How I un-freaked myself out about planning my own wedding

I was seriously freaking out about my wedding. But once I figured out what was important to me and how to put that into practice, it became much easier and less stressful.

When I mentioned I am planning my wedding, many of my friends made jokes: “You love organization, so this must be heaven for you!” Everyone knows planning a wedding is stressful, but people assumed it was easy for me.

The truth is, it wasn’t heaven at all. I was freaking out. Completely! What kind of event should we have? Where should it be? How should we do it exactly? I had no idea.

Also, there are so many expectations around weddings. They are supposed to be gorgeous, elegant, fun, romantic, delicious (the food), entertaining… I felt like there was no way I’d be able to fulfill all these expectations and that the guests wouldn’t enjoy the event for one reason or another.

Whenever I shared this concern with friends, they said, “But you don’t need to worry about that! It’s not about the other people, it’s about you. This is your day!”

“Really?” I thought. “This is supposed to be my day? But if it really were my day, I would do it very differently.” But this was a strange thought because I had an idea of what weddings should be like, and that didn’t particularly attract me.

 

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Photo credit: Logan Zillmer

I was fortunate enough to have multiple people around me consistently ask, “What do you want?” The truth was that I didn’t know what I wanted. I had never thought about it, and I had no clue.

In the end, it all came down to identifying my priorities. What’s important to me and what do I enjoy? I am not much into ceremonies and formal rituals, but I enjoy being in nature and being together with friends and family. (Fortunately, my fiance has the same priorities.) Once I identified these things as the most important, instead of expectations based on past experiences, things became clearer in my mind.

I also had to battle FOMO (the fear of missing out). What if, at some point in the future, I regretted not having a formal wedding? What if it turned out this was something I wanted?

I had to think about something Gretchen Rubin said: “If it’s right for us to throw something away, we should, even if someone else would pick it up.” In my case, it might be right for someone else to have a formal wedding, but it’s not the right thing for me. Why? Because it’s not what feels right right now. I have no idea what will feel important to me in the future, but I can try to figure out what feels right now.

Once I identified what my priorities are and what feels right to me, I knew what to do. As I described in the blog post about my system, I made a Trello board for our wedding, identified projects and tasks, and started getting stuff done.

Before, I had felt paralyzed and couldn’t start acting because I didn’t know what I wanted. But once I identified what I wanted and broke it down into manageable tasks, it became easy to act. It’s amazing how having clarity about what we want and why we want it can reduce our stress and get us going.

Have you been stressed about a major project you had to undertake? Did you find a way to reduce the stress and manage the project better? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

How I Learned to Pace Myself So I Don’t Burn out

Six years ago, I got close to burn out for the first time. I was in college, it was exam week, and I had my last exam the following morning. It was for the course Psychopharmacology, probably the most difficult exam I’ve ever taken. I had studied so much that I knew I’d do well, but nevertheless I was miserable. I lay in bed, trying to sleep, but names of pharmacological compounds and various brain areas were swimming in my head incessantly. What was more, I had a fever, and I kept tossing and turning in bed. My stress levels were through the roof because I couldn’t sleep, and I knew how important sleep is for performance at an exam. Needless to say, trying to make myself sleep only made things worse.

It was a truly terrible night. I felt exhausted beyond belief but still unable to rest. My mind was incredibly anxious, and every single thought was torture. Perhaps the worst was that I felt helpless to change anything or to make myself feel better. None of my usual tricks worked, so I just had to lie there, waiting for morning to come.

Lying there, I thought about what I had done to bring myself to this place. The answer was clear: I had overworked myself. I had worked hard for many weeks and months on end, without taking proper breaks and without letting myself rest. I was taking five classes instead of the recommended four (because of course I could do more), and I had three side jobs (because I could do it all!). My only time off of studying and working was Friday and Saturday evenings. Literally.

I still can’t believe I did that to myself. I know how important it is to get some rest, exercise, and have at least a little bit of free time. But I found myself in a situation where every single minute was crammed full of things to do, and I felt constantly anxious about whether I’d manage to complete everything I needed to do.

I think it had a lot to do with the environment. When everybody else appears to be pushing themselves to their limits, it seems to be the right thing to do. And since my self-worth was on the line, i.e., I felt like I would not succeed if I didn’t do that as well, it seemed like the only thing to do. There was no choice, I just had to keep pushing.

On that night when I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep before my last exam, I felt incredibly sad for us humans. We push ourselves so far, to the point of breaking, and we usually only realize it once we are broken. We feel that the only way to be happy, or to deserve to be happy, is by completing that impossibly long to-do list. But we never quite get to that happy point; instead, we just pass out at the end of the day, utterly exhausted. The next morning, we have a new to-do list to complete.

———

That experience (and many others like it) have led me to make some changes. For me, that sleepless night marks a ‘before and after’ point. Before it, I used to take on as much as possible on my plate, trusting that I would figure it out somehow. After that night, I knew that I was able to do all those things, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. What’s the point of succeeding at a bunch of stuff if I broke myself in the process? To me it was clear that it wasn’t worth it.

What followed was an extended (and still ongoing) search for how far it’s good to push myself. It must be a dynamic balance: I don’t want to sit around and do nothing all the time, but I also don’t want to burn myself out. So what’s the right balance?

I immediately made some changes after that psychopharmacology exam. For the following semester, I signed up for four courses (apparently, it’s the recommended number for a reason) and dropped one of my part-time jobs. I also made time to exercise regularly and to meditate. Moreover, I prioritized sleep: I made sure I got seven hours of sleep each night. (Side note: seven hours a night was still not enough for me, but I only realized that a couple of years later when I started sleeping eight hours a night and suddenly I didn’t need caffeine anymore! How surprising!)

