Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Goal Digger

One day, when I was 14, I waltzed into my family's living room and proudly announced to my mother and father that I wanted to attend college with my older sister. Better yet, I wanted to graduate with a college degree before high school. My sister and I had finally stopped bickering over the remote control, and she had stopped kicking me out of her room when she blasted Ja Rule over the radio (this alone was a personal victory). My mom didn't take much notice, and my dad was preoccupied with a bowl of arroz or something. Mind you, I had no idea how to even initiate the process for dual-enrollment courses, nor was I a self-proclaimed guru on navigating the higher education system. Heck, I came from a family of farmers. My family’s expertise lay in applying fertilizer not applying for college. At the time, I'm sure they didn't think much of what I said.

But for the remainder of my high school career, this purpose and my family’s encouragement influenced all of my life's decisions: What I studied in school, who I connected with, and how I spent my summers and vacations. I stayed “hungry” as Steve Jobs once noted.

And now, five years after high school, I managed to finish my college degree prior to high school and will graduate with my master's degree this summer. In the next few years, I plan to pursue a doctoral degree.

Don't get me wrong. I maintained a social life, was involved in a romantic relationship at one point, and enjoyed just about all the highs and lows the onset of my teenage years brought.

Despite my initial initiative, I’m far from having a definite proclamation as to how my life will play out. Most of us draw blanks when it comes to identifying how we want to lead our lives. Even after we finish school. Even after we get a job. Even after we’re making money. Between ages 15 and 21, I changed career aspirations more often than I changed my underwear. And even after I had completed my undergraduate coursework, it wasn’t until I had some meaningful conversations with past and present mentors that I clearly defined what I wanted for my life in the meantime. It’s understood that even what is planned, should be flexible to a change in circumstances as well.

It’s called a quarter life crisis for a reason. Then again, these types of things aren’t limited to people that are only a quarter of a century old. “What’s next?” “What gives my life meaning?” “What do I not suck at?” I often get asked how I have it all figured out. Yet, that is VERY far from the truth.

I suppose part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The notion that we were each born for some transcendental purpose and it’s now our duty (heh, duty) to find it. This is the same kind of crummy logic used to justify things like spirit animals or that someone’s lucky number is 69 (but only on Wednesdays or during leap years).

Here is the reality of things. We co-exist on this earth for some unspecified amount of time. During that time we do stuff. Some of this stuff is important. Some of them are unimportant. And that important stuff gives our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically help pass the time. This isn’t to discredit the fact that we each have some form of a higher being or god that we may or may not call on to guide us, but I use the term loosely on the chance that not everyone adheres to a similar religion (trying to put my multicultural counseling skills to use here).

So when people say, “What should I do next?” or “What is my calling?” what they’re actually thinking is: “What is worth my time?”

This is a better question to ask. It’s easier to dissect and doesn’t weigh so heavy on the heart. There’s no reason for people to be contemplating their life’s worth while sitting on their couch all day eating Doritos (No offense to Doritos. They really are great with bean dip). Rather, people should be getting off their butt and discovering what feels important to them.

Now what could possibly be my rationale for rambling about all of this? Bear with me on this. I have a point. I promise.

Everything deserved comes with some form of sacrifice. Everything includes some sort of cost. Nothing is blissful 24/7. So the question becomes: What is an individual willing to do to make their dreams a reality? Essentially, the hunger and amount of ambition towards realizing our goals to fruition (in most circumstances) is our ability to ruthlessly pursue it amidst the good AND the bad.

If an individual wants to rap and make soul beats just like that (thanks Kanye), but they can’t handle failure, then they’re not going to make it far. If someone wants to be a professional writer, but they aren’t willing to see their work rejected far more than it’s accepted, then they’re done before they have begun. If someone wants to be a big-time entrepreneur, but can’t stand the grind of grueling hours, then I’ve got bad news for those individuals.

Mind you, regardless of what endeavor a person decides to pursue, they’re going to initially suck at it. Very rarely will an individual be a pro at things their first time around (thanks for that false sense of hope Chuck Norris). With that in mind, there will be many embarrassing moments that follow improving one’s craft. It goes along with being vulnerable.

