Imperfections

Sitting on the porch, drinking wine and dirtying the bottom of my socks on the concrete, I realize I should be studying for my finals that I have in a few days. But it’s too nice a night out to do so, and I only have a few more nights of hearing the train so close…a sound I never would have guessed would feel homey.

The school year is ending fast, and as the warm weather creeps back, it reminds me of how I felt about a year ago when I first left home. They smell of summer always jolts my memory into action.

I feel I have grown tremendously different in the past year. I don’t really even recognize myself compared to who I was years and years ago. It’s funny to realize that most of what I have grown from did not come from the classroom, but from the gym.

After countless times of working tremendously hard one week, being highly motivated, energized, productive and active, and then suddenly dropping to a low and just wanting to sleep the next week, I realized that that wasn’t functional. I began to seriously wonder if I was bi-polar. It was like taking steps forward and backward constantly, never gaining any ground.

As if I didn’t already have enough goals in my head, my new years resolution was to teach myself yoga. So I bought a mat, got a yoga book for Christmas, and started with child’s pose and down-dog.

I don’t even remember how I came up with my own personal practice and focus of yoga, but somehow it became centered on patience and self-love…probably because those are two aspects that are weak in my soul. Perfectionism had drained me of these qualities.

Yoga allowed me to focus on the moment at hand, instead of worrying about the future and making a to-do list in my head like I used to do with any spare moment.

That’s the thing about yoga…you can take it and use it in anyway you need. It’s like a medicine that could cure anything you desired. Your own personal healer. Your own personal guide. Anyone could self-actualize if only they practiced yoga, because something happened as you practiced…the parts of you that needed healing or improvement would slowly build and change, like scabs renewing themselves with time. As I started to do more difficult poses, I became frustrated…but by remembering the focus of my practice, I took a breath and told myself it was okay…that I was doing okay…that this was my own personal journey and would get to where I was headed eventually. When I was finally able to do poses that were initially too hard for me, I believed in the focus of my own practice more than ever. I had never taken a yoga class before, and yet, I was still taking steps forward. When I finally did take my first yoga class, I found that I completed it with ease…I had passed another checkpoint and this solidified the dedication and faith I had in my practice.

As my yoga practice took hold, my life at the gym became more serious, and when before I had spent so much energy on comparing myself to the others at the gym, I found that I was forcing myself to focus on the fact that my journey is different, and that I am doing great. Sure, there were others better than me, and I still have some trouble comparing myself to others, but I have different strengths, different weaknesses, and a different life. I transferred the practice of self love and patience into my exercise life. It became easier to work out because I was focused on myself, and I saw results that made me proud of my own journey, even if it wasn’t as good as others I was seeing at the gym.

Taking it further, I then included that mindset into my everyday life…understanding that everyone is different, and my grades, classes, sleep schedule, diet, everything…was different. A perfectionist wants perfection in every aspect of life. But I started taking the imperfections as signs that I was overcoming a quality within me that would have been (and was for a time) torturous if I let it take over my life. During my first semester away at college, I struggled to choose classes and to decide if I was going to get a double major, a major and a minor, a dual degree, a masters,  or a PhD. Of course, all I heard from anyone was that with my major I was going to have to get AT LEAST a masters in order to go anywhere. Everyone here is so caught up in a massive amount of education, and a particular career path and perfect life plan, that I started to second guess myself and tried to see if I could fit that mold.

My advisor was exhausted by me. Hell…I was exhausted by me. But why was I even trying to fit that mold….I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to. I’m not convinced that every student here does either.

After desperately trying to decide what my life was going to look like and how my education would fit into a perfect career, I discovered that I didn’t want that. Kudos to the people who have their life planned out and are happy and excited…but I was done feeling like a lesser human because I didn’t have a million internships under my belt and my degree was simply psychology and nothing else fancy. I told myself to be patient with my path, to be content with what I wanted and who I was, and that whenever I was told to fit back into the mold, I would take a breath, shrug my shoulders, smile, and let it pass. My journey is different, and that’s okay. Maybe I won’t be a high up business woman with a giant salary and a life long career, but why is that supposed to be the goal of every human? Why is that drilled into the heads of students since they are young? Why are college students killing themselves mentally to reach goals in the classroom while neglecting their life and goals of the present? It’s all a race to them…who can pull the most all-nighters and get a 4.0.

