Fall Into It,
Don’t Waste It.”
You’ve probably read the quote at the top of this post a half dozen times or more. You probably saw it on Pinterest or on Lauren Conrad’s instagram account or in the dorm room of any number of college girls. It isn’t all that original, it doesn’t offer anything witty or all that unique, and yet, the quote is tremendously popular because it resonates. “Don’t waste it.”
Happiness is a choice, and with each passing year I realize happiness is less about reaching a specific goal, having the specific “things” and more about gratitude and perspective. Happiness is about looking around the moment you’re in and sinking your teeth into all that life has to offer right now. As a society we are taught to strive for more, we are taught to set goals and to achieve, achieve, achieve. I find ambition very attractive, however, I believe it is important not to allow our ambitions to blind us from all of the wonder here and now.
How often do you sludge through the week anxious and overwhelmed just waiting for the weekend? How often do we count down the minutes at work or in class, praying for time to fly by so we can scurry home to freedom? Meanwhile, each second we wish away is gone, vanished (poof!) forever. Trust me, I’ve had jobs that are so boring and mind numbing that they feel like torture. I remember sitting at my desk scrolling the internet all day and screaming internally “WHY AM I WASTING MY LIFE THIS WAY?” before I came to and recalled “money, I’m wasting my life this way for money”. Aha!
Truly, it is difficult to find joy in every mundane task, but you can find joy in every season. While you may be in a career rut or struggling to find friends in a new city or longing for a time and stage that has passed…you can find the positive, the beauty in the here and the now. By focusing on what it is in this particular stage of life that you can be thankful for, you are bound to be happier.
I remember a particularly “dark” couple of months of my life- I had just been broken up with (ghosted on), I moved in with two STRANGERS from Craigslist in a really crappy, really dirty, run down apartment, my bank account was legit in the negative and to top it all off I had been forced to accept a nannying job when I had all but sworn off of babies. I was so disheartened, I was embarrassed of where my life had landed and I felt like a let down to myself and everyone else was waiting for me to completely fall apart. Coming up with rent each month was a struggle. I never felt intellectually fulfilled by my job. I paid bills late and put off oil changes. I survived off of Starbucks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Oh, and did I mention I was sleeping on an air mattress for a little bit there?
And yet, in that difficult time there was still so much I could be grateful for. Aside from the BIG (though obvious) factors like my health, my family and my friends, I had a lot of little things I eventually learned to appreciate about that “season” of my life. I took that time to be spontaneous. I said “yes” to dates with a couple of weirdos, I drank one too many vodka cranberries a few too many times, I ate carrot cake for dinner on a Thursday night, rang in my birthday on a yacht of a guy I didn’t know the name of, I kissed a few frogs and I took a road trip to California with a cute guy I’d just met (spoiler alert he turned out to be the guy I’m googly eyed for in these photos but I’ve written lots of blog posts about that four-eyed cutie already). I had room to be spontaneous in ways I had never been before. Without school or a serious career tying me down I could stay out until 2:00 AM on a Tuesday and I could flit down to California with a stranger if I so pleased. At the time my life felt like it was in shambles but even that brokenness was a gift because it gave me the opportunity to rebuild by exploring myself and exploring other people in a way I never had before.
God I was happy to pack up my things and get the heck out of that crummy apartment. I didn’t shed a single tear when my nannying job came to an end and I don’t miss kissing random boys from Tinder in dark, hipster bars but I look back at that time of my life gratefully because I needed it. I learned, I grew and I found the silver lining in a time that was a definite “adulting struggle”.
I’m much happier with where I’m at in life right now. I’m in law school! I’m in a happy relationship! I have close relationships with my family! I don’t worry that every bill I get in the mail will send me to collections and I have a Starbucks within walking distance of my apartment! Hallelujah! So much of what I have right now in life is more than what the “me from three years ago” dreamed of. If you would have told 22 year old me, crying herself to sleep on her blow up mattress where her life would be in three years I wouldn’t have believed it. I am bound to face difficulties again and as I’ve led a fairly privileged life I have reason to believe the difficulties ahead may be even harder to overcome. I have to believe we can find happiness despite pain and struggle. From my experience, happiness comes from perspective.
Despite all of the reasons I have to be happy, I still get caught up in anxiety. My life (probably like your life) is go-go-go! When you aren’t getting your PhD from Harvard, traveling the world helping sick kids or starting a successful company with your BFF it can feel like you are falling behind. I have a hard time feeling like I am working hard enough even when I’m on the path I chose happily. It is this “never good enough” anxiety that is so toxic on your pursuit of happiness.
It is when my mind is racing and my to-do list is never ending that I seep the most meaning from the aforementioned quote, and that last line always seems to tug at my heart. “Don’t waste it.” Ambition is a good thing but without gratitude it can prevent you from being happy where you are. Take time to slow down. Practice mindfulness. Ask yourself “what is it about this season (in which I may be working towards or transitioning to the place I want to be) that I should be grateful for?” Don’t waste it.
Wherever you are right now, don’t waste it.
Don’t waste the careless, free days of your youth wishing for the stability of adulthood. Don’t waste the beauty of your twenties wishing to have a house or a marriage or a corner office. Don’t waste your forties afraid of aging, or your fifties regretting what you didn’t do when you were 25.
Don’t waste a relationship that brings you joy by anxiously pushing for the next step, dwelling on ungrounded insecurities or molding your partner into someone he/she doesn’t want to be.
Don’t waste the gorgeous body you’re in by tearing apart your every curve, mole or wrinkle wishing you could be someone different. Don’t waste your day at the beach thinking about cellulite or a sweet first date wondering if you look bloated.
Don’t waste a Saturday to yourself by feeling lonely and spend all day Monday wishing you could cancel plans for a little “me time”.
Don’t waste your time in school by ditching class and barely scraping by when this is your opportunity to expand your knowledge and learn about anything your heart desires.
Don’t waste your “unfulfilling” job as a receptionist or nanny or salesgirl (or whatever), appreciate that you can leave work stress free. Enjoy evenings untethered by your e-mail inbox and weekends without a pile of papers to review or projects to manage.
Don’t waste your time with your loved ones scrolling through Instagram and wishing yourself away.
Don’t waste your children’s young, tender years by begrudgingly counting down to the time when they will be able to make their own sandwiches and walk themselves to school.
Don’t waste the winter waiting for summer’s long days and summer wishing for the cool, crisp air of fall.
Close your eyes, look at where you are (even if it isn’t where you want to be) and think about what there is to be grateful for in this season. There is always something to be thankful for, always, always.
I’m not trying to sad-shame you. Life is about experiencing the full depth and breadth of human emotion, and gosh-darnit sometimes you’ve gotta give yourself time to ugly cry! Sometimes you have to scream in your car because you are about to miss your hair appointment because of traffic for a stupid football game. Sometimes life deals you difficult cards and you have to mourn the loss of someone you love. You deserve to feel angry and sad, and these emotions are okay. This post isn’t about sad-shaming, it’s about making the most of where you are at. You have different reasons to celebrate in each season. Today you might celebrate having the friends and relationship you’ve always wanted or you might celebrate not having to share that tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with a single soul. It is all about perspective and I’m beginning to think perspective is the key to happiness.
It’s the second day of a new month, this day, this hour, this moment will never happen again. Get out there and don’t waste it.
All photos are taken by Madeleine Wilson.