How To Volunteer – As An Introvert

Standing on the front lines, hearts pounding, ready to fight for injustice. 

That's how a good and wise friend of mine described the way many of us are feeling these days. Because of the events of the last few weeks, a lot of us feel the call to fight more than ever before.

That means starting conversations and donating time and money. Great and grand and important, sure, but for the quieter ones in the crowd – (introverts, that is) – the volunteering bit can be easier said than done. You want to give back and donate your time, but you may not be ready to stand on a street corner and recruit strangers to join you in the battle for what's right. I totally get it.

Rest assured, your help is still needed. Introverts, ever-powerful in the workplace, can be just as impactful on the front lines in the fight for social justice. Here's how:

Assist with administrative work

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and others need help in their local offices doing things like assisting with communications, stuffing envelopes, working in Excel. This is just as important as the more visible positions, and will allow you to work hard for something you care about in a way that jives with who you are. After all, someone has to keep the trains running on time. (Not sure about the administrative volunteer opportunities available at these organizations, but it's still certainly worth checking out Black Lives Matter, Emily's List, Girl Up, Girls Inc.Defy Ventures, Inc., and local non-profits to see if they need help with behind the scenes tasks.)

 

Be a Big Brother or Big Sister

Join the local chapter of your Boys & Girls Club and become a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child who could use a little extra help. Introverts are much more comfortable in small groups and with one-on-one relationships – trust – so this is a perfect fit for those of us who might shy away from the megaphone.

 

Use Your Platform for Advocacy

You don't have to turn your social media accounts into all-or-nothing social justice micro-platforms, but consider informing your followers about ways they might be able to get involved with a certain project or program you believe in. As much as we love seeing what your shoes look like on some fall leaves (no sarcasm – we really do!) we also might want to know more about the things your believed in and involved in.

 

Speak Out

Thanks, MTA, for providing us with a phrase that extends far beyond what we ever thought. If you come across an act of injustice in your daily life, say something about it. By staying silent, you're being complacent. At the very least, let the person who was wronged know that they're not alone, and that you're on their side. Basically, if you see something, say something. (Thanks, MTA!)

 

More thoughts, ideas, recommendations for ways to help as an introvert (or otherwise) always welcome! Leave a comment below or reach out directly.


How To Live A More Balanced Life

Any writer, painter, illustrator, fine artist, whatever will tell you about the difficulty that comes with starting a new project. The newness and possibility of something new can feel overwhelming, large, and just plain scary.

It's similar to the fear that comes with public speaking in that when given the amount of space and time we need to really express ourselves, we (or at least, I) often can't speak at all, because we don't know where to start and are overwhelmed by possibility and the potential for power.

The same thing happens when it comes to managing personal health and wellness. Try starting on a new diet or exercise regime, making a wellness practice part of your daily or weekly habits and you're meet with that same quiet, giant space. It's overwhelming and since it can be hard to know where to start, we usually just don't start at all.

For me, the only way to achieve any sort of balance is by keeping things extremely uneven – basically to "go hard or go home." All or nothing. An entire pint of ice cream or not even a bite. Regular workouts or pure relaxation.

Finding balanced in the unbalanced.

A podcast once told me it had something to do with my personality type and I'm sure that's true. Regardless, it works great for me.  And so, with this behavior in mind, I've put together a little guide to living a more balanced life – with a very important emphasis on health and wellness. 

Here's what's worked for me:

Make it a lifestyle, not a one-time practice

Whatever you're trying to achieve (lower sugar intake, more workouts, more personal or meditative time, etc.) the only way you can make this new behavior part of a regular routine is by thinking of it as an entire lifestyle. You're not eating healthy today, you're changing the way you approach food and eating overall. You're not trying out a new yoga class once, then again in 2-3 months. You're practicing yoga, and making it a part of your weekly schedule. Accept your new health-focused behavior as a part of your overall lifestyle, envelope it in your existing routine, and soon (soon) it will become a natural practice.

