Monday, August 29, 2011

Looking Back on AuGuest: The Importance of Self

On this, the final Monday of August, on wanted to take some time to reflect on AuGuest 2011, and what it has meant to me and this blog.

To begin with, I once again wanted to thank my four contributors; Zoyah Thawer, Samantha Karol, Diana Antholis, and Noel Rozny. They each took time out of their busy schedules and their own writings and social media activities to add something to Too XYZ. An effort for which they received no compensation, and for which they will in all likelihood gain no fame, given the small reach of this blog of mine. It is much appreciated.

All four of these people offered something a little different, and did so in a different style. To each of their posts I wrote my own response, so I will not go into my thought on each again here. But I will say that despite the diversity of views and background for my AuGuests this year, I have in fact detected one commonality: the important of knowing and caring for the Self.

In Zoyah's case it was making sure she did not let herself become consumed by the bitterness of her situation. Samantha did not allow confusing and frustration over her unfair exclusions from groups affect the way she reached out and offered herself honesty to other people in a similar circumstance. Diana expressed how vital it was for her, and all of us, to remain confident in the direction we feel out inner most self is calling us to take in life, and Noel mentioned that despite her extroversion she has been faced lately with the occasional need to take a step back and look inward, to get a better understanding of and to provide better care to herself.

Yet it none of these cases did the slightest hint of selfishness appear. That is because caring for your self, and letting that all important center of our souls guide us as we nurture it and take care of it is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is an ego driven state of mind with no regard to morals or the affects our actions have on other people. It caters mostly to immediate gratifications piggybacking on greater lifetime goals. That is as destructive to the selfish person as it is to the people they trample on the way to what they want. Perhaps more so.

Yet to be careful with our self, respect our inner life and make-up, no matter how different from the status quo that may be, and to, yes show love to what we are at our core, even as we accept the chance to improve upon it without pressure is to bring about the best possible version of who we are. To enhance that with which we are born, and to add to it things that we have determined we can achieve through heard work, thus giving both ourselves and the world the most potent entity we can be in service to the good around us. Not self serving cads nor slaves tied to the leash of a demanding society. Right in the middle can be found the transcendence of caring for the self.

That is what I got out of the messages of all four of my AuGuests this year. And I hope they, and each of you readers got something out of their contributing to Too XYZ as well. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that as time goes on.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

AuGuest: My Response to Noel

On Monday, Noel Rozny wrote about how despite being an extrovert, she sometimes, especially in recent times, felt the need to withdraw and take some time to herself to look inward for strength. That there was a little bit of introvert in her, despite being an extrovert all of her life. She touched on an important universal truth, though many people would not accept its universality. The entire concept is in fact summed up quite well in the title of her post; "A Whole Lot of 'E' And a Little But of 'I'"

In her excellent book, Introvert Power, Dr. Laurie Helgoe makes use of the ancient Yin-Yang symbol to illustrate that inside every extrovert there are aspects of introversion. And yes inside every introvert are aspects of extroversion. No well adjusted, healthy person is 100% either temperament, no matter how it may appear on the surface. (Nor how much one may object to the possibility.)

For some people, whether extroverted or introverted, it is easier to see the aspects of the "other side." That is because introversion and extroversion are measured on a spectrum. Within the entire demographic of healthy introverts in the world, some will be closer to the extrovert border, and go to parties frequently, let's say. It will exhaust them, but they will find it worth the investment. Then there are introverts who never go to parties and prefer to spend every Friday night at home, alone with a book or movie, inviting or visiting only one or two select friends once in a while. Both types are introverts, just at different points a long the spectrum. In the first example, it is not difficult to detect the yang amount the yin, as it were. In the second example, we may never see the extroverted. But it exists.

And as Noel proved, the concept of yin-yang and spectrum exists for extroverts as well.

I don't know where on the spectrum of extroversion Noel falls. The irony is to know where one falls on either spectrum requires some introverted introspection time, which extroverts have to approach when the time is right, but introverts approach by virtue of being awake. So I leave it to Noel to explain or explore how far on the extrovert spectrum she can be found. I can however explore the topic as applied to myself, and share with you readers when this introvert has his extroverted tendencies.

Let us say that the introvert spectrum can be measured on a scale of one to ten. A "one" would live on the border town with extroversion. A "ten" would remain content to live a monastic existence with their family and a library on a secluded mountain for 11 months out of the year for the rest of their lives. Yours truly tends to be left of center on the spectrum towards introversion. I put myself somewhere between a six and seven depending on what i have been doing, or how life in general is going.

This means my extroverted tendencies can be detected, if one is looking. But the require certain circumstances to come about.

For example, my trace of extroversion means that I do not wish to spend huge amounts of time alone at one time. I require alone time each day, sometimes quite a bit of it. Especially at the end of a long day, or at the start of a day that I know will be particularly trying or unusual. Only with that time to myself can I begin to sort out the sensations and thoughts that come about. Yet I can begin to feel lonely and a tad depressed if I have been around nobody for days or weeks at a time.

