Pressing Reset

Last July (2015) I quit my job, gave away everything I owned, and moved to England. The plan was to work in my friends sandwich shop and travel Europe as much as possible. I hadn’t been able to find a job using my degree, was stuck in the same industry I had worked in for the last 6 years throughout college, hated the city I lived in, and was just generally disenchanted. You know when you find yourself not wanting to go out and do anything… you’re too tired, overworked, not happy, bored with your surroundings, just not excited about the day. Well.. that was me. It wasn’t overnight. Just a kind of gradual slide. But either way, life is far, far too short for that.

I started this blog in 2014 specifically to write about those travels (I actually started it the year before when I left for the first time to travel in Europe, the entire month of August) and I’ve noticed that I haven’t really done that. It’s instead become an outlet for some thoughts and feelings. Traveling really is the best for solidifying thoughts and getting to know yourself. So this has become a study in openness, gathering my thoughts, and in writing publicly/online. Which is fantastic, but while looking through old journals the other night I realized there was a lot I had forgotten about in the day-to-day of my past traveling that I would have liked to write about or remember better. I even had to list out all the places I’d actually been to now, since many happened only in the last couple years. For remembrance sake, here goes:

  • England (Hull, Leeds, Manchester, London, York)
  • Netherlands (Amsterdam)
  • Belgium (Brussels)
  • France (Amiens, Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Marseilles, Montpelier)
  • Spain (Barcelona)
  • Italy (Rome, Lamezia, San Nicola Arcella, Praia a Mare, Civita, Calopezzati)
  • Greece (Corfu)
  • Scotland (Aberdeen, Edinburgh)
  • Haiti (Labadee)
  • Bahamas (Nassau)
  • Mexico (Tijuana, Nuevo Progreso)
  • Canada (Windsor)
  • Hawaii (Waimea Bay, yes still US but a world away..)

On Monday I leave for my last big trip before I get back to the daily grind. I’ll be in Iceland for ten days. It’s going to be an amazing trip and I’m going to do my best to write about all of it, the big stuff to the mundane. Maybe just a daily log. It’s so easy to forget the minor details, and for me those are the best parts. The discussion you had with a new friend over wine, the quick stop you made in between major places to take an amazing photo, the weather on the day you visited your favorite church/ruin/park.

To wrap this up, through a random series of events, I’m now living in Washington DC. It’s been an amazing journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I really want from this life. After Iceland, I’m ending the chapter on my six solid months of travels but beginning a new one in a new place with a new career. I made a choice all those months ago to be happy and let go of anything negative, anything weighing me down. And while I know that going to that type of extreme is not for everyone, I think that people do hold onto a lot just for the sake of comfort. Not just material things but toxic relationships, unrewarding jobs, unhealthy locations. You can let go. You need less than you think you do. And when you have less you make space for better… positive people, happy thoughts, a better job, a fantastic relationship. Press reset and see what happens.

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On Perception II.

My previous post was one on the way that people perceive you and the power that has over your life. Perception is reality and the world we live in is one that lives and dies on preconceived notion and first impressions. I find it only fitting to be followed with a post on how I would like to be perceived, since my reaction to my past outside perspectives (those that people have had towards me in the past) was a somewhat negative one.

First and foremost, I want to be taken seriously. I want to be seen as capable and knowledgeable. Never would I complain about being seen as an attractive person but it can be a double-edged sword in a career or job. I have at many times found that if I slip up in the slightest, there are plenty of people to point it out and attempt to discredit my accomplishments; writing me off as a person who got where I am/got the job that I have due solely to looks. I’m resentful of this because I’ve worked my ass off. Not only in college through completing two degree programs while still working enough to support myself, but in any job that I’ve had. I worked 12 hour shifts regularly at my last job, and worked more at home to accomplish what I couldn’t get done there. I spent hours learning new skills and solving problems I didn’t even have to just to be able to be good at what I do and know the field from top to bottom. It was so very frustrating when I would hear anyone downplay that. And it’s why I spend so much time studying and learning more than anyone else – I don’t like giving anyone anything to say. I don’t like for them to be able to take cheap shots. Like I said previously, I hate more than anything to look incompetent.

Next, I’ve always had a problem being an open person. I’ve just been this way for as long as I can remember. I think it’s from learning early on that if you open up, sometimes people will use those things that you tell them against you. It was all the more frustrating because I have always prided myself on being a lockbox. If you tell me something in confidence, I’ll take it to the grave. It sucked when other people didn’t do this. This has become less of an issue as I have surrounded myself with with wonderful friends in my adult life, people that really care for me in a genuine way. True friends that I really can be honest with… That I can mess up around and they keep my secrets and love me anyway. So I’m working on being perceived as a more open person. I want to be one of those people that radiate warmth and welcoming and that people feel comfortable opening up to as well. I think it just takes time to let old habits die.

