What you really want is…

Welcome to Black History and Commercial Love Month! It’s short and sweet and to the point, just as I wish your next steps will be. At the beginning of this month, I am reflecting on the past six months of my Gap Year Journey. Below, you’ll find ways to identity: What you do not want, What you think you want, and What you really want.

For many of us, the goal was to make it through high school. After graduating, some serve, work, or apply for college. Once you’re in undergraduate studies, the outcomes are unlimited. For those of us who finally make it to the stage, we have a few options: careers or jobs, scholarship opportunities, or more school.

I’ve spoken about my reasons for coming to this decision to take a Gap Year in an earlier post. However, I never wrote about what kept me here. Months before graduation, I had too many ideas about my next possible steps. After the election of the 45th, I felt that none of those options actually made a difference. I came home with the idea of taking a month or two off to relax and celebrate all of my hard work. What I was not expecting was how BORING it was!

I decided narrow down my options and make some spending money. Networking with family friends led to an internship which led to a service position through AmeriCorps. Both of these opportunities were great in that they should me what I do not want, what I ideally want, and what I am a good match for. After going through this experience, I realize that I could have made smarter choices, yet I wouldn’t trade them for anything else. Below you’ll find 3 thought clouds:

  1. What you do not want.

I fearlessly allowed myself to explore positions that I was curious about. I am interested in combining my creative spirit with my organizational skills. This led to me joining projects within the city to help plan, coordinate, and facilitate a variety of events. I also wandered into a full time teaching position which is technically called workshop facilitation. I also led community center arts and craft lessons while completing 3 commissions.

I learned that I do not belong in the event planning realm and that I am not cut out to be a teacher of young people. Although I am excellent in all of these roles, they do not align with my gut. When you are in the place where you are meant to be and doing the line of work meant for you, you have this feeling. It’s like an epiphany or breathe of fresh air or just a smile. You have a feeling that leads to you splayed out on your bed at night saying, “I could do just this for the rest of my life.” Though I’m being a little dramatic, it is true that I have not had that feeling in those roles. I feel that I embodied my roles well and I enjoyed some moments with co-workers. This was still helpful in that I can redirect myself.

This is not to say that I will never teach or plan an event again. I have the skills and interests in both, so if an opportunity arose I would probably accept (depending on my situation at the time). This is when you review your priorities. Can you stand it enough to help pay some bills?

2. What you think you want.

I am an artist. I paint, dance, write, and decorate. I create in any position I can, as long as there’s an itch (sometimes artists get this inspiration or motivation to just create). I hadn’t painted or drawn in so long that I assumed that my discontentment was a result of that. I hadn’t made time to exercise or create. So I started setting meeting with successful people in my field around the city for advice on how to make art for a living.

These wonderful people gave me the best advice and encourage me still today to create a show. However, my issue is that I do not just want to make things for monetary compensation. This is the reason commissions are challenging for me, because I’m making something that I hope someone else will value, rather than what I am proud of. When I envision the person that I could be in the future, it isn’t an artist. The artist who owns a studio, is quite famous, and works out in her free time, isn’t me anymore. Although I have the skills and knowledge to be a great entrepreneur, it doesn’t align with my gut.

Eventually you have to be honest with yourself and keep your fantasies in check. It is challenging sometimes to tune out the voices surrounding you and tune into the voice inside of you. I am often praised on my art and I am proud of it. Although I enjoy it and think it might be “cool” to be a full time artist, it isn’t me. I do not schedule the time to create and I do not have the motivation to push myself there. So allow yourself to be honest and not please others (nor society).

3. What you really want.

What you really want is the happy median which doesn’t always exist. However, our goal here is to compromise. Take your list of what you do not want and ask the question why. Afterwards take your list of what you think you want and ask the question why. Somewhere in there you will find an answer of what you’re good at and kinda like.

(1) I do not like when people panic during events nor do I enjoy the long hours. However, I love the idea of turning nothing into something that hundreds of people will remember for years to come. I do not see myself as a primary nor secondary teacher, because they are under paid and over worked. Additionally, working with students everyday increases my chance for sickness, forces me to repeat myself often, and burn myself out. Most importantly, they must follow rules from the godmother of education and I feel as though education has become less centered around the child.