As an introvert I am in an almost constant state of introspection and looking inward. That's sort of what we do, you know. Yet unlike some introverts who can be sustained forever by doing that, I need a break from myself sometimes. To prevent being sunk into my own ennui I need to be amongst other people. Friends works better than family, because my family members tend to spend a lot of time sunk in their own ennui. Yet if I have been alone for long enough I will go over to Mom's, just for another presence outside of my mind. It doesn't always work, because as I said sometimes Mom and I have the same tendencies. Yet when the sound of silence gets too great, it works in a pinch.

It is sometimes my only choice, because most of my best friends are not accessible, and those that are are often so busy, I don't get to see much of them despite their being on 30 minutes away or so. And for whatever the reasons, I do not get visits from anyone else most of the time. So when this introvert needs to re-calibrate by interacting with people and us unable to do so, you can imagine how frustrating it can all be. I have known for years that I need more local friends to whom I can go whenever I feel this way, but as yet I have not been able to make such friends with ease. (I am an introvert after all.)

Another way in which I behave more like an extrovert sometimes is when seeking a solution to certain problems.

In general, introverts do not think out loud. In mot cases I don't that is for sure. Introverts will speak once they have thought of something cogent to say. Extroverts on the other hand will continue speaking until they have something cogent to say. Sometimes without breathing. It can be overwhelming to an introvert.

Yet there are times when I find it not only necessary but preferable to explore an idea from start to finish by talking it through out loud.Granted the framework for my comments will often have been already built within my mind as a result of typical quiet introverted reflection. Yet the flesh and bone or a solution or approach often feels more useful when I talk it out with other interested parties in the extroverted way of processing. I find this most often happens during a creative collaboration such as a theatre production. But even then only if the other parties are people I know I can trust. If I don't know them or trust them, my creative thinking will remain set on "introvert".

I am sure there are other times where for a moment, or for the sake of a specific task I can bring out more of the extrovert minority within my psyche. Yet I have given what i feel are the best two examples of the yang amongst the yin within my personality. The point of course is that for everyone on both sides there is a little of both. No matter what side of the "troversion" fence you fall on, and understanding that there is a little of your type in the other can lead to better understanding of and perhaps better relations with people you otherwise might not have related to.

Monday, August 22, 2011

AuGuest Post: A Whole Lot of "E" and a Little Bit of "I" by Noel Rozny

I stood at the outskirt of the bachelorette party speechless. For once in my life I didn’t have much to say.

This, for me, was unusual. I love talking to people. Being in loud, rowdy conversations at a party on a Friday night is as essential to me as food and water. Without human interaction, I wilt. (Really, it’s true. I tried it one winter when I worked from home during a blizzard. By the third day I was so bored I was talking out loud to the voices in my head.)

Perhaps it’s genetics. Or perhaps it’s conditioning. Or perhaps it’s because my parents decided to drop that umlaut over the “e” in my name. But whatever the reason, I have always considered myself to be a highly-expressed extrovert.

That was until recently. In the past few months, there has been much of my usual desire to get in touch with friends on the East Coast, see old roommates for coffee, and make jokes to the lady next to me on the train. But there have also been instances of an extreme need to be alone, to shut out the noise of the world and sit in the stillness of my apartment. They arise like the aurora borealis on the horizon, unexpected and unexplained and strangely hypnotic. They suck me into their gravitational pull, and I find myself unable to resist.

When they first showed themselves, I felt a rumble in the distance and a slow, oncoming cloud of fear. When you have thought of yourself one particular way for most of your adult life, as a people person or a social being or whatever you want to call it, the threat of that piece of your personality disappearing is terrifying. It means trying to find a new way to exist in the world.

But after the third and fourth and fifth time these spells appeared, I figured that like any natural phenomena, there was no stopping them. So I decided to sit down and shut up and ride out the storm. And by doing so, I found the center. I found the eye.

There have been a lot of changes swirling around me these past eight months (a whole different blog post or four) and in the chatter of the world, I found an escape from them. But the hidden introvert in me, the one I never even knew existed, knew better. She knew I needed some quiet and some space and some time to reflect to get my house in order. And she wasn’t about to go unnoticed.

So after my initially panic, I slowly learned to embrace this need for quiet. I found that there is as much energy to draw from the inside as I often discover in the world around me. I learned that I have more “I” in me than I ever imagined, and I’ve learned that can be a very good thing. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

AuGuest: My Response to Diana

In her AuGuest post on Monday, Diana Antholis uses her experience in graduate school as a backdrop. Having never been to graduate school myself, I can't relate to this aspect of the post. Yet one of the reasons I liked this post so much is that the perspectives she provides in same are applicable to many situations in which one might find themselves overwhelmed, alone, or afraid.

