Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cheer on "WOWWS 2014"!

"The valleys are wide, with immense views and mountains on both sides. This is the wide open Montana that you always here about. Lonna [Brooks] was so taken with it that she said, 'This would be like living in a postcard.'" Paula Pahl
This is a different sort of post than I normally do, but I'm so inspired by these folks that I can't help but share their ongoing story... and I encourage you to follow along on their blog as well!

Paula Pahl and Lonna Brooks have begun an extensive bike ride this summer. They started in Seaside, Oregon and are journeying to Bar Harbor, Mainealong with help from their support driver, Steve Thompson. It's a 4,004 mile journey they plan to complete within 63 days. 

May I just say... WOW!!!

I was fortunate to meet them when they stayed with my family during their journey through the Bitterroot Valley. They are fascinating people, and it was such a pleasure to spend time with them and get to know them a little bit. 

As of this posting, they have made it to the first 1,000 mile point in their journey, and they are still making their way through Montana. We wish them the best of luck with safe travels and many fun adventures!

Follow their journey at:
"Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride." Eddy Merckx

Monday, August 11, 2014

Post-Grad to Ideal Career: 10 Tips for that "Awkward" Transition Phase

"Life is the most exciting opportunity we have. But we have one shot. You graduate from college once, and that's it. You're going out of that nest. And you have to find that courage that's deep, deep, deep in there. Every step of the way." —Andrew Shue
Late Bloomer
Why, hello there late bloomer. What'cha doin'?
Another summer is quickly passing... lightning speed! I don't know about you, but I can hardly believe it's already August. It's been 2 years since I graduated college, and it's gone by quickly and in very unexpected ways. You may laugh, but 3 years ago, I was fully expecting to be pursuing further education, finishing a Masters program at the very least.


I believe I could still do that, and I would like to someday. Yet that's not where I am in my life. I've said this before, but my experiences immediately following college are not exactly where I expected them to be. And that's okay!

What I find difficult is staying motivated to pursue my goals and dreams now that I've been outside the structure of school. I find that guilt in living at home, fear of failure, fear of getting 'stuck' in a job because it's convenient, etc. are some of the challenges that have held me back. 
Yet I've come to believe that it's in this transition period between college graduation and the 'ideal career' where I've learned more life skills than I would've imagined before.

So here are some tips I'd recommend for anyone in this awkward phase... whether you're just entering it and are job hunting, or whether you've been in it for a while and are seeking to break out soon. If you don't find your daily life interesting, challenge yourself and make it interesting. Here's what I've found works best:

Tip #1. Use any work opportunity, paid or unpaid, and learn all you can from it.
This is one of the easiest approaches you can cultivate in your thinking, especially because you spend much of your time during the week in work. It's time in your day, a day you will never get back. So make the most of it.

I can't say I'm an expert in this, but I'm making a conscious effort to become better at it. I've discovered that many of my 'everyday' experiences at work have helped me in other ways I never would have expected. I'm trying to learn as much as I can, not only because it may be useful in the future, but also because I think experiences in the workplace can translate into some other form that can help me be a better communicator.
"Look at everything as though you are seeing it either for the first or last time, then your time on earth will be filled with glory." Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Tip #2. Break up with the home-work-home routine... demolish it.
Go someplace else and do something new, every single day. Socialize meaningfully.

Nothing has thrown me in a rut and kept me there more than going straight home from work, day in and day out. Not only is that so boring, but it makes me a very crabby person. All the stresses from the day come straight home, and by the time I get there I  just want to crash and relaxa.k.a. good luck getting me to accomplish anything productive.

Smoked Salmon Sushi
Mmmm homemade smoked salmon sushi!
Instead, I go to a late-night coffee shop in my tiny Montana town (it's a small miracle that a sit-down cafe is open past 5:30 p.m., let alone stays open until 9:00 p.m.). I go for a walk by the river. I play Bunko with a group of women once a month during the school year. I try to be active in my church and community.

Try new things, and don't feel as if you must take a class to do it. I discovered in college that I love-love-love sushi, and I live so far out of town that going out to eat is rarely practical. Now I'm occasionally trying my hand at making my own sushi at home when I have a free evening and want to relax (Don't worry, I'm only brave enough to use smoked salmon. So far, my family has enjoyed it and no one's been sick! *knock on wood*). Perhaps I'll take lessons someday.

