By the time I entered my second fiction workshop in college, I was infamous for my 20 page stories. I think I naturally lean towards novella-length stories, which are around 30,000 words, because once I get an idea for a story and the characters come to life, I want to make sure I share everything I can about them and their world. So, when my professor gave us an assignment to write two flash fiction stories, I audibly gasped.
Flash fiction stories are less than 1000 words—and I couldn’t imagine how to tell an entire story with such little time on the page. I ended up reading over twenty flash fiction stories to try to understand how other writers achieved this feat, and what I discovered was that these writers were paying attention to their stories on the sentence level and cutting away ANYTHING that didn’t need to be there—including words like “and,” “the,” and “a”, words I didn’t realize you could pull out of a sentence.
This occurred at a point when my writing was starting to feel kind of stagnant and disorganized. I was bored with the same style and same type of story that I always wrote. And when I finally finished my first draft of what would become “Rituals,” which is published at Eastern Iowa Review and was nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net Anthology, my writing came to life again and my excitement and joy for writing returned. Flash fiction became something freeing, experimental, exciting.
Since this experiment and experience, I’ve begun to read more stories from literary magazines as I search for writers who can show me something new that can be done in a story. If your creative projects are starting to feel a bit rusty, take more time to explore other artists’ work. Find something that reignites your excitement for your writing, photography, painting, whatever your creative hobby might be. Writing and other forms of art can be lonely hobbies and careers to have, but it doesn’t have to be! Find other artists and connect with them on Twitter, keep up with what others are doing in their work, and give similar techniques and styles a try with your own spin.
Your work will be much better anyways if it’s in conversation with everything else you consume (read, watch, listen to)!
What’s renewing your excitement for you creative projects lately?
One thing you will learn once you graduate and get into your everyday adult life is that work doesn’t stretch your mind in the same ways that school did. Your job will obviously be something a bit more specialized based on what you studied, or specific skills you taught yourself, and so parts of your brain will turn to mush—it’s great.
In my own college and high school experiences, I talked with friends and teachers/professors a lot about becoming a lifelong learner, and how important it is to maintain a growth mindset in regards to how much you can learn.
Most likely, before you graduated, you were learning the material for your classes because you wanted to avoid getting bad grades—you wanted to get your degree then get out and get your dream job—but your motivation to do well and learn (probably memorize) the lessons was because you were trying to avoid penalty, not because you actually wanted to learn the material—in most cases.
Once you graduate though, what you learn—whether related to your job or not—is entirely up to you. Now you can follow your curiosity as deeply as you’d like, and this can be really freeing.
However—a quick disclaimer—you’re also probably used to pulling all-nighters and comparing how many cups of coffee you’ve had with your classmates to see who was most dedicated to getting the best grade on your exam, but if you continue doing things like this when you start working, you will go crazy and you will feel awful all the time. You cannot put your work before your health. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, drink enough water, and get enough exercise. So, if you’re already feeling like your brain has gotten foggy and maybe turned to jello in your head, focus on your physical health first. Everything that follows in this blog post is extra-curricular!
8 Ways to Sharpen Your Brain After College
The most obvious thing you can do to sharpen your mind is to read more. Reading reduces stress, allows you to learn new things, and if you start reading more fiction, it helps you to be more empathetic and compassionate.
I’ve noticed that if I go on reading binges where I just read all weekend or I take a week and read in all of my free time, my brain will feel like it was doing reps at the gym. If you grab one or two books that on the NYT bestseller list or some other top 10 list, you also increase the likelihood that you’ll have one more topic to bring up as you’re making new friends in that big city you moved to without knowing anybody.
