What’s your primary question?

When I was twenty, I liked a guy who posted really sad lyrics on his Facebook profile.

 

I spent a lot of time wondering about those posts.

 

Another weird song lyric. Who is it about?

 

I was brushing my teeth and thinking about Max’s cryptic Facebook posts. Sitting in class and thinking about his weird song lyrics. I drove some of my friends crazy wondering if the sad lyrics were about me.

 

They weren’t. They were about his ex-girlfriend, and once I figured that out, I spent quite a bit of time wondering why he couldn’t just get over her and be into me.

 

I decided that perhaps it was because she was both thinner than I was, and more bubbly. As though these things have any sort of reason. (And sometimes they do, I guess. But just as often, in my experience, they don’t.)

 

I spent numerous hours pondering these questions. What is up with Max’s Facebook? And later, Why doesn’t he like me? One could say that it was the primary question I asked myself.

 

Here are some of the primary questions the people I know have been asking themselves lately. Here are the topics that are on their minds from the time they get up in the morning until they fall asleep at night:

  • Why am I not seeing anyone? It’s been years since my last relationship. What’s wrong with me?
  • Why aren’t any of these people as cool as Maggie?
  • How will I possibly survive grad school?
  • Was getting a divorce a mistake?
  • Why haven’t they called me about that job yet?
  • Why won’t Kevin date me?
  • This situation has gone to hell. What else could possibly go wrong?

So what about you? I want you to consider what you primary question is.

 

What is it that you spend most of your time thinking about, and is that a good use of your time? Does it make you happy, or propel you toward some amazing future? Is it serving you?

 

OR is it just a waste of time? A thought that is perpetuating some bad situation or keeping you stuck in the past, or somewhere you don’t want to be?

 

So. What is your primary question, and is it serving you? Think about that. You don’t even have to change your primary question yet. Just think about whether it’s serving you. Is it what you’d choose to spend your time thinking, if you could think about anything?

 

If not (and for a lot of people, the answer will be no), here are some suggested replacements:

  • What’s exciting right now?
  • What do I want to create today?
  • What could I do to be happier in this moment?
  • If this situation were going to turn out perfectly and I didn’t need to worry about it, how would I spend my time instead?

You could even start thinking about how you could make other people happy. What you could do to surprise and delight them, instead of wasting your time dwelling on problems that may not be able to be helped.

How I Became Athletic (A Love Story)

People talk sometimes about being picked last in gym class, but they’re probably exaggerating. Maybe they were picked second or third to last. But me? I was actually picked last, more times than I would like to admit.

And that’s because I was terrible. In fourth grade, we were playing basketball, and I got the ball for the first time ever. I ran down the court, feeling like a star — but the gym teacher blew the whistle, completely ruining my moment. I was pissed until he told me why he blew the whistle — I wasn’t dribbling. Because I didn’t know what dribbling was.

I wanted to play sports, but I completely sucked.

In middle school, I tried out for cheerleading and the flag corps, and I didn’t make it on to either team.

By some miracle, they let me play volleyball and basketball. My mom would drive me to games that were really far away. I spent most of the time on the bench, but that was okay, because I was on the team. But it turns out they let everyone play volleyball and basketball in sixth grade. They start cutting people in seventh grade. I cried about both volleyball and basketball.

So sports and I weren’t really friends. I didn’t interact further with sports until I was about twenty. I stayed on my college campus for the summer and my roommate taught me how to use all the machines at the gym. It was really nice of her.

After that, I’d work out for a month or so, and then I stop working out for three months. It was a pattern, and it was because working out wasn’t fun (although I felt better afterward). The elliptical was pretty boring, even if I was listening to my favorite music.

How I fell in love with Zumba

But I kept hearing about this Zumba thing. My friend who lives in another state was a Zumba instructor, and she was always posting about it on Facebook. I joined my gym in January of 2012, and that’s when I set foot in my first Zumba class. The instructor played all my favorite artists: Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber (yes, I’m a fan), Beyonce. I was hooked immediately. And I had the inkling that one day, I wanted to teach Zumba too.

There was one problem: I sucked.

How I got better

I went to Zumba class every day for three months. None of my friends saw me during that time. I started scheduling my whole social life around Zumba. My boss asked if I was going to leave the company and start teaching Zumba full-time. (No. Zumba doesn’t pay that well. But it was a nice idea.)

Zumba classes last about an hour, and at the beginning, I was sweaty, red-faced, and ready to be done about three songs in. But I kept going to class. Eventually, I wasn’t tired until the fourth song, or the fifth song, and later on, it didn’t seem like such a big deal to dance through the whole class.

Becoming an instructor

I went to instructor training — in hindsight, probably sooner than I should have, but that’s okay, because I was passionate about it. My first class was great because I practiced endlessly. But one day I forgot to stretch between classes and tore my hamstring. It was a three-month recovery that made me red-faced again, just trying to get through class.

