Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bonus Post - Exciting News

I'm so sorry for the lack of vlog this week. It seems I've come down with the flu and I promise you don't want to see me like this. It is pitiful.

However, after being in bed for 3 days I've finally gotten enough energy to think, and today I wanted to share some exciting news with you all - my community college success book proposal has launched!

First of all, you should know that 3 months ago I didn't even know what a query letter was, how to write a book proposal, or what a literary agent did. And today, my literary agent just sent out query letters to publishers which means my book is being "shopped" around to various publishers, and now we wait to see if anyone wants to make an offer!

It is super scary and exciting, but what strikes me most of all is that it is happening. And it just wasn't as difficult as I always made it out to be in my head. Writing a book has been a long time dream of mine. And yet it always seemed so insurmountable. It always seemed like something "other people" did...people who were more talented, more intelligent, more together. 

How many things in your life do you think are meant for other people? What excuses go through your head that tell you you're not good enough to do something like that? What have you always wanted to do but it just seemed too hard?

I'm here to tell you today that all it takes is a very simple (yet for some reason so hard for so many) change. A change of your mind. A moment where you decide that you CAN do something, and then you ACT on it. I saw many motivational speakers at the APCA conference I attended last week, and I think the reason motivational speakers are so sought after, even when the messages are often so simple, is because we so easily forget this stuff. And even when we hear it, we so often don't have the courage to act on it. 

It does take courage. It does take risk. And it takes a certain embracing of failure (see the last section of The Art of Conversation post that starts with "Failure is the only path to success"). I don't know what will happen with my book from here on out, but regardless I feel such tremendous joy knowing that I'm trying. 

I want that for you too. What have you been putting off trying to do? Or what in your life are you trying to do right now? Do you feel pride in the process? At the very least most of you are trying to get a degree. Are you enjoying yourself? Are you proud of what you've accomplished thus far? Do you believe so strongly in what you are doing that you will do whatever it takes? 

Take some time to answer these questions. Don't be afraid of the answers. And don't be afraid to change.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What Comedians and a Guy in a Balloon Made Me Think About

I just spent the past 6 days at the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities (APCA) national conference previewing dozens of entertainers. From comedians to musicians to the spoken word to a guy who put himself in a giant balloon, it was quite a dynamic experience.

I was thinking of you guys a lot of the time and wrote pages of things that I wanted to write about this morning. So much happened this week that I just cannot choose one topic, so below are the three topics I really wanted to share with you this week:

1) APCA was started by these 2 amazing people – Eric and Jessica – and because of them colleges that do not have big budgets have the opportunity to afford to bring up and coming talent to their students. Typically college entertainment conferences like this one feature the kinds of artists that only big universities can afford (e.g. $45,000-$150,000). APCA allows for Colleges with more modest budgets to preview incredible talent and partner with other local Colleges to save money and be able to bring amazing artists that would be hard to afford otherwise. 

So this is just a thank you to Eric and Jessica, and to all my readers, realize that these 2 people started an entire movement that allowed for colleges across the country to bring amazing things to their campuses. Just 2 people can have a huge impact. Always hold fast to stories like that.

2) Another thing I kept thinking about was how much I learned from watching all types of performers. It is so engaging to watch people completely put themselves out there, and it’s simply fun to experience new things with new friends. As I sat there getting into a really great song and laughing with the people around me I thought about how hard it is for us to get community college students involved in events. Most of the educational sessions at the conference were about marketing.

Why is it so hard to engage community college students in fun? Often because you guys don’t live on campus, you have jobs, and once class is done you just get into the routine of going home. But trust me, at no other time in your life will people be trying to get you to come have fun for free.

Enjoy this while you can and go to your College entertainment events. And invite lots of people to join you. It’s about connecting with your peers and making College a full experience. Your challenge this week is to go to your College’s next entertainment event.   

3) The final thing I thought a lot about this week is what makes some entertainers stand out and others fall flat, even if they have similar talent. If you’ve ever watched American Idol you know what I’m talking about.

