I realize this is not a unique opinion, but I really, truly dislike multitasking. I have never been good at doing more than one thing at a time, and I enjoy the simplicity of focusing on the task at hand. I like to do the thing, while I’m doing it, and that’s it.
I’ve always been pretty sensitive to distractions, but I didn’t really think about it as not being able to multitask well until I hit adulthood, especially when it came to work. I never liked studying with the TV or music on (instrumental jazz or classical notwithstanding). I didn’t mind playing sports that seemed boring to others, like swimming and running. In fact, I kind of liked how “boring” they were, because I could really focus. When you’re swimming miles a day, the rhythm of your strokes becomes soothing, not dull. I also have always enjoyed studying alone (I suppose this is not the first time I’ve mentioned it), and reading is an activity I have always liked to do solo – doing both, I’m incredibly sensitive to the noise and comfort around me. It doesn’t have to be silent, but I like things to be a certain way, to be just so.
And then when I started working, especially in my communications/PR career, where the pace can be intense, I found myself attempting to multitask more and more. And things were never just so, the tasks at hand were never my sole focus. I felt constant pressure to do as much as possible within my work day, writing emails during calls and IMing with colleagues as I mapped out strategic plans. And though I worked remotely a lot of the time, whenever I had to work in an open-floor-plan office, I wanted to tear my hair out (another rant for another time). I already knew that I was a person who needed space and time to focus, but was trying to resist who I was at my core in order to get the job done, and getting really frustrated and flustered in the process.
Though studies have shown that multitasking does not, in fact, make us more efficient, it doesn’t stop people from trying to do it or from pushing the ideal of multitasking onto other people. But perhaps it’s time for everyone, especially those of us who are on the extreme end of being anti-multitaskers, to accept this truth and allow people to work within their natures.
Again, this is not a new or original idea! But it’s an important one. I’m not arguing for mindfulness here, exactly, but I don’t know that anyone is at their best when they try to meet the demands of two tasks at once. And honestly, sometimes it seems like more work, more for me to think about, in order to make my life that efficient. Yesterday, I unloaded the dishwasher, and that was it. It was silent, I was not listening to a podcast or music and I wasn’t on a call. I just did it. And thinking about, “oh I need to find my headphones and then turn on a new podcast” before I could unload the dishwasher or pick up stuff around the kitchen just seemed like it would have slowed me down. It wasn’t worth it to me to “maximize” what I was doing by learning or absorbing information while I did it. Sometimes, I like quiet and just not doing or thinking of anything else while I fold laundry or jot down my to-do list. And most of the time, there’s enough going on in my brain anyway.
Are you a multitasker? Or are you in the anti-multitasking club with me?
As a person who constantly overcommits, and then probably underdelivers (mostly to myself, since professionally, I unnecessarily beat myself up about what I’m achieving and who I might be letting down while still usually producing a good final product), I can tell you that I really wish I were better at following through. I set very lofty goals, and then when I fail to meet them completely, I struggle to stay motivated. This is definitely related to my all or nothing personality/outlook, but here we are. Below is an incomplete list of things I have not been able to stick to that, honestly, just hang over my head all the time.
A regular exercise routine. For a former personal trainer, I sure am lax about my fitness. Don’t get me wrong, on most days I move my body in some way – I do at least 15 pushups and squats almost daily, and I take my son for two walks around the neighborhood a day, weather permitting. But beyond that? It’s pretty hit or miss. I keep starting routines (full body workout, MWF! Two runs per week!), but the second I’m derailed by something like a busy day or a minor illness, it feels like I have to start over. I’m constantly battling between two selves: the one who has been type A and very regimented all of her life, and the other who wants to live and not lapse back into the unhealthily strict behaviors that plagued her throughout college and a good chunk of her 20s. Would I like to improve my cardiovascular health and feel like I could do 50 jump squats without being out of breath? Sure, but I also really would like to read this book while I have two hours of peace while my son naps, so….
A consistent writing practice. When I left my full-time job, I said I would set up a schedule to write every single day. But… it didn’t work out like that. Sometimes when my son was napping, I needed to get stuff done or run errands that I couldn’t do when he was awake. And sometimes, I just wanted to read and decompress for a bit while I had a break. And almost every day, I needed a minute to switch over from mom mode to writer mode, so I didn’t have the full amount of time I expected to have. I have journaled almost every day for the past year, but while I’ve gotten a few exciting ideas from jotting down my thoughts or daily happenings, sometimes it felt like I was simply going through the motions and not really writing the way I thought I should be. I have been able to write here a little more consistently lately, which I’m proud of, but I’m still working on what an ideal writing practice would look like.