For her it was graduate school. For you it may be a new job. Or you decision to move across the country, or start your own business. Whatever it is that made, or perhaps still makes you feel a bit paralyzed or afraid, let's take a look at the five things Diana mentioned which helped her "avoid insanity" while attending graduate school.

"I had to learn to learn to not become so emotionally involved in school."

Emotions are a wonderful, important and natural thing for a human being to experience. Unlike some success gurus of the current generation, I feel this includes anger, sadness, and fear. We mustn't punish ourselves for feeling emotions. Yet at the same time a large undertaking sometimes cannot proceed if we attach those understandable emotions to them and allow them to define the experience too much. Even when something is very important to us, there is a time and place for the emotion of said experience.

Consider emergency room doctors. Dedicated professionals who obvious have an intense passion for healing and medicine. But emotional investment in each patient, procedure and judgement call is impossible. Such people would be destroyed in short order. To best serve their passion, they must create a certain emotional distance on a day to day basis. Not become robots, but rather stage coach drivers. Holding the reigns and making sure the powerful horses go where they are supposed to go.

"I had to learn to create a balance between school and personal life."

I have learn from my previous conversations with Diana that she is an extrovert, and unless you are visiting Too XYZ for the very first time right now, you know that I am an introvert. Yet it is crucial for both types to maintain a personal life. Diana may have gone out on a Saturday night during grad school whereas I would probably visit a single family and talk for a few hours. Yet the point is we must remember that personal time. Maybe yours would entail swimming laps at the YMCA once a day, or reading a book all by yourself with your cats. Personal time is exactly that; personal. What it consists of is 100% up to you, but the key is you have to honor its value.

Some of the hardest people to get to know, some of the hardest to love are those who are always sacrificing personal time in pursuit of a degree, a job, a house. Or even a spouse. If we are investing so much in an endeavor that we become convinced there is no time to be had away from same, we have already become immersed too deeply. The old Chinese proverb says it is the space between the bars that holds the tiger in. In other words we can offer more to our mission when we remember there is more to our life other than the mission. We step away for a while and come back to it refreshed, and ready to tackle even more. The alternative is burning out, and that suits nobody.

"I had to stay calm."

"Keep calm and carry on" was a phrase on posters plastered all over London during World War II. An exquisite example of British simplicity and determination during some of the most trying time that nation has ever known, the phrase has recently made a bit of a pop-culture resurgence. Possibly it is nostalgia at work here, but I like to think that it is due to a slow but certain realization in our frenzied, uncertain, rapidly changing smart phone culture that remaining calm is more important than ever. Nothing can be accomplished from a state of panic. It may be part of our reptilian brain response to panic, but if we hope to get further than a reptile under attack would get, we must remember we are creatures of higher reasoning. We do this be keeping as calm as we can as often as possible.

You may not be facing the Luftwaffe, but it can feel like it when everything in your world feels like it is blowing up or falling apart around you. But if you keep calm and carry on you are far more likely to find either a solution to the problem, or an escape to another set of circumstances. Remaining calm reminds you that you are still alive, can still exert at least some control, and don't need to surrender to what appears at first to be chaos.

"I had to stay out of the drama."

I don't know if this one, or the previous admonition to stay calm is the most difficult for many of us. "Drama" in this context seems so seductive to so many people. I wonder why. Gossip, personal attacks, making a scene, going nuts. Squabbling. Backbiting and manipulation. Accusations. Even the best of us get sucked in to such a maelstrom at times. I theorize that being the center of such drama is a manifestation of a deep, latent desire for significance and attention we feel we lack. Participating in such drama from the outside I think is an indication that deep down we want to have influence on the world around us. I affect change, and not necessarily for the better.

Or maybe this is also a reptilian thing, and fighting and screaming is in our DNA. I only know this; that drama will happen. It too is a nature part of the human experience. Though some claim they "avoid drama" at all costs, I don't know how practical that is. Yet when we see drama we must be extra careful about becoming a part of it. It saps our energies, wastes our time, and, worse of all it has a bubble effect; when you find yourself in the midst of it your entire universe seems to be confined to the particulars of said drama. It becomes almost impossible to see, contemplate or engage in anything not connected with the drama. And if that happens, how do you move forward? How do you keep calm and carry on?

"I had to stay confident in my goals."

Forget trying to decide whether staying calm or staying out of the drama is more difficult. Staying confident in one's goals has both of them beat. I speak from personal experience.

There are so many expectations placed upon what we do with our time, our money, our talents. Even our love. These expectations come from convention, from society, from our churches, our friends, our families. Even from our television commercials. When we decide we have a goal, (or heaven forbid, a dream) that doesn't conform to any or all of these expectations, we hear about it right away. We here that it isn't traditional. That we need to settle. That the economy is too poor to start a business, or that we are getting too old to not be married. These sentiments can put us off of our personal vision for ourselves. Worse than that, it isolates us and makes us feel alone. All things are more difficult to accomplish when we feel we are alone.