I feel the need to rant about yet another thing because I feel as if this is a common occurrence in not just my life but also the lives of others around me. There’s a fear of embarrassment, of failure, of not doing something at the “right” time…who is to dictate what is and is not “appropriate”?

It may come off as spiteful, but I have no shame in admitting that nothing is more upsetting to hear than learning of someone that has limited either themselves or others before they’ve even had a chance to attempt it.

We become so fixated in preventing others from failing because we feel as if we’re doing them a favor, but I think there is much to be learned from the not so glamorous parts on becoming the person an individual genuinely feels they were meant to be. I have no shame in saying I’ve failed a number of things. I failed my drivers ed test (I promise I’ve gotten better…kinda). I failed a few fitness exams in middle school; however, that’s mainly because push-ups are the devil. I’ve failed at a few romantic endeavors. Right now? I’ve failed a pretty important exam in the counseling program. Did it suck? Most definitely. Were there some bruises sustained to my ego along the way? You bet. Yet, right now I rest easy in knowing I’m going to do everything in my power to overcome these challenges and setbacks. The struggle is real as my middle school students used to say. I have my reasons for leading the life I lead, but I make it a point to have my reasons based off of my personal preferences and not the preferences of others.

The things that are worthwhile, by default, go against the grain and may be perceived as quirky and unorthodox. As a result, to accomplish these dreams, a person has to be every bit of willing to cease being yet another sheep in the herd. And to follow through on this is daunting.

I close with this. Discovering what one is “called” to do comes down to finding those things that allow time to stand still and still find something that transcends this current lifetime. Essentially, to find that something to continue working towards that can be imagined in a world where that person no longer exists. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Google, you 'da' real MVP

I google a lot of things. As a fan of research, I like to learn things that work for others and might work for me. Sometimes I google things like "how to properly cut a watermelon", and other times I google things like "how to not sweat when eating spicy food” (Editor’s note: There is no cure-all to avoid sweating when eating spicy food. Google told me.) Even when things get tough, I know I can count on google to give some form of an answer. Recently, I googled "how to not give up". When my results were displayed from my search, I could opt to read a Wiki Answers version of being resilient, I could read an opinion piece on why giving up is not as bad as it is made out to be, or I could read the stats of individuals that deliberately cultivated what Psychology Today explained as "learned helplessness". I've encountered numerous occasions where I wanted to give up and "throw in the towel" so to speak. Am I at a point where I want to give up? Of course...however, as my mother says, there's a difference between wanting and doing something. There was a time (and occasionally still is) where I'd disclose my goals only to be shut down and told I'm "doing too much". At times, I felt hopeless at the onset of my career in education where I felt I worked twice as hard only to feel as if I had remained stagnant. Nothing came of my efforts as things often did when I even tried to maintain a romantic relationship. Will I give up everything I've worked so hard for? Of course not.  For many of the things that have and do make me feel like I should give up, it is often because I feel like I'm running on a treadmill. I'm getting nowhere faster.

In 1965, a scientist named Martin Seligman started shocking dogs. Although I doubt IRB would have approved this now, he managed to unethically gather results from this study (Eh, see what I did there? I failed ethics for my comprehensive exam, so I'm simultaneously brushing up on my ethics). He put dogs in a cage that had two sides separated by a wall. He shocked the floor of the cage, which led to dogs jumping over the wall to the other side of the cage to escape the shock. Then he took some dogs and strapped them into a hammock that gave them the shock. At first, the dogs tried to jump to avoid the shock, but they could not escape from the shock since they were strapped into the hammock. Later, even when he took these dogs out of the hammock and put them in the cage with the possibility to jump over the wall and escape the shock, these dogs laid down and passively got shocked without even trying to escape. The dogs had learned that nothing that they did allowed them to escape the shock so they gave up even trying.

