2017, adulthood, birthdays, celebrations, injury, writing

Why 29 Will Be My Most Unbalanced Year Yet

I’ve always used my birthday as a time to stop and think about where I’ve been and where I’m going. The annual tradition is one way I try to build self-awareness and achieve balance. This year in particular, however, I didn’t want to stop. In some ways, I had been stopped all year and I wanted to celebrate my renewed ability to go-go-go. Last year, I had knee surgery four days after my birthday. I spent the next six months rebuilding my strength, and the six months after that rebuilding my strength again after a second surgery. I spent all twelve months chasing literal and metaphoric balance.

Literally, the muscles in my right leg atrophied and stopped working after surgery, and required both electric stimulation and intensive isolated exercises to get them back in shape. In the early days, this meant spending most of the day lying down with my leg elevated, slowly trying to bend it every couple of hours. In the later days, this meant dedicating an entire morning to rehab, then doing mini stretches throughout the day.

Metaphorically, the recovery process and pain inhibited my ability to practice or enjoy much of what typically keeps me emotionally balanced—writing, exercising, cooking, socializing, working, and sleeping. Even if I could occasionally do one or the other, my notion of balance necessitated my ability to do all of it at once.

In some ways, I felt like I was stuck in another person’s body (for better or for worse).

April, 2000

This lack of balance was a stark opposition from the life I have always known. As a child, I was involved in countless activities simultaneously: Multiple styles of dance class, singing lessons, choir, soccer, writing contests, piano, swim team, volunteer work, oil painting, yoga, and I’m probably forgetting a few (school). Despite the occasional overwhelm, I never wished any of them away. I enjoyed what I defined to be a “well-rounded” life, and more importantly, I prided myself in being able to balance everything. The pace I set (or that was set for me) in my childhood is the one I brought forward into my adulthood. Whether or not it’s right, I equated “balance” with “doing many things” and “imbalance” with “failure.”

About six months after my surgery, as I regained my physical balance, I attempted to test my mental balance as well. I outlined an idea for a new book and considered ways I might start to realize my dream of owning a coffee shop. Both of these endeavors required extensive time and energy, which, admittedly, were sparse given how much of my limited time and energy were drained by the recovery process. I set both aside and considered that perhaps I was incapable of the balance I once knew.

Around this time, I learned that I needed to have another surgery. It was as if someone was tugging the rug underneath me as I was trying to stand up. But somehow, I held my ground. I didn’t let it throw me off. I was surprised to find that through the initial months of recovery, I had found a sense of balance amidst the imbalance. I was more adept at riding life’s waves.

Last week, The New York Times published a piece in its Well section about achieving balance. Shockingly, the article isn’t in praise of it. Instead it argues that sometimes, imbalance is a good thing. To get fully consumed by some one aspect of your life (“Falling in love. Writing a book. Trekking in the Himalayas. Training to set a personal record in a triathlon.”) is rewarding  in a way that balance sometimes is not. It allows you to fully acknowledge, experience, and appreciate this one thing. With self-awareness, it enables you to excel.

The article summarized my past year in a way that I couldn’t on my own. It made me see the imbalance in my last year not as my destroyer, but as my healer. There is undeniable benefit in giving one person or thing your undistracted attention.

As I look back on my year of imbalance, one thing is true: I was happy. My injury gave me an excuse to slow down and wholly focus. It allowed me to work toward, and achieve, small and big milestones. It reminded me to appreciate the marvels of the human body—my human body. It proved to me the humanity in strangers. It filled me with the care of loved ones.

So in entering another year of my life (this time with more physical balance than last year), I am, for the first time doing so with an eye for healthy and meaningful imbalance. And I’m pretty happy about it.

 


Read More

Birthday reflections

Why 28 Is The Year I Need To Do What I Want
What Amy Winehouse Taught Me About Turning 27
4 Things I Couldn’t Admit To Myself Until Turning 25
Ten Thoughts On Turning 25

Inspiration  

You’re Doing Your Weekend Wrong
Maybe We All Need a Little Less Balance

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birthdays, learning, life lessons, needs, self-awareness, self-improvement, wants, wants vs needs

Why 28 Is The Year I Need To Do What I Want

Each year on my birthday, I reflect on the year behind and the year ahead, the person I am and the person I aspire to be. I don’t need to write anything down, but I like to. I want to.

