7 Strategies for Staying Afloat During a Major Life Transition

7 Strategies for Staying Afloat During a Major Life Transition | Whether you're graduating, moving, getting married, or just feeling overwhelmed and uncertain, I've got seven strategies to help you infuse more joy, meaning, and simplicity into your crazy days.

So far, 2017 has been the Year of the Major Life Transition (or MLT, a totally unofficial acronym I invented just now). In January, within the span of just a few weeks, I received and accepted a job offer, moved from a medium-sized town in north central Indiana to the most populated city in the state of Texas (#cultureshock), and started my first full-time position out of graduate school. In many ways, I was so ready for the change–ready to be done with resumes and cover letters and actually launch my career, ready to live 15 minutes rather than 15 hours from my boyfriend, and ready for a new beginning after two physically, mentally, and emotionally draining years of school. And since I had left most of my belongings in boxes when I moved back in with my parents last fall, I was even ready in the practical sense.

And yet, nothing can truly prepare us for the ways in which an MLT will transform our world, nor can we fathom the range or patterns of emotions we may experience throughout the process. In the months since the move, I have felt excitement, joy, peace, and conviction that I made the right decision, as well as loneliness, overwhelm, exhaustion, and doubt–sometimes within the span of a single day or even a single hour. Throughout all these ups and downs, a few key tools and strategies have helped me to stay afloat, and since many folks are undergoing MLTs this time of year, I’d like to share them with all of you. And even if you’re not graduating, moving, and/or getting married in the coming months, think of the following as ways to infuse more joy, meaning, and simplicity into your days. 

1. Decluttering in every area of life

Back in December, I wrote about my discovery of Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less, and my subsequent mission to pare down my material possessions. Since then, I’ve continued exploring what it means to live a more minimalist lifestyle, and I’ve gotten rid of a ton more stuff in the process. I’m by no means a hardcore minimalist, but I can now attest to the incredible freedom that comes with allowing yourself to let go of things that no longer serve you and merely take up your time, space, and attention. And during periods of rapid change and perpetual uncertainty, it’s so much easier to find peace of mind when your surroundings are simple and uncluttered.

This “back to basics” mentality has begun to spill over into other areas of my life as well. For example, I’ve started taking a hard look at my technology-related habits in an effort to reduce digital clutter. I gave up social media for Lent after realizing how many of my precious after-work hours were spent mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds, and once I survived that first painful week or two, I found myself actually enjoying the break. And by the time Easter rolled around, I noted significant improvements in my ability to focus and remain patient and present. Now that Lent is over, I’m slowly adding social medial back into my life so that I can find the balance that works best for me. The free iPhone app Moment has been really helpful in this regard, since it allows me to track the total amount of time I spend on my phone, the amount of time I spend using specific apps, and the number of times I pick up my phone each day.

I’ve also tried keeping my personal calendar as decluttered as possible. In high school, college, and graduate school, I maintained a pretty busy schedule–I worked, volunteered, played instruments, and joined a number of clubs. These activities brought me immense joy and introduced me to some of my best friends. Right now, though, I’ve found that what I need is massive amounts of margin–white space in my calendar to allow me to breathe, rest, and do things on my own terms. I’m still recovering from the move and feeling its aftereffects in waves, and quite honestly, I think I’m still recovering from the intense anxiety of the past two years. At some point, I’m sure I’ll be ready to get more involved at my new parish, join a book club or yoga studio, or start volunteering again. But right now, I just need time, space, and stillness. And that’s okay.

