Reflecting on 1L.

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Today is one week since I returned from Boston to New York for my summer job. The Writing Competition was due on Friday, I took the train home on Saturday, and I started my job on Monday. I’ve only now had a minute to reflect on what this year really was and what it meant to me personally – and you know I’m all about self-reflection. This year was a year in which I had the least amount of time to ruminate (not necessarily a bad thing), but sadly, the least amount of time to reflect and to be balanced. I am profoundly grateful for all that this year taught me in terms of stretching myself beyond the bounds I thought I was capable, but I am equally as grateful for what it has taught me in terms of the kind of life that I don’t want.

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Reflecting on 2016.

Oh, how I have missed carving out time to write, create, and dream in this space. I think that my last post was made during the brief window between orientation and the first week of classes, and it’s hard to believe that so much time has passed and so many things have changed since then.

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This picture was taken in the Anthropologie on Newbury Street and has minimal relevance to this post – it just makes me happy.

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Goodbye to All That

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Photo of a church I used to walk by daily in Greenwich Village.

Today, I walked into my (now empty) studio apartment in the Village to tidy a few last things up before finally giving the keys over so that they could find their way to its new inhabitant come July. While I would love to say that it was a deeply emotional experience, filled with revelations and flashbacks to great memories, it was more of a simple and calm goodbye for me. I am deeply grateful for the 3 years in which I made this small space my home (and for the 5 total years that I’ve spent living in the city), but it honestly felt right to say goodbye. I felt at peace, and grateful, and humbled to have had this experience. Before I closed the door for the last time, I stood in the middle of the room and prayed. I prayed in gratitude for all of the growth that I have experienced in my life these past 3 years. I prayed in thanksgiving for being sent to this very location – the place where I made new friends, found great sources of guidance for both my mind and body, and evolved as an individual in countless ways.

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What Undergrad Meant to Me

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t written on here in over two months. With presentations, final exams, and graduation, things have been more hectic than I would like for them to be, which left little time for blogging. The good news is that next week, I will finally complete the fourth part of the Present Perfect Series (which will be followed by a series of posts on Thrive by Arianna Huffington)! My plan is to do one post per week each Saturday and I’m also going to try to incorporate more photography and finally do a few recipe posts now that it’s the summertime.

Today, however, I wanted to take a bit of time to write about the chapter that has just closed in my life: my undergraduate career. Writing has always been cathartic for me (I actually found some pretty hilarious journals from 5th grade onward the other day in my closet) so I thought, why not share what these past four years have taught me about life, and (more importantly) about myself. Before we delve into that, though, here is an obligatory jumping picture that my parents took of me the day of graduation (which was about a month ago).

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Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started. I know that I sound like a greeting card when I say this, but these past four years have shaped me unlike any other period in my life thus far. The education that I received was academic of course, but it was also an education on life and on myself. Unlike classes, there is no syllabi for life to tell you exactly what to do each week and when the deadlines for every major milestone should be. For somebody like me, this is both a blessing and a curse, which brings me to my first lesson learned (that I’m still relearning, and relearning, and relearning…)

1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

I love to plan, I love checklists, and I love meeting deadlines and trying to control everything. (This should be my About Me on a dating website, right!?) It would only be natural, then, that trying to create a syllabus for life would be the next logical move – a plan where every event has a deadline and where evolvement is mapped out to the tenth degree. The deadlines, of course, would be taken from cultural norms and the opinions of others – a dangerous move. What I’ve found, however, is that in the moments where I revel in my accomplishments and growth without comparing them with a measuring stick against others is when I feel most empowered in my own existence. What I’ve also discovered is that I most often grow and evolve from experiences that are unexpected and that make me feel a bit uncomfortable – in other words, moments of challenge that are often unplanned.

Let me be clear that I struggle with this lesson daily, but I truly feel that college enabled me to observe it in a completely different way than in high school. Part of this is due to the fact that I went to such a large university, where there was no one standard “ideal” of living (very different from my hometown). It is so easy to look around – whether its in person or on social media or just culturally – and make comparisons to where you “should be.” The problem with this way of thinking is that it leaves no room for appreciating your own journey. This quote by Rick Warren comes to mind: “Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go.” The act of appreciating our own timeframe of evolution is robbed of its beauty when we start taking cultural or social norms as gospel.

