My Motivation……?

So it’s no secret that I’ve been lacking in motivation for quite a long time now. When I was in school, I always had a bunch of things to work towards all at once, with goals laid out for me. Every class had a syllabus that laid out what was expected; my volunteer positions had specific goals to them from the very first day I started; my on-campus jobs basically came with a check-list of what needed to get done. I never had to sit down and think, “Ok, what goals should I be setting? What should I be working towards?”

In my second year of school, I picked a career path and started working towards that in school. After that, once that goal was set in motion….. I basically stopped. I took one crappy piece of advice after another, avoided making any real goals of my own, and just kept working towards whatever was laid out before me.

Then things fell to shit, and I’ve just never recovered.

To make a long story short, the career I was working towards changed their entry-level requirements. It was too late in my schooling to change my path, and I was in complete shock. I was recovering from a sudden and pretty serious illness, my career was snatched out of my hands before I came anywhere close to crasping it, and I was running out of time to collect student loans and afford to finish school.

What should I have done? Well, I should’ve started looking into what careers I was qualified for. I mean, a Criminology degree seems pretty specific, and I have no clue what to do with it. I should have sat down and figured out what the hell I was going to start working towards now that things had fallen apart.

Instead, I just kinda skated along. Once I graduated, I just started applying for whatever. I didn’t bother taking my education and looking at what I could do with it. Basically, I wasted years and years letting that one forced career change ruin me. Instead of picking my ass back up and getting it into gear, I just kinda laid down and gave up.

And now, I work Customer Service and run a cash register.

I let five years of working through school, fives years of volunteering, five years of on-campus work experience, just go to waste. I completely lost all my motivation to move forward in my life, and made no effort to get it back.

So here I am at 34 years old. I rent a bedroom in a student rental house owned by my ex-boyfriend’s family. My boyfriend and my cat live with me. For the summer, I’m working 6 days a week trying to bank up as many hours as I can before our store hours die off for the fall. I’m watching all of my friends my age (and even younger ones) get married, buy homes, have kids……. and I’m stuck here.

So I’m working towards that whole goal setting thing. I need to motivate myself, get my life back on track, and build a life for myself.

Well Sunshine, off to work yet again. The damn store isn’t going to close itself tonight.

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The Meals EVERYONE Needs to Know…….?

So I’ve been seeing these articles all over the internet: The meals every 20-something should know how to make; 30 recipes you should know how to cook by the time you’re 30; 10+ dishes and drinks everyone should know how to make at home (including you). Apparently, there’s a lot of food out there we just MUST know how to cook in order to be considered an adult. To be honest, I don’t know anyone, aside from a few chef friends, who can cook all or even most of the stuff just in these three articles above, let alone everything every seems to think we need to cook.

To me, knowing what you need to know how to cook comes from learning about what you life to eat. For example, I’m not going to learn how to make polenta and zucchini when I don’t even like polenta or zucchini. And these things appear on a lot of damn lists!

If you know that there are certain foods you love when you go out, or certain recipes your folks make when you’re home that you absolutely love, then learn how to make these. But don’t feel any sort of pressure to learn how to make a bunch of stuff you’ll probably never eat, or never want to cook, or never want to serve to others, just because some list told you that you need to.

These lists are pretty damn common. There is always someone out there who is an absolute authority on exactly what you need to know by a certain age. Or things you absolutely need to do by a certain age. Or places you need to travel to, books you need to read, things you need to experience, people you need to date……. it seems like there are a whole lot of things we all need to do in our 20s and/or 30s. Honestly, though, we don’t do most of them.

And that’s not a bad thing.

You don’t need someone else setting up lists for you, or telling you that your life is unfulfilling, or that you’re wasting your time if you haven’t completed all the things on the list. Do you know how many lists I’ve seen that have things like skydiving or bungee jumping on them? My sister is turning 31 this month, and you couldn’t pay her to go skydiving or bungee jumping. Does she consider her life wasted? Oh hell no! She has an absolutely amazing husband, they have a home together, and the craziest fluffy black and grey Norwegian Forest Cat whose fur feels like cotton candy. Does she have everything going for her in life? No, because nobody does! And it has nothing to do with whether she’s ever jumped out of a plane or off a bridge with an elastic band wrapped around her legs. Because not everyone wants to do the same crap.

Why am I bringing this up? To be honest, I was going to give you yet another list of things you absolutely, positively need to do as a young adult, this time in the kitchen. It was inspired by the above Hello Giggles article and the fact that I had almost a full carton of eggs that was just 3 days away from its Best Before date. As part of my research, I tried to look up recipes and things you need to know before you’re 30 (because apparently cooking very specific dishes is something everyone needs to learn as a young adult, whether you like it or not).  Well somehow in my search, I came across this list, which temporarily mentally destroyed me.

