Monday, April 25, 2011

The View of Your Life & the Guy in the Cowboy Hat

Sometimes it is really hard to figure out what you want to do. And sometimes you realize you’ve known it all along but you’re too scared to tell anyone.

I thought about this during the amazing mini-beach vacation Jeremy and I went on this weekend courtesy of my birthday wish. As a Florida-born girl with a mom who was terrified of airplanes, all of my favorite vacations and teenage moments happened at the beach.

It was the first place I took my car when I got my driver’s license. It was where I cultivated my love of reading. It was where I got married. It is where I feel most alive.

Now obviously I’m not the only one who feels this way about the grand ocean. There is a reason why the super wealthy buy their own islands and why almost every beach is lined with sky-high hotel buildings trying to fit as many people as possible into their little boxes of paradise.

Can I tell you a secret? I’ve always wanted to live in one of those boxes. It all started with a 9th grade English writing assignment.

Our English teacher told us to close our eyes and visualize our life in 10 years and then write it down. I’m actually just realizing as I write this that, at age 14 in 9th grade, I was visualizing my life right now, at age 24.  Whoa.

I remember my visualization so clearly. It was me, sitting on a light blue couch with airy white curtains blowing in as the sea breeze and the ocean air fluttered the pages of the book I was writing. I was a writer, living on the beach. Free. Peaceful, content, happy.

Cut to 10 years later and life doesn’t look much like my 14-year-old self might have imagined. Though I am sitting here on my porch with a view of a nice pond and I’m writing to you and am pretty peaceful, content, and happy,I had to pay lots of money per night for my beautiful ocean view.

And while I’m working on my dream to have a book published, I’m hardly a writer who can escape the 9 to 5 and live blissfully on the beach.

Although in all honesty, I don’t think I could survive being a writer and being alone all day in a little condo on the beach. I like people too much and have learned that beyond personal diary-like musings and sharing of life lessons, I don’t know if I’d ever be cut out to be an actual writer for my entire life.

However, deep down, I know I still want to live on the beach one day. And even deeper, I still wish that I was a writer.

Whew. There. I said it. It feels weird.

It’s hard to say those things you wish for your life because no matter how confident you are in yourself, your abilities, or your work ethic, you just feel silly sometimes.

So while I often tell you to believe you can do anything and go for your dreams, I’m always telling myself too.  Because it is scary.

And just like last week when I said to let action precede motivation, sometimes you also have to let action precede belief. Because sometimes it is really hard to believe you can do something.

Sometimes it is really scary to try to do something when in the back of your mind that little voice says, “who do you think you are trying to be that? Don’t you know who you are? You’ll never….”

And it can be hard to shut that voice up. I find the best way is to not wait until it is quiet. Sometimes you just need to crank up your favorite song and charge ahead and just do it despite the doubt.

Because deep down I think everyone who has ever done anything great or admirable has had those doubts and those voices. I don’t think they learned how to quiet them. I think they learned how to charge ahead despite them.

And it was the vast and beautiful ocean that reminded me of all this this weekend (even despite the odd man in a giant man-kini bottom and cowboy hat who frequently walked by like he was Jeff Bridges in True Grit).

So take a few moments and picture your life in 10 years. Better yet, picture your life in 4 years. What are you doing? Where are you? What does it smell like? What does it look like? How do you feel?

Write it down. Don’t be afraid to think about it. Don’t be afraid to tell someone. And don’t let those weird crazy negative voices wearing man-kini’s and cowboy hats distract you. Just give ’em a good ol’ smile and chuckle as they walk by and keep enjoying the view. 
The view from our hotel Sat. morning :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Take the Exam Fitness Challenge With Me

So it’s almost exam time and you are probably thinking about how you cannot wait until a time in your life where you no longer have to cram a semester’s worth of material into your brain and then spit it all out in an hour.

You may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and are just thinking about how great it will feel when this semester is finished. It’s time to buckle down and just “get through” this.

But there’s actually a better way.

All throughout my school life, and especially in college, I loved learning for learning’s sake. Regardless if it was a favorite communications class or a dreaded math class, I developed a love of the classroom experience, and even of studying.

And no, I wasn’t a book nerd that never got out much. In fact, with my study habits, I never studied past 6pm, I never studied the day of a test, I never crammed, and I never had to say no to hanging out with friends because I had too much studying to do. And most importantly, studying wasn’t something I just did during exam time. It was part of my daily routine, my daily learning diet, and I learned to love it.

