Life Lessons #16 – 20

It’s now March 23 and I’ve only got a few short days to provide you with 10 more valuable life lessons. Impossible? Not quite. Challenging? It’s starting to feel that way. Worth it? Absolutely.

(To be honest, I just spent the last hour crafting a well-thought out blog post, but in my attempt to save the post as I continued writing, I ended up deleting it 😦 As such, the lessons I’ll provide here will be short, but just as important and valuable as all the others.)

Life Lesson #16: Ask yourself is it worth it?

After crying to a friend about how so-and-so hardly noticed me and woe was me, my friend posed a simple question: Was it worth it? Was it worth it to like someone who didn’t like me and to be so upset about it? Probably not. What was the point in willingly putting myself in a situation that made me so unhappy? I learned that lesson early on in high school and it’s one that’s stuck with me for the past 8-9 years. And, don’t think it applies to things as superficial as having a silly crush at 16. It applies to anything and it applies to everything. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you unhappy, or that adds unnecessary stress to your life, or pushes you to your limits, as yourself if it’s worth it. Sometimes, the answer will be a clear and definite no. Nope – it’s definitely not worth it to be in this situation because I know this isn’t good for me. On the other hand, just because the situation is stressful or challenging doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It just means you’re dealing with a difficult situation that you need to accomplish. You see, the question does more than just make you think about what you should or shouldn’t do. It helps to focus and think more clearly about whether or not it’s worth it to stay in this situation or if it’s better if we move on for now.

Life Lesson #17: Go back to the basics. 

What’s the magic word? I know you all know it.

As kids, we’re all taught to mind our manners: say “Please” when asking for something; thank someone when receiving something; ask people how they are; how the door for others; be kind to everyone; say “Excuse me” when you bump into someone or commit other social faux paus.

It’s simple: we were taught these lessons for a reason. They teach us how to respect others and how to show gratitude and compassion for our fellow human beings. We learn these manners at a young age, and yet somehow they are often forgotten as we grow up. Today, whenever someone thanks me for doing something for them, I’m often pleasantly surprised, but I shouldn’t be, should I? I almost think that these are things we should come to expect. These things aren’t hard and when we forget to them, we often make other people feel like we don’t care about them and like they’re taken for granted. So, go back to the basics – I know that it’s simple and it might not seem that important, but it can really make a difference to someone.

Life Lesson #18: If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your BS. – W.C. Fields

I’ll keep this one short. I often think about this in the context of giving a speech: If you can’t remember what you wrote for your speech, but know the general ideas, just go for it. You might not be able to get your ideas across as intended, but you may have a general idea. And if you don’t, perhaps you’ll talk in such a circular way that you’ll confuse them 😉

Life Lesson #19: Make the time for the people and things that are most important to you.

Whenever I make a short trip home, I always try to make time to spend with my mom, dad, and brother and I make sure that I spend time with all of our pets. If possible, I always try to see some of my closest friends and I always try to make time to go to mass. It’s often very difficult to accomplish these things because my trips home often only last 2-3 days and they are also usually filled with a number of appointments (i.e., doctors, car, etc.). It’s hard to fit everything, but I think it’s important that we try to make the time for the people and things that are important to us.  I think it helps people realize how much we care about them and it helps us to realize that we would want them to do the same thing if they were in our situation.

I also do have to mention that my group of friends from high school does an excellent job with this. For a few years after high school, we’d often meet up weekly or every couple weeks for some sort of shenanigans. I think it’s gotten a little more challenging as people have started moving out of the area, but we still have big events with everyone when we know most people will be around. Even though we’re all incredibly busy, we all still make the time for each other and these events are things that I look forward to year-round.

Life Lesson #20: Take the time to figure out what you want.

This lesson can apply to anything in life. Kind of seems like an understatement, doesn’t it? Take the time to figure out what you want – don’t let others, or even yourself, force you into make a decision before you’re ready. I often think about this lesson in the context of college. For many of us, for multiple reasons, we probably felt like we had to choose a major early on in college, perhaps before we were ready. Maybe we felt rushed. Maybe we felt pressure from our family or friends to make a certain decision in a timely manner. Whatever the reason may be, we shouldn’t make a decision before we’re ready. Take time to figure things out. Ask yourself what you want out of time. Don’t make a hasty decision only to realize too late that you’ve made the wrong choice. Give yourself the right figure out what you want and then make a decision.

