Sitting Still

We associate a fresh start with newness. Graduation. A new job. A cross-country move. These changes are tangible: When we graduate, we ogle over our framed diploma. When we consider a new job, we weigh the pros and cons with loved ones. When we take the plunge and start our move, we instagram every landmark in our travels. These types of fresh starts are considered life changing. But what is the big deal with big change?

When I was learning to read, my mom had me read a book, Sit Still! You can imagine what the catchphrase was. As a rather…active child, I suppose my mom was hoping to drive the point home. It didn’t resonate with me until now: I’ve lived in the same city for 5 years. I plan to work in the same industry for a very long time. And I look the same since I was 12. In some ways, I have made the decision to sit still. And while I don’t think I’m alone in this decision, I still feel a little shameful about not wanting to embrace a big, fresh, dewy change. We only count these larger milestones when ranking our abilities to take on new changes.

I think it’s time to think realistically. When people feel stagnant, maybe a big move isn’t feasible– jobs aren’t everywhere. But maybe we should consider smaller ways to evoke a fresh start– taking on a new project at work, exploring a new city for a weekend, even taking a different route on the daily commute. If you’re skeptical, I understand—it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But I decided to give it a try.

Through this grueling winter, I was bored. The weather was at hibernation levels. My weeks blurred together with routine. I needed a change. Then at work, our team needed a volunteer to travel to Boston. I stared at my screen. At first, I was against it– I have SO much work! It would be cold! I don’t even know who else is going. But I forced myself to sit with this idea: It’s only 2 days. Maybe it won’t be that cold in early Spring. It would be a good opportunity to meet more coworkers…I volunteered, hitting Send before I could change my mind.

Fast forward a month. I was in a new city that I needed to navigate. I was forced to pay attention to my surroundings and accept the fact that I didn’t know my way around—for the first time in a long time. I know I could have clung to the familiar aspects of the city, be it a chain restaurant or a well-known beer. But I thought about why I volunteered to go to Boston in the first place—change. I ate at local places, where the servers called you “hun” and know most of the customers. I drank local beer. And I did something I haven’t done in years—ventured to the Suburbs.

Our family friend lives in Boston. I hadn’t seen Jon since I was 13, and he was now married and with child. He generously invited me to his home for his family’s Friday night ritual—pizza and Finding Nemo. Needless to say, this is not my usual Friday night itinerary. I was nervous, but excited to dive into this new environment. I don’t have much experience with children, so I had to learn how to play with a toddler. I had to let myself leave the city, take a commuter train, and venture into the quiet abyss of Boston suburbs.

Being in a new place forced me to tackle newness and pin down the anxiety in my way. I forced myself to sit with these new feelings—riding a commuter train, saying grace at the table, rejoicing when Jon’s charming daughter peed on the potty. It was perfect. The trip wasn’t permanent, but I still started fresh in a new town. The feeling still resonates with me.

***

I recently had dinner with my friend, Beth, who enlightened me with her idea of a fresh start. Every month, she chooses a resolution to work through—a different approach to a problem, a new ritual, a fresh change.

This intrigued me—a change that doesn’t require a dollar! She told me about a few of the resolutions she’s invented and the lessons that came with them.

One month, Beth started counting her calories. Not because she wanted to lose weight, but because she really didn’t have a sense of what she was eating. She made the resolution for a month. She quickly discovered her nutrition was imbalanced. Even though she made the resolution for a month, she exemplified her first lesson to me—being flexible.

Sure, the change was supposed to last 30 days, but she sought resolution in about 10. It didn’t make sense to waste time counting calories for the rest of the month, just because she promised herself she would. Her need for change was fulfilled; so was her new and balanced appetite.

Beth’s flexibility with time took both sides of the spectrum, too. There was one month where she decreed she’d tackle one nagging task every day. While the first few days started with ease–paid some bills, made a few phone calls–she grew exhausted with the thought of undertaking a pesky item everyday.

Beth took a step back. She thought about her intention for this resolution. Her goal was to alleviate the guilt for not starting tasks; Her goal was not to simply check things off a list. So, rather than hanging her head and giving up, she simply extended the resolution. She wasn’t bound to 30 days—after all, she was both player and referee in this game.

Through this resolution, Beth taught me to consider the intention behind the change, not just the change itself. I thought back to Boston—I wanted to visit a new place, because I wanted to challenge myself. I wasn’t going just to say that I went, or to post a bunch of pictures online. With that ideology in mind, I viewed my fresh starts as reflective moments—time to reflect on what I value, what I don’t care about, what makes me tick, regardless of time or place or task. I didn’t feel bound to the tangible task, but rather the time to reflect and sit with a new situation.

The next time you’re craving a fresh start, think small and sit with it. See what happens.

 

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Ditching the Clinical Strength

The minute I click “Confirm my Purchase” I feel the familiar wetness and prickling sensation. Suddenly aware of my armpit stubble, I shift my shoulders uncomfortably to subtly deliver air to my underarms. It helps a little until I glance back down at my computer screen: “Purchase Confirmed. Flight itinerary below.” Another surge of moisture and with that, I think, better upgrade to clinical strength.

It lives in my top drawer until packing day comes. With shaking hands I place all these unfamiliar gadgets- a Swiss army knife, a fast-dry towel- and ill-fitting but practical clothing inside my backpack. I stuff wool socks and iodine tablets into the leftover gaps until the seams nearly burst. As I yank the zippers shut and tug the drawstrings I feel the sweat beads form under my arms. I eye the overweight pack as I inhale deeply and reach for the clinical strength. I roll on the solid and take another slow breath.

The next morning I shove the backpack into the trunk of my dad’s minivan. I call my mom at work from the passenger seat. It’s a bright morning in early January. Blinding sunlight pours through the windshield and I get a little dizzy as I say goodbye to my mom. I hang up and a surge of heat hits me. From the heat or the goodbye, I don’t know. I twist in my seat to unearth the clinical strength once more.

Only a few tears escape when I hug my dad at airport security. Standing in the metal detector, though, with my arms held up above my head, my eyes sting. Once through the checkpoint I try not to look back at my dad waving quietly from the other side, the safe side. At my gate I peel off my layers, meant to save room in my pack, as my armpits and lower back dampen. I sit down in a heap of flannel and fleece before I sweat (or cry) off the last swipes of mascara my lashes will know for four months. Once again I dig up the clinical strength.

We arrive well after midnight to an all but deserted airport. The dash to baggage claim is a zombie apocalypse, dozens of exhausted travelers scrambling to the front of the customs line. I hesitate and hang back, anxious to delay entry to the first foreign country I’ll know. Once I’m through it’s nearly two in the morning. Someone is supposed to pick me up but the driver I was promised is nowhere to be found. The international arrivals gate clears out until I’m the only person left, save for a custodian or two. I lay my backpack across a bench and sink into a seat. Nervous? A bit. Afraid? I suppose. But I can’t exactly go back now. Left with no other options, I wait. I breathe. I bask in the uncertainty and the dampness of my palms. I’d better get used to it. And thirty minutes later, a harried-looking man scuffles through the door with a ragged piece of paper in hand: Katherin. Close enough. I speak no Spanish and he, no English so I don’t know why he’s late. I don’t know where he’s taking me. But I follow him outside where the humidity immediately draws tiny pearls on the back of my neck. I relish the rush of heat. I get in the car with him take off into the warm night.