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.

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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?

Life is Exciting

When you take a step back a look at the big picture – not just the deep, dark existential stuff, but your own personal life and potential – it’s pretty incredible, like “Wow!” worthy incredible.

I was stressed over nothing and everything the past few weeks, and decided to just let it all go and start working on what I felt inspired to be doing, rather than what I was supposed to be doing. Yesterday, I overheard a woman in the health food store say “Chocolate: the cure-all without co-pay.” Though slightly less delicious, rolling with the punches would also seem to be a cure-all with no hidden fees and consequences. Acceptance and letting go of the idea that everything needs to be perfect may be the most universal solution to petty, everyday problems.

In summation, the past two weeks have been quite epic, and that may even be an understatement. When good things happen, they tend to snowball or, as I would put it, “When it rains, it pours, and here in Arizona we love rain!”

I got a job! Like a real, full-time, requires a degree, professional job. Ahh!! This week and next, I’m working both my old part-time night job and new full-time day job. The 16-hour workday would probably be a nightmare if I didn’t absolutely love my new job and the projects I’m being assigned. I’m working in a field and a department completely unrelated to my degree and experience. On my first day, I was told I had already completed more than my predecessor had in her two weeks in the position; on my second day I received a higher job title; on my third day my boss opened up a discussion about a promotion and raise. To finally have someone recognize, appreciate, and compensate me for what I’m able to contribute is the best feeling – that, so happy I could cry emotional wave, constantly. YES!!

My cousin is pursuing her Masters in Pyschology and lacks the research and academic writing skills that I worked so hard to refine in school, so I’m helping her – explaining concepts, developing ideas, and editing and properly formatting papers. I’m essentially being paid to access course work and discussions that I would pay for. It’s a graduate school teaser, and it’s making me giddy for the future!

After graduation, sixteen months ago, my mom told me to spend my first paycheck on something special. My part-time, minimum-wage job did not count. So, what am I spending my first paycheck on? I want a dog, but can’t afford one, so I bought a lively basil plant and named it “Dog.” My favorite childhood book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. When I saw that she was coming to town to promote her new book, Son, I’m pretty sure I yelped in excitement. My copies of the first three books are in shreds, so I thought, why not buy the entire hardback quartet and have my favorite childhood series signed by its author. I love live music, so my best friend and I have a whole series of concerts coming up – Yeasayer, Passion Pit, Astronautalis, Metric, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Minus the Bear – and most are lesser-known and thus dirt cheap. I want to buy a meal for someone behind me in line or flowers to give to a stranger. I haven’t been to Las Vegas since turning 21 and I’ve never been to Los Angeles, so I’d like to take a weekend road trip with my best friend to either within the next few months. First paycheck: something to nurture and watch grow, books, concerts, a random act of kindness, and a trip. Perfect. 

I feel like I had so much more to say, but I haven’t had time to write anything in days, or even think. Job 1, Job 2, five hours of sleep, repeat. I just wanted to share a quick update, and there will be plenty more to come once I’ve phased out of my old job and settled into my new one.

Have a fun and safe long weekend, and do something worth talking about!

I found Sky on the street, took him home, and was a dog owner for a few hours before tracking down his family. Soon enough, I’ll have my own wonderful canine.

The Debt-Free PhD

A few months ago, I received a great book that questioned, “Where will you be five years from today?” What an exciting thought! So much can happen of the course of five years, 1,826 fruitful days.

The author continually probed and provoked, question after question. What is my calling, my life’s aim? What inspires me? What are my core values? Which activities are they urging me to pursue? How can I help others? How can I find personal fulfillment? What’s the best means of achieving my full potential.

I revisit the book each week, contemplating questions, completing activities, and pondering the future, my future. Sometimes we get so caught up in the busyness of what we think needs to be done that we forget to tend to the things that we actually want to do. Maybe instead of waiting for opportunity to come knocking (or open the door on which you’ve been so persistently banging), it’s time to decide what’s next in your life and strategize how to get it.