While living in New York, I found that podcasts (and audiobooks) were sometimes easier to read on the train, because you will be packed like sardines in that rush hour subway car, and you can’t really turn pages and hold onto a bar at the same time. Many days you’ll also have to hold a book right up to your face because of how little room there will be in the subway car. So if you like to read during your commute, look into podcasts. There are so so many good ones. Podcasts are another great talking point in conversations with new friends, and you can learn so so much from them—sometimes listening to a podcast episode can give you enough information about a specific topic in a shorter amount of time than reading a book, so if you’re just sort of curious about something, try a podcast first and then if you still want to learn more, look into books on that topic. Podcasts also nice because it’s just like you’re listening in on a conversation and that’s much easier to pay attention to on days when you’re feeling kind of tired.
3. Learn a New Language
If you’re interested in traveling and seeing other places around the world, then while you’re saving that bread from your job so that one day you can backpack across Europe, you can also use the time while you’re saving up to learn new languages that will come in handy on that trip of yours!
There’s so many ways you can learn a new language for free (or use things you already have and pay for like Netflix/the internet). You can use apps like Duolingo, rewatch your favorite Netflix shows in your target language, find Youtubers that will not only inspire you to keep learning new languages, but others that also created videos in your target language(s) (one of my favorites is Damon and Jo!).
There’s also just like vocab sheets and stuff that you can find online, just google like French food vocab and then you can make quizlet flashcards and have those on your phone and while you’re waiting for a train or waiting for friends to meet you for dinner or something you can just flip through some of your vocab!
In big cities like New York, you can also find restaurants and cultural centers to find events to go to and support the center and make friends who speak the language you’re learning. There’s also groups that meet (you can find them on flyers in coffee shops or on apps like MeetUp) to help you pair up with someone who wants to learn the same language as you, or a native speaker in your target language who wants to learn your native language.
4. Keep Track of Your Questions
This might sound a little vague—let me explain. Maybe you hear something on the news and you realize you’re not totally certain why relations between certain countries are so fraught, or you wonder what more you can be doing to support causes you care about—catch these questions and take note of them, because these are things you can dig into.
There’s probably a lot of information that you learned and knew in high school that started to fade after you stopped thinking and talking about it with your classmates. By keeping track of questions that pop up, you can find your weak spots and then find resources to refresh that information or to learn about things that you never learned in school.
Once you figure out topics to dive into, you can find open courses from colleges like Yale for free online, or use websites like Coursera or Teachable, and if you’re interested in more skill-based knowledge you can use websites like Skillshare.
It’s no surprise that meditation makes this list! It seems like we are chronically overstimulated—with notifications one our phones and our laptops and tablets constantly diverting our attention from what we’re watching, reading, or working on, even for brief moments, it makes sense that even when we’re not on our phones or laptops our ability to focus and think clearly would have been negatively impacted.
Meditation—whether you’re just sitting on your own and focusing on your breath, or using an app like Calm or Headspace—is a great way to take back control of your ability to focus and think clearly, because you’re spending time practicing two things. First, you’re learning to observe and separate yourself from your thoughts as you gently redirect your focus to your breath again and again while you’re meditating. This helps in your daily life when you get sidetracked with distractions by allowing you to catch yourself before you’ve lost too much time and energy focusing on something inconsequential. And second, you’re also learning how to use your breath to manage stress and emotions—you only need to endure stress for a few days or weeks to recognize how it negatively impacts your body and mind. You only have to mismanage stress once to learn how negatively it can impact your body, and how foggy it can make your brain feel.
For a quick way to try to get your brain working more sharply just get a bit of exercise. Take five minutes in the morning or before you need to tackle a bigger, more complicated project, and do 25 push-ups (with breaks) to get your heart rate up. If you can get more blood—and oxygen—to your brain you have a better chance of thinking clearly. Getting in the habit of going for a walk or run and doing some yoga everyday will help your mind stay sharp all day.
