Achievements of another kind

Why is the bathroom shower one of the best places to do some thinking?

It’s not as if you get into the shower with a plan in mind to do some thinking. In that way, it’s totally unlike the spaces we create which are intended for productivity–an office at work, a desk at home. I’ve talked before about the importance of rituals, and the mindless ritual of showering lends itself well to facilitating more abstract thought processes. When I was in art school, I had two places where my abstract thought went into overdrive: the shower, and in bed right before falling asleep.

I didn’t make any big breakthroughs in the shower today, but I did feel like my thoughts during that time were the good kind that put me in the right frame of mind to go to work and try to make the best of the day. I contrast that with the times I’ve been assailed by bad thoughts that seem like they’re out of my control. I want to clarify that I do believe that our thoughts are usually well within our control, and our bad thoughts only tend to get out of hand and “beyond our control” when anxiety enters the picture.

Today in the shower I was thinking about how my perspective on “personal accomplishments” has changed over time. It has been a gradual change. The change hasn’t been drastic, either. I haven’t totally redefined what personal accomplishment looks like for me. I do think the change has been significant enough, though, that if I write about it here it’s possible that someone could find it helpful.


As a kid, I would have defined an accomplishment as having won something. Accomplishment = winning. Did I win something? If I didn’t, then no accomplishment took place. No achievement was made.

Awards weren’t the only way to win, though they were still the best type of accomplishment to make. An award is concrete proof that you are the best. The bigger the pool of candidates and the more prestigious the award, the more significant that award became and the more it helped to bolster my ego.

I was very preoccupied with winning awards in my three main areas of interest: sports, art, and academics.

And I did. I won a lot of awards. I didn’t win all of them though, so I was still a failure. A winner would have won every time.

I look back on that kid and I know that kid was too hard on herself. Today I realize that my problems with anxiety were taking root back then. I was the kid who would silently cry at her desk if my test score came back and I only received 98 points out of 100. I had to be perfect. I often went home from school with “stomach aches.” Looking back, these stomach aches were just the physical manifestation of my psychological issues. I didn’t make a connection between the two until a little later. I knew by Grade 8 that my excessive worrying was causing me to feel sick a lot. I wasn’t aware of any possible solution to that problem.

In Grade 8 we used to write daily journal entries in response to a topic selected by our homeroom teacher. Out of many journal entries, I only remember a few of them clearly. One question asked what our greatest wish was. My response at the time was that I wished I wouldn’t worry so much, followed by a couple elaborating paragraphs to fill the space left on the page. My teacher approached me about it afterward. She said she thought it was a wise response. I felt a sense of accomplishment from that, as if I’d won my teacher’s approval in some way. At the same time, that journal entry was a cry for help of sorts. I didn’t write it to impress my teacher, unlike many other things I did with the intention of impressing people. Because of the response I received, my screwed-up brain turned it into just another thing I used to bolster my pride.


The great thing about adulthood, so far, is that the awards are few and far between. A kid who has been accustomed to receiving awards in competitive settings has to wean themselves off of that feeling. At first, we find different ways by which to judge our own worth. Maybe we get accepted into the school of our choice. When it comes time to apply for our first “real job”, a feeling of accomplishment can arise if we are chosen for a position out of a large pool of potential candidates.

I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s something I’ve spent most of the last decade beating myself up about. My inability to secure a job in my field still weighs on my mind–even after the realization hit that I don’t really want to be in “my field” anymore.

Getting a job–the kind of job you go to school for–is just one achievement I wanted to have under my belt by this time in my life. Most chances at an “entry level” job in my field have passed me by. I’m not a recent graduate anymore. I’m not even in my twenties anymore. My resume is a cornucopia of unrelated, unskilled part-time jobs that would impress no one.

If I don’t achieve my dream of getting a job, what else is there?

As it turns out, I have plenty of other options–other ways to keep “achieving.”

I have had to redefine what that means for me.

