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I Traveled The Unorthodox Path And Found My True North

March 17
Rochelle Foles
Overcoming Challenges

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 pushed every boundary, every rule, every belief I had been taught. I’ve taken the unorthodox path. Instead I began to explore forbidden territory.

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.

I have always listened to my heart. When I do, I am never led astray.

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.

My life has been full of my convictions and passions leading miracles to my doorstep.

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’ve done everything in life against society’s prescribed path, but I have found my bright star, my heart, my true north.

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.)

Who I Am

March 16
Monika Ammerman
Inspirational People

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.

I am thankful each day that I have the opportunity to spend ample time with an individual who improves my life in countless ways and reminds me that people are fundamentally good.

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?

I’ve always valued working to grow, develop, and become better at all I do.

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.

These Three Steps Will Help You Discover Your Purpose

March 12
Ashley Olafsen

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.

It truly is an indescribably unbelievable feeling to know you are doing the work you are intended to do.

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:

Give whatever you can a shot (even if it’s scary)

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.

Run with your ideas.

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.

Immerse yourself in learning what you care about.

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.

Combine what you’re passionate about, with what you care about, with what you’re good at.

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.

What are you passionate about? What do you care about? And what are you good at? What is your life purpose?

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

Girl Power in the World Today

February 12
Nicole DeAcereto
Inspirational People

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.

Now back to reality. Like many, I was shocked at the results of the latest U.S. election.

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.

In spite of the struggles overcome for gender equality and girl power, there is much more we can improve on in the future.

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.

My Twelve-Year Support System in Public Schools

February 9
Kyasia Benjamin
Overcoming Challenges

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.

That last day of school was the start of my five years of hell.

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.

No one really understood my struggles until my freshman year of high school when I met Mrs. Slay. Mrs. Slay was my 9th grade English teacher and the first person I ever told my life story to without being ashamed.

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.

The Truth Behind Suffering

January 19
Justin Davis
Overcoming Challenges

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.

It was the part of me that was in the exact same cinema on July 20, 2012, watching the Dark Knight Rises, in awe of the violence being committed on screen, as it was then unfolding into cries and panicked screams right before my eyes.

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.

The greatest challenge I had to overcome was July 20, 2012: The Aurora Theater Shooting.

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.

Friends and family would ask how I was doing and my response would simply be a complete lie; “I’m fine.”

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.

I attended counseling for seven months to try and change the way that I thought about that night.

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.

From the wise words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “He who has a Why to live for, can bear almost any How.”

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.

I lived this lie for four years too long. As God began to work in my heart over the summer of 2016, he allowed me to experience what positive things can come from pain and suffering.

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.

I gave up on God, therefore I gave up on life, but do you want to know what the funny thing is? God didn’t give up on me.

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.

Now it all comes back to the question I had asked earlier in my writing, “what has been the greatest challenge for you to overcome?”

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

Life With ADD Taught Me to Have a Good Work Ethic

January 1
Eliza Zachary

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.

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Me and my family.

This resulted in me almost failing kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. The place where all you do is learn about shapes, basic words, and numbers.

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.

It wasn’t until the fourth grade that I was tested for a learning disability.

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.

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Me and my teammate after winning a volleyball competition.

After I was diagnosed, I was put in special education classes because I was behind in reading and math by two grades. I hated it.

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.

ADD had shown me at a young age what determination and a good work ethic look like. During middle school and high school, I got all As and Bs and never went back to a special education class.

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.

Having ADD is a part of who I am as a person.  It has taught me a lot about how strong and determined I am.

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.

The Life of a Freelancer is a Risky and Rewarding Experience

January 1
Charlie Davies
Inspirational People

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’ve always been a very self-motivated person and found in my first ‘corporate’ job that my commitment and dedication to my career were not being rewarded adequately or quickly enough.

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!

So you can imagine my despair when I realized a year or so in that I was not as happy as I had envisioned. After a week of difficult conversations with family and friends, I quit.

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.

Finding work can sometimes be difficult, but you have to have a balance between the work that you are doing for others and the time you spend on your own business development. The life of a freelancer isn’t easy.

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).

The best part? I can work anywhere in the world! Right now I am writing this post from an airplane on the way to Miami.

