5 Things I Learned In My (Very Long) Undergrad Career

I have emerged from the abyss!

Well, it seems that way anyhow. I’ve been in the zone with finishing classes and keeping my head screwed on at work. I’m happy to report that I will be graduating on May 11! After all I’ve endured to get to this point–eight years of personal drama, family drama, financial aid drama, and more–it’s going to be one of the best days of my life thus far.

To mark this occasion, I’d like to share five things I learned on the long, winding, potholed road to my degree.

1. It’s not all about when you finish. It just matters that you do.

When I left college after a long bout of depression, I felt terrible about myself. It hurt me to know that I wouldn’t be graduating with my peers or that I had to tell people I was taking a break from school. Where would I work? What will my friends think? What if I don’t finish my degree until I’m 47 and everyone thinks I’m slow? I was, as you can probably see, very hard on myself back then.

Now, though, I realize that nothing anyone thinks about me can define who I am. I’m not in competition with high school friends on Facebook or with ambitious college classmates, nor is it my job to explain to anyone why I left school, why I’m graduating at 26 and not 22, or why I’m an English major. It’s only my job to make the best decisions for myself and live with the consequences. Am I graduating “on time”? No. I’m graduating in my time.

2. Recognize when something isn’t working. Then make the appropriate changes.

I hated my sophomore year of college. The journalism classes weren’t interesting to me, and to make things worse, I wasn’t getting good grades. Having done well in previous writing classes, I was dumbfounded at my struggle to write winning articles. So, after my long break, I decided English was a better fit for me–and I made the right decision. Something felt more natural to me about reading literature and analyzing it versus chasing sources and reporting stories. I looked forward to my classes.

Now, I’m not saying that not doing well on something means you shouldn’t pursue it. But it is important to be able to admit to yourself that your performance isn’t up to your standards. In my case, writing the right answer–I just needed to choose the right kind of writing for me. It’s satisfying to know you’ve finally made it to the right place.

3. Take the criticism, good and bad.

As an English major, I’ve had to develop a super thick skin to deal with paper critiques. When I thought I did brilliantly on an essay, for example, my professor would scribble a big C on it. While I didn’t always like or agree with some of the comments, I realize that my professors were only trying to make me the best writer possible. They wanted me to push myself beyond the comfortable box I built for myself. And for that, I can only be thankful.

Criticism isn’t always easy to take. If you don’t steel yourself for the fire, you’ll come out singed. So, instead of thinking everyone who nags on you has some vendetta to destroy your life, search for the nuggets of truth in their critiques. The people who really care about you will always make sure you find them.

4. Be you. 

The first few weeks of my freshman year at Howard University were a study in culture shock. First, Washington, D.C., looked nothing like my small coastal town in the South. My peers talked differently, walked differently, dressed differently. Feeling anxious and unsure of myself, I experimented with myriad looks. I wore sneakers when I’d always been a heels girl. I spent money on name brands just to say I was hip to the latest trends. I was a slave to the sartorial whims of the fly girls on campus.

It took me a while to discover the real me, the “me” who existed in spite of what magazines and campus chicks said and did. Learning to dress, speak, and think for myself gave the courage to be myself. Who else can be you if not you?

5. Keep learning. 

I’m still deciding whether grad school is worth it for me–and whether I have the strength to sit through more years of school (I’m fairly sure I do, but I want to take a break for now). Learning, though, doesn’t require a formal classroom: cliche as it sounds, life itself a good teacher. And anyone can be your professor–your best friend, your dog, your preschool-age nephew, so long as you’re open. Regardless of your age, you can make learning a priority–and you don’t always have to pay tuition for life’s lessons.

10 Great Quotes

Happy Tuesday!

The last time I wrote, I was deep in the winter blahs. I didn’t have much energy and didn’t feel like myself. Well, I am happy to report that I’m feeling a million times better. In addition to stocking up on multivitamins, fish oil, and iron, I bought a light-therapy box from Amazon–and I’m telling you, every day is a sunny one with this thing. Of course, nothing is perfect, but my regimen has been a big help for my mood.

You know what else puts me in a good mood? An inspirational quote. Here are 10 to inspire you today.

1. “Self love has very little to do with how you feel about your outer self. It’s about accepting all of yourself.” -Tyra Banks

2. “Confidence comes from discipline and training.” -Robert Kiyosaki

3. “Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way.”-Les Brown

4. “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” -Dalai Lama

5. “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” -Og Mandino

6. “‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” -Alice Walker

7. “Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice.” -George Jackson

8. “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” -Benjamin Franklin

9. Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” -Oprah Winfrey

10. “Come forth into the light of things; let nature be your teacher.” -William Wordsworth

5 Ways to Kickstart 2013

Yes, I’m sixteen days late, but I’ll say it anyway: Happy New Year!

