Our thoughts and feelings about birthdays have a lot to do with how our culture and society views getting older. We focus on “losing our youth”, whether we have wrinkles or grey hair, and trying to find out if we’re “normal” compared to others our age. This is often when we do an appraisal of our life, usually measured by a timeline or scale set by standards that aren’t our own (i.e. when we “should” get married, have kids, go to school, pick a career, etc.). It doesn’t help that we have perfectly-curated windows into other peoples’ lives through social media that can make our self-assessment even more skewed toward the negative.
For me, turning 30 on September 6, 2019 doesn’t make me feel old, scared, or nervous. I often joke that I’ve been waiting to be in my thirties my whole life – a cliched “old soul” – so it’s not a number that I view negatively. However, given that self-assessment is in my Top Five Skills (more on that to come!), I can’t help but reflect on who I’ve been with a “2” in front of my age and who I want to be when that “3” comes around.
I can give myself credit for accomplishing several things in my twenties – graduating college, living in 3 different states, being financially independent, finding a good job, adopting a dog, and having a healthy and supportive relationship. These are important things that each took (and continue to take) commitment, work, and time. I’m grateful to be where I am and have the privileges that I do.
However, there are MANY ways in which I continue to hold myself back and stay in the most dangerous place of all – my comfort zone. As someone who has lived with an anxiety disorder for almost 10 years, it takes a LOT of effort to work through fear and “the unknown”. I’ve chosen to skip social events, new activities, professional advancements, and more due to being anxious, afraid, and unsure. This wasn’t always the case – unfortunately most of my issues cropped up when I started college and entered the “best years of your life!”, a saying that can only inspire pressure to live up to the social expectations. The reality for many of us (especially in my generation) is that our twenties are confusing, awkward, stressful, lonely, disappointing, pressure-filled, and not ones we would willingly repeat.
With that in mind, I started thinking of the habits, beliefs, and actions that I want to leave behind in this decade – but more importantly, what do I want to do or start now in order to start that milestone year swinging? What are my larger values, priorities, and goals and how have they changed over time? Who am I now compared to when I was about to turn 20? How have I held myself back and what can I do about it?
Confession time – I am a major list maker. So I started to do what I know best and list out some of the answers to these questions as well as specific actions or things I wanted to accomplish. As the list grew, I started thinking that I would need some major accountability help in order to start crossing off instead of adding items.
Here’s where you come in!
A little backstory: I stumbled upon the website Hello Fears after watching founder Michelle Poler’s TED Talk in late 2017; she was capping off a “100 Fears in 100 Days” project that she self-designed to intentionally put her out of her comfort zone and confront her fears. Besides relating to so much of what she was talking about, I was struck by how her fear-facing inspired others to act in their own lives, on large (coming out to a family member) and small (getting a major haircut) scales. It’s scary just to put out into the world that you ARE scared, let alone act on it – I was inspired too, but not enough to do something about it then.
So – am I now 100% ready to share my fears, insecurities, imperfections, hopes, dreams, and goals with the world? Nope! But the truth is, I will NEVER be 100% ready to do that, or anything else for that matter. What I AM ready to do is reflect, plan, and act in order to leave behind what I no longer need and enter my next decade stronger, healthier, clearer, and more purposefully. If that involves potentially embarrassing myself on the Internet, then so be it! And if even 1 person finds this blog helpful in creating positive change in their own lives, it will be 100% worth it.
If I haven’t lost you yet, please check out THE GOALS page where I will be updating my list of 30 goals as the year goes on. I will also be elaborating on each goal in the Blog, so be sure to click “Follow” if you want to keep tabs on how I’m doing – I would also love to hear from you by sending me a note through the Contact Me page! Let me know if you have your own projects in the works or if you need some help putting your thoughts together. I do love a good list-making session 🙂
Well, I could explain my absence with the usual “I’ve been really busy” (I have), “Time just got away from me” (how is it 2019??), or “I just forgot” (partially true), but the truth is I haven’t been feeling particularly motivated the last few months. Not to tackle more goals, write about it, or do much of anything really.
It’s been a bit of a rough patch for me in terms of my anxiety and general mental health, along with some not-so-good days involving chronic fatigue and pain. Also, I find that although I love the holidays, I always end up feeling run down and stressed out – I KNOW I am not the only one out there in the same frayed boat! It becomes so important to practice “self-care”, but the chances of actually doing something that requires action (even something as simple as picking up a coloring book instead of my phone) only continue to decrease as I feel worse…it’s a real chicken-and-the-egg problem.
There has also been a lot going in professionally, as I started a second job (more on that later!) and have been slowly shifting away from the field I’ve been focused on for all of my adult life. This is a cause/effect of reevaluating my priorities and what I need out of a career at almost 30 versus when I was 22. Some of these priorities are practical (i.e. ability to work from home if needed) and some are more values-based. While I know turning 30 doesn’t mean I’m “too late” to pursue other things, it does add a layer to the decision-making process.
If you are also someone who lives with anxiety or love someone who does, you are probably aware that making decisions is not our strongest suit – in fact, we absolutely suck at it. Why would people so good at researching and evaluating all possible scenarios be so bad at decisions? Because we are so good at researching and evaluating all possible scenarios! “Trusting your gut” and “just pick one and see what happens” are NOT pieces of advice that apply to people with anxiety – my “gut” tells me to stay at home and cuddle with my dog 90% of the time and the other 10% that might be productive is usually shot down by my brain (“Yeah that SEEMS like a good idea, but what if x, y, or z happens?!”). So in short, this is not a process that I can tack onto a To Do List and cross off when done, not just because of my anxiety but also because it’s relating to bigger, life-ier things.
