The Strive Towards Interdependence

If asked to describe myself, “independent” would be one of the first words to emerge. Were anyone who knows me well around, you may hear a feigned cough, disguising a subtle and obvious “stubbornly.” I consider myself kind and intelligent, yet I pride myself in my free-thinking and ability to take care of myself.

With all I know and all I’ve discovered, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I know this. Yet the mind often has a difficult time accepting this fact.

Though I pay to fuel up my car, the vehicle technically belongs to me parents; I may pay for my own groceries, but they’re stored in the refrigerator within my parents’ home; I regularly  share my musings on this blog, but they’re little more than the regurgitation and synthesis of others’ ideas; although I enjoy solitude, I rely on my family and friends for companionship and support. In light of these things, can I really call myself independent?

No one is entirely self-sufficient, as much as some may like to believe that to be the case. There are individuals in our lives who provide us with material resources and necessary services, others share their love and concern, and another group may pass along new ideas and inspiration. Those who reject the help of others are depriving themselves of the opportunity for further growth and development. As desirable as independence is seen in modern society, perhaps it’s not quite so idealistic.

This post stemmed from a contemplation on dependence and independence – the transition from to the other, the interplay between the two, as well as the processes of discovering and maintaining a healthy balance halfway. However, as with much writing, new ideas arise through the process and carry the piece in an entirely new direction.  

As babies, we are entirely dependent on our caregivers. Though young children begin asserting their independence through statements like “I’m a big boy” and “I can dress myself,” they still rely on their parents for care, education, transportation. As individuals hit puberty, the sense of omniscience and the need to asseverate their freedom mushrooms. Thinking critically about that particular step, I would venture to say that many people remain trapped in that mindset for most, if not all, of their adult lives; and this over-emphasis on the self can lead to narcissism and consumerism. However, examining the other end of the spectrum, neglecting the self in favor of others can lead to self-doubt and a decline in health. So, it seems the ideal would be to develop a scale on which dependence and independence are equally balanced. But perhaps that’s not entirely the case; maybe there is some unconsidered third variable coming into play, confounding our current thoughts on the topic.

 

About three years ago, I conducted a science experiment for a university biology class. For my project, I collected data and formulated analyses on the symbiotic relationship between ants and cacti in the Sonoran Desert. The ants were simply doing what was necessary to survive, as were the cacti; yet, in the process, the species inadvertently helped one another. Essentially, ants collect a special nectar which is secreted from the glands of the cacti, and in return, the ants deposit nutrients around the cactus (via food scraps, defecation, etc.) and defend the cactus from other insects. My research centered on the question,”Do ants and/or cacti benefit from interaction with one another?” The answer was and overwhelming yes, there does exists a mutually beneficial relationship between the two species.

Recalling this experiment makes me wonder, and ultimately realize that this basic concept can be extrapolated to countless other organisms. This symbiosis exists between clownfish and sea anemone, rhinoceri and oxpeckers, and perhaps even humans and their pet dogs. It is entirely possible that the idea of mutually beneficial relationships can expand beyond, or rather contract in on itself, in order to address interpersonal relations within the human species. Do the actions of one humans benefit another? Is that even a possible or admirable goal?

As I delve deeper into thoughts surrounding the concept of mutually beneficially relationships, I’m beginning to believe that, although both dependence and independence are important within certain contexts, the strive towards interdependence is likely the surest path towards fulfillment, in that one can reap the intrinsic rewards of helping someone else, as well as benefit from the returned support of others. In his ever-popular book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes it well.

“Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greater success.”

I once shared that I believe that ideas are meant to be free, and that ideas are not lost when shared, but rather expanded on and perpetuated. Humans experience a drive to protect that which they feel belongs to them, from their locked car and hidden cash, to their forthcoming novel and yet unpatented idea. But what would happen were we to release that sense of ownership and entitlement? Though, on the individual level, one may not reap the full benefits of selfishly withholding, releasing thoughts and discoveries into the public domain without restraint or stipulation has the overwhelming potential to be further developed and benefit individuals, a society, or the entire human race on far more profound and affective levels.

We each play a difference role and have difference services to offer, but through awareness, authenticity, and the recognition of of social structure, it’s possible to achieve a level of interdependence that ameliorates both on the personal and universal level.

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The Grand Canyon

After living in Arizona for 23 years, it finally happened. I visited the Grand Canyon.

With the world-renown showplace of geological formations and scenic vistas only 250 miles away – practically in my backyard – I could go anytime, and really had no excuse to still sheepishly respond to inquiry with, “Nope, I’ve actually never been.”

