Fail, Fail Again

I think a lot about the collective societal definitions of success, excellence and failure. We typically attach certain milestones and achievements around success, and excellence, and then center our idea of failure around not meeting those expectations, but what if all of that is simply not true? What if not having a 4.0 GPA, getting a high score on standardized tests, completing traditional degrees, getting married, having children, making a certain salary, weren’t true markers of success and excellence?

Something I feel very strongly about is that failure, as it relates to the definition of lack of success, especially when defining success around more traditional achievements, does not actually exist. At least, it doesn’t exist in the way we have been conditioned to believe. I would never say milestones and achievements aren’t important, or have no value, but I think it’s important that we take care to ensure we maintain a healthy sense of self-worth outside of those achievements. A person’s worth is not determined by anything other than their existence.

What if we stopped gauging our own self worth and success around our weight, or body type? What if we stopped deciding we had value based on our relationship status, or job title, or our desire or ability to have children?

I talk a lot about the various “failures,” I have experienced in my life, because I truly believe it’s important. Failure is not fatal, and in reality, failure, like success, is a personal definition. I mentioned my own personal failures in my Back in the Saddle post, and in my Take A Flying Leap post, and even in my Making The Grade post, but I think it’s time to be more specific.

I went to an All Girls’ Catholic College Prep school for middle school and high school. It was academically challenging for me, because I was not a particularly good student. It can be difficult when you are surrounded by high achievers to be someone who, oftentimes, has a best effort that is average or even below average. By the time I graduated, I was burned out on school. In addition to the rigorous curriculum, I lived about 40 miles away from campus, and was the only student community from my neighborhood. Being that far away had been difficult socially the six years I spent between middle school and high school. I applied to several colleges, and was accepted at most I applied to, but honestly didn’t put a lot of thought into making a choice about where to attend after high school. 

I accepted at Cal State Northridge even though I hadn’t been on the campus once, because it was close enough to home that I could live on campus but go home on weekends, they had a theater program, and my dance teacher offered classes very close to campus. That was literally the extent of brainpower I spent on making a choice. When I arrived on campus in the summer to take the English and Math placements test I realized I had made a huge mistake. Going from a school of around six hundred students to a university of thousands was terrifying, and I immediately knew I shouldn’t attend CSUN. I returned from the exams distraught (see intended theater major) and told my parents I had ruined my life, etc. etc. My parents were surprisingly supportive and my dad gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. 

There is no expiration date on your education, and education is more than what happens in a classroom. Colleges aren’t going anywhere, and just because this school isn’t the right fit doesn’t mean taking time to do coursework at a community college, or taking a bit of a break before going back to school isn’t fatal, nor was it a failure. 

All of this also happened to coincide with my dad accepting a job in San Francisco. So, I was able to move with my parents and take some time to focus on my dance, take classes that interested me at City College, and do a bit of an educational reset. Obviously, there’s a huge amount of privilege there. I was able to live at home for free, and have my parents continue to support me as long as I was either in school and/or working. I realize not everyone can approach post-high school education and experience in this way, but I think the overall message is important. College isn’t for everyone, and isn’t for everyone right out of high school. 

I did take courses at City College and College of San Mateo. I never fulfilled all of my transfer requirements which a lot of my peers thought was a failure on my part, and made me flakey and lazy. The truth was, I wanted to be able to study things I found interesting, and I wasn’t in a huge rush to transfer to a four-year college without having a better grasp on what I wanted my major to be. So, I considered applying to vocal performance programs at University of Oregon and Cal State Long Beach, and was approached by Cal State Los Angeles to apply to their vocal performance programs. I enrolled in and dropped out of Academy of Art University as a graphic design major, and I am a Beauty School Dropout. 

I completed a makeup artist program at Makeup Designory, and worked as a makeup artist for about a year without making any money, before realizing that I am not really cut out for the freelance, hustle lifestyle. Additionally, it was clear to me that while I enjoyed makeup work, I wasn’t willing to go back to retail work in order to make it work, and that I lacked the desire to struggle for years in order to gain entry into the unions for studio work. All of this was absolutely deemed by myself, and a lot of my friends as yet another thing I had failed at. I had several friends who basically told me I was being immature, and selfish. That I couldn’t expect to “like” school or work, and that I just needed to suck it up and finish something. 

Here’s the thing: I absolutely knew, and understood that hard work would be required, and that not all of it would be fun. However, I am also a firm believer in the idea that if I am going to work hard, and have challenges, I need to see the end value in that work. Hard work and being unhappy just for the sake of hard work is unproductive and not worth the difficulty to me. I was willing to make sacrifices and knew there would be classes or jobs I didn’t really love as long as I knew it would ultimately help me reach my end goal. If I didn’t see how that would work, I would move on to try something else even if it meant I hadn’t finished a program. 

Again, I cannot emphasize enough that most people in my life felt that this was wrong, that I was wasting time and that not following a more traditional path meant I was flighty, lazy, immature. Everytime I left another path “unfinished” was viewed as a failure. The reality is, even when I didn’t finish a program, I was able to go forward to something else with new skills, and or a new understanding of what I did want, because I now also knew one more thing I didn’t want. Yes, it took a lot of trial and error, but ultimately, the skills and knowledge I gained through all of these failures has helped me every day, and with every single job I have ever had. 

