Growth, Constants, and Uncomfortability: An Exercise in Listening to Ourselves

PrefaceAs I wrote this post, I was unsure where to begin. I began and rewrote and scratched out and deleted over and over again. The final post is much longer than typical posts, so stick with me to see my thoughts on these last two years of my life, some things I’ve learned, and where I’m going next.

First: hello! It’s been a few (intentional) months. I took some time away from this space to both reevaluate its place in my life and create a new vision for where I want it to go.

When I began this blog, I was about to make the biggest change in my life to date: I was moving from Minneapolis to Denver, a 900+ mile move, for college. I was going alone, with no real idea of what my life would look like in the coming months. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I would be forced to grow. To evolve. To question, to dream, to fight.

Growth, Constants, and Uncomfortability_

I am writing this piece at one of my favorite coffee shops in Denver, Backstage Coffee. I used to study here solo and with friends a few times a week–it’s on 14th Street, just two blocks off of the famous 16th Street, and it’s located at the heart of the Theatre District. I thought it poetic, almost, that I write about how much I have grown since moving here two and a half years ago in this treasured, old space of mine.

Growth has always been an important part of my life. I try to stare doubts in the face and laugh–without growth, we rot. We stay stagnant.

I refuse to rot.

I refuse to rot.

And of course, growth is hard.

We like to believe that our lives have constants: whether that be relationships, places, routines, jobs, beliefs…. Essentially, we assume that our lives are constant, unless we make the conscious choice to change those constants.

But our constants can always fall away. One of the foundational beliefs of Buddhism is that suffering exists because we assume our lives to be constant–we get our happiness from these constants, but in reality, these things can all change in a matter of seconds.

Accidents happen. We get laid off. Relationships end. These things happen unexpectedly, and our world is absolutely rocked to the core.

And that’s when the growth happens.

I experienced that kind of soul-shaking a number of times when I lived in Denver, and it caught me completely off-guard every time. It was an intensely difficult time of growth for me, and it brought me to a very uncomfortable conclusion, and consequently, a question:

Everything I assume is constant, truly, is not. This brought me to Are there any true constants we can rely on?

I still don’t know the answer to that question.

It is a dreadfully uncomfortable realization, isn’t it? Routines, beliefs, relationships, hobbies, jobs, habits, and similar comforts are so easy to rely on. The things we hold true might not always be that way for us. Even things such as the choices we make for our wardrobes are comforting, let alone practices such as a religion.

So then, what defines us, if not for these things? How do we find value in ourselves, in others? 

I don’t have these answers. But I have learned to find comfort in being a wandering soul, if you will. I have grown to find comfort in the knowledge that I am not a constant being. I am a fluid, sacred, nomadic soul, as are you.

I am a fluid, sacred, nomadic soul, as are you.

Take me, for example. Two and a half years ago, I moved to Denver with the intent to graduate in the spring of 2019 with a degree in International Studies. Live in Denver. Get married, have kids, and work a job that makes me (hopefully) happy.

Last year, I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, with the intent to graduate in the spring of 2019 from a different university with a degree in Social Work. Get married. Travel. Maybe have kids. Work a job that will make me happy.

Six months ago, I finally realized that maybe I am not meant to live a typical life with a four-year Bachelor’s degree, a 9-5 job, two kids, and a yard for our dog. In fact, I shudder when I think of these things. I have wondered for many years if there might be another path for me, but it’s so fucking scary to take those steps and actually do something different.

We are so quick to assign life paths for ourselves, aren’t we? We are not taught to challenge the progression of K-12, college, work, marriage, and kids. Have you ever wondered if there are parts of this that shouldn’t apply to you? I remember the first time I realized I could choose to not have kids during my freshman year of college–which is an obvious notion, but it was not until college that it actually occurred to me I could just… not be a mother someday.

And it’s all nice to talk about and say, yes! I agree with that! Not everyone must attain a college degree and have children! but how do we react when people actually choose other routes? Oftentimes, there’s the idea that they won’t reach their full potential. That they maybe weren’t academically successful. They probably won’t make a lot of money, and will probably be unhappy and regret their young decisions.

When I completed my second year of college at my second university, I didn’t recognize myself. I was kind of a shell of a person, just kind of going through the motions that were expected of me. I was, at the most basic level, unhappy with my life.

So, I decided to do what I knew in my heart of hearts I should do:

I took a gap year (or more?) to reevaluate. To travel. To search for myself again.

