the panic before the party

Last Sunday, Allyn and I hosted a book launch party at our new home to celebrate the release of my short story collection, WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS. {You can snag a personalized copy here!}

We’d been planning this party for months. Even before we found our new home, when we weren’t even looking at houses yet but were planning to move when our lease was up, I said to Allyn, “You know what would be cool? What if we had a combination housewarming/book launch party when my book is published?” Allyn immediately agreed it would be cool, but said what would be even better is if we left out the housewarming part and just focused on celebrating my new book. He’s teaching me more and more how to step into my own spotlight rather than feel like I need to dim my light. One of the 846,748 reasons why I love him so much. 🙂

Once we found our house and signed the lease on our new place, planning really began in earnest. We set a date for the party and made an invitation on Facebook. We spread the word to our friends and family. I ordered cute raffle prizes featuring the book cover {coasters, a tote bag, a puzzle} and made bookmarks. We felt hugely motivated to get all of our boxes unpacked, our pictures hung on the walls, and everything organized before the party. {Which, if you’re willing to handle a bit of stress, I would totally recommend — never before have I felt “all moved in” so quickly!}

We planned out the food and the drinks, the seating and the mingling areas. I made a display of my books. Some of our guests volunteered to bring wine; others brought beer; others brought appetizers and veggies and sandwiches. The day of the party, I baked mini pumpkin muffins, set out paper plates and napkins, and organized plastic utensils into cups. I took a shower, dried my hair, carefully applied eyeshadow and mascara.

Everything looked beautiful. Everything was sparkling and clean and ready to go. Everything was exactly the way I had hoped it might be, back when Allyn and I began planning the party a month ago in our crammed-to-the-brim-with-boxes apartment.

I felt that excited, nervous energy that bubbles inside you when you are preparing to embark on something that you have been dreaming about for a very long time. Because this party wasn’t just about this one afternoon. Nor was it just about this new house we had claimed as our home, or about the 178 printed pages between two shiny covers of my published book. It was a party that had been years in the making. A party that, for a long time, I had thought would never come.

I sent out my short story manuscript for six long years before it won the Cypress & Pine Fiction Award from Yellow Flag Press and was accepted for publication. Six years of form rejection slips and crushed spirits and doubt. Six years of dreaming that, one day, I would hold this book in my hands and proudly share it with my friends and family. Six years of stubborn hope that these characters in my imagination were meant to leap into the hearts and minds of other people — that they weren’t just meant to live inside me.

And now, here I was, standing on the threshold of that day I had gazed at on the horizon of my life for so long.

My mother-in-law arrived first, bearing enormous platters of delicious sandwiches. We arranged them on the kitchen table and the island. We uncorked the wine. Then my grandparents arrived, with a cooler full of beer that we put on the back patio. We gave them the tour of the house. They helped themselves to sandwiches. Our dear friends Justin & Fawn arrived with their adorable baby boy, and it was so nice to visit with them in the kitchen, catching up on life. And yet, laughing there in the sunshine, an urgent panic began to rise within me.

What if no one else showed up? What if this party — that I had been dreaming about and working towards for so long — what if it was a total lame disappointment?

Allyn squeezed my hand. The minutes ticked by. The doorbell was silent. My phone beeped with text messages from friends and family members, explaining that they were so sorry but they could no longer make it. My panic gained strength, whispering in my ear like a mean girl in middle school:

This was a stupid idea. You never should have planned this party. You never should have put yourself out there like this. Now everyone is going to feel sorry for you. No one wanted to come to your party and no one cares about your book. You should have just stayed quiet and kept to yourself. Why did you even take this risk?

Panic doesn’t only visit us before we throw a big party. It comes whenever we try something new — when we step out of our comfort zones, launch a new venture, share something that is important to us. It comes when we express excitement about a new opportunity or decide to make a change in our lives — take time off work to travel; sign up for Whole 30; start a side-hustle; pursue a passion project. It comes when we plant our flag in the sand, stand tall in our truth, and say boldly, “This matters to me!” Because in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable. Our high hopes might be crushed. Our beautiful plans might be met with lonely disappointment.

This inner voice of panic was familiar to me. I had felt it before many times in my life, which was actually a blessing because it helped me recognize what was happening. I spoke back to my panic. I talked my nervous heartbeat down from the ledge.

Shhh, shhh, calm down. It’s going to be okay. Look at these people around you. They came a long way to be here with you today. They’re happy for you. They’re proud of you. Focus on savoring these moments with them and loving the hell out of this experience while it is happening. This is precious and special. Right here. Right now. All the rest is just white noise from your ego. Let it go.