All of these failures helped to continue to hone my “gut.” I am very good at knowing if a situation, a job, a project, are going to be the right fit for me because I’ve tried and failed at so many things in the past. I no longer waste much time on things that won’t serve me, or make me better, things that won’t help me continue to move forward along my path. It gets easier and easier to say no to what won’t fulfill you, what won’t add value to your life or skills. 

Ultimately I eventually went back to school to finish my undergraduate degree in Social Work. It took me about ten years to finish all the coursework in part because I was in a Weekend/Evening format program and was working full time. This, paired with what I qualified for in student loans  meant it was nearly impossible for me to be enrolled in 12 units each semester. I also had times when life just got too hectic to take on any coursework at all, and I had times when my workplace did not support my being a student and I couldn’t afford to jeopardize my employment. 

Did my lack of a degree keep me from opportunities? Yes, it absolutely did. Was it hard to not be on the same or a more similar traditional path as a lot of my peers? Also, yes. There were many times when I worried I had truly ruined my life, that I would never be able to be “successful,” because my choices had taken me from that traditional, linear path from high school, to college, to workforce. However, the truth is, life is not linear, no matter what we wish we could believe. An example I often share is that when I started my Bachelor of Science in Social Work program back in 2008, I had decided that I would complete my degree, go on to get my Masters in Social Work, become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and get a job as a counselor on an elementary school campus. It became clear very early in 2009 following the recession when the Los Angeles Unified School District cut school counselor positions (along with school nurses and librarians) that this path may not actually be open to me at the end of my imaginary six or so year timeline. I was disappointed, but also thought to myself, well it’s still going to take me close to four years to complete my undergrad coursework anyway, I can always reevaluate after that. In truth, the undergraduate work took close to ten years, and by that time I had discovered the work I actually really enjoyed and felt called to do was in nonprofit fundraising. This work doesn’t require an MSW and certainly doesn’t require being an LCSW, so it was easy to let go of the idea of needing to complete graduate level coursework right away. It also reminded me regularly that life often doesn’t follow our own plans or timelines. 

I could have continued on the path I had set for myself in 2008, but even doing that would mean my plans would look very different. I don’t know that I would have been able to finish my program any more quickly (due mostly to some additional personal life things that came up,) and looking at the student loan debt I sit on from undergrad, taking on more for a program that doesn’t really guarantee work that would pay well enough to pay it all back isn’t super appealing. Following a plan just for the sake of not “failing” is not actually avoiding failure as far as I am concerned. Failure is unavoidable – at some point usually many times in your life, you will fail at something. The important thing is what you do with that failure. Do you brush yourself off, assess the new skills and knowledge you’ve gained from the experience and use that to try again at something else? If so, I don’t view that as a true failure. In order to share advice in a similar vein as my dad’s advice 20 years ago, as long as you are learning, and moving in forward motion, you are never truly failing, and a lot of what we view as failure anyway, is not as serious, and certainly not fatal. To borrow from Henri Nouwen, “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness.” If we focus less on only success, and more on success + fruitfulness, I think we’d all be a lot better off in terms of our mental health. 

Go forth, aim for fruitfulness in your lives, try and fail at many things, and worry less about being successful.

You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

Yesterday, I made a critical error. I replaced the batteries in our bathroom scale and stepped on to weigh myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done this, probably at the beginning of this year, which feels less like months ago and more like a decade ago. In a perhaps misguided attempt at “self-care,” I had chosen to ignore our scale for months. I was also ignoring the fact that most of my clothes no longer fit. The last few months have been trying for everyone. I have defaulted to delivery and comfort foods for many reasons, and now, a reckoning of sorts has happened.

Now that I know, it’s harder to ignore, but instead of feeling motivated to make changes, I simply felt extra defeated, tired, and lacking any drive. I had broken one of the boundaries I had created to protect my mental health, and now I was facing the consequences. Feelings of shame, disgust, and disappointment.

Self-care is a pretty mixed bag these days. There’s also a whole other piece of this – the creep of capitalism and consumerism in wellness and self-care. The way the focus is almost always on women, and how they can and should reap the benefits in order to go back to squeezing every last bit of energy and emotional bandwidth on the wellbeing of others, but I know it’s already been addressed by people with far more expertise than I have. Feel free to give it a Google while you’re surfing the web.

Self-care is often touted as something as simple as taking a hot bath, wearing a face mask, creating a multi-step skin care regimen, or treating oneself to a favorite meal, self-care can be all those things, but it’s also about setting healthy boundaries in order to allow yourself the necessary time to replenish your personal resources. The activities are merely what you are able to do because you’ve created space for them. The actual space you create is the true self-care. The focus should really be on finding what works best to allow you the time and space to do what makes you happy, and leaves you feeling content and satisfied. It should be less about accomplishment and outward achievement and more about fulfillment. What do you need to say “no,” to in order to say “yes,” to yourself?

I think often, and use often the expression in the title of this post. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You should secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The grass is greenest where you water it. All of these say the same thing – you must take care of yourself and your own happiness before you can truly serve others. Depleting yourself does not provide you with anything left to give to your family and friends. While I absolutely believe these things to be true, I wonder if I’ve also allowed those ideas to serve as excuses for actually doing the work of my own self-care. Have I maybe even let these phrases lull me into a false sense of self-care but not addressing the root of why I am stressed, tired, anxious? Probably, and almost certainly this is the case. Looking too closely at the why is hard. It requires acknowledgement of what is no longer serving you, no matter how “comfortable,” you’ve convinced yourself it makes you, and then it requires work to make the appropriate adjustments.