One time at work, I overheard someone refer to me as a “nice person.” I don’t think I’d ever gotten such a HIGH off of being called nice before. Why? Because it doesn’t happen that often. I have spent a lot of time in my life being a jerk to people. I experienced a series of “rude awakenings” that all culminated in me realizing I’d been acting in a way that was contrary to how I believed I was acting.

These days, it’s an accomplishment to be viewed as being a kind person.

But a truly kind person would not be kind to others just to out-do other people who are also being kind.

If you decide you want to follow the path of kindness, you have to change something about the way you see other people. This is where my faith has helped me. My faith tells me that we are all children of God. We all have an intrinsic value, no matter what our actions might indicate. Even the worst, most undeserving people are included under the banner of “God’s children.”


Practicing kindness began with practicing patience.

I used to have zero patience. Now I have a lot of it. Now, I get taken advantage of more often. Part of having patience is opening yourself up to the possibility of being taken advantage of. No one wants to be a sucker. No one wants to be seen as naive. No one wants to have one of their virtues used against them.

But having patience allows us to do something that I see as a kind act: to withhold judgment.

As a teenager, I was very into myself and my own interests. I often looked down on people who didn’t share my specific views or tastes. I was quick to judge others and made no reservations about letting my opinion be known. Do you ever meet people who talk more about the things they hate than the things they enjoy? Do you ever get the impression that they experience a kind of joy when they discover yet another thing to dislike? It’s really obnoxious, but that’s how I think of myself at that age. And I know many people who are still stuck there, even as grown adults.

Practicing patience has allowed me to get to know people for who they really are. I don’t put a person on a pedestal just because we might have some superficial tastes in common. When I’ve done that in the past, it has led to me ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of that person’s personality. Because at least we like the same music and can commiserate about our shared views on politics! Right? Gross.

I feel secure enough today in who I am that I don’t look for other people’s approval. My views are my own.

And I don’t feel compelled to inflict my views on other people. Here’s a scenario: You’re taking your lunch at work in the communal break room. A few people at your table are having an enthusiastic discussion about something they all enjoy. You very much do not enjoy that thing. In what way do you contribute to that conversation?

If the answer is something other than “listening politely,” we’ve got problems.

Have patience with people. Your opinion–my opinion–is not so important that you must take it upon yourself to ruin a pleasant conversation.

A while back I had to listen to my supervisor run down a much younger coworker–to his face–simply because this young man enjoyed the show The Big Bang Theory.

Is there anything more pathetic than an almost 40-year-old taking such offense at the TV-watching preferences of his younger subordinate to the point where he feels compelled to get into a heated discussion about it, the purpose of which was to convince this younger person that he shouldn’t enjoy a show that he currently enjoys?

I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish. Using your TV-watching preferences to demonstrate your superiority over another person is sad. It’s television. It’s all meant to be easily digestible in a 30-minute or hour-long format. I don’t care if it’s Game of Thrones or Peppa Pig–you sit there passively and watch it according to your interests and tastes. I don’t understand what there is to feel superior about.

And when someone is open about the things they enjoy, your first instinct should not be to run that thing down–I don’t care how much you dislike it. You’re being a jerk to someone who apparently made the mistake of showing enthusiasm around the wrong person. That wrong person is you.

Do you want to be the type of person who no one can be honest with? Because they fear your judgment, I mean. How’s that working out for you?

When I started to shut up and listen to people better, people started talking to me more. They know I won’t mock or ridicule them for something of no consequence.

I feel good about my newfound ability to shut my stupid face hole. It’s been a major accomplishment I’ve made as an adult and it’s helping me on my quest toward kindness.

Another thing I stopped doing: nitpicking the people who I’m supposed to love the most. The individuals on the receiving end of this nitpickery were most often my boyfriend and my brothers.

There was a time when everything annoyed me. I had no reservations about expressing my annoyance. Little brother cracking his knuckles? I would have lost my freaking mind. But it doesn’t bother me to that degree anymore. It bothers me so little, that I don’t comment on it. And I’m not just seething with anger, either. It’s just not a big deal. He doesn’t crack his knuckles to annoy me. He does it because it’s a habit he developed, and that’s it. I’m trying not to take things like that personally. It has nothing to do with me and it’s not meant to annoy me.

