EducationSkills

We live in a success-glorifying society. We also live in a world in which people now have nine-second attention spans. So what do we get? A life that demands increasingly profound achievements coupled with the need for immediate social recognition. We condition ourselves to perform at our best when we are successful, happy, and strong. So when life throws the unexpected at us, we second-guess ourselves, stumbling through negative situations and berating the choices we have made. Have you ever really considered why we are so fueled by success but shaken by setbacks? Or why it’s so difficult to go through life when we have hit a low point? One root cause of this is the underlying fear of weakness. An even bigger problem is the fact that people associate weakness with vulnerability. Breaking news, folks: they’re not the same thing.

Vulnerability ≠ Weakness

For those of us on the constant chase for perfection, it’s a call to action to recognize that there is a huge difference between being vulnerable and being weak. Rather than suppressing your vulnerability, own it. Moments of regret, anger, or confusion should not be seen as moments of weakness, but rather moments of redirection and potential for clarity. Re-think those times in your life when you felt like giving in or giving up. Sometimes it’s during those perceived “weaknesses” that we are exposing our true strength to overcome.

Forgiveness ≠ Weakness

Forgiveness should not be seen as acceptance of defeat. People think that if they give someone a second chance, or if they are the one asking for amends, that they are compromising their own beliefs. This is not the case, however, if you allow yourself to view forgiveness as a way to both take control of a situation and let go of negative feelings. “When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

Not Knowing What To Say ≠ Weakness

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s during an important meeting or an intimate conversation with a friend, we’re sometimes caught off guard or can’t verbalize our thoughts properly. Don’t beat yourself up over not having a scripted life. It doesn’t make you any less of an employee or a friend. It takes courage to acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Take the pressure off yourself of trying to always be polished and ready. Some of the most powerfully-minded people are the ones that can embrace quiet moments.

Making Mistakes ≠ Weakness

Imagine if we lived in a mistake-glorifying society. Mistakes would be recognized and worked through in a more transparent way. People would be just as candid about their failures as they are about their successes. When you mess up, when you do the wrong thing despite what your gut is telling you, when you thought you were being helpful, when you show up late or don’t show up at all, you feel like your weaknesses are on full display for the world to see. Realize that you can blame your weaknesses, saying you didn’t have the right resources. Or you can separate your vulnerability from weakness entirely and identify it with the strength to change instead. You may have done something wrong but you are ready and willing to learn from it.

Vulnerability = Strength to Change

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

Image: Dustin Scarpitti

Culture

It is nearing the end of the semester and you are shooting your finals down one by one. Everyone is exhausted. Everyone is happy that the semester is over. Everyone is going home.

Many students in my school come from another state, even another country. It is rare for me to find another native New Yorker on campus. During these hectic times, it is difficult to get your friends together to have a final farewell when they’re busy packing their suitcases.

They, on the other hand, are leaving the friends they’ve made during the semester to return to a town where things have changed. For any situation, there is a sense of time passing, of things being different, and sometimes that can be hard.

Being the only one left around, it feels kind of lonely. For those leaving, sometimes we can feel excluded. Sure, there are things to do in NYC, but what’s the fun of doing them if you’re doing them alone? And when everyone back at home has changed too, how can we still hang out?

Here’s the thing, and I think I’m just figuring it out. Being alone and having that breathing room isn’t a bad thing. It’s a scary thing, but not all scary things are bad. Sometimes we get so used to being with friends at school, with meeting them for lunch before class or for dinner after seminar or on Friday night for drinks that we forget that we have changed along the way. Winter break is a break from school, but it’s also a break from people. Going back home is a way of taking a break from what you know and seeing how far you’ve come. It’s a good time to reconnect with the most important person. Yourself.

Now, this is kind of hard for me. I’ve grown used to hanging out on my friend’s sofa in Nolita and having weekly mid­week dinners. It’s become routine. At the same time, I haven’t seen friends from high school, cleaned my closet out, or thought to see if my opinions on things have changed. How am I different from when the semester first started? Did I learn anything valuable about myself along the way? Did I grow as a person? How? Why?

