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

Advertisements

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.

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.

A Nine-to-Five Daydream

I sit behind a dauntingly large desk. Solid dark wood with a marbled countertop perched just above eye-level. Legal pads, Post-It notes, and pens are scattered neatly. Miscellaneous office supplies are tucked in that unreachable corner, lonely and unnoticed. I’m faced with two monitors, repurposed and thus washed over with pink pixilation. A keyboard, a mouse, a phone: the usual. A smiley face sticker watches over me day in and day out, cheerful despite the fact that I’ve picked away at his edges. He’s starting to grow on me. An office chair on wheels: the highlight of my childhood visits to the office supply store. (Why are in-store spinning chairs so much cooler than the one at home?) Another chair relaxes in the corner, patiently awaiting a visitor. A key, a paper clip, and little else. Glacial temperatures and winter coats. Typical office space.

Beyond my desk is a door, framed by two lanky windows. Beyond the windows, trees, nature. My office backs up to, overlooks the complex courtyard. The foliage is young, but full. I can watch the gentle swaying of the leaves as I swing back and forth in my chair, I can feel the rough and inviting tree bark against my palms as I recall my childhood days of tree-climbing. I can sense the aliveness. I can hear the rustling and the whispering of those heavily ornamented branches. It sounds like rain.

Within an hour, it is. Almost as if the trees are highly accurate weathermen. Each opulent droplet adds vibrancy, brings the complex to life. Everything looks darker as the clouds hang heavy above. Yet, paradoxically, everything feels brighter. The leaves quiver as they’re struck by those invisible spheres that continue to seep down through cracks in an atmospheric ocean. Anvil after anvil comes crashing down on the roof as the thunder booms. From down the hall, I can hear the faint crying of the Foo Fighters: I’m looking to the sky to save me/ Looking for a sign of life…” The soundtrack to my Friday morning.

From the haphazardly flowing vines emerge pillars of light, decorative lighthouses to guide home those forced to work late, those currently trapped in this gloriously gloomy weather. The scene is back-dropped by a subtle adobe-beige wall, nondescript windows. The attempted beatification of urbanity, perhaps?

This is how we experience nature.

This is as close as some people come to failing miserably at cartwheels in the freshly cut grass or laughing hysterically as their favorite outfit is destroyed in an unexpected downpour.

I can now understand why people despise windowless cubicles. That must be the epitome of claustrophobic confinement. In between projects, I stare out the window at the trees and the passersby, and I daydream. Screens and phones and pens are not conductive to dreaming, at least not in my world. When I write at home or at the library, I always must be near a window. Plastic bags carried by the wind and the old man playing chess with his grandson are novel, far more conductive to fleeting creativity and bouts of euphoria than just about anything you’ll discover on Facebook or Twitter.

If we must work indoors, behind office desks for forty hours per week, perhaps having a window is an adequate bridge, a friendly reminder of where you really are: Earth. Below the rubber soles, carpeting, and concrete is earth. Above you and all around you is life-sustaining oxygenated air. Simply reminding yourself that a world larger than “work” exists outside your daily igloo can inject your monotonous routine with a bit more vitality.

We need to take breaks from work to step out into the urban landscape. Spend time at the park, go running, romp through the snow, or just lie in the grass and admire the squid-like clouds inking the sky. Daydream, smile. Travel away from the city whenever possible, even just for a few hours. Travel away from your cubicle, even just for a few minutes. Inhale a lungful of fresh air as deeply as you can. Repeat as necessary.

Work shouldn’t equate to drudgery. Popular belief would suggest that you pursue your interests and your passions to achieve happiness and success. That sounds like wonderful advice, yet well-being and contentment is far more complex that any simple phrase could encapsulate. It’s been suggested that spending time in nature is beneficial on many levels – from stress reduction and mood improvement to positive increased physical health. Drastic life changes can make a difference, yet it’s the everyday routines and habits that truly affect satisfaction in life. It’s the fading polarity, the blurring of fine lines, the building of connections. What you do now influences today, affects yesterday, and impacts the rest of your life.

Maybe taking a few minutes out of your work day to stare outside and daydream is a good place to start.

An urban stab at “natural”

Who Needs a Boyfriend When You’ve Got a 120-Pack of Crayons?

When I started blogging, I would receive a text nearly every morning from one of my good friends essentially saying “Wow, you’re a fantastic writer! How do you do it?” Having that positive motivation early on really helped me stick with blogging. He’s seeing someone now, so he has less time to waste reading my ramblings. However, the other day he texted me “How do you keep from writing negative things every day? Whenever I want to go write something, it is only negative, evil things, like reasons why I hate people. Then I don’t actually post anything because I don’t want to be perceived as mean.” Interesting thought. It admittedly takes effort some days to think of something positive to share, but I think forcing myself to keep it light is beneficial.