I think a lot of us are in a place where adding more work, especially the difficult emotional work of self-improvement, to our plate feels impossible. I feel like no matter how many naps I take, or plates of deliciously comforting pasta I eat, or wonderful books I read, I am still tired, I am still hungry, I am still feeling restless and struggling to maintain focus. Seeing a number on a scale pushed me to put all of my current coping mechanisms into a harsh light. Truthfully the food I have been eating by and large has made me feel gross. It isn’t particularly nutritionally robust, and I have had heartburn and acid reflux almost daily for months. It got to a point where it didn’t seem to matter what I ate, the result was the same. Oatmeal? Heartburn. Egg noodles with butter? Heartburn. Bagel and cream cheese? Heartburn. Avocado smashed onto toast? Heartburn. Certainly the usual suspects also created problems (wine, tomatoes, spicy foods,) but even absent those ingredients, heartburn. The burning in my chest and throat kept me from sleeping, it made my stomach a mess and I have been incredibly uncomfortable. I finally decided to do a food sensitivity test kit, and it turns out, the foods I love so much, and eat in volume on a regular basis may not love me back.

The highest reactive foods were bananas and egg whites. Second highest is pineapple, and then there are seven mild reactive foods that included asparagus, coffee, cinnamon, egg yolks, garlic, ginger, and wheat.

Wheat! My beloved. While it falls into the more mild category, the amount of wheat I consume (both in obvious foods and in those I had no idea included wheat, like soy sauce,) is very likely creating problems for my digestive system. So, in the name of actual, productive self-care, I am working on significantly reducing the amount of wheat, egg white, and egg yolks, cinnamon, garlic and ginger that I consume. I don’t drink coffee, and asparagus isn’t a regular in my meal plans. I haven’t had any banana or pineapple in months, so the main culprit certainly seems to be the pasta, bread, soy sauce, garlic, and eggs I have been consuming multiple times a day. I was shocked to not find dairy among the list, but I will take the small favors where I can.

This is a rather long and not particularly cogent ramble, but essentially, being shocked by a number on the scale has caused me to truly re-evaluate my own self-care routines. I’m not going to give up my warm baths, or my skin care routine, and certainly won’t give up my books, but maybe it’s time for me to spend more time on the whys, and less time on the activities. Time to evaluate how I am choosing to refill my own cup, and if it’s actually getting the refill I believed. Ugh, emotional work, am I right?

Take A Flying Leap

When I was a kid, my favorite cousin, E, was impossibly cool and chic, and I wanted to be everything she was. My cousin, about three years older than me, felt like the older sister I would never have even though for most of our lives we lived on different coasts. E was born and raised in Manhattan, collected Absolut Vodka ads, had a job at The Gap, and rode horses. E knew how to navigate the city, and public transportation while my mom drove me to school every day, or I shared a carpool with kids that were varying levels of bullies to me. Manhattan was full of shops and restaurants and artists and fancy things, and Santa Clarita was an endless stream of sameness and banality. Sometimes, I felt robbed of the life I should have had if we hadn’t left New York. Why was the universe so cruel to take me from New York and plop me into suburbia instead? Looking back, I can’t really complain too much about being a kid in Santa Clarita if I’m being honest. I lived in a house with my parents, we knew our neighbors, it was safe enough to ride bikes and play outside mostly unsupervised until dark, and the quality of the schools was decent. As I got older, things got more complicated as they tend to do, and I have a complicated relationship to my hometown, which I think a lot of people experience. All that aside, every so often, a package would arrive at our home in Santa Clarita, with hand-me-downs from E, and I would lose my ever loving mind over how hip everything was. I think my desire to begin horseback riding lessons stemmed from a pair of jodhpurs Ellen had outgrown and included in the box of clothing sent to me. My previous experience with horses had been a terrified, white knuckled, eyes squeezed shut ride around a ring on a particularly docile horse during a Girl Scout field trip. I’m fairly certain I cried. I was a highly risk-averse child, which really should have made my later in life diagnosis of anxiety more understandable.

That pair of jodhpurs though too large and baggy on my tiny frame, gave me visions of National Velvet. I too would be a horsewoman. I too would one day be cool enough to have a job at a retail chain store. I too would be as effortlessly self assured, independent, and cool as Ellen meticulously saving and posting the Absolut ads around her room like wallpaper. All I had to do was take the first step toward becoming my cousin by learning how to ride horses. I poured over the local Parks and Recreation catalogue which was delivered quarterly, and brought the page with beginner horseback riding lessons to my mother and pleaded with her to sign me up. I probably didn’t have to go so hard, to be honest. I didn’t have any other extra curricular activities at this point (having dramatically suffered through a tap/jazz/ballet series where I wanted to quit immediately after procuring the costumes for our recital) and I’m sure my mom wanted me out of the house doing something even remotely productive with my life. So, off we went to Don–E-Brook Farms (now the Santa Clarita Valley Equestrian Center), which was located off a road that dead ended into a mountain and now goes all the way through the valley to the freeway (progress?) Back in the late 80s, early 90s, this was in the “horsey” part of town which only about a fifteen minute drive from home felt like it was in another country.

Liz, the owner, and her daughters ran all of the lessons, and they were kind, and patient and I’m sure could tell that my little seven or eight year old stubbornness was warring with my fear of being on an animal as large as a horse. So many possibilities for danger and near certain death! Turns out, I actually had some natural ability. I had a good seat, and strong posture, and progressed well through the beginner and intermediate lessons. I ended up riding for about two the three years, getting a used saddle for Christmas one year, and leveling up to jumping over small fences. I only ever participated in one, maybe two shows, but I was well on my way to being that horsewoman I saw myself as when I first put on those jodhpurs. I took a leap, and tried something scary so I could attempt to reach my goal. It paid off, and I proved to myself I was braver than I realized.

