Posts Tagged adulthood

A happy life … One daydream away

Here’s a late-breaking addition to the list of things that are different as an adult: daydreaming.

It just isn’t the same. Without classes to space out in and without assigned reading to have open while falling deep into thought, daydreaming feels different. It’s not any less satisfying, but it’s certainly less common. I’ve realized, I miss it.

As a teen, I’d daydream about getting asked to the homecoming dance or getting to wear a football player’s jersey to school on game day as his girlfriend. (Such meaningless, stupid desires to aim for, I know now, but they were on my high school mind nonetheless.) In college, I’d daydream about getting an internship with the Chicago Tribune or having a fairy-tale romantic ending to what was best left as a great friendship. I’d daydream to relieve the stress of desiring it all — my dream job, the ability to write for pay, the continued closeness of family and friends, and love, a relationship to bring it all together — but having none of it at the moment. Daydreaming was an escape.

It still can be, but I find myself using it as a strategy less and less often. When I space out during boring budget meetings I’m covering for work, my daydreams are far more shortsighted. Usually I’m just pining for sleep or for the dinner I didn’t really get to eat because the meeting started at 6 p.m. and I had to fight the slow annoyance of suburban rush hour traffic to get there on time. Or I’m impatiently waiting for the next weekend, can it please mercifully come! My daydreams have shrunk in imagination, and at the same time, in relief. Whoops.

Maybe this means I’m a little more present in the world at the moment. Maybe it means I’m closer to “having it all” than I was in high school or college, so my brain can live in the now without having to look forward to having things like a hard-fought career and a wonderful relationship of teamwork. Maybe.

But maybe it also means I’m not thinking far enough in advance. That I’m not dreaming big enough. That I should be expecting more from myself now that I have earned the securities I have in my job and my life. I guess I just need practice. Daydreaming practice.

It’s easy to let daydreaming fall by the wayside when the constant nature of adulthood weighs you down. Each day you have to wake up, work out (if you’re active, which is a good thing), prepare food, commute, work, prepare more food, try to do something more productive than just watch TV and go to sleep with enough time to generate enough energy to do it all over again. It’s exhausting.

But it’s life. It’s our gift. And we can see it that way if we just allow our minds to expand on it and take us elsewhere in a nice daydream every once in a while. Starting now.

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Growing up … One song at a time

If you’re like me, you’d love to find a band that gets you. A band whose songs speak to you — lyrically and musically — throughout your life no matter your mood or age. Whose music reflects you and enriches you and surprises you, no matter how many times you listen to it.

And if you’re like me, you’re not sure you’ll ever find that band. Blame it on father time. Blame it on growing up. Both are unavoidable.

Music is personal. Even when it’s pop tunes or anything mainstream produced for the masses, music is different for everyone who hears it because of our backgrounds and mindsets, our influences and preferences, and this is one of the miracles that makes us human. It’s originality in a nutshell.

But since we’re all so different, finding that perfect understanding with any one band and maintaining it for more than a couple of years is like finding earbuds that actually stay put — practically impossible, but worth a try all the same.

I won’t bore you with a historical listing of my favorite bands and why and how they’ve spoken to me at different times in my life. You all have your favorites. The ones that brought you through the awakenings and coming-of-age moments of middle school, the awkwardness and uncertainty of high school, the pressure and desire of college, the newness and overwhelming freedom of twenty-something life. Insert them here.

Then look at that progression. Try listening to your middle school favorites now. It might be good to reminisce for five minutes, but then I bet it feels pretty laughable. High school jams might seem shallow, hollow. And college tunes likely still resonate, but in a way that feels like something’s missing.

And it is. But it’s not the band, it’s you. It’s all of us. We’ve changed. We’re not the us we were 5, 10, 15 years ago — even if we’ve retained a lot of the same friends, hobbies, interests, habits.

