Hello, Sorry, and Come On Over!

Hello, my dear old friends!

Please accept my sincerest apologies if you received notification that I published several new articles today. I logged in for nostalgia’s sake and received notification that I had published 116 new articles. (Please tell me you didn’t receive 100 separate emails!) Oops! So embarrassing. I still have no idea what I did.

I came here to apologize…profusely.

But, since the reason I was putzing around in the first place was for a smile and some inspiration, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to instead say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for your friendship, support, advice, and encouragement over my time here. Thank you for opening your minds and sharing your thoughts. It’s truly one of the highlights of my life.

I abandoned the blog because I felt like I was acting too much like an angsty, heart-on-their-sleeve teenager who couldn’t keep her feelings in check. I felt like I was unraveling, all while inviting the possibility of criticism. In short, I got lost in my head and was then too stubborn to admit it.

In the time since, I’ve been exceptionally well–delving deeper into, and expanding upon the interests of my younger self. As much as I have missed blogging publicly, the return to the old pen and notebook was just what I needed.

Anyways, while I’m here, I’ll share what I’m working on now, for anyone interested. I’ve been transitioning away from social media for five years, but want to recreate the connection with clutter.

Here’s my new blog. I haven’t told anyone about it yet. I don’t exactly know the shape of it yet. I would venture to say it’s still the same me, though slightly wiser and more grounded. It’s quite simple, but it’s my new home and you’re welcome to stop by any time.

Again, sorry for any unsolicited emails. I know it’s been awhile. Hopefully the invitation to come follow the next stage of my blogging life will make up for any inconvenience.

Big hugs from across the inter-webs

-e

 

 

 

Analyfe Has Moved!

I have officially moved this blog to analyfe.com and will no longer be updating the blog here. All previously published posts can now be found on the new site.

Please update your bookmarks accordingly and consider subscribing to the new site–instructions here.

As always, I can still be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for following and I hope to see you soon!

Want to Stay Subscribed to Analyfe? Please Read!

If you see this page, you’re in the right place!

Just under two years ago, I decided it might be fun to try blogging. Try…

It turns out, I actually enjoy writing and connecting with people. It amazes me how a simple idea and a few baby steps beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone propelled me into an entirely different world. A world built on the exploration of ideas, brilliant sparks of inspiration, aimless wanderings, overwhelming excitement, and that impossibly complex task of figuring this life out. When I stand back to consider the ground tread between Point A and Point B, I have to admit: I’m impressed.

I began blogging as a personal challenge, something to push me and amuse me. After several months I began gaining readership–and not not just followers, but incredible people and thought-provoking discussions. Am I providing something worthwhile here? I’m not sure, but perhaps my sincere attempts are shining through.

I feel as if I’m at a cusp–standing in the middle a tightrope, where moving forward and turning around are equally terrifying. I’ve spent the past few months pacing back and forth between self-hosting this blog and walking away from it. After sorting out the technical back-end, I finally have my self-hosted blog up and, as far as I can tell, functional. Hooray!

If I had to consolidate my blog into a single statement, I would say:

My life is a blank canvas. I see ideas and people and nature and am in awe of the beauty and the potential; through my peripheral, I can see how these different colors could fit into my unique picture. But everything is so amazing that I can’t seem to commit to anything.

That’s a difficult place to be caught, and it’s even more difficult to openly share that experience. However, with wavering uncertainty comes endless possibilities. As much as I feel inclined to cower away or just do something easy–to do what everyone else is doing–I don’t think I can. The next step in my “Just Do Something” plan was to bite the bullet and set up self-hosting, so here I am.

Starting November 1, I’ll be exclusively posting at my very own blog, Analyfe.com (Until then, I will continue to post only here, so people don’t get double notifications.) There’s a link on the new blog’s sidebar where the old subscription link used to be; if you’d like to stay subscribed–and I truly hope that you do want to stay subscribed–please head over and subscribe to analyfe emails or update your rss feed to http://analyfe.com/feed. As always, I can also be found on Twitter and on Facebook.

If you’d like to continue receiving posts from the new analyfe in your WordPress news feed, here’s what to do:

Hover over that “W” in the top left corner, scroll down to “Reader” and click.

Within your “Reader,” click on “Edit List”

Beneath Edit Following, type http://analyfe.com, click “Follow”

You have successfully subscribed to analyfe.com!