2. Revitalizing my workouts

I’ve been doing yoga on and off for years, and I’ve always cherished its numerous physical and mental benefits. Recently, though, my practice was feeling a bit stale and in need of a little somethin’ somethin’. Thankfully, one of my lovely readers introduced me to the Yoga with Adriene Youtube channel, and y’all, I am in love! Adriene Mishler, the yogi behind it all, is incredibly talented, encouraging, funny, and real, and she has created dozens (hundreds?) of free workout videos for all levels and purposes, including losing weight, relieving anxiety, improving digestion, and healing a myriad of injuries. (She even has holiday yoga, yoga for when you’re angry, and yoga for hangovers!) Her motto is “find what feels good” and her emphasis on personalizing your practice based on what your mind and body need on any given day has completely rejuvenated my workouts. She’s also so good at helping you retrain your brain to notice negative self-talk and replace it with more positive and accurate messages. This month, I’m making my way through her 30-day Yoga Camp series, so I’m sure this won’t be the last time you’ll hear me gush about my new YouTube bff. 

3. Meal planning

I first discovered the beauty of meal planning in college, but now that I’m working full time, I have an even greater appreciation for its benefits. I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen; however, when I arrive home in the evenings, the last thing I want to do is dream up what to have for dinner. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’ve reached decision fatigue for the day. And that’s where meal planning comes to the rescue! On the weekends, when I’m more rested and less rushed, I take some time to find a few fun yet relatively simple recipes to make the following week and then head to the grocery store to get everything at once. It’s so much more appealing to prepare a homemade meal after a long day when you’ve already done the thinking and the shopping! And because I’m #human and don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen, I also leave room in the menu plan for using up random leftover ingredients in an omelet, salad, etc, or simply heating up a healthy-ish frozen meal. Balance, simplicity, and flexibility, y’all. 

4. Starting the day with a creative and energizing activity

As you may know, I took a little blogging hiatus during the move so that I could focus my time and attention on the 1.67 million tasks that apparently come with relocation. And while I’m grateful that I allowed myself this space, I quickly began to notice that not having a regular creative outlet was draining in its own way. However, when I was ready to start writing again, I faced a bit of a dilemma–I was always too tired and braindead to produce anything noteworthy or even grammatically correct in the evenings, and I was already waking up pretty darn early for work. I used this conundrum as my excuse for a while until I realized that if I didn’t actually do anything about it, I might use it as my excuse forever. So I began tracking my time (using the free web service MyHours) and analyzing the data in search of opportunities to streamline and/or rearrange my schedule. I ultimately concluded that mornings were my best bet and figured out how to free up about 45 minutes to write before work. Yes, I now get up really darn early, but I’m kind of loving it. I feel so much more energized and alive when I start my day with a creative activity, and writing has been an invaluable way to express and process all of the thoughts and emotions that this MLT has triggered.

5. Consuming lots of great audio content

During the workday, I get by with a little help from my friend Pandora radio. I’ve created artist-based stations for deep concentration (e.g., Explosions in the Sky), chilling and contemplating life (e.g., Ben Rector or The Head and the Heart), and rocking out/powering through projects (e.g., Smashing Pumpkins or Bleachers). And when I’m cooking, cleaning, or commuting, I’m almost always listening to one of my favorite podcasts, which range in topic from minimalism to productivity to Catholicism. These podcasts inspire, challenge, and entertain me, while also getting my mind off whatever might be stressing me out at the moment.

6. Being honest with others

Every time I finish exchanging pleasantries or remarking on the weather with someone, I feel like I ought to be awarded this shirt (#introvertproblems). But I also understand that it’s not always the right time and place to discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and I have learned the hard way that many people just want you to say “okay” or “fine” when they ask how you are. As a result, I often end up erring on the side of caution and promoting the very small talk that I despise the most. Recently, though, I’ve tried to find a balance and take advantage of opportunities to dive a bit deeper. When someone I feel I can trust asks me how the job/move/etc. is going, if it seems like the right setting to provide more than a one-word answer, I’ll try to be honest; there is a lot I love about my new life, but there are also times when it’s stressful and exhausting and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. The results? Family members, friends, and even several new coworkers have shared amazing words of encouragement, advice, or wisdom, not in a shallow or dismissive “you’ll be fine” sort of way but in a compassionate “I’ve been there” manner. Simply knowing that I feel overwhelmed because I’m human, and not because I’m lazy, inadequate, or incapable, can go a long way.