Essentially, that’s where I’m at with the entire Goals List.
Some backstory: I recently came across a great YouTube channel called Break the Twitch, which focuses on how to live an intentional and meaningful life in practical ways. I found many of the videos valuable, but none more so than this one:
I highly recommend watching it yourself, but the basic idea is most people approach goal-setting very ambitiously without keeping in mind what is realistic and actually meaningful. Now, as someone who helps people set goals for a living, you would think I’d be pretty good at avoiding these pitfalls myself…but a recent look at my THIRTY goals for the year shows otherwise.
Instead of taking on 4-5 goals at a time, I decided on “Thirty by 30” because it sounded really cool and I was SURE I’d be able to do it all mostly because I didn’t want to “fail” at the project. Soooo not great motivations there.
Some of my goals are based on doing something every day for the whole year, meaning that not doing that habit for even one day means I couldn’t technically cross it off the list. Well, I can assure you that I haven’t done ANY of those goals every single day since my birthday in September, so those are essentially irrelevant at this point.
I also added new goals as they came up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but also can be hard to keep my priorities straight. For example, I had a great time doing a drum circle on my California trip so immediately added “Learn how to play another musical instrument” to my goals list…which apparently I’ll have the time to do while also learning a new language? Maybe that’s technically possible, but it doesn’t mean it’s doable for me with my current schedule and commitments. Also, do I really NEED to learn an instrument, or can I take the experience on a more basic level and make a goal to try more new things that initially make me anxious or nervous? One phrase I took with me from my time in California is “Just Show Up” and it’s been helping me to get out of my anxiety-bubble for things as simple as going to a gathering at a friend’s house. Maybe “Just Show Up” is an all-encompassing goal that better aligns with my priorities?
Essentially, I realized the pitfalls in my goals list and how an ambitious mindset can be both motivating and discouraging. I look at my list now and think “There is NO WAY I’m getting all this done in nine months” and that’s not helpful to me. There are also things on the list that are logistically not going to happen (i.e. we’re postponing our plans for a cruise in order to focus on paying down debt) or do not need to be definitively completed just because I’m turning 30 (like deciding if I want to run my own business at some point). While there are still goals I connect with and think are doable, I will be evaluating my goals in detail over the next couple of weeks and editing as needed.
So, “Thirty by 30” may end up being “Twenty by 30” or even “Ten by 30″…and I need to learn to be OK with that. As I mentioned previously (and need constant reminders of), sometimes I lose sight that this is MY project and not something I’m doing for a grade or because it’s a job requirement. There’s no point in doing it if I’m going to fixate on it not being a neat and tidy process with a snappy title, probably increasing the chance I won’t end up doing ANYTHING more on the list. After all, my Big Goal is to leave behind beliefs, attitudes, and mindsets that have plagued me in my twenties so that I can start my next decade mentally, physically, socially, and professionally healthier. My next step: How do I rewrite my goals (and ACT on them) so that can actually happen? I don’t have it figured it out yet, but I promise I’ll keep you in the loop as I (hopefully!) do.
The seasons have officially changed and I don’t know about anyone else, but it feels like the days and weeks are flying by even faster than normal. Between work and social events, I didn’t even realize it had been over a month since I had posted! Granted, I have not been crossing off any goals in this time, but one of my intentions is to write more frequently even if I don’t have something BIG to talk about. So with that in mind, here are some updates and thoughts for where I am now…
Reaching your goals is HARD WORK! I was hoping I would have a slight leg up on the whole process seeing as my job as a health coach is based on helping people define, set, and reach their goals. However, I also know from that experience that it takes a lot more than just writing something down to make it happen. Even with the best intentions, high level of motivation, and frustration with wherever you currently are at, the odds of not hitting your target are pretty high. A good example of this? New Year’s resolutions. It’s been estimated that only 8% of people who make them will actually achieve what they vowed they would or wouldn’t do on January 1st – that means 92% of us are stopping short somewhere along the line. And although a common saying is that “it takes 21 days to develop a new habit”, further research points to this process taking closer to two months, with a lot of variables that can extend that number much further. As you can imagine, the more complex the habit or goal, the longer it will take. I’m betting setting 30 goals at one time counts as complex…
Like most people, I am full of excuses. And like most people, they usually center on the Big Three: time, money, and energy. Sure, I have thousands of free resources that would allow me to do yoga every day right at home, but where would I find the time to do it? Plus, I’m just SO TIRED that I can’t possibly do anything else but sit around on my phone, right? Perhaps I could do a more sedentary goal like learning a second language, which should be easy enough seeing as you can learn pretty much anything on the Internet. Strangely enough though, I haven’t spent a single minute in the last few months since I set that goal doing anything bilingual unless you count watching the movie Coco (which I do recommend, by the way!). So how do you go from excuses to action? I’d like to think I’m figuring that out through this process, but most days don’t feel like I’m making too much progress with it.
Despite the obstacles, I will still finish this project. Even if it looks a little different than what I imagined or some of the goals don’t get checked off because their “finish lines” are set further into the future. A big motivator for doing “Thirty by 30” in the first place was to set myself up to live more purposefully as I get older and that is simply not something that can be magically accomplished before another birthday rolls around. At the same time, I know my personal ability to follow through has been dwindling over the last few years (I believe I estimated it to be -25% today) so I don’t want to just throw up my hands and call it a day. So I plan to work a little harder than I have the past month to tackle some of those goals, but also find the balance with living in the now and not being TOO focused on “self-improvement”. Unfortunately in the past, that focus has backfired by putting too much pressure on myself and being extra disappointed when things don’t happen as quickly or noticeably as I want them to. Also, there are SO MANY “self-help” resources out there that “paralysis by analysis” becomes a real thing. Finding balance is probably one of the toughest but most important things in living a happy life and I’m hoping this project ultimately teaches me (and maybe my readers!) how to do so in the long run.
