Posts in Personal Growth

Writing Notes: A Deeper Look at Loneliness

When I was in 8th grade, I used to write notes to the new girls in school.

These notes, with hearts above the i’s and perfectly curved cursive, written during lesson plans I wasn’t paying attention to, were an attempt to distance myself from the misery of my first year of middle school.

That was when I marked the start of my long-standing relationship with loneliness.

During these first few months, I tried to escape loneliness with frequent trips to the nurse’s office, carrying tales of fabricated illnesses – a rouse to get a phone call home and the chance to escape another solo walk down the long and intimidating hallway of my school.

Loneliness convinced me daily of my separateness, chiding me for even considering spilling details of its existence to friends or family. Even when I began to make connections with my peers, I continued to feel the pang of “otherness,” of never fully being enveloped in any one group and only having the temporary relief of surface friendships – ones I would try to hop between in order to avoid the dark abyss of loneliness down below.

After inching painfully through this first year, the clouds parted, allowing a sliver of light to poke through. Surface friendships deepened slightly, and I created a makeshift friend group out of shared interests and utter desperation.

So I began writing notes.

I wrote to alleviate the pain I saw in those who struggled to adjust to a new school while simultaneously working through an undeniably tough season of life. I wrote because I had become so acutely aware of my own suffering and my gradual improvement that I wanted to build a wall to properly protect myself should loneliness decide to return. I wrote because, while extending a hand of friendship, I secretly hoped they could help me reverse the damage loneliness had already inflicted on me.

While friendships formed from these notes, I still never managed to shed light on the intensity of this loneliness, one that has continued to appear after a few brief hiatuses, over and over again throughout my life.

Ironically, I’ve never actually been alone.

Strong enduring relationships are actually something I excel at. Really.

Yet, over the years I’ve learned loneliness doesn’t appear in the absence of relationships. It can appear in the middle of them, in between phone calls and get-togethers. It is just as likely to appear in the middle of a crowded room as it is in a solitary night at home.

I’m just not sure why it continues to find me.

When I opted to leave my regular 9-5, along with the regular potlucks and lunchroom chats, I knew loneliness would be the side effect. Yet, struggling with this familiar emotion seemed far more bearable at the time then enduring another hour in my cubicle and counting down until another vacation day – so I leapt anyways.

Suddenly, self-employment has become life’s way of challenging me to confront my relationship with loneliness and my tendency to pad it over with temporary solutions, breathing a huge sigh of relief when it inexplicably disappears again.

At one point, I thought taking any job with people present – any job at all — might be better than forging this complicated path alone.

But I don’t want to feel as powerless to loneliness as I did when I was 13. I don’t want loneliness to be the reason why I throw in the towel to my creative endeavors and seek the more populated path.

In the past, when I’ve had conversations with those who were brave enough to expose their own relationship with loneliness, it has morphed from a feeling of shame and isolation into one of understanding and connection.

Loneliness is one of the greatest equalizers we will ever know.

Everyone, no matter how successful or famous or brilliant, has felt the familiar stab of loneliness — even if they didn’t recognize it as such.

Google “loneliness” and you’ll find a long list of tips for pushing this feeling down just below the surface. I should know – I’ve spent hours combing through the search results, looking for my own relief.

Yet, tips like calling up a friend or sitting at a coffee shop don’t approach loneliness head-on, they simply skirt the issue, hoping for it to quiet down so we can simply move on with our lives.

I don’t want to quiet it, I want to understand it. I want to know why we have this intrinsic need to connect with others and why we are so clearly steered towards doing so. I want to know why I can have a million people to reach out to, yet still feel isolated. I want to know why my life can be beautifully full and happy and I can still wake up one morning and feel inexplicably alone.

So I’m going to sit with it. And explore it. And allow it to take up residence long enough for me to understand why it’s there in the first place. I don’t believe there is a long-term solution to loneliness but a loving acceptance – one I haven’t reached yet.

This is the beginning of my loneliness journey — one I’m taking less to push loneliness out the door, but accept that it will likely always have a room in my house.

Perhaps the greatest relief is in starting a dialogue – finding human connection in the shared experiences of an emotion that is far more common than we all let on.

Follow this journey through loneliness and towards greater connection here: TheLonelinessProject.com

Why Your Plan Isn’t Always the Best Plan

A few years ago, I struggled with a constant, nagging feeling that I wasn’t actually living my life. I didn’t have the community connection I craved and week after week would pass looking exactly like the one before. I had this deep-seated fear that everyone was experiencing fulfillment that I could never quite tap into.

So I became attached to the art of planning.

If things weren’t going to happen spontaneously for me – as I was convinced they did for everyone else – I would make a valiant effort to fill my calendar and say “yes” far more often than I said no. I imagined my future to be filled with realized goals, and I created smaller plans to fill larger plans.