 Head over to http://www.analyfe.com/ and let me know what you think and what I could do to improve the site!

I hope to see you soon!

-Erin

Greatness in the Modern Paradigm

“No man is truly great who is great only in his lifetime. The test of greatness is the page of history.”
-William Hazlitt

In the early 19th century, Hazlitt and other social commenters viewed ‘greatness’ as an effortful feat extending far beyond one’s lifespan. Greatness was doing something meaningful without ever seeing its effect.

Fast forward to the present day. Within seconds of takeoff, the space shuttle Endeavour launched itself from Kennedy Space Center to its trending position on Twitter. With the help of news platforms and online sharing, knowledge and valuable resources are at everyone’s fingertips. Modern technology lets us connect in ways not possible 200, or even 20 years ago. With the onset of internet, cell phones, and blogging came new opportunities–what may have previously been a once-in-a-lifetime chance meeting has been made an everyday reality. Those passionately proclaiming their life’s message can now be heard by those beyond their neighborhood. And, if the message is worth hearing, it will trickle down through networks of relevance with ever-increasing rapidity.

Can it still be said that greatness cannot recognized during one’s lifetime?

Those labeled ‘great’ are seen as leaders in their field, and individuals who have achieved some level of importance or distinction. The great are notably good at what they do and are well-known by those who care about the work being done. During the Second World War, the name Enrico Fermi was recognized by nearly every chemist, but few outside the field. Today–thanks to history books–he’s know as the developer of the first nuclear reactor and a leader in the Manhattan Project.

With the current transformational shifts in idea-sharing, should the term ‘greatness’ be redefined? How does the modern understanding compare to the concepts of 70 and 200 years ago? Is it possible that modern greatness can be recognized sooner?

The growing use of social media and online platforms is still young, so only the passing of time can provide answers to those questions. However, based on my own experience, I believe that Hazlitt’s perspective is quickly losing relevance. Greatness is not only found in the pages of history, but in the notes of our everyday lives.

With all of our social connections–each of which has been meticulously hand-chosen based on shared interests and potential gains–we recognize ourselves and our values, we see them mirrored back and magnified. We cannot only see greatness instantaneously in every new post, tweet, and presentation; we can also bolster and promote others whom we personally identify as ‘great’ and, in doing so, we can become a part of that excellence.

When someone proclaims that “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.”* or “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”** and we connect with these messages, we become a part of something bigger than ourselves–some overarching humanist mission to save mankind, nestled cozily inside our own favorite little niche.

When these influential individuals also happen to be active on social media networks, you can feel as if you are a part of their important campaign. You can feel as if–even in the tiniest way–you, too, are making a difference. Over the course of my time blogging, I’ve unwittingly backed up countless individuals and causes, which I mention simply because I have personally gained something and hope to pass those benefits along. That article, that song, that senseless yet insidious thought that so affected me, when set out on the public table, could spark a discussion and inspire individual change in others.

As the vehicle for idea transference, might you and I be participating in some facet of greatness? Were you once the link connecting an idea to he who brought the concept to life? Might a statement made in passing have inspired someone to keep on dreaming–could your simple statement have ultimately changed the course of history? What if your impossible “What if…?” were made real? What if your impassioned confusion and strive towards ‘something worth believing in’ paid off in the end–not in the history books, but now.

Businesses no longer take decades to gain footing and mission statements no longer rest beneath piles of dusty old documents. The modern world is a feverish breeding ground for infectious greatness, and that excellence is accessible to everyone. A perfect example of this is Scott Harrison’s charity: water. In just six years, the concept of a charity with full transparency and accountability was transformed from a crazy idea into one of the leading non-profits. In donating, we’re not only helping those in the third world access clean water, making ourselves eligible for a tax deduction, and helping the organizer reach their goals; in donating, we’re joining countless others in an important mission and becoming part of something bigger than ourselves, we are joining in on that ‘shared greatness’.

Never underestimate the influence of the human spirit and never underestimate the potential for greatness that lies within each of us. The modern paradigm of greatness has little to do with historical significance and world-wide recognition. Rather, greatness is defined by the combined efforts of individuals–each working to change their small portion of the world. Amassing those small, individual efforts and tracking their ripples is where future historians will uncover the GREATNESS of our generation. And we live in a time where it is easier than ever to be a part of that dense and deeply rooted modern greatness.