Surrounding yourself with the right kind of people: Life Lessons 11-15

Throughout our lives, most of us have the opportunity to meet and potentially become friends with thousands of people. Unless we’ve chosen a job that isolates us from others or choose to live a solitary life for whatever reasons, we are generally surrounded by people. All kinds of people. Happy people, sad people. People who make us angry. People who are so complicated that we can never understand them. All. Kinds. Of. People.

At the ripe old age of 24…not to be confused with 25 just yet ;)…I’ve realized that at some point in time, we get to make a choice. We have the ability to choose the people who surround us. Granted, there are circumstances when you won’t be able to escape that awful sneer from someone you can’t avoid. Nevertheless, at least in our personal lives (and even if our work life, at times), we get to choose. As I’ve experienced a multitude of events in my life, I’ve come to realize that there are 5 types of people I want surrounding me:

1. Those who will go to bat for you: It’s always good to have someone in your corner; someone who will be by your side (no matter what), who will stick up for you, and who will fight for you. I’m lucky. I have a lot of these people in my life. I’d definitely say that my family falls into this category. No matter the issue, I always know that if I’m ever in a bind that I can count on them to help me through it. Even if I’m wrong. I’m also lucky enough to have mentors in my life who will fight for me and who will pull their neck on the line for me. We need these people in our lives. We need to know that we have someone in our corner who is always willing to help us out regardless of the time, place, or situation. (Life Lesson #11).

2. Those who challenge you:

When I was thinking about this, I was thinking about how many different ways you can interpret the word “challenge.” What does it mean to be challenged? In what ways do we want others to challenge us? I recently started spinning again and my spin instructor is absolutely incredible. He’s constantly challenging me – to ride faster, to work on my endurance, to work harder. Sure it’s tough, but would I really want to be in a class with an instructor who was very lax in their teaching and who was OK with me only giving a half-hearted effort? It’s unlikely. What would I be gaining? I know that when I go to class, I’m always going to be challenged to do more and I think that makes me a stronger person (both physically and mentally). I think it’s important to be surrounded by people who challenge us because it pushes us rise to a whole new level.

We can also be challenged in other ways. When I presented a paper to a research committee, one of my committee members remarked that she was going to ask me harder questions at my next presentation. She wasn’t challenging the way I wrote or what I had to say, but she was really challenging me to rise to a whole new level. By her raising the bar, she was helping me set a new standard for myself that I didn’t know was possible.

At times, I also think we should surround ourselves with people who challenge the way we think about things. It’s easy to fall into patterns of thinking and believe that our ideas are correct . However, we need to have people in our lives who can bring up different sides to arguments that we didn’t see before and who can challenge us to think in a new way. Although we may not always agree, I think that surrounding ourselves with people who challenge our thinking can lead to growth…and can help us rise to a whole new level (are you sensing a trend?).  (Life Lesson #12)

3. Those who make you want to be a better person: During my senior year of high school, one of my role models in speech and debate was inducted into the OHSSL Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, he talked about how being involved in speech and debate and being surrounded by that world made him want to be a better person. It’s been over 5 years since I’ve graduated from high school, but those words have stuck with me. I want to be surrounded by the kind of people who make me want to be a better person – who make me want to be kinder, to try harder, to have more passion, to help others, and so on. I have a friend who is easily one of the nicest, most kindhearted people that I’ve ever met. Seeing the way this person interacts with others, provides support to friends, and dedicates everything (s)he has to the task at hand, I constantly finding myself wanting to be a better person. Hands down, I think that we need to have people like this in our life because they’re constantly helping us to rise to a whole new level.  (Life Lesson #13)

4. Those who add positivity to your life and bring you joy:

It’s easy to get discouraged. Something may happen in the morning that turns your day around and puts you in a bad mood. At the end of day, you need to have people in your life who bring you joy. You need friends who can make you happy after a bad day and who can help you see the positive after a bad day. We deserve goodness in our life. We deserve to be surrounded by people who can make us happy. We don’t need to surround ourselves with people who bring us down or who bring out a side in us that is better off left hidden. I know it’s hard, but if you find yourself surrounded by people who are bringing out your ugly side (and let’s face it, we all have one), let them go. You don’t need that sort of negativity in your life. Don’t surround yourself with people who make you feel bad about yourself or who force you to become someone you’re not. You don’t deserve that. You deserve happiness and you deserve to be surrounded by people who make you feel good.  (Life Lesson #14)

