Sunday, April 23, 2017

YouTube Observations #5 - Lessons Learned in 1 Year on YouTube

On April 1st I celebrated 1 year on YouTube. I can hardly believe a whole year has gone by. It felt like such a wild idea to start a YouTube channel and now I can't really imagine my life without it. So I thought it would be fun share all my observations of what I've learned about running a YouTube channel. I did a video on this subject but I had so many thoughts about each of these lessons that I figured a corresponding blog post would be a good idea. I'll link the video at the bottom of this post if you want to see that. So here we go, my top 12 lessons learned in 1 year on YouTube...

1) Be patient and persistent

Rome wasn't built in a day. And no one hits 1000 subscribers overnight. Building up a YouTube channel takes time. It takes a lot of patience and persistence. In my first observation post I talked about the two kinds of YouTubers I noticed, those whose focus was on the numbers and those whose focus was on the community. Number focused channels aren't willing to be patient and persistent. They want to get as many subscribers as possible, as fast as possible. But what they don't realize is that that's not sustainable. When you're engaging in practices like "sub for sub" and gaining subscribers who don't actually watch your videos those people will only unsubscribe from you within a few months when they do a sub box clean up. It's worth it to be patient and let your channel grow naturally over time than try to rush the process. Rushing is kind of like building a house on a sand foundation, it will never stay upright. Part of the reason I think some people try to rush is that they compare themselves to the large channels (we'll talk more about comparison later) and this is not helpful. While some of the larger channels do seem to have fast growth, there are other factors that small YouTubers often overlook. For example, I've seen channels gain 10k subscribers seemingly overnight, and then surpass 400k within a year. But what people often don't realize si that in this cases the creator usually already has a large following on a blog or Instagram or something, and that following transitions over to YouTube, hence the 0-10k "overnight", so they're starting at a huge advantage. As such they're growth is going to be exponentially larger than the average small YouTuber. While I might gain 10 subscribers in a month (just as an example), someone with 10k subscribers might gain 100 in a month. I could get 500 in a year, but because our growth rates are different, a larger channel could gain 500k in a year. Part of this is simple math and the algorithm, larger channels with higher views will put you at the top of search results. But it's only part of the equation. Channels with regular growth rates are also channels that are patient and persistent. They have a positive attitude and stay focused on the content and building a solid foundation for their channel. They are also consistent in their content. Which leads to lesson #2...

2) Be consistent

Consistency is key. When you put out regular and consistent content viewers respond. If I subscribe to someone I want to know that I will be able to build a relationship with that channel. This applies to both large and small channels. The large channels I watch religiously, put out consistent uploads. I know, that with the very occasional exceptions, I can count on a video from certain creators on Sunday and other creators on Wednesday. But this also works for smaller channels. I know that Wednesdays mean something fun from Shannon on her channel Pages and Polish, and Fridays mean something fabulous from Alice on her channel Alice Red. When you're consistent subscribers can form relationships with your content and you'd be surprised how many of them start to schedule their day around your uploads. On Sundays a lot of my fave channels, large and small, upload videos. So I plan to be done with all my errands and tasks by 5pm so I can grab something for dinner and settle in to hang out with my "friends".  Compare this to channels that aren't consistent. When I get someone commenting on my videos asking me to check out (and sub to) their channel, one of the first things I do when I click on their channel is click on the "videos" tab and look at the frequency of their uploads. If I see that they've been on YouTube for over a year but only have six videos, each with 3 months of more of time in between uploads, that tells me they're not consistent, and I'm significantly less likely to subscribe. When I subscribe I want to know that there will be regular uploads that I can watch and comment on. I'm also more worried that if they aren't uploading frequently they might not be that engaged in the community and might not watch my videos. I'm looking for a mutual relationship with small channels. Consistency pays off in more ways than one.

