Making Sense of Where You Are

Let me be clear, I do not have my life figured out. I know I have plans and I’ve set things in motion to move my life in the direction which I’d like to be headed. However, I don’t fully understand every thing that has happened or will happen. I’ve laid awake at night like many of you probably do questioning my decisions, my circumstances, and most importantly my responses to those decisions and circumstances.

In those sleepless nights, a few new things have been considered and understood:

  1. Happiness can be cultivated with the right habits
  2. Self-discovery often involves other people and resources
  3. Being vulnerable, while terrifying, is necessary for me to connect with others and to understand my journey

Never have I ever claimed to be some kind of therapist or authority on emotional well being, but I’m sharing these with you because I’m certain I’m not the only one trying to make sense of his life and the choices I’m making.

Ok, let’s unpack these.

Cultivating Happiness

With a little digging anyone can find some interesting facts. TIME referenced the Happiness Index of America compiled by the Harris Poll back in July of 2016. Our score based on those sampled is a whopping 31

out of 100.

Not so great. There were varying degrees of happiness depending on things like gender, age and wage. But all in all, 31.

Some days I fall right in line with that score. Lately though, I’ve tried to be really intentional with my emotions, specifically my happiness.

I’m not even sure I’ve told my family this, but here you go: I’ve been on pretty heavy anti-depressants since 2011. #vulnerabilty.

I don’t want to say, “I’m not proud” of having to be on them because I don’t think there’s shame in identifying something with which you’re struggling and seeking professional help. I do, however, wish I didn’t need them. About a month ago I asked my doctor to take my dosage down by 50%. It’s been a challenge, and had I done that a few years ago I might not have had the ability to create the tools necessary to navigate the adjustment to my body’s chemistry. I definitely felt a change, had some trouble getting out of bed some days, but I’ve managed to stay afloat with some ways to focus positive emotion.

  1. I Keep a Gratitude Journal – My mom loved watching the Oprah Winfrey Show back in the day. I first heard of this tool then and thought it was ridiculous. Twenty or so years later here I sit at my computer with mine next to me. I try and log daily things that were good about my day, jot down quotes that make me think, and even take notes on things from which I’m learning.
  2. I Made A Happiness Playlist – This may sound silly, but thanks to Apple Music, I have the entire iTunes library at my fingertips ready to be streamed. Over the last couple of years I’ve starved my love and passion for music by utilizing Podcasts as a tool for learning. I’m all about the learning, but my soul was missing some much needed nourishment. I’ve decided to filter that library to create a list of songs that bring a smile to my face. They range from 90s hits with which I grew up to timeless love songs to my favorite songs to sing along to, to broadway showstoppers. It’s been playing almost on repeat and I’m adding new songs every day. They really have helped elevate my mood.
  3. I Read Books with the Purpose of Making Me a Better Person – I am intent on leveraging this next year on not focusing on myself (because I think that alienates positive influences from around you), but being intentional about the media I consume. My recent CNN break over the last few months taught me that I didn’t need to expose myself to that medium day in and day out. I tune in for a few minutes to get the gist of what’s going on in the world, but quickly tune out with my music or most recently a book. It was having a negative impact on my mood. I’ve completed two books since December and am well into my third right now.

These aren’t vetted as actual ways to be happy, but I can vouch for their effectiveness in my life.

Who Is Joining You On Your Journey?

The word “tribe” has been used by two different and very important people in my life in the last couple of days. That word has got me thinking about my tribe and who is along with me on my journey.

While coming to NYC has been a wonderful growing experience overall, I think I underestimated the importance of the tribe I was leaving behind. I have now realized that personal growth (for me) is not hindered by those around us (meaning people in your life become routine), but enhanced when surrounded by the right people. This should also be qualified with the fact that I had some great people surrounding me in my past life, but I did not nourish our relationship like I should have.

I own that.

Now it’s time to really start focusing on building my tribe here.  I’ve found a couple for sure and plenty with potential. I also recognize that building a tribe here in NYC is no easy task to complete. Most everyone is busy and focused on their lives and livelihood (which is fine). It will just take more work on my part and the willingness to try some new things.

Here are some filters I’m using to work on building my tribe with whom to take my journey.

  1. Do those around you have an understanding of your motives and help mitigate your trouble/blind spots? (Thank you, Tyler.)
  2. Are you trying new things and new activities to meet new and different types of people? (I’m planning on trying something new this week.)
  3. Are you putting forth effort to be involved equally in their journey and struggle if applicable?

The third point I think is most critical (though all are important). We never want to be that person siphoning off energy of others. Energy is finite and if you’re consuming too much your source will run dry. Friends can’t just be the supportive ones forever. Something has to give. Balance is needed.

Vulnerability Is the Foundation for Understanding Yourself

OK. I’ve been something of a vulnerability advocate for the past couple of years. It’s one of the most terrifying and liberating activities I’ve been enduring lately – ‘enduring’ is the correct term. It really sucks at times, but it helps when you reign in your focus on one or two things about which to express yourself.

If you’ve not read it yet, Rising Strong by Brené Brown has been a game changer – and I haven’t even finished it, yet. She’s most famous for her TEDx Talk from 2010 about The Power of Vulnerability. Thirty two million views later she’s the recognized authority thanks to her research.

Here are my filters to being vulnerable that I’ve most recently applied:

  1. Am I curious enough?  – Her book has given me one HUGE take away and that’s just to be more curious – specifically when it comes to processing my own emotions. If I’m lonely, why am I feeling lonely? What need is not being met? How can I address this need in the short term to feel more whole? If I’m anxious about something at work, why am I feeling anxious? Am I making up a story without knowing all the facts? Am I worrying about things over which I do not have control?
  2. With whom can I share my feelings? –  Some of my dearest friends (my tribe) are only a text away and I’ve recently been leveraging them to let them know how I’m feeling and to ask for help in interpreting these emotions. They are doing for me the same that I have done for them in the past. We have developed a mutual trust where we can share and be vulnerable with our emotions. And that is ok.
    • I’ve also found a therapist here in town. It’s nice to have an outsider’s opinion that is not afraid to challenge my assumptions.
  3. Write down any lesson learned. – You may come up with some epiphany that might need to be repeated a few times for it take hold in your emotions. I had one this weekend just by asking myself why I’m feeling a certain way. I’ve literally written down my response multiple times because it was the most positive thing I had ever created out of such a sad and vulnerable emotion. I was actually proud of myself for independently pondering it and writing it down.

Unfortunately, life has no map laid out for us. It is confusing, challenging, and frustrating. It’s also amazing, a learning experience, and joy if you allow it to be. Making sense of where you are on your journey will almost always be a challenge for us. We will make wrong turns, run out of gas and our destination will change – frequently.

The real key (at least for me) is slowing down and enjoying the ride and the moment with the right people. And when you’re not enjoying things or something is wrong….be curious. Ask questions. Make sense of it as best you can and carry on.

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