How Had I Gotten So Stuck?
Guest post by Shannon Marshall
My Facebook page was a lie.
It showed how much fun I'd been having - at the weddings, the birthdays, the college reunions. Picture after picture, I was smiling with friends, living life to the fullest.
Except... I wasn't.
My "exciting" life wasn't so exciting at all. In fact, I was bored. I'd never felt so unfulfilled, so unhappy, so anxious, so desperate in my entire life.
I was stuck.
I'd been working the same soul-crushing job for years. I'd been hanging out at the same bars, every weekend, with the same friends, for years. Every day and every weekend started to look exactly like the last.
I had no idea how to move forward.
Thoughts like, “I’m wasting so much time!” and “I’m totally falling behind!” scared me to my very core.
But how did this happen? How had I gotten so stuck?
Years later - through research, journaling, and heart-to-hearts with friends and family - I figured out exactly how I had gotten there.
Ugh, I’d been the ultimate people-pleaser.
I slept on friends' futons every weekend, partied until the sun came up, paid for trips that I couldn't afford - just because my friends asked me to.
And I never said no.
I kept convincing myself that I was having a great time, that I was seizing new opportunities, living a rich life.
But you know the rest of the story. As I said yes to every birthday party and every extra assignment from my boss, the days, months, and years just flew by. I was always "busy" but never moving forward on a path that actually mattered to me.
If I could go back, I'd give myself this very advice: "Say NO - often, loudly, boldly."
I'd tell myself to be so freaking intentional. To ask myself, "Do I want to do this?" "Do I want to spend money on this?" "Do I even like this person?" I'd tell myself to set strict boundaries, to put myself first.
To this day, it’s really hard for me to set good boundaries - but it’s so, so worth it when I do.
Avoiding risk and discomfort
Right after college, I felt the strong urge to move to Mexico.
"But it'd be way too hard! I don't speak Spanish fluently! How would I see my family? How would I support myself? I would miss all of my friends!"
I successfully talked myself out of it.
And that was one of the first times - of many, many times - that I would dump a risky, uncomfortable opportunity in favor of safety and predictability.
But best-selling author, Mark Manson, is right: being uncomfortable - stretching yourself- is happiness. All of that grit, blood, sweat, and tears are growth and fulfillment.
Even Tim Ferriss says, “There is no progress without eustress [good stress], and the more eustress we can create or apply to our lives, the sooner we can actualize our dreams.”
And I’d been avoiding all stress - bad and good.
I'd chosen pleasant, safe things instead. Routines. A stable job. The same group of friends. My hometown.
That’s why I'd seen no real breakthroughs, no big milestones in years. That’s why life had been on pause. I’d needed to stretch myself.
Knowing this now, I leaned into stress. I joined a congressman's campaign, even though I had no political experience and have yet to cold-call constituents. I took the trip to Mexico (finally!) and to teach English, even though I have to wake up early and make lesson plans. I learned how to grow my own vegetables, even though it requires commitment and follow-through.
Lean in, lean in, lean in. That's where the growth, the happiness, that I had been missing for so long, is.
Not committing to my own goals
Two years ago, I read my friend’s shocking Facebook status, and my mouth fell open.
She posted: “A wedding, graduation, a move, and two new jobs later, it's time to celebrate my (almost) one year anniversary with my husband!”
WHAT?! ALL OF THAT IN ONE YEAR?! How was that possible?! It’s official, I thought. I’m falling behind.
Because I had no goals of my own, I looked into earning a master’s degree, moving to a new city, and getting a better job, just like she had.
I was all over the place, taking too many steps on too many paths - paths that weren't mine. So I stayed, paralyzed, where I was - never moving forward, never gaining momentum on any one path.
But social researcher, Benjamin Hardy, had just the advice I needed to hear: The opposite of paralysis is goal commitment.
Aha! I would choose a new goal - a goal meant for me - and really commit to it. And as soon as I committed to my new goal, to live in Chile for two months, those quarter-life cobwebs slowly started to clear. And I finally started to move.
I'd like to say that I'm safely out of this stuck, icky place, but sometimes I find myself there, just for a few moments. That's why this list has helped me - I reread it when I'm too scared to set boundaries, too worried to take risks, or too discouraged to set new goals. And it always brings me back to my values, to the truly authentic life I'm creating.
Thank you, so much, for listening to my story. By sharing it with others, I've realized that feeling stuck - and feeling behind in life - is remarkably common. I've also realized that feeling this way isn’t so terrible; it’s a clear sign from the universe, that it’s time to change, to grow, and to explore. And we'll be glad we did.
Shannon Marshall is a writer, traveler, and the co-founder of Your Velveteen Life. Joined by her sister, Jessica, she's on a mission to help millennial women get unstuck, and create a life dripping with purpose, through the power of intentional travel. Go to Your Velveteen Life, and wow your friends and family with their free, word-for-word scripts that will help you answer that dreaded question, “So what have you been up to these days?”