2. Be True to Yourself

This kind of goes hand in hand with what I just spoke about above, but I felt that it needed its own section. Especially during my freshman year, I had a lot of difficulty accepting things about myself that differed from the general population. I’m not one for drinking or for late nights out and I’m not the most extroverted person, and when this is the dominant ideal of your surroundings, it can be hard to not feel less-than. But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When I finally began embracing this mindset and honoring my inner voice instead of swallowing it in the name of fitting in, my self esteem grew much more than it would have had I blindly followed the crowd at the expense of myself. Once again, going to a large school in a city setting made this process all the more easy because, for the most part, everyone did their own thing. I think that this mentality is important for all areas of life, not just educationally or socially. It’s about honoring that inner voice and learning to follow your intuition, a lesson that is valuable for everyone, no matter how different they are.

3. Friendships Change

They always say that the friends you have freshman year are seldom the friends you have by senior year and I have found this to be both true and false. Sometimes, you click with someone almost immediately and you foster a friendship that goes the distance. Other times, those whom you felt most connected to become strangers after just one year. Even more interestingly, sometimes, the friends that you don’t necessarily have that magnetic energy with right away will lead to friendships that grow stronger each year. I have also been extremely fortunate to have had my best friend since grade 5 at my side despite the fact that we went to different colleges.

I think the biggest lesson that I learned friendship-wise, other than the fact that “friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” is how important it is to be honest with your friends and not swallow your feelings. I tend to shy away from confrontation and let things bottle up which is not exactly the healthiest habit, but I’m working on it. The funny thing is that by not speaking up, the other person assumes nothing is wrong and continues to do whatever you find issue with because they are obviously not a mind reader. Being upfront in a kind and considerate way and talking things through is a must for all types of relationships.

Another huge lesson that I learned is that it is okay to cut people off who don’t positively impact your life enough to be considered a true friend. For me, this applied to both high school and college friendships that fizzled. We all know those people who can’t seem to talk enough about themselves, and who seldom ask (or seem to care) how we’re doing. It can be so easy to fall into this type of pattern in a friendship, and then feel drained and completely disempowered each time that you see them. I have a simple rule that people who intentionally (or unintentionally) make me feel bad about myself are not worthy of friendship, regardless of whether we have shared good times and memories. Insecurity is rampant in our culture, but I have no time for people who think that being hurtful is an acceptable outlet for these feelings. Being a person is hard enough as it is, and friendships exist so that we can build each other up, not tear each other down. Quality over quantity, every time.

4. Do the Things that Scare You

Period. This is so incredibly hard to in the moment, but I can honestly say that every single time I have pushed myself to do something that I would much rather avoid, I am always grateful for having shown up. These are the moments where my confidence grows and where my fears dissipate and after they’re over, I always feel incredibly empowered in saying, “now I can take the next thing coming.” Even if the thing that you’re fearful of is completely irrational (which it often is for me), journaling out what exactly you’re afraid of (and its improbability of actually happening) is very helpful. Being mindful is also a tool that I picked up in college (mainly during the last two years) that enabled me to more fully embody this truth. If I take things one moment at a time and one breath at a time, I am always okay. That lesson is something that I will take with me wherever I go and continue to relearn on a daily basis. This quote by Joy Williams from a recent interview is my new mantra: “I know that when something scares me, it generally means it’s exactly what I should do.” If you need more help in this department, check out my post about Grace Bonney’s speech on facing fears (which I revisit on my own time pretty regularly). I also wrote about what mindfulness means and how to get your daily dose here.

Thanks for reading if you made it all the way down here. I know this was filled with a lot of cliché’s, but there’s a reason that they exist: because they’re true! Writing all of these lessons out was such a lovely way to conclude this chapter in my life, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn them, as I know that I will take them with me wherever I go in life.

 

We Need to Stop Numbing

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I feel the need to write this out though no one may ever read it, but the message is far too important to merely swallow out of fear that putting it out there will not be of help to anyone.

A boy from my hometown whom I did not know personally, only by face, passed away a few days ago from a drug overdose. Whether the cause was accidental or intentional is not particularly relevant to me because, either way, our society is in desperate need of preventative measures for death by either means.

Life is so complicated and there are seasons of such darkness that can befall us out of nowhere. We each have different ways of numbing that pain – whether they are learned from our parents, encouraged by society, or just a part of our inborn coping mechanisms. The bottom line is that there are ways to numb our anxiety, discomfort, and hurt that will only lead to more darkness and more pain. Drugs are one of those ways – providing a temporary vanquishing of our demons that ultimately only makes them grow in strength the next time they rear their ugly heads.