I had been riding for a couple years when I started Irish Step Dancing. Irish dance was something I initially fought my mother on – no, thank you, I had already suffered through dance classes before. I did not like them, I wasn’t good at them, and the fabulous costumes were not quite enticement enough to make me even consider going back to any form of dance, let alone one that I’d never even heard of. Riverdance was still two years or so away from bursting onto the international scene and introducing people around the world to Irish dancing. My mom struck a deal, I only had to attend one class, and if I hated it, I never had to return. Well, I loved it – and within a year I was going to have to make a choice: riding or Irish dance. I couldn’t go to both classes, and both horse shows and dance competitions took place on weekends, so my parents said “pick one, and let the other go.” It was a difficult decision, because I loved both. I had certainly invested more time into riding, and if I quit I would never become a clone of my cousin. Ultimately, a riding lesson made the decision for me. I was in a jumping class, and was going through a course, when my horse refused a jump. I was lucky, I didn’t even come off the horse (and was lucky, I had never come off a horse), but in that moment my life flashed before me (sort of) and I realized the likelihood of breaking my neck Irish dancing was significantly lower than horseback riding. I took another leap, and made a choice. I ended up choosing Irish dance, and spent the better part of 20 years dancing.

In my last post I talked about goals and how they can help keep you motivated. Irish dancing became my entire life, and a huge part of my self identity. I spent hours every week in class or practicing, weekends competing, and years traveling and making friends. I started dance, and specifically Irish dance pretty late comparatively. I was ten when I had my first lesson, and at the time, the pretty small community in the Western Region typically saw students begin dancing in preschool or kindergarten. The Irish dance world has exploded and become significantly more diverse, more glamorous, more expensive, and more competitive since I had my first class back in 1992. When I first started dancing, my only goal was to learn all my basic dances, and progress into hard shoes (the ones with the fiberglass tips and heels that make the fun noise.) I was deemed ready to enter competitions about a year after I started dancing (typical at the time,) and the little group of us who made up the first class in Santa Clarita, was informed just before our first competition that our teacher, Bella, did not want to see any tears. We were to have fun, do our best, make friends, and if we won something that’s great, if not, better luck next time. I am forever grateful to this mindset because there were and still are schools and teachers who value winning above all else. Irish dance was an extracurricular, and as far as Bella and my parents were concerned, it should be fun. If it wasn’t fun, what was the point?

Once I had been dancing long enough to understand the competition structure, my goals grew, and eventually my main goal was qualifying to dance at the World Championships. The Olympics equivalent for the Irish dance community. It took me ten years to reach that goal, and as I grew older and gained maturity I better understood what would be required of me to meet that goal. Just after I graduated from high school, we moved to San Francisco and I transfered dance schools. Due to the geography of San Francisco and the surrounding area, I went from only being able to attend one maybe two classes per week in LA, to three to four days a week in the Bay Area. I enrolled in ballet, pointe, tap, and jazz classes at City College, and started taking pilates reformer classes several times a week. In 2000, at regionals, just a few months after we had moved, I placed 10th in my age group for the second year in a row, and was disappointed. The following year, after additional days of dancing per week and the pilates, I placed 4th, qualifying for The World Championships. I had finally done it, I had qualified to dance at Worlds.

Now what? After qualifying, there was some drama – I got injured, there was some disappointment on my part with how my dance school was operating, I transferred schools which was still quite taboo at the time, and had to accept a six-month competition suspension. None of those things are ultimately that important now that I look back, but they each felt like overwhelming and sometimes insurmountable obstacles at the time.

My goals around competitive dancing never went as far as winning, or even placing at the Worlds – I was pretty pragmatic when it came to assessing my talent. My hope was to continue to place in the top 4, if not the top 2 or 3 in my age group regionally, to eventually place Nationally, and to go on to sit and pass the TCRG exam, a five part exam to become a credentialed Irish dance teacher, so I could one day own my own school. As so often is the case, however, I got injured, my focus and motivation waned, I discovered boys, and drinking, and smoking weed, and parties. Things I fastidiously avoided in high school in order to remain on track for my goals. The truth was, by the time I was 21, I realized I had kind of forgotten to have a rebellious teenage phase, and had spent all of my time being safe and good and maybe missed out on some fun? Don’t worry, my lack of drinking in high school got more than made up for in my early 20s. So, my focus shifted, and then a few years later, I moved back to Los Angeles.

I continued dancing in Los Angeles for a bit, but it became more difficult to juggle commuting to classes with my original teacher, Bella, while being enrolled in Cosmetology School (add to the il st o stories for another time), and attempting to live as an adult. Eventually my injury, which had never properly healed (another story for another time) caught up with me, and effectively ended my solo competition career. I would occasionally take a place in a team for competition but also really struggled with all of the demands of being an adult without a college degree or job, and the expense of life in Los Angeles, and paying for all my own dance classes etc. I fell away from dance, mostly out of necessity, and I missed it, but I also couldn’t see how it could still fit into my life the way it had before. I tried off and on for years to find a way to stay involved in dance, and I even made plans and studied to take the TCRG exam (more stories for another time,) but ultimately adulthood and life in general won out, and I realized again that my priorities, my motivations, and my goals had shifted. In the end, it sometimes felt like my last flying leap had hit a brick wall.

