The paradox and pain of choice

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Photo by Mister M on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about the paradox of choice. We live in an age where it seems you can create a business out of anything. Jobs exist now that people couldn’t haveĀ  imagined 100, 50, or even 20 years ago, and new niches continue to be carved out.

Despite this seemingly endless landscape of opportunity–the idea that you can achieve your dreams if you work at them, and if you want them badly enough–we’re unhappy. Diagnoses of mental health conditions are on the rise. This could in part be due to greater awareness and conversation around mental health, but I think it’s also tied to the overwhelming amount of information and mental stimuli we have access to in this age of the Internet and social media.

The idea of the “American Dream” used to be a steady job, a spouse, a house, two kids, a white picket fence. This is shifting. Our ideals are shifting. The dream is self-employment. It’s financial freedom. It’s a husband, a wife, or independence. It’s no kids or maybe five kids. It’s an apartment, a condo, a van.

There was a time when you accepted that you had to work. You got a job, you fed your family. Maybe you didn’t love it, but you didn’t question it. Now we’re regularly faced with an appeal to “live our truth” and follow our dreams–with the lifestyles of influencers and Instagram models making it seem like we made a mistake somewhere. The 9-to-5 culture is increasingly viewed as a trap rather than an achievement. How did we end up here?

I’m all for self improvement, and I’ve fallen into it full force this year in a quest to find peace and meaning with my every day. There isn’t harm in it on its own, but the danger is falling into the habit of constantly seeking the unattainable. There’s always a new way to do things better, faster, simpler; to be stronger more resilient, kinder to ourselves, more productive, more social, more self disciplined. We’ll never achieve perfection, so of course we’re dissatisfied. We’re constantly told that we’re doing the wrong things in the wrong way, our discontentment affirmed by someone else’s tropical vacation. Once you’ve started to question whether what you’re doing is worth doing, you allow doubt to creep in and take its hold. It never will be enough, because there will always be something new.

There’s something to a simpler time–of accepting your fate or accepting your choice and moving forward. There’s a reason why successful people wear the same outfit every day. We have a limited capacity to make decisions. Decisions used to be for bigger moments, but now we make several before we even get to breakfast, and we run the risk of depleting our mental reserves.

I fully recognize that I’m writing this as a white woman of privilege, and that for many people, there is still no opportunity. I don’t mean to imply otherwise. What I have been struggling with is the awareness that a lot of my perceived problems are a result of the comparison trap–and that a degree of surrender to circumstance can have a positive impact.

If you read this ramble all the way through (thank you!), what do you think? Can you relate? How do you combat the comparison trap?

 

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This is 32

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32: no makeup, just me

I turned 32 on Friday.

It’s cliche, but I don’t feel 32, at all. In my mind, I still feel like I’m in my early 20s, if not younger. I’ve grown and changed over the years, sure, but I still have a lot of the same doubts and worries I struggled with at 16.

I’m at the age where I need to start thinking about wrinkle prevention, but I’m still struggling with acne. I constantly buy new products to try but am stubborn about going to the dermatologist. I hate making any type of doctor’s appointment–or talking on the phone in general. Online scheduling only, please. Same goes for pizza delivery.

I try to eat well, but I overdo it sometimes. My eyes are bigger than my stomach. I haven’t figured out portion control. I don’t binge like I used to, but I still have times where I eat based on emotions rather than hunger. I can’t keep ice cream in the freezer. I also still have nights where I drink too much. I wake up swearing that I will never drink again, but inevitably, one beer will turn into three. (Granted, it doesn’t take much.)

I’m probably more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been–it really is true that the older you get, the less you care what people think of you. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. I still get insecure–in my work, in my relationship, in my friendships. If I hear someone whispering, I always think they are talking about me. There are times when I feel confident and other times when I feel like everyone is judging me. If I’m out by myself, I’m always on high alert (SSDGM). That’s just being cautious, though.