Lastly, I want to be perceived as successful. This somewhat ties in with my first desire I suppose, to be perceived as capable. I have had a couple conversations in the last six months or so in which something was said that undercut an accomplishment that I felt that I had achieved. I was surprised each time at just how much that bit into me. But I’ve worked to hard to reach the goals I have finally reached to have anyone belittle them for any reason. I suppose that it didn’t help that these conversations were ones had with men; as I’ve gotten older I think I’ve come into a more combative stance with men. I feel like I have something to prove. Again, I want to be taken seriously. And a lot of past not-being-taken-that-way has come from male coworkers, male bosses. I don’t even think it is a malicious thing, more of an ingrained societal thing. Maybe that’s a post in the making…

Again, I know that you need to be proud of yourself, not need that from others. But you should take into account just how you come off to people because their perception of you shades their reality and the way in which they interact with you. The impression you give others is important, especially in a career setting. It’s just a good thing to keep in mind. If for nothing else then just for self-improvement.

 

On Perception.

An old favorite of mine, from Paradise Lost:

“The mind is a universe and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
― John Milton

Perception of the self, perception of your life and your circumstances, these are the things that create your story. Your perception is your own reality. As Milton wrote, your mind is capable of creating the universe it resides in. Similarly, the perception of others creates their reality. I had a coworker who would say that to me when I found myself aggravated by the some of the ridiculous things that people would complain about. If a customer, client, guest is unhappy, that is justified in their world. It makes sense to them for whatever reason. It is a good thing to remember even out of the workplace, we all walked different paths. We all have different triggers and different beliefs. We perceive based on individual experience.

I was curled up on the couch with my journal the other day, trying to get inspired but finding myself with a serious case of writers block. So I googled some writing prompts and ended up reading an article that really made me think… 20 Questions to Know Yourself Better. One of the questions asked was “How Do People Perceive You?”

I was thrown by this question because I was surprised by my immediate emotional reaction to it. It wasn’t a good one; the closest I could describe the feeling would be one of animosity. The perception of others, in my experience and through the feedback I have received, has in many instances in my life felt misguided at best, unfair at worst.

There have been many times in my life that I have felt prejudged for one reason or another. Somewhere along the line I went from a boisterous, mischievous child to a painfully shy adolescent. I felt completely invisible during that time in my life, and mostly I was. And invisible was fine by me. Switching schools multiple times in three years and feeling constantly out of place and different made me more comfortable in just blending into the background. I pulled this off marvelously until high school at which point I discovered, with the help of my fashionable cousin and a good friend, the magical transforming powers of makeup, contacts, and not wearing baggy t-shirts and tennis shoes everyday.

My oh my… how things can change overnight. I went from wallpaper to a strobe light in the worst possible scenario in which that can occur – as a shy teenage girl in a highschool setting. Any attention I attracted from boys was in direct correlation to the negative attention I received from girls. Perception of me, at this point in my life, was that I was a pretty girl who did not involve herself in after school life, gossip, or dating and therefore must be stuck up/full of herself. Truth was that I was just still that shy girl and had no idea how to handle attention or hang out with the cool girls. I didn’t have things in common with them. I found most of them catty and frivolous and disloyal. They, in turn, found me weird if they ever tried to speak to me at all. This was my first real run-in with unfair perception.

The same pre-judgement has followed me into my adult life, for somewhat similar reasons. While I did outgrow much of that painful awkwardness, that shyness that had caused me issues in my youth; being a mid-to-late 20’s attractive girl working as a bartender through college had its own interesting set of outside perceptions. Namely, people think you are stupid, or at least uneducated. They think you can’t do any better. I cannot tell you how many times I was asked at my last job if I had ever traveled outside of my home state, just how many kids I had, if I ever considered getting a real job. People make assumptions based solely on your vocation and how you look, before you ever open your mouth. I liked to let them talk for awhile before I hit them with the fact that I was in the process of finishing/had my Master’s degree. The look of surprise was always highly satisfying.

I now have a problem with the perception that I am not a person that should be taken seriously. I am still a young female and that comes with a collection of assumptions that men of my same age just do not have to deal with. You got the job because you are pretty, not qualified. You got the promotion because you are sleeping with your boss, not due to hard work. You don’t really know what you are doing. You should be second guessed. It is because of these things that I hate looking incompetent more than anything. I feel that I need to know more, prepare more, and never mess up. I had a boss once that would refer to me as “little girl/ little lady” even though I was 30 years old and had been working in the field for years. Another told me that I dressed too sexy even though I wore turtlenecks and blazers to work everyday in a deliberate attempt to not look sexy. Yes, these were older men. But their perceptions held me back.

The way that people perceive you really can impact your life, for better or for worse. It can mess with your self-esteem (just ask my 15 year old self) and it can begin to influence the universe you create/the world that you live in. As much as I’d like to say you should never care what people think of you, and in many instances that rings exceptionally true, sometimes in a career setting you really should care. Impressions are important. Perception of you is everything. The only thing you can do is recognize the reality of the situation and be attuned to those outside perceptions… As misguided and unfair as they might still be.

