Find the Courage to Ask

Six months ago I was miserable at work.  I hated my job and was only staying for the paycheck.

I agonized over the decision to quit.  I wasn’t feeling fulfilled or challenged.  I wanted to do something more with my life.  But I also had plans to leave in a year for grad school.

Would one year be worth it?  Would it be enough time to learn and grow in a different position if I were to leave?  Would it be too long to feel stagnant if I stayed?  I didn’t know what to do and I kept returning to these questions time and time again as the days, weeks, and months slowly went by.

Then, I attended the World Domination Summit (WDS) in July.  The speakers were inspiring, the community was supportive, and every person I met there was trying to make the world a better place by doing what they loved.  It was absolutely amazing.

Throughout the summit, I felt so connected, inspired, and creative that I felt like a different person.  I remembered what it was like to feel happy again, and it made me realize just how unhappy I had been lately.

Something needed to change.

WDS gave me the final push to recognize that I couldn’t wait any longer.  I needed to make my life more livable.  I wasn’t getting what I needed out of work and it was time I did something about it.

I approached my boss during one of our weekly one on one meetings, and explained the situation to him.  He already knew I had been considering other opportunities, but this time I let him know that I had made the decision to leave even without having another opportunity lined up first.

We had a long discussion about why and what I wanted, and it came up that I would be willing to work part time, I just couldn’t do 40+ hours per week anymore.  A few weeks later, he came back to me with an offer for a part time position that would allow me to stay on the team but work on training instead of the production work I had been doing before.   It was perfect.  My role changed, my hours decreased significantly, and I got to do work that I actually enjoyed.

Having an open dialogue with my boss was the best action I could have taken.  I am so grateful for his support, flexibility, and willingness to help find a solution that works for both of us.  I was terrified of making the wrong decision before, thinking myself in circles trying to figure it out on my own.  But opening up the discussion with my boss allowed us to find a solution that I had never considered.  The act of asking gave me an entirely new opportunity and that is a lesson I will not soon forget.

Categories: In the USA | 2 Comments

The Book of Life – Choosing Uncertainty

This Is Your Life: If you could read a book containing all that has happened and will ever happen in your life, would you? If you choose to read it, you must read it cover to cover.

It’s a tough question but one I know the answer to almost immediately: No.  I would not read it.

I’m constantly deliberating over what I should do in the future.   I agonize over it.  I have no idea what will happen one year, let alone five or ten down the road.  And that can be really scary and exhausting sometimes.

But it can also be absolutely exhilarating.  The world is full of possibility.  Anything could happen and I live for that buoyant uncertainty.

Knowing the future would reduce some of the stress and trepidation in life, but with it you would lose your sense of adventure.  You would lose the sense of accomplishment after making it through those uncertain times.  And I fear you would lose the sense that anything  you did could make a difference.

That’s a high price to pay for knowledge.

As I continue to muddle my way through life I know I will continue to worry about the future, to be uncertain about which path to take or how things might turn out.  But it wouldn’t be an adventure without a little fear and in uncertain times it’s nice to know that anything is possible.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Five Minutes to Happiness

I have a secret.

A tool that I would like to share with you.

Six months ago, I was miserable.  My job seemed to be sucking the life out of me.  Even when I wasn’t at work, I was left stressed, worn out, and depressed.  I didn’t feel like I had the energy to do the things I enjoyed, which left me even more unhappy.  It was not a pleasant time in my life.  But I found tools to help me regain the optimistic and productive outlook I used to hold dear.

One of the tools that helped most was a journal called The Five Minute Journal.  Recommended by Tim Ferris and backed by scientific studies, the journal uses simple exercises to help you practice positivity.

Don’t worry if you aren’t a “journaler”.  I’ve never been able to keep up a consistent journaling habit and this is the perfect “journal” for non-writers.  It’s simple.  All you have to do is answer the questions the journal asks (the same ones every day) and it only takes a few minutes.  It’s made to be the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night before bed (2-3mins each).