(2) I love the idea of being an artist, because I can be my own boss and set my own hours. I can also dictate which projects to accept or deny. I can travel all over and experience life outside of my world. I would be allowed to express myself and be valued for that. I also think that I would make people proud. I also like the idea of working out on a regular basis, because of all the benefits. I see an exercising artist as a happy and healthy being.

I am artistic, organized, detail-oriented, empathetic with children’s development, and a seer of the big picture. I like opportunities to lead with little supervision, creatively solve problems, making those I admire proud, and commit to self-care. Therefore, what I want is somewhere within those last two sentences. I want to lead, build community, and allow the marginalized to be listened to. I want to influence and take over the educational system here to create efficient solutions to some significant problems. I want financial stability that would allow my to travel often and keep the lights on.

So that is my simplified method to discovering what you really want. Take the skills you learned, the highlights from your experiences, and pieces of your fantasy of a life and find your happy median. Feel free to add to the conversation below!

Best,

Cayla Jae

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How to “Online Dating”: From Stranger to Friend to Exclusive

Last year, I wrote about reasons someone doesn’t deserve a swipe to the right. Today, I felt the need to highlight those who made it to the final round. Here are 5 tips and tricks to take some stranger’s selfie to someone worth building a future with. Kinda crazy, huh? Well welcome to the 2010s!

  1. Mr./ Mrs. Right

Thanks to centuries of romantic comedies, novels, and story plots, we are desperately searching for our soul mates. There’s this idea that somewhere out there is a person made specifically for you. There’s this concept that someone out there meets all the criteria on your list (and some of us have fairly lengthy lists). Unfortunately, this gets in the way of building friendships and allowing the potential for romance in those relationships.

When it comes to online dating, I entered with the mindset of “what do I need and want”? What’s most important to me is having someone who communicates in a similar way and is open to exploring the world. I also need them to be honest, loyal, and oozing with positive vibes. However, while scrolling through sites, I try not to get distracted by all of my wants (the small details). So after listing your non-negotiable items and needs in a relationship, we must be aware of the deal breakers (ex. stoners, cat lovers, or those who put pineapple on their pizza). So you don’t want to spend all your time checking of items in a box, but you do want to be realistic about who complements you.

2. The Right Fit

Once you have found a person or a couple of people who meet those basic needs, it is time to determine if you “click.” Again, it’s best to avoid our fantasies about romance, such as the foot pop or fireworks after you kiss someone. It’s more about following your gut and asking yourself “could they be a great friend?” Whether you are searching for someone to fill space or be exclusive with, you need to make sure that the two of you can effectively communicate comfortably in your style of communication.

I found my current partner on an online dating app. He was one of the few guys who sent with a unique and interesting message. While I can’t remember what that message was for the life of me, I remember how it made me feel. It made me smile and curious enough to talk with him. Texting for us was simple and enjoyable, because we had similar humor and personalities. While we were revealing deep thoughts and feelings, we were becoming familiar with one another AS FRIENDS. So remember, just take things slow and building a friendship. After building trust as friends, you’ll know if they would complement you well as a partner.

 3. Let’s Get Offline

You know what’s more annoying than receiving hundreds of notifications from strangers? Waiting on Wi-Fi to talk to that one person you can’t wait to receive notifications from. Somewhere in this span of building friendship with this stranger, it is advisable to move offline. If you feel comfortable enough to trade cell phone numbers, do so. If you want to meet them in an open, well trafficked place first, then do that. If things are going well and feel that they might be a compatible friend, then push for some face to face time. There is nothing worse than getting along great via text and not being able to crack a smile in person.

Meeting someone from online will be awkward and strange at first, but just remember that they’re a relatively normal person who is also very nervous. My partner and I had traded numbers because of my busy schedule and agreed to meet for Indian food. His profile noted that he was 6’9″ (yet no typo there) and I am just over 5 feet, so of course that created nerves. I greeted him with an awkward hug and talked about the nerves briefly just to break the ice. We continued conversations similar to our texting streak; however, we talked more about school, aspirations, friends, plans for the year, and of course food.