Having rung in 2013 with the flu, I needed some time to get my head straight. Now  that I’m back to good health (minus the annoying throat-clearing, anyway), I’m ready to share a bit of wisdom with you. Here are five ways to kick this year off.

1. Get pumped. Just as life can’t survive on this planet without the sun’s energy, neither can you meet your goals without a well-powered body. Feeling sluggish? Analyze your diet, sleep habits, and overall health. Iron deficiency, for example, can thwart even sincerest of plans, and so can five hours of sleep each night. To get the best out of yourself, make sure you’ve got all the energy you need. That reminds me: I need to make a trip to GNC, stat.

2. Try new things. I’ve wanted to learn to play bass guitar for years, and I finally got my wish over the holidays. Sure, I’ve spent a lot more money than I thought I would on my hobby, but I’m loving that I have a new outlet through which to express myself. I’m challenging my brain and my body. Now if I can just get my fingers coordinated, I’ll really be making beautiful music.

3. Connect. What is life without relationships? Not much, I’d say. We need other people. This year, strengthen connections with the people around you. Call a relative you haven’t spoken to in years. Make small talk with an elderly person at the bus stop–you’d be surprised at how happy he or she will be to talk to you. And know when you need to break connections, too. People who abuse, denigrate, or drain you aren’t worth keeping around.

4. Get real. Few people like to admit when they’re wrong or when they need to change something about themselves. Imagine how confident you’ll feel, though, when you learn to be honest about your shortcomings, to be real about your not-so-good points. Spending too much money? Have a bad habit of  committing to something before you’ve thought it through? Admit it. When you do so, you gain the power to change yourself. You want that kind of power.

5. Express yourself. You’re unique. No one can express you other than, well, you. So raise your voice. Express the complex, intriguing person you are through your style, your words, your art, your music, your rhythm. You can never be anyone else, so why not let who you are shine through?

