On Perfectionism

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, measurableattainable 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, 

 
 

Senior Project | Dorothy Wordsworth in Film

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...

Joyfully,

 
 

Twenty Life Lessons by Age Twenty

Life is messy, but here's what I know so far...

 

1. “There is nothing wrong with loving the crap out of everything. Negative people find their walls. So never apologize for your enthusiasm.” | R. Adams

Negativity is draining. It’s human nature to slip into sourness and (shamefully) take it out on those around us. But because of the complexities of the human mind, changing your thoughts is possible. Gently step back from your next negative/hectic/stressful situation (sometimes physically) and reframe. How could this experience help you? Stretch you? Lead you? Next time negativity comes knocking, kick it out of your mind.

 

2. “I have sea foam in my veins; I understand the language of waves.” | J. Cocteau

I grew up on the coast and had a happy, sea-salty childhood studded with camping and kayaks, boogie boards and wetsuits. My weekends consisted of watching my brother compete in rough water swims, or donning a snappy one-piece for my own swim meets. A towel and swimsuit took up permanent residence in the trunk of my car by the time I was sixteen (for spontaneous beach trips). And at age seventeen I was baptized in the ocean with one of my best friends, redeemed by God’s grace and humbled by his vast, oceanic creation. Then came eighteen—Texas. No nearby ocean. No tide pools to wade in, dolphins to swim with, or shells to collect. When I returned to the California coast two years later, the ocean welcomed me with open arms. It was only once I left that I realized how much the ocean means to me. Find your happy place.

 

3. “We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve.” | T. D. Jakes

As a sensitive old soul, I often set really high expectations for my friends/family/teachers/etc. and can’t help but be disappointed when said people don’t live up to said expectations. I don’t think the error is (always...) in my high expectations, but in failing to forgive easily. I need to be more generous in handing out my forgiveness. I can get a teensy bit upset when a cashier doesn’t smile at me, or when the secretary at the doctor’s office snaps at me on the phone! Although they need to read #1, I need to exercise tenderness and grace. We're all only human.

 

4. “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” | M. Oliver

Boys boys boys. Most girls want a guy that's honest, charming, funny, and blah, blah, blah... All of that is excellent, but you know what I really love? Curiosity. And not in a gossipy shallow way, but in a thirst-for-knowledge way. Curiosity is the desire to know how to do things. How a gadget works. Why whales migrate. What someone else's stance on carbon emission is. Curiosity enriches our lives as we learn from our neighbors, share our own experiences, and delight in the sweetness of learning something new. 

 

5. “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” | M. L’Engle

This lesson is challenging because discrediting other people or pointing fingers is often our automatic response (even if only in our minds). As a (world) religions major in college, I've been stretched and tested on a daily basis, studying other faiths and learning from/alongside people with different beliefs than my own. The gritty truth? It's hard. I remember calling my parents after my first world religions class, because I was having trouble relating to the diverse faiths in the classroom (present in both my classmates and in the textbook). But now, that's actually why I love studying all of the religions of the worldunderstanding other people and cultures is difficult without exploring the rhythm of faith that beats through their lives and hearts. As a Christian, I want to follow Christ with a servant's heart and act in a way that would make God proud.

 

6. “You can never get enough of nature. To be surrounded by it is to be stilled. It salves the heart. The mountains, the trees, the endless plains. The moon, the myriad of stars. Every man can be made quiet and complete." | A. Burns

I love being outside. If I could live in one of those open-air homes in Bali (outdoors and indoors at the same time!), I would. Even my best thinking (sometimes brooding) is done outside, as my feet lead me from one place to the next. I think just feeling the sun and wind on my skin and the grass or pavement under my toes makes me feel connected. Nature is humblingI realize I'm only a small fragment of His creation. In my oceanography summer school class, we learned that over 70% of the Earth is covered by wateras if I didn't feel tiny and wonderfully overwhelmed enough by the 30% of the Earth that is land! As my favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says, "walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." Side note: does everybody have a favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk?  

7.  “May you live like the lotus—at ease in muddy water.” | Buddha

In my childhood home, we had a huge koi pond beside the front door. Though the water itself was sometimes vile, the pond was my favorite part of the house (except for the bird aviary... more on that another time). The koi fish were each over a foot long, and one of them was in love with my brotherif he stuck his finger in the water, the fish would "kiss" it and not let go (oh, the memories). The pond attracted Snowy Egrets, raccoons, Blue Herons, and most of the passing by neighbors. But the most incredible part of it all emerged in May through September, when the water lilies bloomed. From the brownish-green, gunky water sprouted the most incredible pink and white and yellow blooms. And that's really the magic of itthe lotus will only grow up through the mud (though water lilies and lotus flowers are not the same to a botanist, they grow in the same conditions). We can only flourish by growing up through our own mud: the little annoyances, the big challenges, the life-threatening situations and the stubbed toes alike. Live like the lotus and embrace your circumstances. Learn from your mud. Grow from your mud.

 

8.  “Be careful who you open up to. Only a few truly care—the rest are just curious.” | Unknown

Remember the little distinction I made in #4? Curiosity comes in many forms, and it's important to realize that not everyone has sparkling intentions. Although this seems like a lesson learned in high school halls, I think this is one of those gritty, uncomfortable learning experiences that we all face more than once. It may be someone at work, in class, in your club/sport/group/whateversome people seem to prey on secrets and feelings and vulnerability. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), but don't shield it from those who truly love you. Be discerning.  