I came to a conclusion of 3 things that make entertainers stand out, and once I wrote it out I realized they are 3 things that make everyone stand out: 1) Humility 2) Focusing more on others than yourself 3) Enjoying the moment. The entertainers that really stood out to me and many of the other College’s seemed to be the ones that were just genuinely happy to be there, weren’t afraid to show us their true selves, were focused more on the audience having a good time than having a “good show,” and they seemed to genuinely enjoy whatever they were doing in that very moment. Not everyone came across this way, and for me these things make all the difference.

And not only for entertainers.  I guarantee you the best way for you to stand out in your life, in your school, in your club, in your future job, is to be humble, to worry more about serving others than making yourself look good, and truly enjoy whatever you are doing in that moment.

Have a fun week. Enjoy your moments. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

"I Believe I Can Fly..."

I just got back from a conference in San Francisco and it was an incredible experience. You can find all of the inspiration I gathered from this conference when it comes to community college students figuring out what they want to do with their lives in the extra post-conference vlog below. I didn’t think I was going to have time to post a full blog/vlog with the back to back traveling I’m doing this weekend, but I had to give you something.   

So in addition to all of the inspiration I also gained  newfound confidence from traveling by myself. For those of you who have traveled by yourself since you were young this may not apply. But for me I had never even been on an airplane until I was 19. And all my trips since then have been with groups of people.

I am from Florida and have a terrible sense of spatial understanding, so public transportation has always alluded me. In past travels (e.g. England) I relied on my friends to navigate while I followed.

It was my turn to navigate by myself this weekend and it was empowering. To understand, I am someone who used to look at people who traveled alone as amazing independent individuals. I used to think wow, how do they figure all of that out? It seemed so foreign to me.

And now I know. And I feel like I could do anything and go anywhere.

Have you had that “I can do anything” moment in your life? Have you felt that unique sense of independence that reminds you that you and only you are in control of the direction you are going? We often greatly overestimate the power of others to pull us in various directions. When in reality, it is only that we choose to follow.

In community college it can be hard sometimes to gain that sense of independence as many students live with their parents in order to save money. I encourage you to consider transferring to a college where you live in a dorm after you graduate. Start saving up money and applying for scholarships so you can afford to live on campus – it is more possible than you think.

And for now, try going on trips or doing things on your own. I’ll never forget my very first day in community college my western civilization professor gave us all a 5 minute speech on why we all needed to take a weekend and go to England as college students. He said we should just buy a ticket, stay in cheap hostels, and travel around in the inexpensive trains.

I know it all sounds painfully cliché, and in some ways it is, but in other ways, I think those independent excursions of travel and exploration breed new confidence and inspiration. Sometimes things become cliché because they are just good.

So start thinking about ways you can carve out some independence for yourself, such as planning a road trip with friends this summer, or booking a ticket and staying in English hostels this weekend. 

Always remember you are  in charge of your direction. The question is - do you know where you are going? 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Screens and Faces: The Lost Art of Conversation

So I finally got my first smart phone this week. I know I know, I’m behind. WAY behind. I always have been when it comes to technology, and not out of ignorance, but by choice. Why? Because I love face-to-face conversations and technology always seemed to be this sharp ax that just slowly but surely chipped away at human interaction.

I once had e-mail on my phone in college and I found myself looking down at my phone while walking from class to class. And I’d reply back to e-mails while sitting and waiting for class to start. Everyone else was doing this too, so I figured it wasn’t a big deal.

But then I kind of realized that instead I could have been talking to people. I started to get lonely and realized I wasn’t making much effort to socialize (effort that must be made especially if you are a commuter college student) and got the internet taken off my phone.

And it did help. I was focused on my surroundings more. I had time to think, to ponder, to marinate ideas. And I talked more. To people. Face to face.