The Benefits:

  • Practice Gratitude – the first question is to list what you are grateful for.  Experts from many disciplines, both scientific and spiritual, agree that gratitude is one of the biggest keys to happiness.  When you are thankful for what you have, it’s hard to be unhappy about it at the same time.
  • Begin the day right – this serves as a calming morning ritual as well as a chance to set your intention for the day.  The journal always asks “What would make today great?”  This is your chance to choose how you want your day to go.
  • Reflection – with the constant stimulation of today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to just sit and think but this journal gives you the chance to sit and reflect on every day.  By taking the time to review the day, you can find ways to improve upon things big and small.  This is a great way to both learn about and improve yourself.
  • Build a habit – the journal is a daily practice.  It only takes a few minutes so it’s easy to get started and it’s a beneficial habit to have.  If you feel like you want more discipline or intention in your life I’d encourage you to give it a try.  Once you’re in the habit of using this journal, you can expand upon your routine to add other activities.  Been eyeballing that CEO’s morning ritual?  Just add part of it to your journaling habit.  Exercise, meditation, writing, the possibilities are endless but the key here is to start slow.  Don’t add anything until you really have a strong habit.  I did nothing but the Five Minute Journal for the first 3 months, but it eventually acted like a gateway drug and now my mornings are both productive and fulfilling.

It’s not going to change your life overnight.  All of the benefits I’ve listed above take time.  It’s an incremental process but if you’re at all curious, give it a shot.  I’ve found it to be hugely beneficial.

You can find The Five Minute Journal on Amazon or at fiveminutejournal.com.  Their website has a lot more information and a preview of the first section of the book if you’re curious.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Anger

The pain sliced into my hand as every muscle in my neck tensed.  I realized my fingernail was digging into my hand and the lanyard I had been working on hung limply from my fist, forgotten.

I was 12 years old and I was furious.

I am generally a very even-tempered person.  I would never have described any of my reactions or feelings as “angry” until this moment. But now, sharing a bench with my friends and surrounded by respected adults happily nodding along, I was livid. And I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do about it.

I tempered my anger for a moment, enough for a quick glance to either side to see if anyone else shared my outrage.  From the top row of the campfire amphitheater I saw no tension in anyone’s faces or postures.  I was surrounded by people, yet entirely alone.  I was incredulous.

Did no one else hear the blasphemy coming from this speaker’s mouth?  Did no one else care about representing, or even just considering, another perspective?

It was just past 7am and the early morning light streamed through the tall pines, onto the bleary-eyed faces of the congregation.  We were all there for a week-long summer camp: kids from grades 5 through 12 enjoying their vacation while learning about God; and adults serving as counselors, water-slide competition judges, and enforcers of the “no harmful pranks” rule.  Sponsored by the local Community Covenant Church, the camp was always a lot of fun and games with a little heartfelt Christianity thrown in.  I had never felt pressured or judged by any decision that didn’t align completely with their beliefs.  All of the leaders were genuine in their faith, in their willingness to help, and in their friendship.

But on this morning, the camp had a guest speaker.  And that speaker turned his discourse onto a topic very dear to my heart: other cultures.

As he continued to go on about how these cultures worshiped false idols and how ignorant and backward they were, I found his speech increasingly revolting.  His myopic approach was condescending and so repugnant I wanted to storm out of the amphitheater or raise my voice in defense of these nebulous “others”.  Problem was, there was no way to do that without making a scene.  Though I hated what the speaker was saying, I still wanted to be respectful.  I didn’t know how to reconcile these conflicting impulses so I was left frozen in my seat, staring at the lanyard clamped in my fist.

Thankfully, the speech ended quickly after that and we were all released for breakfast.  I had time to cool off and look forward to the rest of the day’s activities but I will never forget the hostility I felt for those few minutes.  That morning taught me just how important understanding other perspectives is to me.  I have never been so angry, before or since, but I hope to be able to encourage greater understanding next time.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

What are you proud of?

“What are you proud of?” is one of the questions I tried to address in my writings last week.   I’m fortunate enough to have made several accomplishments in my short life and I scribbled some notes down about some of them, but looking over my responses I realize that all the really big moments I am most proud of have a unifying theme that’s somewhat unconventional.

