Author: theleslist

Anxiety and Committing to Living My Life

When going to therapy, I learned about ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. In a sentence, it’s about accepting the fact that I have anxiety, but committing my life and behavior to aligning with my values.

The whole point of the bucket list was to embrace the fact that our life is now. It’s not after we finish grad school or pay off our student loans or save up to buy a house or get a promotion at work. We’re living our life now and the things we hope to do one day won’t happen unless we commit to it.

So lasts week, we trekked downtown to see a performance at Millennium Park. I could feel my anxiety building, which happens when our usual routine is disturbed. What if it’s too hot and I’m uncomfortable and start snapping at Eve? What if I get hungry and have to spend money on overprice food? What if the crowd is huge and there’s no space for us to sit? (Crowds is a major source of anxiety for me) What if I don’t enjoy myself and Even is disappointed?

So many what ifs?

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Here’s the photo I took at the park. There were some major hiccups on our way there, but we did it! We did it because we’re committing to living a life not held back by fear.

Moderation and Self-Care

The older I get, the more consistency and moderation seem to be the keys to a happy, well-adjusted life. Unfortunately, those aren’t really my strong points. I often worry I only have two settings: either way-too-laid-back or pushing-myself-way-too-hard. I tend to oscillate between the two, sometimes within the same day.

In case you’re getting lost in my cloud of ambiguity, I’ll try to offer at least one concrete example. I love to-do lists. Christine loves to-do apps, but I love to-do lists. I use them as a sort of disorganized mind-dump. Typically, I never even reference them after writing them down. The act of writing them out is usually enough for me to mentally organize my life.  I write them all over the place: notebooks, napkins, on backs of receipts and envelopes, the corners of crossword puzzles. This habit comes in phases though. The times I have energy, I write list after list, packing my free time with errands and chores. Then, I inevitably burn out and and spend a week exhausted and unmotivated, planning nothing, doing everything only when it absolutely needs to get done. Eventually, I regroup and repeatedly kick myself until I start a new list, and the cycle continues.

I do consider myself a competent person. I get everything done that needs done. But ultimately, I want to better about self-care. I want to be aware of my personal needs, when I need to rest or slow down. I want to learn to listen to my body when it tells me I’m pushing too hard, rather than only realizing it the next morning when I wake up sore and in pain. I want to stop viewing my health as an obstacle, something to put on the back burner in pursuit of all of my other goals.

I’m not sure how to fit that in a concise bucket list bullet point, but there it is.

The Forest

When I think of our relationship habits, the one thing we do consistently is financial planning. At least once every two weeks (often several times a week) we sit down with our budget together. We look over our spending, talk about upcoming life changes, and evaluate our priorities. Over our years together, these planning sessions have turned into much more than crunching the numbers. They’ve given us the space to compromise and communicate. They’ve pushed us to be intentional with our resources, to evaluate what exactly it is that we are doing with our money, time, and energy. And, every once in a while, we’ll have a mind-blowing insight into our lives as a result. In the middle of our last one, my wife made an astute observation. She said “We’re right on track.”

About eight months ago, we made a one-year plan together. Then, the goals we put down seemed impossible: Christine wanted to quit her job, get accepted into a bootcamp, and get a new job in a completely different industry. I wanted to work, take prereqs, volunteer, ace the GRE and get accepted into grad school. Our plan was to live off my (very meager) salary until she got a job. At the time, we were certain we would crash and fail (or at the very least burn out). Now, eight months later, Christine is right: we’re right on track with our plan.

I’ve been working on a crafting project the past couple months. I keep putting it down and picking it back up again. It’s something simple: a circle of French knots radiating outwards. Just simple enough for me to obsess. Every time I make a knot, a small part of me is certain that I’ve ruined it. They’re too lopsided, too sloppy, too close together. But each time I pick it back up again, I love it. It just takes stepping away to see the forest rather than the trees. That’s how I feel with life right now. I’m doing a juggling act: two jobs, volunteering, classes, GRE, grad school applications, family stuff. And every day it all feels on the verge of failing. But Christine’s right (as always): we’re on track. We’re doing this. I just need to remember to step back and see the forest.

Finding a job as a developer: going from social work to programming

Good news – I’m able to mark our first item off our bucket list: find a coding job.

I graduated with a degree in sociology in 2011, then to grad school for a year. Afterwards I was utterly lost. No one in my family had ever gone to college, but their dream was always for me to go. I jokingly tell people that my family thinks that all I have to do is show up someplace with my degree and I get a job. It was a slap in the face when I applied for a few months with no luck.

I hopped around from dead-end job to dead-end job. Eventually, after volunteering at a nonprofit, I got a job as an AmeriCorps member, then full-time staff. The work I did was varied, but after nearly three years there, I left for a few reasons. I didn’t feel the agency was living up to its mission and the clients were the ones getting hurt. I couldn’t abide by that. Also, in that time, I got married and started thinking about my future. The life I wanted to provide for my wife and future family wasn’t going to be possible on social work salary.

I decided to explore my options and ultimately focused on technology. I took some online and evening classes to figure out – do I even like coding? Am I good at it? Could I make a career out of it?

