Turn A New Leaf: Finish Your Year Strong

Written by Rachel Ruff

“The most beautiful thing in this whole world is not made up of particles. It’s the strength of a person who has seen the collapse of their world, yet every morning, they wake up and build their life, all over again.”

These past six months have been anything but “normal”. What is normal anyway? Normal was not even applicable to my life before COVID-19 and I now realize that is ever-changing. Normal life means different things to different people worldwide. I propose we start reframing what the word normal means. One could individualize this for each person to do in their own lives, in response to what best serves them and their specific needs. Let “normal” define a lifestyle that best serves YOU and your specific needs. Normal should represent a life that allows you to be productive and authentically happy in a way that best suits you and your routine. 

Almost all facets of my life have been disrupted in some way over the past several months. Most of these have been completely out of my control. Control and order have always been a strong part of my daily routine—I thrive off of organizing, planning, and scheduling my entire life. For any of you reading who can agree with me on this, this pandemic has been especially difficult, just in this specific aspect of losing complete control—financially, emotionally, and physically. Each week since mid-March this year has brought new challenges, introducing me to different coping mechanisms. I found myself frequently forgetting which day of the week it was or feeling extremely off-center mentally and emotionally. I have learned that that is OKAY and healthy. I believe each of us has discovered something new about ourselves and that may be a silver lining to all of this. I cannot simplify or deny the additional weight this pandemic has put on our backs, but I can easily expand on all of the things it has taught me about myself. The stress of the uncertainty of this pandemic has given many the opportunity to turn inwards and adapt to a journey of self-discovery that is new for some. Additionally, this pandemic has showcased the flaws and successes of our society that otherwise wouldn’t have been highlighted. It has been a learning experience for us all and there is no way anyone could have prepared our country for a catastrophe quite like this one. 

As seasons are changing, so are schedules and routines. For me, school is right around the corner and I am getting ready to prepare myself for my last semester of undergraduate. Although this semester is going to look a lot different than previous years, I am choosing to go into this fall with an open mindset and accept change as a positive thing. I am a visual learner in so many aspects, so for me that vision of cyclical change of a new season represents a “reset” button. A notion of quite literally turning a new leaf and expanding my mindset to my new routine and new responsibilities. I am also using this change of seasons as a symbol of welcoming all of my incoming challenges as learning lessons. As we all know, these times are so unprecedented and unpredictable. I challenge you all to try and interpret any challenges that come your way in these next few months as an opportunity to learn and grow. When faced with a problem or unsettlement, try to remind yourself that—“Everything is happening is FOR you, NOT to you.” It can be difficult to not take things personally, I know, but the more you are able to remind yourself that everything that enters your life is an opportunity for growth, you may be able to handle challenges in a way that can help you learn and grow. 

A tool I frequently use when starting a new “chapter” of my life is reflection. This can be a beneficial tool for many facets of life and allows you to be very intentional about what brought you to where you are today and how that journey has positively and negatively affected you. Take some time to sit down and be alone with your thoughts. You can possibly journal or create art that reflects how you’re feeling. By physically expressing how you feel may help you notice a shift in your thought patterns. How has this past summer benefitted you? How have you grown from the challenges of this past summer? What have you learned about yourself or your community? What worked for you and what didn’t? By reflecting on our past experiences allows us to better understand the present moment and creates a better understanding of our inner self as well. 

After taking time to reflect on these past few months of summer, create some time this week to sit down and set simple guidelines for what you want to accomplish by the end of this year. We are four months away from 2021. Yes, that is crazy, but it just means you have four months to ultimately create a reality that best serves you and your goals for yourself. I am not a person who waits for January 1st to set goals for myself. It is a silly social construct that honestly restricts people from being accountable for their life. Why wait for a specific date to “life your best life”? Why not wake up each day with that mindset? I challenge you to dismantle the idea that you have to wait for a certain date to change your habits, goals, or dreams. Why not start now? I understand with unprecedented times like now that many of our habits and goals have shifted out of our control. Luckily, I have some good news for you. You are able to change and focus on things you CAN control. While taking time to set some goals for yourself during this next season, brainstorm things that are in your control and expand on how those things can help create a stable routine as we shift into a new season of the year. 

With the hostile environment around us, it can be so easy to collapse at any moment from the heavy stress life pushes onto us. We may not be in control of what our outer world may manifest into, but we can unlock our inner world of peace and contentment. You and only you hold the key to that. Be intentional about your priorities these next few months, because that is a simple way to stay consistent with your habits and also allows you to break old habits that may no longer serve you. Try to frequently ask yourself “Does this support the life I am trying to create?” 

