At the beginning of this school year, I was tired. I was interning at a nonprofit trying to better the world in some small way but was seeing little to no results. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to save the planet via a temporary internship at a local nonprofit organization but I was surrounded by people there who truly wanted nothing more than to do that; tirelessly, constantly, incessantly. And all the while, the world felt like it was falling apart. A summer of immigration bans and failed climate agreements and terrorist attacks and mass shootings and political turmoil piled up around me.
The problem with wanting to fix things is that sometimes you kinda can’t. It’s out of scope, unrealistic, untimely or too late. And that feels like failure and that turns into exhaustion. So by the end of the summer I had given up, I was just tired of caring so much about everything.
The thing about passion is that it’s fire; a burning that gives you energy and makes your eyes light up and your Leslie Knope come out. But the thing about passion is that it’s fire; it can burn out if you don’t give it any fuel.
I was burnt out. Passion had given way to apathy.
I was trying to figure out how to shift my career plan before it was too late, to something easier, something I wouldn’t have to care so much about, something that wouldn’t take so much soul or burn so much of my fire.
You’ve probably heard the old adage like,
“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to the boy.
‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment and ego.’
He continued, ‘The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf will win?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.”
Cut to a night when I was begrudgingly watching the Disney movie Tomorrowland with my family at home; half paying attention, half online shopping. This little parable was enough to pull my consciousness from the FreePeople website. I had heard the analogy many times, from many sources, all citing various old men who said this– probably none of them very accurate. But I’d never thought about it in a societal context before.
The whole movie is about saving the world from the futuristic apocalypse– of course. It was about finding the “dreamers”, the people who hadn’t given up on fixing the world yet. And by finding these dreamers who still believed they could do it, they inevitably saved the world in classic Disney fashion. They started feeding the right wolf.
This kind of hope is hard to maintain. There are some days that I wholeheartedly believe that I am somehow contributing in a small way to fix a small problem and that piece by piece, the world will be made better. But there are also days that I feed the other wolf. The wolf that has given up, complains about society on social media, points fingers, finds the bad in everything and tries to stay out of the whole mess, while doing nothing to fix it– therefore contributing to the monster. It is my scariest demon, this apathy. Wars aren’t won by passion, they are lost by indifference.
But over the course of this semester I have given myself a chance at more fuel– fuel so passion can burn. Take it in, soak it up, turn the sunlight into life. Fuel is the small successes. The things that work. It won’t be everything. They might not even be truly significant in the grand scheme of things. Little victories and sparks and proof that what we’re doing, it really does work. Slowly, surely, sometimes backwards, but there are golden days when it works.
This is what scares me most: that we might grow into our indifference like grey hair and wrinkled skin. That we will give up before we get anywhere. I almost did and some days I still almost do. That’s the real danger. Not icebergs melting and mutual assured destruction (okay, actually those are really, really scary and I’m terrified but I’m just trying to make a point). The real danger is that we leave the fixing to someone else. That we accept the bad things about this planet and look at our phones instead. That we bury our heads in memes and macchiatos and reality TV. That we become too damn exhausted to try anymore.
Keep drinking coffee.
Finals. Rough Mondays. Rejection. Parking tickets. Spilled coffee. All-nighters. Bad texts.
There are lots of reasons to want to feel better. There are lots of ways to do it.
Some classic pick-me-ups for when you need them most:
- Wear your favorite sweater. Liking how you look is important. Your best self might wear a Free People sweater. I think mine does. So throw on what makes you feel like a badass.
- Feel less guilt. For eating things that you enjoy, for splurging a tiny bit on the shoes you’ve been eyeing for months, for skipping yoga this week because you were exhausted, for watching a movie. These are little things people, in the grand scheme of big things. If it makes you feel disproportionately better, doing a small not great thing, I say do it. This life is for being alive.
- Close your eyes. When all else fails, take a nap. This can be hard because you can feel guilty (see number 2) or stressed or lay there thinking about all the million things you “should” be doing. But who’s to say what you shouldn’t be doing is giving your brain and body a few moments of rest so you can do whatever you were gonna do 67 times faster with 200% more joy? Sleep tight.
- Drink something. A liquid of choice; whether it be water, chocolate milk, tea, iced caramel latte with skim milk and Splenda or some red wine. Sometimes you just need hydration and a chance to feel yourself breathe and also, sometimes, wine.
- Clean something. Your room, your desk, your backpack, the whole kitchen, a park, your socks, whatever will make you feel purposeful and intentional and whole and together.
- Create something. Write, knit, hammer, paint, sew, strategize, level up, craft, code. Whatever you do, when you don’t want to do anything else. These escapes are necessary and important and not a waste of time like the right side of your brain wants to tell you.
- Watch a thing that is funny. For me it’s The Office or videos of babies laughing. Whatever your secret antidote that reminds you that being alive is not that serious and gives you slight abs– watch that thing.
And when all else fails, eat chocolate. Big chocolate guy.
I don’t know how people survived before GPS. I use GoogleMaps to get home from work everyday even though it’s the exact same route “just in case.” So the concept of a life uncharted is absolutely terrifying to me. As humans, we have been following maps, stars and trails for eons, it’s what we do. So what happens when there is no set course? That’s called being in your twenties. So this is what to do when your phone dies in the middle of a lifelong road trip.
Look down. Self awareness is the first step to anywhere. Realize where you are at and what you like/dislike/love about it.
Retrace your steps. Realize where you’ve been and pinpoint just when you started to feel this way. Notice what has changed since then and if you want to go back to where you were before or even potentially push on to something even better.
Look up. Picture where you want to go. Dream about it, write about it, pray about it, draw it, think about it. Envision what it looks like, tastes like, feels like. Let the Law of Attraction do its magic.