For all intents and purposes, it worked. I was busier than I ever had been in my life, doling out chunks of time left and right because I wanted my life to be brimming with, well, life.

Having a plan gave me direction, predictability and the reassurance that I was moving towards something I could feel good about.

But what happens when the plan we’ve created isn’t the one in the cards for us?

In my last position, I started to feel this persistent itch of boredom and a gradual drain of fulfillment around the two-year mark. These feelings weren’t in the plan. I attempted to shift my attitude, believing I was experiencing an overall life-burnout that was driving this unhappiness at work.

Then, in a conversation with a friend, a no-filter moment found me saying this, “Every time I walk into the office I feel dead inside.”

And clearly, there’s no coming back from that sentiment.

It wasn’t in my long-term plan to ditch a steady and more-than-enough paycheck to pursue the hazy and hard-to-define goal of freedom. In fact, if someone would have told me a year ago to consider adding that into my plan, I would have laughed. That’s not concrete enough for me.

But believing we can always create the best plan for ourselves is ignorant at best.

I have the not-so-attractive quality of believing my way is the best way to get things done. When I was faced with a group project in school, I would often take over the entire thing because I felt that was the best way to create a cohesive final product. Not only did this disregard the talents of the other people in my group, but it left me with a ridiculously heavy workload.

In the same type of I-know-best fashion, I have come to believe the plan I carve out for myself is the absolute best-case scenario. But is that really the case?

If I would have followed through with my plan and what I deemed the “best case scenario” five years ago, I would be in a miserable marriage with a man who didn’t love or respect me in the way I deserved.

Thankfully there was a much grander plan that I would have never had the ability to piece together from my limited vantage point.

That’s the key: sometimes we can’t see the bigger picture from where we’re standing. We can’t create the best plan possible because we don’t know what will enter our path a week, a month, or a year from now.

So sometimes a plan is not having a plan or trusting that the perfect plan just hasn’t revealed itself yet.

Waking up without a set schedule and a workload that’s fluid, I’m learning something important about creating a plan: it’s not all about taking action. Sometimes it’s far more beneficial to listen and wait to be guided to the perfect next step by feeling. This is how we can allow ourselves to let the perfect plan reveal itself, instead of muscling it into fruition.

And, it’s always good to remember — sometimes the plan you spent time perfecting just wasn’t that great to begin with.

Finding the Excitement in the Missing Puzzle Pieces

For me, goals have never been concrete mile markers but fluid ideas of what I want my life to look like. They may not be formally documented or discussed, but in the mind of a perfectionist, they are serious business.

Turning these ideas into a tangible reality is messy. I tend to be on a constant roller coaster of confidence and self-doubt, wrestling with the notion that there are some things I can’t control and others that I may not be doing enough to try to control.

Most of the time I trust in the process. Other times, I’d much rather have a breakdown over all the things that just don’t seem to be moving in the way I’d like or deem necessary.

Yesterday, when I received an email that could positively impact the reach of my writing, I was thrilled. This was a clear light on my path to creating a sustainable business.

Then, life continued on, and my mind started churning with all of the next steps I needed to take over the next few weeks.

Large goals are quick to overshadow small victories

Keeping your eye on the prize is great – necessary even – and a big downer when you’re trying to remember all of the amazing victories that are substantially smaller in size.

When I had just turned 25, a breakup and a newspaper job with an embarrassingly small salary forced me to return to my parent’s house. Priority number one at this point was landing a new job and larger paycheck. When I landed said job with a nearly 100% pay increase, the celebration was muted by the next step – landing a killer apartment I could handle on my own. When that was accomplished, my attention was already on to the next thing before the ink could even dry on the leasing papers.

Large goals or a larger life picture often force us to look ahead when there are amazing things happening right now in front of us. Without these small steps and minor victories, those larger goals wouldn’t actually have a solid foundation to sit upon.

The joy in finding the missing puzzle piece

When I was younger, my sister and I went through an intense puzzle phase. We would spend hours putting together scenes of Ariel’s underwater castle or Beauty and the Beast’s elaborate wedding scene, with no desire to leave the table or change out of our pjs.

Once we finally managed to reach the end, it was always somewhat of a letdown. We didn’t care about seeing the scene fully intact, we could already tell from the box lid what it would look like.

It was the process that we enjoyed. The process of scouring hundreds of puzzle pieces for that one specific piece that somehow miraculously fit after we swore they must have forgotten to put it the box. Those were the moments of genuine elation.

What do you have without small victories?

If I stop to think about the goals I’ve worked to meet, it’s exactly the same. The real excitement comes from the small victories that renew my faith in all that’s possible, that create forward movement towards a new realization or discovery.

The excitement and anticipation has dissipated substantially once that finish line is reached. That’s human nature – we quickly adapt to things that at one point seemed novel. We are on to the next once we see an outline of what the final picture will look like.