Want to be a part of the shared greatness? Consider contributing to my charity: water birthday campaign. 

*quote by Chris Guillebeau

**quote by Brené Brown

At Arm’s Length

I don’t bite, but please don’t come any closer. (Taken by my best friend for her B&W Photography 101 Class)

When I first meet someone, I tend to keep my mouth shut and smile.

Talking to an old friend over coffee is nice. I just listen intently and nod as they share their stories.

When I talk to acquaintances or exchange emails with my blog readers, I hear time and time again,

You’re so honest and genuine, yet…I feel like you’re holding back.

And when I go on to ask what I should do differently,

Let us get to know the real Erin. What is a typical day like for you? What makes you come alive? What do you do when you’re not writing?

My initial response is usually a slightly defensive sigh and perhaps an eye roll. Then I pause and wonder, Do I really come across as aloof? The fact that the same critique continues to come up–both in real life and within the realm of blogging–makes me believe that maybe I am suppressing and concealing parts of who I am. A pocketful of bright confetti strips, stuffed into the dark depths of my favorite jeans, secretly longing for the freedom to carelessly flail about in the wind.

For years, I’ve been picking at the outer seams, cautiously tucking my colorful idiosyncrasies further and further from view. For years, I’ve been attempting to understand how it is that I can be seen as authentic and relatable, yet simultaneously apprehensive and unfeeling. Somehow both a mass of charged energy and a complete enigma.

I think I compartmentalize topics into safe zones while sectioning off others with caution tape. Make yourself at home in the living room, but don’t you dare peek into my son’s filthy bedroom! I’ve always been good at analytic problem-solving, so I want to talk about about how to optimize your work space because I can actually help; I absolutely love yoga, but I’ve only been practicing for a year, so I don’t feel I’m experienced enough to offer any helpful insights. It feels as if some doors have been swung wide open and others are dead-bolted shut, without my realizing it and against my will.

I recently met up with my cousin for dinner. He’s five years older than me, so he has always been like a big brother. There has always been lots of teasing and he has always been my strongest role model and mentor. Though we’re different in nearly every way imaginable, he never fails to give me a new perspective. It’s the kind of relationship money could never buy. 

A year ago, the two of us drove together on a road trip to California, and at one point he asked me, “If you could be anywhere right now, doing anything….what would it be? It was a tough question for me, and I never ended up offering an answer. I still don’t have an answer, in all honesty. Even if I did, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel sharing it. My dreams seem fluid and fleeting, a string of unrelated and contradictory hopes and longings.

In talking to to my cousin over sushi, I shared some of the things I hope to do in the next several years. He smirked and replied, “I can’t see you doing any of that. Really think about it… Can you?” Yes…I mean…I don’t know. He made me question myself, which was slightly perturbing. But worse yet, he was convinced that 1) I won’t go back to school, 2) that I’ll jump at the first chance to move across the country or across the world, 3) and that if I meet the “right guy,” I’ll be as good as gone. I was completely taken aback. Is he projecting his own life onto me? Does he know something I don’t? Or does one of the people I’m most honest an open with see me in a completely different light than I see myself–a completely different version of “me” than I’m trying to convey? It was an eye-opening evening for me, though I still haven’t figured out exactly what it is that I’m supposed to be seeing…

I don’t have my life together, and I often beat myself up over that. I can’t decide what book to read next, let alone what I want to do with my life. I try to do everything, I give up on everything, and then suffer asphyxiating panic attacks because I’m not doing anything. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m highly allergic to peanuts and if any of you have food allergies, it’s that feeling. For everyone else, I’d describe it as an external crushing paired with an internal swarming and swelling. I sometimes feel like I’m dying, just because my ducks are out enjoying the water, rather than lining up at my feet.

No one has their life together. I am fully aware of this. Yet, I still set unrealistically high standards for myself. I still, somehow, expect myself to do it ALL and to continually function at 110%. Cue Friend #1 to walk up, slap me, and then give me a hug and tell me to lighten up.

Sometimes I get so scared of failure and not being enough that I bury those insecurities and then decorate that unstable little sand castle with my shiny and ornate superfluous parts.  The things we do, the ways in which we attempt to compensate for and hide our perceived shortcomings are pernicious. A subtle and insidious erosion that, with time, can begin to seem normal.

I recently read (and heavily marked up) Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. The subtitle —How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead–says it all. Being vulnerable requires courage. And being vulnerable can positively transform how we go about our lives and how we interact with others.