Work hard, be ambitious and understand that your journey is different than anyone else’s and that’s okay…this is what I will teach my kids someday.

Exercise is a way to put your differences into perspective, and into a physical form that is easier to see, understand, and change. Exercise takes patience, diligence, perseverance, and resilience…all mental factors that take time to develop. While you’re developing those parts of your body that need improvement, you’re developing parts of your mind that need it as well. At some point, everyone has to come to terms with their weaknesses and their differences. This is the only way we can know and accept who we really are, and finally self-actualize. Exercise is a path to self-actualization. The awareness it creates is a way to accept yourself, and then realize that it can be improved upon. There is something so special about your own journey through life, because it is your own. Kind of like how your journey in the gym is different from others and is also your own. You begin to compare yourself to the person you used to be, instead of comparing yourself to the person standing next to you. And this is an essential realization of life.

It’s the Sunday before Finals week. I should be at the library studying. I just finished a crappy workout. My socks are dirty, and my dinner consists of brown rice and wine…

…but the qualities within me that at one time would have degraded and scolded me are silent.

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Cognitive Dissonance

As I unwrapped a Halls cough drop on the first day of school, I noticed the words “inspire envy” written in a small yellow font on the edge of the wrapper.

This phrase spoke to me in ways that almost made me wonder if I was crazy because suddenly cough drops had an effect on my soul rather than just my throat.

I have been restless for as long as I can remember…treading water in a life with so much to it. The light at the end of the tunnel coincided with the end of the summer, which promised new and exciting things; moving away to school and to my own apartment for the first time. The whole time, I was preparing for a step forward; buying bulk paper towels and setting up my own account with Comcast. I was sure that my new independence of picking up my own prescriptions and paying my own water bill would cure my cognitive dissonance. After arriving in the apartment, I cleaned for hours…scrubbing floors and sinks and dusting cobwebs.

Who knew that killing your own spiders in your own apartment could be so liberating?!

For the first week, exploring the new town along with killing my own bugs left me content. I had taken a step forward and I was glad for that. But after the joy of cooking my own dinner and playing my music as loud as I wanted wore off, I noticed that the cognitive dissonance was once again rearing its ugly head inside of me.

Enter the Halls Cough Drop. “Inspire envy.”

It suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to do that. I didn’t/don’t know much at all about what I want, but I knew that I wanted to “inspire envy.”

Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of tension that is caused when one’s actions and lifestyle don’t match what they are thinking or what their soul wants. It’s a terrible feeling, yet it sometimes takes a while to figure out that you, are in fact, feeling it. I didn’t want to continue to try and squirm around in my life in order to try and fit. I wanted to slip easily into who I was.

So in order to rid myself of this weight, I started to look deeper into myself to see what I wanted. It started with knowing that I wanted to “inspire envy.” I’m 21 years old with the world on my doorstep. I’m passionate, I’m excited, I’m energetic. I’ve never thought of myself as a free-spirit, but maybe I am. I’m a go-getter, and I wanted to go-get-em.

I realized this meant that I had to put myself first, and do something for me.

And the first time I tried to do that, I realized it was hard. But now is the time to think of myself. Before I have anything standing in the way later on. I’m not a selfish person; on the contrary actually. I pride myself in being self-less. But maybe I gave so much that I began to actually lose.

Trying to make sense of your internal self if nearly impossible. But I have time, and I’m excited. I have a starting point, and I am in a great place to begin. I’m diving into Psychology by volunteering to operate a 24 hour Crisis Line. I’m diving into fitness by joining the Boxing Club. My favorite place to study is the history library and my favorite relaxation time is listening to the student guitarist every Thursday from 12-1. I like to jog around the quad in the evening and sit in the cool grass afterwards to stretch. I’m in the process of exploring my options for studying abroad during a semester. All of these things are for me.

And I thought that killing my own spiders was liberating!…psh.

A professor from my community college once told me personally, “Don’t live vicariously through anyone.”

And I don’t plan to. I plan to live.

