Leaving Your Comfort Zone

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

When I was growing up, I never understood this quote. People around me always quoted it as a great source of inspiration, but I just thought it was foolish. Thinking about my fears, the very last thing I wanted to do is something every day that scared me. I will never not run away like a screaming fool every time I see a rat, and I will never go skydiving or bungee jumping. Those are just plain, simple, non-negotiable avoidances of my own fears.

But recently, I’m coming to understand this quote in a new light. It’s not literal. Eleanor Roosevelt wouldn’t want us to pee our pants because we are doing something that terrifies us (I don’t think…). But rather, it’s speaking more to going outside of your comfort zone. In my comfort zone, I am safe. I am content. Everything is familiar. But in order to fully acknowledge your own strengths and your own self, you have to be able to step outside of your comfort zone, and that in itself is a terrifying thought.

Lately, the Universe has been showing me that I am capable of a lot more than I think I am, or that I ever thought I could be, after I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone. Some examples:

  1. When I was in Costa Rica, I built shelters – lifting literal tree trunks, using a machete, nailing in bamboo rods. I’ve never done anything like this before.
    • I am stronger than I thought.
  2. When I moved into my new apartment, there was a lot to update – I had to set up a second rod in the closet, hang hooks for our pots and pans, and install a tile backsplash by the stove. Never in a million years would I ever consider myself a “handy man,” until we moved and these things had to be done.
    • I am smarter than I thought. 
  3. When I prematurely sent my book to a few publishers and was rejected by every single one, I was able to continue writing and continue to feel inspired by my story.
    • I am more resilient than I thought.

The underlying statement is: I am more than I thought. And I would’ve never seen this if I wasn’t put in these difficult situations, situations that I never wanted to be in. However, the Universe had other plans. It’s funny what comes your way in life, what situations we are all put in, and why. They say everything happens for a reason, right?

Simultaneously, after complaining to a friend this week about not achieving some of my own personal goals, she questioned me on what was holding me back. “You are the only one standing in your way,” she told me. “Take that French class!” I could hear the little voice in my head saying. “Write that book!” All of a sudden, I felt a flood of demands enter my head, as soon as the blocker of myself was knocked down. Maybe the reason I never took a language class is because I was afraid of embarrassment. And maybe the reason I’m hesitant to finish my book is because I’m afraid of failure.

Inspired by the need to step out of my comfort zone, and to knock down my own self-blocking, I created a small list of tasks for myself to accomplish that are definitely outside of my comfort zone:

  1. Sign up for a language class, French and/or Italian, despite the fear of embarrassment
  2. Write articles to send into online publications, despite the fear of failure
  3. Go see some of my favorite drag queens in NYC, despite the fear of sometimes being uncomfortable at gay bars
  4. Commit to working out regularly, despite the fear of humiliation amongst muscled body builders
  5. Create a business, despite the fear of being unsuccessful

Writing out that list, I realize how much is still holding me back. Unconsciously, I feel tied down by fear. It can be crippling, and clearly, limiting. Maybe we do need to do one thing every day that scares us. Maybe that’s the only way for us to release those fears, so then maybe one day, we will be fearless. And without that fear surrounding the things we want most, maybe then, we can truly be free from ourselves and achieve more than we ever thought possible.

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The Tower of Twentysomething Terror

When I started learning how to read tarot cards, I was equally thrilled and terrified. I felt the need to connect with the Universe on a spiritual level, and using the tarot cards helped me to achieve that. I found beautiful cards, with gorgeous illustrations of flowers, angels, and clear blue skies – cards like Strength, The Lovers, and the Ten of Cups.

But then there were other cards that I dreaded. The Devil, Death, and the Tower. The Devil and Death are self-explanatory. For some, the ideas of the Devil and of Death are terrifying enough – but the cards themselves are relatively factual. There is no emotion in the depiction of the cards – they are just symbols.

But The Tower card is different. It depicts two people, who are clearly in agonizing pain, jumping out of a burning tower. What’s worse is that there are mountains at the bottom of the card, so you know that these two people are ultimately leaping to their death.

tower

Two weeks ago, I had an awful dream – a nightmare – one of the worst I can ever remember. I was in a crowded room with everything and everyone I loved, and we were all burning in flames. I tried to exit the room, but it was just eternal flames, licking the walls around me, no matter where I went. I woke up panicked, and even just typing it out now, my heart is starting to race. I walked around for a few days after the nightmare in a constant state of fear and anxiety. But then, a few nights later, I woke up again in a similarly startled way. I couldn’t remember my dream, but all I could envision was The Tower card. I woke up with the image burned into my head.