 

9.  “You have more to do than be weighed down by pretty or beautiful. You are a fiery heart and a wicked brain. Do not let your soul be defined by its shell.” | M.K.

As Ann Voskamp said, "Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things." You're more than lipstick. You aren't the frivolous, frolicking, fairytale princess that the world assumes you are and should be. You're a kick-butt, get-things-done, selfless, brilliant, fiery kind of gal. (Or maybe you're a male reading this. You rock too.)

 

10. “I used to wonder why I was busting my ass at calculus when I was interested in the arts, but I felt that there was a relationship between working hard at school and taking your dreams seriously. I still think that if you’re excited about something, you have to work at it.” | E. Koenig

I love school. I am, as Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote, "such a shameless student." The hand-raising, correct-the-textbook's-punctuation, set-out-an-outfit-before-bed type. Growing up, I was an okay student grade-wise, making As and Bs, with each report card praising my "citizenship" instead of my academic abilities. I felt like I had to try so much harder than all of the other kids: middle school homework would take me six or seven hours, I couldn't write notes fast enough in high school, and I had no real motivation other than to "get good grades" so I could "get into a good college." What's worse, my older brother was a superhuman student (Who manages to get only one B in an entire college career?! And it was actually a B+...).  Luckily, there was a shift in the universe. It wasn't until college that I loved learning. Yes, I still think tests are scary and a red correcting pen is the devil's writing utensil of choice, but there is so much joy in knowledge! Books and documentaries, classes and speeches! I wanted to gobble up all of the facts and poems and paintings like a glutton. Working hard and appreciating subjects outside of your career path can be enlightening and can help prepare you for that disinteresting task you have to do/that internship that you don't love but want to stick with/etc.

 

11. “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” | C. Stanley (Isiah 64:4)

Patience is my Achille's heel. Learning to wait on the Lord is somewhat of a work in progress. I hate the unknown (anxious person problems) and always want to be in control of situations. Since my leap out of one university in Texas and into uncharted waters, God is making sure I'm getting my fair share of practice. 

 

12. “Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” | R. Marston

Last Thanksgiving break, I found myself on an extremely turbulent flight back to my university. The plane was lurching and dropping in the air (planes ride in the air like boats do in the water. There are currents both good and bad...according to the pilot), and everyone was screaming. My little soul didn't know what to do, so I ended up holding hands with the woman next to me as we prayed and tried to comfort her little dog. "Jesus has given the pilot all of the skills he needs to fly this plane," she told her dog. "The pilot is very capable."  I was taken aback by her positivity amidst the chaos. Maybe it was more to reassure herself than her pup (who surely had zero clue what was going on besides its little popping ears), but her positivity was leadership in those scary few hours.

 

13. “They want to see you do well, but never better than them.” | Unknown

I'm convinced that competition is engrained in our genetic makeup. As another one of those "human nature" things, we want to excel more than our peers, even if those peers are loved ones. In high school, there was a girl on my swim team who was both my biggest rival and closest friend in the sport. Every 50 freestyle we would end up 0.1 or 0.2 seconds apart, often with me as the loser (though not always... heheh). I was thrilled that she was doing so wellshe was my friend, after allbut I didn't want her to be better than me. For some reason, it hurt more to lose against her since we were friends! With a rather "colorful" background of 10 sports under my belt (thanks, Mom and Dad), I know what it feels like to be the sore loser and to receive the negative energy from a sore loserneither feel good. Can we just encourage each other? And hold hands? And all be friends? (Perhaps I also have a young soulprobably around kindergarten or preschool-agedpining for the days of sharing crayons and making friends by sharing my cool big Ticonderoga pencils.)

 

14. “Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart—one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.” | M. J. Ashton

It's easy to yell at whoever left their stuff on the stairs (Whiskey, my Golden Retriever, is so guilty of this). It's tempting to snap at the cashier who forgot to take the security tag off of your new $200 swimsuit (I've actually been that cashier before...). It's second nature to do a little eye rolling here and therewhen parents get a little too micro-managey, when someone in the group project shows up late, or when the professor announces a pop quiz. It's easy to tear people down in these small but significant ways. But you know what's even more significant? Nurturing. Flick the little devil off of your shoulder (à la childhood cartoons) and resist the urge to snap/yell/gossip/whatever. Channel that energy for good. Build someone up. Listen without judgment. Help someone out even when it's inconvenient. To think someone could be left better after meeting you is a very powerful thing.

15. “Settling for less makes you feel less. It actually makes your energy smaller. Deciding to not settle might mean you have to wait longer or challenge the typical, but if you are passionate about what you are creating with your life, the way always appears.” | D. Claudat

Settling and apathy are dangerous drugs. As humans, we're often tempted by the safer option, the easier and faster option, or the higher-paying-yet-horrendously-boring option. Boys, jobs, universities, internshipswe're seduced by Settling's instant gratification. But if that boy/job/university/internship isn't everything you've ever dreamed of, pull on your patience pants and be productive in the meantime. Patience is wicked tough, but often worth it.