The Myth of Sisyphus

In my ethics course this semester, we had a unit on Buddhism. One class, we had a great discussion together about the cause of human suffering. Buddhism suggests that the cause of human suffering is desire – desire for anything that one does not have. You could desire to have a yellow Lamborghini, not have the money for it, and that would cause suffering. You could desire to be married to Channing Tatum, realize that he’s out of your league, and that would cause suffering. You could desire to be the President of the United States, never get the chance, and that would cause suffering. Granted, there are many different levels of suffering here, but all suffering nonetheless.

After finally completing my time at community college by finishing the most stressful semester of them all, I have come to the conclusion that my perfectionism has been the cause of alot of my suffering. It is a disease; my downfall, my cross to bear. Constantly desiring something that is out of reach (perfection), drove me mad. This semester was the worst of them all, not because I had five classes that I wanted to ace, but because it was the time where I had to figure out my next move. I had to figure out which university to transfer to, what to major in, and what career to strive for.

In my mind, this was chaos. It seriously seemed to me that I had to decide what the rest of my life was going to be. In my mind, I had to figure everything out within the span of a few months…EVERYTHING!!! My university, my career plan, my future employer, my future house, my future husband, my future kids….etc etc etc.

Naturally, me being the perfectionist that I am, I wanted to figure everything out and I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted the perfect university, the perfect area of study, the perfect roommate, the perfect apartment, the perfect career path and the perfect future.

After many tears were shed, I finally got it through my thick skull that this does not exist. I was striving for something I would never find.

Does this mean that we should not strive for anything in life because of the chance that we suffer along the way? Should we try to eliminate any desire from our mind? My professor asked this of us, and followed up with a story. He told us a greek story called the Myth of Sisyphus. The myth goes that a man named Sisyphus has been condemned to a meaningless life by one of the Gods, and he has to push a boulder up a hill, let it fall down again, and repeat for eternity. Push the boulder up, let it fall, repeat.

Is this what we are destined to do if we are to eliminate desire? Live a meaningless life?

My class concluded that, no, we should not eliminate all desire; we should only eliminate unrealistic desires.

Unrealistic desires like…perfectionism.

Goals are great, I have many. Everybody has goals. Everybody has thier own boulder they are pushing up thier own hill. Sure enough, once that boulder reaches the top, you will have to push another boulder back up the hill again. And repeat!

We all desire to get our own boulders to the top of the hill, and we suffer for it. Why do we do it?!

Well, in the words of Miley Cyrus, it’s all about the climb.

I realized this semester that I was not enjoying the climb because my perfectionism was limiting me. My sociology teacher commented that I was “limited by a path that promised success; a path that kept me safetly in the box.” I needed to fix that or I would be a wreck. My hills were too tall. My boulder would never reach the top.

This semester, I changed that. I stopped letting my perfectionism control me and just focused on going with the flow, rolling with the punches, and letting a free-spirit grow in my soul. I learned the virtue of contentment. I learned to be happy where I was. I learned that if you shoot for the moon and miss, you really do land amongst the stars! I finished my semester with good grades, not 100%. I have been accepted into a great university, though not my first choice. I found an awesome roommate, and a sweet apartment. I decided to stick with my major in Psychology despite the fact that I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do with it. There are all kinds of people out there, doing all kinds of things. People from all walks of life have great lives! Wherever I end up, I will be okay, even though it will probably be far from perfect.

So why do we stress ourselves out and push boulder after boulder up the hill for eternity?

Because the feeling that we get at the top of this hill is so worth it.

Be the bigger person

I am the oldest child in my family and have two younger sisters. I’ve come to like being the oldest, but when I was younger it felt like a burden sometimes. As siblings do, my sisters and I used to fight more than we do now. Whenever we did, my mom would always say to me, “Be the bigger person.”

For a pre-teen to be told that, when all I wanted to do was fight back and succumb to my anger, was hard. Lemme tell ya, I used to absolutely HATE it. I hated having to pretend I was over the fight. I hated having to apologize through gritted teeth. I hated giving in even though I KNEW I was right. I hated turning the other cheek, as Carolyn Ingalls always said in Little House on the Prairie.

But…come to think of it now, one of us had to be the bigger person. If none of us had decided to rise above the fight and our own anger, than we would still be fighting, 8 years later. Of course, I only realize this now, years and years after the fact. I just thank my Mom for telling me that, even though I probably muttered something under my breath whenever she did.

