A Year in Retrospective

This post has been a long time coming. I recently “celebrated” my first one-year work-versary, and with the completion of my first triathlon, I now actually have time to collect and organize my disparate thoughts.

A little over a year ago, I graduated university and started my first full-time job in New York. Despite having grown up near New York and being familiar with the city, it was thrilling to be a part of a new culture: the post-grad newly employed crowd where the days are long, the nights are longer, and we seem to share the mantra, “work hard, play harder.” The first six months were marked by the steep learning curve that accompanies a new job, outings with old and new friends, and a surprisingly successful hunt for a NYC apartment (thank you, Craigslist – I’m serious).

The latter eight months have not been dramatically different, yet further reflection suggests that I’ve undergone a tremendously different sort of learning curve – one that has contributed to my own self-discovery and development. I’m sure these aren’t profoundly new revelations, but they are the most significant takeaways that I have recognized and hope to build upon as I continue growing, both personally and professionally.

1. Time is the most valuable commodity – Prioritization is key

In a sense, time is the great equalizer. Everyone has the same number of hours in a day to accomplish whatever goals you have. I acquiesce that some of us are privileged with certain affordances that provide us some liberties with respect to time management, but ultimately, I do my best to avoid wasting mine. Whether that means waking up a few hours earlier or choosing one activity over another, certain trade offs are made in the prioritization process. And most of the time, they aren’t sacrifices so long as you can determine that such time is spent doing something meaningful and worthwhile for yourself.

2. Create the social capital you want to be around

We spend a lot of time at work, and then when we’re not at work, we’re trying to catch up with friends or meet new people. Fostering relationships and establishing a network are integral pieces to success so surround yourself with individuals who have aspirational qualities and from whom you’ll learn and be challenged. I am fortunate to be able to call some of the most interesting, intellectual, and engaging people my friends and co-workers. They expose me to new disciplines and hobbies, and we’re able to learn from each other.

In optimizing the social capital around me, I’ve found it also eliminates negativity. Maudlin conversations are rarely constructive or productive. With banalities set aside, we can explore each others’ interests more deeply and derive a greater conversational experience, which in turn, expands our own knowledge bases.

3. Learn to love your own company

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant movement that is New York. There are meetings to attend, people to meet; yet the revolving door of human interaction can be exhausting (or maybe that’s the introvert in me speaking). Similar to unplugging, taking time to be on your own to decompress and clear your head is highly therapeutic. It helps hone in on what you really need/want versus what you think you need/want. I recently took a week long solo trip to Italy and thoroughly enjoyed having the time to answer to no one but myself. There is a distinction between being alone and feeling lonely, and in extinguishing the external din, you’ll find being alone can be incredibly liberating. So don’t fear the occasional dinner alone or solo weekend getaway – you might just find some much needed clarity.

Love in the Time of Technology – Part I

It started as an innocuous curiosity. After having dabbled in a few online dating sites before moving onto the mobile dating landscape, I was itching for a new way to get to know more of New York’s host of colourful characters. Tinder was intimidating, CoffeeMeetsBagel and HowAboutWe had been messy and less appealing user experiences, but I wasn’t yet entirely discouraged.

A friend exclaimed one Friday night that she had a date with a guy she met off Hinge the next evening. I was intrigued. She whipped out her phone, opened the little blue and white icon, and a few seconds later a list of male prospects and their details loaded the screen.

Given that the recommendations are friends of friends within your Facebook network, Hinge felt like Tinder’s distant and less creepy cousin. There wasn’t much to lose, so I signed up that weekend and proceeded to await my first batch of mid-day recommendations.

The first few weeks of use were uneventful. A few right swipes a day with a majority of recommendations getting the nay-say. Details most often included employer, university, height, and some fun preset interests like “beer snob” and “early bird,” all accompanied by a series of profile photos. Some more dedicated individuals populated their ‘About Me’ sections with witty quotes or descriptions of what kinds of relationships they were seeking.

I kept my own profile to a minimum. I was curious, but preferred to maintain a more laissez faire approach to my mobile dating activities. From time to time, I’d respond to a handful of conversations initiated by mutual matches, but most of the conversations fell flat. A match meant both parties had mutually identified the other as attractive and interesting enough for a deeper perusal. The problem was that once a conversation began, an incompatible conversational aptitude made it quickly evident that nothing would come of the match.