So friends, that’s the status of things right now and I’m really going to try being more consistent with my posts. I think the simple act of writing is almost therapeutic for me and usually helps me shake the cobwebs a bit so I can look to the next step. My goal for the next week is to cross off ONE goal from the THE GOALS and write about it on the blog – I hope you’ll stay tuned to find out what it is!
“In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks” – John Muir
How often do you have a day where the only time you get to spend outside is walking to and from your car on your way to and from work, school, the store, or an appointment? For many of us in today’s world, this happens much more frequently than we would like to admit. Although I love being outdoors and happen to live in one of the most beautiful states in the U.S., it’s all too easy to just go through the daily motions and spend most of my time in front of a screen instead of in fresh air. That kayak in my parents’ shed hasn’t hit water in two years, my hiking shoes have barely left the shelf, and I feel pretty accomplished if I take Rocky on a walk every night. It was a big wake-up call on my recent California trip for how much time I don’t spend doing things I already know I love to do, especially when talking to people I met from other states and cities who don’t have the luxury of nature in their backyard. Plus, there’s the peace and quiet of being away from modern life and the stressors we all have, even if just for a few minutes, that can have intangible benefits physically and mentally (and if you happen to be able to meet a 1,200 year old redwood tree, I highly recommend it).
I decided to make more of an effort to spend time in nature, which some days has been as simple as eating a meal on the deck instead of parked in front of the TV. However, I also wanted to go on more hikes and quick trips to some of our amazing state parks (with a national park on my official goals list!). With my birthday coming up, my boyfriend Brian planned on us going on our first hike at Milton Town Forest, a 350-acre woodland park which includes 6 miles of trails and a large central pond, all within a few miles of our home. I had wanted to check out the park since I moved to town 6 months ago, but was one of those “when we get around to it” things. Additionally, I had been wanting to take our dog Rocky on some hikes seeing as he loves the outdoors, but his reactivity with other dogs has held me back. Well, Brian decided we would take the day off and give it a go, Rocky included.
Not going to lie – I was nervous. With images of Rocky barking at other dogs while I desperately cling to his leash and trying to get him away from the dog/owner who I’m trying not to feel ashamed by in my head, we packed up and headed out. Thankfully, the parking lot only had 2 other cars and given the time (Friday at 11:30 am), the trail was pretty much deserted. As it turns out, we didn’t meet a single dog and Rocky is a woodsman!
He had the greatest time climbing over tree roots and rocks, plus his beagle-blood was getting a major workout with all the smells. The humans were having a fun hike as well and I really appreciated that we were spending time together outdoors instead of binging a show on Netflix or simultaneously scrolling through our phones. Our phones were only around to capture pictures and I’m really glad that I did – as much as I hate to think about it, I’ll really treasure the pictures of Rocky having a blast someday when he isn’t here anymore. I mean, look at his face! I also reflected on my tendency to be hesitant and cautious about things, even when there’s a pretty low risk associated with it. For example, we had been curious about whether Rocky likes water or swimming. While I didn’t get him close enough to the pond to find out, Brian casually took his leash and led him down a small bank toward the water’s edge. After a couple seconds of “what if” thinking, I realized that Rocky was stepping right into the pond and taking a big drink. He managed to do a few swim strokes before heading to the shore and looked super happy with himself – so we had our answer!
A bit later, we came upon a Tupperware container underneath a tree stump that I instantly thought was 1) dangerous or 2) something illegal, so just wanted to move on as quick as possible. On the other hand, Brian’s educated curiosity led him to think it was intentionally placed and picked it right up. It turns out he was right and a new interest was formed – geocaching! If you’re unfamiliar with what that means, geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt whereby you use GPS to find hidden containers that contain a log book for finders to sign and personal tokens you can optionally leave behind for your geocachers. Apparently it’s incredibly popular and there are geocaches hidden all over the place – there’s probably one near your backyard! It sounded like a fun way to get outside and explore, so I decided to add geocaching to my goals list for the year; a bonus is it’s a goal and activity that Brian and I can do together. We’re already one geocache deep!
All in all, we had a GREAT afternoon of exploring in nature (for almost 3.5 miles!) and didn’t need to go outside of town to do it. Coincidentally, I had also just read about the 7 parks within town in the most recent parks and recreation flyer, so also decided to add visiting each park to my goals list. I knew I wanted to add more time outside to my life this year and this list gives me a tangible way to plan and progress. Plus, it’s a place where Brian and I can spend quality time together without a screen AND we can continue working on Rocky’s social skills. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!
So get outside and play – maybe after you read the latest Thirty by 30 blog post? 😊
As always, thank you for reading and be sure to follow the blog for updates!
Well, it’s official…I turned 29 yesterday! I’m not a huge fan of making a big deal about birthdays (says the person who started a website based on a single birthday), so it was nice to just keep things low-key. As is tradition, my coworkers decorated my work space (see above for an amazing The Office reference from my fellow TV nerd, Doug) and gave me a lovely card and cake, along with my choice of an Amazon gift (spiralizer FTW!). I was also lucky to have some of my favorite clients for personal training sessions and an early shift meant I could take it easy the rest of the day. Believe me, I had grand plans about what I would do between work and dinner – I would at LEAST write a blog post (after all, my birthday IS the bookmark for this whole thing), do some yoga, take Rocky for a walk, AND maybe even cross of another goal to really start my 29th year on the right foot. In the end I accomplished…absolutely none of it.