Speaking of face, I just watched The Social Network (which is fantastic) this week so I’ve been thinking a lot about Facebook and all the ways technology does connect us. For example I’ve reunited with old best friends from 2nd grade and have found through the ebb and flow of Facebook identity sharing that we’d probably still be best friends if we hadn’t moved away.

Through the internet I’ve learned and researched thousands of new concepts and ideas, have been led to meet with inspiring people, and have had the opportunity to share my own thoughts through this blog.

I could go on and on about all of the ways technology serves our human connections. But when that technology is attached to our bodies via our phones, it has great potential to hinder the focus we have during a conversation with another person.

I’m sure like me you probably talk to people every single day and your eyes are not literally glued to your phone. However, how many times have you been talking with someone and that little ding of a text makes your eyes shift from their face to your screen? How many times do you think you could have gotten into an incredible conversation but it was diverted due to that technological pull? 

I know it has happened to me.

And while I’m sure like me you talk to people every day, how often do you have an actual conversation? An uninterrupted time where you sit face-to-face with someone and simply talk, share your ideas, share your lives, laugh, and uncover some new treasure of knowledge from that person’s experience?

During my spring break I had the opportunity (and the time) to rediscover the power and the magic of these kinds of conversations. They renewed my spirit and unleashed fresh motivation, desire, and a hunger for more human connection.

So this morning’s blog is dedicated to those people who turned off their phones and had a conversation with me. Those people who made this week one of the best of my life. Those people who shared themselves.

My challenge to you this week is to turn off your phone once in a while and make time to just talk with people. And be sure to listen too. Nothing will ever replace the art of face-to-face human connection, and the more and more our world advances technologically (and it happens fast…I was at the mall this week and saw for the first time the huge production that is lining up at the Mac store for the latest and greatest) the more of an effort we will have to make to not lose this vital aspect of who we are.

Conversation elevates, inspires, motivates, develops, and changes us. And college is one of the most important times to have these conversations. But don’t ever stop.

Because every conversation will often lead to an important lesson, idea, or a connection that will inspire. Below are some of the lessons and epiphanies I had during some of my favorite conversations this week:

*Sometimes the nicest people really do get the success they deserve; a positive, friendly, and humble attitude really does go far (Convo with Ashley McCormick, the most amazing photographer in the world).

*There are people out there who have passion to create community in places where there is none. Who want to bring art and music and gardening and sustainability to people who don’t seem to care. People who instinctively know that middle school students who are “bad” should not be locked in a room all day. People who give the guy at Panera her cup so he won’t have to waste another one. It’s all about passion, belief, and simple, small, daily change. That is where greatness comes from (Convo with Valerie, my middle school and high school best friend).

*It’s never too late to start a new adventure, and why not create a business from what you love? (Convos with Rose and my Mom).

*Jump even if you are afraid (Convo with the 13-year-old Canadian boy we met zip lining).

*Meeting successful young women is truly inspiring. Especially when they are incredibly gracious and despite their busy and demanding schedule make you feel like you are the most important person in the world. It’s almost impossible to find good role models in today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. I found one this week. (Convo with Kristin Harmel, incredible author and reporter – find and read her amazing books here!)

*Failure is the only path to success. If you aren’t failing then you must not be trying hard enough. And the only way to reach your ideal is to give your all wherever you are. And remember that when you are young and fresh out of college you probably will be an intern or an assistant or some “low” job on the totem poll. Embrace it and make the most of it because those who do will be those for whom doors of opportunity will open (Convo with Creative Manager who has worked with Paul McCartney and Ringo Star).

These nuggets of wisdom and inspiration have fueled me this week. And they all started with two people sitting down (sometimes with a cup of coffee, a cake pop, or a delicious dirty chai tea - thanks for that discovery Val) and talking – without interruptions.

Try it this week. Invite someone to hang out via Facebook or text right now. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about him/her, about yourself, and about the world. 

Exchange ideas. Exchange kindness. Exchange words. And above all, listen deeply.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Break – How to Fix it

I saw Wicked for the first time this weekend and it was one of the single best experiences of my life. 

