame in my introvert game.)

Taxiing.

It’s a necessary part of flying, a crucial step in the journey from Point A to Point B, and yet it’s hardly the highlight. Compared to the rush of takeoff or the thrill of sailing through the clouds at hundreds of miles per hour, taxiing is pretty slow and boring. And if you’ve ever been on a plane that seemed to take quite a while to reach the runway, you know that people tend to get worried and impatient during this time. 

Recently, during one of my own air travel experiences, it occurred to me how much this current phase of my life feels like an in-between, like slow motion–like taxiingI have been staying with my parents since the lease on my grad school apartment ended in late July, an arrangement that was intended to be a short-term fix until I secured full-time employment. I didn’t even unpack most of my things; I simply piled the bags and boxes in a corner in the basement so I would be ready to move the moment I got that coveted offer letter. Yet here I am, five months later, still applying to jobs, still sleeping in their guest bedroom. Still taxiing. I know I’ll reach the runway at some point, but I don’t know precisely when, and so worry and impatience have begun to creep in.

The more I’ve thought about this taxiing metaphor, the more I’ve begun to wonder whether this period of my life might be about something more than just finding a job. Perhaps there are other preparations that need to be made, other lessons that need to be learned, in order for me to be truly ready for “takeoff”–i.e., moving across the country, launching my career, and generally becoming a Real Adult Who Pays for All the Things.

Of course, I can’t know for sure what God has in store, but after a lot of reflection and prayer, I can venture a few solid guesses as to what He might be trying to subtly (or not so subtly) teach me during this time.

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I recently deposited my entire childhood state quarters collection into my savings account, so I’m fairly certain that financial planning isn’t one of His concerns. I’ve totally got this!

First and foremost, I think I’m getting a crash course in Chilling the Heck Out.

If you’ve read any other post on this blog, or talked to me in real life for more than 5 minutes, you know that I’m a planner, a list maker, Preparedness Girl! My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, emphasis on the J. As 16personalities.com so aptly explains:

People with the Judging (J) trait do not like to keep their options open – they would rather come up with five different contingency plans than just go ahead and deal with the challenges as they come. They prefer clarity and closure, always going with the plan rather than the flow.

Like, guys, the above paragraph so perfectly sums up my life that it should probably be engraved on my tombstone someday. I hate not knowing what’s happening five minutes, five days, or five years from now, so I plan things in my head and on paper to ease the discomfort, to give me some sense–some illusion–of knowledge and control.

So all of this waiting and uncertainty? Excruciating–yet so incredibly important for someone as tightly wound as me. I need to learn to find peace even in the face of unpredictability. I need to learn to be okay with answering “I don’t know yet” when people ask about my future plans. I need to learn to say, “Okay, God, you’re the pilot. Help me to be a faithful passenger.” Over and over and over and over.

I’d also venture a guess that I’ve been inadvertently enrolled in a second class: Introduction to Self-Worth. Because until recently, I had no idea just how much I tend to base my self-worth on my accomplishments, particularly those in the academic realm.

I’ve been a student for over 75% of my life, and almost 100% of the years I can actually remember. So in conjunction with my natural people-pleasing, over-achiever tendencies, I’ve simply become accustomed to using my performance in school as a proxy for my success in life. And to make matters worse, somewhere along the way, the line between “success in life” and “worth as a human being” got extremely blurry, until the two concepts merged into one. So if Good Grades = Success in Life and Success in Life = Worthy Human Being, then by the transitive property of equality, Good Grades = Worthy Human Being.  Math, yo. 

If I had gotten a job right after graduation and dived straight into the working world, I may have never questioned this flawed line of thinking. I may have simply swapped teachers for supervisors and grades for performance reviews and went on my merry way. But in this post-grad, pre-employment waiting game, no one else is setting the standards for what my life should look like. No one else is telling me to jump so that I can ask, “How high?” APPARENTLY THERE’S NO SYLLABUS OR REPORT CARD FOR LIFE, GUYS. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO GO FROM HERE?

Although I still haven’t figured out the answer to this, the mere realization has been a huge wake-up call. If I were to write one of those cliche letters to my younger self, I would totally include this nugget of wisdom.

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“Dear Little Paige, Don’t wear choker necklaces with t-shirts, don’t waste so much of your time pining after boys who don’t know you exist, and oh yeah, don’t base your self-worth on your grades. Love, Big Paige.”

