What Happens When You Start Feeling Empty?

I guess it can happen when you least expect it.

At the end of a very productive week, after sweeping through almost everything on my to do list and checking it all off, and getting a crazy amount accomplished and even feeling quite together and on top of things, I started to feel empty inside.

I wouldn’t usually write about things like this, because I don’t know if hearing about emptiness is helpful to people. Also, I’m usually an extremely positive and driven person, so it’s kind of hard to talk about feeling suddenly empty in the middle of an upswing for no determinable reason.

However, I was thinking that if I’m feeling this way now, I’m sure there are others who are feeling this way too, and maybe it’ll help to talk about it.

Emptiness is a weird feeling, and completely annoying, because when you try to shake it, it only clings on harder. It came upon me this week after meditating almost every day, and feeling pretty good about things, so it was pretty random seeming. I guess it can come from anywhere at any time. It just felt hard to feel, if that makes any sense. It was hard to feel grateful and hard to feel peaceful for sure.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the empty feeling slathered all over me, like an unsettling grey cloud. It led to almost immediate fear thoughts about how even when I’m on top of things and feeling quite good, I can still feel this horrible lack. Just writing about this now kind of brings the fear thoughts back. Since I don’t exactly know the answer to how to proceed with feelings like this, I will only state some theories I have:

  • Feelings of emptiness come and go. There’s probably something I should pay attention to, instead of just pushing the feelings away.
  • Although I’m afraid of the feeling of emptiness, or not being able to feel peace and gratefulness, I think I’m afraid because I feel like no matter how hard I work, my feelings might not always be peaceful, and I can’t accept that.
  • I need to accept that my feelings won’t always be peaceful, and that sometimes I will feel empty and afraid. I won’t always feel this way, but it doesn’t help to pretend that I never feel this way.
  • The empty feelings and fear feelings that pass through me don’t define who I am.
  • Those same “bad” feelings (which I’m going to take the “bad” label away from now) can be present even while I forge ahead with my life. Their presence doesn’t need to set me back, though I always feel that if I feel empty and fearful, it must mean I’ve backtracked.

This has a lot to do with what I wrote about in the post It Hurts, So What? Sometimes I’m afraid to do something because I know it will hurt. For example, in that post I talked about being afraid to speak up because I knew the outcome probably would be painful anyway…but I needed to speak up. And I did, and it was very painful..but that was okay. Because so what? Sometimes things will be painful. It’s uncomfortable but it’s alright.

So perhaps I’m relearning the lesson of ‘It hurts. So what?” again and again. It’s okay to be afraid of the empty feeling, at the same time that it’s okay to be afraid of being afraid. It’s not a about being ‘beyond’ those feelings. It’s about letting them happen..because so what? Those feelings aren’t who I am.

Here are some articles I read about the empty feeling that made me feel a bit better and a bit less alone:

The Real Cause of Inner Emptiness (And What to Do About It- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-paul-phd/inner-emptiness_b_869421.html

‘I Feel Empty’: How to Overcome Feelings of Emptiness- http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/i-feel-empty-how-to-overcome-feelings-of-emptiness-1112145

Allowing things to

arise: http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble19.htm

Hope this helps someone out there. Remember, feel free to reach out to us if you feel sad or empty. You’re not alone!

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Did You Reach Your Career Goals By 27?

Did you fulfill your career goals or make significant progress in your career by 27? Well, if you did, congrats for you! According to a new study done at the University of Edinburgh, people who accomplished their career goals by 27 (men, in particular) were happier later in their life.

I read about this study in an email newsletter that Laura forwarded to me. The title of the newsletter, written by a prominent career blogger, was: “Travel is terrible for your career.” Laura passed it along to me because she does travel often for her career and she was questioning her choice.

One of the points in the newsletter about why travel is bad for your career was the aforementioned study. When I read this study, linked below, I felt a little frightened and sad inside. I didn’t accomplish my career goals or make significant progress by the time I was 27. I’m a turtle, a late bloomer. Did this mean I was doomed to less happiness than my peers who had accomplished their goals by 27?

Well, I took a deeper dive into this study, and read the linked article (which was quite low on facts and information about the study) and…

This study was born on people born in 1936! OF COURSE people accomplished their career goals earlier – the average life span for both sexes in 1935 was 61.7 years. So yes, your career will start and end earlier.

I felt like the inclusion of the study in this newsletter was alarmist and unfair information meant to scare people. And I realized, there’s a lot of that information aimed at us 30-somethings, especially at women. Whether it’s about fertility, career, health or money, there’s so much pressure to do things fast and by a certain time.

Well, I call bullshit. So don’t get scared when faced with time pressures. For the most part, they’re societally imposed. And definitely don’t take everything you read at face value.

