Humans are competitive.
We compete all the time. In sports, in games, at work, in significant others, in our ideas, beliefs, passions, in our companies and organizations, in our governments, for our countries, our economies, in our achievements, and in many more simple ways throughout our everyday lives.
Is it really beneficial? If so, when?
The question I’m really getting at here is to think about when competition may be beneficial and when it may be harmful for you as an individual. I’ll quickly describe a seemingly timeless economic concept that gives a broader perspective, and may help clarify how it relates to your everyday life. Ultimately, it may help you to answer this question for yourself (as I am attempting to as well).
Coming at it with an economics background, I immediately think of the name Adam Smith and his concept of the invisible hand. For those of you who aren’t familiar, over 200 years ago the economist, Adam Smith, explained a concept that is still applicable in our everyday lives today, not only for our national and global economies. Your time is valuable, and it’s a matter of understanding two important factors, so I’ll keep it as simple and as brief as I can. Feel free to Google and learn more about Adam Smith’s concept if you’d like.
Self-interest is the motivator. It drives what we do and why we do it. Whether that action we take is creating a new product, volunteering to help others, beating out our peers for the next role at work, competing for a spot on a sports team, and even something as simple as grocery shopping. It is in our self-interest to create, make money, feel better, help others, eat food, and achieve. When it comes to an economy with a free market, competition is seen as the regulator. Competition allows for others to enter the market and ensure that one player’s greedy self-interests aren’t coming at the expense of others. Together these two factors form the invisible hand, which guides resources to their most valued use for everyone in an economy. So, we can all pursue our self-interests while competing to make sure everyone has a fair shot at getting what they want. Cool, great, you may see how this makes sense for an economy as a whole…but how does this relate to our everyday lives?
Without getting into more detail on how government regulation and monopolies can come into play, it’s more important to also consider competition and self-interest in our day to day.
When we compete with others we must first compare. And, to compare, it means that we are spending valuable time trying to find commonalities and/or differences between us and other individuals. We are spending valuable time focusing on another individual or other individuals other than ourselves. As I mentioned in my previous piece, Breathe, we are all unique so this might not be a beneficial usage of time. We all have unique perspectives, backgrounds, and self-interests.
So, why then should we compete and compare with someone who is absolutely completely different from ourselves? Or, if that person is so similar in their why for what they do, why can’t we work together to create something even more useful/beneficial/effective/impactful? Is this a good use of our time? It may be important to decide on a case by case basis. And, it could be useful to entertain the thought and answer that question.
If you find yourself unintentionally competing with someone else because of what they have or what they are doing, compared to yourself, stop, and think. Ask yourself, is it a good use of your time? Why are you competing? Are you both competing, or is it really just you? Is it helping you to accomplish where you want to be? Use your time, resources, and creative thinking wisely. You have too much unique talent to waste.
Don’t be afraid to collaborate with others. It’s possible that the more we all try to go off on our own path too much, the more we will need to help others in the future, and the more we will need others to help us, since we aren’t doing it as much now. We can’t all go it alone.
Compete for the betterment of others, and consider letting that drive your self-interest. Collaborate at any chance you get for your self-interests and others. Find those sitting at the table around you (as I mentioned in Breathe). Or, chart your road alone. That is ok too. Just be aware of the costs and benefits to every action, to every self-interest. We all have self-interests. We can work together to achieve them together. There is room to share, otherwise we wouldn’t be in situations where we can volunteer to help others. Help others around you now, while you keep learning, experiencing, and helping yourself.
All I’m asking myself here is when to compete, and when to collaborate. I think it’s possible that the more we collaborate, the less we will feel the need to compete, which might put us all in a better situation in the long run.
Just a thought. It might be in all of our self-interests to consider it before we compete.
In life, we often seek this state of enormous glory. What we often miss is that there is glory in each and every little thing. The car we ride in, the people we meet, and even the fly that buzzes around constantly, all give us that glorious life.
As I sit here I contemplate my thoughts and ideas of you. The effect you have on me is comparable to an addiction. I do not understand how my mind and my soul falls to the whims of you. The key to it all or the starting point is your eyes. The comment that the eyes are the gateway to a person’s mind, I respectfully disagree with completely. Your eyes are the gateway to the universe that is your soul.
Here is what’s so confusingly wonderful about you. You really have a way of keeping me grounded. And at the same time you create an environment where my head can be all in the clouds. I love your brain right. I love the humorous state in which you see the world through. Your face is just always sparkling.
There is value to how you see the world, seeing the best parts typically and ignoring that which is negative and contradictory to growth. There is an infectious happiness I see inside you that just accompanies you in all that you do. You make me smile and think about the joys of the world. There is something about you that reaches into me and inspires me taking me into a dreamlike state, that changes the composition of my life. Your consciousness expands helping my mind to see the world through a different perspective, and a unique circle of all realms of existence.
The sides, seasons, and shades of you are interesting … The warmth of you is like the summer as it races over me in the exciting new night sky. I am captivated by the fury of your heart rising like the sun crashing into the night and blazing a trail of fire. The freezing cold defines you especially when you have been mentally accosted in some way. Your fury is like that of a winter storm rising harshly and yet immensely beautiful. The purity of it all, the angry state of your core violently flows through the heavens as you unleash yourself upon me.
Your face then reminds me of fall. It’s how you make me fall when I see you and for you, as the joyous colors are all the intricate facets of you. As each leaf flips to a different color, I fall into a different understanding of the corners of the galaxy that is in turn your heart.
This connection wakes me at night giving me sight to see things that would be otherwise oblivious to me. My conscious dreams are infatuated by the thunderous awakening that is you. Every time I see you my shadow expands and begins anew like the first flowers of spring. My mind and body beat like the rains on the window pain. That furious passion of nature is all that I see and feel of you.
It is a love of you, and a connection of purity which manifests itself in the planet we share. Your body touches me but your mind caresses me in its infinite state of conceptualization. With you nothing is ever as simple as it seems. It is as if the world exists in a bi-polar state of flux as your personality is in constant perpetual motion.
To know you is to understand you yet no one truly can understand you, because as soon as they do the multiverse of you shifts to a new existence, growing to contain the new creation of you. This in turn makes those around you, who value you, grow so as not to be left behind. You kiss me so hard it makes my essence quake and quiver … I am lucky to have experienced the lunacy of you, even if only for the moment, for in that moment of crazy exists a perfect harmony.
Therefore, I enjoy all that you are and look forward to all you can be. We can often get lost in the hustle and bustle of the world. I would much rather get lost in the adventure of the youniverse of who you are.
Start……and keep going.
I’m not here to give a motivational speech, and definitely not here to tell anyone that I know what’s right, or what works when it comes to figuring out this world, and this thing called life. So, it’s important to start off by saying, I don’t know what’s right or what works. But…..you do.
You get to figure out what works best on your own. It’s not anyone else’s idea. It’s not anyone else’s opinion forced onto you. It’s the beauty of discovering what lies within your own intuitions and your own curiosities. It’s something to look forward to every day. Because it happens every day…and when you find it, you’ll look forward to every day. Only you can find that. And…only you can make the choice to do it. Whatever “it” is.
When you find and trust in your own intuition and curiosities, it really doesn’t matter what anyone has to say about how you might consider going about living this life of yours. After that, I mean it’s honestly up to you what you want to let in, let go of, share, create, and ignore, isn’t it? I don’t know. I’d hope so. That’s all you.
There’s something we all want to hear. That we are unique. That we are special. That we are gifted. Different from the rest. Going to be somebody. Guess what? In all honesty, each one of us?…we are. That is what is so awesome. And no, that’s not a bunch of sappy feel good shit. We are each unique. Get used to it, and see how positive it is.
That’s what’s so cool about this world. Each one of us has something to bring to the table. Just be open to finding what section of the table that is for yourself. Then… own it. Find the people who help you own your spot at this table, and then you can strive to develop a section of the table that you can lead and direct. Just remember, you can’t lead this metaphorical table without having people sitting near you first.
These are the people who matter on your journey. Help them make sure they know the spot that they own, and watch as that helps you to own your spot even more. It begins to expand the section of the table around you and you’ll find more people near you. When you can start to see the table as a whole, and as your area of the table expands, then you can start to offer a direction for the table. Until then, find your spot and take a seat. You’re in for an awesome ride in this life.
BREATHE. Mini break time. Think about an idol of yours.
Who is your idol? Who do you most admire? Do you have that person in mind? If not, stop right now and think about who that is…then continue.
It is extremely special to have someone to admire. To have someone who inspires you. Whether that’s a famous writer, sculpture, architect, innovator, creator, dreamer, visionary, politician, actor/actress, family member, leader, entrepreneur, developer, and the list goes on and on. We need people like these to learn from (the good and the bad) and to inspire us to live life in a similar fashion or in a completely new way.
You know what sucks, but is also cool? You won’t be the next (enter name of person you have in mind). No one is going to be the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, or whomever your idols are that span different areas of interest. We learn from and/or read about these figures (and many others that we idol) and sometimes, or in some ways, we want to be just like them. It’s a great thing. But, also a problem.
The one thing that these folks have in common is that they most likely followed their own intuitions and curiosities to become who they are. They didn’t read up on the person they admired before them and then do everything that person did or live their lives in the same fashion that person did. It just doesn’t work like that. They were themselves, and they did what each of us has to do: make mistakes, learn from others around us and from the experiences we have, make our own decisions and sacrifices, dedicate time to discover and follow our own intuitions and curiosities, find our passions, cry, be mad, be sad, be happy, find happiness, explore, learn, fall, fail, succeed, etc.
But… do you. Have some faith and patience if you haven’t found what you love doing yet. It will only come by letting go, being the real you, and making a choice to follow your own intuitions and curiosities (which should be exciting). You may not initially find yourself connecting with those currently around you (or you’ll be pleasantly surprised), but then there is only one way to start connecting with the people that you should, and it will happen way easier when you are the real you. Go be that person who someone else idolizes like you do now. Start now, by learning how to be you. Then, don’t stop being open to being the best version of yourself. This world changes fast. The more we can be open to positively change with it, the better off we’ll be.
One last time, BREATHE. Relax, you are already you. There’s really not much work required. It’s just time to listen to you. Love you. Respect you. Believe in you. And, keep being you. All it is, is a choice. I can’t make it. And, I’m not going to tell you to make it or when to make it. But, I know someone who can make it…
If you want to find out if I might sit at the metaphorical table near you or you feel like we probably sit at the table near each other, or have any questions or comments at all, reach out. Add me on Facebook, follow me on instagram, and/or email me. I will respond.
As a child in a lot of ways I lived a privileged childhood life of a middle class black family. My parents were married and worked. Our house had a winding staircase, a two-car garage and a finished basement. There were 5 children and the newest addition was my baby sister. I could not have been more than 5 years old at the time but I was already a detective and scientist in my own right. I possessed a curiosity and a thirst for knowledge that made it hard for my parents to contend with my curiosity. This thirst for scientific prowess almost got me killed on multiple occasions and once it almost got me killed twice in one day.
The first brush with death came early in the day. Being that I was sickly with asthma and bronchitis, I could not go outside so staying indoors was mandatory. I learned to read by age four as there was not a lot else I could do. I read anything I could get my hands on specifically scientific journals, hence my morbid curiosity. My favorite monster movie at the time was Frankenstein as I simply saw a thirst for knowledge within Professor Victor Frankenstein. I also liked space exploration so science was a natural fit. I had a composition notebook where I would record my daily experiments and observations. I literally wrote down everything. Surprisingly my mother still has this actual scientific masterpiece by her mad scientist son. On this day, I was conducting experiment #36.
Experiment #36 was designed to determine how the mini-plug in the wall would allow multiple things to emit electrical power. This I would later come to know as a splitter but for now I digress and it was a mini-plug. It turned one outlet into four and my scientific mission was to determine how it did this. Now based on what I had seen on Frankenstein I knew I needed to use metal as conductors to utilize and ascertain the process the electricity used. I then took the mini-plug and plugged it into the wall. To conduct the electric current and process it for observation I would use my metal keys to see the reactions of connecting the positive and the negatives of the electric current.
I stuck in the first key and observation one stated “No Reaction.” I proceeded to stick and drop in key number two and the response was the same “No Reaction.” This puzzled the detective and the scientist in me. So, I decided that the positives and negatives needed to connect and be in unison to get the response of the power flowing like the lighting on Frankenstein. To accomplish this I simply pushed the second key with a flick to the second key. (Luckily I did not do this with my hands or I would not be here to write this story!)
A Loud Pop
A Cloud of Smoke
No more Lights
And my older brother said “aww shit.”
At that point, my mom saw the experiment and sent me to the corner of the winding staircase stating how I needed to wait until my father got home, and that I was in trouble. She chose the corner for the winding staircase as an act of motherly cruelty because the stairs had no landing and so one foot was on one stair and another was on a different stair. This made me look like a person who had one leg longer than the other and this in and of itself was an act of cruel and unusual punishment, as I had heard the lawyers on television say was illegal. Now the time spent agonizing over wondering what my father was going to say and do when he got home was self-inflicted agony. My mind worked to think how to get out of the mess I was in.
My father came home and my mother told him the sordid tale of the day’s experiments. As my father called my name, I started with the “I know I am in trouble” and before I could say another word he replied “DAMN RIGHT YOU ARE IN TROUBLE GET YOUR ASS DOWSTAIRS IN THE BASEMENT.” I had never heard my dad swear before so that in and of itself gave pause for alarm. Secondly “The Basement” was used for one purpose when my dad was upset … You guessed it, it was ass whooping time and boy did I get it. That long black leather belt came out and this time there was no “this is going to hurt me more than it does you,” speech. It was more of I cannot believe you destroyed the fuse box in the house. You and that damn experimenting brain of yours.
After a five minute spanking I was sent upstairs sore ass and all. Dad began to work on repairing the damage I had caused and I began writing notes in my journal while sitting on the floor by my mom’s feet. I had to go to the bathroom so I got up and went. My mom grabbed my journal to see what I was writing. Then she just started laughing loudly and called my dad upstairs. Still fearing for my ass, I peeked around the corner listening to see what was so funny my mom read my notes aloud Observation five, got an ass whooping, do not ever do that experiment again. My dad erupted in laughter and saw me peeking around the corner. He hugged me, told me he loved me and that he would show me about electricity so he took me to the basement. No more ass whooping whew!!!
The day concluded we had dinner and we always got desert but today I was still hungry. I did not want to seem like the problem child so I did not tell my mom I just figured I would be OK. Well it was 11 pm and I was still hungry but everyone was in bed sleeping. My bed was covered with Star Wars sheets and pillowcases. My nerdy night-light with the Star Trek logo was on and I was always reading. Underneath all that though was my favorite science fiction of all time, the Battlestar Galactica logo Mattress. I always imagined I was on some great adventure out in the void of space saving the human race.
I decided to turn off the night-light and I began to make my way down the stairs. The hallway lights were not fixed yet but walking in the dark was easy once your eyes adjusted, plus I knew my house like the back of my hand even in the dark. The stairs creaked a bit but everyone was asleep so I was just trying not to wake anyone. I made it down the stairs, through the hall, and past the refrigerator. I climbed on the bottom drawer as I pulled it out and climbed onto the counter opening the cabinets. I saw some crackers which I remember thinking eww, but what I saw behind that was the chocolate-chocolate-chip cookies with ginger sprinkles on top. I raided the package holding my little flashlight so I could see like a laser gun pointed at the enemy. I snagged 6 of them and placed them in my shirt then I climbed down the counter. I held the bottom of the Battlestar Galactica shirt cupping the cookies between the shirt and my chest. Like a thief in the night I started up the stairs and right when I got to the corner of the winding staircase, I had a flashlight and a huge 357 magnum gun pointed at me.
I raised my hands and the cookies fell on the floor. I froze. My father had heard me and he froze too. He then put the gun off to the side and picked up the cookies and told me to follow him. I did and he threw the cookies away, and then replaced them with fresh cookies in a bowl. He hugged me and started to cry. I was too young to truly understand the events of the day, so I asked inquisitively why he was crying. My Father explained he almost lost me twice today and that I needed to be more careful.
What I did do though seeing how vulnerable my dad was at that moment was write in my journal that I needed to listen to my dad more and I needed to be more careful. I felt bad because I had caused him to worry and cry and in some ways, I was careless. I listened to his every lesson after that and some of the things he would tell me about life would come true ten years to the day from when he told it to me. It was a strange lesson and all taught by several things that all came together at once, Frankenstein, Cookies, and a 357 Magnum.
We often in life have our curiosities, and we can be responsible for them and the impact they have on those we love. Life is precious and we can be curious in life. At the same time we can simply enjoy our lives and speak to what we love. Our imagination is boundless and if we truly open ourselves to it, w an create a life of wonder that works for the world. Embrace the childhood passions with curiosity and care. The world is yours if you rise up and take it.
If I were to ask you if the world is a good place, what would your answer be?
Would you respond optimistically? Pessimistically? Realistically? Logically? Is it easy to sum up in a few words? A few sentences? A few paragraphs? Does it depend on the day? On your current mood? On the song that you just listened to? On the friend that you just made? On the family member you just lost? On the vacation you just took? If I were to ask you if the world is a good place 10 years ago, would your answer be the same today? Would it depend on where you were born? What gender you are? What ethnicity you are? What sexual orientation you are?
Do you think your answer would change if you were a different gender? Born in a different country? Born an orphan? Born and raised in the heart of a city? Born on a farm? Born with a disability or incurable disease? If animals, trees, other living creatures could somehow speak, how do you think they would answer?
Your own knowledge and interpretation? Your own beliefs? Is it possible that our answer to this question is based on the level of education we each receive? Is it possible that your answer could be different from tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of others?
If it’s possible that this answer could change from person to person, perspective to perspective, background to background, birth place to birth place, experience to experience, etc. etc. etc…then how can we get everyone to think, feel, believe, and say, this world is a good place.
The idea behind the simple, yet complex question, “is the world a good place?” may be applicable beyond it’s answer. Humans have different beliefs, perspectives, ideas, thoughts, and theories. And sometimes we get stuck with weird choices (subconsciously or consciously) to share what we believe, perceive, feel, and think, or to keep it to ourselves. To stick to what we believe, perceive, feel, and think, or to allow ourselves to be open to changing.
If you’ve ever read any piece of history in your life, you’ve probably noticed that one thing or another has changed since then. It seems as though things keep changing in this world. I’m not sure of a time where things weren’t changing. So, is it possible then that we are changing too? Is it possible that the earth is changing? Is it possible that your phone will change in the next decade?
That the computer you want will change in the next decade? That the clothes you want to wear will change? That how fast you can run a mile will change? That your abilities, talents, knowledge base, etc. will change?
If it’s possible that all of this could change, then why is it so hard for our thinking to change? Why is it so hard for some of our beliefs to change? Why is it so hard for our perspectives to change? Sometimes we fear change. It’s hard to change. It seems like it takes work. It takes effort. It’s constant. The weird thing about it though, is it seems like it keeps happening even if we don’t put in the “effort,” “hard work,” and time.
So, if everything is changing, shouldn’t we continue to do the same? If it’s possible we might not have a choice anyway, it could be cool to learn to control our change. Not stop it, but live it, love it, and create it (for the better of course).
Step One: embellish change.
*This is a work of fiction, inspired by real events
He was a beautiful man, with profound eyes filled with pools of copper and a jawline so sharp it stung to look at. I met him through mutual friends – we were at one of those free music festivals Atlanta loves to throw during the spring. “Bijan,” he answered, unsmiling, when I asked for his name.
I had to ask again to hear him over the off-tune indie band playing nearby and the surrounding cliques’ overlapping conversations. I grinned. “Does that mean you’re my hero?” I teased, playing on the Farsi meaning of the name, trying to help him relax. I know what anxiety is like. He merely grimaced and replied, “Yeah.”
My girlfriend smiled sheepishly at our exchange. “Bijan comes from Persian parents as well. I thought I’d introduce you, because Middle Easterners can only date each other, right?” That was a joke, I learned later that evening – Bijan was gay.
We went out for dinner after the festival ended. I ordered spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, while he opted for mozzarella cheese sticks and a dirty martini. “Yeah,” he said, between licking the salt off an olive, “I used to have a boyfriend. Handsome, tall fellow. A godsend in the gay community – to find a guy who wanted to be exclusive AND was ‘manly’ enough for me to take home without having to come out? Bless. Things didn’t work out, though. It is what it is.”
Bijan wasn’t actually from Atlanta. His parents lived in Nashville; he was here doing his Master’s in Public Health at Emory. He wanted to help impoverished men and women of color in urban communities with commonplace STI’s receive necessary treatment and prevention. Bijan was an intelligent student, but didn’t receive enough funding for his studies. Fortunately, his parents were wealthy enough to fund his degree, housing, and other needs while he built the foundation for his life.
I was fond of Bijan. We didn’t hang out much after that night, but we made time to get cappuccinos or go to shows a handful of times over the next few months. Those few times, we talked (argued) about religion, local occurrences, and epidemiology. I admired him for his pure intentions – he truly believed he could “make the world a better place” through his research, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles world health organizations often faced, like lack of funding or permission to send aid into certain areas. He had faith that goodness would prevail. But that faith appeared to be nonexistent when it pertained to his own life.
“Yeah, my parents have a list of women for me to meet in the occasion I don’t bring one home before I turn 27,” he’d lament. “Muslim, or Coptic Christian. They really expect me to carry the family name, because I am the ‘man of the family.’ Pardis, my only sister, is older than me, but she eloped with a guitar player a few years ago. Extraordinarily cliché, but aren’t we all? I don’t know where she is now. Anyway, they’ve cut her off and now it’s just me and Parsa, who is still in the 7th grade.”
Bijan spoke quickly, like he wanted to get a confession with a sheikh or priest over with, like I was about to assign him a punishment for simply existing. “They can’t get over the fact that they came here from Iran to have a better life, that they managed to literally go from rags to riches with their business, and they still managed to have a ‘fuck-up’ for a daughter. It puts so much pressure on me and Parsa to be great, to be venerable characters in the narrative they’ve imagined and ingrained in their heads. It’s why, despite the legalization, I will never be able to marry the man I love.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. You know, I haven’t made many friends I like here. It’s hard for me to trust people. I feel like everyone lets me down. But I guess telling you all this doesn’t really make a difference.” Bijan confused me sometimes, as well, but when I prompted him for an explanation, he rarely conceded. I chose to enjoy his company, nonetheless, and take what he would give me.
I never got the sense that Bijan was a particularly happy individual, despite his aspirations and fertile inner life. Then again, very few are. Yet, nothing could prepare me for the letter I received early this year from – of all people- Bijan’s mother, stating that he had killed himself and left me a note. She didn’t write anything else, except that she hoped that Bijan hadn’t portrayed her and her husband as ‘bad people’ to me, and that they had tried their hardest to do everything they could for their beloved son.
I hope this letter reaches you well, given the circumstances. If you’re reading this, I am gone. There is nothing you could have done. I want to thank you for being a wonderful friend during the short time we knew each other. In a different life, with different neurobiology, I might have loved you more than a friend. Alas, it was not meant to be.
I write this, because I want you to know. I need to validate to myself that my act is not entirely selfish.
When I was 23, I contracted HIV from a hookup. At least, I want to think it was from a hookup. Unless my ex cheated on me, then I got it from him. It doesn’t really matter though.
Yeah, yeah, I know: HIV is incredibly treatable, to the point where it doesn’t even have to shorten your life expectancy, you just have to take antivirals and enzyme replacement therapy, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because HIV is the last straw for me. It’s the last straw on top of being atheist, on top of being gay, on top of an unforgiving world. I’ve been ready for this for years – the universe just told me it was time.
My father once said that he would rather me have cancer than an STI. I took that as indication that he would, façade and obligatory consolations aside, honestly prefer me dead than shameful. Everything about me is shrouded in shame. This, my death, is my gift to my parents: they can tell their family I died of a broken heart, of mental illness, of anything else, rather than the ugly truth. And maybe it’s true: maybe I am a product of my own relentless self-destruction, a product of gin, sex, and blasphemy.
I am not blaming anyone. Some people weren’t just meant for this world, not human enough, too human. I truly believe I will find peace after this. I’m going to sleep – for eternity.
With utmost love,
I did cry. Sobbed, in fact. And I was furious, absolutely enraged, at his casual tone in the letter. Did he not understand the depth of his actions? Did he not understand the implications for his family? His poor brother, now all alone in a cruel world?
His mother didn’t leave any contact information in her note, which is just as well. I had no desire to speak about Bijan ever again. I could only imagine how he completed the act- was it here in Atlanta? Did he blow his brains out, leaving his roommate a grotesque final image of him? I shuddered, and prayed to forget Bijan’s beautiful face.
Bijan was an astounding man that touched my life, and broke my heart with his demise. I wish his tale was a unique one, but I know it’s not, because suicide is the leading cause of death among young adults in the developed world, and I know that a high percentage of suicidal individuals never seek help, and I know that many people of color believe suicide, death, is the honorable way to go when they’ve disrespected the culture they come from.
And I wish for the next generation of humans on this planet to be more merciful to the gays, to the different, to each other, and I wish for the next generation of humans on this planet to cater to those who don’t know how to be alive in their communities, or anywhere else. I wish for a more forgiving world, one Bijan could have lived in, flaws and all.
As finals are right around the corner, the idea of dropping everything and fleeing to a dream destination becomes harder and harder to resist. After having most of my friends going abroad throughout my junior year, I get asked a lot where I would have gone if I studied abroad. My immediate answer is always Italy.
I am so lucky to have such a culture that I have received from my Dad’s side of the family. We are a huge Italian family who keeps the traditions of our ancestors alive and well in our family. My dad, the youngest of his siblings, was the only child of my grandparents who was born in the United States. My other Uncles and Aunt were all born in a small town in Italy named Ripabottoni. My aunt and uncles stayed in Ripabottoni, Italy with my grandmother while my grandfather immigrated to the U.S. and worked for five years before being able to bring the rest of his family to the U.S. Although my aunts and uncles were in their teens or younger when they arrived in the U.S., they had a hard life. My family worked their asses off to support themselves and chase the American dream that they left their hometown for.
This family history is why I would give anything to up and run for Ripabottoni at the first chance I have. I want to experience the poor town where my roots are. I want to see the street where my family grew up, loved, and ultimately had to leave for the chance at a better life.
As I am stressed out of my mind and sleep deprived, I try to focus on the important things in life like my family and my culture instead of fixating on test grades and GPA. Especially after losing my Uncle six months ago, I have realized how important family and the little things in life are. I would love to escape the finals, RA duties, and talk of grad school for a chance to see Italy and all of the culture and significance it holds for me.
I hope that I get to run away to this amazing town one day, and I hope that everyone finds a place that they feel connected to and that you are willing to drop everything and go to. PS if anyone wants to pay for my trip to Italy, I wouldn’t mind 😊
“My feelings about art and my feelings about the creator of the universe are inseparable… it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory.” Madeleine L’Engle
So, what gives your life “its tragedy and glory?” For L’Engle, she ultimately desired to bring glory to the creator of the universe through the life she lived, but how did she do this? She wrote novels of fiction from her experiences and imagination, to allow people to simply enjoy and gain new perspective on what it means to be human. She took wisdom from her years of life, then transcended them into concepts that would impact readers, not just on the surface, but also on an existential level.
The quote that you first read, comes from one of her novels called “Walking on Water”, where she explains what it’s like to live a life of faith and pursue the extraordinary life of an artist. Now, in my own words, I will attempt to find my reason for what brings my life its tragedy and glory. Along the way, I hope you will find your answer as well.
What I mean by this, is that the faith I have in the creator of the universe, will bring His glory to my twisted tragedy that I live as a human being. That He will bring goodness and beauty to my sinful story. It’s that simple, and in this simplicity, there is a beautiful, chaotic sophistication about it. As I continue to walk in this life, I have found that there is beauty in simplicity, but there is also beauty in the chaos of sophistication. Sometimes the simplest of answers, will require you to discover the chaos and the cosmos that is held within.
With this truth, I don’t want people to simply accept or reject these ideas, but rather I want them to test and approve this possible truth for themselves. Living with this desire as the forefront of my passion, consequently brings positive and negative ailments to my story. What I mean by this, is that the life I live, will be nothing like what I expect it to be.
Up until now, the majority of my life has been lived with Christ, and from this, I can safely say that living a life with Christ is far from the idea of ‘normal’. From the places I’ve seen, people I’ve met, lives that touched me, experiences I’ve faced; never would I have thought that my existence would look like this.
But now, you’re probably asking yourself the question of, “What possibly could be the “negative” ailments to your life?” Before I continue onto these proponents, I must say that the negative ailments I’ve faced are no more different than anyone else’s; we all experience pain and we all suffer, the most noticeable difference within this, is the type of pain and suffering that we experience and how we cope with it.
Up until the age of 16; the perspective of driven optimism marked my life. Nothing I had faced or experienced as a child or teen, was that of anything that would alter my perspective on how I would live day to day. I had walked through life with the mentality that God is good, living is easy, and I am here to make the most of it. Sure, I went through a typical teenage liveliness of getting into trouble and my parent’s grounding me, ‘break ups’ (they were never relationships, but each one ended like they were), broken bones; you get the picture. But on the night of July 20, 2012, my esprit of walking with God had changed forever. The Aurora Theatre shooting completely shattered my perspective on what it means to have a heart driven by optimism.
Somehow I escaped from this crippling tenet and I ran. In this time of running, I chose to live my life the way I pleased, away from the One who wanted to do life with me. I ran to momentary pleasures that would allow me to escape the reality of my life, but that’s the calamity of it all, each pleasure was a momentary escape, never a cure.
After searching and falling short time and time again, I decided that I would end my life. The emotional, physical, and mental dilemmas that I was experiencing, were far too great of a feat for me to handle. I had thought that nothing on this earth could save me… and I was right, but someone who overcame the world could. As I was on my deathbed, contemplating the how of my life, with tears running down my face; God spoke to me. I knew it was He because of the simple, compassionate, and still small voice that spoke to me. He told me that my life could positively impact somebody one day, but out of my own freewill, I would have to make a choice on whether to live or die.
At the time, it didn’t seem very compassionate of God, the One who dearly loves me, to say that I had the choice about my life; I expected Him to swoop down and hold me in His arms, to let me know it would all be okay, but there is something that God has blessed us with called Freewill. It’s the phenomenon of making my own decisions in life and accepting whatever consequences (good or bad), that will follow. Up until this point of my history, I knew and had head knowledge of His most prominent characteristic being love, but I was lacking of this truth in my heart.
Because of this head knowledge, I knew that no matter what I would choose to do, He would still love me. Whether I chose death or life, His devotion for me would never change (but that is no excuse to begin living a life of sin). By now, you can probably guess which path of existence I chose. My reason for this option, was because my time on this earth hadn’t had meaning except for what I thought was to suffer, but now knowing that my traumatic season could impact somebody one day, to have a purpose; that was enough of a reason for me to continue on through the pain.
In the years that I was absent in my relationship with God; I gained insight on things that I could never have learned if I were still with Him. My time away from the light, taught me what it was like to live in the darkness. The amazing thing is, as I thought I was running away from God, He was actually running after me. He sought after my heart, wanting to restore the brokenness and help pick up the pieces, to put me back together. After a grueling four years through all of this, I had finally decided to let God back in.
Since then, in times of introspection, I now understand the darkness and appreciate the light much more because of it. Like I said, my purpose in the days that I’m given on this earth, is to bring the light of truth to the lies of darkness. I went from a cave, living as a shadow in the dark, hiding from people who wanted good things for me, to a now, bright lighthouse on a hill, desiring to bring the light of truth to those who are caught in the fog of life. In other words, God has brought His glory to the tragedy of my story. My faith in the creator of the universe did exactly what I had hoped He would do.
Now a new question arises, “I thought you just said you didn’t want to be with God?” You’re right, I didn’t, but apart of me wanted to be with Him. My flesh of sin wanted to resist God, but my spirit of truth wanted to be with Him. Confusing, right? Paul, a traveling evangelist writes, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” What Paul is getting at, is this idea that we are sinners, yet we are saints. Why do I do the things I know I shant do?
How do I solve the problem of self? Who am I? These questions lay dormant in the story that I live out day to day; in the scripts I write, films I create, words I choose to use. It’s the chaos within the cosmos; the wisdom to know that which I fully am and the strength to accept that fact of my enigmatic ways. David, the once King of Israel wrote, “For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.” We, I, are Homo sapiens; man who ponders thought. The One who created thought, knitted the fabric of our very souls in the wombs of our mother’s. By the breath of His lungs and the fire of His spirit, He forged man and woman with the essence of His love.
The last part of tragedy is this: to know that we were meant for so much more in life, but our beautifully sophisticated, paradoxical selves chose (out of our own freewill) to live within not just the cosmos anymore, but also in the chaos. As humans, we were never supposed to endure the pains and sufferings of the lives that we now live in the chaos. We were called to live a life with the Creator of the universe in the cosmos. Now, there are bits and pieces of both beautiful divines that we experience day to day.
Faith and myself, the tragedy and glory. To know the meaning of my existence; the why for my sufferings, and the wisdom to understand that who I was, am, and will be, is precisely the way I should be. I am a conscious, yet beautifully sophisticated paradox that chooses to live within the chaos and the cosmos, to bring glory to my Creator, and tragedy to self.
This is my story, this is who I am. A conscious child of God, who is beautiful, sophisticated, and paradoxical; called to live my life in an intimate relationship with Him, so that He may use the tragedy of my life, to bring glory to Him so that all may see, so that all may know, who they too, are; a beautifully sophisticated paradox, living amongst the chaos and the cosmos, in need of a Savior, who brings glory to their tragedy.
So, I leave you with this, “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty, but also in the its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving something of God’s own sincerity and his unselfishness.” Thomas Merton
I now challenge you to go out and discover for yourself, the truth and meaning to your life.
Working out never used to be a passion of mine.
In fact it was something I used to dread. A dancer for most of my life, upon coming to college I quickly fell out of shape; gaining the freshman 15 (more like 25!!) due to stress and late-night pizza runs. Realizing I was out of shape was the first step, but actually going to the gym was a bit more…difficult. I HATED it.
With all those facts in mind, it may come as a surprise that today I’m somewhat of a “gym rat.” Its become my own little sanctuary; a place where I go not just to exercise, but to clear my mind. For me, working out is not just a means to an end. While I initially started my fitness journey with the intention of losing weight, it has quickly evolved into more than just that.
When I’m in a yoga or a pilates class, or sweating it out on the elliptical, I feel at peace. My mind is sharp, and I am concentrated on the task at hand, not worried about any external stressors. It has helped me manage my sometimes overwhelming anxiety, which in turn has improved how I handle school, work, and my own social life. Instead of dragging myself to the gym, I look forward to it, as a break from the real world and a chance to truly work on bettering myself in the process.
This zen philosophy didn’t happen right away. Starting a fitness routine is HARD, especially if you go into it considering yourself out of shape, like I did. It’s not easy to go into workouts comparing yourself to others; wondering why you can’t keep up at the exact same pace. But here’s the thing: finding a passion for fitness doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. It’s an entirely personal experience, where the only thing that matters is what you gain out of it.
Working out as given me an outlet physically and emotionally; strengthening not only my body, but my spirit. There are still some days where I drag my feet going to the gym, after all wouldn’t it be nicer to stay in bed for an extra 3o minutes? Those feelings are far outweighed by the satisfaction I get from going to the gym.
It didn’t come easily, but having a well-regimented exercise routine has added a lot to my life, and I see myself continuing it into the distant future.
I think one of my favorite pictures regarding love and romance is this one:
“What is love?” “A neurochemical con job.”
Because this child can’t be more than eight, and they’ve hit the idea right on the nose. Love is something that we as humans have evolved into finding mutually beneficial, especially in this time of the necessity of two-income households. Our own human biology cons us into finding the way a person smiles and the weird half-laugh they do at dumb jokes on Twitter worthy of our affection and time. Humans are essentially useless when they’re born. As a way to compensate, evolution gave humans oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel bonded with other people. It starts out when our mothers bond with us as babies, or as children.
And then we chase that feeling forever. Humans are social. We – generally – like being around other humans. At the very least, we all need some human contact. So our own biology goes “here, have some oxytocin” when we’re around people we like. And that makes us like them more. And then romance comes in. That fuzzy feeling? It’s just hormones.
There are also the benefits of being in a relationship in the modern world, like shared costs for the Netflix subscription. Or for budgeting for the future because you’re unsure about whether or not grad school will have enough return on investment to go. In an age of dating apps and OKCupid quizzes, it’s hard to find the romance sometimes. It isn’t all milkshakes and going steady. A lot of romance is having real conversations about the future.
“If you were never financially stable enough, would either of you be okay with not having children?”
“Do you even want children at all?”
“Do you have any debt, student or otherwise?”
In this new generation reaching adulthood, these questions are more like small talk on a first date rather than questions you ask after you’ve been together for five years and already own a dog.
But that hormone remains. Humans like and need other humans, and not just for their various accounts to watch TV. Companionship is a part of the human experience. Even when the questions we have to ask each other get harder, it isn’t impossible.
We can find love in a hopeless place.
If Rihanna says we can, I believe her.
Love continuously proves to be one of the most elusive concepts.
That is, for me anyways. How are we supposed to go about finding something that so few can even define? Yet, while I may not have experienced the kind of love that makes up fairy tales, some of the stories I have heard throughout my 21 years of life have given me hope. Hope that maybe the connections we make in this lifetime are worth more than a box of chocolates or a way to pass the time.
Some of the following recollections of love stories are from my friends and family. Others are random remembrances of conversations with kind strangers. Either way, from those I have encountered, I have found that it is love that makes life worth living.
The platinum beauty was standing overlooking the airplane tarmac with her father when he saw her. He was sitting in the café with a gaggle of stewardesses when he looked up and said, “That is the woman I am going to marry.” The young man got up, walked over and introduced himself to the woman and her father. As fate would have it, he worked for her father’s engineering company in Los Angeles. As the staff called for the boarding of their flight, the woman and her father took their seats in first class while the man went back to sit in economy. When the father got up to use the restroom, the man got up, sat in the father’s seat, drank the father’s martini and did his best to woo the young woman. When the father came back he politely asked if the young man would move, as he’d like to have lunch with his daughter. Phone numbers were exchanged, background checks were ran and a double date was set up between the young man and the beautiful blonde. Six months later they were married and proceeded to spend the next 50 years of their life together.
She was an English lady on holiday in Ireland with her friends. Her first marriage was not all that it was cracked up to be and she needed a break. Riding her moped down the winding Irish roads, he almost ran her off the road. It was meant to be. They got married and she moved to Ireland whilst her daughter moved to The States. She learned to love Guinness for him.
They we’re both at a random Chicago Cubs game. He was from Texas; she was from Canada. They were seated next to each other and hit it off. He had just gotten into a relationship. They exchanged contact information and went their separate ways. A year and a half had gone by when she received a random call. It was him. He was out of his relationship and had been thinking about her after all this time. They began long-distance calling each other for months and eventually made plans to meet in Vegas to see if the spark was still there. She was leaving to fly to Vegas in the morning.
They grew up at the lake together. He did a little more of the physical growing up then she did. It was the golden summer and feelings developed. Jokes were made and families looked on with barely-concealed amusement. There were many play fights to be had, lots of Bloody Mary’s to be made and countless childish jokes to be tossed out just to see who could toss it back first. She lived in LA; he lived in Atlanta. They carried on long-distance throughout the ups and downs over the years. They look forward to moving in together next year.
It’s true for many that love take time to grow. But for others, it arises and smacks you on the head like an out-of-control moped on an Irish holiday. To me, relationships that seem to be destined aren’t the ones you went searching for. They’re the kind that come out of nowhere. They are the kind that are messy, take work and surprise your common sense.
They’re the kind that I love to hear about.
I love to hear the stories about how people met, because they are never the same. They never happen the way you expect them to; and that’s one of the unsurpassed wonders and mysteries of life. So to all those who have already found their love story, keep on spreading that joy. For those who haven’t, much like myself, there is nothing to worry about. Keep an open mind and heart and let fate do its’ thing. While it may not be popular opinion, I do believe that those who are meant to come and stay in your life—will. Life is long, but altogether too short to spend time with those who don’t fill your cup.
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.” ― Pablo Neruda
I never thought this can be a point of discussion until now. Few days back I read Virginia Woolf’s “A room of one’s own”. In this book she primarily focuses on the idea of women having a room of their own so that they can have freedom and luxury to write. I quote here- All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point. A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.
This book “A room of one’s own’ was first published in 1929 and even now decades later the issue persists. Can we put this on men and say they are bias toward women? No, if you see, a large fraction of readers consist of women.
