I Gave Up Facebook for 46 Days

Give Up FacebookI have been on Facebook for almost nine years. But on March 5th, I decided to take a short break. I gave up Facebook for Lent– 46 total days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

It was more than just giving up a social media platform though. It was a conscious decision to avoid what had become a daily, almost hourly, rote habit, wasting a colossal amount of time and energy. I wanted to know what I could discover if I could only take my eyes off the screen.

I gave up endlessly scrolling through my news feed and clicking through photos and watching crappy cell-phone videos and posting useless status updates. I gave up what I considered to be the drama that comes with having your entire life on display for so many years that you don’t even remember what it was like to have a secret or a memory that only you know or a precious photo that no one else has seen.

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Waiting for the Perfect Post

WritingPerfection

After a two month hiatus, I have returned to the blogging world. When I entered Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy essay contest at the end of 2013, I thought it would be the beginning of another great year of blogging. But I read the entries from so many other inspiring and accomplished bloggers and I started to wait for more inspiration.  I was waiting for some divine, fabulous, unique idea that I would just have to write about. And then one week became two and two weeks became a month and now it’s been over two months without a word.

At first, I was waiting for something great to write about, but then I had too many ideas. I had too much to say and not enough time in the day to write it. Therefore, I kept putting it off, waiting to be overcome with a brilliant stroke of genius. I told myself I was waiting for a whole uninterrupted day when I could just put down every thought onto paper, or digital paper. And then I would get that whole day and spend it reading or catching up on Netflix shows instead.

I wanted to see the whole post formulate in my mind, fully played out, before I committed to writing it down. I wanted to write something that would have meaning for every reader and would strike a cord in every heart and perhaps change the world. Continue reading

Getting Gutsy – It’s All About the Journey

2013

The year of 2013 was big for me. I’ve probably said that about many other years, though. The year I started high school, the year I graduated high school and went away to college, the year I discovered television production, the year I graduated college… I keep thinking that those years where all the big stuff happens all at once are behind me. I keep thinking that life will level out and I will find my niche and all will continue smoothly without surprises or upsets. I keep thinking I’ll find that comfort zone.

I believe that I am a person who likes to have things figured out. I like plans, to-do lists, and the predictability of a schedule. But when I think about this past year, nothing I did was in “the Plan.” I’m not even sure what that plan was or where it originated, but I know that I never saw myself here.

After this year, though, I’ve realized that life is not about finding your comfort zone. It’s about getting away from it. Life is about change and struggle and loss and love. It’s about the journey. This past year held many firsts, was full of uncertainty and doubt, and overflowed with changes. I was as far from my comfort zone as I could be, and yet it was one of the best years of my life.  Continue reading

Real World Summer

This is my first summer in the real world. It’s the first summer where I have not had ample free time, hours to lay in the sun, or days to do nothing. It’s the first summer where I’m actually working a real job, a job that requires me to come in every day at the same time and leave when the sun has already passed its prime.

Last summer, I had graduated college, but I was still clearly not in the real world. I was still job searching and teaching swimming lessons and didn’t start working in a restaurant until later in July or August. I still had plenty of time to enjoy the summer months.

And all the summers before that my summer job didn’t count. As a lifeguard, I went in to work around 11 AM and spent my days in a bathing suit, soaking up the rays, lounging by a pool. I got nice long breaks where I could lay out or swim or read a book. I taught a few swimming lessons and left the pool at 7:30 PM, with time to either go home and relax or hang out with friends, knowing that I didn’t really have a care in the world, and that an 11 AM start time the next day was plenty of time to sleep in.

Just a typical day, on my break at the pool.

Just a typical day, on my break at the pool.

Unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate those days when I had them. I have had a summer job since I was 15. I started working at a pool–selling ice cream bars in the snack shack and cleaning up the wrappers that escaped the garbage cans. The next summer I was a lifeguard at a different pool and just couldn’t bear to leave that easy life. I knew that it was an easy job. It was a great job for a swimmer, and I could use the skills I already had. But by the last summer or two that I spent there, I started to hate it. I was tired of the sun. I hated putting on sunscreen every day. I was appalled that I had let myself sit there staring at water all that time, basking in boredom. And I had read too many articles about lifeguards getting skin cancer. I finished up my fifth year lifeguarding and never looked back.

