In the last few years, I have made many huge changes in my life. Some of them were difficult, but some we far worse agonizing over the decision rather than just doing them. In this blog post, I would like to share the wisdom I have learned these last few years to help others who are looking to make changes in their lives. It's often easier than you think! And you'll be much happier once you take the plunge.
1. Get rid of bad influences.
Maybe it's a friend who is constantly pulling you down. Maybe it's a coworker who makes fun of you any chance they get. For me, it was a narcissistic boyfriend who didn't respect me. This influence was toxic and damaging on my life and took a long time to get over, but when you are stuck with these kind of influences, it can feel like it's impossible to escape.
Step 1 is: Determining this influence is bad for you. Are you being your best self around this person? Have you lost all sense of what your best self even is? Do you feel like you deserve to have this bad influence in your life because of something you did/didn't do/should have done, etc? Let's stop right there. No matter who you are or what you have done, here's the truth: Everyone deserves to be loved. That is all. The first step is believing this, even if it's just the faintest idea of a belief in your tiniest finger. You ARE deserving of love.
Once you know this, Step 2 is: Distance yourself from that bad influence. It could mean unfollowing or unfriending someone on social media, ignoring them in real life, or dumping them. When I was 15 years old, my mom made the decision to distance herself from my father through divorce. Was it hard and traumatic? Yes. But this not only allowed me to meet my real mom for the first time in my life, and to see her find real happiness, fulfillment, and love, but it also taught me that it's okay to choose yourself. Getting out of my longest relationship was tough, but three years later I am so much closer to the person I want to be than I EVER could have been with such a toxic influence in my life. Choosing yourself shows you that you are worth it, but it also shows the people around you that they can be worth it too. Who will you positively influence through your good example?
Step 3: Forgive yourself. Surprisingly (I thought at the time), this was the hardest step to ridding myself of a toxic relationship. It was a lot of hard work to come to terms with the person I had become under that bad influence. I had to forgive myself over and over again for becoming that person, and for choosing to not only be around that bad influence, but to stay around it for so long. Even when I found a healthy. loving, and empowering relationship I deserved, it was a struggle to believe I deserved it because I had not believed it for so long. I'm still struggling with that, but choosing to forgive yourself for your mistakes and for choosing bad influences is the #1 way you can keep from repeating them.
Last but not least, Step 4 is: STAY AWAY. Stay away from that person who was such a bad influence on you, as much as you possibly can. For me, that included moving away from the city I knew mine was in, blocking their number, deleting all correspondence between us, deleting all connections between us on social media, and especially ignoring all attempts at correspondence. This last one is especially important because the strange thing about bad influences is, they are sticky. They do not want to let you go. My bad influence managed to reach out to me again a year later, despite me cutting off (I thought) all ties. Latching onto any part of that correspondence, would have been three steps backwards. Instead, I completely ignored it. The moment I didn't engage, that bad influence disappeared from my life for good. It is difficult to say "No" one last time and to choose letting go, but once you do, more often than not you will be safe from that bad influence. (If you are not, please go get a restraining order.) For more great insight on letting go of the people and things holding you down, check out this fantastic book, which can apply to anyone in any field: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
2. Become healthier.
I say "become healthier" instead of "loose weight," though it often amounts to the same thing, because I firmly believe everyone has a different body shape and size which is right for them and their body, separate from what society and the media put forth as a standard of beauty. Step 1 to becoming healthier is asking yourself: Am I healthy the way I am? I often determine the answer to this question by gauging how I feel in my body and my habits around it. When I am unhealthy, I feel stiff and tired and crave junk food to make myself feel better. When I am outside of my true body shape and size, I feel uncomfortable, or like my real self is wrapped in layers of extra stuff that I don't need. If you do not feel like this, then maybe you already are healthy, and it is just that the world is telling you that you need to look another way. If this is the case, then ask yourself: How can I be happier and more in love with my body just the way I am?
Even if your answer to the first question was "No," here's the secret most weight loss how-to's don't tell you: In order to become healthier, you first need to love yourself just the way you are. It is going to be a long journey towards your goal weight/shape/look, etc. In the mean time, if you are hating on your own body, you are literally fighting yourself, rather than nurturing yourself. Becoming healthier is about nuture and love, not hate and shame. So Step 2 is Love Yourself The Way You Are.