Yet if we don't remain confident in our own goal in spite of all of that, nobody else can do it for us. Lack of focus on our own goals is a form of surrender to what other people determine about our lives. People who do no have the entire story, no matter how well they know us, or think they know the world. Goals change, yes, but that should only happen after deep introspection and revaluation based on what you truly want out of your life, as opposed to pressure from those who say it isn't feasible or goes against the status quo.

I hope I have demonstrated how Diana's approach to surviving graduate school is in reality a usable template for surviving most trials. What she did to keep her sanity in academia you and I can do to keep our sanity in our own lives.

Have you ever used any of these approaches? Would you add to this list? Tell me about it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

AuGuest Post: Confidence and Grad School, by Diana Antholis

Confidence and Grad School

I was always a confident, independent woman...until I went to graduate school.  

Self-assessments and personality tests hold no ground compared to the self-realization process I encountered during graduate school.  I was stripped down to my core while simultaneously being built back up.  A truly bizarre experience.

During my time in school and at work in New York City, I was doing pretty well.  I excelled in school, I had best friends, I did fabulous things, and I was promoted at work.  Even when I moved to San Diego when my boyfriend returned from his deployment in Iraq, I easily found a job, made friends, and lived THE life on the beach.  

I was never arrogant or obnoxious.  But I knew I was smart and lucky.  Though I do believe that you have to work hard and make the right decisions to have good luck.  

Graduate school was something I had always wanted to do.  After about three years in advertising, I was ready to pursue that goal and take on a career change.  The change would be difficult, but not impossible.  I never lost confidence in my ability to make things happen and get things done.  

So, when my acceptance letter came in the mail for The George Washington University in Washington D.C., I was ecstatic.  THIS Organizational Management program was for me.  When I was offered a spot in the “Fellows” program, a chance to complete the master’s in 10 months with a small cohort, I said, “Why not?!” and jumped on the opportunity.  I was honored that I had been chosen.

This program differed from the two-year traditional program as it consisted of seven-week semesters back-to-back completed with the same small cohort of people.  It sounded so fabulous as we were given the titles of “Fellows,” special attention from professors, and the ability to charge through a master’s degree while really getting to know our classmates.

I was nervous, anxious, and excited at the same time.  I was curious about my classmates and professors.  I was interested to see what being in a graduate program would be like.

Well, let’s just say that 10 months of constant contact with the same group of people allows you to REALLY get to know people - including yourself.  The eleven people in this cohort couldn’t be more different from one another: professionally, personality-wise, and demographically.  

While the whole class was composed of genuine good people, I felt out of place.  So out of place that I began to question myself.  

Friends and Pressure

Usually, I can easily find friends or people I’m compatible with, but I was having trouble with this group.  The more I tried to create friendships, the more I became disappointed.  I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself.  

School and Balance

School was hard.  I had 300+ pages of reading per week per class (with anywhere from 2-4 classes at a time).  I was preparing research papers and presentations nearly every week.  I was the graduate research assistant for the Chair of the program.  And I was trying to maintain my relationship with my boyfriend at home.  

Pep Talks and Confidence

Every other month or so, my boyfriend had to give me pep talks because I would completely break down.  I would lose confidence in my abilities.  I didn’t think I could handle any more.  I thought others were smarter than me.  I didn’t know if I could keep up.  I felt bad energy from certain people.  I felt like everything I knew was wrong.  The pressure was overwhelming.  

Then I became mad at myself for feeling insecure.  That wasn’t ME.  How could I let myself think those things??  

Then I would snap out of it and give myself a pep talk.  Deep down, I knew I would excel in my classes, but I’d let the little things get to me.

Then it would start all over again.

Later I found out that most people feel that way in grad school.

What Had to Happen to Avoid Insanity

I had to learn to not become so emotionally involved in school.  I had to toughen up, go to class, do my work, and have confidence in who I was and who I was going to become.  

I had to learn to create a balance between school and personal life.  I’d watch other people completely stress out and exclaim that they would be writing papers all weekend long.  I’d easily tell them I was planning on going out Saturday night and having a good time.  

I had to stay calm.  I’d listen to other people argue with one another in class about things that really weren’t necessary to become so enraged about.  My patience was tested, but I passed.  

I had to stay out of the drama.  I’d hear others speak negatively about each other behind their backs (and to their faces as well!).  Competition, personality differences, and pure immaturely fueled this.  I’d try not to get involved in the drama and avoid thinking about what they could possibly be saying about me.

I had to stay confident in my goals.  When we talked about our futures, my thoughts were so drastically different from every classmate.  When I talked about starting my own business, I was given strange looks.  I knew I was different.  I knew my experience was different.  And I knew that I also knew things they didn’t.  That’s how I made it through.  

