Nicole – Chicago

January 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of January and what caused you to feel that way?)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from one of my favorite TV shows as a teenager, Skins: “It’s got potential, this day. It’s pregnant.”  There’s just something about this year that feels like it’s going to be a really big, impactful, and messy year.  This month, while not extremely exciting, has been an important month to set all the groundwork for what is coming up this year.  If the goal for the end of this year is to reap the fruits of my hard work, this month has been about sowing the seeds and tending to those crops.  

There has been a lot of preparation and planning for what is coming up this year and in the next few months in particular.  I’m moving into my own apartment tomorrow and I have some work events coming up that put me in a position of high visibility with my regional leadership teams, on top of the typical pursuits of personal and professional bettermentOf course all of those things don’t just happen, so a lot of my time in January has been spent strategically planning for these big events and grinding out the work necessary to make them successful.  It’s been grueling–time that I want to be spending with my family and boyfriend has been spent packing up all of my possessions or on the phone with potential candidates for jobs at my company.  Nonetheless, I’ve been chugging along because I’m excited to see my hard work amount to some great outcomes.

Underlying all of that excitement, however, is a lot of anxiety.  I can never seem to shake the inner monologue of my self-critic, so I feel a lot of general self-doubt and questioning of whether I’m capable of all that I want to do and of all that I have coming up. I’ve gotten better at ignoring that little voice, or at least at convincing myself not to listen to it, but it never goes away.  I yearn for a day where I won’t even notice it, but as I get older, I realize it’s more about finding ways to cope instead of finding ways to make it go away.

Regardless, though, there is a lot of good in my life and a lot that I’m excited for not only in the upcoming month, but also for this entire year.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

The end of the month is wrapping up very nicely.  Work has been going really well–I’ve only been in the role for 3 months, but I’ve been able to pick up on everything very quickly and make an immediate impact, and there are a lot of big events and work-related travel that I have coming up in February that I’m looking forward to.  In my personal life, things have been great too–I signed a lease on an apartment that I’m going to finally move into tomorrow, so I’ve spent much of January packing and purging in preparation.  

We’re only a month into 2020, but it just feels like a big year for me, and I’m so excited to have a lot of pieces of the puzzle falling into place.  After spending a lot of my time since graduating in a state of existential angst, it’s nice to feel like everything is working itself out.

Question 3: What are some aspects of your routine now (daily/weekly) that you think should be changed (for health reasons, stress, etc.) and what are some things you do that you would recommend to someone else? What are a couple things you would want to add to your routine to enhance your lifestyle?

I’m pretty content with my routines, by and large, but the one thing I feel is missing is exercise.  In college I was very consistent with working out–I had softball practice 6 times per week and weight lifted 4 days on top of that.  Since I’ve graduated, however, it’s really been hit or miss–some weeks I go to the gym 2-3 times, but there are some periods where I won’t go for weeks.  I’ve really struggled with having to work 8-5 and then trying to find time outside of that to work out–I’m not always able to get up before to exercise without compromising my sleep schedule and after work I’m either too tired or unhappy with the amount of people at the gym, which prevents me from completing my usual routine.  This always leaves me frustrated, though, because I know how much better, mentally and physically, I feel when I work out.  The thing that I always have to remind myself of is that it is better to go and do something (e.g., just ride a bike at the gym) than to wait to do something until the conditions are perfect.  This upcoming month, my goal is to really just find ways to add exercise into my day, even if it doesn’t confirm with my vision of what exercise needs to look like.

February 29, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of February and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today I am incredibly hungover, thanks to a fun night out with my good friends Nathan and Michael, Michael’s friend Drew, and some of Michael’s coworkers.  We spent the evening dancing the night away in Boystown and then made our way back to my apartment (but not before stopping at 7-Eleven to pick up ice cream to binge).  I forced everyone to watch my favorite Scooby Doo episode which was met with mixed reviews.  Then the group played Mario Party while I fell asleep on the floor, in true Nicole fashion.  I generally tend to be an introvert and find a lot of joy in the time I spend by myself, but it’s evenings like that that remind me how much I enjoy spending time with friends I care about.