When I did little research on this issue, I came across data which was based on Survey conducted by VIDA in 2010. An article published in “The Guardian” states this fact very clearly that there is a big gap between female authors and male authors being published. Is it because a large number of publications reject female writers work or men outnumber women just by the fact that fewer women try their hand in writing?
Let me break it down for you-
VIDA: Women in Literary Arts support women and their contribution to literature. VIDA conduct surveys every year to see how women are doing in literature and how much attention is being given to them by various publications.
According to survey conducted in 2016, there was some improvement from the year 2010.
a) There were 29 Women as compared to 49 men who got published in GRANTA (a magazine and publisher based in UK) in 2010 which went high in 2015 with 33 women as compared to 35 men.
b) For poetry the number increased from 165/246 in 2010 to 185/188 in 2015.
c) When it comes to how many female critics got their voice heard the numbers are really bad.
Male pseudonyms were very common in 18th and 19th century. They were female writer’s card to the world of literature. They were proof that the author of this book is real genius and means business. Can women write? Yes, they can; in fact they are brilliant in what they do. Mary Ann Evans is an example of this who you know from her pen name “George Elliot”. Yet even today name matters, why?
If you think these are only theories than you should read this . A tell all story by renowned author Catherine Nichols where she submits a manuscript under a male pseudonym. She received eight times the number of responses she had received under her own name.
Surveys like “Are women better writer than men?” demean the whole idea of being a writer in first place. The question should be how we can promote diversity in literature? There must be writers out there who don’t want to be methodical but different. The difference is because of the prevailing idea in our society that men are intellectually more superior to women. It’s like getting surprised and showering praise for a man who comes in support of women rights. Ignoring all the efforts millions of women are making every day for their own rights. I bet you, if a male writer wants to publish on a sensitive subject such as feminism, there will be a queue of publisher standing right outside his door.
Is there any solution to this? Will there ever be? How long will it take our society to understand that we all are human beings irrespective of our gender, status or race? Our minds are unique. Each one of us has a right to have a say in different matters irrespective of who we are.
We have come a long way where women no longer have to hide behind a pseudonym. They can walk the walk and talk the talk as freely as men do. Female authors have published a wide genre of books which are getting the reception they deserve, “Wild- Cheryl Strayed”, “The lowland- Jhumpa Lahiri”, “The hunger games- Suzanne Collins” and “Gone Girl- Gillian Flynn” to name a few.
There are so many female authors I haven’t read myself. The conclusion I draw from these facts is – We should give female authored book a chance to inspire our lives.
How much do you think there is gender bias in literature and how it affects you as a reader?
If I’m being honest, I’ve carried around a secret dream with me for the past few years. It’s the kind of dream that I don’t think I’ll ever actually act on, but a really great dream nonetheless. The truth is, I’ve always wanted to be a writer for shows like Parks and Rec and The Office. I just think it would be so much fun to create beautiful, real, silly relationships out of everyday scenarios. It’s my ‘maybe someday’ dream.
There are more pressing, urgent dreams I have that I need to fulfill – like working in education reform, and mandating sexual health education in all 50 states, and ending mental health stigmas once and for all and even running for office, and and and !!! – there’s so many things I want to do!
But writing for a comedy show? And if I’m being even more honest, ACTING for the show I’m writing for TOO?! That thought makes me feel selfishly giddy.
I pushed myself to audition for a comedy troupe Freshman year of college, and I got in. Yet, even after two years, I still feel utterly out of my comfort zone, and like I will never be as good as others who seem to have a natural knack for timing and improv.
Yet, I want so badly to be good at it. I want to be as powerful and unashamed as my personal heros are.
When I watch Carrie Brownstein star alongside Fred Armisen as a total equal in Portlandia, and when I watch her scream about ‘Ayo River’ and a stupid, freaking camping video, I feel like I want to scream with her. More importantly, I feel like I maybe COULD scream like her, and be as funny.
When I read Jessi Klein’s book, I felt utterly empowered and thought to myself… ‘wow, maybe I can tackle the rawness of the female experience in the same way’.
And when I watch a girl I go to school with do improv, I am left speechless. She is not there to be ‘beautiful’ or ‘feminine’ – she is there to be absolutely, incomparably hilarious. I can’t even tell you what it means to me to watch her, a female just like me, absolutely OWN the stage.
And I’ve written and spoken a lot about the influence that Leslie Knope and Amy Poehler have had on me, but I will do it again:
God, I feel alive just thinking about how unbelievable these people are.
These are a few powerhouse females that have made me want to be more. So many women in comedy have made an impact on me so large I feel that my heart growing just thinking about it.
So, maybe someday I’ll contribute to creating something that leaves others inspired, stunned, and in total and utter awe.
Sharing a story is sometimes hard. Sharing a story about yourself is even harder. You never know where to begin, what to say or how people may react. However, throughout my recovery I found that sharing my story was one way to keep my own two feet on the ground. The school that I was asked to speak at, asked for me to give a title for the talk, which became the hardest part to do. As I began to write, I realized it was hard to find just one heading for the talk. I had to pack my six-year battle into one heading, which was entirely impossible.
Feeling like I wasn’t good enough for everyone was always one problem of mine. Whether it being grades, athletics, or with my family I always felt a little bit behind. I struggled academically, which made me different than all my straight A friends. And being an athlete was a big part of my life, so I always tried to be my best on and off the field. This all changed for the worse, one afternoon when I found out my best friend had committed suicide. I never truly began to realize the impact my friend had on my life until the day I realized I was never going to see him again. There would never be walks up and down the hallway while we were skipping our “academically enhanced” class or swimming and jumping off trees during the summer.
I woke up one morning wanting to be better. To get out of this rut and finally get back to being happy cause I always thought, that’s what my friend would have wanted. First, I couldn’t control my academics because no matter how hard I tried I was always the B-C student. Secondly, I couldn’t control my coach’s thoughts of what boat to put me in, no matter how hard I tried at practice. Finally, I couldn’t control the fact that my friend had died and I would never get to say anything to him again. One thing I could control was my weight. Somehow in my mind I thought losing weight could get me in the A boat as well as fix my grades and in some messed up way, get my friend to come back, which trust me, didn’t work.
Fast forward a year, my mom came running up the steps to find me laying on the bathroom floor. No child ever wants to see the look I saw on her face that day. I knew I needed help. Somehow I couldn’t control anything anymore. I got help and slowly began to recover. I gained control over this issue until the day things slipped again.
Fast forward two years, I was sitting in the Renfrew Treatment center, they told me that I would develop heart palpitations or my mom would find me dead on the bathroom floor if I didn’t get control over this. I was supposed to be graduating high school in four months and they had wanted me to stop everything and go into an inpatient hospital to fix my issue and then move on with my life.
By this time, I was actually getting worse at rowing and my grades slowly began to fall, and of course, my friend never came back. This was also the time I was hearing back from colleges and all I could think about was having to stay back a year to finish high school. My mom gave me the ultimatum of getting help and gaining enough weight to go to college and maintaining it so I could stay at school. My mom never understood what I was going on and her way of fixing it was telling me to “just stop”.
That’s not real life though. If you physically stop, your mental block will be harder and harder to control and ultimately you’ll fail even harder than you did before. My mom had good intentions, she just didn’t understand and I don’t blame her for that. Outsiders looking in thought I was crazy. In some ways I was. Crazy in the sense I was trying so hard to be someone I wasn’t.
Two weeks into my freshman year at college I was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with heart palpitations because of this illness. By this point I was still at a healthy weight and I was doing better but my body was tearing apart because of the years of abuse I had given it.
The cycle of relapse and recovery went on for a while. Until recently I woke up and decided enough was enough. All in all, if you’re going through something like this, I can’t tell you how to fix yourself, I can tell you, if you want saving, you need to save yourself.
One day, I opened my bloodshot eyes from getting two hours of sleep the night before and just started crying. Crying because I just wanted this pain over with. Six years of battling and I felt as sad as I did day one. In rehab they tell you “you’ll always have this problem, but learning to deal with it will get easier”. I always thought it was crap because it’s like setting you up to fail, but I decided to say hey let me try it out for sometime and see how much failing I can do.
Trust me, I failed, probably more than the average person. But every time I failed I realized something new about this horrible disease. First I realized that I was hurting my body to try to be good enough for this world. I tried pleasing everyone so people would like me. I went out of my way to help people before helping myself. Some call it selfish and trust me I thought it was.
My second fail led me to understand that people are mean. They will judge you, hurt you, and try to tear you down. In the end we are all trying to save ourselves from everyone else. My most recent fail led me to obtaining control back into my life. I always gave my control away. Giving it away to others to let them control me was the problem. I ultimately needed to control my control and worship it to be something precious. Trying to be alone is hard when you’re dealing with these issues. If you are alone, you usually have 100% control and for someone like me, that is a hard pill to swallow.
I learned that by being alone you figure out a lot more about yourself. I found that I love coloring, taking walks and dancing in my room alone. I realized, when I was the girl in control, I began begging my friends to go out and dance our butts off for no apparent reason. I started to laugh with my friends till my stomach hurt and say stupid things that made no sense. I learned control is empowering. It feeds my spirit and my personality.
My story with this awful disease isn’t over. I wake up everyday telling myself to smile and keep walking. Smile, because if someone else is having a bad day, maybe there is a slight chance they will be impacted by the smile I bring. I say keep walking because no one should stop their story from growing. Each day we have the power to build upon our stories, make them great and fill them will amazing memories. Stress, work, money and many other things will always be an issue in our lives. Surround yourself with the good people, move on from the bad. Make time for yourself and understand that no one is perfect. We all have stories. Stories that all make us who we are.
That’s why my story doesn’t have a title and why I learned that sometimes not having a title is just where I belong. I continue to write my story for my friend and for everyone else willing to listen just in the hopes my story will help someone else write theirs.
The very first week of my freshman year at university, I joined a sorority. My mother was in a sorority, all her friends were in sororities. For me, this felt like the pinnacle, the first and most important choice of my college career. These were the girls I was picking to be my best friends, my closest confidants, my “future bridesmaids.” I bought the Tory Burch sandals. I monogrammed my whole life. I drank the Kool-Aid.
My first year in my sorority was everything I could have wanted. I made those close friendships. I took all the perfect pictures to make my life look like a Insta-dream. I partied hard and threw moral reasoning to the wind. Everything was good.
Then sophomore year came around and I started to feel that tug. You know, that sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you things aren’t right? It didn’t happen immediately, but it crept in slowly and it was undeniable. The girls I was living with, the girls who I called my “sisters” had completely different views about life than I did. And the more my views developed and pulled away from the views they had, the more they began to ridicule me. My beliefs about politics, human rights, religion, sex, everything…felt like a target on my back. My freshman year I had been consumed with a desire to fit in, to be well liked. And I had achieved it!
By the start of this year, my junior year of college, a time when most people’s relationships with the people around them have solidified and grown deeply rooted in mutual love and respect, I felt like an island. Here I was, 20 years old, stranded in a sea of people who seemed to know exactly who they were and what they were about, totally isolated. I didn’t feel proud of my beliefs because they weren’t what my peers found praiseworthy. I wished all the time I could continue living like the girls I wanted so desperately to embrace me. But I knew I couldn’t change the values that were so integral to who I was as a person. The only thing I could do if I wanted to find those true friendships was to make a change.
So I struck out on my own in search of acceptance, fearing rejection. I don’t believe there are many things more lonely than putting yourself out there, trying to find friends when you feel like you have no one by your side. I felt like everyone around me had already found their place, like everyone knew where they fit and I was the spare part that wasn’t needed by anyone.
No 20-year-old has it all figured out. Everyone can use more friends. If they think they don’t, they’re lying to themselves even more than you are. And you are not, not, NOT a spare part. You are a vital part of the world around you. Your beliefs, your thoughts have the potential to make your school, your workplace, your sorority a more diverse and understanding environment. You are unique, you are special. You are someone’s child, someone’s student, someone’s neighbor, someone’s friend. You can be someone’s parent, someone’s spouse, someone’s teacher or coach or boss. You have the power to speak life into the existence of someone who feels dead inside, to be an example of what it looks like to be brave and step out in favor of your beliefs, to look at rejection and say “you can’t keep me down forever.”
I found an organization who’s description spoke to my heart about what I was looking for. And then I found another, and another. I invested time in these places, and I planted seeds of friendships. I dug deep holes for my seeds and buried them far below the surface. I nurtured them with care; I helped them grow over coffee and long conversations. I delighted when they sprouted little blossoms of laughter, and I rejoiced when what started out as small buds among thorns of tears and shared sadness bloomed into the most beautiful flowers of trust and companionship.
This year, I learned that it’s okay to feel lonely sometimes, but you don’t have to stay there long. You are not a rock. If you feel repressed or unappreciated, you don’t have to hunker down and tough it out. You can move, you can grow, you can start all over whenever you want. I promise there are people out there who can’t wait to know someone as amazing as you.
Broken goggles, snapped caps, power racks, 5:30 am morning practices, lifting, underwater, 5+ hours a day, the tears during practice; all these things have been my life the last 17 years, especially the last 4; until last week.
College swimming is no joke. The alarm clock going off at 5 am never got easier as my time as a swimmer. I always had to set 2-3 to finally get up and drag myself to practice. The worst part about my morning? Jumping into the cold pool. You can ask any swimmer what they dread the most in the morning and I guarantee you it will be getting into the pool. I was always one of the last ones in the water (which seemed to have ticked my coaches off as time went on, oops).
Classes on classes follow practice and before I know it, I’m back at the pool again for practice #2 of the day. After barely surviving most afternoon practices and feeling like I am drowning, my day is finally over. I then would hit the books for the rest of the night and repeat it all again tomorrow. This was my life every single day during my time as a Division 1 swimmer at Auburn University. I never had the regular college life as a majority of students do. However, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
Swimming was my biggest blessing in disguise. During high school, I lost many close friends and different school events for my sport. I always used the excuse “I have swimming”. But it was true. I was always at the pool. Whether I realized it or not, it kept me out of trouble. Swimming has given me the opportunity to meet the most amazing people from all across the world. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I have learned as a swimmer is that you will always have a hard working attitude out of the pool. Balancing sport and academics is one of the most challenging things as a student athlete. Thankfully, I was able to divide my attention for swimming and school. It has also taught me about myself- who I was and what I stood for. Once I became part of a team at Auburn, I learned that it wasn’t about myself.
This sport was all I ever knew. Often I found myself getting caught up in the swimming world and forgetting everything else. The biggest lesson that swimming didn’t teach me is that LIFE GOES ON. I didn’t think there would be life once I was done with swimming to be honest. Nobody prepared me for when I would be done. All I knew was swimming, swimming, and swimming. That was my life. Now a senior and a week into the “retirement life”, I quickly realized that there is more to life than my sport and that life actually does go on. From the missed intervals during practice, to the 5 second add in a 200 during a meet, I have learned that those things will not be remembered a year from now. What I will remember is my teammates and the memories I made with them. I now have free time that I never had before. Is it fun? No. Do I wish I could swim forever? Probably. But I have learned that I am more than my sport. I am the wanna-be soccer player, the music listener. I am the ex-student athlete who is finding out who I am.
I will forever be thankful for never quitting on the sport and continuing the passion for my sport. Swimming will always be a love-hate relationship to me but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am thankful for my time as a swimmer my whole life, especially at Auburn University. Here’s to surviving week 1 of my retirement life!
Growing up, I evaluated from a kid who played mass at home and preached to the family congregation in a non-understandable language, to a lapsed Catholic who pretended to sleep on Sundays. It worked from time to time, but my parents got me on this.
Sure, I was baptized, received Holy Communion and was confirmed, and I was learning about the Catholic faith in School, at home and even at mass through the priests preaching. But, becoming a teenager made me drift away from Catholicism, not in the way of leaving Church or not attending mass. I was just not interested in this topic, nor did I realized at that time, that God is a friend of mine, someone who strives for a relationship.
As a family we attended mass every Sunday, we prayed the rosary and faith was kinda important for my parents. I remember days, when my mother would come up to me and my brother, telling: “It would be nice if we would pray the rosary together.”
We knew that this kind of prayer wouldn’t be short, what means, when we accepted the invitation it would be more like: Hm, we would rather continue playing PlayStation or watching television instead of sitting down twenty and more minutes for the rosary.
My parents were good people, and all they tried was to live their faith and share it with us. We knew the commandments, the sacraments and some prayers, but I must admit that my relationship with God was similar to a machine you mostly find on train stations. I would put in as many prayers as I could, mostly before exams and after them, praying for a good mark or something else. Imagine putting in prayers like coins, pushing the button and waiting for something good to come out.
My prayers were rather one-sided, if you compare it to a relationship with a friend. How else should it be, because I never heard that the big mysterious invisible guy sitting in the clouds could be a friend, someone who strives for a relationship with every individual.
I never enjoyed school, mostly because of mathematics and physics, but after finishing it finally, I found the freedom to pursue my goal of being a graphic designer. And I did it. And I worked for a while as a designer in Frankfurt, the major financial center of Europe.
At this time I went to mass in a Croatian community near Frankfurt, mainly because I would meet there a friend of mine. But, one Sunday morning at mass, while standing in line for Communion, the choir sang Adoro te devote from Thomas Aquinas.
The words hooked me immediately and did something to me I can’t explain. After this experience, I attended mass every Sunday, no matter if my friend was there or not.
But, I started to feel like I was in a wrong place at work.
I felt a kind of restlessness in my heart. Like the priest-theologian Michael J. Himes writes in his book Doing the Truth in Love, restlessness is the path to joy, which keeps you hungry. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which drives us to always want more, to give more and to seek God.
This restlessness brought me to the enormous desire of working and serving in the Church, but not as a priest. I came to the conclusion that I should study theology, but I had to go back to school and get my A level, the general qualification for university.
In this period, I drifted deeper into the Croatian Catholic community by working on their new website. I even started to write for some religious websites, and found out that writing, journalism and media can make an enormous impact on people. I loved to communicate this way.
Well, through the time I met new friends in Church, attended mass on a regular basis even throughout the week and started to read the readings at mass. Years before I was probably the most shy person on earth, and I couldn’t imagine to stand there in front of five hundred and more people.
My brother always asks:
“What has happened to you? You are like a new person, not the old one, the shy boy who couldn’t even look at people.”
Indeed I changed radically, but the upcoming months and years were full of up and downs, tears and failures, situations and moments with no hope. Without faith, I wouldn’t come through. Failing the exams, being lost and not seeing your goal anymore felt like darkness. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Carmelite nun, experienced also moments of darkness. “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into!” she once said to the sisters in her convent.
But, faith strengthened me, and after all these up and downs, I finally got my matura, which opened the door for university and my desire: theology.
Throughout these years I learned that God wants to be in a relationship with us. He communicates with us in many different ways: through emotions, feelings, memories, desires and prayers, but also through people and happenings in our daily life. Not to forget, relationships are also a way of communication God uses.
Through my girlfriend, I learned that prayer is not always a quiet moment in your room, but living your life and being aware of his presence. Through her, God showed me that prayer also means to be and to live, to enjoy time together, to laugh and live his love through our lives. It means being aware of his presence and love. “Imagine God looking upon you and smiling”, the Jesuit Anthony de Mello once said.
You probably know some of these desires: becoming a better person, loving more and so on. It’s not about having visions or experiencing tremendous miracles, it’s about having an open heart which let you find God in All Things.
This is the real miracle that happens every day.
When you walk to the train station, to school, to work or wherever else, try to experience his presence. The wind rushing through the leaves in autumn, the snowflakes in winter, or the wonderful sunshine in summer.
Knowing that God is your friend, walking with you, makes live much more interesting, for you have so much to discover. Here ends my piece, but not my way, not my life and not my searching.
How about you? Are you already on the way?
Mario Trifunovic is a student of Catholic theology in Frankfurt/Main. He is writing on English and Croatian on his website called, “Think outside the box”.
No matter what day it was, as soon as dusk struck, I always called up Kumar, “Hey, come out!”. He would hang up the phone quickly and meet me outside. Then we would start on our blissful journey into the neighborhood which lasted until the sounds of chirping birds fainted and the appearance of the moon changed from dull white to shiny yellow- a brisk walk.
The walks started during the autumn of 2012, when I first saw a girl from my terrace; she had fair skin that glowed in the dim rays of sun under the red sky, blonde hair that tempted me to run my fingers through it and just the right amount of innocence on her face that drew me to get to know her. She was in her school dress walking down the street with a green guitar key ring suspended at the bottom of her bag. I froze.
Did she live in my neighborhood? Did she move here recently? Why had I not seen her before?
So I called up my friend Kumar and said, “Hey come out! We have to go for a walk”.
We started walking to discover where exactly this pretty girl lived in the neighborhood. After following her for a few minutes we discovered she lived right next to the shop where I usually bought my groceries. After she walked inside her house, Kumar and I walked around hoping if she would come out to get some biscuits or brownies. She did not come out that day. There was this strange feeling of ‘premature love’, often stated as ‘butterflies in stomach’ warming my heart. I wanted to keep walk around.
The next day I called him again, and we walked around hoping I could get a glance of her. The third day and the following days we walked around the same place, hoping she would come out. As we walked, I talked to Kumar about how I wanted to be friends with her. We plotted a few plans–one day while she would be returning from school I would approach her and ask her for her annual school magazine. I believed asking for her name would be a bad way to start a conversation as it would lead nowhere. I wanted to know her. I wanted to talk to her. So I approached her, “Hey I actually love reading poems and stories. Can I borrow your annual school magazine? She replied saying she does not have one. That was a disappointment. Kumar and I kept walking around her place. Some days she would come out with her sister to take short walks and seeing her around would make my evenings.
In a cold autumn evening, clenching my thin jacket, I enjoyed the tinges of happiness and excitement arising in my heart whenever she came out. We never talked but only smiled at each other. I never knew this quest to get to know her would lead us to a routine of everyday walks, which themselves led to conversations, friendships and discoveries.
It was not until I started walking I noticed the beautiful elements Sanepa (the place where I lived) was adorned with. It was full of trees, small houses and smiling faces. The parrots had built a nest on a tree right next to my house, and we heard them chirp with other little birds. A few men in the local store chatted while staring up at the bulky white clouds under the blue sky. The streets smelled of leaves. If one concentrated, they could hear the faint sound of motor bikes and cars humming amidst the sharp and sweet sounds of birds. An old woman from her terrace smiled at us and said, “Here comes the two brothers again”.
A walk after a tiring day in school was all I needed to complete my day. I dropped my bags, ate a snack and called Kumar. No matter how many historic events I had to remember for a test the next day or how tired my legs were from soccer practice, I always managed to squeeze in some time for a walk- a walk that never went in vain. Once I had fever, and I had to lie to my mom saying I would stay inside Kumar’s home but going for a walk. Without my notice, these walks were gradually helping me form strong bonds with Kumar and myself.
When I walked, I felt like I gained something. Kumar and I spoke about everything that happened throughout the day. We talked about everything that was happening in our lives. For three days we talked about the football tournament that was held in his school. He and his team had a good start on the game the first day. The second day they had tough opponents, but Kumar scored two goals in the final minute as a heavy rain of luck showered them. They disappointingly lost on the third day. We debated on what tactics and strengths should have been applied for them to win the match. Later, when medals were awarded, it turned out that he was the highest goal scorer of the tournament. We rejoiced at the news and as I looked up to the clear sky, saw smiling faces everywhere, and smelled the leaves my feet softly crunched, I felt happy. It was the kind of happiness that aroused from the energy drained during walks.
It was during these walks I learned about Kumar. Through the conversations we had I discovered the soft sides in him. “I once got a chocolate in school but I did not eat it. I brought it home and shared it with my brothers and sisters. My grandparents got impressed and they gave me another chocolate”, Kumar told me. The stories that are not brought up while joking around with people in school were a part of our conversations. While the conversations led to enormous laughs, they also led to debates and arguments that intensified to verbal fights. I recall an argument about the conveniences of iPad and iPhone that lasted for three days. In a loud, sharp voice Kumar would try to bring up everything he knew about each of these devices struggling to put his points in a coherent way. (Critical thinking and debate was never his thing.) He raised his hand, moved his wrists, and curled his fingers in a naïve way as he tried to explain his points. “I learned this technique from my grandfather, it adds intensity to what I say”, he had once told me.
The men, the old women and the passersby would smile at us, as if they were assured that we were not arguing but sharing ‘knowledge’. I too argued with much zest trying to overcome the ‘intensity’ with which he spoke. We argued freely without having anybody to judge our opinions. Words, false facts, self-righteousness, anger, and failed attempts to suppress each other flooded our arguments but they never went in vain.
We were birds set free every time we stepped out for walks. The streets beneath and the sky above formed for us an enormous space where we let out our emotions, thoughts, and jokes. His freedom to speak led him to share how much he hated the dramatic fights and quarrels in his family. I speculated on the norms and ethics of his family, compare it how I was brought up and try to find reasons for why the fights happened. This also in turn helped me realize how much freedom I had in my family.
His family came from Rajasthan, India. Thus, he always had to live in a culture where he could not enjoy the freedom to do things the way he wished. His daily routine was scheduled according to the ease of his family. A ‘No’ from his grandfather meant a ‘No’- there was no question of trying to convince him thereafter. He had restrictions to what he was supposed to eat and drink. A pure vegan had his first sip of Chicken Noodles on the streets of Sanepa. He lit his first cigarette there. He spoke with his heart out, without any fear of anybody criticizing him for what he spoke. As days passed in this fashion, we were gradually learning about our lives, our family’s lives and everything that we shared and did not share.
I was growing up. When I had a bad day or felt stressed out, I would turn up for a walk. Since, Kumar was in 10th grade now and could not come as he had extra-classes during evenings, I went for walks alone. When I walked those heavenly streets I was accompanied by an interminable chain of thoughts. Words, poems and dialogues formed in my head as I gleamed at the red evening sky, smelling a mix of dust and flowers while a dog barked and birds chirped. I tapped into my deepest concerns about life and tried to meditate on where my passions and interest lied.
During sole walks, I would try to find what my dreams were. I was flooded with many answers when I pulled out a thread- a neat thread where the answers to my questions about life were lined up. Thoughts like racism, poverty, love, religion, and life hit me. I swam in these thoughts as I was discovering the realities of life around me. This was a phase when I was struggling to know myself better. An uncle once asked me what I would want to become. (A general question every stranger asks you the first time you are introduced to them). With a certain amount of hesitation and the compulsion to utter out a profession, I said “Engineer”. Why I said engineer I never knew- but likely because my dad was one and engineering was revered by the locals around me.
With questions and answers swarming in my head, walking helped me discover myself. The simple act of taking steps forward and exercising your leg muscles led to an enormous transformation in my soul and mind. The perspectives on life I carry today were shaped as I dug on religion, life and love during walks. Every time I needed an answer I went out for a walk. My passions and desires were revealed to me because of the conversations I had with Kumar. I got an idea of the kind of person I would want to be. I wished to be as happy in my life as I would be on the streets of Sanepa. I dreamed about doing something with music, philosophy and writing.
It was through the talks I had with Kumar that I learned about my inner desires. The walks shaped the perception I have had about life. The walks would give me time to think, and time to talk. It was through thinking and talking I would be able to raise questions and try to answer them. “Why are there unfortunate people in this world?” “Maybe they are not as unfortunate as you think of them to be.” Kumar replied. I could think only when I moved and the walks helped me best. I can recall the days I walked down the same streets twice a day, because I needed ideas to write my application essay for college. They helped me write down everything from the introduction to the concluding paragraph. I had developed a certain kind of love for everything that was around me when I walked.
Not until today I had realized that while I was walking down the streets I was falling in love with everything I observed around me- the birds, the sun setting, the cold breeze, the smiling old woman, and Kumar. Just a simple act of walking led to me to open myself, and talk about my fears and my passions. It helped me connect with the environment, people and with myself. I became more positive and found joy when I was surrounded by sounds and smell of nature. Through these walks I developed the idea of ‘home’.
A month has passed now in Paris, and I can honestly say that I’ve barely went out for a walk. After four years of being together, Kumar left for India to continue his education and after a month of his departure I left for France. During the month that he left, I found myself stuck in between phases where my body demanded the physical act of walking every evening but my heart somehow resisted the urge to go out. Some days, when the resisting force of my heart overcame my desire to go out, I usually sat on my terrace – there was no way I could stay away from clouds, trees, breezes and sounds of nature. I could not understand the urge of my heart and was not brave enough to question the force of nature- change.
During the last two weeks in my hometown, I stepped out to walk, and the old woman from her terrace said, “Thirteen days remaining now and you will leave too.” I could not comprehend how much our walks had had impacts on us and the people around us. For four years, Zappy, my dog, made sharp cries of annoyance and desire to go out with me when he heard the sharp creaky sound of the main gate opening. I wonder how the old woman, watching us from the terrace must have felt as she watched over us for four years. I can barely tell if it helped her reminisce of her golden days of youth, where she too must have played in the fields or have had friendships that were now long lost due to death or distance. Nevertheless, I am assured that when she watched over us, she too felt the strength of our friendships, the happiness of our laughter, and the proximity between two who used to fall in an unrequired argument one day and meet the next day again, only to argue with more reasons and intensity. She misses us, I know.
Today as I wake up to the sound of alarm clocks beeping continuously, I rush to make my breakfast, I hurry up in the bathroom, check my bag for all the important books and folders and walk to the metro station, with no sunlight warming my body. Throughout the day I work to complete my assignments and as soon as I reach home I am burdened with the weights of cooking, washing dishes and cleaning my room. I barely find time for a walk. When I am walking to my school I see around and felt empty. I see people in rush– a suited up man skating his way through the busy footpaths while adjusting the strap of his laptop bag on his shoulders. I hear the hum of a foreign language that keeps reminding me that I am away from home.
A few days ago when I tried to go out for a walk in a park I missed home more than I ever did. No matter where I turned my head, all I could see were foreign faces, children screaming, old sculptures and a replica of an alligator with it’s mouth open- I could not walk. It did not feel natural. With every step I took I forced myself to walk for a few more minutes hoping I would get the tinge of feelings I got in Sanepa. Nothing felt like the way they used to be. I stopped and I sat down.
The journey that started with the quest to get to know the beautiful girl in the neighborhood had ultimately ended falling in love with nature and forming bonds with Kumar, myself and home. When a person asks me what I miss the most, the glimpses of streets are the first to flash before my eyes- the streets of love and freedom.
I was nervous. I straightened my tie I was walking down a road I had been down many different times but not in quite the same fashion. I walked into the church and my throat was dry my hands were sweaty. In the same breath I was among honored friends and family.
I never truly understood funerals and death. I got the honoring the dead like the Vikings and the place in Valhalla where warriors reside and revel in the victories of their life and death in the afterlife. Do not add meaning to the reference instead just get this is the honor we give to the dead and those who had an impact on our lives.
For me death never struck me like others. I did not cry I did not sob nor weep. I simply was present to the remembrance of those who had passed on before me. This time was somehow different. I knew I was in a different space as I could feel something more just on the edges of my consciousness. My grandfather had died and I wasn’t prepared to really see that aspect of my life as I began to look at my own mortality in that moment.
The Church was packed there were people from all over in Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania to name a few states. It still was not registering it was so surreal and in that moment I just was in shock. My grandfather had over 20 legitimate children.
As the funeral began I was listening to the pastor at the podium. It was super intense and it was directly powerful. The words he used resonated about my grandfather. The words fit and I began to feel a weariness inside my soul. I knew this was a different thing. My Aunt went up to the podium and began speaking. In the initial stages it was about my grandfather and somehow it turned to a monument about her. Her first words were “I am the oldest and …” It all went blank and began to be a blah, blah, blah session about her and what she did and did not like. I struggled to stay present to her words. She said
When she sat down I felt my heart sinking as my grandfather was gone. I also felt my heart rise as I could be thankful for the time I spent with him and what it meant to me. I was compelled to go to the front of the church and speak. There was easily two hundred people within the church and I was not nervous at all.
“To start off I want to say I was my grandfather’s favorite grandchild. I have no Idea why and why really does not matter. Now to most people that may sound presumptuous or even arrogant. I want you to put that to the side for a moment and really get present to what I have to say. My grandfather would let me ride in the front cab of the truck while everyone else had to ride in the back. My grandfather would work on the farm all day and come home well after 10 pm when everyone else was sleep. I suffer from insomnia and my mind always runs and works. My grandfather would play checkers with me for a s long as it took for me to get tired and he would never ever let me win. I always had to earn the victor and he explained strategies of the game as well as strategies in life. I was really close with my grandfather. We would talk all the time and it was him listening and giving advice when he felt it would help never forcing it on me.
I found out something new about my grandfather today. If you look in the obituary I found out my grandfather was a Korean War hero. He had medals and things I never saw or knew anything about. My grandfather did not seek glory or to be glorified. He simply defended what he felt was right and as an African American back in those days must have been tough. My grandfather helped found a town which feeds into the town we are in right now with over 30,000 people in it. My grandfather again did not seek recognition so I want everyone to really get who this man was and the honor in who he was. I still have my grandmother and she is over there right now looking at me and I see her and all I can think of is what they mean to me.”
“I had a nickname that always bothered me as a child. My grandparents called me Frog or Froggy. I despised that nickname and how I got it was I used to hop around on all fours before I could walk. They never called me my name. Even this morning I went into my grandmother’s room to kiss her and she hugged me and was so excited that she called me frog. Now I am refined with master’s degrees and I am a nerd. And for today for her Frog is what is right and what fits. I love you, grandma.” And I walked to my seat I sat down. I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was familiar without even looking I got who it was and he leaned over and whispered in my ear “watch this and pay attention son.”
This man strode to the podium and there was an aura of respect from every single person in the room. The man began to speak. “That eloquent young man who you all just heard from Is my son. He is accomplished and I am so very proud of who he has become and who he still has yet to become. That being said I am the oldest of all my daddy’s children and after I speak no one else will be speaking here today.” There was a firmness in my dad’s voice that I did not get just yet, and it would be made clear as to the why all too soon.
My daddy revealed them to me and I know he loved them as much as he loved the rest of us. We stand here not to build monuments to ourselves we are here to honor my father. We honor him by being a family in unity and handling any changes that come our way as such, as a family. My son spoke so that we all knew the kind of man we are here to honor. Take that memory with you out into the world and maintain his honor. Thank you!”
I have always been proud of my father and the life he gave to me. In that moment I could not be more proud of him and how he handled that situation. No one else spoke and they all respected my father’s words. I lost a grandfather and gained 3 aunts and an uncle and all the family attached to that.
Sometimes the most spectacular things can be gained in the blink of an eye and all from something that may or may not be what others may deem right. Leave right and wrong behind and be present to all that is in front of you. Be thankful for it challenges and triumphs alike for it is in these moments that we inspire others and ourselves. My grandfather was the First Giant I Knew!!
When I was younger I always did exactly what was expected of me, but my laters years show that I’ve traveled a very unorthodox path.
In the beginning, I was Mama’s perfect little girl in ruffled dresses with matching shoes and bags; daddy’s little princess; and teacher’s pet. I colored inside the lines. I did what was expected of me.
Then I turned twelve and had an experience that found me (at not yet 5 feet tall) standing toe to toe with my 6’4″ pastor saying to him, bold as brass, “Pastor Mulvihill, I believe that’s called hypocrisy.”
And with that one sentence my world split in two. I still played the games I needed to to survive, but I began to question everything I knew or thought I knew to be true.
I began to read philosophy, to study world religions, to listen intently to conversations that prior to this I would have coward from. Coming from a very conservative Christian background, this was absolute heresy.
I began to write about what I was learning, experiencing, questioning, and where I might want to explore next. I did this in secret because no one I knew thought outside of the prescribed Christian norm. I had no allies on my quest, save my small town librarian.
Consequently, in little ways I began to rebel. I began to stand up for my beliefs, as unpopular or unorthodox in my community as they were. And I stood out like a sore thumb.
But I had gained access to my true north. Tenacious as I was and am, nothing was going to dissuade me from traveling the unorthodox path. Crookedy and unsure as it might have been, it was mine and not one deigned for me. It was a path that I was discovering for myself. One that fit the misfit I felt myself to be.
After I put myself through college, graduating with two degrees, I had my heart set on pursing higher education and Montessori certification.
But I had no visible means of paying for grad school. Daunted? Doubting? Never! I packed up my little blue Volkswagen Rabbit with everything I owned and hopped into the drivers seat to hit the road. I’d figure out a way to make it work.
I kissed my friends I’d been staying with goodbye and started my car’s engine. Then my extra dad, Dennis, said hang on a minute. He promptly returned and handed me a folded piece of paper. I opened it. My mouth dropped.
It was a check for $1000. It would get me in the door. I could, and did, do the rest.
Allowing, as Frank Sinatra sang, for me to do it my way. And I have.
I have taught Montessori toddlers, pre-schoolers, kindergarteners, and been a school administrator. I have worked every station at a 4-star restaurant in the San Francisco Bay. I have had the joy of knowing Julia Child and Jaques Pepin, two of my greatest kitchen heroes. I was the solopreneur of Haute Plate, a fine dining and full service event planning company for over 20 years.
I am a jeweler. I have shipped my pastries and jams all over the world and have a loyal following of marmheads (people addicted to my marmalades). I have traveled with and worked for famous people. I have cleaned houses to pay the rent.
I paint the interior of homes. I sew for others. I make up words for fun. I fall in love constantly. I’m never afraid to take a chance, or to give a second chance. I look for the good and beauty in everything. My resume looks like stone soup.
I have lived with challenges that could have destroyed me, but I have never lost my hold on my passions and my dreams. I have lived my life with the utmost gusto, my way. My unorthodox path has taken me to extraordinary places and I don’t regret anything.
Should I leave this world today, I leave no regrets. I have pursued every dream, every desire, and every passion of my heart to its happy, and in my estimation, successful completion. All this and a heart overflowing with love. What more could I ask for?
(To understand my life’s theme song more fully here are the lyrics to My Way.)
As I sat there, looking at the display of manhood I exhibited; I was quite taken with myself. Even as I look back on that trail of events, I find myself becoming a bit ecstatic. There is an undeniable joy that comes from you simply standing up for you. The lesson I learned that day stuck with me my entire life. If you allow someone to punch you five times they will punch you five times, if you let them punch you once they will punch you once; but it you break off their hands they cannot punch you at all.
Within my childhood, I learned the gift of reading. From that gift, I read spectacular stories of mythology, lore, and fables. Fables, where the hero always rose to overcome the evil set before him through cunning and guile, and this was my inspiration. The stories allowed my imagination to soar; and I found myself wanting to be that chivalrous knight that rode across the battlefield and smelled the dust that my horse kicked up as I rode into battle turning the tide from defeat to victory. Although, I was a really skinny little kid at the time and it seemed I would never fully grow into that role.
As I walked home I dredged forward, and I realized how much I loved the warm spring days. I smelled the freshly cut blades of grass. I remember the afternoon sun splashing against the back of my head and my legs, then the sweet embrace of the gentle breeze. I was a second grader and the thing I hated most in the world was the walk home from school. The main reason I hated this was because of the Jacksons.
The Jacksons were an extended family, and they had a gang of kids that all lived in the big white house on the corner. With the amount of people that lived in that house, you would swear they were like a nest of cockroaches waiting to pounce on a morsel of food. As I walked home that house always loomed in the back of my mind because as I walked home it was the house on the corner and I passes it everyday. I could see it throughout my entire stroll home.
The thing that made the Jacksons so bad was that their gang of kids always beat up the other kids because it was so many of them. One day, they beat poor Cornbread nearly until he needed stitches. (Cornbread was a white kid named Mike who lived on our block in a predominately black area and we called him Cornbread as he was always at someone’s house eating cornbread.) After that everyone feared the Jacksons. In all honesty I feared them too. Cornbread once said to me “they beat the hell out of me and took my G. I. Joes. And I am bigger than you Dave so you better not take your toys to school!!!!”
So the best way to survive a beating is to not be involved in that beating. I created that I would not walk past the Jackson’s house. I started walking down the alley before I got to the corner so as to slip in unnoticed and unscathed. This worked for a few days until the Jacksons began to see through my ruse. Now I had to become even more cunning so I began to walk an entire block and a half out of my way to come up the opposite end of the block. The aforementioned tactic worked for all of about a week, until one of the older Jackson’s just happenedto tell his little nappy-headed siblings of my craftiness. From there on forward I was a very fleet of feet young man. I ran home everyday to avoid a beating.
One day they almost caught me and as I barely managed to evade the horde of Jacksons covering all my exits. My father was home early from work that day. My Dad asked “Why are you out of breath?” I responded by saying “I was racing one of the other kids.”My dad shook his head said ok and went upstairs. He had left the v.c.r. running and within it lay my salvation. My dad had rented the movie “Rocky”. Now I must admit I was a little overzealous after watching this movie, but from the beginning to the end something within me stirred like never before. I was truly inspired and by all things a movie no less. I had a newfound sense of invincibility. I believed that I was able to defeat the Jacksons, at their own game. I would do something more cunning and more perilous than had ever been attempted; I would attack them in their lair.