Eliminate the idea of "good" behavior 

Don't applaud yourself for living a healthy, balanced life. Just like the idea of turning a behavior into a lifestyle, once you decide to eat healthy/exercise/get more sleep/read more/meditate, etc., know that this is now normal behavior for you – not "good" behavior. "Good" behavior is looked at as an exception to the norm that can be rewarded with bad. Make your "good" behavior the new norm and let that be the reward in itself.

Phone a friend

This is an oft-repeated piece of advice when it comes to working out or going to the gym, but the same principle of routine and accountability applies to any sort of wellness practice. If you're trying to cut down on junk food, ask a friend to join you in the practice and keep tabs on each other. Then really follow through with your plans, and continue. If you don't have a companion or would rather go it alone, write things down in a journal, find a weekly podcast that you love and with a regular publishing schedule that will inadvertently hold you accountable, and stick with it.

Embrace rituals

To really nail it home, associate your new wellness behavior with another sense – be it a scent you smell when meditating, a song you listen to while working out, or a podcast you play while cooking (healthier) food. Choose practices that will accompany your practice and before you know it, you'll be living your new, healthier life.

 

This (un)balanced behavior has helped me to live a much healthier, more balanced life than I did several years ago but obviously these practices are always easier said than done.

Case in point: I just finished doing yoga right now. If I'm honest, I really didn't want to practice even though I love doing yoga. But you know what? I love my Outdoor Voices yoga pants and knew I'd feel better after I was done practicing, so I lit a candle and did the damn thing. And now, I feel so much better for it.

Checkmate. But really, what works for you? 


How To Maintain Your Energy

I almost constantly feel nervous.

It's not as horrible as it sounds, though. Instead it's more like a low-level current that runs through me almost constantly. Because I have this hum of energy that vibrates through me and drives most everything I do, I probably appear more extroverted than I am.

Take speaking in crowds, for instance. I hate it, as lots of people do, but that low-level nervous energy of mine is so great that I'll force myself to make a self depreciating joke or speak first in a meeting, just to get my inner self out there. It's partly because of my fear that if I don't say something quickly or do something to make everyone feel comfortable, I may not say anything at all. 

That energy – the one that keeps my brain constantly ticking, thinking, analyzing, creating – it drives me, pushes me to work harder, meet people, tackle that next project – and it, obviously, makes me who I am. But it can be tiring. Other introverts, those of us with sensitive and active minds that require greater periods of rest, will understand.

All of this is fine and good on an everyday level, but when it comes to special days – holidays and vacations – it can be difficult. Spend a day touring a city with a group friends, attend a series of highly-social activities, or even change your diet for a few weeks, and those energy levels can start to slip. 

Luckily, as this creature of habit and homebody with a true love for travel has learned, there are ways to maintain that energy in a healthy and sane way when you're off your routine. This allows you to keep up that big energy throughout long work days, and travel successfully with friends and family alike.

Here's how it's done:

1. When possible, surround yourself with people who "get" you

There's a saying that traveling with someone for a few days will teach you more about that person than knowing them for several years. I'd say that's true, and while finding yourself in the (often professional) situation of traveling through a new city or country with strangers can be a very positive thing, when at all possible try to travel with people who know and "get" you. People who understand that after five hours of tourist-ing, you may need to be alone in your room with a book for an hour-ish. 

If the people with you on a vacation or holiday "get" your energy levels, they'll know and understand that you just need some time alone, thanks. No misunderstandings, no hurt feelings.

 

2. Take an abbreviated time out

Let's say you're visiting friends or family, or are just in the middle of a very long, taxing work day and you don't quite have the ability to go sit alone and let your brain breathe. Instead, find activities and rituals that will help you "recharge" your batteries even on a micro-level. For example, put on headphones and listen to music that chills you out, or maybe walk to a nearby coffee shop and grab a tea. Do something that will take you outside of your element, even for a moment, and you'll feel better.

 

3. Go to bed early

Don't feel the need to "take advantage" of your holiday or vacation by staying up late if that doesn't feel good for you. If you're socially or physically drained, let yourself slink off to bed to read, write, or think. Stretch, light a candle, and just hang. It'll make all the difference in the world and give you the energy needed to get you through that next day of socializing or travel.