 

 

To my Younger Self

This post could also be titled “What I have Learned” and is really just an amalgamation of the life lessons I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so. I do wish I had known some of these things when I was younger, at least come to these conclusions a bit sooner, but I honestly do believe in learning things the hard way. I believe in trial and error and life experiences and drinking it all in. Regret is a waste of time and the way you frame the circumstances that life throws at you makes all the difference as to what you learn (or don’t learn). So that being said… Here’s are some truths I’ve recognized throughout the years:

  1. Being angry is an absolute waste of time and energy. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget, but move on. Do not ruminate on how you’ve been hurt or who has caused it. It all just makes you stronger anyway.
  2. Young and pretty only gets you so far and it doesn’t last forever. So start building work ethic and making contacts. Take things seriously in whatever silly college side-job you are working. Always take pride in what you are doing and do your best no matter what it is. I don’t care if it’s mopping floors. Do it well.
  3. If someone treats you poorly and you’ve done nothing to them, let it be. It is a reflection of what is inside them and not of you. Do your best to not take it personally. In the same vein, be respectful even when others are disrespectful towards you. Let them make themselves look bad.
  4. Don’t trust everyone. Just because you are authentic and have good intentions does not mean that everyone else does.
  5. It is okay, in fact wonderful, to be different. It is a gift. Not a nightmare. Be proud of who you are and cut out the negative self talk. It will waste years of potential growth.
  6. You are and you become who you surround yourself with. Their standards of behavior become your own. Invite into your life only people you admire, respect, and aspire to be similar to.
  7. Get involved in something. In anything. Find your passion, find a group with the same passion. Run with it.
  8. Write more. Read more. This will be what saves you.
  9. There is a camaraderie and support that comes only from your girlfriends. Find good ones and hold onto them no matter what. Be a good friend and be a good listener. Be there for them and they will be there for you, in so many ways.
  10. Don’t act on impulse or emotion. Check your temper. Regret can come from 1 second of losing control. Dignity is absolutely everything.
  11. Treat people well. Accept them for who they are. Don’t judge, don’t criticize, and don’t harm. Actions and words have consequences. Each person is a product of a conglomerate of experiences and circumstances that are different from your own. Understanding this is the first step in your own personal path to tolerance, compassion, and understanding. To treat people badly is to harm your own personal development.

For the Moment.

I was asked once, a very long time ago, by a person special to me… What are you running from? I’ve thought about that question so many times in the years since and wondered if it was a valid one; if I was/have been running from something or if I have instead been just searching for something during all this haphazard travel and in all these spontaneous moments. All these times that I have finally gotten somewhat comfortable in life and then flung myself as far out of my comfort zone as possible… What if anything am I looking for? What is my cause for this innate drive to explore the new and unexplored?

I thought of this post and the things I wanted to write while driving down a rain-soaked highway in Maryland (yet another couple-month stopover in my constant journey). There has never been a time during a long distance drive, watching the white divider lines on the highway blink by, that I have felt anything but a sense of calm contentedness… of life, promise, and possibility. Watching those lines on that drive brought me to this.

I believe that the journey itself is what I live for. Those calming in-between moments of travel from point A to point B. There is an exciting “anything-could-happen” and “I-could-go-anywhere” ambiance to it all. I get the same feeling in wide open spaces, times when I am truly alone, when I have the ability to stop in the night warm desert and sleep under the stars, basking in the freedom of my own mobility. I can stay. I can go. I can do whatever I like.

I have a special love of the new destination but have come to realize that it is on the path itself when I feel the most content. I could drive across this beautiful country again and again. I could fly to every country, take every train, decipher every road map and bus system in the world and I would still want more. I can think when I travel. I find solace in the simplistic act of it. The single task at hand that it offers me. I feel close to my own God, my own thoughts, my own brand of sleepy existentialism.

There is so much beauty and meaning in the journey, so much promise, that when I am deprived of it I lose my inspiration and start to lose myself. Some people find their comfort in stability. I find it in the in-between. I cannot yet comment on why this is, I just know that it has always been this way for me for as long as I can remember. Call it the product of a chaotic background. Call it inborn curiosity. Call it an interminable optimism that just around the corner is something profound. Call it a result of all these things. I have even, in part, chalked this unstoppable drive to explore up to Sagittarian wanderlust. I have met others of the same sign that are much like me, and with each passing year I am less apt to believe in coincidence.

So it has taken me years to be able to answer the question that I was asked so many years ago… but I think at this point I can say, as confidently as I can in knowing myself at this point in my life, I’m not running from anything. I’m not running to anything. I’m just living the only way that feels right to me and the only way that I know: For the moment. For promise. For the journey.