1. Have multiple components to your identity.
Startup life is consuming. It's time consuming, emotionally consuming, physically consuming, and financially consuming. In the startup space, it's easy to feel like you are your company. When someone says, "tell me about yourself," you begin your answer with your startup and don't know how to depart from there. Your work owns your watch and your wallet and your wellbeing. The best talisman to ward off the all-encompassing startup identity? Have lots of parts to you. Spend time with friends who don't work in your same office (or spend time with work friends far, far away from the office). Pursue hobbies in a different field than your work. Take a class in a skill that doesn't fit into your job description. Train for a triathlon, start a blog, join a book club, take a painting class—do something, preferably many things, that help you build a multifaceted identity. That way, if one part of your identity is threatened (i.e., if you sprain an ankle and can't train for the triathlon), you have many other things to fall back on without feeling empty. You're still whole and fulfilled. You're still legion.
2. Find your environment.
I worked in a coworking space with an open office plan—we're talking whiteboards for walls, rolling chairs in the most abrasive shades of yellow and lime green, and long, open tables. While this environment was conducive to friend-making, it wasn't ideal for my productivity. Toward the end of my college years, I stumbled across my most productive environment: sitting crosslegged on my bed with the curtains drawn (as to not be tempted by the siren call of a sparkling, sunny day), a candle lit, soft music playing through noise-cancelling headphones, my golden retriever at the foot of my bed, and a tall glass of water next to me. When I worked for a startup, I couldn't always work from home, but I learned to discern which tasks I could complete from the office and which tasks I needed to save for my home environment.
3. Don't linger over emails.
I used to struggle with email anxiety: I'd spend an exorbitant amount of time penning, editing, and rereading my emails, paralyzed by the thought of making a grammar error, or spelling someone's name wrong, or leaving something out, or accidentally hitting "reply all." With each subsequent reread, my anxiety would grow, until my emails would take up permanent residency in my drafts folder, doused in cobwebs and unease. Last summer, my job at an indie publishing house helped me acclimate to sending rapid-fire, cold emails (part of my glamorous job was sending upwards of 500 marketing emails each week). However, those emails were largely the product of cut and paste. Once I quadruple-checked my email script, all I had to do was copy and paste it 500 times. And so, the bulk of my anxiety remained. When I transitioned to working at a startup, I had to become comfortable with sending emails that were personal, time sensitive, and sometimes just distasteful. I didn't have time to linger over each email, and I didn't have the luxury of letting them grow stale in my drafts folder. So, I strong-armed myself into a new system. I imposed the triple-check rule upon myself: write the email all at once, never letting yourself pause for more than a few seconds. Then, do three re-reads, editing along the way. Once the three reads are up, hit send. The end.
4. Say yes, then figure it out.
I didn't have any formal training in design before I worked as a designer for a startup. But I had a good eye, the proper tools, and an interesting opportunity, so I said yes and made it work. I watched countless tutorials and spent even more hours learning through trial and error. My lack of experience made my work slower at the beginning, but I quickly caught up. Learning on my own ended up being deeply satisfying (and sort of addicting).
5. Have a side hustle (or two).
A startup stipend + pricy housing + indulgent trips to Trader Joe's meant that I needed a side hustle to keep me from burning through my cash too quickly. Throughout college, I worked as a freelance videographer and voiceover artist for startups and nonprofits, so I dusted off my camera, updated my version of Final Cut Pro, and got back into the freelancing game. The extra couple hundred dollars here and there helped take the edge off of the financial strain.
6. Clock out.
It's easy to let entrepreneurship set the rhythm of your days, as you scramble from one moment to the next, barely making a dent in your to-do list but a deeply cut gouge in your savings account. Startup culture is fast paced, frenzied, and frustrating, but don't let this pattern your days. Slow down. Take evenings off. Take weekends off (...or most of the weekend—I do find early morning work sessions on Sundays to be a soothing way to prep for a new week). According to several studies, and most notably, a 2016 survey of 1,989 office workers in the UK, the average employee only spends two hours and 53 minutes actually working during an eight-hour work day. If you are like most people, you are doing yourself a great disservice by pulling long nights and early mornings, eating your lunch at your desk, and perforating your work time with social media. Aim for a few hard, no-nonsense hours of work rather than a very looooong, sluggish day of half-assing (pardon my French). On his productivity blog, my brother recently wrote,
7. Realize that not everyone is a right-brained, perfectionistic, introverted internal processor.
Give grace and be flexible. (I'm still learning this.)
I sent out my graduation announcements last week, & now I'm feeling all sorts of nostalgic.
What a sweet five years it's been! I am so thankful for the English and Religious Studies Departments at Cal Poly for teaching me what it means to be tenacious and purpose driven but gracious, gentle, and kind. What a gift it has been to know and be known by this community of brilliant, open-hearted people.
Of course, it wasn't always peachy. Peppered among the joyful moments and rich friendships were stress tears, quarter-life crises, and heartbreaks. But most consuming was the perfectionism that seeped into every inch of my life during my last year of college.
Before I fully grappled with perfectionism myself, I had a hard time taking seriously any person who claimed to be a “perfectionist.” Wasn’t that just a dramatic way to say that someone puts effort into their life? And didn’t it seem a little… pretentious? I felt that nestled in the word “perfectionist” was a self-righteous claim that the person in question produced flawless work or lived a perfect life. But as perfectionism gained a firm grip on my life during my last year of college, I realized just how serious and harmful that mindset can be.
