Tuesday was my best friend Alicia’s birthday. We’ve known each other for over half our lives, and a more thoughtful, helpful and loyal person I have yet to meet. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression all of her life, she is a vast resource about how to be pro-active for your mental well-being. She has overcome multiple obstacles to become the successful career woman living abroad that she is now. How does she do it? This is what I’ve observed her doing.
A Little Ridiculousness Goes A Long Way
Alicia can be downright silly. She is often silly in public, usually when there is a recording device around. Even at her most stressed-out and anxious, she is often hamming it up and laughing at herself.
And why not? It’s actually been proven that laughter releases endorphins, the same feel-good chemicals that are released during sex and exercise; the same ones that have been shown to ease depression and anxiety symptoms. So by being silly, being able to laugh at herself and help others laugh with her, she’s literally helping to spread good mental health.
Actively Develop Your Personal Agency
Agency is defined as “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.” Simply put, you have agency when you have the ability to get shit done, and get it done the way you want it to be done. You own your choices, and acknowledge you are the ultimate power behind your choices.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially when your brain chemistry, social norms, and people we care about personally are all trying to influence our ability to exercise our own power. I’ve watched Alicia make baby steps towards having agency. I’ve watched Alicia actively set her own personal goals, define who has the ability to influence her choices and in what way, and take steps to define how she gets to her end goal.
I find that watching her develop her own sense of personal agency has allowed me to develop my own. It has not only given me some parameters for how I define what outside influences I let into my decision-making process, but how I approach getting goals in my career and for my personal life accomplished.
Pursue Your Dreams Ruthlessly
Okay, so agency has developed and you now have the power to get shit done. What are you going to do?
For the longest time, Alicia’s big dream was getting into politics and government work. She majored in political science, rocked it as a TA for her university while working on her Master’s, and graduated with honors. While at the same time, her beloved parter-in-crime Joe was working on his own college degree. After visiting Joe’s native New Zealand, they decided that there was more opportunity for them if they moved there.
And they ruthlessly pursued that dream for years — finishing school, acquiring the funding for such a venture, researching jobs for Alicia and Uni programs for Joe, and getting the actual trans-global move underway. It took years of planning, multiple bouts of depression and anxiety for both parties, and once they were there it took another six months to get truly settled. Joe hadn’t lived in the Land of Kiwis since he was a kid and Alicia had never lived outside of the United States. There was significant culture shock. It’s been four years and they are now happily ensconced in Wellington, where they do a lot of really cool activities like stilt walking and akido.
It was glorious to witness and taught me a lot about how much you can accomplish if you really want something. It also taught me that being ruthless doesn’t mean blindly following your dream. You also have to have enough detachment to methodically identify potential obstacles or opportunities, and figure out how best to deal with them. She worked two jobs to save money, he took community college courses and double-checked that they’d transfer into general education credits within the New Zealand system, and asked for whatever help they could get. You do not give up when things get hard, you just find ways to work around it. And sometimes you have to sacrifice short-term contentment to achieve long-term bliss.
Alicia’s taught me a lot of what I know on how to be happy. She’s taught me to be silly, even when I feel Blah, because it’ll make me feel better. She taught me to have agency, and how to actively develop it. She taught me how to be ruthless when pursuing big dreams. I continue to learn from her every day, even thought half a world separates us and the e-mails and Skype sessions are fewer than we’d prefer them. She’s an amazing person, and I’m richer for knowing her.