Although I can't wholeheartedly say I've never experienced "learned helplessness", research points to a connection with depression. I've yet to formally be diagnosed with depression; however, if I were to receive some form of this diagnosis, I can't say I'd be surprised either. It's not something that's changed my eating or sleeping habits (in case you're beginning to pull out the DSM-V...this has not been occurring consistently for two weeks either), nor has it affected my day-to-day functioning. Having insight on mental health also helps with knowing the difference between positive and negative coping mechanisms. As much as I'm tempted to wallow in self-pity, I try my best to refrain from indulging in it as often as I'd like to. I'd like to think I primarily orient from an optimistic perspective. In doing so, I think this prevents me from digging myself into a much deeper hole than it needs to be. Despite having a solution focused theoretical orientation, I still believe in the power of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and changing maladaptive thoughts to positive ones. Time and time again, I catch myself falling into the pit of endless types of cognitive distortions (Guess what other comps section I failed?) However, I continuously make it a point to self-monitor what I’m allowing myself to believe. If you were to ask my grandmother to provide one word to describe to me, she’d probably say “terca”. I’d like to think this is synonymous with ruthless; however, the latter seems to have a more positive connotation. In all that I do, whether perceived as impulsive or not (turns out research linked this trait to anxiety), I am ruthless in pursing what I feel will benefit the greater good of my family. I understand there are policies, laws, rules, guidelines, systemic regulations, and a slew of other 100 page documents that dictate the life I lead in some shape of form that need to be taken into consideration, but I genuinely believe that the universe will eventually conspire in my favor regardless if people view my actions as reckless or insensitive. I don’t intend to come off as brash, nor do I ask for exception from the majority, but I’m also aware that I lead a very different life from others, as do my classmates, and the other professors that serve in this counselor educator program. To each their own- as one of my former teachers would say. I sincerely believe that each individual is capable of choosing their own destiny and educating themselves about solutions and possible consequences of their actions.

So what now? Well for starters, I continue to run the trails, process this in my personal journal, and self-monitor. I eagerly await the days that I’m afforded the opportunity to reflect on the person I’m becoming and have become. Till then, I’ll graciously continue to indulge in my love of learning and set my own pace for accomplishing goals I see fit.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tumblr, Dating, and Relationships

"If you looking for love, let me tell you what I'm looking for..."

Let me chronicle the history of my relationships. I'd like to say I'm doing this more for others' understanding of my self, but I know that's not true. As with many defining moments, it started with my middle school insecure self. Guy 1 was the first boy to pay attention to me and directly tell me he liked me without getting one of his buddies to deliver the message. He wasn't afraid to show affection, didn't hesitate to tell me how he felt, and moreover, he was consistent. The relationship was brief but definitely set the stage for future relationships.

Fast forward past my middle school "dating days", and you arrive at my high school years. I can honestly say Guy 2 was my first love. We did everything together, and I had a chance to take on the role of nurturer. It was a fitting role because I tried to cater to his every need. Although there were a few instances along the way that were developmentally defining (e.g. how I would later handle criticism, skepticism towards relationships in general, and essentially trusting others), I'd like to think that there was much I learned to take away from this relationship. It was far from easy, but eventually I was able to find middle ground in finding ways to deal with our breakup.

It's now the later part of my high school years, and my attention has yet again been captivated. Guy 3 has won me over with his attention to detail and an unforgiving free spirit. I loved that I could be myself around him, further, that I was able to feel alive when I was with him. Considering that we had started dating in the later part of my high school years, my daily life was pretty hectic. From club meetings, to sporting events, night school, and balancing a social life, this often caused a lot of friction in the relationship. I was questioned as to why I was doing the things I did and not slowing down. This hit on a personal level because this form of questioning had carried over from my previous relationships. It was like adding salt to a wound. I resented having to justify why I went about doing the things I did. I didn't feel it necessary to explain myself as to why I was living life fast (according to their observations). I wanted to draw on the example of a runner. Every runner has a tempo and a certain level of endurance. As any runner knows, endurance is developed with time, and tempo is contingent on the individual. Needless to say, any of the serious relationships I've attempted to partake in have had issues with this.

I don't go on to contend or declare that this is why I'm single; rather, I go on to contend that this is why I continue to prefer to set my own tempo. As much as I'd like to use the cliché of "being single is a choice", I know that to not be true. My singledom is a result of a series of events. From being the jerk that wasn't assertive enough to tell a guy I really wasn't interested in committing to a relationship, experiencing the flip-side where many guys did an excellent job of playing the "fade out" game (I'm sure karma loved this), and even just being indifferent to the whole concept of dating and relationships, I know the counter argument would be that my faulty relationships and lack of trust is what's contributed to my inability to find a guy (because that seems to be some sort of life milestone these days). And as much as I'd like to repeat the phases of social media empowerment, I'd prefer not to.