Let’s turn back the clock two months.
It’s the middle of March at 3:00am on a Tuesday morning, and finals are quickly approaching. I’m sitting crosslegged on the floor, surrounded by thick literature anthologies and miscellaneous stacks of paper. The town is trudging through a heat wave, so my windows are flung open in the attempt to coax a sea breeze inside. But instead, my studio is filled with stale, hot air. I've stripped down to my skivvies with a fan pointed at my face and my chin propped up in my hands. I’m underfed, underslept, and probably overcaffeinated. I can’t remember the last time I slept for more than five hours or had three balanced meals in a day. All I can think about is the Israeli-Palestinian War and literary surrealism and Hindu metaphysics and Emily Dickinson and the impact of artificial intelligence on monistic and dualistic religion. It’s all melding together, and my strands of thought are tangled so tightly that I can’t even remember which topic is for which class. I’m struggling with nightmares, panic attacks, and food aversion, but I don't know how to stop.
Up until this point—we’re still frozen in that moment at 3:00am on a Tuesday morning in March—I had never gotten a B at my university. Never. I had received a few A- grades in the past, all of which left me feeling deeply disappointed in myself. It was like those minus signs were little malicious smudges on my transcript, soiling an otherwise-perfect record. But this quarter, having taken on too many units and responsibilities, my grades were suddenly teetering not on the familiar edge between an A and A- but between an A- and a B+. Numerically, this is a very small difference. But in my mind, this was of towering significance; if A- meant mediocrity, certainly B+ meant failure.
Strangely, this dichotomy I had cleaved onto (that A = perfect, A- = mediocre, B+ = failure) was not something I projected upon anyone else. I rejoiced with my friends when they received a B on a term paper or a C in a challenging class. I was able to celebrate their achievements and see their lives more clearly than my own.
I wish I could tell you that after that 3am morning in the middle of March, I was able to push through the quarter with straight As. Instead, my very last quarter of college was pockmarked by an A- and three B+s. Yes, three of them. The girl who had never gotten a B received three all at once. I wish I could tell you that despite those three B+s, I still graduated with highest honors. Instead, I missed graduating summa cum laude (the highest of the three honors levels) by 0.006 grade points. Yes, 0.006. And no, they don't round up.
I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I can't do it all, and I certainly can't do it all flawlessly. By putting so much pressure on myself, I had made "perfect" the enemy of "good." I felt like if I couldn't do something perfectly, it wasn't worth it to just do it well, so maybe it wasn't worth it to do it at all.
After finishing college, I started working in a startup incubator—a fast-paced environment where perfect isn't an option. When we work on a product or design, we shoot for 80% satisfaction. For one thing, it's impossible to make 100% of customers, investors, and mentors happy. For another, we're a small team, so we don't have the luxury of lingering over tasks for long periods of time. Startup culture has quickly taught me that aiming for perfection is unreasonable, and that it's much more productive to set small, measurable, attainable goals.
I recently stumbled across a passage in John Steinbeck's East of Eden that has guided my mindset over the past two months. Steinbeck writes about accepting imperfections and mistakes as part of the human condition, and allowing yourself to be good rather than perfect. His words are already plastered across my graduation cap in preparation for the official ceremony in June, and I know those same words will help guide my efforts in graduate school next year.
"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden
joyfully + imperfectly,
This is a silly little video I made with my friends a few months ago when we were playing outside and feeling particularly rambunctious. Enjoy.
Filming my best friend's wedding reception on Saturday was a pure joy. The entire day felt like a dream—like time was suspended in the salty air while we belly-laughed and happy-cried and watched the sun sink behind the sea. Kelsey and Jordan share such a beautiful love, and it was an honor to capture a small taste of that on film. I deeply admire their wholehearted commitment to one another and the way that they back their words + actions with tenderness and intentionality. What a sweet love they've got going on.
Last year, while taking a class on the English Romantics, I absolutely fell in love with Dorothy Wordsworth's journals. I found myself underlining every single line of my reading homework, writing my favorite bits in the margins of my notebooks, and trying to read out snippets to my mother. I had never felt so connected to a literary work or author before! But despite her gorgeous prose and raw talent, Dorothy is often written off as being little else save the sister of famed poet William Wordsworth.
So, for my senior capstone project in the English department, I knew I wanted to return to Dorothy's journals and show her a little lovin'. Dorothy's prose is so ethereal and organic and alive, that I knew I wanted to translate her words into the visual sphere. I toyed with a few ideas, one being a children's picture book, but my visceral reaction as a videographer was to create a short film. I pitched the idea to one of my favorite professors, who was thrilled by the creative possibilities and let me run with it. Quick little "raise-the-praise" moment: I'm so, so grateful for my professor's kindness, encouragement, and thoughtful suggestions, all of which helped bring my vision alive.
For months, I pored over Dorothy's journals and read every biography on her and her brother that I could find. I then dismantled her prose in the Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals, sifted through my favorite bits, repieced them into a new work, and translated that "new" work into film.
So here it is, folks. The product of several months of reading, researching, and planning, of renting lenses and hiking mountains and (gently) bullying my brother into being in a few frames. I think he definitely has the whole pensive/omnipresent/elusive William Wordsworth thing going on...
