When All the Pieces Fall into Place

We’re in the middle of the fall from New Year’s Resolutions to meeting our image in the mirror. While it may not always look pretty, you have the option to change the lenses. I say this because the image that appears in the mirror is not always the real you.

Tension welcomes us into the new year as we try to reroute our lived experiences. We announce to the world how horrible or magnificent last year was and how tomorrow our dreams will come true. However, this transformation requires some decision-plan-action which isn’t fun.

1. Most times making a commitment to change is difficult.

We’re all out here making moves with or without intentional direction. For some, deciding on the new labor position, relationship status, or meal is simple. They have found their passion, their person, or their rhythm (or at least they’re faking it pretty well). The rest of us are hesitant, uncertain, and not confident in the next move. We have done enough trail and error to write a page turning memoir, but things…just…haven’t felt right.

Many of us are waiting on that moment in which we know for sure that we have made it to the right place, at the right time, with the right group. Unfortunately, we may not get the message in the most obvious, cinematic way. Still, I believe that we all know when something is right. Whether it be a gut feeling, a conversation with god, or the energy surrounding us.

We spend a good amount of time taking everyone else’s moments into account that we forget to take stock of what we have within ourselves. It is easy to right a list of what you don’t have or look like, but the true challenge is to assess what birth-2018 gave you and what you wish to keep in 2019. Some time ago, I wrote a piece about how to plan your life and how you can set yourself a part from the group; yet, I do not remember covering how one knows which pieces to keep.

2. It never fails to go back to the start.

I think that you are in fact an expert on yourself, your moment, and your next step, but you don’t allow yourself to hear the message. I am completely guilty of this. I have made decisions without a complete thought to rationalize the move. I questioned myself in the moment, a year later, and now years later looking over my CV. While I did not understand how cleaning glass windows and doors for a daycare center at 7:30 am related to my summer as a pharmaceutical drug representative, I see the skills and tools that I used during and developed after those experiences.

My internal voice is a free spirit and she is warm and unconventional and (surprisingly) emotional, but I guess that’s why I’m an artist. My internal voice loves to travel, because you see new colors, hear new voices, and experience new stories. My internal voice cares about people, so much that it hurts and she never feels that we have done all the work. My internal voice is a creator and communicator who strives for excellence that is beautiful. Isn’t that a beautiful sentence?

My start is my internal voice. Some people refer to this as you during your childhood or you at your most blissful moment. In my youth, I sang with a boar hair brush on my fireplace. In my youth, I babysat my brother, cousins, and other children and taught them lessons. In my youth, I painted silhouettes of moments, drew powerful women of color, and wrote extraordinary stories from the ordinary life. My past experiences, labor positions, and side hobbies have taught me how to stick to a plan and budget, how you can make a difference in a child’s life without money, and how you can always find commonalities in the lived human experience.

3. You can’t hear your internal voice, because there is too much external noise.

Again, in communication studies, noise represents anything which may interfere with a message delivery. This may be loud construction, dropped calls, or the fact that you skipped breakfast and lunch. We are often seeking help from others which is valuable to our development. Sometimes it just takes that one person to say a certain message at the right time for something to click (which is how most of my blog posts start…if we’re being honest). Your celebrity or financial status doesn’t devalue your experiences nor the advice you could give to someone (…unless they are wanting to become famous or make money moves). Many of us live “ordinary” lives that are extraordinary in just their existence.

When you reach out to people for help or advice, be clear on what you hope to gain from that person. If it is wanting more information on a field or life advice from a specific background, don’t be shy about that. You are the main creator and lead actor of your own life and you have to own it. Find people who have the background to help you become better in the areas that you genuinely want to become better in (not your family, friends, or followers). Find people who will be honest with you and who you feel comfortable opening up to. Find people who you can connect with and build sincere friendships with that are two way streets.

When these people give you advice, filter the comments, options, and answers by your internal voice. Sometimes we gain surprising discoveries through these conversations and it may be your job to determine what is useful for you. Don’t be apologetic about your wants and needs.

4. Filtering advice requires you to have a serious conversation with yourself first.

One of the hardest conversations we can have sometimes is with ourselves. Some people will think that this makes you seem bonkers, but I think it makes you seem healthy. Having a conversation with yourself can appear in many ways; however, the goal is to understand what you want, what makes you happy, what you are comfortable with, or what you can not live without. It means spending time alone not scrolling through feeds or encouraging noise while trying to hear your internal voice. It means giving yourself some space which some people may call me time.

During this time, I ask myself questions most of which I do not have answers to. Though frustrating, it is still helpful because I can intentional attempt to find answers those questions. I write down what’s going on in my mind and what I want. When certain opportunities arise, I take advantage of them and keep my eyes open for the click.

