Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Figuring it out


I had dinner with one of my cousins on Saturday night. She is 19 years old, beautiful and smart and in her second and last year of college. After catching up on family gossip, we turned to more serious matters, like the fact that she was struggling to stay motivated in school and didn't know what to do once she graduated. 

"I don't know, Alex," she sighed. "I feel...lost, you know?"

Saying "Uh, yeah!" felt like a complete understatement. I feel lost about once a month, and seriously lost about two or three times a year. I told her this, and I also told her some other things I had learned, like:

It gets better, but it doesn't get better all at once.
It isn't selfish to focus on your own happiness.
You can't change other people, you can only change yourself.
Being too hard on yourself is really never going to help you.


Throughout the conversation, I could see that what I was saying made sense, but nothing brought about that "Aha!" moment, the way other people have been able to give me major perspective.* 

She kept saying things like "I just need to focus. I just need to have some discipline." While I could relate to the sentiment, it sounded a lot less like her problem was with focusing and more about confidence.

After we had paid, I said to her, "I think you need to add four words to your vocabulary: 'I'll figure it out.' You don't know how you'll get four papers done in a week? You'll figure it out. You don't know what you want to do with your life? You'll figure it out. You don't know how to bus from campus to the hospital? You will figure it out." 

After all, I told her, how many times has there been something you struggled with that you didn't eventually figure out in the end? Maybe it took a few mistakes to get there. Maybe you don't do it perfectly the first time. But it gets done, even if you're not exactly sure how. So often I find myself completely paralyzed with not knowing how to do something, that I can't get started in the first place.   Saying "I'll figure it out", does not give you permission to procrastinate, like "I'll figure it out...later", It's giving yourself permission to try, to start, and the confidence that it will work out.

My cousin totally got it. "I'll figure it out," she repeated. "I LOVE that." 

I got to have the warm and fuzzy feeling that happens when you feel like you've gotten through to someone, but I also got to remind myself that I don't need to know how to do everything in order to do something. I don't need to figure out my entire life before I apply to grad school, and I don't need to have my entire novel planned before I start writing. Because I know that just by starting, I am that much closer to figuring it out along the way. 

*This is actually a feeling I'm pretty used to, because as an RA I felt like I spent most of my time sharing my brilliant insights, which were (unsurprisingly) not received as such by my residents. 


9 comments:

  1. Good job and great advice! She's lucky to have you :)

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    1. Aw, thank you! I'm lucky to have such a big family!

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  2. I didn't know you were an RA. Me too! Definitely still figuring everything out, every second of every day. Other than a few epiphany moments here or there I don't know that I ever feel like I have things figured out.

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    1. The year of being an RA was one of the most challenging years of my life--but it also taught me a lot about myself.

      I don't think anyone ever figures everything out, but those little situations we find ourselves stressing about, usually work out in the end. One of my aunts tells me "Show me the evidence that you haven't gotten through this before." That thought seems to be along the same lines of "I'll figure it out."

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  3. Ummm that's definitely going to become my new motto for life lately...thanks for the little burst of inspiration Alex!

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    1. Oh good, I'm SO glad to hear it! Sometimes you just need that one line that can get you through things, and I'm so flattered this connected with you!

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  4. This is a great post. I always panic before tests and due dates and it always works out in the end. I'll figure it out!

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    1. Exactly! I get so wrapped up in what's right in front of me that I forget I have done it before, and didn't die terribly!

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    ReplyDelete