Be Happy.

What does it mean to be happy?  Can you make yourself happy?  I believe you can, if you choose to.  For me, running and exercising makes me happy.  I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, and the only method that has consistently helped me feel better is exercise.  Running, for me, is almost a survival skill; it keeps me sane, it helps me cope with things that would normally overwhelm me.  But, when I work out, the everyday things that would normally send me over the edge don’t seem so bad.

When you run or exercise your brain releases endorphins—which make you feel good, and norepinephrine—which helps improve your mood.  Endorphins have also been called the “runners high”, because of the feelings of elation that accompany them.  I am at my happiest after I work out; when I see the results in the days following a workout I can’t help but feel proud.

I’ve been a competitive athlete for the past eight years or so.  I’ve run track since high school and ran cross country for two seasons in high school.  While training in college, during the season and in the off season, I never felt like I was doing the right things.  In high school I didn’t struggle with the feelings of inadequacy so much as I struggled with constantly having to overcome obstacles.  Most of my sophomore year was spent battling one illness after another.  My junior year left me with two stress fractures (one in each shin) that took about a year to recover from.

In college I found out I struggle with what the trainers discovered to be chronic compartment syndrome (also known as exercise induced).  This means that when I exercise, there isn’t enough oxygen in my blood for it to flow consistently, causing my calves to cramp to the point of barely being able to move.  The only thing I can do then is rest until my legs become less rock-like and I regain some mobility.  I could only run a few days a week because of this, which meant that I could only practice with my teammates on those few days.

Those college years are when my anxiety and depression were at their worst I think.  I constantly felt like I couldn’t do what I wanted to or needed to to feel like I was in good shape.  I wasn’t venting my frustrations in a healthy way because I was constantly focusing on how frustrated I was with my physical limitations.  I couldn’t participate in the same training regimens as my teammates which made me feel like an outsider and like I wasn’t as good as them.  Some of the coaches I worked with made me feel like my needing a different training schedule was an inconvenience, and made me feel even more alienated.  I’ve learned in doing some research that athletes do suffer from depression as a result of injuries and that therapy for more than just the injured muscle or body part should be considered to help the athlete fully recover.

Last year, my senior year of college, I finally made the decision to stop putting myself through this personal hell.  Most of the teammates that I had run with for the past few years had graduated or quit, and I was tired of feeling inadequate.  I quit the team and took a break from running and exercise altogether but eventually started to feel bad about being out of shape.

Once I decided I was ready to start exercising again, but on my own terms, I gradually became happy with my results.  It has been a steady process, but I actually want to work out now, and am disappointed when I am not able to.  Because of my compartment syndrome I can’t run everyday, but on the days I do I push myself to new limits and, despite being a sprinter in track, am running about three miles on average per workout.

I really believe that so many of the limitations we see for ourselves are mental.  Even though I have numbness or tingling in my legs the day after a long run, I don’t mind it as much.  I don’t feel like I’m inadequate because of the limitations I have physically; I have overcome so many of my mental hurdles that I don’t spend my time comparing myself to others, but feeling like I’m doing a great job and can keep improving.

There will always be days that I want to make excuses, or try to blame circumstances for why I can’t do something.  When I’m honest with myself though I know that I can push myself and that there really isn’t much validity to the excuses I’m trying to make.  If you know what can help make you happy, do it.  Don’t make excuses for why you can’t be happy or why you aren’t motivated to be happy.  The important thing in your routine is whether you feel good about it.  Competition and comparison can be good to a certain extent, but when all you do is constantly belittle yourself because of what someone else can do, you’re only hurting yourself.

 

 

I recommend checking out a blog called Hyperbole and a Half if you are interested in reading some more about depression.  The author does a great job of making the topic relatable, and even helps you identify with the problems that accompany depression in a humorous way.  Link: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

Here are some of the articles I used in my research too if you are interested in checking them out; these are the articles I didn’t directly hyperlink to in my post.

http://healthland.time.com/2012/11/27/can-branding-save-talk-therapy/

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/T/talking-therapies/

http://psychcentral.com/lib/therapists-spill-11-myths-about-therapy/00012005/2

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/06/13/can-brain-scans-predict-meds-talk-therapy-will-help-your-depression/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/06/06/oh-the-guilt-the-neurobiology-of-blaming-yourself-for-everything-when-youre-depressed/

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Do What You Love?

