Personal Development

Everything Changes On New Years Day

flickr)

I told myself that I wouldn’t do an end-of-year review, if only because this blog is aimed at personal development and, as such, reflection kind of happens on a daily basis that way. But last night, for the first time in a long while, as I settled in with a book, with my dog snoring away at the foot of my bed and my cat purring loudly somewhere else nearby, I realized that I was really and truly complacent.

The feeling tends to fade as new stressors take their place and frustration once again builds, but, overall, I’m proud of where my life has led me. And when I think about what this past year has meant to me, what it’s done for me, I realized that I really have come a long, long way from where I was.

To say the very least, it has been a whirlwind. At times, it felt as if I had hit the pause button on my life. At other times, it seemed as if I’ve fast-forwarded through lessons and experiences in an attempt to play catch up. But here, in this moment, as I bid farewell to a tumultuous and inspiring year, as I look back at where I was and see everything I’ve done, it feels perfect, it feels right.

This year proved to be the greatest challenge, and learning experience, of my life thus far. Through various employment opportunities, I’ve garnered professional experience, building upon my strengths and working through my weaknesses. Through unexpected life changes, I’ve learned about myself, letting these lessons provide the change and growth I’ve sought in becoming the person I’ve always wanted. And through this blog, I’ve been able to share it all while connecting with an intelligent, savvy, and inspirational community, building a support system for which I will always be grateful.

This year has been filled with unease, uncertainty, and more than a little heartache. But it’s also been filled with excitement, anticipation, and opportunity.

And that is what makes all the former worthwhile. It’s why I can look back on all of the negative and have no regrets.

I’ve always believed that life is likened to a game of connect the dots: everything is connected in one way or another, building upon itself to form a complete picture. Everything you do, every action you take, every connection you make, has meaning. Often, it’s only in hindsight that you can see how these things connect, can you see the lessons learned. It’s true you can’t see how far you’ve come until you reflect on where you’ve been. For me, at least, that’s the key to personal development, to moving forward, to finding your own success.

I’ve learned that fear is my greatest adversary; I’ve learned that letting go doesn’t mean losing; I’ve learned that saying goodbye doesn’t have to mean forever. I’ve learned that only I have the power to hold myself back.

I’ve realized that I have all of the strength and courage I’ll ever need inside of me, sometimes forgotten, but always there.

I’ve reunited with a passion, rediscovered a dream.

I’ve remembered how to fly.

So, as I celebrate the holidays and bid farewell to 2008, as I look forward to the exciting changes that 2009 has in store, some planned, some unforeseen, I know that there will be more changes, more heartache, more challenges. But I also know that now I have the ability to weather those changes, heal from that heartache, and learn from those challenges.

If 2008 was meant to get me ready for what’s to come, then what’s to come is something incredible, something magical, something worthwhile.

I’ll leave you with a Note from the Universe that keeps me inspired:

Sometimes, when you’re feeling your lowest, the real you is summoned.

And you understand, maybe for the first time ever, how grand you are, because you discover that vulnerable doesn’t mean powerless, scared doesn’t mean lacking in beauty, and uncertainty doesn’t mean that you’re lost.

These realizations alone will set you on a journey that will take you far beyond what you used to think of as extraordinary.

There is always a bright side.

Don’t disguise your tears, don’t hide your sadness, don’t be afraid to find out who you really are. Because in those fleeting moments you’ll summon such beauty and strength that, in no time at all, you’ll fully grasp exactly why you’re so gossiped about here in the unseen.

Thoughts become things. I choose the good ones…Do you?

Community

Looking For A Storybook Story

"I Love Books" by Weeping Willow (flickr)

Disclaimer: This post is going to read like a rant because that’s exactly what it is. I mean it without pretention or conceit, but purely out of frustration. There are beautiful, quality books out there, and I’m so very eager to read them.