There needs to be more dialogue about mental health. There needs to be less shame and secrecy about these topics. Therapy – whether it be through counseling, medication, spirituality, yoga, or any variety of methods – needs to be encouraged.

We have no idea about the struggles of the mind and heart that others experience, and the shame that our culture associates with these issues needs to be stopped. We are all human. We all struggle. We all have unique ways of dealing with these struggles. We must rewire the dominant belief that we are alone and replace it with the truth that we are all connected. We must instill in everyone the idea that life can be painful and it can kick you to the ground, but if you find means of healing (through therapy, religion, exercise, nutrition, etc.) life can also be so incredibly beautiful. We all go through seasons of challenge, strife, and weakness, but these times will make the seasons of triumph, joy, and contentment all the more meaningful if we find the paths of healing that will lead us to them.

Whether this boy took his own life or passed away because of an accidental overdose is not relevant because there is a larger problem going on that is leading people to drugs in the first place. When did we learn that numbing ourselves to our pain was a preferable option to sitting down with our demons and trying to understand them, unearth them, defeat them? When did we learn that we were alone in the world? When did we learn to swallow our feelings of desperation and to feel shame about simply asking for help?

I am not ignorant to the fact that merely saying “someone should just get help” will not bring them automatic health. What I do know is how important it is for those who struggle to get support from whatever means of healing they will benefit most from. Therapy can do this. Spirituality can do this. Exercise and proper nutrition can do this. Everyone has a unique formula that will bring them the healing that they deserve, and a helping hand should be the first step in this journey. These are the steps we should take before the drugs.

I was listening to Marianne Williamson’s Lecture Live-streamed from LA on Monday night and she said something that could not have been more pertinent to this topic.  She talked about how we should not try to ‘take the edge off,’ because the very act of willingly looking at our own demons (though very difficult and not by any means fun) is essential for growth. This is what we should be instilling in people from a young age – that we all have our imperfections and we all have our demons – but these things should not lead to shame, secrecy, or numbing.

We need to learn to face these feelings of inadequacy in order to erase them and then replace them with the realization that we are worthy of love and belonging exactly where we stand, as Brené Brown would say. I literally have that quote written on a piece of looseleaf and stuck to the top of my desk so that when I look up from my laptop it is there, staring me in the face. It is there because I have days where the world feels scarier than it should and I feel more alone than I am and it provides me with the reminder that joy and pain come in waves, that neither feeling will last forever.

So I guess I am writing this because I couldn’t not write it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the larger narrative that needs to be taking place to provide those who are desperately struggling with comfort and safety and just a sliver of hope. This is by no means me saying that if I were in charge of this boy’s story, that it would have had a different ending. I do not know the details of his struggle and I am not here trying to make rash generalizations about the ‘answer’ to this pervasive problem in society. What I do know is this: life can be hard and pain is (unfortunately) inescapable, but there needs to be a collective increase in mindfulness about what it means to deal with these completely human emotions in a healthier way.

There needs to be dialogue about not just how drugs are poisonous to our physical bodies, but how they damage our souls and prevent us from leaning into uncomfortable emotions. No one wants to do this work because it is difficult but unearthing these feelings, sitting down with them and getting to know them, is the only way that we can truly annihilate them. Drugs are not the only culprits here – so is shopping, food, sex, perfectionism – the list goes on. Numbing the lies that we have told ourselves or have been told by others will never give us the opportunity to erase them from our minds and hearts. I am writing this in the hope that someone out there who is in a season of darkness will take a deep breath and know that they are not alone and that asking for help is the wisest and most human thing that they can do.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Emily Dickinson

Do the Things that Scare You

A few weeks ago, I was wandering aimlessly through the abyss of Pinterest, scouring through some of my favorite interior design pins, when I came across a board from Design Sponge. They are one of my favorite interior design blogs, along with Apartment TherapyLonny. All things interior design get me really excited and make me feel so renewed, I can’t quite explain it but my mother is very much the same way so I attribute it to genetics.