Good sleep hygiene. I have always been a night owl, but I also really love sleep. Now, with a child and a job and a partner I want to spend time with, sleep has been less of a priority, even though I know getting more of it will improve my life pretty much all around. But I am always trying to squeeze in more hours to my day after we lay our son down to sleep at night, which results in me going to bed much later than I would like. I try to set up goals for myself, like “in bed by 10!” but then I get in bed and stay awake reading for two hours or looking at TikTok until I drop my phone on my face. To be fair, I haven’t tried the more extreme things like putting my phone in another room, but that’s probably where I need to go from here.
A long-term career. To anyone who has met me in the last couple years, I seem to have a career. I work in health communications and PR, and I’ve steadily moved up the ranks, even as I’ve had a child and gone into freelance mode a couple times. But this is not my first career (or even my second), and I don’t think it will be my last. I’m hoping I can make one move transition smoothly into the next, without having to start over, but I really have no idea what my “career” will look like five, ten, or 20 years from now. Knowing myself and my curious nature, I don’t think I’m ever going to feel like I’m in the one right career for me. But as I write this, maybe I’m OK with lacking follow through here.
Keeping up with friends. I feel like everyone feels this right now, though, right? We’re all socially (and physically) distanced, so our normal methods of seeing one another, whether it’s a couple times a year or a couple times a month, are not available. I had hoped, though, with the pandemic that I would find time to catch up with friends I had previously felt too busy to reach out to, since we were all suddenly video chatting and calling and texting more. And that happened for a bit in March and April, but then…we all got Zoom fatigue, and as we learned that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, I (along with a lot of people) started to retreat and turn inward. I felt like I had done that so much in my early and mid-20s, thanks to a long bout of depression (more on that another time), that I didn’t want to repeat it. But this pandemic is tough, and putting more pressure on ourselves for certain things isn’t worth it – it still bothers me that I wasn’t able to follow through on this one, though, because I miss people!
I’m not writing about this because I am asking for solutions (but hey, if you’ve been there and have tips, I’m open), but because I figure, aren’t we all struggling to follow through on one thing or another these days? And as much as I feel like I struggle with following through on certain goals and commitments, I’m proud of the things that I’ve been able to follow through on: a solid relationship with my husband (despite a pandemic, a toddler, and stressful jobs); my dedication to my role as a mother, even though I never felt a super maternal pull growing up, and I sometimes I take a few extra minutes when I run upstairs for “one quick thing”; and for taking the time to remember that I am a whole person, who is always curious and thinking of ways to bring more creativity to my everyday life.
Where do you struggle with following through? Or are you one of those people who meets all of your goals all of the time? (If so, what is your secret and are you human?)
Of all the things I’ve learned about myself during this pandemic, the most astounding is how much space I need. Though it shouldn’t be so surprising that I learned how much breathing room I require when the world of almost everyone I know has shrunk so significantly.
While some people have found more time to devote to leisure and side projects lately, around here time is precious. We now have a very active almost-two-year-old son at home with us full-time (and have since March), and any free moment we had during our work days is completely gone – part of the reason I transitioned to freelance work. Two adults working in high-pressure jobs while trying to alternate on childcare (and now attempting to teach colors and numbers and letters!) was tough. But even with a reduction in work hours (and a three-month complete break, which I was lucky to be able to take), time is scarce, and a two-hour window during naptime usually gives me just enough time to quickly clean up from our tornado of a toddler and write or work for 45 minutes. Of course, we’re not unique in having less time – I think every working parent who does not have childcare or does not feel comfortable using available childcare feels the same way.
And we’re also not unique in feeling trapped in our space. Before the pandemic, our 1000-square-foot home in DC felt like plenty of space – after all, we had the whole city to roam, with different neighborhoods to explore every weekend and what felt like endless options for culture and food. But now, with three of us at home at all times, it can feel like… a lot. Our bedroom is now a makeshift office, and the kitchen table in our one-room main floor is taken over by laptops, pens, and toddler board books (open concept is a little less appealing when everyone is home all the time). When our son is napping, we can each find our own space, either by heading to different rooms or one of us going on a walk, but the rest of the day, it feels a bit like we’re breathing down each others’ necks, especially when we’re not used to working in the same space, let alone with a child, no matter how happy he is. And if we have any visitors (very rare these days and only after they’ve quarantined), our house seems to contract even further, even though I love having people we’re close to around, especially in these times, which makes me feel conflicted and guilty and ungrateful.