I got off the floor, grabbed my shoes, and sat on the couch as I put them on. “I am not taking this sh– anymore,” I exclaimed. My older sister looked at me and said, “Where are you going?” I told her “I am going to the Jackson’s house and end all this running home.” As I laced up my shoes my sister started calling for my father. I feared what he would say so I ran down the stairs and out of the house. As I stomped down the street I bee lined straight for the Jackson’s house. The fear that had gripped me was no longer in my realm of existence.
I walked up to the leader kid Rick Rick. I did not speak, I cocked back my hand and hit him as hard as I could in the nose. He immediately fell over in pain. His entire family just gasped. Something inside me told me to stop, and I being of glorious purpose refused to listen to it. I pummeled and whaled on Rick Rick for about 15 minutes relentlessly repeating, “Don’t you ever chase me home again you piece of sh– mother fu—-!!” After I began to tire I rose from the righteous indignation I had visited upon his person.
At this point I was crying as well because this was not what I believed I should be doing beating someone up in front of their family. Being the chivalrous knight that I was with tears streaming down my face, I stood clinched fists over him and apologized to his parents for disrespecting them. I said “Mrs. Jackson I am sorry but I just don’t want to be chased home anymore.” His mother looked at me, nodded and thunderously roared, “Rick, I told Y ‘all that you better leave that little Gibson boy alone.” Cornbread observed it all and he ran over to me and patted me on the back. Cornbread handed me his G. I. Joes and said “Yo Joe you’re my hero.”
I had come to understand what it meant to stand up for myself. I walked home invincibly. When I got to the porch my mother was standing in the doorway ready to pounce herself. Alas I was saved, as my father placed his hand on my mother’s shoulder and said, “I will handle this!” My father took me for a walk and I wondered where he was taking me. He began talking to me about being a man and also about being smart enough to know when and when not to fight. I listened intently, and my father’s words washed over me and through me. “David, we must temper ourselves and defend ourselves physically only when there is no other recourse.” He told me that he knew of my problem and was wondering when I was going to ask him for help. Then he said, “I am proud of you. You handled yourself quite well.”
He took me to McDonald’s and got me a hot fudge sundae. As we took the walk home he told me more bits of wisdom; and I soaked them up. The last bit of wisdom he gave me he said was for just tonight, “don’t tell your mother where I took you and what I said!!” We laughed all the way up the stairs until we got in the house. Because of the fabled fight, I learned what it was to stand up for myself as a man.
I am a person who prescribes to the thought process that all people are fundamentally good, or at least have the ability to be so.
I find that there is a basic level of good that can be found in all persons, and simply finding that is what can sometimes prove to be difficult.
There is a person I have met who has the kindest heart and the most gentle soul of anyone I have had the pleasure of spending an extended period of time with. Knowing when you are around people like this is highly valuable, because they will seemingly effortlessly improve your life without your notice.
Admittedly, I am an inherently stubborn, short-tempered, and cynical person. Staying conscious of these traits each day helps me work against them, attempting to be more open-minded, patient, and relaxed. However, working alone can be difficult, and support systems are almost always necessary for many walks of life.
I have a person who shows me by example, practically every moment of everyday, how to be everything I am currently not. He encourages me when I am skeptical of my ability to do better. A heart as pure as his cannot go unnoticed, nor unappreciated.
Being an independent person is a quality I have always prided myself on having. However, if you are even better with a partner, why operate alone?
Having an individual in my life who pushes me out of my comfort zone and into a place of transparent change is arguably the best thing for me.
The person I am today is vastly different from the person I was a few years ago. That is because I am not just one person attempting to charge to the world as an island. I am a person more consumed by love, happiness, and trust—qualities I could not have attained by myself. I have become more fundamentally good with this amazing person in my life.
When people ask me where I’m from, my answer is usually Philadelphia. This isn’t true; although I was born there, I grew up in Williamstown, N.J. Home of the Braves and a gigantic Wal-Mart, its one of those small South Jersey towns no one outside of it knows too much about.
Moving away for college, it was much easier to say that I was from a bustling city than a sleepier hometown. After all, how could I explain the simple pleasure of a backyard bonfire to a person who grew up in New York City? How could I articulate enjoying a small-town life, yet simultaneously wanting to flee from it?
Clearly, I could see a future forming before my eyes. I could go to college there, become an elementary school teacher, and raise a family on the same streets that I was raised on. Many of my high school friends were generational; their parents and grandparents had gone to school together, had families side by side. It would be a safe choice, and to remain in the familiarity of my childhood town was a comforting thought. That route, while secure, made me feel…uncomfortable. There is something stifling about a small-town existence; perhaps it was due to the fact that there was never any new. In the years since I’ve left it, Williamstown has barely changed; it could easily be a snapshot from my senior year of high school. So upon graduation, I thought about that secure path, and ran from it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot I loved about my hometown, and still do. I love my friends and family there, and visiting them is a treat that I always relish. I enjoyed high school, with Friday-night football games and bon-fires on the weekends. I have so many memories connected to Williamstown; from carnivals and dance recitals, to summers spent at Hospitality Creek and winters sledding in the woods. I remember the treat of walking with my elementary school class to McDonalds, the mornings in middle school waiting for the bus, and my first day of high school, where my friends and I got hopelessly lost.
It exists in a time capsule, encasing all the memories of the years gone by. Strangely enough, I have multiple homes now; honestly for the past 3 years, I have felt that I have lived as a nomad. Part of my heart remains in Baltimore, the city where I’ve made my place at Loyola, and Newcastle, England, where I’m currently spending my life-changing year abroad. Soon, I’ll have a different home, as I emerge from college into the fuzzy and uncertain existence of post-graduate life.
Regardless of my own mixed emotions, Williamstown will always have the distinction of being my first home. Every time I visit now, I am struck by the sense of relief; relief that I left when I did, but at the same time, gratitude to having a place that I can feel innately comfortable in.
Just over a year ago, before I left for study abroad, my twin brother and I got matching tattoos. On his right wrist, in my handwriting, “Stay Free.” On my left wrist, in his handwriting, “Stay Free.” When we first got them, our mother was understandably furious. She said, “what happens when you get married?” “Hopefully when I get married I’ll still feel free.” Immediately slipped out of my mouth. It’s true though, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t we always feel free?
I used to think about freedom a lot. I still do, but now that I believe I’ve found an understanding of what freedom is to me, these thoughts are no longer frightening. I like to think of myself as a free spirit. I believe that anyone you ask would tell you that I am, and yet I often find myself trapped in the confines of my own mind. Still, I often appreciate being alone with nobody and nothing around, just my mind and me.
My thoughts often become so vivid and so real that I can simply relax no matter where I am or what I’m doing because the reality is that I don’t feel like I’m stuck wherever I am. It would be so easy to sulk every time I have to go to class and it would be so easy to be upset about it and let it ruin my day and feel like a wasted hour. Why would I want to go through life like that though? Why would I take the easy way out when the easy way doesn’t lead to any sort of fulfillment or joy? It’s so easy to notice the negative aspects of everyday life and to let them poison your soul. So let positivity in. Don’t worry about how boring class is, focus on the friends you might make because of that class, or even simply appreciate the chance to learn.
For me, freedom isn’t something you can put into words. It’s not material. It’s just a feeling. I’m sure this is a familiar feeling for many, but it’s also a feeling I never want to go away. So how do we find freedom? How do we find that feeling and hold onto it? In my opinion it stems from optimism, open mindedness and love. If you can consistently project these qualities onto others then you are free. Free of negativity. Free of fear. Free of hate. It comes from within, but we need to project it.
I’ve stopped setting alarms and closing the shades at night. One of the most incredible experiences for me is waking up to the sunlight. It’s not a sudden heart attack at the sound of your alarm. It’s not a chaotic rush to get up and ready as fast I can after sleeping as long as I could. It’s a slow and gentle touch of warmth letting you know that morning has come. I can’t express how relaxing my mornings are when I can take my time waking up and enjoy the silence of a new day. I have time to reflect on the previous day and to think about the day ahead of me.
I no longer allow myself to stress about much. Socializing used to stress me out until I realized that most people who want to talk to you are going to be friendly. Some of the best people I’ve ever met are those who I accepted into my life at the most unexpected times. My friends from India who were studying in Australia when I spent a semester there are the most generous and open-minded people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. And what’s better is that I know they will be my friends for a lifetime. I returned home holding onto their values of friendship and generosity and continue to spread those values everyday.
Music is also a major factor for me in holding on to this enlightening feeling. Lyrics and sounds have the power to change the way we are feeling in seconds. I find it important for myself to begin everyday with some music. My father has always been a huge Bob Dylan fan, and I’ve found that listening to his music while I prepare for my day has always been inexplicably comforting. Whenever my Dad and I take rides together we always listen to Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who is my favorite. We often joke that we don’t have to rush home because we simply enjoy taking the time out of our day to slow down and appreciate something we both love.
There is also an incredible quote by Tom about college and life where he says, “the work never ends, but college does.” I encourage everyone to look up the entire quote. This worry-free mindset has been engrained in me. If my friends are all going somewhere the night before I have a paper due and I don’t want to miss out, I’m going to go anyway. That’s what I think life is about. We shouldn’t worry about an essay that, when you really think about it, is such a minor part of your life. Time with friends can never be replaced and we should make the most of every chance we get to enjoy their company.
On the other hand, alone time is so important if you want to stay true to yourself and achieve your own goals. I think self-reflection is imperative to an all around positive lifestyle. All it takes is ten minutes each day where you can find a peaceful spot to think about what it is you want, what you want to become, and what you love about yourself. I would like to emphasize that last part. Everyone should love who they are. I often take at least thirty minutes to myself just to reflect and I often end up writing without thinking. In other words, I let the pen touch the page and I’ll think of maybe three words before everything begins to flow smoothly like a waterfall from my mind to the page. I often look back at what I’ve written and don’t know how I managed to get to that point. But let me tell you, more often than not I look back at what I’ve written and I learn something about myself.
Of course there are days when I lose touch with myself and this feeling, I’m not perfect, but at the end of the day life is too good and too precious and so I believe we all must do whatever we can to be happy and love each other. Part of that includes helping others remain positive. I often don’t know how to help friends who are stressed or worried, but I have come up with a simple solution for any friend who is feeling anxious. I simply look at them and say, “hey, buddy. You can do anything.” Honestly a lot of my friends love to hear that, maybe because we don’t hear it enough nowadays. I believe it’s true though, especially if we work together. Mother Teresa once said, “You can do things I cannot do. I can do things you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” Together we can maintain freedom.
I guess what I am trying to say is, we all go through traumatic times. We all feel stress and anxiety in everyday life. We are all surrounded by negativity. However, simultaneously and beautifully, if you can recognize it, we are surrounded by positivity, love and hope. Stay Free.
I used to think that love was supposed to feel like a boat in a tempest on the ocean. If it didn’t feel like an oasis, what was the point of love? If you didn’t feel like you were on fire, how would you know you were burning with passion? The phrase had to exist for a reason.
Love isn’t like that, not for me. Love is like my favorite pair of jeans – they are the best color for me, and they make my butt look great. They’re well-worn, soft, flattering, and comfortable. I wouldn’t want my love to be any other way.
The idea I had of love was influenced by television shows, and movies, and books. It was unrealistic, but it was the best example I had. If it wasn’t all-consuming and maybe a bit destructive, how would you know the other person loved you? If your partner wasn’t willing to go to extremes for you, how would you sense the commitment?
I never go looking for grand romantic gestures anymore. My partner and I are far too open for the secrets that necessitate planning gestures like that. The longer we’ve been together, the more I see love in the smallest gestures. I see love in the anti-virus software that was installed onto my computer to make it work faster because I accidentally have downloaded viruses onto my computer too many times. I see love in letting me pick the music during the road trips, and I see love in him listening to five David Bowie songs before requesting something different, because he knows I love David Bowie, even though we disagree about the status of David Bowie as road trip music. I see love in him telling me to text him when I wake up in the morning and love in him texting me goodnight.
Love is comfortable for me. That isn’t to say I don’t still feel the best parts of falling in love anymore. I still get rushes of emotion, of gratitude, of thankfulness, of peace. The fact that I found someone I consider my partner in all things so early on in my life is amazing to me. I have a person who listens to me, who makes me laugh, who completely understands where I am while still challenging me to become better than I was the day before. And I found them at seventeen!
But I did. And I still am. Generally, I am not one for wild public displays of affection. Neither is he. But we’ll have been together for four years in March 2017, and that, to me, is an accomplishment.
We’ve weathered being in different high schools, going to different colleges 500 miles apart, and now we are working on a six-hour time difference for four months. We have continuously worked on being together, and I know that the future holds only good things for us. That, to me, is the best feeling that love provides – the knowledge that I have a partner in whatever I undertake in this world. And I am incredibly grateful to him for that.
When I had just turned 16 years old, I had a stunning realization. For the first time, I knew my life purpose. After giving a self-confidence empowerment workshop to a group of 8th grade girls, it felt as though God had spoken to me and let me know that I was here to continue the work I was doing on media, body image, mental health, relationships, and more.
At the time, I had no idea what the actual path of my newfound life purpose looked like, but I knew that I had one and that it involved utilizing my passions, public speaking and organizational abilities, and more.
Four years later, it has resulted in co-founding an organization called MOVE, dedicated to empowering young women through workshops and week long summer programs. It has resulted in me publishing a book, giving speeches at several conferences, developing important connections with girls, and much much more.
For the past few years, I have been wholeheartedly and entirely fulfilled. It is to such an extent that my heart was constantly aching with emotion and the understanding that what I was doing was critically important.
The number of times that I have teared up with gratitude and contentedness that I found my belonging is too many to count.
And then, somewhere around the start of this new school year, I started grew restless. For several months, I refused to fully confront it and instead commented on how unfulfilled I felt, without actually doing anything about it.
I hoped that my restlessness would go away, and told myself that when I gave workshops over my college break in January that I would feel better.
Yet, I didn’t feel better. In fact, it forced me to confront the sad but inevitable fact that I am growing and changing, and so was my purpose.
I am in the process of finding fulfillment again. Here’s what I know to be true, and perhaps some ideas on how you too can discover your purpose as I re-discover mine:
Growing up, my parents encouraged me to try everything I could. I learned that I hated sports, was not good at playing instruments, that dancing was not for me, singing was okay, and finally that I LOVED doing theater.
I was originally intimidated to try out theater and audition for the school play—so scared that I didn’t audition whatsoever in 6th grade—but conquered that fear a year later to learn that I really found comfort in creating something beautiful with friends.
Trying different things gave me an opportunity to figure out what I liked, and allowed me to develop my strengths in areas that I cared about. Taking the time to learn about and understand myself really benefitted me later on, as my public speaking and teamwork skills are critical to the work I do for MOVE.
So, try everything you possibly can. Especially if you’re a little intimidated to do it. I’ve found that a little fear (within a safe range) allows the most growth to happen.
If you have an idea, take it and run with it. My friends and I decided at age 15 that we wanted to give a workshop, and so we ran with that idea and made it happen.
When I gave the first workshop, I didn’t realize what would follow. I actually thought that I would give one, it would be cool, but that would be that.
Your ideas are worth a shot. They really are. And I encourage you to go for it. I know that social pressure and a desire to fit in make trying out ideas scary, but sometimes you need to put yourself and your ideas before your ego.
More than that, devote yourself to doing what you care about. Currently, I don’t know what my next purpose is. But, I do know that the way I discovered my original purpose.
I had the idea to write a book, and made it happen, because I took the time to learn first about the issues I cared about. I’m dead serious. Learning led me to understanding, which gave me ideas, and led me to creating my own ideas.
So, I’m spending my time learning about what does currently interest me: Political Science. I am so interested, that I changed my double major from Communication to PoliSci.
I’ve also made it a New Years Resolution to read 25 books on political issues this year. Two done. 23 to go. Speaking of which, the learning that I’ve done already has actually given me the idea for my third book!
Learning about what you care about works. It gives you ideas because you’re able to see what’s missing and you can fill in what’s needed with your own work.
At workshops, I always ask girls to consider the three things above. Previously, and to an extent still, I am passionate about ideas, bringing people together, and more.
I care about body image, media, self-esteem, mental health and more. And I am good at organizing, leading, and public speaking. So, I combined the three to create MOVE.
Today, my strengths and passions are still the same, but what I care about is shifting and I’m starting to consider how I can use what God gave me in another way. All I’m saying is that the more I learn and think about how I can do my part, that honestly running for office has crossed my mind more than a few times.
Now, how can you combine these? If you love it more than your ego, you’ve found it.
And finally, Elizabeth Gilbert describes her home as, “returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego,which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself.”
In other words, Elizabeth Gilbert loved writing more than she hated failing or her own ego.
For so long, I loved MOVE more than my ego. The things people would say to me or behind my back did not matter to me, and I would brush it off easily. Who cares what you think—I’m doing God’s work and nothing can stop me! And in many ways, MOVE is still my home. But I’m moving—or MOVEing—on.
Either way, think about what you love more than your ego. And that’s when you know you’ve found your purpose. To reach out to me, check out www.ashleyolafsen.com
I would come nowhere near labeling myself as a sentimental. However, the nostalgia I feel for college life comes all too often. I miss the Classic City. I miss being in a college student mindset – invincible, limitless.
What I miss most though are the people.
UGA is huge. With over 36,000 students enrolled, it can be easy to get lost in a crowd of people, especially when you are from a small coastal town in Southeast Georgia. What is special about UGA though is how many opportunities there are to get involved.Once you put get your foot in the door to a sorority or fraternity house, the Center for Student Organizations (now called the Center for Student Activities and Involvement) or any of the college ministry groups, it opens up a smaller world where you can find your own niche, becoming a name not just a number. The involvements I listed are just the ones I was involved in, not mentioning athletics or the plethora of other fun, communal activities on the UGA campus.
A big part of this for me was the transition from personal relationships to professional relationships. Transitioning from deep, 2 AM Little Italy relationships to somewhat surface, work relationships was difficult, and for an extrovert like me, the isolation that I let incur from that was toxic.
Finding purpose was another big part of the transition for me. I am a true millennial in this way. Work to me needs a purpose, a reason; it needs to make a difference. In my first job out of college, I liked it, I liked the people, but I did not feel like I was working towards anything. I was learning, I was making great friends, but I could feel myself feeling stuck, lonely and purposeless. I was not separating my purpose or identity from my work and I could not see beyond that job.
After almost a year in my first job, I decided to venture elsewhere in the hopes that returning to a familiar place would spark something in me that I knew I once had. I found a fellowship with a local youth ministry, applied and was accepted. It was a place I had not imagined myself being again but a place I am eternally grateful for, home.
In every dream I had before this point, home was not where I was and a fellowship was not what I was doing, but here I am. For me, coming back to my roots, my foundation, sparked my dreams again and set me on a different, but incredible journey. Although I am still working on the purpose bit and have just acknowledged at this point that there will probably never be another time like college again, coming home allowed me to regenerate, dream again and set my sights on something new and hopeful.
It allowed me to remember where I came from so I can imagine where I want to be.
Hopefully, I will be in graduate school next year working towards a degree in social work. A field I had never considered until two mentors on separate occasions both mentioned it to me. Had I never come home though, I may not have ever thought about social work and the doors it can open.
The journey has been different than I expected but so worth all of the people I have met, lessons I have learned and new dreams I am working towards.
I have never seen a therapist for my depression, but I do take medicine prescribed by my general practitioner for what she deemed “anxiety with depressive symptoms”. The further I advance in my college career, the further it seems that my depression advances as well.
Some days I just have an underlying sadness that I can’t quite figure out why it is there. Other days, it is hard for me to get out of bed. I feel like I am worthless, that none of my friends truly love me, and that all the hard work and dedication I put into my passions to make the world a better place does absolutely nothing.
Some days, hanging out with my friends is enough to pull me out of the rut, at least temporarily. But some days, or even weeks, I seclude myself and lay in bed most days feeling depressed and lonely. During these times, it takes a lot more willpower to pull me out of my depressive episodes.
I have an extremely close family where I can call them up anytime and just hear their voices, instantly improving my mood. I am lucky to have sisters that go out of their way to make me feel better when they know I am feeling down, like when my mom and sisters delivered a bag of gifts to me after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend. Not only do I have my family (and my pets), but I have an amazing small group of friends that I know I could tell anything to. They understand more so than my family that I can be sad or depressed and have no “reason” for the sadness. They know when I need my space, or when I need a girl’s night or a dinner off campus to lift my spirits.
One thing that really helps me out of my depressive ruts is involving myself with the most incredible group of individuals at my school that I have the privilege of knowing. As the president of Active Minds at Loyola University, I get the opportunity to meet so many stigma fighters and mental health advocates on my campus that work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. Specifically, my leadership team for active minds are the kindness, most thoughtful, loving, and understanding people at my school.
They instantly lift my mood with their positive affect and heartwarming commitment to making the world a better place for those with mental illness. When I am in the deepest of ruts because of my depression, these are the people that remind me of why I was put on this earth, what my passion is, and what I was destined to do.
My advice to my fellow stigma fighters who struggle with depression is to talk to others about it. Let them know what you need and when you need it. Tell them how you feel so that when you are feeling that way, they can help you out of your rut.
But most importantly, find your passion. Find what gives you the greatest joy and purpose in the world, and hold on to that in the deepest moments of your depression. Remember why you are here, and all the people you are helping by just living. And remember, fight like hell.
Had they told me
I need wings to fly
I would’ve believed
Can’t see a reason why
Thus I went on
Living for so long
Until one glimpse of dreams
Changed it all
Scared I was
To take the dive
But like bees
I left my beehive
Soon I was measuring the sky
To fly high and high
Now looking back
Had they told me
I need wings to fly
*Poem by Isha Negi
It is July the 23rd, 2016. Twenty-two hours have passed since I flew away from my country and landed on American soil. I am waiting for my luggage to show up in the baggage area. Red, blue, green, grey, orange, all the colors are making my head spin as the suitcases spin round and round waiting for their owners to pick them up.
“Oh!”, my body reacts before I can think clearly to check out a luggage which is not mine. “Nope, it’s not mine.” I look around wondering if people saw me making a mistake but no one really cares. I also learnt one another thing: I had always wondered why people selected bright-neon colored suitcases; this was the reason. To find it as quickly as possible and get your tired body out of the airport and into a bed.
There is a 25 year old lady standing beside me and she is panicking. “Oh no! Where’s my luggage! Help me carry it okay?”, she speaks in a shrilled voice. I automatically say “Okay, no problem” before I even stopped to think if I can do that. I wonder if I can carry my own. I had met her in my transit at Qatar. She was a Nepali like me but not a student. She had come with a Diversified Visa.
Her constant fidgeting was getting on my nerves and making me panicky. My thoughts swam from “maybe they stole my luggage” to “maybe it got swapped somewhere”. The $6 trolley I was holding got in my way when I finally found my luggage. I was careful not to let it go though, suspicious that people might steal it. The $6 had already converted to 642 Nepali Rupees in my head. I was very cautious. I had forgotten that I had tied the numerous khatas to my luggage to recognize it from afar. It’s a tradition among us Nepalese to give this Tibetan-silk scarf to welcome or bid goodbye to someone.
After I had found one of my luggage, which was the red suitcase, I heavied it off the carousel. Another annoying thing happened then. The trolley kept rolling off when I tried to get it on it so I looked for the panicky woman who was standing looking for her luggage to help me. We heavied it onto the trolley together and I was grateful. Just as I found my second luggage, we found both of hers. And it was another awkward moment of me trying to get mine off and she trying to get hers off. I looked around and saw two big guys who seemed to be airport officials and asked them to help us. One of the guys helped me and the other helped her.
The second luggage, which was a huge green duffel bag which one of my cousins said I would likely be arrested for because it looked like it would carry military weapons, rested snuggly on the trolley looking innocent. I had only smuggled in some Nepali snacks that would be difficult to find in America in that bag.
I was going to walk towards the baggage check area when the woman stops me. “WHERE DO I GO NOW??!!” She had to get into another plane now which was in a completely different area of the airport. I asked around and one of the janitors explained that she had to take a train and get down in another place where her boarding place was supposed to be. I explained to her but she got more panicky thinking she’d get lost and what not. I was already moving away from her and told her just to ask around. I did not want to get in trouble either.
I meet a kind-faced security personnel at the checking area. She asks if I have any food in my luggage. I say I have food in my backpack but not in my luggage. It was my strategy of distracting her. Food in the backpack was okay she said. And I got out without any hassle. Plus, technically they were just snacks not meant to be of any nutritional value. Just as Cheetos is for Americans, Wai wai is for the Nepalese. I would surely not have faced any legal charges for carrying them but to unlock my bag and let them go through it would be too much of a hassle. I like how she smiled and told me to have a good day. This was new. No person smiled back in my country if you looked at them. Eye-contact would be strictly avoided and even if it did happen, it would end with awkward jerks of the head to look away, or to look down to see the non-existent dirt in one’s shoes.
I also noticed that nobody stared at you. It was easy to feel the heavy stares at your back if you walked anywhere on Nepali soil. From girls, guys, old women, old men, everyone avoided eye contact, but they stared if you stood out even just a little bit. Here, people didn’t give a shit. So I pushed my trolley towards the exit which was the entrance to a new life here in America.
*Story by Anushka KC
I write this to share with you my vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures for 2017. This is a personal deep dive into what I believe in, the obstacles that will stand in my way from achieving my goals, and how I will show I have been successful. This is me being vulnerable and sharing my story. The easiest of these categories for me to write was the obstacles. There are so many doubts that could potentially stand in my way from achieving my goals. I want you to remember that yes there are more roadblocks, but you must learn to overcome these challenges to obtain what you desire.
What does 2017 look like for you?
My vision for 2017 includes traveling for the first time internationally using a wheelchair and spread FSH awareness internationally, continue to deep dive at work while growing my network and establishing deeper relationships with my coworkers, and give my time through volunteering in the community to help build a more rollable/walkable Atlanta.
I’ve got many fun adventures planned for 2017 and I believe it is important to enjoy life regardless of your disability or ability. Taking life to seriously and forgetting to explore the world while I can is not a rut I want to get myself into.
I value being honest and transparent in life and work. Peers, family and friends depend on me and I have to remain committed to them and show them I can be a resource of assistance and love.
I value synergy, learning from others and my own mistakes and building others up. In order to take on life and accomplish my goals, I must rely on other individuals to lend a helping hand. I also have to remember to be open to receiving help. I can’t tackle life on my own and must remember there is a strong support system behind me.
As my physical strength continues to decline, I value learning how to achieve greatness despite my obstacles. Leaning from others is an incredible opportunity and I believe in the power of sharing this wealth of knowledge. In order to grow, I value staying grounded remembering those who helped to build me.
There will be times in your life where you will feel alone, feel like an outsider. But always know that you are not. And that in our differences is our truest beauty.
There was a poem written to raise money for the Statue of Liberty named “The New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus. I’ve enjoyed this poem for many years. And I feel as though it is welcome for the lost, for those of us that feel like outsiders.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“And her name MOTHER OF EXILES.” We are those exiles. Everyone is in some way an exile. We have been exiled from relationships, friends, family, homes, and other parts of life. It makes us feel like outsiders. It makes us feel like something is wrong with us for being different and not being exactly what someone wants or expects. I have a message for those people.
There are going to be people in your life who make you feel like an outsider. People who make you feel like something is wrong with you, make you feel as though it is a shame to be different. But the key is, you are who you are, and that is all you can ever be. In life, we are challenged every day for being a little different from others and it makes us feel like we need to change. Don’t change. Being a little different and weird is powerful. Being yourself is powerful. It gives you control over your life when you let go of what others think of you. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
We yearn to breathe free. Free from the crippling need to change ourselves to make other people be happy. We are who we are as people and if someone cannot accept that, it means they were not meant to be a part of your life. And we have to understand that. “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” I lift my lamp as a welcome to those who have felt lost, felt as though they were not good enough. You are good enough.
Right now, we see a lot of hate, finger pointing, and cruelty in the world. It is easy to get lost and consumed by it. It is easy to harden your heart. And It is easy to feel as though the world is a dark and scary place. If I told you it wasn’t I would be lying. But the world is also beautiful. And part of that beauty lies in our differences. We cannot become consumed by the hate and the need to feel less like an outsider.
It is easy to feel lost amongst a sea of comments that make you feel less than your best. Make you feel like you should be someone you are not. Make you feel empty and alone. I can attest to changing myself to make other people happy. It was hard and miserable. I woke up and looked in the mirror every morning thinking what happened to me? Where did I go? Who is this ghost of a person staring back at me and how to I get from my transparent self to my real self? The solid grounded self I once knew so well. These questions are not easy to answer.
I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I started molding myself to be some other person to feel less of an outsider. It’s so easy to get caught up in wanting to please others that we forget we have to also make ourselves happy. I’m not saying be selfish or unkind to others, I’m saying remember to be true to yourself, because how can true happiness come from being someone you aren’t? It can’t. But at the same time of being true to ourselves and embracing being different, we must also remember not to shun others for being a certain way. And to those I ever made feel awful for being different from me, I deeply and sincerely apologize. We are all different, and in our differences, we may be outsiders but that does not mean we are alone. It simply means we are all unique, and we must learn to embrace our unique qualities.
I challenge those that judge others and pressure people to be something they are not to be more than that. To accept your differences as a blessing rather than a curse. And to accept that being different from each other is what brings us together. To accept that in our differences, our weirdness, we are united.
I challenge those who feel like they need to change to accept who they are as a person. To feel as though they are enough. To wake up and look at yourself honestly and truly and know that you are your best self. I am my best self. And no one will ever take that away from us.
As a white, upper class, educated, able-bodied female I recognize and understand that I’m blessed with more privilege than most. My parents have provided my siblings and I with a lavish lifestyle that came from years of their hard work. I don’t have to worry about affording my next meal or if I’m going to have a place to sleep at night.
Although I’ve been blessed with this lifestyle, I’m fully aware of the gender divide and the different components that come along with it. While women are automatically seen as lower than males (i.e. wage gap, pre-historic gender roles), there are certain groups of women that are more invisible than others. These women include people of color, women who are LGBTQUIA+, lower socioeconomic status women, etc. In the future, I hope to use my privilege to help speak out for those who are repressed in society.
I was reinforced and punished a certain way in order to live up to unobtainable gender roles. I’ve been inundated with television, magazines, or social media about how I should look, dress, and what I should eat. There’s a non-stop policing of women’s bodies that doesn’t necessarily come from laws. Not only do I have the media telling me what to do, but also I have people convincing me to get an IUD because my own government trying to control my body.
While these classes have definitely opened my eyes and exposed me to underlying, subconscious forms of oppression that I failed to recognize in the past, they also taught me that each person I encounter has various components that come into play to empower or create struggles in that person’s life. A person’s gender, birthplace, ethnicity, religion, ability, class, etc. ultimately create a path in which they are thrown obstacles. Depending on how these different components come together changes
While I understand that as a female I will face specific obstacles that my male counterparts don’t have to, I also know that as a white, educated, abled, upper-class woman I’m already way more ahead of the game than most. If anything, the take-away from this article should be that having privilege isn’t necessarily an evil, but you need to understand your privilege and how it affects others.
If you would like to use your privilege to help others out please consider donating to the organizations found on this website:
I had never fully bought into the God thing. At least, not the “big man in the sky” imagery that was presented to me by the private Christian schools I attended in my youth.
I remember one particular moment, when I was about 7 or 8, that I was alone in the kitchen one afternoon drinking a cup of water. I was suddenly struck by a peculiar idea to push the cup over the edge of the table to see if God would stop me. I don’t know why my kid-brain thought this was such a terrible act, but I got nervous just thinking of what the ramifications could be. Surely God could read my thoughts and know my ill-intent, but would He stop me? Curious but scared to death, I checked to make sure no one was watching and started to edge the cup towards the floor very slowly. With each inch, I expected some invisible hand to slap mine away, but nothing happened, and eventually the water fell to the floor. A strange mixture of great relief and vast disappointment filled up my little body.
Fast forward to college. I’m 18, unsure of what electives to take, and decidedly agnostic. God didn’t fit into my life, and I didn’t fit into His. If you had asked me, I would have said that all I cared about was getting my degree. I didn’t know that there was something secretly inside me hungry for answers. My first philosophy class awakened that in me, however. I had never analysed the world around me in such a critical, almost scientific kind of way.
I quickly made philosophy my minor, and every subject within it was like a new turning point in my understanding of life. I went from claiming to be agnostic, to atheist, to existentialist. I was all over the place, but happy about it because each new step felt like growth. Still, a part of me was left unsatisfied. The majority of the philosophy subjects were of Western focus. They dealt with metaphysics, ethics, politics, and society–everything I would need to be a critical thinking citizen and perhaps, one day, a political leader. But it was hardly anything I could apply to my day-to-day life for when I was just human me, alone, and not another cog in the machinery of society. Who was I? And did I even matter?
Not that I regret one moment of it. In fact, I think everything aligned perfectly to set me up for where I am now. But it was my own thirst to continue learning about philosophy after graduation that led me to the discovery of Eastern philosophy and religions. I had heard of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism before, but never quite understood them. If you’re unaware, Eastern philosophies tend to focus more on our relationship with nature and the question of the divine spirit. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between Eastern and Western religions, but having lived in such a Western society, I was only getting one piece of the puzzle.
I won’t bore you with the particulars. The point is that I came to the understanding of how interconnected we all are and how deep the rabbit hole goes. Sure, society and the governing of society is important, but on a broader perspective we aren’t just one city, one state, or one country. Focusing on only one religion, one race, and one understanding, shortchanges us all. It leads us to war with each other and ban each other from our homes when we get the most benefits from coming together.
Spirituality is more than a belief; it’s a journey of understanding. It’s seeing the oneness of the human race, and its connection to the world around us. Are we God? Are we the love, compassion, mercy, and restraint that we’re all so desperately looking for? Maybe. Maybe it’s all baloney and maybe it’s not. But it’s a question definitely worth asking, and it’s an answer I will always be seeking.
*Names have been changed.
Tony* is an intelligent man- he graduated two years ago from Caltech with a mechanical engineering degree. We met at a party last autumn, and I immediately was drawn in by his boyish nerdiness and pleasant demeanor.
At the time, I was playing the field, and had no interest in a relationship. But I still took him home, and I recall clearly, when he bent his skinny, shirtless torso over my twin bed, I questioned that decision. “Not only is he not my type,” I thought to myself, “But he’s also below my standards.” I let him sleep over, which I almost never did, because he would be getting up a few hours later for work anyway. Little did I know that what should have been a one-night stand would change everything.
We went out a few times, and I found myself falling for him. I asked myself, “Is this love?” and simultaneously admonished myself for thinking such thoughts, because in addition to my being too emotionally unstable for a relationship, he lacked a number of the qualities I desired in a partner, like social aptitude or profoundness. The conversation shifted when I found out he was seriously dating a woman from his past, Miranda, while going out with me, and I was quite hurt. I drank myself into a stupor the night I found out, and couldn’t understand why I was surprised, let alone why I cared. Perhaps it was that Tony’s dating his ex made me the “other woman,” something that reminded me of a mistake I made several years prior. At least, that’s what I told myself.
Against all of my friends’ advice, I continued to see Tony. He eventually broke things off with Miranda, because, in Gossip Girl-esque style, she was dating another man at the time, making Tony the “other man.” We went steady a month later.
I knew Tony was still in love with Miranda, and I sought consolation in anecdotes of other successful relationships where one of the parties still loved his ex. It wasn’t easy for me to deal with, especially when this struggle was compounded by other ones in my life. But for the most part, I managed.
That is, until about six months into our relationship, he said something especially strange about our love, and I knew for certain that he was being unfaithful. In the past, I’d been suspicious, but never confronted him because I dismissed my fears as paranoia. Going on a gut feeling is typically not something I condone, but I knew my psychology and Tony was not acting normal, even by his standards.
I didn’t know what to do or think. He denied anything when I asked him, and I wasn’t one to look through his phone or pry into his personal files.
Here is the point when I should have cut things off. I should not be nor have been with a man who makes me feel like I’m not enough, like I’m not loved, like I’m wasting both of our time by sticking around. But I didn’t- I was in love, I was insecure, I was whatever. For some reason, I could not bring myself to leave.
Then, Delilah entered the narrative. Delilah is a beautiful woman who pursued me romantically the year prior to my relationship with Tony. Things didn’t work out for various reasons, but I always had a soft spot for Delilah. I still do.
One night, a group of us went out for drinks, and I had a few too many. Tony was doing whatever he was doing elsewhere, and Delilah was the first person to make me truly laugh in weeks. One thing led to another, and before I knew it we were kissing. It was wrong, but it felt like the first event that was right in months.
I never really thought cheating was particularly horrible. Infidelity was never something I’d experienced. It seemed zesty, like it added a spice to what was otherwise a monotonous relationship. Ironic, considering that Tony’s infidelity was taking such a toll on me. But after I crossed that line, the depth of what I had done hit me like a bullet. People get stoned for this sin for a reason.
I was not the woman who waited at home while her partner was out with other ladies. However, the next weekend, and the one after, I felt overwhelming remorse. One time, maybe even two, is a drunken lapse of judgement; over weeks is not. I told Delilah that it couldn’t continue, but after two weeks I decided to simply end it with Tony. But then – I didn’t. To put it simply, when faced with the two lovers, and my compromised morals, I stuck with Tony. It was still Tony who I loved, who I refused to give up on.
I cut Delilah off, and put all of time and affection into loving Tony again. I no longer cared about Miranda’s role in our relationship. If Tony went back to her, so be it. I didn’t want my hands- or lips- any dirtier than they already were.
A convenient three weeks later, Tony entered my home sobbing. He confessed to me his love and rendezvous with Miranda. Unsurprised, I let him cry in my lap and told him I forgave him. It would have been hypocritical for me to do anything else.
He seemed surprised, but why not? Tony didn’t understand that I not only knew about his disloyalty, but that I had also forgiven him before he uttered a word about Miranda. Why? Because relationships and trust are a fragile thing, and seduction and jealousy are devastating weapons that weaken the resolve of individuals with the best intentions. Not to excuse my own actions, but I believe my sins have made me a better person. I could never get into the head of an adulterer until I was the head of an adulterer, and my appreciation for Tony grew exponentially as a result. I like to think it did the same for him.
Tony and I are still together a year later, doing whatever couples in the city do, and doing wonderfully. He makes me stronger, and I don’t believe I will ever be as weak emotionally as I was the year I fell into temptation.
Just when you think that you’re doing great. Just when you think you’ve got your life all in order and everything is going to work out fine, the world finds a way to catch up to you and come crashing down.
I was dumped. And given my past relationship record, my friends had really, really good reason to be worried about me. The really, really fun part about borderline personality disorder is the extreme fear of abandonment and the feeling of being unlovable. All of which are a dangerous combo added on top of a break up.
Until Friday night came. I hadn’t been out in a total of 15 days, which, any normal person in Athens would tell you, was downright crazy. My hair looked good; my eyebrows flawless. I was ready to see my ex if only for the moment to say hello so nonchalantly and then carry on with my business. I mean, everyone had advised me to keep my distance, act casual, and pretend that everything was going okay. And my plan was to do just that. Let’s act cool. Let’s act okay.
But was everyone okay? Up to this point I had completely avoided the true feelings of being dumped for the hope that he had made a mistake and would come back. And having a chaotic week made it pretty easy to pretend that nothing had changed at all.
Until I added alcohol into the mix. The second the sweet sweet taste of Strongbow hit my lips, my fingers were just itching to text him. The savory feeling of a drunk text. And I get it- nothing good can come out of any of this. So why not have a drink and see how you’re feeling then?
4 drinks, two bombs, and 2 shots later- here we are. I’m in a bar by myself. My girlfriends gone. Every boy that touches me makes me cringe, and I don’t know how to have a conversation with even the slightest hint of flirtation to it without my skin crawling. The whole night my eyes dart side-to-side looking for him. Hoping for that moment that I can link eyes with him and pretend like all is grand.
I go home. $20 uber for one. And I change into my t-shirt and boxers and look in my mirror. I look so closely into it and a weird outer voice comes into that mirror and says “it’s okay baby girl. None of this is your fault. You are beautiful. You are kind. This isn’t your fault.” It’s is a fatherly, assertive voice that comes out of me, I don’t believe a word out of it. Despite my own inner voice trying to give me a pep talk, here I am.