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:

      • Learn how to sell yourself… Don’t give your work away for free. Friends and clients will always ask for favors but know your day rate and stick to it. If you don’t value your work, others won’t either.
      • Know what your time is worth. Here’s the simple math that all freelancer’s use when they are offered a job: first decide on your hourly rate (it might be £20 for someone starting out, £100 or more for someone more established). Then divide the payment offered by how many hours you think the job will take. If it doesn’t match or exceed your minimum rate, consider taking a pass.
      • Find the right workspace. If you have the perfect home office, then problem solved. If not, consider a table in a library (if you crave quiet) or a perch in a favorite coffee bar (if you need people around). A co-working office space like those offered by WeWork is the best of both worlds: a professional environment filled with other creative people who are just as passionate about their work as you are. Personally, I love sitting in Starbucks.
      • Be an expert in something. Sure, you can be a jack-of-all-trades, but the best way to break into freelancing is to impress clients with your knowledge of a particular subject. If marketing is your bag, consider which elements you prefer (i.e. PR / Social Media etc.) and pick a niche.
      • Be pleasant to work with. Almost as important as taking deadlines seriously. Freelancers who get hired again and again are the ones who make a client’s life easier.
      • Work your network. It is who you know that matters or, more importantly, who knows you! So get out there and get connecting!
      • Know, and use, social media. Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LINKEDIN —any social media platforms, really—to get the word out about work you’ve completed. It doesn’t just get the word out about that one piece: it helps promote you as a freelancer and might help get you future jobs.
      • Keep on top of business administration.  Record your projects and deadlines. Include when you sent your invoice, for how much, and when you were paid. You’ll thank me for this one later.

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.

My Abusive Relationship Hurt Me in So Many Ways

December 25
Alex Terry
Overcoming Challenges

I stared blankly at the screen. The silver reflection from the message lit up my face. It took a moment, and then I gave in to panic. My abusive relationship was following me.

No, no, no, no, no, I thought. I began to hyperventilate, and my chest felt like it was being crushed. This time, the panic attack was brought on by Mike. No surprise there.

By the time summer had started, I finally understood what he was doing to me. When he said if I stopped talking to him he wouldn’t love me anymore, I was rattled.

I needed him. He was everything. And that’s exactly how he wanted it.

The funny thing about being in an abusive relationship is you begin to accept the dysfunction. Soon you thrive off it. When he’s mad at you, your life ends and the only way to resuscitate it is to get back in his good graces, no matter what that entails.

When he mocks you until you cry, on some level you’re satisfied because you know you deserved it. When he grips your wrists so hard you can trace the shape of his hand days later, it thrills you. When he hits you for not wanting to kiss him, you understand.

I was defined by the toxicity of my relationship with him. He became the nucleus of my life. The moment I put my guard down for him, he became the puppeteer and I begged for him to take the strings.

I knew something was wrong exactly two days after I agreed to date him.

We didn’t speak for the entire day. I had a panic attack because he didn’t talk to me for the first day in months, but was using social media.

I had to claw at my arms until I calmed down, which was documented by the sharp red lines that graced my forearms the next day. In that moment I was aware I was getting myself into something I wouldn’t be able to handle.

But even before the first kiss, the first violation, or the first tear he had me in the palm of his hands. He was my first kiss and, in that same week he convinced me to go to third base with him, even though I begged for us to take it slow.

He convinced me if he didn’t finish, it wasn’t sex, it was just testing how it felt. After it was over, I sat in his bed shaking so hard I couldn’t re-hook my bra. Three weeks later, he took my virginity. I didn’t want to have sex.

A little over a week after that, he raped me for the first time.

I said ‘no’ multiple times, and he just told me to close my eyes until it was over. I was crying the whole time. I don’t remember the rest of what happened, it was blurry from that point on. After it was over, I went upstairs to throw up.

I knew it was rape. I looked up rape laws and different religious views and various cultural definitions of rape. It met every single definition. I didn’t even consider leaving him.

The next time it happened, I made it stop halfway through, and curled up in a corner across the room, chest heaving with despair. It happened countless occasions after, but after a while they all blended together. It would take too long to document the games and manipulation and psychological wars he waged.

In the beginning, it felt too good to be true. It moved at a pace too fast for me to handle, and it made me feel like something was wrong with me.