 

4. Stick to a routine 

Perhaps most importantly, hold on to your routine for dear life – on holidays, vacations, and even on the weekends. Eat the same foods when you can, and when you travel bring your favorite sweats or comfy socks – anything that makes you feel yourself and grounded on the outside will help to do the same to your mind on the inside. I promise.

 

Any thoughts on maintaining energy when you're out of your element? It's not easy for any of us, and especially not for introverts. Tips and shared experiences are always welcome!


How To Get Your Finances In Check

A post about financial health written by a freelance creative feels a little ironic...rich, you might even say.

But as a professional lady who's worked full time, part time, freelance, and remotely, I've learned a few things over the course of my career about the realities of being financially smart in ways that say, someone who's had a full time job at a single company for years and never moved between cities and countries, might not have learned or had to deal with.

While I'm certainly still no expert (like at all – at all, at all), I've picked up a few tips that have helped along the way. In hopes of paying it forward (har), I've jotted down some insights into keeping your personal finances in check, from one saver and do-er, to another:

Ignoring financial concerns won't make them go away

Don't believe me? Just ask Robin Reetz, West Village resident and publishing industry entry-level salary earner, age 22. If you're feeling stressed or a little uncertain about your finances, avoiding your bank statement or credit card balance will not make those concerns go away. Charging things to a card and then trying to forget about them will only hurt you, as (hopefully) most of us have learned by now. Similar to your real insecurities, confronting your financial insecurities and forcing yourself to deal with them will only do good things for your wallet, and for your sleeping patterns. Trust.

 

Educate yourself

Feeling unfamiliar and uncomfortable about where to start with your financial health? Turn to an expert. Even if it's something as basic as signing up for a weekly, financially-focused newsletter, make yourself open that newsletter when it comes through your inbox, at least skim it, and take in some of the advice. Great, non-scary resources include Workable Wealth, LearnVest, and Bottom Line. (There are a million more, so tell me which ones you love! I'd like to know.)

 

Know what you're willing to sacrifice – in life, finances, and all things – and what you're not

No matter how much money you earn, pretty much everyone in the world is working within a budget of some kind, and the way that budget is structured depends on the ways in which we live our lives. You can't do and afford everything (sorry), so it's super important to prioritize in little and big ways. Maybe you're spending less on monthly transportation and more on organic foods, or more on travel (me!) but going out less at home, or buying nicer things but fewer of them (also me). It's just about figuring out what's important to you, then working your life and budget around those priorities.

 

So, financial responsibility – maybe not that hard after all? Regardless, I'm still learning and changing my patterns on a regular basis so I'm all up for hearing about any experiences, resources, or tips you'd like to share. Please and thank you!

 

Photo by D Watterson III


How To Be Easy On Yourself

My niece is 16 months old. Like many children her age, she has a tendency to show her love in sometimes forceful ways. When she goes in for a kiss that turns into a bite, or heads over to pat a dog or a cat, she often gets told to "be gentle".  Her intentions are good and pure as can be, but sometimes the force behind them comes out a little strong. It's understandable.

Lately I've been trying to tell myself the same thing. Anxiety is no stranger to me, and these past few weeks it's been hitting me a little harder than normal. 

Usually, I put this anxiety to use by getting up early, working hard, managing multiple projects at once, always multi-tasking. It feels so damn good to use that energy in a productive way and to push myself to do more, more, more in an effort to satisfy that inner anxiety and energy.

But not this week. This week, after losing sleep a few nights in a row, I've heard those words so often repeated to my niece. Be gentle. Rather than pushing through sleepiness or forcing myself to run when I wasn't feeling great, I've let myself be – slept in a little bit more, pushed myself just a little bit less, and felt ok with it. I've been listening to my body when it tells me that it's tired. I've been gentle on myself, and it's felt really nice.

Interested in doing the same? In case you need to take a little break from yourself, here's a quick, foolproof guide on taking it easy:

Sleep in for a few extra minutes in the morning. Go to bed early, or do both.