The Colorado River, as viewed from Lipan Point.

The images you’ve inevitably seen in books and documentaries don’t do the Canyon justice. Extending for 277 miles and stretching up to 18 miles across, it’s impossible not to be inspired by, and in complete awe of the imposing crack in the earth. Adorned with layer upon layer of multicolored rocks and vegetation, the Canyon is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Though not the largest natural gorge, the colors of the Grand Canyon shift in different lights and the points along the trails provide spectacular views, beyond fathom.

Over time, the Colorado River has carved away at the rocks, exposing walls that extend downwards for a full mile and represent eras throughout the past two billions years. Beyond the innate beauty of the area, it is a minefield of history and knowledge for archaeologists and geologists, as well as visitors who are able to learn from the professionals’ discoveries.

The Rim trail extends approximately 13 miles.

The South Rim is centered around Grand Canyon Village, which houses the hotels, restaurants, stores, and homes of the locals. As luck would have it, my mom knows a couple who work and live in the Canyon and who were able to provide both a convenient place to stay and invaluable insights into what to see and what to do during the stay. I’d have never known the Grand Canyon is the only national park that contains a school (with approximately 100 total students, from kindergarten up through high school). Out of the five million visitors annually, a surprising number of people fall over the edge or experience problems while hiking in the Canyon. Our guides, one of whom is a volunteer EMT, recounted several instances in which people have died along the rim or within the Canyon, whether by accident, suicide, or homicide. (Someone actually fell 600 feet to their death during out two-day visit.)

Desert View Watchtower is a four-story structure erected in 1932 to provide a better view of the Canyon.

After two days of hiking and exploring the Grand Canyon, eating at wonderful restaurants such as the El Tovar and Arizona Room, and seeing a dinner theater performance at The Grand Canyon Dinner Theater, we left via the scenic Desert View Drive, stopping at Lipan Point and Desert View Watchtower to take in the breathtaking views.

Sunset Crater is just one of about 600 mountains with volcanic origins in the San Francisco Volcano Field.

We continued through the Painted Desert to Sunset Crater Volcano, which is comprised of 900-year-old volcanic rocks and ash, sparse vegetation, and a handful of small creatures. We passed through Flagstaff, then took a scenic drive through Sedona on State Route 179, which happens to be one of only 27 roads in the country designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as “All-American Roads” for their remarkable and unique natural and scenic qualities. The city of Sedona is known for its distinctive red buttes and cliffs and lush verdant vegetation, as well as its unique cultural atmosphere.  

Sedona is often referred to as “Red Rock Country.”

When people think of Arizona, they often envision a lifeless expanse of sandy desert. However, this is far from true. Though the lower elevations, such as Phoenix, are filled with cacti, shrubs, and artificially watered non-indigenous flora, the ascent to northern Arizona is flooded with towering buttes, mountainsides painted green with Ponderosa Pines, inactive volcanoes capped with snow, and a pallete of unique new colors.

Whether you live right up the street from the Grand Canyon, or across the globe, it’s an absolutely incredible sight to see and you should certainly make an effort to see it at some point in your life, if the opportunity presents itself.

You Are Not Average

She’s skinnier and more attractive than I am. He has a nicer car. Her child is so well-behaved while mine is a wailing banshee clamped beneath the clothing rack at the department store. That man far more intelligent and charismatic than I will ever be. They’ve really got it good… 

Humans have a natural tendency towards social comparisons. People evaluate themselves by contrasting their own attributes and abilities with those of others. When we look at ourselves, we see every flaw; yet, when we examine others, we tend to notice the positives.

Two weeks ago I took the GRE–a standardize test required for admission to graduate school. I received my scores in the mail yesterday. I looked at where I fell in the percentile ranking and was devastated: average. I scored in the 57th percentile (higher than 57% of test-takers) for Verbal Reasoning, the 39th percentile for Quantitative Reasoning (mathematical word problems), and the 49th percentile for Analytical Writing. I’ve always scored in the 87th-99th percentile on standardized testing–always. What did I do wrong? How did everyone else do so well? I’m never going to get into graduate school with those scores. I guess I’m not that smart after all…

And I caught myself. Seeing this as some kind of failure would not be a good idea.