Whatever it is, however you stumble upon it, do it because it gives you joy. It may just take a bad day and turn it on its head.
"I travel a lot. I hate having my life disrupted by routine." Caskie Stinnett

Tip #3. Volunteer/Mentor.
I've talked about volunteering in the past and doing things for your community even when you get no credit for them. I've also talked about how mentoring has forever changed my life. Nothing beats getting your head out of your own world and seeing how you can positively impact other's lives. 
Girls Track
Girls Districts Track & Field - 3rd Place (May, 2014)

A sense of 'giving back' was instilled in me at a young age, and even while I was still in high school, I remember being thrilled when a graduated high school student took time to come back and volunteer with sports practices and other extra curricular activities. When I moved back home, I couldn't help but want to volunteer in the same way.

The best part is the inevitability. Whether you want it or not, the people you work with will impact your life in a positive, irreplaceable way. Maybe working with teenagers or kids isn't your thing, and that's fine! Find something else to do and get involved. The key is to do something for others with no monetary gain. Do it because you want to do it. That's it. Let the chips fall where they will. You'll see what I mean.
"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves." —Steven Spielberg

Tip #4. Maintain a strong and diverse support system.
"It's the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say 'It's as plain as the nose on your face.' But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?" Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
I would not be where I am today without my support system. Plain and simple. The people in my day-to-day life are my lifelines, whether they are near or far away. They cheer me on when I have exciting days, they sit with me when I fall down, and they lend me a hand when I struggle to get back up and running again.

Focus not only on maintaining their support for you, but be that same support for them. 'Burdens shared are burdens halved' and 'joys shared are joys multiplied' are phrases that ring true 100x over. Cherish these people who are a positive influence in your life, and invest in these relationships.

Tip #5. Make staying in touch with your best, long-distance friends a priority.
Similar to Tip #4, these friends in particular need your attention and cultivation. Since I've moved back to Montana, I've struggled with the change that came from having my best girlfirends so far from me. We used to be roomies, lived next door to each other, or lived only a few blocks down the street. At least we lived in the same town for a time. Now we're anywhere from 520 miles to 1,550 miles away at best... and in some cases we're on opposite ends of the globe. Yes, I've met a few dear friends here in Montana. Yet I miss my college girls and international friends like none other. They are my rock-solid confidants and best encouragers. They have no qualms about telling me when my next idea is inspiring or flat-out crazy (and sometimes they're both, simultaneously).
Clockwise from upper left: Ellen, Katie Z., Sam, Katie C., and Alyssa

The key to these friendships is making the regular effort. If you find yourself lonely and thinking of them, chances are they're feeling the same. It's all a matter of who picks up the phone first, writes that e-mail, sends that letter. Make the time. Because when you rekindle those connections weekly or monthly, you'll feel revived and inspired to make each day more positive.
"A good friend is a connection to life - a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world." —Lois Wyse

Tip #6. Living at home: leave the guilt at the door... at least in the short-term.
"People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on." —Eckhart Tolle
I'm supremely guilty of this. (Yay, nothing like feeling guilty about feeling guilty!) This is especially true when it comes to the 'living at home' situation I have. I'm fighting against this silly cultural stigma in my head... you know, the '40-year-old living in his mother's basement' mental image. I worry that I'll sink back into feeling 'stuck' never moving on with my life. Which is, of course, false. It's just taking my personal demons and throwing them out of proportion.

Yet I know that many of you, like me, have been dealing with the same realities of our economy and the job market, where long-term jobs are difficult to land after graduation, and that moving home after school is sometimes the best option (though not always).

Point is, cut yourself some slack for the short term. Do you want to live with your parents for most of your adult life? Not likely! I love my folks, but after 4 years in college learning to be independent and creating a schedule and lifestyle that works for me, it wasn't easy to move home. And it's still not easy living with my folks. Their house, their rules... which I'm glad to adhere to for the most part, but it certainly restricts my freedom in many ways. Not something I desire to continue in the long run. So set limits for yourself, and work to let go of the guilt.