Vulnerability has always been a struggle for me. I don’t feel comfortable speaking up, standing up for others, or revealing things that could potentially be turned against me. I’ll do any of these uncomfortable things when I feel that the gains outweigh the risks, but that’s admittedly not very often. Though I don’t understand that aloofness that seems to permeate my presence, on some level, I do. It manifests itself as a heaviness, anxiety, and sense of inadequacy. When I want to say something and then think better of it, I can physically feel the knots and the lumps growing in my. My pockets are bulging with multitudes of mylar, but there’s something unsettling about being the only one in a austere room tossing up confetti for no better reason than to just release it into the world.

Alright, Erin, so you’ve taken all of these classes and read dozens of books on the psychology of  happiness and well-being. You’ve studied interpersonal relationships, vulnerability, uncertainty, cognition, and more. Shouldn’t you understand how to stop fending off friends by now? Don’t you know how to change? Hypothetically, an exuberant YES! In practice, it’s a bit more complex, simply because vulnerability requires habituating a practice. It takes time and a continued effort to break out of our comfort zones and explore new (and potentially better) territories. When you put up walls, you’re not protecting yourself from getting hurt; you’re isolating yourself from people who actually care and shutting out countless magnificent opportunities. Just out of reach is the worst place to be, the worst place to hold someone else.

Vulnerability is something that I need to work on. I just need to figure out where to begin.

Daring Greatly Review + Giveaway

What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough? What will people think of me? We’ve all probed these and similar questions. Each of us, at one time or another, has doubted our abilities. No one is perfect and bulletproof is a myth, yet everyone occasionally trips over these instances of fear and insecurity.

In her many years of researching connection, psychologist and storyteller, Brené Brown has spent much time exploring the topics of vulnerability and shame, as well as examining how these emotions affect our relationships. In her latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown shares her research findings, fearlessly exposes her personal story, offers a guided journey towards understanding the driving forces behind out behaviors and–most importantly–encourages each of us to reclaim our lives and fearlessly reopen our hearts.

“Connection is why we’re here. We’re hardwired to connect with others and it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Though we’re inherently driven towards connection, over time society has driven a wedge between our natural inclinations and societal exceptions. The structure of our cultures, families, and organizations choke that desire for openness and vulnerability in well-intentioned, yet devastating attempts to preserve order. We construct complex means of navigating through life while keeping everyone at a safe distance and forever fixating our eyes on the exit sign. We want to experience others’ vulnerability while keeping our own secrets and insecurities close to the chest. I can completely relate to Brown when she states, “along with my fear of vulnerability, I also inherited a huge heart and ready empathy.” That dichotomous combination makes day-to-day life excruciatingly difficult, at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Vulnerability is at the core of our most difficult emotions–fear, disappointment, and grief–but it is also the wellspring of love, belonging, joy, empathy, and creativity. It involves both an openness to positive experiences and an acceptance of the potentially heart-breaking risks. Likened to a tightrope, vulnerability is that trembling midpoint where moving forward and turning back are equally terrifying, and standing still is an entirely unstable option. With that knowledge, why would we ever do anything other than move forward?

As the title suggest, Daring Greatly is broken down into multiple sections. The implications of Brown’s research and observations are applied to all areas of life, from self-growth and relationships to parenting and leadership. The insights offered in the book are thought-provoking and invaluable.

What drives our fear of being vulnerable? Are we building walls around ourselves as a defense against vulnerability? What is the price we pay by shutting down and disengaging? How can we learn to embrace our vulnerability and begin to transform the ways in which we live, love, parent, and lead?

We live in a culture of scarcity. Nothing ever seems to be “enough” and we’re continually striving for more money, more power, and more material possessions  Maybe, beneath all those superficial “wants,” what we truly long for is love and acceptance. Remove that maybe, because research has shown that it is connection, not possessions that bring us true and lasting joy.

We live in a culture of shame. We compare our lives, our relationships, our children, and our teams to those around us and then question our own technique, our own worthiness. We’ve forgotten how to trust our intuition and we’ve lost sight of our unique strengths and perspectives. To complicate things further, men and women experience shame differently–women struggle with physical beauty and motherhood, whereas men worry about being perceived as weak. We all cause ourselves unnecessary pain when we shut down or lash out due to fear, pain, and that all-too-familiar insidious sense of inadequacy. An important lesson highlighted in the book is to pay attention to how we act while in this state of shame and fear. The worst crime we can against a loved one is to shame them–even after an apology, the damage is irreparable because we’ve shown them our willingness to use confidential information as a weapon.