I really, really want to go to graduate school. I want to obtain a PhD in Social Psychology and spend five to seven years working 16-hour days on projects that I’m intensely passionate about. I want to be engulfed in academics and surrounded by thoughtful, intelligent people. I want to make discoveries that will help improve people’s lives. I want to perform research, I want to teach, I want write, and I want to inspire. There is nothing I want more. Actually, it’s strong than a mere wantWhen I break down my values, strengths, and skills, I’m confident that it really would be the ideal situation for me. And upon graduation, I’ll be able to go out and continue to discover, share, and inspire.

I began the doctoral application process my senior year of college. I enrolled in a graduate school preparation course, asked my professors dozens of questions, talked to current graduate students, and contacted the professors whose programs I was most interested in. And then I got cold feet.

What if no one accepts me? What if can’t get any financial aid? Is this even worth it? What if, even after another degree, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life?

I’ve started asking myself: What’s the worse that could happen? It took me some time, but I have my answers. If I’m not accepted into a single program, at least I can say that I tried. If I can’t get financial aid, there are always student loans and on-campus work opportunities. If I were to dedicate several years and significant sums of money to educating myself and exit the program without a single job offer, I would still be happy with my decision.

This summer, I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course. I’ve never had any interest in finances, but I know that money management is an important skill. It was a great course; however, I was shocked to hear education classified as a want, rather than a need. Having completed college fully scholarshiped, maybe I simply can’t fully grasp the idea of student debt. Though I disagree that education is merely a “want,” it led me to thinking… What if I could go to graduate school without going in to debt? What if I could achieve all my goals without worrying about money?

Several months ago, I bombarded everyone in my life with the idea of somehow earning a significant amount of money within the next year or two and then using that money to fund my education. Every single person shot it down. “You can’t earn $100,000 in a year, or whatever you’re aiming for.”

Why not?

I have a novel under my belt. Nowhere near publishable, but it has strong points and it’s something I could work on developing. 

I’ve been blogging for long enough to know what I’m doing. Several people out there blog for a living. Maybe I’m on to something and don’t even realize it yet. 

I’ve done writing, editing, tutoring, and life coaching both paid and unpaid. Maybe that’s an avenue I could pursue. Is “professional experience” truly better than passion-driven experience?

I have several ideas for services, products, and online platforms. I don’t have the attention span or the skill set to follow through on any at this point, but maybe if I dabble around with them a bit more, something will click.  

As of today, I have a full-time job, a part-time job, and a handful of miscellaneous writing, editing, and tutoring gigs, most of which fell into my lap over the past 48 hours. (See what happens when you pout?) My non-existent social life has just slipped even further into oblivion. I am absolutely thrilled for the regular schedule, extra income, and opportunity to learn new skills. 

I’ve said before, I’m overly ambitious and often juggle more things at a time than I can manage. What if I could fit all my small goals into a larger framework? Instead of choosing between graduate school and creative endeavors, what if I relabel my aimless pursuits as stepping stones towards personal fulfillment and possible graduate school funders? And if I choose not to attend grad school, I’ll still have actually done something, and built up a hefty savings.

Instead of feeling guilty for writing, sketching, dreaming, or catching up with friends, maybe I need to reframe those activities as means of shaping my future self, a scenario in which every choice is the right one.

The first step of my plan was to sign up for the Graduate Record Examinations. Done! I’ve been in contact with a few professors whom I’m interested in working with, I have a completed GRE study guide that plan to review, and I began applying as a college senior so I understand the process. Maybe this isn’t as daunting as I’ve painted it all up to be in my head. Since applying to graduate school can be stressful, leisure activities and fun projects, exercise, getting adequate amount of sleep, and eating healthfully will help keep me sane. Awesome! Everything I do – in some way, shape, or form – will guide me towards my debt-free PhD. That is, until I change my mind and decide to travel abroad, start my own business, or pursue something else completely. Setting a goal, any goal, is a great way to promote productivity and that sense of doing something that we all inherently long for.

Anyways, as I mentioned above, my life has all of a sudden become pretty crazy. For the next two weeks, between my full-time and part-time job I’ll be juggling 16-hour work days , so I may be MIA for awhile. For good reasons, though. I’m practicing for graduate school!