Thoughts for a New Year

2013
Happy New Year!

I wrote this piece for New Year’s Eve 2011, and I feel it remains just as true two years later. Enjoy!

~~~

New Year’s Eve. The wrapping paper’s in the trash, the leftovers are somewhere in a sewer, and the gifts we didn’t like are stuffed in the back of the closet. Ads for diet pills and gyms flood our screens. This is the year we’re finally going to stop thinking Ronald McDonald is a personal chef and lose weight. We’re going to save money and remember every birthday. We’re finally going to reconnect with family, save money, or cut a persistent ex off for good.

Our Facebook and Twitter feeds brim with hopes for successful, inspired, drama-free new years. Some iron button-downs or shimmy into dresses to go to New Year’s service at church or the club. As the seconds dwindle, bad memories and habits shift into extinction. The first second of January 1, we’re brand-new.

Then comes the slump. Everything seemed to be going well, but we shirk even the most genuine plans for old routines. Tummies still lap over belt buckles and budgets implode. Peaches or Dayquan is still blowing up the phone at 3 a.m. The promise of a peaceful year evaporates as we fight with family, significant others, co-workers and ourselves. Nothing new happens in a year we were so sure was ours.

What happened?

We all do it: New signifiers in time — January 1, Monday, tomorrow — are the days we vow to do things differently. Many even think these new days drive the renewal we want in our lives, as if there’s some force in a specific day that isn’t in others. I’ve put off many tasks for the beginning of the week, month, or year, only to save them for another day that often never comes.

But in the late summer of 2010, I got fed up with fast food and sizing myself out of my favorite clothes. I decided I was going to eat smart and exercise and wasn’t going to wait another nanosecond. Not Monday, not the first of the next month, not next year. I hit the gym as soon as the urge struck — Thursday, August 19. My progress seemed dreadfully slow, but I kept working. After two months, I finally saw what I’d accomplished one day and was delighted.

That’s how change works — it’s not as simple as putting on fresh drawers. Growth and change are ongoing, fluid and imperceptible, like the minutes that fly or our lungs’ conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide. Some events like getting saved or married may seem like instant transformations, but there’s still a long, often harrowing growth period to adjust to those new statuses.

You might immediately notice that things have changed one day, but only after everything required to produce that change happens. Whether you’re trying to get in shape, have better relationships, or clear out the drama in your life, just trust yourself with your plans, start them as soon as you’re ready, and prepare for a potentially tedious process. One day you’ll look at your life and see that a new day has, in fact, arrived.

Discipline + Drive

You can be smart. You can be talented. But if you don’t have the drive or the discipline, you won’t go very far. Having drive means that you’re motivated to act. You feel compelled from within to pursue your goals and dreams. Discipline takes that motivation a step further: You know that the work will be difficult, and you’re willing to push through it. You’re willing to make sacrifices–less sleep, less fun, less comfort–to get where you really want to be.

Growth begins when we step outside of familiar comforts and thrust ourselves into the vast unknown, into the dark mystery of what could be. And to stay afloat in this new territory, we need to be driven and disciplined. Natural ability is not enough. A folder full of contacts is not enough, nor is a head full of dreams. To be powerful, to be great on your own terms, is to be disciplined and driven.

Skills are only part of the equation. Motivate yourself, then control yourself. That’s how you become victorious.

30 Days of Personal Growth, Day 30: The Journey Continues

“When you change, everything will change for you.”  -Jim Rohn

Wow–I can’t believe 30 days have passed already! Our journey has come to an end now, and I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I’m so thankful for the new and old followers, likes, and comments. I hope I’ve inspired you to love yourself unconditionally, pursue your goals and dreams freely, think flexibly, and live fully. This has been a rewarding challenge for me, both in terms of learning about myself and posting daily.

I’m taking a week off from blogging, but before I go, I want to remind you that the journey toward personal growth never ends. As long as you’re alive, you’re constantly learning, growing, and evolving. Embrace it! Here are 10 tips summarized from this series to help you on your own unique path.

1. Love and accept yourself. You have a right to take care of your needs, appreciate yourself, and value yourself. Never forget your intrinsic human worth.

2. Be a flexible thinker. Allow for variation and change. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some. You’ll never be perfect. Be open to all of life’s possibilities, and know that whether you succeed or fail, you’re worthwhile.

3. Treat your body right. You only get one. Don’t get caught up on how it looks–focus on what it does for you, and feed it the nutrients it craves.

4. Take control of yourself. No one can make you feel, think, or do anything. It’s all up to you to decide what things mean for you. Take mastery over yourself.

5. Surround yourself with honest, real people. Real friends accept you for you and care about you. As much as they love you and want to see you succeed, they’ll also be honest with you when you’re not doing your best.

6. Connect to your external world. Our inner worlds can be exciting places, but there’s a lot to admire outside of ourselves, too. Put your feelers out into the world and savor its richness and diversity.

7. Respect others’ rights. We all have a right to our own unique existence, whether someone likes it or not. As long as what you do does not hurt you or infringe on someone else’s rights, live as you desire, and allow others to do the same.

8. Find your peace place. The world’s chaotic sometimes. Step back from draining relationships, work, and other sources of stress and tap into your own peace place–art, music, writing, nature, anything that uplifts you.

9. Be thankful. Be grateful for what you have. Somewhere, someone doesn’t have half as much as you do. Thank others as much as you can and appreciate what’s in front you right now.

10. Commit to personal growth. Finished products we are not. There’s always something for us to learn, to see, to experience. Commit to your personal growth through books, blogs, audiotapes, and more. And don’t just read or listen to them–try to apply them to your life. You always have room to grow. Be positive during the journey!

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30 Days of Personal Growth, Day 26: Who Will You Be Today?

No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.
-John Morley

Who will you be on this journey called life? Will you be the person who…

  • Wakes up a few minutes earlier to get a fresh start on the day, or sleeps late
  • Holds others’ private information in confidence, or gossips about his or her friends
  • Takes appropriate action, or freaks out when things aren’t going right
  • Listens first, or judges others
  • Spends money recklessly, or saves for what she or he or really needs
  • Loves her body person, or despises it
  • Appreciates time to himself, or can’t stand to be alone
  • Listens to her own judgment, or needs everyone else’s approval or permission
  • Fears change, or embraces it
  • Speaks honestly, or pretends to be someone else
  • Pays attention, or ignores the present
  • Shows gratitude, or complains about everything
  • Keeps an open mind, or stays stuck in rigid ways
  • Cares about others, or only cares about self
  • Thinks realistically, or wants to be perfect
  • Gives compliments freely, or criticizes others
  • Lives in truth, or lives in denial or delusion
  • Takes no interest in tomorrow, or plans for a smoother future today
  • Uses time wisely, or procrastinates
  • Survives, or thrives

Who will you be today? Choose wisely.