Jul 30, 2009

Everyone's got it all figured out but me...right?

If you're in your 20s, it probably feels like everyone you know: just started their dream job, just moved to a cool new city, just traveled somewhere amazing, just fell in love, just got engaged, just got married, just found out they're pregnant, just had their first baby, just got a big raise/promotion, just bought a home...just has it all figured out. Except for you, of course.

In a time filled with so many firsts, it can sometimes feel like you're the only one not experiencing them or like you're the sole late bloomer in a world full of overachieving early birds who are gobbling up all the worms. I certainly know I've been tempted to shoo some of those birds off of my lawn a time or two. Then I remind myself, it's not their fault those birds are out there getting their fill, while I'm still rubbing the morning crusties out of my eyes...and sometimes, I'm not such a lazy bird myself. So why am I beating myself up over it (and glaring at them through the window)?

The truth is, we all feel envious sometimes. It's so easy to look at other people and see only what they have that you don't and to get wrapped up in all the ways you fail to add up. There are several problems with this, of course. For one, you completely ignore all of the great things you have going for you. For another, you completely ignore all the bad things they have going for them. When you let yourself pay too much attention to everyone else's positives, and only your negatives, you're not getting a clear picture of reality. You're just making yourself feel bad for no reason, and probably treating the object of your envy with a touch of resentment they don't deserve.

The biggest problem with envy, though, is that when you envy someone, you are seeing something in them that you clearly want or want to be yourself. But instead of making it a goal and going after it, you build up a mental block in your head that prevents you from seeing how you can realize that goal for yourself. "Well, of course he can do that. He is perfect! I could never do something like that." Or, "Some girls just have all the luck! I'd never luck into something like that." Nobody is perfect, though, and trust me, most things don't just happen out of sheer luck. Those people you're putting up on a pedestal have flaws and weaknesses, too, and they probably had to work their backsides off to get where they are. They're probably not all that different from you, and if they can do it, you can too. By examining how they got where they are now, rather than simply noting the discrepancies between you and them, you can probably get a few ideas about how to get where you want to be.

By getting a closer look, you might also realize that as good as what they have sounds on a superficial level, it's not really for you, and you can kick that green-eyed monster permanently and move onto a goal better suited to you.

Of course, there are some things other people have that you can't make happen through sheer force of will. You can't make the man or woman of your dreams materialize out of thin air any more than you can will your dream job into existence. But, you can remain upbeat and keep an open mind and keep looking. The more you put yourself out there, the greater your opportunity for finding that special someone or stumbling across that one job that really does it for you. If you work it up in your head, though, that only some people find those things, and you aren't one of those some people, you'll never even give yourself a chance.

It's been my general experience, though, is that everyone is one of those some people at least some of the time. So stop worrying about what everyone else has that you don't, and start enjoying what you've got instead and put it to good use!

PS: Today is the infamous 25th birthday. So far, so fun!

Jul 29, 2009

Finding Direction

arrows by katie kirkSo I've been telling stories for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I was known for telling tall tales. Not fibbing, but making up people and creatures with elaborate back stories. I had imaginary friends and pet unicorns and a long lost twin sister who lived in California. Imagination, I had in spades.

The natural outlet for this was drawing pictures. Because I didn't know how to read or write (I was 3 or 4), stick figures drawn in crayon became my own personal language to tell all the stories I had stored up in my head. I'm not sure they made sense to anyone but me, but my mom saw TALENT! (she's my mom—I guess she can be forgiven for her lack of an eye for art, at least when it comes to me) and started putting my drawings in contests, and eventually, she put me in art classes.

I always had tons of notebooks filled with my drawings and my stories. I had an unnatural attachment to those notebooks. I still remember in 3rd grade when my mom made me throw out all of my old notebooks, and how I cried at having to give them up. Telling stories was irresistible, and telling them to other people was even more important. (I've always been a bit of a ham for an audience.) Writing, and by turns the art that I did which was another way of telling stories for me, have probably been the biggest and most consistent passions in my life.