Lastly, be forgiving to yourself and all that you embody. It is so liberating to commit to a life of wholeness instead of perfection. Self-forgiveness gives access to a mindset that is more compassionate and I believe we could all use a little more empathy for ourselves. As the leaves start to fall and the weather starts the change, become intentional about what you want to accomplish in the new season. Your mindset is the key to your success. Below I have added an intention setting worksheet to help put your thoughts onto paper and dreams into action. Here’s to a fresh start and new beginnings! 

Be sure to checkout this month’s corresponding 3-day video challenge in our private facebook group, Elevate! + LBL, with our founder Ivy Kaminsky. She speaks on different tools that can take your goal setting and planning to the next level! 

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Don’t Settle or Let COVID Define You: Create Your Own Reality

Written by Abbey Witham

COVID-19.

Never in a million years did I think that five letters and two digits would change my life so drastically. That I would ever understand what a coronavirus is, how it affects the human body, and feel such a strong mix of emotions every time one strain, in particular, is mentioned. 

But here we are.

COVID-19 and the global pandemic that ensued changed the way many people around the world experience life. Plans were cancelled, studies interrupted, families kept away from each other, and the future became more uncertain than it has been in our lifetimes. Coupled with an economic downturn, a civil rights movement, and a presidential election campaign–this summer has thrown everything it has at us. Now it seems as if we’re living in limbo, this in-between place where we’ve grown accustomed to living in this never-ending uncertainty yet always feel stressed about that same uncertainty and what it means for the future, for our “normal” lives.

I can’t pretend to sit here and have the answers to what seem like some of this century’s biggest questions. After all, I have never lived through a global pandemic, and I’m not (unfortunately) a time-traveler from the future ready to tell you everything that happens (trust me, I wish). I can, however, share with you my experiences over the past five years months in the hopes that you may have felt/feel similar things. And maybe, together, we can begin to find ourselves again amongst the chaos of this time in history.

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When I think about COVID-19, a mixed set of emotions comes to mind: fear, sadness, loss, confusion, anxiety… to name a few. I had the incredible opportunity and privilege of studying abroad in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, this last semester and was there when COVID descended upon the world. My classmates and I watched from afar as this real-life movie played right in front of us: infection rates spiked in the US, apocalyptic images of empty store shelves and jam-packed hospitals flashed across our new feeds, and other study abroad programs were sent home one by one. A Friday call with my sister studying back home in Minnesota started to open my eyes to the severity of the situation. Up until she was sent home from college, COVID didn’t regularly cross my mind. At the time, there were only 11 cases in South Africa, and all of them had come from travelers returning from Europe. 

Little did I know, that was the last Friday I would spend abroad.

We got the email on Sunday, March 15th, 2020 at 7:30 PM. Earlier that day I had been surfing in the rain, wondering how I could be so lucky to be living somewhere so extraordinary, marveling at how beautiful life is. All of that is now overshadowed by three words that sit lonely at the top of my journal entry from that night: “We’re going home.”

The next week was a blur of saying goodbye to the new friends I’d made and 30 hours of traveling all boiling down to a hug-less welcome from my family (not because they didn’t love me but because of said 30 hours of traveling) and a world standing still. A country that was already foreign to me upon my return was made even more so by stay-at-home orders and a virus full of so much unknown.

Like so many, my world flipped upside down. I stayed in my basement for the first two weeks quarantining in case I’d caught COVID in an airport on my journey home. When I started classes again, with my professors in South Africa seven hours ahead of me, I was left to teach myself the material via PowerPoints, articles, and independent research. I felt abandoned as a student, but because no one was prepared to teach remotely–let alone remotely across 8,000 miles–I didn’t feel justified with my anger. I didn’t know what to direct it at other than the circumstance.

Throughout all of this turnover and distress, I felt as many others have: a longing for normalcy and a sense of hopelessness at the situation. I didn’t want to be in the country, let alone in my basement disconnected from my friends and all that I had begun to build while abroad. The confidence and understanding that I discovered slowly began to fade as the weeks went by with no end in sight. It was like I was trapped in Jello, stuck in time yet constantly jostled about by forces outside of my control. 

What started as weeks turned into months of stay-at-home orders and fluctuating infection rates. Frustration at my reality and feelings of loss and loneliness began to boil over until I no longer felt them at all. After a while of hurting, feeling defeated, trapped, and angry about being home and all that I’d lost, I suddenly felt nothing. Life began happening to me without my intervention, and I didn’t care to stop it. I felt numb.

