Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Learning from Younglings (A Mentor's Tribute to Upward Bound)

"A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you." —Bob Proctor

Glacier National Park
East Entrance, Glacier National Park - Montana, USA
How do you know if you are called to be a mentor? And what does it really mean to be a mentor?

When I began my summer job this year as a Resident Assistant for the Upward Bound 2012 Summer Academy at the Montana Tech campus, I knew that I would be placed in a mentoring position. One of the advantages I had was that I had been serving as an RA at my college for the past two years. Another advantage I had was that I had worked as an RA for Upward Bound last summer in 2011… which meant that I had the pleasure of knowing about half of the 70 students who were attending this summer. I was excited about the RA staff this year, knowing three other returning RA's and getting to know four new coworkers.

Yet no matter how much preparation you have for a job, you never really know what will happen… and how your life will be changed.

In my mind, being a mentor has a lot to do with how you conduct yourself as a person on a daily basis. If you think you’re going to win the respect and trust of someone, regardless if that person is younger or older than you, it all begins with your outlook on life and how you choose to interact with others. You are the only one who can make the conscious decision to believe in the honesty of another person until he or she proves you wrong. If you insist that everyone follows the rules, you must also follow those same rules. And you must adhere to the same consequences if you break those rules.

San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California - July 2012
Yet this summer was more than that. I saw firsthand how returning students I knew from last summer had changed and grown, and for the better. I saw how new students became part of an experience bigger than themselves. I saw how Upward Bound takes high school students from varying backgrounds, sticks them together for a month of classes and learning, and gives them opportunities to travel around the state and across the country that most students never experience. Even as an RA, I never dreamed I would be able to experience San Francisco and Glacier National Park in one week, let alone with a group of fascinating and inspiring students!

Most rewarding for me was getting to see how 70 students gelled and grew together into an incredible family… one that produces friendships that will definitely last a lifetime.

And I am truly inspired by each and every one of them. I was able to reconnect with a gal who is willing to share HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program) cheers with her entire UB family. I was able sing a “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” roll call cheer with 10 students I got to know so much better this summer, both new and old friends. I was able to see students bonding over painting nails (guys and girls), card games, movies, video games, service projects, and outdoor recreation. 

It did hit me that I am a mentor—but it usually only hit me after a student has walked off when we finish a conversation. When I reflect, it's through these conversations that I am astounded by the life and fun that these young high schoolers have. In particular, I learned more about one particular guy on the day of Closing Ceremonies than I did during the entire time of the program, and it completely changed my perspective of him. 

Unforgettable, how one conversation with someone can change everything. 

As much as I have loved getting to know these students, I am even more in awe at how much they have taught me—about them, about myself, and about who we all want to be in this world. I’m glad to see that I have learned so much—more than I think they have learned from me. The friendships that I have discovered, with the students and with my fellow staff members, are unforgettable. I am blessed to have you all in my life. 

My hope is that you are able to see yourself better than you did before, and have the courage to go for all your goals, to college and beyond.

Cheers to an unforgettable Upward Bound summer in Butte, Montana!
“What I've found about it is that there are some folks you can talk to until you're blue in the face—they're never going to get it and they're never going to change. But every once in a while, you'll run into someone who is eager to listen, eager to learn, and willing to try new things….” ― Tyler Perry

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Emotions in Moments

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” ―Virginia Woolf
I’ve been thinking on what is about my day-to-day living that I enjoy most. Our friends ask how our day was, and we often categorize it as “good” or “bad” or place it in some other type of mediocre, half-hearted identification. Sometimes, we can’t seem to think of anything better or less general to say about a day.

Then we dig into the details—the ups and the downs. For me during this past month, I woke one day to a beautiful sunrise, had a great cup of coffee, and experienced a day filled with both the studious attention and the funny antics of 70 high school students. And I woke another day to a teepeed dorm wing, broken glow sticks in the shower, foamy soap in the hallway, swearing slips and negative attitudes from students, and… sometimes functioning on zero coffee... all day (heaven forbid!).

Many of our daily experiences—the ones that stay with us or remain temporary incidences, often leave strong memory impressions when we look back.

In elementary school, I remember a boy who ate glue, a girl who read Green Eggs & Ham (by Dr. Seuss) with me every afternoon, a papier-mâché Siamese cat named Sammy and my first short story, a week in the Valentine City classroom (where the speed limit was “walk” and I lived on Cupid Drive), and an overnight trip to Glacier National Park (being crammed 3 to a seat for 2 sweltering days). I remember being rejected by my entire group of friends at the end of 4th grade. I remember crying with my mom in 5th grade where there wasn’t a single girl friend I could invite for a sleepover.