For the past few months, every time I walk into Barnes and Noble hoping to find the Next Great Read, I walk out feeling dejected and a little bit pissed off. There are thousands upon thousands of books on those hardwood shelves — wonderful authors with original visions and poetry in their words, a book just waiting to be devoured, and me, searching eagerly, waiting to immerse myself in that other world, the world of story.

Only, I can’t seem to find it.

In the past, I would walk into a B&N hesitantly, knowing that I would walk out with an armload of books and a lot less cash in my pocket. Now, however, my arms are empty, my bank account intact.

Today, I picked up book after book, intrigued by the title or cover art, only to read the copy on the back of the book and return it to its rightful spot on the shelf. Sometimes, the copy did leave me intrigued, and I paused in my search to open the cover and read the first few paragraphs. And frustration would rise in me again. I would give it a second chance, flipping through the rest of the book, skimming lines here or there, hoping that maybe, just maybe, there would be some word or phrase to catch my attention, something that would make me reconsider, something that would tell me that it would only get better. But then I would return it, too, back to its place and continue on.

Dan Brown copycats, sex and shopping confessionals, Mr. Darcy sagas, historical fiction galore. These are the books that line the shelves, tempting their customers with tantalizing titles and appealing covers. I was once in that grouping; I used to savor every book I could get my hands on, but now I feel like every book has been read, that nothing is new, that the book I’ve been waiting for just doesn’t exist.

And the thought is disappointing, and, admittedly, a bit melodramatic. Still, though, I had never met a book I didn’t like before, so this frustration and despondency feels a bit unnerving, if not somewhat blasphemous. And I can’t help but wonder at the cause.

Once upon a time, I would have been perfectly content to curl up in bed, letting time and the outside world slip away from me as I delved into an imaginary world and met thrilling and heroic, if not somewhat neurotic, characters. But now, I feel as if I consume information too fast to let my mind rest, to settle, to find satisfaction with the length and buildup of a novel. I read dozens of blog posts a day, engage in conversation almost hourly via twitter, catch up on the news with the simple action of a few clicks that allow me to peruse headlines and skim articles. I can’t turn off, and, what’s more, I feel I can’t settle on a quality book that allows me to do just that.

I’ll be the first to recognize that I have high expectations for the books that I read. I was an English major in college, spending most of my time analyzing text and writing critical essays, so it’s quite possible that I apply that same standard to all of the books that I read. However, I’m also a writer/editor, so I can be hyper-critical as I seek out originality and good, quality writing. I’m aware of these flaws in myself, in choosing books, and while I relish the historical fiction and Jane Austen-esque saga on occasion, the topics seem to have grown stale for me. I’m seeking something more: I want The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I want to fall in love with a book, to remember how I felt when reading it, to feel satisfied when my world comes back into focus and I finally set it down.

I walked down the aisle, passing my favorites and looking longingly at their covers: 100 Years of Solitude, Dubliners, Frankenstein, Water for Elephants, Stardust, Lamb…These were the books I wanted to read, those familiar friends that line the walls of my bookshelf at home, the ones that I can read time and time again and still forget the world around me as I am overcome by imagery and prose. The ones that affect me, that make me cry and make me laugh and make me wonder. These, among many others, are my Great Reads. When I walk into a bookstore, this is what I’m searching for.

As I wandered the aisles in the bookstore today, hope sprung as I picked up a book, disappointment grew as I set it back down, but not all seemed lost. For the first time in months, I came home with two books in hand: one, a Da Vinci Code copycat. The other, a sex and shopping confessional.

Keep that in mind when I say that recommendations are so very, very welcome.

Update: Thanks to everyone on Twitter for all of the wonderful book recommendations! With your recs, I’m creating a list that could warm any cynical reader’s soul. What other favorites do you have?

Career Development, Personal Development

Go Make Your Way

Race to work again today;
From nine to five
I only strive to stay awake.
But the child inside me
Dares to believe I still can fly…
Got to catch the next train,
I’m making my way…

Tyrone Wells, “Dream Like New York”

"The Path Black and White" signejb (flickr)

Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like if I were still in college. Most of the time I think that I wouldn’t mind delving back into academia again, conversing with professors or debating amongst peers or researching criticism as I formulate my own ideas for an essay. Truly, I loved college as an undergraduate. It offered me my first taste of real independence, gave me my first glimpse of in-depth analysis, and taught me to stand by my opinions while contemplating others’ viewpoints. I love to learn and I love to read and school always came natural to me…for the most part, anyway.