If you had told me when I was about 15, that as an adult Irish dance would be mostly a memory, I would have been horrified. Irish dance was nearly my entire life. What would I possible be without it? Sometimes, I still struggle with that question. What are we when we have moved away from the defining aspects of our lives? Who am I without Irish dance, and do I have value, or anything interesting to add to the world without it? I have spent the better part of a decade trying to answer these questions, and often come up blank. Not only was Irish dancing a hobby, but it was a connection to my Irish heritage. My mother’s parents immigrated to the US from Ireland in the 1930s, and died before I was born. I put a lot of value in my connection to them through dance. I put a lot of value in my connection to my Irish American family through dance, and eventually singing. But, nobody is just their talents or hobbies, and the truth is, the skills I learned in Irish dance have continued to serve me well into adulthood.

Hard work, discipline, sportsmanship, teamwork, goal setting: all skills I learned and honed while learning Irish dance, and competing over the course of close to 15 years. I’m not 100% certain on the actual number of years because math is not my strong suit but the point is, having goals is important. Being flexible and capable of recognizing when your goals no longer align with the life you are living is equally important. Changing your path, or your goals does not mean you are flakey, or lazy, or afraid of hard work, although people may tell you otherwise. It simply means you have a better understanding of your priorities and what it will take to accomplish your new or different goals. When your goals shift, sometimes it’s because you realize you no longer have the passion to put in the work necessary to reach your previous goal, and that’s fine. Sometimes goals shift due to personal or professional challenges, sometimes they shift because opportunities come and go. It’s important for us to normalize changing and shifting focus as our lives change and shift. Life does not actually move forward in a perfectly linear fashion, no matter how much we would like to convince ourselves otherwise. This is true of any goal, personal, or professional, and I encourage you to be brave, and willing to recognize when a path or goal no longer serve you. Be willing to take your own flying leap. You may get push back from peers, from family, from colleagues. Take that with a grain of salt. That isn’t to say you should completely ignore the important people in your life if or when they express concern, but it is to say, ultimately you are in the driver’s seat, and it is your life. You are the person who has to live with the work and effort needed to achieve your goals. No one else can do the work for you, so if other people have opinions that aren’t helpful, you have my permission to ignore them. This will upset people, this is a great time to utilize a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, “get used to disappointment.”

Ultimately, taking a flying leap is scary; who knows where we will land? You might fall off a horse, or tear ligaments in your foot, or fail spectacularly at an exam, but taking the leap and failing is just as useful as taking the leap and truly flying. If you never leap, you’ll never fly, and to be honest, even falling feels a hell of a lot like flying at first.

Back In The Saddle

I think I have written some version of this post at least a dozen times. Here I am, back at blogging! Here I go, trying to be consistent and accountable again! Here I am, being serious about my writing! This is it, the time I become a “real” writer, and write every day, and do all the things! This is the time I’m going to actually write that novel! This time is the winner, I can feel it!

The truth is, I haven’t been motivated or consistent about my writing since the late 90s, early 2000s when I would stay up all night writing my Hanfic and wait anxiously for the feedback I so desperately wanted from my fellow HanFicML members. I would write and write, and read and read, and revise, and write some more. It felt like a nearly endless well of story ideas – drawn mostly from my real life experiences and my obsession with my favorite band at time (more on that later). Once I started smoking weed in my early 20s, that too felt like it only helped fuel my creativity; the drugs and my unchecked depression meant I would have days where I would hardly sleep, spending hour upon hour building websites, creating graphics, writing, followed by days where all I did was sleep. Guess how healthy those coping mechanisms turned out to be? (insert Not Great, Bob gif here)

Imposter Syndrome looms large, especially in creative spaces like writing. I find that when I fall off the wagon, or the horse, whichever metaphor you’d prefer, I usually feel like it’s because I’m not a “real” writer. I would posit, there’s no such thing as a “real” writer. You either write or you don’t, that’s what makes you a writer. Obviously that doesn’t equate to being a published writer, but that’s a different goal. A few years back, I started following authors whose work I enjoy on various social media channels. I also subscribe to a handful of author newsletters (Alexandra Bracken, Katherine Locke, Susan Dennard, Jasmine Guillory, Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, and agent, Kate McKean for example.) I found that many of these authors also enjoy talking about craft, and the resounding message around craft is that there is no one way to write. In fact, V.E. Schawb, has started an entire Instagram Live series called No Write Way which interviews authors to talk about their process. Everyone is different and advice that works for one person (write everyday in order to be a writer) may not work for others. Ultimately, I think what all motivate comes down to is your actual goal.

Goal setting is such an important skill, but also falls often into that new-agey sort of self-help/wellness category that makes me irrationally angry. So often, goal setting is structured around the idea that you HAVE to constantly be bettering yourself, you must always be in forward motion, you absolutely cannot stop or veer from your path. Reality is not like that. Reality is messy, and the path you start on is likely not the path you thought it was, and it may not be the path that actually helps you achieve whatever goals you’ve set. I’m also bothered by the idea that every portion of our lives must have productivity which is measured and accounted for. Your life is not all work, and I blame capitalism for this bullshit idea. Yes, I realize that’s a lot. Basically, finding happiness, is going to be an ongoing journey – and yes, as cliche as it sounds, happiness is the journey and not the destination. Because once you reach your destination, your goal accomplished, you will find that it is elusive, and requires another reach, another goal, another journey. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, to be honest.