By the end of the 10 months, we had all had it with one another.  But surely, a few months after graduation, we realized how much we all meant to one another.  Being in that program with all of them was the best self-realization process I have ever been through.  I was put to the test in my knowledge and my personality.  I appreciated every single person in that class for challenging me in a way that I never would have challenged myself.  Being so uncomfortable made me ready for anything.  

I still keep in touch with almost every single one of my classmates.  I’ve even seen half of them in the past year and we all live around the world.  We have a special bond now that only we can understand.  We know and appreciate what a strange group we really were.  We can talk about everything that happened between us openly and with laughs.  We appreciate being given the chance to experience one another, because we were all so drastically different that we never ever would have crossed paths in this lifetime.  

I believe that’s why many things don’t scare me now.  People have so much fear, but once you go through certain things in life that really have an impact, fear becomes less significant.  When you are pushed to your limits in every single aspect of your life, you start to prioritize the things worth stressing over.

That process was eye-opening.  And as uncomfortable and insecure as I was through the whole thing, I’m so happy I went through it because it made me the person I am today.  

Too often, we let fear and insecurity take over our thoughts.  But this is not a bad thing.  We need to acknowledge these emotions and challenge them.  We become better people once we understand who we are and why we act certain ways.  Socrates couldn’t have said it better, “Know thyself.”

Diana Antholis helps young adults who have been in “adulthood” for a few years transition to a new career based on their wants and goals to ultimately make them much happier, healthier individuals at Enter: Adulthood.  She has been known to accept bribes concerning chocolate.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

AuGuest: My Response to Samantha

Samantha's AuGuest post dealt with her desire and ability to not set people aside just because they are not in a group, or don't fit some kind of criteria, even though for reasons unclear she herself was excluded from a group(s) at one point.

In other words, like Zoyah, she has not let what could have been a painful experience make her too bitter to let people in. Indeed that very experience of being shut out motivated Samantha to be even more considerate people who are outside of her direct circle. (The example she gave was making sure everyone at a party feels welcome, even if she doesn't know much about them.)

I myself have often been on the receiving end of such exclusions as Samantha wrote about. From grade school all the way up into my adulthood even today, I have been left aside, not invited to the parties, or been the one that never has his messages returned. The one who sets up things to do, only to have his invitations constantly turned down, or ignored.

Only in certain situations have these experiences made me extra certain to reach out. For example, I made a vow to myself to express sympathy when someone I know loses a parent, no matter who they are, since that sympathy was never expressed to me as a child. When I get a message from anyone with whom I am on good terms I am prompt in returning it. If I can physically be of assistance to most people, I will offer to be so. These are things I would have done anyway, but I have a greater focus on them because I haven't received much of this sort of support from others in my life.

Yet those are examples that tend to present themselves. Almost as though the Universe says, "Okay, here's a test of your principles to chew on." I like to think I usually pass such tests, as graded by both the Universe and my own compass. Yet my track record is not so good when it comes to reaching out beyond a certain very narrow circle in my life.

In her post, Samantha wrote:

"Don't just brush people off because they're not part of your group."

In my own defense I do have to start by saying that I don't reject people just because they are not in my group. I pride myself on what I call my "mental inclusiveness". My belief that just about everybody in any type of demographic has something to offer the world, and potentially something to offer me. My thoughts are egalitarian. And again, there are all kinds of people that if they came to me would have a place at my table. Now ask me about how often I go out of my way to mention my table first...

Yes, part of it is that I am an introvert, and we introverts don't often like to start the conversations, reach out to strangers, or get the proverbial ball rolling on the social front. We like to be left alone at first, and we like to assume others do as well. Yet I cannot lay all of my reticent reluctance at the doorstep of my introversion.

The truth is, so many different types of people have dismissed me that it becomes easier to profile in a way. Did I specifically reject, say, cheerleaders in high school or college because that is what they were? No. Did I allow my experiences with people who were cheerleaders to define what I could expect from such people most of the time, and hence out of self preservation opt to not explore relationships with them? Yes. I did.

When you're like me you tend to take specific note of the pain inflicted upon you, and the source of that pain. Which in turn makes you far less likely in the future to give certain people a second look. Even if they are not the direct cause of your pain. Even if you know on a meta, intellectual level that they, like any stranger are just as entitled to your decency, respect and friendship as anybody else. You still do it. And then you tend to close your circle in as tight as possible in an effort to keep out the unpredictables. The new people. The ones outside of the archetypes with which you most identify. I did that and in many ways continue to do that.

Sometimes this withdrawal is in fact counterproductive or even destructive to the very ends I am gunning for. Just the other day I was talking to a close friend of mine that I knew in college, but didn't speak to much until after college was over. Through the wonders of social media we actually became close after we had lived on the same campus for years. Not during. And as I said to her only recently, one main reason for this was that she was in, (or at least appeared to be in) a different group. Another demographic. And though I never dismissed her and her friends simply because they were not like me, I also figured the safest thing to do was to not engage in such people too much, because similar people in the past had burned me. Sometimes I knew why, but usually I didn't.