I wish I had a solution for this space issue, but I really don’t. I share all of this because I know we’re not alone in feeling too much togetherness, too few moments to ourselves, too little control about… everything. After six-plus months of this, I’ve only come up with a few workarounds that keep me feeling like I’m hanging on by more than a thread. Things like…taking an extra five minutes when I say I have to use the bathroom, which I mostly use to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. Or making sure that, if nothing else, I at least do a few squats and pushups a day to get my blood pumping. Or not feeling as bad if I just want to lie down for an hour after putting our son to bed, because I want our fluffy comforter all to myself for a bit. Because the things that worked before – getting out of the house to go to the gym or get coffee, taking the occasional day off from work while my son was at daycare, meeting up with friends for a glass of wine – are no longer options, so I have to make do with what’s available to me now.
During this pandemic I have learned so much about what I need to maintain my mental health, my relationships, my productivity. Mostly because I haven’t had as much of it as I require to really thrive.
I need space.
To be my whole self.
For now, I’ll keep finding little ways to make space, but here’s hoping 2021 is a little more wide open. How are you carving out space and time for yourself right now? Is it working?
I want to be out of my house, in a place – any place – alone.
Specifically, I want to go to a coffee shop, with a book, my journal, and my laptop, and just be. I imagine walking into a bustling cafe, probably Takoma Bev Co, standing in line to order a latte and one of those delicious almond bars. Behind me is Takoma Park’s main drag, full of people sitting on the patio or running errands in downtown Takoma, perhaps walking from the post office to ACE Hardware. At the counter by the window are two strangers reading next to one another, a young woman alternating between her hardcover book and her laptop; an older man, likely retired, mostly looking out at the sunny fall day, intermittently flipping a page in his well-worn paperback.
As I step up to the counter, the twenty-something cashier, who is equal parts cooler and nerdier than I am (we are in DC, so both have more appeal than my mid-30s mom vibe), definitely wearing a knit hat and glasses, asks what I want and hands me a little metal stand for my order number. I wait by the counter for my latte (perhaps I didn’t need the table number after all), while I crinkle a brown wax paper bag, dreaming of the pastry I’m about to savor alone. I take a peek into the always-crowded larger seating area and spot a small table on the far wall. While they’ll do in a pinch, I hate the tables in the middle of the room, where my bag inevitably tips over, and then I’m in everyone’s way in the never-empty dining room. But the tables at the edges of the room let me nestle in and leave me feeling protected under the rotating paintings of local artists hung on the wall.
After I grab my latte, I settle in, getting out my laptop, book, journal, and pen, as if I’ll use them all at once, prepping for a few hours of caffeinated bliss. The espresso machine and milk frother make themselves known every now and again, punctuating conversations while also giving me the ambient background noise I love to write to, both boosting my concentration and mellowing me out.
A few neighborhood moms are sitting on the couches nearby, one idly pushing a stroller a few inches back and forth to keep a child asleep, another nursing her baby, another lamenting the current state of the world for the one hour she has away from her child at home. Other people work nearby, camped out at the long communal table at the front of the room, typing away at manuscripts and PowerPoint decks. An older man, who always takes the family table for six and spreads his belongings out as much as possible, is oblivious to the family who just walked in with two squirming kids looking for a seat.
The server, who wears his matching shirt-and-short set screenprinted with kittens, bustles around picking up dishes and joking with regulars. A couple sits at the table next to mine, cheersing glasses of white wine at noon on a Friday (do they, too, have a small child who happens to be in daycare on their parents’ day out?).
As I observe all of this, I’m satisfied by the click of the keys beneath my fingers, seeing progress on a page. It’s not perfect, but in this setting, I feel free and myself, and I write like the wind, without self-editing or worrying about the time wasted or if the words are even any good. I breathe deep and smell coffee, breakfast sandwiches; I hear chatter and dishes clinking; I see a neighborhood full of quirky and utterly normal people crammed into a little coffee shop.
Of all the places I’ve dreamed of going during the pandemic, the mundane tops the list.
Lately, I find myself wanting to write more and more often, but on the days when I feel not even a spark of inspiration, I look to writing prompts for a little help. The past month, I’ve been working my way through the “Name Your Anchors” series of prompts from author Molly Caro May. Some days, it just gets me to put words on the page, and other days, I dig deep and want to keep writing and writing. The post above is a result of one of those prompts.