The same can be said for any artist that ever sang a song. And that’s why it’s practically impossible to find a band whose progression through life and lyrics and notes will match ours. Because as we change, bands change too, and no one does it the exact same way. Originality in a nutshell.

But let’s not give up; there’d be no fun in that. We can keep progressing through artists and enjoying songs as they come to us and as they speak to us. There’s nothing wrong with that. And we can comfort ourselves with people who see our changes and change alongside us. Because better than a band, the ones we love can always find a way to understand us.

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Why it’s OK to love the Christmas music station

‘Tis the season for a lot of things and Christmas music certainly is one of them. It’s in car commercials, on radio stations, pumping through shopping malls and serenading office parties. It’s unavoidable, and yet, I find myself seeking it out.

It seems every passing year I listen to more and more Christmas music and I do it more and more on purpose. I can’t figure it out. Unless it’s just another one of those things that’s attributable to adulthood and the passing of time. It must be.

Growing every little bit older and more mature makes us want to appreciate things more. It’s like we realize time flies by too quickly, so we need to enjoy it consciously. It’s as if we realize life is fleeting and limited by nature. And that drives us to act differently, to show more gratitude, kindness and understanding, to live with all of our senses, to appreciate everything. Even hearing “Sleigh Ride” a minimum of three times in one day.

Overplayed tunes aside, there’s plenty to appreciate around Christmas. There’s the changing of the seasons, the pumpkin bread at Starbucks, the lights on houses and apartment balconies, the excuses to go see family, the free food at holiday parties, the unexpectedly light traffic, the classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” constantly on TV, the simple feeling of warmth people seem to exude despite the impending months of cold, the silver bells and jingle bells and gosh darnit the Christmas music.

Maybe unabashedly listening to Christmas music makes me feel like a kid again. It could be that enjoying “Frosty the Snowman” without embarrassment brings out the snow-loving explorer in all of us, even as we grumble about scraping the fluffy stuff from our windshields and fighting traffic as drivers forget how to steer in it. Christmas music is nostalgia incarnate, good times past packaged into a simple song. It’s a time machine, in audio form, so why not cram as much of it as possible into the month leading up to commercial America’s favorite holiday of Christmas.

So as Dec. 25 approaches, I’ll continue to have the Christmas station on and you’ll often find me jamming out to seasonal songs – even if for no other reason than this: it can’t be Santa’s big day until I hear “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at least once!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all some festive tunes.

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Why it’s awesome to have no plans on the weekend

It’s Saturday morning and I wake up just after 7 a.m., thrilled that I’ve gotten to sleep in. It’s midday Saturday and I’m making brunch after a six-mile run, leisurely sautéing veggies before adding eggs to make a breakfast burrito. It’s Saturday afternoon and my laundry is almost done, so is my cleaning. It’s Saturday evening and I’m outside on the balcony, reading a book in the surprising warmth. It’s Saturday night and I’m taking a walk on the path by my apartment.

It’s Saturday night, and then I realize … when did it become so awesome to have absolutely no plans on a weekend?

When I officially reached adulthood, I guess.

Growing up, weekends were family time, filled with activities governed by the parents, the park district soccer schedule and whatever the siblings or extended family might have going that day. In high school, weekends were important friend time to do a whole lot of nothing — watching movies in someone’s basement, piling into someone’s car and driving around aimlessly, or better yet, wandering to that reportedly “haunted” road on one of the many edges where suburbia meets a rural abyss and hoping something creepy happens.

Some anxiety entered into high school weekends, too. What if if was homecoming time and you had no prospect of a date? Or what if it was any old Saturday night, and you had nothing to do but stay home with your parents, listlessly chat on AIM and watch the 9 p.m. news on TV? Disaster! Weekends became something to be filled with friends to prove you had friends, with adventures to prove you had adventures, with plans to prove you had plans for your social success, and therefore, your life.