Sometimes the Solution Isn’t to be Nicer

I struggle hard to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them. I strive to do my absolute very best.  I hate regret. I hate it.

I try very hard to word things correctly, and to be aware of what I might have done wrong in the past so I can always do things right in the future. I think hard about people’s feelings. I try to be helpful. I try to be fair. I worry about people’s happiness. I hope I’m being nice enough. I hope that I’m not doing something wrong and upsetting someone. I strive to be the best possible friend. I strive to be the best possible family member.

I used to be slow to return texts and emails– I struggle to be faster.

I used to let friendships lapse a bit when I got into relationships– I’m now very aware of this issue and have sworn my allegiance to my friendships.

I used to let significant others do what they wanted, even when it made me extremely unhappy or suffer– I now attempt to communicate what I need early on. This is very hard for me to do. I sometimes feel awkward communicating what I want without being asked but I know I have to.

I used to be more outspoken– now I struggle to be careful with my wording… to the point that I’d almost rather be silent than say the wrong thing by accident.

I used to believe that being nice (and down to earth and rational) could solve almost any problem– I’m now starting to understand that it cannot.

Sometimes when people surprise me by acting in what I perceive to be a sudden cruel way- possibly by saying something mean to me, or flaking on me, or disappearing on me, or by not accepting me, or telling me that they’re upset with me but hadn’t let me know before, I freak out. I obsess over what I could’ve done differently. I look through my old texts or emails, and think about conversations. I wonder if I worded things incorrectly. I worry that maybe if I could have somehow been even nicer and more thoughtful, things would be better.

But then I think about all the amazing friends and family members who accept me even when I’m busy or don’t return texts immediately or say random things that come to my head without editing them. I think about all the people who I accept and forgive all the time…even when they’re slow to respond to me or jot down brisk silly texts, or seem distracted and don’t act the best they can all the time. I realize that the people in my life are imperfect. The same way I am imperfect. And I’m suddenly starting to realize that the RIGHT people, the amazing ones, will forgive the dumb mistakes or the slow emails or the days between seeing each other when we get busy.

Sometimes being nicer and nicer in an effort to make things work with certain people isn’t going to ever make things work anyway. Perhaps the answer is to have more respect for myself and for the people who forgive my transgressions because they know that I’m doing the best I can. Because they love me for who I am, however imperfect.

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It’s Like Riding a Bike…In Your Thirties

I read this article the other day about an Irish journalist in Cork, Ireland, who’s learning to drive a car for the first time at age 32. 

I can relate.

Actually, I got my Driver’s License at age 17 and passed the test on the first try. So I’ve been a licensed driver for 13 years… however, I live in New York City so I almost never drive. It’s weird that there’s this major skill that other people find so easy but I find so rusty.

It was the same with biking. I never really got around to taking the training wheels off my bike as a kid. So as an adult, whenever friends of mine proposed going biking, I turned them down. Then, when I was 19 and studying abroad in Italy, there came a biking experience I couldn’t turn down. We were going to bike around the gorgeous, ancient city walls of Siena, Italy.

I seriously had no idea how to get the bike going, and my friends practically left without me. But after lots of trial and error and time, I was able to get the bike going…though I had no idea how to stop it.

“Coming through!” I screamed, “I don’t know how to brake!!!!” The confused Italians didn’t always understand what I was saying and would dart out of my path completely in fear. As I got the bike to go even faster, I sometimes screamed out “Attenzione!” which translates loosely from Italian to “watch out!”

After Siena, I didn’t attempt to bike ride again until I was 27. I whimsically rented a bike in South Beach, Miami, and painstakingly spent hours doing figure eights and teaching myself how to ride once again. I fell off the bike numerous times, cut up my legs, but actually got the hang of it by the end of the day.

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Attempt at a bike selfie in Miami

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Okay, we can actually see the bike here..

After the painstaking learning experience in Miami, I never forgot how to ride a bike again. Rumors are true…it really did come back. I started renting bikes in all the warm cities I visited for work… Miami again, then Houston, then San Diego…

San Diego biking for hours

San Diego biking… for hours. I was actually pretty good.

Today I was listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast. It’s a finance podcast, but he happened to be talking about running a marathon. He was saying how anyone can do it- if it’s a goal you really want to achieve you can just go online and grab a training schedule and follow it. Once you finish the schedule, you’ll be able to run a marathon. It’s just that simple. Other people are doing it and you can too.

I wonder how many easily achievable tasks are out there that seem impossible. It seems some “super difficult” goals are actually right within our grasp. We just have to decide that we want to achieve them.

Start right now. It’s never too late.