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The world of employment seems to be riddled with downsides.  As a recent graduate who has been searching for a full-time job for about a year, I’m finding that “entry level” no longer means fresh out of college.  The positions I’ve searched for using the words “entry level” have produced results of positions that require or suggest a minimum of two to five years experience.  According to dictionary.com, an entry level position means: “of, or pertaining to, or filling a low-level job in which an employee may gain experience or skills”.  Based on the definition, why are these entry level jobs so difficult to qualify for with a college degree and the experiences that accompany it?

Some argue that in order to gain experience to qualify for these now “entry level” jobs, one should apply for internships.  I personally loved my internship experience last summer, but it (and many other internships) are not paid.  The exchange would be receiving college credit for your internship.  I myself am not lucky enough to be able to work an unpaid internship and also pay for a place to live and groceries to eat.

Some internships I’ve seen posted are available to recent college graduates, provided you are no more than six months out of college.  Now that I’m reaching the end of that window of opportunity, the struggle to qualify for an entry level position is that much more real.  So, I’m looking for jobs that I might be considered overqualified for, or positions that may have nothing to do with my degrees or what I might want to pursue as a career.  In need of money to pay my bills, especially with loan repayments looming, I feel it is better to take a job that may not be what I want to do with my life in order to support myself.

On May 20th Brad Plumer wrote an article for the Washington Post entitled: “Only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major”.  In this article, Plumer discussed underemployment and location.  Underemployment seems to mean that there are more qualified individuals for positions than there are positions available.  Because there are so many individuals applying for the limited positions, what can we do to help set ourselves apart?

The next most significant aspect of the article to me was, according to a 2010 American Community Survey by the U.S Bureau of the Census, “the chances of finding a job related to your degree or major go up…if you move to a big city”.  The author of the U.S Bureau of the Census study argues that “big cities have more job openings and offer a wider variety of job opportunities that can potentially fit the skills of different workers.”  The plus side about the city of Chicago is that there are more opportunities, but you have to know how to find them.  Unless you have a connection, there seems to be no hurry to hire recent college graduates, at least from my experience.  At least the chances of me finding work are a bit higher here.

The Atlantics April 4th article (which could have used another spell check), “How Bad Is the Job Market for College Grads? Your Definitive Guide” points out that Bachelor’s degree holders have about half the unemployment rate of those with only high school degrees.  However, when college grads have to work at a level they are overqualified for, they are taking away jobs that would normally be available to those with only a high school education, says article author Jordan Weissmann.  Since the recession of 2007-2009, the economy will need to be rebuilt with room for college grads, says Weissmann.

In April the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Casselman reported the figure for 2012 of 284,000 Americans who have a BA or higher but are working in jobs that pay minimum wage or less (less than minimum wage meaning working for tips).  With so many individuals working below their qualifications level, I at least feel better that I’m not the only one snatching up any job offer that I can.  One of the benefits of a college education is the opportunity to make more money in a lifetime of working than one would with only a high school diploma.  These articles also discuss the possibility that even though one might have to work a job they are overqualified for, in the long run the likelihood of staying at this level is lower because eventually an opportunity to utilize one’s college education will come along.  So, what do we do in the mean time while we wait for bigger and better things to work out?

Last week CNBC’s Kelli B. Grant took the ideas of underemployment and unemployment a step further, saying in “Six college courses that help grads land jobs” that the lack of hiring of college graduates could come down to their lack of skills and interest reflected by not taking courses beyond the core college curriculum.  Chad Oakley, president and chief operating officer of executive search firm Charles Aris Inc. says course work that makes you stand out from someone else with the same major should be listed in the skills section of a resume.  This is new advice to me, and I have not yet seen an application that asks for a college transcript, even if you are self-reporting it.  I always figured that a college degree would be enough to qualify me for a job.  Because of underemployment though, a degree doesn’t seem to be enough.