I feel lost. I feel scared. And I feel alone. So far alone at 4:30 AM that I’m not sure what to do anymore. After several more drunk texts and a few more conversations in the mirror (all of which are essentially an outer-body-me saying that I actually matter to the world) I grab my box of tissues and I crawl into bed.
The world I tired of me, and I am tired of it. And we have completely exhausted one another for today. It won’t be until morning when the two of us get to wake up and deal with one another again. And that’s just the way that we work for awhile.
What is the greatest story you’ve ever heard? Do you remember it? Do you remember the way it made you feel… the way it made you think about your life or how you can live differently? If you remember this story, I want to ask you a new question; why is this the greatest story ever told? The truth about this question is that everyone will have a different answer. If you’re having a hard time conjuring up a response, don’t beat yourself up, because sometimes we love stories without really ever knowing why.
Some people may end up having a love for the same story, but the reasons will most likely be different, based upon the person giving it meaning. To me, stories are a way of seeing a new perspective in life. It is a way to gain wisdom and understanding of things we may not know: to escape in epic fantasies or ground us in reality. We allow our hearts to be moved with hope and encouragement and sometimes, fear and despair. We, as humans, love to hear and tell stories, but why? I may have an answer to this question, but before I attempt to explain my reason on this complex topic, we must first have an understanding of what a story is and how it is created.
The oldest known literary work and myth that we know of is called The Epic of Gilgamesh, written more than 3000 years ago. This story is about a man who is two-thirds god and one-thirds man, who travels to the edge of the world and discovers secrets of gods and records them on stone tablets. The story seems pretty straightforward when you hear a synopsis like this, but underneath the words and sentences there are themes, motifs, and self-enacted pieces of symbolism that allow the reader to be interested, entertained, and taught to.
When a person reads this story, from it, they should be able to look at their own life and see where they can apply these ideals. Or in other words, a mythology (just another word for story) is ultimately a way in which the reader reconciles their consciousness to the preconditions of their own existence: to question the very nature of life itself.
For example, because of the love and friendship between Endiku and Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh went from a tyrant and a bully to a king and a hero. Once Endiku died, Gilgamesh’s grief and terror forced him on a quest for immortality that would bring him no gain. What does the author want the reader to take away from this? Everyone will have a different answer, but in my opinion, the author wants me to understand that love is a powerful force that can have positive effects on a person, but it can also cause negative ailments that can transform a kind hearted man, into a self-seeking narcissist. With this theme of love, I can now apply the understanding to my life.
Now that we have a better understanding of what stories are, I want to attempt to share an idea about how we tell them. In many ways, stories can be told through pictures (film or photography), music, words, actions; the possibilities are endless, but the crazy thing is, I believe that there is only one way a story comes to life before it can be shared: it’s through our life. What I mean by this is that stories come to life by the experiences we face.
Once we experience a new story, it is then transcended into thought for us to process. After the story has been fully processed, the thoughts and ideas in the mind are then translated into a specific medium, when it is then shared with the world. Like the story of Gilgamesh: someone had experienced a positive or negative day in the life, thus turning it into an idea in the author’s head, until that idea was put into words on a piece of paper. Now it is a sort of being that people can read and understand.
It is the same process for creating a Film. The story starts out as an idea from an experience in the mind of the beholder, until it is translated into a screenplay, then shared through the medium of a visual dimension for people to see. I could say the same about Music, except the medium in which it’s shared, is an auditory one for people to hear. All stories are constructed from the experience and the imagination of the creator’s life, but the medium in which the story is shared is different.
But from all of this information, what good does it bring to us? This knowledge doesn’t answer the question for why stories are powerful; there is just a better understanding of what stories are and how we tell them. There is a reason for all of this, let me explain with an idea. When someone states that they hate classical music, I believe, in my opinion, that’s a blanket statement. This person hasn’t been fully educated on the history, creation, and process of how classical music came to be.
For example, classical music roughly began around c.1750 and ended 80 years later in c.1830. Classical music was created, by taking the textural intricacy of the Baroque era music and using it as stepping-stone to create a new era, that had a near-infatuation with structural intricacy. In this new era of music, famous Composers like Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, crafted symphonies within their mind, conducted their thoughts with the motions of their hands, where it was finally translated into music by the raw instruments of the Orchestra. With the knowledge of these components, the person will better understand the beautiful consonance of classical music.
Just like a story, it is essential to understand the history, creation, and process of how this narrative comes to life, so we, as the people who read them, can enjoy the contents within and comprehend the underlying text, to perceive a new theme in life. With this enlightenment, you can begin to understand why your favorite story impacted you the way that it did.
Now that we know all of this information, I want to attempt to share my reason for why I think the human race loves stories. Before I share, I would like for you all to know that my answer may not be what you’d expect. My opinion doesn’t have to deal solely with psychological or philosophical elements (though they are important and will be included in my attempt), but rather, my idea is based on the foundation of theological virtues. So my answer to this question will in fact include information, knowledge, and truths from the Bible.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). On the first day, God created night and day, the second; He created the sky and the sea, the third; He created land and vegetation, four; stars, sun, and moon, five; sea creatures including fish and birds, and finally on day six, God created Man out of His own image. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Image is an “exact likeness” and or “a reproduction or imitation of the form of a person or thing.” The conclusion of this definition brings us to a place where we learn that not just our physical bodies are created out of the image of God, but also our mind, thoughts, and emotions. Our entire being (minus the sin) is an exact likeness to our Creator.
With this knowledge, I can say that our love for stories came from God and was ingrained in us since the beginning of our time. To back this idea up, the Bible is the living Word of God and within, there are stories that interest, entertain, and teach us how to live, act, and find truth. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes to his beloved child Timothy, these words, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” This verse brings light and truth to this idea: there is no coincidence that the Bible is over 75% story. God knew His love for story and how powerful it can be, so He created the Bible as a way for us to connect, have intimacy with Him, and learn how to live our lives in righteousness.
So then, I come back to my original question: why are stories powerful? With all of this information and wisdom just shared with you, do you think that you can come up with your own idea as of why stories impact us the way that they do? My hope would be that you would answer my question with a “yes”, but if not, that’s okay.
The Power of Story is a complex topic to tackle yet it’s an idea that I believe is important to gain wisdom on. Maybe a story is powerful because we allow it to be. We give our ear to them: we sit, watch, and open our life to the story being told. They captivate our attention with detail and a new perspective. They call out to our imagination and allow us to ponder and experience life in a different way. They can reach out to our own understandings and make us connect to the circumstances within. They transcend our hearts into a beautifully profound area of existence. I could be having a terrible day, but when I hear a humorous story, it will immediately change my negative day into a positive one. Stories must be powerful, because we allow them to be. They present information to us and we give it meaning.
We, as humans, learn from other people. If a story or myth is about gaining new perspective and applying it to your life, then the life you walk and live is ultimately a story. You give it meaning when and where you please. People from the outside can be interested, entertained, and taught to by the life you live. So then, the final conclusion to my question, ends with this idea of an answer that, in my opinion, I believe to be true: stories are powerful and impact us the way that they do because they derive from the experiences and imaginations, of people who walk out living stories every day.
So, what’s your favorite story?
“But how could you live and have no story to tell?” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
When I hear phrases like “Revenge body” or “success is the best revenge,” I cannot help but think that many people do not know the difference between self-esteem and an unhealthy obsession with others’ opinions.
As the word suggests, self-esteem comes from within, yet many people rely on others to validate their worth. Khloe Kardashian has a new TV show called Revenge Body, and while she may be encouraging people to eat healthily and stay active, she is ultimately promoting the notion that in order to be happy, one must impress others.
I forgot to look after myself, and instead, I lived my life for others. Whether my motivation was to effect jealousy, sympathy, anger, or admiration, I did not live my life happily or healthily; I was obsessed with what everyone else thought. As I lay awake every night, I did not understand that the people I was trying to impact were living their lives. Eventually, this tore me down to the point where I did not know who I was or what I wanted in life.
Khloe Kardashian is promoting this unhealthy mindset that being successful is about impressing others. This can lead people down a path of obsession and possibly self-destruction as a result of never being fulfilled. Happiness does not come from others or external forces; it comes from within.
Pleasing others or impressing them will never be satisfying because the real issue, oneself, is not being addressed. Instead of focusing on his own happiness, the person focuses on others. Noone’s happiness, jealousy, or love will ever replace self-love.
Self-love and self-esteem, however, take time to build. The first step is identifying the difference between wanting revenge (or to be taken back) and wanting something in order to be healthier.
I prefer to focus on doing what makes me happy instead of worrying about what everyone else thinks; their praise or disapproval lasts for a few minutes, but I can never escape my thoughts.
Run infant woman
run as fast as you can in any direction
run till you threaten to drop dead
skinned needs, skinned knees,
runs in your new tights
heels of your palms bleeding
from where you s k I d along the unforgiving asphalt
that had been lying in wait for your stumble
hungry for your blood
hungry for your self
effacement to bring you
back to this place
so well known
-when you- smart actualized near woman you-
the asphalt only wins
you continue to wear that same pair of tights
(no matter how many times you
s k I d along the unforgiving asphalt
the thing that matters most is that you land softer)
Often times people will ask me, “What does Black History Month mean to me?” So let me first explain what black is to me, then why Black History Month matters.
Growing up in Brentwood, Long Island, NY, I never really knew what it had meant to be black. Most of the kids who lived in my area were either black, Hispanic, or of some foreign nationality. There wasn’t much talk about race on a daily basis. We all went to school, came home, played out in the streets together, then went home. The color of my skin was just that—a color. We were all the same to me and I was fine with that.
But then I moved to Lawrenceville, GA. Where the farms and fields were plenty, so many dull two lane roads, and a grocery store so far that walking, like I did in NY, was not an option. Everyone said yes sir or yes ma’am. Sweet tea was somehow different than iced tea. The sun seemed to be down the block over the summers as opposed to light years away. Oh yeah, pollen was not just micro-particles any more, but more like the south’s version of snow.
From those days on, I took it upon myself to get educated about being black and found pride in who I was. I read books, watched more TV tailored to those like me, I made new friends with people accepted me for who I was and would drive me to be a version of myself, not someone else. I embraced an identity of blackness. A group that had it harder than others, came from much less, were looked upon as less than, but I didn’t care. If I considered myself to be something other than what I was, I might as well have been nothing at all. Coming to Georgia taught me what it was to be black and I will forever be grateful because I am black and beautiful.
I dedicated myself to helping others realize what I had realized at such a young age. To be proud of who you are, and to be who you are. In college I devoted myself to an organization that would enhance the black male experience and not only aid in, but demand excellence. I became aware politically and socially. I for once in my life had come into microcosmic encounters of what prior generations had faced in full force. Reflecting on racist situations created a greater sense of respect to those who had to endure so much more than I could ever fathom. In turn it also created a greater sense of responsibility to embrace my fellow man and connect with them in ways others would not understand because of who we were. It changed me. BHM challenged me every year to truly find out who I am, where I come from, where I intended to go, and how many I could take with me.
Today’s society doesn’t make it any easier. Black people are often told to forget what happened, or get over it. But how? It is ingrained into who we are. In this day and age so many of us are still not equal whether we want to believe it or not. No one will forget the holocaust. No one will forget 9/11. And I am far from saying those events are unworthy of remembering, but somehow the tragic events of slavery, segregation and racism are irrelevant and no one is to blame. These are the reasons the gaps remain unbridged. These are the reasons the tensions are forever real. This is why I cling to black history and will never forget.
So Black History Month to me is not just a conglomerate of days with a title. It is a month long celebration of all that those before me had to endure and still endure to this day. It is a testament to the many that came before me and sacrificed often times everything they had including their lives, to pave the way for the next one up.
It is a beacon of hope for the many that find themselves hiding behind impersonations and false identities. It is a birthday for so many who left the earth so early fighting for what they believed in and some just going about their business. It is a statement to the world that no matter how many times you are beaten, broken, turned away, segregated, devalued or defamed, you can rise again. You will rise again. Because we rose again.
Some of the hardest things in life are perceivably some of the simplest. Saying goodbye—leaving unfinished business—letting go.
These are the kind of situations that feel beyond our control. There are no more physical actions to take, so instead we fall into the business of “mind over matter”. These situations raise the question of “can you accept the past and move forward?”
This happens to me a lot. While I value adventure, spontaneity and new beginnings, as a child change was not my forte. I was stubborn (or determined and persistent as I prefer to call it). I have a hard time letting go of the past, which in return binds me from properly moving forward. I always like to keep one foot dragging behind, holding open that figurative door—on the off chance I need to turn around. But the thing is, that is not healthy for me.
This habit of holding on too tightly can apply to almost anything.
Bad habits, negative thoughts, past loves and fruitless fights leaving only resentment and angered feelings. One of the deepest parts of me secretly loves to hold on to these negatives and keep them in an ornate little box, label it “memories” and open it up over and over again just for the hell of it.
I live for the pain. Enjoy the sensation of wallowing in it. Or so it seems. Why else would I continue to torture myself and delve back into these painful histories to relive them over and over again?
My therapist feels that I hold myself to too high of a standard. I expect only the best from myself. I know I am only a human, yet when I make a mistake I find it unacceptable. I take full blame even when I know the blame is not mine to take—and I internalize it. I chalk it up to the bigger picture of how I am a failure, a bad friend, a bad lover—a bad person.
So I punish myself. I think back on the good memories I had with someone, forget the bad, and curse myself for giving up on something that was supposedly so great (at least in my memories). But I know I am not alone in doing this. We as humans tend to shield ourselves from discomfort and only remember the good when we look back from a distance. From there, we are left with intense nostalgia remembering everything we once had.
I tend to describe my mindset as having an “all or nothing” way of thinking. This particular mental distortion is like fixating on one small, missing piece of the puzzle when in reality it does nothing to affect the overall picture. This is equally painful for me. This is where I begin to live inside my own head—more than a little lost in the past.
So I’m doing my best to move forward. To leave the past in the past and realize dwelling on the “shoulds”, “could haves” and “what ifs” will leave me more broken than anything.
Realizing that I don’t need to hold on so tight. Knowing that the universe has its plan for me—and those who are meant to stay, will.
Not every situation is going to wrap up smoothly, neatly tied with a colored ribbon. There will be many hurt feelings in your life, many embarrassments and many events beyond your control; but that does not mean you need to allow them to make a home inside your heart.
For me, I have found that the best medicine is to let go. Let those unwanted thoughts and anxiety roll off you and puddle onto the floor. They are not beneficial to your life. They do not fill your cup—and holding onto all that negativity does not make you a better person. In fact, it actually inhibits your growth as an individual—always has you one step back in the other room.
So let go. Breath it all out. Open up your heart.
It’s not going to be easy. I’m not even close to being able to accept my past mistakes and continue to love myself through it all. But that’s okay. The important thing is that you continue to work on bettering yourself. That you learn from what you still call blunders and move forward with the intention to do better, be better, for yourself and others.
Because in reality, that’s all you can do.
Pulling a segment from my all-time favorite poem The Type by Sarah Kay:
“Forgive yourself for the decisions you have made, the ones you still call
mistakes when you tuck them in at night. And know this:
Know you are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours.
Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.
You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You were born to build.”
Coming to terms with the mortality of success remains the harshest reality to strike me in the past two years.
The summer before I started college I won two national championships in the high jump and competed at the 2014 World Junior Championship. Since my junior year of high school I believed I was going nowhere but up, and my successes only reinforced the naïve belief.
I started jumping my freshman year of high school. I came from a family of volleyball players, but I never wanted to associate myself with my sisters’ interests. Essentially coached by a school priest and YouTube videos, I took to the event quickly and became passionate about every aspect of jumping. Freshman year was a season of constant improvement. I hit a slump in my sophomore year, which led me to make a series of influential changes, the greatest being the decision to devote myself to my faith.
I began devotional sessions every evening, reading the Bible and writing about how the message spoke to me. I attended church every Sunday with my parents, and rarely took a Sunday off, even when I was traveling. My junior season began with a personal record, and ended with a state championship after finishing first in every meet of the season. Through the entire season I made it a point to recognize my trusting relationship with God as the reason for all success. I continued this mentality into my senior season, and I continued to get better.
On the morning of the New Balance Outdoor National Championship, I attended church with my parents. I found a small Catholic church in Greensboro, NC, which is now one of the most memorable churches I have ever visited.
Not one part of me was nervous. I knew that I had prepared as much as I could, and it was now in God’s hands. Throughout the competition I remained in constant conversation with God. I never asked for a victory. I simply just asked for His presence. I went on to win the competition without a single miss and achieved a new personal record. I used my faith in the next championship two weeks later and the success continued. The great change came after the world championship.
I slowly began to believe my success was a result of my own work. My focus shifted from God to myself. I transitioned into an arrogant and ungrateful athlete. I can remember throwing fits at my parents when I did not get what I want, at one point exclaiming, “I did this all on my own. You had nothing to do with it.” I had truly let the success consume me. I broke promises I made to myself and to God. Going into college, I believed there was no way I could fall down. I convinced myself I would continue to progress the way I had been the past two years.
Boy, did I get slapped with humility! I never stopped working hard. I never missed a day of practice. I never gave up on my dreams. However, I did give up on the one thing that got me to where I am, my faith and humility. College has absolutely not gone as planned. I jump significantly lower than I did as a senior in high school. Some days it even feels as though I am continuing to fall down into a hole and there’s no way out. In all of this pain and struggle, I have matured and learned more about myself than I ever would have had everything gone as planned. You don’t truly realize what you are blessed with until you are knocked down scrambling to get back up.
Now, I make it my goal to find my faith again and remain humble, so when I get back up and find success again, I won’t allow the same arrogance to creep in. I no longer believe my success is inevitable. I understand nothing is a guarantee.
I have been taught more by failure than success could ever teach me. None of this means that I have accepted failure or that I am content with where I am, and I shouldn’t be! You are allowed to be upset by your failures.
To pull a quote from Meredith Grey, “Progress looks like a bunch of failures. And you can have feelings about that because it’s sad, but you can’t fall apart.” It isn’t always about how you feel about failure; it’s about what you do to keep yourself together so you can move forward. I choose to use my faith to hold me together.
Find what keeps you grounded, let that pull you to the top, and know that some things are greater than success. As I begin to focus more on humility, I try to keep a verse from Proverbs in mind: “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility” (Proverbs 18:12).
Even though I haven’t always realized it, community has played a huge role in my life.
I grew up in a stereotypical small town—exactly the kind you hear about in country music songs. Everybody knew everybody. The kids you graduated with were the same kids you played with at recess in kindergarten, and it was not possible to walk in our local grocery store without seeing someone you knew.
By the time I got to high school and began my college search, I was so sick of my small hometown that I was using college applications as a one-way ticket out. It’s not that I hated where I grew up, but I definitely didn’t understand what a special thing growing up in my close-knit community was. I didn’t realize how much I depended on the community around me and my small, close group of high school friends who I still depend on today. This community was something I had always had, so I took it for granted. I was just ready to go somewhere new, meet new people, learn about different cultures and start fresh. I wanted to have a conversation with someone who didn’t already know my life story.
As I sat in my room that I’d lived in since I was a baby and applied to colleges, all at least 700 miles from home, I never realized that it would end up being the hardest, most terrifying, yet without a doubt most rewarding thing I’d ever done. After I made my somewhat random decision, I ended up here at UGA, where the student population is four times the population of my hometown.
After the first week of excitement, starting classes, trying not to get lost, meeting hall mates and awkwardly trying to sit with strangers at Bolton, I began to feel lonely, homesick, and out-of-place. It did help that I was one of the lucky ones who had a really great freshman year roommate who I instantly became friends with. She introduced me to some of her friends and without her I’m not sure I would’ve made it through the first few weeks here.
Still, I felt like everyone was always with their friends from home talking about high school or their new sorority or something else I couldn’t relate to. I found myself craving the sense of community that I had ran from. I wanted nothing more than to walk in to a grocery store or pull in to a gas station and run into a friend’s mom, my elementary school teacher, that old couple who lived down the street, or just any familiar face.
Once I left home, it didn’t take long for me to realize how important community was. In fact, leaving home was probably the only way I ever would have. I learned that we naturally desire the feeling that we belong to something, and it is so important to be surrounded with individuals who care for, appreciate, and encourage you while you do the same for them. It is human nature.
Although I felt pretty intimidated, I didn’t doubt that with time I would find my place on campus.
So I became that freshman. I went to every activity fair and club interest meeting, I collected countless flyers, I put my name on dozens of email lists (which I still regret everyday when I look at my inbox) and eventually I landed at two places on campus that would end up feeling like home to me.
The first one was Relay For Life. This was intriguing to me because I had participated in Relay for years so it felt familiar to me. I joined a committee last year and was lucky enough to be selected for the executive board this year. The community within this organization has amazed me. It doesn’t take long to feel like part of the Relay family. Relay is filled with so many selfless people who truly care about others and dedicate so much of themselves to this organization.
I recently saw this quote that reminded me of the Relay community:
We all push and encourage each other to be the best we can. We recognize that when we all come together as a community, we can accomplish amazing things.
The second place on campus that I have found community in is the Wesley Foundation. Wesley is a campus ministry that has an all-freshman branch called Freshley. I joined Freshley last year and am a part of Wesley this year. Through Freshley and Wesley I’ve had the opportunity to join small groups where I’ve built incredible relationships with some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.
The people I have met through Wesley have changed my life and helped me grow in ways I never would have thought possible. Of all the time I’ve spent studying during my first three and a half semesters, the most valuable thing I’ve learned is how important it is to build relationships and to spend time with others who will be there with you during all of life’s craziness. Life can be hard and at times probably unbearable if you don’t have people you can count on to have your back.
At this point in life, it is so easy to get caught up in school but at the end of the day, life really isn’t about your GPA, or your major, or what grad schools you can get into, it’s about the people we meet, friends we make, and the lives we touch along the way.
His eyes are closed. A smile forms in the corner of his mouth as he lies there motionless in the summer sun; the warm air cascading gently across his face and rustling his hair in tender strokes. He is in his favourite place on earth, home.
It is the middle of summer and he is in his garden with his back against the oak tree that he has adored since he was a boy. He knows every bump and curve on the tree as he has climbed it almost daily over the past 18 years, often in a game where the tree gave him a lofty advantage over the hapless Indians below or a safe place to hide when Nanny was displeased with him for some misdemeanour or another.
Just recently he has taken to just lying at the base of the tree, with his back to the trunk, that cradles him like a nursing mother comforts a child against her bosom. He loves this tree, he always has. He cannot imagine a more perfect afternoon than this, lying in the garden, on his own in quiet serenity, the only sound being that of his sister’s children playing somewhere out the back. And when he gets hungry, after a few hours that would feel like an eternity, he would amble back to the house and enjoy a long and carefree lunch that would send him even deeper into a state of idle relaxation. Not a care in the world; he feels so at peace with the world and with himself. He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for
He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for picking. The fruit is casting abroad its aroma inviting everyone to come and take hold of the soft luscious harvest that waits. He can also make out the perfume of the lavender bushes that adorn the border. If he opened his eyes he would see the tall stalks of purple soldiers waving in the breeze like a tranquil sea, gently moving backwards and forward in uniformed harmony.
The children’s voices in the distance are becoming a little too animated for his liking and their childish screaming is enough to disturb his peace. Some voices are louder than others and he chuckles to himself as he pictures his younger brother George getting far too agitated as he bosses whatever game he is part of. Sometimes father would have to intervene and ask George to calm down as he became increasingly frustrated that the house servants were not playing the game in the way that he wanted. He stretches his legs and turns to get comfortable; he could lie here forever and is determined that nothing will make him get up. Not that he could anyway, tiredness has taken hold of his body and he is a dead-weight; nothing more than another piece of the landscape into which he is melting.
He wishes that George would pipe down now. His loud screeching is beginning to disrupt his slumber. If he has to get up and march over to the house he will be very angry and won’t be afraid to show it. Although he loves George to bits, he can be a most infuriating chap. Once, he ran off to tell a large group of travellers to get off of his father’s land or else he would beat them all severely – he was only eight years old and he was lucky to be found by our groundsman before they taught him some well-deserved manners. Also, the carefree way he skipped to the recruiting office when the Germans started to cause a nuisance in Belgium, even against the advice of our father… George was always ready to step in and say his piece without thinking through the consequences.
After a few more minutes, and another twist and turn to get comfortable against the tree, he realises that his peaceful slumber has indeed been interrupted. He tried to push it to the back of his mind, but the noise has now become intolerable and he is irked by the mindless shouting. Also, the refreshing cool breeze has disappeared and he is starting to suffocate in this oppressive heat. The air is no longer clean and fresh, and he coughs as he struggles to gulp down any air. This just won’t do…he needs to get up and head to the house. “Curse you George” he mutters under his breath, “will you stop that shouting! Enough is enough. “
Instantly the bright sunlight has turned into a thick choking smoke that obscures the natural light, and instead of soft grass, he is sitting waist-deep in mud and grease. He thrashes around completely disorientated, looking for the safety of his house but it is not there…where is he? Nothing looks familiar, he is not in his garden at all, he has no recollection of this place. Then he notices that the shouting is not coming from his brother George in the distance, it is himself. In fact, as he sits upright against the tree, he realises that he is screaming uncontrollably. Why? Why is he screaming? What is wrong?
Another explosion sends a cloud of earth and stone against his face and he flinches from it, trying to curl into the loving arms of the stump behind him for protection. The tree is rejecting him. There is no safety here; there is no reassurance, no love. He is frightened and alone as he shakes in terror at what is happening. His ears ring to the point that he cannot focus on anything around him, he shakes his head but his senses are totally disoriented and all he can hear is his own muffled screaming and the loud thud of explosions.
He looks around with glazed eyes unable to focus on anything until he looks down at his body. He realises that he is soaked to the skin and his strange torn and bloodied clothes are stuck to him. The material looks like wet paper that could easily be rubbed away if you touched it. He adjusts his gaze and continues to look down to his legs and realises that they are not there, instead, he sees two mangled stumps where his legs used to be. He screams again, this time, it is more fierce and chilling and he vomits onto the ground as the sight of his torn body registers in his brain. Where is he? What is going on? Where is his family?
Through the fear comes a strong resolution to take control, he needs answers. There…over there, look it’s George. He would recognise George’s blonde curly hair anywhere. It’s as golden as the sun and always looks so beautiful, even against the foul mud that clings to him. He finds he can form words in his throat and manages to shout to his brother…”George? George? What the hell is going on? George!” His brother is not answering. He is kneeling only a few feet away from him, with his back turned. “Blast him”, he thought, “what is he doing now?” He grasps the earth beneath him and shuffles nearer to his brother…”George, damn you”…he shuffles nearer and nearer, the thick choking air almost making him faint as he moves across the ground. He grabs his shoulder…”George, what the hell is …” The body of his younger brother falls backwards and sprawls on the earth. The screaming starts again. George’s face is not there. Half of his head is missing and his body is lifeless and limp… “George!!!!” he screams, but no one can hear him. Another explosion, another cloud of earth sprays against him and fills his eyes and mouth with rancid mud that smells of burning. He is immediately sick and slumps onto his side.
What is going on? Why is he not home? He sees a man running towards him! “help” he whimpers…”help me”. He reaches out his arms to be picked up like a young baby desperately in need of love and comforting. He doesn’t know if it is sweat or tears in his eyes, but he knows that he needs to get out of here. The man stops in front of him, kneels down, and unfastens something from his belt. ”A drink! Oh yes please,” he mumbles to himself, barely above a whisper. He reaches out to the man in front of him grasping at the buttons on his coat, tenderly entreating him to save him from the unnatural and godless scene that he finds himself part of. But no drink is offered, no warm voice meets his ears, no reassuring hand comforts his own cold and bloodied.
And then he sees it. Not the soft rounded edges of a flask, but the cold gleam of a blade. Slowly he looks up with fear raging through his body, and for the first time, he is able to make out the face of his ‘rescuer’. The man towering over him is young and rugged but stares back expressionlessly with cold empty eyes that betray no human emotion. Their faces are inches apart. The stranger has not stopped to offer salvation, he is not reaching out to help him, but with brutal gentleness, he slips the blade deep into his chest and twists it as it pierces his heart. His body spasms and immediately his eyes begin to mist over.
All around him becomes calm and the only sound he can hear is the soft speech of his companion who is now whispering something in an unfamiliar tongue. Although slipping towards unconsciousness, he feels that he recognises the pattern of words being uttered; confused and afraid, to his disbelief it sounds like the Lord’s Prayer although it has never sounded as empty as it does now. The stranger’s voice quietens to an echo and all else turns silent. With the knife still protruding from his tunic, he falls back and his eyes finally blacken and he comes to rest with his head touching the golden locks of his brother.
Together they gaze heavenwards with unseeing eyes as the mud continues to swallow their bodies and entomb them in a land that is far from home. Two brothers lost forever in Northern France.
It seems as though as more time passes on, the more often I log in to my Facebook and find yet another post on my news feed written in honor and remembrance of a loved one that has taken their life.
Loved ones lost too soon due to the overlooked, underestimated, all-encompassing power that a mental illness has the potential to hold on our minds. Depression (alone, or in the wake of other mental illnesses) is more and more confused by the uneducated as merely just a feeling or phase, rather than a mental health condition with the need for understanding, attention, and treatment. To my point, it is imperative that society becomes more cognizant of the crisis we are facing, especially among adolescents and young adults, today.
This form of epidemic we are seeing is one that should be completely preventable. Yet more people we know, or have mutual friends with, will continue to suffer from depression, take their lives, and that still may not be enough to bring about the awareness we all need pay careful attention to.
Which leads me to my point about compassion. It is crucial that we understand and practice the importance of being compassionate toward others, whether they happen to be close to us or not. We are all human, we all feel, and we all hurt. Most importantly, we all need to know we are loved. Yes, it may sound a little silly, but this concept is basic and our society’s mental stability depends on it.
To continuously know we are heard, to know we are cared about, and to know we are not alone all have the potential to foster a sense of faith and hope in someone struggling that could quite possibly be a leading reason as to why when we are suffering, we keep holding on. In the past few months I have trained to become certified in Mental Health First Aid in order to work as a volunteer for the New River Valley Community Services Raft Crisis Hotline, located in my college town.
It has been through my time throughout this experience so far that I have been fortunate enough to learn first-hand how one can impact another’s sense of well-being and assurance, while at the same time being a complete stranger. It is through the conversations I have had thus far that have shown me how truly vital a listening ear, a caring heart, and providing a sense of support for another can be to someone in need of just that.
So that the struggling person knows that not only is someone here for them, but here with them. Simply showing unrelenting compassion can dramatically influence the mindset of someone who is drowning mentally, whether you realize it or not.
For those who are contemplating what steps they will take to end their lives or experiencing suicidal ideas, it is as if they suffer from an irrefutable perspective of themselves that they no longer recognize. A perspective built upon the foundation that their life has little value, and is no longer worth fighting for. Although the hardships brought about by having a mental illness hold power in creating such a perspective, some individuals may have never reached the point of attempt and/or completion had they been shown and made aware of the fact that they are being heard, cared about, and accompanied from the beginning.
However, perhaps if we as a society made it more instinctual to act in ways that are more compassionate, more kind, more supportive, more aware, then those we love would have more foreseeable opportunities to find the hope needed in order to take the appropriate steps toward recovery. To be reminded that our lives are valued, cared for, and paid attention to may have the ability to lead one to a sense of worthiness in valuing and caring for oneself that they otherwise would have never found on their own.
Perhaps the strength needed in those struggling to learn to love who they are and to fight for the value of their life can be (even just a little bit) sprouted by simply the way in which we pay attention to and show compassion for them.
To be a part of a surf culture, one does not have to be a surfer.
In my hometown, we have a place called the Wedge. The Wedge is a popular surf spot on the tip of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California.
A few times a year we witness one of the most incredible events in which south or southwestern swells hit our coastline. The Wedge helps produce waves that reach up to thirty feet. I myself am not an avid surfer but that does not stop me, or anyone else, from being a part of my hometown’s surf culture.
The Wedge is a perfect illustration for how the Surf Culture functions.
This past summer, Newport Beach experienced tropical storms from Hurricane Dolores in Mexico. When that first swell rolled in it seemed everyone dropped what they were doing, hopped on their bikes and made their way down to the good ole’ Wedge.
I, of course, brought my camera not my surfboard.
As I ran up and down the sand photographing the body surfers make their way past the impact zone, I was in my element.
Nothing excites me more than watching nature at it’s best at the Wedge or the surfers on lazy Sunday mornings at Blackies, another popular local surf spot.
Even though I live in the amazing Athens, GA for school, I always feel much warmth and happiness when I take my first step on the California sand after being gone for so many months.
I know as I head back to Athens the beach is always patiently waiting my return. I am blessed and proud to be immersed in such an amazing town.
I had a relatively “Leave It To Beaver” childhood. I grew up in a small town. My parents are still together, and my family is close. I played 3 varsity sports, was in the theater program, and on the debate team. I got good grades, and I was a dancer until I was about 15 or 16. My family vacationed once a year.
I never went to summer camp because, as my dad put it, “We owned a summer camp.” Which was kind of true. We own a resort that always has kids staying there. We lived outside of town, so I felt a tad isolated. And my parents were semi-strict, but all around, I would never ask for another way to be raised.
I started dealing with depression in my late teens, and anxiety came a few years later in college.
At first it was extremely difficult for me to find a doctor that I liked; one told me bisexuality was a phase, another told me to go on welfare, while another offered only that I should quit drinking (I was 24). I went on and off medications, and I will never know if any of them worked since I was drinking a lot of alcohol with each one.
I spent my 20’s as the quintessential party girl. I had an amazing time! I experienced all sorts of things, and I had some great friends. I also drank and smoked to excess while avoiding anything too serious. I was definitely self medicating, and I convinced myself I was happy – looking back I truly want to believe I was.
At 28 I was hitting the end of my stride; the lifestyle was getting way too crazy. The black outs were a regular occurrence, and my hangovers lasted 2-3 days (most of the time I would get agoraphobia and never leave the house during that time). I would drive to work still drunk from the night before, and those “great friends” had turned into acquaintances I could drink with.
I met a guy. He was totally ready to jump right into the party scene. He moved in to my place, a little apartment on a street that had ALL the bars within walking distance, so naturally, we went out every night. I wouldn’t have called our relationship stable or healthy, but then again, neither were we.
Right before my 30th birthday, we moved about 20 minutes out of town. We hoped it would give us a new chance. Keep us out of the bars and help us grow up. It worked for him. He wouldn’t drink when we would go out, so he could drive home while I got shit-faced.
When I went out alone, I would still get pretty wasted and even drove home a few times. Our relationship was suffering more than ever, my job had grown increasingly frustrating, and I was completely miserable. I hated everything and everyone – most of all myself. It almost sounds too cliche to be true.
On Mother’s Day 2015, I awoke with my typical Sunday hangover except the hollow feeling in my gut was greater than usual. I showed up late to family brunch, likely still drunk. The anxiety was growing. I had a mimosa with the meal hoping a little hair of the dog would help get me through it.
It made things worse (little did I know it would be the last drink I would have for a year). I barely finished eating, immediately went home, and puked it all up. I crawled into bed and shook the rest of the day. I took a Xanax when it got dark enough to fall asleep; I prayed for relief in the morning.
I woke up, but there was no change.
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday passed, and the only change was that night terrors had come. I was having hour long anxiety attacks each morning from 1 or 2 A.M. until 5 A.M. I was exhausted. I decided the next week that I had to see my general practitioner.
She had previously prescribed me Xanax for my occasional anxiety attacks. I assumed she would be able to help me or refer me to someone that could. She didn’t know what to do with me.
She prescribed me an anti-psychotic. I am not psychotic nor have I ever been.
She told me that this pill could be used for anxiety, even though one of the side effects is anxiety attacks. She told me to wait a few weeks and come back to touch base, and see if the medication was working. I trusted her and left her office cautiously optimistic.
I made it two weeks. The anxiety attacks had not subsided. I was barely functioning. She adjusted the dosage and added lithium. I felt like Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls. I was supposed to wait a few more weeks, and I was seriously struggling.
The medicine made me so exhausted. I would almost fall asleep on my morning commute and had to drink excessive amounts of caffeine to make it through my day (yea, caffeine with an anxiety disorder – genius, right?).
I was in the doctor’s office at least once a week. What I didn’t realize was that she was out of her depth. I was slightly better, but I couldn’t live. I was in bed the second I got home from work. I couldn’t do anything around the house, I was going days without actually eating (because it made me anxious). All I could do was sleep… and cry.
I cried all the time. I never left my house. I lost a lot of friends and missed everything. I was petrified of everything. I felt totally isolated.
At this point I have to give a MAJOR shout out to the boyfriend! He had zero experience with mental illness. He definitely didn’t understand it, but he held me every night while I shook and cried and hit myself during the anxiety attacks. He cleaned the house. He cooked. He gave up his life to take care of me. He was amazing. Without him and my parents I never would have survived!
July was the final straw with my general practitioner. I was paying to see her every week, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Three days after I saw her to adjust my meds, for the umpteenth time, I was having a difficult time.
I tried to call her and was told she wouldn’t take my call. I explained that I had been in two days prior and just needed a quick verbal consultation. Her receptionist told me she would call me back. She never did. This was the second time it had happened.
After that I called six psychologists’ offices. I couldn’t get a call back. I was astounded. It’s a hot button topic, mental health, but I couldn’t get any help! I was feeling hopeless and ready to commit myself to the local in-patient facility.
I thought about quitting my job and collecting disability, but without my job, I would have no insurance. I was in so much pain! I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to exist any longer. My bed was the only place I felt OK.
I finally got into an office. The doctor barely noticed I was there while he asked me the necessary medical background questions and logged them into a lap top. I had to tell him twice that I had, in fact, never been committed. He adjusted my medications, ordered some blood tests, and advised me to come back in a month.
I did feel slightly better with the recent adjustment, but when I went back for my second visit, I told this doctor I wanted OFF the anti-psychotic. I was starting to notice word loss, memory issues, and a general fuzziness. I didn’t feel like a person, and the anxiety attacks were still a daily occurrences. He didn’t acknowledge my request and took me off the lithium instead. I was prescribed an alternative to it.
I did start feeling better but no huge advancements. The anxiety attacks were every other day instead of daily. I was still exhausted, that “fuzziness” was getting worse, and I had developed INTENSE acne! I started seeing a dermatologist, an acupuncturist, and a reiki practitioner.
I had 2-3 appointments every week. I was working really hard to heal.
The acupuncture and reiki were great. They were providing me with the only relief I had felt in months – even if it was only for a day or two, it was worth it! I also started meditating with this great app, “OMG! I Can Meditate,” which was so helpful.
Flash forward to October, and I am back in the doctor’s office for a checkup before I flew to Charlotte to see my brother and sister-in-law for the weekend. He had the results of a recent blood test and told me I could stop taking the anti-psychotic all together. I was psyched!!
That is until I was 30,000 feet in the air having withdrawal symptoms and an epic anxiety attack! My mother looked on helpless and worried as I silently sobbed, shook, and gobbled a couple Xanax to try and calm down. The flight was only an hour and forty-five minutes. I spent an hour and a half freaking out!
I tried everything! After a third Xanax, healing crystals, meditation, and essential oils, I still couldn’t pull it together. By the time we got off the plane and to my brother and sister-in-law’s house, I was heavily sedated and immediately fell asleep.
I stayed pretty sedated that whole weekend, determined to let the drugs flush out of my system. I gave that up the next Saturday night as the impending flight home approached. I got back on the anti-psychotic – the flight home was uneventful.
This was my lowest point in my recovery. I thought I was never going to get better.
I thought this was the only option available, and I had to take what I could get, that THIS was as good as it was going to get. Welcome to your new life Lia!
I quickly realized this doctor was useless. I had to remind him at least 2 times every session I had never been in a mental hospital (still). He didn’t care about me. I was a dollar sign to him. I had also left my therapist who was a nice enough fellow but kept insisting I exercise, as if it was the ONLY way I would feel better. I am sure he was right but the medicine was leaving me so drained that I just couldn’t.
I got sick of hearing it and tried another woman. She began by opening up and rehashing every wound I had ever had in my entire life – I did not want to talk about being beat by a boyfriend in 2007, I did not want to talk about the time I got roofied at a bar, and I did not want to talk about my friends that had died. I had addressed and come to terms with all those things years before.
I wanted to talk about how to heal myself now.
December rolled around. I had done one or two holiday activities but nothing crazy and had been home by 8 to go to bed. People noticed I was acting weird. They could tell I was jittery and shaky. I was completely uncomfortable in my skin and the acne, which wasn’t going away, was making me even more self-conscious.
I just wanted to stay in bed.