And finally, I think God has thrown in a little bit of recess to balance out the difficult coursework. Because this waiting period, viewed through a different lens, has also been a rare and beautiful gift of extra time. And in these past months, I’ve done my best to make the most of this offering. I’ve used it to read, write, and rest. To learn new skills and reconnect with family and friends. To do yoga to my heart’s content and take long walks around my parents’ neighborhood. To fly across the country and drive all over the state–as well as enjoy entire days of not leaving the house. To take care of myself, physically and mentally. To remember what it’s like to feel alive, and to remember all the wonderful things I have to live for–things that anxiety and depression wanted so desperately for me to forget.

So if you, too, feel like you’re in a waiting period, I encourage you to stay strong, dear reader. I know it’s hard. I also encourage you to look for ways–big or small–in which you’ve actually moved forward during this time. You might find that your world hasn’t been standing so still after all.

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

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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

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“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.

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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?

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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?

The Adventurous Life: How to Define Your Own Brand of Bravery

The Adventurous Life: How to Define Your Own Brand of Bravery | Don't think of yourself as adventurous? Think again! Learn how living adventurously can mean something different for each of us--and how to identify the risks truly worth taking in your own life.

When I hear the word “adventurous,” the first image that comes to mind is someone who spends his or her free time doing awesome things like skydiving and zip lining and scaling mountains. I picture someone who seizes every opportunity for new and fun experiences with little or no hesitation. I envision someone who thrives on taking risks both large and small and whose life motto is essentially “why not?”

When I hear the word “adventurous,” I also think of the exact opposite of me. As much as activities like skydiving and zip lining and scaling mountains sound awesome, they also sound kind of dangerous and expensive and let’s be real, I’d probably be equally content spending time alone writing and drinking coffee from my favorite mug (#turndownforwhat). I don’t think I’ve ever seized an opportunity without totally overthinking it first, and my idea of living on the edge is keeping my library books past the due date. And because I’m an INFJ obsessed with finding meaning and purpose in every freaking thing, my life motto is definitely “why?” as opposed to “why not?”

However, my conversations with my amazing therapist over the past 5 months have begun to shift my view of what it means to live adventurously–and for that matter, why it’s even important to do so in the first place. 

I’m about to make a big claim here, but it’s my blog, so…here goes nothing. I believe that the greatest adventure in life–and the bravest thing we’ll ever do–is to become the person each of us is meant to be. (And as a Christian, I believe this means becoming the person God created each of us to be.) Consequently, living adventurously means constantly challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones in order to better align our actions with our values, goals, and unique strengths. Skydiving, zip lining, and scaling mountains may be out of my comfort zone, but is it imperative that I do these somewhat arbitrary things in order to live adventurously? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on what I hold most dear.

For example, developing and sustaining deep and meaningful relationships is very important to me. I don’t need a large social network to be happy, but I do need a tight inner circle with whom I can be my most authentic self. However, as an introvert with a lot of social self-doubt, it feels much safer for me to hang out alone than to invite a family member or friend to catch up over coffee and risk feeling like a bother. And if we do end up meeting, it feels much safer for me to gloss over the tough stuff and act like everything’s fine than to admit to my struggles and risk being viewed as a Debbie Downer or an over-sharer. So for me, living adventurously means taking these risks on a regular basis anyway, because that’s really the only way to cultivate the types of relationships I’m after. And it also means returning the favor and being there for these individuals when they need me the most, when they’re scared to reach out or share, and loving them wholeheartedly, no strings attached.

As another example, having a fulfilling career is very important to me. This is not because I view my career as the pinnacle of my life and happiness but rather because I want to enjoy the many hours I put into my job and also feel like those hours are making a real difference in the world. But the further I get in my process of job searching and self-discovery, the more I realize that in order to achieve most of my professional goals, I’m going to have to step way outside my comfort zone. Leap outside it, really. My dream is to someday run my own online nutrition and wellness business, but that will be difficult and scary and require a significant shift away from the 9-to-5 mindset I’ve held for so long. (Even typing the words here is totally freaking me out.) It’s also likely that I will need to go back to school at some point and become a registered dietitian, which, after the completely overwhelming graduate school experience I completed just a few short months ago, is not exactly my favorite thing to think about right now. So living adventurously will mean going after these grand goals anyway, believing in myself even if no one else does, and knowing that I’ll still be enough even if I fail.

So maybe someday I will skydive, zip line, or scale a mountain. But if I do, it won’t be because I feel I need to in order to prove that I’m “adventurous” in some vague and arbitrary sense. Instead, it will be because it fits with my own brand of bravery and brings me closer to the person I was put on this planet to be. And that will be a risk truly worth taking.

What does living adventurously mean to you? How do your goals and values help you define your own brand of bravery?

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!

