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San Francisco & Winter Hope

Things have been a bit busy lately. (Take a look at my Status Update post for more info.)

But since I’ve switched lots of my back-related stuff to Constant Compression, I want to use this space to talk about other things.

Last weekend, Dan and I spent a few days out in the Bay Area. It was…emotional, inspiring, and fresh.

The original plan was to visit my cousin who moved out to the suburb of Fremont back in July. I’m fairly close to my cousin and I knew he’d been missing friends/family, so I wanted to visit and hang out. As the dates of our trip grew closer, Dan and I began discussing the possibility of relocating as a part of our career and life goals.

When it came to career, we both wanted to have more job opportunities available to us in our respective fields (him: Electrical Engineering, and me: mainly Organizational Psychology which has meant a combination of consulting, market research/data analytics, HR; though I’m also looking to continue building my photography acumen). In order to broaden the available avenues, we really needed to consider relocating. While we enjoy Austin and have lots of friends and fond memories here, the job market in this area is limited in some ways. As a result, both of us were finding more available jobs (and a wider variety) on the East and West Coasts.

When it came to life goals, we’d talked about wanting to live in a more metropolitan location. Having traveled to larger cities (and in my case, having lived in a couple), we missed the broader access to an array of restaurants and cultural venues urban areas often provide. Plus, we were both a bit intellectually bored – we wanted access to lectures, conferences, and other professional and personal development opportunities generally found in larger cities. Also, Dan’s interest in competitive partner dancing has led him to visit denser cities (re: generally Dallas and Houston given that we are in Texas), and it seemed to be the case that urban areas also offered more dance opportunities too.

So, San Francisco and the Bay Area became a possible contender for relocation. And thus on our recent trip, we tried to get a sense if we felt like “San Franciscans” or not.

We spent a fair amount of time catching up with my cousin and a dear high school friend, and Dan even had a lunch interview with a company, but we also talked about things like locations with BART access, city neighborhood impressions, restaurants we enjoyed, and topics like climate preferences (for the record: I like it mild; not too hot, not too cold – Dan is a bit more adaptable in this area).

The trip felt emotional because we had heartfelt conversations with both my high school friend and my cousin. Past and present definitely intersected in a poignant and self-reflective way.

Likewise, it was inspiring because of how bustling and active the area seemed. Dan’s interview especially showed him a little of what a startup’s culture can be like – full of hope, optimism, and spirit. Walking around the city, I noticed class discrepancies, urban gentrification, and progress. San Francisco doesn’t embody “ambition” the way NYC does, but it definitely had an air of potential.

And the trip was fresh in many ways. Dan hadn’t been to the area since he was a kid, and I’d spent a few hours running through Chinatown a couple of years ago on a business trip – so we were able to basically take in the area without lots of preconceptions or prior experience. Additionally, I definitely felt the sense that were we to move there, we’d be starting anew in many ways – shedding our post-college/grad school years and really coming into our own as adults, in a sense.

Of course, things are still very much undecided at this point. We’re both applying/searching for work, and discussing various cities we might move to on both coasts. Plus there are factors like our physical health, finances, and friendships/connections to consider.

But for the first time in a long time I feel…hopeful.

While a tad anxiety provoking, not knowing exactly what’s to come but knowing that it will be something very different from the present, is surprisingly rather pleasant (I say surprisingly, because as you might have guessed from some prior posts, I am not always one to go gracefully through change).

I’m ripe for new adventures and for us to start making our own opportunity.

As the holiday season switches into full blown twinkling lights, sweet treats, cold nights, human connection, and reflection/resolution, I’m finally holding onto a tiny bit of that magical/optimistic glow for us, and our future.

As always, I’ll keep you posted as things develop.

Wishing you all the very best this holiday season.  And thank you. Thank you very much for reading.

Always, S

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Investment Advice from Dad: Part 1

My Dad asked me to meet him for lunch to discuss various personal investment related topics.

I thought I would chronicle the main points of our discussions here, mainly to record my memories/reflections, but perhaps readers may find them useful, too. Please note than neither my Dad nor I are financial professionals and any ideas discussed in this series are purely personal opinion/experiences, and should not be used in lieu of professional counsel.

Here are the takeaways from our first meeting:

Stocks

  • Stock investing is often one of the most risk-laden and volatile forms of investing.
  • Stocks can often offer some of the highest rates of return (if the market is in your favor).
  • There are two main types of stock: Common Stock and Preferred Stock. There are multiple categories of stock such as: Blue Chip Stock, High Cap Stock, Low Cap Stock, and things that function similarly (meaning equally risky and changeable) to stock such as Foreign Currency Exchange.
  • Beyond stock valuation, which can decrease or increase one’s investment, stocks can also pay dividends, or a portion of the company’s profit, to the stockholder. Dividends can be used to reinvest, or taken as is.
  • If you plan to put a significant amount of your funds into stocks, read as much as you can about the stock market and how stock trading works, as well as the industry (or industries) you plan to invest in. Don’t let a broker or advisor be your sole source of information.

Bonds

  • Bonds are usually loans to an entity. The entity pays you back the original investment plus interest.
  • Bonds are usually less risky than stocks (and often offer lower rates of return), though this depends.
  • Some municipality bonds are currently facing bankruptcy (i.e., municipal bonds held by entities in California).

