In Defense of Ritual

Hey Fledglings. Let’s talk about ‘busy,’ and why it’s not doing us any favors.

We all try to pretend that we can go full-throttle through life, reacting to whatever gets flung at us, and that this tactic is both sustainable and a path to real happiness. But how many of us are happy, and how many of us are just stressed out? Sure, we feel important and needed when we schedule every second of our day, but what’s all that ‘busy’ getting us, other than a stress headache?

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I’m busy *now*, but eventually things are going to calm down. You know, when I’m more successful/make more money/replace my car/finish school/etc.”

Is that true, though? Think really hard about this. Is your compulsively-busy life in pursuit of a specific goal, after which you have a concrete plan to change your habits? I’m betting that, like so many before you, you’re more likely to be using your busy life as an excuse to not deal with some things. I know I’ve pretended to be ‘too important/needed/busy’ to face down my negative thoughts, bad relationships, or horrible finances before. Take my advice; that’s not a sustainable plan. Life catches up, whether you want it to or not.

If we have goals in life, doing everything we could ever do ever, is not the way to reach them – it’s a good way to wind up on blood pressure medication, but it is not a good way to reach your goals. To achieve the things we want to achieve in life, the main thing we need is FOCUS. Remember how we talked about SMART goals a while back? Well, taking on All The Things, whether or not they serve our goals, just because we want to feel needed, does not fall in line with the theory behind SMART goals.

So what’s a lady to do? How can we better achieve our life goals, actually feel happy right NOW, and become comfortable with looking at ourselves and our own thoughts?

This is where ritual comes in. I’m not talking about religion, although if that’s your thing, by all means make it happen. I’m talking about the kind of ritual we can build into our daily lives, the kind that gives us time to focus on our own thoughts and goals and how we can improve them. If you’re constantly on the run from one thing to the next thing, you don’t have time to do that. So, are you reaching your goals? How would you know? You haven’t sat down in a month and a half; where are you even at on your way to those goals?

This is why I love Korean skincare. Yeah, it makes my face look and feel amazing, but it also comprises about twenty minutes of each day where I do nothing but take care of myself. During that time, I can let my mind wander. I can ponder things that are stressing me out, or things I’d like to change. I can think about my goals and if I’m doing enough to reach them. Taking time to just think is absolutely crucial to being successful in life – if you slow down for a bit, you can choose your path more carefully, and the ritual of a full skincare routine forces you to slow down.

Embrace your thoughts, even the negative ones – they’re there for a reason. If something is not right in your world, you have an opportunity to change it, but only if you know what’s going on. Paying attention to how you think and feel for a few minutes each day, maybe while you moisturize, is a good way to acknowledge that things could be better for you, and then take steps toward making things better.

I try to relax in the bathtub for a while at least once a week. It’s where I can let my mind wander for a bit, relax my sore muscles, and just be silent. Yet again, this ritual is great for me feeling grounded and able to take on the rest of the week. I usually put on a sheet mask while I’m at it, because I might as well do it up right! Heck, just making time to blog today is helping me put my own goals into perspective. I need to do that sometimes, and you do too. So let’s build a little more ritual into our lives, so that we can use that time to focus ourselves and be more successful during the rest of the day.

Here are some suggestions for time you can take to be quiet and focus:

  • Morning and evening skin routine (get that sheet mask going, you literally can’t do anything for fifteen minutes)
  • Religious services, if that’s your jam
  • Yoga/meditation class
  • Working out
  • Bath or shower time
  • A meditation app, like Headspace

No, that last bit isn’t getting me any money; I just downloaded the app about a month ago, and it’s kind of changed my life. It’s a series of ten-minute mindfulness meditations to help you focus and be aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s fantastic.

Ordering your day so that you can include a ritual or two can open up so many possibilities. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time – the things I suggested take between ten minutes and one hour – but adding in some you-time will help you reach your goals more directly. If you feel like you’re flailing around trying to reach your goals, or even trying to figure out what those goals are, try and put some more rituals into your daily routine. Get used to moving from one thing to the next as you get ready for bed, or when you come home at the end of the day. See how it feels to relax your mind a little and just be with your thoughts.

I’ve gotten some good results from this. I bet you will too.

Making Friends as a Grownup

Remember making friends in college, Fledglings? It was so easy. You’d literally just walk into the dorm-hall lobby or the cafeteria and sit down next to someone, and you’d make a friend. Forging new friendships in college required nothing more than physically leaving your room.