Take a break. I tend to want to go, go, go when I feel lost but I just end up going around in aimless circles and getting really dizzy. Stepping back to take time to process seems unproductive and frustrating but so is running really fast towards nowhere in particular. Wait it out and one day you’ll wake up on a Tuesday and it will hit you. A new piece to add to the puzzle. Something you really like or love or hate or want to become. You add it to your pile and think about it some more. It can feel stagnant, however, it is anything but. Be intentional about your progress; picky with your direction. If something feels right– follow it, but not just because someone tells you to.
Move forward. Confidently. Inertia can take hold and fear can make the first step look like a cliff. It’s okay to jump sometimes. Intuition is stronger than fear. Trust yourself. Step into your power and know it will be okay because it has been so many times before and you’re not about to start failing now.
If you get lost, don’t panic. This is being alive, and you will inevitably get turned around and off-course a few times. I think getting lost is what happens right before you find something wonderful.
After a night of little-to-no sleep, staring weakly at my mile-long to do list for the day I had a sudden realization– probably brought on by an overdose of caffeinated beverages. I look around myself at college, at all the bright, inspired, motivated, talented, incredible individuals I’m surrounded by, and our dark under-eye circles and heavy backpacks. We brag about tragic sleep schedules, overbooked Google Calendars, and how many all-nighters we pulled this week. It’s almost trendy to be too busy to eat regular meals and sit in the libraries for hours and hours on end without moving. We are wearing exhaustion with pride, a symbol of sacrifice to prove how much we care and how hard we try. We run ourselves ragged and wear ourselves thin to validate our efforts and work ethic.
But there is no shame in self-care. Eating good food is important. Sleeping is important. Doing something that does not involve staring blankly into the blue-lit screen of our laptops is important. We romanticize fatigue, burning ourselves out day by day. Please stop normalizing unhealthy lifestyles and unhappiness. We ain’t shit without our physical and mental health. But balance in a place run rampant with extremes seems impossible a lot of the time. Exhaustion should not be framed as glamorous.
The demands are immense and the pressure is looming. But having limits is important.
Get rid of the guilt. We should not feel guilty for taking care of ourselves. It’s our job, evolution has been telling us to do this the whole time. Work hard. Chase dreams. But there is so much life happening right now.
Balance. Develop a morning routine that does not involve social media or energy drinks. Take breaks. Your mind and body will reward you. Self-care should not fall to the wayside during midterms or finals, it should increase. I know– hard to do in college but it’s hard to do any time. Bad habits die hard and so do good habits so begin now. Say no, take a nap, read a book you actually want to read, treat yourself to Netflix without feeling guilty. Do something with the pure rationale that you want to do it, with no ulterior motive or another person to please. Step back when you need to, shamelessly.
I’ve always loved quotes. Maybe actions speak louder than words but the right words can speak pretty damn loud. Thoughts get caught in sentences and centuries later they still speak just as loudly. I love that. Here’s a few of my favorites that get me out of bed in the morning when it’s raining, scribbled onto sticky notes or that I’ve written in the squashed corners of my planner.
“People of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and happen to things” Leonardo DaVinci
“If you think you’ve blown God’s plan for the rest of your life, rest in this: you, my beautiful friend are not that powerful.” Lisa Bever
“Find something you’re passionate about and stay tremendously interested in it.” Julia Child
“With freedom, books , flowers and the moon who could not be happy?” Oscar Wilde
“I exist as I am. That is enough” Walt Whitman
“What’s coming will come and we’ll meet it when it does” Hagrid
“There is no passion to be found playing small– in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” Nelson Mandala
“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” Roald Dahl
Last week was a rough week.
An unfortunate, inconvenient series of irritating events that made me wanna crawl into bed and quit everything for 3 months and maybe move to the deciduous forests of upstate Washington. A pile up of being late to too many classes, uncomfortable confrontations with bosses, spilled coffee, rain and at one low point, I kid you not, a campus bus roared past me and blew the hat I was wearing into the road while simultaneously splashing me with cold, swampy, sewage street water. I thought things like only happened during montages in cheap movies with a tragic instrumental playing in the background. And that was only Tuesday.
Some things to remember during bad days, weeks, months, years, etc:
I saw this quote on Pinterest (I know, gag me) that said “There’s nothing in nature that blooms all year long, so don’t expect yourself to do so.” The pressure to have your life semi-together can sometimes seem overwhelming and nauseating. A bad week does not deem you a failure or a weed. Shit happens. To all of us. A lot of the time.
You’ll bloom again. Last Wednesday I was convinced the Week From Hell™ would probably last forever and I’d die an angsty sophomore in college who really really needs to do laundry. But today is Monday. And I’m still a sophomore in college but perhaps a little less angsty and doing well on my bio quiz (yet to do laundry but). Little victories people.
It’s good to be in a bad mood. Maybe not forever but if you need to listen to aggressive music and be alone for a few hours to sulk and brood– you’re entitled to that privilege, even if you live on one of the most populated campuses in the country in the middle of a city. Allow yourself to feel it all. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Treat yo self. (-Tom Haverford, Parks and Rec star, inspirational being.) There are few activities more therapeutic in the middle of a thunderstorm of a week than doing whatever the heck it is you want to do. Eat good food, buy flowers, watch your favorite show instead of studying, take a nap, WHATEVER YOU WANT. Take the revenge you want out of life.
So it’s Monday. New day, new week. So far no buses have assaulted me– stay tuned for updates. But even if I get stung by a thousand bees in the middle of a hurricane after oversleeping for class with a midterm, there’s always tomorrow.