But isn’t that just the way it goes? We put ALL of our items on the To Do List and give ourselves an unrealistic amount of time to do it, and then get frustrated and discouraged when it doesn’t all going according to plan. As a big list maker, I do this ALL. THE. TIME. While I do believe there are great benefits to making lists and having structure, I’ve had to learn that there is a bit of a mental toll to only seeing like 2 out of 20 items crossed off at the end of the day/week/month/whatever. It sets you up to feel like you can’t accomplish anything because you weren’t able to do EVERYTHING. I know from experience that things like self-care and downtime don’t tend to make these lists, because isn’t that what we’re trying to reduce or eliminate by “doing” things? Unfortunately, this means that if you’re like me, you have a hard time enjoying your free time and days off because you’re worried about not being “productive”…which usually leads to being less productive (hello, Netflix binge)…which leads to feeling really s****y about yourself. So that’s a “goal” of mine in itself this year – be realistic with my time and allow myself to get away from the lists sometimes and just enjoy being present. However, I’m not putting that on the “goals list”, because doesn’t that defeat the point a bit? 🙂
So what DID I do on my birthday after work?
Cuddle with Rocky (obviously)
Scroll through my Facebook notifications and feel grateful for all of the great people from all corners of my life wishing my a happy birthday (seriously, you all are great)
Make myself a G & S (gin & seltzer!)
Read (is anyone else reading “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle McNamara?? I have to read it in the daytime because it’s so spooky and I’m a chicken)
Make dinner with Brian (who brought wine, roses, and cake home – lucky!)
Binge watch the last few episodes of “Great British Baking Show” Season 5 (thank you, Netflix gods!) while mowing down on cake
Fall asleep in bed watching said baking show
And you know what? I don’t feel the least bit guilty about not hitting my goals for the day. That’s not to say I didn’t have thoughts of “ugh I really SHOULD be doing something” (we’ve talked about “should-y situations” already…), but at the end of the day it didn’t matter. There’s always tomorrow, or in my case, 364 days to go.
While it is a little fun to now say “my last year in my twenties”, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between 28 and 29. Where I DO feel it is in knowing my self-imposed deadline is now technically less than a year away and so far I’ve crossed off one goal – yes, it was a BIG ONE, but I was secretly hoping that getting a couple month jump start on the year would mean I would be tackling the goals left and right. Surprise, surprise – it’s just a big To Do List!
So instead, I did some thinking today about where I might want to set my sights next and just start chipping at things as much as I’m able to. Getting this blog post out is a good start and I hope to write more frequently throughout the year, even if it isn’t goal-meeting specific. Stay tuned for another post that will discuss my difficulties with calling for appointments for myself, which I’ve already started to tackle by seeing a new primary care provider last week (one down, two more health pros to go!). I’m also going to be adding new goals to the list as I go, starting with two new goals I’ll be talking about in my next post – check out the updated goals list for a sneak peek!
Overall, I’m feeling optimistic and motivated about the year ahead, while also trying to be kind to myself and realistic about meeting my goals. This is something I work with my clients on all the time and now will be doing my best to apply it to my own life – if you have any tips and tricks, I would love to hear them in the comments below!
The Why: Confront my anxiety of being in new places without others to fall back on for support
Thank you for sticking around for the conclusion to my California trip experience – if you’re just finding this blog, please head over to Leavin’ on a Jet Plane: Part 1 to catch up.
This last post will focus on my free time on the Central Coast, travel day issues, and my plan now that I’m back home. If you have any of your own solo travel stories to share, I would love to hear about them in the comments section!
I was riding the Zen wave after my last group session when I gathered up my luggage and prepared for what I thought would be an easy Uber trip down to Santa Cruz from Scotts Valley (about a 15 minute drive). Unfortunately, something was malfunctioning with the Uber app and all I saw was a “Looking for drivers” message and no cars in the area map…for almost an hour I tried restarting my phone and resubmitting the request, but nothing worked. Ok, world – first test of my recently strengthened bravery skills.
I ended up asking one of the 1440 staff for help and I’m not sure what he did, but within 5 minutes I had a driver on his way to get me. Lesson learned: JUST ASK FOR THE DAMN HELP ALREADY.
My second Uber driver was super nice and very California – a 63 year old vegetarian and daily meditator who visits New York City every few months to visit his elderly mother. It was a great transition into the “real world”, although my next stop was keeping the peaceful vibe going pretty well too.
It was my first time using Air BnB and my hosts were extremely welcoming, along with with their lovely home. Private room full of amenities and homey touches, plus an outdoor garden space complete with the perfect spot to get sucked into a book – I could have stayed here for weeks! Unfortunately, I was only there until the next evening so tried to take advantage of my time as much as possible. At my host’s suggestion, I ended up walking to a traditional Hawaiian restaurant just a few minutes away that served up braised pork, macaroni salad, white rice, AND a sushi roll made with Spam – yep, you read that right.
Local and organic it was not, but what a delicious way to end the day. I spent the rest of my night reading outside, doing a little yoga, and journaling before going to bed. Maybe it was a combination of these things, but I ended up having the BEST sleep I’ve had in months and actually felt rested when I woke up the next day. I could get used to this!