The concept of perfection is seductive. Yet, perfection does not exist in the world, as we know it. Instead, vulnerability lies at the core of human experience. It’s through vulnerability that we learn about and experience courage, compassion, and human connection. Vulnerability is also a prime catalyst for innovation and change.

In interviewing numerous individuals over the years, Brown realized that vulnerability is never an effortless pursuit, but rather it is often a daily struggle to become comfortable with one’s power and gifts. Each day is a new opportunity to remind ourselves that we are worthy, that we are enough. We don’t have to be “perfect,” but we should strive towards engagement in all that we do, and we should commit ourselves to finding some alignment between our personal values and our actions. 

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to  wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to be at night thinking, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Having majored in psychology, I’ve developed a post-collegiate fondness for psychology and personal-development books. Under that broad umbrella of admiration sit many prominent researchers. Brené Brown is the one standing tall, smiling, and shamelessly singing along to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. After viewing her TEDx talk on vulnerability, reading The Gifts of Imperfection, and singing along with her at World Domination Summit 2012, I  did not hesitate to pre-order Daring Greatly as soon as it was announced. The book far exceeded all expectations.

Does the book sound like you something you may be interested in? As luck would have it, I was offered by the publisher an additional copy to give away. You read that correctly–you could win a free copy of this wonderful book!

Daring Greatly Giveaway

What can I win? Enter to win a free copy of Brené Brown new release, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I have one book to offer, so there will thus be one winner.

When does the contest run? The contest will run now through Saturday, October 13th at midnight (MST). 

How can I enter? In the comments below, answer the following question: What’s worth doing even if I fail? (You’re welcome to share other thoughts, as well.)

Can I earn additional entries? Yes, you can! Like analyfe’s Facebook page, post a tweet  about the giveaway @analyfe and then leave a comment saying you’ve done so.

Are there any restrictions? The contest is limited to residents of the continental US.

How will the winner be chosen? The winner will be chosen at random, and each entry will be counted separately.

What if I don’t win? Daring Greatly is a wonderful book, so consider investing in your and buying or borrowing a copy.

*I’m still in the process of transferring the blog from analyfe.wordpress.com to analyfe.com, so to avoid confusion I’ll be accepting entries on both sites, though I’d prefer the former (turquoise header)*

When the Movie is Better Than the Book

It doesn’t happen often, but now and then a movie is released with the side-note: based on the acclaimed novel. That’s generally not a good thing. However, there are exceptions. The films Fight Club, Atonement, The Lovely Bones, and possibly the Harry Potter series live up to their paperback predecessors, in my humble opinion. As of Friday, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was added to that list.

I first read the book in 1999 when it was first released, and reread it again last year. Though many of the topics went over my head as a kid, I really connected with the story–that feeling of never fitting in, and then finding a group of people with whom you can be yourself, and those experiences in which you feel infinite and alive.

The film version of the story features Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller. Now, thirteen years after publication of the book, its author, Stephen Chbosky, has helped his vision come full circle. Chbosky took the liberty of writing the screenplay, choosing the cast, and directing the movie himself. Since he had full control, Chbosky was able to create a mirror image, moving picture of his novel. The scenes, details, and emotions were all spot on, which made the story even more powerful.

I’ll eagerly read a book if the movie has a stellar plot, but I have hard time seeing movies based on books. I loved The Hunger Games series, and though my sister owns the movie, I haven’t watched it, as I’m worried the movie will ruin the story. Just seeing the trailer triggered thoughts like, “That is not at all how I envisioned it…”

Though I was wary of the movie featuring such well-known actors, at a local book signing Chbosky made an interesting point. Logan Lerman and Emma Watson were both child actor–their lives have been filled with the same socially awkward, don’t quite fit in sentiments as the characters in the book. Thus, it was easy for them to take on the roles of those teenage misfits. For nearly two hours, I forgot that they were famous. They were just Charlie, Sam, and Patrick.

If you happened to have read and enjoyed the book, I would highly recommend the movie. If not, perhaps check out the plot and reviews and then pick up the book in honor of National Banned Books Week or check out the movie some evening when indecision and boredom kick in.