 

16. “Be with someone who doesn’t make you want to check your phone.” | Unknown

This is SO big for me. I am so tired of going to dinner with friends only to look around the table and see everyone on their phone. While it feels natural to do a little Twitter scrollin' or to edit Instagram pictures right then and there, this actually sends the message that what's on your little screen is much more important or entertaining than those actually sitting next to you. Be with the people you are physically with at gatherings. When I can feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, it takes 110% of my mind-over-matter powers to ignore. But relationships are worth the agony of missing some notifications. Give people your attention. Be fully present. Set an example for others. And to be frank, when it comes to friends or relationships, you shouldn't even want to check your phone around them! This past weekend I was in San Diego with my two best friends, and although we snapped a few pictures at brunch, we all waited to post until after. Easy peasy. 

 

17. “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” | M. Dell

It feels good to be the smart one. My former university required all students to take a general ed religion class, and since I was a religion major and was bound by this requirement, I excelled times 43,855,245 in the intro-level course. The professor would use my essay as a class example after every exam and everyone wanted to be my partner on group quizzes (though I don't think they even knew my name...boohoo). While it bolstered my self-esteem and confidence in the classroom, pridefulness snuck into the mix. Luckily, every subsequent course had me working harder and harder, humbled when the material no longer came easily to me. That's where the meaningful conversations, stacks of pored-over books, and the feeling of being so small in such a vast chasm of knowledge come into play. That's where the growth happens. (Growth seems to be the theme in this season of life.)

 

18. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. To be light and frolicsome. Improbably and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” | M. Oliver

I don't know if it's possible to change personality types while growing up, or if the "Type A and B" theory is even accurate, but I've always been a B: creative, reflective, and easygoing. By my second year of college, I was the hybrid mix: creative, reflective, driven, perfectionist, workaholic. It may have been the increased responsibilities or newfound passion in school that led me into Type A territory, but recently I've been missing my old "go-with-the-flow" nature. I think what I've gleaned from this is to enjoy every moment of youthto say yes to adventures, be willing to go exploring, and get out of the monotonous comfort zone. As the 1600s proverb goes, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" (James Howell).

 

19. “The greatest cruelty is our casual blindness to the despair of others.” | J. Straczynski

I received an email once from one of those people. If you've ever read the comment sections on YouTube videos, controversial blog posts, news articles, or celebrity Instagram photos, you'll know exactly what kind of person I meanthey hang around on the internet, search for a vulnerable target, and hit them (hard) with sharp words and painful phrases. The email snarled with harsh opening words, going on to insult me in ways I didn't know possible. The final line of the email? He or she wanted to kindly let me know that no one cares about my stupid, boring life, and that I should really look into writing about something important for once. Particularly the starving kids in Africa. Ouch. Swallowing these words wasn't easy. That kind of speech, funneled to a stranger behind the safety and anonymity of a computer screen, is inhumane. This insensitive, remorseless email was cyber-bullying. I'd hate to sound like a Disney Channel commercial, taking about the dangers of the internet and why bullying is wrong, but my gosh, it's hard to really grasp how much words can hurt until it's directed at you. This experience left me with a whole lot of empathy for anyone who has dealt with cyber-bullying before. And again, it was a character-building experience. With 7.046 billion people on the planet, not everyone is going to like you or me. Pick your battles, say your prayers for the bullies, and "write hard and clear about what hurts" (Hemingway).

 

20. "To live content with small meansto seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not richto study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heartto bear all cheerfullydo all bravely, await occasionsnever hurry; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony." | W. E. Channing

Mr. Channing [note: not Channing Tatumthink 200 years older] is a smart fellow. Not because he was a Harvard grad in the 17th/18th century, but because of his awareness of what's actually meaningful and essential in life. I feel like present-day society is gluttonous, driven by validation, entertainment, and shock-value. And it's easy to be seduced by fancy cars, night life, and lavish clothesbut does it really matter? They're just things. Man-made things. The real treasures are in the moments, the relationships, the laughs and tears, and the things that GOD cares about.

 

Joyfully,

 

 
 
 

Finding Peace in a Busy Season

IT'S FINALS SEASON.

Laced with energy drinks, late-night swipes into the library and printers running dry of ink, finals season is the microcosm of “real world” deadlines crammed into a two-week period.

It’s like the volume dial of the stress radio was crank, crank, cranked to full blast, then broken off and stuck in position. So here we are as college students, with broken pencils, messy hair and under-eye circles, fueling caffeine addictions and nursing (or numbing) our tired minds.

Although I’m not a late night studier (I’d rather get up at 5am—perhaps a rare trait in my age group), I fit every other finals week stereotype—sleepy, swollen eyes, clothes that I fell asleep in, and a textbook never leaving the crook of my arm.

I am a school person. A perfectionist. An “oh my gosh, I got an A-” kind of gal (although I would never admit it in a classroom setting—people who verbalize that really test my patience). Being so “schooly” has its pros (good grades) and cons (a bundle of nasty stress breakdowns/freak outs/meltdowns leading up to finals week). I make flashcards and rewrite notes, annotate books and fill the pages with sticky note flags on important bits of information.

