Writing (and Understanding) Through Revisions

Since last winter I was tossing around the idea of starting a blog. I spoke with some friends about it, but I was worried that I couldn’t come up with a topic original enough. I wanted the blog to be focused, provide value, and not be another shout into the void. One of my friends kept pushing me to do it, even though she knew I didn’t have the details worked out. She told me once I started writing, it would fall together.

I don’t ever trust for things to “fall together,” but soon I found myself on WordPress customizing a theme and jotting down ideas in my Bullet Journal. I even started drafting some pieces, mostly about travel, but at the last minute I scrapped all of that. Changes started to take effect in my life. I made the decision to move away from my home city for the first time. I was at peace and in a heightened state of anxiety about this decision, and didn’t know what to do to keep myself busy. I did what I always did: I wrote.

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Always A Bridesmaid

Saturday is going to be momentous. One of my oldest friends is getting married.

Weddings are amazing. It’s a big party with fancy food and (hopefully) an open bar. But the purpose of the celebration is incredible: to celebrate the joining of two into one. Whether it be a ceremony in a church or at city hall, no one can ignore how incredible it is when two people decide to commit themselves like this. I don’t even think the significance really hit me until we were celebrating the engagement of another friend a couple weekends ago. I could have cried right then (but it was so hot out my tears would have instantly evaporated and I would have been left making a weird pouty face).

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Visiting Your Own Home

Last week I came back to the U.S. for an extended visit. And it feels a little weird.

Due to circumstances, I changed my flight and flew home earlier than originally planned, and will be in the U.S. almost six weeks. While I’m grateful to spend this much time with my friends and family, there’s a part of me that knows this is too much time at once. The length of time is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just more. More family dinners, more happy hours, more lunches. More group chats to coordinate all of these plans. More questions. All of this making it a bit more difficult to say goodbye at the end.

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How to Survive the 9-5 in the Office or at Home

When I took the standard 9-5 desk job at the start of last summer, I felt the negative effects after only a few short weeks. I’m not talking about learning to communicate with new coworkers or navigating a new environment; I found myself tired—almost lethargic. I had no energy, couldn’t focus throughout the day, and felt like crap. After some reflection on my previous desk jobs, some research, and a few good reads through some Harvard Business Journal articles, I found ways to improve my day overall. Then when I made the shift to working from home, more challenges arose, but after more reflection, I again figured out what’s best for me. My goal is to not only have a productive work day, but positively improve my physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

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Importance of Donating Bone Marrow

Karen_Shollenberger
Sandra Petri, Karen Shollenberger, Devon Harman, and me at The Triangle’s staff dinner in 2013.

Two years ago I joined the National Bone Marrow Donor Program, inspired by my dear friend Karen Shollenberger. Karen received two bone marrow transplants, from each of her siblings, during her 13-year battle against acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). She explained to me the importance of joining the registry and how impactful a donor can be on the life of someone battling leukemia. Last week, Karen passed away, and her story continues to inspire me and others to make an impact.

Honestly, before meeting Karen, my extremely limited knowledge of bone marrow transplants came from a couple episodes of “House.” Thankfully, Be The Match was able to provide me with more than enough information to understand what it is to be a bone marrow donor and why it is important to join the registry.

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Becoming a Minimalist

When I packed to move, I knew I had to be deliberate about what I chose to take with me, but didn’t realize I was turning into a minimalist. I’m in a 200-square-foot apartment: one room with a bathroom, closet, and balcony just big enough for two chairs and a small table. And I don’t live alone. Everything in that space is essential and serves a purpose.

People often asked how many suitcases I planned on using. The answer: one checked bag, one carry-on, and a backpack. Most were shocked. They’d have been more shocked to know my carry-on only held my Louis Vuitton purse, Wonder Woman Barbie doll, and a coffee mug.

How could I move so far with so few things?

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Necessity of Dedicated Time

I can easily accomplish a lot in a day if I’m determined. I make time appear out of thin air when it seems there is no time left to spare. I get what needs to be done, done.

There’s a difference between what I want, should, and need to do. And it’s quite easy to convince myself that an important task really isn’t that essential. I should make the bed, I need to do laundry, I want to practice my French. Honestly, these are all three items that could be in the Need category, but I allow internal “reasoning” to contradict them as needs and instead consider the urgency or essentialness of the task in question.

I used to be terrible about making my bed in the morning and would easily brush this task off as a waste of a few minutes, even though I discovered a better frame of my mind when my bed was made: it was less easier to crawl into for a midday nap, it made my room appear cleaner, and I felt a very small sense of accomplishment so early in the morning.

How did I figure this out?

I started Bullet Journaling about a year ago. The idea is simple: a customizable way to organize yourself. The process itself, according to the website, is an “evolving, adaptable practice meant to be self curated as you determine what works best for you.”

One of my main BuJo pages was a daily habit tracker. The first iteration included:

  • Awake by 7:30am
  • Make Bed
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Pack Lunch for Work (vs. Eating Out)
  • Eat Dinner
  • 10-minute Afternoon Walk
  • 30-minute Exercise
  • Practice French
  • Spot Clean Bedroom
  • Read a Book
  • Read the Bible
  • Go to Bed by 11:30pm
  • No Alcohol
  • No Online Shopping (Something I became accustomed to during downtime at work.)

