Unboxing Challenge: Update

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Several months ago, I started the Unboxing Challenge. I was waking up to some of the ways in which I’d been shunning or downplaying various blessings in my life. Writing has long been how I process, honor, or commemorate things, and it is also a passion that I wanted to devote more energy to. I thought that proposing a challenge to myself would kill various birds with one stone: deepen my appreciation for life’s blessings, dispel some of the hesitation or even shame that I felt about acknowledging the gifts in my life, present examples to others regarding where to find deeper appreciation or everyday magic in their own lives, contribute to a culture of celebrating each other’s shine… and write more. Because I love to write, and also because I wanted to build this blog (and my IG account).

Ironically, when I was about to launch the challenge, my internet died at my apartment. My roommate informed me that it would be out for several weeks. No matter, I thought, I will go ahead with this anyway. But in addition to the inconveniences of having to run around Berlin with my laptop to post to WordPress and Instagram, I was also simultaneously in the middle of a move across town. And once I moved, things didn’t get easier. I had furniture to assemble, things to organize, new roommates to bond with… and tons and tons of work. TONS of work. In a 3- or 4-month period, I found myself inundated with more work than I tend to get in an entire year.

Still, I tried to keep up with the challenge for a while. I was determined to do all 30 days I’d (arbitrarily) committed to, even if that meant finishing the challenge a little behind schedule, because things were just too busy. I had designed a goal, I believed in the cause, and I wanted to stick to it. However, I soon realized that my work load was unmanageable. If I continued insisting to myself that, on top of it, I needed to create content across two different platforms for all 30 days of the Unboxing Challenge, I would only end up with a bunch of crappy-quality, uninspired posts, and resenting the process.

“That was not the point of this challenge,” I decided. And so I, I simply stopped worrying about it. I chose to release myself from the “responsibility.”

Me, taking a moment for balance in late-2017: soup and Glühwein at the Christmas market… with a notebook!

It’s great to prioritize the things you value. If you must, treat them like a job. Indeed, many people say that if you want to become a successful writer, you need to disregard your own fatigue in the service of being “disciplined,” even at the expense of balance, whether “balance” in your life requires more rest, more socializing, more exercise, more family time, and so on. But I think there’s no shame in setting burdens down and saying, “You know what? This is too much for me right now.”

For most of my life, I didn’t have that skill. I believed that you stuck with a thing until you finished it, whether you liked it, whether it exhausted you, whether it “gave back” to you or not. That if you took on a responsibility, even a self-created one, it was your obligation to deliver.

This personal work ethic did not enrich my life though. Rather, determined never to “quit” anything, it led me to make choices like stay in abusive relationships, remain enrolled in a semester abroad in a place so rife with gender violence that I’d developed PTSD by the time I came home, take abusive work contracts, miss out on opportunities for quality time with family… and through it all, watch my health suffer.

We glorify stress in U.S. society, as though the more you have of it, the harder you’re trying at life, and therefore the more worthy you are as a person. We don’t glorify wellness nearly as much. I’m not entirely sure why.

For me, learning when to put the stress down and walk away from experiences that depleted me more than enriched me has been a major life lesson. I admire people who can power through things that drain them, but I also feel sadness and concern for people who are that way. Life is rich with opportunities that pass us by in the time we spend devoted to other stuff. It’s up to us to soul-search about that “stuff” and decide whether it’s worth the sacrifice.

I love my “day job,” but I’m not 100% happy with the fact that my work became so all-consuming that I had to put my own writing aside (blog, book, and otherwise) for so many months. Despite the thousand reasons why I’m enormously thankful for my editing work, there’s something bittersweet for me about finding myself too exhausted to make headway on my own dreams, having spent all my energy on helping others achieve theirs. It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to support people in landing their dream-careers and help them find more confidence with their own voices — but it’s also my hope that, someday, I can make a living off of my dreams and my voice. This is a balancing act I hope to manage better in 2018 and beyond.

Still, I don’t regret shelving the Unboxing Challenge: a project that, while it inspired me, was not my greatest writing dream and would have burned me out. Had I refused to “quit” that project, I would have had less time around the deluge of work for things like taking long walks in the fresh air, inviting friends to dinner, seeing the Netherlands, visiting my partner out of town, exploring Germany’s holiday markets, and anything else I did to maintain a healthy life balance by getting away from my laptop.

I hope that the Unboxing Challenge inspired all of you who tried it. Even if you tried it for just one day, I hope that it helped solidify a shift in your thinking about your daily life and about the gifts all around you. For me, instead of resuming the challenge formally, I am hoping to have internalized its lessons. You might even see me gushing sometimes, “Unboxing Challenge”-style in a normal blog post, because why not? Do we really NEED an occasion for gratitude or, gasp!, self-celebration?

For you, I hope the same. I hope you continue “unboxing” the blessings of your life, sharing them openly with the world… but also I hope that you find the clarity of mind and the self-respect for discerning which self-imposed obligations — which self-imposed limits — you’d do better to shed. And I hope you can do so without shame and without guilt.

The world is waiting for your energy. Use it on what makes you feel most alive.

Peace and love,

Laura left a Ph.D. program at age 26 to make good on long-forgotten dreams of nomad'ing and writing. She currently lives in Berlin and writes about the magic of everyday life — most especially, the magic we find when we open our hearts and choose to follow them.

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