 It is understandable to think that once college is over you will never have to use most of the skills gained, that you will never have to study in the same way, discuss in the same way, write in the same way, or stress in the same way.

However, how you handle yourself during exam week is a great reflection of how you will handle yourself in life’s stressful situations. And there will be many more to come than just a few tests.

And you’re not just learning study habits to perform on a test. You are learning how to learn, how to retain information, how to deal with stress, and how to cope and prepare for life situations. And learning and preparing certainly doesn’t stop after college – at least for those who are successful.

For me, the love of learning came naturally, however I realize that not everyone feels this way. I realize not everyone loves learning or studying or mastering a subject. But I do think every student can and should develop a love of learning and the perseverance necessary for college success.

Easy for me to say, right, since I just happened to love learning, making school quite wonderful. But what if you’ve had a hard time? What if you are unmotivated? What if exams just seem like such a waste of time?

What if you have no passion for school? What if you just feel like no matter how hard you try you just aren’t getting the grades you want so what’s the point in trying? What if you feel like giving up sometimes?

I’m actually feeling a lot of those things right now, but not about school, about exercise. Because as I said earlier, how you approach college learning in general will prepare you for success (or failure) in setting and reaching other goals throughout your life.

So while the love of learning came natural to me, the love of exercise does not. I think all people can and should develop a keen love for both. But right now, I only love one.

I know it is good for me, I know it is important for my health, I know it will benefit me both now and in the long term, but sometimes it just feels like a lot of work and feels like it has no relevance in my day to day life.  Sound familiar?

Sometimes I feel like I’m fine without it so why do I need it. Sometimes I feel like there are just so many other important things to do. And sometimes I feel like just giving up.

And you know what the problem is?

I don’t enjoy working out for working out’s sake. I’m thinking about all the benefits, why I’m supposed to care, supposed to do it, supposed to succeed. But if I don’t really like it, really enjoy it, really want it, it just won’t work. No matter how hard I think I “try.”

Because you may be studying like crazy and feel like you’re not getting anywhere in your college success. But have you checked your motives? Have you checked your desires? Have you learned to love this? Do you really want this? And do you really believe you can do this?

And if you don’t have that innate passion for something but you want to want it, how do you develop it? Where does motivation come from? How do you teach yourself to love something? How do you push through the things that you don’t love? How do you learn to make the important things part of who you are, part of your life, and not just some external pressure that you have to “get through” to get to your real life?

I’ll be honest I don’t have the answers to these questions. I constantly question where motivation comes from, especially in those rare occasions when I feel simply unmotivated.

So what is the answer? Let action be the leader sometimes and let motivation follow. Because sometimes motivation can be a lazy and slow leader.

Sometimes you just have to do something and in the process of doing it teach yourself to love it, teach yourself to discover motivation for it, and teach yourself to appreciate the process and find something great in it.

So with your exam struggles in mind, I’m making a commitment to work out every day for the next 30 days. I’ll be honest, I’m cringing just typing this. I have zero motivation for it right now. But I’m doing it as sort of an experiment. Even though I’m not in college anymore, I want to step inside your shoes and feel what it feels like to push myself to do something that I actually have no motivation to do. I’m letting action be my leader.

So throughout the week I will give a daily update on Facebook and Twitter about how my fitness experiment is going; and I will share a study tip that will help you with exams and that will also be applicable to your daily and future life.

I think motivation, passion, drive, and dedication can be learned. So as you try to learn how to love learning and approach your exams with a positive attitude, I am going to try to learn to love exercise.

What have I gotten myself into….?

Join me on Facebook and Twitter for daily study tips and updates on my fitness experiment :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I have a vlog/blog on USA Today College!

Today I had a special vlog/blog posted on the front page of USA Today College! Thanks to Patrick Foster for working with me to make this happen and to everyone who has shared the link. It means so much to me! :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Time Flies

Time flies. I’ll be 24 this week and yesterday I was thinking about how fast we grow up, how when we do we tend to realize, as Taylor Swift sings in Never Grow Up: “everything I have is someday gonna be gone.” I can still smell the grass in my favorite hiding spot in our backyard. I can still feel the excitement of getting up at 5am to sneak a look at our stockings before my parents woke up on Christmas morning.

I can still remember writing notes with gel pens in middle school and then folding them in some cool heart shape (though I can’t remember how to do it anymore).

