Monday, June 27, 2011

The #1 Energy Drink to Get You Through College

I kind of think I’ve found a secret energy drink to help you complete your college degree – pass those rough classes, stop procrastinating, prioritize, and make the time to study.

It will help you choose the right classes, find the right major, and create a memorable and enjoyable college experience. Side effects may include graduating with a high GPA and a huge dose of confidence and contentment.

I think I can make millions with this new energy drink. If only I could bottle it.

But alas, the recipe is much more complicated, and each drink is unique to the individual. I’ve tasted it here and there, and for the most part it is what got me through college. But I’m finding you need these energy drinks throughout your whole life.

Because sometimes life can be draining.

This energy drink has been a huge part of my life. But I didn’t really understand it’s definition, have never been able to pinpoint its source, its properties, or its recipe until this week.

This week I spoke at the Hope CommUnity Center – a center that supports immigrant farm workers and their children, especially through English classes and a college access program -- and I felt like my heart was on fire.

My eyes watered when the organizers were talking about the upcoming adventures and college visits they were going to take the teens on in the next few months.

I got chills when I saw the group of high school students sitting patiently, there to learn, there to grow, there to succeed. There to care.

And when I spoke and I saw their eyes, some of their tears, and saw a few taking notes, I realized why my heart was set on fire when I walked in that building. I realized what drove so much of my life. 

I finally understood the energy drink that fueled my collegiate accomplishments. It was this feeling. It was being amidst something I cared about, something I believed in, and getting the opportunity to do something I loved doing.

I felt like I was contributing. And nothing can compare to that kind of energy.

I cannot fully express the inspiration I gleamed from my experience. But what I do know is that on the drive back I felt a new sense of renewed energy, life, motivation, thrill, and excitement that I hadn’t felt in a while.

It was so strong that I actually cried. It was a happy cry I’ve never really known before. It was this deep sense of finding something that truly lit me on fire. 

And from there an entire storm of creativity, emotion, and joy erupted. And what did I do with that energy? Change the world? Start a non-profit? Hug strangers?

Nope. I cleaned my apartment. I took out the trash. I unloaded the dishwasher. I finished reading a book. I made some tea.

I did the things that often get lost when I’m feeling drained of energy. And it felt fantastic.

And unlike the typical energy drinks this high did not go away after a few hours. I have drawn energy from this experience to help me through a myriad of tasks that I often cannot find the motivation for.

Because this is the kind of energy drink that moves you. The kind that really fuels you. The kind that makes that hard math class not seem so bad – because you know you want an A in math so you can move forward and get the degree that will help you do something that sets your heart on fire.

You will want to chase that feeling, and it will give you energy to get through the hard stuff.

I figured all this out when the teenage boy taking the most furious notes asked me “how do you stay motivated?” I had never been asked this before and it really made me think.

But oddly enough the answer came as surely as water comes when you turn on the faucet.

“This is what keeps me motivated. Seeing people like you who care. Seeing people like you who take notes and ask questions and want to move forward and make something of your lives. Moments like this are what set my heart ablaze and keep me going.”

Keep searching for your energy drink. Feel free to play with the recipe. Feel free to switch brands and flavors. Explore. Notice how it fuels or drains you. And when you find it, don’t apologize for it. It can be anything. The only criteria is that it energizes you.

And never - ever - settle for anything artificial.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking Risks After Community College

I love listening to stories; it would be my ultimate dream to travel around to listen and learn about how people’s lives unfold, how they made decisions, and where those decisions led (see my new favorite book What Should I Do with My Life by Po Bronson). 

As thrilling as it is to hear other people’s stories, there is something really unique about hearing them from your family – especially your parents and grandparents. Because selfishly, their stories led to yours, so they keep you a bit more rapt – you realize one small move, one tiny decision, could mean you would not even exist.

I’d always heard the contexts of my parents’ stories, but rarely their mentalities, their motivations, their desires, their fears, their risks.

This fathers-day weekend in particular I was inspired my Dad’s own community college and post-college experience.
My dad. Gotta love the 70's.

