On Setting Expectations

On Setting Expectations >> Life In Limbo

I’ve been working full-time as a creative freelancer for more than a year now. Working from home and setting my own schedule is pretty great, but believe it or not, there are some downsides to not having a boss to tell you what to do. There’s no rulebook when it comes to working for yourself, so you spend a lot of time wondering, Am I doing this right? Is there a better way to do this? Hello? Anyone?

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found an amazing creative community here in Toronto, and that I am now able to work exclusively for incredible companies and individuals. Both of these groups of people teach me something new almost every single day and continually challenge my thinking on so many ideas around work, productivity, balance, and happiness.

That said, a lot of my work habits and routines are a weird mishmash of tidbits I’ve found on podcasts, a whole lot of trial and error, and asking myself good, thoughtful questions.

One of my favourite questions to ask lately is:

Is this the expectation I want to be setting?

Put differently: Is the action I’m taking right now what I want to teach people to expect from me going forward?

It’s amazing how much this one little question clarifies things for me and helps me set boundaries without needing to have a “tough conversation” with someone, either in a professional or personal context. Whether or not you work for yourself, this question can be helpful in all kinds of different settings.

On Setting Expectations >> Life In Limbo

Here are some examples where I’ve recently let this question inform my choices:

At work

I try to never answer a work email after  “quitting time”. Whether or not I’m working that night on other projects or at my computer, I don’t want to set the expectation that you can expect a response from me outside of work hours. I also turn off Slack notifications after work, and close the app entirely during periods of the work day when I want to get down to business and not be distracted. Responding more slowly means that people won’t constantly expect you to respond right away! It’s like magic. It goes without saying that you can’t totally drop the ball and expect to keep your job, but pacing your responses is something we can all do, within reason. I’d go so far as to say it’s something that we all have to do, in order to keep our sanity.

Over Text

For a few months, there were days when I’d find myself having long text conversations with friends and family during my work hours. Yes, I set my own schedule, but the truth is that I know what my productive hours are and messages pinging in all day makes it really hard to stick to them! I now try to respond later in the day, for example on my lunch break, to avoid the “instant-messaging” type of conversations during hours that are crucial to my productivity. Putting my phone and computer on Do Not Disturb mode helps with this immensely so that I don’t have to resist temptation: I don’t even know the messages are coming in until I’m in a better place to respond to them.

With Friends

When I first moved to the city, I was so desperate to hang out with my friends that I would always offer to come to their homes or locations that were convenient to them. This would sometimes mean that I was going an hour and a half out of my way for a short visit. Of course, I don’t regret any of these meet ups – I love my friends and have been so happy to live in a city where I’m nearby so many of them. What I do regret is setting the expectation that it will always be me who will travel out of my way to meet up. Balance is important in any relationship, and it is up to me to communicate my expectations by suggesting places closer to a halfway point or in my own neighbourhood.

***

In all of these cases my choices reflect my own values and are specific to my life. That’s why the question is so open-ended! Maybe you want to set different expectations from me, and that’s great too: the point is to be intentional about your actions. For you, maybe it’s about re-assessing how often you organize events for your friends, or how much money you’re charging clients, or how often you’re cleaning up after your roommate. How we speak, act, and respond to people teaches them how to treat us in ways both big and small. Clarifying what we desire or require from others in any given situation, and then acting accordingly, is a way of being more proactive about our lives.

Let me know some ways you try to be mindful about the expectations you set for others in the comments! I’m always hoping to be inspired to put great ideas into action in my own life.

On Growing Pains

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

Remember when I wrote that moving to Toronto would be my next big adventure? At the time, I thought I was being kinda cute or kinda funny or something: I was moving back home after a few years of living abroad. I knew that this chapter would bring its own challenges, but how hard could it be? I’d navigated Korean grocery stores and learned to ride a motorcycle in Thailand and held my own at a massive Ecuadorian family reunion speaking only rudimentary Spanish, for heaven’s sake. Forgive me if I kind of thought, “I got this.”

Are you guys laughing? Because I’m laughing. Because I’m naive and young and I always seem to think, “I got this”, until I get some serious knowledge dropped on my head and it turns into a question: “Do I got this?” (Hint: no.)

I can safely say that the last six months have been some of the best of my life. They have been so rich with life, with love, with this beautiful feeling of community that I’ve craved for so long. I’ve gone home (way) more times in the last 6 months than I did for the past 6 years, which is such a blessing. I’ve spent time with my sisters, and my parents, and my grandparents. I’ve made friends with fellow entrepreneurs, with my baristas, with my colleagues, with strangers. I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing people, doing things that I am really passionate about. I’ve gained the kind of confidence that I didn’t know I was capable of. I have friends who feel like family to me. I’ve gotten so many incredible opportunities handed to me on what feels like a silver platter. So much so that one day a couple weeks ago I went to the park in the middle of the afternoon on a beautifully sunny day and I actually cried: I am so lucky. I am so lucky. I am so lucky.

