Monday, December 31, 2012

The 2012 EFF YEAH! list

Anyone who has been around a long time knows that at the end of every year I like to make an EFF YEAH list that celebrates accomplishments big or small, and anything worth celebrating. It's fun to look back at the year and think DUDE. I DID ALL THIS.

In no particular order and with links to more details included where possible, here is the 2012 EFF YEAH list:

Moving to Washington DC
Starting a wildly neurotic and detailed life planning system that I love
Beginning to learn French
Beginning my Life List
Living alone in a bad ass apartment in DC
Incorporating my gutsy wedding photography business
Shooting four weddings and numerous portrait shoots.
Traveling to California, Texas, and Arkansas to see family and friends
Learning to say 'no' and to stand up for myself
Finishing the Joy Juice prompts and feeling AWESOME because of them - I highly recommend them!*
Writing my personal manifesto
Finishing the 101 in 1001 list
Buying a 50 mm lens
Doing a crazy but awesome juice cleanse and starting to take my health seriously
Donating my hair 

Working a random job for a few months
Managing to learn some really cute but fake calligraphy
Sending cards/presents for birthdays, holidays, etc.
Becoming a barista, then starting to teach others to be good baristas
Realizing that I want to be a teacher or professor someday
Deciding to go back to grad school, though it will take me a long time to get there
Meeting internet friends in real life
Reading countless numbers of fantastic books
Starting to save money to go backpacking 

Did I accomplish everything I wanted to in 2012? In short: No. Do I regret that? Eh, some of them. For instance, I really want to go bungee jumping but I'm TOO FREAKIN' SCARED to even book it! I signed up for a 5k, trained for it, then was too sick on race day to get out of bed. But what I did accomplish? Totally worth all the things I missed.

But for the most part, I like where 2012 has gotten me. And I think it's okay to say that. If you were around last January, you know that what comes next in my crazy life planning bucket list system is my goal-setting for 2013. But that's for another post.

Happy New Years, everyone! Have a wonderful, fun, crazy (and safe) night tonight! See you all in January.

*Affiliate link. Just saying. Don't hate lawyer peoples. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

the idea of scheduling, of free-form versus no-form, and making excellence a habit.

I've said it before and I may say it again: 2012 has been the single most challenging year of my life. I pushed myself past my emotional, physical, and mental limits more than probably ever before, and I came out of it not a different person, but a stronger and more resilient version of myself. 

Two of the things that were hardest for me in 2012 were related to plans: Plans that weren't well thought out so didn't come to fruition, and things that happened that I couldn't have planned for. When I sat up late one night after graduation making my 2012 Goal to be Furiously Proud, I never imagined both my grandmothers would be diagnosed with late-stage cancer during 2012. I didn't dream that the boyfriend I had then would stop being wonderful and become a huge toxin in my life. I also didn't account for the fact that my internship I was excited for would make me less passionate and want out of my field, rather than inspire me to work harder. I didn't know I would take a huge departure from politics and non-profits and rediscover my passion for teaching by training baristas.

On the one hand, that's life after college. All that is the beauty of not knowing. And it teaches you that strength and resilience.

But on the other, I realized that when I made that list in 2012, I hadn't left room for self-renewal, for a support system, for time to absorb and grieve and really take care of myself. So when January through June was really hard, July through November because months of nothingness. Of work, and sleep, and watching Friends or Sex and the City every night. I spread myself so thin that when I couldn't do it all, I made the choice to do none of it.

And maybe that's okay - maybe we all need a time to sort of lay fallow. But after a field lays fallow for a season, a good farmer plants it again. 

When I picked myself up in November and said to myself, "Okay, something has to change," I realized what needed to change was me. Since then, I've been reading about success, and effectiveness, and excellence. What turns normal people into effective people, what separates leaders from good leaders. In all this obsessive reading, I've come to believe in three big things: that obsession is a prerequisite for success; that there is a such thing as "too much" and therefore there is value in asking "Why the fuck?" then prioritizing your life from there; and that building positive habits is one of the most effective ways to get shit done.

I thought for a long time that to be artistic (which I am) meant to be free-form, to not have schedules, to just go with the flow. And while there are absolutely merits to being able to go with the flow, I realized that the way I was living was not free-form, it was no-form. It was waiting for inspiration to strike and motivation to appear and thinking that creativity doesn't happen on a schedule. In going with the flow, I was letting the flow just take me where it wanted to and that left me eating in bed watching reruns of no-longer-running TV shows, without WiFi in my apartment, not writing, not taking my camera out, and feeling very lonely and estranged from my friends and family.

When I started 2012 I spread myself too thin, I gave myself too much to do, no schedule to do it on, and no room for recovery when things went wrong. Now as I'm planning for 2013, I'm not searching for balance, I'm not going to try to DO ALL THE THINGS like I did in 2012 - I'm going to be doing a few things a lot, and one of them is making self-renewal a habit. Scheduling self-renewal and recovery. Planting seeds for habits that more success and better habits can grow out of. (You knew I wouldn't leave you hanging with that farmer analogy.)