And side note: that's okay. That's who I am. I think a lot of college students think it's cool to laugh about failing classes, brag about not studying, or joke about not even having the textbooks. And I say: It's seriously cool to be smart. It's not something to be embarrassed about.

smart

But... Even though I usually have a good turn out once finals week is over, I’m often left a little wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m so hard on myself that my emotions are usually frayed, and my self-reflecting thoughts aren’t exactly the kindest. My brain turns to mush (or is hollow with a dull humming noise vibrating off of the empty caverns). I’m sleep-deprived, exercise-deprived, and nutrition-deprived (real nutrition—my finals week diet of protein bars and water doesn’t count). And worst of all, when I get to this broken (but academically excellent) point, I’ve neglected my relationship with Christ.

It’s so easy for me to sink into the depths of my schoolwork, disappearing completely into projects, presentations, papers, and study guides. I get so stressed out and mad at myself for not remembering that phosphorous makes red blood cells with folate and that the Rastafarian religion stemmed from the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon (I always think it's David because he is associated with Bathsheba...close enough). I forget to brush my teeth (eww kidding...kinda) or my hair. I barely remember to take deep breaths, let alone pray.

But I’ve been realizing something this time around, when my stress is greater than ever before and when the two weeks to finals also means two weeks left in the state of Texas: God is great and I am not. Riding the rush of a good grade is sweet for a few moments, until the to-do list piles back up, there’s another test on the desk in front of you, and you’re trying to handle everything on your own. I’m realizing during this finals season how much I need God. I need someone to talk to, someone to love me when I can’t remember the stomach enzyme that breaks down lipids, and someone to calm me down when my computer crashes.

The gap between our frail discipline capabilities and God’s available strength for us is bridged with nothing but a simple choice on our part.
— Lysa TerKeurst, Made to Crave

His omnipresence is a great comforter—literally a giant, soft, squishy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. With Him I’m finding the peace and joy in this finals season, and in these last two weeks at this school. I feel blessed to be able to study exactly what I love, to have a cozy apartment (with a fireplace DVD playing on loop), and to have a family that knows I’m doing my best no matter what the outcome. He keeps me from falling. He holds my hand. And sometimes, when it’s the end of the school day but there’s still more to do, he just carries me. I’m thankful for a God like this. He is my source of strength and perseverance, my cheerleader (that’s a visual), and my Heavenly Father. And of course, knowing that in two little weeks I’ll be hopping in my hybrid and cruising back to California is a giant motivator.

Joyfully in Christ,

 
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From Fashion to Philosophy: Goodbye Texas

“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn't want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.” | Elizabeth Gilbert

God is doing some pretty radical stuff in my life--challenging, humbling, life-changing, heart-opening, anxiety-inducing stuff.

Every day I am finessed and shaped and molded by God's hand. I have been growing, blooming, and evolving. I'll think my life is headed one direction, and God smiles, throws his head back, and laughs warmly: "My child," he says, "you're going the wrong way!" And he helps me readjust. He holds my hand a lot. We take baby steps. We talk constantly about the concept of direction... especially lately.

My best friend texted me this quote last week, which I knew was God's doing: "I think God passes by me a lot, and it serves to show me the direction he's going. We don't always know where he's headed or what to expect along the way. But I think direction is the point, the part, and whole of it...Plus, I think God knows that if I found out more than just the direction He was going, I'd probably try to beat Him there." | Bob Goff, Love Does

My life path has been a fragmented yet loopy journey from point A to point B—I’ve never done well with simple or linear.

 

When I came into college as a freshman, I was a little 18-year-old with too-dark hair and too much makeup, wanting nothing more than to study fashion merchandising and have a "real" college experience. I wanted to work for a magazine—TeenVogue was the goal—and live in New York City or LA. I went to mixers and parties and formals, held a can of beer in my hand just to blend in, and spent more time on my phone than in my physical surroundings. With my heart stapled to my sleeve, I was completely consumed with the thought of southern boys. I thought they would be so wonderfulso gentlemanlyopening doors and calling me miss or ma'am with a crooning, twangy accent. They would all sound exactly like the nonexistent lovechild of Scotty McCreery and Josh Turner.

Fast forward 365 days, and I’m in the first semester of my sophomore year. My halfhearted study of fashion, coupled with a wonderful Religious Studies professor and newfound love for my freshman bible class (general ed religion requirement—private Christian school, mind you) leads me to change my path completely. No longer was I studying lighting, consumers, textiles, or illustration—suddenly it was second semester, and I was immersed in Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions.

I traded my sketching pencils for the Torah, fabric swatches for karma, dharma, and bodhisattvas. The designer names on my flashcards became deities, transliterated words, and meticulous sketches of the afterlife (this week's notes are peppered with drawings of the Mormon afterlife, beginning with the premortal world, stretching to the celestial kingdom). No longer was I examining fabric under a microscope or identifying it by its warp or waft (which is truly such a pain). Instead, I was examining relationships, ethics, and doctrines through the lens of a scholar of religion.

Suddenly I found myself on the floor of my little apartment, surrounded by cracked open textbooks and thick stacks of notes, exploring the complexities of the question: "what is religion?" and loving every soul-searching moment. It's a native category, meaning it's so elemental to life and society that people feel like they know what it means without having to define it. But at the same time, it's like explaining colors to the lifelong blind, or describing how water tastes. 

Fast forward one more year.

I’ll be a junior, but no longer in Texas.