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

Here’s the thing though. The last few months have also pushed me, hard. Would you like some examples? There was the time my rent e-transfer got deposited into the wrong account and for two months I thought I’d lost a huge chunk of cash that I didn’t exactly have lying around. There was the time that my landlords sold the house I live in and I didn’t know whether I would have to move out. There were weeks of work days when I felt frantic and tired and over-caffeinated and hangry because I didn’t stop to eat properly. There were a lot of nights, especially in the winter, when I felt incredibly lonely because I realized that my friends in the city had their own busy lives and mine felt, by contrast, very empty. There were a handful of times that I got news that sent me reeling for hours or days. There was the frustration of trying – for nearly a year – to get some of my most precious items sent back to me from another country. There has been heartbreak. There have been a lot of tears. There has been a lot of growth.

My dear friend Sonja helped me reframe this once recently by saying:

“The pain and heartbreak you are feeling? these are growing pains.

Growing pains! The pain we go through as we grow. What we experience when we shed what we don’t want, to make room for what we do: the best version of ourselves and the best version of our lives. What I love about this idea is that it reminds us that it can hurt to grow. It can hurt like hell. It can push all our buttons and emotionally punch us in the gut and make us need to rage-walk around the neighbourhood listening to rage-y music. (Not to be confused with rave-y music, although to each their own.) In fact, as I’ve come to learn, the best kind of growth hurts us exactly like this, because it’s the kind that actually changes us, shakes us up, and improves our lives for the better.

There’s a piece of writing advice that I love which says that to be a good writer, you have to “kill your darlings”. In the context of writing, this means that you often have to cut out the sentences or characters that are the literary equivalent of My Precious: you love them maybe a little too much, and they’re ultimately not serving the story as a whole. They’ve got to go.

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

I’m learning that in the context of life, killing your darlings means cutting out the people and the limiting beliefs about yourself or the world that are somehow Precious to your identity, in order to make room for the good stuff. Here’s the thing though: at the time you do so, killing your darlings REALLY does not feel like you’re making room for the good stuff. It feels – pardon my French – like shit. If you’re like me, you may have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the idea of killing said darlings, and you will not enjoy even one single minute of it.

This is what I think is so important to remember, and why I resonate so much with the idea that these are growing pains: big, important life lessons are often about both growth and pain. But if we forget this fact, we aren’t going to ever want to do the work. We won’t kill our darlings or break our patterns or do the thing that’s scary. We’ll think: this hurts, I don’t like it, make it stop, and go back to the way we’ve been doing things all along. Staying still is way easier than moving forward. Or, as I joked earlier tonight: “Oh, so this is what not settling feels like – it totally sucks. No wonder so many people avoid it by just..settling.”

The fact is that it hurts to stretch, it hurts to shed your skin, it hurts to get two inches taller overnight. We have to remember that it hurts for a reason, it hurts because better things are coming, it hurts because we are being remade.

3 Tips for Believing In Abundance

3 Tips for Believing in Abundance >> Life In Limbo

When I had been living in Korea for about 3 months, I lost my job. I’d moved across the world, made some friends, started to get the hang of teaching, and settled into the city a bit when my principal told me they were closing the school. I could move to another city two hours away, or I could get out of my contract and find a new job and place to live, since the school also provides you with an apartment.

I distinctly remember going to the bathroom and hyperventilating. I was terrified. I was in a relatively brand-new country where I knew approximately 5 people, didn’t speak the language, and was still figuring out how to feed myself properly, let alone navigate the process of paying my bills and sorting out my visa situation, which is also tied to your contract with your school.

And yet. I had chosen the word abundance that year to guide me, even though this was a moment that felt like the exact opposite. It was a moment that felt scary and isolating and panicky. But sitting in that bathroom stall ugly crying, a thought somehow came to me. An abundant thought: I’m going to make this work on my terms. This was nearly three years ago now, but thanks to the magic of technology I actually just found the message that I sent my friend Dylan in that exact moment to prove that this thought came to me, Divine-intervention-style. Sorry about the swearing, mom:

Abundance Abundance Abundance

Not all of what I envisioned in that initial set of messages turned out to be true, but I did go to the Philippines, and I did leave at the end of March like I had planned, despite the fact that 9 month contracts were practically unheard of in Korea. I found a new school that I liked far better than my first, where I got to interact with the kids more and do things in my own way. Despite all the fear-mongering from fellow expats that “I’d be lucky” to find another job in the same city, my new school was only a ten minute walk from my old school. I moved to an apartment literally two blocks north of where I’d been living, with bigger windows. I was still walking distance to the friends I’d made and to the beach I loved.