He is a very fidgety, anxious person at times. Sometimes when we’re sitting on a couch together, or eating lunch at a restaurant, his foot tapping is enough to make everything start shaking. I used to snap at him about this. I’ve stopped commenting on it altogether.

I try to look away when someone chews with their mouth open.

If someone is having a loud conversation via speakerphone, I quietly leave the area if it’s bothering me so much.

People don’t do these things to annoy me, so taking it personally would be a waste of energy and a totally misplaced reaction on my part.


Perhaps if I’d been given my dream job right out of school, or had other desires of mine easily fulfilled, I would not have seen any reason to change anything about myself. Sometimes when you get everything you want in life, you unconsciously see that as an affirmation of sorts. Just keep doing what you’re doing! Why change when being a jerk didn’t have any negative consequences?

But even if you’re a successful jerk, there’s a pretty good chance that if you look at the people surrounding you–especially people on a lower rung of the ladder, or perhaps your friends and family who’ve provided you with support along the way–you might find a lot of people who were inadvertently hurt or taken advantage of because of your ambitions.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life–there is absolutely nothing that should preclude you from practicing kindness.

It’s something we can achieve as individuals as well as collectively in our social groups. Why wouldn’t you make that choice? Kindness is not a competition, but we can certainly achieve it. And unlike most other awards and honors, we can make achievements in kindness without limit–starting now, and until the day we die. The possibility is there.

What do you want to do with your life? pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

I wish I could be in college right now, for the first time. I love a lot of things today that I had no clue about back when I was actually going through college. The first book I read after graduating was Middlemarch by George Eliot. I had always loved to read, and I thought I read a lot. But I really didn’t. I barely even knew what I liked to read. I can’t say I’d ever read a book before that was “life changing”. Middlemarch was revolutionary for me because when I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself: Is this the best book I’ve ever read? I think this is the best book I’ve ever read. Why have I never read this before? What the hell have I been doing?

This is my copy and I love it so much.

And I’ve spent the years since then hyper-focused on making up for all the reading I didn’t do back when I was in school. I always say that the one constant good about my job is that it affords me a lot of time to read.

I’ve learned so much in the process. Reading Tolstoy during a time when I felt spiritually lost was the catalyst for me renewing my faith in God. Who, in a time of spiritual crisis, could possibly be left unaffected by Levin’s story in Anna Karenina? Or Pierre’s in War & Peace? Resurrection was so bold and unapologetic in its didacticism and I felt so challenged by it that I was left with a greater sense of confidence in my convictions I had previously been ashamed of.

Russian literature became a focus of mine. I have yet to make peace with the fact that it was left out of my formal education almost entirely–“almost,” because we did read The Cherry Orchard once in high school. I guess that was sufficient? I could go on for ages (take this as a warning) about how depressing it is that American students are only really exposed to American and English literature during their high school years. We talk a lot about diversity in authorship these days, and how to make room for more women and ethnic minorities among the authors of standard “classics” normally touched upon in the high school curriculum. I don’t really care to get too involved in that debate. We’re failing at including female voices and black voices, without a doubt. It’s a major failure in the culture at large. Remember seeing that incredible breakdown on film dialogue? I’m sure the dialogue in today’s best-selling books would fare much better, but that isn’t necessarily reflected where authorship is concerned and how it’s addressed in the high school classroom.

I’m getting a little off-topic. The reason I don’t want to get too bogged down in that specific debate is because if I’m “speaking my truth,” I think of Americans’ fixation on America as just as large of a problem. Do we even care at all about the rest of the world? The less we engage with the artistic output of other countries, the more foreign they’re going to seem to us as people. Americans have no qualms about practicing cultural isolationism, even in institutions of higher education. When we study literature, we study our own literature. We create an echo chamber and then we’re delusional enough to award degrees in it.