7. Go to Events
Right now, a lot of the kinds of events I’m talking about are still online due to COVID, so you don’t need to live in NYC or another city to attend, and if you haven’t already, this is something to take advantage of! Attend as many events as possible that spark your interest. More often than not, just listening to someone else who has written a book or studied a topic talk about their work and their interests, this will spark tons of ideas for you. And as creative people, new ideas are addictive! In order to feel the most like ourselves and to live out the dreams we have for our creative ambitions, we need to be exploring topics that excite us, thinking about our projects, and working out our creative muscles. Finding other thought leaders and friends (other people who attend the same events) who are interested in the same topics, tensions and stories that you are will be endlessly inspiring.
8. Have a Clear Plan
There’s nothing that can sabotage the best intentions and the clearest thinking like a vague plan. I can’t even tell you how many times I told myself I’d wake up and “write before work” only to get up the next morning and have to spend twenty minutes figuring out what part of a story or my novel I wanted to work on—if I ever got started. It’s much easier to get derailed from your intentions when you don’t know exactly how to get started. To alleviate any foggy thinking around your projects at the time when you need to be working on them, clarify EXACTLY what you will be working on—if you’re writing, make a list of scenes you’ll work on, and when/where you’ll do so (check out implementation intentions from James Clears’ Atomic Habits).
It can be an awful feeling when you realize that you’re unable to think as clearly as you used to in school, but by implementing a few mind-maintaining habits into your routines you can reclaim your ability to think clearly—and your creativity will come back to you stronger than ever!
In all of 2019 I read two books, finished 0 stories, wrote about 40 pages of my novel that I ended up scrapping later, and I did not start making videos—even though I told myself every weekend that I would.
Returning to writing and making things in early 2020 was terrifying, but it ultimately taught me how important my personal creative projects are to me, and how much energy I get back when I take the time to work on them.
As I get back into a creative routine, here are five things I’m doing to make this process go as smoothly as possible.
Trying Some Mindset Shifts
All throughout this past year when I wasn’t actively working on my creative projects, I was taking down ideas that came to me on the subway, in the middle of my work day, or right before I fell asleep—so my writing wasn’t done with me even when I didn’t make time for it—and shifting the way that I thought about these little ideas I was getting all year, was really comforting.
The hardest part of returning to writing so far has been how often I beat myself up for getting out of the habit of writing and creating. My mind gets stuck on the fact that it’s been so long, and I worry about the period of time when what I create is just going to suck because I’m out of practice. Whenever this thought hits me, I try to remind myself that this is temporary; I will get back into the swing of things, and my writing will be just as strong, if not stronger, than it was before.
2. Starting Small
My goal by the end of the summer is to have my current draft of my novel done, but after writing so intermittently for the last few months, I’m starting small by working on flash fiction stories first. Flash fiction stories are stories under 1000 words, so by writing them you get a lot of practice choosing the right words since each word needs to be intentional to get your whole story across in such a short amount of time.
Getting a few of these shorter stories finished, and getting back in the habit of writing something every day will be tiny wins that will fuel my motivation and my belief in myself so that I can return to my novel prepared to tackle all of its complexities.
3. Consuming Less, Creating More
One of the reasons I got so disconnected from my creativity this last year is the fact that I spent most of my free time on my phone or my laptop—watching Netflix, scrolling through Pinterest, and avoiding any emotions I was feeling.
In order to create something, you need time spent in stillness; time for your brain to focus and dig deep into whatever you’re working on. That means you have to sit with your emotions—you can’t reach for your phone when you run up against resistance and want to “just check something real quick.” This resistance can come about when you’re struggling to give your project structure and you’re unclear about what you want to accomplish in that creative session. It can come about when you have to do the part of the project that you don’t find very enjoyable—for me, that’s outlining my book. I enjoy writing the scenes, but figuring out how all the pieces fit together is stressful. Or it could come about because you just have something else on your mind. If that’s the case, journaling before you start working on your project can significantly improve your ability to focus on it.
Whatever the case may be, designating creative time in your day, turning off your phone, leaving it in another room, and resisting the urge to distract yourself is the key to getting creative again. What you need most is deep focus; that’s the only way to get your projects finished.