What are your favorite creative prompts? What kick starts your writing when you’re in a slump?
When I first left my full-time job back in July, I knew I needed to rest and spend time with family, but I also knew that I just had to revive my creativity. After a lot of aimless journaling and randomly taking Skillshare classes (both useful in their own right), I decided to take on a structured creative activity by way of #The100DayProject. In case you don’t know what #The100DayProject is, here’s a helpful little summary from the website:
#The100DayProject is a free art project that takes place online. […]The idea is simple: choose a project, do it every day for 100 days, and share your process on Instagram with the hashtag #The100DayProject.”
For my project, I chose to write short, free form poetry, at least four lines each day, but never longer than what would fit on an Instagram story. I would like to make it very clear here that I am not a poet. I took a few poetry classes in college in the mid 2000s, and that’s the extent of it. But I wanted a challenge, and to do something outside of my comfort zone, so poetry it was! Officially, #The100DayProject usually takes place in the spring, but I’m doing mine now, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to bust out of a creative rut or stretch themselves a little. Now that I’m about halfway through my project, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned so far:
Sometimes you have to just shove your ideas out into the world. When people talk about deciding to have kids, veteran parents always say, “you’ll never really feel ready.” I agree with this, but I think it applies to so many other things as well, including starting a business or announcing to the world that you’re just trying something new. One of the things that drew me to doing #The100DayProject was the fact that you had to share your project. With other people. Publicly. Even if you didn’t feel ready. Eek.
Sharing my work is what I struggle with most and the hurdle I knew I needed to overcome if I was ever going to put anything else creative out into the ether. I had essays and ideas I was really proud of, but I felt like I could continue tweaking them forever. I knew if I never got over my fear of sharing with the world, for people to praise or criticize or completely ignore, those things I had written would never see the light of day, and would likely just end up edited to death. So I chose my project as a low-stakes way of getting over this hurdle. As I introduced my project, I let everyone know that I wasn’t taking myself too seriously, and I knew I was not a poet, but I was going to just try something. And after the first poem I posted, it got easier from there, and I stopped worrying so much about whether what I was writing was “ready.”
Sometimes what you create won’t be good, and it might even be pretty bad. I agonized as I was posting my first poem. This is so terrible. Why did I ever think I should punish the world with my messy attempts at poetry? But then a lot of friends told me they thought it was a cool idea, and they admired what I was trying to do, even if they didn’t exactly praise the poem itself. Then, a few poems later people even told me they really liked a couple! And then, other times… no one said anything. Which was fine. Literally no one (so far) has said, “Boo, you suck, what are you even trying to do?” Maybe they’ve thought it, but almost 50 poems in, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
You care more than anyone else. See point #2. I could leave it at that, but seriously, no one cares that you’re trying to do something new and creative, even if it’s an utter failure, unless what you’re doing is harmful to someone else. People might think that what you’re doing is dumb or a waste of time or self-involved, but they will never care as much about your idea or project as you do. Even if they say something mean, they will probably move on with their day, and not think about it again. I took forever to even start posting my poems because I worried about how to format it just so, and how to introduce it, and I just overthought it in general, so much so that my poetry writing was about two weeks ahead of my actual posting. But then, I realized that no one cared, and I just started throwing my poems out there. And the worst that has happened is that I don’t like the poem and no one comments and we all move on.
Consistency is key. You know how I said sometimes, the work you do just won’t be good? Well if you keep at it, sometimes what you create might just be OK, or even kinda great! I don’t think my poetry, for the most part, is even close to good, but I have had a few poems that I will admit I’m a little proud of. Poems that I thought about throughout the day or that just struck me or that were inspired by something I was really feeling in the moment. But I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t been writing something every single day because of this project. For every good thing I write, there are probably 10 (or 100) terrible ones, but I was able to get to a few poems I liked because I kept stumbling my way through.
Have you done #The100DayProject? Tell me about your project!
If you’re interested in checking out my project for #The100DayProject and my very amateur poetry, check out my Instagram highlights on my Insta page.
Have you ever had a specific memory resurface, from years ago – one that keeps looping over and over – and you can’t figure out why?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this one specific memory from high school. It’s at the Big 9 Championships (I think?) in Michigan, and I am about to compete in a swimoff to get into the finals (I was at the bottom of the top – high-end mediocre has been my life’s motto since I can remember). It’s me and one other girl from a local high school, and she’s the cousin of one of my good swim team friends, and also someone I’ve swum with on club teams for years. I’m wearing a racing suit that isn’t our team suit, and my gangly self is probably jumping up and down by the blocks to stay warm and amped up for the race. It’s evening, a late fall indoor meet in Michigan, so the pool deck is a little less brightly lit than usual.