3) Participate and engage with the community

In addition to being patient, persistent, and consistent, you also have to participate and engage within the community. My channel would still have only 10 subscribers if I didn't subscribe to other channels, watch their videos, and leave sincere comments that show I'm actually paying attention to their content. People respond to subscribers who honestly and sincerely engage with their content. I've formed so many amazing relationships with people over this past year because I genuinely engage with other channels and with my own subscribers. Staying on top of my sub box is hard, but I try to watch as many videos as possible each week, and to leave thoughtful, sincere comments. And without waving my own flag or sounding conceited, this has gotten me noticed by creators of both small and large channels. With the small channels I've made new friends, all around the world. But even with larger channels, I've seen some of my favorite creators recognize me from the comment section as well as across platforms. One of them refers to me by my first name when she replies to my comments on her videos, but my real name is not attached to my YouTube account. So how does she know my name? I engage with her content on Twitter, responding to tweets and retweeting things. Because of my frequent engagement with her content on both platforms she knows me on both. I've had another fave person tell me that she always loves reading my comments on her videos. This is both a fantastic feeling to me as a viewer, knowing my comments are seen and appreciated, but it also works out for me in other ways. The larger channels I support frequently frequently respond to me on YouTube and Twitter. I get replied to and retweeted on Twitter and that exposes my accounts to more people. When you participate and engage, honestly and genuinely, you can significantly increase your own following. 

My "golden rule" of YouTube is "be the kind of subscriber to other channels that you want for your own channel."

4) Do it for the right reasons

People often start YouTube because they want to be the next [insert name of your favorite super popular, multi-million subscriber, YouTuber]. But what they don't stop to think about is that YouTubers like Zoella, for instance, didn't set out to be ZOELLA!!!! Millions of subscribers, product deals, book deals, etc. That's what she built along the way. All those big YouTubers started like the rest of us. With 0 subscribers and making videos because they had a genuine interest. If you start your channel thinking you're going to have a million subscribers and international fame within a year. Good luck. Honestly, I mean that. You've got an uphill battle. I'm not saying I don't have dreams of doing blogging and YouTube full time, that would be brilliant. But in the meantime working hard to build the channel and blog is easy because I really enjoy it. I love filming, editing, engaging in the community. YouTube is like life, it's a marathon, not a sprint, it's about the journey not the destination. You have to do this because you love it, because building a channel takes a lot of time, energy, and effort. If you don't love it, you'll be miserable, and your viewers will notice.

5) Don't spend money on your channel right away

I can't reiterate this enough. Do NOT spend money right away. Start with what you've got. My very first video was done using the built in camera on my computer. Then I started using an old DSLR (it didn't even film in HD), because I already owned it. All I bought was a tripod, an SD card, and an extra battery for my camera. I vlogged on my iPhone 6. When I started borrowing my mom's newer DSLR I bought spare batteries for that. But I didn't spend a large amount of money on my channel until I bought my Olympus Pen camera in October, about six months after I started my channel. I waited a long time and I saved up my money and I put a lot of thought into how I would invest in my channel. I knew I loved vlogging but was getting tired of using my phone. I also had a trip coming up. So I decided I wanted a new camera specifically for vlogging. I did a lot of research to find the best deal and looked at a lot of reviews to make my choice. What you choose to spend your money on will be different. You might start off filming on your phone and want to upgrade to a DSLR. You might have a good camera but decide you want really good editing software. But you won't know any of this until you've made a bunch of videos and gone through the full creative practice, learning all the pros and cons of your current tech situation. So take your time, make your videos, save your pennies, and then slowly start investing.

6) Don't compare!

When you compare yourself you only set yourself up for disappointment. You will never know the full story behind someone else's channel or success. You don't see the work they put into behind the camera. It's fine to be inspired by other channels but try to stay focused on your own path. Enjoy your journey. Don't compare your work to someone who's been doing this for longer than you. You're still building and growing as a creator. I get inspired and motivated by other channels but I don't sit around feeling sorry for myself because my numbers aren't as big as theirs.

7) Celebrate the milestones but don't caught up in the numbers

You should absolutely pay attention to the milestones your channel reaches and celebrate those moments. You've earned those subscribers and views. And if a video gets a higher than usual amount of views or likes, you need to be paying attention to that. If that video is something you can replicate, you might want to consider that. I like celebrating the milestones because they're an important part of this journey. I didn't think I'd have 100 subscribers in a year, and I had that many in only a couple months. So that was a big deal for me and I definitely celebrated. But I didn't get upset when I took almost twice as long to get the next 100. 

8) Set realistic goals

This relates back to #4, if you think you're going to have a million subscribers in 1 year, you're not really paying attention to how YouTube works. But if you set goals in small increments and put in the time and effort to your channel you'll notice that you will start hitting milestones. Setting goals and pushing yourself to put out quality content is definitely worth doing, just make sure you're being realistic with those goals, or you're only setting yourself up for disappointment.