What is your opinion of movies based on books? Do any stand out in your mind as prime examples of either engenderment or butchering of the story?

Real, Relevant, and Loved

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

-Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

My beloved childhood “Velveteen Rabbit”

I loved my stuffed animals as a child. Is there a word stronger than love to convey a shy an imaginative little girl’s attachment to her bedroom menagerie? To describe the light in her eyes and the eager grin on her lips as she wanders through the endless stories filling her towering bookcase?

Mirroring the emotions of these make-believe, yet oh-so-real friends can truly set a child to light. In youth, we never see ourselves as puppeteers or as or teachers; rather we’re brothers, sisters, and friends. When one-on-one with their most special inanimate companions, children don’t chide and criticize. They simply love. In the most pure and natural way possible. As if there were no other choice.

Despite all the new toys–plastic figures, bratty dolls, video games, and more–that favorite stuffed animal always remains relevant. The comfort of a hand held throughout your doctor’s appointment, while lost in the department store, and on the first day of kindergarten will never be forgotten. It’s impossible to discount the adventures of youth: of tree climbing, playing make-believe school behind the sofa, and that one summer where you crossed the state line with your family and stuck your little friend’s head out the window so he could see the ocean better and bask in the warm sunlight and cool breeze.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite stories as a child, and though I liked the book, my memories of watching my bulky VHS tape are far more vivid. There was something poignant there, something deeply affective, though I didn’t understand what until I was a bit older. I would hug my own bunny as I watched the little boy love his, and I held my little rabbit even more tightly when the boy had his taken away due to illness. Overwhelmed by crushing sadness, I fought back tears as the boy’s beloved friend was stolen away and tossed into the “burn pile” out back. And then hope was revived when the real bunnies came and taught the Velveteen Rabbit that he could hop, and showed him that he, too, was real.

I cannot read this book without a lump developing in my throat. The Velveteen Rabbit–and so many other children’s books–instantly send me back to the simpler days when the love of a stuffed animal was the greatest thing in the whole wide world.

I believe that somewhere deep inside each of us remains that small child who still loves running barefoot through the dew-dusted grass, sorting out M&Ms by color and creating patterns before consumption, and those unreal fairy tales (but what if…?) Though so many of us claim to be caught up in the busyness of living, I’d guess most of us are still drawn to those simple stories of beauty, wonder, and love. The stories are all around us, they really are. The important stories, your stories. Though we can’t turn back time, we can still strive to love and accept love, to fully trust that embracing our authentic selves will lead to beauty and belonging, and to simply be open to that not-so-far-off possibility of truly becoming real.

What I Wish I’d Known Leading Up to Graduation

When people learn I have a blog and ask the topic, I never have an answer. However, seeing as my two years of blogging have coincided with the period leading up and following college graduation, those trials and victories were bound to become recurring themes. The internal debate over what to do next, attempts at discerning how to find fulfillment while curbing disappointments, and simply figuring out what I truly have to offer this world fill my every day.

Over the past few years I’ve learned, realized, and encountered several things that have helped me transition from the rigid world of academia to the unpredictable “real world.” Some things I figured out early on and others have occurred to me more recently. Many are practical, while others embody a more avant-garde approach to living. Hopefully, bits  will prove beneficial on your path from self-contained university to the vast and mysterious universe. Perhaps some ideas can even be extended beyond the floundering twenties.