Grant also cites Russ Hovendick, president of the recruiting and placement firm Client Staffing Solutions, who says that skills can also be discussed in cover letters or interviews.  My reservation in listing the courses I’ve taken in a cover letter would be that it would feel like applying to college again.  I remember working hard to get the good grades needed and have the extra curricular activities accumulated to impress a college.  I think grades are important but a cover letter should primarily show off my writing skills, ability to express myself, and showcase how my experiences make me even more qualified than someone without them.  If you actually get the chance to interview with a company, definitely do what you can to set yourself apart without being too over the top.

The advice “do what you love” because you will be doing it for the rest of your life (theoretically) is something I’ve heard for a long time and is a philosophy I agree with.  If you don’t enjoy what you do, then why spend so much of your time doing it?  However, if you don’t have the opportunity to do what you love, how can you make yourself happy?  Is it better to take a job simply for the money, or should you wait until you can get a job you will love?  I hope that you have the opportunity to do what you love.  As for myself, I’m going to keep trying to move forward and try to make the opportunity to do what I love happen.  Hopefully there will be a place for us recent grads and underemployed grads in the economy soon.

Slave to the Muse

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All week I’ve been trying to come up with a topic for this week’s post.  I had a few ideas, but nothing that I felt like I really wanted to write about.  So, I figure it’s appropriate to write about one of the struggles for writers, or people who want to write regularly.  That struggle is feeling like we always have to write something “good”, or have to feel inspired to be able to write.  When an idea for a topic pops into my head I feel like I have to write it down immediately or else it will be lost forever.  Of course this usually happens when I’m trying to fall asleep.

I can’t remember the quote exactly, but one of my professors referred to the struggle to feel inspired as being “a slave to the muse”.  In Greek mythology muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (means memory) and were said to inspire poets, philosophers, artists, musicians—you know, the creative types.  The idea that writers have been slaves to their muses that inspire creativity has been around for centuries; writers are the mortal funnels for the spiritual muses to send ideas to.

There are so many factors that seem to have to all come together exactly at the right time and in the exact right way for those of us who feel we have to be inspired to write.  I find excuses all the time.  Maybe I’ll have some ideas in the evening and say “Oh, I’ll have plenty to write about in the morning!”  Of course the morning comes and I’m not a morning person (something I seemed to conveniently forget the day before).  I’ll sit down and only be able to think about how tired I am, or how I haven’t had coffee yet, or about the other ten things I have to do today.  So, the writing doesn’t happen that morning.

Some writers feel like if they force themselves to write every day they will have to come up with something they can at least be satisfied with.  I can appreciate the dedication that accompanies this mindset.  If this works for you, I commend you.  I think I would get too frustrated with myself because I wouldn’t have “good” ideas on a daily basis.  My primary struggle with writing regularly is overcoming the feeling that my ideas have to be perfectly formed before I can let someone else read them.  I don’t want someone to see what I’ve written and say “That’s wrong.”  But, I’ve eventually realized that there is no way for everyone to agree with me, no matter how much time and effort I put into trying to make everyone happy.

Inevitably there will be readers who never agree with you and never like what you have to say.  That’s just a fact of life.  So, we can learn as much as we can from the criticism we receive, but we have to realize that sometimes the driving force behind criticism is simply to make us unhappy.  When that’s the case we just have to move on and not let those negative comments drag us down.  If you are happy with your work and what you do, then that is what’s most important.

The Weight of a Soul

My grandpa passed away early in June, and for those of you who have read my earlier post, you might have gathered that he was an important part of my life.  The other night Grandpa was in my dream.  I can’t remember much about it but that’s the first time I’ve dreamed about him since he died.  I don’t think I dreamed about him much when he was sick either.  I’m not sure what it means or why I would start dreaming about him now.

