Setting the Course

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”- Mark Twain

In less than 10 days, I’ll be embarking on a European adventure that I’ve been planning for over a year. It’s hard to believe it’s actually here, and to say I’m excited would be a ridiculous understatement. It’s taken plenty of sacrifices and a lot of saving, but every dinner out, new dress and big event I’ve said no to has been worth it. And honestly, I think it couldn’t come at a better time.

While out to lunch with a friend of mine yesterday I realized how long it’s been since I’ve really stopped to reflect on my life. Everything moves so fast that there hasn’t really been a minute to stop and smell the roses, and travel can be a wonderful cure for that sort of thing. Nothing gets you reacquainted with yourself quite like wandering through the streets of a foreign city, with nowhere in particular you need to be. It’s just you, removed from all of the usual daily distractions that lead you to defining yourself by what you are to others, instead of what you are and want to be for yourself.

The first time I was in Europe, I was 18 years old. Just about to start college, my whole life ahead of me (as they say), completely oblivious to anything but the present moment. The second time I was 19, studying abroad and getting just about as crazy as you would expect while trying to figure out one of the most intense burdens life had ever placed on me. But no one expected me to have my entire life figured out. I was still free of the responsibility that I carry now at 25. The expectation that the way my life is now is the way that it should be for the next 50 years – as though I’m already locked in to a certain path, from which deviation is impossible. I think that’s all too common of a fate. A trick of society that makes you think your life now must be your life forever, and every decision you make from now on must be based on your current set of circumstances You will never leave. You will never change careers. You will never find new passions. You have already made the choices that will set the course for the rest of your life.

What a terrible lie to believe.

I don’t know that I’ll come upon any particular epiphanies while I make my way through the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or have a liter of beer in Munich, but the point is simply that I’ll have the time to think. To remind myself not to believe the lie. Because really, our lives can change at any moment. You can reset your course at any time. It’s up to you, in the end, not the unseen forces of the status quo. So if you’re happy, keep your course. And if you’re not, well … vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime when one would rather be someplace else isn’t exactly a recipe for satisfaction, is it?

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Live Like Jazz

Live like jazz. Not smooth jazz. Not elevator jazz. Real jazz.

Live like the music of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis and Etta James. Live with an unexpected rhythm and a good piece of sound that doesn’t need words but sure as hell sounds good with them. Live a slow song that steams and one that wears out soles of your shoes dancing. Don’t live ignored or muted down or on a loop in a room full of people who don’t notice you’re even happening. Live loud and surrounded by hundreds when it suites you, live as a deliberate solitary note that rings through the streets of an empty town. Live like jazz with a thousand unexpected twists and turns, with a sultry hum and a cool beat that doesn’t have to be for everyone. Because it’s for you.

Live like jazz.

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The Anatomy of My Quarter-Life Crisis

A few months ago I wrote a post entitled “Anatomy of a Quarter-Life Crisis”. At the time, a lot of my friends were going through that in one form or another – whether because of issues with jobs, relationships, finances, or even all three. And I looked around and thought to myself “Thank God I dodged that bullet”.

There I was, about to take a big step up in my career, planning an upcoming trip to Europe, safe in the knowledge of my fledgling 401(k), spending time with my amazing boyfriend and moving into a fantastic new place. I was certain I had avoided the quarter-life crisis, or at least  gone through it far earlier at the age of 21 when I almost (and luckily didn’t) get married. I got all of that stuff out of the way early, I thought proudly, It’s smooth sailing from here on out.

Oh dear me, how are the mighty fallen.

It turns out that you can have everything checked off on the “success list” and still find yourself floundering at the ripe old age of 25. It seemed to me, up until this point at least, that the reason for such crises was the result of not feeling like you were “where you should be” in your life by your mid-twenties. But technically speaking, I’m exactly where I should. Arguably I’m even better off than plenty of others my age. I’m one of the lucky ones. And perhaps the problem I’m having is that right now I’m perfectly on track for a perfectly ordinary life. And I always promised myself that I would not lead an ordinary life.

Of course the dreams you have for yourself at 16 and the dreams you have at 25 are very different, but at the core, my dreams haven’t changed very much. I still want adventure, I still want to do the sort of things that most people only ever talk about doing. I still want to live outside the norm. And none of that is to say that I’m not exceedingly happy right now, it’s just to say that I’m also extremely aware of how quickly time passes, and how easy it is to save up your “somedays” for so long that they become the “what ifs” of a life that has raced by without you even realizing it. Suddenly the idea of moving abroad for awhile is absurd, because you’re established now. Suddenly the idea of taking a huge risk in your career is impossible, because there are children to consider. Suddenly you look back at those big, crazy ideas of yours and just shake your head with a rueful smile, thinking that it was all naive dreaming while still, in some corner of your mind, wondering if you really could have done it if things had just gone a little bit differently.

This is the anatomy of my quarter-life crisis.

 

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Stress

The topic of stress has been coming up a lot recently in my circle of friends. Jobs, relationships, finances, big moves, family drama … stress is everywhere, and the truth is that it’s unavoidable.

When I was younger, I had my fair share of stress and anxiety problems. I was an intense worrier, and easily able to imagine wildly unlikely scenarios about which I would inevitably get myself worked up. I displaced worry about big things onto worry about little things – because the little things I could control. The big things I couldn’t. But through all of that stress and worry, I learned a lot, and what I learned then – from my awesome parents, good books, guidance counselors, friends – still holds true now. Stress is hard to handle sometimes, but the following steps always help me:

1. DON’T PANIC. This was one that came from my parents. Our first reaction when we get stressed is often to panic before we really assess the situation. If we start out in a panic, it will be a lot more difficult to handle whatever situation is causing the stress – and it will inevitably make it seem that much worse.