What a joy it is to have pals who are willing to drive twelve hours just so we can be together for thirty! Please enjoy this video of the silliness that ensued. It features my best buds, Kaitlin (patron saint of seascapes, SQL, and the left lane of the freeway) + Kelsey (patron saint of movie references, humpback whales, and unfinished cups of coffee).
What a sweet opportunity to share a bit of my heart and encourage others to delight in their faith and heritage! Thank you so much to the Religious Studies Departments of the University of California, Santa Barbara; San Diego State University; California State University, Fresno; California State University, Chico; and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Hi friends, due to the massive influx of emails and messages I've received about this post, I will no longer be responding to messages. Thank you for understanding! Please check the FAQ at the end of this post for my answers to questions I receive the most.
On November 22, 2015 I was fine. On November 23, 2015 my world looked unrecognizable.
Living with a chronic condition sucks. I may be an English major who knows lots of prettier and more sophisticated words to use, but there is no other word I would put there. It just really sucks. And although keeping it bottled up inside is also quite sucky, I've had a lot of hesitations about writing about my experience.
I worried that writing about my chronic condition would make me feel worse—that writing this post would only make me more aware of my challenges. I worried that I would sound like I was complaining or asking for sympathy. I worried that people would scoff and testily remind me how other people have it so much worse. I worried that my words wouldn't help anyone. But as I neared the one-year anniversary of living with a chronic brain condition called Visual Snow, I knew I had to put pen to paper. It was time to find some sort of creative release.
You've probably never heard of Visual Snow. My doctors hadn’t either. As an extremely rare, under-researched condition, Visual Snow is only "treated" by one doctor in North America. And just why did I put the word treated in quotes? Visual Snow is untreatable.
Visual Snow is a condition in the brain that causes me to see television static ( “snow”) in my entire field of vision in both eyes and in all light conditions—even with my eyes closed. It’s hallucinogenic, meaning that this thick layer of little tiny dots moving and swirling and pulsating are not actually present in my physical environment. My Visual Snow causes double vision in the very center of my field of vision, light sensitivity, and palinopsia. It makes me feel like moving objects are flying at me much faster than they are, and that nonmoving objects are moving. It's a struggle to read a sentence without accidentally skipping up or down several lines, and I have trouble transitioning between focusing my eyes on something near and then far (or vice versa). I see stars à la old-school cartoons. Visual Snow has also caused my tinnitus, dizziness, heavy pressure in my head and face, lack of concentration, the feeling of my whole body buzzing, bright red eyes at the end of the day, and general cognitive fogginess. (Here I am sounding like an elderly lady at the ripe, old age of twenty-two. Pass the prune juice.).
Looking at me, you probably would never guess that I have a brain condition. Since VS is traced back to the occipital lobe, knowing that Visual Snow is "all in my head" doesn’t make it any less real—it actually makes it worse, as it means my condition is completely inescapable. The problem is inside my brain.
It's hard to put into words what Visual Snow looks and feels like, but below is a simulator to help you with visualizing it. As I didn't make this animation, it doesn't perfectly align with my experience. If I could edit it, I would make the dots more transparent (which means I can still definitely read and drive and do all that, but it's like there's this staticky layer in my vision that I desperately want to peel away).
To someone who isn't afflicted with Visual Snow, this all sounds hard to comprehend. I get it. In the early days of my VS, I remember the pure frustration of trying to explain to the urgent care doctor what was going on. He was baffled, took X-rays of my neck (all clear), and told me to seek medical help elsewhere. A few weeks went by, and my weird symptoms hadn't cleared up, so I went to the emergency room and got a CT scan of my brain. The scan came back clear, and the ER doctor told me it was probably a migraine aura that just so happened to be lasting for a month. He gave me a muscle relaxant and shooed me out the door. I then went to my primary care doctor. He had no clue what I was going on about, but he ordered a cervical spine MRI for me, as I had experienced a low-key whiplash event (slamming on the brakes in the car—not even a true car accident) right around the onset of my Visual Snow. The cervical spine MRI came back clear, so I was then referred to an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. After several tests, the ophthalmologist said that my eyes were structurally fine, and that there was nothing he could do to help me. The neurologist also did several tests and ordered a brain MRI for me. The tests and the brain MRI came back clear, so she told me to wait it out and come back in six months (!) if I were still having problems. It felt like one very frustrating game of hot potato. I, the patient, was the potato that none of them wanted to deal with for more than a few minutes. I so badly wanted a doctor to fully commit to helping me find relief. Instead, I was passed on from one doctor to the next, none of them wanting to take on my case and advocate for me.
At that point, I had exhausted my local options, and I felt so alone in dealing with my mysterious condition.
I had always pictured doctors as these all-knowing superhumans who, with their incredible intuition, could quickly figure out what was wrong with a person, treat them, bandage them up, and send them home with a lollipop in a matter of a few hours. Through my several-month escapade trying to find treatment for my Visual Snow, I realized that doctors and researchers are just humans. And that in the case of this exceptionally rare, under-researched condition, their guess was as good as mine. It was a very, very scary realization.
There are Facebook pages and support groups and websites and forums populated by people suffering from Visual Snow and trying to find relief. And although I looked at those resources for a short while, I quickly realized that reading about other people's struggles with VS made me feel worse—reading other people's posts made me feel helpless, anxious, hopeless, and ultra-aware of the jumbled, whirling visual mess in front of me. I needed a plan to help me cope.