When you’re thinking about and setting goals for yourself though, keep in mind all of the little things that will be required in order to achieve your goal. That’s where things get sticky – the day – to – day grind that will be necessary to see your goal to fruition. As an adult, I feel incredibly grateful that I had parents who not only encouraged me to try new things, but also allowed me to fail at things. This gave me the tools to build resilience, but also to strengthen my own “gut.” Because I have tried, and failed (in various ways,) at many things, I’ve gotten better and better at being able to determine when something isn’t a right fit for me. Let go of those things that aren’t helpful, so you can try and fail at other things!

So, where am I going with this? I’m not totally sure. What started out as a bit of poking fun at myself and my own lack of motivation around regular writing has morphed into a bland criticism of capitalism and a plea for you to accept and be kind with yourself (and a reminder to me to do the same.) I guess, my whole point to begin with was, let’s see how long I can stay in the saddle this time. I’m not going to be holding my breath – but maybe if I do want this to be a habit that sticks, I should take some time to think about and set actual meaningful goals for myself. Don’ worry, I’ll keep you posted. 😉

Making The Grade

Recently, while cleaning out various rooms of his house, my dad came across a folder full of my old report cards. He gave them to me, and at first I just quickly looked through a few and laughed at some of the notes from teachers. The more time I spent looking though, the more a strange feeling shifted for me. I absolutely knew I had never been a great student – especially in high school. I was not what you would call a motivated student, unless the subject matter was interesting to me, and I struggled with math, a lot. Just before my senior year of high school, it was suggested I be tested for learning disabilities, and lo and behold, a math related disability was diagnosed. I remember being angry – angry that this was discovered just as I was entering my last year of high school, which made it feel useless. I was angry that I had struggled for so many years feeling stupid, and inadequate (not because of my parents, thankfully) and that there had, in fact, been a reason all along! Because of this diagnosis I was granted additional time on tests, and was allowed additional time on even standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. I had already taken both the SAT and SAT II at this point, and had zero desire to re-sit the exams, even with additional time for th math portions, and the morning of the ACT I had a huge meltdown and declared it pointless, and that I wouldn’t go. I didn’t end up taking the ACT, and honestly, it didn’t really matter in the long run.

I was struck, however, by how many of my teachers mentioned a challenge in remaining focused on activities. Today, I think most elementary school teachers would recognize some of the symptoms I had of learning disabilities earlier. 30 years ago, however, I was a good, quiet kid, who didn’t cause problems, and just “wasn’t a math person.” Teachers noted that I “demonstrate consistent effort,” but my grades very rarely reflected that effort when it came to math. My mom moved me from public school into Catholic school in 3rd grade because my 2nd grade teacher told her not to worry about my inability to perform basic addition and subtraction without the assistance of a number line because “they’ll all have calculators,” by the time she’s an adult. Needless to say, this was the wrong answer for my mom.

Because of my quiet behavior in class, my rule following in general, and I guess just an overall vibe I gave off, most of my classmates assumed I was a really strong student, someone who got good grades. Classmates were regularly surprised to learn I was in the “remedial” groups for math and science, and I remember vividly in middle school, a girl I was desperately trying to be besties with, groused “wow, you’re really bad at math, I thought for sure you were smarter,” while trying to copy my work in class.

In elementary school, I definitely hung out with the brainy kids – we spent our recess time creating performances for our classmates (totally unappreciated) and writing what I can really only describe as L.M. Montgomery fanfiction. We were decidedly uncool. Example – one year, our music teacher informed our class that we had two options for our final grade in her class. We could form a group and choreograph a dance to “Latin” music, or perform in the school’s talent show. My friends and I passed on the dance and instead performed “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof for our fellow Catholic School peers. There was definitely some laughing directed at us for this enthusiastic rendition of a musical theater classic.

Now that I work at a high school, not too dissimilar from my all girls’ Catholic experience, I have a much better understanding of the grading structure, the importance placed on grades, that I most certainly lacked when I attended high school. My high school GPA never once broke a 3.0 – in fact, one quarter my senior year, I believe, I was hovering around a 1.5. Yikes. When I have shared this with people today, as an adult, they are shocked that I was such a poor student. Like my elementary and middle school peers, they assumed based on the way I present myself now, that I was possibly an honors student. Reconciling my own vision of myself and how our intelligence is measured leaves me struggling a bit with the seemingly lazy, disinterested, unmotivated student I was twenty some years ago. Looking back, I can clearly see the un and then under diagnosed depression and anxiety I struggled with, I see the impact of the very late diagnosed learning disability, and I can’t help but wonder if all of those notes about poor small motor development, difficulty staying focused, aren’t symptoms of either the depression and anxiety or even ADHD.

I ended up applying to and being accepted at a decent number of colleges, California State University campuses as well as a couple of private schools. Somehow, with my shitty grades, not great SAT scores, and what I can only imagine were middling at best, essays, colleges were still willing to accept me. I ended up taking a much more circuitous route to completing a Bachelor’s Degree, one that took me around 18 years all told, so, truly all the trappings of traditional high school and college applications ended up being a moot point. Why though, after so many years, would I allow grades, which obviously were mostly meaningless in the long run, hold so much weight over me? I’m not sure, to be honest. Maybe it’s because while I understood that I wasn’t a good student, seeing it in black and white after all these years feels like a bit of a slap in the face. A reminder of those feelings of inadequacy that haunted me during my years in school.

