Category Archives: self-introspection

Life as I know it

The title may sound poetic but I promise you it’s not. Life has just been busy so I figure the best way to get everyone up to speed is to recap the last month and a half of my life in one full swoop.

Really exciting, I crossed two things off my 30 before 30 list:
1. Set up a retirement account. I feel very grown up having a financial advisor who does everything and anything I need him to. We’ve decided to be “aggressive” in the market and while he warned me I may not like him some months I warned him I would probably never even notice.
2. Be a vegetarian for 30 days. Surprisingly, going vegetarian was really easy. The only difficult aspect was having to plan my meals so far in advance and ensure there were vegetarian options available when I was on the road traveling for work. In fact, now that my 30 days are up I’ve actually decided to stick to the new diet. It’s now been six weeks, which is also the amount of time you need to build – or break – habits.

Going vegetarian has meant spending a lot of time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. I honestly can’t think of a meal I made and didn’t like these past six weeks but here are a few recipes I tried and absolutely loved:
1. Spring rolls – I didn’t follow this recipe at all but it was what I started with. I ended up using a basic cole slaw mix and instead of eating it raw with the rice paper, I sautéed the mixture in various seasonings. A very easy recipe albeit a bit time-consuming but they were oh so yummy!
2. Hummus spinach bake – I actually didn’t use a recipe for this. I happened to be using one of those input the ingredients you have into a computer generator and it lists different dishes you can make. Out of that came a plate of hummus and sautéed spinach topped with shredded cheese. I put it in the oven on 350 for about 15 minutes. It was nice and bubbly and paired well with the pita chips and carrots I already had on hand.
3. Zucchini pizza boats – They don’t make for great leftovers since zucchini contains so much extra water but they were fantastic straight out of the oven. Plus there are a ton of variations for toppings. Variety is nice!
4. Stuffed peppers – I love peppers and anything that goes in them. Quinoa is my new favorite super food and these are perfect for grilling out with friends. I have found that Mexican is the easiest vegetarian go-to dish for me.

I had a few other health related goals for the month. One goal was to complete all of my outstanding health exams and another was to beef up the exercise routine. A few things worth mentioning:
1. $500 later it turns out I am, in fact, still healthy. Go me!
2. I tried two new fitness classes: a hip hop dance class and Krav Maga. Not only can I booty bump with the best of em’ but I also found a socially acceptable way of releasing my inner rage. If Krav Maga didn’t cost $150/month I would definitely get a membership.

So you don’t think I’m two-dimensional talking about health and fitness, I did have a few fun things going on this past month and a half. At the top of my list:
1. A few friends and I spent a weekend in the Old Cabin at Blue Jay Farms, which we all know is my favorite Missouri get-away spot! Of course Miley dog joined us. I love make your stomach hurt bouts of laughing and I have plenty of those moments with my home girl Lizard. See below. We made an oriental themed dinner, played a new card game, swam, read, hiked to a waterfall, and picked blueberries. I love that place!

liz

2. I hadn’t seen my Mom since Christmas so I’ve been missing some quality mother-daughter time. Over the 4th of July weekend my parents decided to come down and visit for about a week. We spent time boating at the lake, visiting family and friends, watching movies, snuggling, and dancing/drinking our butts off at the winery. It was a fabulous time and I’m missing them already!

photo

3. Oh yeah, Dad finally sent me the pictures of our trip to El Salvador. I’ll aim to get those up at some point once I sift through the 2,000+ photos but here are a few teasers.

elsalv

elsalv2

And of course I wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a little bit of self-introspection thrown in the mix. A few self-revelations:
1. Attitude up! I wish I could coin this phrase but I actually learned it at a sexual harassment training I went to for work. I say it all the time now. It serves as a good reminder that we all have the power to change our dispositions. When you’re stressed, feeling overwhelmed, and just consumed or surrounded by negativity it helps to keep things in perspective and to remember that you have the power to keep a positive attitude and mind. It’s sort of like Gretchen Rubin’s think happy, be happy motto.
2. How to live a life of well-being. Martin Seligman proposed a scientific model of happiness and well-being called PERMA. Essentially it states that in order for one to live a flourishing life, there are five basic motivations behind any decision or action made: positive emotion, engagement, relationship building, meaning, and achievement. People do their best work and are happiest when these five elements are being met. I could dedicate an entire blog post to this particular concept as I’ve become enthralled with the scientific model so much that I’ve begun incorporating it into my work culture and everyday life. My poor colleagues have been subjected to team building exercises this past week but I actually think they enjoyed them. If anything I can tell it brought us all closer together (R and M – meaningful relationships). Anyways, I’ll save you the rambling – go check it out!

While this post certainly doesn’t capture everything that went on the past month and a half, I feel a little less overwhelmed jumping back into the blogging world. I keep waiting for my time to free up and devote to writing again but the truth is I just need to make it a priority again (more on that later).