Despite popular belief, The Tower card doesn’t represent an untimely death. The Tower card, in my interpretation, always means sudden and drastic change. It’s feeling stuck in a life that you feel is so unbearable that you are almost about to jump from your metaphorical tower, even if there are mountainous rocks at the bottom of your fall. It’s a life where you will risk anything to just experience something different, where you crave something new, or when so much life is about to happen for you.

Is it just me, or does this card sound like the entire twentysomething experience?

Although for me, these past two weeks have felt especially Tower-like, with a lot of drastic and sudden changes happening or about to happen in my life.

  1. Finding a new apartment
  2. Living in a new borough
  3. Starting a new chapter with my boyfriend
  4. Finding a new appreciation for my job

It seems like everything in my life is new. And while I usually appreciate the change of scenery, it was an awful lot to take on at once.

These are some of the ways I learned to manage this past week or two, if you are ever feeling a Tower type of moment.

  • Take Deep Breaths*
    • *A lot of deep breaths. I found myself throughout these past two weeks just having to stop for a minute, taking in a deep breath, and continuing on about my day. Maybe it’s meditation, journaling…whatever calms you.
  • Manage Your Time
    • I know I am a slow packer, but I also know that I like to work under pressure. So, I took a half day on Friday and spend all afternoon packing. It was great, and I still had time at night to watch a few Parks & Rec episodes.
  • Find People Who Ground You
    • When going through a stressful time, it’s always helpful to talk with friends or family who bring you back to your center – people who remind you of who you are. I have one friend in particular who likes to say, “Michael, stop. Take a deep breath and relax!” And it isn’t until she says that that I know I was probably about to jump off the edge, so I appreciate her always reining me back in.
  • Learn To Say No
    • Over the last two weeks, there were things I wanted to do, events I wanted to attend, friends I wanted to see – but at the end of the day, I knew I had other priorities that had to come first.
  • Focus On Your Sphere Of Influence
    • All of my new life areas are so big picture, and they are all out of my sphere of influence. I really had to focus on what I could control since so many things in my life I couldn’t control at that time (I guess I really am Type A…). Focus on what’s right in front of you – one day, or one minute – at a time.

And now that the worst of the Tower moments are over -the anxiety and the waiting – I can now say that I feel at peace. I feel that everything happens for a reason. And now, sitting here, in my new apartment, I almost feel like a reincarnated version of myself. And I know that the jump was worth it.

#goals

There are three major times throughout the year where I sit down and critically reflect on my life – where I am and where I want to be. Oftentimes, this leads to a long series of conversations about goals, both long-term and short-term, both task-oriented and vision-oriented. Those three times are, without a doubt:

  1. New Year’s Eve
  2. My Birthday, and
  3. Whenever I feel like my life is a hot mess

Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve been falling into the third category most recently. Also, by process of elimination, it’s not New Year’s Eve, it’s not my birthday, and yet, here I am writing about #goals. Nothing serious is going on, no one needs to worry about me, but it’s just that lately, everything in my life has been in flux. My job has been stressful, which is prompting me to think about other career opportunities, the lease of my apartment is up in June, but I’m looking to sublet for May, which means I’ve also been searching for an apartment. So, quite literally, I’ve been in the process of uplifting my entire life and moving it around. Granted, I don’t think this is all bad – I think times of transition and change can be healthy – although, stressful.

I feel like I haven’t been able to focus on anything these past few months. My mind feels all over the place. To use another metaphor: I’m someone who uses several tabs on my computer when I’m browsing the web. For every thought I have, I have a new tab. I always mean to use the feature as a “I’ll come back to you later,” but what actually ends up happening is that I just continue to increase my tabs, never coming back to any of them, until my computer forces itself to shut down because I have too many tabs open for it to handle. My IT friends are probably cringing. Don’t worry. I’ve learned my lesson.

In an alternate attempt to write out my thoughts, I’m taking a different approach. A friend of mine at work has planned out her entire professional portfolio for the next year on post-its, posting them on her windows and walls, scattered all over her office. I decided to steal her idea, but use it for my personal life. Each goal is a new post-it. And since I’m moving within the next two weeks (hopefully), I didn’t want to liter my walls with paper with such transient circumstances.

Instead, I decided to create a digital version using note.ly (which I would recommend).