5. Those who make you laugh: 

 

Laughter is good for us. Some would say it’s the best medicine. So, surround yourself with people who make you laugh so hard that you cry or until milk comes out of your nose. Surround yourself with people who you can’t look it in certain situations because you know if you do, you’ll burst into laughter. Laughter is good for the soul and it’s such an easy way to turn around a bad day. (Life Lesson #15)

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I’m sure that you can think of other types of people that you need in your life, but this is what I’ve got. These are the type of people who feed my soul and who make life worth living. These people inspire me and I’m thankful to have them in my life. Without a doubt, these people have impacted the way I lead my life whether I know it or not.

Because here’s the thing – the people who surround us will inevitability impact us, whether we know it or not, whether these changes occur intentionally or at a subconscious level. People can challenge us to rise to a higher level, or they can force us to abandon everything that we know and stoop to low levels. So, who do you choose? Who do want surrounding you and influencing your life?

Life Lesson #4: Change the way you think about the problem

I have a major dilemma.

It’s currently 20 degrees outside and my thermostat doesn’t work.

If I leave my furnace on, it’s sweltering in here and becomes so hot that walking around in a swimsuit seems like the only option.

But, if I turn the furnace off, it’s like I’m in an igloo and I’m forced to keep adding layers. The cats have taken refuge under the bed where they have a chance of staying warm.

I may have to join them.

It’s really frustrating because I don’t have control of the temperature in here and am unable to get the the temperature just right. I’ve been really upset about this whole situation and have been doing a lot of complaining about it. (I apologize if you’ve been the recipient of one of these rants).

I’ve done everything that I can do to fix the situation (i.e., my maintenance staff loves (read – hates) me for calling them on 3 separation occasions about the problem) and the problem is now out of my hands. The only thing I can do now is change my focus. Or, change the way I think about the problem. Let’s face it – I can’t fix the thermostat. I have degrees in psychology and political science, neither of which prepared me to replace a thermostat or know the first thing about handling this situation. However, if my psychology education taught me one thing, it’s about cognitive restructuring or reframing (…OK – my degree taught me more than one thing, but go with me here on this). Cognitive restructuring or reframing is just a a psychologist’s fancy way of saying you should change the way you think about your problem (i.e., we reframe maladaptive/negative thought patterns into more rational thoughts in an attempt to gain a positive frame of mind). For example:

So, I’ve decided to think about my problem differently. Yes, my thermostat is broken and I’m unable to keep the apartment at a desirable temperature. Sure, it’s an inconvenience and annoyance, but it’s not the end of the world. I do have fans that I can turn on if it gets too hot and I can always open the window if I can’t stand the heat (though, that seems counterproductive). If it gets too cold, I have more than enough clothes and blankets to keep me, and of course, the kitties, warm.

I know this theme has come up in previous posts – it’s a product of all those psychology classes. However, I think this is an important lesson to take to heart. So often, we have a problem and get so worked up over it that we drive ourselves (and, unfortunately, others) crazy. We become so fixated on these minor issues and find ourselves consumed by these trivialities. We focus on the one thing that is going wrong, rather than the 100 things that are going right. We’re focused on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have.

I think we can all benefit from this lesson. Sure, things may not be going quite the way we’d like, and sure, we may face some inconveniences from time to time. We may not always get what we want, but often times, we have what we need. I realize that this is a hard lesson to learn and I struggle with it on a regular basis. It’s easy to get bogged down by problems such as this, but if you change the way you think about it, I promise you that things will be easier.

Feed Your Mind: TED Talks Everyone Should Watch

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my high school friends (including Jeannette!) gather for Friendsgiving, an event that is graciously hosted by our friend Christopher. Every year is different and conversation greatly depends on who you’re sitting next to, what’s going on in everyone’s lives, and how much spiked cider has already been consumed. This year we got philosophical at my end of the table, and we started discussing TED Talks. Our conversation was short-lived, but in it we established that TED Talks were amazing and that everyone needs to watch a sampling of them at one point or another.

If you’re not sure what TED or a TED Talk is, here’s a summary:

TED is a non-profit that is devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” and stands for Technology, Education, and Design. It began in 1984 as a conference on those three topics, but has since grown to two official conferences (The TED Conference and TEDGlobal) that are held annually. There are also countless TEDx conferences held around the world that are independently organized, but adhere to the same general rules and mission.