Having a face to face conversation definitely allowed us to open up more about what we wanted from this relationship. I was fresh out of school and looking for friends in the area to explore the city with. He was of a similar mindset and confessed to not being completely ready for a romantic relationship. Which is understandable! Most of the time, the goal of online dating is friendship rather than marriage. While you do things that would be considered “dates,” but it is also possible to go of “friend dates” which don’t end with kissing or an “I love you.”

4. Open Communication

If you do nothing else, you must develop open communication. Relationship are nothing without some form of consistent and honest communication. As time passes, you will have longer conversations with depth and life gets complicated. Therefore, it’s nice to let your friends know about changes in your life which may affect y’all’s relationship. This is especially important if you are seeing more than one person at the same time. It’s just nice to let others know where your mind and heart are.

My current partner and I talked about everything from work to friends from school and hobbies to future hopes. I often do check ins with my friends about their needs and wants. Sometimes literally saying, “What is it that you need from me as a friend? And what do you want from me?” My partner also discussed the possibility of us dating after about 5-6 months of knowing one another. Although I initially turned the offer down, I did ask him what changed his mind. So we had a full discussion about transitioning from friendship into a romantic relationship. We also discussed what that would look like for us and what would our norms be. In developing and maintaining a strong romantic relationship, vulnerability and transparency a vital for great communication.

5. Open Minded

In maintaining new relationships, you have to allow things the ability to grow in the way they would naturally do so. If things are not working, then it is okay for things to end. Often we encourage a push through it mentality, when in actuality some things and people are not meant to be together. While you may think you complement one another in the beginning, things may change which call for you to reassess your relationship.

For me, I had to be open to the idea of no longer being single. I had been dating myself for the last two years and celebrating my selfish lifestyle. I had been building and loving myself. I acknowledged and celebrated my growth, because I knew where I had come from. I had strengthened my self-esteem, self-worth, and self-talk by cleansing my life of toxic people. Now I was presented with this wonderful guy who was asking for my permission to grow with me. He loves to text just as much as I do, we make fun of each other in good taste, and we rationalize the world in similar ways.

He is skilled, bright, brutally honest, loyal, decently optimistic, and inspirational. He likes to travel and we’ll hopefully be traveling together soon. He is a nerd, morning person, and an old soul. He is hilarious, thoughtful, respectful, and romantic. He complements the Cayla that I have worked hard to build well and challenges me to do better. So I am happy to call him mine and I am optimistic about our future.

 

Alright now I’m done with the sappy love story. There isn’t an formula for finding love on a dating app. You just need to spend time with yourself to know what you need in someone else and find someone who complements you well. Add comments below to continue the conversation!

Best,

Cayla Jae

5 Steps to End Procrastinating

Welcome to the new posting schedule of 2018! From this moment on, all Gap Year Journal posts will populate on Saturday afternoons. Now let’s stop procrastinating and get right to the point.

1.Decide.

First things first, you have to make the decision that you want to stop procrastinating. Why did you click on this post? Why do you care enough to procrastinate long enough to solve your procrastination? Do you honestly want to stop? There is something within you that was triggered that caused you to stop acting. Whether you are overly concerned with something being perfect, you are afraid of failure, or you are just not interested, you have to make the decision to actively combat procrastination.

I am currently procrastinating on applying to graduate schools and job applications. I am procrastinating because I do not think that I have enough time to make everything perfect (event though I know that does not matter). I’m also procrastinating because most of it requires writing about why I want to attend those schools or be a part of that company. Because I love writing and I want clarity in my ideas, it takes full commitment to sit still and write. I am also just really lazy after traveling over the winter holidays. But I am currently making a decision to stop procrastinating, because I do not want to be paralyzed. Worse case scenario, I do not submit anything and receive no response! So I am going to stop procrastinating.

2. Assess.

Assess your limitations or inhibitors. You have to be honest with yourself and know your weakness to ensure you are the best you that you envision you to be. Write it down if you have to or tell a friend to hold you accountable.