Are You More Confident Now That You’re Older?

There was one time I was acting in a play and said to the director, “my character is so confident. How can I play a character who’s more confident than I’ve ever been?”

I can’t remember the director’s response, but it was something like “you’re confident. It’ll be fine.” I remember wondering whether I was fooling people into thinking I was more confident than I felt. I think I ended up repeating affirmations over and over to myself in order to get the character feeling right: “I’m confident. I’m beautiful. I’m frigging great.” Stuff like that. And I tried to imitate confident people I knew. It worked well enough at the time, I guess.

Is confidence a fake it till you make it thing? Does it help to take on a projected mindset of confidence?

I sort of hate the idea of ‘fake it till you make it.’ I like to think of myself as a pretty down to earth person, so I find it hard to attempt faking a version of myself. Whenever I try, it works for awhile, but sometimes I end up back where I started. Of course, now that I’m 30, I don’t always have to try and fake confidence. There are definite areas where I’m naturally confident from experience alone- usually in my job and friendships and certain subjects such as travel….areas where I’ve tried different things and failed and succeeded and failed again.

I recently read a brilliant article by one of my favorite writers, Mark Manson, called The Confidence Conundrum. In it, Mark says something I’ve always wondered about confidence- that the lack of it seems to just lead to a downward spiral of less confidence.

“On the surface, confidence appears to be an area where the rich get richer and the poor stay the fucking losers they are. After all, if you’ve never experienced much social acceptance, and you lack confidence around new people, then that lack of confidence will make people think you’re clingy and weird and not accept you. Same deal goes for relationships. No confidence in intimacy will lead to bad break ups and awkward phone calls … This is the confidence conundrum, where in order to be happy or loved or successful, first you need to be confident; but then to be confident, first you need to be happy or loved or successful.”

He comes to the conclusion that the answer doesn’t actually lie in faking it and saying “i’m fucking great. I’m fucking amazing at this,” but in “becoming comfortable with what you potentially lack.” In other words, confidence is about failing and failing again…and becoming comfortable with not achieving. In other words, confidence isn’t about what we achieve (which seems to bring about more of a temporary external confidence anyway), but about becoming comfortable with dreaded things like failure, rejection, and getting hurt.

Scary stuff! But imagine if instead of worrying about achieving all the time, and wanting to have a constant peaceful mindset, we instead became comfortable with discomfort. If we could get comfortable putting ourselves out there and failing, then we could become confident no matter what. We’d have nothing to prove to ourselves or others.

Perhaps it’s a numbers game. When you put yourself out there again and again and get rejected or fail and get hurt over and over, think ‘this is normal. And it’s fine. It’s actually great. Because this is part of life and it means that I’m truly putting myself out there and living.”

It’s scary, but if it’s actually the true key to building confidence, would you do it more?

Horror of the Day

I’ve lost my tolerance for scary movies. When I was a kid, I used to laugh at friends who covered their eyes when zombies popped out of closets. I was fascinated by the psycho clown that lived in the sewer system. Haunted hotels were intriguing to me, as was time traveling pursued by monsters, or ghostly hitchhikers, or possessed televisions and children of the corn.

Sometime slightly after college, I started to have nightmares following a scary movie binge. I became worried about pale dead hands reaching out from under a bed to grab my leg. I checked the bathtub and closet to make sure they were empty before going to sleep. Hotels, places I consider my home almost half the year, started to make me look twice around corners- I thought of bloody twins beckoning from the ends of long hallways: ‘come and play with us.’

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So I stopped watching scary movies. Letting these types of films into my psyche always seems to cause lasting fear (at least for a few days). I’ve been abstaining for years. Even when previews for horror films enter my sight, I attempt to look away, and especially to cover my ears. I’ve found that the sound is actually the scariest part of a movie- not the visual, as you’d expect.

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Once I started avoiding those movies, I became less scared in general. I was no longer very worried about dark hallways or creaky hotels or desolate alleyways. I mean, I have a healthy sense of danger avoidance, but thoughts of ghosts, monsters, and serial killers with chainsaws enter my mind much less often. Although I know it’s healthy to face your fears, I think there are times you can avoid them entirely. Yes, scary feelings are to be faced, but scary movies are absolutely avoidable. In fact, I’ve faced my scary feelings by cutting scary movies out of my life. I think that counts.

It’s sometimes hard to know what we should let into our minds and what we should keep out.  Last night, I watched the pilot of a new show, Penny Dreadful, not realizing that it was a horror show. I wasn’t really scared in the moment, so I kept watching. But last night I woke up from a dream about someone cutting out my stomach and watching turtles hatch and crawl out of it. Yeah, I don’t really need dreams like that in my life.

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