I kept this journaling method up for a while, found it easy to track my productivity, emotions, and even migraines–which was crucial at the time since I was seeing a neurologist in hope of finding relief to the endless pain. Guess what? Tracking my daily sleep and eating patterns were a big part in me learning how to better balance my lifestyle and thus reduce migraines.

Disappointedly though, my habit tracker wasn’t used after a month or so. I attempted to remake it, hardly used it, and moved on. Even though I don’t use this same habit tracker, I am more mentally aware of these daily habits and thus more mindful of certain decisions I make based on the above list. My Bullet Journal also helped me improve upon to-do lists and overall organization.

But what I’ve learned is, with or without the Bullet Journal, it is difficult to list out the things you want, should, and need to get done and actually do them unless you are dedicating time to these items. Having “Practice French” on a tracker is useless if I don’t carve out the time for it. Just as I can dismiss the need to make a bed in the morning, I can dismiss the urgency of learning another language to do something else.

This is essentially why I missed my blog post last week. I didn’t have dedicated time to writing (I know, it’s a terrible thought), but I didn’t realize that until things fell away and before I knew it the week was over and I never once thought about writing as an urgent matter.

It’s easier to assign time to do something when you have a deadline, but with the everyday, there is always tomorrow. Some people have extensive schedules written into their Bullet Journal, outlining their day’s schedule in their entirety. Whether they keep to this schedule or not, I can’t say, but  I don’t necessarily think that is the solution for me. It will make me feel controlled and cramped, as if I absolutely must follow it. If I diverge from the schedule, I’d feel guilty that I’m not keeping with it. For me, knowing there’s a possibility I won’t keep with the schedule is not worth the attempt and feeling that guilt later on.  Yet, I know something needs to change so I can accomplish the shoulds. The needs and wants are easy. The shoulds are what often get left behind until they become an absolute need.

Similar to  when we’re at work and dedicate an allotted time to complete a task, we should be more conscious of doing this in our personal lives. I’ve considered scheduling a certain number of 30-minute slots each day, to accomplish specific tasks. If I allow myself 3 slots of 30 minutes, that is 3 different pre-determined tasks I can work on during the day. It’s only 90 minutes out of the day and will encourage me to increase productivity and provide a daily sense of accomplishment in my personal life.

Pre-determining the time will keep me from starting on a task and stopping after 10 minutes moving onto something else. Instead I’ll have a goal to accomplish, one closely related to the task. If I spend 30 minutes cleaning, that doesn’t mean I need to spend 30 minutes on just the kitchen, but can move around to different areas of the apartment. If I spend 30 minutes writing, once I hit a wall or exhaust a topic, I can try brainstorming other ideas. Whatever the task, I need to make myself focus and work toward accomplishing it. Think of how productive our whole week could be if we did this once or twice a day. I know for me it would make a big difference and leave me in a better frame of mind.

Make Decisions while Overcoming Fear and Anxiety

I’m a big fan of goal setting. In fact, I wanted to do a post right away on goal setting, but thought it was too obvious, too instructive, too cliché. (Take your pick.) Then I came across Tim Ferris’s TedTalk on “Fear-Setting.”

Fear is what keeps us from taking actions that we believe are potentially risky. It prevents us from doing something we may want. But this “it,” this “fear,” is only ourselves. It’s the “rational” part of our brain saying, “No something bad could happen if you do this so don’t do it and stick to what you know and absolute assurances only.” What kind of life is that?

Sometimes this fear isn’t even a risky consequence or something bad happening, but it’s the idea of failing or not accomplishing the goal originally set. We let the potential of failure hold us back. (Insert metaphorical sports quote.)

If you’re like me, the anxiety of making a decision is paralyzing, with inaction ultimately making the decision for me.

Ferris’s notion of fear-setting turns the tables on all of this. His idea aims to reduce the anxiety we feel when making decisions; reveal exactly how “risky” the consequences are; and offer solutions for correcting any negative outcomes. These three steps are: Define, Prevent, and Repair.

How does it work?

If you have a difficult decision to make, then practice fear-setting by:

  1. Defining the worst possible outcomes as a result of your decision.
  2. Figure out how you can prevent this outcome from happening.
  3. Determine how you could repair any damage done if your worst possible outcome turns out to be your reality.

For instance, a few months back I left my first full-time job. Several people persuaded me not to, as it “wouldn’t look good” if I left a job before a certain length of time. But that wasn’t a concern of mine. Still, it took me a while to gain the courage and put aside my fears before I gave my notice.

Originally, I tried goal setting in the most unproductive manner. I gave myself a minimum number of jobs to apply to weekly. I set a personal end date, which I told no one about. The result? I applied to a lot of jobs, which made me a little lazy with personalizing cover letters and resumes. A lot of jobs responded, which meant a lot of phone interviews and multi-step interviews that went nowhere. Applying to a lot of jobs gave me hope to meet my preset end date. Spoiler: I never hit it. I changed my “end date” at least four times. Each time that predetermined date came, I had no new job offer to take, and was right where I started.