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Filed under 30 before 30, blogging, cooking, family, goals, happiness, health, personal growth, self-introspection, vegetarianism, well-being

Home, solitude, bliss

“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”   -Henry David Thoreau

It’s kind of sad how much pleasure I glean from alone time, but after a week-long trip to Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and back, I was itching for a day free from influences of the outside world. I designated yesterday my “technology-free” day – no TV, no phone, no computer for a straight 24 hours. In other words, my kind of bliss.

The part of traveling I absolutely dread is unpacking. I usually put it off until the last possible minute (when I can’t stand to look at it anymore) but I forced myself to remove everything from my car and promptly shove it into the house. The mess and clutter were almost annihilating so first thing in the morning I got to work putting away the christmas decorations and the rest of the mess in their right place. I had to resist the urge to purge (I’m saving that for another project) but I did take out my frustrations and urge to clean on the floors. What takes me about an hour and a half to clean my house ended up taking me 7 hours and I still haven’t finished the bathroom. But my house is clean and clutter-free and it really does add a lot to my happiness. Plus, for a start to a new year fast approaching,  I think it’s important to also have a fresh surrounding.

Being home also means I can cook and eat the foods I really want without over indulging or making myself sick. Throughout my entire trip, I was on a sugar high and eating everything in sight. You’ve heard the old adage feed the cold – well, I took that to new levels. I wanted to start the weekend off right at home and with it being so cold outside, I wanted a rich and hearty stew (but healthy, of course) for comfort food. So, I tried a new beef and lentil soup. True to my nature, I couldn’t make the dish as-is so I opted to put in a few extra ingredients. A myriad of spices but also some extra vegetables like carrots and green beans. They’re pretty simple additions but they also made the stew have more substance.

I especially enjoyed cooking during my “technology-free” day because I didn’t feel like I was in a rush to get things done. Cutting and chopping the vegetables was a simple gesture that I recognized brought clarity and comfort in my own life. Perhaps its the repetitious moves that I find pleasure in or maybe I’m just a little cooky. I paired the stew with a fresh green salad, homemade wheat rolls, and a shock top beer. And for the first time in the two years I have lived in this house, I actually ate my dinner at the dining room table. When I have friends or family over, we always do potluck dinners at the table, but when it’s just me I’m more apt to sit in the living room on the couch in front of the TV. I think I’ve avoided sitting at the dining room table eating alone for the mere fact it reminds me that I am alone. But it was nice and I’m thinking of how to incorporate it into my new year intentions. I should embrace that feeling, not run away from it.

soup

The rest of my night was spent taking pleasure in reading. I got a NOOK for christmas and promptly purchased Gretchen Rubin’s new book Happier at Home, which I have yet had the chance to read. I spent several hours reading her book and was surprised (or maybe not-so surprised) to find that a lot of my new year intentions are goals she took on herself. Although she’s much more eloquent in describing her processes, the book has inspired me to add a few more things to my list.

In the end, my “technology-free” day and alone time provided ample opportunity for a little self-introspection. In particular, I spent a lot of time thinking about why my twenties are so important to me. What do I want out of life? What have I learned so far? How will I appreciate living in the present but also look forward to what the future holds? I’ve been told by a few high school friends that it seems like I have a handle on every aspect of my life. I laugh because to me it feels like I don’t. I feel like I am desperately grasping to find ways that allow me to understand who I am (without someone else around) and to learn to embrace that person. To love them. To look at myself and realize this isn’t just who I am but who I want to be. Maybe I am a little anal and searching for some sense of self-control in this stage of my life where you really don’t have control, but I can try. I am continuing to remind myself to sit with the solitude. To embrace it, explore it, love it. To evolve.

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My quarter life crisis

People laugh at me when I tell them I’m approaching my quarter-life crisis but I am dead serious. Even though I’m six months early in the freak out department, I can’t help but have these feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about what my future holds. My life feels pretty routine and monotonous, something I never thought it would be at this age. Not that my life is horrible – I love coming home to my cute little bungalow and happy-go-lucky dog but naturally its sparked a lot of self introspection. Luckily, I have the good fortune to be able to mull it over with a few like-minded and inspirational people.

I had brunch on Sunday with a friend and when I was talking about my relentless fear of being “stuck” way before I’m ready to be, he mentioned something that really struck a chord with me. That your 20s are about exploration and that exploration doesn’t always mean jumping on a plane and jet-setting across the world. You have this constant hunger and thirst for more – more knowledge, more love, more self-awareness and understanding. You just want more. The more you do (not just think about doing), the more you’re going to grow as a person. And I really took that to heart.

One of the things I want to do to celebrate hitting the milestone 25 is to do something meaningful and which gives me the opportunity to grow. Recently I’ve become interested in organic and sustainable farming but I know absolutely nothing about it. The friend I had brunch with told me about an organization called WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming – where you get the opportunity to mix travel with volunteer experience. Essentially, you exchange a little bit of hard work for some local knowledge and free room and board. After researching it, it’s definitely something I’ve added to my bucket list.

While I’m still trying to pinpoint details, my official plans for the 25th birthday is a two-week backpacking trip to where else but Central America! One week will be spent volunteering on an organic farm and the other will be spent immersed in the culture, exploring the sites. My cousin Jenna is actually WWOOFing it up in Guatemala as I’m writing this so I’m dying to hear back from her once she is stateside.