It's not really surprising that in middle school, I started doing web design and publishing my novels (I wrote about 5 before I finished high school) on the internet. It was a logical outlet for the things I've been doing pretty much since I figured out how to talk and hold a crayon. And it's not surprising that no matter what other interests I picked up as I got older, I always came back to writing and art and web design. These are the things I do. These are the things I've always done. They are as much a part of me as my brown eyes or my short, stubby fingers or the scar on my right knee from a bicycle accident when I was 9.

When I get caught up in my worries about what I'm going to be when I grow up, when I get discouraged about finding my niche, when I feel like I'm without direction...I remind myself of the things I've been doing, and loved doing, all my life. I remember the things I knew I loved even before I realized there was supposed to be something in this world to love.

I feel like I often over-complicate what is a fairly simple question: what do I want to do? The answer should be: what I like doing. The specifics are more complicated, obviously, and less knowable, but when I feel overwhelmed, I'm just going to keep reminding myself of me at 4 years old, sitting on my mom's bed, drawing my stories out on paper.

Meeting of the Moms

So last weekend went incredibly well. My parents flew into town on Friday, and Kellen and I spent the better part of the weekend keeping them entertained...which isn't too hard when your parents are from a town of 1,000 people. Just about anything seems entertaining. And on Sunday, Kellen's parents came up, too, so we had a whole house full of parents. Lucky for us, our parents get along swimmingly...our moms perhaps a little too well. (They're already plotting how to divvy up the grandchildren, I think.)

Last summer when my parents came up to visit, we met out on the coast. Kellen's dad manages some condos out that way, so we spent the weekend at the condos doing touristy things in a small Oregon coast town. Obviously, while my parents were here, they got to meet Kellen's parents for the first time.

Let me tell you something, ladies. If you ever wonder about the longevity of your current relationship or how successful it will be if you decide to start a family, one good test is to introduce your mother to his mother. Not only are your parents a pretty good example of what you and your SO will be like when you get older (for better or worse), your parents also can be pretty good gauges of the values and feel of the family you could potentially become a permanent part of. I wasn't really surprised when our mothers hit it off (I predicted it years before I even met Kellen's mom), but it really drove home something I had suspected all along: we came from similar places and experiences, had similar feelings about family and society, had compatible long-term values, and both had fantastic mothers.

Plus, I think because our mothers both approved of each other, they approved of us even more. Weird, huh?

Most of my other experiences with boyfriends' mothers have not gone so well. One of the moms was the Queen of Suburbia who made the comment, "Keith always likes the artsy girls"—code for "Keith likes the weird chicks"—the first time she met me, and the other was known by others as the Dragon Lady, and she made it clear early on that she did not approve of me. Not that I would have ever introduced either of them to my mother to begin with, but I knew from the beginning that my mother would never get along with their mothers and that, conversely, that other guy and I probably wouldn't jibe for long, either.

I know this isn't always true. I'm sure some of you have some royally screwed up families (or your SO's do) and would be horrified if your parents got along with and approved of his parents. But, I think most of the time it's really important to think about how your families match up, how they get along, because if you are in it for the long haul, it makes life awfully difficult if the two sides don't get along.

Jul 20, 2009

The parents are coming

So my parents are coming to visit for the weekend. It's only for a couple of days, but I'm super excited. That's one of the things they don't tell you when you move out at 18 with no intention of ever moving back: you will miss your parents. Sometimes I feel like hanging out with my parents is sort of my own personal version of native earth...minus the whole coffin thing...obviously. A visit from them helps to restore a tiny bit of my [scant] sanity.

I wish we could visit more often.

Jul 19, 2009

Stop waiting to start

Do you ever find yourself saying, "When X happens, then I'll start doing Y." When it stops being so hot/cold, I'll start jogging everyday. When I get a promotion, I'll start paying off my credit cards/putting money in savings. When I move to a new city, I'll start working on that Big Idea I had. When all my circumstances change, I'll change, too.

Only when the circumstances change, you don't change.

