The real world or The Real World

This is my first semester in 18 years in which I am not taking a class. Not a single one. The next five months are dedicated to finishing my thesis (read: glorified research paper) and studying for my comprehension exams so I can graduate in the summer. And then…and then…

Several of the people in and around my life have asked me what I am going to do in the “real world” once I graduate. For a while, I went along with this question and gave some very satisfying answers about job prospects, traveling, and purchasing at least five more cats within the next two years. But I’m becoming irked by this question, not because I don’t have a solid plan, but because of its implication. Since when was being in school not a “real” thing? Will my Master’s degree be imaginary, some mathematical equivalent to non-existence, i? I certainly hope not, seeing as the time, money, and brain-space sacrificed has a definite value of 18 years—no more and no less.

Imaginary Kate posing at Imaginary undergrad graduation, posing with Real Grandma. What a headache.

Without a doubt, we’ve all talked about, dreamed about, wondered and skirted around this “Real World” concept, so I pose the question to you: what in the flying f*ck is the Real World and how do I become a Real Person in order to live within its space? If am on the cusp of entering this place, then I feel like I need some clarification in order to avoid becoming a nonentity. It is my understanding that this is a place where a body is not in school, has its own job, pays it bills, and has a few more responsibilities that make it a commendable part of a working society (Note: professional students CLEARLY do not meet these qualifications).

Barf

Do this for the Real World and you’re an automatic IN.

It’s not like this is something I can look up and research, either, seeing as MTV has a monopoly on the Real World and has occupied it since 1992. But if I take my lessons from this Real World, then there are certain themes for my new life to be on the look-out for:

  1. Prejudice
  2. Politics & religion
  3. Romance
  4. Sexuality
  5. Unrequited love
  6. Departed house-mates
  7. On-screen marriage
  8. Coping with illness

Interesting how I never experienced any of this in the last 18 years (well,  “On-screen marriage” might be tricky to argue, but my sass is on a roll). Maybe the point of school is to prepare myself for these “recurring themes.” Maybe the purpose of my Latin America seminars in 2011 and 2012 was to teach me that there are some fiercely homophobic bros out there who love to hate on AIDS-ridden gays. I’m certain that my Marine Biology class from 2008 amply provided the life-skills for when my roommate moved out and we scrambled to find a new one. And the most important lesson, one that was a tough learn in the History of Revolutions course I took in 2009, was that of unrequited love…for immediate and radical change brought on by the people for the benefit of the whole and not the few…oh, wait, that has nothing to do with MTV’s Real World, because that might have actual, long-term, and significant change as opposed to the “longest running reality TV show” claim to fame. THAT must be part of Non-Real World.

I am so not prepared for the Real World if this is what it takes. But if my hunch about “reality” is right, that finding a job, paying my bills, and interacting with a larger community that is outside of (but not necessarily separate or far from) academia, then I’m certain I will do just find and y’all can stop saying Welcome to the Real World!

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What would you do?

No fear.

Last night, I went to a talk downtown for the Portland Data Visualization group. The event was held at one of the many tech startups in town, and on one of the walls was this motivational slogan:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

And it got me thinking. I’m a fear-motivated person; only recently did I realize this about myself. And because I talk to Anna every day, I know this about her, too. This text message conversation ensued:

Me: What would we do if we weren’t afraid?
Anna: Love harder. Jump higher. Lie less. Create more.
Me: Build. Stretch. Grow. Learn. Guess. Fail. Flourish. Conquer.
Anna: Maybe we should try this.
Me: A social experiment. A living experiment.

So we presented to each other some options for conquering our fears. I don’t wish to speak for Anna, so I won’t reveal her plan, but I am going to get rid of 50% of the things that I own. I am going to start working on a new coding project, even though it feels impossible. I’m going to ask my boss when we are going to do a progress review. I’m going to talk to my roommates about some of my concerns about our co-habitation situation.

I’m going to start living my life in a way that is best for me, regardless of how afraid I am to do so. And I would like to present this challenge to you, dear STTF readers, as well.

What are you afraid of? Is it snakes? Go to the zoo and hold one. Is it asking for a raise? Set up a meeting with your boss. Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.

Then go do them.