My fragmented yet looping path has led me back to the place where my heart overflows—California. It’s been a long process, a quiet process, and a painful process. I believe, with every cell in my body and hair on my head, that God brought me to Texas for spiritual, emotional, and academic boot camp. It was here, and only here, that he could turn this little freshman girl, purposefully spilling warm beer into potted plants at parties to make the cup gradually empty, into a girl with a heart for philosophy and religion, dedicated to meditation and prayer. He knew that Texas could be the only setting for this radical, internal, gritty, and graceful change. It was here when I finally learned to listen to Him and to my own soul.

I had become so apathetic and victim-like. I saw my circumstances as permanent, not temporary. Texas was the place of my first B- (in a class called “fashion illustration,” of all things), my first severe tornado warning (yesterday, actually), my first time being set up on a date (blind dates work better in movies and books), and my first time getting 100% on a science midterm (only after a weekend of crying in the bathtub with my flashcards and eating my feelings in chocolate chips).

I loved studying religion, so I knew my sharp academic shift was part of His plan.

Academics aside, everyone talked of my school like it was this magical and beautiful utopia. And although the campus is gorgeous, I didn’t think these people had ever seen palm trees, tasted an acai bowl, or fell asleep on the sand with a book on their face. I didn’t think these people had ever wandered through a vineyard, climbed a mountain so lush and emerald that even Ireland is green with envy. I didn’t think these people have done yoga on a paddleboard, picked citrus from their backyards, or had a pool party birthday for every single year of their life (and every year, the wet footprints on the pavement, cannonball splashes and homemade birthday cake were even better than the last). I didn’t think these people had surfboards and boogie boards and skim boards in their garages, or had a guitar for home and a guitar for the beach, its wood coated with sand and mottled from saltwater. I didn't think these people knew California like I did. And that was okay. Maybe all of that wasn't magic to them. Who was I to assume that my paradise was theirs as well?

Maybe what was magical to them were the honey-leather cowboy boots, the buzz of the crowd on game day, all yelling and screaming at the ref in unison. Maybe these people were captivated by tall, sweating glasses of sweet tea and line dancing past midnight, hunting on the weekends, and tailgating in the back of a truck. Maybe to them, the Texas sky was a symphony, the clouds wringing themselves out at the end of the day—pink and lavender watercolors dripping down from the atmosphere. Maybe the humid nights and bright stars, the country music, and lake days made their hearts overflow with love and pride.

And that was okay too.

One of the sweetest blessings here in Texas was my book club—a small, deep-thinking collection of happy spirits, each with a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Unbeknownst to these girls, our tiny, monthly book club helped me come to terms with the adventures waiting at my own fingertips. This handful of creative, Elizabeth-Gilbert-loving souls, along with Elizabeth herself (via her book) gave me the courage I needed to pursue true joy.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” | Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love

 

And so I’m traveling for it and swimming to it. I’m headed back to my Californian roots where my soul can run free through nature and the sunshine can warm the tips of my toes. I’m headed back to a gentle yoga practice, uncharted beaches (for I won’t be in my well-loved yet thoroughly explored San Diego this time around), and a continuation of my religious studies, with the addition of philosophy. I’m headed back to a barefoot heart, farmers’ markets, and a strand of sea-glass-encrusted possibilities.

As Rumi said,

“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

 

And so I’m responding. I’m taking my fragmented, looping, beautiful path to California. Find out what excites your spirit. Seek peace and happiness and chase it--literally run to it and for it and alongside of it. If you don't like where you are or where you're going, pick up your roots and the hems of your pant legs and go somewhere else. Pursue all of the world's light and love. You are your own limitations.

(Extra) Joyfully in Christ-

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The Reflection Phase: 25 Things I Learned from 2013

A year is a small bundle of moments, sewn into the pages of a calendar, and smudged in the top right corner of our history homework. There isn’t enough time or power in one little year for life to radically shift...right?

Every December 31st, teetering on the brink of a brand-new year, I think life can’t really change that much in 365 days. Entering into 2013, I felt that I had sipped every last drop of novelty that life had to offer; I was a second-semester freshman, and would later be a friend of summer, followed by a first-semester sophomore. By January 1st of my freshman year, the sheer newness of college was whittling away into a stale, albeit intellectually nourishing experience. My mind was still being stretched and pulled in the classroom (Italian classes, statistics, oh my!), but after a whirlwind of an autumn, I felt like Life could not possibly have new tricks up her sleeve.

Of course, I was dead wrong. Three small days of 2014 have gone by, gifting me a chance to quietly reflect on the path behind me, as I turn my sights to the yet-to-be. Below is a collection of lessons learned from 2013, some tender, some tough, some comic.

1. Being an introvert can be a blessing.

I really cannot do the topic justice with words when Kristen Hedges has already said it best: “I embrace my introversion with pride. Why? Because it’s awesome. All the best thinkers are introverts. In order to develop brilliant ideas and understand your place in the universe, you must turn inward. Meditate. You go on a solo journey into the very center of your heart, and cultivate a garden there. Then, you can spread your ideas and your creations to the world...Introverts are also incredible listeners. We are sensitive lovers. We’re caring, and nurturing, and we make lifelong friends. And the best part? We throw the world’s best double date game nights. Just don’t invite the whole block. So no, I don’t want to go to that party. Yes, I would rather stay home and scribble in a notebook. Yes, we are still friends. No, I’m not mad at you. You know what I would love to do? Get coffee. Or read next to each other. That sounds good.”