9) Track your growth

This is something I wish I'd done from the beginning. I have dates or at least date estimates for some of my milestones, but there are so many numbers and dates that just passed me by and I have no record of them. Your channel might take a long time to grow or it could grow quickly, either way, keep track of your subscriber number, channel view count, revenue (if you monetize your videos), watch time/retention, etc. Get to know the analytics page of your channel. Don't obsess or get sidetracked by these numbers, it can make you a bit crazy if you look at them too much, but get in the habit of writing them down every month so you can see how much/fast your channel is growing. These numbers can also help you with setting those realistic goals I was just talking about.

10) Have fun!

People have commented that they don't understand how I've managed to keep up with my channel in the middle of my portfolio review, reading for my comp exam and then the final prep of comp exam. But the truth is filming, editing, and uploading videos is what kept me sane in the middle of all my PhD work. You have to enjoy doing YouTube. If you don't, if it just feels like a chore, then why bother? If your heart's not into it, your audience will notice. We all can tell when someone doesn't actually care about their content. You're not going to have instant internet fame overnight or massive success and product deals in a month, it takes time and energy and even then you still might not be a YouTube "start". So you have to do it for the love of it and for the creativity of making videos. You have to enjoy it and have fun with it. If you're not, take a break. Your audience will understand and your true subscribers will still be there. Let them know approximately when you'll be back and maybe keep sharing your existing content on your Twitter or Instagram so you can still be gaining new followers. Recharge your batteries (figuratively and literally lol) and come back in a better, happier place to make new content. For me, I needed to keep doing YouTube during the stress of my exams, but some people need a break from YouTube. Figure out what you need and find a way to work around it. You, and your audience, will enjoy things a whole lot more if you are actually happy with the content you are creating.

11) Don't stop learning

I follow a lot of YouTube channels geared towards creators, I also read blogs and listen to podcasts about building your channel, your Instagram, using cameras, building your audience and your brand. I have a "don't stop learning" attitude towards most things in my life, school, work, my personal life, etc. I know I don't know everything, but I also know that knowledge is power. So the more knowledge I can get, the better. There are so many aspects to building a strong YouTube channel, I don't think you can ever know everything there is to know because the platform is always growing and changing. So you need to be keeping up with that and trying to learn as much as possible. I also learn a lot from looking at the big channels I follow. How are they writing their description box content? What kind of disclaimers do they use? How do they interact with their subscribers? How do they use their other social platforms like Twitter or Instagram? The big channels are big for a reason, they treat their channels and blogs like a business, so what business practices do I see them using and how can I adapt that to my own use? I try to challenge myself to learn a new skill or business/media practice every month or so, that way I'm not staying too static and getting too comfortable.

12) Be yourself! It's the one thing you can do better than anyone else!

This is the most important lesson. And one that I've seen too many small YouTubers not pay attention to. Over the past year I've seen soooooooooo many small channels that are clearly trying to be like the big channels they idolize. That impulse is natural, and it's always good to be inspired by other people, but you have to find a way to adapt that inspiration into something that feels natural to your own personality. You audience doesn't want to watch you copy someone else, they want to watch you. The channels that I love the most (both big and small channels) are the ones that are 100% authentically themselves. With very few exceptions, for the most part when we click subscribe it's because there's something about the personality of the channel we are watching that we fall in love with, that YouTuber just "clicks" with our own personality someway. I can tell you, for every channel I follow, what it is about that person that made me click subscribe. And in each case it's something that's unique to that person. There might be similarities between the channels I follow but it still all comes down to the personality of that creator. Copying someone is not only unethical it's also incredibly boring. So just be yourself. You'll feel a lot better about your content and your audience will love you more for it. There's only one you in this world, have faith in yourself. It really is your biggest asset in building your channel. 

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Do I Ever Regret My Theatre Degree?

Shakespeare's Globe in London. Every theatre lover/student dreams of visiting here.
I often get interesting responses when I start talking about my educational background. Since my current work is all being done in an English program, most of the other grad students and academics I meet have come from an English studies background or other similar academic background. So when people learn that my undergrad degree is a Theatre Arts degree and that I spent several years as a costume designer I usually get interesting looks. And sometimes those reactions make me stop and think about my past educational experiences. Was it all a waste? I'm in such a different field now, would I be further along in my life and my career right now if I'd just majored in English as an undergrad? Was getting a theatre degree a mistake and do I regret that choice?