Well, thirteen years on from starting college, I’m here to tell you that that will be the absolute easiest time you will EVER have making new friends. Making friends as a grownup with a full-time job and relatives that need your time and attention and a partner you want to spend alone time with, is ridiculously hard to pull off. This is mainly because all the people you could be friends with right now – they also have all those demands on their time. It’s not easy out there, guys.

When I moved to west Texas from the DFW Metroplex, I knew I was leaving behind friends I’d had for at least a decade. I was sad about that, but I was also excited for a new adventure, and let’s face it, the whole ‘too many time constraints to hang with your friends’ thing was absolutely still a factor in my life in DFW. We just didn’t hang out as often as we had when I was 22, single, and functionally unemployed.

So what’s a busy birdie to do when she finds herself in a new place and in need of people to hang out with? I’ve lived here about a year and a half, and I think I’m getting the hang of it now. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Be Where The People Are. Yes, just like Ariel, you wanna be where the people are. If you’re looking for new friends to do things with, it behooves you to show up to places where people are already doing things you like. That way, even if you don’t make new friends, at least you’re getting out and doing something you think is fun. If you enjoy yoga, sign up for a yoga class – other people who like yoga take yoga classes! If you’re an artist, see what the local museums are up to and set yourself up to run into other art-lovers! If you love animals, see if your shelter takes volunteers for adoption events and hang out with other people who love animals! Going through something with other people is how friendships are forged – it’s why college is so great for forming friendships. But taking the same class or volunteering for the same organization can have a similar effect on people.
  2. Be Forthcoming. If you’re new in town and want to make friends, tell people that. I know it feels like you’re coming off as a giant dork, but it’s so easy for grownups to assume that people they meet already have social lives, and we forget to initiate those friendship-having things we all want to do together. If you’re the one wanting friends, you’ll have to speak up. Ask someone if they want to grab dinner, or share a ride to the next cat-adoption event – after you get to know them a little, obviously. They probably didn’t even know you’re short on socializing, so you suggesting something is the best way to make it happen.
  3. Be Patient. This is a big one: remember how I mentioned all those obligations we have now? Remember how I also mentioned that the people we want to be friends with also have those obligations? Yeah, scheduling a meetup is going to be hard. Schedules change, nobody has the same free evenings, last-minute work/child/home situations happen to scupper best-laid plans. Don’t get disappointed or assume people don’t like you because they keep having to reschedule – just keep trying. Give it some down-time in between, so you’re not annoying people, but if something fell through, try and reschedule as soon as you can. If you don’t put the effort in to make it happen, it becomes all to easy to end up at home every night for weeks on end. I wish events and happenings would just materialize like they did back in college, but I’ve found that it’s not nearly that easy anymore. The only way I’ve been able to make it work is to keep scheduling things, and then scheduling them again when they fall through. It gets tedious and frustrating sometimes, but so does sitting at home all the time, and at least rescheduling gives you a chance of doing something fun with your day.
  4. Be Flexible. Your hangouts may not look like you’re used to them looking, and it’s important to roll with it and focus on having fun. Your friend might need to bring their kid along on your Starbucks date. You might need your friends to come to you because you’re waiting on a delivery. Your friend’s wife might be switching to a night shift, so they can’t hang out before 7PM. These things happen, and it’s important to adjust your expectations so you can still get your social on, rather than canceling because it’s not going to be the exact hangout you wanted to have. Don’t pass up on seeing friends just because the venue/guest list/activities have changed – your friends are still there, right? Go to the thing to see them and to catch up on their lives. If you’re with good people, you’ll probably end up having fun anyway.

It’s so easy to get used to our socializing being an epic event where everyone can do whatever they want for however long they want, and all that fun is just free for the taking. The reality of being out of college and in the whole employed/partnered/responsible world has been a big change for me, and it probably is for you too, because we all have SO MUCH going on. Fun is still necessary, but now it has to be scheduled, and everyone is going to need to compromise at least a little, and it might not work out the first time you try and get together. That’s okay, I promise. When the stars align and you do end up having a fantastic time with your friends, you’ll remember why you put in all that effort, because it will be 100% worth it.

Success Backlash

What is this thing that happens when a person gets or does something great, and the people around them decide to be hateful about it? I’ve seen it when someone loses weight (“You’re *too* skinny now, you look sick”), when someone buys a house (“You’re stuck up and think you’re better than me”), even when someone gets in a serious relationship (“You’ve *changed* and you spend too much time with them”).

Why can’t we be happy for each other, Fledglings? I see this more among women than men, so I think it bears asking. Why can we not be excited when people achieve good things for themselves? I see that burning resentment on people’s faces, and I definitely read it in Facebook comments, and guys, it’s a problem.