It was an easy job. But I still didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s hard to appreciate something until you’re done with it, until you’ve seen the other side.

And here I am. On the other side. And now I see that the old grass was greener.

I am a summer person. I love summer. I love sun and the beach and warm days put me in a wonderful mood. So now I wake up in the morning, shower and put on a sundress. But when I get to work, I can’t even tell if the sun is shining because my office doesn’t have a window. I leave work at 5:30 PM and I feel that summertime is passing me by. I find it difficult to do anything after work knowing that I just have to wake up again early the next morning. My skin will be permanently ghostly this year, unless I try really really hard on the weekends to lay out–but on the weekends, I have other things I’ve been waiting all week to do.

Summers in the real world have turned out to be much more depressing than I originally anticipated.

So this week, I am lucky to be on vacation. I am incredibly lucky that the organization I work for was able to give me a few days of paid time off (and that my vacation happens to be over the 4th of July holiday, when our office is closed anyways). And I can say for a fact that I am taking full advantage. I have turned off my work email syncing on my phone. Our beach house actually doesn’t have wireless internet connection this year, so I won’t have to worry about seeing all the emails pop up on my computer. (I’m writing this from a Starbucks.) I brought plenty of books and bikinis, with the expectation of clearing my mind and de-stressing.

myrtle beach 2012 252

During those lifeguard years, I would get to the beach and it would be just a different version of my work-day. Sun, water, sunscreen. But this year…this is vacation. This is the true meaning of vacation. It’s a relief. Taking some time to yourself to unwind and relax, to get away from the real world for a short time. And to figure out how to better appreciate the real world when you go back.

So far it’s off to a rainy start. But honestly, I don’t even mind. There will be other days to lay on the beach. Today I will read a book.

Real World 101

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Is there anyone who is truly well-prepared to enter the real world?

Take the average American, middle-class, suburban person. They have both parents (or even one parent, whatever), a few siblings, a few hundred dollars from birthdays in their savings account, and let’s take a look at a brief synopsis of their life.

This person goes to public school. They go to a middle school that is just trying to prepare them for the “much-harsher” high school. They get through high school, with the goal of getting into the best college possible. They have this notion that their SAT scores are everything. They have to become an outstanding student, take AP and honors courses and get all A’s. They have to get into National Honor Society, join clubs, be President, and run the Prom committee. All because they have to improve their personal chances of getting into the best school.

So they graduate high school. They’ve gotten into colleges and they make their choice. They decide what will be best for them. They take into consideration what they want to major in, where they want to live, whether they will play sports. They weigh the merits of each school, the pros and cons. They make the best choice to further their education. And then their last days of summer are behind them and they’re walking the campus and taking 8 AM classes.

Now, they get good grades because it will help them get a job. They are trying to improve their personal rankings in the long line of graduates seeking the exact same jobs. Again, they join clubs, they learn skills, they discover their talents. They make themselves better people, because it’s all about them. It’s about them getting somewhere. It’s about how they will live the rest of their lives.

It’s all about them.

And then they get that job. Whatever that job may be, good or bad, high-paying or minimum wage. They get it. Congrats.

And then suddenly, it’s not all about them anymore. It’s about the company. It’s about keeping the boss happy. It’s about communicating what you’re doing in your daily tasks with the other people who are doing their own daily tasks, all in the attempt to make the company or organization or business better. It’s about anticipating what others will need before they have a chance to yell at you. If the company goes bankrupt, loses money, has to lay off workers, then you are losing money and/or out of a job.

It’s not about you. At all. 

So where did we go wrong? Or maybe the question should be, why?

Why are we told from the very beginning that it’s all about us, that we are individuals and we will succeed or fail alone, if in reality, it’s about the company and the group and the collective?

If you don’t turn your homework in, you fail the class. You get a bad grade. Your GPA drops. Your class rank falls. You fail. Your poor work ethic doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself. 

But if you don’t finish the project that you’re working on at your job, if you don’t close the deal, it is the company that pays the price. The sales drop, you lose a client, you lose money. The fault might be yours, but the consequences affect the group.

