Finding Balance Post-College

Balance is such a subjective concept that it’s hard to know when you’ve found it. What feels balanced for one may not be what being balanced is for another– but we are inevitably influenced by those around us, making it difficult to know what’s right for one person specifically.

I often find myself influenced by people I don’t even know. I see posts with hashtags like #balancedintake and #balancedlife all the time on Instagram (I follow a lot of health/fitness accounts) that make me doubt my own approach to living a #balanced life. It’s so tempting to compare my own happiness and potential to others’, especially with the prominence of social media platforms that perpetuate this feeling of inadequacy.

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Over 40,000 posts with the tag #balancedlife

So, what are some of the different aspects of life that require balance? There’s the work hard/play hard balance. The save money/spend money balance. The be healthy/treat yourself balance. The meet new people/maintain existing relationships balance. The cardio/strength training balance. The focus on the present/plan for the future balance. There are so many things that go into that singular entity of ‘balance,’ sometimes it makes my head spin.

Out of those pairs, the ones I struggle most with are probably the save money/spend money balance, the be healthy/treat yourself balance, and the focus on the present/plan for the future balance.

 

I’ll start with money. Living in New York can be overwhelming sometimes. It’s truly an amazing place and I feel so at home here– from the cozy cafes to the dirty subway platforms marked by frequent rat sightings, I appreciate it all. However, like everything else in life, there is good and bad to living here. I am perpetually in FOMO (fear of missing out) mode. There is always something to do; something to see, eat, drink. There are about 50 restaurants I’ve bookmarked on Yelp that I want to try.

But with what money? I have a job, but I don’t make enough that I can be eating out all the time, doing as I please. I have to make conscientious spending decisions to make sure I stay on top of my finances. I have to weigh priorities– should I go out for dinner  a couple nights this week or should I save that money for a decent hair cut? I need a new pair of boots, but I also want to have a fun New Year’s Eve with friends (which means spending money at a bar since no one’s apartment is big enough to host a party), so I should probably hold off on the boots for now.

I feel like I’m constantly thinking to myself, ok, if I save X amount of money I’ll finally be able to do that thing I’ve been meaning to do. Then I end up spending that money I was putting away on something else, be it food, a race, medical expenses, make up, etc., and I’m back at square one. The balance between living life enjoyably and living life affordably is a continuous battle for me.

 

Then there’s food. Most people would label me a health nut, a fitness freak. I eat healthy because I genuinely like to. I like the taste of vegetables, fruit, and grains, and I’ve gotten to the point where eating candy/junk food kind of grosses me out. I know it might sound uppity and annoying, but I just don’t like unnatural foods the same way I used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I still eat some processed food like cereal (my go-to is Barbara’s Puffs), and I’ll eat pretzels/chips (my favorite chip brand right now is Terra). I also eat chocolate and popcorn nearly everyday, and most days I’ll have a sweeter treat like Trader Joe’s chocolate cat cookies or animal crackers or something. I also always have [vegan] ice cream stocked in my freezer. However, I almost never drink soda or eat super-sugary cereal and other junk food like Doritos or Lays. Granted, being vegan makes it pretty easy to avoid these types of foods, but even in the year or so before I was vegan, which was when I started to exercise/eat more healthy, my want for junk food dwindled.

However, sometimes I think to myself– am I really as healthy as I could be? Is my relationship with food as good as everyone else’s? Sometimes I avoid eating certain foods because I’m afraid of how it’ll make me feel after. The other week I went to a vegan bakery and got a slice of carrot bread instead of something sweeter, like the fudge brownie, because I didn’t want to be worried about my nutrition for the rest of the day. How sad is that? These are the moments that I feel I haven’t reached that ‘balanced’ relationship with food yet.

 

And lastly, there’s time. I’m content with where I’m at in my life right now, but I know I haven’t reached true happiness yet. I have a job in the field I’m most interested in (communications), I have good friends that I can always lean on, I have a good relationship with my family, and I’m living in the city I’ve always dreamed of living in.

However, one thing I’ve realized since graduating college is that without the usual time markers specific to student life– e.g. Homecoming, midterms, finals, winter break– time passes by shockingly quickly. It just flows, going on regardless of whether you notice how much of it has passed. I feel like I only started my job a couple months ago, but in reality I started six months ago. Half a year ago. That really scares me. What if six months from now I look back on the past six months and I’m at the exact same place I’m at now? That is entirely feasible, considering how fast time moves and how easy it is to live the same way everyday.

I want to be able to absorb the present, take each experience as a learning opportunity, and not underappreciate any one moment of my life. But I also want to focus on the future and think about what changes I need to make to be the happiest I can be.

How much time should I be spending thinking about time? This balance is especially difficult to find since it’s not something tangible like money or food. I don’t want to be thinking too much about where I see myself in the next five years and completely neglect the present. However, I have certain life goals that are defined by time– I want to have a clearly defined passion and career path by the time I’m 25, I want to have pursued and established that career by the time I’m 30, and I want to have kids before I’m 35– that make it necessary to think about the future.

I put so much pressure on myself to find happiness that sometimes I feel stuck, like I’m just thinking about it constantly but not making any real progress. Most of what I do, things like writing on this blog, posting pictures on my fitness Instagram, or listening to podcasts, are really just different ways of striving toward the future that I want. They are all ways to better myself in some way. It makes me wonder– am I ever truly in the present? And what is that costing me?

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