After I recovered, I started subbing classes at my gym. If you go to a group exercise class you haven’t been to before, maybe you’re a little scared, because you don’t know what to expect. But I promise you that new instructors are just as scared — it takes practice to lead an effective class, and it’s scary to do something new.

The sub who sucked

Sometimes, when people saw that I was the sub that day, they would walk out of class. It didn’t do much for my confidence. Sometimes I would forget the moves and stand in front of the class and stare at them. This happens to all Zumba instructors, but it happened to me a lot, because I was just subbing – not teaching regularly.

Upping my game

One of the instructors stepped down last year, and they put me on the schedule for real. I had a weekly class, and that was when I knew I had to step it up. I started to do things to entertain myself. I started by adding a lot of songs by my favorite rapper, Drake. I danced to “Hotline Bling,” sang along, and had a great time.

I was having more fun, and my students were having more fun, tooI started practicing more at home, because teaching Zumba was something I liked, instead of something I dreaded. And my classes started to grow.

Sometimes, when I subbed, I would have just two or three people coming to my class. But now, on a big day, I have more than 30, and the studio is full. And I can say that I’ve never been sad that I went to a Zumba class – even if it’s hard to get up off the couch, I always have a good time.

Why I love Zumba

I love that Zumba is inclusive. Unlike cheerleading, the flag squad, volleyball and basketball, we don’t turn anyone away. You come, you have fun with us, you practice, and you get better. I think back to middle school Kristyn, who got picked last at gym class and cut from all the teams, and I feel healed, somehow.

Permission to suck

What can you take away from this? It’s important to give yourself permission to suck. These days, I am giving myself permission to suck at yoga. Trouble balancing during poses? No problem. It’s all good. By allowing yourself to suck and showing up to practice — that’s the only way you’ll get better. It can be the same for anything. Blogging. Recording videos. And not just creative things — relationships, too. Speaking up. Being vulnerable. Saying what you mean.

We are so afraid of being judged. But it’s like I tell people who come to my Zumba class for the first time — everyone was new once, and we all remember what it was like. If you’re not willing to really be terrible at something, then you’ll never improve.

I suspect that there’s a sport for everyone. You just have to keep trying things. Give yourself permission to be new, and permission to suck. And then just show up. Maybe you’ll have an okay time. Maybe you’ll hate it. Or maybe you’ll fall in love.

Jessica’s chair

(2014)

Jessica had the office across from yours for two years. At first you helped with her lesson plans, but eventually you started talking about everything.

One day, you made the choice to be in love with her. We are always responsible for these things—even if they sneak up on us, we are always choosing. And you decided to go for it. Even if you didn’t talk about it. In your head, at least, you were all in.

She started showing up in your office every day at 2:20, right after the class she taught, and she would tell you how it had gone. At first she stood in the doorway, but after a while, she would sit in the chair in the corner. She always pulled it a little closer to you before she sat down, and eventually you started to think of it as her chair. Even after she left, it was still her chair.

There was the fact of her boyfriend. He was cool enough, if you like guys who wear Dr. Who shirts (he had at least three of them, and those were just the ones you saw). But Jessie said he packed her lunch every day—carrots and pretzels and turkey wraps—so you figured he couldn’t be all that bad.

Eventually she finished her master’s degree, the only thing keeping them in this stupid town, and off they went to live in Des Moines, where he grew up.

After they left, you didn’t reach out. You were always waiting for a note from her, or a phone call—some indication that it was okay to continue feeling the way you did. Our feelings don’t need validation from other people—you’re free to feel however you choose—but you decided to wait for permission.

You wondered if she thought about you and you decided that she had to—you had been such a part of her daily rhythm. You kind of figured that it had to be worse for you—you were still stuck in that office. With the chair.

 

There were other visitors but there was no Jessie.

You wondered if your melancholy showed through, if you might as well have had her picture on your desk, some kind of Jessica memorial. But no one mentioned her.

After she graduated, Tim took over her class. She had given him a folder with her old lesson plans and a few pages of notes on legal paper, penned in her loopy script.

Once, after asking whether you had access to her old syllabus, Tim said, “Do you miss Jessica?”

“Yes,” you said. Matter of fact, as though there was nothing more to it. Yes, period. Yes; don’t ask any more questions.

You didn’t look him in the eye, and after a while, he started talking about something else.

 

After seven months with no word from Jessie, you got on the Internet and met Caroline, and pretty soon, your life was no longer pizza boxes and drinking alone. When Caroline visited your office, she would sit in Jessica’s chair.

Eventually, you would have to stop thinking of it as Jessica’s chair.

 

Caroline made you a four-month anniversary card out of markers and construction paper and the next day you wheeled the chair down the hallway.

You pushed it into Tim’s office and said, “Do you have a place for this? I need to get rid of it.”

You did not say, “I need to get rid of it because in my head it belongs to Jessica,” though if anyone would understand, it was probably Tim.