(No shame in admitting you've done this before...I'm just as guilty) You know what I'm talking about. First, it's the self-righteous tumblr memes. If you're a girl, the meme usually includes something about independence and being self sufficient. If you're a guy, the meme typically includes something about Netflix, the gym, and having a "special girl" to change up this coveted routine of theirs. Once we get past the memes, there's usually a flurry of gym/workout posts (I'm guilty of some sweaty workout selfies too). It eventually cycles back to some late night self-pitying posts as to how they'll never find "the one"...and then it repeats. At some point or another we've been there. I'm commonly told my status as a person that's single is "just a phase", and I'll eventually meet a guy that makes me happy. And although I'd genuinely love to say my cats, students, and Starbucks seem to fill the void just fine, I usually just acknowledge their concern with a curt "thanks" and smile.

I know my initial intention in writing this was to look back at my relationship patterns, but I can't help but acknowledge some thoughts I have in regards to relationships. I admire and appreciate the many beautiful relationships some of my friends and acquaintances continue to be a part of. Many of you have some gorgeous looking kids...and pets. I think it's great that you've managed to find your "other half" so to speak. To my single pringles out there, thanks for keeping it real out there. It's not easy binge watching Netflix, deflecting questions about relationships, and working as well ( I kid, I and I both know there's more to a single person's life). At this point, I'm sure many are anticipating the onset of a single woman's rant about love and dating, but I'll spare you the word vomit and need to get all self-righteous on you. Lucky for you, I don't have a personal vendetta against the concept of love, dating, and relationships. I don't attempt to deny that it's real or exists either. I see proof of this every day; however, I know finding "the one" currently isn't my priority. Will it be a priority later? Maybe...maybe not. I don't trust myself as a psychic enough to say for sure. Now, I'm not saying this is an absolute truth for all women either. It's just what I've come to experience thus far. I love that I can devote my time and energy to close friends and family. I also have no shame in admitting that I'm in love with the work I do and the content I willingly choose to study.

To both single and monogamous individuals, I applaud you. We lead similar but different lifestyles. And as much as I'd like  to indulge in the idea that one relationship status is superior to the other, I'd rather avoid making things more complicated than they may already be. As Kid Cudi once noted, " the ones that make it complicated never get congratulated."

Now, excuse me while I discreetly look up tumblr memes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Week 5, 6, 7, and Part of 8 recap with photos :-D

In case you haven't noticed, I've been slacking on putting pictures. So out of guilt and boredom here are some photos and anecdotes to help you further procrastinate your workday:-D

Week 5: Welcome to Camp Białe
I was unofficially with the village students of Stanin, but we went camping for one week. Here are some of the highlights :-)
My roommates- the lovely Natalia and Carolina were the artists behind our unique door decor.

These little ones (Ewa & Jullia) attended my primary classes while at camp

Even the Polish Karaoke computer didn't show me sympathy 

We decided to do a lil' cruising :-)

So the next couple of pictures capture my camp initiation since this was my first time attending.

Group shot :-)

So because of this lake jump I had a sprained ankle shortly after- YOLJO (You only lake jump once it seems)

I had to sit out on this cool adventure park thanks to my ankle.
Part of the initiation, I don't just randomly kiss Polish people on their feet.

My pitty shot of my cast and I lol.
I became a regular at this Zapiekanka shop. They had tasty tea too!

Week 6: Back to Stanin
So there aren't many pictures, but I was quite busy in my defense. I cooked :-D

And I ate blueberries.

Sunset by the forest

I learned to make Nalesniki (probably misspelled) 

This cat was prego and such a cutie during my stay with my host family

I baked banana bread

I cooked enchiladas...