4. Get Moving
Similar to my previous point, I’ve started getting back into exercise. Taking the time to get out of my head and into my body is not only great for my health—especially because I want to lose weight this year—but it also helps you clear out your mind. If you’re anything like me, your mind tends to stick on one thought and examine it from all different angles for days unless I’m mindful of it. Getting some exercise—even a long walk—helps me to get past those sticky thoughts, and it seems to clear up mental space for me to imagine all the possibilities that lay dormant in my creative projects.
5. Being Self-Compassionate
The fact is that creative work is hard. It requires dedication, stillness, focus, and time for your mind to wander—and those are not luxuries that we always have. You will not return to your creative work every day right away. You can’t be a perfectionist about it—you can only do the best you can each day.
It helps to focus on one day at a time. Don’t think about creating a habit streak, just think about sitting down for however many minutes and getting your mind thinking about your project. Even if you don’t get any visible work done on it, your mind will still have spent that time practicing what it means to show up for your creative ideas.
The most important thing you can do when returning to your creativity after a break is to be as compassionate with yourself as possible. Don’t hold any resentment towards your past self for what they did or didn’t do—and if you do hold any of that, try to let it go each day as you return to your desk or your studio and get back into your work.
When you start rebuilding your habits, and you keep showing up for your creativity even when you’re not in the mood to, you’ll start to feel like yourself again. You’ll wake up parts of your brain that fell asleep, and you’ll become more observant and energetic in your everyday life. It’s not a quick fix, but the commitment is worth every moment.
So today marks the beginning of a new year for me; I’m embarking on something I’m calling the Year of Change Challenge with the hopes of giving my brain and my health everything it needs so that I can be the most creative person I can possibly be.
In my first year out of college I learned a lot, but the most important lesson I learned was that I personally don’t feel like myself if I’m not creating things—but beyond that, the lesson there was that there are conditions that need to be in place for anybody to be creative. Put simply; creativity is a privilege—let me explain.
We all learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a health or psychology class in school—or your health teacher at least put Castaway on in your classroom at some point like mine did.
If you need a refresher, it’s basically a pyramid with layers representing certain needs, and the needs in the layers at the bottom of the pyramid need to be established before any of the needs in the layers above can be reached. The layers are listed in order below:
Physiological needs: food, water, breathing, shelter, etc.
Safety needs: security of body, employment, resources, family, health.
Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others/by others
Self-Actualization: spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts (resilence!)
Only recently did I a see a graph of Maslow’s Hierarchy with Creativity on the top—that means that those of us who don’t have access to proper nutrition, or who work two jobs and don’t get enough sleep at night (and don’t have a lot of extra time), and those without a secure living situation or a secure job can’t move up towards self-actualization and creativity—and that makes me really sad, because creativity—for me it’s my writing and photography and videos that I’ve been making on and off since I was thirteen—has always been something that is healing for me because it’s a source of joy, self-exploration, and belonging.
And you might be like, Hannah, duh—but remembering this hierarchy of needs led me to plan out a year of change in my own life, and I want to share the process here in case anybody needs a bit of inspiration to make some changes in their own.
I recently read Untamed by Glennon Doyle Melton, and at one point she says, “We spend all of our time, energy, words, and money creating a flurry, trying not to know, making sure that the snow doesn’t settle so we never have to face the fiery truth inside us—solid and unmoving.” And when I read that I was like “huh.”
For the entire year that I lived in New York City, I was keeping myself busy. I lost track of what’s important to me. I didn’t write anything or make anything, I only read two books last year when I usually read 25-30, and I felt awful.
I realized that not giving my writing and my creativity the time and energy that it needs feels like a kind of self-abandonment—and not creating or taking care of my ability to create when I have everything at my disposal to take care of those bottom levels of the Hierarchy to unlock confidence and creativity seems like a pretty poor use of my privilege.