I view high school with a mixture of dread and frustration, coupled with pride in my accomplishments and pride in the camaraderie that my senior class finally found in our last year together. I remember my first kiss was when I was sitting in the green grass near a swift-moving creek. College was a time of excitement and independence, blossoming friendships, thriving academic experiences, and the growing-pains of discovering the kind of person I want to be (and finding that some “friends” weren’t really friends after all). Even my family’s unity and strength has been shaped by significant trials and tribulations.

Why are these the events that I remember best? When you try to remember something or someone, what first comes to mind? Is it what you saw, heard, or smelled? Is it a person’s face or voice?

What about your own emotions?

These memories are interlaced with feeling—emotion—positive and negative. And I wonder, would I remember them quite so clearly if my emotions weren't involved at all?

It makes me thankful that I do feel, and for more than as a convenient way to remember my past. I discover that I live my life fully in the moments when I fully feel—and fully love. I believe C.S. Lewis is correct in The Abolition of Man when he warns against the chest-less man, the emotionless person. If we let our desires (appetites) rule us, we become ungovernable and indulgent in the immediate moment—at the cost to our well-being and the good of those around us. If we let our logic (rationality) completely rule our actions, we also cease to truly live—we become mechanical, automatic, nonliving.

Nor should our emotions ultimately rule us either. Yet they cannot be forgotten.

Sometimes I criticize myself for indulging in a specialty coffee during the day… you’ll rarely see me without at least one coffee or tea beverage in my hand for most of the day. I’ll never say that my daily happiness is directly correspondent to this kind of indulgence... yet I find distinct pleasure from that one cup of goodness during my day!

It’s sometimes the little things and the little moments in the day that can spark a lasting happy memory. Along the same lines, it’s often the small actions you do each day that create an enduring impression for yourself and for others.

Don’t be afraid to say hello to a stranger or smile at a young child. A word of encouragement when a friend faces fears and challenges, a gift of your time and talents to help someone in need, a moment of strength when a friend needs you most, and a shoulder to cry on when the future feels daunting—all these actions and more enrich our lives. And don't be afraid to willingly accept the same from others, without pride or shame.

With the memory of the past and your footsteps leading you into the future, be confident to live each daily moment—fully, and freely with your heart.
“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” ―Antonio Porchia

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writing about Underwriting

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.” –Norbet Platt
We have great opportunities today to reflect on a wide variety of ideas and thoughts. Technology allows for us to type our thoughts faster than it would take us to pen it by hand. Word processing programs give us the opportunity to, in a sense, “sketch out a thought” and return again to revise it before it reaches its final stage, unlike traditional handwriting.

Yet personally, I often find myself over-thinkingand underwriting. 

I wouldn’t necessarily call this a bad thing. I think that I run into more people who rarely stop to think things through at all—and instead operate on impulse and the thrill of the moment. But by the same token, over-thinking isn’t usually productive either. Deliberate thought can work to solve problems, generate ingenuity, or instigate public consideration on an issue or idea. Yet over-thinking usually delays decision-making, creates self-doubt, and hampers true productivity. 

Thinking is the starting point, the creative origins for ingenuity. Writing then serves a necessary tool to help foster that creative growth (unless you are one of the rare individuals who possesses a nearly-perfect memory).

Overall, thinking and writing need balance. If good thoughts are not written down, they are lost. And often poor thoughts have the opportunity to become better when the thinker reflects before instigating an action.

Yet as a writer, when I realize that I’m denying myself the opportunity to exercise my creativity when I fail to write regularly, I also prevent myself from doing what I truly love doing. Why do I hesitate? 

It’s because writing is work. It takes time. It takes conscious effort—even for someone like me who really enjoys this particular challenge.

The writing challenge isn’t always in coming up with the right phrases or being proficient as your own grammar police. Rather, whenever you write, it is with an audience in mind. Even in keeping a journal or diary, you write to some type of audience. 

And the act of writing is the intimidating part—because through it you become vulnerable. You are exposed. To subject yourself to this on a daily basis takes courage, sometimes a dash of humility, and a smidgen of “bring it on” attitude. Why subject yourself to this?

Inevitably, what you say in writing is a reflection of who you are, whether you write essays, poems, short stories, or books, in fiction or nonfiction. Your personal voice comes out in one way or another—you are the thinker behind the writing, even if that writing attempts to be as objective and impartial as possible. In the end, a written work will likely be read at some point in time. The better question is, don't you want to present yourself at your very best to those around you?

If you do, you need to habitually sit down and write. This requires hard work and the conscious effort of daily attention. It's about further developing your voice, your communication skills, and your ability to express yourself. It is about the human interaction that passes beyond the instant gratification of our society and holds the potential to make lasting impacts in the present and the future.

And it's something that I need to work on, too.

If writing has such a great power for expression and influence, we ought to hold ourselves to that responsibility and present our written work with dignity and truth. Practice will not make you the best writer, and it certainly won’t make me a perfect writer. Yet it will give us the courage to make the work of writing and communication easier—and the art of creativity more enjoyable.
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  –Sylvia Plath