All this said, while I may not have reflected in my grades the knowledge I received in high school, I can see much more clearly the impact my rigorous education had on me as an adult. I am a good reader, a strong writer, I am able to communicate in a highly effective manner that many people I know who were strong students, struggle with. Perhaps the greatest lessons of all come from the confidence instilled in me by the community at my high school. The understanding that each student had the ability to reach her own personal excellence – even if I fell short of that in the short term. It’s flattering to realize that the knowledge and understanding I have as an adult is shared in such a way that people believe I was if not an A student, than certainly not the C-D student I actually was. But, it all makes me think about the value we place on grades and the weight we attribute to them – how we allow them to define our own sense of self. Twenty years out of high school, and having been through an undergraduate program designed for working adults, I am reminded regularly that who we were at 18 is not who we have to be at 28 or 38 or beyond. Maybe it’s time for me to put down the weights I have assigned my shitty grades in school, and realize that I managed to learn the really important lessons anyway – and apply those to my daily life and work, which ultimately is the goal, isn’t it?

Weed is the new GOOP

Marijuana and CBD oils are all over the Internet right now. I can’t scroll through my RSS feed without seeing at least one article touting it as the next big thing in wellness, or urging me to buy a bath bomb infused with CBD. I won’t lie, it’s not that I’m not tempted, especially by a bath bomb which provides amazing sleep. At this point, even your sparking water fix can be spiked with weed (seriously). There are huge physical and mental wellbeing benefits from the product, and as states begin to legalize recreational marijuana, a growing market for what many view as a holistic treatment for everything from everyday stress, anxiety, depression, to muscle aches and pains. I’ve seen a large number of articles about the oil and its benefits in publications which cater toward women interested in fitness and wellness, but what’s missing are the women of color, and a broader conversation about how white women are benefiting from this recent trend thanks to a whole lot of white privilege.
Let me backup, because I know the concept of white privilege is a point of contention for some. Within the context of the conversation around race and wellness, I’m looking at the racial and gender benefit white women have when it comes to taking part in recreational marijuana. I’m not saying this to malign white women, I too, am a white woman (and sometimes we’re kinda the worst). That said, I believe my responsibility as an ally means I have to take a really hard look at the disparity that exists between women of color and white women, including when it comes to wellness. I believe this strongly because even now, in 2018, there is a huge disparity in health outcomes (including birth outcomes) between white women and women of color (Self is taking a stand)  I am all for the legalization of marijuana, that is not up for argument for me. However, as laws change, and states become more lenient in their possession laws, we need to take a real hard look at the population most devastated by the legacy of the War on Drugs. The similar push to rid the world of marijuana has been, much like the War on Drugs, largely unsuccessful. This recent push for the legalization of the drug for recreational use is just one of the backlash. However, what I see missing from the conversation in women’s wellness is how marijuana, with its increasing legal status, impacts black communities. The black population, and specifically black men face harsher sentences for low-level non-violent drug offenses such as possession of marijuana than whites. (ACLU) So it’s understandable when people in the community cite fear of incarceration as a reason to avoid using even legal medical marijuana. When you have seen families destroyed by extreme prison sentences for simple possession, it seems far to great a risk.

This is why as this wellness trend of CBD oil rubs me the wrong way. Celebrating the legality of marijuana, extolling the virtues of CBD oil feels tone deaf when you think of the number of black men currently serving prison sentences for what is now recreationally legal. I’m not saying I’m not happy that people are benefiting from these changes, or that all white women should feel bad.  But, we can, and we should, take a good hard look at how women of color are invisible in the world of wellness, and especially when it comes to recreational marijuana.

New Year, New You

Today is the 5th of January, we are now almost a full week into the new year, but for me, the new year just began today.

Today, I was laid off from my job. I wasn’t surprised, although I suppose, maybe the timing was. Around this time in 2016, my first job at this particular location of the organization where I have worked for the last 8 years, was eliminated. At that time, another position was created. I wasn’t super thrilled about the position, and did start job hunting, but because I hadn’t finished my bachelor’s degree, I couldn’t get hired. So, I stuck it out, and now, I don’t have to?

I can’t say this is the best time to lose my job. I’m certainly not in a financial position to be unemployed, but I do know that I am incredibly lucky to have the safety net of my boyfriend and my father. Without that I would be in pretty dire straits. In some ways, this is the best thing that could have happened to me at the beginning of 2018. I just applied for graduation this summer, and maybe this will be the push I need to get out of my comfort zone, and into something that really challenges me.

Right now, I’m just sad, and feeling kind of bad about myself, and that’s ok. It will pass, and one day, maybe next week, or the week after, I’ll feel better about this huge life change I wasn’t really prepared for on Friday, January 5th at 2pm. Until then, it’s time for a hot bath, a cup of tea, and snuggles with my babies.

Should vs. Want

This will probably not be the last time I talk about Ali on the Run and her podcast, so sorry in advance? As I mentioned in my earlier post, during a recent podcast episode hosted by her husband, Ali talked about a solo trip to California. Another thing she said that really struck me was that she only did things she actually wanted to do, and not that she thought she “should” do or that she “would want” to do.

This is important for so many reasons. Yes, in life we have to do things we don’t want to do but we should do. However, we do far more things we think we should or would want to do instead of truly asking ourselves “is this want I want to do?” Sadly, going to work every day is probably not negotiable, but you can ask yourself “is this the work I want to be doing, or is it work I think I should want to be doing?” Getting to the heart of that question made a little light go off in my brain.

