Everyday I sit my college-age clients who experience growing pains of all shapes and sizes.They express uncertainty about their future, worry about their choices, and confusion about their emotions. We often discuss individuation from the family and the challenges that come along with it. Some are more concrete: what do I eat? How much should I sleep? How can I stop drinking so much? Some are harder to figure out: What are my beliefs? Who do I want to be? What if I want to do something other than what my family wants?
This is only skimming the surface. Many of my clients face addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress, chronic anxiety, and even personality disorders. College and the time after we leave our family home can be difficult. And if we have a family we actually miss, that is a blessing in itself. Fortunately, (and believe me, I am grateful everyday) I had a wonderful, explorative time in college that allowed me to safely question my identity and begin on my own journey of self inquiry. But as I sit across from my clients struggling with questions of self and dealing with immense pain, I find myself relating so deeply to their feelings of being lost and being unsure. A truth I have had to wrestle with of late is: the older I get the less I am sure of. When I was young I thought I had it all figured out. Now the only thing I know, is that I know nothing. One might peer into a window of my life and think everything looks pretty good. I have a loving, committed partner, a fulfilling job, the gift of being able to teach yoga, a body that is functional and healthy, and the best friends a girl could ask for. And yet, sometimes I am sad and I don’t know why. Sometimes I am anxious. Irritable. You name it. And frankly those nasty parts of me used to frustrate me to no end. Piss me off might be a better way to describe it.
The thing is, life has a funny way of bumping up against you and showing you all the parts of yourself you wish you could hide. And boy, has my shadow being creeping up on me lately. I unsuccessfully tried to push it away for a long while, but now I am working on inviting all the parts of myself back for the party of life (even the nasties). As ugly and painful as this sounds, it has made life so much better. It’s nice to stop pretending. Is this maturity? Maybe. So, with many apologies for all the things I don’t get right, here is my very personal and flawed guide for handling adulthood (up to the ripe ol’ age of 29 anyway):
Stop caring about what everyone thinks about you, immediately if possible.
Life is hard enough without trying to please everybody. We are contending with so much: Who do I want to be? What am I passionate about? Can I live a meaningful life AND have it be financially sustainable? Will I ever pay off these damn student loans? Can I forgive my parents? Can I find a partner who will accept me for who I am? Can I accept me for who I am?
Jeez, the list goes on and on. Now add on top of that the very heavy weight of caring if everyone else thinks you’re pretty, wonderful, diligent, responsible, amazing, perfect, etc. I AM EXHAUSTED JUST WRITING IT. Even if you are the sparkliest diamond in all of the world, there will always be someone who thinks diamonds suck. How people feel about you is often a projection of their own stuff. And most of the time they are too busy thinking about themselves to even consider you. So, as my homie Dr. Suess says: Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. In essence, do you baby boo.
Don’t forget you only have one life.
Does this sound cliche? I don’t care. It’s true. There can be endless amounts of time spent on regretting or idealizing the past and worrying endlessly about the future. “Oh my god, I forgot to respond to my boss’s e-mail last night at 11pm. She is not going to think I am not committed to my work. I am probably going to get fired. No one will ever hire me again. I won’t be able to pay rent. I will end up on the street. I will be homeless. AGHHHHH.” Does this sound familiar? It’s called catastrophizing. All of this worry will take you away from what is in front of you: life. If you are eating a grape, enjoy that juicy baby. You can only do so much. So when that little worrier pops up in your mind, say hello, acknowledge his presence (yes mine is man- a police officer in fact) and then go on with your day. All your worry is not doing anything for you, but it is taking up space and making it harder for you to be the fullest expression of yourself. If this is very hard for you, talk to a friend or a therapist or a journal. And really, how much of the stuff we worry about ends up really happening anyway?
Remember that everyone wants love and acceptance, just like you.
Sometimes we feel like we are the ONLY one who has ever had a breakup, or had a loved one pass, or lost a job or stubbed their toe and started bawling. Nope. No one gets a get-out-of-jail-free card. Find comfort in the fact that everyone around you has experienced loss, sadness, and anger. It’s just that with facebook, instagram, and all the other fairy tale internet wormholes, we get to thinking that everyone is living a perfectly tanned life on the beach doing backbends. WRONG. The more vulnerable we are and the more we openly express the dark parts of ourselves, the more we allow others to do the same. I am hoping that this mentality will spread so we can stop pretending to be cool and perfect and alienating each other. So treat people with compassion. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh and also, listen to your intuition and don’t let people screw you over.
Speaking of love and acceptance, be nice to yourself.
See if you can practice treating yourself the same way you would the most precious person in your life. When you make a mistake say, “I forgive you.” When you are feeling sad, whisper “I love you and it’s okay that you are sad.” Does this sound weird? Some people might say yes. I think it’s much weirder to berate and criticize yourself all day. Get pedicures and massages. Do that bizarre thing that gives you excitement, but you stopped doing it because you are too old/too cool/too professional. Do things that make you feel alive and like a crazy little kid. Or go to therapy. I’m a big fan of therapy. And yoga.
More to come. Life keeps on teaching, and I will forever be its student.