  • Graduation should not be the end of your education, but rather the beginning. Learn a new language, read a book that interests you, travel, attend cultural events, take classes, and talk to new people. Explore your interests. Try that thing you’ve always wanted to try. Incorporate novelty into each day and accept each opportunity to experience something for the first time.
  • Know thyself. Ask yourself the big questions. Know what you need to be happy in a job—whether it be money, freedom, structure, praise, or a worthy cause. Be completely honest with yourself and don’t settle for less. Take personality tests, evaluate your interests, read What Color is Your Parachute? or seek guidance from those who know you best. Understand what you’re looking for and what you have to offer, so you can build a more productive and less frustrating job search.
  • Relationships are key. I’ve grown sick of hearing how important networking is, but there’s a reason we hear it so often. Let everyone know that you’re looking for work, and specify what kind of work, because your people know other people. Smile and be genuinely interested when talking to people—simply acting interested doesn’t work. Say thank you and send handwritten thank yous after interviews. Don’t network for the sake of networking; instead, build lasting connections. Help others however you’re able, and perhaps one day they’ll be able to return the favor.
  • Invest in at least one professional outfit. Competition for jobs and internships is high, so the little things count more than ever. Appearing neat, put together, and professional will give the impression that your work ethic and disposition mirror those qualities.
  • Have confidence. Regardless of where you are and what life is throwing your way, you have a completely unique perspective to offer the world. Your background and experiences have shaped you, so never take your past or your compounded knowledge for granted. Maybe you’re not what Companies A, B, and C are looking for, but you could be the perfect match for Company Z, so don’t lose hope.
  • Be persistent. I began researching jobs and contacting potential employers eight months before graduating. In the 22 months to follow, I applied for over 300 jobs, attended dozens of networking events, and had around twenty face-to-face, phone, and Skype interviews. I earned money dog-sitting, babysitting, freelance writing and editing, helping out at a convention, and taking a minimum wage job. Do what it takes to get by, but keep your eyes on the stars.
  • If you don’t get a full-time job right away, don’t take it personally. You’re bright, educated, motivated…and unemployed. We all graduated hoping to be the exception, but few will actually end up in a great job right away. Don’t be ashamed to take a job that’s “beneath you.” Any job is a good job. Minimal income is better than no income. Irrelevant experience is still a learning experience. Don’t get discouraged.
  • Give yourself a break. Take time to relax and have fun. You can afford to spend an hour or two a day exercising, reading, or doing something that truly brings you to life. A boost in morale often leads to increased productivity.
  • Stay upbeat. Smile. Laugh. Spend time with friends. Let yourself get excited about the baby steps towards bigger opportunities. Don’t bank on your upcoming interview, but be proud of yourself for landing it.
  • Authenticity, sincerity, and humility always win. Not necessarily in the short-term but, ultimately, being the truest version of your self is where you’ll find success. People like to be around good people. It took me some time to find a “real” full-time job, but because of my disposition and work ethic, my employer quickly entrusted me with new responsibilities and granted me new opportunities for learning and personal growth
  • Live below your means. If you’re used to living on a part-time income, keep living that lifestyle and stow away the extra cash when you start working full-time. Just because you can afford the down payment on that brand new car, that doesn’t mean you can afford the car. As young people in a wavering economy, I believe it’s vital for us to focus on saving and investing for the future as soon as possible.
  • If you plan on applying to graduate school, start early. Most applications are due between December and February and include letters of recommendation, personal statements, and much preparation and time. The same thing goes for internships and jobs. Get moving early. You might be able to pull off writing a paper the night before it’s due, but the same does not go for application processes.
  • Don’t discount internships and temp-to-hire agencies. Oftentimes, working without pay or for less than you feel you deserve is worth the opportunity to get your foot in the door somewhere and prove yourself to be a good employee.
  • Be open-minded. You’re not limited to jobs within your field. You’re not guaranteed a job that actually requires a degree. You might not fall into traditional employment, but rather feel inspired to start a business or a project with potential. If you need living money, don’t limit your options for obtaining income. (Though I wouldn’t advise anything illegal or unethical.)
  • Your degree is no substitute for on-the-job experience. Prove yourself. Work hard and do your best, even on the most menial task. Add value to whatever you do and leave a good impression on everyone you interact with. 
  • Stand out from the crowd. Do something different and admirable. Find something bigger than you, and become a passionate, committed servant of whatever that cause or endeavor may be. Explore your interests and think up practical, innovative applications. Work for free—it’s experience, which can pay off later.
  • No one has it all figured out. It’s okay to feel lost and confused. You’re not alone. 
  • Busyness is not the same thing as productivity. Reassess your priorities and make sure that—at the end of the day—your “to-do” list has become your “done” list, rather than tomorrow’s to-do list. If something is important to you, take care of it now.
  • Stop worrying and over-analyzing things. Life is uncertain and everyone makes mistakes, but things will work out. Relax and keep on living. Worrying and living in the past is counterproductive and only perpetuates the negativity and worry.
  • Forge your own path. Be true to yourself. Be aware of your needs. Don’t worry about what other people think or say. Never stop dreaming.
  • Be vaguely aware of popular culture. If you’ve never seen The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, or Grey’s Anatomy, people might think you’re strange. If you don’t have an iPhone, strong political opinion, or a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, than you’re behind the times. Pop culture knowledge seems to be an essential ingredient in workplace friendships. 
  • Life without balance has costs. Know your limits and stop accepting projects you can’t handle or that don’t interest you. Make sure that you’re eating well, exercising, and taking care of yourself. Stay in touch with your family and maintain friendships with those closest to you. Practice spirituality, if that’s important to you. Engage in your favorite hobbies and allow yourself to get lost in the moment.