Three years ago, I was 30 lbs over what I felt to be my true body shape and size and I wanted to start treating myself and my body better. I lost 35 lbs in 2 years--not super fast, but still a difficult road. This was the rate of change I needed to become healthy, because I knew I could no longer treat my body like a garbage bin. Step 3 of Kelsey's Helathy Challenge: Eat better. Clean food, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains require your body to work harder to break them down. Pre-processed foods are just that--they inject calories into your system with hardly any work on your body's part. Great if you are working harder than you can eat to keep up, but most of us don't have that kind of life anymore. The biggest difference I see between people who are healthy and happy in their bodies, and people who are not, is what they are eating. So take a look at your plate. Challenge yourself to eat as many veggies as possible. Trust me--it is hard. You'd be surprised how much a healthy portion of broccoli can fill you up!
You might be thinking, "Hey, this isn't that hard!" That's great! It's really not that hard to get healthy, but it does require setting up a habit of being healthy. Going to the fresh produce section of the grocery store to fill up your cart FIRST, then the ice cream and tasty bread sections if there's still room. Another habit to get healthy is Step 4: Start a workout routine. This does NOT need to be extreme. For me, I made it a priority in my life to go to yoga ONCE every ONE to TWO WEEKS. Very little, right? When I could, I sprinkled in more classes, or walks around my neighborhood, but this was rare. The important thing was working on keeping my body healthy every week or every other week (in the case of life getting in the way). Could I have lost weight quicker if I'd worked out every day like a fiend? Probably. But that didn't work for my life or for the amount of changes I was comfortable making at the time. Accurately determine how much you can do and stick to it. I still got to my target weight eventually, so the timeline ultimately did not matter at all. For more advice on how to enact change in your life, including a few chapters on getting healthy, check out this well-narrated and well-written book: Leap Year: How to Make Big Decisions, Be More Resilient and Change Your Life for Good by Helen Russell
3. Move across the country.
Moving to vastly different places has been a part of my life since I was 9 years old, when my family moved from rural Minnesota to northern Arizona. However, many people have lived in the same place their entire lives and the prospect of moving, even for a very good reason, can be terrifying. Kelsey's Advice for Moving Your Life should help make this decision less of a horror movie and more of an Action and Adventure flick.
First things first. Step 1 is: Why do you want to move? It could be that you don't want to, but your partner does, or your company wants to move you, or you got accepted to a really great school far from home. It may feel like you have no choice in this situation, but you do. One of my mom's favorite stories to tell me is that she has her current high-power job because of one decision I made as a 17-year-old high school student. It was the recession, we had recently become a one-parent household, and my mom had just been offered a great job... in Minnesota. We would have to move halfway through my senior year of high school. It seemed like I had no choice in the matter, as there was no question in my mind that we couldn't take this opportunity. However, when my mom asked me if I thought we should move, she was really asking. As I found out later, if I had said "No," we wouldn't have moved. I am so very glad I did say "Yes," but I tell this story to underline that you always have the choice to stay or go. So ask yourself, do I want to move?
To make the decision easier for you, I have Step 2: Weigh the Pros and Cons. You can make a list, though usually I don't. Things that could go in the pros column: Better opportunities, a higher quality of life, new experiences and a broadening of your worldview, etc. Possible things in the cons column: Having to make all new friends, finding a job in a new place, not being able to afford rent in the new city, can't afford the moving costs, etc. Although I am usually the one screaming "Rah Rah Rah!!" to my friends and family who choose to move, it is important to be realistic about your expectations. It is not going to be sunshine and roses in a new city--each one comes with its own set of challenges. If you are just running away from your problems, are they really where you are? Or are they going to follow you?
Once you decide that you indeed to want to move AND it is a good decision, you can move on to Step 3: PURGE. You do NOT need to haul all the stuff you have across the country, or even across town. Hold a yard sale, and be alright with selling things for really cheap. This is about not having to move that credenza you don't even like or use, not about making money. You WILL make money in the long run by getting to rent a smaller truck. If you are like me, and just have yourself and your belongings, you should be able to fit everything into a van, which you can rent for even cheaper. FYI, a Full bed fits diagonally in a large van (like a Honda or Toyota) and still has room around it for boxes, lamps, trash cans, etc. Anything you can't sell and still don't want, take to Salvation Army. They will appreciate it. For more tips on purging your life of unnecessary stuff and organizing what you have left after your move, you can check out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.
Lastly, Step 4 is: Get some help. Having a rental or real estate agent to scope out places for you to live, especially when you are moving across the country, is well worth it. Plus, you will have one person you know when you move! Hurrah!! Ask friends and family members to help you pack and unpack your things from the moving van. Provide pizza and/or beer and the day will fly by. Many hands make light work, and in this case that is literal.