In some ways it seems appropriate that my month is ending with a hangover because February has been full of nothing but high points and a come down was bound to happen.   Last month I said that January was about sowing the seeds of hard work, and February was truly the beginning of reaping the fruits of my labor.  This month was incredibly fulfilling in a number of different verticals: I moved into my first apartment, I was able to do a lot of fun travel for work, I celebrated my birthday with my loved ones, and a ton more. Above all, though, I feel happy.  It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, spanning far beyond just January of this year, but it finally feels like all of the work has been worth it and for something.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I’m feeling a little hungover today.  I went to a couple of bars in Boystown last night with some friends.  It was a nice time–we danced a ton and then we went back to my apartment to wind down and watch TV.  Of course, I don’t drink as much as I used to, so I’m really feeling last night’s decisions today.

Question 3: Two paths diverge in a yellow wood… which do you choose? One winds into a dark canopy headed towards a beautiful valley, and the other heads straight for the top of the mountain. Choose wisely 😉

While both paths seem appealing, the winding path through a forest and into a valley calls to me; it reminds me of my family’s mill in the Neckar Valley of Germany–filled with beautiful vineyards and lovely castles.  I picture it as being fall and being able to enjoy walking through the forest while the leaves are changing colors, only to then emerge from the forest into an immensely green and lush valley.  I think about sitting next to the river that runs through the valley and reading, soaking up one of the last warm days before winter begins.  It’s one of those days you look around you and think “damn, I’m so grateful to be here right now.”

March 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of March and what caused you to feel that way?)

What a weird, never-ending month.  On the one hand, I feel surprisingly peaceful—I’ve been doing a great job sticking to routines and, at the end of the day, I’m still employed and working.  On the other hand, I feel my anxiety growing by the day. I’m going on day 10 of not leaving my apartment and day 15 of working from home and I don’t know when things will return to normal or if this will become the new normal.  Even worse, it seems that no one knows anything: when this will end or how much longer this will go one, let alone how to simply handle the outbreak.  Despite this, there is something unifying in the fact that my feelings are shared by a majority of people and even that people are trying to rise above the anxiety and uncertainty to find connection wherever they can.  It’s been a great opportunity to connect with those around me—friends, family, and coworkers—to check on them, and it has been so uplifting when others have done the same. 

I think that might be why, overall, I’ve felt at peace.  I’ve made a very concerted effort to focus on the positives and to do good for myself and others: whether it be simply journaling on what I’m grateful for, reaching out to those I haven’t talked to in a while, or being in the moment as I cuddle with my cat.  In some ways, I’m almost more present and mentally strong than I was a year ago.  I’m inclined to say that I’m blessed, but honestly it’s been a lot of inner work (thank you, therapy!) that has gotten me there and I certainly don’t want to sell myself short by hiding that fact that I have put in the work.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I’ve been hanging in there as best as I can.  The self-quarantine has me going stir crazy and my cat has been so needy that he’s been driving me up a wall, but despite that I really can’t complain.  I still have my job, I have an apartment where I feel safe, and my loved ones are okay. I keep trying to keep things in perspective because I’m really fortunate to be okay in all of this.

Question 3: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from social distancing?

I.e., Thoughts about how to feel connected during this time/How are you spending all this (presumably more than before) downtime?/How do you feel about the worldwide impact of COVID19?

The biggest lesson I have learned in all of this is that I feel my best when I’m making intentional efforts to take care of myself and to connect with those around me.  As much as I roll my eyes at clichés and at this one in particular, the idea of “filling your cup first” has been key in keeping me sane so I’m able to keep from being consumed by the profound darkness that is characterizing our days. 

For me, what that has looked like has been finally doing all of the things that I’ve told myself I would do “when I had more time”: reading and exercising daily, taking webinars at work, even things as simple as making my bed daily.  Maintaining some kind of routine, especially one filled with things that make me feel better, just makes me feel full and accomplished, which has given me the energy to engage in much more intentional social interaction than I’ve been used to since leaving college.  I’ve started making a list of people I’m thinking about and want to reach out to, whether it’s with a FaceTime call, a phone call, or a simple text.  Being able to connect and sit with others in the collective anxiety we all feel, although raw, has been important and meaningful to me and those with whom I share these relationships.  No, this won’t necessarily change the world, but it does give me some agency during a time we have been largely stripped of our everyday freedom.