In addition to talking with yourself, making decisions and plans, and taking action toward your goal, you have to raise your awareness bar. There is no way to completely avoid noise (unless you’re living off the grid maybe). For this reason, it helps to remind yourself to stay alert for the right opportunities at the right time. I think it is a feeling that you found what you were looking for. For me recently, it was finding a dissertation paper from 2001 and spending my winter break meeting up with women in the area for advice. If you ask yourself the right questions and give yourself honest answers, you’ll be more focused and aware of the next step. If you do your part in the equation, the universe will do the rest. It’s a process that takes time.

5. Your next challenge is to chose where to start.

We discussed how difficult it is to make a decision, what it means to hear your internal voice, how to avoid noise, and talk with yourself first. Now you are tasked to figure out which route works best for you. You can continue on your endless Google search, check out the past blog posts embedded in this piece, or go through a little visual exercise.

Life is like a huge puzzle piece and I am not sure that we’ll ever actually see the end construction. However, the people, places, and things that surround us can be pieces leading you to that final image. In art, most of the time, we’re not exactly sure what the end product will look like. We have an idea. We do some research and sketches. We experiment with supplies and then create. But we also allow the painting or work to be a co-author. So I think if you start with a general idea or feeling you want in the bigger pictures, looking down at all the tiny pieces might be enjoyable and exciting. You just have to select the tiny pieces that lead you to that bigger picture or at least give you a reason to smile.

Every year is your year, so are the months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes. Our calendars may have changed but we have not, that is until you decide that you genuinely want to make that decision-plan-action. Just don’t forget to watch when all the pieces fall into place.

 

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Top 3 Characteristics of a Grad Student

Initially, the goal was to provide the world with week by week insight into the mind of a graduate student; however, we’re not so much different than other humans living in a struggle bus. Graduate students question everything, neglect self care, and want to be great.

Question Mark

Whenever you enter a new level, position, or school, the beginning involves a version of breaking the student down. People come in with rich backgrounds and amazing experiences which make them unique, but upon entering graduate school you have to build from the core. We often get lost in the “stuff” (e.g. titles, accomplishments, travel, memories) and forget about the “us.”

You could argue that breaking people is a negative practice. It’s quite possible that I’m simply brainwashed by now, but I argue that for some people it’s a necessary evil. In speaking about the core, working in graduate school challenged my beliefs and how I saw myself. Because ideas and perspectives are changing, it makes it difficult to write or journal coherently. However, towards the end, when you’re allowed to breathe parts of the big picture start to form. This process of reshaping the mind is helpful if one already questions things and themselves.

The key learnings here are: you are already great; do what you enjoy and do it well; you are never static, but always changing; it is okay not to have answers; and sometimes there is no meaning besides what you attribute to it.

Care for Self

Because people don’t keep themselves or their core at the center, they allow themselves to neglect the care they are silently begging for. When we get lost in the things (e.g. obligations, deadlines, accomplishments, etc.), we forget how important we are. The stress from graduate school and the normalized self neglect cause people to not eat, drink alcohol excessively, put off crying, skip grooming, and stop playing, amongst other things. This is dangerous in that the things allow them to forget themselves and become delirious. Graduate students reading this right now have probably already nodded their head in argument, giggled under their breathe, and continued self harming.

It is important for us to stay alert and watch for these signs. Although the focus is not about changing their minds, it is providing alternative options or ideas that they might consider. So I will not argue against a keg party or an average of 2 hours a sleep per week, but I will bring up how the combination of stress, alcohol, and lack of self care could be why they feel bad…and could make them feel worse. It’s not meant to judge, just an observation.

The key learnings here: graduate students don’t like it when you judge them; graduate students like when you comfort them with words; encouraging things like baths, vegetables, and breaks might not go over well, but with time can be done; and remember that you are human before student or employee.

The GOAT

Greatness is subjective. Our worlds have become so intertwined with social media, television, travel, etc. We know more now about what other people are doing and feel as though we are unsuccessful in the lane next to them. However, your life is your own race in your own lane. You are already great, you just need to find joy, happiness, and what can fill your cup.

I have been told in the past to find something that I do better than almost anyone else and have fun doing it. This is so hard. For some, finding passion or talent is simple. For others (like me), it’s tough because we think we’re great at nothing or everything. The combination of finding something that I both enjoy and am good at is tough, because I also want it to be something that is holistically healthy for me. But again, it’s a matter of just being honest with yourself.

I’m finally getting to a point where I’m filling my own cup and am able to identify that which is holding me back. I am listening to my gut which encourages me to move a lot, but tells me what I enjoy. I am continuing to ask all of the questions to all of the more adulty adults. Finally, next semester, I have plans to build in a structure for myself and develop small goals to make these stressful years more enjoyable.

The key learnings here: be honest and vulnerable with yourself and take a moment to talk to yourself about what it is you want (not what you think others want or need from you). Just do you, boo.