BEHOLD:

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 8.38.52 AM.png

Doesn’t it look so clean and so pretty??! Or maybe, it’s just the Type A nerd in me coming to life, the one who still, to this day, gets excited about new office supplies…

Anyways. I wrote out all of the thoughts in my head, all of the goals that I have for myself in the near future, but also, some for the not-so-near future. I’m considering my own organizational approach:

  • Row 1: Goals that I need to stop talking about, and just start doing. Although all of these goals will take time to participate in, they take no time to commit to. For example, I’ve talked about wanting to join a writing group for the longest time. I need to stop talking about it, and just do it. It’s not the time factor that I’ve been hesitant about, it’s the commitment.
  • Row 2: Goals that will take some more time, or goals that I’m considering for the relatively near future, but not immediately. Learning a new language takes time, so I added it in this category. And as for joining a chorus or getting a tattoo, I know I want to do those things, but those are farther in the future.
  • Row 3: Goals that are long-term, or will take a substantial amount of time. Writing a book is something I can work on every day, but publishing a book is different. These are goals that, in the meantime, I can work towards, but may not accomplish until the distant future (and that’s okay).

Just by organizing all of my goals, all of the things I want to do in my life in this moment, I feel like I have automatically organized my life. I found myself feeling bad if I wasn’t writing 24/7, because I wasn’t working towards my goal of finishing and publishing a book. But then I realized I was just working towards different goals. And I couldn’t be mad at myself if I wasn’t writing because I was working towards other goals, even if those other goals were just crocheting a blanket while re-watching the entire Parks & Rec series.

I’m also sharing my goals here, recognizing that it’s a vulnerable experience. I’m sharing my goals, and subsequently, my life. But I’m sharing in hopes that someone reading this will say, “Hey! That’s one of my goals, too!” and we can link up together to achieve that goal.

And in the words of Tony Robbins, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”

Building Your Personal Board of Directors

Happy Sunday, again, friends! I have to tell you, this week has felt like seven weeks. Each day has felt longer than the last, and they’ve all felt like a long Monday, which is just the worst. Long story short, it’s been a tough week, folks, but I’m happy now that I am able to sit down for a minute, take a break, enjoy this cup of tea on my couch, and write.

I’ll spare you of the details, but you know that feeling where you’re just meant for something bigger and better? I’ve been getting that a lot this week, which would also imply I am currently feeling quite stuck in my current position.

BUT, I will say, there have been some amazing people who’ve been there to show me some light at the end of this arduous tunnel. In Student Affairs, we have an activity with students called “Building Your Personal Board of Directors.” The student draws a rectangle in the middle of the page with six circles around it, representing chairs that each of their Board members will sit in. We ask:

  • Who sits at this table in your life?
  • How do you decide who gets a coveted spot at this table?
  • Who influences you?
  • How did you decided who to include? To not include?

And so on. This week, I’ve had to think a lot about who is at my own personal Board of Directors table, and frankly, who is not. And the more I learn, the more I realize that deciding who not to include is just as important as who to include. In the words of Leslie Knope, “If you’re gonna act like an ass, I can’t talk to you. Ever.” [On a side note, I started re-watching Parks & Rec, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in this high-stress time.]

But it’s the truth. If someone is acting like a jerk, or sucking out all of your energy, or infusing negativity into your day, it’s just going to have to be a big PASS for me from now on. And almost as if the Universe has heard me loud and clear, I’ve started receiving all of this positive energy into my life since making that decision. In addition to this god-awful week, I’ve had so many positive reminders of who should be sitting on my personal Board of Directors, and I am eternally grateful.

  1. First, foremost, and always, my sister. Because her music taste is impeccable, I texted her early in the week asking if she had any recommendations for “stress-free-vibes” music. And within the hour, she had created a playlist for me, titled Stress Free Vibes, with over 100 songs and more than 7 hours of music!! I just love her. I will always need her on my board.
  2. After messaging a friend on Facebook, sharing the latest drama, she immediately invited me over to share a Blue Box meal with her – a home-cooked meal at her apartment! “Bring the wine!” she said, and I happily agreed. She reminded me that I’m not alone, even when it feels like I am.
  3. After texting a friend who lives many hours away, when I was in the thick of it all, I was able to really process and reflect on what was happening, albeit, via text. She reminded me to take some deep breaths, take a walk, and that the Universe was on my side.
  4. I got drinks with a coworker (and friend) this week. It was towards the end of the week, when I probably had built up so much stress that steam was coming out of my ears. With no preface, she popped in my office, “Are you okay? Wanna grab a drink?” Within 5 minutes, we were at the closest bar. She provided validation and affirmation, and made me feel like I was sane again.
  5. If anyone knows me, sharing a cup of coffee with a friend is like the ultimate way to spend my time. And this week, I went into work late so I could spend time with a friend and share a cup of coffee. This friend reminded me of my purpose, where my truth lies, and that if we are truly living our genuine, authentic selves, there’s nothing to worry about. And if we aren’t, we better start thinking of a plan to start living more authentically, because we owe it to ourselves.

