Rediscovering Fiction: How giving myself permission to read for fun has enriched my life

read for fun

I’ve always been a big reader. When I was a kid, my parents both worked at my small-town elementary/middle school, and I have the best memories of waiting in the library for them to finish work at the end of each school day. I read everywhere as a child; on the playground during recess, sprawled out on my bed after school, at picnic tables and beaches during summer trips to the lake - name a place and I could find a way to devour a book there. It was the perfect escape for my socially anxious self, and a way to experience the world in ways that I didn’t always have the opportunity to in real life.

After I quit drinking I felt like I needed to “catch up” in life, especially in terms of education and my career. When I went back to school I, like most students, found myself immersed in textbooks and academic journals, with little time left for “fun” reading. I didn’t mind all that much (that’s what I was there for), but I found that even after I’d graduated and moved on from university, that sense of urgency to continue to play catch-up caused me to feel guilty about reading anything other than serious nonfiction books that would aid me in my quest for personal and professional development. That lasted for a few years and it was only recently - the beginning of this year, in fact - that I decided to shake off that guilt and re-introduce fiction into my life on a regular basis. 

The result has been the rekindling of my love of reading in a way that I didn’t expect or even know was necessary. I’ve read all kinds of books from classics to graphic novels to poetry and everything in between over the past 6+ months and loved every minute of it. I read in bed, in my sunroom, on my back porch, in coffee shops, on park benches, at the library - wherever there is room to grab a few minutes of quiet time. I carry a book with me everywhere now and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. It’s been like coming home when I didn’t even realize that I was away.

Something that’s been fun as my literary life has exploded this year is discovering which tools I like to use to keep track of my reads and share them with others. I’ve had a Goodreads account for a long time, but didn’t really start using it until the beginning of this year. Just for fun, I decided to set a goal of reading 25 books in 2017. I’d never successfully kept track of the number of books I read in a year before, so I had no idea what an appropriate goal would be for me. I hit my initial 25 book goal last month, so I guess I could have gone higher, but I did find that setting a Goodreads goal encouraged me to start using the site/app regularly, which has been so helpful for keeping track of my to-read list.

I also started sharing the books I read on Instagram at the beginning of the year. I like seeing what other people are reading, so it seemed like a natural thing for me to do. Since those initial posts, I’ve started using the hashtag #MeadsReads on book posts, rating the books out of 5, and sharing photos of not just the front cover, but the summary and author info as well. These mini book reviews have been so much fun for me and in the process of making them, I’ve found other book-related accounts to follow, which has meant more books on my to-read list and a greater sense of community in my social media life, which I absolutely love.

Reading has been such a gift in my life this year. I love the way it’s changed how I spend my free time, how it’s increased my desire to write, and the way I’ve been able to connect with others over the shared love of a good book. What I once saw as an escape from the world has become a connection to it, and for that I am immensely grateful. 

Hello, 30 (Part 2): The top 3 things I am most looking forward to in my 30s

turning 30

My thirtieth birthday was this past Sunday and I celebrated by doing some of my favourite things: riding my bike, going for breakfast with friends, wandering around the zoo, and playing board games at home. Oh, and demolishing a cheese board + other snacks, naturally. 

In last week’s post, I bid adieu to my twenties by sharing a list of the top three life lessons I’ve learned over the past decade. Now that my birthday has passed, I’m looking forward to what the next ten years of my life will hold. There’s no way to know what’s heading my way in the future, but I thought I would share a few things that I am most looking forward to/hoping for between now and my fortieth:

  1. Becoming financially stable and debt free. I’ve worked so hard over the past few years to get ahead financially and my efforts have been paying off. Going back to school and finishing my degree helped me break out of the cycle of low-paying admin jobs that had me stuck in a financial rut, which in turn has allowed me to start making actual, honest-to-goodness progress on my student debt. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and am so freaking excited to be free of debt so I can shift my focus to saving and investing my money in ways that will help me reach my goals. 
     
  2. Continuing to grow and develop as a person and in my career. Most of my health and wellness related accomplishments in my twenties consisted of removing negatives from my life - drinking, smoking, sweets, partying, etc. While there is still one bad habit that I’d like to break (taking my phone to bed with me at night - UGH), for the most part, I see myself focusing on building good habits and adding positives over the next decade. I’d like to pursue fitness and nutrition a bit more seriously, keep furthering my education/learning new skills, spend more time writing, and do a better job of managing my social anxiety. I have some long-term professional/career goals that I’ve started working towards and am hoping to come to the end of my thirties having made an expert of myself in my chosen niche (but that’s a post for another day).
     
  3. Enjoying the shit out of life. There were times in my late teens/early twenties when I didn’t think I was going to see my thirtieth birthday. Years of my life were defined by heavy drinking, deep depression, and suicidal ideation. I didn’t know a damn thing about resilience or how much power I actually have over my own thoughts and feelings back then, and I was so full of anger and hurt all the time that there wasn’t room for much else. Being (mostly) free of all that resentment and powerlessness has been such a relief, and I’m looking forward to making the most out of the next decade. I want to travel and take in as much of the world as I can, keep decorating and making my home a beautiful space, see shows, watch movies, read books, drink tea, go for walks, volunteer, ride my bike, write my heart out, and generally experience as much as I can while I can.