This year, I drove two hours north of San Francisco along the coast to spend my day outdoors. Long rides always remind me of how I learned to plan my pees as a child. I was (am) obsessively compulsive about restroom cleanliness, and refused to pee in public restrooms if they did not meet my quality standards. Before we got in the car, my mom would always tell me to go pee.

“But I don’t need to,” I’d say.

“It doesn’t matter. I want you to,” my mom would insist. (She never wanted a repeat of our tour-de-India-hotels in which no restroom could meet my needs.) “I want you to,” my mom would explain, “so you don’t need to later.”

Starting with the days of planned pees, I’ve always struggled with prioritizing wants and needs. As an obedient child (a young adult trapped in a child’s body, really), I was always preoccupied with what I needed to do in a given moment— homework, piano practice, being punctual, getting someone a birthday present—and there was always something. It was rare that I considered what I wanted to do, mostly because there was too much I needed to do, and also because I couldn’t explain wants with any logical rationale.

Things are much more confusing as an adult, because there is less I need to do all the time. Most of my time is characterized by wants. But it’s more nuanced than that. It’s not that needs don’t ever come up. They do, and when they do, they appear as dire needs and I am forced to act more impulsively than I would like.

I hate this feeling.

Most of the time, my needs stem from wants that I’ve previously ignored. This is the adult version of needing to pee in the middle of the countryside because I refused to pee before getting in the car. These days, I pee when I want, and am more preoccupied with philosophical needs and wants. Over the last year, I grappled with three in particular.

1. I want to care for myself when I don’t need to

A Ricky-Ish Bench, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

“Sit Awhile And Be Happy,” Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

As a part of a regimented fitness routine, the first nine months of this past year were characterized by my waking up at 5 AM to exercise. Barely even allowing myself to think, I would pop up with my first alarm, change, and literally run out the door. My runs weren’t all the same, however. Some days my body just couldn’t do it. But I forced it. You can rest later, I would insist, pushing myself. I was convinced that missing one day would permanently ruin my groove. Then, three months ago, I suffered the most severe physical injury of my life during a soccer game. Suddenly, running (let alone walking) wasn’t an option. Taking extra care of myself — sleeping in, asking for a seat on the MUNI, eating a feel-good snack, asking for help, slowing down —was a dire need. For the first time, I treated myself the way I would treat someone I love. And despite my physical pain, it was mental bliss. It made me wonder why I don’t more deliberately care for myself more often.

Even after I am fully recovered, I plan to go out of my way to treat myself whenever I want. Why should I reserve this for only the moments of critical need?

2. I want a partner before I need him

Relationship Goals

Grandparents at the Ferry Building, January 2016

I spent twenty percent of the year’s weekends at bachelorette parties or weddings, twenty percent of weeks seeing one partner, and eight percent weeks in dire need of a partner. From dissecting couples games to wedding speeches to conversations with single friends who needed to be married yesterday, I started to consider my views on partnership more profoundly than ever before. Am I single because I love being single or do I love being single because I am single? In those months when I wasn’t, I discovered that despite my abundant single life, I actually wanted to be in a relationship. Then, two months after it ended, when I had my soccer injury and couldn’t walk, I suddenly found myself in dire need of a partner — for basic things like helping me get into my apartment, laborious things like preparing food and running errands, and meaningful things like keeping me company. Of course, there are friends and family, and they were there for me, but there was no one person I could rely on all the time.

No, I am not the person who needs to be in a relationship right now. But I want to be in one with the right person, before the want turns into a dire need when the luxury of finding that person feels cramped. Of course, the impetus for this dire need is subjectively unforeseeable, but may be physical, emotional, intellectual, familial, financial, or medical.

3. I want to reach out when there’s no need

Antique Paper Show

Antique Paper Show, San Francisco 2016

Eighteen months ago, I spent the better part of a day with a close friend. Though we think of each other often, we don’t see each other frequently, nor are we in constant communication. In one another’s presence, it is obvious that our bond runs deeper than these particularities. That day, she and I acknowledged the truth about our friendship. I also told her about the handful of other people in my life that I think of fondly, and often. Reaching out to them was never one of my strengths. Whenever I wanted to, I couldn’t think of a reason I needed to. And so I would just wait until I needed to — like when I needed to tell them something or needed to coordinate a meetup. I spent this past New Year’s Eve with the same friend. That day, I gave her a handwritten letter because I wanted to, even though we’d be seeing each other and spending hours together anyway. Her eyes lit up when I handed it to her. She couldn’t wait to read it. In January, I started sending more “just because” notes to people. Some responded with surprise and delight, others with written responses, and others with silence. I continue to write and send monthly letters to various people in my life, whether they live down the street or across the world.