After much research, I decided on Fullstack Academy. After three months of intense work, I completed the program on April 7 and was job searching ever since.

There were days I was sure I had made a terrible mistake. I quit my job – I could have been making money, instead of  scrimping to get by. No one was ever going to hire me. I was a fraud. These were all things the wife heard on multiple occasions. But the sweetheart she is, she encouraged and motivated me to keep moving forward.

I received the official offer a few days ago and I still can’t believe it happened! I’ll be receiving a substantial pay bump and working at an awesome company with good benefits. The type of stable job I could stick around for a while.

I just hope I savor this feeling – it took over 6 months to get here, and I put in a lot of time, effort, and money. But I had a goal – to get a job by July 1st, and here I am, a few days short, and I did it. I want to remember this feeling the next time I take a leap of faith and try something. I want to remember this feeling of accomplishing my goal. And really, that was the spirit and motivation of this whole blog in the first place. To go live life and really, truly experience it. To visualize what we want and to then make it happen.

Artist’s Way update

So how has the Artist’s Way been going for me?

Morning Pages:
I’ve been journaling since I was twelve, and I’ve dabbled with morning pages for the past few months, before I started this journey. I read about them online and instantly wanted to do them, but struggled. Julia Cameron insists, “there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages,” but she sure does have a lot of rules.

  • Completed first thing in the morning
  • Must be written by hand
  • Three pages in A5 sized paper

So I’ve picked them up and put them down a few times. Now I give myself permission to be more flexible. My notebook is smaller and I don’t always write in the morning, but rather whenever I feel like it. I figure what’s important is doing them.

Since I’ve been journaling for so long, I’ve fallen into a bit of a journal writing rut. I only write about my complaints, stressful things, anxiety, etc. So I’ve enjoyed working on Julia’s writing exercises/challenges. It’s offered some spice and helped me reflect in new ways, not just ruminating on my problems.

My plan for the upcoming week is to be more diligent about writing them everyday.

Artist’s Date:
These are a much bigger challenge than I originally anticipated, because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your week and not feel like they’re “important.”

Last week I decided to do a mini at home “spa” day. I felt stressed and all this pressure for the date to “look” a specific way. But I didn’t feel like leaving the apartment or spending money. So I decided to take an hour and pamper myself. This included: exfoliating, hair mask, moisturizing. My skin and hair felt amazing afterwards.

-Christine

Artist’s Way

“Morning pages map our own interior. Without them, our dreams may remain terra incognita. I know mine did. Using them, the light of insight is coupled with the power for expansive change. It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action. The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed-of solutions.” –The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

I often find myself asking the questions, “Who am I? What the hell do I want? Who do I want to be?” The questions feel especially pertinent as I am unemployed and am in the process of finding a job. As I schedule coffee dates, (because that’s that you’re supposed to do to find a job, right? Networking?), the person across the table invariably asks, “So what are you looking for?”

I don’t know, so I fall back to old habits. Habits that were instilled in me as a young child, instincts to soften myself until I fit the mold of whatever the other person is looking for. I find myself shaping my answers around what I think they want to hear, what I think will help me seem more marketable, hirable.

Answers that will make me likable.

But my soul is parched and lost. I’ve decided to embark on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I got a copy from the library and it’s 12 weeks of exercises and who knows what else. I’ll try to document my journey and path in here. I hope that somewhere in the process, I’ll find my creative voice again. I define creativity as the conviction to create something because you feel it must be created, regardless of external criticism or praise. So mucho f my being feels defined by the external. I hope to find a truer, sturdier inner self.

At the beginning of the book, Julia Cameron encourages readers to make a contract with themselves:

I, Christine, understand that I am undertaking an intensive, guided encounter with my own creativity. I commit myself to the twelve week duration of the course. I, Christine, commit to weekly reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artist date, and the fulfillment of each week’s tasks.

I, Christine, further understand that this course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I, Christine, commit myself to excellent self-care – adequate sleep, diet, exercise, and pampering – for the duration of the course.

-Christine

The thing about self-improvement is that it goes in cycles; constant change isn’t sustainable. You make goals, you work at them, and you succeed. You make new goals. You work at them. You fail. But hopefully even on the failed attempts, you end up further along than when you started. Whether you succeed or fail in your goals, you certainly aren’t going anywhere at all without them.

Goals are shorthand for your ideal life. What kind of person do you want to be? What do you value? What do you want out of life? As I’m still pretty young myself, I note mainly from observation of others that those answers fluctuate a fair amount through a lifespan. Right now my answers are all about creating things, learning new skills. While I am young, I’ve been out of school long enough to forget that feeling of novelty, of both curiosity and uncertainty, that comes from doing something brand new. It’s kind of refreshing to be trying things I’ve never done before, without the pressure to succeed, without focusing on the gap between where I am and where I think I should be.

All this to say, right now I’m in the upswing of the cycle: full of new goals in which I have yet to either succeed or fail. Bright horizon of possibilities, right? It is a pretty addictive feeling, that’s for sure. Check back in a few weeks, and we’ll see where it leads, I suppose.