Proposal: the “I am and I want” Life

It’s so hard switching from a life of “I should” to “I am and I want.” I was raised to please. I was raised to follow rules and listen to authority which hopefully would place me in their good graces. But what happens here, and it’s something I see in my peers and students, is that we start to focus on the pleasing and instant gratification.

I have been the person who received a B on an assignment, saw the professor write a “:o)” on it, and thought “she must hate me.” We take things personally because, for the majority of our childhood and adolescence, that’s how the system worked. You get to know you teachers personally, learn what work they like to see or hear, and output that like the machine parts that we are. For me, elementary, middle, and high school was never about developing soft skills, understanding your finances, or starting a career. We believed it was about getting the A.

An A represents that you are favored, intelligent, and deserving. You have mastered this thing or subject and you deserve the gold star and the cookie. The grade system or marks mean that you retained the information that teachers, administrators, or standard test creators thought most important (which is primarily subjective). However, it doesn’t mean that you are enough.

In reality, the A doesn’t have value. It’s truly about what you learn and where you want to go. It’s my hope that in the future we don’t place high pressures and expectations on our children (start at 17:45) to achieve the intangible, but that we push them to gain tangible skills and tools to manifest their dreams. While some would disagree with my focus on gaining tools to paint the future, I believe that it’s one of the best techniques to survive in our current society.

Sometimes it’s not about your morals, grades, or applications. It’s about your look, the story, and what you’re able to do with your resources. In a world in which you need experience to gain experience and still be unpaid for that labor, it’s not about the A. It’s about how to get yourself in the room to ask the right questions and make the best move for yourself.

I think we get so wrapped up in the A or the pat on the back that we forget to be human. And we have normalized those unhealthy behaviors and accepted them as is without a question. We forget to think about our own best interest. We forget to define ourselves and our wants, even as they change. And they will certainly change and that’s okay. You just have to remember to live a life of “I am and I want” intentionally, rather than an “I should” life voluntarily.

There’s a danger in allowing others to write your narrative for their own interests.

Best,

CJ

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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.

 

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

First Year Teaching: I bled through my skirt

I am a woman who has periods and it’s not the end of the world. I promise.

Welcome back! Many of you are probably prepared to pity me or sitting on the edge of your seats to hear the full story.  Others of you might think this subject matter is too private or personal or taboo. For those of you fall in the last category, I wrote this post for you, as a female human. Cue rant:

One of the things that I am very passionate about is talking about periods. I feel compelled to talk about periods and “feminine products,” because people do not want to talk about them…NOT EVEN OTHER WOMEN (sometimes). We have grown up in a society in which speaking out about periods, vagina, tampons, pads, or diva cups, is to be whispered. I live in a world which makes me feel as though having a period is a negative consequence, bleeding is disgusting and unsanitary (hints “sanitary products”), and being open about my personal life is “unlady like.” Well here’s my lady card, because I’m about to complete this full rant.

I was in a bit of a rush to get to my office hours before teaching a course. So I am frantically whipping eggs into a skillet and brushing my teeth while putting on a turquoise, floor length maxi skirt (because I was a goddess that day). I take a transit bus up to campus and walk into my office ready for the day. I finish speaking with other graduate assistants and realize that I should head to my class at about 15 minutes til. I stand up and one of second year students exclaim, “Oh, we have a problem!”

I was so shook and startled that I am intensely listening to hear what just happened. He then motions to another woman in the room to enlighten me on the problem (which only confuses everyone more). After putting two and two together, I look at my skirt to find a nice red smear in a sea of turquoise fabric. I explained to him that it wasn’t a big deal, because I am a female human and this is nothing new. He then suggests that I sit the whole class, so that my students can not see the stain. So I had to get him together:

First of all, as a young black woman teaching at a predominately white institution (PWI), I will not be sitting to teach a lesson with the intention to not make my students uncomfortable with the fact that I had a period! I hold myself to a high standard and make a point to live my life unapologetically.

Secondly, this was nothing to panic about. I will admit that I did not like the idea of walking around campus with a stain, but that would be for blood or even coffee. As a teacher and graduate student, you want to look presentable to a certain extent…especially at the beginning of syllabus week! The only concern at this point was to not let it dry, because that turquoise skirt is my favorite.

So I head to a near by restroom to put some water on it and dim the vibrancy. I rotate the skirt, so that the stain is on my front hip and then I roll up the skirt from floor length to mid-calf. Still a cute skirt. Still professional.

Thirdly, if you were bleeding…and sitting…wouldn’t you…bleed through the skirt again?! Logic went straight of the window for my male counterpart, because he does not have to think about these things. I make an effort to be conscious of that which is not conscious to my everyday reality. Just because you do not deal with it everyday, doesn’t mean that it never happens. For example, I think about race ALL THE TIME. Why? Not because I’m racist or looking for an opportunity to “play the race card.” I think about it because I have to. It is a defense mechanism. I live in a country that separates families, hosts Nazi and KKK rallies/ marches, and doesn’t look for missing people with brown skin. I do not have the luxury to live life without think about the fact that I am black nor a woman.

As a woman, I bleed. Maybe it’s once a month. Maybe it’s once every two months. It all depends on my body, diet, and stress level. When this happens, I may have cramps and mood changes. For some women, cramps can be so severe that they physically can not move. So we take pain medication, warm water bags, or eat those food that just…hit the spot. I am a free-flower. If I can get away without using tampons or pads, I will and here’s why!