Right now I still feel like because I’m in Chicago Grandpa and I are just not talking much, like when he was sick, and when I go home he’ll be there in the living room.  When I go home it’s like a new wave of fresh grief because I walk in the door and Grandpa is no where to be found.  The signs of his life, like the hospice bed, or his chair that was his throne, are gone.  You can’t hear him working in the basement.

After Grandpa’s burial all I wanted was to stay in the cemetery because that’s where Grandpa is.  I went to see Grandpa’s body at the funeral home before the burial and when I held his hand and felt how stiff it was, it was such a shock to me.  He looked like himself, for the most part, and I knew he was dead, but since I didn’t see him die it was almost like my unconscious hadn’t fully grasped yet that he wasn’t my grandpa anymore.

I can’t say that I understand much about death.  I’ve probably been to more funerals than weddings but I’ve never had someone I was so close to and who meant so much to me die before.  Coincidentally I read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol around the time of Grandpa’s death and the concept of Noetics was one focal point of the book.  According to noetic.org Noetic Sciences are “a multidisciplinary field that brings objective scientific tools and techniques together with subjective inner knowing to study the full range of human experiences”; so, kind of a combination of science and philosophy.  Basically, from my understanding after reading Brown’s book (fictional, I know, but researched nonetheless), a portion of the Noetic sciences discussed in the book dealt with what happens to a soul after death.  In one scene Katherine Solomon, the Noetic scientist, attempts to measure the weight of a human soul as one of her close friends dies.  In this scene a measurable weight loss is detected after her friend passes away.

Obviously I am only focusing on a small part of a much broader subject, but to me this scene was encouraging.  I think everyone struggles with the idea of what happens when we die, and I wish that I could ask my grandpa what it was like.  From what my grandma has said, my grandpa basically slept or was unconscious all of his last day.  She couldn’t communicate with him because he didn’t respond.  He went peacefully and almost started, like he was being called away, right before he passed.  The Lost Symbol talks about death and how it feels in other scenes, but I think what I took away primarily was a more open-mindedness about how important it is for science and the philosophical or religious to be cohesive rather than oppositional.  Peter Solomon, a prominent Mason (a group which I learned a lot more about because of this book—National Treasure isn’t the best representation), encourages his sister to open her mind and research to old and ancient texts because the ideas of modern science aren’t really all that modern he says.

Brown cites multiple authors, philosophers and scientists from multiple centuries who all have discussed and studied many concepts that the character Katherine considered to be new or groundbreaking.  By forgetting past discoveries and dismissing the old as wrong or outdated, we simply learn the same things over and over again instead of continuing to build on the ideas and move forward into new areas.  Our society is very much of the mindset that the old ideas and philosophies are flawed or outdated and instead of retaining the aspects that can help spawn new knowledge and discoveries; we dismiss the old as a whole.  My interest in Noetics has been sparked thanks to Brown, and I am going to continue to learn more about the field and see what happens with it in the future.  I’d encourage you to do the same.  Keeping our minds open to new ideas and concepts is the key to discovery and enlightenment, but without knowledge of the old is it really enlightenment?

For a more general and comprehensive view of The Lost Symbol, here is a link to a review by Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Lost-Symbol-Dan-Brown/dp/0307950689/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375707037&sr=8-1&keywords=the+lost+symbol

Summer Blues

            July is officially over which means summer is almost over too.  This will be the first year that I won’t be returning to school in August, something that I’ve been doing since my earliest memories.  Part of me is relieved that the stresses and pressures that accompany the school year are not going to be part of my life this year, but part of me feels more anxious because it means that there isn’t a predetermined schedule or structure to my life now.  I will be doing whatever I am able to do this fall, versus doing what my major’s curriculum dictates.  It is a liberating feeling but it’s also terrifying.  Yes, I could technically do whatever I want, but that would probably mean that no one is paying me so I wouldn’t be free to live on my own or support myself or start paying off my student loans in a few months.  Stupid money; unfortunately it’s needed.  My hope is to be working a job I at least like (since I’ve learned the hard way that just because you might love a job doesn’t mean you’ll even be offered an interview for said job). 

