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Routines Only Get You as Far as You've Been

I’m a person of routine.

Every day in elementary school, I woke up at 7.11 – one because it was a good time to wake up and have a leisurely morning before I left for the bus stop, but also because I thought it was funny to say I woke up at 7.11 (because in second grade humor, there’s something hysterical about the pretend idea of waking up at a gas station).

I placed my green and blue alarm clock across my bedroom so every morning, I was physically standing up to silence it and by that point, I mean, I had to stay awake. I don’t think I knew the snooze button existed until I was on my way out of high school and even then I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t just set the alarm later so your sleep wouldn’t be disrupted every five minutes until you “absolutely had to get up.”

But this is because I am a person of routine.

When I worked at a summer camp after my first-year of college, I bought a plastic sandwich container – to save the environment and the expense of Ziploc bags. Every day at lunch, I sat with my slew of second graders with their Lunchables, GoGurts, and Chips Ahoy while I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, banana, and granola bar. It’s a fairly inexpensive lunch with decent nutritional value. On top of that, I think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one of the most timeless meals.

I usually prefer extra crunchy peanut butter – I just feel like it adds something to the sandwich. I grew up with grape jelly until one day, I realized there was an entire jam aisle outside the purple Smucker’s label. I’m a big fan of Strawberry, at the moment. I still cut my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches diagonally – they taste better that way – and still use a plastic container to carry my lunch.

But this is because I am a person of routine.

I like to work out in the morning. I think there’s nothing better than starting your day with a sunrise run, showering, and then settling into your work with a bowl of granola cereal (or a muffin, if it’s a Friday). Working out in the morning jumps starts your entire day in the best possible way. Plus, you have the entire rest of your day ahead of you to do whatever you like and you don’t have to worry about being too tired or getting too caught up in other work as the day progresses.

Recently, though, I’ve found some benefits in evening workouts. You still get the refreshed workout perk – just a few hours later. You still feel just as motivated and chances are, you’ll still settle into some project or work with a bowl of granola cereal (or mac and cheese, if you’re trying to step up your dinner game). Either way, I still follow a pattern.

But this is because I am a person of routine.

I read an article recently that referenced a scientific study that explained that people would rather have a bad outcome than an unknown one. Of course, we can all verify that. When I first moved to New York and was unsure of whether or not I would get the job, I remember sitting at the library, dully refreshing my email and declaring that, “I don’t even care if I get the job! At this point, I just want them to say no so I can move on with my life!”

Now that is the kind of ridiculous thing you declare out of desperation while some angel beside me throws up a “forgive her, Father. She knows not what she says.”

Of course, I didn’t want to be rejected. Of course, I really wanted the job. But I also wanted a routine. I wanted to know that things were going to work out and be okay. And if they weren’t, I wanted to know that too so I could revert to Plans X, Y, and Z (January was a long month).

But this is because I – like many of you – am a person of routine.

And routine isn’t bad. Routine has given me decently healthy habits and encouraged me to stay active. Routine has forced me to spend 30 minutes each day in foreign language study, something that is really important to my intellectual happiness. And speaking of joy, were it not for my little routines, I wouldn’t have posted my 1,625th day of Happiness and The Smile Project would have never grown into what it is today.

But we aren’t meant to live our entire existence in routines. One of my favorite quotes is by Robin Sharma, author of The Leader Who Had No Title. He says:

“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”

I’m only 21. But have I done this? Up until now, many of my decisions have been made for me – to some extent. Where I was born and then where I grew up was determined by my parents. Where I went to high school was then determined by where I grew up. I chose my place of higher education but still, knew it was something I wanted and therefore was going to do.

I graduated in December 2015 and suddenly the world opened up around me – quite literally as I quickly found myself in Europe, but that’s another story. I graduated and realized that for the first time in 21 years, there were no set expectations. Yes, society expects college graduates to get a job and settle into a role of being a somewhat contributing member to society. But why not fly to Europe?

Why not join the Peace Corps? Why not drive across the country? Why not backpack South America? Why not do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but for some reason have told yourself that it isn’t plausible…or it isn’t the right time…or it doesn’t fit your routine.

I am 21 years old and for the first time in my life faced with a complete, wild, and unknown freedom to decide exactly how I will spend each and every moment from the time my alarm rings at 7.11 until I finally pass out under the covers that night.

Do I really want to spend the next 21 years in the same routine as the first?

Routines are good. Don’t get me wrong. They add stability and, in the case of my peanut butter and jelly lunches, can sometimes save a good deal of money (or time or stress or whatever). But routines also have a habit of limiting us from what we could become.

As a child, I would read books under my blankets by flashlight, long after my parents had told me to go to bed. I tore through pages and chapters and libraries, frantic to be taken on adventures through ink spots and parchment. When one book finished, I moved down my stack to the next, eager to see what the next author had in store for me.

If each year of our life is a book – hell, if each day of our life is a book, do you really want to hide under the covers reading the same page day after day?

Routines are meant to be deferred from. Cities are meant to be explored. Exotic foods are meant to be tasted and maybe sometimes even with the metaphorical grain of salt.

Challenge: Shift something in your timeline this week. Try a new restaurant, workout, or evening activity. And if you really must find yourself at an old favorite diner, order something new off the menu. It’s a small change. But it’s a start.

And that one small change just might become the thing that makes all the difference in your next (insert age here) years.

Love always,


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