While some people were truly trying to find their partners in a city that can be overwhelming for whom bars and small-talk are less comfortable, my use remained primarily tangential. Of course, that changed when I agreed to take one virtual conversation into reality.

Finding Patience in the Race to Success

Six months ago, I was on a university weekend getaway weekend aptly titled “Senior Retreat.” The 48-hour escape provided the ideal opportunity for dozens of us seniors to engage in some true introspection. For weeks prior, most of us had been involved in a series of endless quests to fulfill outstanding bucket lists, questionable last minute runs to Mainline bars, and pursuits to satisfy a general need to take advantage of our precious last few months as undergrads. It was undoubtedly exhilarating, but it left me with a nagging need to indulge my inner introvert. The retreat allowed us to momentarily suspend our all too familiar senses of FOMO to instead contemplate the weight of graduation and the inevitable changes that would come with it.

One of the weekend activities had us congregated in a room partitioned into various post-grad dreads. Our conversations rotated around the room with us, ranging from unemployment, moving back in with parents, adjusting to a new city, and the like. Listening to my peers’ worries, I found myself feeling curiously prepared for what lied ahead; I was employed, quite looking forward to being home for the first time since leaving for college, and excited for life in New York City. But of course even my seemingly ideal situation didn’t prepare me for the unexpected. Ironically, the most unprecedented adjustment was a serious need to develop greater patience. 

For those of us lucky enough to receive a college education, all us recent graduates have known nothing but academia for all our lives. These last fifteen odd years provided us with consistent quantitative metrics to assess our progresses and shortcomings. Semester by semester, class after class, and from one professor to the next, we had a trail of breadcrumbs that practically guaranteed our success so long as we fulfilled the necessary expectations. In short, we’ve mastered how to be a student – which is often thought to be a crash course in becoming the ideal employee. But in the professional world, there are neither tests to ace nor classes to pass. Feeling like you’re doing a good job isn’t as clear cut as receiving a 100 on a quiz, and developing a career is a commitment in which doing well or poorly is hazier than earning the “right” grades.

So herein lies the learning curve: managing my expectations and fostering my patience. For a generation who is all about speed and efficiency, we’re accustomed to thinking that everything, even success, can be achieved overnight. Such an idea inspires scores of newly employed post-grads to hop from one career to another, believing that if nothing spectacular happens within the first six to twelve months in a role, it must not be their dream job. I’ll admit on occasion a little voice in my head tells me something similar, but I figure it’s my responsibility to quell that voice and remind myself great advancements come with time.

It’s only been a few weeks of grown-up life in the Big Apple, but I’m learning to find satisfaction in the daily routines and habits as a working professional. Sure there aren’t always midterms and exams to prove to myself that I’m doing well, but if that means trading in multiple choice questions for the freedom to carve out my own success story, I’ll take that in a heartbeat.

An Acute Precipice

It’s been over a week since my undergraduate career came to close, but the tears I expected have yet to find me. They were absent during Senior Week, Commencement, and even when I moved out of my house. Granted I’m not one prone to tears, but I thought the goodbye’s and see you later’s with friends would leave me with a lump in my throat and terrible disquiet.

Then I spent the week after commencement surrounded by friends, hanging out at the beach, and the idea of no longer being a college kid could not have felt more removed. Being in each others’ company, laughing at old memories and inside jokes, I never felt more alive and content. When I finally left for home, I was worried of crashing from this high and of being swallowed by the anxiety that nothing would ever be the same. Instead I’ve been home, and in lieu of any tears, I’m keenly aware of the state of limbo in which I find myself.

My diploma definitively tells me that I’ve completed one integral chapter of my life, but my mind and heart still crave the closeness and sense of home uniquely provided during my college career. I know I am prepared to take on the adult world with ferocity, but I have moments of crippling doubt that I am not ready. I know that the friends who matter will remain by our sides regardless of distance or time, but the fear that we will all drift apart come busy work schedules and real-world responsibilities exists. And I know that the best years of our lives are yet to come, but I dread that growing up means losing my youthful spontaneity and sense of adventure. The dichotomy between what I know to be true and my irrational future concerns leaves me on an acute precipice off which I am not ready to leap…not just yet at least.

