If you’ve ever felt like your life’s on autopilot or you can’t remember the last time you asked yourself what you want, this one’s for you.
Life moves fast. We get on the train and go from one stop to the next. We rarely ever stop to ask ourselves where we’re going or if our choices are actually our own.
I can pinpoint the moment this began in my own life to junior year when the pressure to pick the right college and a career path started piling on. Can anyone actually believe they expected 17- and 18-year-olds to know jack shit about their futures? Regardless, you follow the rules. You pick a major, a college and ride the wave. Eventually, it’s your senior year and now it’s time to find that dream job. Maybe you’re about 21 and you find the perfect fit right out of college. Maybe like the vast majority of us, your degree and university don’t help you find a job when you need it most. Meanwhile, your student debt looms over every passing day. By the time you do find a job, you’ve already given up on trying to reach for something that makes you happy or that at the very least challenges you intellectually and creatively — you’re desperate. You take what you can get. This is when you give up.
In my own experience, I bounced from one unfulfilling position to the next. It’s hard to believe you have any other choice as adult expenses and responsibilities accumulate. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the cycle even after you read all of the self-help blogs about traveling abroad and following your passions. Not all of us make enough money to eat, pray, love. Not everyone has the support to make their dreams come true at that time, and it starts to feel like the system is rigged against you.
Eventually, you reach a point where maybe you’re in your mid-twenties and you’re burned out and deeply unfulfilled. You don’t have any real reason for it because, hey, you have a job! You did everything right. You can afford all of the basic comforts of an “easy” life and you’re given the weekends to invest in your hobbies and the things you love. Why are you so depressed?
Let’s consider “The Great Resignation,” a name used to describe the millions of workers quitting their jobs after the COVID pandemic. Think about why this cultural shift is happening now. During the pandemic, all of us were affected differently. What we had in common was a collective introspection that forced us to rethink what actually mattered. When the stakes are this high, people remember what they want to live for. Turns out 40- to 60-hour weeks in an office doing something you’re not passionate about and having two days for yourself didn’t make the cut. It’s no wonder people started craving more.
The good news is that millions of people are using this shift as an opportunity to prioritize themselves for the first time in their lives. Whether it has to do with their relationships, work environment or location, people are shedding what no longer serves them and taking a leap of faith to find what does. For me, this meant saving enough money until I felt like I could take a break. I needed time to reassess what I actually wanted, time I didn’t have before. I asked myself questions I hadn’t been asked since I was a kid. What do I love to do? How do I want to spend my days? What actually matters to me?
It’s not easy to make this jump, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t work my fair share of unfulfilling jobs. While I no longer lean on my family for financial support, I do have a wonderful partner who’s been looking out for me during this shift as well. I fully recognize my privilege and the ways that I’m also putting myself at risk. Now that I’m taking this “work break,” my money is slowly draining. I can’t lie, though, I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. With this new freedom, I started meditating again, working out, reading, writing for myself and prioritizing my artwork. I’ve started selling my paintings again and developed a new business plan for my Etsy shop. I’m working every day, but I’m doing it for myself and for the things I love. I forgot what that felt like. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced that feeling in my adult life so far. I’m not sure many of us ever do.
Choosing you in whatever way that manifests in your own life is scary, but it’s incredible too. I wish I could give every single person the same opportunity to stop the clock and make their own choices again, find ways to make that possible because I know how impossible it can feel. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re able to start making a plan that works for you. I hope you’re doing it in small ways every day, and I hope the tugging in your heart that craves more never fades away.
There’s something about 8:00pm that always calms my spirit — the gentle setting of the sun, the quiet comfort in knowing that neighbors and friends have returned from work and can let go. It’s in this moment when day and night touch, when their separate sounds and colors come together, that something tugs at my soul. This is when I feel most inspired.
Lately, as I focus on writing constantly, I’ve begun to pick up on tricks that keep my writer’s block at bay. Much like a particular time of the day can make me feel creative, settings have contributed to my writing as well. About three weeks ago, I moved in with my boyfriend. I realized I couldn’t rest until our room felt like it was mine too. I hung paintings, put up photos, and opened boxes containing all the books that were special to me. It made the air in the room lighter immediately, and provided me a space to want to be creative. All of a sudden, I wasn’t decorating to make our room look like a Pinterest board, I was setting up shop. Now, every time I write, whether it be in our room or our living room, I know that my surroundings are fueling me. I know sharing a space with books, artwork, outdoor views, plants, candles, sunsets, etc., entices the creativity right out of me.
Another trick I’ve recently discovered is to revisit earlier works. Currently, I’ve been working on a project in which I sift through old journals and pull out salvageable entries. I take things I’ve written in the past and retype them onto a new document in chronological order. If you’ve caught on to the fact that this sounds like I’m writing a memoir, you’d be correct! The key, I’ve noticed, is not to just copy and paste things you’ve already written. You have to give yourself time to reflect, edit, and even add new insights to ideas you’ve already had — a trick that’ll sprout more inspiration in the process.
As I piece together this new memoir project, I realize that I wasted too much time thinking I was out of fuel when really it was all around me. It was hidden in journals I had tossed aside as unworthy of my time or in essays and short stories I had written years ago. An art professor once taught me that a painting is never truly finished, that you can revisit and improve upon it forever if you wish, which was exactly the kind of advice that used to piss me off when all I wanted was to complete something. Now, I’m focusing all of my energy into contributing to, reworking, and improving all of these old “paintings”, and I’m totally obsessed. I’m writing like I used to when I was eighteen — nonstop, unfiltered, and bursting with energy. Looking through all the times I wrote to get through major chapters in my life made me fall back in love with writing again. Only this time, the dedication and attention to detail is a little more adult and refined (I hope). I definitely encourage taking the time to reflect on older projects if you haven’t written in a while and you’re not sure where to begin. At the very least, it’ll get your juices flowing.
Whether it’s a sunset, a desk with all your favorite knickknacks on it, an album, or even revisiting something you’ve already written, it helps to uncover the things that trigger your creativity. Once you get a routine going, it’s likely you won’t want to stop. I definitely don’t.