In the years following college graduation, I’ve learned that I have no particular affection or preference for American literature, film, or art. I used to think I preferred it, but that was all I knew. It’s pretty easy to have a preference for something when you have nothing to compare it to.

I entered college thinking that I knew what I liked. My focus was always on the arts, so I’ll keep these remarks along those lines.

I had no clue how great a book could be because I’d never read much of anything outside of the texts assigned in school. I rarely watched films that weren’t American productions, or at the very least, films with English-speaking actors. And I thought I loved these things! They were critically acclaimed! I was having fun and getting “cultured”–L to the O to the L. When I first signed up for Netflix and was getting DVDs mailed to my house, I watched a new movie nearly every night. This was one of my passions.

When I entered college and declared as an English major, it didn’t last long for various reasons. See previous post.

I should probably be glad that I took a different path. I was friends with enough English majors to know that they didn’t get to read Middlemarch either, anyway–at least not in school. Is it too long or something? I don’t get it. Here’s a hot take: books you read in school should be difficult. You should feel challenged by them. Your teacher is not mean or evil just because they might make you read something that isn’t easy to digest. Just the other day I had to listen to my 70-something-year-old coworker rant about a book he was assigned to read for class. In his words, his professor is a stupid idiot for assigning it and shouldn’t be allowed to teach anything. Why? Because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness manner and my coworker thinks any book written in such a manner is garbage. God help his professor. It can’t be easy teaching a bunch of young adults who think they know everything, let alone a 70-year-old man who thinks he knows everything. Why even be in school at all? You know everything. Leave.

Maybe the books I enjoy now would’ve been lost on me when I was a teenager, or possibly even in college. It’s difficult to say for certain. I would love to have the chance again to study with intensity something that I love. I don’t mean to imply that college is wasted on young people. I do think that expecting any significant level of insight from young people whose brains are still developing is a Big Ask. And yet we expect them to know and decide what they want to do with their lives before they’ve ever really lived. If college were free, this would be no big deal.

I don’t know if I’ve actually gained any insight in regard to a future “dream” career. I was hoping to someday discover deep within myself some kind of passion for accounting that had been lying dormant all my life. Then I’d just go into the family business and I’d be set. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. Maybe some of us aren’t meant to make loads of money. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m one of those people, if indeed I am. Maybe I’m able to deal with it better than someone else would.

What I’m saying might contradict what we’re taught to believe about the American dream. Plenty have called it out as a bogus concept, often citing examples of how opportunities for success simply aren’t made available to everyone equally. It’s a good point, and I get it. I just want to question what makes it worth pursuing in the first place.

Being able to choose your own path in life regardless of your background is a relatively recent human invention. Sometimes I think true happiness would be easier to find if we weren’t seeking the answer in our choice of career. Your job is just one small part of you.

Right now I’m thinking of those faith-based organizations that preach the “Prosperity Gospel.” Here’s another hot take: they are gross and they should be ashamed of themselves. If you’re reading this and you think God not only cares how much money you make, but wants to actively help you make MORE, you’re gross. Close this tab, exit your browser window, throw your computer out the window along with yourself–whatever you have to do. You are gross. You are harming yourself and the people around you.

It’s easy to mock prosperity theology, and to tell its believers to off themselves, but I think a lot of us live by its principles without realizing it. We idolize money. We idolize people who have it. We’re taught to pursue it even if the pursuit of it destroys our soul. We refuse to be content with what we do have. We assign value to actions based on how lucrative they are. Just recently, I skipped a shift I was supposed to work at the Humane Society because it got in the way of me going to my new part-time job. The only reason was money. One pays me, the other doesn’t. Which one I actually enjoy doing more–that didn’t factor in at all. I’d rather be with the dogs (note to self: new epitaph idea). But I didn’t go because they don’t pay me to go.