I never need to say anything in any of these letters. I just want to. It’s nice to feel wanted when you’re not needed.

It’s been a long ride since I learned how to plan my pees (with lots of stops along the way). I still have a long way to go. And so, as I start this journey through twenty-eight, I know one thing: This year needs to be about wants.

 

Read More

Recent birthday reflections

What Amy Winehouse Taught Me About Turning 27
4 Things I Couldn’t Admit To Myself Until Turning 25
Then Thoughts On Turning 25

Inspiration  

The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap
Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person
Do Your Friends Actually Like You?
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Tiny Beautiful Things
The Single American Woman

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2015, Amy Winehouse, birthdays, career, dogs, pet death, right path, San Francisco, time

What Amy Winehouse Taught Me About Turning 27

Every time August comes around, I have that “Woah, my birthday is soon,” realization. This year, the “Woah” wasn’t like the ones that preceded my 16th or 20th. This one, coming before my 27th, hit more like, “Oh.”

How boring a number it is, 27.

Initially, I attempted to find reasons it was special. Things like:

  • 27 is the official start to my late twenties
  • The last time my birthday was on a Friday, it was my 21st

I was like a sports reporter with interesting statistics that predict nothing. I eventually dropped it.

A week into August, I visited an Amy Winehouse exhibit curated by her brother Alex. In his introductory wall text, he writes,

“This is not a shrine or a memorial to someone who has died. […] Babies are born, people get married, they get old (should they live so long), and then they die. […] This is a snapshot of a girl who was, to her deepest core, simply a little Jewish kid from North London with big talent.”

Alex wants us to accept that during her time in this world, though unconventionally short, his sister lived, loved, and struggled, as we all do in some way, at some point, for some length of time.

Amy was 27 when she died.

The text reminded me of my earlier quest to make some random number special. It encouraged me to consider that perhaps no age, no time in our lives, is objectively meaningful.

Continue reading

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adulthood, alone time, ambition, belonging, birthdays, family, growing up, turning 26, writing

4 Things I Couldn’t Admit To Myself Until I Turned 25

I turn 26 this week.

In some ways, twenty-five flew by with little to report. But in others, it transformed me:

I got to know the person I will spend the rest of my life with.

While this is unsurprising given my age, it is surprising given that I do not have a significant other.

The last fifteen months comprise the longest I have been in the same place with the same job ever. Because my world was too-frequently-changing before (semester to semester, rotation to rotation, city to city), because I myself was changing too frequently before, and perhaps because I fundamentally was too young to understand — and accept — them before, twenty-five was my first opportunity to recognize key qualities about this person I see and spend time with every single day.

This person is me.

***
4 Things I am Finally Old Enough to Know (and Admit) About Myself:

1. I crave alone time

Growing up, I had an extra-curricular obligation almost everyday, including weekends. Between my activities and homework, I always had a reason to reject social invitations if I didn’t want to hang out. I was never avoiding anyone specific, though. My dance team and coursework served the same purpose in college, and soon after graduating, I voluntarily undertook a book-writing project which mandated hours of undistributed focus.

These artificial reasons for being “busy,” were actually my need to spend time alone, doing things that I enjoy, just, by myself. It felt abnormal to say, “I want alone time,” especially because I never heard anyone say it to me.

Sometime during twenty-five, a switch flipped. I started to identify my need for this special time and went so far as to plan it into my life (mostly weekends). I aggressively defend alone time. It recharges me for future social interaction. Notably, it is not always productive. Sometimes I just want to sit on my couch, alone, on a Saturday night, and watch a television airing of The Parent Trap (even if it’s the Lindsay Lohan version) for the millionth time.

And though I occasionally slip into the need to rationalize it (work, errands, fatigue), I have finally come to terms with saying “I need alone time,” without caring how my statement will be received.