When I started writing I didn’t think about graduating from High School as a Valedictorian, or acing 40 pages worth of papers in 3 days of college finals, or any number of other academic accomplishments I’ve had over the past 16 years in school.  Rather, the moment that first jumped into my head was when I made the decision to drop out of Honors Chemistry in college.  Yes, 17-year-old Alexandra was more proud of dropping an honors class than any of the As she had under her belt.  Truth be told, it took a lot more courage for me to drop that class than any high-level course could demand.

It was the first time I put my emotional and physical well-being and happiness before my potential academic achievement.  In high school I pushed myself to the max, but college afforded me the opportunity to change my priorities.  Why did I drop Honors Chemistry?  The schedule conflicted with a dance class I wanted to take.  I’ve done ballet my whole life and I decided that dance was more important to me than a weighted grade in a subject I didn’t love.

Making the decision was uncertain and scary but I knew that it was the right thing for me.  The moment I realized I had successfully altered my schedule and defined my own priorities was absolutely liberating.   It was hard for me to wrap my head around – but I think that’s why it made me so proud.  I had the power to define myself and decide what was important to me.

The moments that evoke the most pride for me all deal with having the courage to do something for myself.  To do what I think is right.  To step outside of my comfort zone and try something new.  To stop following the path most people have laid in front of them and to instead try something that might be good for me, even (and perhaps especially) if it breaks the mold of what I think about myself.

I am so thankful that I dropped that course all those years ago because it laid the foundation for many leaps of courage to follow.   None of them are the most impressive of accomplishments (after all, dropping out of Honors Chemistry doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment does it?), but they are the moments that have made my heart happiest and led to the most growth in my life.  It’s hard not to be proud of that.

Categories: In the USA, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Revamping My Purpose

I started this blog a few years ago with the intention of documenting my travels. It was a great way to update my friends and family on my experiences without having to repeat myself multiple times, and I’ve already seen a lot of growth and development in both my writing and travel experiences.  However, I have decided it is time to redefine this space.

I remain committed to travel and sharing interesting stories and insights from my experiences but I want this blog to be more than a place to list my activities and accomplishments – I want to turn it into a tool I can use for personal growth and development.

I’m currently between phases in my life and I’m trying to figure out what to do next.  I recently graduated from college and would like to go back to grad school but I think it’s important to know what I want to get out of it first.  It is my hope that with your support this blog can help me do that.

There are many things I want to do in life: travel, live in various countries, gain (and retain) fluency in Arabic, Spanish, and several many other languages, but most of all I want to contribute something great to this world and the people who inhabit it.  I want to make changes and help people move forward – not through some over-beaten “cause” but for a passion of my own.  I want to pour my heart and blood and sweat and tears into something and wake up every morning knowing that I’m making a difference and it’s worth it.

I want to live with purpose and passion.

Over the next few weeks you’ll notice I will be posting much more frequently.  It is my hope that writing more often will get my thoughts and passions down on paper and out into the world where I can make use of them.  I want to develop my thoughts on topics that interest me, discover my passions, and improve my writing in the process.  There’s no telling where this will take me, but I know it will be a worthwhile, if at times meandering, journey.  Will you join me?

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Systemic Epiphany

It just hit me in the shower.  I know what I’m interested in.  Not all those hobby-interests like dance, or reading, or even the career-interests like international studies, or medicine.  No, now I finally know what holds all of those little things together.  The overall component that piques my curiosity no matter the subject, the driving force behind every search for understanding within my multifarious passions:

Systems.

It sounds so simple doesn’t it?

Forget the details behind each country’s foreign policy or the historical events that led to Bashar Al-Assad’s control over Syria.  Forget languages or the intricate anatomy of the human body and mind.  All of those details, all of those huge undertakings of research and the quest for understanding were just manifestations of one larger interest: systems.  I want to know how each piece fits into the puzzle.   How individual elements come together to create something greater.   How the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and what makes those parts fit into the whole; what makes the whole tick, and how does it operate independent of its components?

This holds true for every major interest I have ever pursued:

I grew up wanting to go into medicine.  I was fascinated by the body, how each organ did it’s part to promote the health of the whole.  How billions of individual cells came together to create a person.  How the brain directed each action, both consciously and unconsciously.  How surgeons could take things apart and put people together again.