I am a perfectionist and worry that I won’t be able to communicate how awesome I am in one page. Like how do I fit all my awesomeness in one page?! I deserve a novel or two or a trilogy. Ego aside…I also worry that those university or companies won’t see my worth. In this world, you don’t deserve things, you earn them. But I know that I’ve worked hard to know and deserve my worth. Will I be just a number to those university or companies? If so, that’s not the culture that I want to be a part of. Lastly, I just don’t like making decisions that seem life-changing. Yet, every day we make small decisions that alter our future. For example, the chili fries I bought over bell peppers or soda over water. See really, it’s perspective. My perspective about myself, my work, and my world is stopping. That uncertainty of finally leading my life is terrifying.

3. Plan.

Plan your next step, love. As I have mentioned plenty of times before, plans should always be realistic for your lived experience. If these plans are for productivity, I’m assuming that there is a tasks that you wish you could complete; therefore, we do not have to discuss making the plan measureable. You have told yourself that you will no longer procrastinate. You have been honest with yourself and your situation. Now consult with yourself on how to end this procrastination session.

You can write some notes, motivate yourself by looking in the mirror, work with a trusted friend/ coworker/ family member, etc. Decide on what is the goal and how to get there in a way that is realistic for you. I will make a fully list of things that I need to do. Set alarms for when they should be completed. Through typing this up on my blog, I now have to revisit this published document as a reminder.

4. Select.

Select your method of motivation or reward. If you struggle with procrastination, you more than likely struggle with motivation. Some people are motivated by obtaining money, providing a service to others, enjoying the process of what they love, beating deadlines, etc. Other people might complete tasks in order to reward themselves by going shopping, eating their favorite foods, watching a good movie, going out with friends, etc.

I am definitely more reward oriented. My motivation comes from getting rid of notifications or constantly seeing something. I just love the feeling of crossing things off my list. I might set alarms in my phone at specific times to do specific tasks. I also will create little sticky notes for my mirror and doors. I reward myself with long naps, long baths, or long hours shopping alone in H&M. I just worry that I’ve stopped caring about whether I finish the next step. So we’ll just have to see how this goes.

5. Stop.

Stop reading this post and go do the things. You have graduated from Cayla’s quick course on the end to procrastination. So in order to put number one into action, close out your window, put your phone on airplane mode, and revisit step number one. Go do all of the things!

Best,

Cayla Jae

 

Why You Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Alright, so you all know what time of the year it is. In the U.S.A, we have entered and are still recovering from the financial hardships following the winter holiday season. Seeing as we are about three days out from 2018, I felt the need to reflect on and respond to 2017.

In January of 2017, I was huddled up under warm blankets on my couch watching Miami’s 2017 New Year celebration, because duh Pitbull. I was sipping lightly on a new bottle of dry, red wine and heading into my last semester of undergrad. I was disappointed by the newly elected president, confused about what my future would be following my graduation, and consumed by my upcoming gallery show. New Year’s Resolutions (NYR) just weren’t enough to cover all that 2016 threw up on me. After seeing what 2017 became, I feel that now is a great time to start setting some goals, but not in the way that you might think.

I’m assuming that this tradition derived from a sense of hope and unlimited possibilities in the future. People want to know that things will get better and improve. People are constantly trying to “fix” themselves and become enough. One of the reasons I think people shouldn’t make NYR based on these things is because they assume it is a quick fix to their problem (no matter how small or big). The difference in my approach to the new year is to reflect and respond.

As I reflect on 2017, I witnesses democracy and justice being challenged at every turn. I witnessed all the isms (racism, classism, sexism, etc.) being exaggerated and polarized. I have never seen so much exposure of problematic ideas and standpoints. These events were not surprising by any means, because I always knew they existed, people just never have been so bold to share it. There have been various natural disasters, courtroom battles, and peaceful protests which painted the way many of us see 2017. In 2017, I achieved various academic achievements, such as presenting my research at conferences, finding my artistic style, and graduating in one of the laude categories. In 2017, I began loving myself and cleansing my life by getting rid of toxic people and habits. In 2017, I traveled, wrote, created, laughed, and grew.