So I began to wonder what kind of a life I want—what kind of impact I want to have and what values I want to uphold in my actions and my words—and I reflected on the dumpster-fire of my first year out of college.
I realized I was living out of my reactions—ones that I didn’t choose, but ones that I learned from the culture around me as a kid. I reacted to the inevitably hard feelings of that transition from college to work by eating whatever I felt like, regardless of the later repercussions for my health. I consumed and did not create. I gave the other people in my life the bare minimum because I was giving myself the bare minimum too.
Once I took an honest look at how I’d been living I decided that I want to live the boldest, most creative life possible—I will return to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and build strong foundational habits to open up time and energy for my creative brain to work its magic—and I’m taking you with me.
The Steps I’ve Already Taken
I read Atomic Habits by James Clear and determined that the first month of the challenge is just about showing up for a few habits every day and have no zero days. For example, one of my habits I’m going to focus on is doing a yoga video every day but on days when I don’t have a lot of time or energy I can do a 5 minute video and that still counts because I’m showing up to my yoga mat.
I got a tracker from Best Self Co—but you can create one of your own and I narrowed down the six habits I want to focus on first.
Drinking four 32 oz jugs of water
One yoga video
I created a notebook—which I will walkthrough in a YouTube video later this week and I’ll link it here once it’s uploaded—and this notebook includes trackers for each of my goals, and pages for notes from things I’m reading or just things I’m learning while I’m in the middle of this challenge.
I started two of my habits early to get some momentum going.
I cleaned my space.
Spa day with a hair mask and any other little self-care things that make me feel refreshed.
And then, using the tips from Atomic Habits, I got clarity around what this challenge is for, for me—I made a list of outcomes I’d like to achieve like losing weight, getting whiter teeth, finishing my novel and more, BUT one of the major points of James Clear’s book is that those outcomes are only surface level, and that real, lasting change won’t be made unless you’re considering the person you need to become in order to make certain habits part of your daily life. For example, “The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.”
Similarly, I want to lose weight—so I need to ask myself what someone who could lose weight would do. So the outcome I want to achieve is to lose weight, but beyond that, the true goal is to become a healthy person who exercises and eats right and takes care of their body.
This approach is one thing that actually gets me really excited to change my life, because it makes it clear that your habits reinforce your identity. You only believe what you believe about who you are now because your current habits reinforce your current identity. So with new habits, and repeating small habits everyday, eventually you’ll have more evidence of your new identity as a healthy person, as a writer, or whoever you want to be. Thinking about the person you want to be—maybe the best version of yourself, and using your habits as a roadmap to get closer to that person every single day is really motivating.
I wrote out a kind of manifesto or story about who I want to be; How I live my daily life as this best version of myself, and how my habits reflect the identities that I want to cultivate—and for each of my habits that I listed previously, I wrote out implementation intentions, which help you clarify when and where you will perform a habit, so that I know when I need to show up for that habit.
I created a printable worksheet you can fill out every night to create implementation intentions because I know every day won’t be exactly the same, so it seems best to double check your plan each night to avoid any confusion in the morning.
And I figured out systems or processes by which I can achieve my goals—like writing for at least 30 minutes every day.
Then I set a date to start: June 29, 2020, and I sat down and filmed a video and wrote this blog post to share the challenge with you.
I’ll be posting weekly updates on Youtube on Mondays to share what I did that week, how things are going, and what you can also do to pursue your own year of change challenge. I’ll also be posting on Thursdays to share some video about personal development and creativity—and I’ll post here on my blog weekly with some creativity-related topic.
I also created free daily planning pages that you can download below if you’d like to start living with a bit more intention and start to get your habits in order, so that you can unlock time and energy for your brain to be as creative as possible.
I’m excited for this, and I hope you are too. Let me know in the comments if you’re in for this challenge and what you’d like to achieve in the next year.
Below you can download my daily pages to help you plan out your day!