After that, I remember being in the water for this 50-yard showdown, kicking and pulling as fast as I can, breathing as few times as possible. And I win. I hit the pad fractions of a second before my competitor. I win. My team is so excited and everyone is jumping up and down, screaming that I had brought us a victory (for the semi-finals at least). The other girl probably calls me a bitch in a friendly way while we commend each other on a good race, and then I get out of the pool to a towel wrapped around me and lots of hugs. And then we all go home, because we’re in high school and we have another meet the next day.
I also remember a picture from this meet that was taken on the pool deck with one of my friends – I couldn’t tell you if it was before or after the race. It was taken on a disposable camera of course, since it was 2001, so no way to tell what it’s going to look like. But my hair was slicked back, I had no makeup on, and I was grinning widely and squeezing my friend like I was having the BEST time. I remember after she gave me a copy of the photo, her telling me how pretty she thought I looked, and I laughed, thinking that this was definitely not the most flattering picture of me. But looking back, I did look pretty! Not because I am a stunner immediately after taking a swim cap off, and not just because I was young and unlined (though, let’s be real, that helps). But because I was really happy and un-self-conscious, and in that moment, I was just glad to have a team and friends who came to watch our notoriously boring swim meets.
For some reason, as I’ve been listening to and watching a lot of media nostalgic for the early 2000s, this is the memory (and the associated picture) that keeps coming back to me. Not prom or graduation, not heartbreak or excitement about a crush, not even the much bigger state swim meet I went to. This memory of a regional meet, in which I had to re-race someone to get to the next day is the one I keep circling back to. Do I miss this level of competition in my life? Am I wishing for a simpler time, when all I had to do was swim my heart out and study hard? Perhaps it was the unabashed joy I felt at winning and seeing friends and the lack of concern about running around a pool deck in a literal Speedo. Or maybe I just randomly remembered this memory and now my anxiety won’t let it stop looping in my brain, won’t let me stop swimming laps in my mind.
I had hoped writing it out would bring about this moment of clarity, that I would be struck with some sort of wisdom I could share. But…it didn’t and I wasn’t. I have nothing to share with you except this memory I’ll probably keep trying to dissect. Thanks for coming along?
When talking both about my writing and about things I’ve learned about parenting, I’ve had a few friends say to me, “OMG, you should be a mommy blogger!” I do love to talk about motherhood, including birth stories, nursing/feeding, sleep schedules and tricks, and the weird things that kids love to play with that are not toys. I’ve recommended tips, tricks, and products that my friends who are parents or parents-to-be have reported back on, saying, “this saved us! Thank you!”
But I am not going to become a parenting blogger. A few reasons:
My kid has been (so far) pretty easy. I do not say this to brag, but really, in his whole 22 months of life, he has had maybe 4 weeks of really bad sleep. And with the exception of when he is teething, he eats like a champ and is pretty happy. We have some toddler meltdowns over here, but they really don’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, and once he lets it out, he’s back to playing happily. He has not yet faced any developmental issues, and he has been on track (if not well ahead of the curve) on growth milestones. I’m not saying he’s perfect by any means, but with the exception of the funny things he has started saying or doing, or the dumb parenting mistakes we’ve made (ahem, being smug about how easy your kid is? IDK), it’s not that interesting! He eats, he sleeps, he poops, he says funny things, he’s fine and pretty delightful! But what I’m more interested in writing about is how parents’ identities (especially moms’) change when they welcome a child into their lives, and the conflict there, not what I fed him for breakfast (oatmeal, for the 243rd morning in a row).
I’m not a “stuff” person when it comes to my kid. This child outgrows things in mere weeks sometimes, so we tend to not buy him a lot if we can help it (hand-me-down clothes and toys have been our saving grace here). This is not to say I don’t like stuff. I am not immune to the high that comes with the perfect new pair of booties or the random kitchen gadget you didn’t know you couldn’t live without (that my husband makes great use of). But I can probably count on two hands the number of things that I felt were must-haves for my son in the past almost two years of his life. Will I maybe do a roundup of those things at some point? Sure, why not? But could I talk about a product or service I liked for my kid every week or even multiple times a week? Probably not, and I don’t want to force it, when there are so many people who are already good at it and who do it genuinely. But for those curious, I will say: Taking Cara Babies, Peanut changing pad, and maternity leggings worn well after your baby is born for those who hate nursing tanks but also dislike being cold.