I’ve been thinking; maybe the rest of society needs to be told that. “Be the bigger person.”

It’s no secret that society seems to be falling apart bit by bit, slowly but surely; the media makes damn sure that we know that. School shootings, riots in the streets, terrorism, racism, hate crimes, etc. This world has rapidly changed before my eyes. I don’t remember hearing about such hatred being so widespread a few years ago. Yes, its scary, but to me, it’s mostly sad.

I understand and applaud people standing up for thier rights. I, myself, preach standing up for yourself and not taking shit from anyone. But there is a fine line between standing up for yourself, and stepping on other people’s toes.

Just think about this for a second: I wrote earlier that when my sisters and I used to fight, I was always told to be the bigger person, and that if one of us hadn’t done that then we would probably still be fighting today. On a bigger scale, different subcultures, races, religions, political parties, all bicker and disagree like siblings. Maybe the reason these disagreements have been getting worse by the day is because no one has decided to be the bigger person.

My heart has been breaking. Recently hearing of the shootings in Kenya and the Baltimore riots have done me in. I just wish that I could do something to stop the hate from spreading. I wish I could help. I wish I could just speak to the world using a megaphone and somehow think of something to say that would make everyone just snap out of it!

But common…if the big-wigs of the world can’t even figure out a way to stop it, how would I? So far, I’m really a nobody in the world, so there’s no way I can make a change so large that every single person would be willing to listen and agree. Sure, call me a negative-nancy or a debbie-downer…but I’m only being realistic.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if no one else in the world is willing to rise above the hate and be the bigger person, it might as well be me.

While everyone else is spewing hate, I will emit positivity. While citizens bicker back and forth with a closed mind, I will smile and keep mine open. While society kills itself from the inside out, I will do everything I can to cure it, no matter how small. Smile instead of cry, praise instead of put down, and pray, pray, pray. I will be strong, I will rise above the hate, and I will set a good example, as all oldest siblings must do. And if this is the beginning of the end, I hope to radiate kindness to all I can reach untill that end. If I can’t stop the hate completely, I will battle it by turning the other cheek.

This may be too much to ask of a human being. After all, the only one I know to have done this successfully is Jesus Christ Himself. And…I may think differently if I was being directly affected by the violence. I hope that I would be strong enough to not succumb to the horror and let my humanity take over, as I’ve heard of happening to others, such as the rioters in Baltimore. But for now, all I can think of doing is spreading love and good vibes in every day acts of kindness…to prove that there are still good people out there.

I know this won’t make a change on the global level; but if I can be a beacon of positivity to those around me, while waves of hatred threaten to consume our world, that’s a start. I challenge everyone to do the same; to be the bigger person. Who knows…maybe we can start a movement. All I know is that if everyone could rise above thier own anger, think logically, and realize that we are all human, we may be on to something.

Who’s tougher than me?

Okay…I confess…half the reason I started boxing was just so that I could enjoy the looks on peoples faces when I told them that I box. Here I am, a blonde girl with a french manicure wearing a pretty sundress…I know for a fact that no one imagines me having a killer cross. The reactions will never ever get old!

I had wanted to box for a long time before I started. I’d never even seen the whole movie Million Dollar Baby, yet everytime I did something remotely physical I’d put my hair in two french braids just so I could pretend I was Maggie. Why did it take me so long to actually take a class? Because I was scared to fail, scared to look stupid, scared to disgrace my gender, scared I wouldn’t be taken seriously, etc.

But I’m sooo happy I took the chance because I’ve found something that I love and something that makes me feel crazy good about myself! Yes, 30 minute sessions with my instructor nearly killed me in the beginning, but the second I realized that I could do double the amount of pushups I had done before I started lessons made it all worth it. When spring came around and I wore tanktops for the first time in the season, I recieved compliments on my arms…MY ARMS! Not my outfit, or my hair, but the muscles in my arms. Boxing has caught me; hook, line, and sinker, and I’m in love with how it makes me feel. I love the sound of my gloves hitting the mitts of my instructor, and the way I can feel people do a double take when they realize that it’s me making that loud noise. This sport makes me want to reach my limit each session, and I never want to lose the muscles and the confidence I have gained.