I recently read Kate Harding's post, "The Fantasy of Being Thin." Kate writes:

Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.” See also:

  • When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
  • When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
  • When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
  • When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
  • When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
  • When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.

[…]

The reality is, I will never be the kind of person who thinks roughing it in Tibet sounds like a hoot; give me a decent hotel in London any day. I will probably never learn to waterski well, or snow ski at all, or do a back handspring. I can be outgoing and charismatic in small doses, but I will always then need time to recharge my batteries with the dogs and a good book; I’ll never be someone with a chock-full social calendar, because I would find that unbearably exhausting. (And no matter how well I’ve learned to fake it — and thus how much this surprises some people who know me — new social situations will most likely always intimidate the crap out of me.) I might learn to speak one foreign language fluently over the course of my life, but probably not five. I will never publish a novel until I finish writing one. I will always have to be aware of my natural tendency toward depression and might always have to medicate it. Smart money says I am never going to chuck city life to buy an alpaca farm or start a new career as a river guide. And my chances of marrying George Clooney are very, very slim.

None of that is because I’m fat. It’s because I’m me.

Now, guys, I've always been a skinny person, but reading this, I could feel the alarm bells going off in my head. Dingdingding! We have a winner! I've been telling myself these things since I was about 13-years-old. When everything around me changes, I'll change, too, because what is going on around me is what's holding me back.

Only...that's not what's holding me back at all. I'm the only thing holding me back. My current situation is only temporary. The things going on around me are only temporary. And the only way to change those things? Don't accept that they are unmovable obstacles. Start pushing against them, working around them, pretending they aren't there at all so you can fake it til you make it.

While what Kate was writing about was learning to accept yourself and your limitations, and not hating yourself all the time for not being perfect (and that is something, btw, I totally agree with), I think there's another lesson to be learned from this. If there are things you really want to do, don't let your current situation, your current problems, your current limitations keep you from doing what you want.

Jul 16, 2009

keep moving

Jul 14, 2009

Why I'm not excited about turning 25

Star Wars cupcakesSo my 25th birthday is just around the bend, and I have to say...I'm not looking forward to it at all. And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm getting ever closer to wrinkles and gray hair and losing my "sweet young thang" status. Although I did hear someone recently put sweet young thangs firmly in the 24 and under demographic, and I cringed...just a little.

No. I'm not excited about turning 25 because it means I'm one year further along in life, and I still don't really seem to have developed the sense of self and direction I assumed that I would develop sometime before now. I'm 25 years old, and there are still a million things I haven't done, things I feel like I should have done and planned to do, but somehow never got around to doing. I'm 25, and I'm getting closer to a lot of the you're-a-grown-up-now deadlines that everyone seems to think I should be hitting (marriage, home, babies, etc.), but am not—not even close.

I'm not excited about turning 25 because, I thought 25 would feel a certain way, and I definitely don't feel the way I thought I'd feel at 25. It's the whole disparity between perception and reality thing that's got me kind of down. Where is my magical transformation into grown-up-ness? Why haven't I suddenly become all those things I thought grown-ups were supposed to be?

And, yeah, maybe it is just a little unfair that instead of all the wisdom and maturity and zen I was supposed to achieve at 25, I'm just as confused as I was at 23, only now I do have gray hairs and laugh lines and a metabolism that's disappearing faster than the polar ice caps.

But really...I just don't feel like I'm 25, even with the gray hairs. I still feel young, and not just in the bad ways. I still get super giddy and excited over the silliest things, and I can be really, really goofy. I still like wearing my pajamas, pretty much all the time, and have yet to adapt to a less comfortable but more professional wardrobe. Yeah, I've failed to become a sophisticated woman of the world, but at the same time, I've also got all this other great stuff going on, even if the world seems to be telling me it's time to stamp those tendencies out. I don't want to stamp those tendencies out, though. I don't want to get a year older, gain all of these new "adult" traits, but then be expected to lose some of the fun stuff of being young.

