“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Transitions are hard. Now that I’m back in NYC and figuring out next steps, I find myself caught in a phase of “in-between”, a place somewhere between being and doing.
The days when I am most productive are the days when I am accountable to others, checking boxes off a list of things that require me to show up: getting coffee with someone, sending an email, exercising, applying to a job, writing this newsletter. I do it mostly to reassure myself that I can still function as a person in larger society.
Of course, there are days that go terribly awry: I start a simple task and end with 20 open tabs + a pounding headache; I say yes to another glass of wine and learn for the millionth time that an extra hour of sleep would have probably been more beneficial; I fall into a rabbit hole of social feeds and emerge hours later frustrated with my lack of self-regulation.
But truthfully, the majority of my days comprise of quiet, subtle, slightly indulgent ‘inner work’ that wouldn’t mean much to anyone else: reading old journal entries about dreams once dreamed, scribbling new plans, wandering aimlessly through the city, reflecting on the things I’ve learned.
Unstructured time means that you learn to set boundaries between these periods of reflection, productivity, and self-indulgence. I realize how lucky I am to have this time. I’m learning discernment, for knowing when and how to act. Self-forgiveness, for moments of weakness. Permission, to just be. It’s a pretty unscientific process of self-analysis + trial & error + course-correction, but it’s probably what I need most now.
It’s not all fun experimentation. If you’re prone to anxiety like me, having more free time can turn into analysis paralysis. Time, like money, is a finite resource, and can quickly drip dry. You try to remember what mountain you set out to climb to begin with and why it’s taking so long to figure it out.
So, what is time-well-spent look like in an intentional life? There’s no shortage of articles on how to be more productive, often modeled after the lifestyle of a hero CEO. Wake up early. Time block your calendar. Remove social media from your phone. Say yes to every opportunity. Actually, say no and set boundaries. Seek feedback from family & friends because you need to check your blind spots. Join support groups.
It is tempting to follow the experts & have others tell you what to do. But here’s the rub: only you can answer the question. Sure, we could all probably benefit from some time management tools, but this isn’t a productivity issue. This is a life. Simply put, you can’t delegate the direction of any one life to a generalized advice column.
Oprah always starts her Super Soul Sunday podcast by saying one of the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves is time, time to be present. I’d like to take this a step further: we should take time to be present, so we can determine our intentions and chart our future self. In fact, I’d argue that it is the most important work we can do because no one else can do it. Figure out what matters to you and from there, your choices, actions, and identities will flow. You can’t outsource this stuff, baby.
“It is the intentions, the capacities for choice rather than the total configuration of traits which defines the person. Here the stage is set for identity crises, for wondering who one really is, behind the multifold variety of actions and roles. And the search for that core person is not a matter of curiosity; it is a search for the principles by which choices are to be made.”
– What Makes a Person
I’ve come to believe that life occurs at a certain cadence – at times, we are thrust into circumstances that don’t give us much of a choice – but when we do have the privilege of choice, it is our responsibility to set a framework so we aren’t continuously sidetracked and pushed further and further away from our destination.
For those who think this is a question reserved for the privileged, it totally is. Embrace it! And if you don’t have the fortune now, just wait – your glorious moment to navigate this beautiful in-between territory will come.
I’m sure the title has you assuming all sorts of things, foremost being that I’m egotistical.
Which is probably true. But in all honesty, the only reason I’m publishing a particular letter I received is because it highlights a common dilemma facing millennials now. In the past year, I’ve crafted a number of responses to similar questions posed in the letter below. For my own clarity, I’ve consolidated my answers into a single post for the interest of anyone seeking life advice from an equally clueless (but well-meaning) 20something.
I don’t know if you remember me, but I feel like I have been following your life for a couple of years through your various blogs (creepy, maybe?) ever since I met you so long ago. I guess I just wanted to tell you that your writing and your life have amazed me as I’ve been following, the travels in Asia, and Europe, and now the adventures in New York. I have loved every single one of your blogs.
I have a few questions if you don’t mind! How did you develop the courage and confidence in yourself to pursue your goals? Being a freshman, I feel as though the future is so daunting and I really have no idea what I’m doing with myself and what direction I’m trying to head in and I’m scared that I’m wasting precious time by not knowing. Also, how are you able to design concrete projects and goals from your passions and loves?
I’d also love to collaborate with you on something one day, if you ever have a space in one of your projects for me in the future. 🙂 And one day I hope we can perhaps meet up for a great conversation over coffee, when I feel less like a child and whenever we may be able to cross paths one day.
But most of all, I’m just sending in some love and fanmail.
(SN: I think this blog could die happy knowing that in its short life, at least one person didn’t dismiss its babbles as useless. Thanks!)
What a lovely surprise to read your message. It is my first piece of “fan mail”, though I would hardly say I constitute it. However, I do often wonder if I am writing for an audience greater than one (that being myself), so your letter is reassurance that I’m at least writing for two 🙂 Thanks for reading!I’ll try my best to answer your questions but keep in mind that finding confidence and bliss is a never-ending process. I graduated from college last year and was pretty all-over-the-place with what I wanted to do, though to many my future must have seemed a sure thing. I was a broadcast journalism major from start to finish and really involved w/internships, working at television stations, etc. Now I’m working on digital strategy for entrepreneurs in NYC. Some may say I’ve veered far from my college path. True – I’m not on the news. But people change, as well as the circumstances we’re called to. In reality, I don’t think I’ve veered terribly far. The skills I learned from college journalism are applied often in my job – just not in the exact way I initially envisioned – and that’s okay. You may or may not have heard, but your undergraduate major does not matter a whole lot after you graduate. What matters much more is your skill set.Here’s my general advice:Experiment. There is no other time in your life when you aren’t bound to bills, serious relationships, family, jobs, or illness than now. Now is the time for you to try everything under the sun that suits your fancy (though don’t get too crazy with the drugs and alcohol ). Tinker with shit. Talk to strangers – that’s one way to really develop confidence.Most importantly, don’t think you’re wasting time. Believe me, life works in funny ways. In some way or another, every random, seemingly useless thing you learn will be of use down the road. Even if not in a vocational sense, there’s no harm in learning something for the pure sake of edifying your mind. It just makes you a more interesting person which is actually a lot more important than having a practical use for every single thing.As for developing concrete projects, think about what you want to improve in. Writing? Public speaking? Juggling? Drawing? Your answers should somewhat align with what you’re scared of. Design your projects in that line. The scarier, the better, and the more you’ll grow.