With every end there is a new beginning, but no one ever talks about the brief moment in between; where you are supposed to and allowed to grieve for the finality of one stage before the next follows. Without a doubt I am incredibly excited for the future in all its novelty and uncertainty, but for the time being I remain in limbo. I don’t want to rush into the future headfirst without allowing myself the proper reflection for what has been and what is to come. I don’t want to be on this precipice for long but I will remain here long enough to find closure before stepping into uncharted waters. In doing so, I am finding comfort in celebrating the old and embracing the new at my own pace.

The Very Nature of Relationships

Every day, we are faced with an immeasurable number of choices. They range from the innocuous, “What should I eat for breakfast?” to the more significant ones that revolve around our hopes and fears. Amidst our daily grind, we engage in conversation and connect with others to form relationships. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to find someone with whom we feel comfortable enough to share those aforementioned hopes and fears. We’re able to form special bonds that allow us to share our hearts with another.

Some of these relationships help us understand the unique experience of falling in love. For the most part, discovering and being able to love is incredible. The problem arises when we begin to question love’s toll on our lives. We wonder if we will have the time and effort to make a relationship successful or we spend too much time worrying about the consequences of a relationship not working out. Worst of all, we simply wonder if it will be worthwhile – if it will be worth the potential heartache or if it is worth the energy to care for another before ourselves.

The thing is, relationships, by their very nature, are distractions. They’re often time-consuming, mentally taxing, and emotionally trying. However, relationships are distractions we choose to have. 

Yes, they can be emotionally, mentally, and even physically demanding, and to create and preserve relationships is not always the most ideal decision. Yet we choose to include such relationships in our lives because they provide opportunities to connect and value someone else’s happiness over our own. We make the executive choice in our lives to make those attachments because with them, we can enjoy the rare pleasure of discovering the world together, growing together, and experiencing life together.

The timing is never right and on occasion there are seemingly insurmountable odds against making that connection. But at the end of the day, it’s a matter of how much you value that relationship and how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to ensure its success.

Fearlessness as the Fountain of Youth

A few weeks ago, my friends and I went ice skating, and I distinctly remember the pinch of fear when I finished lacing up my skates and took that first step toward the ice. I hadn’t been in a rink in a few years, and despite my experience with figure skating as a little girl, it was still nerve wracking to walk onto the ice. Amazingly enough, my legs soon found a familiar balance and skating reminded me a little bit like recalling how to ride a bike. However, I definitely didn’t feel comfortable enough to be speeding around the rink at the same pace of all the little kids around me. It was amazing to see all the six and seven year olds race each other when they literally have sharp knives strapped to their feet. Toddlers were skating right past me and twirling around each other like it was the most natural thing in the world. What struck me most was how fearless they were of falling. While many of us held onto the sides of the rink, when one little girl did trip, she only giggled and waved off her concerned father before racing off to catch up to her friends. For her, falling was simply an unavoidable part of the overall skating experience, but she wasn’t going to let it ruin her enjoyment.

Juxtaposing the kids’ fearlessness against the nervousness of adults and older kids like me demonstrated the stark contrast in our attitudes toward life. As we grow older, we slowly begin to recognize the repercussions that come with failure. We become afraid of stepping outside of comfort zones for fear of being embarrassed or of losing something we care about. While adults continually over analyze the “what-if’s” and “what could be’s,” kids don’t worry about the future in the same way. They boldly plunge into their endeavors and if they fall, they simply get right back up.

Growing older is inevitable, and failure during our lifetimes is even more unavoidable. And while the wisdom that comes with growing older is something to truly look forward to, remaining youthful lies in reminding yourself to be fearless despite the unavoidable disasters. Being young at heart is to look upon challenges as opportunities to grow and learn rather than as obstacles. In this way we can combine the knowledge that comes with age with the wide-eyed fortitude of youth in an effort to ensure that we remain bold and unafraid to dream but have the good sense to use our judgement when executing our ideas. Failing will always be a terrifying experience, but if we remain fearful of it, we will never truly experience the rush of joy that comes with getting back up and realizing you can still move forward.

Stop Stalking, Start Talking

We live in an age where face-to-face communication has been replaced by email and texting conversations. Social media and the Internet, albeit a great resource to stay in touch with long-lost friends or family far away, fuels our need for instant correspondence and inevitably affects our abilities to partake in a true, in person conversation.