It’s best to use these before heading to bed at night so that as soon as you wake up you know what you need to do to be able to use your time efficiently to get all of your habits in around any other plans or work you need to get done—and these pages can provide a nice ten minute pre-bed ritual for you to reflect on gratitude and get excited for the changes you’re making in your life!
Journaling is one of those things that people seem to absolutely love or absolutely hate—and I’m obviously someone who loves it! What I find so interesting about journaling is that looking back, you can see where the seeds of larger ideas are planted—like notes from interesting conversations that piqued your interest in an area that becomes really important to you later.
I use my journal as a personal development tool, but also as a sketchbook and a scrapbook. I save movie tickets and dried flowers and photos and anything else that can fit into my little Moleskine notebook. I’ve kept journals with relative consistency since August of 2015, and in recent years I’ve moved away from jotting down what I’m thinking and feeling each day, and I’ve veered towards asking myself questions. I found that in some ways, how I was journaling before was actually kind of detrimental because time spent journaling turned into time spent ruminating (MuchElleB made a great video about this on Youtube recently, which I’ll link here).
By asking yourself questions, and then free-writing based on the question, you’ll be able to narrow your focus, explore your beliefs, and the ideas that mean the most to you, and when you step away from your journal you’ll have new perspectives to bring to your daily life. To really get you started, here are 100 Journaling prompts to help you start journaling too:
What relationships in your life mean the most to you, and why? How did you get so close with these people, what do you admire about them, and how have they changed you?
What do you value most in your friendships?
What music artists have meant the most to you, and why?
Describe the happiest moment of your life so far. Set a scene, describe all the people, the circumstances, what was going on in your life at the time.
Do you feel guilty about anything? Why do you feel that way?
What was the hardest lesson for you to learn in high school? College? In your 20s? 30s? 40s? 50s?
If you had a time machine where would you go? Back into history? Back to an earlier time in your life? Into the future? Why?
List your favorite books, movies and TV shows—what do they have in common? What stories are you most attracted to? Why do you think that is?
List your favorite characters of all time. What do you have in common with them? How are they different from you?
What is the hardest conversation you’ve had?
How connected do you feel to your body?
What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited? How did it make you feel to be there?
What were/are your grandparents like? Describe them in detail.
Do you know much about your ancestors? Describe any stories that you know of about them, and think about traits or behaviors that they might have passed down to you?
Where’s your favorite place in nature? Why do you love this place so much?
How do you handle anger? Grief? Fear? What’s the most difficult emotion for you to manage, and why?
When have you felt the most vulnerable? Looking back do you see how strong you really were? Why or why not?
What is your relationship to nature—and what’s your favorite memory you have in nature?
How do you feel about the future of our natural world?
What does “home” mean to you? How has “home” changed and evolved as you’ve gotten older?
How important is loving what you do for work to you?
What were the hardest moments of your childhood? How have you grown since then, or what did you learn?
Who inspires you and why?
What book(s) made you absolutely sob with abandon?
Where do you want to travel? Why? What do you know about each place? What do you want to learn more about?
Make a list of skills you want to learn. How can you learn a few of them this year?
How do you think technology is changing our lives and our world? What are the opportunities here? Are there any dangers?
What is your relationship to food? Do you feel you’re relatively healthy? What are your favorite foods, and do you keep yourself from eating any of them? How do you feel about that?
What were you like as a baby? Are there any traits from such a young age that were really apparent? Have you held onto those?
What did you want to be when you grew up? How close are you to any of those desires now?
Do you think there are any benefits to reconnecting to your childhood self? If so, what are they?
What have you loved since you were a kid?
Do you want kids? Why or why not? How do you feel about raising a kid in today’s world?
How do you view yourself? How do you hope you’re viewed by friends and family? Ask a friend to name a few traits that come to mind when they think of you. Are there any discrepancies between how you view yourself and how they view you? Why do you think that is?
What are your lifetime goals? How about your goals for the next five or ten years? This year? This month?