No. Nope. Not at all. Not ever.

And here's why...

I know 110% that I would not be the person I am today without my experiences in theatre. I also probably wouldn't be doing the research I'm doing if I hadn't taken the very specific path I've taken to get here. And that path started with theatre. First as an actor, then as a costume designer, which was born primarily out of an interest in costume/fashion theory (even though I didn't think of it that way at the time). After awhile I started to realize I liked the research part of being a costume designer more than I liked the actual sewing, long hours, and sh*t pay. You know the pay is bad when academia looks like a better choice financially. (Only academics will get that income joke.) 

But there's not a day that goes by as a junior scholar/college instructor that I don't thank 18 year old me for choosing theatre as an undergrad degree or my amazing parents for allowing me to get a theatre degree. They always supported my choice, their only caveat was that they wanted me to go to grad school and earn at least an MA so that I could teach at the college level if I wanted. I think they were ahead of the curve at the millennium (I graduated high school in 1999), degree inflation wasn't yet a thing and the economy was still several years off from it's spectacular meltdown, but I think they already were seeing that a BA by itself wasn't getting people as far as it used to. So I had it in my head from an early age that I would be getting an MA degree. Now look at me, I'm getting a PhD! That was certainly never the plan, but I don't think it would have been even remotely a possibility if I hadn't already had my parents stressing the importance of grad school in general.

Though I'm not in theatre anymore, it's still very much a career path I could end up back on. With my PhD I can easily see myself working for a theatre company doing writing/PR/marketing/social media. But even more than that there are several skills that I first learned in my undergrad degree that I still use today. So I thought I'd share those today. Maybe you are/were a theatre student once and feel like it was a waste or maybe you're a parent who's kid wants to study theatre and you feel like it's not the "smart" choice. Hopefully you'll see that a theatre degree is much more flexible than you think.

Outside the Guildhall in London. This is NOT where I studied lol! But I totally wish I had.

1. Performance

I'm not an actor anymore, but it still feels like it sometimes. Less so currently since I teach online. But when I teach face to face, every class period is a performance. My training as an actor taught me how to use my body, use the stage (or the classroom), project my voice as well as play with volume, tone, and inflection to keep the audience interested, and how to improvise, a very useful skill when you teach college freshman who are the ultimate hecklers. During my first year as a TA in my current degree I had to be observed in the classroom. After the class the professor who had been observing me raved about my ability to move around the classroom, the way I used my voice to keep my students engaged, the way I adapted to different directions the students took the class, etc. My response? "Thanks, I learned all that during my theatre degree." I don't think I'd be half as confident in a classroom if not for my training as an actor. My performance background is also super helpful for getting through class presentations and conferences. I always get nerves and jitters but I honestly don't have any serious issues with public speaking. I'm very grateful for that.

Me, presenting a paper on Fashion Bloggers at an academic conference. This former actor has no problem with public speaking. I get nervous but it's still a lot of fun!

2. Research Skills

Whether you're an actor, a designer, a director, a writer, whatever, you have to be able to research the project you're working on. As an actor I had to research the script and the character I was playing, I had to understand the world of the play and how that world impacted my character. As a costume designer I had to research the script, the historical period the production would be set in or was being inspired by, I had to understand all the characters and how they interacted and how I could portray a variety of factors (weather, year, geographic location, psychological state, etc) through their clothing. There was soooooooooo much research that went into every production, my costume bibles were always half research, which was why I usually needed a 3 inch binder to fit it all. But through all that I learned how to use a variety of databases and other research sources to learn everything I needed to learn. Library searches were nothing new to me by the time I started grad school. And most of the research skills I have now may have been improved throughout my grad school experiences but they were first learned during my time in theatre.