In creating NYR, I respond to 2017 by identifying what I care most about and what my talent is to make things just a little bit better. When some look at and experience trauma, disasters, and negativity, they want a quick fix. I am hearing more often about revolutions. However, what I have come to realize is that most people want social evolution. To me, a revolution is a sudden, quick, burst of violence to make things right. It often leads to confusion, death, struggle, and non-sustainable solutions. In my mind, it is more realistic and peaceful to go about social evolution. By contrast, this would mean a subtle community transformation. A peaceful and productive method of changing social norms for the benefit of the people.

I respond to 2017 by realizing that the main problem in the U.S.A is hegemony and a lack of understanding (or interest in doing so). I care most about people actually knowing their “enemy” before persecuting them. My talent, skill, or contribution is through creating. I make art well. I write well. I enjoy holding conversations about political issues, because our lives are political. I want muted groups and minorities to not just feel heard, but to be listened to by others. Some of you reading this may not see responding to 2017 as political. Maybe you bought too much yarn and did not actually crochet with it. Maybe you entered too many toxic relationships in 2017. Maybe you have started a new family unit in 2017. You’re response to your lived experience in 2017 will be different. But I encourage you to not leave your NYR at the surface level. Don’t just make a list! Respond to your experience in 2017.

For me, I will be focusing on how my art or line of work can serve my community to make some ripples in social evolution. I want to get my 2018 work into a gallery or local coffee shop. I want to do more commission work. I want to committ to dancing on a regular basis again (at least twice a week). I will continue to narrow down my occupational goals. Finally, I will challenge my own outlook on life: to be less impulsive, concerned about negative things that people might think about me, and worried about things that may or may not occur. I want to be more financially self-sufficient by this time next year and I believe that I have a good game plan to get there.

So remember: reflect on 2017, respond to the events of 2017, create a realistic action plan, and start small. Next week (Next YEAR, ha!), I might go into detail about making realistic goals and building good habits. However, for now, be specific and unapologetic about what you want, be sure to measure your progress, be forgiving with time you give yourself to complete something, and take baby steps!

Best,

Cayla Jae

Gap Year: How to Plan Your Life

I’m no stranger to having a plan and setting goals to achieve. While scrolling through journals, speeches, or posts, I noticed that I always select captions geared toward planning your life. I’ve always been curious about how people got to their dream job or found this content/ happy median between work and home life. What I’ve discovered is that the majority of advice for figuring out this world is summed in 4 statements:

  • Audit your life and determine what needs adjustment
  • Find your passion and listen to your heart
  • Rely on Mentors and Network
  • Schedule time to build on your skills or achieve your end goal

However, you have people that will tell you that none of that matters. The truth is that for some of us, if every step is over calculated, we will spend the majority of our lives trying to figure out what we want to do with it, rather than actually living it. Another thing that is tough to accept is that finding some passions and goals are easy for others to decide on, while the rest of us linger in the grey zones. For those of us in the grey zone, we have to remember that the standard advice above may not apply to us. Of course, this isn’t the most comforting advice, but we all have different plans to take us on a unique journey.

I happen to eat, sleep, and breathe in the grey zone. One of my favorite professor’s advice was to find something we’re good at and something we like. Yet even that advice was tough for me.  I like a lot of things and my passions about those things shift with time. I know that I am artistic, creative, humorous, analytical, compulsive, and curious. I like visual and performance art, writing, and creating order to things.  I care about a variety of causes and issues. Overall, I spread messages of feminism and the Golden Rule which means that I believe in equality, humanism, and trying to be a good person. I have tested the waters with a number of fields. I can tell you my experiences working for non-profits, for-profits, film, theatre, pharmaceutical industry, teaching, writing, and more. I also know that I’m good at almost anything. I’m not bragging. I’m just confident in my abilities to complete a variety of tasks and do them well.

So as I read, hear, and watch all of these extraordinary human beings in their successes, I am still curious about how they made their decision. And now I’m starting to think that I’ve figured it out. I restructured the 4 step process for planning your life, even if you’re in the grey zone.