I ventured out early and walked to another restaurant suggested to me about 20 minutes away near the coastline. The area felt very safe and I had a good time strolling around without any real schedule or agenda. I popped into Cat and Cloud for a quick breakfast and chai latte, finding out that the barista has a friend in Vermont (“Is that the state with only one area code?”). In fact, the whole place felt a little like “Burlington by the beach”,
so I was pretty happy. It was an easy walk from there to find my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, although the clouds and cool air of Santa Cruz in the morning wasn’t encouraging me to take a dip. There were plenty of surfers there who felt otherwise! I really liked how there was a wide path along the whole coast for walkers, bikers, and LOTS of dogs. You could head down to the sand on long staircases built to come down off the cliffs, and I finally was able to at least get my feet in this new ocean.
I spent some time at each spot just taking a few minutes to appreciate where I was and all I was seeing. I brought my journal along to capture any thoughts that may come up, but I still need to practice this more so it becomes a little more natural. I think we have all gotten more used to sharing our thoughts on social media rather than putting them into something personal and reflective, without any “likes” on the line. Although I was taking plenty of pictures, I really tried not to use my phone more than to send a quick text back home. It was much harder to stay away from scrolling when I wasn’t at 1440, but I at least I was trying to be more conscious of my habits.
I spent a few hours just wandering along through the neighborhood and honestly had to stop myself from looking creepy by taking pictures of all the interesting homes and landscaping. In Vermont we have lawns with grass, but the drought conditions and unique vegetation meant lawns look WAY different than back
home. It was really interesting to notice all the differences and remark on just how diverse our natural world is (and hopefully will continue to be…).
All in all, it was a very peaceful but interesting leg of the trip and I got to practice another skill that I often struggle with – letting go of that feeling of not fitting in. As it turns out, the people in Santa Cruz are way more apt to be walking around in exercise clothes and sneakers than a nice top and jeans. Soooo I had to quiet that inner voice that says “See, you should have worn something else” whenever I met someone on the street. Much as I did in the airport security line, I tried to quiet it by reminding myself that I’m not actually the center of everyone else’s universe and I’ll never see these people again, so what does it matter? The only thing I should have been worried about was being dressed too warmly because as soon as noon hits, the clouds all disappear and it is nothing but SUN the whole day!
I wanted to get the tourist experience before I left Santa Cruz, so I took the bus over to the Boardwalk area and I was NOT disappointed! The Boardwalk is full of people, food, rides, shops, and a great stretch of the beach. I actually didn’t feel out of place being by myself and enjoyed just walking around and taking things in without having to worry about other people wanting to walk faster or ride the rides or wait in line for something I didn’t care about. I spent a couple hours there total, mostly in a souvenir shop because I can’t decide on anything – another skill to practice!
I headed back up to San Jose so that I could spare myself an hour long drive at 3:30 am for my flight the next morning and again had a great Uber driver who was fun to get to know a little. He was originally from Mexico and had started driving for Uber a few months ago to earn better pay than at his job at a taxi service. Although he didn’t speak a lot of English, we bonded over country music and scenic roads. Again, you never know someone’s story so sometimes it pays just to ask!
My last night in California was a mellow one, considering I had walked well over 2 miles during the day and had the sunburned nose to prove it. On my second Air BnB hosts’
recommendation, I finished out my Food Tour at an authentic Mexican restaurant a short walk away. I’m not even sure how I managed to eat 3/4 of this chimichanga, but it must have been all that walking or something! After my feast, I headed back to my room at the condo and prepped for my travel day. I knew my anxiety would be a little higher, but assumed everything would go as smoothly as my first travel day and tried to get a decent night of sleep…neither of those things ended up happening.
Everything started out just fine when I got my last ride of the trip over to the San Jose airport, just 5 minutes away. Security was pretty easy and I had time to eat a regular breakfast at one of the cafes. My 6:30 am flight left right on time and within about 4 1/2 hours I was officially back on EST and landing in Atlanta, GA. I thought I had about 2 hours to grab lunch, charge my phone, and get ready for my flight up to NYC. Then I started getting updates on my Delta app about delays in NYC due to weather…
As it turns out, a storm system over NYC wasn’t moving on and flights to and from JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark were all getting delayed or cancelled. My connecting flight from JFK to Burlington suddenly went from a 9:15 pm departure to 1:55 am and that’s when the anxiety reallly started ramping up…only to keep increasing when I found out my 4:00 pm flight from ATL wouldn’t be leaving until 8:00 pm. I’m not proud to say that my response to all these changes was to basically have a breakdown in the middle of the airport. Oh, but what about all that meditation and journaling I just spent 4 days doing? Yeah, that was right out the window when the stress response kicked in. I went right back to my old habits of obsessively looking up flight changes (which my JFK to BTV flight did at least 6 times), scrolling through Facebook, Googling “what happens if you miss your connecting flight”, and seeking comfort from people back home. In short – I was a mess.
In the end, I spent over 6 hours at the Atlanta airport and besides having stiff muscles and a lighter wallet, I wasn’t in any serious catastrophe. That’s something my therapist mentioned once – “Is it a problem or is it a catastrophe?”. People with anxiety tend to leap to a catastrophic mindset where whatever is happening that is unpleasant, inconvenient, unexpected, or negative turns into THE WORST THING EVER. So I tried to remind myself that I would get home eventually, but the long days of schlepping my luggage around and not sleeping in my own bed were wearing on me.