Eventually, I made myself sit down and focus. What was the worst that would happen if I left this job? Well, I had no job lined up in my field meaning there would be a gap on my resume between employers. Oh and I could quickly run out of money without a stable income.

Is this preventable? Yes. Find a job in my field and problem solved.

But what if I don’t find a job in my field?

Obviously I had been trying that for months with little result. I knew there had to be other options. And there were, I just needed some guidance.

Alex Hillman, one of the founders of the coworking space IndyHall, shared his insight and discussed my options with me early on in this process. He reminded me, “You could always go get a job at Big Lots or stock shelves at the grocery store.” It’s still a job, and it still pays the bills. I found it odd I needed to be reminded of this, as at the time I was waitressing part-time and was assured I could become full-time.

Another part of my conversation with Alex made me consider what I want to give back to the world and how I can do that. You can give back in many ways: volunteer, donate money/items, plant trees, live and breathe an ecofriendly lifestyle, etc. But there are ways to give back daily through your job. Teachers do it, firefighters do it, sanitation workers do it. Yeah it’s a job, but those people are still positively contributing and giving back to a community. I questioned if the work I was doing was giving back. At the time, I didn’t think the job I had was. It was difficult for me to see positive value and societal contribution.

Mind you, at the same time, one of my best friends, Holly, experienced similar dissatisfaction and decided to go back to school for a teaching degree and began substituting in the Philadelphia Public School District. I saw her eagerness to make a difference and how excited she was to take these steps toward her future that would ultimately impact the future of others.

I didn’t suddenly think my calling was to be a teacher. But, Holly’s experience made me think about where I was and how so far off I felt from contributing to my community.

Maybe, like Holly, if I can’t find a job doing exactly what I thought I wanted, then I might not be in the right field, or maybe I have other skills yet to develop.

What if my worst fears (not having a job/running out of money/not finding a new job) came true, how can I remedy that? Well, I was already living in my grandparents’ basement, I could sell my car, stop spending money, defer my student loans, etc.

I knew having a waitressing job to fall back on was key in making this difficult to decision. But even if I hadn’t had that, I would have followed Alex’s advice and found a job, any job, to get by.

While leaving a job can have serious financial consequences, and is a lot easier for a 20-something year-old with minimal responsibilities, it’s still the same mental battle. I’m not one who handles change well, even if it’s something I want—like moving.

When I made the decision to move, I heard a lot of the same responses: What if you don’t like it? What if it’s not how you thought it would be? What if your relationship falls apart? What if you miss your family?

Thank you peanut gallery, because these are not thoughts I had myself. But I managed to solve these problems almost instantaneously (which was surprising for my anxiety-induced mind). My solution: come home. Last time I checked, airplanes fly east and west—incredible! Seriously though, coming home is a practical solution to these fears and I’ve had that thought all along.

However, that doesn’t exactly embody the idea of fear-setting, and it feels more like an exit strategy. I can’t prevent missing my family or the fact that certain friendships may fade because of this. But I can do my best to call and text everyone. I already expect to be Skyped in immediately after the birth of my cousin’s second child. And I’m looking forward to all the pictures, videos, and drunk calls the night of my sister’s 21st birthday.

Okay all of that might actually make me miss them more. Thankfully, before I left I was given cards and letters from most of my family. I have them sitting on a shelf waiting for me to read their well wishes on an undetermined sad day. I’m also scheduling visits home around the most important events for my friends and family (I know, births and 21st birthdays are HUGE, but that didn’t work out too well this time), like weddings, weddings, and more weddings. So basically if you want to see me, just get married.

If this all becomes too much and I can’t make it work, then the consequences are a little different. I can go home, mend fences, remind my friends why they originally wanted to hang out with me, and tell my family I love them with some nice baked goods. There would be some “I told you so”s that I would have to deal with. But I would stand by my original decision. Nothing risked is nothing gained, and this is a risk I need to take for myself and my relationship.

I still have many fears about moving and being far from my family—after all it’s only been a few weeks. But Ferris’s fear-setting allows me to think about these fears in a more practical way than I would have before. It worked for me with the decision to leave my job, and I’m counting on it working again.

 

Learning without a Syllabus

I’d like to label myself a lifelong learner—someone who is self-motivated and voluntarily seeks knowledge, whether it be for personal or professional reasons. I do believe this describes who I am, although sometimes I lack the motivation or find myself stuck in an endless loop of checking Facebook and Twitter feeds and never accomplishing anything. Of course, I’m bound to peruse a few shared articles that might teach me something new, but the majority of this content isn’t substantial (even if these five cleaning hacks with a paperclip really will transform my life). I need mental stimulation, whereas this endless scrolling and switching between social apps leaves me with a feeling of anxiousness: I’m wasting time, I’m not being productive, I could be doing something better. But what?

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Intro – Discovering the Question

Two weeks ago I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly I was feeling. I kept assuming it was the obvious: the anxiety accompanying a big life change. Except here I am, in a new-yet-familiar city, my belongings unpacked onto designated spots in my apartment, with my if-I-dare-say perfect roommate. But that feeling has not dissipated.

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