7. Enjoying the little things

By which I’m mainly referring to my regular practice of enjoying a delicious bowl of ice cream. Because even with all the above strategies in place, sometimes you just need to plop down on the couch, dig into some mocha-Oreo-cookie-dough-swirl (which is totally a thing, and a beautiful thing at that), and remember that everything is okay, you’re going to make it, and by golly, you deserve to enjoy the ride.

Do you have any MLTs on the horizon?

What strategies do you find helpful for maintaining health, happiness, and perspective during stressful or uncertain times? 

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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.

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?

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?

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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.

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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.

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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!) 

Have Anxiety, Will Travel? Balancing Worry & Wanderlust

Have Anxiety, Will Travel? Balancing Worry & Wanderlust | For those of us who struggle with anxiety, the excitement of traveling is often met with equal amounts of worry and stress.

Traveling.

For someone who struggles with anxiety, few things are as bittersweet.

One one hand, I love experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a place for the very first time or revisiting old haunts and feeling the warmth of nostalgia flood in. I enjoy adopting a totally different schedule–or no schedule at all!–for a time and engaging in the late-night life chats that inevitably unfold with my travel companions. I appreciate the reminder that my hometown is just one tiny speck on the map and my lifestyle is just one possible way. I even get a kick out of packing my suitcase with non-perishable snacks and three-ounce toiletry bottles and feeling like I have everything I need in life in just one bag (er, maybe more like two or three). Simply walking into an airport sends my heart racing with excitement and possibility as I imagine where other travelers might be headed and ponder, yet again, how insanely awesome it is that we can wake up in one city, state, or country and fall asleep that night in another.

But–and there’s always a “but” when it comes to anxiety–the very elements of traveling that contribute to its novelty, excitement, and ability to impart perspective can also trigger huge amounts of worry and stress. The mere thought of plunging into unfamiliar and uncertain situations that are largely out of my control often tempts me to call the whole thing off, to generate a flimsy excuse as to why I can no longer go, and to retreat to the safety and comfort of my home, where adventure may not await but where at least I know what to expect.

As I’ve discussed in my recent 2-part series on strategies for managing anxiety, I’ve come a long way since this past January when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Things like getting enough sleep, seeing a therapist, and practicing yoga have helped immensely in enabling me to feel healthy, balanced, and like my true, upbeat, goofy, passionate self again. But certain situations, especially those involving any type of travel, seem like an open invitation for those old, irrational thoughts to creep back in–a reality with which I was confronted this past weekend when I went to visit my younger sister just a few hours away.

Typically, I wouldn’t know spontaneity if it knocked on my door and delivered a pizza, so I was quite proud of myself for accepting her last-minute invite without hesitation. I was also truly excited to spend time with her and knew that it would be a low-key trip: the drive was easy, I would be staying for only one night, and I was visiting my sister, for Pete’s sake, so I should be able to just relax and be myself. As you can imagine, then, I was completely blindsided by the uneasiness I felt at various points before, during, and even after the trip. (Yes, after!) Don’t get me wrong, I still managed to have a great time overall, and I don’t regret the visit one single bit. But I was certainly reminded of how much stepping outside of my normal routine can shake me up, how much I obsess about and overanalyze things that should be fun and carefree, and how lonely it is to feel anxious while everyone else appears to be relaxed and enjoying themselves.

I plan to write more on the topic of travel anxiety, since it’s an obstacle I am truly committed to overcoming and would love to help others tackle as well. I took several longer trips this summer (including a two-week stay in Europe), so I have many thoughts on the matter!  I want to make the posts as relevant and useful as possible, so I invite you to comment below (or drop me a line at turningthepaigeblog@gmail.com) and let me know which aspects of travel anxiety you’d like to hear more about!

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.