Turning thirty feels like the ultimate fresh start after a rocky introduction to adulthood, and I’m so happy and grateful to be in such a good place as I move into this next stage of my life.  

Hello, 30 (Part 1): The top 3 life lessons I learned in my 20s

top 3 life lessons.png

My 30th birthday is coming up this weekend, so naturally I’ve been reflecting on the past decade quite a bit lately. So many things have happened over the last ten years (good and bad) and I’ve learned a whole boat load of lessons that I’ll carry forward with me into my 30s and beyond. It would take many ages and pages to write them all here, so I’ve decided to share just the top three big life lessons that I’ve learned in my twenties:

  1. I can reinvent myself whenever I want. The (incorrect) lesson I learned as a kid and through my teenage years was that getting through life is about following a set path that will lead to “success”. That sounded pretty good to a kid who grew up without a lot of money and was just dying to escape her small town, so I happily accepted the advice I received and tried my best to follow the formula as it was presented to me:

    4 years of full-time university studies = degree = get a good job + get married = make lots of money and live happily ever after in a big house that you can afford to, like, decorate and stuff

    I discovered pretty quickly that there’s no room in that formula for a poorly formed sense of self, mental illness, addiction, unhealthy relationships, or crippling student loan debt. I ended up working a low-level admin job in the alcohol industry for a good chunk of my twenties, drinking heavily every day and feeling like I was powerless to fix anything. Nothing changed until I decided that I disliked the person I was becoming enough to do something about it. I quit my job, stopped drinking, started making small, steady improvements to my life, and the rest is history. I finally realized that I was never actually stuck - I had the option to turn myself around at any time, I just had to be willing to go through a little (OK, a LOT) of discomfort to do so. 
     
  2. Community and relationships are everything - but they don’t look or mean the same for everyone. When I first moved to the city after graduating from high school I brought my social anxiety and introversion with me. Except at the time I didn’t realize that my crippling fear of other people was treatable or that my need for alone time/space was OK - I thought that I was just a broken, awkward person whose only shot at developing “normal” relationships was to get drunk enough to not feel awkward anymore. Not a great strategy, just sayin’.

    I still have social anxiety, but I’ve learned to manage it in much healthier ways and to give myself what I need to avoid becoming overwhelmed. While I sometimes struggle to recognize when I’m isolating vs. taking personal space, on the whole I’ve gotten much more comfortable with being alone and with the fact that I enjoy being by myself. It took a long time for me to learn that it’s OK to be a person who doesn’t have a huge circle of close friends or who prefers to hang out in small groups instead of one-on-one. 
     
  3. Taking responsibility is key and isn’t about accepting fault or placing blame - it’s about empowering myself to take life into my own hands to influence my own outcomes. I was super duper good at playing the victim for a long time, particularly when it came to my mental health and student debt. I often pointed to the factors beyond my control that have had an impact on my life - growing up without a lot of money in a rural area, living with undiagnosed mental health issues, being given not-so-great advice re: taking out student loans to get through university, etc. - and used them as excuses for why my life was such a raging dumpster fire fueled by alcohol, unhealthy relationships, and an unfulfilling career.

    Eventually I had to learn to accept responsibility for my situation. By “accept responsibility” I don’t mean accepting fault or blame for all of the factors that led to my less-than-ideal circumstances. What I mean is I had to learn to let go of the need to place blame at all and accept that I’m the only one who can do the work needed to fix things and improve my life going forward.

    I’m certainly not pleased that I lost potentially happy, productive years of my life to depression and alcohol or that my student debt limits my ability to use my money the way I want to now, but I’ve learned to live with my disappointment and do what's necessary to make things better for myself in the future. I’ve spent years learning about health & wellness, trying to make smart career moves, and putting off things I want in order to crush debt like crazy. I wouldn’t be healthy, stable, or making progress towards my financial goals now if I hadn’t decided to take responsibility for my life years ago, and I love that I can finally foresee a not-so-distant future where Jackson and I are free of debt and able to save money to do the things we want to do.

    It’s important to acknowledge that even though I wouldn’t have been able to tackle my issues if I hadn’t taken responsibility for them, I also couldn’t have done so without the immense privileges that exist in my life and the space/help granted by other people (including friends, family, employers, and therapists). Taking responsibility doesn’t mean doing everything on our own or “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” (UGH), nor are folks always ready to do so when others might want them to. Changing one’s entire perspective and approach to life takes time, and taking responsibility is just one piece of a much larger transformational process involving different stages of readiness and change, not a single-step recipe for linear progression/success. 

So there it is. I’ve got a long way to go and some big plans for the next ten years (more on that next week!), but I’m so proud of myself for not just making it through some nasty shit in my twenties, but for coming out the other side a far healthier, happier, and more resilient person. 
 
Hello, 30. I’m so ready for you. ♥