2. I am not superhuman

Earlier this year, I wrote an article on Medium that, by some stroke of luck, went viral. Wanting to make the most of the magic before it wore off, I immediately took on multiple simultaneous writing projects: Going for a double-hitter on Medium, submitting variations of my article to publications, enrolling in a writing course, maintaining my personal blog, and starting to write for a non-profit.

All this on top of an actual job.

For the next two months, thinking about writing, a historically therapeutic hobby for me, filled me with insurmountable stress.

The pieces I wrote during this time were haphazard. After two good-but-not-great Medium articles, two rejections from VentureBeat, two rejections from children’s book publishers, and a draft returned to me with more red than black, I finally stepped back.

Though its virality will always puzzle me, that article’s strength came from the fact that it was my sole focus when it was being created (outside of work). I put a lot of (very awake) brain and heart into it — without working on seven other articles at the same time.

Humans accomplish more (and better) with less and I am no exception to that rule.

3. I am family-first

I lived at home for twenty-six months after graduating college. My parents assured me it would lighten the load of my student loans, but I was too naive to see that. I pitied myself for sacrificing “fun” and “youth” by not living in a glamorous city with “everyone else.” When I finally moved to San Francisco, I likened it to liberation from confinement.

For months after moving, visits home were accompanied by an uncomfortable anxiety of all that I was missing in the city. Hadn’t those twenty-six months been enough?

This past May, I went to dinner with a friend whose family was struggling through financial and health hardships. She expressed the difficulty of living so far from them. I listened, silently ashamed that I sometimes felt inconvenienced by the geographical proximity to mine.

One morning just a few weeks later, I was asked to come home for a family meeting. On this particular day, it meant begrudgingly rejecting an opportunity to spend time with a boy I liked. In that family meeting, however, I was irreplaceable.

My family’s need for me to be home persists, but the visits feel less mandatory. Instead, I voluntarily leave the city to spend evenings, weekends, and long weekends with my family, even if it means forgoing trips to Big Sur or wine country. I can’t be mentally present anywhere else when I know my family would benefit most from my physical presence.

When I lived at home, I believed I was happy and comfortable despite living with my parents. I was embarrassed to be living there. With perspective, I see this as childish. I feel adult enough now to accept how much my parents’ happiness fuels my own, and how lucky I am to live just a train ride away.

4. I want to belong

This was my first year living in San Francisco during Bay to Breakers. When non-friends asked me about my plans, I said that it “wasn’t my thing,” but that I “might do something with my friends.” I didn’t actually have plans or invitations to do anything, and this didn’t bother me — until the day of.

My neighborhood was part of the Bay to Breaker route. As I walked through and past groups of friends I was surprised to find myself wishing I was part of one of them (some more than others). I was an outsider, not just to a particular group of friends, but also to a shared city experience where, but for a day, rules and reality were ignored.

Facebook and Instagram were relentless, exposing groups of happy friends sharing the day together.

It wasn’t a fear of missing out (FOMO), but simply feeling left out (FLO?) despite my belief that this event was “not me.” That afternoon, when my hair stylist asked me if I participated in Bay To Breakers, I responded that “we” had enjoyed watching the crowds. There was no “we.” It was just me.

That was when I realized how even my strong sense of self and individuality needs to be one with the masses every now and then.

***

These lessons surely aren’t secrets to life and they likely aren’t unique to me. But they are definitely not applicable to everyone.

The most important “facts of life” are facts about yourself. You will spend the rest of your life with yourself — get to know each other.

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birthdays, happiness, job search, no, psychology, rejection, technology

When it comes to rejection, no word is as good as “No.”

When was the last time someone called you to invite you to an event? A dinner date, a birthday party, a trip? When was the last time you called someone on the phone and invited them to something? I can’t remember a time in recent history.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-GlmUJXUEyQw/UfbMX2PRrXI/AAAAAAAACBA/3aINAxeZ_Yo/s1600/july2013+046.JPG

My childhood was complete with telephone invitations — from asking my neighbor if he could come out to play or a friend if she could sleepover.

I am most reminded of these phone calls in August. After thoughtfully creating a list of names and phone numbers, I would call each of my friends to invite her to my birthday party. I still remember the short moments of nervous wonder while my friend went to ask her mom or dad if she could attend. She always returned with a “yes” or “no.”