Anyway, it was through this favorite pass time of mine that I stumbled upon this video of Design Sponge’s founder Grace Bonney speaking at the Weapons of Mass Creation Fest 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. The message that she gives in this half-hour speech was pretty profound, especially for me, someone who has largely avoided facing fears up until the past year or so. That being said, I thought I would share what I found to be most inspiring and also give a summary of sorts of the video for those who want to reap its benefits without listening to the entire speech.

There are ten major points that Grace makes, which I will try my best to summarize below (though I will admit, editing things down to the bare bones has never been my strong suit).

1. Acknowledge your fears. Literally say them out loud either to someone or to yourself as this will automatically lessen your fears.

2. Ask yourself ‘what am I actually scared of?’ ‘what is the worst case scenario here?’ No one ever wants to do this but it is essential because what it reveals is never what you think it will be.

3. Figure out what hearing ‘no’ from someone means to you. This fear of rejection is inescapable to the human experience. Grace mentions the idea of “not being good enough – for someone, something, some opportunity” and I can completely relate to this.  She then explains how ridiculous it is to think that a ‘no’ from one single person could possibly lead to the end of her or her dreams.

4. ‘Rejection Therapy‘: literally desensitize yourself to hearing the word ‘no.’ I myself have found that desensitization is one of the main ways in which I have grown as a person, mainly with public speaking. The hardest part of doing something that your instincts are telling you to run away from is to just take that first step. You’ll find that once you’re in the situation you’ve dreaded for so long that you’re actually okay – and this builds your self-confidence and resilience for the next experience. Grace also says that you’ll hear ‘yes’ much more than you’d expect if you just have the courage to be in the position where ‘no’ could be the answer.

5. “Facing fears is not about diving in head first without a plan – that’s irresponsible.”  As someone who plans things down to the detail, I found such refuge in this piece of advice. When approaching something that seems overwhelming, it is so important to break that larger goal down into more manageable steps. Then, you can just tackle (and conquer) the fear that comes with each step instead of imagining the collective fear of the goal and running away.

6. By breaking goals down into small steps, you will be statistically more likely to complete them. She references the book Getting Things Done by David Allen (which is on my bookshelf), thus adding a more scientific argument for point #5.

7. Figure out what you want, chart your progress, and appreciate it along the way. Get in touch with what you want by making vision boards. I have heard the power of vision boarding from books like The Secret. The basic premise is to grab a stack of magazines and cut out whatever you find inspiring without questioning it. Then, try to make sense of the themes that are present and use them moving forward as guides to what risks you should be taking. One of my favorite parts of this point is when Grace explains that we should only be taking risks that we want badly for ourselves, not because we want others to see us be doing it. How do we know when we’re taking the right risks then? When we are willing to be a part of something even if we cannot be the best at it, #1, head of everything.

8.“If you don’t own the skills, talents, and experience that you have and are bringing to the table, you’re never going to be able to take the leap to do what you’re scared of.” Once you take the time to evaluate and acknowledge your particular skills and talents, any fear or risk becomes much less terrifying.

9. “All of the things that scare you will eventually fall away because of your skills.”  Literally write your skills down – you need to pat yourself on the back a little in order to go after the things that you want with confidence.

10. Face things head on in a practical way. Force yourself to do something every day or week that scares you until you get better at it. Grace makes an analogy to starting a podcast and what she found was that the fear/nervousness/anxiety was there, but it naturally dissipated each time she exposed herself to her fear. I myself have learned that once I am face-to-face with my fear, one of two things happen: it either shrinks in magnitude each time I’m alone with it, or it vanishes altogether. She states, “At the end of the day, the gnawing thought of what you didn’t do weighs more heavily on you than failing. You will always learn from failure.” We all know that feeling of regret right after we missed an opportunity because of fear, and what she is arguing is that taking that risk and possibly failing is much better than avoiding it altogether because with failure comes heartache, but also reflection, and ultimately, growth.

Lastly, Grace argues that when each of us looks at a successful person we respect and admire, we never think about the hustle behind their achievements. For me, creating this blog is an active step in pursuing something that I know I would enjoy but have previously been to fearful to ever fully attempt. The next time I’m admiring a blog that I love, I will be reminding myself of the hard work that was put into it despite it seeming effortless, and this will make pursuing my dreams all the more manageable. Grace’s speech gave me such rich perspective on what it means to push past fear, and how integral that process is to our evolvement as human beings. I sincerely hope that this post gives you some food for thought when moving into the New Year and setting and achieving goals that fear has blocked you from in the past.

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