 2. Bravely reject the norm.

Just because seemingly everyone is dressing up and going to the bars does not mean you (or I) have to. Don't feel sheepish just because you find joy in (very) different activities than everyone around you. Follow your passions and seek meaningful fellowship.

3. I really did not need my belly button pierced.

Growing up in San Diego meant that anyone who’s anyone had a belly ring. Long story short, I got one and let it close up 3 months later.  I live in Texas most of the time, with a big coat covering my tummy, and no respectable beach (sorry to the Galveston lovers). The ring got pulled and tangled, fell out twice, and was more infected then I care to divulge. Impractical. 

4. My passions aren’t random—they’re my calling.

I struggled with this a lot when I was deciding on a major. I love the written language and I could geek out about religious history for eternity (pun). Just because what I like seemed different than the other girls didn’t mean I was random or weird (though I am for other reasons).

5. Be Rachel.

Similarly to above, 2013 has really helped me come to terms with the fact that what’s fun for other people might not (and often won’t be) fun for me too (and vice versa--I'm aware that not everyone likes puzzles, pie, and pajamas). 

6. When going to bed in embarrassing pajamas (particularly lime green footies with monkeys and peppermints), set sweats and a jacket by the bed in case of fire alarms.

My apartment complex has been testing my patience, and has had four lovely, earsplitting alarms this past semester. Each time I am in horrible, socially unacceptable pajamas (that I love to the ends of the Earth). Ratty t-shirt that barely covers? Check. Lime green nightgown? Oh yes. Footies of all patterns and colors? But, alas. Just learn from my mistakes and have fire alarm clothes handy. Please.

7. People aren’t thinking of you as much as you think they are.

They don’t notice you’re walking to class alone, and don’t care that much about the picture you just posted. Inhale some oxygen and keep movin’, friend.

8. Choose magazines like friends.

Celebrity gossip is a sugary trap: the buzz and then the crash. Just as the modeling agency was toxic for me, dwelling on successful models and celebrities can be just as dangerous. This year I’ve become a huge fan of Kinfolk and Darling magazines, filling my thinking cap with thoughts with worth and innovative ideas.

9. Keep your standards high.

When it comes to boys, don’t settle. End of discussion.

10. Thou shalt not go anywhere without a Camelbak water bottle.

 

11. Thou shalt also not skip morning coffee.

During the last week of school, my slice of Texas was hit with the “ice-pocalypse.” Slipping on solid ice all the way to Kroger was not on the to-do list, and it was finals week, so I settled for vending machine energy drinks for two weeks. Boom, crash, burn, cry, panic attack. Lesson learned.

12. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

I’ve written about my anxious nature plenty of times. This anxiety absolutely transfers over to the classroom. If my hand is raised, my heart is probably pounding. I don’t really mind speaking in front of the class, but I’m dreadfully afraid of being labeled “the smart girl.” You’d think it’d be flattering when people are over-the-top eager to be your partner on a group project—high school proved the contrary.

13. Twenty is too old for your high school denim shorts.

Goodbye white denim and green Hollister low-riders. You will be missed. (You make me look like I’m longing for 14, and that is an age I truly do not wish to repeat.)

14. Running is not the only kind of exercise.

Growing up a competitive swimmer and being a cheerleader in middle school and high school taught me that while the rest of the world trudges along in tennis shoes, I can have a lot more fun while I sweat. (Though, I did do summer cross-country freshman year of high school. Luckily, for the sake of my point, it didn’t turn out so well.)

As Kinfolk says, “Do some aqua aerobics or just jump in a lake...Skateboard across town. Try to resist grabbing the back of a truck...Chase small children around a muddy field: They cannot get enough.”

15. What you enjoyed doing as a 10-year-old is probably what you enjoy doing now.

I read the line in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, and was captivated. Ten-year-old Rachel, with chubby cheeks and short, blonde hair, loved to play dress-up, color, play in the backyard, read, and make food for others. Almost-20-year-old Rachel enjoys the very same things.

16. Leggings can be pants if you want them to be pants.

Please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

17. Chose your company wisely.

The quote is infamous—you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Think about those people. Would you be proud to be a mirror image of them? A melting pot of their qualities? Chose friends you respect, value, and look up to.

18. Make small moments special.

The little things are the best things.

19. Walking is the best way to think.

20. Wake up early.

Seize the day. Though having a lie-in on the weekends and reading amidst rumpled covers is a satisfying treat.

21. Eat well, feel well.

22. Gossip breeds more gossip.

And suddenly, you’re the subject of the gossip. And you feel quite glum. Avoid it, walk away from it, and literally run away from it, if need be.

23. Unplug your phone.

Technology sings a lovely siren song, but there is such thing as too much.Way too much. Check here and here.

24. Read.

25. Christmas music year-round is not breaking the “rules.”

It’s celebrating Christ’s birth daily, rather than “saving it” for a certain season. And while we’re at it, Christmas movies are good for the soul and make my heart smile. Don’t you dare tell me I can’t watch Eloise at Christmastime tonight (because I’m going to).

 

Lots of love and warm wishes.

Here's to a brilliant 2014.