Oh and I made breakfast :-)

Week 7: Zagoździe
 I found my time here to be great. The students, staff, and teachers were beyond amazing.
 I started my weekend off in Warsaw. I saw a soccer match, did some sightseeing, taught, 
and later in the week I baked again :-)

The fans sung the WHOLE time lol

My lovely students- Middle school

Someone finally spelled my name correctly- my students :-D

I had a chance to reunite with my first host dad for a game of soccer. End result- two goals
 and too many mosquitoes.

I stepped out for a bit and my student surprised me with some sweet
 messages on my last day there :-)

Just like home lol

I kept telling her to smile, but she kept saying we needed to work faster lol.

Week 8: Sarnow

Second day in Sarnow, 5th host family

Life is good and Poland is great!

Four more days in Poland and then I'm back home. All I can say is WOW! 
I'm certainly looking forward to these next couple of days. I'll keep you posted. 
Have a great Monday/Tuesday folks!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Week 5 & 6: The Grass is always Greener

Coming to the understanding that things are MUCH bigger than me.
Yet, I STILL don't strive to get out of my community as proof to say that I "made it", nor do I seek to sit back and compare myself to others and declare that I or my community are better than another. To travel, and experience other cultures is one thing, but to use my disdain for my own community as motivation to move on to "bigger and better" things; that's never been the case. 

In coming overseas, I see what dedication and possessing a caring soul can do for a village community. It isn't my attempt at hinting that the Poles have community development down to the T; however, in working, educating, and inspiring their incoming generations, they promote ambitions, multiculturalism, and giving back to their community for all the right reasons. I may be speaking from two months of limited interactions in Poland, but the cliché of "actions speak louder than words" couldn't hold more truth at this point in time. 

I think back to all the times I sat and talked with my friends, my classmates, and my teachers. And the question never failed to surface, "When do you plan to leave the Valley?", "How do you plan to leave?", or the resounding question of "Why stay in the valley? There's so much more you can do else where." My decision to make a commitment to my community was not so I could become a self proclaimed martyr of my hometown, but because I see so much potential in my community. The notion of educating my students to become assets to their communities as opposed to opponents of bettering their community is something I hope to effectively convey to all my students, regardless if it's my community or not. 

In discussing this with a fellow coworker in Poland, their idea of community struck me. Community, and community engagement for that matter, is seen as necessary simply for the ripple effect it soon creates after it is started. For them, any progress is improvement, and any improvement is good. 

In shaping our communities we should aspire to leave them in good conditions so future generations can do the same. If we never teach our kids to strive to improve, and appreciate the community around them, we will continuously fail to have that "greener side" everyone seems so eager to attain. Sowing the landscapes of our communities is must if we hope to reap the benefits of a thriving community there after. 

It's no wonder Poland is such a green  country... (yes, that was another corny joke)

Well, till next time, Happy Thursday :-)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Week 4 Poland: Home is where the... wait, what?

There's a lot of those moments where you find yourself dumbstruck by the serenity of it all. The greatest aspect of these moments are the simplicity you find at the core. 

Coming to Poland I came with an open mind. Opinions, thoughts, experiences, and contrasting ideas were all fair game. I enjoyed every moment of this cultural saturation. As I brought the fourth week of my service in Poland to a close though, I found myself blind sided by a gripping sense of missing everything I had back home. My friends, my family, the daily routine perks I indulged in back home- I wanted it; I missed it.

Coming to the realization that I couldn't walk out the door of my apartment in Łukow only to be greeted by all my loved ones was such an awkward feeling. And I say awkward, because I think further back to when I first made a commitment to Poland, I wanted it so bad. In fact, I still do. I'm sure there's this notion that the appropriate thing to say would be that I realized, " home is where the heart is", or "you don't realize what you have until it's no longer in front of you", but to be honest, living in Poland has taught me home is whatever you want to make it. And prior to Poland I already knew what I had. I didn't need to go to another country to acknowledge that I have some dedicated mentors, amazing friends, and a loving family. I've been aware of that for some time now.

It has been a blessing in disguise though, going through these mixed feelings of being homesick yet still trying to immerse myself in the Polish culture. I remember trying to google tips and advice to avoid, remediate, and even combat homesickness while abroad, and the same message kept creeping its way back into the articles- keep busy, establish routines, find things to get your mind off these feelings.