In short: I made it work on my own terms. I got everything I wanted, and then some. In the end, the second situation was so much better than the first.

I’m telling you all of this because I really, deeply believe that the way we think about things matters. What we believe to be possible has the power to shape our perspective, our behaviour, and our outcomes. I don’t have the science to back it up – I can’t tell you statistics or show you graphs to prove this point. I can only say this: I know people who don’t believe abundant things are possible, and abundant things don’t seem to happen to them. I believe in abundance, and I’m regularly bowled over by the beauty of the universe and how many opportunities show up for me.

3 Tips for Believing in Abundance >> Life In Limbo

In case you struggle with these ideas, here are three little things I’ve found to be true when it comes to abundance and manifesting that help me stay positive and optimistic:

1. Give It Time

Gabrielle Bernstein has this beautiful quote that has always stuck with me: “The universe is always working on our behalf, just not always on our time.” Another way I’ve heard her put it is: “The universe has your back, just not always on your schedule.” My belief in abundance does not mean I expect everything to be perfect right now. It doesn’t mean that I think things are going to happen on my idealized timeline, in the exact way that I want them to, or at the precise moment that would be most convenient for me.

It make take way longer than you’d like for exciting opportunities to show up in your life, or things might happen “too fast” or “all at once”, which can also be overwhelming. None of this means that exciting, amazing opportunities aren’t out there waiting for you or about to fall into your lap. It just means that you can’t predict exactly when or how they’ll happen for you.

2. Notice Other Narratives

The truth is, the world is full of bitter, cynical, angry narratives of scarcity and fear: “There aren’t enough jobs to go around. You’re an entitled, stupid millennial if you think you’ll be able to do work you believe in and get paid for it. Good luck finding a nice apartment in this crazy real estate bubble!” We don’t have to look very far to get bombarded with anecdotes that “confirm” these statements: there are people who will practically line up to tell you about all the terrible things that have happened to them or why they can’t have what they really want or why it’s naive/unrealistic/idealistic for you to think or want X, Y or Z.

Which is why it’s so important to actively seek out other stories. Specifically, to surround yourself with the kind of stories that are about beautiful, positive, too-good-to-be-true-but-it’s-true! experiences. The kind of stories that make you think “wow, I didn’t even realize that was an option. I never even knew things could happen that easily, quickly, or effortlessly.” I’m lucky to have a few people in my life who think this way and live their lives from a place of possibility – and they’re always excited to share with me when something amazing flows for them.

If you don’t have those people in your life, find them online or in books. I love Marie Forleo, Mimi Ikonn, Jess Lively and Sarah Von Bargen because they always show me new ways of thinking about the world and remind me of what’s possible.

3. Stay open

In yoga school we learned the phrase “minimum one thousand possibilities.” It’s meant to remind you that in any given situation there are over a thousand ways that something can play out, or over a thousand options you could choose. It’s a helpful idea, because as the author Steve Toltz asks of humans: “Why is free will wasted on a creature who has infinite choices but pretends there are only one or two?”

In every moment we have infinite choices and infinite possibilities available to us. To believe this is to believe in abundance. For me, this means staying open to the idea that the ideal outcome could take many different shapes (minimum 1000 shapes!) and still feel abundant to me. It won’t be perfect (nothing is), and it won’t be exactly as I had envisioned, but it will tick almost all of the boxes and flow in such an effortless way that it feels ‘meant to be’. Or as some manifesters say, “This or something better.”

My current apartment, the business I started this year, the new job opportunities that are coming to me: all of these things don’t look exactly as I’d pictured them, and they all have their quirks. But all of them flowed to me easily and naturally, met or exceeded my expectations, and felt completely abundant.

This is the difference between scarcity and abundance. In scarcity, we think there’s no way to get what we want: it’s too hard, there’s not enough, it’s impossible. With an abundance mindset, we believe that we can get what we want: it can be easy, there’s more than enough, and it’s possible. It might not look exactly the way think it will, and it might not happen right away, but it’s possible.


I absolutely try to live my life from a place of abundance, but I feel like I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to manifesting, limiting beliefs, and the power of our thinking in shaping our reality. So, if you have resources please share them with me! Do you have tips on believing in abundance and banishing the scarcity mentality? Do you have a manifesting practice or favourite teachers who help you think this way? Please share in the comments below! I’d love to read what you have to say.

PS. If you liked this article, you would probably also like My Favourite Mantras, How to Live More Intentionally, Abundance Ideas, and the post I wrote right after I lost my job in Korea!