The thing was, I couldn’t. I had to continue with my process. On a “good day,” I got ambitious and booked my first vacation with my boyfriend to Florida at the end of February. I thought about canceling it, but I didn’t want to lose the money.
Thankfully, the woman who does my acupuncture recommended a different doctor. I called this doctor, but she wasn’t taking new patients. She recommended a second doctor who was moving in a couple of weeks, so it would’ve been pointless. She recommended a third doctor. The third doctor was taking new patients, and I made an appointment for January 7th 2016.
I had been sick for 242 days when I had that first appointment. I went to my first appointment with low expectations. I stepped into her office and sat in her big leather chair. She asked if she could go over my history to help her grasp who I was. I reluctantly told her everything.
She never pried or prodded, just listened taking active notes. She asked for clarifications on some names and some dates but basically, just took notes. As I talked, I glanced around her office. I was nervous and uncomfortable. I was telling another stranger my life story.
I noticed some things about her office that put me at ease; she had angel statues, healing crystals, and elephants. The more I looked around, the more at ease I became. Towards the end of our session, she told me to start weaning off the anti-psychotic, from twice a day to once. This made me scared, but she comforted me and told me she wanted to help me.
In all this time, no doctor or therapist had said or made me feel like they wanted to help me.
I wept in her office. She took over the role of my doctor AND my therapist that day. It was the best decision I have ever made.
She had me off the anti-psychotic in two weeks. She put me on Lamictal, and I still had Xanax. She listened to everything I was saying. She was interested and attentive. I loved her! After a month or so, she did a divination reading for me, and then we did a meditation for one session.
This was the best therapy I had ever had! When it came time for the vacation, I felt prepared. I was going to kick its ass! I totally did too.
I went to Disney and had a blast!
When I felt more confident in my standings, I started making other healthy choices. I made drastic changes to my diet in hopes of healing my mind and my skin. I cut out gluten, dairy, and cane/ white sugar as best I could.
I started taking all sorts of vitamins. I upgraded my essential oils to Young Living. I started reaching out to friends again. I am still trying to get a stable yoga practice going, but I’m not too hard on myself about it. I had my first drink in one year on May 13th, which felt pretty good; I will only drink on weekends and never more than 3.
I still have an early bedtime, but I’ve moved it from a strict 9 to a more reasonable 10-11. I booked every weekend from May until August with social events. I am determined to shove as much into a summer as possible. I’m documenting it all on Instagram, and I love the support I find there.
Sometimes it gets hard, and sometimes I have to rest. But I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have. I have an incredible team that helps me: a doctor, dermatologist, acupuncturist, reiki practitioner, and massage therapist. Now, I just need a chiropractor and a psychic.
I’m spending my summer focusing on really living and having fun. Not fun like I used to have, not let’s get sloppy at a bar fun… Quality fun with quality people. Once the summer is over, I will change my objective to a new career, something that can utilize my experience.
I want people to know they MUST advocate for themselves, specifically their health care.
Every day is a new day. It takes effort to focus on the positive, but it is necessary and so much better than the alternative. If I have to leave anything, in closing, I just hope that my story encourages someone. I want you, the reader, to know you are the only one who knows your body… whether it is an ingrown hair or something more serious.
If you do not feel confident in your recovery plan, if your concerns are not being validated, or if your feelings are not being recognized, then you must make a change! Get a second opinion, a third, a fourth…
Get as many opinions as you need to feel confident in your process. There are good doctors out there. There are alternative medicines to explore. There are people that want to help. Find them. It takes work. It takes perseverance. Nothing good in life comes easy. You can get through this!
It’s a cliché for Lifetime movies and B-list HBO short series everywhere: realizing that a family member has been affected by your actions, or lack thereof, is the epiphany a person needs to shape up.
You likely don’t have to think very hard for incidences of parents quitting smoking to extend their lifespans to increase the probability of seeing their kids grow up, or of people breaking up with their significant others for their families’. But it’s seldom as simple as TV often portrays it.
Background: I am sitting in Starbucks during my senior year of high school. I’ve gained thirty pounds on my once athletic frame, and my eyes are always puffy from either exhaustion or crying. A former teacher of mine and I are having coffee, and she is attempting to persuade me that my home life will not always be as poor as it is. She says that I need to wait it out, that I will succeed with or without my family’s assistance, and that I should not feel alone while enduring it.
I’m 18, I smoke cigarettes in my rebellion to my father’s position as a physician, and put forward effort into being a normal young adult. It’s always been evident that my parents’ wrongs are usually done with good intentions; they, in all candor, believe that what they have done and continue to put me under is the best for me. This fact is little consolation to me, and I end up with multiple breakdowns as a teenager. I give up, and try again; give up, and try again; give up, and try again.
At some point, I started working towards all the wrong things. I don’t know it yet, but the amount of exertion I put into partying and being “normal” is extraordinary, and incredibly far from normal. And yet, I more or less survive life’s trials and tribulations while depressed, resentful of my family, and passively (later, actively) suicidal in my reckless endeavors in the city and outside of it.
My father does not react well to my moving out. He falls into a deeper depression, and becomes nearly obsessed with my daily life. My mother adapts by effectively ignoring my absence and my existence; perhaps, as a result of my sister growing into my role as the elder daughter struggling to find meaning in anything. They blame me for these developments; rather than going somewhere my pain can be remedied, I have left it in my parents’ home to fester. Neither turn out to be true; I took my hurt everywhere I went.
Fast forward two years: my sister is in college while living at home. My parents let her drive, let her wear shorts, and don’t make her abide to an 8pm curfew. She struggles in her studies, and they try to help her in whatever she pursues. My youngest sibling is treated normally for a high schooler. Without going into any detail at all, my mother and father are good to them. And they are good and kind to me. I am no longer angry – I have lived through more than someone my age should have. We have all changed, for better or for worse.
Writing this is not meant to trivialize those with abusive families, nor is it meant to dramatize the tension that all families undergo when during adolescence. Rather, I write this to point out that in addition to circumstances changing, people do indeed change for the better, despite popular belief. We learn from our mistakes. My parents knew that if they maintained their rearing methods, my sisters would struggle, and leave, the way I did.
I love them more than anything, but love is not enough to maintain such relationships, even within families. But love is enough to force people to change, and to forgive. We forgave each other (or at least I like to think so). It is unbearably hard at times to move on at times, but it almost always the best option.
The greatest gift my mother has ever given me was a love for books. As a little girl, she would often read to me; I didn’t realize it then, but those precious moments before bed would turn help me realize the importance and solidarity of girl power.
Long before I was interested in makeup or boys, I was fascinated with literature. It’s a running joke in my family that if I ever went missing I was most likely to be found tucked in a corner somewhere, too engrossed in a book to hear the cries for dinner.
My favorite stories growing up were those of heroes; I was never interested in tales of the damsel in distress, whose only purpose in a novel was to serve as the love interest for the male protagonist.
I idolized characters such as Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Jo March from Little Women because instinctually, I saw myself in both of them. Brash, bookish, and opinionated, these characters were not princesses but game-changers in the novels they resided in.
I was dismayed that my fellow Americans chose a man who dismissed claims of sexual assault because he concluded the accusers were “too ugly.” Horrified, I read articles that spoke of the possibility of criminalizing abortion, of women losing the right in determining their own healthcare.
In the same year that saw the first female presidential candidate and a chance to break a 238-year-old glass ceiling, we met a man who had a well-documented history of mocking and degrading women. A man who still managed to receive 62 million votes, and claim the title of our future president.
Women did not receive the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920. For many, Roe vs. Wade is more recent memory than history; the landmark Supreme Court trial disallowing state restrictions on abortions did not occur until 1973.
We make 80 cents to a man’s dollar, and in some workplaces women are still penalized for maternity leave. Although women have increased their numbers in the 21st century, men still historically dominate STEM careers.
With the New Year comes with the promise of new changes. 2017 ushers in President-elect Trump, who many fear will doom the country to an unstable fate. But the time for fear is over; instead, it’s time for action.
In the face of seemingly menacing promises, women need to stand up for what they believe in and support their fellow women. We need to stand strong in the face of an administration that seemingly wants to suppress our voices; by electing an individual who so openly disrespected women in the past, his views are not likely to change anytime soon.
Most importantly, we need to educate our youth on the potential of girl power. The girls of tomorrow can be anything they want: a lawyer, doctor, or the first female president. One day, I hope to raise a daughter like my mom raised me; someone who’s passionate with a love of reading, who is inspired and encouraged to reach for their dreams.
There will never be another me in this World . That’s why I will tell you what does it mean to be me.
I wasn’t born in a wealthy family. I wasn’t born particularly talented or skillful either. I was born just as I needed to be born. I was born as a Fighter in life and in sports called Taekwondo. I was born to find my own way and leave my own trail.
When I was 5 years old, I began to stutter severely. My life changed but my fire to make a difference in lives of others never went away. Life can throw throw obstacles on you, but you have the power to decide how you respond to these obstacles. You can be bitter or better because of them. I chose the latter. I never gave up and I never will because that is what it means to be me.
You ask me, what does it mean to be me? Well, persistence is another explanation. When I was training Taekwondo actively and competing all over the Europe, I couldn’t win a single fight. Even though I was the best performer in practice and sparring session, for 3 consecutive years I had a blockage in my mind which was stopping from expressing myself in a Taekwondo fight. I used to watch my team mates winning their gold medals while I was in the stands, in some lonely corner depressed and sad.
Then, at one tournament, I knew that I was going to win gold medal. I felt it inside so strongly that it’s my time. I told my coach, hey coach, just watch me, I am going to win a gold medal, I am ready. And I did, the entire audience that day stood and clapped while I was receiving my gold medal. I guess, things come to us when we are ready for them. Persistence is engraved in my heart.
Courage, confidence, belief are all my describing adjectives. So, as I began this story, there will never be another me, that’s why I shout: watch my actions, watch my life because I can promise you I will leave my mark and everybody will know that I was here. This is what it means to be me.
Recently, I have been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is just something about it. It’s spooky without being too scary, the dialogue is snappy, and the characters are so real I feel like I’ve genuinely met them at some point in my life. And, like so many other pieces of media I consume and love, at the heart of the story we have a person who is the “Chosen One.” The prophecy surrounding them makes them the most special, the hero.
I think the reason I love shows like Buffy, and media like this in general, is that being the “Chosen One” of my own life sounds appealing. I think we all think it does, on some level. Why else would we continue writing stories like this? Most great franchises have the Chosen One at the core of the story. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Buffy, Game of Thrones – they all have the Chosen One as the hero. Being the “Chosen One” is a surefire way to make the protagonist special, otherwise why should we care about them?
I don’t know if I am the “Chosen One.” It would be awesome if I was. I would love to develop some sort of superpower and save the world. I like to think my media consumption is preparing me to answer the call of my destiny, should destiny ever see fit. I don’t think it will.
You can’t call destiny up on the phone and ask for a moment to occur to change your life forever. It isn’t like destiny is a waitress and you can ask why your life’s purpose is taking so long. Destiny does as it will, and you have to wait for your calling to be the Chosen One. And that is why I don’t think I am.
I’ve never had a moment where angels descended from on high and then I was surrounded by a halo of overwhelming purpose. I’ve had incredible experiences in my life, but never anything that quite felt like destiny. And I’m okay with that. I used to be very envious of people who seemed to have found their life’s calling early on in life. But envy – while a valid emotion – I find to be unproductive. If it doesn’t spur you forward, what is the point? If it doesn’t call you to action, why indulge it? Not feeling like I am the “Chosen One” hasn’t stopped me from reaching for my goals.
Maybe I’ll never have a moment where I feel like I’m destined for greatness. But the life I can see in front of me doesn’t look like a consolation prize. It looks like my next great adventure.
Ever since I was a little kid my home life was not in the condition it should have been. From the time I was 9 until the summer before my 14th birthday I was abused. The only things I had were school, my baby brother, and music. School was my only safe place to be at, so I ended up spending a lot of my time there and my teachers tried to do everything that they could to help me to no avail for a long time, but when I moved back to Georgia everything changed.
When most people go home after school, they have some sort of mother figure around them to help them get through everything that life has to offer the best that she can. I however did not have that growing up at all. I did not know my mom and as far as I knew, she did not give a shit about me. My whole life I looked to my teachers trying to find that support system that I never had.
When I attended Unity Elementary School, all of my teachers looked out for me and truly cared even after my dad took me away from my nana which was the only happiness I had ever known. I remember my principal crying as she told my nana and aunt that they were not allowed to see me because my dad would not allow it. On the last day of third grade my teacher, Mrs. Moore held me as we both cried because I would not ever see her again and I believe that she sensed the trouble that was ahead for me.
After I finished the third grade, I moved to Delaware with my dad and stepmother and things started out okay for the most part. I went to school and my teachers always had my best interest at heart, but my home life was another story. My dad and stepmother started fighting all of the time and it got to the point that I would go to school crying all of the time. The support from my teachers during this time helped me learn that the fighting was not my fault, but the turmoil that was to ensue was soon to come.
During my sixth grade year, my STEM teacher, Mr. Fragile started to notice my missed absences and my changing behavior, so he dared to ask me the question that my teachers have been wanting to ask me since I moved to Smyrna, DE, “Kyasia, have your parents been hitting you?” This was the beginning of many steps taken to ensure my safety over the next two years. The next two years would be the worst in my life and yet I would learn so much about myself and the teachers that I looked up to.
While in middle school, my Honors Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Prairie was the most supporting teacher I had had at this point in time. Every day she would make sure that I was alright and that things were okay at home. Most of my teachers at this point began to notice that I was having issues at home, but none of them knew the extent of these problems. I clearly remember Mrs. Prairie giving all of her graduating 8th graders her cell number and telling us to use it at any time we needed her. This was the 3rd time that someone actually cared and supported me since I was a little girl and over the years I would call her numerous times for advice or to just catch up. That summer after I graduated middle school, my dad told me that I was going to go to Georgia for the summer and here is where everything changed.
The next couple of years would prove to be the most life changing for me because as I got to know my teachers and as I gained the courage to tell them my story, the more they began to support me and encourage me. During my junior year the biggest milestone of my entire life began to happen. After we came back from Christmas break, I finally got the opportunity to talk to my mother for the 1st time. The minute I told all of my teachers what had happened they were ecstatic for me and when I became nervous about meeting her my AP Language teacher told me not to worry because my mom would love me as I was and would be proud of me no matter what. The day I finally got to meet her was the happiest day of my life and I was able to share it with those teachers who supported me through it all.
Without the support that my teachers gave me throughout the years, I would not be here today. The support that I received from them is the exact same support that I want my students to receive from me when I become a teacher.
I felt as though I had lost my innocence, like I had sinned. I was wrong and dirty. I could never be loved.
I was five when it started. Too young to fully understand what was happening, and old enough to feel violated. As a little girl, there’s no way I could have known it wasn’t my fault. There was no one there to tell me. Yet, the little girl still inside my soul, hiding back in the corner afraid of another attack, doesn’t know it’s not her fault.
I had fallen deep into this hole and it took me a while to remember why, but when I did, it was like a flood.
“Shh, I’ve got you.”
“No, don’t tell.”
“This is love.”
I fell deeper into my depression, a hole so deep and dark nothing could grow. Not my heart, not my love, and not the reality I would make it out alive. I became so fed up with the little girl I used to be. I pushed my problems back in the corner where she was hiding.
I have my own life to live now. How can I carry around the burden of being a victim when that little girl I used to be felt like an entirely different person? She was weak. She wasn’t even brave enough to open her mouth to make it stop. She has caused me so much pain and agony. She is why I’m here in this place; this place of distress and confusion; of fear that I’ll never make it out.
That little girl I used to be is why I’m still here. Because she kept fighting against the odds. Because, for over 19 years she has never given up no matter how deep the pain, no matter how many tears I shed, no matter how many times he whispered, “Shh, it’s okay.”
No matter how deep and dark it got, we worked together to survive. I grew up convinced no one would help me, so I learned to help myself.
I stand today, not as a victim of circumstance, not as a victim of child abuse, not as a victim of a sad story people cringe to, but as a survivor.
Because I am a survivor.
There is a scary thing out there. It lurks around the corner; it hovers over your head like your own personal rain cloud; it is the monster under your bed and the hurdle you attempt to jump over. It’s not ISIS, and it’s not your parents having sex. It is called “expectations.” Everyone has them. You may not even realize that you do, or that they are being placed on you. Whether it’s the idea that your boyfriend has to get you flowers every time he makes you upset, or your coach wanting you to catch every single pass thrown at you. They make or break you.
Many people have begun to form the opinion that millennials have such an easy life. We receive trophies for Last Place and Best Sportsmanship. We have helicopter moms who baby us until we cannot function without their hovering presence. We are getting married later, having kids later…life is nothing but a breeze for us. However, I disagree.
However, its not just professionally. Expectations corrupt all aspects of our lives. I see expectations break down everyone around me. Meredith is not skinny enough for the guy she likes. Greg is not involved enough at school to apply for the job he wants. Luke is not strong enough to face his mother’s illness. Taylor is not healthy enough to go back to school as she battles her anoxeria. Or the worst of them all, that voice in the back of your head making you believe, “I am not good enough.”
I have had that moment many times in my life, but one stuck with me the most just a few weeks ago. Everyone in college, at one point in their life, has applied for a job, internship, etc. You start the application process. You try and make yourself look the best you can, even though you’re afraid it might not be enough.
Finally, you receive the position! Start the fireworks! Pour the champagne! You did it!
….or did you?
I had received an acceptance into a program within my school that allowed me to take classes that pertained to my major and acquire an internship this summer. The program was all in the field I am studying, government. I was so excited and proud of myself for receiving my first acceptance! However, my idea of an achievement ended up not being enough for the real world.
I remember messaging my friend over Facebook telling her how I had gotten into the program. She immediately responded with, “SHUT UP. SHUT UP.” Her response only got me more excited as I saw that she was now calling me to congratulate me on my acceptance. We began talking about the program and all of its details. I expressed her how excited and happy I was, but I could tell the more I talked the less she seemed impressed with my accomplishment.
Settle? I had thought this phone call would be happy…but it ended up becoming a lecture. The program did not seem prestigious as I was only competing with people from my school. A different program would be better. Why wasn’t I trying harder to get a different position? How come I wasn’t more concerned that I might not get another internship? How is this going to look on my resume? Is this all I was going to get?
“You’re not doing enough. You need to work harder.”
I was speechless. What had I done wrong? Did I not deserve to be happy? I was I really not doing enough? My thoughts began to race. I was not smart enough, involved enough…why had I believed that I could be happy with this program?
That conversation really upset me. I remember sobbing in my bed and having no motivation to try and move on. But, after having time to reflect on it, I realized that it should not have affected me as much as it did. Since when did other people’s idea of how our life should look or be affect how we truly live? Why do we let other people’s opinion of success and a happy life change what we believe? My life is different from the person sitting next to me and different from my parent’s.
We are all growing; no matter what stage of life we are in. So, no matter where you are in life right now, if you are trying and attempting to achieve your goal in life, (I mean YOUR goal, not your mother’s, not your father’s, not your teacher’s, yours.) then do not let anyone stop you. Your yellow brick road is not the same as mine. Yours may be winding and may have you encounter many witches and wizards before you reach your Emerald City.
Do not look back and stay focused on what you want and what you believe your future holds, because, in the end, you are always enough.
Why is it we always end up wanting people when they don’t want us? Is it the chase? Is it the feeling of being wanted?
After about a year of talking to my girlfriend, I ended it. Things weren’t what they were. Arguing on the phone turned to yelling at each other face to face. The couple we once were just wasn’t existent. I knew it. She knew it. I thought maybe if we took some time off and worked on ourselves that we would eventually find our way back. In a perfect world, that is. In reality, I broke her heart. She was in love with me and I crushed her. I made her feel the lowest she ever has. The loneliest she’s ever felt.
Usually she would always start the conversations. I was the one starting them. Turns out, she found someone else. She already moved on. At first I was okay, but after seeing posts on social media, it got to me. How could she already move on? I thought she was in love with me? I was all of a sudden the one reaching. The one asking questions. The jealous one. I then started to reflect on the times that we had. The connection that we shared. The way she treated me. She would have done anything for me. She was my best friend. How could I let her go? Why didn’t I think of this when I was with her?
The days started to seem longer. I found myself laying in bed just hoping she would text me most of the nights. Now, I was the one that was crushed. I was feeling her pain. I deserved it. I tried to get a second chance. Apologizing for all the times I hurt her. Telling her “it won’t happen again”. Let me tell you, there are only so many “I’m sorry” texts that you can send. I sent them all. You see, the problem is, when you hurt someone so much, they’re so scared that you’ll hurt them again. It’s so easy for them to remember those lonely days when they needed you.
I miss her. Everyday. I can’t believe I pushed her away.
I recently gained this perspective that she was the one all this time. Sitting right in front of me. The person that I’ve asked God to bring me for so long. And I realized all of it, the second she moved on.
At the beginning of each new year it is custom to create a list of resolutions or goals for the upcoming year. Last year my best friend and I drove across the country from South Florida to Los Angeles.
Of course there were dreams I was hoping to fulfill once in California. Dreams of renting an apartment with my best friend, getting a job in Hollywood behind a camera, and just accomplishing what I thought I wanted to achieve at that time.
After weeks of jumping from random places to stay, we fell flat on our faces. I ended up having to find a cheap room to rent off Craigslist, while my best friend had no choice other than to drive up north to Oregon. It’s been eight months since I arrived in California and I’ve worked three different minimum wage jobs, drove for a delivery app service, and found a few PA jobs in the area. For months, I was living under the motto of if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. My Jeep got the death wobble and I spent months going to different places to try and get it repaired. I tried to go the cheap way and ended up with a faulty repair. If I had driven one more mile of the highway the tire would have fallen off and it could have taken my life, as well as the people around me.
All of this was happening while I was living in a small room with no air conditioning, in a little house full of families who spoke almost no English at all. Now some may look at this entire experience as a failure. I mean I did have higher expectations, but I firmly believe everything happens for a reason.
These past months I’ve been pointed in a completely different direction of where I originally wanted to go. While jumping from job to job and experiencing Los Angeles, I found a passion. A passion in which I might have never found if I had not taken a leap of faith and made the 2,500 mile journey here.
So at the beginning of 2017, I have a new set of goals. As I get further and further into my transition it is becoming more apparent that the transgender community is experiencing a lot of hate and ignorance. I want to make a difference. I want to change and educate the way society views transgender individuals. You might be asking how? It’s quite simple. I came out to California wanting to work in film because I love being behind the camera. But Hollywood films really don’t spark any interest in me. I’d rather create films that have a purpose and can do some good in this world.
I honestly have no idea where I’m going to begin and how I am going to execute this dream, but that is what this year is for. So cheers to 2017 and turning dreams into reality.
As we enter 2017, I think we all can agree we are due for some changes. No matter which way you voted, what policies you stand for, what nationality or religion you support — we are entering a new year with a nation more divided than ever.
The Divided States of America. United we do not stand.
I am consistently finding myself wondering what positive changes can be made. How might my daily actions help a world so sorely in need? And if you, the world, are anything like my Facebook friends, you are wondering the same.
This isn’t a life-changing story or even one with a moral, but it’s something that’s been on my mind lately, begging to be shared.
It goes like this: change the world around you and the world around you changes. Think of it like a pebble in a very still pond. You are the pebble, your waves radiate around you in rings, getting larger and larger as they go. Alone, those ripples might seem insignificant. But multiply by a million, and the water moves. Change happens.
This millennial generation, of which I am a part, is one of the most inspired to date. We have access to endless resources and information, and are passionate about improving the world we live in. We know the taste of forward progress towards equality and justice and recognize that moving backward would be unthinkable.
I will admit, I frequently get overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. But that’s why I’m embarking on this mission. After all, we each only have power over those around us. Unless you are the next MLK or Mother Teresa (in which case, show yourself please!), your opportunity for impact will be limited to your circle. Make as many ripples on the water as possible. Surround yourself with good people. Challenge the status quo and the prejudices of your loved ones. Kindly explain problems that others may not see. So much of bigotry is, unfortunately, inherent. Shine a light on it and inspire others to do the same. Expand your network beyond those who share your beliefs. Perhaps you too will learn something! The worst thing we can do is to shelter ourselves and do nothing. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from playing the game.
So let’s get started! Big things start small. They start with us.
This is my resolution for the New Year. And hopefully for all the years that follow.
I’m a shy guy. Bottom line, if I see you and I know you I likely won’t go out of my way to get your attention or to even smile and nod as you pass me by.
With a twin brother and a few very, very, close relationships I have never had to make new relationships on my own. I’ve always been a follower in that sense. Perhaps it was a result of always having one of my best friends with me whether it was my twin brother, my long term ex girlfriend, the comfort of my own mind, or maybe it was even just due to the feeling of exclusion that so many of us introverts feel during middle school and high school, but I never felt the need to be open to people. I never needed more friends. That was the old me. That was the pessimistic adolescent who had a one dimensional comfort zone and wasn’t willing to give it up for anything.
Going to college forced me to just kind of get used to uncomfortable situations and while I became slightly independent it was still just getting into a routine and making it a habit for fourteen weeks at a time. The real change in my personality, what really helped me break out of my shell, was studying abroad in Australia. There are so many moments that I am sure I will write about at some point which contributed to this evolution. Even now, six months after my return, I have been noticing a quality in myself that I never had before. I am confident in myself, optimistic about life, and incredibly happy.
Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that can make that impact. For me, the event that unlocked the hinges of my caged in mind and allowed me to discover my true self was a night in Sydney with one of my best friends. We both arrived in Australia early. I went early just to have a week of free time before my studies began and my friend went early so that he could see a little bit of Australia before going to New Zealand for the semester. We met up for a couple of nights where we stayed in a hostel in the city.
The hostel felt like a scene in Fight Club with the yellow stained walls and tight halls. Our room was the size of a closet with bunk beds barely leaving any walking space. The showers were like the filthy high school showers, except these ones are shared with a bunch of international strangers. Who knows where all of those bodies have been? Yet there was a sense of freedom there that I had not felt before. Everyone was a traveler. Everyone had a story. And there I was, silently standing under the water of my own stall with no stories of great adventure, only the thrill of the ones that had not yet come.
My friend, Thomas, was in the stall next to me. He had no shell to break out of, no fear of what others thought or even any doubts about his capability to study abroad. He blasted Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” which was the first time that I allowed myself to stop worrying that everyone who entered the bathroom could hear it. We simply made our presence known, even if it was as the annoying blokes from America.
However, when I finished my shower and went to brush my teeth I realized that all of my anxiety was unnecessary as individuals from all over Europe and Australia were singing along to Thomas’ music. Not only was the atmosphere stress free and completely euphoric, but also everyone I passed smiled and said hello.
We decided our night would begin with some drinks in our room, but our ultimate goal was to meet new people. We didn’t have any expectations for who to meet, how many people to meet, or even how we would meet them; all we knew was that wherever the night took us, we wanted to meet someone.
When we were all set to get the night started, we left the hostel to go get a quick bite. Neither of us had purchased SIM cards, so we had no way of finding directions or anything, we just blindly left the only place in the city that we knew. We only walked a few blocks before we found an outlet with multiple options. Guzman y Gomez, basically the Australian version of Chipotle, is where we had our meal. It did not disappoint. On the way back we found a liquor store and purchased the cheapest thing we could find because alcohol in Australia is surprisingly expensive. We got a box of five liters of cheap wine for ten bucks and right then and there I knew that with my budget this would be my drink for the next six months.
Right before we got back to the hostel to start drinking, we caught a familiar scent, something we hadn’t had the luxury of smelling since leaving the states; marijuana. Thomas and I looked at each other and it was clear we were thinking the same thing—what better way to meet someone. So we followed our noses. All of the sudden we were walking against the crowd of people that filled the city sidewalks, weaving our way this way and that all the while making sure not to lose the scent. We were like dogs tracking down a long lost friend and finally, about two blocks from our hostel, we spotted a group of four young men sitting in an alleyway.
“Hey! Sorry to bother!” Thomas called out. “Any chance you guys know where we could find some greens?”
“No, sorry mate.” They all called back as they scrambled to cover their bag. Thomas and I were fixed on getting high at this point, and we weren’t ready to take no for an answer. We walked down the alley an approached the guys.
“Sorry, we just arrived in Sydney, we have money, any chance we could smoke with you guys?” Thomas was clearly the more experienced social being as I just sort of observed. The four strangers looked at each other and exchanged words in German before welcoming us to take a seat with them. Thomas and I decided to sit on opposite ends in order to really make sure there was no division of culture of cliques. We ended up sitting with them for about twenty minutes just smoking and getting to know one and other. Turns out these guys were around the same age as us, German students traveling during their gap year. And as luck would have it, we found them on their last night in Australia, and since they couldn’t fly with the marijuana they ended up giving us all they had left along with some tobacco and rolling papers.
We said farewell and safe travels to our newfound international friends and, in a pleasant daze, floated back to the hostel with senseless pride in our step. Back in our two man closet of a room, I began pouring the wine while Thomas prepared a couple spliffs fro the night. We decided to start the night with a movie, of course to drink to it, and settled on “Without a Paddle.” We looked up rules for the drinking game, but quickly realized that the bunch of goons in the movie reminded us all too much of our buddies back home. Very quickly, it became a game of us drinking any time the characters did or said anything that one of our old friends would have done or said. We drank a lot.
The wine was bitter, like expired carbonated orange juice, or something like that if you can imagine it. Before we knew it the five liters were gone and the hostel’s wifi managed to keep us from finishing the movie. We had a nice buzz going now, and any anxiety I had was erased by the comfort of my stoned mind and the warmth of my semi drunk self.
We looked up directions to Hyde Park in Sydney before leaving the hostel. Once we stepped out again we knew we wouldn’t have any way of finding directions unless we asked for help. The city was crowded on every sidewalk, but the air was warm and we welcomed the cluelessness that met us on the city streets. We didn’t even know which side of the sidewalk to walk on. Our first intoxicated journey was a successful one, for we found the park pretty quickly. The park seemed like a whole new world, all the commotion of the city was left at the steps and a serenity I had never experienced in a city before welcomed me as if I was a dwarf fortunate enough to find himself welcome in Lothlórien among the elves.
The trees were all thick at the base and spread high and wide with endless branches that formed godly umbrellas over us, yet the protection they provided also cast a shadow upon us that even the lights along the path could not eliminate. Bats hung from the branches, not just any bats; they looked like foxes with wings. And rats scurried from barrel to barrel scavenging anything mankind had left for them before the sunset. The homeless had mattresses set up in the corners of the park and covered themselves in whatever they could find be it leaves newspaper or torn up blankets. As we sat on a bench and prepared to spark the first spliff, we found a pack of saltines next to us. Next thing we know, a creature we had not ever seen before was slowly approaching. It looked like a lemur, and we honestly thought that’s what it was. Yet we were confused because we were not sure that lemurs could be found in Australia. On top of that, we had no cell service to look it up, so we simply appreciated how cute it was and welcomed it to our little clique.
We broke up some of the saltines and created a trail for our little buddy to come join us. He was hesitant at first, but soon he was sitting right next to me with a full cracker in his hands nibbling away as we smoked. At first we just looked at him and enjoyed his company until we decided he had to be one of the boys. So we gave him a little pat on the back and as if to avoid being hunted he bolted away. Moments later, however, the little critter was back. We pet him again and he allowed us to. We built a trust that seemed foreign to him. We made a friend.
When all the saltines were gone and the spliff was out we said our goodbyes and were on our way. When we said we wanted to meet someone that night we didn’t realize that it didn’t have to be human. Our world was opening up and we found an acceptance for all forms of life and an appreciation for the trust we built with this unknown creature from down under.
As we walked through the park we agreed that the next spliff was to be shared with a stranger. It didn’t take us long to find who we wanted to share it with, the only other people in the park at that time of night that were awake was a group of two girls and a guy sitting in the grass talking.
We approached them slowly, but without any caution because our minds had us in a place where fear and doubt were nonexistent and the hatred that so many of us experience in life today was a myth to our imagination. Thomas led the way once again and did the usual “hey there, hate to bother, my names Thomas, this is Pat,” I waved awkwardly with a smile of intoxicated uncertainty. “We just arrived from the United States, would it be alright if we sat with you for a bit? We have a spliff if any of you smoke.” He finished. The three exchanged glances, not of uncertainty, but of amused curiosity, and they allowed us to join them as they shifted to create room for us to sit. We introduced ourselves and became acquainted before the first moment of silence arrived. It was at this moment when I finally stepped up to keep the conversation alive.
“What are those animals all over the park?” I asked as Thomas and I both broke into laughter.
“Yeah, yeah what are those? Are they like lemurs or something?” Thomas added. Our three new friends all just laughed at our ignorance as we continued with our tale.
“Yeah, definitely lemurs, but I didn’t think there were lemurs outside of Madagascar.” I said.
“No!” The blonde girl finally yelled out. “You aren’t talking about a possum are you?”
“No, no way, that thing wasn’t a possum.” Thomas defended. “We know possums, that was not a possum.”
“Yeah no, I wouldn’t play with a possum. We were petting that thing and chilling with it!” I added.
They proceeded to make fun of us for a few minutes stating how gross and annoying the possums in Sydney are. Thomas and I decided to laugh it off and felt no shame due to the fact that these possums were far cuter than any possum back home.
We went on to talk for about an hour with local Australian’s before they got up and left looking for somewhere to eat. When we said goodbye, it was pleasant and quick. Within that hour, I heard about bogan’s for the first time and about slang terms often used in Australia. We traded facts about life on opposite sides of the world; they made fun of us for potentially having Trump as our next president and proceeded to poke fun at their own politics as well. Everything about the conversation was so easy and relaxed, free of judgment. We shared our spliff and they shared their joint, and as they walked away from Thomas and I we didn’t even care that they had forgotten to return our only lighter.
We began to wander in the city once more and decided we wanted to find a Subway. I had been in Sydney a few days longer than Thomas and I knew there was one at Sydney Harbor, but that walk would have been about forty minutes from where we were.
“Oh wow, guess I’m not gonna see the Opera House.” Thomas laughed as he was reminded of the most popular tourist attraction in Australia besides all the beaches. “Gives me a reason to come back.” He remained optimistic.
At that point, I also remembered seeing one at Darling Harbor, which was much closer, and I thought I could remember how to get us there. We walked for about twenty minutes before we decided to stop and try to ask someone, but it was getting later and Sydney seems to get quiet pretty early on weeknights.
It took us a few minutes longer than expected to find someone in a major city, but we finally found a man walking by himself and asked him for directions to Darling Harbor. He pointed us in the right direction and as we were thanking him Thomas decided to ask if he had an extra cigarette. The man was kind enough to give us one, but as we began to walk away we both realized we no longer had a lighter. I turned around and quickly apologized for stopping the man again before asking if he had an extra. Without any hesitation the man gave us the only one he had and said he had plenty at home. We thanked him again and continued on our quest for Subway.
About twenty minutes later we began to worry that the man had given us wrong directions or that we were just clueless as to how to follow them. We discussed turning around or even trying to find somewhere else to eat, but we were set on Subway, and we were excited to be back by the water before making the journey back to the crowded hostel. We were walking down one of the main streets and I noticed an elevated train track that I had seen before, but it wasn’t Darling Harbor. I began to chuckle lightly, but decided not to tell Thomas what it was about. We walked under the tracks and about twenty steps later the Opera House appeared towering over us with a heavenly glow in the night sky. Thomas’ became wide eyed as he realized what he was seeing.
“Guess you get to see the Opera House after all.” I said. We both broke into heavy laughter. Subway was closed, our feet were sore and our minds numb, but we accidentally found the Sydney Opera House on a night that quickly became one the most incredible nights of my life. Not only did I get to share it with a life long friend on the other side of the world from where we come, but also got to find a part of myself that I never knew was there. I discovered a part of humanity that society so often hides from the public.
We did not know a single person other than each other that night, but we were hardly ever alone. After Thomas left for New Zealand and I met up with my program for orientation, I had no doubt that I would be able to continue creating memories similar to that night. I was excited to meet as many people as I could and to enjoy every second of my time there. Thomas never realized how much he helped me break out of my shell that night, but I owe a lot of the friendships I made in Australia to him.
Do you know why people hug when they are in pain? To place a boundary on the suffering. To draw a line where the pain can extend to. Without such a line, one’s agony will push out and is inherently less controllable. I have only experienced this type of embrace once in my life.
As a high schooler, I arrived to school each day before any student and most teachers. This was so I could spend time with one instructor in particular. Every morning, without ever formally communicating with one another, we knew we would both be there. Before even the sun. After having multiple classes with this teacher throughout my high school career, he became a mentor as well as instructor. A friend.
Shortly after the holidays of my senior year, I receive word. The sort of word one does not wish to receive. The sort of word I never heard before. A panic ensued within me, spread from the tips of my fingers to the tips of my toes. It’s the same panic I feel in my hands as I type now, years later.
Immediately following my panic came my guilt. This was a kind of a guilt that was previously unknown to my body. Standing in the middle of a Chick-Fil-A, just after hearing the news, my guilt buckled me over and I grabbed my gut. It was at this point that I could feel my discomfort and pain reaching out in all directions, uncontrollable.
Rushing home, I told my mother the news. It was then that she held me. Held me together in one piece. She drew the line for my pain. I listened intently as she explained to me that there is devastation in the world that is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend.
She advised me to not be angry, because there is no sense in focusing on the past or placing blame. Guilt is useless in some scenarios.
After a while, the conversation came to an end. Her words were of comfort. And what remains with me years later is simply the feel of her arms holding me. Not allowing me to crumble. Placing a limit to how much sadness I could feel in those moments.
However, my mother was only able to help me back up. She did not do it single-handedly nor unilaterally. This is where one’s own independence and sentience is the final step to picking oneself up, because people cannot help those who do not wish to help themselves.
It was the combination of my own acceptance and strength working in tandem with my mother’s love that allowed me to move on and limit the guilt I feel on this 3rd anniversary of one of my closest friend’s suicide.
It’s just after noon on
A wet, cold
I find myself ¾
Of the way
From the front of a rather
Bedraggled but colorful
Showing up as
In a world of Sundays
Have ever expected
To find themselves
Heirs to fortunes
To cardboard fruit-box
To recycled plastic target bags
To large rolling black zippered suitcases
Waiting. Each knowing they would have a turn
Groups of three enter respectfully
With anticipation in their eyes
Exits the door
Food to fill the belly
Food to calm the soul
Food to quiet the fears
Food to reassure
For this week
There would be.
They would not go to bed hungry.
And next week
The line will form
The dance begin
I find myself again
A former chef
Known in my community
The same as every other hungry belly
And I find
As much as anyone
And perhaps in my own way
My own experience
Far beyond the silenced
Belly crying out in hunger
I once hid
Believing my presence
Proved I had “failed”
Has now become
A door to
[They say the hearth is the heart of the home. Perhaps food kitchens are the souls of today’s splintered society.]
Most of the people there were going through hard times, like myself.
My deepest held beliefs were again shown to be true to me. we are all one. And
Love IS the answer. For with love comes acceptance
With acceptance there is naturally tolerance.
If we tolerate we have an opening to listen.
By listening we have the opportunity to understand.
When we understand we have the ability to embrace.
If we are holding someone
How is it possible to wage war or experience
Hatred towards them?
[Love is the root of the answer to every question]
Our house and rental house next door was burglarized yesterday. No one was physically harmed as nobody was home except the 3 cats. I can’t imagine how scared they felt. The cops said it happens in as little as 4 minutes. How is it that someone can totally flip you upside down in 4 minutes?
Our home was completely trashed, valuables stolen, heirlooms stripped away and door frames busted. It was like a hurricane swept through. Drawers, cabinets, desks, closets completely torn apart and scattered across the stone cold floor. My mother got the call at 3:30 pm from our trusted maid saying there was signs of a break in. She immediately rushed home and called the cops. The day of all days we didn’t set our alarm because the maid was coming and the day my dad started a new job, so he wasn’t home.
They were tracking our every move, notating the times we came and went, counting the number of cars, studying us like a science experiment while just lurking around the corner. If you’ve been to our home, there are 4 foot wide canvases of our family pictures everywhere. How is it that someone upon breaking in not stop to think these are real people who are well respected in the community who love and support each other and we are about to totally uproot their life? There are people in this world that are lost and confused and angry for whatever reason I can’t comprehend.
Total violation of trust, security, worth, dignity, pride, and self confidence. How do you emotionally move on from this? Not literally as time will pass, and we will repair or replace what we can and rebuild our lives. But how do you truly move on?
Bad things happen to good people.
We are thankful for all the friends and family who came over last night or called to provide moral support. We are thankful for Cobb County Police Dept for being on top of it. We will pick ourselves up and carry on. We learned from our mistakes and will take better precaution next time. Trusting others and feeling safe will take time to rebuild, but I’m hopeful.