Instead, in college I clung to those with a shared archetype. The artistic, theatre geek crowd. And the irony is, that crowd had just as many traitors, liars, and caddy manipulators as any other group one might associate with such low-lifes. In fact, theatre people may be more guilty of that sort of thing than most groups. But because I was arts oriented myself I allowed a false sense of safety and familiarity to dictate where and when I engaged other people. The result? Abject loneliness after a serious event in my final semester in college. My "group" had basically zero sympathy for me in my time of need, and I had little connections elsewhere.

What I would have given to have been able to flee from my theatre people in the final semester of college! Could have been to any group that welcomed me. The football players. The foreign exchanges. The pot-heads. Anybody to whom I could have gone with the simple intention of interacting and feeling valued again. Yet because I allowed my previous history with people to dictate my behavior, I had no such connections to speak of. I had held back in befriending certain types. Again, some of it was due to my being an introvert on the outside of some very extroverted groups. Yet a bigger part of it was due to simple reluctance to treat certain people better than I had been treated by others that resembled them. Others that offered no instant familiarity. I paid a huge price for that reluctance. I continue to pay a huge price for it to this day...

So I applaud Samantha and people like her that are able to reach out even when they have been excluded. Those that can be receptive to different demographics and not keep an automatic distance from them, even when they themselves have been victims of such discrimination. Those that don't require a situation involving moral imperatives before they engage certain types, like I do. Such people may not be better than me, but they probably have a better chance of getting through the bad times with smaller scars.

I'll close with something that same friend of mine told me during the conversation I mentioned earlier.

"It doesn't matter what happened back then. We are close now." 

True. And that gives me hope that it isn't too late for me to reach out even after I have been stepped on.

Monday, August 8, 2011

AuGuest Post: Letting People in, by Samantha Karol

I remember how nervous I was when I got the piece of paper from college telling me about my dorm assignment for freshman year. As an only child who had always had her own room, the thought of sharing one small room with three other girls was a little frightening. Summer camp had prepared me some, but I was still unsure. Thankfully, the roommate gods blessed me, and I was randomly placed with three girls who would become some of my best college friends. Not everyone was nice though, and when it came time to choose roommates for the following year, one girl who was planning on living with two of my roommates decided she didn’t want me living with them. I’d never done anything to her, didn’t even know her that well, but for some reason she didn’t want me to be part of their group. So, I ended up with my third roommate, a friend of ours and some of the other girls from our hall. Things worked out just fine, but I missed living with the other two.

It was the summer before sophomore year when I met the man who is now my fiancĂ©. Although I wouldn’t trade our relationship for the world, three years of long distance and many weekends away didn’t do much to help the friend situation. My freshman friends and I were still close, but they had also become closer with their sophomore roommates, among them a couple more girls who disliked me for no reason. Those girls were even worse than the first, barely even recognizing my existence and never making me feel welcome or comfortable. Maybe they saw me as a threat, or maybe they just didn’t like me, but the way they treated me was totally unfair.

I never again lived with my freshman roommates. They never asked, but not for any malicious reason. I’m pretty sure they had no idea how the other girls treated me. Ignorance is bliss or something like that. What I felt was far from bliss. Being left out of their tight-knit group has made me very aware of how I treat people. Whenever I host a party, I make sure everyone is introduced to everyone else so no one is left sitting alone. I’ve made an effort to tell all of my close friends about each other so they feel more comfortable when they first meet. If I find out someone feels left out, I’ll do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The important thing to remember is that letting people in is not a bad thing. If you give them a chance and actually get to know them, you might find you really like them. Don’t just brush people off because they’re not part of your group and they might “steal your friends.” Trust that your friends wouldn’t be friends with them if they weren’t awesome. Give people the same opportunity you would want them to give you.

Samantha Karol is twenty-something living and working in New York City. She is a writer and a grammar nerd, currently employed in development at an Israel-related non-profit. The way to her heart is through ice cream.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

AuGuest: My Response to Zoyah

On Monday, Zoyah started off AuGuest 2011 with her thoughts on bitterness and how to overcome same. Read that post first, if you haven't already.

I admire the post, because I see the value in the advice. No logical argument can be made against the notion of avoiding extended bitterness, and for choosing instead to be, as she describes herself, a "glass half-full" type.

Yet like so many things that one can acknowledge as proper but can't always initiate, I admit to sometimes having a hard time being the person Zoyah suggests in her piece.

It is important for me to point out that sitting here now I am far, far closer to the worthy ideal that she writes about than I was, say five years ago. Hell, even one year ago. That is because I do see the "Zoyah Standard" if you will, as something to which I, and others should aspire at times. It is a slow climb for people like me, and while when I look up I see much climbing left to do to get to that peak, if I look down I can also see how far I have come. That is because I hold several, even if not all, of Zoyah's tenants as a beacon of sorts.