This morphed into Cognitive Science.  What is consciousness?  How do cells come together to create a body that has a mind and a personality?  How does the brain/person control all of that?

Linguistics was a big part of that as well.  How does the brain comprehend sounds as meaning?  How do languages form?  How do the individual components of language come together to form words which form sentences which can be rearranged to create different meanings?  How do societies collectively attribute specific meaning to a string of sounds?

This bled further into Anthropology and International Studies.  How do societies form?  What holds them together?  How do individual people form groups that form nation-states and governments that can align with or against each other in greater organizations (such as the UN) and ultimately make up the world?

Lately I’ve been working at an insurance company.  While the work isn’t particularly inspiring, the company does offer several opportunities for education which I am trying to make the most of.  I have no interest at staying with this company forever but I’ve recently realized a budding interest in business.  Particularly in high-level business systems.  I want to understand how the company works.  How individuals form small departments that form big divisions that make up different branches of one over-arching company.  How money from one branch fuels the activities of another and a separate bucket is held in reserve.  How assets differ from cash flow and what business decisions affect one or the other.

Now, I’ve finally realized what my underlying interest has always been.   I want to know how systems work together to create a larger whole.

What are you interested in?  What drives your passions?  Leave a note in the comments.

Categories: In the USA, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grains of Fire and the Burn of Memory

30 May 2012

Sand.   Grains orange like sunset, bright against the white fabric.  Filling the corners of my pockets and clinging to my skin, as Morocco clings to my mind.

I’ve been home for a week now.  My suitcase is unpacked, most of my gifts and souvenirs have been sorted, but I’m still finding unexpected treasures from my life in Morocco.   Like the pants I’m wearing.   I thought the pockets were bunched up after I put them on, but when I went to straighten the lumps out, my fingers encountered fine sand, as bright as a sunset over the Sahara, which is, in fact, where it came from.

I realize I must have worn these on ISA’s last excursion to Merzouga, where we visited the Sahara desert almost a month ago now.  I can’t believe it’s been so long, and at the same time so short.  Time passes strangely while in transition and re-entry into the States is definitely a big transition to make.

I admit it’s not always fun, but neither is this re-entry as difficult as some others I have faced in the past.  I miss Morocco and have some culture shock, but I’m not completely depressed.   Perhaps, like all things, the transition becomes easier with time and practice.

Categories: In the USA, Morocco | Leave a comment

I Am in the World

I am six years old and the fairgrounds is my play structure.  The Spice Girls play on repeat as the crowds swarm through excitedly, going from stand to stand, ride to ride, exhibit to exhibit.  So much energy and life in this place!  So many adventures to be had!  I want to do my own exploring and get my parents’ permission to visit the gardens with my friends.  We race away through the crowd, taking a short ride on the tram just because we can.

The hours race by as we wander the fairgrounds.  I know my way around already but still feel like Indiana Jones or one of the Wild Thornberrys exploring new territory as my friends and I hop from one part of the fair to the next.

I return to my parents after dark, tired but fulfilled by the day of adventure.  I don’t understand why my mom calls me by my full name with a clenched jaw and that tone in her voice.  She pulls me behind the stand to yell, out of sight of the customers buying pink cotton candy and sweet red candied apples.  Their day is not crushed when the bewildered tears spring to my eyes.

I had wanted to stay for the fireworks, to finish the perfect day with sparks of light arcing across the sky with a bang, but now my chances don’t look so good.  I ask anyways, though it’s clear they want to send me home immediately.  My dad relents.  I can tell he feels bad for my mom yelling earlier but I take advantage of the chance to see the spectacle.  It would have been the perfect ending to the perfect day but I know the leash has been tightened.

To me this world is exciting and fun, but to my parents it’s a scary place, full of monsters that eat little girls like me.  I try to tell them that I’m alright, I can take care of myself.  But they don’t listen; they don’t believe a little girl.  Instead they teach her that the world is scary, that she can’t go off by herself.

That she can’t be free.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am nineteen years old.  I tell my family I want to go to Morocco to study abroad.  I want to stay for a year.  It isn’t a question.  I am not asking for permission; I am letting them know that I have finally decided upon the location of my year abroad.