Diversify

  • Try to have a mix of investments (e.g., some more secure, some less secure, some with higher rates of return, some with lower rates of return, etc.). This can mitigate risk and allow you opportunities for greater return.
  • Try to avoid entrusting all of your investments to one source (whether that’s a broker, adviser, investment form, etc.).
  • “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Passive vs. Active Investing

  • Think about how much you want to monitor your money – do you want to check the Wall Street Journal or the stock market daily? do you want to put your money in vehicles where you only need to examine monthly statements?
  • If you want to be active in the day to day activities of your funds, then you might consider taking on more risk (i.e., stocks).
  • If you want to be passive in the day to day activities of your funds, then you might consider taking on less risk.

The Transaction

  • Financiers of all kinds (bankers, brokers, advisers, etc.), make their money on the transaction of funds. To them the outcome of the investment is usually secondary to getting you to: open an account, buy, sell, trade, etc.
  • Always know who is getting what – i.e., what fees will come out of your initial investment, because this is money you are paying in addition to (or included in), your investment dollars.

Exit Strategy

  • Always have an exit strategy in case your investments aren’t working to your advantage.

Heart

  • Look for financial professionals, or financial institutions, with your best interest at heart. Don’t be swayed by promotions, uncharacteristic urgency, or get rich claims.
  • Look for proactive financial professionals – someone willing to contact you in good times, and especially in bad.
  • Most investing is estimating – rarely (if ever) will someone be able to give you a guarantee. Be wary.
  • Always, always, check the source of information. Reputability is key.

Flow

I’ve been in the land of unemployment for 10 days (8 business days). And so far, it has been glorious in a way I did not expect.

See, I knew I wanted to spend more time on the things I was already enjoying more than my work (e.g., photography, writing, reading blogs and spending hours analyzing the work of photographers and writers, planning travel, dancing, etc.), but I wasn’t convinced I would keep enjoying them as much without work in the equation. And maybe I thought I might enjoy the “fun” parts, but not the “annoying parts” – as, for example, all the photographers I’d talked to/emailed, had told me that editing was by far the biggest drag and a necessary evil.

But you know what? I spent four hours editing photos yesterday and couldn’t believe it when I looked at the clock. (Maybe this will change over time, but still!) The last time I spent four hours or more on a work task was when I had a monster of a deadline which dictated that I remained chained to my desk until the task was through (and boy, couple a task you find unfulfilling with a mandate to continue at full-speed at all costs and you’ll find yourself a worn out shell of a human).

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came up with the theory of “flow,” or what has been described as a state of complete immersion in a task at a deeply satisfying emotional and cognitive level, which leaves one feeling energized, adequately challenged, and happier (or as often stated in the research: of a “more positive mood”).

This idea has since been linked to the modern mantras of “being present,” and “living in the moment,” etc., and throughout his career Csikszentmihalyi has produced countless research on the topic of flow and how it impacts individual motivation, which has gone on to influence practices across a wide range of disciplines (e.g., education, sports, religion, etc.).

As you might guess, to a high achieving type with a career orientation and desire for self improvement (re: me), flow can really mean the difference between a profession that leaves me brimming with joy, or wrung out to dry.

One example of the research examining the  link between flow and professional satisfaction among high achievers found (perhaps not-surprisingly), that achieving types show positive moods when engaged in a challenging task requiring great skill. (Read more about the work of Professor Eisenberger and his colleagues here).

Essentially, if I am achievement motivated, the more likely I will exhibit a positive mood state if given tasks which challenge me and utilize my skills. This makes sense.

But what about when I have tasks that utilize my skills but don’t challenge me? Or tasks that challenge me, but require skills I don’t have? Well, such scenarios can lead to that gray area – some combination of boredom, fatigue, or utter frustration (or all three).

The question then becomes, how to find a professional scenario that provides what I need to activate flow.

For now, working on bettering my technical skills behind a camera,  my eye for balanced composition within the frame, and my ability to color correct an image, are completely engrossing and satisfying. I’m also allowed the ability to work with people and help them meet a need, as well as to determine my own work environment and schedule. And though currently, it is more of an educational venture than a monetary one, I’m content financially.

But is flow the golden ticket to career satisfaction? Almost.

The demands of modern living (e.g., food, rent, car maintenance, etc.) and work-life balance (e.g., scheduling flexibility, adequate/fair compensation, health insurance, professional support and training, etc.,) come in as well. There are some basic elements that (arguably) must be satisfied first, before one can attain that “holy grail” of achievement (I could go off on a tangent about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but I think you get the point).

But for now, my survival needs are met and I’m really enjoying the experience of flow. It’s really refreshing to be acquainted with an old friend.

Personal Cliff Climbing

My apologies – I know it’s been awhile (about a month actually) since my last post.

I wish I could say that the month was replete with cathartic moments, mental clarity, and those “I always wanted to do this” experiences, but mostly it was a time of rest.

For the most part, Dan and I continued about life as normal.We worked, we loved, we did the day-to-day things that keep our lives afloat.

But a few key things happened:

– I injured my right pinky toe in mid-May; since then, I’ve been slowly regaining full use of my right foot. While a fairly minor injury, it hasn’t allowed me to dance which has been a serious bummer.