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
What’s something that you’ve always wanted to try that you still haven’t? Why haven’t you? Will you? Make a plan and make it happen!
List ten things you’re grateful for and why.
What are you looking forward to?
What are you dreading?
What small things bring you joy? What big things bring you joy? How often are these things part of your daily life?
How are you with commitment? Think all the way back to when you were a kid—were you able to commit to things then? Compare that to now.
What’s something you want to say but haven’t.
Are you a night owl or a morning person? Have you tried to make yourself one or the other?
How are you hard on yourself, and why?
Who do you want to spend more time with?
What do you think about affirmations?
Do you believe in fate?
Do you believe in soulmates?
What’s your favorite thing to do when you first wake up?
Are you typically an organized or disorganized person?
What’s your favorite characteristic or trait of your own?
What would the soundtrack to your life sound like?
Write about failure.
Describe a time when someone helped you and it really touched you.
What social/political causes do you support and why?
What don’t you know? Get specific—make a list.
What’s your favorite quote and why?
What was your favorite class in college that was unrelated to your major?
What’s your favorite holiday/tradition?
Write down the funniest story you can think of right this moment.
Who makes you laugh?
Who do you love?
Do you like animals? Why or why not? Do you think they can understand us?
What’s your favorite element (air, water, fire, earth).
Do you believe in astrology and horoscopes? Why or why not? Do you think your sun/moon/rising signs fit you?
Have you ever talked with a psychic?
Do you believe in a higher power? Why or why not? If so, how do you think you can connect to that higher power the best?
What do you want your future home to look like?
How are you creative? What are your favorite creative hobbies, and how does it make you feel to work on them?
Do you read any magazines? Why or why not?
What do you think are the greatest problems your country/state/the world is currently facing?
What was your favorite subject in school?
What are you most proud of?
What moments in your life make you feel most alive?
What are some of your favorite words, and what do they mean? Why do they mean so much to you?
Do you read poetry? Why or why not? What are some of your favorite poems/poets?
What’s your favorite way to listen to music?
Write about an object that means a lot to you. What is it? Why does it mean so much?
What’s your aesthetic? What colors, designs and styles are your favorites?
Would you want to be famous? If so, why and for what?
What are you most afraid of?
What drives you the most?
How bold are you?
What’s your favorite story that your parents tell about you as a kid and why?
What concerts have you been to? What was your first concert and what do you remember about it?
Do you have siblings? If so, are you close with them? Why or why not?
What can’t you live without?
Do you still have any movies on DVD? Any records of your favorite albums?
What period in history would you want to travel back to if you had to?
Do you think personal development resources are worth your time? What do you think of self-care becoming a trend?
Write about your femininity/masculinity. In what ways are you masculine and in what ways are you feminine? What do you think about gender?
What are you trying to stop doing?
What can’t you get enough of?
How important is the imagination to you?
Are you multi-passionate, or are you still searching for your passion?
List three of your role models. Who do you want to be a role model for?
What conversations have changed your life?
What makes you most powerful?
What do you think of journaling now?
I hope this list helps to get you started on your own journaling journey! Let me know what your favorite questions are and what they help you discover. 🙂
I was never someone who dreamed of moving to New York City. As teenagers, my friends and I talked about it as one option among many as we dreamed up images of what our lives would look like at twenty, twenty-five, thirty. Equally possible were the South of France, London, Sydney, Florence or Venice, and the list went on.
For each of these places we developed personas—ideas of how these places would shape us, and who we would become within them. In the South of France I’d wear plenty of skirts, and I’d carry picnic baskets around the fields that surrounded my little countryside home as I took up herbalism as a hobby. In London I’d have more of an edge, I’d be more competitive, more career-driven, and I’d have a really nice Pendleton raincoat. In Venice I’d live on a sailboat, spend every moment in the sun and in the water, I’d drink espresso from tiny mugs and eat lots of amatriciana and margherita pizzas. Obviously, at fifteen and sixteen, our perceptions of each place were based on very thin slices of knowledge of each place and its culture, but that fact did not quell the longing we had to see the world, to look its beautiful and ugly parts in the eyes, and to return home with stories.