I haven’t figured out my personal style. I guess that’s not true–I haven’t figured out a professional style. I rush out the door like a hot mess most mornings. My closet is an entire bedroom, but there are still days with nothing to wear. I’ll change shirts five times and pants another three, before settling on the same jeans and a t-shirt (my uniform of choice). I don’t know how to look “put together.” I’ll sometimes take fashion risks, but half the time I’ll talk myself out of it before I leave the house (see above).

I haven’t grown out of my teenage moodiness. I have a temper, and the most inane things will set me off. I take things personally, even when I know it’s not personal. I’m not great in emotional situations. I don’t visit my family enough. I have a lot of guilt, but I don’t take a lot of action.

To some, 32 is young, and to others, it’s old. My point is, I haven’t got it figured out. Most days I feel like I’m stumbling through adulthood, trying to figure out who let me live unsupervised. I don’t know what I’m doing. Neither does anyone. When we’re younger, we look at adulthood like some magical solution. One day, our problems will be solved. We’ll have all the answers. It’s just “adolescence.” Then you get older, and you’re still waiting for that day. The timeline shifts. Your problems evolve and change, but they’re still there.

We’re imperfect. It’s part of the beauty of it all. All I can do is try to be better each day. Recognize my faults but also my strengths. Be grateful for what I have and for each opportunity to try again. There’s bad days, sure–but there’s a lot of joy, too.

This is 32.

My own worst enemy

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“Don’t Believe Everything You Think” print by Mel Cerri. Available on Society6.

Lit was right–I am my own worst enemy. (Quick vote: worst or best way to start a blog post?)

I’m noticing that the biggest challenge I face each day is myself. Take yesterday, for example: I received some GREAT news, had a lovely work lunch, and my husband and I were productive for once and ran some errands after work. It felt like everything was going our way.

I ended the night by overeating and feeling bad about myself. I’m not sure what happened. I had dinner and was really full but started to feel kind of down. I then proceeded to eat too much ice cream, even though I knew it would make me feel like garbage.

This is just a small example, but it’s one to which some of you can relate. I make goals, I make progress, and I self sabotage. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s like I can’t trust myself to improve, to be happy, to do the right thing.

It’s not ice cream that’s the problem (although weirdly enough, when I searched “sabotage” on a photo search site, a picture of ice cream popped up). It’s the fact that I do things on a regular basis that don’t benefit me. My rational brain warns me of the consequences, but I continue anyway.

Sometimes I eat too much ice cream, even though eating a lot of sugar makes me feel like crap (I love it so much though). I pick at my face, even though I know it will just make the situation worse. I yell at my husband, even though I hate making him feel bad. I drink too much in social situations because I don’t know what else to do. I buy things I don’t really need. I decline invites to events I really want to go to, because anxiety. I don’t speak up enough. I doubt myself.

Life is a constant battle against enemy number one: our inner critic. In the book You Are A Badass (highly recommend), Jen Sincero talks about how once you finally start to enact positive change in your life, it seems like everything else aligns against you. Things will go wrong. You have to trust and push through.

I complained to my husband, asking why I always do this. Is the five minutes of pleasure I get from the self sabotage worth the hours of guilt and grief? Honestly, sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t. He told me to look at each situation, think about how I’d feel after, and decide whether it would be worth it. The hard part is, it always seems worth it in the moment.

Still, I think it’s good advice. It at least forces me to face the issue and think about the consequences. If I deem it worth it, I should proceed, guilt free. If not, I’ll know I made the right decision.

Whichever choice we make, the most important thing–and the most difficult–is to accept it and move on. There are other days, other choices. We can acknowledge that maybe we made the wrong decision for us at that time, but there’s no reason or benefit to feeling guilty about it. Learn from the situation and consider it next time you are in the same position. If you make the same mistake again, so be it. Circumstances were different. Acknowledge, reflect, and move forward.

Each day is a new opportunity to try.