New Year’s resolutions have always baffled me. You always hear the same things—exercise more, eat better, learn something new, travel more, and stress less. While we all want better health, to be in the know, and to experience the world, creating these broad and generic resolutions often lead to lack of follow through. That’s the running joke, isn’t it? When the “new year, new you” only lasts for a week or so. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
All of our resolutions are made with good intentions and goals in mind, but what they lack is personalization and tangible action steps to make them happen. I’ve realized this year after year as I fail to achieve what I set out for, yet I have never tried to change that. Until now.
I’ve never truly made an effort to create resolutions that I stick to for more than a week or so, but this year felt different. I recently read an incredible book, “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, and it rocked my world. It transformed the way I looked at goal setting and goal achieving. The premise of the book is that anyone can find happiness with the cards they’re played.
Rubin set out 12 resolutions for herself, one for each month, with tangible and specific ways to make every single resolution a reality. As I flipped page by page through the book, I realized how Rubin had created an approachable way to accomplishing those daunting resolutions. For example, instead of just “cultivating friendships”, it became remembering birthdays, no gossiping, cutting people slack, and bringing people together. What she did was break down her big hairy audacious goal, which seemed intimidating, into doable tasks and actions that she could focus on every day. As simple as this may seem, it opened my eyes.
So then the new year rolled around, sneaked up on me as it always does, and I knew I wanted to actually make something out of my resolutions. I looked to see what I needed to do to be more fulfilled, happy, and confident in 2017. As I developed my list, I realized that each one had a story behind it and that’s what made them more meaningful and more approachable, than say the typical “Eat healthier” resolution. I felt a deeper connection to my new resolutions and felt a drive to achieve them that I’d never felt before. It was the stories and the people that inspired them and brought them to life. It is those same stories and people that will serve as reminders throughout 2017 why I am doing what I am doing.
For the first time in my life, I am going to take my resolutions seriously and not just brush it off my shoulder if I don’t follow through. I’m hoping that this year will serve as a foundation for me in the future to help to learn how to create a goal and actually make it happen.
So bring it on 2017, I’m ready.
Ever since I was a little girl, it was put into my head that I had to have a certain appearance, that I needed to be a certain size, and that if I did not fit this criteria that I was not pretty enough. As a woman, I felt from a very young age that I had to be a certain way.
Because of the pressure from media, peers, and family, at 11 years old, I headed on a dangerous path and no one realized until it until my senior year of high school. By then, it was almost too late. I did not realize myself the path that I was on until the summer after my freshman year of college, when I had almost ruined everything.
When I was 11, I made it my sole mission to become a cheerleader. I had always wanted to be one and since I was going to be starting middle school the next year, I wanted to start training and learning everything that I needed to know. At the time, I thought that I was way too skinny. I was bullied on a daily basis for everything from my eyes being too big to being a stick because as an African-American girl, I should of had some sort of junk in my trunk.
From that moment on I started working out more, joined my school’s cross country team, and started watching what I ate. I did not really notice a difference at first and I honestly think that no one else did either. I kept this up for two years and even started to skip meals at school. I wouldn’t eat lunch or breakfast and tried to eat as small of a dinner as possible. Pretty soon, I noticed a difference and I was beginning to get more comfortable with how I looked. Then, I moved back to Georgia and started high school.
Over the course of the summer before my freshman year, I gained who knows how much weight and I still really haven’t forgave myself for it. Due to where I lived at, I really wasn’t able to do sports anymore, so I picked up dancing and started watching what I ate even more so. My sophomore year, it was found out that I had stomach ulcers and I had to change my diet drastically, which meant less fatty salty foods and this was not a problem for me. I kept dancing and started to eat less and even made myself throw up just for added measure. No one noticed and that was completely okay.
I started to look for ways to lose weight and look the way that I was supposed to look. I basically continued on this path through my senior year of high school and even became a vegetarian just to have more control over my weight and what I put into my body. Unfortunately, I started fainting a lot and no one could figure out why and they still can’t.
I continued to struggle even after I graduated from high school and when I did work crew at SharpTop Cove, things started to turn around. I started to eat a little bit better and I started to get healthier. I even stopped counting my calories and worrying as much about my weight as I had in the past. Things seemed to be getting better until I went to college and nearly destroyed everything. I let my weight and my need to be perfect and fit into the world’s mold of what is acceptable take control of everything in my life and got broken in the process.
When I went to college in the fall of 2013 at Maryville, I hit a complete low point. I was hardly eating and instead of gaining the freshman 15 I started the freshman negative 20. I was rapidly losing weight and looked horrible. My friends were worried and I was counting every single calorie that I ate down to the exact amount. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that I realized that I had a huge problem. I ended up doing a program through YoungLife called Discipleship Focus and started to realize that I did not need to conform to the world’s idea of beauty. I was already beautiful in God’s eyes and that was really matters. I did not need to be a certain weight or size to be accepted because I already was, by a God who truly loves me without end and who will continue to do so.
I am still recovering now and trying to rebuild what got destroyed, but in a healthy and productive way. I still have a long ways to go, but I can no longer say that I am anorexic or bulimic. I remember a time when I couldn’t admit that I had a problem or that I needed help. I continued to hide behind a mask and pretend that I was alright until I could no longer do it. I let my weight and size define me for 9 years and sometimes I still revert back to my old way of thinking, but I take everyday as a victory. I am not my weight, nor my size and neither are you. Each and every single one of you are beautiful and truly loved.
Typically, as the holiday season approaches, many people’s first thought is “oh crap, relatives.” Aunts and Uncles fill your home as well as distant relatives whose name you can’t quite remember. You cook, eat, clean, sleep, repeat until your pants fit a little bit tighter and your nerves wear thin of Uncle Rob’s political opinions.
And then the day comes. Santa and his reindeer have come and gone leaving gifts behind for good girls and boys. Before you know it, in the midst of all the Christmas cheer, time gets away from you and the holiday is over bringing in the new year. And with the new year comes new resolutions.
People say they are going to go to the gym more, eat healthier, be smarter with money, and a whole lot of other things that they hope they can accomplish to improve their lives. This year, I have a one resolution I hope to stick to moving into 2017. That resolution is to remember the people who impacted me the most, and one person in particular comes to mind.
This person is someone I have known for a very long time. Someone who helped raise me, loved me as her own. Someone who lived a hard life but never let the challenges defeat her.
Let’s start out with her story. I remember the day she told me how she came to live in America. I was on the playset in her backyard on the swings, my favorite. I loved how it felt when I flew through the hair, weightless, seeing how high I could go if I just swung my legs a little harder. She walked into the backyard and started swinging with me. We talked about random things for a little bit until I asked her about her childhood.
She came from a place filled with civil unrest. Her childhood was not easy. I remember her telling me one time as a little girl she was at school playing outside for recess. She was with her friends running and laughing, until she fell down a hill beside the playground. She got up, brushed herself off, and walked back up the hill. What she found when she got to the top of the hill shocked me. Her school had been blown up. She never told me if there were survivors, or what happened after that.
She then began to tell me there was a point in time in her life where she had to leave her home to find safety. She would travel from different locations, stopping at houses looking for food. Kind strangers would give her something to eat, but would tell her she could not take anything with her. This was because soldiers would attack the homes of the people that helped this innocent girl just try to survive. She then told me they would dig holes to sleep for just a moment when traveling, because if they stayed too long, soldiers would throw bombs in their burrows to kill them.
What I mentioned are just a few of the things she went through. Yet she is still one of the kindest people I have ever known. She didn’t let the struggles she faced harden her heart.
She has four children, three of which she adopted. She took these children in because their parents were killed or they didn’t have a home. I can remember her telling me should would tell her husband not to go into the back bedroom because she had found and taken in another child. Through all of her own pain and suffering, she had so much love to give. She wanted to help these children escape a life on the run as she once had. Give them something more than shelter, give them a home.
I can remember her or her husband picking me up from school every day when I was a little girl. And every day I was just as excited as the day before to go over and play. I walked out the back of my elementary school across the playground and walked up smiling to great either of them. Then one day she became very sick. So sick they had to put a halo on her.
Imagine a back brace with two metal rods that stick up straight into the air in the front and in the back. Those four rods are then screwed into the skill and secured with a metal circle around the top. I know this sounds confusing, painful, and scary, and it was. It pained me so much to see her like that, someone I loved so much suffering when she’s been nothing but kind and loving.
There was a period of time where she thought she may not live. When my mom sat me down to tell me the news I was heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine not seeing her almost every day. I remembered she let my sister and I, who she also babysat, pick out jewelry in case she did pass. She wanted us to have something to remember her by. I have a necklace that I still wear to this day and cherish. It is a simple gold necklace with a single jade bead. Whenever I wear it I feel as though I’m taken back through time. That same little girl sitting with her having tea parties, playing board games, and swinging on that swing set.
Thank God she survived and is still with us today. I cannot imagine having grown up without her influence. She is someone who never got angry in times would most people would become upset. She always carried herself with grace. She is someone who has survived more than I ever have or most likely will. In times when I am quick to anger or think life is unfair, I try to remember that things can always be worse, and people go through the same struggles or much worse every day and still choose to be kind, loving, and hopeful. That is what she always is.
I always find it ironic when she got sick that she had to wear a halo. She never complained about the pain or the fact she may not live. She still played with me, just a little girl, not understanding the magnitude of the situation. She still made time for me in her life when her time could have been short. She loved me as her own and that is something I will always treasure. She suffered so much, but never let is phase her. As they say, James Russell Lowell once said, “all angels come to us disguised” and I truly believe she is an angel to this day.
I could’ve written and posted this piece at 12:01am on New Year’s Day. But, I wanted to wait. I wanted to analyze my 2016. I wanted to remember the highs and the lows, the moments when I had all the Instagram likes and when my phone was Sahara Desert dry. 2016 was the best year of my life, but for many others it was their worst. I wanted a piece to reflect that symmetry and showcase the beauty in the struggle.
Dude, Prince died. PRINCE. How do you get rid of Purple Rain? We lost a lot of great celebrities in 2016: Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, David Bowie, and let’s not forget the legend that is Muhammad Ali.
2016 taught me that life is short. It was humbling seeing the legends we grew up admiring struggling and eventually passing. As a child, you believed certain people were bigger than life. Prince was definitely that for me, and when I head he passed, it was an eye-opening experience.
Even if they are legendary, they’re still human. We like to put celebrities in this glass house, but then get upset when we can see the smears and cracks. I learned in 2016 that life is tough and always celebrate the legends.
I learned this over my four years at the University of Georgia, but it didn’t hit home until I was ready to leave this year. It’s always bigger than you. Your result is never the end game; it’s about the next person’s result. You should be setting the next person behind for success.
The most important thing anyone can do is positively affect their community. For me in 2016, that was my biggest struggle. I served my community at UGA, but I never really appreciated it until after I left. I took it for granted. I used to think it interfered with time I could’ve been making films and reporting stories.
Now, while I’m doing the latter, I miss serving my community. My biggest challenge to myself in 2017 is to find the balance. I learned in 2016 that personal gain is not more important than community.
It’s the terribly racist, sexist, spray-tanned, toupee’ wearing elephant in the room. He, who shall not be named, gave us all a reminder in 2016. As progressive and open we try to pretend America is, there is still a large section (48% of the popular vote to be exact) that wouldn’t agree with that rhetoric.
He preached hate, mocked a disabled reporter, lied at every turned and still became president. What do you tell kids now? It used to be if you worked hard, treated people with respect, and was a good person you will be rewarded.
Now, they see a bigot in office who got there by bullying and being dishonest. What message does that send? In 2016, hate won. Racists, Sexists, bigots, and all those who oppose equality in every sense of the word took their country back. I just hope in 2017, love can win again. I learned in 2016 that America is more divided than any of us ever knew.
I had the blessing in 2016 to chase my dream, and I’m living proof that you can have everything you ever wished for. No goal is too big or out of reach. If you’re passionate about it, chase it. Live, don’t just be alive.
Don’t settle in a job because it pays well. Of course, the money is nice, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. But, you shouldn’t deny yourself your dreams just because the paycheck looks good.
Additionally, you can’t let other deter or talk you out of your dreams. Is it risky? Absolutely. Is it time consuming and arduous? You bet it is. If you never chase your dream, you’ll always be left with that what if question, and nothing eats at your core more than the “what-if.”
If you can’t bet on yourself, who can you? In 2016, I learned that you can’t hide your gift from the world. It’s too selfish.
On January 3, 2017 I moved to the District of Columbia for an internship with United States Representative David Scott from Georgia. I say this because I have now supplanted myself at the political center of America and the pertinence of understanding my feelings of this regarding the greatest country in the world speaks to me now more than ever.
For an African-American male who has always felt like I am in a constant battle with an institution that is not built for me, working towards success comes with enough setbacks and disappointment of itself, requiring a hint of inspiration or hope to keep going in the midst of it all. President Barack H. Obama was that hope. To amount to the highest office in the world in the field that I take interest in was all of the hope and inspiration that I needed. But as that beacon of possibility is set to retreat from the spotlight I search for the thing that will now keep me going in the future.
In that very search I begin to reevaluate my status in this country and whether or not my ability to amount to the success I dream for is even possible. The drive is there. The passion is there. The fight is there.
Countless times those that look like me are wrapped up in an unjust justice system that treats them unequally to counterparts. Too many times those who could be my family members are on the receiving end of unwarranted force often leading to their beautiful souls settling in a better place. Too often is the balance of the financial market tilted toward the few leaving the struggling of the many. These are just a few things to mention. These are all things too close to home.
I believe my purpose in this world is when all is said and done to eliminate these unfortunate beliefs from the young minds that will find themselves in my same position somewhere down the road. But the road is brutally tough.
Setting aside partisanship and political bias, this country lives at a time where bigotry and marginalization has become a social norm—again. Just as this country had begun to move forward and I felt as if inclusiveness had pieced together a broken country, it all fell down. In a boomerang effect it had reverted right back to where it all began. This country is definitely not where it once was, but it is also not where it should be. It is demoralizing and dampens the spirit of hope.
Finding my place in the field of politics my calling is to help people. I truly want to make a change; a difference in as many lives as possible by the time my body releases its last breath. I desire to be that change I wish to see. But even I need help and sometimes when I look up the ladder for someone to help pull me up, it feels as if they are removing the rungs as I try to climb. Each and every day I wake up and work to ensure that I can move past all of the trials and tribulations and find hope in God, because often times He is all there is.
So although it may not be the most inspiring time to be alive, the greatest thing about problems is that there is a solution to be found. I hope my story will be drastically different weeks, months, or hopefully not too many years from now. But faith as small as a mustard seed can lead to possibilities unimaginable. I intend to put my head down and pledge to move this country forward, and through all of the darkness, I will find the light.
2016 was quite a year. It was full of events and emotions that are difficult to put into words. What I have finally been able to dictate about 2016 are my own feelings about the year in politics.
When I first decided to write something about the politics of 2016 it was much angrier, more intense and accusatory. I was hurt, confused and for the first time in my life, truly doubtful of our nation. Those feelings have evolved after listening and making a valiant effort to understand.
What I would like to discuss though is not necessarily about the political antics displayed during the year, rather, what people are actually upset about, why people supported the president elect and why it is important that we understand both sides of the coin.
I was 100 percent for one candidate. I actually said to a survey caller one time in October that I was 1,000 percent for one of the candidates because at that time, another skeleton had been found in the opposing candidates closet and I was roaring to express my disdain. Now that time has passed, my emotions have simmered and I have really listened to what people have to say about the election, I think it is time to try to understand one another; to listen without the intention of responding, rather listen with the intention of trying to fully understand and then responding thoughtfully, respectfully and thoroughly.
To do this, I have asked friends and family of mine to explain their fears associated with the upcoming presidency. I am doing this in the hopes that one side of the coin will be explained and so that I may better understand what the other side of the coin supports.
Below are quotes from friends and family of mine that have expressed their fears of the president-elect’s future presidency:
“I fear that Donald Trump doesn’t completely grasp the values that make our American democracy great. He has threatened to jail his political opponents and members of the press, he has said he wants to remove vast groups of people from the Land of the Free, and time and time again he has demonstrated he doesn’t believe all men (and women) are created equal.”
“I think one of my biggest fears of his impending presidency is how he’s changing the mentality of the country- meaning that I’m concerned he’s instilling hatred of diversity, tolerance, and pluralism.”
“A man who publicly mocked the disabled, who blatantly bragged about doing whatever he wanted to women without their permission and who ran a campaign solely on hateful rhetoric was elected into the highest position in office. My concern is that hate will be normalized and if that happens there’s no telling where this country is headed.”
“My fears are that the social atmosphere that his campaign and possibly his presidency will create/ have created will make the world a more dangerous and toxic place for people within minorities. That’s not to say he will do a bad job, that is really to highlight that he inspires people to act in scary ways.”
I have heard people express disgust when speaking about the protestors after the election. People saying things like “they just need to get over it” or “are you kidding me?! Their classes are canceled?!” What I have not heard though from these same people is any sort of commentary about why these people actually feel the way they do.
Why though are we discounting other people’s real fears and emotions? Why are we dehumanizing them as if what they have to say does not matter? Why are we not trying to listen to their fears and understand why they are so upset?
Their lives matter. Their opinions matter. Their emotions matter. Their fears matter.
Just as much as yours do.
We should be listening.
Just as I have explained the fears associated with the future presidency, I would like to listen and understand why other people chose to support our future president. I do not believe everyone that supported the president-elect is what people are accusing them of – racist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. I know there are reasons why people supported the president-elect other than those accusations. Help me and others understand why you chose him.
I have no promises that I will agree with what is said or be less fearful myself of the years to come, however, it would be negligent of me not to try to understand the opposing opinion just as I have challenged supporters to understand us.
Let me be clear, I am not suggesting we can come to an agreement, I am suggesting we make a full, well-intended effort to understand one another, humanize one another and prepare each other for the United States we (or at least I) want to have:
One of peace. One of understanding. One of fairness. One of equality. One of acceptance. One of love.
To other people who are fearful of the future presidency: What are your fears? Please continue to share so we may all work together to make our country a safer place.
To supporters: Why did you support the president-elect? Please continue to share so we may all work together to make our country a more tolerant place.
To those of you who did not vote: Why did you decide not to vote? Please continue to share so we may all work together to make our country a more relatable place.
When I was younger, the things I disliked about myself the most was my ethnicity, my legs, and my constant thinking. It took me many years to realize that these differences were my strengths.
The first time someone asked me “what I was” (See Explaining Your Ethnic Situation), I was five or six and confidently stated, “White.” I thought that was the correct answer to any and all situations, or I didn’t know what they were talking about.
Up until then—growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta—I had a suspicion I was something other than white. We spoke in a different language at home; cooked with a lot of spices and ate fermented foods; and, most obviously, I looked different. Yes, these were differences, but could they possibly amount to something important like identity? It marked the introduction of an identity crisis.
Not much time passed after that initial encounter before I realized I was Korean. It was only hours later my brother informed me of the truth over a fit of laughter, realizing his little sister thought she was white. Being that young, I remember thinking, “So what does this mean?”
I could have non-Asian friends, I could choose Britney or Ludacris over Korean music, and I was free to layer myself in Hollister (Hello 2000’s).
I was as enthusiastic about being Korean as I was when my mom bought me a congratulatory cake for getting my period. It’s true… No ethnic background could have saved me from pressing myself into the mold I perceived as southern suburbia.
I have always had large, muscular legs—or what kids would call tree trunks—something I inherited from my dad. At age twelve, I started training harder for tennis and my legs grew wider and all the more muscular, making it impossible to find good jeans (still a problem).
There’s the age preschoolers hit when they become walking and wailing broken records stuck on “Why?” They ask, or rather, demand whys regardless of the explanation. Despite a little less wailing, I never quite grew out of that phase; I posed questions to myself and turned the answers over and over until I thought of more questions.
People like to say to me, “Don’t overthink it.” If there was a penny for every time someone offered me that piece of advice, the world would be drowned in a flood of pennies. I believe I do have a “rich inner life,” as the great Amy Schumer puts it.
I’ve fallen mercy to it in situations where being present and interaction with others is expected. Socializing, I think is what they call it. It often felt debilitating; I’d think out my responses, weighing them against the replies I’d thought I’d get.
And so, my inner monologue was also one of self-criticism. Sure, children can be cruel, but none are worse than your own demons that feed on your insecurities.
The commonality among all of these qualities was that they each made me different; they made me feel different because I didn’t match up to the people around me. The essence of what I craved was acceptance. Our default setting is to slap judging labels on qualities that threaten our shot at it.
It’s only later, through broader experiences, that I realized differences aren’t dangerous, they’re what makes us who we are. In accepting them in myself, I could love them in others.
It took a long time to come to terms with my heritage, my body, and the way I’m wired. And it’s still taking time. But having experienced Korean culture firsthand during time spent with my relatives in Seoul; after winning matches thanks to the power and speed of my legs; and after meaningful conversations that arose from asking too many questions, the things I disliked about myself are now the ones I celebrate these days.
Noises they surround us all the time. Noises I want to escape. But how long will I be on the run. How am I going to do what I am supposed to do? Fear of failure because I have never experienced one before. Frustration when I so want to give up but can’t. Why can’t I concentrate, why can’t I be happy and cheerful like people around me? What I am looking for? Am I on a quest for a thing that is not even there?
These are noises in my head and one such night these took a toll on me. I started crying, I didn’t know what I was crying for? I was angry; I wanted to smash something just so I can get over this feeling. I am not sad but I am not happy either. I don’t know how to say it, but somehow I did manage to tell my friend that I am not alright. She understood. She consoled me and that was all I needed.
One thing that I am grateful for is I never lose control over myself. I know something is wrong before it turns into something worse. So I decided to pen it down. The next morning I woke up and decided to look for a solution to lead a healthy life.
Let me make it clear, I never had any suicidal thoughts. I have always loved being alive. I understood the value of life when I saw some poor people living by the roadside in very palpable conditions, yet clinging to life. I knew then and there, how privileged I am.
But something was not quite right. You can hide it from the world but not yourself. So I decided to do introspection, to know what went wrong and where?
I found out it is not a thing that happens out of the blue. It is a gradual process. It doesn’t matter if you have a boring daily routine or a pre-planned day. It is when you work hard to meet the expectation of others, not yours. When you work hard enough but there is no reward. When you think why things come easily to other people. You start comparing each and everything. Such comparisons lead to nothing but a void feeling. That is the void no one else can fill but you. When you don’t have a direction to go, things start to scatter all over the place. You don’t know which one to collect first. I learnt it the hard way but at least now I have an understanding. My whole experience taught me this:
I had 12 goals for this year. I have written them in my journal. One day when I was crossing some of them off the list, I realized how some of them had become obsolete. They make no sense to me. So much changes in a year. I have successfully checked off some goals. It became clear to me that my goals are ever changing. So rather than planning my year I should plan my monthly goals so that I have an understanding where I am heading and how many of them are still valid or invalid to me.
There was a course that I had to complete and take the exam. But the fear that no matter how prepared I am I’ll fail, is all over my mind(even when I am writing this). The year is coming to an end and I am still not over my fear. In this moment, I told myself that one failure won’t decide the course of my life if it somehow happens to be so. I have to believe in myself and give my best. Just get it done with.
You won’t be able to understand your own issue until you try and talk to someone who understands. Talking gives your emotions a way out. It clears the blur picture. On the crossroads of life it is a best medicine. I now have a better understanding what is going wrong and how I can be back on track.
In this race of chasing of the goals we are so self-indulge that we have no sense of time. We lose that touch with ourselves, our feelings. I was always in a hurry because I had to do so many things simultaneously. I then decided to take a week off. I made sure I get good sleep; wake up whenever I want to, even if it’s 11 in the morning. I made sure to have breakfast with nothing in mind. I made sure that I enjoy my morning coffee without planning my day ahead. I gave myself ample of time. And it’s paying me in good way.
I don’t know what 2017 has for me, but I do have something for me. I don’t believe in making New Year resolution but I do believe in my dreams and my goals.
See where the wind takes me, for I am ready to find myself again.
Holidays are one of the best times of year for college students. They are a break from schoolwork and responsibilities and a chance to spend time with family and friends. For me they are the time in the fall semester where the swim team has a lot of hard training because there is no school. But at my house it’s all play.
Thanksgiving break is about all the things we are thankful for and how much food we can eat as we avoid the schoolwork that lays before us in the days before finals. Christmas break is about spending time with the ones we love the most and the Christmas story of Jesus. The things I look forward to most about the holidays with my family are the foods we eat and the traditions we have.
Thanksgiving break for my family and I involves a lot of eating and TV watching. Like most families we have a large Thanksgiving meal, but that is not when the eating festivities begin for us. We wake up on Thanksgiving Day and eat breakfast. We then watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which we recorded in order to fast forward the commercials. Once it is about 11 am we break out the parade watching snacks, everything from chips and salsa, guacamole, and queso to veggies with ranch to spinach dip with bread.
Once the Parade is over we stay on NBC and watch the National Dog Show. As a family who does not have dogs and are not particularly dog lovers we often find ourselves making jokes about the dogs that are shown and laughing our heads off. When the Dog Show is over we switch over to football, but this is usually the time of day when everyone falls asleep, so football becomes background noise. Dinner at the Raab house is usually around 5 pm and although we have nice tablecloths and dishes, we are still in our sweats. When the food is almost gone and we can’t eat anymore we go around the table and all say five things that we are thankful for. The only rule is that you can’t repeat anything that was already said.
The day after Thanksgiving means swim practice, movie watching, and spending time as a family. We are a family of athletes, and holiday breaks are no reason to miss a workout. The three swimmers in our family roll out early and get a swim practice in. As a family we not much into Black Friday because we don’t like big crowds and crowded stores. Instead of shopping my mom and I and whoever else wants to join will start watching the Hallmark Christmas movies. Although we have probably seen them all, we still enjoy watching them. The Friday after Thanksgiving also includes family board game time.
Christmas decorations at my house include the many nativities that my mother has collected over the years. We actually went around the house this year and counted them. We counted 59 but are sure that we missed some and that more would be received as gifts this year for Christmas. Each nativity is unique. One is wooden and hand carved from Korea that is a family heirloom. Another is made from banana leaves. My favorite nativity though is the Willow Tree one. It is very pretty to look at; each piece was crafted beautifully. The nativity pieces sometimes magically appear in other places. One of the nativities in the kitchen has pieces that have been found in the fridge, the pantry, the medicine cabinet, and the container of cookies on the counter. Whenever my mom finds the pieces she takes a picture of them in their new location and sends it to me.
We have a set of Merry Christmas block letters. Every time you walk by the letters they say something else. This year has been out of control with new words created. Everything from “my rich armrests” to “cherry mistmars” to “I c smart rhymers”. Each one is funny to read and they change rather quickly so you may miss some of the best ones. This adds a comical element to the holiday season and we laugh about the different combinations often. It was cool to see how many things could be made of those 14 letters.
Christmas Eve typically starts off with an early morning swim practice. We attend the Christmas Eve service in the late afternoon at church. On the way home we pick up Chinese food for dinner. We read the Christmas story out of the Bible during dinner, usually with each person taking a turn. After we have eaten, we open one present that is for the entire family, and some years we all open one present of our own. The family present is always a new board game that we play as a family after dinner. When we open a present of our own, we usually get matching jammies that are perfect for the family Christmas morning photo in front of the tree. After the fun of Christmas Eve, my four siblings and I have our annual sleepover. This sleepover usually involves TV watching, more games, and staying up to midnight to check isitchristmas.com before falling asleep.
Christmas Day begins no earlier than 8 am. We start with stockings, and where our stockings are located becomes our present drop off zone during the present opening. My parents give us kids three gifts a year: something we need, something we want, and something that is a surprise. The three gifts are symbolic of the gifts that the three wisemen brought to Jesus after He was born. I have four siblings, but each year I only give gifts to two siblings. On odd years I give gifts to my sister Allie and brother Luke, on even years I give gifts to my sister Shannon and brother Tim. The surprise present involves a sibling scavenger hunt that has evolved from simply following the clues in the house to getting pictures of places sent to our phones and upon figuring out which location was next, we sent selfies or videos of why this place is important to us to get the next clue. The scavenger hunt is always fun for the five of us. Once all the presents are opened, its time to assemble and play with gifts, learn how gifts work, and eating something to curb the hunger feelings until dinner. Christmas dinner used to a spiral ham, but for the last couple years has been standing rib roast.
The holiday break draws to end for me a couple days after Christmas as I have to head back to school earlier than normal students because of practice, I think about the time I have had at home with my family.
The New Year is approaching and the talk has turned from what people want for Christmas to the resolutions people will make for the coming year. Personally I don’t make any resolutions because I believe that one can change anything about them anytime during the year, not just at the beginning. But there are several things that I look forward to with the New Year. The swim season’s biggest competitions are in February (SECs) and March (NCAAs). As someone who thrives with the stress of competition, this is an exciting time for me. I look forward to the changing of the seasons from winter to spring. Spring is my favorite time of year because all the plants are turning green and blooming again, animals come out of hibernation, and the weather warms up. There are so many outdoorsy things to do and places to explore in the spring and summer time around Athens and Nashville that I say I will venture out to and find, but usually doesn’t happen.
The biggest thing that I think about as one year ends and another begins are all the things that I accomplished, and where my new goals are. This year included my two best semesters in school ever, being a part of a SEC and NCAA winning relay, a NCAA championship with the best team around, my first major concert, a top 10 finish in the country at Olympic Trials, a road-trip with my brother to our grandparents house, the chance to live broadcast high school sporting events, the wedding of a former teammate and friend, and I was baptized. So many great things happened in 2016, and I know that 2017 will hold so many great things that I can’t even imagine yet.
2016 was as crazy as 2015. Though earthquakes didn’t shake up my world like it did in 2015 (25 April, 2015 – Nepal Earthquake), there were other emotional earthquakes that shook up my world.
The first was my move to the USA. Leaving my home country, Nepal, has to be one of the most difficult things I have had to do. I landed in America on July 23, 2016. The air was humid and the weather hot that I felt like peeling my clothes off right there and then at JFK. (But that would turn heads and cause unnecessary commotion so I didn’t.) I had known that America was a land of hot and cold-snowy weather but the humidity was getting to me. Coming from a place where the climate is neither too hot nor too cold, I felt like I was being fried in the sun. I felt disorientated for a while carrying my 120-pound luggage and a backpack. They say “He took my breath away”, but for me “My suitcases took my breath away”. Huffing and puffing I walked towards the final door that would lead me outside the airport. I felt like I was opening a door towards another dimension. As soon as I walked out, my friend Krishma ran towards me with her arms wide open. We hugged in the middle of the way blocking everyone behind us. Her dad shooed us over to the side and took one of my suitcases. Her granddad took the other, and her sister took my backpack. I felt loved right away.
I spent two weeks in Connecticut. We went to Boston to visit my granddad for two days and went to a beach in Rhode Island which has a pretty complicated name: Misquamicut beach. Our days were spent mostly going to the park, parking the car and listening to songs or sleeping for hours. I hadn’t thought about what would happen once I left this place and go to college in a totally different state – Alabama. I know now that I had not experienced true home sickness until I was left alone in my dorm in college with my suitcases sprawled on the floor and the bleak light flickering above my head. The white brick walls screamed “mental asylum” to me and I panicked for a while when I realized that the key to my suitcases were with Krishma who had just left. I had to wait while I waited for a maintenance guy to come up and break my locks. It was lonely for three days because the WiFi did not work yet.
It’s not as easy as in your country, where you have grown up with and become friends with the same people for a decade. Here, we must form connections and put trust in each other and help each other out too. It’s a complicated relationship. Sometimes friends come first and sometimes acquaintances. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and ego in order to help someone from your own country. And sometimes you got to let go of your anger and forgive for the sake of maintaining peace and professionalism.
2016 was also a year of meeting a lot of people, getting to know different perspectives, and understanding that nothing was right nor wrong. What mattered was how you lived your life and how you treated the people you loved and is closest to you. No matter how a person is, it doesn’t matter. I met two people in August: Pranisha and Sangé. I consider them my sisters (Pranisha is really a cousin of mine, anyways.) I used to be this naïve girl who always thought that there was a certain way a person should act and go about their life. But meeting them, I saw that it was not how you showed how you were to others, it was the memories you made with each other. Even if we made mistakes, fought a lot while living together, even if I did not agree with a lot of things with them, I learned that the thought matters even if the action was not carried out. I adjusted, I compromised and it was all an experience for all of us.
The final emotional rollercoaster I went through in 2016 was that I fell in love. And I fell hard. There was a lot of good times and a lot of very bad ones. Highs and lows are the norms in life but I felt them more intensely. I always thought that all love stories and all tragedies were too cheesy. There was too much drama but that’s exactly how it is. Sometimes expectations are not met, sometimes you are too selfish, sometimes you are not thinking rationally, whatever it is – love is a ride you have to be ready for and be strong for. You can’t go diving head in without knowing who the person really is. And I think I went too much with my feelings and emotions.
As I lay down on my bed here, feeling the cold-thin air that is seeping in from the cracks of the window, I look at the damages that were done to my heart by circumstances. That aching gap which could only be filled by talking to my parents and brother once a week on Skype. The scars left by what I thought were friends and people who cared, were there as experiences. The bitter weight that pulled me down to my knees because my love was just a bitter tragedy, unfulfilled and lost forever, is all there to make me strong for my next journey ahead in 2017.
By Patricio Gallardo and Daniel McKenzie
After reading several stories on the Wish Dish, we took a peek under the hood of the WishDish to see what motifs are running through the stories, to help contributors find their tribe. Our hypothesis was that the WishDish stories would fit into just a few categories such as Sport, Faith or Relationships, and that these categories could be identified by the vocabulary used in the stories. By analysing what makes two stories similar, we would be able to provide better recommendations to readers, based on what they’ve already read. Using a bit of Math, Computer Science and common sense, we obtained some interesting insights into the WishDish community.
First the technical stuff. Once we received the set of all stories from Bryan, we used the Python programming language and the Pandas library of functions to prepare the data for our analysis. Specifically, this meant placing the data into a structure called a data-frame, which is not too dissimilar from a table, or an excel spreadsheet. We’ve included a screenshot of the data-frame below, and you can see that we’ve kept, for each story, the author name, a unique author ID, the date the story was uploaded, and the raw (that is, unprocessed) text of the story. Single story ids index the rows.
In the column ‘CleanStory’ we store a pre-processed version of the story. Specifically, we used the Natural Language ToolKit (NLTK) to change all letters to lowercase, remove punctuation and remove ‘stop words’ (frequently occurring words that are grammatically useful, but do not carry much meaning such as ‘a’ and ‘at’).
With our data clean, we were ready to do some analysis. First, we needed to build a ‘dictionary’ of words to be used to distinguish our stories. Words which occur in most stories are no good, and neither are words which occur only in one or two stories. Fortunately, the SciKitLearn toolbox has a function, TfidfVectorizer, which automatically builds this dictionary. If we do not impose any limit on the size of our dictionary, then it will have 173774 words in it! With a bit of tweaking, we arrived at a set of 500 words and bigrams (common two word phrases like ‘red wine’ or ‘high school’) characteristic to the WishDish that would be most useful in figuring out what a story is really about. For example, “believe”,”athlete”, “beauty”, “cancer”,”change”,”college”,”my parent”, “love”, “believe”, “depress”, “father”, “my mom”, “future” were all in this set. We then used the SciKitLearn toolbox to count the number of times each word occurred in each story, and saved the results in a data-frame, visible below.
Using these wordcounts, we can determine how close two stories are to each other. Loosely, if two stories have similar wordcounts, they are deemed close. Below is a data frame containing the distances between all stories. Obviously, the distance from a story to itself is zero!
We were now able to build a Recommendation engine for the WishDish! Essentially, given any story in our database, identified by its StoryID, our engine returns the three closest stories to it.
Moreover, we were able to group the stories based on the nature of their content. Using a simple algorithm called K-means, we sorted the stories into seven groups or ‘clusters.’ The sizes of those groups are 31, 51, 48, 18,73 110 and 166 respectively. The most common words in each cluster (technically, the most common words in the cluster centroid) tell an interesting story. For example, the words associated most strongly with cluster two include: college, family, Georgia, great, high, high school, level, life, people, school, sports, students, success, team, time, uga, wanted, work, etc. A closer look reveals that the stories contained in this cluster include many of the ones related to sports. On the other hand, the words most associated with cluster seven include: “cancer, change, college, dad, day, eyes, face, family, feel, finally, heart, help, home, hope, kids, lives, love, mom, parents, remember, summer, time. A closer look reveals that this is a collection of stories about dealing with loss and illness in the family.
At this point, we decided to look at the shapes and boundaries of our clusters. What we found surprised us. As it turns out, the groups kind of flow into each other, without any hard borders between them. It isn’t easy to visualize such a large data set; recall that we are talking about hundreds of stories with 500 different keywords! However, the picture below, a projection of the dataset into two dimensions, illustrates this lack of borders quite clearly.
What was going on here? After scratching our heads for a while, the answer became apparent. Stories are rarely about only one thing. A story about a toxic relationship might equally belong to the Relationship cluster or the Health cluster. Likewise, a story about an athlete finding the strength to keep competing could be either Sports or Motivational. This phenomenon leads us to reconsider how we viewed the WishDish stories, and their authors. Instead of separate tribes, WishDish contributors could be better thought of as residing in loosely defined neighborhoods of a large city. As further evidence of this, it is evident from the histogram below that most stories are more or less the same distance from any other story. So WishDishers, get exploring! Be sure to examine your own ‘neighbourhood’ closely, but don’t be afraid to follow a trail of stories into a new neighborhood; you might find them more relevant than you think.
As the student of a Jesuit institution, the art of discernment is not lost on me. When asked “what does it mean to be you” or “what is your defining quality”, there are many things that come to mind. But after thinking through these other characteristics, there is always one characteristic that is at the center of my other favorite personal qualities: kindness.
I will be the first to admit that earlier on in my life, I wasn’t the kindest person I knew. In middle school, I was a completely different person than I am today. Unrecognizable to those who know me now. Even after all the repressed memories from that time in my life, I still remember the person I was, and I refuse to become even a little like I was back then. I changed for the better after my middle school and high school days. In late middle school and early high school, I fell in with a great group of friends who taught me what real friendship was like.
Unfortunately, after losing one of these friends who was bullied and harassed for so long, most of my other friendships fell apart as well. But one thing that I will never forget from my late friend is her kindness. She is the reason that I fight so hard for things like mental health awareness and anti-bullying efforts. She is the reason why I work to be kind to everyone I meet, whether they deserve it or not. She is why I believe that kindness is my defining quality.
When you look up the definition of kindness, you might find something like “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. But kindness is so much more than something that can be read off a page. Kindness is something that you emulate. Something that you feel in your heart and in your soul. Kindness is often unforgettable. Kindness is a saving grace, and can change someone’s life.
For me, kindness is a way of life, not just a definition or a quality that someone may have. It is a trait that connects me to my friend who died because of all the hate that was sent her way. Kindness is a connecting force: something that makes me feel coupled to another individual. But overall, kindness is a gift that I try to give to every individual that I encounter.
Whether that be going out of my way to help someone out, giving a smile to someone who has temporarily lost theirs, or complimenting strangers who look as if they could use some uplifting words, kindness is a rebellion to the hate and exclusivity that we see too often in our world. Be a rebel. Spread kindness. And always remember, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
I have borderline personality disorder. I have severe bouts of anxiety and depression. I can become erratic and manic in the flip of a switch. I am withdrawn from school. I’m broke. I am in debt to many. But I’m happy.
As I’ve become more and more comfortable opening up about my mental illness and the different ways it has affected me, people that I wouldn’t even consider acquaintances have shown their support to me. It’s shocking, amazing, heart-warming, and overwhelming all at once. To know that a stranger took the time to hear your words, felt sympathy, and came to me with kind words and support. One of the recurring phrases that I was told was that people hoped I would find happiness one day. One day.
It makes sense. On paper, I don’t have much that I should be happy about. But how could I not be totally and completely happy despite my mental illness?
I’m tired of people telling me that they’ll hope I find happiness or that good will come one day. Happiness is here. Good is right now. Despite all of my circumstances, I have so many reasons to be happy. I have too many beautiful people in my life who help me. The saying “it takes a village” is no fucking joke when literally ever person in my life gets get through my day to day. Some days I’m even overwhelmed with how much happiness I feel.
Yes. Some days are sad. Some days are excruciatingly difficult to get through. Some days it, I can’t wait to just crawl back in bed and go to sleep, just to do it all over again the net day. But there are so many other days that are joyous. And those are the ones worth sticking around for.