My dad got an associate degree from a community college in Staten Island, NY in business and accounting. He said he chose that because he had no idea what he wanted to do. He deeply wished someone had talked to him about who he was, what he wanted, and how that fit into his degree and career goals. Instead, he chose something that made sense, finished his 2 years, and went straight to work at an accounting office, traveling 2 hours walking, riding the ferry, the bus, and the subway to get to work.

One day while walking along the street to work, seeing many blank, hurried faces in suits, he realized he hated his job and couldn’t do this the rest of his life. So 10 months into his new job he took his week vacation and he and his best friend flew to Miami, FL to explore.

Aimlessly wandering through Miami, Ft.Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, my dad fell in love with Florida. They finished their last four days of the trip at my dad’s aunts house and while there he contemplated moving to Florida. He told his aunt he would go back to New York for a while, get things together, and then return.

His aunt said, “if you go back to New York you’ll never come back.”

And he knew she was right.

So my dad did something kinda crazy. He stayed in Florida. He told his friend he wasn’t coming back.

His friend was angry. His family was angry. No one understood. But my dad knew it was something he had to do. He took the risk. UPS brought all the belongings of his NY life to Florida. And he never left.

Typically these stories end here, and if you’re like me you think, wow that is awesome I want to just go somewhere, leave everything behind and do something crazy, because that is how I’ll find myself. But of course, there is reality to content with.

My dad lived with his cousin and worked a variety of jobs – a collections agent, a pick-up/drop-off man for an appliance rental company, a UPS man, a waiter at an elderly home (his favorite). It wasn’t easy. But he didn’t regret it.

That is what inspired me most, and reminded me of college. Going away, taking risks, trying something new, and leaving behind something you know isn’t for you is hard. But it’s worth it.

Similarly, college students – especially those from low-income families – tend to fear the idea of going out of state for college.

Community college students typically hop over to the local university after their 2-years to continue their degree. There is nothing wrong with this and it’s often a great option for many.

However, I talk to students daily who articulate their dreams, know what they want to do, know the best program is farther upstate or sometimes across the country, but they put it out of their mind because it seems so out of their reach. Often the biggest fear is money.

Community college saves you so much money and is an excellent choice. But it doesn’t mean the lack of money or the desire to save money should guide every decision. Because it may limit you.

It’s easy to think that because we don’t have the money we can’t make big jumps in our lives. It’s not that we need/should make big jumps simply to get the high of jumping. But sometimes, you know you need to jump and you don’t.

If you decide you want to transfer out-of-state for college, or you want to study abroad for a semester, or even a year, but don’t think you have the money – just put that out of your mind. Tell yourself the money exists for you; you just have to find it.

(for more helpful tips on how to find money for your college adventure just type your e-mail into the free gift blue box with the light bulb in the top right-hand corner for the tips that helped me get paid to go to college and a go on free trips to Nashville, New Orleans, and England).

Don’t be afraid to jump, to go, even if everyone else around you wonders what the heck you are doing. Because sometimes it’s those decisions you look back on and think, wow that really was crazy, that tend to be the best.

*Do you have a story of college risk or adventure? E-mail it to And your success story may appear on the blog or Facebook.

*OR are you thinking of taking a risk but still pretty afraid? I’d be happy to help – just send me your situation at

Monday, June 13, 2011

Have You Decided?

I’ve always admired people who can speak a variety of languages. And I’ve always been completely inspired by those who are able to come to a new country and not only learn the language but also excel in reaching their goals and creating a better life for themselves and their families.

I have long been enamored with such talent and accomplishment, but it wasn’t until recently that I came to understand that admiration could be bestowed on my very own grandparents.

They came from Puerto Rico to New York after they married – not knowing any English – and worked as hotel janitors for their entire lives.

As I explain in The Biracial & Bi-collegiate Identity I am half Puerto Rican. And of course whenever anyone finds this out they ask “do you know Spanish?”