I don’t yearn for my college years because life since then has brought me just as much excitement and opportunity, and I’m thrilled, if not slightly discouraged, for what I’m finding professionally.

However, if there was one reason why I wished I were back in school, it would be this: “interns wanted.” I see this pairing of words everywhere now, and it seems as if most of the entry-level position advertisements in my particular field are being aimed at students. And since I’m no longer in school, that shoe no longer fits.

Were I to pursue a master’s degree again, I’m sure I would settle back into that mold, finding it once more the perfect fit. But where I’m settled now, for the time being, anyway, is in the professional realm. I don’t necessarily regret where I’ve been these past three years, because I know that I’ve come so far. Still, though, I lament a little never having the opportunity for an internship, and not being eligible for one now, because next to that great job posting is yet another line: “academic credit only.”

From a professional standpoint, seeing it from the viewpoint of a company, I get it. I really, honestly get it. Internships are mutually beneficial for both companies and students in that those companies are able to “hire” workers for little, if any, pay, and students get connections and hands-on experience in their major-related industry. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

However, looking at it from the standpoint of someone seeking a full-time job, trying to break into a career, it’s more than a little tough, and it makes you more than a little wistful that you were never able to pursue one of these opportunities yourself, for what it could have meant for your career in the long run.

Maybe I’ll still get there. It won’t be as easy, but maybe that’s the lesson I’ve been learning all along: determination, ambition, and passion can go a long way.

I’m wearing a different pair of shoes now; I know that I have a different path to walk down, one that I’ve just found, one that I’ve only just begun to forge for myself as I continue to gain experience through this minor detour, build upon a passion, and pursue my own opportunities.

Little by little, step by step, I’m making my own way.

Career Development, Personal Development

For What Is Man, If Not Himself?

To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way,
No, oh no, not me,
I did it my way.

Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

Samantha Jane (flickr)

I was going to write a blog post about patience — about how I’ve had to practice it figuratively through the turmoil that is this quarter-life and literally, while sitting in an airport for 12 hours. But then I started remembering what I felt like sitting in that airport, being on my own. I was calm. Amazingly calm. And as I sat and waited, I had a chance to revel in the solitude of being on one’s own, and I remember feeling a strange sense of serenity in that thought.

I didn’t know then that I had everything I needed, I didn’t know how good self-reliance could feel, and I certainly didn’t know that what I was doing was in any way indicative of personal success.

This morning, as I sat down to write that blog post, I turned to look out the window, at the snow-covered branches beyond the four walls of my office, lost in thought, trying to formulate my ideas. And I remembered walking around the airport, remembered that feeling of calm, of pride. In that instant, I was able to see how far I’ve really come; in that moment, I saw the summation. And I realized this to be true: I am really freaking proud of my life.

If I had a rooftop to shout it from, I would. If years of grammar didn’t instill in me rules of punctuation, I would end that sentence with a thousand exclamation marks. It’s a powerful, overwhelming, gratifying feeling. And it’s about time.

Months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say that. Months ago, I would have found myself a little despairing, comparing myself to childhood friends and professional peers and wondering when my turn would come: She’s in publishing; that’s where I dream of being. He’s the president of a company; I wish I could own my own business. She’s married and starting a family; I wonder when I’ll find love again…

Those are thoughts that, admittedly, I still sometimes contend with, yet there is something different in me, something changing, something growing. It’s a little bit of awareness, knowing that success comes from within yourself; it’s a little bit of pride, knowing that I’ve yet come so far; and it’s a little bit of hope, knowing that I’m still so young, that I still have so much in store.