It is going to be a nation with connections to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  With cultural complexities I can’t wait to wrap my head around and mountains and deserts and ancient cities I can’t wait to explore.

It is also an Islamic country in North Africa in the year of the Arab Spring, but that’s beside the point.

My grandma tells me I cannot go, she won’t let me.  How could it possibly be safe for a young woman on her own?  Especially a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed young woman from America?  Plus, the culture is so different, surely no one thinks to go there.  “Couldn’t you go to Spain or somewhere in Europe?” she asks me.

I nod along good-naturedly, “Actually my orientation will be in Spain, that’s where the program will start.  I’m thinking about going early to travel around on my own first though, since I haven’t been to Spain yet.”

I try not to laugh at the dismay in her eyes.  She’s genuinely worried for me but I know she can’t do anything to stop me.  My parents, thankfully by now, know better than to try.

They say nothing and sit back to see how it will play out.  I sit through the dinners and family gatherings, laughing and keeping the groan internal when my aunt implores that if there’s one phrase I need to learn before I go it’s “Don’t touch my clitoris!”

Months later, equipped with a fake wedding ring from my mom, antibiotics and anti-diarrheals from my doctor, and one large suitcase from my closet, I board the plane, flying into the unknown to finally greet the world on my own terms.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am twenty-one years old.  The education that has been both my refuge and my prison has finally come to an end.  I am free to begin a new life.  The world is so full of possibility I don’t know where to start.

A phone call from a friend presents opportunity and I decide to see where life leads me.  I move to a new city in a new state with no job and no plan, just a car full of belongings and an open heart.

I’ve learned you don’t need set plans to move forward in life, as long as you’re always striving for improvement.  And it’s often the things that take us by surprise that prove most worthwhile.

The world is not a scary place.  The world is my home and I love exploring it.  I don’t know where i’m going but I’ll get there, someday.  Until then all I can do is enjoy the journey.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Stairwell

The troops were called in to handle an “incident” late that night.  Gearing up in the locker room, I realized I hadn’t had time to grab an extra belt.  Oh well, in this kind of situation you can only be as prepared as you come, and hope that your skills are sufficient.

None of us knew why we were there – at least not at first.  We’d been told they’d fill us in on the way.  One more experienced officer did know however, and he wanted us mentally prepared for what we were about to face.

“There’s been an 11-45,” he said.  Attempted suicide.

“And it was successful.”

I nodded, keeping my face blank as my mind flew, not to the last suicide I had dealt with, but rather, the first.

A shining light of bubbly personality, my friend Adam was as sharp and as flamboyant as they come.   Always mischievous and always with such Presence – his loss left gaping holes in our lives where something good used to be.

Missing wasn’t unusual; he’d lost his phone so many times I never knew what his number was.  But then, they found him.

Seventy-five feet high.  Hanging from an electrical tower against Merced’s March sky.

Even in death he made his presence known.

And six months later, the ripples could still be felt as I stood halfway around the world.  In Morocco I wrote:

His smile

doesn’t echo here,

His laughter

never filled these rooms,

but his presence is

as strong as the

reverberation

of my heart

against the walls

of loneliness.

A hole that only he could fill

my shrink but remain ever still

upon the tear-stained walls

of my heart.

The walls on this night were stained by something much more visceral.

Red-brown streaks on a closed grey door.

Caution tape and bookshelves serving as improvised barricades.

We weren’t meant to see the scene but not all doors were closed so tightly.

Eight stories of stairwell is a lot to keep contained and to the untrained eye I suppose that lump of pink on the step could have been a rather large wad of gum, but I knew better.

I could tell the Inferior Frontal Gyrus from the Occipital Lobe, and I know when both are staring me in the face – plastered to the wall or sliding down the steps.  Remnants left from a mind long gone.

The job had me standing there for hours.  Wind whipped up by the elevators wafting the subtle smell of raw meat into the hallway.

It was past midnight by the time we were able to leave, as the library closed, students slogging home bleary-eyed, completely unaware of the scene just on the other side of the wall from where they had sat studying for so many hours.

At the end of the night, the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing had other officers asking if there was anything we wanted to say.  But, what can you say in the face of death?

Categories: In the USA | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 111 other followers