The month of December induces several emotions: the relief of finishing yet another semester, the excitement of coming home for the holidays, and the optimism and anxiety that comes along with hoping that 2017 is going to be as great as I need it to be.
Around the holidays I look forward to recuperating and having some quality time with my home friends and family; however, I also use this time to reminisce on the past year.
December always finds a way to creep up on me…I mean 365 days is quite a long time, and a lot has happened in the past year. When the rambunctiousness of finals and school subside, I enjoy flipping through the memories of the past year.
I’ve had some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows. I went abroad and learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I have attempted to start mapping out the next 5-7 years of my life with graduate school planning. I’ve taken tests that have defined my future success.
I’ve met some of the most inspiring people- people that make your soul happy when you finally reunite with them. I’ve been faced with situations that I thought were unbearable, but with the support of friends and family I’ve conquered them. It all sounds pretty vague and a bit cliché, but everyday I’ve learned something new: either in school, through interactions, or self-exploration.
One of my biggest accomplishments this year was learning to let loose and be independent.
In the past, I’ve been scared to be alone. My insecurities and anxieties have crept up on me and knocked down my self-esteem; however, this summer was my first step to true independence. In my 6 weeks abroad, I visited 4 countries, 8 cities, and I met hundreds of people- each with a story.
If I had not taken the initiative to seek out adventures, then I probably would not have learned so much about others nor myself.
Some days I would ride the Tube without a destination in mind, get off at a random stop, and see where the day would take me. Something as mundane as public transportation provided me an escape from the endless hours of studying, and ultimately helped me discover myself in an unexpected way.
While my summer abroad quickly wrapped up, the lessons, people I met, and the memories have stayed with me. It’s always refreshing to see my peers, even if it’s just for a few seconds on the way to class.
After being abroad, I learned that I am able to conquer whatever I choose to in any sort of environment. I learned to be more adaptive to my surroundings, which has absolutely impacted the past semester.
This semester was probably the closest I’ve been to thriving since being abroad. My grades have excelled, most of my relationships have improved, and overall I’ve become a more well-rounded person. While some relationships didn’t last as long as I intended, I’ve learned to adapt and attempt to focus on the future instead of the past.
2016 was a whirlwind of a year, and reflecting on it brings about feelings of contempt, but also excitement. While 2016 was a rough year for a lot of us, I’m hoping that I can take my experiences from this year and start 2017 off right.
For now, the holidays bring about cheer and quality family time, but who knows what 2017 will have in store?
There I was… I sat in the cinema and watched The Magnificent Seven. I sat and watched in awe, but also in terror.
The glamorizing gunshots, explosions, and loud cries kept my eyes and brain glued to the screen; yet there was a part of me that was terrified.
Even though there was chaos, confusion, and agony that surrounded me in this moment, it fell silent and shattered my heart.
Before I continue, I would like to give some backstory into who I am. Currently, I am at the age of 20 years old. I was born and raised into a Christian household, so my beliefs and convictions align with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible.
Yes, most of which that I will be writing about, comes from a place of God in my heart and the experiences that I have faced with Him. But I hope you know that I am not here to preach at you about God, rather, I am here to share a little part of the larger story that He has written for me since the beginning of time. This story is of truth, hope, love, and redemption.
Ask yourself this question and be truthful about the answer. What has been the greatest challenge in life for you to overcome? Now, if you think that you haven’t had to overcome any plight, or if you think that your quarrel was compared to nothing, I would ask you to rethink your reasonings.
The great thing about this question, is that everyone will have a different answer. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this question. We all have different walks of life. This is what makes us unique. Some people are faced with moral dilemmas, some are faced with overcoming injuries, and others with pain and suffering. To each his own.
One man open fired in an auditorium full of human beings, killing 12 and injuring 60. This is not including those who had and still are suffering from various forms of mental illness.
My pain and suffering came in the form of internal stresses. According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) and my Counselor, I met the criteria for PTSD and Delayed Response, which include depression and anxiety due to the events of that night.
Three months after the shooting, I was in shock. I was going from one thing to the next, without taking the time to stop and ponder what had happened that night. One day, as I was snowshoeing in the silent mountains of Colorado, I felt a boulder drop on me. Not a literal boulder, but an emotional one.
The images, sounds, screams, and smells from that night; It all came rushing through like a tidal wave. I felt guilt instantly and it spoke to me saying, “You got out alive yet there is a little girl who lost her life, and you stood in shock and did nothing to help.” This was every day when I awoke from bed and when I fell to sleep. I put on a façade of happiness when I went to school, but inside I was desperate and crying for help.
I then began to think to myself about how I could fix all these internal struggles. How is a 16-year-old supposed to deal and cope with such a trauma? My time as a child and life prior to the event told me to run to Jesus, but there was another part of me, the part of me that is now living this pain and suffering, that told me to run away. So I ran.
How can I run to a God who let such events happen? So, I began to run to worldly pleasures, thinking that they would bring me comfort and fulfillment, but I was naïve, lost, and wrong. This way of thinking and “healing”, ended up bringing me further down the rabbit hole of depression.
Growing up in the church, I always heard that suffering was valuable. It creates perseverance and reliance upon God. I truly believed this, until I experienced it for myself. The only time I would actually call upon God was when I wanted Him to deliver me from these challenges. I was too scared to face the reality of what I was dealing with. So I continued to run from my internal struggles and bottled them up. Eventually… I popped.
To see it in such a way that is positive, rather than negative. Not every session was great, but not every session was terrible. Progress was happening and change was enacting in my thoughts, but not in my heart. During these times, It was crazy for me to experience the phenomenon of my head and my heart feeling like they were a million miles apart.
My head would say one thing, but my heart would speak another. In my thoughts I knew the truths about God and pain and suffering, but my heart didn’t want to believe it. Depression dug down deep. Lies, anger, and bitterness towards life were tenants who rented out my heart and whose payment was in the form of hate.
I began to ask myself what I wanted to do. It seemed like no matter what I did, I would still feel empty inside. Nothing could fill this shattered, yet naïve heart. Thoughts of suicide began rushing into my head and at one point, I thought it was all I had left. But to escape this suffering by the way of death didn’t seem right to me.
There was this minute piece of light within me that told me there was more to life than pain and suffering. That one day, my life would impact someone.
The truth hit me: the reason for my empty, broken, and desperate heart, was having a lack of purpose to live for.
From the novel, Man’s Search For Meaning, By Viktor E. Frankl, this man attempts to find reason in his pain and suffering, while he endures unnecessary acts of evil during the times of the Holocaust. While I read his experiences in detail, I began to see that pain and suffering is a way of life and that we are promised to cross roads with it.
In Acts 14:22 Luke writes, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.” I don’t want to speak for Viktor, but something tells me he knew this truth. So I began to constitute that, even though I am guaranteed to suffer in life, the only thing that I can do, is change how I see it. James 1:2-4 began to have new meaning for me, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
For far too long I chose to only see my current situation, which was agony and pain. I didn’t have a purpose to live, because I wasn’t living for anything except the depression that was killing me. I didn’t look beyond my current situation to see the glory and joy that would come.
Thus began the slow transformation of my heart and the way in which I thought. One of the biggest lies that I believe we as a human race have believed for far too long, is that pain and suffering is the end and there is no moving forward.
From the life of Job, this man went through innumerable amounts of pain and suffering, yet at the end of the story, “… the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12). He experienced death and loss from his wife, children, and livestock, but after, God blessed him with more than what he had before. This isn’t the only truth that stands out to me, but there is one more that comes from verse five, chapter 42, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you…” What Job is saying is that he never experienced God in a true and intimate way for himself, but because of his pain and suffering, he was able to.
Job began to see God in a new way. His eyes were opened to who God is. Our God that is full of love, glory, majesty, joy, compassion, power, grace, and many more characteristics that my mind cannot fathom. Job experienced this. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
Like Job and his life before pain and suffering, I too had only heard of God. Even after my trauma, I believed that I was worthless, unloveable, foolish, and weak. I believed that I was beyond saving, that I could not come back from this.
Even after running from him for four years, never truly knowing him before my suffering, and living in constant sin; He still loved and wanted me.
I saw and experienced His relentless pursuit and commitment of love and grace for my heart. I finally SAW the truth that God is love and He wants good things for me. Therefore, I stopped asking God to take away the pain and suffering and instead, I asked him to help me see it in a new way and to walk with me through it.
I came to this conclusion that, it didn’t matter what I expected from God or this crazy thing called life, but rather what God and life expected of me. To be in an intimate relationship with Him and to live my life as a light to those who are in a dark place.
By this time, I’m sure you have an answer, but I want to add a little more to this question… “and how did you overcome this?” Some of your answers may be like mine where you chose to let it defeat you, for others it may be that you whizzed on by with no problem, but for the rest, you haven’t faced it.
God has allowed me to experience such a trauma that I would have never dreamt of facing, but through this, I have come out on the other side as a testament to God’s faithfulness and to the truth that pain and suffering is a gift… because I now see the beauty in life and God.
The hope of my writing and experience is to illustrate that when pain and suffering comes, you shouldn’t run away out of fear or let it defeat you like I did. Rather, you should run head on toward the challenge and face it.
To quote Viktor Frankl once more, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” Now, while you run head on into pain and suffering, know that God is with you every step of the way and that this momentary affliction, is no match for the glory that will follow.
“Sometimes the only way around suffering is to go straight through it.” -Anonymous
Growing up, I thought that I would go to college and make best friends the first week of school and we would spend all of our time together loving college and everything it had to offer. After all, Freshman year is supposed to be the best time of your entire life, right???
Well, not in my case. Not even close. In truth, Freshman year felt incredibly lonely and making real, genuine connections with people was much harder than I expected it to be.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people I was meeting – everyone was friendly, but I didn’t have the kind of friendship that I had with my high school friends.
I felt like I was doing something wrong, and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself that I had ‘failed’ to make Freshman year as good as the hype….Freshman year didn’t feel like the best time of my life – it felt like a hard, lonely transition that I wasn’t really liking at all.
Last time this year, I couldn’t wait to leave school and go home for winter break. Now, a year later, I really don’t want to leave school, and would so much prefer to stay in Amherst where my life is. A big reason why is because over the course of the year, I have had the time to develop genuine, compassionate friendships.
The other day, I texted my friend Henry with a one sentence life update. He responded and I quote “I NEED TO HEAR ABOUT THIS” and within five minutes there was quite literally a knock on my door.
It may have been 9:57 am on a Sunday morning, but he was there ready to discuss and hear all of my thoughts, feelings, and reactions in person. And I was so happy he was there, because Henry is one of the most considerate listeners and friends I have ever met.
Even last night, I cancelled on seeing him because I was feeling sick, and this morning he brought me four packets of EmergenC – his personal cure for everything – and told me to feel better.
The other night I told her I was going to be asleep by 10 pm, yet every night with her is an actual sleepover with my best friend and we always have more to talk about (even if the lights are shut and we’re determined to go to bed) and the next thing you know it’s midnight and Carly and I have just planned out the details of our weddings and are sending each other pictures of dresses we think the other one would look good in. And the next morning we wake up at around the same time and I’m greeted with a ‘Good morning chickadee’ and Carly will put on a song we both love or something of that nature.
My best friend Gina is actually not even real. Like I’m so stunned and in awe of her kindness, grace, and just the person that she is that I don’t even know why she spends time with me. She is a real life angel who connects her faith with her passion for social justice and is a trailblazer who is doing her part to end sex trafficking. And she will quite literally text me after every time we hang out, saying this whole huge paragraph about how much she enjoys our time together. She is a blessing in every sense of the word.
And my friend Mike. I don’t even know where or how to begin because I genuinely don’t even know how it’s POSSIBLE for a human being to be so wonderful. Mike is the absolute full package – he is both funny and ridiculous, as well as incredibly insightful and brilliant at heart to heart conversations. I LOVE hanging out with him, and always feel like I don’t spend enough time with him (despite seeing him nearly every day) because every second spent with Mike is a literally ‘unreal how positive it is’ second.
Take a watch when you’re done reading 🙂
Rebekah is logical and her advice calms me down always and we girl talk it out as she takes off her makeup in the evening. Mariah is full of a big, beautiful energy and time spent with her is time spent laughing, but also learning. And I have so many other friends that are equally as extraordinary, but I don’t have the space to give them the credit they deserve.
The friendships that I have made are genuine, real, and make my heart feel warm and supported yet also challenged to be and do better. These friendships did not happen the first week of college.
In fact, they all took time.
Henry and I were put in the same theater troupe Freshman year, but quite honestly we didn’t become friends until second semester, and not best friends until over the summer.
Carly and I didn’t really know each other Freshman year, and didn’t become friends until we decided to live together – which is CRAZY, because it’s worked out perfectly.
And I met Gina briefly first semester, and we actually did immediately click, but our friendship took time to develop into the forever friendship we have now.
Mike and I went to high school together, and were always friendly, but it wasn’t until we got to college and became tour guides together that we started committing to our friendship.
If you’re going through a transition or just struggling to make friends in general, have faith that friendship really does take time to develop. I didn’t become best friends with any of the above, absolutely outstanding people immediately…instead, we became best friends through the process of committing time to each other, keeping it real, and expressing our admiration for one another.
So, don’t stress yourself out so much. Friendships take time to develop, and that’s okay. You got this 🙂
To connect with Ashley, click here!
Check out Ashley’s book!
Survival of the Prettiest is the book 19 year old Ashley Olafsen wished she had when she was younger. Survival of the Prettiest discusses body image, media, self-esteem, mental health, sexualization, and so much more in her interactive, engaging, and easy to understand book. In a stunning combo of storytelling and research, Ashley truly makes a difference and empowers individuals to reach their full potentials.
As an elementary school student, my teachers told me I was special, yet I struggled testing into the gifted program. When I was in middle school, teachers did anything and everything to suppress my energetic spirit so I would focus on the mindless busy work they gave us during class.
As a high school student, my dreams to change the world were shoved back in my face by a teacher who was convinced I was the poster-child for “a generation marked by entitlement.” Slowly but surely, I began to submit to the lies and social norms piling up on me until I lost my fever for life and surrendered to conformity.
Throughout my time in high school, the more I tried to conform, the more restless my spirit became. I began to do everything I thought I was supposed to do- do well in school, drink on the weekends with my friends, and serve my community every now and then. However, this translated to- mindlessly getting by in my IB classes, compromising my values, and allowing something I loved to become a chore. All along, I knew there was more, and I still had an inkling that this unhealthy season of conformity would come to an end eventually.
My innate passions began to rise back to the surface and I could finally see glimpses of light in my future. Mind you, I loved every component of business, but entrepreneurship was the one aspect of the business world that did not entice me. Ironically enough, one event led to another, and I began through this class a partnership with Norwegian and Danish students to pursue social entrepreneurship, which ultimately landed me in Bergen, Norway the spring break of my senior year.
While there, I remembered what it felt like to be Regan again- this was the adventure I used to dream of when I allowed my spirit to explore freely as a child. This trip opened doors to opportunities, relationships, and answers that I had been desperately searching for during high school. It was my new Norwegian family who enlightened my eyes to the beauty that can be expressed in serving others through entrepreneurship.
Like science demonstrates, when light floods a room, darkness has no choice but to leave- the experience shined light into the dark place I had been justifying. My spirit woke up, it began to stir violently in my chest, and it flung me into a journey to finally discover who Regan was purposefully created to be.
While there, I met a man who invited me to an entrepreneurship institute during the following summer. Why not go, right? Who knew that would be just another divine arrangement that would draw me closer to where I’m supposed to be. During my time at the Institute, I was trained to teach their entrepreneurship education curriculum and challenged out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.
One of the speakers at the institute was the Director of Entrepreneurship at the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia who, towards the end of the week, asked me to be his intern starting that summer. Opportunities to engage in entrepreneurship continued to bombard me, so I finally caved, leaned in, and decided to enjoy the ride.
How? I resolved to always answer, “yes” to every entrepreneurial opportunity that presented itself. All throughout high school all I heard people tell me was “no,” so I decided to transform my life and the lives I encountered by replacing the sea of no’s with a sincere stream of yes’.
At this point in my journey, I’ve discovered being an entrepreneur is like being a hipster. I true hipster would never call themselves or think of themselves as a hipster- they just are. Yet, there are tons of people who try to be hipsters (some being more successful than others). Well, that’s how I see entrepreneurs. Anyone can be an entrepreneur; I really believe that.
However, I also believe that some of us are created to be entrepreneurs. Just like true hipsters, I never wanted to be an entrepreneur or intentionally set out on any entrepreneurial endeavors; it just happened to me, I am an entrepreneur, whether I like it or not. That’s when you know you were created to do something: when it simply happens to you.
I fought being an entrepreneur and I ran from it, too, until I finally decided to embrace it. However, embrace is a weak word for accepting why you were created, it would be more accurate to say I live it. I eat, sleep, and breathe entrepreneurship. I’m known for it no matter what circle of influence I’m in.
Whether it’s starting a club to explore social entrepreneurship in Athens, being in charge of fundraising in a campus ministry, or a pesto business that combines all my passions into a unique business model, entrepreneurship is what I do, the entrepreneurial mindset is how I filter problems and ideas, and I approach everyday as an entrepreneur who believes tomorrow is going to be better than today for myself and everyone else in my spheres of influence.
You never know how or who or what will lead you to your purpose, but as long as you believe you have one and put yourself into uncomfortable and untraditional situations, you will discover who you are and whose you are.
There’s no way I would have discovered I’m an entrepreneur without an encounter with Norwegians, the Institute, and pesto. God is funny how he orchestrates our lives in order for us to be totally oblivious to our purpose, so he can be totally glorified in His purpose.
“Have you ever heard of a TED talk?” is a phrase that I have come to know and love because I’m constantly asking this same question to my friends, family, and random people walking through Tate Plaza (UGA Student Center) when they ask what TEDxUGA is when I promote the annual event.
If someone had asked me this same question about 8 months ago, I would have replied with something along the lines of “I’ve heard of them, and they’re pretty cool.” But today I can say that TED talks have shaped my college career thus far. A few weeks before the start of the fall semester, I saw a picture on Twitter. It was an advertisement for a class called TEDxUGA, and I thought “why not?” So I signed up.
Walking into class on the first Tuesday of the school year, I was scared as hell because I had no clue what I was getting myself into, and I was especially nervous when I discovered that I was the only freshman taking the class. Soon though, my initial worries became irrelevant as our class became a family. Our work wasn’t traditional since most of it stemmed from helping presenters prepare their talks.
I watched tons of talks featuring some of the most interesting people that I had ever heard speak. Their stories taught life lessons, gave insights into the world, and sparked interests in the minds of thousands. I thought it was awesome. Since taking the class, I have learned that every experience, every story leads to something larger than we could imagine.
I’ve heard stories that have changed the way I think about people and events, and I’ve realized that there’s a TED talk for almost anything. Want to know how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge got started? There’s a TED talk for that (Nancy Frates, “Meet the mom who started the ice bucket challenge). Ever wonder what it’s like to be the son of a terrorist? There’s a TED talk for that too (Zak Ebrahim, “I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace”). All around the world, people have stories and ideas worth spreading.
Our stories shape our lives, and lucky for me, my story is just beginning. Since taking the TEDxUGA class, I’ve met incredible people and have been given amazing opportunities. I’ve become an intern for the New Media Institute in Grady College, I’ve been given the chance to write for this website, and I’ve made friends that are sure to last.
I hope that my experience with TEDxUGA will give me useful media skills, but I hope more that it should benefit me in the wisdom I will gain from those working with the program, and maybe one day I’ll have a story worth telling on the TED stage.
Focus on the lessons learned from each experience, good and bad, because you never know what you can gain from a story. Oh, and always pay attention to advertisements on Twitter, because you never know where they might lead.
“Have I officially lost my mind …” When I begin to think about what has happened in the last four months of my life I begin to think that statement above may be true…
I moved to Atlanta back in June 2014 and began my first career as an individual and family counselor. I finally had the life I had been working so hard to get. Financially supporting myself, living in Buckhead, buying that outfit I always wanted, going out with friends … But why did I still have that feeling that there was something more to life than this … This constant feeling that I needed more, a constant chase to acquire more things to fulfill this void.
In January, I made a last minute decision to attend the Passion Conference here in Atlanta. Ultimately, this conference reignited a flame within my heart and shined a light on the fact that I have been searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places. Following the conference, another prayer was answered. I finally found a church in Atlanta, called Grace Midtown.
Attending this church, my desire to lean on God rather than on my own strength grew more and more each day. I found myself longing to grow closer to Him. One night at church, I found the courage to walk over to someone from the church to ask for prayer and a prophetic word (and to be completely honest, if someone would have asked me if I knew what a prophetic word was a year ago I probably would have just awkwardly laughed and said sure.) The person, who prayed for me, ultimately brought me to tears.
God spoke to my heart and made it clear “Ashley, you are valued, you are a Godly woman.” Those words went to the core of me. It resonated in me, that I have been looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places whether it was through athletics, relationships, or superficial things they always left me feeling “not enough” or “not worthy.” I was a slave to fear, to comparison, to judgment and what I had been longing for was freedom of these things.
After that night, the hunt began to find my next step in this crazy adventure we call life. God began to point the arrows leading me to making a life changing decision. I had the opportunity to go to South Africa and see a part of the world that was indescribable. I fell in love with the people and place. After returning home, I knew I needed to see more of God’s creation and to meet new people and cultures to help me grow.
I started the hunt for the “perfect” job or internship overseas. I heard about The World Race back when I was in college and I currently know someone in the organization. But anytime I thought about it I would tell myself, “That’s way too intense, Ashley, not what you are looking for.” God has a funny way of putting the things that scare us the most right into our laps.
A couple weeks passed and I went to my House church and explained to them my burning desire to help others and the need to grow personally and spiritually. After I discussed this with the group, someone prayed for me. During the prayer all I kept hearing was “Lord, take away her fear, take away her fear and open the doors for her.”
That night I didn’t think much of it. But the next morning, I woke up and heard “Ashley, Be Brave.”
Next thing I knew, I was on The World Race’s website looking at the different routes. Basically, I had filled out the entire application and interview within two days (usually takes much longer than that.) By the following week, I found out I was ACCEPTED!
So I will be embarking on the World Race in September 2015 and return July 2016.
The World Race is an 11 month Christian mission trip to 11 countries around the world. One of the unique things about the World Race is that it’s not only a mission trip but also an intensive discipleship program designed to launch my generation into our specific kingdom calling.
Through the World Race, my team and I will serve in partnership with Churches and ministries in local communities to spread God’s love, plant churches, work in orphanages, minister to women and children trapped in prostitution as a result of human trafficking, and bring the restorative hope of the Father’s love to many tribes and Nations.
“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you learn through the journey.” So here I am … I am willing to risk my comfort zone to find my true identity in Him and through that I will find my calling, my heart song. I believe I can only heal others and free others as much as I am whole and free.
“He wants not only your whole heart. He wants your heart whole.” Through taking big risk, big dreams are achieved. Please follow my journey by subscribing to my blog: ashleymiller.theworldrace.org
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I grew up helping my father with our real-estate business in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta. I grew up surrounded by the realities and hardships of that business.
My father not only encouraged me to think beyond the confines of a normal nine to five career, but instilled in me the work ethic and initiative required to keep a business afloat. Coming from this background, I’ve never hesitated to pursue my ideas, even if doing so was risky or difficult.
I began my entrepreneurial endeavors selling toys to my younger siblings. As I grew older, I was never short on business ideas, from modern art to dummy firearms for military training. I was determined to start a business even as I made the transition from a small private school to the University of Georgia. After a year of exploring college, I settled on something I was passionate about turning into a reality. I began working on Classic City Cotton the first week of summer after freshman year. With the help of my family, friends, and fraternity brothers, Classic City Cotton took a life of its own.
The thought of having to learn to tie a bow tie and repeating the process every time one wears it, discourages men from wearing one. Many men simply stick to the easier to tie necktie and ignore the bow tie altogether. Other companies have tried to solve this in the past with clip-on bow ties (also known as pre-tied), but between the horrendous quality of clip-on ties currently available and the fact that most men see them as “cheating,” clip-on ties haven’t really caught on.
Classic City Cotton’s high quality cotton bow ties, hand sewn by local seamstresses in Athens, can be taken on and off without having to untie them. These bow ties are not clip-on ties, they must be tied at least once like any other authentic bow tie would. The difference is that once tied, the bow tie can be removed from the neck without having to untie them due to a secure and unique fastener integrated into the band.
When I’m asked what I want to do after college, I tell people I’m already doing it. I see these four years as an opportunity to explore and enjoy life with 34,000 other people doing the same, but not a reason to put off what I want to do with my life. My heart is in starting and building businesses and I want to be in the middle of the action, whether it be Classic City Cotton or something else in the future.
I hope that my story inspires others to act on their imagination and turn their ideas into reality. My best advice to others is to not wait for permission or approval, there will never be a good time to start your own business, the present is as good as it gets.
You don’t need an earth-shattering or fool-proof business plan. You just need a reasonable idea and the perseverance and passion to make it something great.
Owner, Classic City Cotton
So it’s my very first time in Europe and to no surprise, things went wrong prior to me leaving — like my friend getting the flu right before the flight. Which is totally my luck. That meant I was flying to Amsterdam by myself.
But when I had to take a taxi to the hotel all by myself, I was definitely wishing I had a friend. Or that I was a man. But I made it there safe and that’s what matters!
My travel companion arrived a day after I did so we really only had one full day in Amsterdam. It was very hard to figure out the Dutch signs everywhere and it rained but we made the most of it. Luckily, the boat for the canal tour was covered so we were still able to see a lot of the city without getting soaked. Apparently, houses on the water are a thing and they’re absolutely adorable.
Once that was finished, we walked around the Red Light District which was very interesting. I’ve heard some things about it, like how there are prostitutes in the windows and that you can smoke pot just about anywhere, but no one warned me about the super aggressive sex shops and the multitude of opportunities to watch live sex.
I could not contain myself walking around this place; I just laughed the entire time. Maybe I’m not mature enough for it but I couldn’t believe I was seeing these things! And the way the women in the windows would try to entice you to come in made me laugh even more and I had to scurry away. I definitely looked like a foreigner.
That’s pretty much all we did since my friend wasn’t feeling too well, so the trip is off to a rocky start but I have high hopes for the rest of it!
Next stop — Geneva, Switzerland!
I could carry a tune at 5-years-old, whether I was singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
Every single Christmas growing up, I would unwrap CD’s, new karaoke machines, microphones, guitars, or anything music related. In every home video on Christmas, I’m off to the side singing or playing with my new toys.
Don’t get me wrong; my parents didn’t genetically program me to love music. They never forced music onto me. In fact, I made an attempt at almost every sport growing up. You name it; I quit it. It just wasn’t my thing.
It wasn’t until the end of 8th grade when I had my first solo in front of the entire school did I realize the high I got from performing. This was a time when no one knew I could sing (I can’t believe this was ever a time), so it was almost shocking when I poured my heart out to my whole middle school. Throughout middle school, I had joined theatre groups, girls choir, went to band camp, and really started pursuing music.
When I first started high school, I decided that I wanted to start playing guitar. I had been making videos of myself singing to instrumental tracks I found on YouTube, but I wanted to do more than that.
I got my first guitar at age 14, and taught myself every song on Taylor Swift’s first album. I remember staying up late, until I had perfected “Tim McGraw” on my brother’s electric guitar, using YouTube tutorials to teach myself the notes. I was so proud when I could play a whole song through on my own. As the year went on, I decided I wanted to take guitar lessons so I could have my own teacher instead of learning from a computer screen.
I started my weekly lessons at Reston Music, and joined the “Rock Band” that met every Friday night at the store. We would practice on Friday nights, and put on concerts for all the parents each month. This was one of my favorite things because not only did I get to perform on my own as well as with the Rock Band, but my brother was a part of it so we got to make music together.
My first performance happened at age 14, when I was attending a local band’s show at Jammin Java. They were also a part of the rock band from Reston Music, and invited me on stage to sing a song of my own when they finished their set. I played “I’m Only Me When I’m With You” by Taylor Swift, and I can still remember how fast my heart was racing.
That following week, I uploaded my first YouTube video. I was very hesitant to put myself out there, because I knew how critical people could be. I vividly remember being at the mall with my friends and getting a phone call from my Mom telling me that I had received my first YouTube comment.
I was so unbelievably happy that someone appreciated my video, and now almost eight years later, I have over 100 YouTube videos posted to my account.
But I’m not here to tell you about my magical journey with music, because I promise you, it hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies. I’ve done enough articles, blog posts and interviews about my accomplishments, and I think it’s extremely important to talk about my failures as well.
The music industry is brutal. It’s like trying out for a sports team alongside of hundreds of people, and only five people make the team. You have to be talented. You have to be beautiful. You have to have charisma. You have to have that spark. You have to be what they are looking for.
I’ve had my fair share of letdowns. In January of 2014, I auditioned for the TV show “The Voice.” I had been approached by a talent scout to audition privately for the producers. He had found my videos on YouTube and as you could imagine, I was so unbelievably excited that they asked ME to come tryout.
I drove all the way to New York in the snow with my parents that Saturday, only to be rejected after my first song. But the heartbreaking part wasn’t the rejection. The heartbreaking part was telling all my excited friends and family that I didn’t make it.
With every email, every offer, every compliment, and every person that contacts me professionally, I get a glimpse of hope. Sometimes more hope than I should have. Some days I wonder why I reach so far. Why I want impossible things. I’m so scared of working so hard to never accomplish all that I want to.
But with every letdown comes a moment that makes me believe again. Like the time I got to fly down to Austin, Texas and perform at the South by Southwest music festival. Or the time I performed on the VIP stage at Blake Shelton. Or the time I hit 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. Or the time I was published in my first magazine. And don’t let me forget the time I got to sing on national radio when I was interning for the Bobby Bones Show. Those are the moments that make it all worth it.
We watched a TED talk in class the other day. The first question asked was, “what would you attempt to do if you could not fail?” The talk was all about how the fear of failure restrains us. Not failure; the fear that we will fail. And then it hit me. That’s my greatest obstacle. Not my personal failures, but the fear that I will not succeed with my music. It holds me back more than anything else.
Well, a lot of things. But it’s the hardest and darkest times that make the sunny days so beautiful. We would not appreciate our accomplishments and the beauty in our lives if we did not experience the ugly first. We would take it for granted. My failures have taught me to work harder. They have made me stronger. They have taught me that nothing worth having comes easy.
On May 1st, I will be releasing my new single called “When I’m With You.” Following that, I will be recording and releasing a 6-song EP. On the EP will be the single, four songs and a bonus track. All songs will be completely original, some co-written with good friends of mine. I am so proud of this album already and I can’t wait to share it with the world.
You can accomplish anything you desire. You just have to want it bad enough. I don’t know what my future holds, but I will always be excited for what is to come.
Special thanks to Wil Lawson, Nick Aluzzi, Miranda Andersson, Jennifer Hennelly, and my family, and the many others that helped me through it all even when I didn’t think I could make it.
In life, we all go through things we would deem as unfair. We always ask why do good people have bad things happen to them. Why does that person always have great things happen to them even though they are awful? Things happen in life—it is inevitable based on the ebb and flow of life itself. However, it’s all based on how you respond to these events.
If you are always upbeat and excited to be breathing the law of attraction will grace you. If you are negative and think the world is out to get you, most likely it will be a struggle on a daily basis. Basically, what you put out in the world will come back to you in some form. So that’s been my motto for about 2 months.
As I adopted this model things became easier for me. Talking to people seemed to have more meaning and people were more open to have conversations. Vulnerability allows for people to trust and have a more genuine conversation. However, coming to this path was not easy by any means and before I can go through my breakthrough that occurred to me two months I will have to explain what happened to me in 2014.
In 2014, everything started out perfectly. I had the best friends around me, I had a great best friend and I had an amazing girlfriend. I thought my life was going to be smooth sailing and that life had finally graced me with some amazing promises in store. Sadly enough, all of this came crashing down that summer.
My ex girlfriend dumped me, my best friend at the time and roommate started dating my ex girlfriend and I went through a gruesome depression. I completely lost my faith in God and half of my friends disappeared from my life. I felt betrayed. Heck, my parents didn’t even want me to go back to school because I was so depressed. I was an energy drainer and brought negative vibes around to everyone in my vicinity. I even considered suicide on some occasions because I could not handle the agonizing waves of depression.
Up to this point I have read a book every week, graduated with two majors and started a company through all of the chaos. Now I say all this to tell you that in 2015 I’m still here and jacked about life every day!! Because I know that if my positive energy isn’t there I may not be able to save a life. I may not be able to motivate that person to the next step because I know what it’s like to be in hell. Now you may be asking what happened between then and now that completely changed my outlook on life? It all really started two months ago.
“Every setback has a setup for an amazing comeback.” Willie Jollie
Two months ago, I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions. I was in multiple talks with the NBA, MELT, CSE, IMG, Atlanta Dream and the Kennesaw State Athletic Department with still no offers, some of my friends felt distant and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life after graduating college. After spring break I went through some personal downfalls and honestly I was lost. So that next weekend I got a chance to go on a hiking trip with my hiking class on the Chattooga Trail. Honestly, this was a blessing in disguise because I needed to get away from the world and have a chance to be reflective.
I walked to an overhanging cliff overlooking the water and just started thinking. I decided on that cliff that it was time to stop messing around and get serious about life. So I made a promise to myself. It was time to sacrifice some things so that I could live a better life. In addition, I added another promise to myself. I was going to find a way to retire my parents before I turn 27 and to create a legacy for myself and the Ingram family name. That has now become my WHY. Now is that possible you ask? I didn’t know but I was up for finding out.
I called Bryan Wish the following week about an idea I was working with hosting gaming tournaments around colleges. I had 18 pages of research and no idea what to do with it. He got me in contact with Jim Flannery with Four Athens. I met with Jim two days later to talk about this idea. He said “Great idea Morgan, so what have you done so far?” I said “nothing yet, I just have the research”. He said “go out there now and do it”. So he gave me a couple of contacts and I was off running.
Couple of days went by and I saw that this thing could go far. I called Bryan Wish and I was like “it’s time to go 100% on this, I don’t care anymore we are going to make this happen.” I made the company official and called it Collegiate Gaming LAN. The concept behind the company is creating gaming tournaments around college campuses and recreating the video game experience.
I knew in order to get where I needed to go I needed to refocus everything and some people just did not fit the path I was putting myself on. I found Dylan Howell who shared my passion and we were off running with the idea and through our hard work we have officially secured the Classic Center for our first LAN multiplayer gaming tournament June 20th and have done multiple tournaments at Wonderbar. We are super excited about our future.
“I have a dream that’s worth more than my sleep” Eric Thomas
People always ask me though how did you survive all those terrible things and come out so positive? Why do you go so hard every day? What made you push through when nothing was going your way?
It didn’t matter what external factors the world threw at me. With the fire inside of me and through God’s grace, I knew I was going to graduate and not have these outside influences affecting me. I knew I was going to be able to take my mental state to the next level. I knew that at the end of the day I would come out stronger. I knew that someday I would become an inspiration for my peers and my family to accomplish their dreams no matter what.
DO NOT LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT YOU CANNOT DO IT. You can do it because we can do anything, it is all about adopting the right mentality and focus, it’s that simple. Let your fire inside of you take you to the next level to succeed.
There is no time for laziness, there is no time for slouching and no time for excuses. The time is now to grab the reigns of success and gallop into the field of triumph. All of this is possible for each and every one of you if you so chose to take this journey of accolades.
If I can see my friends who have been with me since day 1 succeed, keep growing my faith in God, retire my parents and make my dream a reality then that will make me the happiest person in the world. And I will go through every obstacle and overcome every trial to make this happen. Because the impossible is possible. Take out the I ‘may’ and just say I am going to make the impossible possible.
Anyone who has betrayed me, disrespected me, every company that didn’t hire me, peers and professors that thought I wasn’t smart enough, does not think this idea will work or thinks I am crazy I have one word for you all. Thanks. Seriously, thanks.
Everyday you should pray for challenges because without them there will be no growth. Negative energy if used correctly can be a great source of motivation and I had a ton of it. But instead of being bitter and letting it poison me from within. I decided to use all of the negative energy from the past and turn all of it positive to help me push through and accomplish my goals.
“Goodness is the only investment that never fails” Henry David Thoreau
The past is the past and cannot be recovered. However, today is a new day and you can seize that day. No matter what you have been through and what you have done you can always set a new path for yourself. Yes it will be hard. Yes people will leave your life. And yes you will want to quit. However, if you can look yourself in the mirror and find out how and why things will get better for you.
I promise you that you will become a lot happier with yourself which at the end of the day that is what your loved ones want to see from you. That’s what I did and I encourage whoever is reading this to try it. I found a new group of friends in Austin Mueller, Myles Berrio and D.J. Snyder to associate with that wanted me to be successful, I cut out certain activities that were bringing me down and I started to dive back into my faith.
Once you find that geyser of passion everything changes you are ready to take on the world and you feel like nothing on earth can stop you. People will think you have become demon possessed because of the persistence and passion that you will display on a daily basis. You will keep coming back for more and more and more! This same exact process happened to me.
“Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated people who do not or have not made any money. Persistence and determination alone are all-powerful.” Calvin Coolidge
What is perspective? Is it simply the way we choose to look at something or can it be something more? The definition I enjoy most is the “true understanding of the relative importance of things, a sense of proportion.” An understanding of important things in life. Something many of us often lack. Given time to reflect on my own life, I slowly began to appreciate the art of perspective and the lessons it has taught me.
As a nursing student, I am constantly faced with situations that allow me to reflect on my own life. Day in and day out, sick people come in looking for the simple act of care, and sometimes certain cases really hit a nerve within me. How can I complain about my “unfulfilling dinner” when I just helped a man who hasn’t eaten in days? How can I blame my roommate for using all the hot water when my last patient hasn’t been able to shower for a week besides the occasional bed bath? These little realizations we make ultimately allow us to understand what really matters.
I went into this experience completely blind, going to a new city with a group of people I had never met in my life.
It wasn’t until the plane ride over that I started to question what I was doing. The man sitting across from me asked what hospital I would be working at and what city I was traveling to. My answer? “I honestly have no idea where I’m going.” Maybe this spontaneous trip was not the best idea.
From one perspective, you could say I was crazy for going to a third world country with strangers. But from the other, I was a nursing student choosing to extend my skills to those in need. Sounds better, right? I met hundreds of kind people in Honduras that were beyond grateful for our help, but I want to tell you about the one person who really made an impact on us.
Why was she at the hospital? Mary Luz was born with two clubbed feet, a genetic deformity that causes the feet to shape into what essentially looks like a club. Her left leg was amputated below the knee the previous year by another mission team. Because of the severity of her condition, her right foot was in such bad shape that amputation was the only option.
There she sat on the exam table, surrounded by about ten people who were all poking and prodding at her foot and saying a bunch of medical terms that would eventually be translated to her. I was one of those ten people, guilty of being amazed by her condition.
It wasn’t until later that night that I realized how selfish I was for being excited to see such an operation as a nursing student. I hadn’t even considered her feelings and her fears because all I saw when I looked at Mary Luz was her courage.
Yes, we hear about incredible cases where miracles happen and death is overcome, but Mary Luz is the definition of a survivor. She chose to put her life in the hands of strangers, trusting in the Lord that we would take care of her in the best way that we could. I needed someone like Mary to come into my life so that I could really appreciate what I was doing as a nurse.
Mary waited countless hours in pre-op surely experiencing the deepest of fears, but she never let it show. I checked on Mary about every 30 minutes, attempting to make my Spanglish sound somewhat decent and upbeat. Even though she may not have understood what I was saying, she knew she was in the right place. She constantly smiled and whispered, “thank you” every chance she could.
Yes, we were performing a surgery for her, but it was going to cost her a leg. I began contemplating how upset I might be if I had to lose not one, but both legs in a matter of two years. I would probably mope around complaining, trying to soak up every ounce of pity I could find. Perspective. Mary did not consider this as a loss, but a blessing.
This is the point where it clicked in my head. We may be fearful, wonder why God chose this plan for us, or think it is the end of the world, but to Mary it was just the beginning of a new life. A new life filled with new adventures. I was fortunate to meet a woman like Mary Luz, because it only takes one person like her to turn your perspective around.
I will never be able to express the thankfulness I have for you, Mary. I never knew that meeting one person can truly change a life. God blessed us with you for a reason. I hope you know the impact your warm heart has made not only on me, but on every person around you. May your future be filled with all the adventures you so desire and deserve. We love you Mary Luz.
Flashback to September 2013, my first semester at UGA. It was Saturday and we were playing South Carolina. It was my first home football game. My first football game really.
