1. Stop worrying about how other people are living vs. the way you live. Embrace the ordinary.
There’s a lot of us well into our twenties and thirties who are still living the lives we thought we’d have left behind already: working dead-end jobs, overwhelmed with student debt, living in our parents’ homes or driving cars that hardly start. The challenge of our generation is that what worked out in the past no longer works. But in a time of uncertainty, there is unlimited potential. Forget the stress of what isn’t working in your favor and figure out what is.
Who cares if that girl on Instagram has twelve thousand followers, lives in a Manhattan loft and drinks juice for every meal? She has nothing to do with your life, and you shouldn’t be getting down on yourself for not living the same lifestyle. Maybe you’re in Laramie, Wyoming or Newark, New Jersey — it doesn’t matter. Imagine yourself on a platform where thousands of people could see you. What positive aspects of your life would you show off? What would you want to represent? Embrace those things. Embrace your ordinary.
2. Allow yourself to be creative.
The first thing you should do when you wake up — before you check your phone, open your laptop or turn on the morning news — is work your expressive side. Your mind is fresh and palpable, and whatever ideas come to you will be your own, rather than the regurgitated ideas of someone else. Keep a notebook on your bedside table and utilize it.
It doesn’t matter what type of art interests you, and the subject of your work is irrelevant; doodle if you’re an illustrator, think of a few jokes if you’re a comic, write a haiku if you’re a poet. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your work is, because what you produce is not supposed to be some kind of high art for exhibition. Too often we are imprisoned by the idea that art has to exist in forms that are already glorified. This morning exercise exists to get you developing your own ideas, and, over time, will allow you to be more comfortable with the creative way your mind works.
3. Embrace what you are instead of trying to be what you are not.
My entire life, I really wanted to be funny. In grade school, I envied my classmates who met the teacher’s questions with a witty response to break the mundane silence of the lecture. In high school, I studied the movies I saw as brilliant to learn the time frame of comedic relief. After college, I tried my hand at stand up, and while there weren’t crickets in the audience, there weren’t roaring swells of laughter either. Finally, I realized I could enjoy comedy without having to partake as an entertainer. I just wasn’t built for it. I’m able to look at my skill set now and be happy with the hand I was dealt. The patience and motivation I was given in terms of communication and writing compensate for my lack of a funny bone. So if you don’t possess an eye for aesthetic and thus aren’t a natural photographer, or if you want to be a movie critic but hate independent films with inconclusive endings, that’s okay. You should never force anything. Just figure out what your strong suits are and how to apply them to what you love.
4. Support others and let go of the past.
Let’s do ourselves a favor and stop with the name calling, okay? That girl is not basic, the guy is not thirsty, your ex is not evil. We’re all just trying our best, ultimately for the sake of being loved. Remember: the attitude someone projects is just a call for some aspect of personality to be recognized. If you don’t like what someone is projecting, ignore it. The most successful people don’t talk poorly behind the backs of others; they’d rather spend time improving themselves. So while you’re working on being nice, work on weeding out the people who affect you negatively. You don’t have to remove them from your life in a harsh way, but recognize that a past relationship, whether it is a romance or a friendship, didn’t fail by chance. The past doesn’t belong in the present, and if you’re confronted, a gentle explanation of why you no longer choose to spend time with them is more respectable than lying.
5. Do something for yourself.
Sometimes life feels unbearable, like you are going to break any minute. But you don’t break. You keep fighting, even if it means fists raised in the dark. It’s human nature to keep going, to strive forward despite the heavy weight on our shoulders. But look around you now — you’re calm, centered, reading this instead of thinking about the pain. I’m here to tell you that you deserve something good for holding it together. Order dinner from your favorite restaurant for carry out. Pick up the book you’ve been wanting to read and curl up on the couch. Plan an adventure for the coming weekend. Do anything that is helpful to your mental well-being and commit to being present while doing whatever it is. It’s important to break out of your comfort zone, to feel good without feeling guilty.