I love and connect deeply with art and poetry (although I’m not particularly great at either one), and I gravitated towards them amongst the turmoil. While mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed one day, I came across a post by someone I forgot I followed shortly before I left. Morgan Harper Nichols is an artist and poet whose words and style instantly voiced what I was feeling. She put words to what I thought was indescribable, and I slowly started to come to peace with what I went through and the trauma that I experienced. Her words of comfort gave me agency to fight the stuck-in-Jello feeling and apathy that had taken over my reality; they spoke to my soul. I learned to honor what happened, to hold onto the parts that felt magical, and to believe and acknowledge that even in my current state, I was growing. Her words helped center me during a time of chaos, a time when I felt as if I was just floating through space and time, just existing. They helped me refocus and root myself in reality.

Jump to present day: August 2020. It’s now been five months since the world as we knew it disappeared, and although I have begun to move past the initial struggles I had with loneliness and loss, I now worry more and more about the future. What will the next five months look like? How will they affect me, both physically and emotionally? What can I possibly do when all I see and hear are stories of what I can’t do, what I won’t be able to for a while? How can I stay centered in this time of continuing chaos?

One way that I’ve started tackling these questions is by shifting my mentality. Instead of focusing on the negative (which I found myself doing more than I’d like to admit over the past few months), focus on what you can do. This step may seem oversimplified and easier said than done, but it’s where we have to start. Think about all of the little things we can do now that we couldn’t before: we can get food from our favorite restaurant and enjoy the summer weather while eating it; we can successfully get through a Zoom meeting at work without someone’s audio mistakenly being left on; we can work and collaborate from home and in new ways that five months ago were not second nature or comfortable for us at all.

This mental shift may also mean finding that little piece of clarity in the chaos. Clarity for me came from the art and poetry of Morgan Harper Nichols and daily walks around my neighborhood. For you, maybe it’s hearing your children laugh, working out, or listening to music whose lyrics speak directly to your soul. Everyone’s clarity comes from something different; we’re experiencing and internalizing the chaos in different ways. It’s vital that we look for light, however, and don’t let ourselves get swallowed up and tossed around by the circumstances we’ve been given. We need to grab onto something, and each other, to center ourselves and focus on who we want to be.

It’s also okay just to be. 

Life is overwhelming, and life during COVID is so much more so. One day you may feel on top of the world, like you’re ready to move past all of the feelings and memories brought up during the last five months and the next you may be back to square one. That’s okay. That’s normal. We’re not designed to “be okay” overnight. It takes time. 

And while it’s okay to go with the flow and take each thing as it comes (sometimes that’s even necessary), don’t blindly accept the circumstances COVID has given you if you’re not happy with them. Evaluate where you are right now, and if it doesn’t match who or where or what you want to be, take action. Honor what you went through, the things and experiences that you lost, and center yourself in little things that bring you joy despite all of the difficulties. Plan a weekend trip to the park, daydream about a vacation you want to take when we can travel again, reorganize your bedroom or kitchen, etc. Move your body every day, look at plants (they increase happiness!), and feel the sunshine on your skin. Start with little things and create a reality for yourself that sits within the greater world reality.

Don’t settle for what has changed because of COVID if it makes you feel trapped/helpless or doesn’t bring you joy. Take back your life, plan for the future, and create your own reality outside of COVID’s confines. No matter how much it may seem to, self-growth doesn’t go away during tough times. It increases as we have more time to slow down, reflect, reevaluate, and recenter.  

This reality creation does not mean pretending that everything is okay in a toxic, unnatural, or unquestioning way. It means evaluating your circumstances/state of mind, honoring that, and then with that understood and in mind, moving forward to make the best of your situation and reclaim your sense of purpose, motivation, and happiness. This process may not (and will not) happen right away, but it’s important to start making slow progress where you can so that you emerge from this time stronger and more confident in yourself than when it began.

As this time of unknowns continues, reclaim your life from what COVID made of it, and shift your mentality towards focusing on what you can do with the situation you’re in. Find what brings you clarity and grab onto it; center yourself in the lights found amongst the chaos. Even if you need to step back and just be, don’t blindly accept circumstances that don’t fill you with joy. Create your own reality inside of this crazy world of ours, and don’t settle for anything you wouldn’t have before. Although it doesn’t feel like it, you are growing right now. It just looks different. So give yourself the time, space, and forgiveness to foster that growth; find, hang onto, and center yourself in little things that bring you light; and continue your small steps forward through the chaos.


Looking for a place to start? Check out more of Morgan Harper Nichols’ poetry on her website: https://morganharpernichols.com/ or follow her on Instagram @morganharpernichols.

All images are the work of Morgan Harper Nichols and can be found on her website at https://morganharpernichols.com/.

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