Nowadays, I am much stricter about taking care of myself. I monitor my energy levels and my anxiety levels to make sure I steer clear of ‘the danger zone.’ It’s still a struggle sometimes when other people are (or appear to be) so much busier and doing so much more, but I need to do what works for me. Even if I feel that anxious urge to do more, I force myself to do less. For example, at the end of the work day, I know it’s time to get up and go to the gym, but I feel guilty leaving my work. If I could only stay and do a couple more hours of work… but no, I get up, go to the gym, get moving, and give my mind a break. I inevitably feel better than if I had stayed at my desk and kept working until I felt exhausted. And the next morning I’m actually excited to do my work again! What’s more, in this way I have more energy for the important relationships in my life as well.

There are several simple things I prioritized to make sure I don’t overwork myself:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Good food
  • Meditation
  • Rest/free time (at least a little bit)

In the next blog post, I will describe specific things I do to ensure I don’t overwork myself and to maintain stable energy levels and a fulfilling lifestyle. Stay tuned!

What Is It Like to Be You? Description 5

I spend my days vacillating between experiencing small pleasures (recently eating mango ice cream with fresh lime juice or noticing acts of kindness or a sunrise) and noticing small discomforts (often fatigue or noticing disappointments). I am intensely happy when I feel loved or when I feel like I can make a difference or when I can lose myself in the act of creating something. I feel deeply sad when I am isolated, betrayed, or don’t feel understood or cared for. I worry a lot about whether I’m competent or smart or talented or likable and if that’s enough. I like to feel like I’m a deeply good and caring person. I like to feel like an artist. I like to analyze what has made me the way I am.

What Is It Like to Be You? Description 1

Let me share the first description I received:

Hmm… let me think, what is it to be me. It is to be disciplined (of course not always but in many cases), to analyse constantly, what do I do right or wrong, what others do right or wrong and to learn from my own and from others’ mistakes. To be me is to be very tolerant and do my best not to judge other people. To constantly search for the positive sides/signs in everything. To be me is often to worry about things which I probably shouldn’t worry about. To love food and bakery very much but at the same time worry if I eat healthy enough and not too much. To always create plans and if something goes not according to my imagined schedule or sequences, I feel irritation, but then again try to teach myself to see it as a positive thing for my flexibility training. Uff… didn’t expect that would say so much about being me☺

What Is It Like to Be You?

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a friend’s experiment, looking at simple lines and colors and pressing buttons. I thought, “Would someone else perceive these images differently from me? Certainly, she would. What would those differences be based on and how would the impression actually be changed?”

It’s very difficult to understand how we ourselves perceive the world, let alone other people. And the point is that how things appear to us is subjective: how can I explain to you what it is like when I drink a cup of aromatic tea? How can you explain to me how a red rose appears to you? It’s very difficult because it’s subjective.

But humans came up with language. We can use words in order to communicate complex ideas, and writers spend their lives trying to find the words to convey a particular concept or feeling. Apparently words can be powerful. So I decided to ask people about the way the world appears or feels to them.

I asked: What is it like to be you?

A great deal of people responded, and the responses were very, VERY different. I certainly got a sense of what it is like to be these people. While we can never inhabit someone else’s mind and heart and fully see the world from their eyes, I like to think that reading these responses can get us a little closer to that. Perhaps by describing what the world is like for us and sharing that with each other, we can gain a fuller understanding of what being human is all about.

I will share one description per day. Stay tuned to find out what it’s like to be someone 🙂 And feel free to share what it’s like to be you!

Loneliness and Why We Feel It

A subtle sadness gradually sneaks in through the walls, into the furniture, on each surface. A sheath of disappointment glistens on top of the fabric of the couch. The music is dulled and made more ordinary because nothing is quite extraordinary. The apples on the table are not truly red but a shade less bright. Being alive is okay but not quite fulfilling.

The mind and the heart crave a distraction. They don’t want to feel dull  and dissatisfied. The most powerful stimulant they know is love, so they decide they want love. They decide they are lonely. Ah, now they have a diagnosis, so everything is simpler: the problem is loneliness, therefore the solution is the lack of loneliness, the presence of passionate love. Actionable step towards the solution: go find passionate love. The mind and the heart have figured it out, simply.

Yet the heart/mind is very good at forgetting when forgetting suits it. Some voice of reason asks, as though from far, far away:

“When was the last time passionate love solved anything?”

Silence.

The voice gets closer. It’s deep and authoritative, it demands to be heard.

“When was the last time passionate love brought peace and contentment?”

Silence and quiet recalling of episodes past. Passionate love, unmet expectations, disappointment. Somehow the outcomes do not match the intentions.

The voice fills all audible space now. Powerful and full, it’s the type of voice one doesn’t argue with.

“Why pursue this thing called passionate love then? … passionate love then? … love then? … then?” The voice reverberates in the empty space of my head.

“Because it brings hope,” a tiny, child’s voice says.

Every time love blooms, it seems like this time it will work out fine. This time everything will be just right and our hearts will sing. Just this time it won’t fall apart inside our very palms as we try to cradle it to life.

And then, inadvertently, it does fall apart.

It’s unbelievable that our hearts can find it in them to hope again next time. It’s the miracle of the human heart: that in any situation, at any time, our hearts can love again.

That’s because love makes our hearts sing. The heart remembers more powerfully how it sang than how it wept. This is why every time it finds the courage to sing again, even if that means it will have to weep again.