Tampons and pads are expensive and dangerous. I spent an hour in a Target aisle once trying to figure out which brand to get. I challenge you. The next time you go to the store, go to the women’s section. Notice that it will be at the back or in the cut and always linked to “family planning” or “pregnancy tests.” I want you to look at the prices and quantity. Just with a quick google search alone, the cheapest set of tampons is about 5$ for 40 of an off-brand and pads is about 3$ for 22. If we pretend that your cycle is monthly, let’s assume that your period will last at least 4-7 days per month. Your period flow will also be important in these calculations. You may change 1-3 times a day (some friends have done more in one day). So for the tampons that’s about 2-10 months worth, pads about 1-5 months. Reminder that you really need both, because sometimes just one pad or tampon won’t avoid stained clothes and there are time limits for wearing these products. Also, don’t forget the special taxes and also, do you know what they’re made with?

Our sanitary products are laced with all sorts of chemicals and pesticides. I don’t even think that companies are required to tell you what’s in them. So recently, there’s been this new wave of interest in organic or diy products. But I purchased a diva cup. This isn’t common within my family or friend circle. It is 40$ and you can use it up to a year and wear it for longer hours than tampons. The material doesn’t have nasty chemicals. As I am writing this, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but again…it adds up and men don’t have to think about any of this. Plenty of women live their mature lives without knowing about their bodies or cycles. I am not good at math but worst case scnario, you could be paying about 10$ for 2 months of period related products…which could be 60$ a year (depending on flow, brand, and financial status). These products are a luxury that many women do not have access to all over the world. We shouldn’t have to pay for this…or worry about where to get the funds to do so.

So back to the original story: I checked in with some women around me to see the adjustment with my skirt looked like it had been planned. I strolled across campus and walked into my classroom to teach about 5 minutes or so early. After class, I took the transit back home, so that I could soak the skirt, because it makes me feel like a goddess. So I left all my clothes to soak in the sink with cold water (you can also use your own spit or hydrogen peroxide, apparently). I drove back to campus in my personal vehicle to pay for parking, so that I wouldn’t be late for my next meeting and class that I TA for.

I began by stating that this post was written for those of you who think that this topic is too “private, personal, or taboo.” I wrote this piece for you because I wanted you to know that this happened to me and the world kept going. I want you to know a little bit about the world that I live in which doesn’t support me. Having periods is normal and sometimes an interestingly timed surprise, but that’s okay…or at least it should be. I wrote this piece for you because I want you to be able to calmly say to another woman, “You have started your period and there is a stain on your skirt. Do you need help getting anything?” I wrote this for you, so that when you go to the store and see all of these products hidden a way, you start to imagine the unspoken shame attached to that. I wrote this piece for you to notice those who may not have access to pads, tampons, or cups. I wrote this piece because it is a real life, every day occurrence. I am writing you so that you may one day ask the right questions to the right people. I am writing you this piece so that you can help the next woman. 

Yes, I am a woman and I have periods, but I continue to thrive…and next time I’ll have spare clothes.

Best,

CDJ

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

End of Gap Year: What’s Next?

I’ll be starting a new adventure soon and hopefully I’ll have more time to write.

This time last year, I was going through one of the biggest transitions of my young adult life. I had completed my undergraduate studies and begun to define womanhood for myself. I made a terrifying, yet beautiful decision to take a Gap Year. Here’s what I learned from that experience.

Long story short, I graduated without a plan, but had great options. I deferred my enrollment at the University of Arkansas, in order to gain more focus in my life. My undergrad career was draining physically, mentally, emotionally, and academically. So during my Gap Year I completed internships in event planning and studio art, served through AmeriCorps to develop Social Emotional Learning or soft skills in young students, traveled aboard, attended conferences and trainings, while having a lot of fun (some might say too much)!

During this time, I learned that I am someone who has high expectations for excellence and will work endlessly to improve a situation. I have been creative, strategic, and intentional with putting myself in the right circle of people and places. I learned the importance of taking care of yourself and what that might look like for me. I also learned that teaching is where I am meant to be. However, I do not believe k-12 is my calling.

During my Gap Year, though I enjoyed working with middle and high school students, I do not believe that the Education system supports teachers to develop great students. Therefore, I applied to four different graduate programs around the U.S. I am now enrolled at the University of Arkansas to encourage more inclusive communities and be a part of changing what education looks like in the U.S.

Through serving long hours in various school systems and summer camps, I noticed that I was passionate about giving students the best quality experiences. I noticed that I put my students first in every capacity. I believe that those intense emotions or connections should never be ignored. I hope that my graduate studies will show me ways that I can be more influential and allow me to make tangible goals to improve our education system.

This learning matters because I noticed my calling. I think I had been running away from it for so long and not identifying it for what it was. In every aspect of my life, I have been a leader and teacher. I use to think that I was the only one without “a thing” or passion or clear direction. But now I believe that my “thing” is leading within education and what better way to do that than through graduate school.

As a result of my Gap Year journey, I gained more focus on what makes Cayla happy and who adult Cayla might be. I am still writing my story in pencil for now, but I’m starting to get a better picture of the final chapter.

I want to thank everyone for following me on my Gap Year Journey. I will continue writing about my new transition on the First Year Grad tab.

Take safe risks and always put yourself first.

Best,

Cayla Jae