Tip #7. Set specific, 'ideal career oriented' goals.
First, get rid of unrealistic timing schedules, especially the ones where success is dependent on events outside your control. Instead, set other specific goals and stick to them. For example, don't say "I will have 'X' job by 'Y' month", but rather say "I devote 'Z' hours to my job search and applications every week."

Notice the active tense and the specificity in which these goals are set? It's not a matter of 'I will do this in the afternoon' but rather 'I do this during this specific time each day/week'. I learned this very recently as I began to study the Japanese language through, and it's one of the first things Koichi recommends in Setting Yourself Up For Success, even before diving into the lessons. Sure, this applies specifically to language learning, yet it is immensely helpful in whatever task you set out to do. Actively give yourself tools and habits to succeed.
"There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there's only scarcity of resolve to make it happen." —Wayne Dyer

Tip #8. Follow through on your goals by accomplishing something specific each week.
Like Tip #7, this tip focuses on goals. Yet this is the follow-through. The point in creating a weekly goal is not to make you feel as if you aren't doing enough, but that you are actively progressing toward your goals, making that dream more tangible. I say once a week both to instill a habit and to take intense pressure off yourself. It gives you structured time to do whatever-it-is. Does this mean touching up your resume or searching for jobs in your career field? Perhaps. It can be simpler than that as well.

It helps a lot if that weekly activity is something you enjoy. For me, I write... or do something writing related with my long-term projects. I get something accomplished, and it's time specifically reserved in the week for this activity. Usually it happens on Friday evenings, but I give myself flexibility to use other days as well. It's all a matter of focus and building your consistency. Soon, you can add a few days a week if you want.
"Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else." —J.M. Barrie

Tip #9. Find daily reasons to be thankful.
I spent a lot of time studying works by Simone Weil during my senior year of college, and what I loved most about diving into her ideas is that she took life seriously, and she valued it. Attention was one of her main scholarly focuses, how humans operate by it and what we aimed it toward. She found weight and purpose in every interaction, and it inspired her to act on those principles she had come to value so deeply.

Beautiful yellow flowers in the mountains of Montana
I'm not saying we need to take life seriously all the time. We have good days and bad days, days that begin one way and end in another... one intense roller coaster. What I am saying is that our perspective gives great influence over how we experience our days. We all give our attention toward something... so why not nurture it to focus on the good things in life?

I am thankful that I live in a beautiful area of the United States. I am thankful that my family loves and supports me. I am thankful for colorful flowers swaying in a sunny afternoon. I am thankful for the entertaining radio personalities that make me laugh on the drive home from work.

Am I consistent in being thankful for things every day? Nope. Yet when I do, that little snipped of joy and optimism often turns a bad day completely on its head. It's all a matter of perspective.
"What we see depends mainly on what we look for." —John Lubbock

Tip #10. You don't need to have it all figured out.
"What you believe is very powerful. If you have toxic emotions of fear, guilt and depression, it is because you have wrong thinking, and you have wrong thinking because of wrong believing." —Joseph Prince
Boy, did I feel the pressure of needing to have it all figured out. Sometimes, I still do... but that's usually when I find myself in the 'uncharted territory' of life experiences. Funny thing is, all of us find ourselves in uncharted life experience territory.

Remember that someone else's timing is not your timing. The important thing is to work hard and remain focused on your goals. If those goals change and evolve, good! That shows you're progressing, and that you aren't the same person you were one week / one month / one year ago. 

I believe we all have a 'camaraderie in our stupidity' from time to time, where we tell ourselves negative things, listen to the naysayers, put value in things and people who hold no value in us. You won't magically stop stumbling and falling, you won't quit failing at things, and sometimes it'll feel like you have no luck and will never get out of your rut. (I'm starting to sound like one of those naysayers, aren't I?). 

Persevere, adapt, learn, and grow. That's all anyone can ask of you... including what you can ask of yourself. Give it your all, and you'll figure out how to get around that hurdle in your path.
"I hope everyone that is reading this is having a really good day. And if you are not, just know that every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that." —Gillian Anderson

What about you? What are you figuring out while in this 'transition phase'? Or are you successfully beyond this point and have any helpful suggestions for the rest of us? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!