We want to motivate you. Leave a comment here listing something, anything, you’re going to do in the next month to conquer your fears. Come back and give us updates, I’ll do the same, and we’ll start conquering our fears together. We are strong, incredible young people. We have the whole world ahead of us, but only if we take it. So let’s take it.

Scaredy Cat? Present and Accounted For.

I’m not afraid of mice. So when a pair of them magically appeared in my house one Halloween, I wasn’t terribly alarmed. (I think there is some irony in there somewhere- Halloween, not being scared…) Granted, they were pets. That I purchased. More or less on an impulse. Here’s what happened: my roommate at the time and I had gone searching for the final pieces of our costumes at a Party City. Next door was a Petco. We decided to go in and look at cats we couldn’t have. Not finding any cats, we stopped at the rodents. In the male mouse container, amidst a few dozen other scurrying pests, were two running, fairly unsuccessfully, in opposite directions on the same wheel. One was white with orange patches and the other was brown with a white stripe on his head. I pointed them out, “If those were my mice,” I said, “I’d name them Harry and Ron.”

Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, mice

And so we did. And they were great. Harry, tragically, died young. But Ron hung around for a while and was one of the best pets I ever owned. And while that may be the case, this is not a blog about pet mice. And it isn’t about being superior to my fellow writer – besides, I have more than my fair share of things that scare the daylights out of me.

Point in case: the cracked doorbell button. I will not push it, although probably I won’t get electrocuted. The “probably” is the issue. And I don’t want to hear about the current that runs through such a device. It’s lit up and rings. That sounds pretty potentially deadly to me.

Oh, and I’m not keen on loud noises. As you can imagine, rock concerts and the 4th of July aren’t really my thing.

And since we’re on the topic, I don’t really like cockroaches,  riding my bike next to buses or train tracks, riding my bike across train tracks, gutters in pools, gutters in streets, cattle guards, cattle, stopping and mooing at cattle, or the dark. And that is the tip of the iceberg.  My fears can get even sillier: like the paranoia that I will use the wrong “your/you’re” in a tweet. Just a few nights ago, I had a nightmare that a murderer was going to target one of the units in my building. With only six doors to choose from, my odds weren’t good. Legitimately scary, sure, but just a dream. Except that when I woke up I was worried my subconscious had picked up on something and was trying to alert me to my impending doom. The only way to be sure the killer wasn’t waiting in the living room was to check. Except that was too scary (see above: afraid of the dark). I compromised and locked my bedroom door, under the assumption that the tiny push lock would slow the deranged serial killer down long enough for me to wake up and find some means of protection. Luckily, it never came to that. But it illustrates just how much of my day to day (or night to night) is influenced by irrational fears.

And that is really what I have been trying to get to this whole time, the term: “irrational fears”. Talk about trivializing. Yes, it may seem silly that I’ve never been stung by a bee and yet I’m afraid of bees while I have been stung by a jelly fish and am not afraid of jelly fish (which, I’m told, feels a lot like a bee sting). But does telling me it isn’t scary make the bee (or the mouse) any less so? It doesn’t. Hello, ladies, we are all afraid of things, from big bugs to never owning a designer purse, and just because it isn’t going to kill us, is no reason to think less of it, and as a result, less of ourselves.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. That link isn’t our fear, legitimate or not. That link is the way we judge ourselves and tear ourselves down. Eff mainstream trivialization. Besides, rivers are on my list of things I’m afraid of.

On letting go of who you want to be and accepting who you are

With less than a month to go before I’ll have completed my undergraduate education, there’s been a lot of reflecting going on around me. As I look back on the person I’ve become and the person I used to be, it’s hard for me to imagine how I got to where I am today.

Call it what you want—growing up, gaining experiences, or maturing—I’ve changed since my freshman year.

Thinking I wanted to be one of these was fun for a while.

When I entered college, I was pre-med. I wanted to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. The prospect of a career as a doctor was intriguing to me, partly because of the money and stability, partly because I had no idea what else to do with my life and I had liked biology in high school. As I exit the University of Michigan, I’ll be pursuing a career in journalism. Undoubtedly, I won’t have a stable career. Journalism, as a profession, is one of great movement. I’m assuming I’ll have more than a couple job changes before I’m 25. Who knows, I might even change professions again.

Right around the same time I decided to pursue journalism, some other changes were happening.