It’s been found that the most satisfied people are those who see events as circumstantial, rather than inherent and fixed. Doing poorly on a test is the result of lack of preparation, not stupidity. Mediocre scores after months of studying means that, perhaps, one’s true strengths lie elsewhere. Maybe finding other areas in which to excel could help balance the weight of this singular test in the admissions process. Or maybe this can serve as the perfect opportunity to explore other paths of interest.

Whenever I begin slipping, I hear a small voice, “Chin up, kid. It’s not the end of the world.” 

In attempts to control, regulate, and understand, I’ve sketched out a rough outline of my future in permanent marker. Those tangible, yet improbable dreams are distressing. I don’t think trying to pin down some dream, any dream is the answer. When you start planning out your life, you begin to lose track of the present. Hopes and dreams then collapse under the weight of all those unfounded expectations.

I go about life in a very pragmatic way, yet I’m also given to capricious behavior. I love having a stable job with regular hours, but I equally long for the freedom to travel on a whim and live without long-term commitment to anything. It seem to me a bit of a dysfunctional combination.

Is it really, though?

Each of us is unique, strange, beautiful, and paradoxical in our own wonderful way.

Everyone has their strengths, their struggles, and an unrivaled combination of these traits. Thus, each individual has their own special super powers, an entirely novel perspective of the world, and dreams that only they can bring to fruition. Why do we strive for a boxed in average when there’s still so much possibility within ourselves? What is “normal” anyways?

At one month shy of 24, a growing number of my friends are married, engaged, and having kids. Others are in graduate school, starting their own businesses, and traveling the world. Some are lost and confused and trudging through the days and a handful are eternally stuck in the college party mode. Lately, I’ve been looking at individuals and extrapolating to the population–from housewife, to law student, to minimalist world traveler, I can’t help but wonder what my life might be like in any of those situations.

The more I think on it, the more I realize that I don’t want to live someone else’s life. Maybe I want stability, challenge, and adventure. But that doesn’t mean I have to go about it the same way as everyone else.

With our unique personalities, experiences, and dreams, each of us has the opportunity to carve our own special niche in this world. Maybe it’s time we get untangled from societal expectations and unrealistic perceptions and just start living in alignment with our personal dreams and values.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
– Howard Thurman

Whatever I do in life, I want to feel alive. And I want to make a difference. I don’t believe that’s possible while striving to live up to the standard of average or pursuing the conquered and worn out dreams of someone else. Life your life your way.

Averages are for arithmetic. Just because you fall into someone else’s categorical norm that doesn’t mean you can be easily classified, that doesn’t mean that everyone else’s rules apply to you. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by averages, percentiles, and imposed numerical boundaries. Live your life in spite of those numbers. If you want to do something, than go out there and make it happen.

You are not average. Live your life in a way that will prove that.

Entrepreneurship as a Viable Option for Recent Graduates

A year ago today, I was excited. With a college degree in tow, I was ready to take on the world. I would land a secure (if less than ideal) job, move out on my own, buy a big dog, save up money for either graduate school or travel, and everything would fall effortlessly into place.

Well, things don’t always go according to plan. After over 200 job applications, I was finally offered a minimum-wage, part-time job. Though far from ideal, it covers my basic expenses – gas, groceries, insurance, and student loan repayments. Barely.

As I watch the next round of graduates receive their degrees this month, I can’t help but wonder where my peers are today. Some currently employed friends had connections and others just got lucky, but most I’ve talked to are in the same boat as me, either unemployed or underemployed (50% of college graduates under 25 fall into the latter two categories).

Regardless of one’s intelligence, drive, and work ethic, opportunities are increasingly hard to come by. The potential to succeed means nothing, if you’re not given the opportunity to go out there and experiment with your skills.

About a year ago, I wrote about a discussion in my Anthropology class, in which we talked about the economy and human nature, and that conversation will serve as the foundation for this post. A year ago, the economy was no better. While most professors were commending students on their hard work and wishing them the best of luck in securing their dream jobs, one brash middle-aged teacher told it like it was. Though nervous about the prospects, I was among the disillusioned majority, convinced that finding a “real job” would be relatively easy. I’ve since learned that is not true.

“I don’t know where I’ll be job-wise a month, a year, or a decade from now, but I can assure you that I won’t be here writing about how boring my work is nor complaining about how overqualified and underappreciated I am. Being just another minion, maybe no one will take me seriously, but if I’m actively contemplating ways to improve my own work and the practices of the company, I’m surely better off than the bored young man who is counting down the minutes until his shift ends.”