 

Tell me: Do you struggle with self sabotage? How do you keep yourself in check?

Managing expectations when things don’t go as planned

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Photo by Jake Hinds on Unsplash

This week has been a struggle. I’m finally starting to feel better, but whatever hit me wiped me out. The thing is, I had a lot I was supposed to do this week, especially at work. Monday took me by surprise–I was mentally ready and motivated to take on the week, but I ended up sidelined.

It’s difficult when we’ve envisioned how something will play out but then life takes us in another direction. My feeling ill is just a small example, but it can still be frustrating. I know that I should be capable of doing much more, but my body isn’t cooperating. It’s hard not to feel like a bit of a slacker.

I wrote a little bit on recognizing the fluid notion of being our “best,” and this is a similar scenario. It’s important to understand that our “best” changes from day to day. Still, it’s hard not to feel disappointed or let down when things don’t go as planned, especially when you’re the one who is responsible.

It’s important to be kind to ourselves in these situations, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We need to take a step back and understand that there are things out of our control (still not easy!). The main thing is to not take any disappointment as a reflection on yourself, even if you feel like you’re the cause. These feelings change–what seems hopeless today might feel like no big deal by tomorrow. Whether it’s minor sickness, stress, despair, deadlines, confrontation, or just something you don’t want to do–it doesn’t last forever.

Focus on doing what you can–it’s enough for today. Don’t give up. When you’re ready and able, do a little more.

There’s always tomorrow.

Tell me: How do you deal with disappointment?

Changing with the seasons

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Beach in Caseville, MI

I’ve alluded to it before, but the seasons and the weather have a huge effect on my overall mood. In summer, I’m blissful and busy, with regular trips to the beach and abundant sunshine keeping a smile on my face. Once the temperature drops, however, I go into hibernation mode. I have a hard time leaving the house, let alone feeling motivated. At first, I embrace the extra time at home and try to make the most of it, but eventually, I start to feel restless and discouraged in my day-to-day life–like I’m missing out, letting it pass me by.

I was looking forward to March bringing longer days with Daylight Savings (it is nice that it’s still light out now when I leave work!). The trouble is that I was expecting some instantaneous shift–like I’d automatically feel better the second I set the clocks back.

Guess what? I don’t. I dug myself so deep into a hole this winter that I’m having trouble crawling back out. It’s not just this year–it happens every year. Last March, we spent a week in Miami, and it made a HUGE difference in my mood that sustained me the entire month. It just shows how important taking a vacation really is–sometimes all you need is that shift in perspective.

An immediate trip isn’t in the cards (even though I keep looking at travel deals), so how do I channel those vacation vibes when I’m still here at home?

What makes me feel really good about being on vacation? A warm locale certainly helps, but really it’s the careless nature of it all. I get to say “BYE!” to my responsibilities for a few days and prioritize feeling good, disconnecting, and trying new things. It’s an excuse for doing what you really want (why not have the fries and ice cream–I’m on vacation!). Why not do that every day? What makes heading out on a weekend road trip any different from heading home? A change in scenery can have an impact, but ultimately it’s the shift in mindset.

I want to live every day like I’m on vacation.

It isn’t easy, and it takes time, but we’ve got to alleviate some of the burden we place on ourselves. This isn’t a call to abandon your duties, and you shouldn’t just blow off jobs or commitments, but the world is NOT going to end if you don’t submit that TPS report. What we’re capable of varies from day to day, and we should honor that, not inflict punishment.

Find a way each day to bring a little bit of vacation and joy into your life–whether that means wearing bright colors, meeting friends for happy hour, listening to upbeat music, or spending time by yourself. The to-do list never really ends, and we’ve got to release some of the hold it has on us. Make personal satisfaction a priority in your life.

This is something I’ll personally be working on, and I hope you’ll consider it, too. Let’s live it up!

Tell me: Is your mood affected by the seasons? Where did you go on your last vacation? What’s one thing you can do today to feel good?