I can still remember parking my white Pontiac sun fire in my high school parking lot and walking with anticipation on the first day of senior year. 

I also sharply remember my grandparents who passed away this year.  I can see my grandpa sitting in the passenger seat teaching me how to drive. I can taste the bisquits and gravy my mamaw would make for us early in the morning.
Time flies.

I know I’m not old by any means. I’m still young and have so much ahead of me. For the most part when we are young we don’t really think about time. We have more time ahead of us than behind us, so we just keep on going, and in some deep place, no matter how self-aware and rational we are, we assume things will always be as they are.

But of course they won’t. Time flies, things change, people come and go, and we change. I’m not the same person I was a few years ago. I don’t have the same time I had a few years ago. And recently I have been realizing how easy it is to take that time for granted, and that often the things I want to fill my time with most are the first to go when I’m too busy.

And as time flies it seems busyness follows. There is nothing more annoying than someone telling you you are not busy when you are feeling overwhelmed. I felt very busy in high school, and in college, and if anyone ever told me I wasn’t busy compared to how busy I would be as I grew older I felt so annoyed because they obviously didn’t work as hard as I did in high school and college. But of course they were right and I was wrong.

There is a lot going on in high school and college compared to what you were responsible for prior to those life stages. Just as when you graduate and begin a career you will be much busier than you were in college. It just happens, and often you don’t even realize it while it’s happening. And then all of a sudden you are sleeping all the time, going to work, going home, watching TV because you are too tired to do anything else, and then going back to sleep.

Often when we have these big transitions of time the first things to go are our favorite things.  For me, the first to go are exercise, reading, and waking up early.

I love waking up a few hours before I have to leave for work. In fact that is when I write this blog. I love to clean, exercise, read, and just spend time doing things I like to do. In college I had a really good amount of time to do these things. I’d devour a book in a week, go to exercise classes three times a week, and wake up early even on the weekends.

Lately, I’ve been so busy that I just stopped doing all these things because I “didn’t have time.” But I realized when we say we don’t have time it just means we’re not willing to make time, that it’s really not that important. Because we will make time for what is important. It’s just a matter of what really matters.

So this Saturday, I woke up at 6am. I know, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy and are ready to exit my blog right now because you don’t need anyone telling you to wake up at 6am. I understand the college culture of staying up until 3:30am and waking up at 10am. We all have our own patters and times when we are most energetic and alert. You may be a night person and that’s cool.

However, waking up at 6am on a Saturday was kind of awesome. Saturdays are pretty special when you work, and it is my day to do all of the things I love, especially spending time with my husband, Jeremy. This Saturday felt like the longest day of my life and it was simply incredible. We did so much that day and had a blast.

Time flies.

So I want to create as much time as possible. And I want to use that time doing the things that I enjoy. There are so many cheesy sayings about “living in the present” and “making every second count” and “live each day like it’s your last.” And since I’m cheesy I like all that stuff. But I like to think about it in reality, not just a quick inspirational blurb. I like to think about what it really means to spend my time wisely, to create more time by waking up early, to appreciate the time behind me and invest in the time right in front of me.

College is a really cool time in your life. And it will be gone before you know it. Hanging out amongst your peers so often, exploring a variety of topics, being in charge of a club, going on trips, discussing things with groups of strangers, the feeling of seeing an A on a paper, choosing your schedule and having days when all you have to do is go to 2 classes. Can I tell you a secret? I miss it a lot.

SCC PTK International Fair :)
But I’ve realized lately how important it is that I make and take the time to really invest in the present and enjoy where I’m at in life right now.

So for you, right now is college. Right now is exploring and figuring out what you want to do. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it, to long for the days where you no longer have to study or write papers about topics you may not care about. But it’s kind of a great time in life. And before you know it…

It will fly away.

So consider waking up early. Consider how to make the most of your next class. Consider how to enjoy the friends in your life right now because most of them won’t be around forever. Consider how to make studying and writing enjoyable. Consider that this is your life, right now. College isn’t a limbo waiting ground where you sit until your real life begins. Once you begin to think that way you will always feel like you are waiting for your life to begin.

But your life is now. And it is flying. Don’t let it get away.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What Pit Bulls and Community College Students Have in Common

So Jeremy and I decided it is finally the right time for us to get a puppy. In addition to writing a book, this has been another one of my life-long dreams. So this weekend we set out to the local shelters to see if there were any puppies that were right for us. And while we didn’t find our puppy this weekend, I found something very profound.