...so I did nothing.
Well, I very strategically did nothing about my Visual Snow. I decided that if dwelling on my condition made it worse, then I needed to do the opposite. I needed to teach myself to forget about my condition. So I clicked out of the forums and Facebook groups. I stopped reading the jargony medical literature that I could barely comprehend anyways. I told my family to not even utter the words "Visual Snow" in front of me unless it was absolutely necessary. And I almost never brought it up with my friends. I was carefully guarding myself from spending any extra mental energy on my condition. I then turned to a twofold plan of my own invention:
1- get my anxiety attacks under control, and 2- be very, very busy to distract my mind.
The latter was undoubtedly the easier of the two. Anxiety is something I haven't written about much here, as I try to keep my public writing centered on more joyful topics. But anxiety has had a presence in my life for a very long time, and its sharp edges make VS all the more mentally painful. Once I started reeling in my anxiety—which is probably worth a post of its own—I turned to part two of my coping strategy. I needed to be very, very busy in order to distract my mind. I thought about the things I was passionate and curious about (Religious Studies, filmmaking, literature, nature, entrepreneurship) and began pouring out my heart and soul into meaningful organizations, activities, and relationships. And after a few months, a strange and wonderful thing began to happen. I started to forget (at least on a surface level) that I had a brain condition. I just sort of stopped noticing that I was seeing the world through a very muddled lens.
Of course, it hasn't been a perfect plan. I mean, it basically centers on denial. And there are certainly days or weeks where I have flare-ups, and my symptoms feel worse than usual, and my brain can't stop obsessing over it (...like this week, for instance). But I try to forget. I try to stay busy. And I try to stay calm. I am, of course, praying for new development in the medical world. I'm praying that the research currently underway in Europe is fruitful. But until then, it's reduce anxiety and do really neat things so that my brain has other thoughts to occupy itself with. So, friend, if there's something you're going through that's leaving you bruised and battered, I encourage you to sit with it and figure out a plan of action. Unlike mine, it probably won't include techniques for forgetting. It just might be one of those bear hunts (à la Helen Oxenbury's picture book), where you can't go over it, you can't go under it, and you've got to go through it.
Abounding in hope,
As a reminder, I no longer respond to emails and messages I receive about VS because there are just too many! My heart goes out to all of you, because I know that VS is scary in the early days. Since my story has been a comfort for a lot of people, here is a recap of the questions I'm asked the most, as well as my answers.
1. How do you deal with your Visual Snow?
I try my absolute hardest to not let it control my days or my mental state. I make a very concentrated effort to stay very busy and fill my life with things that bring me joy.
2. Isn't that easier said than done?
Yes, in some ways. I've had Visual Snow for over three years now, and staying busy has been the most helpful thing for me--I can actually forget about my VS on most days now! It takes a lot of mental toughness and tenacity to stay busy and focused on my goals and daily joys, but I promise it becomes easier with practice, like all things do. My advice is to keep pushing yourself to continue the activities you enjoy (in whatever capacity you’re able to do them), explore new hobbies, and spend time with people you love. Don't let your vision take those things from you--you do have some power over your VS, even if it doesn't feel like it.
3. What about visual snow-related anxiety?
I like to journal to stay calm and work through my anxieties. Talking with a therapist also helps. I've found that anxiety makes my VS seem worse, so being extra gentle with myself and tackling my anxiety helped my VS as well. Like any chronic condition, dwelling on your symptoms is only going to make you hyperaware of your condition and trap you in a toxic cycle of anxiety.
Between working for a publishing house, filming for several start-ups, and studying for the GRE, I've been craving a change of scenery and a bit of a break. Luckily, flights were cheap, and my globetrotter of a brother has never been known to say "no" to a trip...
We packed our bags and headed off to Portland, Oregon, for a little soul food. Here are some of our recommendations from what turned out to be an incredible visit.
Stay - The Society Hotel
My oh my. I can't even begin to express how utterly obsessed I am with this hip little hostel. The building originally functioned as sailors' lodging in the late 1800s and then transformed into a Chinese dance hall, movie set, and housing for gypsy royalty. (Luckily none of these transformations damaged the absolutely stunning original wooden staircases...swoon). The Society Hotel now serves as a dreamy little landing place for the adventurous and community-minded traveler, and it will completely change your perception of hostels. They offer a few different boarding options ranging from a hostel-style bunk in a communal room to a private (read: tiny) room with communal bath, to an entirely private bed and bath. The space also boasts of several communal living areas, including a homey reading room (complete with gorgeous leather chesterfield sofas and a fireplace), a rooftop deck, and a cafe. The aptly named Society Cafe was so wonderful, I was tempted to list it below as one of the best places to eat and drink, as Kyle and I kept stopping back in during our adventures for iced coffees or slices of avocado toast.
Eat - Ned Ludd
Ned Ludd was quite possibly the best meal we had all week, which is a tall order since Portland is such an excellent food destination. The restaurant only cooks with fire (!) and uses local ingredients, which pairs nicely with the very eclectic pioneer-esque decor. Kyle and I split an order of spring radishes with green garlic butter (life-changing) over fluffy spiced flatbread, and I also had the handkerchief pasta with local zucchini, fresh cheese, pine nuts, and mint (...are you drooling yet?). It was the kind of place where the chefs make you extra food that you didn't order just so you can try whatever it is that they're perfecting at the moment. Bliss.