– Dan and I attended a West Coast Swing competition in Dallas. Although he may not have done as well as he’d hoped, I was very proud. I think the car rides up and back also gave us some valuable time to reconnect and discuss more about our relationship.

– I found out that due to financial circumstances, my position would be changed from a full-time salaried arrangement to a contractor/per-project basis at the end of June.

As you might imagine, that last bullet has been pretty jarring, though not wholly unexpected. While I can’t provide much detail, our company had been experiencing some challenges earlier in the year, and once I’d received all the decision letters from schools, I knew it was time to reevaluate things and make another plan for my professional development.

But it’s never comforting to feel like you’re suddenly pushed off a cliff you were hoping to climb gradually (and at your own pace).

Sometimes when you’ve spent so much time and energy progressing towards a certain goal or point in time, reaching it can feel a bit strange or surreal. That moment when you’re able to look out over both where you’ve come and what lies ahead.

There’s something comforting in the routine of the “working towards” space –  being in between “start” and “transition.” With your nose to the ground, you can just continue in the day to day,  knowing that tomorrow will be relatively similar to today with intermittent progress forward.

So once that machine of one foot in front of the other comes to a close, “what’s next” can be a welcome deviation, a scary unknown, or some combination of the two.

Lately, I’ve felt perched atop a mountain. I’ve spent quite some time working towards this point in my life on multiple levels (personal, professional, physical, etc.), and now I’m sitting atop a peak representing hours of work, self-reflection, milestones, tears, long nights, short days, and smiles. A collection of memories and experiences compiled into my own little self-pinnacle, a personal precipice.

For the moment, I’m arrested between the after effects of my own “machine” – that downgrading of  perpetual motion (like the noodle legs effect of adjusting to walking on a flat surface, after running on a treadmill)- and a desire to sit back and take in the view of past, present and potential future, and the uncertainty that comes with the next adventure.

Fortunately, I have some financial cushion so I’m not thrust back into the rat race just to try to find a source of income. And you know, I want this time to be different. I want this next major shift to really stick, to really fit.

And, while I’ve been thinking about all the usual suspects:

– what I’m passionate about

– what I value

– what kind of life I want

I also know that going forward, I will need to pursue a professional endeavor that better taps into my creative side and is more people-centric.

But of course, I worry that I won’t find the best option(s), or worse, maybe I’ll find the wrong option(s) and divert down a path that leads to self-sabotage. And I was going back and forth, back and forth – a mental tennis match of “what ifs” and “could possibly” – and then I stumbled on this excerpt from one of Seth Godin’s more recent blog posts:

In addition to wasting time, the frequent reconsideration sabotages the effort your subconscious is trying to make in finding ways to make the current plan work. Spending that creative energy wondering about the plan merely subtracts from the passion you could put into making it succeed.

And then something hit me…

Maybe “finding” has worked before, but if I want a truly new tomorrow, a changed life going forward, I might have to – “create.”

So a week or so ago, I did what I’d been thinking about doing for a long time (months, actually). I contacted two local photographers and asked them if they needed assistants, if they could share some insight on their experiences, and if they would provide the one thing I really need: help.

Could they help me improve my work and skill set? Could they help me be brave enough to take something I love and experiment with it in a totally new way?

To my surprise (and delight), both of them said they would try. And that’s really all I can ask for, because they can’t solve this puzzle for me (or rather, create the solution?) – that’s all on me. But, then can offer some assistance, some guidance, and maybe, just maybe, that will give me the skills, knowledge and courage to put myself out there in a totally new way.

Here’s to trying new things and hoping for the best. I’ll keep you posted, as this is just the start of an entirely new journey.

Thanks for reading,

S

 

My Story

My story.

To add to the life transition/ moments of clarity, of late, I was talking with my photography teacher (Mr. K) after class last night.

For a little background, since January I’ve been taking a Digital Photography class through the local community college. We meet for 4 hours on Tuesday nights. I’m an avid photographer documenting nearly everything from what I eat, to life events, to a particularly interesting road sign or flower bed. And I’d been wanting to upgrade my point and shoot Samsung to a more formalized DSLR (as my old SLR used 35mm film). So I made the switch and signed up for the class for a refresher, and to get the most out of my new camera.

The class has been excellent – we spent time reviewing the mechanics of photography (focus, aperture, lighting, exposure, etc.), and learning how to manipulate and use the functions on our DSLRs. The best part of the class (I think), has been our photo journals – each week we have a homework assignment (portraits, still life, etc.) that helps us apply what we’re learning. We take specific photos, print them, and record the settings used to create the photo as well as any notes on time of day, weather, location, or any random thoughts. I’ve really enjoyed looking back through my journal and seeing how my skills have progressed, as well as remembering each photo – where I took it, why I took it, how I composed it, etc.

Yesterday, it was class as usual. We’d gone to City Hall (which is a great location for portraits in the late afternoon, by the way) for a class trip, and once the sun went down, Mr. K spoke a bit about lighting for outdoor portraits and then we all packed up and got ready to head home around 9pm.

I stayed behind to ask a couple of questions about group portraits (here’s what I learned in a nutshell: use a smaller aperture for greater depth of field to try and get more folks in view, and try to position the subjects on the same plane as well as create warmth/connection between them by having them lean in/sit or stand close, etc.). And Mr. K gave me some tips, and then offered to drive me to my car (since I parked a couple blocks away; parking in Downtown Austin can be a pain).