2. Don’t let stress snowball. This one goes along with “Don’t Panic”, and I found it in one of the many books I own by Richard Carlson (author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff). The issue here is that we often let one stressful situation compound upon another one. Rather than dealing with just the present issue, our minds race to everything else that has caused us stress recently or may potentially cause us stress in the future, and we simply can’t handle what appears to be an insurmountable heap of horrors. In reality, what we are facing is one situation, at one moment in time, and in truth that is the only thing over which we have control – our reaction in this moment. It’s easier said than done to not let stress snowball, but even just being aware of the fact that our brains are doing that can be helpful.

3. Maintain Perspective. This is another tough one – in the midst of crisis, it can be difficult to look beyond the present. Stress grows from a tiny angry animal into a giant monster that stretches infinitely into the future. But this is closely tied in with the “Don’t Panic” rule. It’s important to look at stressful situations and ask if the stress will matter in a week, or a year – knowing that it won’t matter doesn’t take the stress away, but it’s a helpful reminder that it isn’t permanent, and it’s not something to lose too much sleep over. If the stress is larger, then it’s important to be aware of that, too, and figure out the healthiest way to manage it if it’s coming from a long-term situation. Stress is something we all have to live with, but it shouldn’t take over our lives.

4. Have a Laugh. Stressed at work? Take thirty seconds to watch a funny video, or go online and read an article on The Onion. If you’re elsewhere and have more freedom, take a walk. Look at the world around you and find one wonderful or funny or interesting thing about it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own stress that we almost refuse to leave it behind. But as long as you can still laugh about something – a joke, a movie, a tv show – you can remember that stress can be managed.

What do you do to help relieve stress?

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My New Blog Launch: Rust Belt Wanderlust

I’m excited to announce the launch of my new blog, Rust Belt Wanderlust! Dedicated to life, style and adventure on the north coast of America.

Check it out for style and fashion photography that highlights all of the hidden gems and popular spots the Cleveland area has to offer.

http://www.rustbeltwanderlust.wordpress.com

 

 

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Disconnected Connectivity

When did rudeness start being defined as not answering a text quickly enough, instead of being defined as ignoring people around you in favor of what’s happening on your phone?

A friend was recently telling me about an experience she had in which someone got upset with her because she didn’t answer their text “quickly” enough. The reason? She had a guest in from out of town and was entertaining said guest. As such, she wasn’t as attentive to her phone. God forbid.

We live in a world now where we’re expected to be available 24/7. Even I find myself apologizing if I don’t answer a text or email fast enough – I think a lot of people do – and it almost seems as though that’s expected. “Sorry I wasn’t available, I was doing xyz”. We need reasons now for not getting back to people immediately, it’s not enough to simply say you wanted a break from your phone. It now seems more unacceptable to be late in answering a text than it does to be ignoring people you’re with in favor of your phone. And what does that really say except “I have something going on that’s more important and more interesting than being present here”.

I’m certainly guilty of this myself, but over the past few months I’ve made a bigger effort to be in the moment instead of staring at a screen. Because when it’s all said and done, I want to remember the fantastic time I had with my friends, not the texts I was sending or the pictures I was posting or whether or not I was getting service. Honestly, getting someplace and discovering that your phone doesn’t work is a fantastically freeing experience.

Call me old school, but I think unplugging is important now and then. It’s important to remember how insignificant technology and social media and smart phones are in the grand scheme of life, because it’s all too easy to let them become everything. 

After all, we’ve got a lot of living to do. And it’s a lot more fun without a phone in one hand.

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The Worst Thing Ever (or) Validation, Stress, and Negative One-Upmanship

Everyone in the world has something that they would classify as the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. Those things can vary from “The day the rebel soldiers murdered my family in front of me” to “the day my fish died”. The variety of the human experience on this planet is utterly and ridiculously unfathomable, and as such, so are the “worst” things that happen to us.

When I was an RA, we went through a few weeks of training before the start of the year. One of the things they talked to us about was the validation of feelings. If a student comes to you because they failed a class, and that is the worst thing that ever happened to them, you need to treat it as such. Likewise, if a student comes to you because their family member just died and that is the worst thing that ever happened to them, you treat it as such. One person’s struggles do not invalidate another’s, even if we’re tempted to believe that they do.

The examples above are extreme, but I think that too often we get caught up in the culture of negative one-upmanship. Someone may say “Oh gosh, I had the worst day – x, y and z just happened”, to which someone else may respond, “Oh, that’s nothing, that happens to me all the time,” or, “Oh, tell me about it, listen to this”. The thing is, there is no point in trying to one-up someone in misery or stress. What can be gained by that? Certainly nothing good or positive. It may lead to temporary validation of a negative mood, but ultimately it only feeds on itself. And the person telling you about their stress probably just needs to vent, rather than feel as though their issues are invalid.

Because at the end of the day, struggles are struggles. And what may seem minute to us may be mountainous to another, or vice versa. We cannot afford to entrap ourselves in a cycle of “I have it worse than you” statements that feed on and inflate our own misery while simultaneously tearing down the feelings of another. Instead, we should simply encourage one another. If someone is having a rough time and you think you have it rougher, that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean they have no right to complain or vent, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of comfort.

We all struggle, and we all need to be each other’s life boats from time to time. Instead of trying to swim further into the depths than someone else to prove a point, why not give each other a hand and get onto the boat?

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