How many things do I agree to do, or do just because I think it’s expected of me, or because it’s something I think that I *should* want to do? There’s a difference between trying something new, and continuing to do something even though you really don’t enjoy it. For example, every year, for many years ,I stayed up until midnight or longer on New Year’s Eve, and watched all the network coverage, and watched the ball drop in Times Square. Then, I’d wake up early enough to watch the Rose Parade on TV in its first, live airing. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done this, but this year was the very first that, in telling people my boyfriend and I went to a nice dinner, came home, and went to bed by 11 that I didn’t feel guilty, or that I had to explain anything. No, we weren’t sick. Yes, we could have gone to any number of parties or events. We could have stayed up another hour and watched the ball drop on TV. Honestly? We didn’t care enough to want to watch it. The next day I slept in and wasn’t the least bit sad about not seeing a parade. The floats are beautiful and incredibly impressive, but I’m at a point in my life where parades don’t excite me.

2018 is the year I want to truly embrace the idea of things I WANT to do, and not things I think I should do, or think I would want to do. This also goes along with the idea of learning to say no, and that no is a complete sentence. I often feel obligated to explain away my no responses, or I feel guilty about saying no to something or someone. Ultimately, the things that are truly important are always a yes for me, anything that does not serve me in a positive way is a no. No explanation, no apologies, no guilt.

Here’s to truly wanting, and saying no!

January 1

The first day of the new year is always a bit of a mixed bag for me. There’s definitely the refreshing feeling of the idea of a clean slate, and also a sense of hope for betterment, and good things to come. There’s also that sense of melancholy at the year that’s passed, good and bad, but always a bit of a feeling of failure. Failure to have not met the goals of the previous year, or how I’ve fallen behind on other personal struggles. 2017 was a difficult year for many reasons. In July of 2016, my mom lost her battle with cancer, and the last year and a half have been filled with grief. I’m still navigating my way through the loss of my mother, and what that means as far as the new normal for my family. Every day is different, some harder than others, some with a more sharp reminder of my mom’s physical absence. Holidays suck, they’re just never going to be the same, and I’m trying to accept that.

Even with the hard parts, the bad parts (dear god, every day a new headline about our idiot President) 2017 is also the year I finally started to feel a bit more like myself after the three year rollercoaster of my mom being sick, being treated for cancer, and ultimately dying. Relief is such a loaded word when it comes to the death of a loved one. I’m relieved for my mom that she is no longer suffering, but my heart breaks for myself, for my dad, for my aunts and uncles, and all of my mom’s friends. My mom was an incredible woman, and she touched many lives. By the fall semester this year, I was able to keep everything together well enough to finish with the highest grades I’ve had since starting my B.S. in Social Work program all the way back in 2009. I worked hard, and am incredibly proud of what I accomplished.

I listened to a lot of podcasts this year as well. My top two are definitely Stuff You Missed in History Class, and The Ali on the Run Show. I find myself excited for each episode of both podcasts, for a chance to learn and reflect and better understand myself and the world around me. I’ve been reading Ali’s blog for several years now, and she is such a fantastic interviewer. I’ve loved feeling like I’m getting to know her better, as well as getting to know the incredible guests she has on her show. I may not be doing long runs anymore (who knows what 2018 will hold,) but listening during my commute is a real pleasure. Recently, Ali and her husband were talking about a trip she took to California on her own, and how it changed her. She’s said so many wonderful things, but a few have definitely resonated with me, and are things I’d like to take with me into 2018.

The first was the idea that for the first time, in a long time, during her California trip, Ali felt she was really doing what she actually wanted to do, not what she thought she should want to do. How many times have I pushed myself through something I think I should really want to do, or should be enjoying only to be left exhausted and drained by the end? Too many. The truth is, I do have to work everyday, and I am currently in a position where I am frontline and interacting with members my whole shift. This is a mixed blessing – positive interactions definitely have a great impact on my overall mental health, but at the same time, the need to be “on,” all day is exhausting. Giving all of my energy to others all day drains my batteries in a major way. This year, I plan to only do things I really want to do, when I can, and to continue to practice self care to recharge after the things I don’t want to do, but have to do.  I’ve been foregoing television for more pleasure reading, and while I didn’t meet my 100 books in 2017 goal, I did read 82 which isn’t too shabby. I included my text books because I did so much reading of them for the semester, but I have absolutely felt a difference in my energy, my mood, and life in general by setting aside time to read in bed before going to sleep.

I’ll touch on more inspiration from Ali’s podcast later, because right now it’s time for reading and bedtime.

Happy New Year everyone!

A Very Good Place to Start

As Maria von Trapp once said, let’s start at the very beginning…

This is not my first blog (or attempt at one) and probably won’t be my last. It is simply the latest in a long line of attempts at writing it all down so to speak. When I was younger, it seemed I could write something new every day, a journal entry, a short story, a chapter in a never-ending novel I would never finish. These days, it feels like all I write anymore are work emails, and homework assignments and multiple page papers in APA format. This year, 2018, I intend to be more present, and introspective. The biggest goal I have for this year is to finish up my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. It has been a long time coming, and all of the stopping and starting, and struggling is about to come to an end. I am thrilled, but I also want to make time for myself during the next few semesters. Time to reflect, and to document even when it isn’t particularly exciting.

Carving out time to write every day will be a challenge, but I believe it will ultimately be a fulfilling one, and one worth working at. So, here goes nothing!