While he was driving me back to my car, he remembered a series (collection of photos) I’d discussed with him. My series was going to be focused on chairs (why chairs? well, with a back injury, I have a love/hate relationship with chairs of all kinds; I’ve never felt such emotion toward a physical object before).

I explained that I hadn’t done much with it lately. I tried, but the chairs I’d been using were cumbersome and difficult to lug around to photograph. I’d taken some photos of “found chairs” (i.e., NYC subway seats, benches in parks), but it wasn’t quite the same idea I’d been going for. And plus, with my recent level of stress and schedule craziness, I’d honestly been doing all I could just to complete the homework assignments – chairs had mostly faded from the forefront of my mind.

Mr. K encouraged me not to give up on the chair idea, to keep trying. He actually suggested I search for an older chair, one made of of lightweight material (e.g., wicker, or hollow wood, etc.), and one that “spoke to me” in some way.

But then he asked me the most meaningful question:

“Sarah, what’s your story?”

He explained that he was working on a series of wet plate (yes, photography circa the 1800s – Google it, it’s really neat) photos that were telling a story of two men who made decisions to become either good or evil through physical items (for instance, pitchforks). But then he said that in general, there’s always an undercurrent to one’s photography (of any kind, wet plate, digital, etc.). He said one photographer might choose to make a comment on society with his/her photos – they feel that the world is consumed with materialism, for instance, and so they focus their photography on showing society engorged with money and things. And so again he said:

“What’s your story?”

As you might have guessed, this rang true on many levels (see an earlier related post on Personal Mission Statement). With the recent news from grad schools, sitting in pre-trial limbo from the lawsuit, and realizing that the me of today is not the me of just a few years ago, “my story” is on the forefront of my mind these days.

What do I want to share with the world? What do I find most important? What moves me?

I thought I had those questions all figured out; crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s.

Now, not so much. Or maybe, I did have it all figured out, but only relative to what I knew at the time. Now I have more information, and as I said, I’m not the same me. Well, I’m still Sarah, but I’m a different Sarah. the quest for self-identity and self-expression has been reframed, redirected.

So I’ll be thinking about my story for awhile. But I’ll figure it out again.

What’s your story? And how did you determine it?

Thanks for reading, S

Stuck

U2 has a great song (well, one of many) called Stuck in a Moment.

You’ve got to get yourself together,

You’ve got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.

Don’t say that later will be better, now you’re stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.

Those lyrics have rung true a few times before…teen angst, break ups, family issues…

And well, now again.

For those of you keeping track, I received replies from all of the graduate schools I applied to for Fall 2012.

I was rejected from all seven programs.

I could heed U2 – really try to un-stick myself- but wow, this is a bit of a larger rut than normal.

For years, since the beginning of undergrad in ’04 actually, I’ve been steadily planning to pursue a PhD in Organizational Psych/Organizational Behavior. I methodically mapped out the courses to take, read the readings, completed the thesis, fulfilled internship requirements, attended a Masters program, read the latest literature, joined the APA, worked hard on an independent proposal and study, found a job in a research related field, honed my skills…

But the universe has decided otherwise.

Now to be fair, I struggled with the GRE (took it a few times), and I knew that at this stage, my scores alone could be enough to thwart my admission chances. But I hoped for a a holistic review, and I hoped that my GPA, experience and thirst for knowledge and furthering the field, would carry me through.

Close – I made it to the 3rd round at one school – but no cigar.

Also, a few months ago I began wondering whether this path I had so meticulously adhered to and set into action, was still the best fit for me. These thoughts came about due to my physicality (the post-effects of my accident in 2009, which I still can’t fully disclose but the lawsuit is nearing closure, so I’ll write more soon), my life goals, and my relationship with Dan. I know that I will forever need a very flexible professional situation from now on – I can’t sit for long periods of time, nor stand; I don’t want to be married to my work but I want something intellectually stimulating and self-fulfilling that helps others; and I want a strong, stable partnership with someone I love (plus, great friendships and colleagues). And I wasn’t sure a PhD in Org Psych/OB would fit those criteria anymore.

But, what do I do when the stoplight flashes red without a green arrow to follow? Or even a yellow?

I have no side project I’ve been nurturing, no Plan B.

What now?

On the one hand, I’ve been given the ultimate golden ticket – the pass to pursue whatever I want, because I “completed” the entirety of my prior task/journey, and that chapter can be closed with me knowing I did everything I could. Now I can go uninhibited and without regret into the future, the bright, big, shining future.

Here’s the thing – what future?

When you’ve been holding onto something for so long, building into your life, your identity, it’s very hard to let it go. Even if doing so feels a bit freeing. Even if doing so feels a little more right.

Where to now?

I don’t know…I’ll have to figure things out. Or as Dan said, “we’ll figure it out.” I should allow him to help me with this – I have to be willing to break free of my past and embrace something different.

Sigh…change is a challenge, especially when my first instinct is to revolt at all costs, kicking and screaming. “No, no, no!”

But, what can I do. To spend lots of energy on self-pity, stubborn attachment to what no longer exists, and pining for things that will not be, while gratifying to the sorrowful ego, is hardly food for self-improvement.

But how do you pick up the pieces of a dream that has died?

Do you cradle them and try to piece them together with glue?