I spent the entirety of the 2 1/2 hour flight in Panic Mode over the very real likelihood that I would miss my last flight and have to spend the night in NYC. I ended up looking at hotel listings, sleep options at the airport, and even Greyhound bus tickets that could get me back to Vermont faster than waiting overnight for a flight. I was frustrated when the in-flight WiFi wasn’t strong enough to update my Delta app every 5 seconds, even though every time I did check it, it still said 11:00 pm departure. When the plane touched down, I only had 30 minutes before the scheduled departure, and seeing as I was in the 35th row, I wasn’t going ANYWHERE for at least another 15. As I stood in the tiny row waiting for anyone to start moving, I was panic-texting Brian and my Mom about how I wasn’t going to make the flight and didn’t know what to do. With 10 minutes to spare, I was that person sprinting through the airport with my luggage, even over the moving walkways which I typically am PETRIFIED of. When I got to my gate, I didn’t notice many people around and thought they must have already prepped to leave. At that minute, I heard a young couple asking if anyone else was going to Burlington and I immediately felt a surge of hope. I’m sure those people felt a surge of “this woman is unstable” as I ran over to them, sweaty and sleep deprived, and joined in the Vermont-bound group. It turns out that Delta had moved the flight last minute to leave at 11:40 pm and I could finally take a deep breath (and run to the bathroom…). I did manage to run through a meditation session on my phone while the plane was getting ready to head out, but I was a little disappointed in myself for not using that as a resource throughout the day. It showed me that I really can’t change everything from just a few days away and that my nervous system still has a mind of its own. The important thing is I landed in VT, was greeted by Brian, and was able to sleep most of the next day away 🙂
Back in VT…
So now what?
It’s really easy to feel like you’ve made progress in a retreat that is set up for personal growth and reflection or in a city where you don’t nobody so there aren’t any expectations. I knew it would be a challenge to keep up with things like daily meditation (still not there), yoga (working on it), journaling (once or twice?), and time in nature (that I have managed, weather permitting!). But the overall takeaway from my trip was a new guiding phrase: “Just Show Up”. That’s what I did when I was nervous to meet my group mates, take the drumming class, or sign up for this thing in the first place. I wanted this trip to be a stepping stone where I could say “Hey, I DID manage to fly across the country by myself, so doing ______ isn’t so bad”. Most people would find it easier to make a doctor’s appointment than flying across the country alone (and only on your second air travel trip ever) without this experience, but what can I say – I’m a hands on learner!
So I’m moving forward through my goal list and other opportunities in general by just showing up and seeing what happens. It’s still hard for me to quiet the voice of perfectionism, but remembering that mistakes are ok AND expected is something I’m continuing to practice. To help me out, I try to think back to the drumming circle at 1440, where one person’s “mistake” was meshed into the collective sound so that you couldn’t even tell it had happened – the community had your back. I’m working on strengthening my unique communities and relationships and finding more people to connect with through shared interests and activities. If I can do that in 2 1/2 days with total strangers 2500 miles from home, then why not here?
The Why: Confront my anxiety of being in new places without others to fall back on for support
It’s been a little over a week since I returned home from my Big Solo Trip – sorry if I kept you in suspense! Besides just having to get back into “real world mode”, I’ve been busy trying to decide how I wanted to approach writing about my experience. Not to be too dramatic, but there are a lot of things I couldn’t even begin to describe because the sights, sounds, and feelings are intangible (or let’s be honest, sound a little goofy). I also don’t want to fall into the “female finding herself” trope whereby it looks like I had some grand epiphany (set to swelling inspirational music, obviously) and now am a completely different person. Undoubtedly, I learned things about myself through the whole experience and had to leave my comfort zone many times, both important reasons why I wanted to do this kind of trip in the first place. But to me, this trip is a catalyst for further change in the longterm and I still have a lot of work to do to reach my 29 other goals. It all started with booking this trip, so I’m excited to share my experiences and hopefully inspire some of you to take a leap past your comfort zone as well.
In this post, I’ll be focusing on my time at 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, CA. I also spent time in Santa Cruz and San Jose, which I’ll be discussing in my next (hopefully shorter!) post.
If you happened to read my departure day post, you know things got going in the early morning of August 10th (3:30 am EST to be specific). Maybe it was getting all my packing done ahead of schedule, having gone through the experience of airport security already, or just a mark of the work I’ve been putting in the last few months, but I was surprisingly relaxed the morning of. I didn’t get much sleep (as is common whenever I have something big to wake up for) and I still felt like I was missing something (turns out I only brought ONE hair tie…), but I wasn’t an anxious mess when Brian dropped me off. As I talked about in the last post, I definitely had my share of fumbles during security, which usually ratchets my anxiety up considerably. This time around, I tried paying attention to my fellow travelers in a way that wasn’t in relation to me…if you have anxiety, you probably understand that it is actually a pretty self-centered condition to have. In this mindset, literally everyone is spending their time paying attention to and making judgements about what you’re doing/saying/wearing/thinking/etc. – you really are the center of the world. I had to get it in my head that nobody really cared what I was up to as long as I wasn’t interrupting their own ability to get through security. It helped to remember that I am, in fact, NOT everyone else’s top priority. This will come in handy later on in the trip and is still a skill I’m practicing!
As for the actual flying process, I truly did not feel anxiety higher than maybe 2/10. I actually have found that I prefer flying to being in a car and generally feel pretty safe on the plane. I also HAVE to sit in the window spot because I do notice my nerves revving up when all the windows are shut – maybe a slightly claustrophobic issue? Either way, I had picked window seats for all of my flights and was lucky to have good row mates who didn’t seem to think it was crazy that I spent a good deal of time taking pictures of the sights below.