Ten years from now, you’ll likely be in a far different career than you could have ever imagined. Circumstances change and new opportunities arise. Being young and naïve to the inner-workings of reality, most graduates enter the workforce with a set idea in their head about where their career path will lead. The important thing is not to land that elusive dream job, but to learn from every new opportunity that comes your way while embracing challenges and continually developing personally.

What advice would you share with recent and soon-to-be graduates?

Accepting Challenges

At the end of my junior year of high school, my AP American Literature class had a special visitor: the senior English teacher from downstairs. Along with the regular English classes, she would be offering dual-enrollment and a combination AP/dual-enrollment class. I looked over the syllabus. I looked up and glanced around the classroom.

No one looked as intimidated as I felt.

I hesitantly scrawled my name on the interest sheet and spent the rest of the day walking around aimlessly as I stared down at the thick ink saturating the longest syllabus I’d ever seen. To actually be enrolled in the class, we were required to “think about it” and then turn in a signed copy of that daunting requirements sheet. I can’t do this, I repeated over and over to myself. I can’t read that many books. Writing analytical essays is tough and I don’t want to do that every week. Class discussions are the worst and that’s what this will entail. No, I decided, I couldn’t do it.

So, I never turned in my signed syllabus.

Summer began and my angst quickly melted away. My senior year would be easy: a few dual-enrollment classes and a few AP classes, but no AP slash dual-enrollment classes. I was slightly disappointed with myself, but also relived. Deep down I wondered if maybe I could have handled the class. But it didn’t matter. The deadline had already passed.

A few weeks before school began, I received my class schedule in the mail. Everything looked wonderful, except…that terrifying monstrosity which I’d quietly tiptoed past had found me. I had been signed up for the most difficult class of all time. I debated whether or not to fly into my guidance counselor’s office hyper-ventilating and demand to be placed in an easier class.

I don’t recall whether it was a boost of confidence or my non-confrontational disposition, but I didn’t say anything. I showed up where I was scheduled to be on that first day of my senior year and held my breath as the teacher went over the class requirements once more. I can do this, I began telling myself. I love reading. I’ve always been a strong writer. I’m intelligent and motivated. Not only can I handle this, I am going to excel.

I put a full effort into that class, simply to prove to myself that I could do it. After Frankenstein, Crime and Punishment, One Hundred Years of Solitude and a dozen or so other books… After countless hours spent pounding through essays and analyses, both in class and at home… After being called on to share answers I didn’t have, or worse, ones I did… After accepting constructive criticism on everything I produced… After all of this, throughout all this, I was happy.

I was being challenged, gently pushed to my outer limits and beyond. I was expanding my comfort zone, learning new things, and being engaged in ways I never knew possible. It felt awesome!

Somehow, the most daunting task imaginable turned out to be the best learning experience I could have asked for. Life is full of new opportunities and endless possibilities, if you simply remain open-minded.

Learn to say yes to new opportunities. The scarier the better. Accept challenges with a deep breath and a broad smile. By definition, challenges area going to be difficult, but difficult and impossible are not the same thing. The most challenging experiences tend to ultimately be the most rewarding.

After months of intense training for a marathon, wouldn’t it be incredible to reach the finish line? While dedicating a full month to writing a novel is a huge commitment, wouldn’t it be worth it to emerge from the other end of the dark tunnel with a fictional masterpiece in hand? Though switching career paths is scary, couldn’t doing so lead to more fulfillment and happiness? How can you expect to ever fall in love if the fear of heartbreak is constantly holding you back?

Though the risks involved can be terrifying, accepting new challenges can bring about momentary engagement, external rewards, and intrinsic fulfillment. Doing something for the first time, viewing an old idea from a new perspective, befriending a stranger each require a little extra effort, but the payoff potential is huge.

So, the next time you’re faced with a demanding situation, rather than shy away, give it your all and see what happens. Realize what you are truly capable of when you expand, or completely demolish, your self-imposed outer limits.