Or do you pick them up at all? Do you leave them by the wayside? Do you give them a funeral?

Or do you wave goodbye and move forward hoping to find a new dream further on?

Life seems to provide more questions than answers. On I go.

Thanks for reading, S

I found this post especially insightful today. Thanks David (and Paul Graham) for reminding us about life’s quest for work that we love, and having the guts to look within and take the steps to find it.

Live & Learn

We’ve all either given or received the career advice: “Follow your dreams.”  “Do what you love.”  “Love what you do.”

Recently, there have been an increasing number of counterarguments making the case that if we were all going to “do what we love,” we’d starve doing it.

I came across a 2006 post by Paul Graham: “How To Do What You Love” that offers what may be the best thought-leadership on the subject that I have read.

Graham is an essayist, programmer, and investor. In 1995, he co-developed the first web-based application, Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. He has an AB from Cornell and a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard, and studied painting at RISD and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.  Graham’s blog is one of the most followed in the blogosphere.

It is an essay (longish for those of us with…

View original post 957 more words

Risk

If you keep up with Technology and/or U.S. Business news, you’ll hear the latest stirrings about Facebook releasing an IPO.

This is interesting on a multitude of levels including (but not limited to) the following:

1) Facebook, possibly one of the more enigmatic private companies, will now be publicly traded.

Investors, and interested folk alike, can now access the previously private internal financial workings of Facebook. This allows for a real insider’s look at how the company operates and carries out its business.

2) Facebook represents the Millenial generation of Tech start-ups going big.

The Baby Boomers have Microsoft and Apple; the Generation Xers have Google (and arguably, LinkedIn and Twitter, and possibly Amazon-this depends on where you draw the generational divide and whether Amazon’s multimedia can rank it within the same genre), and the Millenials have Facebook. There has been a multitude of organizational behavior/organizational psychology research on how the generations behave at work, and view topics like work-life balance, leadership, organizational citizenship, etc., so my linkage of company to generation, is likely not unfounded – each of these companies has it’s legacy rooted in specific circumstantial factors, and is also a creation of an individual from a specific era in mankind’s history.

3) Facebook represents a shift in the social consciousness, and the story of a risk.

Social networking has become, possibly, one of the hottest trends across electronic mediums (by that I mean, electronic devices, as well as software, the Internet, etc.). Back in the 1960s, J.C.R. Licklider predicted that humans would one day use computers less as robotic calculators, and more as facilitators for interpersonal interaction and communication, and boy has his conjecture proven true. Humans love to communicate with one another, and if that communication can be brought about via email, or IM, SMS, MMS, video chat or social networking – it’s only a matter of time before such mediums become absorbed into social consciousness; into modern human existence.  Facebook has brought socializing to our fingertips from any location: home, a bus, while traveling, in the classroom, etc. We now “meet” others online (sometimes even before we meet face to face), we “check in” at local restaurants and exercise classes, and we post and share photos, memories, commentary, and more.

Now, social networking/ social media, was not purely Facebook-induced. We all remember the MySpace, Friendster… I even had a Bolt account, back in the day. What Facebook, and its recent IPO, represents though, is the growing power of social networking in modern life.

And while I could write and reflect on social media and social networking for hours, what I really want to talk about is the second portion of # 3 up above: the story of a risk.

We’ve heard Zuckerberg’s accounting of how the founding of Facebook occurred, and that has been augmented by the Facebook movie that came out last year, as well as countless interviews with other influential individuals involved in the process.

What’s most amazing to me about Facebook, though, is that it required Zuckerberg and his colleagues/co-founders to willingly take on enormous risk. Like some of his predecessors (i.e., Gates), Zuckerberg decided to leave college, move across country, and put all of his energy, resources and time into an idea.

An Idea.

Think about that. It’s pretty amazing actually. Granted I could mention Edison, Graham Bell, Einstein, lots of prolific folks who took giant risks all in pursuit of furthering an idea they had. But how often do folks like that come along in life? Not too often.

I’m not writing in order to wax poetic on the great thinkers, inventors, and extraordinaires – do I admire them? Absolutely. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

What I’m trying to say is that every now and then someone takes a giant leap of faith, a huge risk, and they create something incredible. What I wonder is, how do they do that?

I’m struggling with this idea right now, the idea of taking risks. At the point of life transition that I’m in, I’m faced with many decisions:

– what kind of relationships I want to have

– what career to pursue (either for awhile or longer term)

– what lifestyle I want to have

And probably others, but those are the major categories that my thoughts tend to fall into these days.

The thing is, throughout my life (and I’m a Millenial here – in case any of you are wondering, or think my experiences could in fact be influenced by generational variables), I’ve been rewarded for being “right,” not for “taking risks.”

Case in point: gold stars for good grades (doing my homework and assignments correct and on time), praise for working well with others, comments on executing a dance step accurately…etc.etc.

But no: gold stars for writing a report on complex topics or in a creative way (i.e., as a poem), praise for trying to teach others – even if unsuccessful, comments on improvised steps….etc.etc.

Now, I’m not going to argue that folks should be commended for all kinds of risk taking – some risks can be a bit foolish or bring about more harm than good (i.e., driving too fast on a wet road, investing in a historically unprofitable venture, sending lots of soldiers into completely uncharted terrain with no game plan, etc.) – I’m merely suggesting that if I, as a child, were encouraged to try things where making mistakes, or even outright failure, was a viable outcome, and then taught that sometimes failure and mistakes can be just as valuable as “getting it right” – I might have a completely different outlook and set of behaviors as an adult.