I want to write about other stuff. And not have to tie it back to being a mom somehow. When I’m writing, I first and foremost think of myself as a writer, as a person who tells stories and works through things with words. And sometimes, those stories are about my son, or I work through my complicated feelings about motherhood in my writing. But my writing has never been about one thing, and now that I’m a mom, I don’t want that to change. So while I have huge respect for the women who have carved out a niche for themselves in the parenting space (and I have benefited hugely from your recs and experiences!), that is likely never going to be me. I will write about being a mom, but I will also write about high school and college memories that I’m excavating and examining later in life and about the struggle to determine what exactly I want to do with this life I’ve been given. For some parenting bloggers, writing about this one, somewhat broad topic is so freeing and life-affirming. For me, it’s limiting. Both are OK.
So being a mommy blogger is not for me, despite being a writer who happens to be a mom. But bless the moms (and dads!) that can write about parenting and their kids every single day, when I can barely get out a post a week about whatever the hell it is I think about on a daily basis.
The cliche thing to do here would be 35 things I’ve learned about myself by 35, right? But let’s be honest – no one wants to read through a list of 35 things unless it’s a “35 Ways You Know You’re a Millennial” on Buzzfeed (dunkaroos, dial-up, and Delia’s). Plus, it would probably get a little repetitive. So here is a non-exhaustive list of things I have come to know about myself at the age of 35 (and some change)
1. I am not funny
Sure, I say a funny thing or two occasionally. I have brief flashes of wittiness. And I can be very goofy and downright weird, which might elicit a laugh here or there (however uncomfortable). But I’m not generally funny, and I am OK with that. I don’t think that not being funny makes me any less intelligent or fun to be around – you just won’t bust a gut laughing when we hang out. I think timing and the ability to not completely overthink things are key to being funny, and I don’t have either, at least never at the same time. So you can be the funny one, entertaining the group. I’ll just be over here having unnecessarily serious conversations with one person at a time.
2. I like flexibility but need routine
Having done a little freelance work in the past, and now trying to start that back up, I will say that I love not having a full day of meetings and immediate client needs. I really enjoy being able to do things when the mood strikes or when they make sense to me. Working out at 2pm? Sure! My son is napping. Am I struggling with the motivation to write in the afternoon? No problem, I’ll just shift my day around a bit and write before bed when I’m feeling really inspired.
However, I still need a routine, and by this I mean, I still need to know I am going to do something every day or a set number of times per week in order to keep up any sort of momentum. When I was on maternity leave last year, I started a few simple habits in order to give my days some sort of structure. I told myself that all I had to do was do 10 squats, 10 pushups, and write a half-page in my journal every single day. In total, these habits probably took 10 minutes out of my day, but they made me feel like I had accomplished something. But I found that if I missed more than a day, I was totally thrown and would feel a little less in control. When I got back on track, I was much calmer, thanks to the consistency, no matter when I did those things during the day. (Side note: I also tracked these habits, and still do, thanks to my friend Rachel’s book “Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together. Highly recommend.)
3. I’m an introvert
In college, I would have told you that I was tooootally an extrovert. I loved going out and meeting new people, I lived in a house with 72 other women, and was in no less than four extracurriculars at a time. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this is not the case and that I need downtime by myself. Even when we have guests whom we love staying with us, I need a little time to sit by myself with a book or go for a walk alone. And I do love meeting new people and having conversations, but it’s usually one-on-one, and rarely two days in a row.
For a while, I thought that perhaps my personality had changed since college and high school, but looking back, I think the early 2000s were just an era of extroversion – being a loud party girl was a sought after “personality,” so that’s what I tried to claim as my own. But in all honesty, while I did love parties and making new friends, I tended to gravitate toward one or two people and hang with them for most of the night. And if my ode to sitting alone in coffee shops didn’t make it clear, I’ll say this: I really, truly hated studying in groups, whether it was at the library or in a cafe. Even when friends would stop by to say hello at one of my regular study haunts, I felt like my private space – my sanctuary! – was being invaded. How did I miss this very obvious aspect of my personality?