Speakers at TED events are tasked with “giving the speech of their lives” in 18 minutes or less. While participants are often experts in their respective fields, their talks are generally not boring or academic. Instead, they are often inspirational and offer insight into humanity rather than into their specific expertise.

Visit ted.com for their online video archive and more information.

Ted Talks

TED Talks I Think Everyone Should Watch (In no particular order)

1. Lesley Hazelton: The Doubt Essential to Faith
In her TED talk from June 2013, Lesley Hazelton discusses how in her quest to write a biography of the prophet Muhammad she came to a realization regarding the doubt that is intrinsic in one’s faith. Doubt, fear, and questioning, she explains, is purely human and, consequently, is absolutely essential to one’s faith.

 

2. Cameron Russell: Looks Aren’t Everything. Believe Me, I’m a Model
In her TED talk from 2012, model Cameron Russell discusses the complexities of what it means to be a model in a world where beauty is largely constructed.

 

3. Benjamin Zander: The Transformative Power of Classical Music
Benjamin Zander demonstrates to the TED audience that just because you think you don’t like classical music, doesn’t mean you can’t learn to like it — or learn to like anything for that matter. It all has to do with truly listening to what you are hearing.

 

4. John Green: The Paper Town Academy
Author John Green discusses how our perception of the world shapes how we lead our lives and how education and learning often takes place as much out of the classroom as it does inside it. He demonstrates that we all live within learning communities that encourage us to expand the maps of our lives.

 

5. Meg Jay: Why 30 Is Not The New 20
Psychologist Meg Jay discusses her work with 20-somethings and in the process demonstrates that someone’s 20s is not a throw-away decade. Instead it is one of the most import ant decades in human development and should be seized for every opportunity it provides.

 

6. Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius
Author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the phenomenon of genius and asserts that we all have genius, as opposed to a few of us being geniuses.

 

7. Andrew Solomon: Love No Matter What
Andrew Solomon reflects on his interviews with countless parents and discusses how in the end, regardless of differences, it is love that binds.

 

There are hundreds of TED talks, too many to ever watch and certainly too many to pick a definite favorite from. These are only a few of my favorites.

Have you watched any TED Talks? What are your favorites?

“Beautiful Creatures”: Smart, Southern, and Supernatural Gothic

I just finished reading Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I flew through it in less than 2 days and thought it was a great read. Read below to see my thoughts on the book.

Beautiful Creatures Book Cover

2012 was a rough year for reading for me. My last semester of graduate school was tough. Finishing my classes, writing my thesis, and thinking about what to do with the rest of my life took up most of my time and most of my ability to think. Summer turned out to not be too good for reading either. I was busy for the first part of the summer, my grandfather became ill, and then I was applying for jobs. The Fall continued on with the job search and I felt guilty about reading when I could have been filling out applications.

But, then in early December, my grandfather died. While he was ill, his death was surprising because it came rapidly and with little warning. Pain gives you new perspective. It teaches you.

Books do the same thing. The stories of others help make the events in your own story make sense. They bring catharsis. So, I resolved to not feel guilty about devoting some of my time to reading. I’ve read 2 books so far this week, 4 since the 1st of the month. So, expect me to talk about books a little more on here in the future. 🙂

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But, back to Beautiful Creatures.

Published in 2009, Beautiful Creatures is technically a Young Adult novel for readers ages 12 and up. It is a Southern, Gothic Romance with a storyline deeply rooted in the supernatural. The novel draws heavily on themes of magic and fate. It is 563 pages.

Authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl wrote the novel after being dared to by some of the teenagers in their lives. Garcia and Stohl came up with the idea for Beautiful Creatures over lunch and wrote initial passages on napkins. They wrote the book in serial form at first, feeding pages at a time to these same teens who became increasingly impatient to read more of the story. Three months later, the first draft was complete and after some editing Beautiful Creatures is an international bestseller, the first book in a four-part series (The Caster Chronicles), and soon to be a major motion picture.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

A General, Spoiler-free Summary:

Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Lawson Wate, a 16-year old high school sophomore living in fictional Gatlin, South Carolina in the present day. At the beginning of the book, Ethan is still reeling from the death of his mother Lila several months before in a car accident and is unsure how to react from his father Mitchell’s depressed behavior. Virtually ignored by his devastated father, who sleeps all day and locks himself in his study all night, Ethan relies on the love, support, and care of housekeeper Amma who is like his grandmother.

Raised to be open minded by his liberal professor/writer parents, Ethan feels out of place in Gatlin, a small Southern town deeply rooted in its history and in its conservative values, and he cannot wait until he can leave after high school graduation. A member of the Jackson High School basketball team and a relatively popular kid in his class, Ethan spends most days with his best friend Wesley “Link” Lincoln. However, as summer ends and his sophomore year begins, something is different. Since his mother’s death, Ethan has been plagued by strange dreams, and now he begins to experience strange occurrences and hear strange music. The dreams, which feature a girl Ethan does not know but who seems to know him, seem real — virtually are real — as Ethan wakes up with dirt under his fingernails and mud in his bed.

When Ethan passes a strange car on the road on the first day of school, he feels inexplicably drawn to it, but doesn’t know why. The car’s occupant is Lena Duchannes, niece of Gatlin’s shut-in, Macon Ravenwood. Like her uncle, Lena is “different” than everyone else in Gatlin and she is ridiculed for it by her new classmates. Ethan, however, is drawn to Lena in a way he can’t explain. She is the girl in his dreams, her scent of lemon and rosemary is what he smells as he sleeps, and the music she plays on her viola is the song that mysteriously appears on his iPod.

Ethan becomes Lena’s friend as the rest of Gatlin’s students and residents shun her for her “otherness” and for odd occurrences that begin to happen at Jackson High. Ethan and Lena’s friendship continues to deepen even as her Uncle Macon and his Amma protest the acquaintance. As Ethan seeks to understand his connection to Lena and their relationship develops, Ethan learns that Lena is a Caster. Along with the rest of her family and others like them, she has magical powers. But unlike the others like her family, the Duchannes are cursed — destined to be Claimed on their 16th birthday for either good or evil, for Light or Dark. In a race against time and in a struggle against disapproval, Ethan and Lena rush to learn the meaning of their supernatural connection and to prevent Lena from Turning Dark on her birthday.

In the process, Ethan and Lena learn that all in their lives are not as they seem. That the connection they share goes back over a century to the roots of Gatlin. That Lena’s life has been dominated by secrets. That they may be powerless to do anything.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

My Take:

I really enjoyed Beautiful Creatures.  Out of 5 stars, I’d give it a 4. For me it was a fast read — I read it on my Nook over the course of about 2 days. At times, the novel was a little slow and lumbering — not because the story was bad, but because there is a lot of description. With this in mind though, I couldn’t wait to keep reading — the plot kept me thoroughly entertained and thoroughly interested. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, to discover the answers to the story’s mysteries.

I also really liked Beautiful Creatures because I found it to be smart, nuanced, and funny. While some may not agree, I found its commentary on small town life and on the narrow mindedness that sometimes infects those towns (or communities or big cities too) funny and true. You’ll have to read to understand, but for someone like myself who is a more liberal persuasion, authors Garcia and Stohl point out important and blind prejudices that many of us have towards who and what may be different in our worlds.

I also enjoyed the story because of its supernatural themes. While I don’t out rightly believe that magic exists (but, who wouldn’t want Harry Potter to be real??), I appreciate the novel’s perception of supernatural connections and fate. I also found the fact that the novel is told from Ethan’s perspective and not from Lena’s to be refreshing.

Some have placed Beautiful Creatures and the three subsequent books in The Caster Chronicles series in the same category as Harry Potter and Twilight. For someone who reveres the ground that the Harry Potter series sits on, I can honestly say that Beautiful Creatures is not as good as Harry Potter. However, I feel that it is, without question, better than the Twilight series.

beautiful-creatures-new-poster-cast

A Note About the Movie:

Beautiful Creatures has been made into a motion picture and premieres on February 13, 2013. It is being marketed as a Romeo and Juliet type story and some changes have been made to the plot and to the characters. This being said, however, authors Garcia and Stohl were heavily involved in the project and I think the film’s trailer looks great!

 

The entire Caster Chronicles — Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption — series has been published.  The fourth and final book, Beautiful Redemption, was published in October 2012.

Happy Reading! Let me know what you think of Beautiful Creatures.