Wrap yourself in a blanket and let it protect you.

Be ok not feeling like yourself sometimes. Know that it will pass.

Accept that sometimes everything will feel big and scary and overwhelming, and that sometimes you'll feel behind and confused, and accept that that feeling will never go away no matter how old you get. Let that feeling come over you but don't let it in.

Stretch out, then curl up in a ball and read.

Smell something nice-smelling; make sure it has aromatherapeutic benefits.

Phone a friend. Watch a show you love, listen to a good podcast, find something that reminds you of a previous version of yourself.

Let things be ok.

Take time, take care, and mostly – be gentle. 

If you feel tired, let yourself rest. If you feel overworked, let yourself breathe. And if you feel a little less than sure of yourself one day, then let it be and get comfortable until you feel sure again. Be easy on yourself, be gentle, and let things be ok.


How To Be Domestic

These days it seems as though we're all trying to make our lives a little bit simpler. It's probably a hangover from the excess of the early aughts or a backlash to technology and the constant influx of information.

Because sometimes, it's all a little too much. Anyone else feel anxiety about not doing enough on social media? Or not replying quickly to a comment, or having varied content that properly represents your "brand"? Me too.

Regardless of the cause, we all seem to have collectively decided that we're going to simplify as a way of dealing with too much of something. We're all looking for more flexibility in our work schedules, less clutter in our homes, and more simplicity all around. We read Marie Kondo, and we talk about decluttering and minimalism a lot. We've gotten a little obsessive about it, despite some (good, interesting) arguments in favor of clutter. We're now having a lot more conversations about the ways in which we approach our domestic lives than we used to.

This is where household work enters the picture. Just like clutter and the accumulation of "stuff" tends to crowd our physical lives, household work and chores  ("life admin")  like paperwork, bills, mail, dishes, laundry, dusting, etc. have a way of cluttering up our mental and emotional lives. 

When it comes to chores of the domestic sort, I've found that the way we deal with them often mirrors the way we deal with clutter, and that by approaching our domestic work in the same way, we can help clear up our mental lives by removing some of that excess.

Personally, chores don't bother me like they used to. Thanks to my slant towards minimalism and a focus on the intentional I've learned how to take care of chores, household work, and that endless "life admin" in a way that works for me.

Perhaps my favorite thing in the world and the thing that gives me the most satisfaction is just getting things done. I've learned that the best way for me to get through a chore is to deal with it immediately and without question – to go through the mail, act on anything that requires action, and recyle the rest – and I should mention that this all happens the very moment the mail comes in from the mailbox. To do the dishes as they're dirtied cook, hang up the clothes as soon as they're taken them off – that sort of thing. I have a friend who even cleans her apartments on Friday night with her husband. That might sound depressing but it's a genius idea – that way, they can wake up on Saturday in a clean home with no chores to do.

By approaching domestic life in this way – dealing with the task, or piece of clutter, that's caushing you anguish, it's suddenly no longer a problem. Suddenly it's gone. 

While this works for me, I'm fully aware that it may not work for you. Still, there is one more key to surviving the domestic world, and that's this:

Find a chore that you love to do and embrace it fully.

Case in point: My favorite chore is laundry. I love doing it. I love it so much that one of the reasons I enjoy working from home is because of the fact that I get to do laundry whenever I want. If I'm stuck when writing, or feel like I'm procrastinating during my workday, I do laundry. And you would be the same way, I'd argue, but first you have to find a chore that gives you satisfaction for whatever reason. Find the chore, then own it, make it your thing, and suddenly you'll find a little more happiness in your domestic life.

David Sedaris embraces the chore. He likes the satisfaction of picking up trash off the street near his home in West Sussex. So does my friend Jaime, who likes ironing sheets. And so does my sister, who is a laundry fan just like me.

This is how you become good at domestic life. How you remove some of that extra mental clutter from your day. Just like anything else (food, sleep, exercise, work) finding what works best for you and following through on it on a consistent basis will make your life easier and happier.