I think it is natural to feel that panic-before-the-party in many aspects of our lives. We make a decision focused on all the wonder and magic that might unfold, and then when we’re confronted with the messy reality we feel panicked that maybe we made the wrong decision. But I think that our inner voice of panic is actually a clue that we’re on the right path. That we’re growing.

The truth is, it would be easier to stay safe. To never risk that panic. But I don’t think “easy” is an ingredient in the recipe for a satisfying adventure in this one wild and precious life you have been given.

Another truth: so often, panic is short-sighted. It is focused on the immediate moment and spirals into despair. But so often, even when the reality is messier than you anticipated or there are a few bumps in the road, eventually things level out. You look back and realize that everything turned out even better than you had imagined it would. You are so grateful you made that leap and took that risk and tried that newness on for size. The voice of panic is completely washed away and it is easy to forget that it was ever there… until you plant another flag in the sand and the panic comes to visit again in full force.

I think panic loses its power when we recognize it as part of the process. It is simply part of the journey and we don’t have to listen to it. We can turn our head away and focus on the other voices in our hearts that are cheering us on.

Even if no one else had showed up to my party, it would not have been a disaster. It would have been a lovely intimate gathering with six of my favorite people. But more people did show up. First a slow trickle; then guests arrived all at once. Before I knew it, I looked up from arranging a bowl of fruit salad and realized our kitchen was crammed full of people, talking and eating and enjoying the afternoon. Later, everyone gathered in the living room and I read an excerpt from my book, and then champagne and Martinelli’s were poured and toasts were made. As I gazed around the room so filled with love and support, I felt tears prick my eyes. I kept thinking, This is it. This is it. This is it. 

This is what was waiting on the other side of the shore, during those years I swam through the cold waves of doubt and disappointment, wondering if I would ever reach that land I was striving towards.

This is what was waiting through the moments of panic and fear, uncertainty and envy, hopelessness and frustration.

This is what was waiting. And it was more than worth it.

When you finally do reach the shore — when the train does finally come — the struggle of the journey makes the celebratory champagne taste so much sweeter.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about the questions below that speak to you:

  • When is a time you have felt the “panic before the party” in your life? What did the panic say to you? What actually happened?
  • Write about a time you took a risk, felt doubt, but pushed through to a new opportunity.
  • What is a risk you long to take in your life now? How do you yearn to grow?

mt. whitney wednesday: the descent

Hi everyone! This post is part of my series the Mt. Whitney chronicles, which is comprised of journal entries from when I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, ten years ago. If you missed the earlier post in the series, you can read them here.

mt whitney chronicles

Saturday, July 26, 6:37 p.m.

My legs are aching and shaking. My hiking boots seem made of lead. My shoulders need an hour massage and my neck needs acupuncture treatment. My feet feel like I am walking barefoot on hot blacktop. Every step is a challenge.

And yet I feel wonderful. For now, at least, none of the pain matters. We have made it back down to Whitney Portal, to the beginning – and end – of the trail. Our journey has come full circle. We did it. We really did it!

The descent felt longer than the trip up – even though it was two hours shorter – probably because we didn’t have the anticipation and excitement of going up. My goal was to reach the summit – I didn’t even allow myself to think about the 11 miles I had to hike back down the mountain.

After five hours of hiking down, when we were so close to the end and yet still somehow so far away; when we could see the tiny distant parking lot of Whitney Portal where our car with the nice cushioned seats was waiting for us and it seemed if only we had longer arms we could just reach down through the trees and touch it; when I had been awake for fifteen hours and hiking for eleven, and I just wanted to collapse in the middle of the trail and go to sleep; it was then I started to wish we were finished already.

But the trip down was great in its own way. I tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery, and revel in the feeling of accomplishment.  Before too long we reached the half-mile mark we had hiked to yesterday, and before much longer we could see the path winding down to the parking lot below us.

Striding down that last step of the trail, I felt like an astronaut taking her first step back on Earth after a trip to the moon. I had actually made it to the top of Whitney and back again. And I have pictures for proof! I can’t wait to get the film developed and show my friends. Mom thankfully saved a few shots and a fellow hiker took our picture by the trailhead, and we bought some postcards and souvenir T-shirts from the nearby Mt. Whitney store. Other hikers smiled at us wearily with looks that said, “Congratulations!” and we smiled back, “You too!” Sinking down into the front seat of the car, I had never felt so tired and yet so happy at the same time. Mom said she felt the same way after childbirth.