While this a brutal thing to do, winter break is a good time to do these things because there is breathing space from all the people who have been influencing us in the first place. Back at home, whether in a suburban town on the West coast or in a city in Asia, there is a sense of “I’m different” that naturally comes with time. It may be lonely, and relieving, to get away from it all, but in the end, it’s what you make of it.

Image: Tomasz Paciorek

Skills

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

This has never rang more true than now. As a twenty-something, my current conversations and thought processes seem to always revolve around the “what am I doing with my life?” question. I am finding that within my circle of peers, someone is either landing a big-time job, traveling the world, attending graduate school, or questioning why they’re not doing any of these things. Social media newsfeeds can be an emerging adult’s biggest frenemy when it comes to keeping track of friends and colleagues. You want to know what someone is up to, but you secretly want to feel like you’re in a better spot than they are. (Oh I’m sorry, that must be my ego talking) That, or you want to justify your place in life by knowing that other people are in the same boat as you. Solidarity, anyone?

I have read countless blogs and articles on this comparison crisis rampant among college students and post-grads. Some have even called it the new OCD: over-comparison disorder. The problem with comparing is that other people’s situations are given a forefront to what progress and success should look like. This is a huge contentment sucker since we each have our own journey to fulfill that is constantly changing shape. Measuring where we are in life with another human being is like trying to shoot at a moving target. It’s frustrating and misaligned. There needs to be a way out of the “this is me” but “this is the world” limbo.

In fact, there is a way that is definitely worth trying. Here it is:

Live your life inside out.

That’s right. We’re about to get real soul-talky. Living life inside out? It means spending more time investing in your journey rather than living up to what others are doing in theirs. It means putting energy into nurturing what makes you unique, learning to not only identify but love your innate abilities and then having the willingness to improve the skills you choose to attain. Rather than absorbing the trends and timelines of your colleagues, observe what inspires you and take action at a pace that’s most beneficial to your own goals, whatever they may be. Identify insecurities and combat them by fostering positive thoughts about yourself and your future. Yes, living life inside out can be easier said than done, but it’s an approach that has a lot of support behind it. To establish some credibility here, Oprah (shout out to you, Oprah) mentioned this approach in a number of her interviews. Life coach and clinical psychologist Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus has even written a book about it with enough empirical research to calm any skeptics out there. Taking a note or two from these inspirers, I’ve learned that self-reflection can really be a gateway into self-acceptance.

So how does living inside out help us compare less and become happier? The first step is to acknowledge the comparisons you have with yourself and others. Say it with me: “Hi. My name is _______, and I am a comparer.” The next step is to shift your focus from the external, material, and visual to your unique personality, places and purpose. Ah, alliteration! Let’s call those the 3 P’s.

Personality: The collection of traits and tendencies that you exhibit to yourself and to the world.
Places: The non-geographical places of interest and value that your actions stem from. Maybe you come from a place of compassion or entrepreneurship or social justice or…
Purpose: Your calling. Your legend. Your reason. The string that threads through everything you do and what ties your beliefs and goals together. It’s your passion turned into action.

Every single person has a different combination of their 3 P’s. If you are able to focus on your 3 P’s you will learn to value them. You can cater your choices to a path that is tailored to who you are, rather than someone else. Don’t let someone else’s decision to join the Peace Corps or go to law school change your dream of launching your own startup. The next time you find yourself feeling uneasy about where you are in life because Person A is way ahead of you or Person B took a different route, realize that it’s because you come from different places, have different personalities, and each have your own special purpose.

A big chunk of this process is definitely learning to love and respect yourself fully so that you can in turn, emit that same positivity to those around you. There is something very freeing about allowing yourself to compare less and to appreciate more. So start within, share your abilities and dreams confidently, and embrace the abilities and dreams of your colleagues. It’s an ongoing process, this whole self-reflection thing, but let’s start at the core so that we can be so happy with ourselves that we are always happy for each other.

Image: David Goehring

Education

People will tell you that your high school years make up the best four years of your life. And then when you’re headed off to college, they say your college years are the best four years of your life. So, I’m here to tell you that high school and college equate to the best eight years ever. However, in order to reach the final majestic years, it’s crucial that you conquer the (sometimes) brutal application process; and since you’ve most likely already taken the SAT’s/ACT’s, your next step involves actually considering where you want attend. I know, you’re either the person who knows exactly where they want to go or you’re like me, a baffled wanderer that spent so much time focusing on perfecting his or her profile that once ambushed with the time to apply, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

So, seniors, here are a few tips to help you crawl out of that hole and pinpoint just where to begin.