So really, if we don’t enjoy the process, we’re skipping over the really awesome parts – all the small pieces of good news you want to share with those closest to you, all the small steps that spur your imagination for what might happen.

Without these victories, we only have a fully intact puzzle without the really enjoyable hours of putting it together. And where’s the fun in that?

You Can’t See the Future (and That’s a Good Thing)

When I was in the midst of a life-shattering breakup, I didn’t lay awake at night wishing for the relationship to return to solid ground. I didn’t even wish for him to have a change of heart. Instead, I prayed for the ability to see one year into the future. I simply needed to know that eventually, at some point I would be in tact – breathing, enjoying life and as far removed from the painful present moment as possible.

Unfortunately, we can’t glimpse into the future. And we can never be certain that on this date, one year later, we will be in a better emotional, physical, or mental state than we are today. I, however, was. I gained perspective over that period of time I didn’t think was possible. I reconnected with myself and realized how capable I was of living a vibrant life all on my own.

Some three years after that ordeal, the struggle is in creating the professional life I can only imagine would feel better than the one I have been living over the past year. In exchange for creative freedom and ownership of my time, I handed over a steady paycheck and a cushy safety net of healthcare benefits and a pension.

And I found myself, again, wishing I could see one year into the future, to know that the decisions I’m making today won’t leave a gaping hole in my financial security. To know that this leap would leave me with a full plate of work, but also the flexibility and freedom I had been dreaming of.

A glimpse into the future and a lack of growth in the present

No matter how much I want the ability to know everything will be pieced together in a way I deem perfect, there are no guarantees, only room to exercise faith. Faith that each step will be illuminated once I get there, and not a moment before. Faith that I reached this moment for a reason, and no journey can be authentic if I already know the ending place.

If I would have known at the onset of my breakup that 15 months later I would meet my best friend and begin a relationship so perfectly suited to me and what I needed in my life, I wouldn’t have worked as hard to establish my own independence. I wouldn’t have accepted dates or worked to figure out what type of partner would compliment the life I wanted to have.

Why the past solidifies the need to believe

Knowing the future would have made me complacent in the present and stunted my growth in ways I wouldn’t have even been aware of.

For this reason, I choose to trust in this journey to establishing a career I am happy to reunite with on Monday mornings. I trust that every door closed and every struggle to gain some kind of solid footing is simply preparing me for the next step. And the next step will resemble more and more of the life I want to live.

We may not have the ability to flip the calendar, but we can see how things in the past have unraveled themselves in the most perfect way, and trust that we will look back on the current situation with the same 20/20 vision.

Changing My Relationship With Time

Since leaving the 3.5 walls of my cubicle and the comfortable paycheck I received in exchange for spending hours in what felt like a timeout corner, time has taken on an entirely new meaning. Time used to be what I wasted as I wrestled with the gnawing feeling that I would never feel passion towards anything work-related again. Time was what I counted as I waited for the next Friday to appear. I hated time and its insistency that it could only move at a glacial speed.

Now, with no walls surrounding me, time is something I’ve come to both respect and fear. Days that used to feel like years suddenly disappear at lightening speed, leaving me with the pit of anxiety spurred by a perceived lack of activity. Before, lack of activity would still result in a paycheck — now there’s no such safety net.

As I push forward into this new, foreign way of living, time has come to represent so may things – what was wrong with where I was, and what I will have to overcome in order to build a fulfilling life.

Time doesn’t have to be sold to the highest bidder.

We willingly hand over the vast majority of our lives in exchange for a steady paycheck. A forty-hour workweek is the accepted norm, and every pay raise just means your time is seen as slightly more valuable than before.

Instead I want to sell my work in exchange for a paycheck and have my time be my own. I want to determine when it’s best for me to allocate my time to work and when it is better spent growing the other areas of my life that are equally as important.

Time shouldn’t take center stage every day of our lives.

Yesterday, as I moved from appointment to meeting to conference call, I realized that my day had passed smoothly without any consideration given to time. It was the end of the day and it felt like it had just begun.

While some days this feeling sparks a sense of overwhelm, in this instance it suddenly felt like I had been so fulfilled that I didn’t need to wish for time to do anything else than just exist.

Passion and a sense that there are so many amazing, fulfilling things to be accomplished makes it completely unnecessary to long for another weekend or a later hour. It is entirely possible for each weekday to be filled with the satisfaction vacation can bring.

Time will pass in exactly the manner it is meant to.

I am neither ahead nor behind, I am exactly where I need to be. That is precisely what this new relationship with time is pushing me to trust.

I have always been a firm believer that life unfolds exactly at the right time in the exact manner it needs to. Therefore, a certain day on the calendar or time on the clock can not indicate to me that I have allocated my time in a way that is anything other than perfect for what I need in my life right now.

Time can just be one small indicator of where I am on this crazy journey I find myself on.

What’s your relationship to time?