The things that freak the crap out of me right now (i.e., failure, shame, being misunderstood, repudiation), might still freak me out, but maybe on a much smaller scale – if I’d been taught that mistakes were totally valid results; if I was encouraged to go for something even if I could fail.

On the flip side, I’m not saying one should encourage another person to pursue something they’ll 110% fail at doing (for instance, don’t encourage me to solve 10 calculus equations in 20 minutes as an ego-boost; I will feel completely demoralized- or furthermore, if someone really doesn’t have any scientific aptitude don’t encourage them to pursue Medicine or Zoology). We all have our gifts, the things we’re accomplished at or naturally talented at, and that’s wonderful because it makes us unique.

But, we can all be encouraged to push ourselves, to take the “road not taken” (i.e., path less traveled) as Robert Frost says, even if that road might lead us to a few ditches, forks, or otherwise confusing turns that we’re just not sure how to handle (or if we can handle them) at first glance. Because you know what? I can fail, I can fall flat on my butt with lots of shame, ridicule and taunting, and learn something – or I can be right and correct with gold stars and accolades, but always wonder “what if”…what if I’d chosen the road not taken?

I want to be more comfortable with instability, indecision and change in my life. It’s difficult – I’m a perfectionist, a careful, meditative planner, and above all, I want to execute it all with precision and grace. That’s a really tall order, and it might just prevent me from following my own intuition and creating my own Facebook – a project from an idea that I believed in; a project that I could nurture or not, but knew that to nurture would require great risk and deviation from the straight and narrow.

*Deep Breath* I’m trying to build up the courage…to take a risk…to take risks…to move forward.

If you have any insight to share on your own journey/ risk taking/ courage – please share.

Thanks for reading,

S

Taking Back Purpose and Happiness

Travel has a way of allowing for lots of personal reflection. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.

At any rate, travel is also the reason why things here have been rather quiet, of late.

Just a quick update (then onto the topic at hand):

  • Dan and I went to Houston in mid-February for America’s Classic, a West Coast Swing conference/competition. (Did you attend?)  I enjoyed a few workshops, and Dan was able to take advantage of workshops and social dancing. He also competed in their Jack and Jill event, and although he might not have placed where he wanted to, I was immensely proud of him. It’s wonderful to see him able to dance in a competition when just a few months ago, he was hesitant to dance in public. The weekend away was also an opportunity for some bonding time. However, with my crazy work schedule (I had to work remotely for the first day of the conference), and the fact that neither of us got a decent night’s sleep (dance conferences appear to be set up where most of the activity is at night), we also had a few intense conversations and short tempers. It was worthwhile though – we needed some uninterrupted time to talk through some things.
  • Immediately after Houston, I left for Anchorage with my boss for a week. We conducted focus groups for a client. Anchorage was unique – it had a very frontier feel to it, but was also quaint and beautiful in a way. My memories are flooded with the constant sensation of bitter cold (for most of our time there, the temperatures were between -15 to 0 degrees F), and delicious seafood (I had amazing calamari, halibut and rockfish). I also enjoyed having access to a heated pool – those of you with back issues take note: heated pools = heaven.
  • And then a few days after returning from Anchorage (oh did I mention it would’ve been a day or so shorter, except we got stuck trying to fly out through Seattle due to their massive snow storm that week), I packed my bags and headed back to NYC for my lawsuit. It was a quick trip, and surprisingly NYC was mild for this time of year (50s F and rainy), but I was able to reconnect with Yang, and Stacey, two of my dearest friends, and purchase some well-made ballroom dance shoes which I hadn’t been able to find in Austin.

So, there’s been quite a bit of travel in my life recently, and I’m thankful for it for many reasons, such as:

1) because I love traveling and

2) because (as I mentioned above) travel always seems to provide the ideal venue for self reflection/contemplation

A few months back I was perusing the shelves of a Half Price Books nearby (a favorite hangout, by the way), and came across a book called The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in your Life and Work by Richard Leider. I’m a regular reader of the pop-psych/self-help genre (surprising, I know), but usually I avoid any publication with the  mention of life purpose, 3, 4, or 10 traits to success, or the like. It seems gimicky to me, and furthermore, “purpose” and “success” appear so broad.

Well, this time, I took a second look, and bought The Power of Purpose.

It joined the (ever-growing) pile of books by my bed and has actually been on a handful of trips with me in the last few months. I pack it alongside a novel with the idea that maybe I’ll thumb through it. Maybe.

On my trip to NYC I knew I’d have time to myself on the flights and in the hotel room each night, and I decided to really make an effort towards investigating The Power of Purpose. I’m so glad I did.

Leider is a counselor/life-coach and uses the book as a medium for demonstrating how to find your own life purpose through the telling of how other individuals found theirs. I have yet to finish the book, but I read the first few sections and there was an idea that really struck me:

Happiness

But not pure hedonistic pleasure; the idea that happiness is a self-project.

This idea did not grasp me right away but became very clear the day after I returned from NYC.