The Social Media Comparison Trap (And How to Avoid It)

The Social Media Comparison Trap (And How to Avoid It) | A quick scroll through Facebook or Instagram can leave us feeling down on ourselves if we aren't careful. Here's what we should--and shouldn't--do to remind ourselves that no one's life is as perfect as it looks online.

Have you ever taken a look through your own Facebook archives?

Being the nostalgia junkie that I am, I actually love revisiting old posts and pics every once in awhile. And unlike with other social media platforms, I’ve been on Facebook for long enough now that my account history actually encompasses a significant portion of my life. Recently, as I was taking one of these virtual strolls down memory lane, I noticed something interesting that I hadn’t before.

I realized that, in addition to questionable fashion choices circa 2008 (plaid Bermuda shorts, anyone?), my early Facebook profile was characterized by content that is far less filtered than the stuff I post today. My status updates were more frequent and mundane, my “about me” page included dozens of goofy quotes from family members and friends that made sense only to me, and my photos were far less, er, complimentary. (Heck, my very first profile pic featured my younger sister and me throwing up peace signs and making duck faces before it was cool. Luckily the plaid Bermudas were cropped out of this particular gem.) The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of my friends’ profiles were once quite similar. In those early days of Facebook, we were all just learning what it meant to share our lives with others online, and share–and overshare–we did. We had yet to fully realized our capability to curate content in order to project a certain image of ourselves to the world; instead, our Facebook walls (precursors to today’s Facebook timelines) were filled with the things we liked, found entertaining, or simply wanted to remember someday, regardless of whether our resulting profile made us look cool or interesting or beautiful or smart.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I’m not hoping to portray us all as perfectly authentic then (we weren’t) or incredibly shallow now (we aren’t), nor am I implying that all of these changes have been unfavorable. Let’s be real, I’m grateful that true “status updates” (you know, the kind where we provide a play-by-play of every waking minute of our lives) have become largely passé, and I don’t think that the world is any worse for its lack of Facebook albums consisting entirely of unflattering Paige selfies. (I could be wrong, though.) However, I do believe that social media can strongly influence how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, and I know that personally, the more others’ online lives look like an unending stream of grand accomplishments, fun outings, and perfect hair days, the more I struggle with comparisons and self-doubt.

It’s tricky, though, because I do want to know when my loved ones do awesome things so I can celebrate and congratulate. And I do like seeing beautiful images to uplift and inspire me in today’s often dark and ugly world. But because it’s so easy to convince myself that whatever I’m seeing is the entire story, frequent exposure to a constant highlight reel leaves me with a skewed sense of reality. After all, that Insta-worthy photo of a friend’s pastry and latte at a chic cafe rarely comes with a disclaimer that this is not his or her everyday routine. Those updates from a neighbor’s tropical getaway vacation don’t detail the stress and financial sacrifice that went into planning the trip or the arguments that occurred during the car or plane ride there. Those fairytale wedding photos make it easy to overlook the months or years of hard work, compromise, and tears that the couple has invested in the relationship–and will have to continue investing until death do them part. The caption on that flawless selfie doesn’t indicate how many attempts or filters went into achieving the shot or remind us that even Hottie McHotterson has days when his or her look isn’t #onfleek.

When we juxtapose our own messy stories to only the neat and tidy chapters of others’ lives, it’s no surprise that we often arrive at the conclusion that we’re doing something wrong or that we’ve failed in some way. So I think it’s important to make a conscious effort to balance out the picture of perfection we so often see projected online, especially if we find ourselves tempted to play this comparison game. But how?

First, a how not: The answer isn’t that we should start sharing our every unfiltered thought and experience with the online world. Many of us have hundreds of friends and followers on social media, and there are struggles and secrets that should be entrusted with only our inner circles. I’ve also seen enough vicious comment sections to believe that some version of “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” can and should be practiced more often online. (We should certainly speak the truth and stand up for our beliefs, but if we can’t do it respectfully, we need to cool off a bit until we can. You know, check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.)

Instead, I think that the best approach is rather simple: decreasing the amount of time we spend on social media and increasing the amount of time we spend connecting with others in real life, preferably in person. And I’m talking truly connecting here– not just a quick “Hi, how are you?” but rather a genuine conversation about real issues and stories in all their shades of gray. This is easier said than done, of course; actually finding time to spend with people is a challenge in today’s busy world, while Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are almost always just a click or tap away. But making these shifts has helped me immensely in remembering that I’m not alone in my imperfection or even in the way that social media can sometimes make me feel. And whereas I’ve often regretted the minutes and hours of mindless newsfeed scrolling, I wouldn’t trade a single heart-to-heart with a family member, close friend, or mentor for the world. 

Do you ever find yourself comparing your life to the lives of others on social media? What strategies help you to maintain perspective?

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.