  1. So at the end of the day, you have to set your priorities. Aside from interests and job prospects, what is the most important thing for you to have or do? I need a beach or tropical climate and I want to be able to support myself well enough to live alone. Therefore, I am looking for what industries are most popular in coastal regions and have a decent cost of living. Because being financially comfortable is important me, I know that I will need a boring 9-5 job to get above the poverty line (seeing that I’m single with no children or debts). I will always be creating art, but realistically (based on my priorities) I need something to support myself and those supplies to create my dream pieces. I also know that I don’t have the drive of an entrepreneur to start my own business.
  2. In the spirit of being realistic, you have to do a mini assessment of your life. I am single, childless, and debt/ loan free. I am also mobile with a car that I now own, passport, and no other obligations once August comes. My options are to find a job, another service position, or a graduate program in a coastal city. Of those three, I would have to make sure that I get enough scholarships and would make enough for living off-campus or make sure I’m making at least 35k a year or more with a relocation package. So if I want to pursue either school or a new job, I will have start applying for schools now and wait a couple of months before August to start applying for jobs.
  3. Before making a final decision, do a happy check with yourself. Although I’ve discovered that adulting isn’t really about happiness, the goal is to not be miserable. Therefore, at this point revisit your priorities and skills. As I search for a degree program or job, I will be realistic about my past experiences (rather than trying to follow a passion). Basically, I just want to make decent money to support myself and be able to drive to a beach easily on the weekend. So I’ll apply to a few programs and jobs in good locations that connect to my undergraduate degree. During this time, I can build a portfolio or network for a decent 9-5 job which I’d be skilled at. For me, at this point, it’s not about having a meaningful position or solving the problems of the world. I’m just going to be basic and maybe every now and then I will have the chance to pull out my cape and save the world.
  4. Finally, think of some small goals to get there. You don’t necessarily need a big end goal (unless it’s an easy choice for you). So I’ll give myself two to three weekends to decide on at least 3-5 graduate programs (mostly in coastal cities) to apply to. After that I’ll put application dates on the calendar, call and email department heads with questions and start sending in paper work. If the universe wants me in that program, maybe one of them will say yes. If they say no, I will already be applying to jobs starting in May (maybe earlier but it really depends on when they want the positions filled). Again, if the universe wants me in those job positions, then I might get a call back and a chance to kill that interview. In the meantime, whenever I get stuck, I’ll ask more adulty adults for advice (or ecosia and google).

I originally took this Gap Year, because I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted, or where I was going. I was also VERY exhausted from my undergraduate program. And now I see myself and what habits I want in the real world. Now I know how well I work with people, commuting to and from work on a daily basis, and how I maintain relationships. I am starting to notice patterns in my free time habits. I noticed that I actually can survive in the real world. Although tough, I have seen quite a bit to be more prepared in the near future. I’m also seeing that to be extraordinary, you do no have to be famous or unique. To be extraordinary you just have to be you and craft your life for you. So just remember, just do you boo.

Best,

Cayla Jae

 

Gap Year: Time Travel

This past weekend, I traveled back to my undergraduate campus. My original intention was to comfort a friend in their struggle to get to the finish line. However, as I lie in a mega bunk bed of my alma mater, I realized that I was judging them for acknowledging that they were struggling.

Often, it is easy to see negativity and hear problems from others and attempt to create solutions, rather than truly listening. Although I had heard what was causing their pain, I had not listened to its effects until I was left in the dark to the sound of their sleep. College can be tough for many of us, especially if you went to my school where there is constant pressure from all sides at all the time. It truly does take a strong individual to pause and say, “I need help. This is not working.” That level of honesty and vulnerability, luckily has kept my friend with me. Others going through similar challenges might have adopted unhealthy habits or self harmed themselves or simply stayed in that dark place like I once did.