Here is the gist: Leider discusses how often times individuals feel “purpose-less” because they are waiting for life to hand them, or show them, what they are “supposed” to be doing; what their “calling is.” He argues that such an approach is not only passive, but unlikely to lead one to what they seek. Instead, he posits the idea that individuals must take back the responsibility of “discovering” their purpose – of actively pushing themselves towards new experiences, opportunities and risks, in order to remain true to themselves and ultimately live out their purpose.

Wow – did I need to hear that. My life’s purpose is completely mine to discover and create. And, it’s also my responsibility.

I wrote an earlier posting on shame and victimology, and another topic I could add to that category would be blame. Although you may disagree, I would argue that all three of those concepts revolve around the self as central to the associated feeling:

Shame = self humiliation, self foolishness, self disgrace

Victimology = being a victim (may or may not be self imposed)

Blame = assigning responsibility for something to another (or to the self, but if to another – one can be doing so to aggrandize the self)

And as I wrote about in said post, I’m really great at being self-centered in my feelings of shame, victimology, and yes, blame. I can wear negativity like a (seemingly warm) blanket.

Likewise, in the last few months I have been keenly focused on how the external world has “failed” to provide me with what I needed. Some examples:

– my personal injury lawsuit continues to be a drain/drag on me vs. settling quickly so that I can move forward

– I’m at a professional crossroads in general, and the world has not clearly indicated what path I should follow next

– my familial relationships are lacking in depth, and yet I keep seeking change in my relatives to fit my own idea of closeness

– my friends and boyfriend sometimes misunderstand my actions or intentions and I feel let down

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m generally not a passive person. I am very goal-oriented and take action towards what I want. However, here’s the rub – for some reason, I kept thinking that the external world was supposed to show me what I wanted; the external world was somehow (in my mind) responsible for my life purpose, and likewise, my happiness (although note: I don’t necessarily consider happiness and purpose one in the same, it’s just that lately, I’ve been searching for both simultaneously).

You know what’s great about making the outside world responsible for my happiness and purpose? I can blame “the world” when I’m unhappy or feeling aimless. I can take my discontent, my disappointment, my discomfort, and I can deliberately disassociate it with myself by putting the onus of it on everyone and everything else.

But here’s the thing about entrusting personal happiness and fulfillment to the outside –

The inside suffers, a lot.

Why?

1) Because the internal self becomes a self-obsessive pity party. I’d have days, weeks, where I was always feeling bad. Physically, mentally, emotionally bad, bad, bad. All I wanted to do was eat chocolate and watch movies all day. And when my internal self, my spirit, is essentially dragging itself from point A to point B every day, it doesn’t have the energy to do much else but be sad.

2) Because the internal self gave up autonomy and authenticity. When I choose (either consciously or subconsciously) to put the onus of my own happiness and purpose on something else (i.e., my job, my family, etc.), I then lose the ability to have a say in what goes on, and I thus lose the ability to discover happiness both within myself and through the journey to greater personal growth and development.

And beyond suffering internally, happiness, and/or purpose, is often not found when placed in the hands of others.

Why?

Because my needs and definition of happiness and purpose can vary greatly from what others perceive them to be.

Anyway, I don’t feel like I’m now an expert on self-happiness, or finding one’s life purpose, I just feel so much freer now that I’ve been able to start to let go of expecting others to do what I should have been doing for myself all along.

As much as I love Dan, my close friends, my family, my mentors – as much as I respect my bosses, and my teachers – as much as I entrust the things I can’t control to fate and the universe,  none of them can (nor should) be responsible for my happiness and purpose.

If I’m unsatisfied, I can be disappointed, or sad, or upset – but I need to change it.

That is both empowering (I can be the mistress of my emotional state!) and overwhelming (man, discovering self-happiness and purpose can take work!).

So here goes nothing…

Tonight I’m packing my intellectual, emotional and spiritual bags for a new kind of journey. I’m going to go out there and re-discover myself, and along the way I’m going to do my best to determine a purpose, and ensure my own happiness. I’m going to start by thinking about the things that please and/or captivate me (a few initial thoughts: writing, reading, time with Dan and my closest friends, traveling, dancing, swimming, feeling healthy, seeing others smile, copious amounts of chocolate), and then try to think about how to integrate more of those into my life purely through my own behavior and actions (maybe…try to write weekly, plan another trip, try to make it to yoga more than once a week, spend more time with Dan).

This is just the beginning. It’s going to be challenging, with streams to ford, boulders to climb, and naysayers to neutralize, but it’ll be worth it.

And more importantly, for better or worse,  it’ll be mine.

Thanks for reading,

S

Finding a Future in the Past

The future appears linked to the past.

Of course, there’s that well-known Churchill quote:

“Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” – Sir Winston Churchill

and in practice we judge, or try to assess, one’s future behavior based on their past behavior (e.g., job interviews frequently look to prior work experience to indicate readiness for a new position, doctors ask us about our past diet/exercise regime prior to a physical, etc.).

But I’m not one who enjoys the past. In fact, though occasionally sentimental/nostalgic, I frequently try to out run my past in order to hurry-up-and-get-to-my-future-faster.

That running-as-fast-as-possible is not always the best approach, because as that initial quote mentions, if I run too fast and don’t take the time to learn from my past, I may repeat it (potentially to my doom or detriment). However, what if the past is exactly the kind of inspiration I need to piece together clues about my future?