Every problem I had with myself, with life, and with people he promised to rectify. And it seemed he did. I was depressed, so he made me happy beyond belief. I had no self-esteem, so he made me feel like I deserved to be on top of the world. I had trust issues, so he proved he could be dependable.

Then he drained me for all I was worth, and I became an extension of him. He hurt me but it felt like true love. I was an easy target.

I’ve had anxiety as long as I can remember, having panic attacks that would engulf me since I was in kindergarten. I’m not sure when the depression started. I was always a serious, sensitive person. I had a habit of looking at things from a jaded perspective and feeling things too intensely, even if the situation didn’t command such a response.

The world always affected me too much and life was out of my control. I didn’t understand why I was wired the way I was, why my mind didn’t work the same as everyone else’s. Somewhere around sixth grade I went numb emotionally.

Seventh grade was when I first planned my suicide.

I opted for hanging, it seemed the least complicated. The idea flew out of my head quick enough. Seventh grade is also when I started getting harassed by my classmates for two years over my looks. That’s what led to the eating disorder.

I eventually got better, but only because I replaced binging and purging with only binging. And also because I started cutting. There was a certain addictive quality to mutilation of self. Every time I stuck my fingers down my throat, cut myself, and refused to eat for days I felt something.

For someone who was numb and drained and cold, being a masochist was the greatest thing that could ever happen. Every laugh was hollow, every conversation meaningless, every day spent in bed, physically moving was difficult beyond words, my body had a ten-ton weight on it perpetually.

But when I hurt myself, I was excited, it was exhilarating. I felt alive. I had an abusive relationship with Mike and myself.

It was dangerous and harmful and I didn’t care because that was the only time I felt something. And that lasted for years.

Every time I thought I might get better, I got worse again. I never asked for help; I was comfortable. My shell of anxiety and depression was my home. I knew how it worked. I was familiar with it. I was scared.

If I tried to get better and I failed, then that meant I couldn’t be better, and the prospect of that revelation was worse than living with my demons. And if I got better, if I knew what it was like to be happy and stable and normal, but got worse again… Well, that would make it all the more devastating. To know what it’s like to be on the other side, but to be stuck in the same place is a unique hell.

So, when Mike stumbled across me it was like hitting the jackpot.

Insecure, depressed, jaded, anxious, empty, desperate to feel something, to be something. He had his perfect doll to play with.

He once told me how his mother bought him a collection of amethyst, but, on the way to the car, he dropped them and all that was left were the shattered remains. Our relationship was like that, he said. Once it broke it could never be brought to the original state of beauty again.

I disagree about the beauty, but he was right about it breaking. Some relationships are not like that. Some are living and breathing and mold themselves as time and circumstance change into something strong and beautiful and resilient.

That wasn’t us. When he dropped me, he shattered me and us. It could not be repaired, nor would it ever be. That is because when he met me I wasn’t living.

My second plan for suicide was the summer I received that text. We had broken up, but I still based every moment of my day off him. He let me.

Mike controlled me with haphazard effort at that point. I was off the deep end. I slept two hours a night, maybe. I stopped eating. I mentally broke myself, using every opportunity to make myself feel as worthless as I knew I was, as he reminded me I was. I took breaks at work in my car, where I would have panic attacks that were building up throughout my shift.

Whenever someone touched me I jumped, so I stopped letting people touch me. My stability rested on a house of cards. My parents watched me crumble. They begged me to tell them what was wrong. I didn’t tell them about Mike, but I finally began to acknowledge to myself that he raped me and was emotionally and physically abusive.

And with that came another wave of trouble. One day was particularly bad, as I hadn’t been able to fall asleep the night before.

Mike was annoyed at me because I didn’t come to see him that week. He spent the morning reminding me of my worthlessness as a person, so I spent the morning crying.

I had to drive my sister somewhere, and as I began to back out of the driveway, she yelled for me to stop because a car was coming. I put the car in park and proceeded to sob and feel my throat constrict. I repeated “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over. She told me to go inside, and that she would drive herself.

I went inside and the anxiety began to control me. I was out of my body; my emotions were a tsunami that extended beyond my control. The waves of adrenaline, emotion, and hate hit me relentlessly and I wanted to die, I wanted it to stop.