It’s almost time to end this. I meant to talk about a lot of other things–mainly just movies and books I’ve loved. I can’t find an easy way to go back and add any of that in among what I’ve already written. I’m sure I’ll have other opportunities in future posts. This is getting long enough as it is. I’m at work right now, but I’d rather be with the dogs, if ya know what I mean.

What do you want to do with your life?

How do you answer that question?

The answer can change from year to year, maybe even more frequently than that for some of us. I don’t think about it as much anymore, and when I realized that, I wondered Why?

Do you remember the days of being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? I was trying to recall how I used to respond to that question. As children, it was something we were asked often in school throughout the years. We might be asked to draw pictures of our future selves, doing our dream job, sometimes accompanied by a little paragraph of description. When I was very small I wanted to write and illustrate my own books. I think my next phase was all about basketball–I wanted to play in college and then the WNBA. It makes me smile thinking back on that–the days of being convinced I could play a professional sport someday! The next phase may have been even less grounded in reality, if you can imagine: I wanted to be some kind of “rock star,” which led to me taking guitar lessons in grade 8 and begrudgingly continuing with them throughout high school and junior college. Let’s just say I didn’t exactly take to it. The thought of ever having to play in front of anyone made me want to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment.

Drawing and painting had been a hobby of mine since I was very young. Unlike other things that caught my interest through the years, art was one that I actually pursued consistently and seemed to improve upon over time. It never felt as forced as some of my other hobbies. I never gave it much of a thought as a career. More on that later.

In high school I learned to enjoy writing. Before, it had only been something that I wished I could do. Then I suddenly had the opportunity to take an elective in Creative Writing, and it terrified me. I was so nervous for that first class–I only signed up because my friend Kelsy did. Between that class and another called Film Appreciation, both taught by the same instructor, I learned that I kind of enjoyed writing analytical essays. Who knew?

I can at least say it made college much easier– having lots of papers to write seemed like no huge task.

When it came time to apply to college, I decided to declare a major in English Literature. I only lasted one semester at that out-of-state university. I moved back home, enrolled in community college, and didn’t really have anything specific in mind for the future. I took classes in American literature, creative writing, film, theater, and painting. Clearly I was in it to make the big bucks…

One of my art instructors there told me that the department had a scholarship to offer me if I decided to declare a major in art. So I did. It paid my full tuition there and gave me a path to follow. The department’s Art Club even organized and raised money for a trip to London. I went. I was sick the entire time, but of course it was still wonderful.

After a year and a half in community college, I transferred to a small-ish school in the nearby city. Now I was in deep in the arts. This was My Thing now. Soon after, I switched my emphasis from Painting to Printmaking. I still took electives in other areas I enjoyed–creative writing, gender studies, poetry translation, basically whatever seemed fun. I took part in a study abroad program, living in Vienna for a couple of months during the spring and summer. The tail end of the trip took us to Venice for a week, where the 53rd Venice Biennale was happening. That was ten years ago. I thought of that summer as the most significant experience of my life for what it did in terms of propelling me forward in my work and my intellectual life. A few months of having so many new and intense experiences gave me the motivation I needed to complete my degree. I feel like it provided me with the solid foundation that I had been in search of. School changed in a drastic way–I became obsessed with my work in a way that I hadn’t been before. I still had two more years left to complete, but the enthusiasm that remained after that trip was not to be stifled.

And here I am, ten years later. Art is not my career. I doubt that it ever will be. The future I envisioned for myself at age 20 is not one that I can really relate to at 30.

For instance, when I was in art school, the idea of exhibiting my work was still a very attractive idea to me. I enjoyed nearly every chance I got to be a part of different shows or exhibitions. Especially toward the end, we were organizing a lot of these things. People would turn up; all my friends would be there (because they were in these shows too). The pressure seemed minimal. I took pleasure in prepping for the exhibitions and getting everything ready. The receptions could also be fun. Eventually the work came down, and we’d do it all over again with another show at another place with new work to display.