And I have done these things. I am still doing these things! I traveled to India and taught in a slum school. I swam in the ocean on the southern California coast with a friend from Denver. I attended the homecoming football game at Stanford with a friend from India. I drove to Iowa and Wisconsin. I visited Denver for the first time since moving away. Next month, I am spending two days with my mom in New York City before embarking on my three-month solo backpacking trip through Europe. This fall, I found a love of yoga (yes, really). I embraced a fully vegan lifestyle. I purchased a new D-SLR camera that I’m learning how to use. I did not settle for a job I felt stuck in, and instead switched to a fulfilling job with coworkers I love. I spent a lot of time alone.

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watching the sunset on carlsbad beach in california
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at the staford homecoming football game with hamzeh
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from the rooftop of a cafe in jaipur, india
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grace, mary grace, & i with vegan pastries in denver, colorado
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the banks of the st. croix river, wisconsin

As for this blog, I will be writing twice a week, on topics that I’ve found a passion for. I am focusing specifically on ethical/conscious living, including topics such as minimalism, intentional eating, conscious fashion choices, emotional and mental health, spiritual fulfillment, and the like.

I don’t know what I will be doing in the fall. Perhaps I will return to school. Maybe I’ll just stay in Europe. Maybe I’ll audition for Disneyland in Paris or Anaheim, or maybe I’ll become a certified doula. There are a million possibilities, and my encouragement to you is to take a moment and listen to your body. I did that, and I have not regretted it for one second.

Ask yourself these questions:

Are you surrounded by people who make a positive influence in your life?

Are you where you want to be? Are you where you’d thought you’d be?

Are you where you want to be physically? Emotionally? Mentally? Spiritually?

Are you happy?

If not, why?

As cliche as it is, we really do only have this one life (that we know of). We have a sacred obligation to serve ourselves and others in the truest, best way we know how.

 

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How to Adjust to Moving Back Home + Other Unexpected College Failures

How do you come to terms with the fact that what you’d been working for your whole life doesn’t live up to expectations? That you aren’t thriving, like everyone else seems to be? That the person you are becoming isn’t who you wanted to be?

This is one of those posts I’ve had in the making for a looooong time. It’s been sitting in my “for later” folder, and every time I start a new post I am taunted by this one, smirking at me from my drafts. I’m gonna get really raw and real in this post, so bear with me as i try to navigate my thoughts about moving back home, as well as some other unexpected failures I’ve experienced over the past two years.

How to Adjust to moving back home

I started college searching sophomore year of high school. I think really started to feel the pressure when one of my teachers told my parents that I would probably end up attending an Ivy League school, and seeing the beams on my parents’ faces was so rewarding, after years of working my butt off.

Flash back to a little over two years ago. I was in the thick of college tours, admissions emails, and college letter after college letter in the mail, universities’ mass mailings basically falling out of the mailbox, it was so stuffed. I never threw away one letter a college sent me, and I would periodically sort through them. I opened every single one. I took “find your major” quizzes online and I used the Naviance college finder. I went on seventeen college tours over two different states, and I met with countless admissions officers and department heads and current students.

To say the least, I was obsessed with finding the exact. right. college. 

Here’s what I didn’t know: I had no (???) idea what I wanted out of a college. Like at all. All I knew was that I wanted to choose one and graduate from the same school I’d entered into four years previous.

First, I wanted a huuuuge out of state school. I looked at schools in California and Colorado, and I looked at Texas Christian University, one of the largest schools in the nation.

Then, I wanted a tiny Christian school where I could major in Worship Leading. I toured four of said “tiny Christian” schools, and I changed my plan. Lol.

I landed on a medium-sized, private university in suburban Denver, Colorado. For my Minnesota peeps, think very St. Thomas-esque. Not exactly Ivy League, but it was an adventure, something different than what I thought my classmates were planning. I really felt as though God confirmed my decision again and again, and I was confident in my commitment to this university. I selected a major in International Studies with a concentration in International Development and a minor in Music with a concentration in Vocal Performance (say that five times fast, lol).

I was so pumped to be moving almost 1000 miles away from home. I was so excited for this new adventure, and it really felt like I was beginning a new chapter in my life.

My first quarter at this university was incredible. It was everything I had hoped and dreamed for. I could not have asked for a better ten weeks: I had amazing friends, a gorgeous boyfriend, and I was academically challenged.

The next two quarters? Not so much. (You can read about my experiences here. I could definitely go more in depth, but this is an overview of my life in April 2016.)

I dropped out of my dream school. I regressed enormously mentally and emotionally. I had no idea what to do.