What about you? Any chores that you love? Is it the satisfaction of vacuuming? The look of a dust-free home? That feeling when all the dishes are in their place? I'd love to hear what your domestic "thing" is, and how you approach the mental clutter that comes with household work. Let me know!


How To Surrender To A Process

Since we've had some slight movement on the visa and our move, the official, final countdown can now really begin. Trouble is, we don't know when it will end.

Our personal items may be on their way across the ocean (we went ahead and moved them last week), but we're still here – waiting – without a concrete timeline. 

Throughout the course of this yearlong process, it's felt like we've been living in a temporary world on artificial time, though it's time that keeps passing regardless. It seems like whenever I look out my second floor flat window, the season has changed – people are moving, buying houses, doing things, and we're here. Waiting.

I used to drive myself crazy with this. I'd look at calendars and count weeks and do the math on how long it would take to get me to that next milestone.

But now, I've stopped. 

Our move has been pending for so long, and plans have changed so many times that I've stopped paying attention to the date and the calendar, or to the temperatures at home (trust me – they're warmer than London). I don't want to know how long this process has taken or how long it could be until it's finally done. I just need to know that at some point, I will be home, with my husband, living an American dream.

Because we've been in this temporary, in-between world for so long, I've now learned the value of giving yourself over to a process.  I've learned that when people tell you that you can't plan, and dish out cliches of the "life happens when you're busy making plans" variety, they're mostly right.

That doesn't stop me from planning, because generally I believe that things don't happen without structured plans and goals. Time passes, dreams slip by, and the years go on and on. You wake up and ten years have passed – that sort of thing.

But I have now been able to compartmentalize my thoughts into two sides: the planning side, and the knowing-that-no-one-can-really-plan-for-anything side.

Whether you're living in a transitional state, like we are, or you just want to break from your chain of planning, here's how to let go – at least a little – and surrender to a process:

 

Don't do the math.

I'm a time checker. Whether it's the time of the day, day of the week, week of the month, month of the year, or year of my life, I'm guilty of obsessing over timelines and arbitrary deadlines. If we don't leave the house by this time, we won't get home until this time. If I haven't saved this amount by this month, we won't be able to reach this goal. If we haven't had a kid by the time I'm this old, I'll be a terrible parent who can never do anything fun and will probably be miserable and full of regret for the rest of my life. And we'll be poor. That sort of thing.

No more. I now understand that setting dates and arbitrary deadlines does little more than drive a sane person crazy with anxiety. Does this mean you shouldn't set timelines? Of course not. But it does mean that you should allow for flexibility and know that, inevitably, things will happen and your timeline may have to shift. That's ok.

 

Learn to escape yourself.

The next time you feel a "planic" (sorry) setting in, straight up walk away from it. You've heard this advice before, but this time you should take it. Go for a run, call a friend or family member, walk to the grocery store. The goal here is to take your mind off the process that's causing you stress, and to remind you that there is an entire world that exists outside of your problems. A world that will keep spinning regardless of how much you obsess over plans. Just walk away, Renee. And while you're at it, trust me on this one.

 

Find a healthy distraction – and fast.

This blog began when I moved to London and found myself living a much quieter life than the one I had previously lived. I was learning the quietness and flexibility that comes with working from home, all while living in a foreign city where my closest friends were suddenly out of both walking and driving distance. It was harder than I ever would have imagined.

I set up the blog to serve as a creative outlet to me busy and it's worked wonders. In addition to my work, I now use my blog and social media accounts as healthy distractions whenever I feel a planic coming on. It's reassuring to know that this distraction is here and waiting when I need it most.

 

This is what's worked for me so far, and though I am by no means without stress, learning to give in to this process rather than trying to constantly control it has left me at peace. I'm lighter because I can almost – almost – see the end of our process now, and I know that there's nothing I can do to make it come any quicker.

Whatever your plans may be – a move, a new job, new business, dinner out, running a marathon – know that they can change at the drop of the hat, and they probably will. No amount of worrying or anxiety will do anything to precent that.

You just have to learn to trust the process and give in. Even if you do it kicking and screaming as you go.