4. Follow your dreams.
In the last three years, I have achieved something that seems out of reach to a lot of people I talk to: getting my MFA in Creative Writing. This is not the end of my journey as a writer, but is was a great leap forward. In the last year especially I have done more to forward my dream of becoming a successful author than any other year previous. Have I achieved my dream? No. Am I further along than anyone else my age? Nope. Does that matter? Not a whit. The hardest part about reaching for your dream is the long climb it takes to get there. Starting that climb is the most important step to reaching the top.
Step 1: Know that it is not too late to achieve your dreams. It is NEVER too late. When I graduated with my MFA, I stood between a woman whose grandchildren were in the audience, and a man who was the oldest graduate in our cohort. You can go back to school at any time, any age, and in any situation. MFA programs like mine made it manageable to have a full time job or family anywhere in the world. Search for "Low residency" along with the type of program you are interested in and you could find a similar set up. Online schooling is also increasingly respectable and you can do the work to get your degree at any time, from anywhere. Feel like you're too busy? Ask yourself: Will I be happy at the end of my life, knowing I didn't do this? You have one life to live. Why waste it doing things that don't make your life happy and fulfilling?
Apart from going back to school, there are many other ways to achieve your dreams. That is why Step 2 is: Research your opportunities. There are societies, clubs, meetups, free talks, conferences, and online forums for absolutely everything. Find the ones that look like they would work for your life and sign up. Attend the meetings, post on the forums, and start getting involved in making your dream a reality. Having a supportive group of like-minded individuals around you can often be the first step to feeling like your dream is attainable. Wherever possible, latch onto people who are further along in the field than you are. Watch them, talk to them, learn from them. Perhaps this means sending a respectful fan letter to your favorite author, artist, or business-person you respect. This could lead to a great mentorship or, better yet, a dream job opportunity in your chosen field!
This leads to the most important part of achieving your dreams--Step 3: Put in the work. Changing your life, especially changing the trajectory of your life, is probably the most difficult change on this entire list, simply because it will require the most amount of work. But that is okay, right? Because this is what you want to be doing; this is your dream. You should be excited to learn more and do more in this area, otherwise maybe it is not a dream, but a hobby. The hardest part is not the work itself, therefore, but setting aside time to do the work.
This has been the most difficult part of my struggle to achieve my dreams. It is easy to put in the work when you are studying your craft in school or being held accountable by peers and mentors. It is much more difficult to sit down and write when you are tired, or do whatever it is you need to do to make your dream become a reality. Maybe it means reading a lot of books to find out how to do your dream, or practicing it a lot, or asserting yourself as an expert in your field. All of these take time, which you previously would have spent surfing the internet, hanging out with friends, or watching TV. Achieving your dreams requires changing your daily habits; it means shifting them away from those activities which do not forward the dream and towards those that do. I am still learning how to do this on a daily basis, so for expert advice, I direct you to the following great books to help you flip your habits towards achieving your dreams:
For writers: Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day by Chris Fox
For anyone: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
5. Improve your career.
I'll be honest folks: This is the one change on this list I am still just beginning. However, the challenges I have faced have given me some insights which could help others in my situation. In order to improve your career, Step 1 is: Know what you really want to do. I have such a vague idea of my preferred job, I feel stuck in the cycle of ones that don't excite me. However, having a game plan is the first step towards getting out of that cycle.
My career idealization begins with knowing that I want to be a successful author and influential professor, both of which will take a lot of time to get to. This leads me to Step 2: Figure out the intervening steps. To get your ideal job, you need to have the right work experience, education, and knowledge. Especially for Millennials in entry-level jobs, that CEO or President position seems impossibly far away. It's easy to become embittered and give up. What you need to know is how to hopscotch your way up to that position through jobs you both enjoy and which assist your ascension to the Ideal job. For more information on this method, check out: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay
Step 3: Put yourself out there. I have talked about this idea before on this blog, but it is so important. You get 0% of the jobs you don't apply for. But applying is not the end-all, be-all of getting your ideal job. You need to apply in the right way, at the right time, to the right places. For more information on how to do this, check out a well-known book I cam currently reading, which has already changed the way I look at job-hunting: What Color Is Your Parachute? 2018: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
That's it, guys! Five ways to change your life. Have you tried to make any of these changes recently? What were the results? Share your stories in the comments below, and if anyone has advice on getting your career into shape, your wisdom will be much appreciated!