I’ll occasionally go back and read though my backlog of lightly processed thoughts. Oftentimes ideas seem to percolate over time, and things written weeks, months, and years ago make more sense when revisited later. Twelve months ago, I didn’t know what was in store, but I had a skeletal plan – make your work meaningful, even if its not inherently so; put forth your best effort, improve efficiency, and make the most of your situation. Over the past few months, I’ve unconsciously been putting this into practice. I don’t love my job, but I can say that I’m proud of the work I produce and the way that I treat my coworkers. Perhaps that’s as of good a start as any.

“To be human is to problem-solve. To deny people the opportunity to problem-solve and to be creative alienates them and removes some element of their humanity.”

I’m a problem solver. People have always come to me to resolve arguments. I love word problems and logic puzzles. I love actively working towards a solution, regardless of whether the problem is real or whether a solution is actually necessary. I think one of the biggest problems for recent graduates is that they’re being denied the opportunity to implement their problem-solving skills and creativity. Working as a receptionist or waitress is not the type of challenge that most degree holders are seeking. I would venture to say that most unemployed and underemployed college graduates would choose challenging and meaningful work over a high paycheck and good benefits, though a coupling of both would be ideal.

Given circumstances in which someone wants to be challenged and wants for their work to be backed with purpose, within an economic market where that opportunity is not readily granted, what are the options? How does one go about building meaning into monotony and creating new things when there’s no external motivation? I suppose the answers are to do your best, to remain curious, and to pursue your interests. But is that really enough?

I just finished reading The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau, in which he suggests that anyone can start a business with minimal monetary investment. The key is to find some convergence between what you are good at doing and what other people are interested in buying, and to apply your skills and passion to fill an inefficiency in the marketplace.

Perhaps entrepreneurship is the new “safe” career path. Maybe starting up your own (low monetary investment) business is the way to counter a floundering and uninviting job market. Self-employment is a means of making a living while also pursuing your passions, and it just may have more potential for success than society would have us believe.

My mom was self-employed for most of my life. She sold a product she was passionate about, managed a huge team, dealt with all the necessary paperwork, crafted her work schedule around her life, and was wildly successful. Although that business no longer exists, my mother has been a huge inspiration throughout my life. When I grew up, I wanted to have a successful career that was built around my family life, travels, and other priorities. My mom made it work, and made it look easy and exciting.

I know now that running a business it not necessarily easy. However, I’m drawn to concept of controlling the level and type of effort that goes into a project, and then watching the results unfold. I’m curious, innovative, and always experimenting with new ideas. I relish the thought of spending my days working on projects that I actually care about. What if I could be paid to do something I love, as well as control how things are run and change the rules as I please? I want to say that it takes a certain personality to find success through entrepreneurship, but I don’t think that’s true; everyone has some area of interest and expertise, and with the right approach and enthusiasm, anyone could be successful in their own business venture, or at least benefit from the experience.

Although I have no idea where I’d begin; I’m grappling with the idea of working on my own $100 startup microbusiness. I’d like to have money to either attend graduate school or travel the world, and if potential employers think that I’m “not aggressive enough” or “lacking the proper experience,” maybe it’s time for me to go out into the world and create my own opportunities.

Figurative Tree-Climbing

Browsing through the archives, I realized I’ve written a significant amount on relationships, especially considering the fact that I’ve never been a part of one. I’ve addressed everything, from why I don’t date, a list of traits that I look forwhy I don’t need a relationship, and how simple and beautiful love truly is. I’ve always been stubbornly independent and intent on doing things my own way. Life as a “crazy cat lady” always seemed fitting.

Well, life is always moving forward, progressing, developing, unfolding; and perhaps one day you’ll wake up and realize that it’s possible for your hopes to overlap with someone else’s ideals, to discover an arrangement in which you can be both independent and interdependent, to learn how to pursue your own dreams and invite someone else to be a part of that wondrous adventure.

In all the time I spent not dating, I devised an unwritten set of guidelines for myself. Firstly, when the right person comes along, it will feel right. Know is not the right word, as it implies thinking, dissecting, and analyzing. I’d never experienced it before, but I knew that without that feeling I would never be able to commit to someone. If it didn’t feel right, I would be under no obligation to give someone the time of day. When said happy-feelings person comes along, give them a chance for crying out loud! Get to know them, open up, be yourself. Trust your intuition. Don’t let fear hold you back.