The energy was unlike anything I could have ever imagined. Being overwhelmed was an understatement. This was the first time in my entire life that I saw thousands of people come together for one reason: to cheer on the Dawgs.
As amazing as the game and the victory was, that was not the only thing on my mind. When we weren’t running plays or defending our end zone my focus were on the people behind the white line.
Somehow, someway, they had made there way between the hallowed hedges and on to the field.
During that game I promised myself I would make it back on that field again before graduation.
Luck seemed to be in my favor that year. With nothing to do one Thursday afternoon in November I found my way to the AdPR Convention and Career fair. I sat in on a few seminars and flipped through the program until one thing caught my eye: UGA Athletic Association.
After the last seminar I headed to the assigned table where the rep was supposed to be standing. Much to my dismay I found the table empty. I contemplated leaving, because I was very under-dressed and one of the youngest in the room. All I can say is, thank goodness my mom told me to stay.
I was first in line and I was fortunate enough to meet Mike Mobley. One of the Associate Sports Communications Directors at the University of Georgia. After a brief conversation, he told me to come and find him after one of the basketball games that week.
I met up with him later that week and he gave me a press pass to go behind the scenes of Stegeman Coliseum. I was in awe of everything. I must have done something or shown him how determined I was to be a part of that industry because he asked if I would like to volunteer. From that week on I was at almost every single home Women’s basketball game for the 2013-2014 season.
At the games I filled in for the full-time student assistants who worked in the Sports Communication office. I kept back up stats and minutes and helped with the take down after the games. All in all it was a four hour endeavor but I loved every minute of it.
Once basketball season ended I helped out with a couple more events. It was in April when I achieved that goal I set for myself months before. Mike asked me to shadow him at G-Day 2014. I made it on the field again before I graduated. I made it on the field again before the end of my freshman year. I was ecstatic.
A couple weeks later, I met Mike for lunch and he asked about setting an interview up with his boss. I could barely get my schedule out fast enough. My last day in Athens in May 2014 I interviewed with Claude Felton, Senior Associate Athletic Director for the University of Georgia. After twenty minutes or so he said, “Send me your fall schedule and I’ll see you when you get back for football season.”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. I was going to work for the UGA Athletic Association. And I couldn’t have been happier.
Once I returned to Athens in the Fall I was thrown into it all. Working in the office everyday, women’s soccer during the week and sometimes on the weekends, eight-hour football Saturdays, and basketball pre-season toward the end. It was a whirlwind. One I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Not to mention, I was on the field for every home game during the 2014 season. I was finally one of those people on the sidelines I had watched from the student section the year before. I had achieved my goal and so much more.
As I finish up my first full school year working for the Sports Communication Department, I am now unable to comprehend my life without it.
The friends I’ve made, the games, and the experiences I’ve had. All of the long days, late nights, and early mornings have been worth it. I truly believe I have started myself on a path that will guide me for the rest of my life.
College is the time for you to try new things and reach for your dreams. I am a living, breathing example of that. A split thought during a football game led me to so much more than I could have ever imagined. So shoot for the impossible, you never know what luck will be tossed your way.
As I rounded the rocky, snowy, slippery corner of the trail, I saw to my left a vast glacier—comparable to a felled New York City skyscraper—boasting the most beautiful shade of blue beneath frosted whiteness. I was in awe.
30 feet ahead, I saw the sign. “Congratulations, you are now at Uhuru Peak- Africa’s highest point on the world’s highest free standing mountain.” I literally dropped to my knees, bawling. I had summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. And to think that just 4 hours earlier I convinced myself to quit…
Have you ever stunned yourself beyond explanation by achieving something you thought would be impossible for you to do? Well—I definitely did.
My freshman year at UGA, I had the awesome opportunity to study abroad in Tanzania for a Maymester and then finish the trip by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro- which I thought was going to be a walk in the park… until I made it to Day Five of my climb.
To fully understand the trek, I’ve got to break it down for you. It’s a 6-day climb through the “Marangu” route, AKA the “Coca-Cola Route” (it’s known to be the easiest), and every day brings a different climate. Yes, that’s right. Literally, you pass through a different climate each day because of the increase in altitude. So I’ll give you the short run-down of the days leading up to the worst/best day of my life.
Starting at 1,970 meters above sea level (6,463 feet) – walking through the rainforest to Mandara Hut- estimated to be a three hour hike – Colobus monkeys hanging out, huge trees and little streams, literally a jungle
Starts at 2,700 meters above sea level (8,858 feet) – getting into the Moorland climate zone (between a rainforest and a desert with lots of small shrubs and plants but no trees) – heading to Horombo Hut- estimated five hours- walked through straight clouds for over an hour, only able to see about 50 feet ahead the whole time because of the dense clouds
Acclimatization day – staying at Horombo Hut but going on a short hike a little higher to get used to being at such a high altitude. Here, we get a view of what awaits us across the desert- the peak of Kilimanjaro. Now at 3,720 meters above sea level (12,205 feet).
Beginning the hike to the base of the summit- to Kibo hut. Estimated five hour hike to get to the base camp at 4,703 meters above sea level (15,430 feet).
This walk was so surreal. It was straight through alpine desert and it felt like it took forever because we could see our endpoint basically the entire time.
At Kibo, the wind is so strong that when you’re trying to sleep in the broad daylight (you have to go to sleep when you get to base camp- in the afternoon- because you start hiking to the summit at 12 a.m.), it sounds like movie wind sound effects whistling and whirling beyond the thin glass separating you from the outside. The building was even making creaking noises!
And now for infamous day 5. (Warning: I’m going to go into a lot of detail on this one). Our wake-up call came at 11 p.m. on day 4, and I was pumped. I was so ready to take on this night climb that it wasn’t even funny. I felt great, my spirits were high, and I was so excited to get to the top!
It was about five hours to the first peak, Gillman’s, at about 5,685 meters above sea level (18,652 feet). About an hour in, I started feeling really weird. It’s recommended that you take prescription altitude sickness medicine, which I dumbly didn’t consult my doctor about before embarking on my journey because I thought I would be fine…
And I felt great the entire time up until then, so I thought it would pass. I popped a few Ibuprofen and kept pushing. This part of the mostly straight-up trail was all through volcanic ash, which is so slippery that the path had to zig-zag to make it easier to navigate.
This resulted in dragging a trail that could be leaps and bounds shorter into a long, winding, dizzying path where one little slip could cost you half an hour of making up lost trail.
The Ibuprofen I had so much faith in seemed to fail me, and around 2 a.m., I started puking. But still, I walked on. Puke, breathe, trudge. Puke, breathe, trudge. I threw up so many times that I lost count.
When I finally felt a little too faint to stand up straight, I lost my footing and face-planted into the rocky volcanic dust, back-sliding about 5 feet and briefly passing out.
I wanted to go back to Kibo. I was dizzy, confused, and really feeling terrible. And they told us a million times that if we got sick we needed to turn around. So, I quit.
Mickey grabbed me off the ground by my jacket and stood me upright, taking my backpack as his own burden to bear, and got in my face. He told me I was GOING to the top. I didn’t have a choice. And I didn’t have a voice at that moment to object his demand, so when he spun me and pushed me up the path, I didn’t protest. I just blacked out.
Seriously, I do not remember the next few hours of the hike. I remember snippets of praying that God would send me all my guardian angels to carry me up the mountain because I didn’t have any more strength. Apparently I was singing a line from an old hymn I heard in my childhood church that went, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching into war,” or something like that.
That’s when I realized we were coming to a place where we were actually partly walking, partly climbing the terrain littered with boulders and small patches of snow. And I did a lot of that on all fours. Looking back I probably looked like a crazy nut ball rolling around singing hymns and looking like a walking zombie. But nonetheless, I kept climbing, and it was getting lighter as we went higher. We were close to the top.
I made a deal with myself. I would make it to Gilman’s Peak because that’s only an hour and a half from the main peak, Uhuru. So it’s basically the top, right? I would also still get a certificate congratulating me for summiting Kilimanjaro if I made it there. I could do this.
I fulfilled my goal, and it was going to be so easy to turn around and go back to Kibo where I could sleep off the hell I just went through for the last few hours.
Looking around and realizing how far I had come and knowing that I was so close to quitting just hours before, I couldn’t let myself stop. Not now. Not when I was only an hour and a half from summiting the tallest peak in Africa! So I mustered the little strength that I had left and kept going.
I looked at my feet for most of the trek that changed from volcanic ash and boulders to ice and snow and glaciers. When I looked up, I saw people dusted with ice.
How was it this cold in Africa? I was on the edge of the crater (Kili is a volcano), and if I leaned out far enough to the right, the cliff dropped off onto jagged rocks poking up through fluffy beds of snow.
Mickey walked over to make sure I wasn’t puking again, and I looked up at him and thanked him in the best words I could muster through my emotional breaths in the zero-oxygen atmosphere that we were in. (I must mention that we could only stay at Uhuru for 10 minutes because the oxygen level at 19,222 feet- 3.6 miles- above sea level is so low that weird things would happen to you if you stayed longer).
If it weren’t for Mickey, I wouldn’t have made it to the top. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. And looking out at the sun rising over the cloud level, in Africa, on top of this gigantic snow-topped volcano after a dawn of walking to hell and back… that was the most amazing high I could have ever asked for.
Of course, we had to keep walking that day, all the way back down to Horombo for the night, and then day 6 from Horombo down to the gate of the park, ending the trip.
And it was the hardest day of my life, that stupidly wonderful day 5. I battled my inner voice telling me I could quit and feel so much better. I could be comfortable if I just turned around- if I allowed myself to settle for the easy way out. My heart breaks every time I think about what would have happened if Mickey let me quit. I would have missed out on the most amazing spiritual journey I’ve ever had!
I find it funny and honestly quite amazing that I’m at another one of those crossroads in my life.
I can choose the easy route and take my first job offer fresh out of college that might be a cool opportunity but not quite right for me, or I can push myself a few grueling, extra miles and hold out for a job that floors me, one that I’m excited to wake up for every single day—but would take a lot of hard work and patience to get.
I’m still not quite sure what exactly that job is, but I know God’s leading me to it if I just trust Him and have patience, because He believes in me much more than I believe in myself, and that’s hard. But I guess Kili taught me that sometimes the hardest roads have the most beautiful endings. It’s cliché, yeah, I know, but I lived it!
If you just keep trudging up that steep, slippery hill, maybe you’ll get lucky enough to have someone believe in you more than you believe in yourself and push you to the peak of the mountain that you never thought you had the strength to climb on your own. Believe in yourself, even when you think you can’t do it.
Trust someone when they tell you that you can do something. You’re going to fall, you’re going to throw up, and you’re probably going to cry. But push through it. The rewards are beyond measure. Happy climbing y’all.
I grew up in an age of Disney princesses and feminism; an age where Snow White waited for her prince while the Cheetah Girls decided they needed to rescue themselves. I fantasized about being saved, yet I also wanted to be strong enough to save myself.
It was not until I was diagnosed with depression and bulimia that I needed saving. I searched for validation, acceptance, and support in friendships and relationships. More than anything, I craved love and reassurance that I deserved love.
I understand now that in order to be truly happy, I must accept myself rather than wait for others to accept me. With this realization came the understanding that I am the only person who controls my recovery. Although a support system is helpful, I ultimately am the one saving myself.
Last year, I thought I was ready for a relationship. I thought I needed another person to remind me that I was beautiful, intelligent, and that my past mistakes did not define me. This unfortunately, founded my relationship on unhealthy expectations. No matter how much my boyfriend reminded me he loved me, I felt unlovable. After months of fighting, we broke up. That was when I realized that the love I craved could not come from another person—it had to come from me. I am the person I spend the most time with; I am the one who is there when I wake up, go to school, eat, shower, laugh, cry, and sleep.
I started out slow—wearing more makeup and clothing that made me comfortable, but eventually I socialized more, voiced my opinion, laughed out loud, and loved myself even when I made mistakes. For the first time, I let people in and I let myself out.
For the first time, I am ready for another person to see me in my entirety. I am ready to be loved by someone; only my self-worth is not dependent on their love. I will love myself regardless of who loves me or hates me.
My whole life I’ve been told to pay attention. I was told that I would never do well in school because I couldn’t stay focused. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had ADD.
When I was four, I learned how to tie my shoe laces. About a week afterwards, I completely forgot how. I sat on the stairs of my childhood home, completely baffled with myself.
At the time, I never understood why I couldn’t remember; my parents just thought I was being a typical four-year-old who constantly forgot things.
Once I started school, things got worse. I would come home from school and my mom would ask me how my day went and I would just reply with a simple, “Good.” The honest truth was that there were parts of my day I couldn’t even remember.
My mom pleaded with my teacher to let me pass if I got my reading and math skills up.
Every night after school, I had to sit at the table with my mom and go through everything I learned at school that day.
This would take hours. We would sit at the kitchen table from when I got home to when I went to bed. The rules consisted of no playing with friends, watching TV, or playing sports until my reading and math levels went up.
I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t remember simple things. This routine continued on for about four years. My parents tried everything: from having me stay after school with teachers, to my grandma (who is a retired teacher) tutoring me, to even enrolling me in an after-school learning program. Even with all their efforts, none of it worked.
Come to find out I had something called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This basically means that I struggle with focusing on one thing.
Think of it like focusing on five things at once, all day every day. Then when your brain says I’ve had enough, it “shuts down.”
From the outside, it appears like you are daydreaming, but on the inside, you are actually fighting to get out of this state of aimlessly staring at something irrelevant for a countless amount of time.
They made me feel stupid, as if I wasn’t as smart as everyone else. From that point forward, I vowed to myself that I was going to do whatever it took to get out of these classes.
By the time I reached middle school, my reading and math levels were up to a sixth grade level. I believe this did not happen because I was in special education classes; this happened because of my determination to make myself better.
I worked hard every single day. When I got home, I sat in my room and re-taught myself everything we went over in class. Once I was caught up in school, my parents finally allowed me to pick a sport I wanted to play. I chose volleyball and absolutely loved it.
In high school, I even took a couple honors courses. I never told my teachers about my disability; I always wanted to be treated like a normal student. I hate special treatment.
When my mom told my teachers about it at the end of the year, they were always dumbstruck because it never seemed like I had any issues with paying attention. Most of my friends didn’t even notice until I told them about it.
I kept it as my little secret because I never wanted anyone to treat me like I was stupid or slow because of it.
Not only did it help me excel in school, but it also helped me become a great volleyball player. Turns out, having ADD is great for volleyball, I can focus on five things at once and not be overwhelmed and still get the job done.
I blame ADD for making me a self-determined person. I would not be a D1 volleyball player at Georgia State University without it. It has shown me so much about my personal strength and how I can do anything I put my mind to.
God gave me ADD for a reason; He gave me this challenge because I was strong enough to overcome it. I no longer see my ADD as a disability. Instead, I see it as a gift.
I have been working as a freelancer for the past two years now. I often get asked if it’s easy and what it’s like to be self-employed, so I thought I would tell my story.
I love my freelance life and I couldn’t be happier that I made the decision to do it alone, but it hasn’t been easy and there are definitely pros and cons to both kinds of lifestyle. Whether you succeed in one or the other ,I think it comes down to what you want to achieve and what kind of person you are.
I stayed late and worked extra hours and was very involved in the corporate mission for greatness, but for me the time frame in this environment just didn’t cut it. I saw no direct reward for the extra effort I was putting in and being told I would be up for a pay review in 6-9 months didn’t motivate me to stay.
For some people I understand that the security of a regularly paid job, coupled with the more standard career route of rising through the ranks is a dream come true, but it turns out I wanted something different.
I don’t think I actually appreciated that I wanted to work for myself until I quit my job and went for it. I’ve never been as scared as I was when I made the decision to quit. I had worked my whole life to land that corporate city job…nearly 20 years in education!
I had some savings behind me, and the intention of finding a more rewarding and higher paid role. I spent a few weeks enjoying my new found freedom in the city but naturally got a little bored, so I started helping some friends with various projects, while interviewing for full-time roles.
A month or so after quitting I was involved in several freelance projects and actually being paid for most of them! I decided that I would push back finding another full time job and see how I could get on with self-employment.
I had accidentally become a freelancer. Over the first few months I taught myself a lot of new skills while doing projects at the same time. I spent hours networking, learning, and building my personal brand. I’ve never been happier.
At least one working day a week should be spent on building relationships and sourcing new work to make sure that you don’t end up finishing a project with no new work in site.
One of the biggest perks of the job for me is that I can carry on learning while I am earning. I put a lot of my cash back into my education, as a business would with its employee training. This is another really important thing to remember to make sure you stay ahead of the curve in your industry.
It is also important to get into a good work/life balance routine. It can be very easy to work all hours of the day, especially as you see more and more money coming in. However, taking a break will mean you perform better and ultimately will get more work in the long term.
It took me a while to figure this one out but now I work normal working hours, just from the comfort of my own home. I can get up slowly, exercise, have a healthy breakfast, and watch the news. I don’t have to fight with angry commuters and so I save about 2 hours a day of travel time (which I use for personal development).
So long as I keep in touch with clients and the work gets done, they don’t care where I am.
So now that you know my story, here are some top tips for becoming a top notch freelancer and kicking ass at life:
Being a freelancer comes with its risks and rewards, but, for me, it has been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.
It was my last semester at UGA and May 10 was soon approaching, it was starting to hit me that college was inevitably coming to an end and real life was about to begin.
Most of my friends and classmates were busy going on interviews and accepting jobs after graduation. Everyone was excited to know what each other would do and where they were going. We had all worked so hard for the last four years and now was the time we had all been waiting for. We were eager to finally put everything we learned to the test and more excited to no longer be broke college students.
My last months of college, I didn’t apply to any jobs and did I go on any interviews. Instead, I was contemplating a very different route, one that wouldn’t provide me with the security and the money we’re all seeking but a route I was convicted to take.
Two years earlier, I had an experience that would forever change my life. The summer going into my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to study abroad to Ghana. During the trip I fell in love with the beauty of the culture, textiles, people and of course the food (I could have sworn I gained 10 lbs from all of the chicken and jollof rice I ate). Toward the end of the trip, we visited a program that helps young girls who had been abandoned or came to the city for better opportunities and assisted them in becoming self-sufficient and equipping them with the tools needed to provide for themselves and their families.
The girls welcomed us in a singing-dancing circle and we heard stories of how the program was changing their lives.
As we were about to leave, I got back on the bus, feeling a sense of helplessness and wanted to give back to the girls to help them continue their journey to receive an education. Our group had gathered some items we could leave for the girls but I went back through my bag searching for more I could give to the girls, knowing that everything in my bag wouldn’t be enough.
My time in Ghana and my encounter with the girls was an experience I couldn’t forget once I got home, one that continued to run through my mind as I contemplated what could I do and how. I shared my experience with my best friend Sasha and we both knew, we wanted to be a part of supporting the girls as well as those with similar stories around the world. We had an idea to start a business but I still wasn’t sure if this is would just be a passion project or something I would pursue full time after college.
Call me crazy but I believed that even though our support would have to start small it would grow into educating hundreds even thousands of girls around the world.
And at the end of the day, those beliefs were all I needed to make my final decision. Instead, of following a plan of security, I would take a journey into the unknown and decided to start a business immediately after graduation, to help support the girls receive an education. No, I didn’t have any experience and no, I didn’t have any money. But I figured I had nothing to lose and there was no better time than now.
Two weeks after graduation, we launched Bené and I started working the business full-time. Bené is a collection of scarves with love at its core; we are committed to educating girls in Ghana and growing our impact around the world.
Two years into my entrepreneurial journey, I can honestly say that I am crazy, but as Steve Jobs said, “the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
To follow along the craziness of my entrepreneurial journey, check out The Journey of Blue.
Social media is a reality of modern life, especially for millennials who are often criticized for their constant use of it. And despite criticisms, there are aspects of this new reality that are truly beautiful. We can connect to our friends and family, even those who are far away, share in each other’s triumphs, support each other when times are difficult.
People engage with news organizations, and with each other. Causes are promoted. Social movements begin on social media and spill over, out of millions of computer screens into real progress.
Social media has permeated nearly all aspects of life and at times this can detract from the experience of life.
Most of the social media users of the world, or at least all of my friends, have selected a favorite app or website out of the many, many options and the pressure we put on ourselves to share everything in our lives on that platform can be enormous.
For me, it’s Snapchat.
I was in Asheville a few weeks ago for a long weekend vacation, standing in the middle of a spontaneous drum circle in a square downtown (Asheville is funky and I highly recommend it, especially for anyone who appreciates craft beer). I was surrounded by dozens of people who brought whatever percussion instrument they owned and were playing. Kids were running around, people were dancing. And I was trying to get the best video for my story.
Then, just as I was about to hit send, my phone died.
Not having the option to post stories to my Snapchat (or take photos for Instagram, or construct a clever tweet, or whatever else I could have been doing) was extremely liberating and forced me to become a participant in the moment again instead of just being a spectator of it.
I did not post the video of the drum circle, or photos of the belly dancer at the Moroccan restaurant where I ate dinner. I did not post about all the craft beer I tried at some of the cool Asheville breweries. I did not post about all the fun I was having because I was just having it.
The idea of disconnecting from our phones so that we can connect with the people and experiences around us is an exceptionally simple concept, but it can be a hard one to follow. I find this is especially true when all around us people are using social media to show the world what cool places they are seeing, how interesting their activities are, what a great time they are having.
It’s as if the measure of how valuable we are, the things we do, the people we date is measured by how many likes or favorites or views we’re getting, and that is not healthy.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to include the people in your life in what you do, and social media can be a great way to do just that, but it crosses a line when it becomes a way by which we validate ourselves. And it can really detract from the real life experiences happening beyond our smart phones.
If you don’t Snapchat it, did it really happen? I promise it did, and it probably happened better than it would have otherwise. Sometimes it is best to leave our social media network behind and just enjoy what we are getting to be a part of.
It is no secret our “millennial” generation faces a lot of criticism: ”you are entitled,” or “you want hand outs, participation trophies, constant pats on the back.” Essentially, we seem to expect achievement to come easily.
On the other hand, I believe the more alarming trend is the expectation of perfection and the highest achievement from our generation. It seems society conditions us to fear failure above all else and yearn for our helicopter parents’ constant reaffirmation of our greatness.
I believe this results in individuals either aiming low, simply quitting at the first sign of trouble because “I don’t feel like I am very good at this,” or, my personal favorite, having Mommy and Daddy spoon-feed it to you. God forbid little Jimmy or Janie doesn’t get an A+ on their 2nd grade science project.
It seems our generation has been put in a position we cannot win. We have been told how great we are our entire lives, made to believe we achieved so much before adulthood through constant positive reinforcement, and developed a petrifying fear of failure.
In this piece, I’d like to share how opportunities and failures impacted my college lacrosse career. My hope is for some of these insights to resonate with members of my generation and help them gain perspective in their approach to any achievement they aim to accomplish.
I believe the achievement of any goal comes down to a series of opportunities and an individual’s ability to make the most of those opportunities. I believe the most common misconception is thinking it all comes down to one, huge, glorious, high-pressure moment when the stars align and the opportunity is seized in a dramatic fashion.
Despite what Hollywood wants you to think, this rarely is the case. The most successful individuals I have studied and worked with as well as my own anecdotal learning have taught me one overarching lesson: the greatest of opportunities are born from hundreds, if not thousands, of maximized small opportunities.
Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, maintained that he was never surprised whenever he hit one of his dramatic and acrobatic game winning shots. To most it would seem a nearly impossible feat. The degree of difficulty, the pressure, and the defense knowing he would be the one to shoot the ball.
However, Kobe maintained it was a subconscious action. He explained for every game winning shot in front of thousands, he had practiced that same shot hundreds of times in an empty gym, and visualized it thousands of times in his own mind.
More from Kobe later.
My lacrosse career at the University of Georgia began in the fall of 2012 when I tried out for the team. I remember being nervous but found comfort in knowing that while I was about 500 miles from home, the game was still the same.
My freshman season in 2013 would prove a fantastic time. We finished with a record of 15-5 and won our first conference championship in 7 years. Despite only being a freshman, I played a major role in our championship season.
I will admit, I began the season a bit timid. After our third game, one of the veterans spoke to me directly saying “we need you make plays if we are going to be successful this season. Don’t worry that you’re young. You can play, and we need you to get out there and play.”
Following that conversation, my perspective and confidence was amplified. My play on the field improved and, simultaneously, I felt a part of the team’s brotherhood and family. I began training with the veterans on the team outside of practice, and it payed dividends when it came to perform in the games.
Expectations and my own self-confidence were at an all time high going into my sophomore and 2014 season. Coaches and teammates had expressed the need for me to assume a bigger role on the team if we were to be successful again. This made my ego grow even further.
At this point I knew my teammates, I knew our system, I knew our competition, I thought I knew it all. Everything the year before came to me so easily. I had a great year, for a freshman. For a freshman. I think with everyone stroking my ego, I forgot the second half of that sentence. The saying the top gets farther the more you climb is certainly true in sports. I was about to learn that lesson first hand.
My ego began growing to a point I could not manage. I began skipping workouts, negating responsibilities to the team, losing focus on what had allowed me to be successful my freshman year. I was so confident in my talent and natural abilities, I put myself above the team.
Athletics are an arena in life where individuals truly reap what they sow. My lack of preparation and discipline was evident in our first game. My conditioning was poor, my skills looked dull, and all the while I kept trying to find something or someone to blame.
It seemed this complacent attitude was contagious, as I noticed many of my teammates appeared the same way. The 2014 UGA Men’s lacrosse season was one of the worst in the last 10 years. The conference and league were buzzing with questions about how a championship team could fall so far in only one year.
In hindsight, I believe I became so fixated on making the most of the big opportunities during games that I did not take advantage of the small ones in practice, in the weight room, and in my own skill development. I can remember several opportunities I had to make plays, where I missed, dropped, choked, or simply failed to execute. As an athlete, those are the worst moments because you are truly beating yourself.
At the end of the 1996 season, the Los Angeles Lakers were in the playoffs facing elimination against the Utah Jazz. Kobe Bryant was the first overall draft pick that season and was contributing in his rookie campaign. In the closing minutes of the game, Kobe air-balled THREE open three-point attempts. THREE!!!!
He was crushed. He said he flew back to Los Angeles that night and went to a local high school gym and shot baskets all night. He broke down his game and worked diligently on every aspect of it. The next season, the Lakers first game was against, who else but the Jazz. Kobe went off, had a sensational game, and the Lakers won. He maintained that the feeling of vindication and satisfaction after that game was something he will never forget.
After my own 2014 season, I watched a documentary where Kobe described that incident, and it gave me a fresh perspective. I completely shifted my attitude and strategy in preparation and training. All entitlement was gone and I began training longer and harder than ever before. I began training multiple times a day, getting to practice early and staying late, and even adjusting my diet to maximize my performance.
By maximizing every early morning run, session in the weight room, or time spent practicing by myself, I was able to gain the confidence and preparation needed to lead and play my best. A large part of maximizing improvement opportunities is not simply going through the motions but constantly visualizing your goal and how your current action is feeding its achievement. Constant visualization and repetition makes difficult action seem effortless because your mind and body are able to work together harmoniously, rather than one dominating the other.
As a result, the hard work paid off in 2015. While we fell just short of the championship, I was elected as a team captain in my junior year and stepped into my role as one of the key playmakers on our team. I maintained this drive, focus, and discipline into my senior year and our 2016 campaign. We finished with a record of 15-2 and I was a 1st-Team All-Conference selection.
I believe the humiliation and disappointment of my sophomore season helped me realize what it would take in order for me to be the best player and leader possible. I will try to keep this from sounding as clichéd as possible, but failure is the key ingredient of success.
To push yourself past your perceived limits, there has to be an element of a desire to vindicate previous failures. It was amazing to see the work payoff. I take more pride and satisfaction thinking about the days of grueling preparation and incredible relationships on the team than any of the awards or accolades I received as a result.
In conclusion, try to maximize the small opportunities presented every day because they make up the big moments. When you fall, understand that it is just another step in your path to your goal and look at it as yet another opportunity. Lastly, in times of struggle, remember why you want to achieve your goal and what it will feel like when you do, for that will propel you through the darkest times.
Relentless taught me what I needed to be great
Kobe Bryant went from good to great through relentless hard work and sheer determination. Choking hard and missing three three-pointers, and the overnight gym session that followed planted the seeds that led to his sensational game next season against the Utah Jazz and the beginning of his greatness.
Written by Tim Glover who took greats like Kobe and made them greater, directly and with brutal honesty, breaks down what it takes to be unstoppable. In his Relentless 13, he details traits shared by the most intense competitors and achievers in sports, business, and all walks of life.
“You’re so skinny, Mary!”
I haven’t heard that in a while. As I type, an article titled “Thinner People Eat This Many Meals A Day” is open in my browser. For the first three years of college, I was skinny. Skinny enough that my twin sister admits that people would ask her if I had an eating disorder.
When people exalted my slenderness, I laughed it off, but inside, I knew they were right. I was thin. And I was one of the lucky ones. Without too much effort, my weight barely tiptoed over 110 pounds.
I never had to worry about what my arms looked like in sleeveless tops and committed the cardinal sin of fashion by wearing leggings as pants on a regular basis.
However, in the summer of 2014, something changed—maybe it was the emotions of my childhood dog dying, the imminent reality of senior year of college, or perhaps that my metabolism just gave up on me. Between May and December 2014 I gained somewhere between twenty-five to thirty pounds.
(Disclosure—I would probably not be considered overweight by most, and am still considered “small” by many—including a lovely middle age woman in the underwear section of my local Target.)
I can no longer fit into my size zero boyfriend style jeans that I loved so much my sophomore year of college. There are times that I feel like shit about my body, as if my whole identity and self worth rests on that pair of size two dark wash skinny jeans that are shoved somewhere in the bottom of a box in the basement.
My friends and acquaintances said this as if it was a compliment, as opposed to stating the obvious. However, I do not believe my friends meant any harm in this statement. Their words were simply a reflection of the culture in which we exist—skinny is good, anything else is bad.
Weight is tricky to talk about. It is personal yet visible, and strangers judge other strangers on something as trivial as the composition of another’s body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average weight for an American woman over the age of twenty is 166.2 pounds and the average height is about 5 feet 3 inches, yet the images of womanhood perpetuated by popular media are of women who tower close to 6 feet tall, weigh less than 125 pounds, but still manage to have curves in all the “right” places.
“You’re so skinny, Mary!”
I don’t want to be judged on my physical characteristics. I don’t want people to tell me I am too thin or too big. Why am I worrying about what my arms look like in photographs? Why am I not good enough for myself at whatever weight I happen to be?
I am not defined by my weight. No one should be. The society we live in is toxic. It is one that tells girls and women that we are not good enough. That we never will be worth something, unless we fit into a certain size. I have no doubt that I, and many others, have internalized much of this self-hatred.
I think we can do better. I think I can do better.
I’m learning. I’m learning that vegetarians should eat more than bread and that fruits and vegetables are my friends. That the goal of exercise does not necessarily have to be weight loss.
I’m learning that I still can bare my arms if I want to. That there are jeans out there in sizes bigger than a size two and make my butt look fantastic, and if I feel like rocking a pair of leggings, I will.
Pig. Fatass. Gross. Overweight. Obese.
Those were the words I often heard. I have never been stick thin, but I have never been overweight. However, the summer before my freshman year of college, I felt overweight. My clothes started becoming tighter, and I started to feel less comfortable in actual clothes and more comfortable in sweats.
I was disgusted with the person I saw looking back at me in the mirror. However, the more unhappy I became the less I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to sit there and feel sorry for myself. It wasn’t until I became involved with an all-star cheerleading team again that I felt like I should make an effort to change.
Life smacked me in the face. I felt dependent on compliments that were clearly forced, and I felt like my whole world had started to become smaller because I had become bigger. It was because of my weight gain that I tore my ACL not only a second time, but also a third.
With each injury, the feeling of helplessness grew stronger. My sophomore year of college was a challenge: relationship drama, coming back off of an injury/surgery, and trying to figure out how else I could become involved in my school. The insecurities overcame me, and the weight kept increasing. Before I knew it I was heading into my junior year a good 25 pounds heavier than when I started my collegiate journey, and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
After yet another knee surgery I knew something had to change. Doctors told me that I was looking at a fourth knee surgery if I didn’t turn my life around. Other doctors were concerned with the weight gain and started doing tests. I had every test imaginable done hoping there was a medical explanation, yet everything came back negative.
Those words cut me like a knife, how could I be that off track? I had almost lost all hope but then I received Insanity as a gift. I realized that it would be a long road but I knew I had to start somewhere. However, again my knee gave out on me. I realized that I was not strong enough to even begin a weight loss program and again fell into a depressed state of mind.
Not only did I feel lousy about my appearance, but others had noticed my weight gain and felt the need to mention it. While walking around town I heard people snickering that my leggings were too tight or my shirts showed my love handles. I knew that I needed to shut people up, I just didn’t know how.
Well, that’s what I thought anyways. I thought that having worked out occasionally the summer before my senior year meant that I would be able to come back with my head held high. This was not the case. I felt even more self-conscious. All my friends had gotten the weight loss memo and had out done the work that I did. So, senioritis set in, and all I wanted to do was celebrate my impending graduation and live it up before entering the real world.
I had the most amazing Lily Pulitzer dress to wear at my graduation dinner and couldn’t wait for all the photos to be taken on graduation day in my cap and gown! Every picture I took made me disgusted. I looked like Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and there was no amount of editing that could fix it.
As I readied myself for job interviews and the real world, I realized that all the clothes that were professional did not fit me at all. This made me even more upset with how bad I had let things get. It wasn’t until my final drive home from college that I realized that I was not happy, to the point that I did not want to get out of bed in the morning to put on clothes that made me look even fatter than I already was.
I took a good look in the mirror and told myself that I need to make a change or else I will regret it later in life. I did not have money to cover another knee surgery since my insurance deemed ACL reconstructive surgery “cosmetic” and wouldn’t cover the cost anymore.
I searched in my bags for Insanity this time not backing down when I felt the need to give up. This time I took a picture of myself and composed additional pictures of myself for my “before” photo and was more excited for the “after” photo than I ever anticipated.
For a month, I completed every Insanity workout, strictly following the outline given in the package, and noticed that I lost 5-10 pounds, but I wanted more. So I went out to Barnes and Nobel and bought a book on eating healthy. I read up on nutrition and what I needed to do to lose weight and keep it off.
Three months went by, and I was already down 15 pounds. This gave me the drive and desire to continue. I went to the doctor’s office to find out my weight from senior year of high school and decided that would be my goal weight; 115-120 was doable, and I would be in the correct percentile for my height.
Fast forward six months to January. I had so much to celebrate! Not only did I keep off the 15-20 pounds, but I felt amazing! I finally accepted the person in the mirror; however I still felt like something was missing. The scale had said the same thing over and over (and over and over).
How could it be that I was doing so much work and not losing any more weight when I had once been so successful?
I fell into a rut yet again, and that’s when I started to see the scale go up. How could I let myself become the person I had worked so hard to escape? Was this really going to be how my journey ended? I called my mom and told her what was going on.
Not only did she feel sympathy for me but also fear. Fear that I would yet again become the person I once was. I could not go back to being that person. It was then after grocery shopping that I received a sign. My co-worker Kait called me and told me that she wanted a workout buddy at Lifetime Fitness doing team fitness.
Without hesitation I agreed, I mean what could I lose right? Then it hit me, the countdown I knew was coming and yet wanted to forget. I had four months before my best friend’s wedding! I couldn’t go try on my dress feeling and looking the way I did, let alone make her look bad by being in the bridal party.
It was time to kick it into high gear. As I was about to drive home to think of how I could really slim down for this wedding, I noticed a small orange paper under my windshield wiper. It read “Come Tryout Orange Theory;” it was like the universe knew exactly what I needed. I remember participating in Orange Theory when it first opened and loving every minute of the workout.
Here went nothing. I was in the studio and paid to take this class. There was no way I could back out now, and who knew maybe I would love it. Holy Cow! The workout not only kicked my butt, but I burned 450 calories? It was the best day thus far. I knew I could do it. The last couple of months leading to the wedding I would work out five times a week and rest on the weekends. It would be just like cheerleading practice.
I was use to grueling schedules, and it was on the way home from work anyways. Who could pass up this type of convenience. As I began that long month of February, I realized that I had finally found a schedule that made me want to put on a sports bra with no shirt. The pounds felt like they were flying off, and the scale solidified that feeling. I finally passed my threshold and got to my 2nd mile marker: 137 pounds
It took me so long to see those numbers all on the scale at the same time that the tears started pouring down. I had worked so hard for this, and I was finally excited to put on a bikini and stand next to my best friend as she said ‘I Do’ to the man of her dreams.
I could finally wear shorts without wanting to hide in the house or wear a tank top that was form fitting. It felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders and the days seemed brighter. I finally looked forward to going out with friends, or going on dates with my boyfriend. Finally I was happy.
You may think this is the end of the story, but that is the farthest thing from the truth. I am constantly fighting to stay at the weight that I am while also trying to lose weight. The secret to weight loss does not start with the workout and how rigorous it is or how healthy you have it eat, or even how much you work out. It starts with your support system.
I could tell you that it was only because of all these positive changes that I made which helped me lose weight, but I couldn’t have done it without my personal cheerleaders. I knew if I feel down or lost faith in myself there was someone there waiting with a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on. They motivate me every day to continue what I have started and today I can finally say I have lost 32 pounds.
Hey guys! During my weight loss journey, I found a lot of different ways to motivate myself. One of these ways was through reading Kayla Itsines’ story, which led to trying out some of her workouts and nutrition guides.
This recipe guide is a part of her Bikini Body Guide series and helped teach me how to make great tasting food and curb cravings. If you’re struggling with or know a friend that is struggling with weight loss, check it out these recipes and see if they work for you!
I am far from done on this journey, but for the first time I am even more excited to see where it takes me in the end.
Much of what we see on social media is the tip of the iceberg. We aren’t aware of what goes on underneath the water that manifests into the beautiful structure displayed in the open air that is Instagram, Facebook, etc. My social media pages are no different.
I love the life that I have created, and I am truly happy with myself and my circumstances… I hope this shows in my posts. However, success and happiness aren’t always the easiest things to come by. They take endless hours of consistent hard-work and an unwavering dedication.
The older in age I become, the more I realize the importance of squeezing out every last drop of daylight and making the absolute most of every day. Consequently, I wake up at 3:40 am 7 days a week and don’t call it quits until 10 pm or so. There is simply too much that I want to accomplish in this life to spend my days sleeping, hung over, or unhappy.
Because of my early mornings and hectic schedule, I have been forced to fall in love with myself and my alone time. Meditation and yoga are a big part of that and they are truly the anchoring forces that create structure and balance in my everyday life. I meditate 30 minutes every morning after my work out and I try to attend a Yoga class 2-3 times a week in between my kickboxing/running/weight training routines. I have created a lifestyle completely revolving around mental and physical health, but it took years of consistent action and DAILY practice.
I was born to serve others and discovered my passion for serving those less fortunate than me during my time at Habitat for Humanity. Through my work with Habitat, I was able to realize the unerring truth that your circumstances do not determine your attitude. YOU determine your attitude, how you approach life, and how you respond to setbacks.
The families that I had the pleasure of working with did not have the luxuries that most Americans are afforded, but they were still some of the happiest people I’d ever met.
I have served as a budget coach and as a homeowner selection committee member at Habitat collectively for over four years now, and through these experiences I have met some of the most amazingly influential people in my life. My social media doesn’t display my work with Habitat, but this is where the majority of my passion lies.
I serve as a Big Brother as a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. My “Little” is a 13 year-old named Savyon. Savyon has one of those smiles that lights up a room and despite the amount of responsibility on his shoulders, he constantly offers up that smile to the world. On top of his schoolwork, basketball practice, and social life, Savyon helps take care of his siblings… and he does it all in such a caring way that it makes me certain that love is in the hearts of the generations to come. This is a great feeling.
Although my social media displays pictures of photo shoots, concerts, and outings with friends, this is only #halfofthestory. My true passion comes alive when I am serving others and it requires a lot of work and time behind the scenes. In the end, it is all worth it because when you find what sets your soul on fire, it is your responsibility to pursue your passion like your life depends on it… because it does.
Art is my favorite form of self-expression. It allows people to use their imagination and creativity to reveal moods and emotion, and to alter thought and perception. I grow everyday into the artist and the person I want to be by pushing my limits and expanding my boundaries. Similar to Wish Dish, art is a storytelling platform through visual stimulation. I love being an artist because it pushes me to seek the best of my ability, as well as allowing me to share a passion for beauty amongst other people. Be