There was no “maybe.” No “I’ll let you know.” And even if I didn’t like the response (“My mom said no,”) there was always an immediate answer.

Regardless of each answer, my birthday, and the party, would take place, and the happiest of days it would be.

I wasn’t the only one making and receiving phone call invitations during my childhood.

My mom made and received dinner invitation phone calls all the time. When she was on the answering side, she had split seconds in those moments after, “I’m calling to invite you to dinner on August 18th,” to determine whether or not our family would attend the dinner. Beyond determining four people’s availability, she also made other considerations like how tired my dad would be on a Friday evening or the fact that it was too close to my brother’s piano recital or my history test. Almost never did she respond with, “I’ll let you know,” and in those rare cases, it was assumed that she would follow up within twenty-four hours after family discussion. And she always did.

I don’t know when it happened, or maybe it was more gradual, but my sent and received phone call invitations were replaced by email, evites, and texts. But it’s not just the invitation method that has been replaced. The responses are different too.

The asynchronous nature of invitations makes it easy for us to let the invitation linger — for minutes, for hours, for days — especially when, despite being available, we kind of want to say “no.”

Maybe we’re interested in waiting to see (because these methods allow it) who else will be attending. Perhaps we want to do something but are holding out to see if a better option, a better person, presents itself.

All of this chalks up to the fact that we simply hate saying “no.” It’s such a mean, sad word. There’s something so airy about keeping our options open while remaining kind and cordial. By not saying “no,” we hope to save someone else’s emotions.

There is a definitive happiness in the indefinite.

Or is there?

Let’s step back and think about it from a different lens.

Imagine you submit your resume for a role at your dream job. Three weeks later, you still haven’t heard back. Well, it is a large company. It probably gets a huge volume of applications you tell yourself. I’ll wait a little longer. Three weeks later, still no word. Maybe they’re still getting their act together you justify. You start half-heartedly applying to other positions, but slowly. Murphy’s law, I’ll take another job and hear from Dream Company a day later.

Meanwhile, Dream Company has happily filled the role with some other qualified candidate who is already enjoying free meals and a compensated spa membership.

Imagine another scenario:

You and a young woman have gone on a few dates. You are madly in love. She is the one. One day, she tells you she is very busy but would love to meet up soon once things settle down. “Of course,” you say. You want to give your future wife her space!

You casually date other people while you wait, but never letting yourself care too much. This is a stop-gap. A few months go by. Feeling that things must be less busy, you reach out to your woman friend via text. She responds a few days later.

Totally. It HAS been a while. Would love to catch up sometime. 

Your heart leaps at the response, but you wish it would’ve been a bit more committal. Oh well. You persist. Friday night drinks?

Hm…I *might* be able to. Not sure.

She never follows up and you end up going to the bars Friday night with some friends. Coincidentally, she is at the same bar as you. In a corner, very cozy with another man.

Between technology and adulthood, we rarely get flat-out rejected these days. Employers don’t say no. Publishers don’t say no. Boys don’t say no. We just assume “No” from silence. And we don’t really assume “No” per se. We assume something more like, “Not now, maybe later.”

Without the pressure of a real-time required response, we can easily fall back on our very human desire to keep our options open.

But “options” don’t actually help us maintain light, airy happiness as we think they do.

My brother did joint birthday parties more graciously than I

In a study by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, participants were told to choose an art poster to keep. Thirty days later, those who had been told they could change their mind reported being less happy with their decision that those who were not given an option to exchange it. With the option to return it, these people weren’t fully behind their decision.

When we make a firm decision, our “psychological immune system” kicks in to help us justify why that was the right choice. This is the same system that helps our rejected social partners get past the emotional blow. But by leaving things uncertain and in flux, we prevent this rationalization from occurring, which brings us down and brings others down with us.

This limbo state is worse on our emotions than a “no.” This is the same for considering various job options, career paths, romantic partners, or really any other life choices.

Saying “no” is hard. Typing it is worse. But remember that in doing so, you and the person who received it will actually end up more satisfied than if you leave things in the air. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to be rude or mean. Your “no” can be cushioned, so long as it is not lost completely.

Going back to birthday parties, think of it this way: It is the best — the happiest — birthday present you can give to or receive from a person.

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