Savor - Salt & Straw
Although I'm a chocolate lover to the core, the gal behind the counter at this (mega-famous) ice cream shop gently bullied me into trying "sea salt" (And no, not caramel with sea salt. The ice cream was actually sea salt), and it rocked my world. I also tried "olive oil" (which was stupidly delicious) and ended up with a generous portion of "honey lavender." We were bummed that we discovered this shop on our last day in the city, as we wanted to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths (although I think Kyle mostly wanted to go back because he took a liking to the girl working there...).
Sip - Heart Roasters
Heart was a refreshingly understated little shop that served as our pivot point between a morning of shopping and an afternoon nap (if you know us, you'll know it was Kyle, not me, who did both the shopping and the napping). I'm still thinking about that basil iced tea that I downed much too quickly.
Shop - Alder & Co.
This sweet shop was pure magic. For starters, it smelled heavenly, and the ambiance was something out of my most decadent daydreams (think Anthropologie, but about seven thousand times more lovely and soft and pure and wonderful). Every item had me absolutely in love, and if I weren't a penny-pinching college student, I would have bought the entire store. (Also, Alder & Co. houses just about the sweetest little flower stand in all of Portland.)
Wander - Horsetail Falls
We were trying to get to Multnomah Falls, but we couldn't find parking (it was a perfectly blue, sparkling day, so everyone else in Portland had the same idea as we did). In looking for a place to turn around, we stumbled across Horsetail Falls, which is where we ended up spending the most soul-nourishing afternoon. We picnicked beside one waterfall, munching on Oregon berries and creamy bites of brie, before packing up our knapsacks and heading up the trail. I wasn't wearing hiking shoes, so I wasn't sure how far I could make it before the soles of my trusty white sneaks gave out, but the hike turned out to be more of an uphill stroll. During the hike, we turned a blind corner and were faced with the most spectacular sight of a huge waterfall and pond nestled amongst the forest. Jaw dropping. We sat behind the roaring water, soaked up the perfectly green, lush foliage around us, and thought about how crazy beautiful this world we live in is. How's that for a little soul food?
P.S.: You can find Kyle over on his site, Edward Imaginative.
I headed to San Diego for twenty-four hours to surprise my best pal for her twenty-second birthday. The weather may have been "June gloom," but boy, oh, boy was it a joyful day!
P.S.: That sweet little flower shop is called Native Poppy.
I was honored to take college-graduation portraits for my friend Melissa. I've known her since I was eighteen months old—where has the time gone?
A sweet little weekend in San Diego to celebrate my best friend's recent engagement + the beginning of spring break...
P.S.: All photos taken with Canon T2i camera body + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II lens
Hi friends! Here's a quick video I shot this weekend in one of my favorite places—San Luis Obispo, California—with some of the best people I know.
Now that school has resumed once more (bittersweet), I find myself lingering over photos from winter break and wishing I could live it twice more. Here are some of my favorite moments from the season...
Happy 2016! I hope your year overflows with love, intentionality, and lots of dreamy seaside mornings.
2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...
1. Treasure your health (and your mama).
Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health.
2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive.
Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail).
3. Savor the little things.
Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day.
4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally).
With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).
5. Let yourself dream.
As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).
Happy New Year, friends!
This past year marked my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. In light of this, my older brother, Kyle, and I reflected upon the life lessons our parents have instilled in us over the years. Without getting too nostalgic or saccharine, here is an A-Z list of some of our favorites.
A: Allow for U-turns.
Plans change and interests shift. Be compassionate toward yourself and change direction if need be. High school, college, jobs—these are all evolutionary experiences, and adjustments are sometimes necessary.
B: Be a Good Samaritan.
Be kindhearted, and go out of your way to help others. Do things that make Jesus smile.
C: Character over comfort.
I can't emphasize enough how many times I've heard this phrase. My parents were all about pushing us to do the right thing, do the hard thing, do the uncomfortable thing on our own so that we could learn (rather than them rushing to our aid and fixing all of our problems for us).
D: Doing what's right is probably not the same thing as doing what's popular.
I am such an unabashed rule-follower. Although rules can feel superfluous at times, they usually exist for a reason. And even though blatant defiance is "cool," it's usually not right (unless it is—use your best judgment).
E: Eat your veggies.
...and your fruit! Especially if it comes from the garden.
F: Follow your passions.
During her first year in a biochemistry Ph.D. program, my mom realized that although she liked science, she didn't love it. Prior to college, her parents told her she could only pursue math or science, even though her real passion was writing. So when I wanted to change majors (and then change schools), she was nothing but supportive.
G: Gossip is destructive.
Stick up for others, change the subject, and walk away if need be. Gossip isn't worth the repercussions.
H: Hold others to a high standard.
Sometimes my brother and I can take this to extremes, but for good reason. Build a community of accountability. Hold yourself to a high standard, humbly accepting critiques on your poor judgment and actions, and do the same for those around you. Push one another to be better.
I: Intentionality makes for strong relationships.
Back your words and actions in careful thought and lots of love, and watch your relationships grow deeper and stronger.
J: Jump on opportunities.
Admittedly, my brother is much better at this than I am (I am much more cautious, which comes with the territory of being an introvert). But when I voiced interest in transferring high schools to the brand new one, trying out for varsity cheerleading, going to college out of state (and subsequently transferring to a college in state), my parents encouraged me to try new things and say "yes."