Now, here’s a bunch of things on that list that apparently I absolutely should have by now that I definitely do NOT have:

  • A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in my family.
  • Something ridiculously expensive that I bought for myself, just because I deserve it.
  • A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don’t get better after 30.
  • A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, and all those other facets of life that do get better.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a second list on there on things you should definitely KNOW by the time you hit 30. While most of the things on there are perfectly fine with me, there were a few that hit close to home. How I feel about having kids, for example, is a big one with me right now. When I was in my late 20’s, I didn’t think I’d ever want kids. After 30 though, once my friends started popping them out and I got to play with them and babysit them, I realized that I’m pretty sure that I do want them. Oh, and I’m over 30. Here’s the tricky thing though: I met my current boyfriend while I was in my 20’s, and he definitely does NOT want kids. Ever. When we started dating, I was perfectly fine with this. Now though, it’s putting a real strain on our relationship. If I lived according to this list, I would have known that when he and I first met, and it wouldn’t be an issue right now because it would’ve been a deal breaker back then.

So I started thinking, I know I’m not a shining beacon of grown-up success, but have I done absolutely EVERYTHING wrong? Have I done so much wrong that it’s messed up my entire future? I went into a panic, contemplating every decision I’ve ever made with my life. I started thinking, if I’ve already failed this much, can things get better? Or am I stuck in this crappy existence forever? I make no secret of the fact that my life totally and truly sucks at the moment, but have always been told that things will get better. But according to this list, I’ve missed my shot. I’ve missed out on the most basic and fulfilling parts of what I need to have at this age, and it’s too late to start all over again.

Ok, so I lasted like this for a few days (I hate having anxiety at times like that). I didn’t want to write (thankfully I have some drafted and queued posts for emergencies), I didn’t want to go out, and I didn’t want to research any more. It took the homeless fundraiser I wrote about last weekend to snap me out of that. There I realized that I was doing good things with my life, even if I don’t have a daily exercise regiment. I made new friends, and talked to some awesome people who share quite a bit in common with me in that regard. I found kindreds, and acquaintances. Basically, I lived life and in that moment, I loved it.

I wasn’t living off of some list. I wasn’t checking to make sure that someone, somewhere, had already made sure that this was something that I should be doing at my age. I found something that makes me feel good, that makes my soul happy, that makes me feel like I’m doing more than just existing, like I’m giving back to this world. And that feeling, for me, is better than owning new furniture or something ridiculously expensive. I was living.

Yes, eggs and lists helpful recipes both sent me into an existential crisis and to blissful existence. The human mind is funny like that.

Anyway, yes I will be posting more recipes soon. And some cooking basics (which you absolutely do not need to learn if you feel you live a fulfilling life without them). I think maybe this week, I’ll start with a salute to eggs.

Scheduling and your Syllabi

Your syllabus is probably the most important document you’ll receive in a class. It’s your schedule, your contact info, your lifeline for the next semester. How many of you know how to actually use it to your advantage though?

I’ll admit, my first year in University, I didn’t pay much attention to the damn things. I’d write down in my day planner when my exams were and when papers were due. Then, I’d stick my pile of syllabi in a folder and throw my day planner in my backpack. I didn’t check it regularly, and the “F” on my transcript is my proof of that (damn you History and Politics of Asian Religions!!!!).

I wised up a bit my second year. I’d check my planner once or twice a week, keep my syllabi with my class notebooks, and thought this was good enough. Actually, this is what most students do. And this is why so many students try to write 15 page research papers in two days, pull all-nighters cramming for exams last-minute, and spend more on coffee and Monster than tuition.

This method lulls you into a false sense of scheduling security. Yes, you have everything you need written down in front of you somewhere. And yes, you actually check what needs to be done the beginning of the week. But what do you have next week? Or a month from now? Can you open your day planner to a random page from this semester and easily figure out which classes will take up the most of your time and resources at a glance?

In my third year, I came up with a system. The first week of classes, I got all of my syllabi in class or on the class websites. Then, I took a whole afternoon to go over them and start scheduling. (Come on, it’s the first week of classes. You can spare a few hours to make the next few months a little easier!) All I needed were some coloured pens, sticky notes, and a day planner.

First, each class was assigned a colour. In the day planner, go through class by class and fill in WHEN each class is. I know you think you’ll remember that you have that Post-Modern Comic Theory class every single Thursday at 1pm. In a month or two, when you’re running on no sleep and ALL the caffeine, though, you may not even remember you’re enrolled in that class, let alone when it is. This also puts it right in front of you, in writing, when you are committed to be there.

Then, for each class, make note of your exams, papers, assignments, labs, and anything else that is a part of your grade. Write down when these things are, and a detail or two about each (like exam rooms and times, paper lengths, etc). This gives you your deadlines.