3. Writing Skills

Along with that research comes a lot of writing. And in a number of different genres. During my undergrad I wrote everything from short answer character and script analyses to 20+ page research papers for my theatre history classes. There were countless resumes plus play and script reviews. A lot of my classmates would grumble and complain and say they hate writing and that's why they're actors but I always that that was such a ridiculous response. I tell my theatre students now to learn to like writing. It can help you get a job down the road. Most people pursuing a career in theatre have to be more than an actor or designer. You have to find your "and". I was an actor AND a costume designer. I know people who are actors and playwrights, actors and directors, writers and directors, directors and designers. The more skills you can bring to a company, the more likely you are to be hired. You can act AND you can write copy for the program and press releases? Hired. Ok, maybe it's not quite so simple, and maybe I'm biased being an English major, but I think having strong writing skills makes you automatically more hirable to anyone. Just like with my research skills, grad school has improved my writing skills, but they were first cultivated during my theatre degree.

4. Flexibility/Adaptability

When you work in theatre you have to be flexible and be able to adapt to a variety of situations. Your job is constantly changing, often you're contracted for one show at a time, or maybe a whole season, but the permanent theatre jobs are few and far between and usually someone has to die for them to open up. And that's not hyperbole, because most theatre people don't save up enough to retire, so they really do stay in that job until they die. It's a tough world. And one that I didn't really have the energy to deal with, but it definitely taught me how to be flexible and adapt. It also teaches you how to problem solve, especially when I was a costume designer. Every day brought new challenges that I had to find solutions to. Academia requires those skills as well, so thankfully I'd already mastered them, more or less, by the time I got to grad school.

Costuming requires problem solving, math, and Starbucks on a daily basis.

5. Sociability 

Theatre is an incredibly social discipline. You don't work in a bubble. You work with dozens of other people and have to learn how to collaborate and be part of a team. There's definitely room to be an introvert, goodness knows I'm definitely incredibly introverted, but you also have to be social and work as part of a group. I do miss that aspect. You can be so much more isolated in academia. I go days and weeks without talking to any of my colleagues, I'm certainly not stretching my social skills right now. So when an event like a conference comes up, I'm always so glad for my background in theatre because those social skills are still there to help me get through all the introductions and networking. I'll never be an extroverted social butterfly, but my theatre background keeps me from lurking in the corners hoping no one will try to talk to me.

6. Interdisciplinary

A lot of people won't get a theatre degree, but a lot of kids will be interested in studying theatre in high school and joining a drama club if there is one. And I fully support that. Don't discourage your teenage from exploring theatre during secondary school (middle or high school). You learn so many skills in theatre that can prepare you for a wide range of careers. Plus, extra curricular activities like drama club look great on college applications. Theatre is far more interdisciplinary than people think and can prepare young adults for a wide variety of careers while at the same time giving them strong social skills, increased responsibility and time management skills (rehearsal schedules are intense!), and improve their reading, writing, and research abilities. High school drama classes often fill massive gaps that the rest of their writing and humanities classes are leaving. Among my freshman English students, the ones that succeed the most are the ones who have a background in drama or any other art (music, dance, speech/debate, art, etc.). These classes often build on skills they are learning in their required classes and as a result put them ahead of their classmates who aren't involved in the arts. And something I always found interesting was that out of all the kids in my high school drama class, only a handful of us (6 at most) got theatre degrees. The rest went into a wide range of career paths. There are teachers, MBA grads, artists, people working in IT, marketing, finance, and other corporate jobs, the list is endless. We all have done something slightly different. But if their experience is anything like mine, I'm sure at least of few of the skills they use in their current jobs were first formed during their time in theatre.

So those are just some of the big skills I first learned through my time in theatre that I still use even though I'm in a very different career field. So do I regret my theatre degree? Not a bit. Because that degree got me started in my adult life. And the skills I learned had so much transferability it's amazing more people don't get into theatre for at least a short period. I think it should be required in high school. And I think everyone should take at least one theatre class in uni, whether it's an acting class or playwriting, design, dramaturgy, etc. Theatre, and the arts in general, make you a more well rounded person. And it's never too late. If you've always wanted to give it a try, find a community college or local workshop in acting or writing or whatever interest you. Audition for a community play. Find out who does the costumes or sets for your local community theatre and offer to volunteer (I always bent over backwards to find community volunteers to help me in the costume shop, whether they knew how to sew or not).

And if you are currently studying theatre and struggling to justify your choice to friends and family, just send them a link to this post and tell them that an English PhD student/uni instructor says her theatre degree was one of the best choices she ever made and that she credits all her current success to that degree. :)


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Looking back...March 2017

I want to start a new series on this blog, a monthly recap where I look back at everything that happened during the month and things I've learned. This is looking back at March...