To put it another way, it is a much longer journey for me than it is for Zoyah. For her, and others like her, the philosophy is like a GPS in the car. Turn by turn directions for how to live better on the day. For me, such advice is like the North Star. A guide to be sure, but distant. Slow, deliberate celestial navigation towards larger, less specific areas of the globe.

Who can say why I am Too XYZ for the faster approach? I suppose we are all just built differently. I know that many will say that it is just a matter of choice whether or not we are happy. (Though I think Zoyah stops just short of this blanket statement.) For many it is easy. For me it is easiER than it was say in college, or high school or two summers ago, but that is only because years and years of work and introspection led to it. To be frank, sheer numbness to the blows inflicted upon me have also contributed to my feeling less bitterness. (Though I would wonder if that is a healthy way to not be bitter...)

Her post covered many things, and I don't think I could, or need to respond to each of them. But one sectipn stands out and in my view is the bulls-eye of why it is so hard for some people to do what she does. Zoyah wrote:

"Circumstances have a huge impact on your behavior...sometimes circumstances or situations can grab hold of you, exhibit some sort of power over you, and even change you - maybe not forever but for a long while."

This I think is the crux of it for people like me.

Zoyah shared her story about her bitterness in the wake of her "first love" not working out. She goes on to describe how unpleasant she felt and acted to the world until her sister snapped her out of by pointing out her bitterness. I have been bitter, and in some places am still bitter, due to certain circumstances grabbing a hold of me. Those circumstances are different for each person, and I don't want to enter sad-sack autobiography mode in this post. But suffice to say that a succession of things grabbed a hold of me. Before I had a chance to snap out, or even just crawl out of the bitterness of one, another would clamp down. And then another. Until bitter numbness, (as opposed to the being numb to bitterness that I described earlier) began to set it.

Like memory foam, certain parts of my consciousness have been squeezed into a certain shape for so long by so many different hands that it has taken quite a while for my psychology to regain its proper, pre-onslaught shape. Parts of it are still recovering. A few parts have actually been torn off of the pillow and cannot be replaced even once everything springs back.

Thank the Divinities that I am not still in as bad a shape as I used to be. That I am not as angry as I once was. Yet I still envy Zoyah's situation in multiple ways.

She seems to still have the ability to choose on the moment to see the half-full glass. Like anyone she can get bitter, but has the power to choose to override it most of the time. I do not, but I envy the ability.

I envy that her default state is optimism. When that is your default setting, my guess is that you can return to it with more gusto when the time comes. My default state is usually, "Prove it." So even when I am beat down, and attain full recovery, the best I can usually hope for right now is a return to the normal levels of skepticism about humanity. I am not ashamed of my default, it is what I am. But I sometimes wish it were a little less of what I am.

Envy for Zoyah also creeps in when it comes to the wake up call she received from her sister. (Whom I also know, by the way.) I know that Zoyah and her sister are quite close, and while I am close with some of my sisters and distant from some, my siblings and I generally do not have the, "snap out of it" sort of dynamic with one another. The whole family is full of quasi-introspective and sometimes brooding, independent introverts. We don't usually say things like that to one another. It's just the way it is. I don't wish away my family, but if my family doesn't have anybody that could cut right to the quick of my bitterness and make me see the need to course correct, I wish I would have had somebody somewhere who could have.

Then again, that may be impossible given how quickly and deeply bitterness has at times in my life, overcome me. Plus, at the time I don't usually call it bitterness. One man's bitterness is another man's "justifiable disgust". In the vast majority of cases, I have, and to be frank still do feel justified in how pissed I have been at certain situations and people. Maybe one day I won't be, but for now...

We need people like Zoyah, no doubt. And while I am not ashamed of what I am, and do think that something fundamental about Ty Unglebower would be lost if he were suddenly to become a full time optimist, I cannot help but think my battle would be a bit more endurable at times if I were able to make Zoyah-type choices every day.

But at least I have the North Star.

Monday, August 1, 2011

AuGuest Post: Too Bitter, by Zoyah Thawer

Not everyone is a jerk-wad loser!

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m a glass-half-full type of gal; oftentimes, the glass isn’t even half-full, so much as overflowing So I’m an optimist: so what?  I’m not delusional; I just think it’s more fun to go through life with a smile on your face!  After all, it does take more muscles to frown than to smile, so why not conserve energy? So then, what’s with the title of this post? How could I, the self-proclaimed Ms. Sunshine and Rainbows be too bitter

Circumstances have a huge impact on your behaviour.  I know, I know: I’m the first to admit that it’s not the circumstances, so much as how you choose to deal with them.  And for a control-freak like me, it’s hard when you can’t control how others act.  I know, I know, I know.  On the other hand, sometimes circumstances or situations can grab hold of you, exhibit some sort of power over you, and even change you – maybe not forever, but for a long while.