Now, for each major grade event that you need extra time for (like paper writing or studying for exams), give yourself at least one weeks notice. Flip back one week in your day planner, and make a section for this. Some planners come with a Notes area each week you can use. If you don’t typically have much planned for weekends, you could always use your Sunday space for this. Or, you could use the sticky notes I said to grab. (You can never have enough sticky notes in your life). Write down the day, time, subject, and how much of your grade this is worth. This ensures you have extra notice, so things don’t creep up on you at the last minute.

And now, VERY CAREFULLY read through each syllabus. Each syllabus is your professor’s notes to you on how to get as high a grade as possible. Take a page in your planner and write down each professor’s contact information, office hours, the course you are taking with them, and the course time and place. Then, read their instructions. Some professors will throw in exactly what they expect for assignments, or a grading rubric to help you plan our papers. They also give details about your exams, like if the final exam is cumulative, or only covers materials you learned since the mid-term.  Some will break down exactly what chapters to read each week, what online material to look up, and what they expect to cover in their lectures each week. Make note of ALL of this! You need to know what you’ll have to do before each class, or else you can’t actually do it.

I know this seems like a lot to do all at once. This is the simplified version of what I did for three years, though, and what a lot of friends and colleagues have said have worked best for them. When my schedule got really tight (4-5 classes, two jobs, 6 volunteer positions, fraternity events, family obligations, sleeping, eating…..), I used a day planner, a one-month wall calendar, a 4 month wall planner, a system of 4 separate To-Do lists, and email reminders to keep everything straight. Compared to all of that, this is a walk in the park.

This also helps make your semester run a little more smoothly. Imagine, never checking your schedule on Monday to find out you have a paper due Wednesday that you forgot about; never again forgetting about your Monday midterm until Saturday night; never missing a party because you have to pull an all-nighter to finish an assignment you forgot. Sure, this will take a few hours to get done in one day. But think of all the money you’ll save on energy drinks, caffeine pills, coffee, and everything else you’ve been using to keep you up for those last-minute all-nighters.

Most of all, think of all the stress you can save yourself by giving up one afternoon to write stuff down with pretty coloured pens. You can plan things out like those real grown-ups you see in the movies, with their leather-bound planners and appointment books, snootily telling people “sorry, I need at least 3 weeks notice. I’m already all booked. Are you free in May? I may have an opening in May sometime.” This one afternoon with your day planner could be all it takes to put you on the path to becoming Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.……. or it could at least free up enough time for you to remember you love that movie, and actually watch it again.

Taking Time For You

As I said on Friday, you need to slow down. Yes, you. The one reading this right now.

I know sitting at your computer, reading random ramblings on WordPress, doesn’t seem like something you need to slow down from. But what else are you doing? Are you at work? Studying? Writing a paper? How many tabs do you have open right now, and be honest with yourself. While you’re reading this, you’re probably reading 3 or 4 other websites, have a notebook open somewhere near you, maybe an open book or stack of paperwork, and are thinking about what you need to get done later on today.

Is that really relaxing?

I had a friend, after my health crisis in University, try to get me to meditate. It had always worked for her in the past, helping her relax when her brain wouldn’t slow down. I followed her steps, met with her meditation group, lit the candles and chanted the mantras. All that happened for me was I wound up sitting there for an hour, wondering how much other stuff I could have gotten done in that time. While the dozen or so people around me seemed to transform from tightly wound workaholics to completely relaxed and chilled out, I was more stressed afterwards than when I got there.

Another friend brought me to yoga. Again, this was something she swore by. I already did stretching and random yoga poses at home while watching tv, so it seemed like something I could get into. Instead, I was a miserable stress case. Again, my brain wouldn’t shut off, just like in meditation. But this time, on top of that, I was worrying about the yoga poses. Being a yoga noob, I couldn’t pull off any of the advanced (or even intermediate) poses that I thought looked so easy. I stressed myself out over being so unflexible, and out of shape. Then I got stressed because I was sure unflexible wasn’t a real word, but I couldn’t think of a real word to mean what I thought. Again, I left more stressed out than when I got there.

So, after losing myself in thought on my walk to work one day, I came up with my own relaxation method. I like to daydream. I’m always lost in though while I walk, remembering parts of dreams or story ideas. I’d daydream about saving my co-workers from armed robbers, or learning to cook a fish dish so amazing that Gordon Ramsay shows up on my doorstep in a Speedo to try it. When people offered me rides places, I turned them down so that I could walk and get lost in my thoughts for a bit.

Daydreams are my escape. I can imagine winning the lottery, or the boyfriend taking me to the petting zoo, or my awesome co-worker just being goofy and making me laugh. I can imagine the fantastic or the ordinary, the impossible or the probable. In my head, there are ninjas, samurai, hobbits, narwhals, dragons, and even Batman (or a reasonable (and half naked) facsimile thereof). The world inside my head is awesome, and it’s all mine!