Today, Not Tomorrow

My sweet and beyond wonderful first grade teacher shared on Facebook an incredible quote that really stuck with me:

"Everyone can change tomorrow. Everyone solves problems tomorrow. But the only changes that matters are the ones I make today. Tomorrow is the easiest day I'll ever live. Today is the scary one, which is probably why I've spent so much time avoiding it."

This school year I am swimming—drowning—in schoolwork. Contrary to what I wish would happen, this increase in vigor didn’t fuel my drive, but depleted it. This week I have caught myself skimming my readings, as my assignments have become more perfunctory than enlightening, and I actually consider not going to class at all in order to avoid the stress completely. This is absolutely and incredibly unlike me.

Not only have I been blessed and cursed with the conscience of a nun and a burning desire to please my parents (and be showered with their attention...dreaming big, I know), but also I have consistently had an intrinsic desire to succeed academically in the past. This month I’ve been praying for purpose and motivation, and here it was on my screen. It is easy to assume that tomorrow I will begin working harder. Frequently this month I have pushed tasks from one day to the next, and suddenly those once-important items drop off of the to-do list all together, floating off into the void of unfinishedness.

No matter how many color-coded schedules I make, my work won’t get done until I do it. It’s convenient to think “studying” is synonymous to playing on the computer with a textbook opened in my lap—as if each time I glance down is the equivalent to dissecting and finessing the material itself!

Here’s the vow: I will not start on Monday, this weekend, or even tomorrow. My to-do list begins now.

A Little Grown-Up

Here begins another incredible journey. Today marks the dawning of a new school year brimming with challenge, change and uncertainty, but also growth, friendship and laughter.

No longer am I the little college freshman in a 10X10 box called a dorm room. I am officially in my own “big girl” apartment, ready to take on the world.

While this week has been a tangled mess of sorority recruitment (think Theta, think right), coordinating plans with family (who were kind enough to drive my car here and move me in), topped off with a heaping serving of stomach flu, I am still beaming. I know that I’m in the best possible place for this chapter of my life; I often feel as though my school was perfectly and methodically hand crafted for me. He deliberately stacked every yellow brick, and gently arranged every pink tulip and purple pansy. He is the one who allowed me to come to this school, be in this sorority, live in this apartment, and have this family. All of my praise goes to Christ. Thank you Lord for my abundant blessings! Thank you Lord for the opportunity of a fresh year ahead.

I am ecstatic to see what amazing things he has in store for me as this year unfolds. Lord, allow me to be a light for you. Fill me with the Holy Spirit as I take on this new school year, and shower me with confidence and courage. I love you so incredibly much, God. Hold me in the palm of your hand, and comfort me (particularly this week) if I ever become nervous about being a "little grown-up.” Fill me with peace, knowing that I will be able to spend a soothing, sweet week with my family in November, and a month with them in December (hellooooo, Hawaii). Saturate my heart with your gentle love and comforting guidance.

Last but not least—hold my hand through the duration of my stomach flu, would you?

"Let the light of your face shine on me. Fill my heart with joy...in peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety." | Psalm 4:6-8

P.S.: The Little English Girl has been updated! If you are reading this post from your email inbox, visit my site to see what's changed: www.rdiane.com

Unlatching the Mind's Door: Writing Insecurities

It’s almost foolish how self-conscious I can feel about my writing.

Although my passion for the written word and my complete adoration for language are both strong, there’s a certain trust that is involved in letting others read your work. This blog began in secret; beside my immediate family, no one knew I had it, save for random strangers dotted around the world who stumbled upon my blog on accident. Some of these readers continued on their journey through their internet, clicking and scrolling, leaving behind The Little English Girl. Some stayed, signed up for email notifications, posted comments, and became the audience that I have kept in mind. Then came my friends—those lovely little blessings who care about me and my thoughts enough to read my verbose, quirky, or spilling-with-feeling posts. While these friends are precious, I again keep them in mind as I write. What do they want to read about? What topics pertain to them? While as a writer, an awareness of the audience is crucial, this is my reminder to myself—this is my blog. It’s certainly a selfish blog. My goal isn’t to intentionally relate to my readers. Instead, it’s to give an insight into my mind. If something does pertain to a reader, then that really is a beautiful coincidence, or more specifically, a God thing.

When I first began writing, I remember pouring my heart out into my “meet me” page, stating that this blog is like the diary I would write if I were a dedicated journaler. The difference, as I stated, was the stunning lack of “i’s dotted with hearts” or “dear diary” introductions. Instead, this is the journal that holds my innermost thoughts on a level that surpasses “talkable” topics by a long shot. These posts are far from lunchtime conversation or the topics of chit-chats with friends. That’s where my insecurity stems from; having a blog is unlatching the door to the mind, inviting in friends and strangers and frenemies alike to sift through everything inside. Everything. Within the pages of my blog, a reader can piece together sections of my life (relationships, my family, my school) that I try so desperately to hide in my day-to-day life.

As a writer, this insecurity humbles me. I am too familiar with being “the good writer,” and feeling comfortable with my work being the sample. Now as a writing major and surrounded by others like me, I feel intimidated and scared. Not only do I have this strange discomfort with realizing how many people read my blog (1,081—a number that both frightens me, comforts me, and motivates me), and how many consequently have access to my mind, but I have a new discomfort with other writers reading my work. Put most simply, these lessons are teaching me that I most certainly have a lot to learn.