I wanted to transfer, but I always said I wanted to go to one school and just thrive there. I wanted a solid group of friends, which I didn’t really have. I wanted to be confident in my major, and I hated my classes. I went through the worst few months of my life, and I honestly don’t know how I survived (literally). Everything I’d ever wanted and dreamed about was falling apart before my eyes, and I was unable to stop it. I felt completely powerless. Discouraged does not even begin to describe what I was feeling.

Discouraged does not even begin to describe what I was feeling.

So, I turned to alcohol. I turned to self harm. I turned to sleeping, crying, and daydreaming about just buying a plane ticket and reinventing myself.

I think the biggest disappointment was the failed expectations I’d had of myself for eighteen years, let alone the perceived expectations I thought my family, friends, and educators had of me. College was NOT what I’d thought it would be, and I didn’t know how to come to terms with that.

How do you come to terms with the fact that what you’d been working for your whole life doesn’t live up to expectations? That you aren’t thriving, like everyone else seems to be? That the person you are becoming isn’t who you wanted to be?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions for over a year, and I still don’t have the answers. But I’ve learned a lot, and that’s what I’m here to share.


As I mentioned above, I switched what I wanted in a college a number of times. I was eighteen, I had no idea what I wanted from life, and I was scared to shit. I knew I wanted to take cute instas and meet cute boys (the only two important things in life, amiright?) I didn’t know what extracurriculars I was interested in. I didn’t know what I wanted from a degree…. To be honest, I didn’t even know that I really cared to get a degree.

Everything I did, I did because I thought I was supposed to do it. I rushed Greek life and hated the thought of it (and the price tag, tbh). I selected a major that I thought would be interesting and make me a lot of money. I tried to look ultra-cool on social media.

Nothing I was doing was in line with what I truly wanted, deep down in my core.

This past January, I subbed as a leader for a 7th and 8th grade girls’ church retreat in Alexandria, MN. The speaker said something Saturday night I’ll never forget.

What if God called you to work at a Starbucks in Roseville full-time? Would you listen?

Would I? Would I listen if the calling on my life wasn’t to be this amazing, brave, incredible world traveler who everyone else seems to be jealous of?

That was what I wanted (and still kind of want) for my life. I wanted to be cool, to have adventure after adventure, to have an amazing group of friends, to have all the greatest immaterial things life has to offer.

And it’s been a hard reality check to realize that even if these things are coming for me, they aren’t here right now.

Because now, I am a student at a small, all-female college 30 minutes from my hometown.

To me, that doesn’t sound like an adventure. That sounds incredibly boring. Like everything I’ve ever worked for didn’t matter in the end. 

It feels like a letdown. Like I’ve fallen incredibly short of the expectations I had for myself. Like the person I always envisioned myself to be was left in my first quarter at the University of Denver. It feels like the big adventure that was supposed to be the Start to all the Other Adventures didn’t live up to expectations… so does that mean all the plans I have for the rest of my life will be like this, too?

Looking back, however, I have learned more about myself than I ever would have imagined. I completed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, a form of PTSD therapy. I found an interest in Buddhist and Hindu art. I fell in love with slam poetry. I strengthened my passion for a Capella music. I deepened my love for students, and discovered a special place in my heart for middle school students.

These are all things I would not have discovered about myself, had I not tried and failed at another university. And this just begs the question: what else will I discover about myself?

Moving back home has been the biggest, weirdest part of this whole adventure. Sometimes, I’ll be driving in an unfamiliar part of the Twin Cities, and suddenly feel like I’m back in Denver. I start to panic because I’m confused and would dread to live there again, but then I just have to gently remind myself that I am home, safe, and loved.

I’ve been walking through a long and confusing healing process. I’m mourning the person I wanted to be, and the person I didn’t get to be. I’m mourning the place I once loved. I’m mourning the confusing heartache. I’m feeling this. I’m allowing the healing to come through.

And this is the most important part: recognizing that it is hard. This is hard stuff. Don’t lighten the feeling. It’s a kind of death, realizing that the person and place you wanted to be aren’t in line with reality.

Remember that this is a part of growing up. Our expectations and our reality won’t always match….but that’s where you need to have grace with yourself. It might take time, and that’s okay. It might take a loooooot longer than you expected, but you’ll get there.

These years are incredibly weird and formative and require a lot of soul-searching.

As for me? I’m trying to remember that just because the crazy plan I had two years ago didn’t work out, doesn’t mean all the rest of my plans won’t work out. I’d still love to go to all seven continents, get married, join the Peace Corps, and adopt a kid or two. I would absolutely love to live all over the world. I still plan on backpacking around Europe.

If it takes me a little longer to get there, that’s okay. And I’m learning to be okay with that.