Graduating from art school involved writing my thesis and taking part in organizing the final BFA exhibition. I’m still proud of what I did for it, but the actual reception was one of the most unpleasant I can remember. The work I exhibited was made up of 151 ceramic vessels. A few were broken during the course of the night. It was kind of nightmarish for me at the time. Literally, I had nightmares for months afterward about the show because of how stressful it was. I did win an award, and my step-mom cried out of happiness, which made me feel good because I knew she was proud of me. Most of my family was there, and that was the best part. I didn’t produce any more work after that, not for at least a year.

In the last ten years, I’ve gradually lost my enthusiasm for pursuing a career in art. I don’t think I fully grasped what the “business” side of art entailed. The networking, the rigorous self-promotion, the constant filling-out of applications for residencies, shows, and whatnot–none of that ever stops. It’s not like other jobs where you apply once, maybe get an interview and then a job offer, and then you’re finally able to focus on doing your work (with the guarantee that you will be compensated). When that reality settled in, the future I thought I had wanted began to look very bleak.

In school they don’t really tell you that charisma and connections are just as essential to the working artist as the actual art practice itself.

No matter what job it seems that I have, the ability to be totally professional and polished at all times is beyond me. Sometimes I think having a structured workplace is the only thing that keeps me in check. I don’t think I have what it takes to be in the business of “Me.” Over the years I’ve been involved in little side-projects at times to keep myself entertained, but these things tend to wear out their welcome once they become more of an obligation than simply a “fun project”. If I still wanted to pursue a career in art, I would have to be 100% invested in my art practice, in my own self-promotion, in the constant and endless search for opportunities, and somehow I’d still have to find a way to make money because it’s not as if I’d automatically be compensated for these efforts.

Maybe at age 18 or 20 we’re not really in the best position to make decisions regarding who we want to be or what we want to do for the rest of our lives. I wish apprenticeships were more of a popular thing nowadays. Vocational school sort of addresses that need in some ways, but not to the extent I’m imagining. Four-year college is just too expensive to justify enrolling in when you’re still at an age when you’re discovering new things about yourself, your interests, and your abilities on a daily basis.

I wonder how different my life would be today if at age 16 I had begun an apprenticeship with someone who was willing to teach me a specialized skill set of some sort. What it is doesn’t matter–just imagine some skill you wish you had today, and substitute that in this example. Carpentry, cooking, cobbling, computers, cameras, canines (and the training thereof)–I’m trying to be funny and it’s not working. Just imagine anything. Anything you can imagine becoming pretty skilled at doing, and doing it for about ten years, until you’re in your late twenties or thereabouts. And then you enroll in college.

To be continued…in Part 2

Cynicism and judgment, pt. 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post. In this one, I hope to reflect on some of my past missteps. Read or skim the previous post for context if you choose.

A sense of superiority can manifest itself in many ways:

I’m too good for that job. I’m too good for that position. I’m too good for that program. I’m too good for that school.

I’m too good for that wage. I’m too proud to accept your help. I think too highly of myself to accept or entertain your advice.

I’m above your criticism of me. I can’t and won’t accept constructive criticism from a person who I consider to be beneath me.

I’m smarter than my parents. I’m smarter than my teachers. They can’t teach me anything. I don’t respect them, and I can’t learn from someone I don’t respect.

I want to address and refute these feelings, or variations of them, as they began to develop within the environment of school. If you’re currently a young person enrolled in school, please read this so you can avoid making some of the mistakes I made.

I love my teachers. I remember every single one I’ve ever had, for better or for worse. I am still being taught by them to this day. Even the “bad” ones–but believe me, they weren’t that bad.

The further I advanced in school, the more baggage I carried with me; the more judgments I inflicted on my teachers and professors. As soon as I began to struggle in a class, I always blamed the instructor, rather than myself. I look back and I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself.

I leveled unwarranted criticism at classmates, especially in group critiques. I didn’t care how it made them feel. My own work was certainly not good enough to warrant such confidence. I was too full of myself. It was easier to criticize others than it was to work on and improve upon my own weaknesses.