Maybe this is why I'm failing to become the grown-up I've always thought people were supposed to become: I just really like being young. Or...maybe this is why women have been so reluctant to admit their own age for so long. It has nothing to do with the shame of growing older, and everything to do with still feeling young inside—and not at all like what you thought you should feel when you reached a certain age.

Jul 13, 2009

So what is a quarter life crisis, anyway?

My boyfriend recently started a 6-month internship with a company here in Portland. He immediately became a part of the young'n's club at the company, a group of employees under the age of 30 who go out to lunch every once in a while and chat. At the first meeting of the young'n's club, one of the young women who had only started working for the company recently told the boyfriend that when she'd first found out that she had gotten the job on a Friday afternoon she was ecstatic. And then she spent the rest of the weekend crying, because she realized she'd be working for the rest of her life.

Hello! Welcome to your own personal quarter life crisis!

Of course, this isn't the only way people experience a quarter life crisis. Generally speaking, a quarter life crisis is that emotional blech that happens some time after finishing your formal education and some time before, I can only assume, you get comfortable with the whole being a grown-up thing. (I question whether anyone ever really gets comfortable with the whole being a grown-up thing. If they did, things like lotteries wouldn't be so popular, because no one would be looking for ways to escape their lives as is.) Quarter life crises can come in many forms: it can be dissatisfaction with your chosen career or general insecurities about your achievements; it could be financial overload; it could be that you've moved far away from friends and family and are struggling to build adult relationships. Whatever the reasons, you're probably feeling lonely, disappointed, anxious, insecure, confused, and maybe even a little envious of those who seem to have it all figured out.

For me personally, the quarter life crisis has manifested itself in the form of a single question: "What the hell am I going to do with my life?" And it's been a question I've been trying to figure out the answer to for many years. The results of not knowing the answer to this question have been manifold. I often feel like I'm drifting through my life, purposeless. I'm unhappy with my job. I'm unhappy with myself. I struggle with setting goals and making future plans. I feel, in a word, stuck.

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to do about this little problem of mine. I'm no life expert, and I haven't met any life fairies who have been willing to share any answers. So really, the only solution I've got for now is simply to keep trying, keep looking, don't give up. I'm sure if I keep pushing forward, I'll eventually find something that fits, right?

Maybe this is the only solution there is for people who are going through a quarter life crisis. Your biggest problem is that you feel like you're not living the right life. The only choice you have is to keep looking for the right one, to try new things and make mistakes and try something else and keep hoping eventually you'll figure it all out. It doesn't always sound appealing. Sometimes I wish someone would just send me an anonymous letter that says, "This is what you're meant to do." But... It's either keep searching or settle, and I don't know about you, but I've never been a fan of settling.

A ceramics professor comes in on the first day of class and divides the students into two sections. He tells one half of the class that their final grade will be based exclusively on the volume of their production; the more they make, the better their grade. The professor tells the other half of the class that they will be graded more traditionally, based solely on the quality of their best piece. At the end of the semester, the professor discovered that the students who were focused on making as many pots as possible also ended up creating the best pots, much better than the pots made by the students who spent all semester trying to create that one perfect pot

- Mike Arauz

Jul 11, 2009

I really want to be a writer.

How do I do that, though?

I really want to be a writer. *sigh* I always have.

Jul 2, 2009

GPOYW fail...sort of.

So I failed to take any pictures of myself last week. However, that's not to say I didn't do anything interesting. The band I'm in had a concert on Saturday. Monday I met with the Portland Alpha Phi alumnae execs to talk about the upcoming year and started plotting the development of their new website. (I'm the veep of communications...super exciting!) Tuesday was band practice, and yesterday, I got schooled on how to catsit a creature named Gargamel while her owners are out of town getting hitched. I also had an appointment yesterday with the dentist to take molds for my new crown. As some of you might be aware, I've been missing a tooth since October. Over the past nine months I've been going through the process of having an implant put in, and, I'm happy to say, looks like it will very soon be over, and I will no longer be toothless.

So it's been busy. But...my camera just didn't go with me for any of it. There's always next week though, right?