Reading this was helpful to an extent, but I didn't want to numb, disregard, or barricade myself off from the things I was clearly thinking and feeling. I think back as to why would anyone want to "get their mind off of being homesick". What in fact made it so scary to acknowledge that I did indeed miss home? Would that make me weak to those that looked up to me? Would it frustrate those that had personally helped me get to Poland? 

I thought about it, and I credit a lot of my being homesick to the fact that I'm comfortable back home. I have the luxury of getting instant access to a sense of comfort to just about anywhere I go or anything I do. 

Excluding the language barrier, there are so many other types of things, difficult or not,  I encounter in Poland. However, there are many more possibilities for me to make connections here - from connections with my students, to my host family, and even the connections on my train rides (cheesy, I know, but I couldn't help it) All the lectures, and instances where I was constantly being told that I was part of a vast global community hadn't quite hit home till I got here.

To be honest, the only thought or image that instantly came to mind when I thought of a "global community" was the dingy blue carpet I used to sit on in kinder- the one with a cartoon world printed on it and all the multicultural kids of the world in a circular embrace around this world. 

Feeble minded, maybe, but was I content with that image as my idea of a "global community"...of course not.

I've found that my personal solution to being homesick though, has been seeking, embracing, and identifying those connections. Thriving off these personal connections has not only aided in shaping my perception of what a global community may or may not be comprised of, but it's now my driving force in seeking more opportunities that'll allow me to connect with other people and experiences from other parts of the world. Plus, when I make connections at all the right times, I don't miss my train departure times either :-D...OK, I'll stop. Till next time folks, Happy Sunday btw!!!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Poland, you ask...

Before Poland, or even the thought process of going to Poland came my way I don't think I had any preconceived notions about the country. Now that I'm here I find myself constantly answering the question of why did I choose Poland, or as some my students have asked, did Poland choose me? On a surface level I can honestly say I chose Poland. When I initially heard about the program through WordTeach, the country's  mystique instantly garnered my attention. I wanted to be able to formulate my own authentic answer as to why indeed did I CHOOSE Poland. I was fortunate enough to be placed in my 4 schools close to another WorldTeach volunteer, and we've come to the consensus that when in Poland you never know what you're going to get. As the great Forest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna' get." Well despite Poland having many chocolate options, let alone dessert varieties, one rarely knows what is to come their way while in Poland. From accordions at teacher staff dinners, to competitive games of table tennis, and even the revelation that someone's dad makes their own beer or Vodka, it never ceases to amaze me how pleasantly blindsided you can become (in a good way though). For my 1st host family, I was blessed to be placed in a home that had an innate desire to make me feel like part of their family as soon as I set foot in their home. I was humbled by my host mom's ability to genuinely make an effort to speak to me in English, and admired her patience with me as I pestered her about how to pronounce various street signs I'd see along our drive. It came to a point where she or I would gesture to something in broken English or Polish, and we could nod in agreement, acknowledging that we understood the gist of the message. It didn't always occur this way (For example, I try to avoid translating American hip-hop lyrics for all the right reasons as you might assume lol) Aside from the great food and people, I try to avoid condensing or limiting my rationale as to why I chose/like Poland for those two mere things I mentioned. Poland is so multi-faceted. There's a deep sense of community present-on a much larger scale though. The Poles I've met have willingly opened their homes to me in a number of ways. There's an unwavering notion that social bonds and relationships, in general, are golden amongst the people of Poland. Although this many social gatherings aren't to often the norm for me back home , I can appreciate it. I've come to see that despite the hardships Poles have encountered, they are adamant about holding on to their values and keeping their history alive, because despite these things having a collective impact it also molds their identity as Polish individuals. I may never come to predict my daily encounters in Poland, but I know that regardless of where I happen to find myself I can count on being humbled by the hospitality of the Poles, and continue to maintain a sincere appreciation for the many experiences Poles have endured and the things they are relentless in pursuing (such as my 1st host dad being relentless in trying to get me to try some of his "Jerry Daniels" Vodka that he made- he claims it to be Poland's version of Jack Daniels :-) ) So why Poland, you ask...why not, is all I have in response ;-)