4. I will likely never be early
Look, this isn’t one I’m super proud of, but I’m also not terribly ashamed either. I used to be VERY late to everything, and I came from a family of folks who were chronically late. It was never malicious or an intentional disregard for others’ time; rather it was a very skewed sense of time borne out of optimism. For most of my life, I always thought things would take me wayyy less time than they actually did, and that I could get far more done in an hour than I really could. So then, I would be racing toward the predetermined hour, either just getting out of the shower or frantically attempting to finish the time-intensive project I had started.
Over time, I’ve gotten a lot better about this. Having lived in two large cities where I relied on public transit, I’ve learned that all travel needs a buffer. And as the years have gone by, I’ve increased those buffers, both on the travel and getting ready side. Whereas before, I would leave exactly 25 minutes before I needed to be there because that’s what Google Maps said, these days I give myself at least 30 extra minutes in order to account for getting lost, Metro mishaps, and parking snafus. (I would also be remiss if I didn’t give my husband, a very punctual person, a little bit of credit here, but I really was working on this on my own before we met and he kind of sped up the process.) I probably will never be the person who gets places 10 or 15 minutes early, but now I am generally on time for most things I attend.
5. I will never be satisfied
This is not a Hamilton thing, nor a commentary on how driven I am. Really, it’s just understanding that I will always want for something. A little more time to perfect something I’ve written. Another piece of cake. A chance to go back in time and do more traveling, taking advantage of the fact that in my 20s, I had friends who briefly lived abroad and a back that could handle broken down pull-out couch mattresses.
But me never being satisfied doesn’t mean I can’t be happy with the life I have. It just means I have to be OK with sending things I’ve created out into the world before I’m 100% ready, accept that most times one dessert is plenty, and acknowledge that traveling in your 30s when you have a little more disposable income and/or work pays for it is way better anyway (helloooo, business class seat to Madrid for a medical meeting).
So some stuff I wish I had learned sooner, and some things that I’m continuing to learn about myself. I’m pretty happy with my level of self-awareness these days, but I know there’s no end to the learning about oneself. Maybe in five years, I’ll have a list of 40?
Even though I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, sometimes professionally and sometimes simply for the fun of it, I still ask myself all the time, “Am I a writer?” And I think when I ask myself this, I’m really saying, “but am I a good writer?” and “am I a real writer?” Questions to which I do not – and may never – have the answers.
I have a voice, yes, and I have a good grasp of grammar and sentence structure. I can write technical, dry material, and also more engaging, informal content. I’ve written web copy and press releases to explain the importance of clinical trials, and I’ve written about my opinions and experiences for fun online outlets (someone paid 25 year-old me to write a lot about online dating and weird fitness trends). But still, am I a writer?
The problem with this question is that, to me, it feels so subjective. Do I write? Yes, objectively, I put words on a page. What I get hung up on is, “well, would anyone actually pay me to do this? Or even like what I’m writing?” Or really, “if writing isn’t ALL I do, am I still a writer?”
I recently chose to leave my job at a healthcare PR and communications agency, and although my entire job consisted of being able to nail down the right words, I often struggled with calling myself a writer or describing myself succinctly outside of my PR title. I led a team of communicators to drive communications strategies for our clients at a large company, where they sat in communications roles. Sure sounds like I wrote, right? I wrote emails and annual plans and internal communications and implementation guides and web content on advances being made in various areas of healthcare. But I did a lot of other stuff too that made me wonder if I was actually a writer. If no one but my team members and clients knew that I wrote those things, if my name was never on the final product, and nothing I wrote was in my voice, was I writer? Over time, I kept asking myself this, and it was like I also forgot I wrote those things, and that I could write other things. And I started to doubt I still had the writing chops I once prided myself on.
As I’ve thought about this question over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that a lot of this has come from imposter syndrome (hi, yes, this probably was obvious to you, dear reader, from the jump) and a place of self doubt. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel wildly confident in calling myself a writer (even if I published the next great American novel, I might still be questioning my status), but if my main concern with calling myself a writer is that I haven’t put my stamp on enough writing, I guess this is as good a place to start as any. So here I am, writing, and…being a writer.
Have you ever been hesitant to claim on a title for yourself? Writer, poet, photographer, sculptor, general creative person?
Recently, I started a 100 Day Project, and I decided to go way out of my comfort zone and write short poems every day. While I don’t think I’m winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, it’s been fun to stretch myself, and it encouraged me to break out my old poetry textbooks from college (and they say an English degree isn’t useful).