How did we come up with this backwards way of teaching children and educating the young workforce? What if we had told students that if one person was failing, none of them would get an A? Don’t you think everyone would do everything they could to help that kid get his homework done? Maybe that sounds too much like socialism. People don’t like socialism. People like to know that if they do a good job personally, that they will be rewarded.

Usually that’s the way it is in the workplace. People who excel at their jobs get promoted. But you can’t excel at your job if you’re not looking at the bigger picture. If you don’t see the work that everyone else is doing and if you can’t align your needs with the needs of the organization as a whole, then your disconnected way of thinking will never get you anywhere.

Somewhere along the line, someone came up with this “me, me, me” attitude towards teaching in schools. But then kids get to their jobs in the real world and they aren’t prepared. They aren’t prepared to write someone else’s to-do lists and manage their boss’s schedules and book flights for their co-workers and file paperwork that doesn’t belong to them. It’s this whole new way of thinking. When all you have to do is worry about your own life and your own schedule, life is easy. But put the needs of ten or twenty or a hundred other people onto your to-do list and suddenly your public school, college education just went out the window, because you’ve never had to do that before and no one prepared you.

Real life isn’t sitting in class, taking notes and passing a test. So why do colleges think they are preparing us for our careers?

 

 

(photo via)

A Girl and a Shovel and a Nice Long Driveway

snow-shoveling

Who knew shoveling the driveway was so hard? Maybe it depends on the driveway. Ours is a decent size. With a hill. And a curve. Lots of steps leading to the front door.

Then again, it could be that this was my first time ever actually shoveling it.

That’s right. I am 22 years old and I am a yard-work-avoider. A person who avoids yard work. I guess shoveling could be classified as such. Anything that involves manual labor and tools that you buy at a hardware store or in the hardware section of a Wal-Mart counts as yard work, according to me. And I have avoided it at all costs for my entire life.

I have been lucky enough to live in a house with a big beautiful backyard, up on a hill–plenty of trees with leaves that turn glorious colors in the fall, and flowers and bushes growing up the hill and trimming the sides of the house. A beautiful recipe for disaster.

Just think of all the stuff that is involved with keeping a yard nice. There’s mowing the grass, raking leaves and shoveling snow. And then there’s mulching and fertilizing. There’s the planting of the flowers and weeding. There’s bush-trimming and branch-cutting. Salting the steps. Watering the plants when it’s a dry summer. Tying up the daffodils if you want them to bloom again next year (which obviously we do). And that thing they do in yards when little nuggets resembling owl pellets pop up everywhere so that the grass can breathe for a little while (I believe it’s called aerating?). I would even count hanging Christmas lights as yard work, considering you need a ladder, hammer and nails, possibly a staple gun.

That’s a lot of time-consuming work. Well worth the reward, many people will say. And I certainly agree.

But am a yard-work-avoider. And I have done it all to get out of all that nonsense. I’ve given every excuse in the book, from the usual “I have homework” to the extreme “I have a swim meet later this month and I can’t possibly strain my athletically-toned muscles.” I have avoided eye-contact with my parents, played the silent game for 40 minutes while they yell for me to help. I’ve pretended I’m invisible, or they’re invisible. I’ve locked myself in my room and called friends. Sometimes I went out and picked up a rake. And then stood there with that rake until all the leaves were gone and I could put the rake down and say “phew, glad we got all those leaves raked up!”

Back when I was younger and six inches of snow meant sledding and snowball fights, the deal was we could play outside if we helped shovel at some point. At least I think that was the deal. Maybe I’m making it up in my head because I tried so terribly hard NOT to shovel. But it doesn’t matter, I didn’t shovel either way. I would push the snow around a little bit. My fingers seemed more frozen shoveling than they did building snow forts, so that was probably another excuse of mine.

What a hard-hearted, selfish little person I was, right? To watch my mom and dad and siblings hauling heavy snow and trash cans full of leaves, down on their hands and knees in the mud to pull weeds, scratching their fingers while picking up the tree trimmings, and I just watched. How could I? Well I’ll tell you. I wanted to read. To write. To keep my hands soft and delicate (Sarcasm on that one. But seriously).