College was a vast improvement, but those few weekends when it was tough to find anything real to do still posed a challenge. Huddled with a few friends from the dorms on a cold Friday night, you’d scroll through your phones, wondering if you could scrounge up anyone who was having a party, anyone old enough to buy alcohol, anyone willing to bring you warm cookies without requiring you to walk outside to the late-night cafeteria. The weekend remained something to be filled — until Sunday afternoon became mandatory homework time, which blended into all of Sunday night and at least two hours of early Monday morning. Ahh, the 2 a.m. sleep cycle … Now that I don’t miss …

But when I suddenly realized, at the soundly adult age of 27, that it’s glorious to have a free weekend, I knew times had changed. When I admitted I don’t care if I have plans every Saturday, because me-time is important, it allowed me to place a little more value on having a moment. And really, we all need a moment. Maybe it’s a moment to chill, sleep in, catch up on some TV; to read, relax, get organized, clean; even to make plans for future fun-filled weekends and be active on our own terms.

A free weekend with a blank calendar stretching out before you with 48 hours of unoccupied bliss isn’t a social snafu, a popularity fiasco. It’s something to be thankful for. And maybe, just maybe, one of these fantastic free weekends could be coming up … in as few as three more days.

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If the shorts don’t fit … be glad you’re out of high school

It feels weird to say this, but I think I’m growing out of my old athletic shorts from high school.

The weird part is the shorts are huge. They’re the super-long, basketball shorts that were my identity in high school. I didn’t wear the booty shorts of cheerleaders or pom pons girls; I shied away from the spandex of volleyball players and the loose but short shorts of runners. I didn’t wear those tight dancer capris, either. Just my basketball practice shorts, which practically went to the knees, and my soccer shorts, which were maybe a little shorter, but wider, roomier and airier.

The other weird part is it’s not just the size and shape of the shorts that doesn’t seem right – the identity they represent no longer seems to fit, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to watch basketball (give me free tickets to a Bulls game and I’m a fan of yours for life) and I still love to play soccer (so much that I’ve considered refereeing on the weekends just to get back into the game). So it’s not that my sports identity has changed. It’s the high school connection between my sports of choice and my social self that I’m shedding as I approach my ten-year high school reunion.

In high school, wearing long, large basketball shorts was a sign of belonging. It identified you as a basketball player, a hardworking athlete, and not a super-girly one at that. It was a hard-nosed identity and it was the one I chose, despite also being a clarinet player in the band and a high school newspaper reporter/editor, among a few other club affiliations. Soccer shorts were the same way. Big. Not pretentious. Serious about sport, not necessarily about showing off to the guys – unless they happened to be impressed by your corner kicks or your status as junior varsity leading scorer.

All of that is in my past and I’m not ashamed of it, not running from it, not wishing I was someone or something else. I’m just saying it doesn’t fit anymore. And no matter how much I think it through, that’s weird.

It was the literal fit of the shorts that clued me in to this change. Seriously, they’re huge. I’m primarily a runner now, and I’m getting more used to shorts that are actually designed for running. They’re little shorter so there’s not too much fabric sloshing around between your legs. And in some cases, they’re a heck of a lot tighter so your legs won’t rub and chafe directly against one another. I still run pretty frequently in my basketball and soccer shorts, but I’m finding myself leaving them at the bottom of the pile more and more often in favor of the ones meant for running.

All I can do is let it be. Someday, my running shorts might not feel like a fit anymore, either. Maybe then I’ll have to move into old-lady shorts, super-long again to hide ugly veins or extra leg fat. Maybe I’ll become more of a bicyclist and choose those spandex shorts with a padded butt. Or maybe I’ll stay a runner and eventually wear those short runner shorts that made me so uncomfortable in high school. Only time will tell.

All I can do other than that is take stock of my identity and realize it’s shifted from where it was and who I was in high school. At my core, I’m the same, as are many of us in our twenties, but the adult is coming further to the forefront of what makes me who I am, and the teen is fading away. If I ever need to remind myself of who I was a decade ago, I’ve still got just the shorts to do the trick. So I say they’re worth keeping around.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, X is for: Stop being cliche

You know what’s full of clichés? The letter X.