 

3 Ways I Practice Self-Care

3 Ways I Practice Self-Care >> Life In Limbo

It’s wintertime where I am: the days are mostly grey and dreary and kind of dark. It’s cold, and I spend a great many hours indoors staring at a computer screen. It’s a time of year that is not so good for the soul.

Since I moved to Toronto back in October, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about building a life and a home for myself. I’m learning how to take care of myself and trying to figure out what really makes me happy. My mom said it best (doesn’t she always?) in an offhand comment the other day: “You’re trying to be deliberate.”

Part of the puzzle is self-care, which is the piece I find the hardest. I’m a creature of habit and routine, which means I can eat more or less the same thing, go on more or less the same walks, and wear more or less the same clothes every single day. Mostly, I like being this way, because it means I get to save a lot of my mental energy for things like writing and creating and making. Sometimes though – mainly in the winter months – it can start to feel monotonous. I have a poster in my bedroom that reminds me: magic is something you make. This is extremely hard to do! For me, self-care is about making that magic – or noticing it – in my everyday life.

Here are some of the ways I’ve been exploring self-care lately:

3 Ways I Practice Self-Care >> Life In Limbo

1. i’m not a robot

I heard a line on a podcast the other day that I found enormously helpful:

Self-care is the daily practice of remembering that I’m not a robot.

It’s a long interview, so if you want to jump ahead to that part, head to 1:40 or so.

When I heard this, I instantly thought: that is me. That could not be more me. The host of the show talks about how some days she’ll feel particularly tired, and spend the whole day saying things like “Why are you so tired today?! You had plenty of sleep! Stop being tired!” Another day she might feel hungrier than usual, so she’ll get baffled and annoyed as to why that might be, and fight against it by not allowing herself what she really needs.

Well folks, the answer is that we are not robots. Our bodies and minds are mysterious, beautiful systems that fluctuate depending on the day. Some days we’re more tired. Some days we’re more focused. Some days we need a lot of breaks. Some days we need extra food, or more sunshine. Some days we need to unplug.

All of the above is totally fine and normal and human. It’s only when we expect ourselves to be well-oiled machines that we run into issues. Just having this tiny phrase to repeat to myself is helping, as is setting alarms to remind myself to eat, stand up, and take breaks. Thou art only human, honey.

2. Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to

I’m taking a money + happiness mini course this week (it’s free and awesome) and today’s talk was full of great advice. One of the things Sarah talked about was how we pick up all kinds of false beliefs about what makes us happy from TV, magazines, Instagram feeds, and the people around us. Part of the work of really living a life that makes you happy is about learning to ignore whatever is not true for you, and for most of us that means ignoring the majority of what we see and read.

Instead of recommending that we just shut it all down and never interact with another thing that is not aligned with our values (which would be impossible, stupid, and probably end up making us ironically unhappy), she recommends bracing ourselves before we engage with at media or people that we know tend to mess us up a little bit. Before we watch that video or scroll that Instagram feed or meet up with that friend who we love but whose values around certain areas of life do not match our own, her advice is to remind ourselves repeatedly: this is not true for me, or this is not even real.

I absolutely, 100% need those reminders for a lot of things that both a) make me happy or inspired and b) make me feel a little bad about my life. Your things (people, accounts, shows) are probably totally different than mine, but I’m guessing you know exactly who or what they are. Having that mindfulness about what I’m taking in and absorbing can make all the difference.

3. Be Impractical

Over the past few months, my mindset has felt, at times, relentlessly practical. I’ve tried to be efficient and streamlined, get into the zone with my work, stay productive, and get organized.

Sounds great, right? Right. But when you start to feel annoyed that you can’t keep working because you have to go to the bathroom (yet) again, or feel like you can’t do the laundry or make lunch because it will cut into work time, something is wrong. YOU are wrong. (I’m talking to myself here.)

For me, self-care is about coming back to the impractical things, and making time for all those intangible things that don’t have a “purpose” or “objective” that can be measured or calculated. Things like going to work at a beautiful café, even if it means I’m a tiny bit less focused while I’m working. Going for a really long walk in the middle of the workday, just because it’s the only sunshine we’ve seen in weeks. Doing things just for fun: reading books, knitting blankets, writing blog posts. Buying flowers for my apartment. Recently I took a bath after my shower and it was deliciously impractical – and very soothing.

Constantly reminding myself that not everything needs to have a dollar value or specific outcome attached to it helps a lot.


I am not so great at any of this stuff, so tell me: how do you practice self-care? What does taking care of yourself look like for you?

P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like: being mindful about what we consume, figuring out what matters to us, affirmations for uncertain days and today, be gentle.