Jul 1, 2009

Working Girl Blues

So...in the ongoing saga of my working girl blues, in the past couple of weeks I've had some breakthroughs. The first involved some advice from my mother, some good news from my boyfriend, and finding this fantastic tidbit from Zen Habits:

So the question is: Do I care?

Sure, sometimes you may have to do things you don’t really care to do. You probably don’t care much for cleaning litter boxes and filing your taxes. That’s a given. But we’re talking about the big things here, like the work you devote your life to.

Do you care about it? Be honest with yourself. Do you really care?

If you don’t care, allow that to be okay. At least you’re acknowledging the fact that you don’t care. Now you know that it’s not a water-tight productivity system you need to get you motivated. What you need is work that you give a damn about.

Now let me be clear. There are things about my job that I do care about. I care about performing well enough that I maintain the respect of my coworkers. I certainly care about performing well enough to keep my job. I care about the fact that this is the entry level experience I need to progress in my field. Do I care about the work that I do? Um...

No. Not really. And I don't mean this to be callous or ungrateful at all. I just work for a mega-corporation that sells products I'm simply not interested in. The entire scene--the endless rows of cubicles, doing work that almost any grunt with a basic knowledge of html could do, the being part of a corporate machine I don't always respect or agree with--has never really been my thing. In fact, it was the very thing I spent my teens and early twenties stating (rather firmly) that I would never be a part of. So, no, I don't care about my work in that sense.

But I do care about some parts of my work. I love coding. But I want more. I want to do more design, be more involved in the creative process, have greater control over the product I turn out. And there are other things I'm interested in, too. I'm interested in marketing and branding and social media. I'm interested in making things, doing things that help people on a very personal level, that helps to build community (local, global, whatever), that does something to add meaning or value to someone's life. My job doesn't and will never provide that, and that's not to say there's something wrong with my job, but rather, that because my job doesn't really do what I'm interested in, it's probably not the best fit for me.

Knowing this, I think it's okay for me to stop beating myself up over the fact that I'm not feeling fulfilled by my job or satisfied by the kind of work I'm doing. It's okay not to care. That doesn't mean I get a license to blow off my work or be a slacker. What it does mean is that I can stop investing so much in my work emotionally, that I can stop being upset because I'm not a "perfect" employee. I'm not meant to be perfect in this position. It's not what I'm cut out to do, and I can't make myself better suited for the work any more than I can make my job what I want it to be.

The best comparison I have is my ex-boyfriends. While most of my exes were nice guys and, yeah, for the most part we all got along and had some things in common (some more than others), there was always something that didn't click, something that didn't quite fit. And I couldn't be mad at myself for not being a better girlfriend to them, when I just wasn't the right person for them, or them for not being a better boyfriend to me, when they weren't cut out for me either. Neither of us was going to change, and neither of us should have to. We should be allowed to like what we like, be what we are, and walk away from the things in our lives that aren't compatible.

The thing is when the right guy came along, I knew, and I have to believe I'll know when I've found the right job for me in much the same way. And lord knows if I can find someone to spend the rest of my life with, I will be able to find a career I love, too.

So. The good news is that Kellen is going to be able to graduate early, and in six months, he will be getting a job. Whether that means we will be moving or not, it will definitely mean that I will have an opportunity to look for other work, including work that doesn't pay as well as my current position. I have no intention to quit anytime soon, and, who knows? Something brilliant may open up at my company and I may get shifted into something I love. But. I'm not counting on miracles. So my focus for now is on figuring out what it is I want to do, and how I want to get there. I've already got some ideas about where I want to go in my future, and the things I need to do to prepare.

Of course, that's a second breakthrough that maybe I'll talk about next time. For now, I'll leave you with a pretty fantastic quote from Po Bronson's book, What Should I Do with My Life?

Some people are born into their passions. Some never get them and don't care. But I think if you're really struggling to find it...it's almost certainly for a reason. I think the depth of your struggling is the sign there's something there. Something in you that's trying to get out. People who don't have passions don't struggle.