            I guess what I’m saying is that when people ask me if I’m excited for the school year and I tell them I graduated in May and they say “Oh that’s great! You can do whatever you want!” they aren’t exactly right.  Yes, I won’t be writing papers and putting together PowerPoint’s for presentations, but I could just as easily be doing tasks just as formal because a boss asked me to.  If someone asked me, in an ideal world, what I’d want to do this year with my life I’d say that I’d like money to be no concern (meaning I have enough for my needs and some wants), and that I’d like to read and write and travel.  And run.  That doesn’t seem like too much to ask for (ha!).  One of the lessons in adulthood though is that you have to make sacrifices to provide for yourself and if you want to do even some of the things you want to do, you might have to work in places you don’t like.

            When I first started my job hunt last December I only looked at jobs that I absolutely wanted, heeding the advice to do what you love, and (somewhat foolishly) thinking that I’d automatically be considered for these positions because I had two degrees and some experience.  Well, February came with almost no contact from these employers so I tried again.  I tried applying for jobs that weren’t necessarily my first choice or something that I indefinitely wanted to pursue as a career. 

            April came, and with graduation fast approaching I became nervous that I didn’t have a job lined up.  I had met with the university’s career counselor a few times and she said I was doing everything right, that I just had to wait for someone to call me for an interview.

“Do you have a way to support yourself or someone that will support you while you wait to hear back about a job?” she asked me. 

Ummm, no.  I needed a job because I have no money; they call it “broke college kid” for a reason.  She did however point me in the direction of a local internship at a TV studio that worked with the university regularly and I applied.  I took the time to write a cover letter specifically for this position, emphasizing that I would be a great fit because of my dual degrees and awesome writing skills and, from what I remember, basically saying HIRE ME!  Maybe I over sold myself, maybe I wasn’t what they were really looking for, but needless to say I never heard from them. 

            The week of graduation in May I had come to terms with the fact that I would have to move back in with my parents, at least for the time being.  As someone who has worked to be remotely self-sufficient these last four years that was a hard idea to just accept.  Then, the day before graduation I was offered the job that I currently had at the university for the summer.  Well, it’s the day before graduation, so I’d have to find somewhere to live and since this is a part time job I probably wouldn’t make enough to afford an apartment. 

            Thankfully something worked out and I’ve been working at the school for the summer.  Because I haven’t been offered anything else though, I’ve had to face the possibility that I might have to move back to my childhood home again.  I’ve been pretty cynical this month, basically applying for anything and everything I come across whether it’s something I want to pursue as a career or not so I can try to stay on this journey to adulthood and the inescapable financial responsibilities I already have.  While filling out all of these applications I’m telling myself I’m not going to get any of these jobs, but why not try at least.  See? Not very positive.  But, I’ve stopped trying to plan out what is going to happen because, once again, I’ve been proven wrong. 

          Yesterday I got a call for an interview with a place I applied a while ago where I’d be very happy to work, and I think it’s because I finally resigned myself to stop trying to anticipate what’s going to happen.  I was so sure that I would get one of the jobs I applied for in December that I didn’t think realistically.  So, I’m going to keep my mind open and keep my options open to the best of my ability.  I think these days, for people who are planners like me, it’s so easy to get frustrated because we can’t control how quickly other people work or if they even decide to respond to a job application we applicants consider so important.  College students seem to be low on the list of people to consider for jobs, unless they are applying for a job with constant/high demand.  It seems like there is a lot of luck involved in applying for jobs too; if you know someone that can help get you a position, you have an incredible advantage over someone applying “off the street”.  I used to think that the city offered endless opportunities because of its size, but I’m learning that unless you have a connection no one really feels obligated to give you a chance.  So, to all of you looking for a job, I wish you luck.  We just have to keep trying, even if things seem like they’ll never work out.