I often hear people speak about trigger words; however, as I reflected on my travel and my conversations with my friend, I realized that my alma mater was a trigger location for this dark place that resided inside of me. I drove through campus not thinking about graduation, group sleep overs, or dancing through the night and into the next morning. I was thinking about my hike to the nearest Walmart at 6 am on Saturdays, because I was afraid of being raped or being attacked for walking alone as a black woman. I was thinking about the time when I dropped to my knees in the middle of the quad near midnight and cried until my soul was dry. And then afterward, like a robot, I dried my eyes, stood up, grabbed my things, and continued finishing my art project against my body’s will. I remembered the day that I skipped classes, turned off my phone, and went for a long drive on some back roads. On that day, I had no destination and as I sped through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, I thought to myself, “What if I just veer too far to the right? What if I go fast enough that I won’t feel the moment when my heart stops?” And those are just a few moments in which I was proud of my friend for saying enough was enough. I thanked the heavens that I could hold them between my arms and near my heart. It was memories like that that reminded me how great friends are just as important, if not more important than, blood relatives.

On my way back home, I focused on detoxing those negative feelings and ghosts of my campus from my body. I listened to music that allowed my mind to process the experience. I spoke of all the positive experiences from seeing my friends. I meditated and held my great grandmother’s necklace close to me. I had six hours of a drive to cleanse my body of those points in time in which I was scared, alone, exhausted, broken, and empty. Most people would say that this is all an exaggeration and that college is the best part of your life. Yet these are moments in my past that I have never even whispered.

Before this trip, I hadn’t realized how much time manifests itslf within our reality. I had never imagined that my first trip back since leaving the stage as a graduate would transform my energy so much. Because of this, I will be more mindful of what I allow into my space, but more importantly, who I allow into my space. This experience reminded me of my strengths and talents as a fixer, artist, and friend. It also showed me areas of growth. Overall, I think this trip made me reassess all of my toxic relationships and thoughts.

I know that as a Taurus (ya, I’m into Zodiacs…y’all the energy of this universe is real) I do not like change. For me personally, it is super tough to get rid of people who I once considered to be friends and support systems. But I learned that as I grow, my support systems can also adjust with me. It’s not necessarily that they are bad people, but they are no longer needed to get me to the next level and vice versa. Again, by dating myself and putting myself first, I have to think about what is in my best interest and what will help me grow. This does not include those who are social media followers (yet ghosts IRL), people who make me feel inadequate, people who don’t communicate directly with me, and those are not honest with me.

So while my intention was to go and solve my friend’s problem, I ended up putting myself in check and reevaluating what I know about my emotions and friends. All it took was one night with my face buried into my friend’s batman body pillow as inspiration. This trip was an important turning point for me, because it made me think about my priorities again. In light of this learning, I have reexamine my small circle of awesome friends who support my growth.

Best,

Cayla Jae

Gap Year: Making the Decision

In May, I made a commitment to myself to be stronger and more focused. I decided to take a Gap Year after my undergraduate studies and I have yet to regret it.

The hardest part so far on this journey was making the commitment while most of my friends and family members told me how big my “mistake” was. I personally felt a lot of pressure from my family to “just get [my education] out the way.” As a minority, I feel that adversity is so present in our everyday lives that many adults (well more adulty adults) believe that furthering your education is the only way to overcome those barriers in the U.S.A. You may have heard of the phrase “You must work twice as hard to get half of what they have.” However, I believe that the model of “education is the only way to ensure your success in life” is out of date. While I do believe that education is important and I am one of the biggest nerds, I know that I will need more to survive in this ever-changing world.

In the process of making my decision, I noticed that the possible thoughts and opinions of others (family, friends, mentees, and strangers) were the only thing holding me back. I did not want to be labelled as a failure and I wanted to be extraordinary in their eyes. The problem here was that I didn’t know what kind of career I wanted or what I was passionate about. So like all bright college students, I consulted Google. Unfortunately, all of these searches led to the same answer: You are the only person who can answer these questions about your life. And I absolutely HATED this dead end, because I felt as if I didn’t know myself well enough and I did not trust my own judgement to make the “right” call.