“Cool,” Tim said. And he sat in the chair and rolled it around his office. He pushed his own desk chair out into the hallway, and Jessica’s chair became Tim’s.

 

It was almost like she knew. Like she knew you were finally starting to sort things out.

Just when you had stopped thinking of it as Jessie’s chair, she came back.

You found out when you saw the list of incoming grad students. It was pasted into the bottom of an email that said, “Join us in August for an ice cream social to meet the new Ph.D. students.”

There was her name: Jessica Lyn Painter.

A week later she wrote to you. She copied four other people on the email. Your name was third. I’m coming back! it said.

And then, the next month, she was there.

She was barely away for a year, and then she came back, standing in your office like no time had passed at all, with a fancy engagement ring to boot.

There was the absence of Jessica and then there was her return.

So far, neither of you had said a word. She looked around for her chair and leaned against the wall.

Three Ways to Be Happier Today

1. Ask yourself: will this matter five years from now?

Sometimes, the answer is yes. But sometimes, it’s something that you can easily smooth over. Forget the fight you had with your sister, the invitation that went unanswered, your drama at work.

It is very likely that circumstances will transpire that make the situation that you are currently dwelling on completely irrelevant to your life. The wheel of life will keep spinning, and over time, your positive efforts will likely smooth over the bump in the road you’re currently experiencing.

So, in five years, what you’re upset about right now may not matter. But how does that help you TODAY?

This brings me to point 2.

2. Appreciate the good people and things that are currently in your life.

Take note of the things you love and the things that you have going for you right now. Maybe it’s the beautiful weather and the fact that you can drive with the windows down. It might be a fantastic pet or a roommate who goes out of their way to be kind, a parent who is always there for you, or the really cool person at your job who always makes your life easier.

Or maybe the people in your life are really terrible, but you just read a really great book. (At the top of my list lately? Everyday by David Levithan.)

Is there anything in your life right now that makes you feel like YOU? What is going right?

3. Try something new.

I’m trying to roller skate now. If only you could see me with my roller skates.

I go really slowly, because I don’t want to fall, and I have bright pink knee pads and wrist guards that were designed for little girls. Target doesn’t have any adult knee pads, because apparently adults just don’t learn how to roller skate.

Learning something new — something that you like or something that is a challenge to you — is good, because it takes your attention off of the negative things that you are focusing on. Sure, maybe you suck at the new activity now, but you can see the potential of you getting better. The learning process is a new thing to focus on.

Traveling to new places also counts — just inject some novelty into your life — something to help you see that your situation is changing, and it’s not just going to be more of the same. The situation is in flux, even as you read this.

Want more short, actionable thoughts on living a happier life? Get my weekly(ish) letters: www.kristynchildres.com/free-updates

Feeling unsure about love? This one’s for you.

I thought I was a poet in college. I remember sitting in my poetry teacher’s office during office hours. We were supposed to talk about my poetry (some of it was pretty bad), but I really wanted to ask her some questions. I would have said something like this:

When did you fall in love, and how did you know when you did?

I was really curious, but I didn’t say anything, because it was office hours, and who was I to be getting all personal?

And so, I continued to wonder, until I arrived (years later, stumbling and scraped) at my own happy future.

So, here we are. And maybe you are just like I was. Maybe you have been feeling pretty desolate about your love life, and you’ve wondered if it’s going to work out.

It will. If you have been wanting a person to tell you it will all turn out well, then that person is me. Thing worked out just fine for me, even though I was quite convinced that they wouldn’t, and I believe that they can work out just as well for you. So, here is my advice for you, right where you are.

  1. The first thing, I think, is to realize that we don’t know everything. We don’t know everything, and the world is so big that we can’t possibly have a concept of the bigger picture.

    There are 7 billion people in the world, which means that the bigger picture is way bigger than we are. Sometimes it’s important to trust that things are working out for your benefit, and the benefit of everyone involved (past/present/future).

    This means: you can say something embarrassing in a text message or in person, and things still might work out in your favor. You can mess things up endlessly. But you still might end up somewhere good.

  2. Check yourself. Are you still mentally in middle school? So often, I think that our self esteem is frozen back in middle school. If, like me, your middle school social experience was shaky, at best, then you might have some work to do in that area. The little person who didn’t fit in all that well back then has grown into a big person who is doing just fine on his or her own. But sometimes, you might forget that.

    However, if you can believe that it is in the realm of possibility that somewhere out there might exist someone cool, with whom you might fall in love, then that is the first step.

    Because if your mind can conceive that that might be possible, then you’ll be a bit less likely to behave in a way that reflects some sort of weird inner belief like, “No one could possibly love me, and if you do, something must be wrong with you.” Basically, you’ll be less likely to mess it up.

So, first, realize that the bigger picture is WAY BIGGER THAN YOU, and there may be a very happy future heading your way. It’s in the realm of possibility. And then, check in with yourself: are you still hanging out in middle school, or operating from some other past place of romantic and social woe? And if so, how can you get back into the present?