My instructors fared no better. Of course, I always had teachers I loved so much and who could do no wrong in my eyes. Then there were others. I can’t even easily categorize them–the ones I didn’t like and therefore did not give my respect to. They were all very different, but my response in each situation was usually to act out by doing everything I wasn’t supposed to do while in their class. I would read or draw openly in front of them, basically daring them to make me stop. I put very little effort into my coursework for those classes. This behavior typifies my high school experience. If I liked my teacher, I excelled in their subject. If I disliked them, I didn’t try at all.

Did I think I was punishing them? Probably. It’s not easy trying to teach a smart-ass kid who has written you off completely. They may have felt hurt, insulted, disrespected–you name it. They were grown adults though, and most did an excellent job tempering their responses to difficult situations.

College began in a similar way, but it got better, or at least my attitude improved slightly. This time, I used my dislike for certain professors as fuel for doing well in their classes. I think some of the best marks I received were in classes taught by people I personally detested. All I had learned at this point was how not to torpedo my grades out of spite. I did very well in the classes taught by professors I liked, so there was really no difference in my performance anymore, and I graduated with a fairly high GPA.

If I hadn’t at least made a partial turnaround between high school and college, I wouldn’t have fared very well in the workforce. Just like anyone else, I struggle to work with people who have difficult personalities. I have coworkers who I care for deeply even though they might drive me crazy from time to time. I have other coworkers who I do my best to avoid. I don’t like to initiate conflicts at work–it makes it even more difficult to keep going back day after day. And I need to have a job.

Jobs can be disappointing. I think of school as an opportunity to learn how to function in a workplace. If you don’t learn healthy coping skills, you might end up job-hopping more than you want to. I don’t know of any job that is free of bad bosses or [insert negative adjective of your choice] coworkers. If you hear of one, hit me up!

But I don’t want to stay on the “jobs” subject…that can be saved for yet another post.

I want to talk about school, and how if that’s where you are in life, please remember how lucky you are. Please remember that you’ve made a choice that you didn’t have to make, and you’re paying to be there–with your time and possibly your money. This is not where I’m going to tell you that you are therefore entitled to your criticisms of that school and its teachers; rather, if you’re currently in school and behaving as I did, remember that you’re wasting your time and money until you decide to commit yourself totally in pursuit of your education. You also might be making your professors’ lives hell. Is it worth it? They’ll get over your crappy attitude–there’s always going to be a new kid with an even crappier attitude to deal with. They aren’t going to get hung up on you.

But you will be hung up on them. And your crappy attitude, if left unfixed, will infect everything you do. You might graduate, you might not. You’ll take that crappy attitude into the workplace, like I did, and it’s only going to get worse from there. You’ll be saying to yourself, “I’m too good for this place, I need to get out of here. This isn’t my passion. I deserve something better.”

And maybe you’ll find something better, or at least something different from your last crappy job. But the cycle will keep repeating. Even if you find your dream job, I guarantee there’s going to be aspects of it that will make you look back on all those low-paying part-time jobs you juggled for years and desperately wanted to get out of–and you’ll be longing for those days of less stress and fewer responsibilities and a job you didn’t have to take home with you.

Make a decision now to live in this moment and appreciate it for what it has the potential to teach you. This is a reminder to myself.

About cynicism and hasty judgment, pt. 1

I read a very brief, but nice article the other day–I think in WaPo online, but I’ll have to track it down again before I’m finished writing.

Here it is: The magic that happens when adults see other people’s kids as three-dimensional humans by Braden Bell

I hope you get a chance to read it. It’s lovely and encouraging to read his words–not simply for the advice they offer, but that this person has shared a difficult, daily struggle that is completely worth the effort for the revolutionary effects it can have in the lives of others.

We all have specific and ongoing experiences as children that shape who we are. Sometimes they seem so insignificant that we don’t, even as adults, consciously see them as parts of ourselves that we still carry around with us.