K: Keep your standards high.
Don't settle—in friendships, academics, jobs, and certainly don't settle in romantic relationships. Keep heart, and keep your standards high.
L: Look for the intention behind words and actions.
Thinking about why people behaved the way they did makes for increased empathy and understanding. Did they have good intentions but bad execution?
M: Make it a great day.
My dad would always say this when he dropped me off for school (that one glorious year in elementary school that I didn't take the school bus). Make it a great day. Actively make your day excellent, rather than passively letting the day happen to you.
N: No TV on weekdays
I was rather unpopular for this in middle school and high school, as I was that one "weird kid" who wasn't up-to-speed on Pretty Little Liars or what have you. My brother and I weren't allowed to watch TV during the school week, which encouraged us to spend our time outside, in the pool, or with our nose in a book. And although I could watch TV on the weekends, I still wasn't up-to-speed on the trendy television shows—I opted for Scooby Doo, Phineas and Ferb, and Lizzie McGuire reruns.
O: Offer kindness.
Be kind, be kind, be kind. It's so simple.
P: Pray unceasingly.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Q: Question your motivations.
My brother and I have always been encouraged to be introspective about our motivations. Why did I want to take singing lessons in the seventh grade? Because I loved to sing? Or because I wanted to be Hannah Montana? (It was, undoubtedly, the latter, and the dream didn't last very long.) I ask myself the same questions now. Why do I want to post Picture A on social media? Because I genuinely want to share it with my friends or because I'm searching for attention? Be honest with yourself about your underlying motivations.
R: Remember birthdays.
Send a card. Send a text. One minute of effort can brighten someone's entire day.
S: Send thank you notes.
This was such a strictly enforced rule in our household that it eventually became second nature to me and my brother. I know that I feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone sends me a thank you note, so I want to extend my gratitude to others.
T: The clock keeps ticking.
I hated my first "real" summer job—working retail at a beachside surf shop. The hours were long, the breaks were short, and the tourists were both plentiful and generally unpleasant. Although I felt lucky to have a job at all, I dreaded going to work every day. My mom reminded me that whether I'm having fun or not, the clock keeps ticking. Even if I was having a lousy time, I could trust that the seconds were still ticking by, one step closer to closing time.
U: Understand the opposing point of view.
Be it small disagreements, political debates, or the world religions, understanding the other side is extremely valuable. While this understanding may help you better argue your case, it can also deepen your feelings of empathy toward the other person/party.
V: Verbalize (“use your words”).
I was, admittedly, a bit of a quiet pouter when I was little. Instead of sticking out my lower lip and sulking, I was encouraged to "use my words" and verbalize what, exactly, was upsetting me. As an INFJ and an HSP, I tend to feel and think deeply and internalize those thoughts and feelings, so the reminder to use my words is still significant.
W: Wear sunscreen.
Growing up in a family of swimmers (sans my dad), slathering up in orange-scented sunscreen was part of the daily regimen (and for good reason: skin cancer runs in the family).
X: Extend compassion.
Push yourself to extend compassion even when it takes a great deal of concentrated effort. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "it is easy to be heavy, hard to be light." (Can you tell that empathy, compassion, and kindness were the major themes of our childhood lessons?)
Y: Your sibling is your greatest supporter
...and competitor. :-)
Z: (Get your) Zzzzzs!.
Early to bed, early to rise. As you can see in the photo below, we have always taken our naps very seriously (I was three; Kyle was seven).
Hello friends! I spent this past weekend in San Francisco, so I took the opportunity to film another little lighthearted video.
I seem to be on a sort of video kick as of late! As with the last video, I used a Canon Rebel T2i camera with a 50mm lens, and I edited the footage in Final Cut Pro. I'm still just starting out with cinematography, but I feel like the practice is already paying off in subtle ways (i.e., I actually understand some of the buttons...). Enjoy!
I love lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, bucket lists, shopping lists—my thoughts feel much more streamlined when they’re written down in neat, little bulleted columns.
And although I can’t deny the convenience of typing away on the notes app on my iPhone, I am overwhelmingly partial to pen and paper. A fresh notebook and an uncapped pen hold the (naïve?) promise that with a few focused minutes of list-making, I can, indeed, create order from chaos. The downside of paper lists, of course, is that they are everywhere. My lists are in my journal, in my philosophy notebook, on the backs of receipts, on sticky notes, and in the margins of my Spanish textbook. They're on the back of the church bulletin, on the back of envelopes, on the back of the Trader Joe’s ad, and on the back of my hand. I am, at my core, a highly organized person, but my proclivity for list-making has been testing my tidiness.
I recently purchased a vintage Pee Chee folder to collect all of my list-y bits and scraps (the same folder that my mom used when she was in high school—I love old fashioned things), and there’s something so satisfying about having all of my papers in one place, neat and accessible. What I need to do, what I want to do, things I’m curious about, things I’m anxious about, people that inspire me—a little rifle through the papers is a little rifle through my mind. It's become a non-linear diary of sorts.
When I compiled my overabundance of lists, I came up with a sort of “best of” collection of all the things, people, and events that I have been enjoying recently. As highly idiosyncratic as “favorites” are, I love to read about them on other people’s blogs or watch them on YouTube, so I'm sharing mine in hopes that it will be just as fun for someone else to read as it was for me to create. Here goes...