How clichĂ©: I’m going to talk about my first love.  But it gets better, I swear, so bear with me through some of the gory details.  Like all “first loves”, we seemed to instantly click.  It was one of those, “Oh my God! You hate emptying the dishwasher, too?”, situations.  Now I know that anyone that has been around longer than 22 years will tell me: you were not in love.  But indulge me for a second: I think I was. I fell hard and fast. I don’t have another frame of reference so there’s no telling, yet.

But things went bad, very quickly.  Mr. X was clearly not ready for a relationship, which was communicated by the ever classy, phasing out.  I knew I would get over it, but I didn’t know that a relationship that consisted of one and a half dates and a few months of being jerked around would take two years to get past; and in these two years, I would become what I like to call a (cue dark, ominous music here) a Bitter Betty.

I was literally too bitter for life.  Forget smiling at people: all men were bad.  All of them.  Humanity, as it would seem, was going to pot, so we might as well all just become hermits.  Any boy who approached me had an agenda: he was probably cheating on his girlfriend, he was inconsistent or, for some unknown reason, he was a Jerk-Wad Loser (JWL).  It was not until my incredibly blunt sister pointed out to me that I was “kinda bitter”, that I realized what had happened.  I realized why I panicked every time I did something wrong and why I was obsessed with being perfect and petrified of making a mistake. I didn’t think I was good enough for Mr. X or for anyone.  He left me because there was something wrong with me, and I had been feeding my soul this message for the past two years.  The once confident, bubbly Zoyah was now sad, unfulfilled and feeling incredibly inadequate. 

So what changed?  Well, it was sort of like a “snap out of it!” type of reaction.  I looked at myself and realized that the thoughts going through my head weren't true at all. I wasn’t the one with the problem. But this was not sufficient - what was most impactful about the whole experience was realizing how much I had learned about myself by going through it.  Sure, it sucked at the time – no one likes to be rejected – but as an African Proverb states, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors”.  I learned five fundamental truths about myself and reversed the too bitter train:

1.       I am awesome: no ifs, ands or buts about it!  Whenever that shadowy, doubtful feeling comes over me now, I tell myself: you are awesome Tell yourself whatever you need to hear to get yourself out of that moment: I have great hair, I am super smart, I have a butt that won’t quit! Whatever.  Just praise yourself, and praise yourself often.  Soon enough, you’ll start to believe it!

2.       I am not a cheap rug, I am a human being: so stop walking all over me! Whether it was Mr. X dictating the progression of the relationship, your parents or your peers, it is never okay not to have a say in your own welfare and well-being.  So tell your Mr. X where he can stick it if he’s trying to manipulate you.  It’s not fair to be manipulated, and it sure as heck isn’t fun: you deserve better.

3.       If you don’t respect yourself, no one is going to respect you.  I am a big believer in the “you have to teach people how to treat you” rule.  Mr. X was a huge fan of calling when it was convenient for him: which turned out to be at midnight or later.  For an early riser like me, this was annoying.  But I didn’t say anything.  So how was Mr. X supposed to know how much I hated being woken up in the middle of the night if whenever I answered the phone, I would say “no it’s okay! I can talk!”.  Be honest with others, but mostly with yourself.

4.       Bearing grudges is a waste of time and energy: and I don’t like waste.  Let’s not lie: things are not always going to be dandy, ok?  Not all exes can be friends with one another; in fact, most can’t.  Your heart will always skip a beat when you see your Mr. X and you’ll probably get jealous when you see him with his new beau.  But remember, holding a grudge won’t get you anywhere!  I heard a line from “Eat, Pray, Love” that I never forgot.  When you think of your Mr. X in a good light or a not so good light, just “send him love and light, and then drop it!”.  Plus, the best revenge seems to be moving on.  Just because we’re sending love and light does not mean that we can’t enjoy a little one-upmanship!

5.       Not everyone is a JWL!  Really, it’s true!  So smile at people.  Be your beautiful self.  You never know where you’re going to find your person: it could be at the coffee shop, at church, volunteering or at the bus stop!  I like to believe that people are inherently good: I haven’t come across too many really bad seeds in my life.  Maybe a few confused seeds who couldn’t seem to tell heads from tails (*cough* Mr. X *cough*), but not really many bad seeds.  Give people a chance: after all, you’d love for them to give you one!

Not everything is always sunshine and daisies, but it’s not dark and twisty all the time either.  So do yourself a favour, and gain a positive outlook.  Not for Mr. X, not for Joe Schmo down the street, not for your mother, but for yourself. 

--Zoyah is a fourth year biology student with a penchant for baking and the gift of gab.  She can’t make a decision to save her life, and loves to laugh.  In her spare time she enjoys ordering overly complicated drinks at Starbucks, doing impressions, forgetting her keys everywhere and trying to explain her research to anyone who will listen.