The only balance then will be balancing obsession with habits. I'll be talking about all this more with the new blog coming soon, and as I wrap up 2012 and starting thinking a lot more about my goals for 2013.  Until then, what are some of your favorite good habits, or - my favorite question - what are you obsessed with right now?

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle.

Monday, December 17, 2012

tales from a recovering approval addict.

Truth be told, I hesitated to write (and then to post) this. In a lot of ways, I didn't want to acknowledge that it's already December 17, 2012. That I graduated from Texas A&M a year ago today. It was a silly fear that held me back - Oh, I'm not where I thought I would be! I'm not who I thought I would be! I'm not with the guy I was then! I'm not, I'm not, I'm not...

I thought to myself: Am I ashamed? Afraid to admit that that I decided not to work in politics? Do I wish I was doing more or doing something different? Am I embarrassed? Why am I so hesitant to talk about it? 

Then I realized the weird truth, the truth that is only weird because it's not the truth anyone else wants to hear - the truth that I'm okay with where my life is right now. I enjoy being a barista and training other baristas. I enjoy photographing gutsy couples in love, and I like not knowing if I'll still be doing all this next month, let alone next year. I like studying French in my spare time, and I enjoy thinking about the grad school I'm applying to for fall 2014 - a program so perfect for me, I couldn't have designed it better myself. 

Yes, my life can be stressful. Making ends meet... well, it doesn't always happen. I live paycheck to paycheck every month, hand to mouth some days. The status of my savings account can be up for debate, which is rough when I'm trying to apply for grad school, and I -- in the name of honesty -- I am not super happy every day, sometimes not every week. 

My point here, and the whole reason I'm writing this post at all, is to say that I almost didn't write this because I thought people wouldn't approve that my degree is "going to waste." As the days went by, I noticed that the thought people might not approve bothered me more than my own feelings on the subject. Then one day I realized how ridiculous that is - of course there are people that don't approve. But you know what? Fuck 'em.

There will always be people that don't approve of something you're doing. Always. Because if you're pleasing everyone, you're doing something wrong - you're not staying true to yourself. And so you (read: I) have to decide - are you going to ruin your happiness and your life to seek and gain their approval, or are you going to work toward being happy without everyone's approval? 

This has been a startling transition, one that I didn't quite know how to digest immediately. As I've moved into this stage of life, I've found myself starting to feel like I've outgrown Simply, Valorie. So starting in January, I'll be blogging at a new location, which will focus on my new lifestyle as a recovering approval addict. I'll post the new link soon to make it easy for you to update your RSS feeds. 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

doing things that scare you, growth, and the tricky concept of bravery

The first time I heard the phrase "Fake it 'til you make it," I was 17 and giving my first speech in my high school speech class. Since my complete paralyzing fear of talking in front of my peers was obvious to anyone with eyes or ears, that was basically what my speech was about - that I was shaking and my face was a disturbingly tomato-like shade of red and I hated this and I never wanted to do this again ohmygodgoodbyeforeverhyperventilate.

When I was done, my friend (bless him) raised his hand, lied to my face, and said he couldn't tell I was nervous. "Fake it 'til you make it," my teacher said, and winked. I sat down, was baffled that I got an A on that speech, and promptly shook during every speech I gave after (and to this day).

But I tremble less now, and my face only turns pink instead of that-girl-is-going-to-explode-red. And that's only true because I've had to speak in public since then. A lot more than I'd like, and just enough to be starting to get used to it. And all those talks forced me to face the fact that public speaking isn't as bad as I built it up to be in my head. Yes, really.

I never would have described myself as brave. I still probably wouldn't now, but I learned when I was 17 that we shouldn't be so afraid of half of the things that scare us. That really we've just built them up in our heads as these unconquerable, terrifying things when they're probably not.

When I left for China, I was scared. I cried on the plane -- twice. When I first moved to DC, I think I trembled for approximately two weeks straight. Hell, I used to be completely neurotic and freaked out about talking to a guy I liked. That scene in Friends when Monica asked Chandler what's the worst that could happen if he asked a girl out and he replied, "I could die!" -- yeah, I've believed that.*

But I've done all of those things anyway, and as terrified as I was, I enjoyed them. Being forced into uncomfortable situations gave me two options: Freak out and give up, or do it anyway and get over it along the way. Fake it 'til I made it. And now that I've done them, they don't seem so scary. By extension, a whole lot of other things don't seem so scary -- things like going backpacking, continuing with grad school, moving abroad permanently.

I don't know if this makes me brave, but I know those things aren't unconquerable. Little is, really. And if this shy, quiet, still-turns-red-when-more-than-two-people-look-at-her-girl can conquer living in China, moving across the country, and asking out a cute guy, then maybe there's hope for everything else too.

*In case you've never watched that scene, here's a clip, which is hilarious: