When I was in college I worked at a residential treatment center for children and adolescents. Basically anyone aged 6-17 that could not function appropriately in school, community or home environment due to behavioral or mental health concerns would come to the 24 hour center for at least 30 days and up to however long was needed to successfully reintegrate (which sometimes seemed not possible). The kids that I worked with have stayed with me even though I stopped working there back in January of 2011. I remember their names, their faces, their stories. Those kids were my motivation. They were my struggle, my patience, and a heck of a lot of my learning. I originally went into social work because I wanted to make a difference in child welfare. My time at the center taught me so much about the effects of trauma and the importance of steady, stable people who care in a child’s life. I don’t have kids so I don’t know what it means to be a parent, but I do know what it means to care about a child and to struggle to understand what it is that makes them behavior or react the way they do. This video reminds me of too many of the kids I used to work with, and at times some of my own foster-siblings. One of the most important lessons I ever learned working at the center was to not ask “why are you doing that” but instead to think about “what have you experienced that makes you do that” – which I think is a simple way of viewing trauma informed care. This feels like a bit of a ramble, when really all I wanted to say is that I found this video to be powerful and bring up a lot of memories.

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I wonder about the meaning of “entertain” in this quote. It seems to me to signify more than just to consider another opinion possible, but to actually logic out the possibility and various pathways and forms of another opinion. To change your perspective without necessarily changing your opinion.

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“Same Love” spin

I am living today as someone I had not yet become yesterday
And tonight I’ll only borrow pieces of who I am today
To carry with me to tomorrow
No, I’m not gay
No, I’m not straight
And I sure as hell am not bisexual
Damn it I am whoever I am when I am it
Loving whoever you are when the stars shine
And whoever you’ll be when the sun rises
So here’s to being able…

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Finding out who you are is difficult. Part of what makes it so difficult is the myriad of labels forced upon you before you ever have the chance to figure it out yourself. As a very young child others start to project their view of you onto you, before you can even talk. Boy, girl, cute, pudgy, energetic. Then as you grow and learn to talk but not quite understand, the labels continue. Smart, quiet, loud, fussy, troublemaker. By the time you start day care or school you have more than just immediate family projecting labels you on but now you have teachers, other parents and administrators. A bad influence, restless, the good one, selfish,  a sharer. By the time you start to realize that you have a say over what labels you want to identify yourself with it is almost too late. Not only do your peers begin to use labels to describe you but there is now a paper record (or currently and in the future I imagine a digital record as well) that describes you. Adequate, skinny, overweight, bossy, timid. At the time of puberty, which seems to start earlier and earlier it just gets worse because now not only do others label you but you start to have assumed labels. Straight, happy, healthy, well supported, normal. The problem at this point is you might get upset by these assumed labels and do something to try to stop others from assuming things you have never had time to consider and then straying from the status quo results in a new set of labels. Weird, disturbed, naive, experimenting, over dramatic. It is the rare individual that is able to avoid these negative labels while at the same time decide for themselves how they want to be labeled.

I am 23, soon to be 24 and am just now starting to understand the concept of being able to choose a label for myself. I’m not at the point where I am choosing, but I am starting to understand that I have the ability to do so. But even so, anytime I feel I am close to deciding, ‘yes – this is how I want to be labeled’ I am terrified at what that means and how definitive it feels. I don’t like the idea that I, and as a result my labels, won’t change as I grow. But in a world that is obsessed with tagging everything so it can be filed away nicely in its category, it is hard to imagine not being held to a label forever and ever or at the very least having it be held over my head anytime I attempt to grow or change.

So I continue to smile and nod as others make their assumptions and for the time choose not to correct them. It seems there will be a time to take ownership and control of my labels. That time feels like it is growing nearer, but for now I am going to continue to be a little scared.

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Changing My Mind

I change my mind, ALL. THE. TIME.

Literally, I can want one thing right now and ten minutes later decide on something else and don’t even think about asking me again tomorrow. I change my mind. I don’t see what the huge crime in that is…it just means I recognize that I am not a stagnant being. I move. change. And my mind follows suit.

However recently I have been changing my mind even more than normal. If you are a follower of my life or reader of my blog you know that I have been to Guatemala 3 times in the past 6 months (whoa that’s a lot). And you maybe have picked up that it has had a slight impact on my life (unless you only know me through blog in which case I apologize because I have not been writing as much as I really should be and promise my next post will be all about Guate). But anyways – traveling to another country, and enjoying it so much that I want to keep going back and could potentially see myself living there has made me re-evaluate some of my planned next steps in life.

Way back when, seems like forever ago, I wrote a short little post about how I wanted to go back to school and pursue my MBA. This is still very much an option on the table, especially since I have become addicted to a slightly expensive habit like traveling and may need to find a way to make more money than a nonprofit career typically allows. However, now I am also entertaining the idea of quitting my job, storing all my stuff, selling my car and sub-leasing my apartment so that I can spend up to a year traveling and visiting every country in Central and South America (and time and money allowing hit up Europe or at least the Mediterranean as well). And of course there is always the third option of learning how to sit still and staying where I am, seeing how far my current job/life/situation can take me. Ahhh options!

So I imagine you can see what I mean when I say I change my mind a lot. Although the interesting thing about changing my mind a lot is that I never really rule things out. It seems I can change what I want to do next but I almost never decide I don’t  want to do something, I just change the order of when I want to do it. Life seems like it will be sufficiently long and I can probably do all of the things that I want to (thank goodness I have been blessed with those opportunities) the question really comes down to when is right for what.

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Thirteen Lessons Learned in 2013

  1. I am an adult. Whoa, so weird to say. Lesson learned – hello student loans repayments.
  2. Being young makes it SO hard to be successful. Seriously. You think old people (pardon my language I don’t know what is PC anymore) have it tough in the workplace? Try being 23, looking 19, but having an education and relevant experience. Older workers complain that they get shoved out because their knowledge is out-dated, well us young folks don’t get a seat at the table because you think we don’t know enough or see us as too young to understand. Just because I know how to use Twitter, doesn’t mean I don’t know what a newspaper is or have no clue about what is happening in the world. In fact, I probably know more than you and know it faster. So there. (Yea I know, real mature…)
  3. School, much as I hate to admit, is something I miss. It’s not just the learning, but the constant evaluation. In a job you only receive a performance evaluation once a year. That is unfortunate since I am used to having all major projects evaluated so I can learn from them. Less feedback = more ambiguity = second guessing myself. I miss grades.
  4. I learned that I could make it living in another country. And I will. Hopefully by 2015.
  5. Sometimes it is important to quit and quit early. Biggest lie we are ever told is to “stick it out” or “finish what you started” – bullshit I say!! If something isn’t working out or is taking more time and energy than it is worth, why let a sense of obligation be the thing that keeps you there? All that time and energy could be put toward something else that is totally worth it.
  6. It is so important to toot your own horn. No one else knows how awesome you are and can describe it as accurately as you can. This year I learned how to make sure my accomplishments and awesomeness are known by those I am interacting with, in a way that isn’t bragging or annoying, which is sometimes hard to avoid because really, I am quite awesome.
  7. Know when to shut up. Due to some unfortunate incidents I learned the importance of sometimes just shutting the hell up. Not every thought I think needs to be shared, period. (This one was really hard to learn).
  8. Respect the system. Someone, somewhere created the system, the people who are in it and use it are attached to it (even if they complain about it) and if you try to suggest change – whoa – that can be taken very offensively. This year I realized that in order to change things I have to first show proper respect for the current system (even if I think it is ridiculous).
  9. I learned how to be happy without a significant other. Not just an “I’m single and loving it!” type of thing, but a true contentment with being on my own and only doing things I want to do and not going out to look for someone, but going out because I want to have fun. I think this might have been the first year ever that I spent more time single than in a relationship. And definitely the first time I have ever felt like I would rather be alone rather than in a relationship.
  10. Stop doing things you don’t want to do. My friends will still be my friends even if I don’t want to do something they want to do. It is okay to say no and to not feel bad about it.
  11. I learned that my friends are really awesome. I have friends that I can tell anything to and they stick around. I really love you guys.
  12. I started to learn how to escape false societal expectations (or really just learned to stop listening to them). I am 23. Yup, super young, in fact by most definitions I am still considered “youth”. And in our society, in our American culture, being 23 means something. For most, it means you go out on the weekends, drink a lot, make stupid choices, don’t know how to be responsible, blah blah blah. I used to get trapped (and sometimes still do) in these expectation conundrums where it will be Friday night and I just want to stay in and do nothing or read or watch TV, but a voice in my head tells me that is weird and that I’m supposed to go out because that is what normal 23 year olds do. And I used to listen to that voice and drag myself out for a not-so-fun night of bar hopping and pretending to have fun. This year I learned not to do that. I stay home when I want to stay home and don’t let myself get trapped in an expectation guilt trip. No one really cares what I do, I create the expectations myself, which means I can ignore them just as much as I want.
  13. There is no requirement to label or self-identify if I don’t want to. 2013 was a huge struggle with my sexual identity. It’s only been in the past month that I realized I don’t have to figure it out. The heart pounding and rush of anxiety I feel when someone asks “how do you identify” is unnecessary since I can respond “as a person”. End of story.
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“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sometimes I want one thing and sometimes I want another. Sometimes I find myself wanting to be home alone and not particularly objecting to a good cry and sometimes I want to be out surrounded by people, dancing to loud music and laughing so hard it hurts. This is usually the part where people start to talk about balance and finding a happy-medium (whatever that is) but I don’t buy it and this is not that kind of post.

I don’t think about the fact that I have good days and bad days, I think about the fact that I am the same person whether it is a good day or a bad day and then I get all worked up about how is that possible and can my environment truly dictate so much of my experience? But wait, that doesn’t sound right – it’s not the environment that controls the experience, its my reaction to the environment, so here we are back at an internal sensation, which would lend itself to the initial question of how can a person (internally) be who they are and yet experience such varied desires and emotions and reactions based on their environment.

But then I think about the world’s most interesting undergraduate elective, Behavioral Neuroscience, and I set myself into a real tizzy because every action I take, every thought, every impulse, everything – is prescribed based on the quantity and interaction of different neurotransmitters in my brain and the paths they take and connections they form (clearly my elective course was just the basics). So then, right when I start hyperventilating because am I truly anything or just a random collection of perfectly accidental scientific reactions, I remember: life is not that complicated.

To be continued…

Life is not that complicated.

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Time Away

Okay, first, an apology. I have not been very good at this whole regularly blogging deal – but I promise to be better!! So much has been happening in life and so many thoughts have been blooming in my mind I am sure to have a multitude of future blog posts – my only problem now will be not posting several times a day 🙂

So for today’s topic: my time away. If you do not know I recently returned to a very chilly and snowy Wisconsin from warm and sunny Guatemala. This November’s trip to Guate was my second in the past 6 months (and I am already planning another trip in January). Needless to say, I am absolutely infatuated with this country. From the sights, smells, languages, people and culture…it all fascinates and excites me. But beyond the physical attributes that are very obvious within this country are the musings it inspires. While spending time in Guatemala I was forced to confront some lingering questions in my mind that I had been working very hard to avoid. Questions like; What do I want to do with my life? Where I am going? What is important in life? Who am I? Who do I want to be? ….you know, the simple questions in life.  😉

And though I was supposed to be on vacation, I was forced to confront some of these questions due to the simpler, less distracted lifestyle of small-town Guatemala. The area I was living in was very humbling. Yes there were shops and restaurants in “gringolandia” but el pueblo was very much separated from that area and had very limited “modern-day-distractions” (such as video games, continuous internet connection, movie theaters, texting on my phone, bars, etc). Due to these limited distractions there was time to think. I had hours of unscheduled, unstructured time – which is not something I am used to in my fast-paced, over achieving life in Wisconsin. So I confronted these questions, or really just one (these are big questions that require lots of time!): What do I want to do with my life?

The conclusion I came to….I have no idea! And what is worse, I realized that I have never really taken time to think about this question. It seems that my whole life I have been progressing on a path that was pretty much established for me based on expectations and “supposed to’s”. This realization is terrifying! I don’t want to be living a life that I did not intentionally choose. So this led me to think about what it is I want to do, and maybe it was where I was or maybe it was finally having a clear mind, but the answer I kept coming up with was:

I want to live in another country and immerse myself in a different culture for a couple of years.

So there’s my new goal.

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One day, at the end of my life, I expect to be looking back and thinking “gee, if only I had saved more money.” That is why when I hear a little voice in my head saying do you really need to buy that, do you really want to pay for your friend’s drinks, should you really be going on vacation outside of the country twice in one year, I always listen to that voice and skip the purchase…


Goodness gracious, money is just money, I don’t want to have a lot of it at the end of my life, I want to have used it all up living life. End of story.

PS only 17 days until my return trip to Guatemala!!

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Clothes, Jewelry & Lipstick

Figuring out who you are is hard. Plain and simple – it is hard. There are so many different ways to define yourself. You can do it based on personality characteristics, physical features, material objects, stereotypes, diagnoses, sexual preferences, demographics – any and all at once. This is what makes it so hard.

I am fairly confident in the personality characteristics I use to define myself. Granted it has taken a LONG time for me to be comfortable and secure in the labels I use to define myself, but every day I am more and more certain of my choices. What I am not certain about is the consistency across the different vehicles of definition.

For example, I am ambitious. I can think of situational examples to demonstrate this and I can think of different actions or behaviors I have that demonstrate this personality characteristic – so I am confident it is a good self-definition. However, how do I physically show that definition? How do I show it through material objects or demographics or anything other than my personality? If I met someone randomly on the street or sat down for a job interview, would they be able to pick up on this definition of myself if I did not bluntly state it?

So this brings me to my latest self-examination – the material objects that make up a person’s definition, in other words: clothes, jewelry and lipstick. (Side note: clothes includes shoes, which I have learned are an important component.)

I have never been one to think about my physical appearance in any term beyond just being comfortable, aka I own way too many yoga pants. It was always my belief that the exterior doesn’t matter, it is what is on the inside that counts. I can dress any way that I want to and it is my work ethic and product that people will see at work. I can wear whatever I want when I go out to the bars and it is my smile and personality that new people will notice. Clearly I am an idealist and do not live in the real world.

For so long this mind frame has worked out for me. But with intentional reflection I am realizing that the only reason that perspective was working was because I was constantly surrounded by people that knew me on a deeper level. I went out with people from school that I had known for years or I had co-workers that worked side by side with me on a daily basis for years. This is no longer the case in my life. I am in a work environment that requires constant interaction with new people. I have branched out from my long time circle of friends. I am in the world of first impressions and initial judgement all over again, on a daily basis.

Which brings me back to clothes, jewelry and lipstick. I need to pay attention to these things, I need to find out how to use these material objects to better demonstrate the definition of who I am.  Urgh, this is hard and is a new lesson I’m not sure how I will learn.