For the sartorialist...
Madewell: I'm not particularly passionate about fashion, but I do have a sartorial vice that goes by the name of Madewell. My wardrobe is very small and minimalistic, as I'm drawn more to versatility, fit, and quality than I am to trendiness. Also, I keep my wardrobe edited down to about 40 items maximum, so I can be incredibly picky when I do decide to make a purchase (farewell to the almost perfect jeans that I sent back this week), and I am consequently more willing to spend a little extra money for a well-constructed, practical item. My favorite pieces in my wardrobe from the tomboyishly cool and artfully effortless brand? These magically flattering black pants (currently sold out, unfortunately), this simple bag, and this practical coat (also sold out as of now).
For the intellectual...
MIT Open Courseware classes: On this site, you can access free course materials from 2,260 MIT classes. On my to-do list? Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism; History of Western Thought, 500-1300; Politics and Religion; and Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times. (Yale has a similar program called Open Yale courses.)
The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.: This graphic emphasizes the high degree of specialization that a Ph.D. student pursues and contrasts it with the whole wide world of human knowledge. I'm planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in Religious Studies in the near future, so this graphic was relevant to me, but I think in general it's just humbling to think about the vastness of human knowledge and innovation.
Printable Sudoku Puzzles: I love sudoku so much that it's concerning. Sudoku puzzles make for the perfect study break, as they require concentrated effort but are still very soothing (see, I told you, it's concerning). The rules are simple, and starting out on the "easy" puzzles makes for a luxurious little confidence boost. P.S.: I may or may not have asked for (and was generously given) a book of sudoku puzzles for my 21st birthday. I am a very wild 21-year-old, can't you tell?
Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk: I highly recommend watching Monica's TED talk (TED standing for Technology, Education, and Design) on cyberbullying and her experiences as a scapegoat (she even mentions how many rap songs that her name appears in, which is just so saddening). She is a skilled public speaker, and her message about cyberbullying is both powerful and heartbreaking (I told myself I wouldn't cry, but I did). If you click on anything from this list, please watch this.
Cal Newport's Blog: I have been reading Cal Newport's blog for at least five years, so I don't even remember how I stumbled across it (but I'm glad I did). On his blog, Newport explores concepts like deep habits, focus, and efficiency as they relate to school and work. He received his Ph.D. from MIT and is currently an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, specializing in the theory of distributed algorithms. He also has written a few books, with his latest being So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
For the old soul...
The Invention of Teenagers: LIFE and the Triumph of Youth Culture: This article explores the creation and evolution of "American teenaged culture" in the 1940s. After you read the article, don't forget to scroll through the slideshow at the top of the page (Image 14 is my favorite, by far). As an old soul, this had me dreaming of what my life would have been like seventy years ago.
For the adventurer...
Imagining the Universe: Cosmology in Art and Science: If you enjoy outer space, science, and art, or dreamed about being an astronaut when you were little, you'll love seeing how these topics relate. (Make sure you spend some time zooming in on the moon—I thought that was nifty.)
Autocamp: Santa Barbara's "Autocamp" is a boutique airstream hotel that is so darn hip and cute. They also have soon-to-be-open locations in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Francisco. I love seeing how hotels are becoming increasingly innovative and funky—they don't all have to be characterized by ugly carpet and low-quality chocolate chip cookies.
For the bookworm...
Snacks of the Great Scribblers: This New York Times sketch illustrates the not-so-normal snacks of choice of some of the world's greatest writers. I think I would get along quite well with Michael Pollan, Joyce Maynard, and Emily Dickinson.
J.K. Rowling's Hagrid Hut: J.K. Rowling is building a replica of Hagrid's hut in her yard in Scotland. Some have speculated that this will be where she'll work on the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, I might add, I am so excited for, the unabashed Harry Potter fan that I am. Additional and slightly related side note: I love asking people which Harry Potter house they see themselves in and who their favorite character is. Harry Potter is a great way to get to know a person—I would definitely be a Hufflepuff, and I see myself as a hybrid mix of Hermione and Neville.
For the entrepreneur...
The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People: This infographic illustrates how some of the most famous creative people structure(ed) their days. I sent this to my brother (a self-proclaimed creative), and he loved it, so naturally you will too.
Kinfolk: Issue 15, The Entrepreneurs Issue, focuses on the spirit of entrepreneurship in the workplace and seeks to encourage a healthier work-and-leisure balance than what is currently the norm. In general, I love this magazine company for its depth and attention to aesthetics.
#The100DayProject: 100 days of creating more than we consume. Whether it's coding, writing, photography, whatever, this is a cool project that encourages diving deeper into your craft and making time for it every single day.
For the artist...
Nobody Likes Me (Street Art): This street art is ridiculously cool, and I think there's a lot of meaning we can glean from this piece regarding self-esteem and attention span. I do think that the typical Millennial's sense of self-esteem has grown dependent on a constant influx of social media notifications and positive reinforcement (speaking to the common phrase "technology is a good servant but a bad master"). Also, the age of the subject is concerning (on purpose, I think), sparking a discussion on what age is appropriate for cell phones and social media. It already has me thinking about at what age my future child will have a phone—I hope to be the parent that facilitates outdoor and imaginative play over apps and computer games.
For the spiritual...