And now I really do wonder- how could I? (Okay, I had a lot of time to think while walking back and forth across the driveway a bazillion times.) It is hard work. No it’s not fun, no it’s not what you want to do. But there are a million reasons why you should. First, I was a child and children should have chores. Children should learn the value of hard work, the rewards of a job well done, the satisfaction of finishing what you started. Second, my parents raised  me and I should do everything I can to make their job easier. They’ve been doing all the really hard stuff (like paying for a house and cars and actually everything, having a job, planning for the future) while I sit around, read and swim. I mean come on. Lastly, (and this is a more current reason) I should help shovel, because if I don’t, I– in my beat-up old car without snow tires or four-wheel drive–will slip and slide all around that decent-sized driveway-on-a-hill and it will be because I didn’t shovel it.

And so, after over 22 years of weaseling my way out of yard work, I finally learned the lessons and shoveled the whole driveway by myself. Mainly because I slipped and slid all the way up it after work, and my parents are on vacation and can’t do it for me.

Tomorrow, my back will be screaming at me. But at least I’ll be able to get out of the driveway.

 

(photo via)

The True Meaning of Christmas Consumerism

treeI think the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year. Before you know it, the United States will turn into a larger version of Who-ville, celebrating and preparing for Christmas Day all year long. Bells will ring for the winners who max out their credit cards, and every day will feature a new item with a 90% mark-down price. No one will even bother to take their Christmas lights down and in fact, they’ll just build up their displays higher and brighter until everything just runs together and the world becomes one big neon light-emitting-diode.

But during the first week of December, Christmas seems so far away and the holiday season seems so long. You get a little tired of some of the songs on the radio because you start hearing them the day after Halloween. Children get to see Santa in malls and restaurants at least three or four times, and they have enough time in between visits to completely change their mind about what they want. And then all of a sudden Christmas Eve is upon you and you haven’t wrapped a thing. The actual holiday comes and goes so quickly but what is all this hustle and bustle that comes first?

I think most people would agree that today, Christmas Day, is a happy one. It’s a day for family to spend time together and appreciate each other, to celebrate traditions, to eat and be merry. Ideally. The massive consumerism that occurs for roughly five weeks prior to this day is just part of the package. It’s the preparation that is necessary to get us to this day where we can relax. The entire month of shopping, decorating, baking and preparation is really what makes the holiday season so joyous and festive. If it weren’t for all these weeks of hearing Jingle Bells over and over again, Christmas would be like any other holiday. Like Easter. Or Mother’s Day. Just one day. Who would want that? The question that should be asked is whether it’s worth it. Maybe it is, for some people.

When I was little, I counted my presents. What mattered was the number, not how awesome they were. Even though I had some that were pretty awesome. It was amazing, to come downstairs on Christmas morning and where once the floor under the tree was bare, now boxes were piled high. When you truly believed in Santa Claus, there is nothing more miraculous. When you’re that little, the consumerism means nothing. You don’t even know it exists.

When you’re young, it’s all about you. You ask for presents, people ask you what’s on your list, you open up everything with your name on it and determine if you’ve gotten everything you asked for. When you visit family, they ask you what you got and you proudly tell them. Sure, you might buy presents for siblings and parents, but your ultimate focus is still yourself. Maybe you become a little less selfish as you get older, but still, so many people focus on what they got for Christmas. Let me ask you something this year.

What did you give?

If we are all going to be so obsessed with sales and clearance racks and Black Friday and free shipping (which we obviously are), then it must be worth something. Because if it’s not, if we are all still as selfish as we were when we were children and counting our presents, then society is surely on a downward slope. And since I sincerely hope that’s not the case, I like to think that our shopping obsession means something. I like to think it means that we give.

This year, I gave my sister a brown leather jacket and a vegetarian cookbook. I gave my little brother new headphones. I gave my other brother a DVD because he’s hard to buy for and who doesn’t love a new movie to add to the collection? We gave our mom a keyboard for her iPad and my dad got a coupon for rock climbing. I gave my grandparents a digital picture frame filled with pictures of family memories and extra gigs for more to come.

On Christmas Day, it’s so tempting and easy to shout out everything you got, to tell your friends or neighbors how good Santa was to you. But this year, like every year, I was so excited to give these gifts to my family, and that’s more important than anything else.

And what was the ultimate lesson the Grinch learned?

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”