I have always been good at following the rules…

So, I recently discovered that that’s about as far as my schema goes. Six months ago, I met someone wonderful, and everything about it felt right, so I got to know him. I’m all about plans, control, and knowing everything I can about any given situation. But I have no plan. Rather than being disconcerted and paranoid (as I’d expect from myself), I feel free, uninhibited, and I am absolutely brimming with anticipation. For once in my life, I’m not hanging on past disappointments, I’m not completely self-conscious and insecure, and I’m not worried about what the future may hold. Each day feels bright and new, and every time I venture into the vast outdoors I can’t help but notice and ponder all of nature’s little intricacies, from the nebulous star-fields to humblest of earthworms.

Bridging the connection between another person seems to emphasize the innate magnetic draw that holds everything together, and highlight the harmonious resonance that resounds in a seemingly chaotic world. And somewhere amidst the burlesque and burdensome can be found so many beautiful and awe-inspiring revelations. Sometimes you need to go out on a limb to grab the apple, to take a few risks to learn what you’re truly capable of achieving.

Apparently the way to my heart is an endless stockpile of trivial facts, a robust and ever-growing vocabulary, a cleverness and wit to match my own, curiosity and a childlike wonder of the world, honesty and authenticity, spontaneity, respect and understanding, a nice balance of sarcasm and goofiness, analysis and deep conversation, nearly identical food preferences, amusing idiosyncrasies, and of course a love of books. No, I’m not describing myself. I seemed to have found my perfect complement, who happens to be more outgoing, more active, and a far better writer than myself. There’s always more to learn and experience, and a bit of guidance and encouragement along the way is certainly helpful.

I don’t particularly like reading about other people’s relationships, so I won’t harp on my own. However, as with my cats and my garden, I like acknowledging those the things that make me happiest in life, so perhaps expect a bit more variety around here.

When You Don’t Know What to Do Next, Buy New Socks

When you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to do next, it’s typically advised to research your options, make a decision, and then jump in without reservation.

Easier said than done.

When I don’t know what to do next or become overwhelmed by the endless options and societal pressures, I buy socks. Although I am fond of the cozy, cotton foot warmers, the premise of that action is that doing something practical gives you back a sense of control. Control, in and of itself, is an illusion. Yet, checking items off a to-do list, signing up for classes, cleaning house, and buying new socks sure do feel good.

At work, I generally have a lot of free time, which I generally spend reading. However, for the past week or so, I’ve just sat for hours at a time thinking about anything and everything, letting the ceaseless interruptions influence and inspire my thoughts. The result is pages of notes, black pen on white printer paper; ideas which seem more reminiscent of a rainbowed chain of colored papers, all distinctly different, yet so intricately linked.

I began with a reflection back on Quiet, in which Susan Cain recalls a gentle and thoughtful lawyer who was surrounded by more aggressive personalities. Despite recognizing her strengths and positive traits, the lawyer compared herself to her colleagues and then questioned her ability to succeed on her chosen path. Ultimately, her honest approach, gentle nature, and passion for her work helped her earn both respect and success in the field.

Which led me to ask, what are factors that lead to success? Not what convention tells us, but what ultimately lies at the heart of personal fulfillment?

Whoever you are, however you are, and whatever you do, it’s important to be honest and truthful with those you work with, as well as yourself. Be passionate, profound, and personal. Make people laugh. Have a solid and flexible vision – don’t change your dreams, but be willing to change your strategies. Be ready to fail, because failure is inevitable and, conveniently, the best way to remain grounded, curious, and humble. Be disciplined and self-motivated. Improvise and innovate. Become an open minded and independent thinker. Help others, have their back, earn their trust. Find your rhythm, build a routine, work like crazy, and give yourself breaks when you need them. Create something worth sharing. Treat people like human beings, not numbers or personal income. Recognize your mistakes, ask yourself what you can learn from them, and move on. Seek out constructive criticism, and make honest feedback a positive experience. Be receptive to new experiences, and find novelty in the mundane and everyday. Face challenges head-on, be resilient, find strength. Be grateful for your experiences, happy in the present moment, and excited about the future. Trust yourself, listen to your heart.

These all seem like great ideas, wonderful launching points, but once again, easier said than done.

I have the tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and get caught up in irrelevant details. When hopeful and engaged, this leads to innovative new ideas and a boost in self-confidence. However, when I feel uncertain or defeated, everything feels wrong and often I let my fear of failure get the best of me. When we become overwhelmed, lose faith in ourselves, or simply don’t know what to do next, I think the key is to take baby steps, to check small tasks off your to-do list, to go buy yourself some practical new socks and set off on your next big adventure. Often one small victory can lead to a succession of others.