Although it was a long flight, the time went by pretty easily and I landed in San Jose, CA around 12:00 PST (new time zone woohoo!). I had a couple hours to kill before I could check into 1440 Multiversity so grabbed some lunch and prepped for the next step in the journey: getting an Uber. Now, I’ve used Uber a couple of times before but always with someone else to do the actual work and keep me company in the car. My anxiety level went up to about 4-5/10 as I thought about leaving the little bubble of the airport. Eventually, I decided to grab the blank journal I brought with me to write out my anxious thoughts and make a to do list of my next actions. When it came time to actually book the Uber, it was quick and easy. My driver was a little quiet, but once I pushed the conversation a little bit (it was a 45 minute trip after all), I learned he had been a respected pediatrician in Moscow and that his first language is actually Farsi. He told me about his family in the U.S., how he has the worst English of them all but is trying really hard to get better, and that his grandkids barely have an accent because they were born here. I don’t think he understood what “Vermont” or “New England” are, but he didn’t need to; we had a pleasant (if a little awkward) chat and wished each other well when he handed me over to the 1440 staff. Lesson learned: Put yourself out there and get talking!
The first thing I noticed when I got to the 1440 campus is how GORGEOUS everything is – the redwood trees, unique landscaping, modern rustic decor, walking paths, etc. The second thing was how nice the staff members are and how comfortable they made me feel. My guide showed me a detailed campus map, gave suggestions for hiking spots, and let me know the general schedule for my program. As a Discovery Weekend participant, I was to see a sampling of what 1440 offers with the overall goal of “discovering” something new about myself. After checking into my private room (small but cute!) and doing a thorough review of the schedule (as per usual), I could feel my fatigue setting in, along with the nervousness of leaving what was now my “room bubble” to see what was to await me. I decided to start with a casual walk around the main campus to orient myself with the map, snap some pictures, and maybe jump into a class offering. So that’s what I did!
The class offering before dinner was a Qi Gong introduction that ended up being in the outside amphitheater. I had done a similar class many years ago so it wasn’t a new concept, but I did enjoy the way the instructor discussed energy and movement; plus it was a great way to move around after a cross-country flight!
Dinner was next up and let me tell you – that food was AMAZING! Everything was either grown on site or at local farms, mostly organic, and served with a great deal of care and attention to detail. Did I mention it was also buffet style and you could eat as much as you wanted?
Meal times in a new place are inherently anxiety-inducing and I wasn’t sure if I should try to find a random spot with others or just take some time to enjoy a meal by myself. I noticed there were many others eating solo and I decided to challenge myself to be comfortable with being alone. I figured there were so many sights and sounds to take in and I wanted to focus on the tastes of my food, so took a spot at a lovely wood table at the edge of the porch. Most of the meal time was just fine, but I ended up calling home to check in with my Mom and let her know I was doing well. So I didn’t necessarily do what I intended, but I was still happy with myself for letting it be okay to eat alone AND trying not to just mindlessly scroll on my phone to make me feel less awkward.
We had a couple welcome sessions scheduled, but I was honestly too tired to attend. At that point, I had been awake for roughly 18 hours and the extent of my traveling caught up with me. So, instead of joining the social activities, I took the opportunity to soak in the 101 degree Fahrenheit outdoor infinity tub overlooking the redwood forest (no pics because I didn’t even bring my phone!) and went to bed by 9:00 PST. While I didn’t push through in terms of socializing, I truly felt like it was what my body needed and I was happy with myself for listening to my needs and practicing self care.
Considering the time change, it was no surprise that I was up EARLY – 4:00 am PST to be exact. I was hoping for a really great night’s sleep, but that unfortunately didn’t happen. Now, I am NOT a morning person, so being up before dawn wasn’t my favorite way to start the day. However, I took advantage of the early wake up to attend a meditation session across campus. As with qi gong, I had done meditation before and have been trying to incorporate it into daily practice with only occasional success (it is one of my 30 goals though!). The instructor, Bill, was great and helped explain the science behind meditation and mindfulness and how it can be used to reduce stress related conditions and sharpen focus. Did you know that long-time meditators have brains that are an average of 7.5 years younger than their non-meditating counterparts? Seems like a good enough reason to me to start making my daily goal a reality!
After meditation, we had a delicious breakfast that I also flew solo for. I was enjoying paying attention to my food and trying to keep the mindfulness practice going through my meal (meditation isn’t just sitting on the floor with your eyes closed!), but also getting nervous about the next scheduled activity: a group session for Discovery Weekend that didn’t come with a description.
Now, because I didn’t go to the opening session the night before, I was super anxious about joining the group. What if people thought badly of me for not going? What if friendships had already started to form and I was left out? What if there was something we needed to bring that I didn’t know about? I told myself I could just NOT go and have to deal with knowing any of those answers, that would be the “easy” option after all. However, I made myself walk towards the meeting spot and told myself I would just check out what was happening and I could leave if I needed to. Anxious people always need to have an exit strategy, even if it’s just an illusion to make us feel better…what, we’re complicated!
The meeting spot was another outdoor amphitheater-style space called the Cathedral, which was built around the Mother Tree – a 1,200 year old redwood tree that was a “must visit” according to my initial guide person. I decided to head down to the tree by myself and then see how I felt about sticking around for the session. Depending on your relationship with nature, this may sound entirely reasonable or entirely psychotic, but I felt an ENERGY from being around the Mother that is indescribable – almost like a sudden boost to my inner strength. I had been told that touching the tree is a right of passage at 1440, and in doing so I could see why. Connecting with the tree while staring up (and up and UP) at the tree top and thinking about what that one tree had been around to witness was overwhelming. Given the terrible forest fires going on just a couple hours north, it held particular significance and relevance. I can’t explain how or why, but being around that tree gave me courage and I walked into the group session with my curiosity outweighing my fear.