1. What’s your major? Or, what field are you leaning toward?

Scary question – I’m aware – but choosing can actually be quite simple. Make a list of the things you do during your free time and your favorite subjects in school. Do you live that book worm life? Do you keep up with Psychology Today or The Economist? Do you constantly re-decorate your room or photograph everything with the potential to be in National Geographic? Are you an avid blogger? How about a vlogger? Do you happen to obsess over fluctuating stock prices or do you get sucked into the world of science with the latest bio-tech advancements? Grace Coddington fans, is Vogue your bible? Maybe you are infatuated with the military and its affiliations, and in that case, you can actually join any of their many branches or check out military schools.

Reflect on the kind of person you are. Are you a right or left brained thinker? Are you inclined to thinking creatively or logically? Analyze your personality – introverted or extroverted? Do you prefer routine or flexibility, serenity or a good dose of adrenaline? Do you thrive when under pressure? These are all pointers to single out what area you’d be best at. If you need further help, Google a couple of career quizzes. They are fairly helpful at underscoring your strongest traits!

2. Think about school size and location.

Now that you have an idea of what it is you want to do, check out schools that specialize in those fields. This will allow you to really excel in your track and use the ample resources many colleges offer. Find out the college rankings – do the schools you are looking at meet your prospects? Make sure that academically, the schools you pencil into your list meet or exceed your expectations.

Next, consider the location. Keep in mind that there are infinite things to consider with location. Each place has its own culture, tradition, and WEATHER- ha, that’s a big one. I certainly did not consider weather when choosing Boston. Ask yourself these questions: are you comfortable with what you have now or do you want something different? Do you prefer the city, suburb, or the country?  How about a place that transitions through the four seasons? Or would you favor a place that experiences hot/cold extremes year-round? (If you are by any chance thinking about South Florida, yes, it offers fabulous tanning weather all year, but its humidity calls for the ultimate death of hair).

How about size? Think of your current high school and decide whether you want something similar, larger, or smaller. Most importantly, do you want to leave your hometown, and does that entail moving across the country or moving one hour away? Location is an excellent way to narrow down your choices. When you finish your list of schools, look up their acceptance ratings and classify them as either “safety schools” (the ones you’re sure you’ll get into) or “reach schools” (the ones that you think your chances of being accepted are slim, but possible).

3. Apply and visit!

Apply, apply, apply to all of the schools on your list! Yes, some have dreadful supplements; yes, some require multiple essays; and yes, others require additional forms. But take on the task – you will thank yourself later. Visit the schools if you can! Admission officers like to see that you are interested and while you’re there, schedule an interview! Call the admissions office and schedule an appointment beforehand to set up an interview on the day of your campus tour.

If you are unable to visit, set up a phone interview. Also, immediately after you have finished the interview, always remember to snail-mail a brief handwritten “Thank You” letter to your interviewee. “How come?” you ask. Demonstrating manners increases your chances of being remembered during the decision process, and college admission officers they will highly appreciate this minimal effort (which could end up making all the difference!).

4. Do your research.

Once you’ve received your batch of large envelopes, put to use your savvy research skills – you know, the ones you have picked up from social media. Sometimes the slightest details make the biggest difference, such as what financial aid each college offers or takes. Grants? Scholarships? FAFSA? Apply to any opportunity and you’ll be surprised at how cooperative many schools are with your needs.

Aside from finances, look up their student life. How’s their school spirit level? Are there any clubs that look interesting? Is Greek life a major component in their culture? What courses do they have available for your major? Check out their food options and research school reviews from current students. Maybe even revisit the school if you need to, but it is essential to open your mind up to new things and refrain from setting limits on things you have never experienced before. Leaving your comfort zone is the key to getting the best out of any experience, especially this one!

Choosing between 4,000 colleges can sound quite intimidating, but the process is also a great process of self-discovery! It takes self-reflection, exploration, and determination. And don’t forget that wherever you wind up, there are two things every college guarantees: 2:00 a.m. library visits and glorious day naps.