While my best friend had spent some time with extended family in New York growing up, I didn’t visit the city for the first time until she was going to college there. And despite all of our dreams of traveling, and the people we could be in each spot on the globe, I never developed an idea of who I would be in New York, or even what life in New York could look like. I suspect, at the time, New York City seemed a tad too close to my native Rochester, NY—and the thought of staying in the same state seemed disheartening when the world was so big, and filled with so many places I wanted to see.
With my college graduation behind me, and the whole world seemingly open for my exploration, I worried about moving somewhere that I hadn’t always dreamed of living—but in the last six months since I moved to New York, I’ve come to find that, without expectations, this city, each and every day, has shown me its character, its beauty, and its fun, all while forcing me to discover my own resilience.
My best friend and I are sharing a fifth floor walk-up at the moment, and while the space is tight, the stairs are a menace, and it’s regularly ninety-five degrees in here, this space is ours—and it’s perfect. Ask anyone who has lived in New York in similar conditions—and even not-so-similar conditions (with AC, etc.)—and they’ll tell you that living in New York is not easy. But, as John F. Kennedy said, and my Father frequently repeats, “we choose to go the moon in this decade, and do all these other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And the hard is what makes it worth it, because that ensures that you are constantly growing, changing, and learning new lessons.
Since moving to New York, I’ve learned that most people want to be happy—and, if invited, they’ll join you in a moment on the street for a three second dance party, a laugh as you both hear something said out of context, and a drunk moment of joy and camaraderie in the women’s bathroom. I’ve conversed with women in the hardware store that were “lunching,” heard music on my entire commute even without bringing headphones, I’ve danced at bars with friends while no one besides us danced, and I’ve heard John Mulaney jokes on the corners of streets that were mentioned in his jokes—how amazing is that?
I’ve seen beautiful moments as strangers help mothers lift their strollers up the subway stairs or onto a subway car, or share a coffee and a chat with the person sitting next to them in the café. I’ve seen a bus driver whose attitude couldn’t be swayed by any disgruntled passenger, mailmen with deep smile lines who know the name of seemingly everyone on their routes. I’ve seen New York Moments like when the power went out—and subway passengers were finally released back into the streets—and a choir had abandoned the dark Carnegie Hall to finish their performance out on the steps.
I’ve learned that the city was built so that the streets would flood with light as the sun rose and set—and yes I realize that was because they didn’t have electric lighting, but there’s poetry in that too. I’ve found ceilings covered with stars, and I’ve discovered I’m only an hour’s subway ride away from the ocean.
Living in New York is hard, but, like exhausted parents or exhausted students, you are never alone in New York—literally and figuratively.
On nights when I’m home, without events or people to meet, I can’t help but remember my first night at college; how I sat near the window, hearing the campus hum with life, feeling like I didn’t know how to tap into it.
Going into college I had expectations. I had built up an elaborate depiction of my four years of school in my head; who I’d be, who I’d hang out with, what I’d learn and how. As they say, “expectation is the root of all heartache.” I wasn’t disappointed with my college experience—it just wasn’t what I thought it should have been, based on the stories my parents told about their own college years, or the stories my sister told about her own. I was judging my experience before I even got to experience it—which is bullshit.
I never developed expectations for how life in New York would go—and letting go of expectations is something I’m still learning—but in the places that I’ve managed to let them go, the spaces where expectations used to be have filled, vibrant with color and sound.
While I sat by the window on that first night in my dorm, wondering how to tap into the noise and the fun that echoed through that valley, in New York I stand by my window, content with the knowledge that my experience here is just one of many; that I am not separate, but fully apart of the life humming in this city that has, at last, opened her arms to let me in.