6. Make a list of what qualities you want to have and what you’d like to accomplish.
We all did this as children in grade school, whether it was in the form of a t-chart or a letter to our future selves. Maybe it seemed futile then and it can seem futile now, but it does reflect our ideas of ourselves and where we’d like to go from here. You don’t have to figure out how you’re going to accomplish something, only that you will.
I’ve often asked my friends the question: “what would you do if you could do anything, money no option?” and it shocked me that most of them had no idea, until one of them turned the tables and asked me the same question. I didn’t know, either. Because it’s easy to get lost in a virtual world of far-off events and products we don’t have, it’s important to respect our own real-life interests enough to define them. When we’ve made this list, we can at least then see who we are vs. who we want to be, and work on improving areas that doesn’t match up entirely.
Bonus points for re-reading the list daily, so over time we can realize how we’ve grown and how far we’ve come. (If you’re not a “list” person but rather visually oriented, draw a picture. Cut out pictures in magazines and make a collage. Figure out a way you can physically see what you want from yourself. After you figure out what you want from yourself, demand it.)
7. Take out the trash. Do what you’re putting off.
I know, I know, there was no sign posted and that parking ticket totally wasn’t your fault. You’ve been eyeing the orange envelope on your kitchen counter for weeks, and every time you leave the grocery store you cross your fingers and hope there’s no boot on your car. Suck it up and either contest it or pay the damn thing. That extra stress weighing on you isn’t doing you any good, and it takes away from your enjoyment of the little things.
You can’t check out that good-looking specimen of a human loading groceries in the trunk if you’re straining your neck looking for cops. Take a deep breath and chill out. Take care of the things you’ve been putting off for your own mental health, and from now on, deal with them as they come to you. Clean your closet. Sell your Pokemon cards on eBay. The fewer stresses you have to deal with, the better off you are.
8. Break a bad habit.
We’ve all got our vices and it’s time to give them up. Whether it’s smoking or allowing yourself to be half of an abusive relationship, you have to stop. There’s no point in partaking in something you know is harmful to you. Consciously, you’re caught up in the habit of it, but unconsciously, you’re driving down your self worth. You deserve more. You have to value your life enough to know when to say, “No, I refuse to allow myself to be a victim of circumstance.” Stand up, because if you can’t stand up to yourself, you shouldn’t be surprised when you have a problem standing up to someone else. You are your own worst enemy and best friend. Be nicer to yourself. Start right now.
9. Get dressed. Pull yourself together. Develop a routine.
It’s easy to sleep until you absolutely have to wake up, but it’s more beneficial to develop some pride and take care of yourself. Eat a good breakfast. Allow yourself the time you need to shower and get ready. Appearances aren’t everything, but you know as well as I do that you’ll have a much better day if you’re feeling good about yourself. It’s also important to develop a routine. Even if your job doesn’t allow you the luxury of a fixed schedule, make sure you’re fitting in time for self-care every day.
It doesn’t have to be a fixed routine, but shoot for at least a half hour a day to exercise, relax, and be productive. I don’t mean be productive in the sense of doing something for your job. I mean to invest in yourself, not for financial gain but because you want to. Paint. Volunteer. Garden. Whatever it is that increases your own value in your eyes. Every day. Don’t fall asleep with the TV on or with your fingers glued to your phone; make a conscious decision to go to bed and rest. And every week, do something on a bigger scale that makes you feel good — sign up for a cooking class, go to yoga, ride that bike path close to your house. And no matter what, don’t let anyone else make you feel selfish for doing these things. You aren’t good to anyone else if you aren’t good to yourself first.
10. Feel good about where you are.
In the digital age, everyone shows off the highlights of their lives via photo albums and status updates. But because the normal moments fall far below the radar, we all feel insecure at times, wondering if we messed up or why our lives seem so mundane. When you feel down, remember to look up. Try to feel happy, and if you can’t do that, at least feel hopeful that things will turn in your favor.
Hold your head high, knowing you’ve done the best you could. We all have, so remember that too. Be confident; confidence is sexier than worry. And remember that this is only one moment in the long line of your life, and that it will pass. Things will get better. So feel the moment in full, and be conscious of your life this second because soon it will be gone. Learn to love the present moment, even if you have nothing more in the present moment than hope for the future.