Everything All At Once

I’m not one to get overwhelmed. I know how to prioritize, how to make sense of the world swirling around me. I know how to take a step back, slow down, and formulate a plan so I can crush anything in my way.

I approach obstacles like a whack-a-mole arcade game, batting down each one as it arises. It’s like a fight scene in a cheesy superhero movie — the hero battles the villains one-by-one until all are incapacitated. But life isn’t like that. It’s not as clean and simplified as an arcade game or a choreographed melee. What happens when multiple moles begin popping up at the same time? Or when a bunch of enemies attack simultaneously?

What happens when everything — the good and the bad — seems to be happening all at once?

It’s funny. Things stay quiet for so long, I sort of get used to the silence. On the career front, on the #sidehustle front, on the romance front — I become accustomed to the lack of movement around me. I’d hate to call it stagnancy because that’s not what it is. Everything around me might be still for a while, but I keep moving, working toward whatever it is I’ve been working toward.

But then the circumstances change. The script flips and suddenly, there’s a girl, there’s a strange dude hitting on me via Facebook Messenger, there’s a slew of strange numbers calling my phone, and there’s a Gmail inbox full of requests for freelance work and responses to job applications.

So I take a step back, thinking, Where did all of this come from? Why now?

The answer is simple, really: There is no answer. There is no single explanation that makes sense. Many describe it as “feast or famine.” When it’s famine, I don’t really think about it. I kind of just brush it off as a rut and say, “Nothing’s comin’ up Ryan.” But when things pick up — especially after such a long silence — it’s hard to ignore. Feast is overwhelming. And for someone who isn’t easily overwhelmed, I find myself choosing my actions very carefully.

There’s only so much Ryan to go around. My energy is finite, so I need to make sure I’m using it in the right places — and on the right people. I don’t want to scare away the girl, I don’t want to lose the clients, I don’t want to miss out on the big job opportunity. (The Facebook creeper, I can do without.) But how do I keep my cool with so many different things going on?

I recently turned down a job at a well-known company. The opportunity seemed too good to be true at first, as many things do. But after taking some time to think it over, I realized it wasn’t worth pursuing at this point. Factoring in all of the elements — more money but non-permanent employment, no benefits or health insurance, no paid vacation days, and a commute that would’ve worn me down after a month — I knew I had to decline the offer. Basically, I’d be working for a Fortune 15 company without any of the perks of working for a Fortune 15 company. (Would look great on the résumé, though.)

I took a step back and made an adult decision, because that’s what you have to do when everything’s happening all at once: Clear your head and focus on one thing at a time. Analyze it from multiple angles without overthinking it, somehow.

I can’t do everything. I can’t make everyone happy. But I can do anything, and I can make myself happy.

I have a lot of interests and hobbies, some of which manifest themselves in side projects. I am most comfortable when I can focus on one project at a time and see it through to completion. When too many things are going on at once, I get stressed because I know I have limited bandwidth. Time is also a dwindling resource. Something eventually has to give.

But I want it all. I want to finish these projects I’ve assigned to myself, while maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in my life. I want to write, exercise, play, strum, laugh, act, edit, watch, listen, do, create. And I want support from friends and loved ones to pursue all of these things, but I know I need to be realistic.

I can’t do everything. I can’t make everyone happy. But I can do anything, and I can make myself happy.

Coming to grips with the fact that I can’t have it all is usually the first step in my process of calming down. For the second step, I have adopted a new motto. When things seem to be getting out of control, I repeat to myself:

It’s fiiiiiiine.

This helps me make light of any situation, lessening the metaphorical weight on my shoulders. When I was younger, I used to take things way too seriously. It got to the point where some of my elementary school teachers mentioned to my mom, “Your son is always so serious.” I try not to overcompensate now, but sometimes I find it hard to take certain situations seriously. This is why my default understanding of circumstances is often that everything will be fiiiiiiine.

And more often than not, it is.