For my first two years of college (and this probably applies more to sophomore year), I had in my head an idea of who I wanted to be. The old me used to go to the library every day. I finished papers well in advance of when they were due. I used to proofread everything. I used to attend every single class period. I would wake up at 7 a.m. every morning, including weekends, just so I could say that I did. If I wasn’t in bed by midnight, something was wrong. I would forego hanging out with friends because I had an orgo exam. But I wasn’t doing wonderfully in school. It was frustrating to work so hard and still feel like a failure. I made my bed every day and kept my room spotless. I wanted to appear perfect to the outside world, but I was shy and scared. I never participated in class, oral presentations scared me, and I was self-conscious about everything. I would stress about every little imperfection.

This is so cheesy, right?

Eventually I came to the realization that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I dropped any pretense that I was, or could ever be, a perfect human being. I started to let go of some of the control that I felt I needed. I changed my major to something more attainable (Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science). I began to open up more in front of my friends. I put my flaws on display.

Whereas I used to suppress all emotions and pretend to be happy all the time, now I can recognize my unhappiness. I used to be content. Looking back, my emotions were flat-lined. Now, I even let myself wallow in unhappiness and self-loathing, but it only makes those happy moments that much better. I’m definitely having more fun. I’ve learned to not take myself (and life) so seriously. I participate all the time in class without worrying that everyone thinks I’m stupid; oral presentations in front of a class of 80 are no sweat.

I’m hesitant to call my old self insecure, but looking back, that had to have been the unrecognized root of at least some of my problems. Not all the changes I’ve experienced were positive. Some have had negative effects on my life, but I’ve matured and I’m embracing the new me. Or is it the real me?

Through The Looking Glass: Sweating Out Exercise Anxiety

This is not me.

I recently decided to start losing weight. I’m on the upper end of the BMI chart for my height, but technically not overweight. I’m also a naturally curvy lady — big hips, big butt, big chest. I know I’m never going to be the skinniest person, it’s just not my body type. But I want to get to a place where I am happy looking at myself in the mirror.

And see, there’s the thing. I’ve never been happy looking at myself in the mirror. I walk down the street or bike to work and see women who I think look fantastic, but are considerably heavier than I am. Even when I see girls who are comparable to me in size, I think they look great. But no matter what stage of the process I am in, I can’t get down with my own body. Indeed, as a high schooler, I weighed close to 100 pounds (I’m 5’3), and I still thought I was overweight. Even though the tag in my waistband said 2, in the mirror I was the same little fat girl I was in the fifth grade.

That’s really it, isn’t it. Fifth grade. PE class. We had to run the mile. I couldn’t run the mile, so I walked it. I was pretty overweight. When I finally made my way back inside about 20 minutes later, the last person to enter the gym, everyone was sitting there waiting for me. We then went down in alphabetical order, shouting our times out. Mine was by far—by far—the longest. I didn’t have any friends in fifth grade anyway, but if I had, I doubt they would have continued to hang out with me after that.

As a result of this one day in PE class, as I discovered years later, I have severe running anxiety. I have an exboyfriend who loved to run, absolutely adored it. He had knee issues and had to stop, but if he could have, he would have been out running every day. We would go to track meets together. He had inspirational quotes about running up in his room. And it made me feel terrible.

So I started finding different ways to exercise. Going to the gym doesn’t work for me—I can’t stand to have other people see me flailing around like an idiot—so I work out on a mat in my room. It’s actually been going pretty well.

But yesterday, as I was on my mat trying to do v-sits, I started to get frustrated because I couldn’t see the change that was happening. I wasn’t feeling better; I was feeling discouraged. I was feeling impossible. I wanted to give up. And I did, briefly. But then I stood up and did jumping jacks—something I knew I could do. And doing that led me through the rest of my workout.

Exercising and losing weight isn’t like it looks on the sneaker commercials. There is no pill you can take or machine you can buy that will make you feel better about yourself. I’ve been pushing hard to get by by finding motivation outside myself, but in that moment yesterday when I stood up and kept going, I finally started to feel something like accomplishment.

That’s not to say that getting up and continuing was the magical formula that broke me out of my discouragement and made me feel whole again. The point is that it’s not easy. It doesn’t come magically. It’s a process, a constant struggle. For me, my hurdle is exercise, health, and weight loss. For you, maybe it’s writing, or reading, or dancing, or singing, or drawing. But I’ve found that internal motivation is what pushes me through. And maybe that’ll help you, too.