Recently, I have been looking for a new place to take boxing classes because my current instructor is changing jobs. Of course at first I was upset because I thought this meant the end of boxing for me. Cuz I didn’t want to start from square one with a different instructor! What if my new instructor sucked, or didn’t take me seriously!? But then I realized that I am prepared to move up and challenge myself and not worry about failing; because that is exaclty what boxing has taught me. It has given me confidence, and I hope that I can continue to train elsewhere, maybe start sparring, and in the fall I’d like to join the boxing club at UIUC. I realize that I will miss the challenge of boxing too much to simply just let it go.

I recently read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. In the book, there’s a part where she is alone in the woods and is scared, yet she asks herself, “Who’s tougher than me?” and she answers herself, “No one.” Boxing has given me the ability to ask myself the same question and answer, “No one.” So I put my hair in french braids, wrap my hands, and act like it.

Today I went to a boxing club near me and spoke to a man about lessons.

“I would definetly suggest you stay away from boxing classes levels 1 and 2…I would say you should go to the beginner class,” he says politely.

I smile in anticipation, knowing what’s about to happen. I say, “Thank you, but I’ve been boxing for 6+ months.”

His jaw drops.

Strangers

While in the Starbucks drive-thru this morning, I couldn’t help but feel tired and stressed. This week has already taken a toll on me and it’s only Tuesday morning. Like every college student out there, I have a lot on my mind. I have a stats test this morning, more homework than I even remember, and of course work has been a burden this week too. I’m in the middle of trying to find my first apartment for when I transfer to UIUC in the fall, and I still don’t know how many roommates I have. I’m breaking out like CRAZY…and yes…for all of you who were wondering…it is that time of the month.

On top of all that, an incident at school yesterday has been weighing heavily on my mind. I will not go into the nitty-gritty of that situation, yet all that needs to be known is that I have never been treated so rudely in my entire life. I had a confrontation with a substitute professor who had absolutely no reason to treat me in such a way. He was unbelievably condescending, terribly out of line, and impossibly arrogant.

All of you who know me know that I am a respectful person. That is…until I don’t get the respect that I deserve. Naturally, my adrenaline gets going in that situation and there’s no hope for the person who tries to pick a fight with me. Just cuz I’m the quiet blonde girl in the back of the room with an iced coffee doesn’t mean you can pick on me. Nice try though.

We are all adults here! We treat each other as equals. I don’t know why some stranger who has never met me before thinks that he’s all the sudden above me…and that’s obviously what happened yesterday with the substitute. It was so obviously a power-trip that I was embarrassed for him; because for some reason he needed to feel power over me to make himself feel good.

My adrenaline was high for HOURS after this happened (I would have scared the crap out of my boxing instructor if I had a session with him yesterday). But it was just appalling to me that such a thing could happen…that an adult in a position of authority could act in such a way. Very, very disappointing. Things like this cause my faith in humanity to slip. Situations like this spark a disappointment in my species. Of course I’ve been treated rudely before…I’m a waitress…what do you expect?

Anyway…this incident ended up with him taking my blank test away from me and with me storming out of the class to the deans office.

So naturally I find myself in the Starbucks drive-thru this morning because it seems like the only thing that will lift my spirits. As I pull forward to the window to pay, the lady at the window says, “The lady in the car in front of you says have a great day,” and she hands me my drink, refusing my credit card. “She paid for me?!” I said. The lady at the window nods, smiling.

Within a span of 24 hours, I had been shocked by strangers; the unbelievable disrespect of one, and the random act of kindness by another. Two complete opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both leaving me with my jaw on the floor.

For me, situations like that tend to make up for all of the terrible ones. They tend to restore a great amount of my faith in people. This is also not the first time I was having a bad day and a random stranger unknowingly came at just the right moment; lifting me up, brightening my day, and influencing my outlook on the human race.

With this in mind, I decided to pay it forward (a phrase my mom loves to use). I paid for the persons bill in the car behind me; hoping that it made their day just like it made mine, hoping that maybe they decided to pay for the car behind them, and hoping that maybe a trend of paying it forward continued down the line of cars. I hoped it gave everyone the same feeling of camaraderie that it gave me- we are all adults here, we are all strangers, but we are all human, and we all need each other (and Starbucks) to survive.