A little over four years ago, I moved to Boston from Portland, OR. At that time in my life, I had a lot of questions about identity and self-worth. I was a woman in search of something. On a superficial level, I was looking for better job advancement and an adventure in a new place. I had never lived on the East Coast, and having spent eight months in Italy during college, I was filled with a desire to see more of the world. When I moved, I had lived in Portland for almost ten years: my friends had experienced adventures and traveled while I stayed still. So I sold my car, quit my job, and traded rain and an incredible community of friends for snow, humidity and solitude.
Over the four years that I have lived in Boston, I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I need community to feel happy, healthy, and motivated. Left to my own devices, I will hide in my room gorging myself on some “feel good” snack (e.g. chips, ice cream, popcorn, candy, junk food) while bingeing on Netflix. When I lived in Portland, I had countless people encouraging me to get out and run, bike, swim, hike, etc. Since moving to Boston, I have been the heaviest I have ever weighed, and I am also kind of lonely.
But at the same time, I am also the most confident I have ever been.
I have spent most of my life feeling like a fake. In high school, I was an honor’s kid who procrastinated and still occasionally pulled off A’s. In college, I somehow managed to talk my way out of a Public Relations internship, which would have given me good experience and knowledge about whether I wanted to work in that field. In Italy, I rarely applied myself to learning and speaking Italian, even though I was in a language intensive program. And even training for an Ironman triathlon, I did the minimum and still somehow finished two races. I have gotten by in life, so when I moved to Boston, I was determined to spread my wings. I had a professional vision: I wanted to work in fundraising and I wanted to work at Boston University (BU) or Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I had no connections, no family here, and I successfully weaved my way through several positions until landing my current job at BU. I have gained so much confidence in my ability to achieve and focus on a goal. But now that I have achieved my goal, I am still left wondering whether or not I am happy. Did I pick the right goal? Am I good enough? Can I actually do this work and do I really want to?
Something is still not right with my soul. I am “successful” professionally but miserable personally. I am plagued with more questions than I have answers. Who am I? What do I want to do with my life? What am I good at? What brings me joy? How do I want to spend my days? Who do I want to be surrounded by? The worst part is I am not taking time to journal and reflect. I am surviving and not thriving. Some of that is just life: professional success has brought an increase in demands and responsibility while I am working on a master’s degree, balancing a romantic relationship, and trying to build friendships. I have been so busy “doing” and being industrious that I have lost touch with who I am at my core. And while I am busy being industrious at work and in graduate school, I am not exercising and I am eating to emotionally feel better (mmmm, donuts! Oh hello more dopamine, I missed you).
I also think I have been searching for happiness, as if the concept is some sort of destination that I can get to if I just do the right thing. If I just apply myself a bit more and stop faking my way through life, then I will be happy. If I just find the “right” relationship, make more friends, or lose 50 lbs, then I will be happy. If all my friends move to Boston, then I will be happy. If I become independently wealthy, then I will be happy. If I find the right job with the right coworkers, then I will be happy. But I came to Boston seeking professional goals that I achieved and I am still not 100% happy.
The year 2017 has been dubbed the year of “clarity” for me. Clarity on who I am and whether I am being true to my person, regardless of career success. Clarity on what I actually have in life vs. what I am missing. Clarity on my talents. Clarity on my relationships. Clarity on my health and fitness goals. Essentially, I want to take a hard, long and honest look at my thoughts, behaviors and feelings. One of the first pieces of clarity I have gained so far is that I am an emotional eater. In the moment, I am learning to name the emotion that is sparking a need to deep dive into a bag of Lays potato chips. I am also learning that to increase my physical activity, I need to increase my community. I need to make more friends who will get out and walk, bike, run, go to the gym, etc. with me because having good people in my life and doing active endeavors makes me happy.
This morning I was listening to the Science of Success podcast on the paradox of happiness. Dr. Tal Ben Shahar talked about the importance of gratitude and exercise in feeling happy, which makes a lot of sense to me as I look at my own life and behaviors. While I was Googling a link to the podcast to share on this post, I stumbled upon edX’s free course on the Science of Happiness. I signed up for the course, feeling like the Universe was giving me a nod that I am heading in the right direction toward my goal of clarity.
Ultimately, it feels really good to name 2017 the “year of clarity.” It gives me focus and takes some of the pressure off of finding the “right” answers. I might find that I enjoy being overweight and active. I might find I enjoy solitude while I am overwhelmed with responsibilities and that building a community will come in due course. The point is that my clarity is based on what I want and need to be happy, not on a set of societal pressures or expectations, and this year I want to find a way to separate the social influence in order to get at what I truly believe and want.