April 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of April and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today has been better than the days that have preceded it, but this month has been a struggle and has begun to wear on me.  We found out that my Grandfather was diagnosed with COVID-19.  Up until now,  COVID-19 was something that a friend of a friend of a friend thought they had; it was largely an unfelt presence–it had simply changed what my day-to-day looked like.  To have my most vulnerable family member be diagnosed with it, however, has been devastating.  My Grandfather is 101–yes, he has lived a very long life, but he easily had another year or two in him and those years will likely be taken away from him.  He will probably pass alone, unsure of why no one is visiting.  He may even have to go on a ventilator and slowly suffocate as his lungs are no longer able to support his breathing.  I can’t even fucking say a proper goodbye.  Of all the ways for him to go, this has to be the worst. 

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Today has been okay–I’m just grateful it is almost the weekend.  It was a pretty typical day of work and I had a Zoom Happy Hour call with my Aunt and Uncle.  It was great to catch up with them and just talk to someone other than my cat.

Question 3: If you could choose one musical artist that you believe everyone should listen to critically at least once, who would it be and why?

It would easily be my personal favorite, Bruce Springsteen.  Bruce is one of the best songwriters in terms of telling a true story with lyrics and he covers a number of different themes and topics: songs about identity-building, songs about hope, songs about tough times, songs about politics.  It’s easy to find a song to fit whatever mood I’m in or the kind of angst I’m feeling.

Melodically, his songs are so varied–there are some songs that are very bare and are just Bruce with his guitar and harmonica and there are others that are filled with so many different sounds: piano, organ, saxophone, violin, mandolin, accordion.  

Finally, Bruce is a sight to see live.  His concerts are true marathons that go on for hours and hours: some of the concerts I have been to have been almost 3.5 hours.  Him and his bandmates have so much energy and it is just an honest-to-goodness fun time.

May 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of May and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today has been a mixture of emotions. The actual crux of my day has been really nice–I cleaned my apartment and I just feel so much joy being here.  It feels more and more like “home.”  As a reward for being so productive this morning, I allowed myself to be lazy for the afternoon and watch Scooby Doo on HBOMax.  Scooby Doo just reminds so much of my childhood, so it was a perfectly nostalgic show to spend my Sunday watching. After that, I prepped for the upcoming week and month.  By all accounts, today was a really good and productive day.

July 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of July and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today has been an incredibly peaceful day.  One of those days where you aren’t necessarily productive, but you are so keyed into the present moment and you go to bed feeling so satisfied. 

My morning was full of leisure – I woke up on my couch with Paul cuddled up with me, while I played around on my computer.  I read some of the book that I’m working through now, “Deep Work,” and caught up on my emails.  After some more laying around, I finally got up and got ready to go to my parent’s house.   My relationship with my parents felt tense at times while I was living at home, but since moving out, our relationship is better and I even make a point of visiting my parents at least every two weeks.  Usually when I go home, I bring my Nintendo Switch home with me so we can all play Animal Crossing together – we always visit each other’s islands and give each other presents.  I also have the chance to play with my parent’s dogs and spend time in our backyard too.

After visiting my parents, I headed over to my boyfriend’s condo.  Although he was working, I love spending time at his place by myself – he has a nice kitchen that I love to cook in and a balcony that I love to read on, so it was the perfect way to spend my evening, before passing out on his couch watching an awful teen drama (Pretty Little Liars lol).  

Nowhere near the productive day that I am usually pushing myself towards, but a blissful day, nonetheless.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I had today off, so I slept in and had a pretty lazy morning.  Once I got up, I went to go visit my parents for a bit – I saw my dogs and played Animal Crossing with my parents, which was a ton of fun!  Afterwards, I went to my boyfriend’s condo and hung out there while he was at work.  On paper it wasn’t a productive day, but I had the opportunity to spend it doing things that I really enjoy.

Question 3: When do you feel most social and comfortable around others? Covid has taken away a lot of opportunities to be around the people we love, but what are some qualities about another person (that you know or don’t know) or situations that make you feel like you can be yourself?

I generally would call myself a chameleon – someone who is generally able to blend in any situation – but I feel that I am best able to be myself in smaller groups and with people who are also able to “show” different qualities depending on what the situation calls for.  For example, people who are able to be goofy and make fun of themselves, but are also able to retain the ability to take meaningful conversations seriously.  I find that I bring and show different pieces of myself, depending on who I am around and my own energy level, and I think it is important that I am around people who are also dynamic in that respect as well.