X marks the spot. Solve for X. Find the X factor. Xylophone, because nothing else starts with the darn letter. eXtreme, because, you know, that sounds like it starts with this end-of-the-alphabet annoyance. X-rated. X-files. Ex-girlfriend. X it out and start over.

If only we could start our twenty-something lives over and X out clichés, these overused ways of acting, speaking or thinking that make us stereotypical, predictable, tired, bland – further from our true selves every time we fall into one of them.

If we could have avoided clichés, maybe there would be no negative images of lazy, entitled Millennials, tapping away on our iPhones in Starbucks while planning a three-month trip to Europe instead of getting a job.

If the world around us could be free of clichés, maybe so many of us who struggle with any aspect of ourselves – be it our body image, our sexual identity, our faith, our career aspirations, our family background, our mental stability – wouldn’t have to feel so wrong, unsure or lost. If only, if only.

There’s no way to avoid clichés entirely, and some say there’s a reason they become so commonplace and overused: because they naturally apply to a lot of us. Fair enough.

So let’s not aim for perfection, here, because that, in itself, could be seen as cliché. Let’s just recommit to being ourselves, original and as unique as can be. It’s not up to me to offer any advice on how to do that.

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How to do laundry: A twenty-something approach

I still approach laundry like a college student.

Oh, the hamper is overflowing? No biggie. It can wait a couple more days. This doesn’t all want to fit into the washer? Too bad. Stuff it down harder. It’s not quite dry yet? Oh well, I’m out of quarters – time to air dry! No more socks? Well these ones don’t stink too bad – throw ‘em on again! And why bother sorting anything by color or fabric type? Wash it all in cold and you’re good to go.

“Don’t worry if you forget to add the laundry soap,” my mom told me during one laundry lesson before my freshman year of college. “As long as everything gets sloshed around in there, it’s better than nothing.”

That “better than nothing” philosophy still permeates my laundry habits today. That’s why I’m not picky about load size, type or colors. And I usually skimp on the powdered laundry detergent, too, buying the cheapest or second-cheapest variety at Wal-Mart and never filling the scooper completely to the top before dumping it to the bottom of the washer and calling it good enough.

I don’t advocate for a “good enough” or “better than nothing” philosophy in other areas of life. I’m all about keeping my word and exceeding expectations in my career. I’m all about being thoughtful, caring and loyal toward others in my personal life, definitely not about doing the bare minimum in anything that matters. I keep my life organized (except that my to-do lists often become messy) and my apartment clean (except when I’m attempting to bake chocolate chip banana bread), and I take care of my possessions so they’ll last a long time.

But when it comes to laundry, I’m not a stickler. I’m not a germaphobe. I know people aren’t very observant, so that speck of blue ballpoint pen ink on my light khaki pants surely will go unnoticed. I know people are lazy, so if I show up to work in an un-ironed shirt that’s slightly wrinkly, either no one will notice, or they’ll smile and understand. I guess I just have better things to worry about than what temperature my clothes reach inside the shared washer at my apartment and whether my sheets are washed with my dishcloths or the T-shirt rags I use to clean the bathroom sink.

The college philosophy is great – give it the old college try. Stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep until 9, then still make it to a 9:30 a.m. class on time. Think ahead, but only to next weekend or next summer. Try new foods, classes, drinks, experiences. Meet new people and make them your favorites. But spend as little time as possible on dishes, cleaning, paperwork and laundry.

We’ve got all of our lives to manage our households and keep our things fresh and clean. So why spend any more time during the adult version of the “prime of our lives” than we absolutely have to worrying about doing the wash? Even college-style – crammed, procrastinated, mismatched and lacking adequate supplies – the laundry will get done. And that’s something to be thankful for.

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