When Adulting is Stressful, Look to... Dr. Seuss?
"Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find, for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.” - Dr. Seuss
This past year has been full of ups and downs, and then some more downs and big changes. It’s hard to even know where to begin, so let me start with a deceptively simple question:
How do you make decisions?
I think you already know where I’m going with this. I’m not just talking about what to have for dinner or what Netflix movie to pick–although those decisions can be stressful too!
No, I’m talking about big life decisions. You know, Frost’s road-not-chosen-identity-crisis kind of choices. While comparing life to a path is totally cliché, it is so accurate of what it's like to navigate big decisions; those moments you know will change the direction of your life.
For some, it’s figuring out where to live or which house to buy. For others, it’s deciding whether to take the job, quit the job, or start your own business. Life decisions can also involve relationships and family that come with tricky matters of the heart. And for the real lucky ones, it’s a combination of all of the above.
Well, I must be one of the luckiest people in the world.
I’ve heard that today’s society experiences decision-fatigue on a daily basis and I totally get it. This past summer I have mulled over, analyzed, made my first (and last) pro-con list, prayed, contemplated, asked trusted people for advice, gone to therapy, slept on, and had many sleepless nights over my next phase of my life. After all of this, my only conclusion was that I suck at decision-making.
As many of you know, I have been working on completing my BA for the last 13 years. I finally arrived at the last phase of my university journey–participating in graduation, completing my practicum with SMD, and taking my final university course this past summer. In order to meet this life goal I made, I had to put a lot of the other parts of my life on hold. While I have always been a "big-picture" type, seeing this goal to completion required me to keep my eyes low to the ground and focus on the immediate tasks at hand. I couldn’t let myself get FOMO or dwell on what responsibilities I was neglecting.
But, the problem with looking down for a long time is that you don’t realize your life is going up in flames.
Oh, you might get a waft of smoke every once in awhile or a sense that the room is flickering but you don’t see the walls of your life have caved in long ago.
After finishing practicum in April, I allowed myself to really look up for the first time since I graduated high school and was terrified by what I saw. I've had this feeling of burnout for a while and now I know it was from the burning down of the foundation I had so carefully built years ago.
I knew a time would come where I would be required to make difficult decisions about my future. This led me to carry much anxiety and dread about my circumstances, even as a child.
When I was younger it seemed irrational and neurotic to worry about things like what would happen to me if my parents died in a car accident or how I would ever live on my own. I would tell myself that I shouldn’t worry and I would pray for God to take these fears from me. (Side note: this is actually a very confusing message that Christianity promotes. We are told not to be anxious about anything but this is completely unrealistic).
But, now it seems like it would be irrational not to start planning for the future. The problem, though, is that I maintained this swept-under-the-rug strategy far too long. Well, now that I’ve met my goal and graduated with a BA, this spring it was time to take the blindfold off and I had a serious Andy Sachs moment from The Devil Wears Prada.
Andy: My personal life is hanging by a thread, that’s all.
Nigel: Well, join the club. That’s what happens when you start doing well at work, darling. Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. That means it's time for a promotion.
For the first time in thirteen years it was time to face my fears (and I don’t mean spiders) and do a complete life review. However, the questions I am considering have no easy answers. In fact, embarking on a new path means my life would ultimately have less freedom. While I won’t go into further details, I will say that in my particular circumstances, change would inevitably bring deep loss. Just as an example, one of doctors told me outright that my parents' amazing care is the reason my health is even as good as it is. How am I supposed to consider moving out on my own knowing this?
You might be wondering why I am telling you this. I want to announce to you all that I got my first ever job! For the fall semester, I am working part-time as a University Writing Fellow. Another title for a teacher’s assistant, as a UWF I am helping 25 students with essay coaching, assignment feedback, and assisting with grading. While I am very excited about this opportunity, it has not come without its challenges.
With this announcement, I could have completely glossed over the struggles or not even mentioned it at all. I could play up the positivity and embrace the success story narrative people wish for me. However, I felt I could only stay authentic if I told you of the hard realities being an adult with a chronic disability.
Yes, I am proud of the fact that I am able to use my education for an exciting job opportunity, but the decision to accept this position has actually been quite stressful. It’s not easy making a choice that has no clear benefits. By accepting the job opportunity, I am again putting other aspects of my life on hold, such as figuring out where to live, securing a health attendant team, and so much more.
So, what is a life decision you have struggled with, or are still going through? While I obviously have not even come close to mastering the art of decision-making, I have come up with two conclusions that, while difficult to accept, help take the pressure off:
Sometimes there are no clear answers of right and wrong. Life is full of ambiguity and you can’t wait for the perfect solution to present itself. Sometimes tough choices have to be made, turning the focus from which option to pick to just picking something. Perfection is a myth and life decisions sometimes require sacrifice, compromise, and reworking your mindset. An attitude adjustment of gratitude. The future might not look like what we had hoped but at least we have a future.
In seeking advice this summer, people used phrases like, "follow your heart," "listen to your gut," and "you just know." For someone struggling with indecision and self-doubt, those words hold little wisdom. What do you do if your heart is telling you nothing and all you get from prayer is silence? Or what if your heart is telling you that you want a life you can’t have? I know I have a tendency to seek other people’s approval, and there is quite a danger in this because I have never developed the skills necessary to stand on my own. I have yet to figure out the answers to my impending life questions of where to live, what vocation I will have, and what I will be able to accomplish. What I know for sure is that I cannot make those decisions by people-pleasing my way through life.
So, how’s that for inspirational? While I am still trying to sort out my thoughts on this topic, I would like to end off this post with these wise words.
- Crissi xo
But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike,
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way! (Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go)