As it turns out, I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of – the people who were also doing the Discovery Weekend were some of the nicest and most welcoming I’ve ever met. In fact, one of our guides greeted me with a warm hug when I introduced myself to the group and instantly put my mind and body at ease. When I explained why I needed to skip last night’s session, everyone seemed very understanding and impressed that I had travelled so far to get there. The rest of the session pushed me out of my comfort zone through partner activities and personal reflection, but the setting felt very safe and I felt myself loosening up as the couple hours went on. After some private time to journal as we saw fit, we wrapped up with a silent hike through the redwoods towards the main campus. Have you ever tried walking in silence with a group of people? It feels so strange at first, especially to someone very aware of awkward silences like me! I think it was a challenge for everyone, but ended up being a very mindful and almost meditative practice – plus that hike definitely got the blood pumping and ready for lunch!
It turns out we would be preparing our own lunch in the Teaching Kitchen, an industrial kitchen with pretty much anything you could want (that row of stand mixers was like staring at the sun). We worked in small groups to prepare three recipes using the food grown on site or locally, led by a great registered dietitian named Jocelyn. In the end, we had a DELICIOUS meal of zoodles (zucchini noodles, spiralized by us!) with fresh made pesto (no cheese or olive oil, somehow more delicious than usual!), dairy free ricotta, and tomatoes, with an avocado chocolate pudding for dessert. Thank goodness we went home with the recipes! Jocelyn did a great job of giving us nutritional information for everything we made and answered any questions we may have had. As a health coach, I found it really great to hear from another “balanced” nutrition source about current diet trends and the need for individualized strategies. We also got to walk around the onsite garden, which I am very jealous of…someday!
After some free time to just read (and nap), I took a surprisingly intense yoga class and had another delicious dinner, this time with my group mates. Then came the activity I was the most nervous about when I browsed the agenda: Interactive Rhythm Session.
I had no idea what these 90 minutes would entail exactly, but I knew I had that familiar mix of “This sounds really cool” and “I shouldn’t go because I don’t know what to do” thinking that oftentimes ends with me choosing to follow the advice of the second statement. However, I had to remind myself what the whole point of this trip was – getting OUT of my comfort zone and proving to myself that not being “perfect” at something is ok. It helped that by this time I had made friends with my group mates and everyone was expressing a little apprehension about giving the class a try. With that in mind, I made myself walk into the class, sat behind a djembe (traditional drum from West Africa), and got ready to make some music.
I can’t overstate this enough – IT. WAS. AWESOME.
Our instructor, Jim Greiner, was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and set such a feeling of safety and fun. He emphasized the communal history and role of drum circles and how music is a universal language that human beings are hardwired to connect to. His sessions focus on 3 Cs: Communicating, Cooperating, and Celebrating – not something you see in your daily life these days, right? All were present in this session and it only got better as we all loosened up. Sitting turned into standing, which turned into dancing, which turned into laughing, and ended with a pretty magical moment where over 50 people stopped playing simultaneously with just one cue. One man in the audience said the drum session was the first time he’s felt happy in as long as he can remember – that was a pretty powerful thing to hear. It reminded me how much I used to enjoy playing music and especially doing so with a group of people. I remember journaling that night before bed about wanting to find classes when I returned home, so maybe that can be added to the goal list!
All good things must come to an end, and so did my time at 1440. I started the day with a gentle yoga class and yummy breakfast before heading to our last group session. Again, this will probably sound crazy (or “woo-woo” as some would say), but this group session had a transformative feeling about it. In silence, we all walked single file through the campus labyrinth, a stone path on the edge of the forest.
Jim was back to lightly drum a steady beat as we had time think and reflect on our own paths up until this point and where we might take our lives when we reach the “center”, whatever that meant for you. I won’t lie – I was skeptical about all this at first. But as I stepped forward, I got surprisingly overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the literal and figurative steps I had been taking to get there. Here I was 2500 miles away from home, with a group of people who were total strangers 48 hours earlier, feeling comfortable enough to share my experiences and struggles. As a group, we each discussed how the one word we wrote down at the beginning of the program related to us now. The word I chose to work towards was brave and I was certainly feeling much braver than when I started.
If you’ve made it this far – congrats and THANK YOU! Stay tuned to read about the next two days of my trip in Part 2 – The Wrap Up!
The Why: Confront my anxiety of being in new places without others to fall back on for support
Well friends, the time has come – it’s TRIP DAY!
Besides being a bit sleep-deprived, I’m actually doing pretty well as I sit and wait for my boarding time. I made sure to pack as early as I could yesterday to avoid last-minute panicking and other than forgetting extra hair ties (which are always in abundance when you DON’T need them, amiright?) I think I’ve got everything taken care of. Unlike many people, the actual flight doesn’t bother me at all – it’s the logistics of knowing what to do and when. As I mentioned in the first trip post, a lot of my social anxiety is rooted in being worried I’ll do something “wrong”, “awkward”, “embarrassing”, or make it obvious that I’m a newbie. So as expected, I made some goofs going through the security line, but you know what? So did almost everyone else around me! (I’m looking at you, guy trying to fly with full sized bottles of olive oil – I get it, but read the rules, man!)
Something I’m hoping to gain from the trip is a better ability to let go of worrying so much about making a fool of myself, or at least raising the bar for what that constitutes. Nobody there knows me at all, so why worry? Maybe I’ll be “that girl who face planted from tripping on her own feet”, but at least that’ll be a fun story for people to tell!
I will be trying to stay off my phone as much as I can once I get to California, but will definitely take lots of pictures that I’ll share in my next post. In the meantime, I’ll be doing a lot of waiting around and trying to snag a nap when I can – wish me luck!
P.S. Special shoutout to Brian for driving me to the airport at 3:30 am. He really is a keeper.