When I was 21, my life was in a state of disrepair.
After spending most of my college career in a manner of depression, after gaining over 100 pounds in several years, after dropping out of college just before my senior year, after punching my then-boyfriend in the mouth, after subsequently being kicked out of the apartment I was sharing with friends, my life was an absolute disaster.
For all intents and purposes, I was an obese, homeless, jobless, college drop-out.
The details of it all are vast and the full story tends to be long. So I’ll skip to the point.
After I got kicked out of that apartment, lost several friends, quit speaking to the boyfriend I’d punched and finally assessed my painful situation, I felt very lost. I cried constantly, hard. I have never cried so much in my whole life. The tears came every day for a long time. I was scared, alone, very overweight, and sad. It was as if I’d experienced the death of someone close to me – I was definitely in mourning. It was my rock bottom.
I was a straight A’s and B’s student in high school. I enjoyed a position on the high honor roll, loved my friends, and was very invested in my various extra-curricular activities. But now I felt worlds away from all that, like I’d ruined everything.
It was summer time. Feeling badly that I didn’t have anywhere to stay, a friend graciously let me crash on his living room floor for a few days. His apartment had a lot of roaches. And mice. And he kept the air conditioner in his bedroom. With the door closed. And it was hot. And the futon mattress was lumpy. And the roaches. Still, I was eternally grateful to him for his generosity.
Not to be cliché, but I cried myself to sleep those first few nights after being kicked out. I was in so much emotional pain – I can’t even remember or access those feelings today. It might have been self-inflicted, but it still hurt a lot. As I cried one night, I remember thinking, this is not going to accomplish anything. All the tears in the world are not going to change this situation. I still cried.
I woke up the next morning, not having been eaten alive by giant roaches, much to my genuine surprise. I remembered all the crying I’d done the night before. And I thought to myself, The things I have to do in order to change this situation for myself seem insurmountable. I can’t even type up a resume or lose 5 pounds. How am I supposed to reshape my entire way of being from the inside out?
But I also knew it just had to start somewhere. I decided it wasn’t impossible to change myself. It just wasn’t likely. But if I was going to even attempt to solve anything at all, I had to start somewhere. So I made a list. It said:
- Lose weight
- Get out of debt
- Get a job
- Get an apartment
- Graduate college
A dauntingly tall order, for sure. I was absolutely terrified just looking at what I’d written, but it was at least a finite list. And what to do with a list but try to complete its tasks.
Fast forward to the present. Without being too ceremonious about the whole thing, I’m proud to say that I eventually crossed each one of those off my list. It took a good chunk of time and was not an easy process. Maybe we’ll talk more about that journey someday. For now, let’s leave it with my telling you that I spent five years in therapy, worked three, sometimes four jobs at once while going to school full time, developed a close relationship with the gym, and I still count my Weight Watchers points to this day.
I have always been a list maker. It’s mostly because I have a pretty shoddy memory. As a kid, my mom would ask me to do a simple task, like pick my crap up off the stairs or put away the dishes. And I wouldn’t do it. And she’d come back into the TV room (where I was likely torturing the cat, drawing, or obsessively and uselessly copying down 1-800 numbers from TV commercials – you know, just in case), demanding to know why I hadn’t done this ONE SIMPLE THING SHE ASKED ME TO DO. I always felt awful about not having done it. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to help her out, or because I wanted to be defiant. It was usually just because I’d genuinely forgotten that she’d even asked. I got in trouble a lot as a kid, at home, at school, on a count of my forgetfulness.
So now I make lists. Otherwise I will probably forget. I will busy thinking about other stuff or daydreaming and I will probably forget. So I make lists. I write them and rewrite them as things get accomplished or as my priorities change. At any given moment, I’m mostly likely keeping four to six active lists.
I keep a “day to day” list of stuff I need to do – pay bills, send thank you notes, etc. I keep a broader “if and when I have time” list – buy new running shoes, check my credit score online (again). I keep a larger “ideally, someday” list – buy glass storage containers for the kitchen, volunteer, visit my grandparents. I keep a list that says where I’ve allotted the money that’s currently in my checking account. And another list of what I might do with extra money, should it find its way into my life – savings, credit card payment, travel. And, like any good used-to-be-fat girl, I always keep a list of what I’ve eaten in a day.
Wow, it sounds crazy when I write it all out like that. It’s not. By the way, they don’t have names, these lists. I just made up those titles right now. Jeez.
Okay, so maybe it is a little crazy. But it’s obviously a structure under which I thrive. I mean, I lost 115 pounds and got myself out a huge messy mess of an early twenti-hood. All with my little lists. (And a good therapist.)
This has been the winding-scenic-route way of telling you that my journey to leave my desk job is, naturally, powered by my lists. It’s how I do.
Of course, there’s the list that started it all. And there have been several iterations of that list since then. I’ve gotten a little bit more specific in some instances, making big picture lists – an idea for a book I could write, a shop I could open, a service I could provide. And I’ve gotten more realistic in some instances, listing jobs I could stand to have if I need a transition gig after I leave the desk job. Last month, I made a list of things I want, like new running shoes, a cast iron skillet, an extended winter break in a warm climate, and a job I enjoy.
This month, I made a more detailed list, informed by some recent discoveries. It’s the list I’m currently working off of in order to help me leave the desk job. It will change and morph as I go – through the very nature of having the list at all, I’ll learn which of its items are key and which aren’t as important as I thought. It reads:
- get more blog readers (aww…)
- save money! – create an account specifically for job escape
- ******* ******* ****** (this one’s a secret!)
- research fitness and nutrition certifications
- take more yoga classes
- finish my ‘vision board’ (yup. i’m doin it.)
I originally wrote the list in my notebook, but I also drew up a larger copy and stuck it in the corner of the mirror in my bedroom. Osmosis or whatever. We’ll see!