As I was flipped through one of my anthologies, I started to take a closer look at the notes college me had scribbled in the margins, and I have to tell you, I was…a little impressed? I read her notes as she interpreted, questioned, and identified with poetry spanning a century. I was amazed that she had these opinions and insights, and that she shared them so freely – aloud and in writing – and without worry that they were right or wrong. Even now, I can close my eyes and remember sitting in a seminar in Angell Hall, telling my fellow students what I thought of Wordsworth and Plath and Eliot, and asking questions about poetic form and word choice, entirely unembarrassed by my curiosity and excitement about our reading for the day.
That brief time travel was both heartening and a little sad. This young woman was really cool (even if she didn’t think so at the time), and I wondered where she had gone, or if, maybe, she was still hanging around somewhere. And then I started thinking about all of the things I admired about the me of yesteryear, and what I wish I could tell her.
From the ages of eight to at least 13, I constantly told people that I was going to be a Diva when I grew up (VH1 Divas Live was huge at the time). I had gigantic glasses, terrible teeth, frizzy bangs, and didn’t hit puberty until I was a sophomore in high school, but damn, if I wasn’t confident in the fact that I would be a singer. But then in high school, when I put myself out there and my peers and teachers recognized that I actually could sing, I started to shy away from taking myself as seriously. I scoffed at a girl in my class for trying out for American Idol (I was jealous, let’s be honest), and rolled my eyes when other kids in choir would show off, singing down the halls. As I had earned a reputation as the smart kid by this point, I told everyone I was going to be a doctor when I grew up, laughing at suggestions of attempting music as a career or even a course of study. Even in college, when I sang in an a cappella group, and a few of the musical theater kids in my dorm asked if I was studying music too, I laughed, said no, and secretly told myself I wasn’t special or talented enough to even think about something like that. I wish I could tell the earlier version of me that I admired her gumption and her confidence, and that if she really loved something, there was no harm in trying.
For 20 year-old me, writing was (and still is) the passion. As I’ve mentioned before, I really loved holing up in a coffee shop every weeknight in college and digging into all of the reading I had to do for class. I loved taking notes, absorbing information, and scribbling down my interpretations of theories and essays and poems. I lived for it, and I felt so alive as my head was overflowing with ideas. And when I got to write, especially creative essays, I felt like I was doing what I was always meant to do. One of my professors told me that she thought I should seriously consider a career in writing, and I remember glowing for the rest of the week. But then I got scared, and I didn’t even apply to write for the college newspaper, didn’t show anyone but my classmates my work, and didn’t seek out any internships except for a local alternative newspaper in my hometown, where there wasn’t a ton of competition for the summer arts writer job. I made (and sometimes still make) excuses that I couldn’t pursue writing in and immediately after college because I couldn’t afford to do unpaid internships in big cities or didn’t have the connections many of my classmates did. While privilege is a very real factor in getting started in certain industries, today’s me knows that 2007 me was just really, really scared to try.
I wish I could tell college me, and 20s me, (and sometimes early 30s me) that my insights and opinions and whatever amount of talent I had were worth sharing, that being scared of trying (and I mean really trying, not starting two blogs and abandoning them just when I was starting to gain a following) was never going to get me anywhere. I want to tell younger me that avoiding rejection was not protecting me, but setting me up for future disappointment. That opportunities were meant to be seized, even when it seemed a little scary to take them. That while doing what you love seems hard now, it’s a lot harder when you have responsibilities and other people who rely on you.
The point here isn’t to tell you (or past me) how talented I was and how much potential I squandered (I’m doing fine), but to tell us both that fear can really do a number on you. And that I wish I hadn’t let it hold me back the way I did. I guess I just really want to tell younger me that she needs to be scared but still try. Not just try at the things she knows she’ll be good at, but at the things she could fail at, but that she genuinely loves. I’m not a big proponent of the “your career must be your passion” philosophy, but I do think that having something you’re excited about – at work or in your free time – makes it a lot easier to get up in the morning. And I want to tell her to hang onto that, even when things seem like they’re not going anywhere or there’s no point, or it’s not what’s paying the bills. I want to tell her to hang onto those things that make her HER.
Reading my old notes and journals is sometimes incredibly cringey, but sometimes it also feels like a perfect distillation of me. Things I still believe, along with things I know better about now. While I wouldn’t change where I am now (I have a great life with a wonderful partner and really cute kid in a city I love), part of me would love for younger me, in another universe, to go off and do the things I never did, to see where it landed her. To give things a go that I was too nervous to. To say yes to unlikely opportunities earlier than I started to. To just…try and see what happens. At 16, at 22, at 35.