I have some theories here, but please bear in mind that none of these are excuses for rage-quitting a friendship because the other person became successful at something. They’re more like jumping off points so that we can collectively ponder how we can stop shitting on our friends’ accomplishments like jealous, bitter middle-schoolers.

The first theory that comes to mind is that our friends’ successes throw our own failures and insecurities into sharp relief. Wedding season has been a hellish one for me in years past; seeing my friends get the happiness and love they so richly deserved came with a twinge of self-reproach, because I wanted that too and couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have it. That hurts. It’s a deep, crushing, soul-level hurt that took years to get past. I was blaming myself for not being in a relationship that was going anywhere, and in hindsight, I should have been more gentle with myself. I met my fiancé at the exact perfect time in my life – but if you’d have told me that five years ago, I’d have told you to stuff it. My current misery blocked out any hope of future contentment, so all I could see as my friends walked down the aisle was that they were happier, farther along in life, and more ‘together’ than I was.

I can’t tell you why that feeling of being a giant screwup in the romance department didn’t coalesce into a bunch of sneering resentment toward my lovelorn friends – hell, maybe it did for a while and I didn’t notice – but I’ve maintained all my friendships that were worth maintaining, so I’m thankful I didn’t sabotage myself too badly.

The thing I’ve taken away from that dark time, and subsequent (substantial) improvement, is that it was never my friends’ intention to hurt me by being so obviously happy in front of me. For one, they’re not responsible for my happiness. For two, expecting them to pass on love or success to keep me from feeling crappy about myself, is not an act of friendship. That’s an act of selfishness, expecting someone to hold off on succeeding until you’re ready to do so yourself. I wouldn’t be friends with someone like that, and I sincerely hope (maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to ask) that I wasn’t That Guy in my deeper points of ‘why me.’ That would be pretty embarrassing in hindsight.

Don’t invent a villain just so you have something tangible to be angry at.

Listen, Fledglings, if you’re feeling that nasty resentment that’s telling you how awful you are because you have to stand by and watch your friends be happy while you struggle, it is okay to take a step back. Better to put some distance and be with your thoughts, than to lash out at someone and wreck a friendship because they’re happier than you. That’s not their fault. Don’t invent a villain just so you have something tangible to be angry at.

Here’s another thought I’m having about this issue: do we feel like we’re in competition with our friends? Because my therapist would say that’s unhealthy. Are we thinking that our friend has ‘won’ and therefore we’ve ‘lost’ when they close on their gorgeous house in the ‘burbs?

Our friends don’t take anything from us when they succeed – unless you’re that other guy who helped found Facebook, I guess – so why do we feel that sense of loss when our friends embark on something new and great for them?

Maybe it’s because those big milestones often come with a lot of change, which any business manager will tell you is a hard thing for humans to grapple with. When I got engaged, I chose to move four hours away from nearly all my friends, and it’s definitely shaken my friendship tree and shown me what fruit needed to fall. But a friendship is like a business, Fledglings – if it’s too flimsy to handle change, it’s probably not supposed to exist. That’s harsh, but I’m sticking to it.

I think it’s human nature to worry what kind of changes our friendships will go through when one party makes some huge change, like having kids or starting a new career. Obviously, they’re going to live differently after this, so how do we friends fit in? Are we even a part of this new life they’ve gotten, that seems to make them so happy? Tell me that wouldn’t keep anybody up at night.

Like Billy Joel says, it’s a matter of trust. Don’t assume your friend intends to leave you behind – that’s feeding that fear and telling it that it’s real again, like when we talked about packing. Don’t do that thing, you’ll go all Don Quixote over it, chasing windmills thinking they’re Giants. There’s no need for that, when you could just ask your friend for reassurance that you’ll still be friends through all this new Life Stuff. Yeah, you have to be vulnerable to do that, but aren’t we all vulnerable, like, all the time? You asking your friend what this means is just you introducing that vulnerability and acknowledging its presence. Be brave, I know you can do it. Isn’t it better to know where you stand, even if the answer isn’t the one you’d prefer? Rejection fucking hurts, not even playing. But realizing ages later that you were more committed than they were, hurts a lot more. Odds are, your friend will have every intention of still being your friend (maybe with different schedules or conversation topics), but if they don’t, you will not physically die from it. You will move on from that weak friendship and find strong ones. And that’s you becoming successful.

Let’s be kinder to ourselves, Fledglings. We’re not competing against our friends. They’re not achieving things to spite us or to hold it over our heads (and if they are, why are they your friends?). Strive to own your own life and your own happiness, no matter where you’re at right now. That’s the best way to make sure other people’s wins are cause for celebration.