I’m so excited not only because this trip gives me something to look forward to, but it also inspires me to continue finding ways to grow and expand here in Columbia. I actually blogged at the beginning of 2012 that my word for the year was “stuck”. Well, for 2013 my new word is expand. Time’s a wasting people!

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Is the pursuit of happiness a bunch of bullshit?

Well, maybe – according to Gala Darling. But according to me, maybe not.

My cousin Jenna sent me the link to a blog post on this very topic and I absolutely loved reading it. Essentially, Gala Darling talks about how over the past couple of years we’ve had the concept of chasing happiness forced down our throats by books like The Happiness Project and in the end, unless you practice daily the strategies listed in these books, they don’t really amount to making you happier. In her mind, happiness is something that just happens.

Overall, the article was really insightful and had some good points but I thought the author missed the main point of books like The Happiness Project. It’s not always that the author of the book or even those who read the book are actually unhappy. They’re seeking to find meaning and enrich their life experience and by making practical and tangible goals you end up learning more about yourself. The author of the blog post refers to those practical strategies (like cleaning out your closet or making your bed every morning) as happy diversions that don’t actually make you happy. Maybe for Gala Darling it doesn’t, but for others maybe it does. I thought this statement pretty much contradicted her main theme of the blog post: that happiness is different for everyone; what works for one doesn’t always work for another. If you love yourself happiness will just happen.

I love the concept of radical self-love but do I think the pursuit of happiness is a bunch of bullshit? No way. I adore books that ignite inspiration and force me to examine my own life. I like being challenged because in the end I think it all leads to radical self-love anyways. Chasing it, well you learn more about yourself beyond just what you like to do. You understand your values and how they were shaped. You appreciate them and all of my chasing has given me an appreciation for the journey. I’m never satisfied just settling and I love myself even more for that.

For me, I guess I just don’t believe that self-love and chasing happiness are mutually exclusive. If you want to change your life and love yourself more, don’t you ultimately implement practical strategies? And by chasing radical self-love aren’t you ultimately chasing happiness?

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Grad school

It’s not an easy decision to go back to graduate school once you’ve been out for more than a few years, but I took the plunge about 10 months ago and applied for my Master of Arts in Public Affairs. Yay for me! I got accepted and today marked my first day of life back in the educational world – happy orientation day!

While the majority of the material presented in the morning sessions was pretty raw, general, and uninteresting I actually got excited in several of the sessions towards the end of the day. The first session I liked was on academic honesty and plagiarism. Before the professor began speaking I figured it would be the same boring speech you hear all of the time, but he was actually pretty engaging and humorous. At the end of the session, I decided he actually scares me so much that I hope I never get him as a professor for fear of him scrutinizing my paper to the degree that I will have inevitably plagiarized somehow, somewhere. Seriously, after listening to all of his stories I imagine him collecting student papers and sifting through each one of them so intensely that he wants to find academic dishonesty and call someone out on it. I think  he not only derives pleasure from the whole process but it also gets his juices flowing. It is a hilarious mental image.

The second session that I really liked was about a personality and strengths test that all incoming MPA students had to take. Without getting into too much detail I realized that one of the things I respect most about this program is they individualize it to the degree that they build on each students’ strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. I really liked it when the admissions coordinator said, “If you spent more time putting effort into honing and improving those talents and skills you are naturally good at, can you imagine the difference you could make in your field?” True story, lady.

Perhaps my most favorite session was the very last one. A lady from the career center gave a presentation on “personal branding.” For the record, I absolutely hate this name but really love the concept. Basically, it’s knowing what your strengths are and having an understanding of who you are and what you want out of life. The core questions you should ask yourself: what’s your purpose in your academic and professional career? What do you want to be known for? What’s your statement or personal mission in the world? Of course this would be my favorite session!

During this session we did a solo and group workshop where we were given a bunch of self-introspection questions like what describes you, what are you interested in, what are your experiences and what have you accomplished, what are your unique talents, and what benefits can you offer to the world? I sat in my group and within 5 minutes had all my points listed below each question. Everyone around me struggled to even answer the first two. One guy in my group told me he felt inadequate after listening to all of my responses. He said, “You really know who you are, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything to be able to describe myself so honestly and in that detail.” While I felt bad that my responses made him feel inadequate and unsure of who he really is, I have to admit I felt really satisfied that all of my hard work in exploring and understanding who I am and what kind of person I want to be really paid off. While everyone else was sitting there trying to come up with a mission statement, I wrote down the one created a few months ago. Live what you love and do what you desire.

Overall, orientation day was fabulous. Tonight, I am relishing in all the excitement I have about my future. A few months ago I talked about how I felt strapped and tied down in life – that I was way too settled for my age. And then today, listening to all the potential realities that existed out there, I felt like there was this big epiphany. Sure, I lead a relatively small, yet enjoyable, life; it’s not as grandiose as what I had in store even three years ago. But I am still so young and sometimes I forget that. Life has much more in store for me that where I’ll be in five years and who I will be as a person will be very different and (I hope) much deeper than where I’m at right now.

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