This particular conversation coincided quite well with some less-than-desirable comments and my subsequent bitterness, so I’m going to go there, I’m going to write an angry post. Or at least something a tad less cheery than usual.

One my my biggest pet peeves is people asking if I’m single, why I’m single, and why I’m not “putting myself out there.” Unfortunately, in the adult world, relationships are the second most popular topic of conversation, following career. Since there’s nothing going on my world in terms of a career, it feels as if every time I meet someone new or catch up with an old friend I have to present a huge dissertation and then go on to defend it. It’s annoying more than anything else, almost as annoying as people asking if I’m going to psychoananlyze them.

The trait I appreciate most in a person is respect; respect for oneself, the people around them, animals, property, and especially for me. Sadly, it seems to be a quality many people lack and don’t care to work on. I was recently described as “accommodating” – I try to make everyone happy, but I’m often too nice and people take advantage of that. Ask me for a favor and I’ll help to the fullest extent I feel comfortable, say something rude or offensive and after a long and awkward pause I’ll laugh it off or pretend I didn’t hear it. That’s just my nature. But looking back on those instances makes me more upset than anything else. What makes them think it’s okay for them to say that to me, to anyone? Do others let them get away with doing that?

I’m not sure if the comments people are making are becoming more vulgar, if I’ve become more sensitive, or if everything has just piled up and pushed me to the edge; regardless of what’s going on, it’s beginning to wear on my nerves. I’m gradually learning to let things go, but I still think disrespectfulness is the ugliest of traits and one that none of us should have to tolerate.

When people used to ask me why I didn’t date, I would always use school as an excuse – I was focused on doing well academically and I wasn’t too interested in the idea anyways. That was generally an acceptable response. Nowadays, my explanations are more precarious, essentially that I have other priorities I’d rather focus on, that I’m too independent for that, and that I’m not willing to put the time or effort into starting or maintaining a relationship. All of the above are true, but the biggest issue for me is that a lot of guys just aren’t nice. How do you convey that a vast majority of people are selfish, manipulative, and unbelievably disrespectful? How do you do that with out offending anyone or sounding arrogant and pretentious? Sometimes I feel like everyone else must be blind and deaf, voluntarily settling for less than they deserve, or just lucky enough to be surrounded by the cream of the crop.

In a recent response to the “Soo, why aren’t you seeing anyone?” question, I half-joking said “Who needs a boyfriend who you’ve got a 120-pack of crayons?” For once in my life I didn’t think before speaking, I didn’t step back and analyze what on earth a huge box of crayons, the Bentley of coloring utensils, signified. Innocence, imagination, wonder, distraction, freedom, self-sufficiency? It’s silly, but I think it’s the perfect analogy for me because I would prefer all of these traits over those which I currently associate with relationships. Or taken literally, yes, I would choose a few hours alone with a box of crayons and printer paper over dinner and movie with some guy I just met.

A few people have accused me of being juvenile or having Peter Pan syndrome, of not even trying or not giving anyone a chance. As if I hadn’t noticed, I’m continually reminded that I’m not getting any younger, that I’m “too pretty to be single,” and just maybe my standards are a little too high. I disagree with the later – I think lowering standards and settling for less than one innately knows they want or need ultimately leads to disappointment and failed relationships. I’m the type to observe and learn from others’ mistakes; I think I have more insight than a lot of people in my life realize. I’m not hopelessly lost or incompetent, just choosy. Oh, and I do give people a chance, but that “chance” only last as long as the respect does. Once a certain threshold is reached, I have a very low tolerance for inappropriate sexual remarks or sexist comments about how I’m nothing more than a dumb, future-housewife.

I guess that wasn’t too angry, merely a slight build-up of frustration, a simple explanation for everyone wondering “what’s wrong with her?”

I have a natural inclination to seek out the silver lining in any situation. In this case, I want to point out the importance of respect – treat others with respect and demand it in return. Letting something slide is serving as positive enforcement just as strongly as blatant approval of bad behavior. Live your life and let others live theirs; guidance can be beneficial, but so is trust, specifically trusting that the people in your life are doing what they feel is best for themselves. Letting go of the need to control your own life and the lives of the people you love is also a step in the right direction; life is unpredictable and expectations often lead to disappointments.

And because I’m sure I’ll get a few argument that there are good guys out there, I know. I actually have several wonderful friends interested in dating me, but I’m simply not too interested right now. However, my indifference shouldn’t void my argument because the “nice guys” are definitely a minority and respect is something that I need to see more of.

Well, that’s about as personal as I’m ever going to get on here and likely the most negative. So, on a lighter note, why don’t you go pick up some crayons and color?