And I always reluctantly say no and that I wish I did and that I’m planning to learn one of these days.

This isn’t something I just say. I have wanted to make the commitment to learn for a long time. Three years ago I even bought one of those high-tech learn-the-lanugage-in-6-months full immersion computer programs.

And it has sat in the back of my closet with my old Sims games ever since.

But something changed last week. It wasn’t some big epiphany or moment that finally made me realize all of my excuses (e.g. it will take to long to learn a new language, what will I really do with the skill once I have it, I won’t really be able to learn unless I live somewhere where they only speak Spanish anyways…) were unfounded.

What changed is that I finally made a decision. I am going to learn Spanish.

For years I have told people I “wanted” to. I even bought the learning software, which may seem like a decision, but it wasn’t. It was all just a show until I really decided.

So last week I dug through my closet and old computer stuff and found the brand-new-never-opened Spanish language learning software and put in the first CD and started (“la leche…el servico de seƱoras”).

How often in life do we move forward with things and realize - though we’re going through the motions - we still haven’t fully committed? How often do we act like we’ve decided when really we’re just trying to put off the decision because we’re afraid?

I find many students in college who are simply going through the motions -- taking classes, picking a major -- but they are far from committed. They are going to college, but they haven’t decided to get an education.They haven’t decided to succeed. They haven’t decided to do their best. They haven’t decided why they are there at all.

What about you? Have you decided that you are going to make the most of your college education – whatever it takes?

All it takes is a decision. And it doesn’t come by magic or even an inspirational epiphany. It just comes from you. It can only come from you.

So whatever you’ve been putting off, wherever you’ve been aimlessly wandering, decide to make a decision about what you are trying to achieve. Decide that it is going to happen. Decide what you are going to give. And then once you’ve decided – do.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What a 9th Grade Couple Taught me at the Taylor Swift Concert

"And even though you want to, just try to never grow up." - Lyrics from Never Grow Up, by Taylor Swift.

This weekend I saw Taylor Swift live in concert. I have always wanted to see her in concert and have always failed to get tickets. They would sell out in seconds and I had no idea how or who was able to get access to this event.

Then finally after an all- call on Facebook for anyone with an American Express card (they get early access) my good friend Jessica got us tickets in those few seconds.

However, even in those few seconds the only seats we could get were way at the top. Of course I was still incredibly excited. Yet when we got there this Saturday night and we realized how high we were I couldn’t help but for a moment really wish I was at the bottom, right in front, having the front row experience.

There was even an opportunity to text to win “pit passes” that would get you in the standing-room-only pit right beneath the stage.

I entered 65 times.

I realized as the concert began I was starting to become preoccupied with getting on the floor, wishing I was sitting in the front row, wondering how in the world people were able to get access to that seemingly VIP-only experience.

And then I realized before being thankful for even getting to the concert I was already fretting about going closer, getting more. 

And then this adorable 9th-grade boyfriend and girlfriend in black-rimmed glasses and matching neon glowing headbands just 2 rows in front of me were having a front row experience. They were singing along, rocking their fists up in down, and having a great time. 

This touched me; I’m always distracted by these kinds of moments whenever I’m in large crowds. And this time, those 9th graders snapped me back and reminded me I could have a front row experience wherever I was.

And so, I pumped my arms, sang along as if I was in a music video, lost my voice, and eventually took off my shoes and jumped around on the top level of the dirty stadium floor.

I felt like I was 14 years old. And it felt great.

Though I thought about how I could make this into a deep insightful college-related metaphor I realized I don’t really have one. All in all I had a great experience and I wanted to share it with you.

I felt young in a really freeing way and it reminded me that the only thing that keeps us from feeling that way all the time is….us. We blame it on our society or our circumstances, or where we’re sitting in the proverbial stadium of life, but really, we are in control of how we experience the world and the joy we choose to exhibit.

So wherever you are, take off your shoes, don’t be afraid of the dirty floor or being the oldest person jumping up and down, and make the best of where you are. You just might inspire someone a few rows behind you to do the same.