Bits of Beautiful Language

I adore being a writing major.

Between my Major British Authors and Creative Writing Course (along with Italian, fashion, and statistics), my soul is totally and completely quenched; my mind is dripping with beautiful language. I thought I’d share a few phrases and quotes from lectures and my assigned texts that I found specifically satisfying… Triggering Towns: Richard Hugo

  • “The adhesive force is your way of writing, not sensible connection.”
  • “The poet’s relation to the triggering subject must be weaker than his relation to his words.”
  • “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything.”
  • “The starting point is fixed to give the mind an operating base, and the mind expands from there.”
  • “A poem seldom finds room for explanations, motivations, or reason.”
  • “Multisyllabic words have a way of softening the impact of language.”

Bits from lectures:

  • “[Find] bits of language that seem striking to you”
  • “Make art out of words.”
  • “The mission of literature is to play with a sort of playful ambiguity”
  • “Never write about something you can’t betray”


What Looms Ahead...

Ahead looms my greatest adventure yet. It taunts me with its speed; it possesses the ability to fast forward time. I can faintly hear little clock hands spinning frantically, vehemently forward, as the days grow shorter and the impending adventure advances. I can feel it on the horizon; I can feel it in the vicinage.

Tomorrow marks the bittersweet beginning of a four-year journey: college. I feel as though it was merely moments ago when I thought to myself half relieved and half anxious that I had 4 months… 3 months… 2 weeks… a few days… and then suddenly the day could no longer be avoided. No longer do I have the luxury of imagining what college would be like while wrapped safely in my big white bed (friends have titled it “the cloud” after it’s deliciously similar look and feel to the cotton candy condensation studding the skies). No longer do daydreams or “what if’s” suffice—now it’s time to live it.

More than anything, I feel numb. Coming from a family of (over) analysts, I’ve spent the entirety of the day (while driving 10 hours to the halfway point of New Mexico) trying to scrutinize, subdivide, catalog and classify everything I’m feeling. My conclusion, while simplistic in nature, is honest: I feel numb. I am faintly aware of a whispering excitement. I am excessively aware of my fears and anxieties. Somehow the antipodal two weave themselves together with such intricacy that I feel lost navigating through my contradicting appetite for what is new and equally overwhelming craving for familiarity.

On paper it seems simple—choose happy. How difficult could it be to simply hone in on what is positive and optimistic? Why not ignore the misery, the homesickness, the anxiety, and the adversity? I almost want to laugh at how naïve that sounds, but then I realize I could be right. Why not ignore the anxiety? Why not control my thoughts, allowing only what is beneficial to take up residency in my mind? Why not choose happy?


So I am.

Hello College.

Bigger State, Bigger Happiness: My Happiness Journey in Texas

Well, I suppose tonight marks the bittersweet closing of my Pursuit of Happiness: Part 1.

After spending a week in Texas, I’ve realized that I am no longer fantasizing about sweet California summers, but instead of Texas’ comforting blanket of warm humidity in the evenings, the contagious camaraderie spread by going dancing with complete strangers, and the (overzealous) glowing southern sun, kissing bare shoulders and flip-flopped toes. There’s something special here. Although I don’t return for almost 2 months (wahhh), I am certain that the thoughts of purple will inhabit my mind, taking up a permanent residence until sweet Texas and I are reunited once again. This summer, I plan to proudly wear my purple camp bracelet daily (composed of a worn strip of bandana and plastic beads symbolizing my goals for the upcoming year). I plan to rock—absolutely, proudly, obsessively rock—my school gear to the gym. I plan to learn my way around campus via the online tour and the oversized map inhabiting half of my bedroom wall. I plan to continue to nurture the multitude of potentially fruitful friendships that have been planted this week.

One of the roommates I had in particular this week commented on how crazy it was that “we’re actually the same person.” After spending only one night together in a dorm room (which included staying up the entire night, and then groggily regretting our lack of sleep upon 7am breakfast with my family), we built the foundations for a really wonderful friendship—all from a random room assignment. This is comforting; before this week, I was relatively unaware of the ease that is meeting new people. Not only does this appease my often-anxious mind, it is yet another factor contributing to my rapidly growing excitement for the fall semester.

How thrilled I am to permanently unpack my high school trials and tribulations! They will be left behind on the Southern California coast as I embark on an adventure all my own. Although there are about 10 people from my area of Southern California attending my university, I am confident in my newfound ability to make friends. The familiar California faces will be comforting in a crowd, however I am more thrilled by the thousands of new faces in the mix. A stranger is a friend yet to be met.

Today I spent the morning with a cappuccino (on tap in the cafeteria!), poring over a 3-inch thick stack of paper, compiling my desired classes for the fall. I was giddy. Sifting through Italian, fashion, European history, religion, and literature courses instilled an evident spring in my step. I love the learning process. I love sitting in a new class with a fresh notebook in front of me (there may be a reoccurring theme here…check out my first ever post) Beyond the excitement of a new class is the sheer ecstasy of choosing my own new classes in a subject that I am passionate about.

See you in 54 days, my burning curiosity, my amazing new friends, my potential love interests (I swear they’re there, just waiting for me), and my inspiring future professors. 54 days.