As we drove away, winding down the narrow road, I looked back through the car window at the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States with the same awe and reverence I felt when I saw it for the first time. It is hard to believe that just a few hours ago, I was up at the top of that mountain. It was like a whole different world, like a dream. A dream that came true.

day before hike day

Sunday, July 27, Early

We said farewell to Lone Pine this morning and arrived back home this afternoon. It was fun driving past mountain after mountain and being able to say, “We climbed higher than that mountain! And that one! And that one!”

I slept for much of the car ride home, even though the first thing I did last night after taking a long, hot shower and wolfing down three slices of extra cheesy pizza was conk out the minute my head hit the pillow. Usually I have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms, but not last night! I guess hiking twenty-two miles is a good cure for insomnia.

It was wonderful to arrive home, with a “CONGRATULATIONS!” banner on the front door and my dad and brother waiting inside. Yet a part of me misses the wild beauty and freedom of the mountains, the quaint little Lone Pine diners, even the John Wayne memorabilia.

I brought down from Mount Whitney’s summit a small granite stone, a keepsake reminder of something less tangible that I also brought with me: a strengthened belief in myself and the confidence I can face my fears and accomplish whatever I set my mind to. It is a lesson I will carry with me, wherever my travels take me next. Even back at sea level, I still feel like I’m on top of the world.

whitney mountains

marvelous monday: guest post by “the sunny girl” Lauren Cook!

I am thrilled to have Lauren Cook as a guest on the blog today! She is a dear friend and an inspiration to me to live life with joy, gratitude and love. Her blog The Sunny Girl: The Brighter Side of Things is a treasure trove of insights and resources to make your daily life happier. Check it out!

She was kind enough to stop by the blog today and share some thoughts on finding happiness through a sense of daily accomplishment. Enjoy! 🙂

There are a few things in life that leave me hard-pressed for happiness. Without a good meal, a good night’s rest, and my daily to-do list, I’m lost at my soul’s sea. I love having direction in my life, both for the big picture and for the seemingly small tasks throughout the day. That’s why nearly every day, without fail, I write a check list for what I need to get done and what I want to get done.

The main reason: I love the feeling of accomplishment. Even getting that little “check” on my list for achieving something as simple as going to the grocery store keeps me on track for the day. I know it sounds silly, even ridiculous, but I think it’s so important to stay goal oriented and focused. If I leave my mind to do as it pleases, I’ll end up watching mindless TV, eating that extra scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Greek yogurt (my new obsession!), and delaying my work for the day. I wouldn’t label myself as a procrastinator, but my life is so much more productive when I’ve planned it out on paper.

I write all about happiness for young adults. I’m working on publishing my first book right now and while this is a huge goal, there are hundreds of small goals embedded within it. Without my daily to-do lists, these goals just seem to float along in my head rather than actualize.

I’m so much happier at the end of the day when I can look back on my list and see that I made an EFFORT. Even if I don’t finish a chapter or if I still have emails to send, knowing that I gave it my best for the day leaves me satisfied yet eager to start the next day.

We all have our own ways of writing to-do lists but here are a few of my Sunny Suggestions:

1. Get a planner you love to look at. You’re going to be using it a lot! No matter how you like to take your notes, whether it’s on your phone or a notebook, make sure it’s convenient to carry and nice to look at. I’m hoping for a Lilly Pulitzer notebook soon—with a notebook that pretty I’ll never want to stop adding things to do!

2. Look at it at least three times throughout the day: If it’s out of sight, it’s all too easily out of mind. Sure, it’s simple to write down the tasks but it’s a whole other thing to keep your eyes on the prize. Make sure you have your notes handy so that you can see how much progress you’re making throughout the day.

3. Make goals out of goals: Some days are busier than others. Some days I know I can’t accomplish even half the items on my to-do list. Still, set a goal for how many goals you’d like to finish that day. And if you meet your goal? Don’t stop there! Set a new one and keep going til that sun goes down!

We all ultimately strive for happiness and I think setting goals is a primary way we work towards that happiness. For me it all starts with a to-do list. Make your visual and present on a daily basis. Don’t leave your list in your mind—get it on paper. It’ll motivate you to put in the extra effort.

I hope you start seeing your goals getting accomplished more than ever and I hope you start living the happiest life you’ve always wanted!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

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