So, every night, no matter how much I have to do or how stressed I am, I go to that world. I imagine Batman coming to save me from danger, and then me having to save him when the danger gets a little out of control, and then him getting to thank me. What a better way to end the day then with that image in my head as I get ready for bed?

My method might not work for everyone. That’s why it’s my method. I made it for me, because it works best for me. As I said, meditation and yoga work great for some people. Other people need books, or a massage, or a sensory deprivation tank. The main thing is you need to find what works for YOU. Only you know what you need.

A Few Words on Self-Care

I’m not going to lie: life can really suck sometimes. It seems like you are constantly on the go, never getting any time for yourself. Then, the rare time you do get a few hours free, you’re so overwhelmed with all the things you need to get done that you can’t just sit and relax. Day in, day out, it’s just go-go-go……….. until one day, it feels like you can’t go anymore.

That, my friends, is burnout. And we all get it at some point.

And yes, it really really sucks.

As I said Wednesday, my schedule is a little crazy right now. There are days, when I finally get a little me-time, when I multi-task my relaxing. I will watch TV, flip through Cosmo, read a book, have a glass or two of wine, and take notes for writing projects, all at the same time. And it’s really not healthy.

There will come a time when all of this go-go-go will start to get to you. It will be harder to get out of bed in the morning, and harder to fall asleep at night. Maybe you won’t be able to quiet your brain at night, or turn it back on when you need it most. You’ll spend your free moments making to-do lists, going over what you need to get done.

At one point in my University career, my health and body just gave up. I was taking 4 classes a semester, working two on-campus jobs (research assistant, and teaching assistant). I was on the Board of Directors for an activist group, and headed up their Fundraising and Events Planning committee. I volunteered in our campus Academic Advising Centre. I helped run Welcome Week events, gave talks to parents of prospective students, recruited students for multiple on-campus organizations, volunteered at local Fraternity events, joined the association for my major AND the one for one of my minors, and did independent research into what I had wanted to do a Psych Thesis on.

Then my health got in the way. First was the ear infection that winter, which got so bad it gave me random bouts of vertigo. This resulted in me passing out in a 7-11 near campus, and having to be rushed my ambulance to the hospital.  Then, the food poisoning hit me that summer. After spending 7 months researching e.coli as part of my job, I got a mild case of it. And by mild, I mean I spent 4 days in the bathroom, and had to be put on an IV for fluids more than once in a two week span. The real kicker came at the end of the summer, when I was gearing up for the next school year.

In the midst of thesis advisor meetings, preliminary research, summer class finals, a new workout regime, Welcome Week preparations, and a long-distance relationship, my mother had to rush me to the hospital. One day I woke up, and was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed. It took me 45 minutes to crawl across my bedroom, and down the hall less than 8 feet to the bathroom. Once there, all I could do was vomit. Then the headache started. I was put in isolation at the hospital for three days, while they gave me morphine and dilauded to try and stop the pain in my head (and they didn’t work, either). After blood work, a lumbar puncture, brain scans, and a fever of 105, the doctor told me it looked like West Nile.

This was my wake-up. I had to slow down, or else my recovery could kill me. I was under strict orders not to exercise, or over exert myself. I dropped down to 3 classes, and eventually dropped my Thesis due to the stress. I started planning more, procrastinating less, and getting things done bit by bit instead of a giant panic all at once. I even (mostly) gave up my all-nighters. Instead of trying to run committees I had no interest in and didn’t even like being a part of, I stayed home and watched Buffy on Netflix with the boyfriend (once he was back in town for school).

Basically, I gave up what I didn’t need. Why bother staying a part of an organization I was getting nothing out of, and wasn’t fully contributing to, when I could focus on the things that mattered most? When I had some health set-backs (most likely due to that fever that wouldn’t break causing a bit of damage that needed time to heal), I didn’t have to worry about getting in touch with 40 people to cover all my extra-curriculars while I was in hospital. I could just focus on being healthy.

Today, I still have a hectic schedule. I take time for me now, though. I’ll watch Netflix on my phone on my lunch break. I’ll make a point of painting my nails once or twice a week, so I’m forced to relax while they dry. Once a month, I take a half-day on a Sunday to just do all the stupid beauty crap I would normally put off, like dyeing my hair and putting on a face mask.And I take 20 minutes each night, right before bed, to just sit in my room, alone, and daydream.

I take care of me, now. And you should do the same for you, too. Yes, you can have your packed schedule, and your Do-It-All mentality. But you also need to have a Don’t-Work-Yourself-Into-An-Early-Grave mentality. When you start to feel worn down, that is your body’s way of telling you slow down a bit. So schedule in some time to relax, do a little something for you each day.

In the immortal words of the 90’s sexiest FBI agent, Dale Cooper, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

Damn good coffee!