Ironically, all our technology savvy makes getting to know someone that much harder. The use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other social media outlets allows us to gain intimate insight into the lives of basically anyone we are “friends with” or “follow,” yet simultaneously poses a veneer of impenetrability. It also makes us prone to some stalker-like tendencies. That cute guy you saw at the bars last weekend? Give it a few clicks and you’ll know which high school he attended, what he’s doing now, and who his friends are all before you’ve even introduced yourself.

These habits feed our incessant need for control and instant gratification; we want to know where that person of interest is from and what he’s up to because we’re trying to figure out if he fits our criterion for that all elusive “ideal person.” Problem is, by judging an individual from his online presence, we cheat ourselves from actually getting to know someone and learning of their interests, passions, and backgrounds.

As a self-proclaimed control freak, I’m guilty of this habit. I tend to want to know all these details about someone I’m interested in even before I’ve expressed any sort of interest in him. It’s understandable; the information is readily available and we want to know if that person fits the bill and would be “worth” our time. And sure, becoming Facebook friends with your crush can give you a glimpse into snippets of his life: that summer trip to China, Christmas with his grandparents, or his older sister’s college graduation. But that’s all they are – snippets.  In order to see if there is a genuine connection, it’s important to have conversations and build a rapport. That way, when it is time to decide whether or not your person of interest is someone worth investing your emotions into, you can be confident in your decision. So as terrifying as it may be to suggest coffee with the guy whose only correspondence with you has been through text, one face-to-face conversation can tell you more about where your relationship (or non-relationship) is headed than a hundred text messages.

A Degree Does Not an Education Make

When I was growing up, going to college was never even a question. Working hard in high school to ensure admittance into a university that would foster my growth, intelligence, and ultimately raise my chances of acquiring a respectable post-graduate job wasn’t just an expectation, it was the norm. And statistics would show that this sentiment resonates with a lot of people since in Fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the U.S..

I’m thrilled that more students can partake in the unique experience we call our “college years.” But looking back on my undergraduate years, I also distinctly remember too many times where my professors and classes were not sufficiently challenging, mentally stimulating, or were truly educating me. I listened to lectures, took my notes, and simply regurgitated information, and as students, we were no better; we sought the “easy-A” courses, in hopes that we’d churn out good GPA’s for those elusive high-paying jobs. College today, feels more like a training ground for the ideal employee and not a place of true learning and intellectual challenge. What’s more, we rarely seem to question this status quo and collectively groan at the prospect of 8:30 classes or the notoriously demanding professors because who were we kidding, we were here to pick the “right” major and get a degree for that lucrative job – applying oneself and learning, optional.

Call it idyllic, but my idea of a college education is about more than getting 4.0’s, choosing the major with greatest job security, and then finding employment.  I see it as an opportunity for engagement, critical thought, and innovation, yet sometimes it feels as though our universities have forgotten how to provide that kind of creative environment while students  have become complacent in seeking one. There is so much more to an education than what can be taught out of a textbook. There needs to be dialogue and intrigue and even some adventure because amazing things come to fruition when individuals are inspired to communicate and share ideas. Undoubtedly, academia is important. There needs to be some standardized method to gauge how much effort a student has input to learn and retain the appropriate material. The application of the knowledge our degrees provide us is also important. However, I would love to see our universities and students try harder in upholding the integrity of a true education with the reminder that it’s not just about the degree.

Our college years are some of the most uninhibited and wondrously selfish years of our lives, yet many of us are so busy cramming for exams with our eyes glued to powerpoint lectures that we completely forget there exists is an entire world at our fingertips. There are books to be read, exotic foods to try, cities to explore, and interesting people to meet. Such experiences provide character, depth, compassion, and a wealth of cultural knowledge that exists outside our narrow bubbles of thought. A true education equips us with, not only facts and figures, but also the willingness to ask questions and seek answers that can’t be found on a multiple choice exam.

So with my remaining few months as an undergrad, I plan on maximizing my education. I’ll be honest, some days I do wish I could re-do it all. As much as I have no regrets, I would definitely do some things differently. I would have told myself to be more confident, more motivated, and more inquisitive than I have been the last three years. And here’s to hoping that when the time comes to put on my cap and gown and walk side by side with the friends that made college a home, I can truly say I had the best education possible.