Case in point – dancing.

Dan and I started partner dancing last Spring, sometime in the March/April timeframe. Initially we were just testing the waters and partner dancing became a fun thing to do on a date night, or to try and pick up from a series of YouTube How To videos. And then…slowly…it grew.

Dan now dances 5-6 nights a week, and I join him for at least 3 of those nights. We’ve taken classes in: Swing (West and East), Waltz, Rumba, ChaCha, Salsa, Merengue, Bachatta, Two Step, Triple Two Step, Night Club Two-Step, Hustle, Lindy Hop, and probably a couple more that I’ve since forgotten. Now we concentrate mostly on West Coast Swing and Two Step, though there are often others thrown in for good measure.

We attended Swing City Chicago (which I wrote about in a post back in October 2011), and are getting ready to attend America’s Classic in Houston. And I know there will be more dance events to come.

Here’s the thing though, I started dancing when I was just over age 3. Maybe you don’t consider a toddler bumping around the room to music as dancing, but I did lots of that, and then started as most little girls do, taking ballet.

I was in love with dancing as a girl. I had a jewelry box with a twinkling mirror and a tutu clad ballerina doing a perfect pirouette to a high pitched song, inside. I created mini-at-home dance routines with my brother, and I danced constantly (in the line at the grocery store, around the backyard, etc.).

And my dancing self was pure me. When I was dancing I felt at home in my own skin, free to move how the music pulled or pushed or glided me around the floor. I could also wear patent leather shoes (still a personal favorite), and express myself without words. A true mind to movement connection.

I danced ballet and tap up until the age of 11 or 12 and then switched to modern and jazz which I continued (with some tap mixed in) until I started college.

But truthfully, somewhere around the age of 13 I became engrossed (re: obsessed) with academics. I knew I didn’t have the athletic skill or form to compete in dance, and I didn’t have the training or conditioning to become a professional dancer, so I mentally diverted course and narrowed my focus on school. From then on, I was studying in some form or another, constantly. Dance classes became this regularly scheduled blip in my planner; merely an obligation to meet while charting the path to intellectual growth.

Once I entered college, I stopped dancing all-together telling myself that my litany of extracurriculars, rigorous course schedule, and desire to become a “career-woman” was more important. Sure a bunch of girls and I went to a downtown club once or twice, but the claustrophobic, dimly lit, alcohol-laden atmosphere wasn’t my style, and anyway – I was focused on my academic development. I had changed paths, I was going to be a scholar.

But then…while I was contently moving through my college years, then my Masters program…ticking off each box on the academic training spreadsheet for advancement, I was struck by a car.

Suddenly my next paper, exam, academic accolade became secondary to one of the most basic attributes of human existence: walking.

I don’t remember what it felt like when I learned to walk as a baby. In my earliest of memories (maybe age 4 or 5), I’m already mobile. So the experience of re-learning how to walk and shift my weight as an adult, was entirely new.

Knowing that I’d be able to walk again and getting fitted with a back brace to allow me mobility, were the first hurdles. Then moving from baby steps around the hospital bed, to walking short distances with a walker, to walking in/around my parents’ front yard while holding their hand, to walking short distances on my own, to finally going through physical therapy and removing the brace and moving unassisted, I walked again. The journey was eye-opening and educational (on a personal level).

And of course, the learning goes well beyond the physical, but for someone who had previously always taken walking for granted (I was dancing for goodness sake!), there’s nothing like acute physical trauma to remind you of not only the basics of existence, but also what makes you feel alive and human.

So, after I’d healed, finished school, and found a job, I did something I swore I’d never do – I took a tap dancing class.

And, you know what?

I fell in love with dance all over again.

Now that Dan and I spend so much time partner dancing, and due to some changes at the dance studio I was attending in town, I’m no longer tapping, but gradually dance is becoming more and more a part of my life . And to my delight, I’m starting to regain those parts of me that were happiest on the dance floor all those years ago. Those self-expressive parts that felt free, alive and excited to be moving and sharing through a simultaneous union of art and athleticism.

It’s harder now – my body is physically different from what it was when I was a kid, and my injury has impacted certain skills essential to dancing (i.e., balance), but wow, is it ever rewarding, and it just feels good.

So today, when I sit here writing and thinking about my future, my typical post-college disillusionment sets in and at first I want to cling to the vestiges of my former academic self. I want to do the familiar, I want to focus on my mind and neglect the harder, more challenging aspects of my day to day: my body.

But, here’s the thing I think I’m starting to realize- that my future, lies somewhat in my past.

As a kid, I got it. I inherently knew that dancing made me a whole(some) person from the inside out. I knew that it felt good, that it felt right, and I just did it.

In the transition to adulthood, my ego got in the way. I thought “I’ll never make it as a professional dancer,” “my skills are better put towards academia,” “my body just can’t do what it needs to”. And all those thoughts, while not necessarily wrong, allowed me to do many things – attend great schools, meet wonderful people, travel, learn new skills, create new projects and consider new ideas- but they ignored an essential part of me. An internal part of me that was crying out for self-expression, physical connection, and life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with my ego, but…I’m dancing again.

Perhaps this future-self, the one I’ve been trying so hard to seek lately, has been there all along, waiting…for me to return to the past and bring it forward with a new found appreciation.

-S