Best,

CJ

Grad School: Not for Kicks and Giggles

Though I’m not sure why you’re here, I am not here for kicks and giggles.

It has been about two weeks since my last post. This is mainly because I’ve had a question that I have been investigating. I will share those thoughts with you next week. However, this week, I have seen somethings that leave me shook. Cue rant:

I realized that my understanding of attending a graduate program differs significantly from some other graduate students. Across departments, I often hear that grad school serves as a holding place for not getting a job or a safety net. This absolutely blows my mind. Of course, I understand that the job market is competitive and difficult to get into (mainly because you need experience to get entry level positions and it’s about who you know). I also understand that all students know is school. From k-12, you sit, listen to teachers, and take thousands of tests. Afterward, some students start jobs, careers, or families while a few go to college (if they can afford it or were given proper resources to apply). The idea behind going to undergrad is to get a certificate, an associates, or bachelors degree to get a job (or become a manager). And that’s just it. People can go to undergrad for experience, marks to elevate them to their next step, or just take classes for fun that their previous education did not cover (kicks and giggles). You are gaining general knowledge about an area to use in some practical way.

When you enter graduate school, you are making the statement that you are going to specialize in a certain area (or become the expert in the PhD track). These people DO NOT show up for kicks and giggles. The idea (or at least in my opinion) was that people go to grad school with an ultimate goal that can only be reached with specialization in that area. For example, I believe that I want to teach college students which means that I need at least a masters degree to be hired by a university and it would be nice to have some published work (for street cred). Within academia, they want you to get as many degrees as possible and have credible work to back up that knowledge. Those with other aspirations or want positions of great power and influence might also need more degrees to set them up for success. The point is, you come to grad school with an idea or goal in mind and you grind. You are processing information and adding knowledge to the academic community. It is intense. Specifically within Communication, I am doing a lot of reading, writing, and presenting those findings each week about new material. My brain hurts.

The shook part is observing graduate students who are on Facebook or texting their friends in lectures (like non-emergency, emoji conversations). It takes everything within me to not stare them square and say, “Leave.” If your timeline and gossip blogs are more important than this course content, go home! You do not have to be here. I do not think the professor is even taking roll. You are not engaged and now are distracting me with all the blue and white lights. Just leave. If this is not interesting to you and you do not want to be here…LEAVE. I just think it is disrespectful and devaluing the positions we are in. There are people in the room who 50…80…100 years ago, would not have been allowed to study there. These people would not have even seen it as an option. You sitting in that seat probably means another student around the country was wait-listed or declined. YOU CAN LEAVE.

Studying for your masters or doctorate is a big deal and is super tough. It is an opportunity that most people never get to experience. People come to grad school because they have goals they need or want to meet. They have things that they are interested in knowing more about. They are not here for kicks and giggles.

End rant. Now I have more reading to do.

Best,

CJ

What’s a Mindset Shift?

I will admit that I never realized how much of a mindset shift would be require in graduate school. Many people say that graduate school is intense, but will be the most exciting, fun time of your college career (obviously, for us nerdy types). While all of this is true, I do not recall having a conversation with anyone about the change of mindset.

When you opt into a graduate program you are making a statement to the world. As Professor Barajas said in a group session, getting a Master’s says to the academic community that you are wanting to specialize in a particular area and getting a Doctorate says you are being an expert on a specific area. My undergraduate professors explained that we were creating knowledge. With knowledge and the power to pass it down to others requires great responsibilities.

In addition to being a graduate student, I am an instructor and teaching assistant for undergraduate students. So not only am I expected to be on my studies and giving back within my discipline and communities, I have to be a greater example to young adults. I’m still figuring out adulthood and some things I have mastered pretty well, but I am now in a space where I am “the professor.”

Within that role, there are quite a few unspoken rules, because this community is so small. Though I was never one to frequent parties and bars, now I have to think about the optics of that, whether here or elsewhere. My role in certain on campus organizations may be different. It’s less about “let me hang out with my friends” and more so “what will project me to that end goal.” With that in mind, how one even approaches dating is different. I do not say these things to communicate that I am feeling trapped or restricted. I say these things because I am noticing a shift in my approach to life. Like leaving behind non-sense and moving forward in non-toxic environments.

I am making personal and mature decisions with more intention than I think I ever have before. I am surrounding myself with people who get it and with people who are go-getters. I am lucky to be surrounded by a team that supports me and holds me accountable. I am working with wonderfully, skilled individuals who can coach and collaborate with me on various projects.

I feel like a lot of trust has been placed on me and my ability to develop better humans. And I am ALL ABOUT IT. It is fun, but it’s different than what you would imagine it to be. It requires you to ask the right questions and be intentional with your actions. Although I’m sure it will be stressful (just give it 3-4 weeks), I’m excited to be in the place in my life where I am more aware of who I am, the roles I play, and the life I live unapologetically. 

Best,

CJ