We owe it to ourselves to build ourselves up. And in order to do that, we need to pick the people to be on our personal Board of Directors who are going to help us grow and develop, who are going to support us, love us, and just be there.

So thank you, to my Board of Directors. I really needed you this week!

Clearing Your Mind

I have never been very good at meditation. Ever since moving to New York City, I am constantly surrounded by noises – blaring ambulances, screeching taxi cabs, endless conversations buzzing around my head. By the time I’m finally able to sit down at the end of a long, noisy day, the last thing I can do is “clear my mind.” Although, it’s probably the only thing that I should be doing.

This weekend, I travelled upstate to visit family and spend time away from the city. It was…peaceful. Relaxing. Calm. I barely thought about work. And the new noises that surrounded me were chirping birds, warm “hellos” from strangers, and familiar laughter. Upstate, in comparison with New York City, is a whole different world.

And maybe it was a coincidence, but as if by magic, I was finally able to clear my mind this weekend. All the recent stress from work seemed to melt away. I was reminded of the bigger priorities in my life – family, friends, fun. This weekend reminded me of who I truly am, rather than a tensed-up stress-ball (which is how some co-workers might view me, especially in the most recent weeks).

And maybe most importantly, as I was sitting in my local hometown coffee shop, a feeling came over me: I finally felt ready to start writing again.

Since November, I had taken a break from the book that I’ve been trying to write for the past three years. I needed some space from the manuscript. And now, four months later, I feel ready to approach it once more. Call it a coincidence, but I feel like being upstate for the weekend allowed my mind to clear itself, which allowed more room for the things I actually care about. In particular, writing.

Sitting in that coffee shop, I looked up at my boyfriend who was visiting home with me. I said, “I think I’m ready to start writing again…” and for the next hour, I was hunched over my laptop, tapping away eagerly at the keys. New ideas flooded into my mind – breathing life into stale characters and overused plot lines. I suddenly had the motivation to organize the story into a neat outline for myself, which will inherently help me in the future. I am excited to continue this work, but I was also feeling conflicted – why did it take me four months and a trip upstate for me to clear my mind enough to be able to start writing again? And more importantly, when I’m feeling bogged down by the daily life of New York City, how can I make sure that my mind is clear, to make room for bigger and better priorities?

  1. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
    • Reflecting now, I realize that most of the space in my mind on a daily basis is taken by things that don’t matter. Other people may think it’s important, but in reality, it’s not that serious. Perfect example: everything at my job. A student emailed me on Thursday (when I was out of the office), asking for something they needed by Saturday. Nothing in my job is life or death, and that student can wait. So, instead of stressing out about it, I’m just going to respond to her tomorrow, Monday, when I’m back in the office. No big deal.
  2. Focus on the Big Stuff
    • I find that since so much of my daily headspace goes to the small stuff, I barely have time to focus on the big stuff. I’d love to write every day, start working out, eating healthy. But instead, it’s easier to sleep in, go to happy hour, and eat mindlessly staring at a computer. Clear your mind of the smaller, less important things, to make room for the big things you want to focus on.
  3. Stop Talking, Start Doing
    • My friend is enrolled in a course on thanatology, or, the study of death and dying. And she has been teaching me an awful lot lately. One lesson that has resonated with me the most is this: We’re all dying, so we might as well start living. We don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We need to make the most of it, and instead of talking about what we want to do, we should just do it.

I’m also learning that accountability is a big part of my motivation and strategy. Eating healthy on my own is always a bust, but when I was doing Whole30 with my boyfriend, it became fun and easy! I asked my mom to text me when she starts working out after work, as a reminder that I need to leave the office and keep to my own workout plan. And with that said, if any of you are looking for an accountability buddy, in anything, I’m interested! Let’s start clearing our minds, focusing on what’s important to us, and creating positive life change for ourselves. It’s about time!