Bible Journaling: I love that art can be a form of worship. Bible journaling weaves creativity into daily "quiet time," as beautifully demonstrated by Shanna Noel on her site Illustrated Faith. If you're a Christian with a love for painting, drawing, or calligraphy, you will probably love this. As a creative and Jesus-loving person that hates coloring "inside of the lines," I really connected with the freedom and deep, spiritual purpose of Bible Journaling.
"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk" (Cain).
In part one of this small series on introversion, I explored the extrovert ideal that is engrained in American culture, and I shared my experiences of “faking” extroversion as a sort of survival mechanism in the high school halls. I have, since high school and early college, embraced my own introverted tendency, delighting in it, rather than fighting it. This post is about solitude, meant for likeminded introverts or curious extroverts who have an introverted friend or family member (half of my family is of the ultra-extroverted, hyper-gregarious sort; I do hope they’re reading).
I must preface this discussion with a few things: firstly, I am not a scientist, I am not a psychologist, I am not a doctor. My credibility lies only in my experience of being a highly introverted person with highly extroverted friends and family members, as well as being a decently well-read person. Secondly, I am also an HSP—Highly Sensitive Person—so my introversion is colored by this quality. This means that I have a high sensory processing sensitivity; HSPs are hyperaware of subtle changes in environment, process sensory input on a deep and thorough level, and, consequently, are easily overaroused by sensory stimulus that the majority of people aren’t bothered by (or don’t even notice). It is, essentially, a biological difference in the nervous system. About 15% of people are Highly Sensitive, and it’s also important to note that not all introverts are HSPs, and not all HSPs are introverts (if you are interested in learning more about this, The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron is a great read, as is The Highly Sensitive Child, if you have children). All disclaimers aside, let’s continue our look at introversion and solitude.
The life of an introvert is the life of the mind—rich, quiet, imaginative, thoughtful, and internally focused. The life of the extrovert, by contrast, is the life of the party—lively, vivacious, highly social, and externally driven.
The extrovert feels energized and inspired by networking events, endless chatter, and parties bursting at the seams with friends, acquaintances, and strangers (the latter, of course, are not really strangers by the extrovert’s standard—a stranger is a friend that is yet to be met). But introverts leave these experiences feeling depleted; in these situations, introverts spend their energy, and extroverts gain it. The common misconception? Introverts are antisocial. The reality: introverts do enjoy being with others, nurturing deep relationships, engaging in meaningful conversation (with a general abhorrence of small talk), and cultivating community. When I attend (read: get dragged along to) my dad’s entrepreneur networking events, his goal is to talk to as many people as possible, bounding around, making new connections and having a grand old time. My goal? Find one really nice person to talk to (and maybe find some snacks) and eventually retire to a quiet corner of the room to recharge and reflect.
A highly simplistic comparison of introversion versus extroversion from my non-scientific and experience-driven perspective is as follows: while the (college-aged) extrovert opts for weekend-long music festivals, theme parks, and standing at the fifty-yard line at college football games, the introvert seeks solitude, preferring quiet mornings at the beach, unhurried hikes (picnic lunch included), and wandering through bookshops. The introvert sees the extrovert’s activities of choice as exhausting, overly stimulating, and just plain noisy. The extrovert sees the introvert’s activities of choice as quiet, overly tame, and painfully boring. This is simplistic, as some people may enjoy activities from both categories, but the example is still helpful in painting the contrast.
To put this into a work-related context, “introverts enjoy shutting the doors to their offices and plunging into their work, because for them this sort of quiet intellectual activity is optimally stimulating, while extroverts function best when engaged in higher-wattage activities like organizing team-building workshops or chairing meetings” (Cain).
Cain uses Stephen Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, as the creative, introverted paradigm:
I love Cain’s discussion on Wozniak, because it highlights the importance of solitude as a catalyst for creativity (and I'm also an Apple fan). Woz himself encourages people to “work alone”—in his experience as an engineer, innovative breakthroughs are the product of quiet, solitary, intense focus, rather than of group brainstorming sessions and team meetings (Cain’s book also provides an excellent dialogue on how working in a group might not be as beneficial and efficient as schools and workplaces make it seem—perhaps more on that another time).
Cain's more unlikely example of this creative, solitude-seeking introvert? Dr. Seuss.
I was drawn to the Dr. Seuss example, because his cheerful, bouncing rhymes and brightly colored illustrations seem to radiate an equally unreserved, quirky, splashy, bouncy sort of extroversion (Tigger from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh comes to mind). This contrast between Geisel's temperament and his books' content emphasizes the rich, imaginative inner life of the introvert. It also reaffirms that introverts need to seek time alone to recharge, reflect, and create; Geisel's creativity was nurtured not by rambunctious meet-and-greets with his readership, but by the peace and quiet of his own home. (I'm sure his unobstructed ocean view was also helpful. I have kayaked past his house before, and it's stunning—if you ever find yourself on a kayak in La Jolla, California, I recommend paddling out near the cliffs and caves to see it from the water.)
Extending the example of the introverted writer, Cain says, “...it’s always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communion with writers...[that] I’ll never meet in person. Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader ‘that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.’ His use of religious language was surely no accident.” Besides their wisdom and creativity, Geisel and Wozniak are bound by their common introversion and the brilliant work that unfolded out of solitude. The mind of an introvert is intellectually fertile—both a sanctuary and a stimulus—and can produce great things if given quiet, even in a world that can’t stop talking.