I was raised to always do my best, especially in academics. As the first-born child and only daughter among four children, I appreciate now more than ever the “high standard” my parents set for me to meet. My Mom would often stress the importance of my studies and how fortunate I was that I had a clear road ahead of me to go to college. When a parent is able to instill in their child a sense of feeling fortunate without laying on a guilt-trip in the process, that is the type of parent to be reckoned with. That is the definition of my Mom. She was not able to go to college herself. Only the boys in her (very large) family had that option–if they chose. Her enthusiasm for the very idea that I could (and would) go to college was infectious. I never, ever questioned that I would attend college and graduate. Even while in college and meeting with some obstacles along the way, I never once considered not graduating. I owed it to her and I owed it to myself. My Mom supported and encouraged me in all the ways a child should hope to be supported and encouraged. She certainly put in an obscene amount of time helping me study throughout the years. She was determined and so was I.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share some fond memories from childhood involving my Dad. I remember him reading to me in the evenings and before bedtime. I had certain books I liked best, so we would read and re-read all of my favorites. He had an endless amount of patience for indulging my every whim. I don’t know how many times he had to sit through Fantasia and though he liked to nod off part-way through, he was still there, in the living room, participating by being present. I hear so much today about young(er) parents, dads in particular, who shut themselves off from their family in order to play video games all night or binge-watch shows on Netflix. There are a lot of ways in which parents screw up, but speaking in terms of “screw-ups” that aren’t heinous crimes, video game addiction that results in isolating oneself from one’s spouse and children is surely one of the most pathetic, in my mind. What I want to communicate is that my Dad was the opposite of that, as a parent. He was always present and involved.

My Dad also stressed the importance of academics and excelling in sports. Here is where the linked article above comes into play. My Dad had the habit of drawing comparisons between his children and other people’s. I can’t speak for anything my brothers might have experienced, so I’ll focus solely on my own. I remember from an early age, my Dad saying things to me regularly like: “I bet you’re the smartest kid in your class.” Part of this was very affirming, part of it was very sad. I felt like I was in constant competition with my peers in school. Sometimes I would tell him that Blaise or David was much better and quicker than I was at the timed multiplication tests that stressed me out so much. I was fast too, and I would never miss an answer, but I wasn’t quite as fast as those two. And it was all about how quickly you could complete the tests, which as I said were timed.

My brothers and I had a neighbor kid we liked to hang out with. He was a little on the eccentric side. Only much later after talking with my Mom did I realize that the reason my Dad made denigrating remarks about him (not in front of the boy, but to me and my brothers) was because he acted in a way that seemed “gay.” My Dad didn’t know my classmates well enough to comment on them other than to remind me that I was smarter than them. When it came to our neighbor kids and the kids who played on YMCA sports teams with us, my Dad would often make critical remarks about certain ones–maybe they were the kids who were a bit weird, maybe shy or effeminate, maybe they acted out too much–whatever it was, I always knew his opinions of them.

As an only daughter, it is very powerful to have a Dad who thinks you’re smart, capable, and hard-working, and who reminds you of those things on a frequent basis. But unfortunately these reassurances had to come at the expense of people who were my peers and many who I considered my friends.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was wrong. That, at least, happened before the onset of adulthood. What I wasn’t cured of was my sense of superiority over other people.

To this day, I laugh at work e-mails sent by my supervisors that are riddled with basic errors. There is a horrible part of me that still thinks that anyone in that position doesn’t deserve to have a job if they can’t write a simple e-mail. Just the other day, I took a screenshot of an e-mail I received from one of my superiors and sent it to my boyfriend with the message: “Jason is having a stroke.”

So yeah, I love to make fun of people who can’t write e-mails. And generally speaking, I’ve cut down on my criticisms by a significant degree. I usually justify the teasing I still engage in by only targeting people “above” me in the hierarchy at work, and never telling anyone but my boyfriend. Honestly, I don’t even feel bad about it.

I have plenty of other types of criticism I do regret engaging in. I want to talk about that in my next post. This one is getting a little long.