When I graduated from university in May, I immediately missed its structure. I missed the predetermined schedule and the deadlines. I missed reading from textbooks and receiving grades for my hard work. Suddenly I was left to my own devices, and instead of having to complete assignments for a professor, I found myself in charge. I was now the one dictating my daily assignments and responsibilities, the one holding myself accountable for my projects. I was now both professor and student.
I can only take the university metaphor so far, but my real problem was I had no idea what my goals were. Finding a job was an obvious task I needed to accomplish, but I’d just spent the last seven years of my life learning and finding fulfillment through art and literature. My dreams felt as abstract as ever, and I found myself binge-watching Daria and Game of Thrones and ignoring the pressing need to find a creative outlet.
Eventually I found work, but I’ve always known that it would be hard for me to feel completely fulfilled with an average nine-to-five job. I think a lot of millennials feel that way; we want to feel like the work we do matters. We want to make our personal aspirations a reality instead of merely contributing to a company’s revenue stream.
Cue my Mode and the Like revival. My return to blogging has mainly been about expressing myself and feeling as if I’m working towards something bigger. Continuing the work I had started—short fiction, poetry, the stuff that really energizes me—felt like so much effort after seven years of school. With a regular job, it felt impossible. I knew that for the moment, I needed to find another creative avenue. Mode and the Like was languishing in a corner. It was ready for a comeback. Then: the election (as you can see, my last post was November 7th). I, like many others, felt discouraged. I fell into a routine, trying to float back to the surface, above the helplessness that I and many people were experiencing.
I needed to find my priorities again. I remembered that right after graduation, I’d made a chart labeled “Self-Fulfillment.” I‘d written down all the categories of my life so that I could visualize what was important, and then created bullet points of all the things that I could pursue to feel satisfied in that “category.” Though the original chart is messily scribbled in a Moleskine, I decided to revise and design a new chart.
Writing—what I’ve always wanted to do with my life—is a short list. It is the most formidable task and also the most rewarding. The Reading category lists—plain and simple—my reading material. The People category seems self-explanatory. Health comprises physical and mental health. Inspiration is what fuels my creativity and helps give me ideas. Creativity lists my favorite ways (apart from writing) that I can express myself.
I want to point out that I’m not an expert on self-fulfillment. I’m not a self-help guru. I don’t always do what I should. Creating this chart seemed like the best way for me to keep what matters to me at the forefront of my consciousness. It may seem ridiculous to some that I have to write down “friends” or “mind games” in order to attend to them. I have a cluttered mind, and this is one way I organize my thoughts and try to ensure nothing (and no one) falls through the cracks.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by work and all of my obligations. I need to be reminded that when I’m feeling introverted, I should be practicing self-care or writing to explore that introversion. When I feel social, I should be seeing my family and friends; I should be working on bettering all of my relationships with them. There’s no particular order to any of these activities, people, and passions since they are all priorities, and all take center stage at different times. This chart helps me quickly channel my energies into the right place. It reminds me of what makes me feel whole.
The chart is always changing. My goals are always changing. Like success, self-fulfillment is something that you need to define (and constantly redefine) for yourself. A lot of unhappiness can stem from trying to fulfill expectations that are not yours. Creating the chart and listing your passions is the easy part. Attending to each aspect of your life when you need to—now there’s the challenge.
(Noun Project icon credits on chart, left to right and top to bottom: Simon Child / Alison Iven / Lewis Ngugi / Gregor Cresnar / To Uyen / misirlou / Pete Fecteau)