After spending some time with the jovial adult dogs in the outside corridor we turned to leave the humane society when we passed a concrete puppy room with one very small black pit bull puppy curled up as tight as it could, shaking in a corner – not your typical puppy behavior. It looked very scared and lonely, and possibly sick. As we walked past and read the description, we already knew we couldn’t adopt her because our apartment does not allow pit bulls due to their bad reputation.

But I’ve never personally encountered that stereotype.

Every pit bull I’ve ever met has been so sweet. And so when I saw this puppy, scared and alone, even though I knew I couldn’t adopt it, I stopped and walked into that puppy room to give it some love before we left. I sat down, scooted towards it, and offered my hand. The puppy didn’t budge and still stayed firmly wrapped in the corner. I scooted even closer to let it sniff my hand, but she wasn’t interested. I was about to give up when I figured I might as well just give her one small stroke on the head before I left.

And that was all it took.

Once I touched her she immediately took 3 steps forward and curled up right in my lap and fell asleep. She was just waiting for someone to let her know they cared.

And that is how I felt as a community college “puppy.” And what many of my students explain they felt. We felt alone in a corner, burdened by the stereotype of ending up at a college where “anyone” could get in. We felt scared, that the world didn’t want us, didn’t believe in us.

But for me, and for many of them, it didn’t take long for someone to come along and let us know we were wanted. For me, it was a professor and a few friends. They reminded me that I was wanted, that the stereotype – like almost all stereotypes – was a myth that was only realized when we let how people view us and treat us define who we are.

We are all victims of some sort of societal pit bull-stereotype. And community college students are often defined by some of the starkest stereotypes when it comes to academic expectation. It is assumed we didn’t get good SAT scores, we aren’t independent, we aren’t smart enough to go to a university, we are 2nd class educational citizens.

But just like the pit bull puppy I fell in love with, and the many other lovely adult pit bulls I met this weekend, most of us defy the stereotypes.  

Most of us go to community college because we couldn't afford anything else, because no one taught us about financial aid and scholarships, because no one told us about SAT classes, because we were the first in our family to go to college and no one could guide us down the university path. 

Or because tragedy struck and we needed to be close to home, because we had a family and a job to maintain and needed college to fit into our daily life, because we wanted to save money, or because we came from another country and didn't know what Harvard was and turned down admission in 11th grade. And some of us saw past the stereotypes early and realized that community college was a  small-classroom-private-school type education for a public school cost and jumped at the deal. These are just a few of the reasons I've heard from my students in these past few months. 

Now as we walked throughout the humane society there were a few angry-seeming pit bulls barking in their cages, obviously raised by people who relished and fed the stereotype. But there were a lot of different breeds with that same sort of anger and fear. It seems to depend more on the owner than anything else.

Just as your college success really only depends on you.

Whether you’re at community college or Harvard, you can be exceptional. And in fact I believe some of the most exceptional talent and future leaders and problem solvers of our country are going to come from community colleges. Because community college is a place where everyone can get in. Community college is a place where stereotypes are defied daily.

Community college is a place where brilliance thrives.

How do I know? Because I see it every day.

And sure, there are those slackers who skip class and could care less about their future. But those people are everywhere. Not just at community colleges. 

One of my goals for this blog has always been to change that stereotype (e.g. see the tagline in the headline banner). To remind community college students and the world that community colleges are not dumping grounds for students who couldn’t get into college anywhere else. They are thriving communities of students who are choosing a better life for themselves. Students who needed that open-access open door for a variety of reasons – students who will change our world for the better because they have such rich experience and empathy for some of the greatest problems in our world.

Yet sadly there are always those people that let the stereotypes define them. It can sometimes be too hard to fight against societal expectation, and they surrender their will to be more than expected.

What about you? Are you like the pit bull puppy shaking in a corner, afraid of the world because you feel like it doesn’t want you, doesn’t understand you? Let me pet your head my friend and remind you that you are wanted, you are brilliant, and the only one who can stand in your way is you.

We are all victims of some societal stereotype or another, and it is vital that we ask ourselves if we are succumbing to these narrow-minded assumptions. You can let them scare you, defy you, anger you.

Or, you can triumphantly, graciously, and proudly prove them wrong.

The choice, as always, is yours.