Success comes from respect, from self-pride, from building something of your own and making it work for you. Success comes from connecting with others, finding a passion, and embracing opportunity. Without realizing it, I’ve held success in my hands, within myself, all along.

I don’t have my dream job yet, and I’m not ready to start a family. In time, perhaps I’ll be able to label those as my successes. But now, in this moment, I can feel proud at what my life has brought me thus far and look forward to the new opportunities that emerge. Now, in this moment, I can acknowledge that I’ve exceeded my expectations for myself, expectations of which I hadn’t even been aware.

So maybe this post is really about patience, in the end. Success doesn’t have to be a race. I can take my time; I can go at my own pace because the only contender is myself, my own high expectations. I know that I’ll get to where I’m going, wherever I’m meant to be, but first I need to appreciate where I’ve been; I need to enjoy the journey.

Success is relative. The best part is that it changes with you.

Career Development

Pour Myself A Cup of Ambition

But you got dreams…
Your ship’ll come in
And the tide’s gonna turn,
It’s all gonna roll you away…

Dolly Parton, “9 to 5”

Elena777 (flickr)

This morning, the company that I’m currently working for posted an advertisement for a full-time position that I resigned from back in September due to an illness. As a temp, this has been my third assignment with this company, and it’s always a pleasure to come back here in the various departments. I enjoy the work, I enjoy the people, but, still, I take pleasure in knowing that it’s temporary.

Temp jobs have always treated me well — I was a temp throughout college, which provided invaluable office experience and led to my first job outside of school. They have always seemed to be the perfect professional stepping stones, so after quitting a full-time, high-paying job due to personal circumstances, it felt like a natural decision to seek out another temp agency, hoping to acquire some form of income while continuing to build on my professional skills and reinstill the confidence I had lost.

I’ve since found, over a year later, that this decision had indeed been the right one for me. It offered me the flexibility that I needed as I struggled with an illness, as well as opportunities that never would have been possible were I in any other position. More importantly, however, these various jobs helped me see my home, my community, and myself in a new light. By taking these temp jobs, I was able to experience several different industries and connect with people around my community who I may never have otherwise known. With each job, I feel I left my mark – perhaps it was greater efficiency; perhaps it was a more organized supply closet. These positions had been mutually beneficial, and I’ll always be grateful for all that I’ve learned and the people I’ve met along this way.

However, while I continue to work and learn at my new assignment, I know that it will, too, soon draw to a close, as all these temporary assignments inevitably do. Only now, I’ve realized that I’m seeking something more. Despite this economic downturn, I still want stability. I would love to be able to go to work everyday feeling valued as a full-time employee, with benefits and a steady income and a work environment in which I can participate in change, in which I can grow.

So when the job posting landed in my inbox, I realized that I had a decision to make – where did I want to go from here? I’m sure that if I applied, I would be welcomed back warmly. I know the position, I know the people, and I am certain that I proved myself beyond their expectations. In fact, the decision to leave was a mutual one – both myself and my supervisor wanting what was best for the company, even stopping by since my departure to catch up with former colleagues.

The problem is not the people, nor is it the job, per se. The problem is the high expectations I hold for myself. I know what I am capable of. I know that in order for me to thrive, I need to be challenged and find creativity in a job. It’s true that happiness doesn’t necessarily come from a job, but I love to work, and I want to love my job.

So the decision came down to this: did I want to settle and compromise myself, yet again, for low income and a seemingly mind-numbing job? Or did I want to hang in there, have a little more patience, and continue searching for a job with which I’m more compatible?

I debated, I analyzed, I sought and found sound advice. My mind hinted that an opportunity was presenting itself. My gut told me it was the wrong one.

I had learned to listen to and trust that instinct these past few months. I‘ve learned to trust myself, to have faith and believe that there’s something worthwhile waiting out there for me, if I just hang in there a little longer and keep moving forward.

And so I deleted the job posting, feeling completely complacent afterwards. I have positive things in store for me, some of my own making, some brought on by fate. But the fact remains: I’ve gotten this far; now I need to take that risk and see how far I can go.