Ones that compare would have to be my trips to England and Kauai. It’s that magical feeling and inspiration that comes from a new experiences of sight, sound, color, and feeling. And I appreciated that inspiration much more during this time in my life as so much of it is consumed with work. It is so easy to fall into routine and put the fun, new, and sometimes expensive experiences in your back pocket for some far off mysterious later time in your life when you will have the time and money. 

And yet I find that people who wait until they have the time or money wait forever.

Now I’m not saying you should drop out of school and go into debt to travel the world. But I am saying that you should take advantage of the free time you are offered in college – such as spring break – and invest in yourself by engaging in new experiences. 

At this time in life, especially if you grew up in a small little area of the world for most of your life like me, there are still so many things you don’t know about or haven’t experienced.  And there is nothing more exhilarating than discovering new aspects of this world – especially those aspects that interest you in particular.

For me, it is theater, beaches, small pubs that sell tea, jacket potatoes, and scones in England, bookstores, roller coasters, and nature adventures like rappelling and zip lining.

What about you? If you are like me when I was in community college, you probably aren’t really sure. You probably think you don’t have the money for that kind of stuff and that during spring, summer, and winter break you’ll need to pick up extra shifts at work just to help make ends meet, let alone have some fun.

Or maybe you’re like the people who think spring break is about the age-old tradition of college debauchery. I’m all about fun, but don’t waste your life or your brain cells trying to fit into this idea of college wastefulness. There is so much more to experience.

Or maybe you’re that community college student who lives at home and just hangs around the house or at the same places with the same friends for those 5 days off.

Don’t be those people. Be spontaneous. Be adventurous. Do something you never thought you would do. This is the time to do it. This is the time to invest in new experiences. Because guess what, from what I’ve learned so far, when you finally “have the money” to do the things you’ve always wanted to do, you probably won’t have the time.

I’m lucky enough that I work at a college so I’m still afforded some of the benefits of time. And so for my spring break I am taking my own advice. While I cannot travel out of the country this week, I am taking this time to explore new things in my very own backyard. I’ve always wanted to go zip lining and found most courses were up north or in Costa Rica. And then I found one just an hour and a half away. So I grabbed a friend and we are going to go flying through the trees this week.

What trees have you always wanted to fly through? What places or things have you always wanted to explore. Just like I ask you when it comes to your dreams and your goals, I ask again…

What are you waiting for?

Traditional university students are typically encouraged to travel and often do so since they live on campus and are able to build these groups of friends who put together road trips or adventures together. Many also have the luxury of not having to work during college.

Most community college students do not have that luxury.


Do not let that be your excuse. Do not let your lack of money keep you from growing and experiencing new adventures. You are worth it. During this formative time in your life it is absolutely necessary that you begin to explore new things and stretch yourself.

So I challenge you to do something exciting this spring break. Plan a road trip with friends. Consider traveling abroad or volunteering abroad.

Just go.

Traveling is not that expensive for students and it is completely worth it. A 10-day trip on the traveling abroad website above for one person is well under $2,000. Take out extra loans if you have to and just invest in yourself. The inspiration you draw from such experiences is vital to growing and developing and finding the motivation to achieve your academic and career goals. If you think your time in college is only about classes and a degree you are sorely mistaken.

In community college, however, it seems most just go to class and get a degree. Choose to be different. Choose to grasp onto the entire college experience early. And make the most of your time off of class to grow and learn in other ways.

I know you probably still have a billion excuses running through your head right now about why you cannot travel or explore new things.  About how you have to work. About how you don’t have the money. That is the song of the lower middle class. It is the song that you will be singing for the rest of your life unless you change your tune now. Trust me, I know that when you grow up poor it is really hard to understand the nature of investment. That often you need to spend first to receive. 

And I have learned that an initial investment in the right stock – YOU – will yield priceless riches of growth, experience, and inspiration.

“I’m through accepting limits
Cause someone says there so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try I’ll never know…

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down”

- Defying Gravity, from Wicked The Musical