Check Your Vibes: 8 Ways To Get Through A Mild Identity Crisis

 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling a bit … antsy, as if I woke up one morning and my skin didn’t fit right. Something feels off in my life, and while I have lots of ideas of small internal conflicts or things that just aren’t working, none of them are major, which makes it hard to pinpoint the problem. Maybe the problem isn’t anything huge — maybe it’s just all of those tiny problems glomming onto each other, and adjusting them all at once would lead to feeling better. Like anybody, I’ve fallen into ruts many times before, but they’ve never felt like this.

What I find so unsettling about it is that it took a trip out of town to even recognize my feelings. I’d consider myself pretty happy with life, but when I went on vacation for a few days, I realized that this was just because I’d gotten so used to the constant stress of my day-to-day that I’d stopped noticing it at all. That’s a problem. It scared me, because if it took getting away to realize I wasn’t happy, how many more years or months could pass by before I realize such a thing in the future? What I hadn’t acknowledged until then is that the level of anxiety I’m feeling in my everyday life is through the roof, and that is ridiculous. I’m a writer, not an ER doctor. It’s time to make some stress-reducing adjustments to my routine.

After my trip, I suddenly became overtaken by a frantic desire to jump out of my chair and bolt to … somewhere, which led to a panicked assessment of where I was headed. What would life look like in 10 years? In 15? The bigger factors in life that I can actually control are in a place I’m okay with, or so I felt (still feel?). I think my worries aren’t so much about what I’m experiencing right now as they’re about what I’m prioritizing, and the future path I’m inadvertently creating with those priorities. There’s so much to do and see in this world, and I don’t want to go through it in zombie mode like I have been lately. There’s so much more I want to experience while I’m young — without jumping ship and abandoning my adult life and career to go on some vision quest.

I keep hearing this voice in my head repeating Life is short. Life is short. Life is short. And well, yes, but what am I supposed to do about that? Is it really about making a choice between living as if there’s no tomorrow (because there may well not be) and living responsibly for the most likely future reality, which is that life will continue to churn along? I hear the voice loud and clear, but I still have no clue why I’m hearing it or what I’m supposed to be switching up in my life to satisfy it.

I’d be lying if I said this feeling had nothing to do with the fact that my dad died very young last year and very unexpectedly — in fact, as a wise person pointed out to me, that may have far more to do with it than I care to admit. Still, it makes me petrified that I’ll spend decades putting off pursuing certain dreams by saying, “Oh, I’ll do it next year,” assuming I have plenty of time, and ultimately never doing it at all. The last thing I want to do is miss out or cheat myself, but I want to balance that reality with the need to do good honest work, pay my bills, nurture my career, and live a consistent life.

So now that a mysterious something feels off, I’ve been asking myself what I’m going to do with that feeling. I’ll have to figure it out through trial and error, and through noting what finally makes this very physical feeling of imbalance subside. But enough about me, let’s talk about the many of you out there how might be experiencing something similar. Since I have no answers yet, I’ll share with you a few tips from pros, my own experience, and wise friends that I’ve been channeling that can help you examine your goals and what you want out of life. Life is short, and now is the time!

1. Get morbid. You’re surely heard this Steve Jobs quote at some point:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

It’s cliched for a reason! Take it to heart. When you’re attempting to decide whether to try something new, ask yourself if you’d regret not trying it on your deathbed. That answer makes things clear really fast.

2. Examine your baggage. It’s no secret that my family history has made me especially anxious about making the most of my time, and the same may be true for you and whatever goals or issues you’re currently struggling with. Examining where your particular hangups come from doesn’t invalidate your feelings, but it does help you to understand what may just be fears or past patterns disguising themselves as a need for change.

3. Get any and all goals on paper. Lots of people avoid this because they feel like it means you’re committing to those goals, but if you don’t write them down, how can you ever get a good sense of the bigger picture? Write down a set of very tentative goals for only you to see, so that you can get a grasp on them in a more literal way. From there, change them all you want.

4. Ignore your inner critic. Don’t listen to the voice telling you that you’ll never succeed, that you’re wasting time, that you’re a failure. These are the things that can keep you in an unhappy limbo for years if not decades and create the very regrets you’re afraid of.

5. Get vulnerable. Ask others for help. Be honest about what you’re feeling and the fact that you’re at a crossroads. Don’t feel obligated to take advice you don’t agree with, because only you know what’s right for you, but sometimes getting others involved and on your side can be the release of a huge burden. Sometimes, involving extra minds can lead to great ideas!

6. Avoid self-deception. Ask yourself, “What are you pretending not to know?” That very denial might be what’s keep us miserable. Get real with yourself even if it’s hard, because those painful truths could ultimately lead to exactly what you’re looking for.

7. Don’t force yourself into things based solely on what you “should” do. This makes for lots of shame, confusion, guilt, and ultimately, resentment. “Should” is a dangerous word. Just think for a moment about everything you would do, even just for the next few hours, if that word didn’t exist. It has more power than it deserves, so don’t give it even more.

8. Don’t wait for life to be perfect to be happy now and then. Life is a perpetual work in progress, even when we reach the goals and places in life we know we’re meant to be in. It’s simply never perfect, and if you’re currently in a transitional period, forcing yourself to be miserable because you’re not “there yet” will kill your motivation to keep going. It will also waste precious time of your life. If something happens that makes you smile, or you wake up in a surprisingly good mood, don’t fight it. Enjoy every second that you can, because life is, in fact, short.