I sat in my bathroom and took a pair of nail clippers and went to work on my forearm. It hurt more than I expected it to, and took off distinct rectangular patches of skin. My arm was a dizzying mix of scarlet and flushed flesh. I went into my kitchen and picked the sharpest knife I could find.

I sat curled in a little ball on the oak floors, considering slitting my throat. I imagined my family finding me.

I saw the blood, I felt the release that would come, and how much better everyone would be without me. I was scared about how it would hurt, and how much pressure I would need to get it done on the first try.

I tested part of my leg, and winced at the dull searing. Lots of pressure would be needed. I spent minutes trying to work up the courage, but it never came, since my sister came home.

Later that day I was driving alone on a winding road, with no traffic around. I was tired, so tired. I wanted to sleep forever. Just sleep and never wake up. So, I closed my eyes and doubled the speed limit. Finally, this was it. But, I got scared and at the last moment opened my eyes, just in time to avoid colliding head on with a bridge.

And then, something curious happened. In the beginning of my senior year of high school, I realized I liked one of my friends.

Matt had feelings for me for over a year, and waited for me through Mike. Matt was respectful, kind, understood me and my depression, and tried to help me.

He valued me for myself, and made me believe that I was really worthy of self-respect, love, and happiness. I’d never known that. Before we began dating I tried to fix myself, because I finally realized someone should not make you feel unworthy of life.

He convinced me to talk to my parents about my problems and to see a therapist. I started eating on a regular pattern, I went for runs, I slept for a healthy seven hours instead of alternating between sleepless nights and not leaving my room for days.

I forced myself to stop talking down to myself. I didn’t cut. I stopped talking to Mike. I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do that were harmful to me, and started doing good things because I deserved it. I stopped drowning in my thoughts and anxieties and worthlessness.

I finally had a reason to care about myself. I believed I was worth something. I was worth love.

While we dated I was the most stable I’d been in my entire life up to that point, and I really wish that was an exaggeration. For the first time in years I went for months without hurting myself in some way. I saw life as a good thing.

I felt emotions, I finally wasn’t numb. I stopped flinching when people touched me, and began to trust people’s intentions again. I stopped hating myself. My body was no longer heavy, no longer a prison, and I felt free, I felt light. I was lifted.

I started loving myself because of me, not because he loved me. He saw me as this beautiful, exquisite person, who was more precious than anything. He worked so hard, so so hard to make me believe it was true.

At first, when he treated me like I deserved, I didn’t know how to respond, because I’d never been exposed to a respect like that before.

It has been said that when a man violates a woman, he cuts off her wings, robs her of the ability to fly. The woman is grounded, trapped from the world she knows and loves by this horrible offense done to her. It begins to define how she lives.

The core of abuse is that the abused has a very free, very real choice of either remaining grounded and wingless, and abusing others, continuing the hate that was injected in her the first time he hurt her, or she can build her own wings and choose to overcome and learn to be open, loving and self-respecting.

I was dead and numb and Mike was dangerous and exciting and I felt adrenaline and fear and excitement. When you’ve been dehumanized, the world has a surreal quality, it’s as though you’re there but you don’t belong. Being scarred, dead, and barren in a thriving, breathing, growing environment is an extraordinarily twisted torture.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. My chest was a hollow cave of crushed ribs and a numb heart. And my best friend gave me the tools to heal myself.

Matt showed me what happiness was, and how to feel it for myself. He became respect and patience, and was unwavering in his devotion to teaching me how to respect myself.

He was the first person who took the time to unravel the intricate nature of my darkness, understanding me and why I am the way I am, and how my past affected me. He taught me how to illuminate every crevice and corner, dusting the dirtiest parts of me and making them whole again.

I was damaged at best before I met Mike, but after him I was deflated, left hollow and empty and dead. When someone teaches you how to love yourself, there is no way to repay them. The greatest lesson to learn is how to live with yourself.

I always felt dirty in my own skin, like somehow I tarnished my body simply by housing my soul in it. I treated myself like such and Mike only confirmed this belief I held.

Now, now I am at peace with myself.

I may never be a bright, cheery person. I am serious and dark and lovely, and I am still learning. I’m still learning how to respect myself, and I’ve made mistakes learning. Because of this I’ve hurt Matt. And when you can’t love someone the way he deserves to be loved, you have to let him go.

