One of the most underrated conversations about wellness is the pursuit of happiness. Sure, we spend a lot of time talking about what will make us happier (whether that’s self-care, meditation, or a cookie), but what we don’t talk about is the fact that feeling burned out and suffering from a serious case of the blues are all symptomatic of much bigger problems.
We all want to live a life that makes us happy.
Now, I’m not saying that depression can be solved by pursuing your dreams. Plenty of people, myself included, do what we love and still deal with depression on a regular basis. However, there are many of us who are looking for various quick-fix cures to how we’re feeling on a regular basis — something that can make us feel good, feel happy, feel alive — and instead of trying to fix the actual problem, we’re slapping bandaids on ourselves like that will stop the bleeding.
Realizing that I was doing this in a regular basis was a brutal wake-up call akin to getting run over by a truck. Instead of doing the things that bring me joy and real happiness, I was trying to drown my sorrows in a bunch of things that just numbed the pain. Whether I realized it or not, I was caught in a cycle of self-sabotage that never seemed to end.
Short version? I was throwing distractions at myself.
I’ve done this my entire life. When something gets hard (or boring), I often hop over to new a passion or a new dream that gets me all fired up. It’s exciting and addictive, but it also meant that I rarely threw 100% of my mental weight and passion behind a project. Realistically, I knew this was happening long before I discovered how to fix it.
I’m a chronic overachiever who grew up in the gifted and talented program, but I’m terrified of failure. So, instead of failing and discovering I wasn’t actually as good as everyone told me I was as a child, I decided to cheat the system by failing through other means. After all, if I fail because I didn’t really try, then it doesn’t mean I’m a failure, right? It just means I didn’t really try. I’m still good enough. I’m still talented enough. (This is the lie I told myself.)
In order to actually find my focus and make shit happen in my life, I needed to overcome my fear of failure. I had to stop the self-sabotage.
Truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with failure. I talk about it a lot on social media, and I’m constantly telling people that failure is a good thing. Because without failure, how can we learn? Meanwhile, I was avoiding my own personal failures at all cost. I think on some level I knew that failure wasn’t as bad as I’d built it up to be, but failure was still embarrassing.
So I kept avoiding it.
That is, until I realized that I was on the track to do a whole lot of nothing with my life if I didn’t commit to something. I didn’t want to half-ass my way through adulthood, never achieving my goals, only to get to old age and tell people, “Well, I could’ve been great, but I didn’t really care, so I never tried.”
Except I do care. I do want to pursue my dreams. Therefore, I need to try.
Next, I had to learn to stick with one thing at a time (ish).
My new mantra is to prioritize finishing over starting. I’ve probably written it a hundred times over the past few weeks, told it to countless people, and repeated it in my head a thousand times more.
I’ve spent so much time distracting myself — either with empty things like thousands of hours of fanfic (painfully accurate) or with flashy new projects and ideas — that I’m not finishing many things.
Starting things is really fucking addictive.
However, while starting is important, you don’t have ______ until you finish. Whether that’s a book, a gym habit, a new business, or a hand-knit scarf, starting is incredibly vital. Finishing, however, is what makes the thing a thing. After all, what’s a book that’s not finished? (Answer: The contents of my Google Drive.)
I don’t ignore my new ideas. In fact, I think they’re super useful for motivation. (If you’re really excited about your next project, use that energy to inspire you to finish your current one.) I save all of them in a handy little list for future use, and I’ve actually come back to them several times.
Granted, there are times when it’s okay to stop something and switch gears. Sometimes you have a realization that something isn’t working, that you need a change now, or that you just can’t. I “just can’t” all the time. That’s cool too.
What’s important is to question yourself and your motives. Should you start this new project yet? Do you have the bandwidth to take it on? Or will this prevent you from giving 100% to what you’re currently working on?
(Also: Stop multitasking, friends. I use to fall into that trap, but it’s a myth.)
Finally, I needed to realize what I *actually* wanted in life.
Recently I sat down and looked at everything I did over the past year and split it into two columns. In the left column, I wrote down the 20% of things that brought me the most joy. In the right column, I wrote down the 20% of things that did the opposite. (Wamp wamp.)
That list surprised the hell out of me. Some of the things that brought me the most happiness were completely unexpected (being outside is a huge one) while things that drained my energy and left me feeling ‘meh’ were major game changers. I had no idea I was investing so much time and energy in things that didn’t actually make me happy OR help me reach my dreams.
Weirdly enough, the things that actually DO help me get closer to achieving my dreams fell under the 20% of things that brought me the most joy.
Any easy solution? Do more of them. Do less of the other things.
Don’t get me wrong — some things are inevitable. I need to work to pay the bills. (I can’t really work less, unfortunately.) However, I am in complete control of the rest of my time, and I choose to use it wisely.
Pursuing your dreams is an active and ongoing choice. It’s a decision to say ‘no’ to certain things (sorry, Netflix) and to say ‘yes’ to the things that help you get closer to what you want.
While I still struggle with anxiety and depression from time to time, focusing on the things I know I want out of life instead of engaging in subtle self-sabotage has really helped bring more joy into my world. I’m less stressed and happier (okay, and just as anxious as always), and I know that I’m on the path that will bring me the most joy.
I hope you’re able to find your purpose, friends. You deserve it.