Self Empowerment Series Part One: Clean and Organize Your Space

You can do it!

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been going through some major life changes. From what I understand, moving, along with breakups, graduating, and loss of friendships/loved ones, is one of the most traumatic experiences one can go through. You uproot your entire life to move somewhere different, tasked with making new friends, finding a place to live, potentially starting a new job or beginning at a new school. As with all of the other traumatic experiences mentioned above, you’re closing the book on one chapter of your life, and opening it on another (pardon the mixed metaphors, but I feel like they’re illustrative). The entire process can be incredibly overwhelming.

In these deep and desperate moments, when you’re looking for comfort and familiarity, it can be easiest to turn toward your vices for support. For some, it’s gluttony, others lust or lethargy. Maybe for you it’s sitting down on your couch and marathoning your favorite sitcom. And there’s nothing wrong with that!  But the occasion does arise that you’ve spent too long laying in bed eating coffee ice cream out of the carton and avoiding the world, and it’s time to get up. And it’s really really hard.

This is the first in a five-part series on self-empowerment. I’ve found that when life feels impossible and I want to crawl into a corner and hide, undertaking one (or all!) of these tasks can help get me out into the big, scary world outside my front door and conquer my fears and reluctance.

PART ONE: CLEAN AND ORGANIZE YOUR SPACE.

Gah! The capslock makes this task look scary, but it is really not. When I think of cleaning and organizing, I, too, buckle under the pressure. Especially because I’m not a terribly organized person to begin with, so when I decide to get my hands dirty (as it were) and tackle my mess, I’m afraid it’s going to take forever and I give up.

If the Berenstain Bears can do it, so can you!

Here’s the trick. Don’t give up. The goal in organizing your room is not to clean and scour every corner or to get rid of everything you don’t need. The goal is to make you feel comfortable in your own space, and often that can take very little time and effort.

Keeping yourself motivated is the hardest part. I always put on some musicsomething upbeat and danceable—and decide what I’m going to do first. Another easy way to keep yourself motivated is to set a time limit. Work for a half hour, then take a break. Or an hour, if you have the time. Setting a time limit will motivate you to keep going, and knowing you can take a break will give you some release.

If you’re like me, your bed doubles as a shelf or a storage area. This can make it very difficult to keep your room clean, because if you sleep in your bed and it has stuff all over it, it becomes hard to make. Move the stuff onto the ground or another area, and make your bed. You will be surprised how amazing this makes you feel. Eventually, you’ll get into the habit of doing it every day, and this one tiny task will make your life that much easier.

Most people create intuitive piles for organizing books, papers, records, and other loose items. This is totally okay, if it’s how your brain works, but having a bunch of messy piles can be overwhelming. Turn your messy piles into neat stacks. Just by straightening up your existing piles, you’ll be able to see some of the surface the pile is sitting on, thus making you feel slightly more organized. Remember, this is about making you feel good about your space. Don’t change something that works (piles) just for sake of organizing—adapt your style to make yourself more comfortable.

Now that your bed is made, it is acceptable to use it as a staging area for whatever else you need to put away. For me, this usually ends up being clothes—both clean and dirty—that are strewn about. Use your bed as a staging area to organize other items. I tend to put all my clothes in a pile on my bed, and fold them or hang them up from there. It’s especially great because it motivates you to finish. Can’t sleep if there are clothes all over your bed!

Finally, and this is the most important part, it is important that you take a break. Everything I’ve suggested here will aid in making your room look cleaner and more organized, so take a moment to pat yourself on the back and appreciate your hard work! I usually will put on a record, sit in my bed, and look around at what I’ve done. It also feels really good to step outside your room and walk back in. You’ll be surprised at how great it looks!

Of course, there is more you can do to clean your room, including getting out the supplies and sweeping, mopping, dusting, and the like. But if you’re a busy person, like I am, sometimes you only have a little bit of time to make your space organized. If you have a longer amount of time, and you’ve gotten so motivated by doing the tasks suggested above, go right ahead and get down and dirty! If you’re seeking to make yourself feel better and get excited about life, however, these seemingly small tasks can make a big difference.

Come back next week to read part two of our self empowerment series: volunteering.