So, when my third suicidal episode rolled around, I was surprised that he was the one to save me. This time it was cold and dark and the three a.m. sky was dull and lifeless. My hands shook as I unscrewed the screw holding the window screen to the frame.

When I finally got it loose I watched as the screen fell five stories, landing calmly on the frozen ground. That doesn’t look so bad, I thought. I sat on the windowsill, my legs dangling outside. I pictured myself falling, I wondered which way would make it hurt the least.

It wasn’t as scary as my other ideas. It was quick, easy, clean, guaranteed to work. It was probably a forty-foot freefall. I’m scared of heights, but the adrenaline rush of dread that came with being up high wasn’t there that night. Instead, there was only curiosity of what would happen next.

We were talking while this was happening, and Matt realized that something was wrong, so he called me. I was in such a frenzy I don’t remember most of our conversation, but he stayed on the phone with me for hours, and I fell asleep and woke up with him still on the line.

After that, things for me got better.

Every day is hard, and some days it still takes time for me to be able to get out of bed. I still am learning to manage my anxiety, fight my depression, and understand how to live with myself. Including all of this, and my past, I love myself, I love the skin I’m in, I’m happy and I really believe life is a good thing.

Matt is one of those rare people, the kind who never loses respect for someone, even after he stops loving them. The kind that cares for everyone, the kind that will do things just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s this gentle, sensitive nature which understands life isn’t always gentle which made him the perfect person to teach me how to be okay.

Letting go of someone you love just for them to be happy is never a light ordeal. We don’t talk anymore, and that’s okay. Because he taught me how to live, and when people you love leave, you have to hold them to all the good they’ve done for you.

I’m delicate, yet strong, I’m dark, but lovely. Sometimes, no matter what has tortured you in the past, or how dark life seems, all you need is a single person to teach you how to see the good in you.

That is was he taught me, because for the time we were together, he was the first that saw a light in me I didn’t know was there.

My Idea of a Good Leader

December 24
Overcoming Challenges

Being captain on the leadership council for the gymnastics team has taught me that becoming a leader is downright one of the most important aspects of being successful. But what’s even more important than being a leader is being a good leader.

Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, gave me a lot of insight on the traits of a leader, especially in terms of comparing a leader to a boss. Since I was named a member of the leadership council for the Rutgers Gymnastics team, I connected to Tribes on a personal level.

Being a good leader is about opening yourself up and connecting with your tribe to reach a common goal.

As a captain I use my personal beliefs, as well as new ideas I have learned, to push my team towards our goals on a daily basis.

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One idea that I have always felt strongly about that was touched upon in Tribes was the idea of not doing something for glory, but instead because you genuinely want to help.

“Which is true of all great leaders…They’re generous. They exist to help the tribe find something, to enable the tribe to thrive. But they understand that the most powerful way to enable is to be statue-worthy.” – Seth Godin.

Leaders want nothing more than to achieve their goals with people they care about and respect. They are open to ideas from tribe members and go out of their way to connect with these people.

This is my passion and this is why I enjoy my role on the gymnastics team as a captain in the leadership council.

Making personal connections with my team forms trust and makes the team work as a whole.
A tribe won’t reach a goal without the support and dedication from each member. If trust is formed, team members are more likely to follow my lead and trust the process.

“He didn’t tell them what to do. He didn’t manage the effort; he led it.” – Seth Godin.

Leading by example to me means not only leading in the physical aspect of gymnastics, but also in the leading aspect in itself. A boss is most interested in results, and doesn’t specifically care about the learning process to achieve these results. In my opinion, the process is when character is built and knowledge is gained.

Personally, I try to fine tune the process and focus on the small details, because that’s when habits are formed and greatness is achieved. Bosses don’t necessarily care about forming connections with their employees. Forming connections with other members of my tribe is not only a genuine hobby of mine, but it is key for our success.

While reading Tribes I couldn’t help but relate it to being a captain on the leadership council for the gymnastics team. Good leaders are vital to a tribe if they want to reach, or even surpass their goals. Just like in the book, I make it a point to lead my team and tribe by example. Because of this, I form trustworthy bonds between my teammates and do what I love to do.

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