I had gotten use to making decisions based on what would look good for my image, rather than what I truly cared for. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that no one is a better expert on me or my experience than I. During my senior year in undergrad, I conducted research on the self-definition of young African American women, in an attempt to answer some of these questions for myself. This research led to a cathartic phase in which I made a decision to start over. I began removing toxic people and external influences from my life. I became more selfish with my time and wishes. I started dating myself and getting to know what womanhood looks like for myself. I would sit with myself in silence to reflect on my thoughts, actions, and plans. Although tough and really awkward in the beginning, it became easier and forced me to be more honest with myself. Before this reformation stage, I had to break all preconceived notions of who I was and could be which was vital in my decision to pursue my Gap Year.

I had begun this journey to self love and actualization. During this process, I challenged myself to be vulnerable and realized that my strength lied in the fact that I acknowledged I was not strong enough to go directly into graduate school. For me, I needed me time AND LOTS OF IT. I deserved it, because I had given too much of myself to the world for the first twenty years of my life and left little to nothing for myself.

The rebuilding period and most of this Gap Year experience has taught me the importance of prioritizing things in life. At the time, my happiness was at the top of the list. The idea of transitioning into a graduate program and maybe even a doctoral program at this time in my life made me physically sick and emotionally exhausted. Which is why it is also important to listen to your instincts when making tough decisions. This moment of pause made me realize that my holistic health was more important to me than what my family, friends, and total strangers would think of my decision. I never questioned my ability to be a rock star in graduate school. I worried that I did not have the right mindset, focus, or reasons for enrolling myself. My thoughts about myself, my direction, and my majors changed so drastically over the past four years, that I knew I needed more time to make sure my mind, body, and soul were ready for more academic torture. I also wanted this time to be the first time I wanted the study and achieve things that were not for others or motivated by others.

I watched a TED Talk from Sarah Knight a while back and she spoke about “Fuck Buck” currency. I think of this speech almost everyday by asking myself how much I personally care for someone or something. Basically, how many fucks am I willing to give to this thing? How much is it worth to me and my happiness? And as I prioritize or make these day to day decisions, I have to keep my “why” in mind. What do I value? What is my mission statement? So the question of how many fucks I give also has to align with my passions. However, I doubt that I would have been able to answer any of these questions if I had not begun dating myself.

Although I did not receive much support for taking my year of me time, I have yet to regret my decision. People will say that “it is not a good idea”, “you will never go back to school”, “you are wasting your time”, and “you are trying to find yourself, when all you need to do is find it another degree.” Every now and then you will have one person who sees potential in you and finds value in this process. The trick is to not let negative opinions bother you because they are subjective to that person’s experience. As I said before, I am the only one who can make this decision for myself. It is my life and hell, I get to write it without a co-author in pencil, rather than pen. I know myself well enough now to know that eventually I will go back but it will be with the right program to project me to the right place. Also, there isn’t a rush! These universities will be here and continue making money from other students. I think that some people don’t see the value in getting to know themselves and they think that if you are not making your six figures or binging coffee while crying in the corner of a library that you are wasting time.  I have been on my gap year journey now for about five months and I do not feel that any time has been wasted. I have learned about dating men instead of boys, how to adult, and so much more about what career choices might be better for me. I actually spend time doing things that excite me and that help me learn more about myself and others.

One professor told me “Do your part and let God do the rest.” No matter your religion, this was the best advice I could have received in the moment of deciding whether or not to apply to jobs or schools or traveling positions. The truth is the things you want must be welcomed in and if it is meant for you, then it will come in.

In making my decision to start this Gap Year Journey, I have learned that I am stronger than I could have ever imagined. I have learned that I truly am an old soul who is the biggest hippie. I also learned that now matter what happens I have enough grit to stay on my grind and because of that I will be fine. I learned these things when landing amazing paid internships and jobs that allowed me to wear joggers and hoodies in the office place. This learning matters because I have gained more confidence in myself and learned more about myself. This learning matters because I am beginning to love myself and love my freedom. This learning matters because I can finally be vulnerable, open, and honest and have no regrets. In light of this learning, I will be sharing my insights on more topics related to this journey every Thursday night. I will also continue to push myself to grow and laugh at those who think they can co-write my life.

Best,

Cayla Jae