March...the month of exams

March went by in a blink. Really, where it go? And how are we now a quarter of the way through 2017? I thought 2016 went by in a blur but so far 2017 is going just as fast.

March started with me anxiously waiting for the results of my Portfolio Review before finally getting the news that I passed! Yay!!!! I celebrated by treating myself to a new sparkly pen from Swarovski. The portfolio process was pretty daunting. If you don't pass you are removed from the graduate program. Game over. Pretty terrifying. So even though I'd worked on those papers, especially the second one, and even though my committee, particularly my Chair, was positive about the papers, I was still a nervous wreck. But getting the official letter that I'd passed and seeing the formal comments from my committee was incredible. It meant so much to see in black and white what my committee thought of my work.

Maybe it's silly, but I'm in love with this pen!

After the portfolio review it was on to the Comprehensive Exam. I had about 5 books left on my reading list at the time I got my portfolio results, so I quickly sped through those last books and scheduled the exam for about a week and a half later. The comp exam, or comps, is less terrifying than the portfolio because if all goes terribly wrong, you can retake the comp exam. But who wants to do that? So I studied and studied and studied. I created mind maps and visual tools, I reviewed the journal I kept throughout the reading process, I quizzed myself on the bibliography, and I revised for that exam until my head felt like it was going to explode. I didn't start to feel nervous until about 3 days before the exam, and then I was a nervous wreck. I had at least one panic attack every day and was constantly fighting tears. I thought I'd been nervous about the portfolio but omg, the comp exam was on another level. Even though I knew I could retake it, I was so concerned about doing well and passing so that I could stay on schedule that I put soooooooo much pressure on myself. As a result, my stomach was a mess, I had constant headaches from crying so much, and I wasn't sleeping properly. I tried distracting myself with Netflix and Hulu, I tried meditating, I tried so many things, none of them really worked. 

My brain was ready to explode by exam day.

Thankfully on the day of the exam I felt ok. I think I went into crisis mode and just got really focused. However, after the exam I realized I'd misread a question and I started panicking thinking I was going to fail. After a day or so I calmed down a bit and started hoping for a "low pass", it was still passing and that's all I cared about. I even bumped into my Chair the day after the exam and told her what happened and was comforted by the fact that she didn't look like I'd committed the worst sin ever. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long and 1 week and 33 minutes after I sat down and started the exam I got my results. I didn't get a "low pass"....I got a "pass"! I was overjoyed! Even with the "mistake" my work was still good and I'd more than satisfactorily passed my exam. 

I can honestly say the comp exam was the most overwhelming experience, one that I'm still processing. It was exhausting, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The pressure I'd put on myself with the portfolio was self-induced, my Chair wouldn't have let me submit if she didn't think they were ready, which is why she didn't let me submit them back in December. But with the comp exam, even though my Chair seemed to think I was ready, she'd never quizzed me or tested me informally. We'd never talked about my sources. I felt like maybe I wasn't ready after all. I was going to tested on my knowledge of approximately 60 sources. Would I be able to remember what I needed to remember and answer the questions in enough detail? Apparently I did.

After comps it was time to get cracking on finalizing a draft of my dissertation prospectus. I already had a very rough and messy draft started that had the shell of the different sections, most of an introduction, and part of a review of literature. But in the few days after getting my comps results I managed to pull together a decent full draft and send it off to my Chair. It's far from perfect, although that's what I thought about my comp exam and that turned out better than I thought, so we'll see what my Chair thinks lol. I'm expecting to do a few rounds of revisions but I'm hoping to get my colloquy scheduled for later in April. March was the month of exams, I'm hoping April will be the month I finally make ABD.

Other than all my exams there really wasn't much. I got my hair done, had a nice facial, I slept when I could, took a family road trip to Mt. Lemmon, and binge watched all of DCI Banks on Hulu. Oh. And I saw Beauty and the Beast and it was epic and amazing and I'm dying to see it again. But yeah, March was mostly about my PhD exams and anything else that I did was for the sole purpose of distracting myself from the exams/waiting for exam results. I'm hoping April will be a little more chill lol. It probably won't be, but one can still hope.

One thing I will be featuring in this series is my 1 Second Everyday mash clip for each month. If you haven't heard of it, 1 Second Everyday is a great app where you import a 1 second clip for each day into the app. You can then select how many clips to mash together, a week, a month, a year, a vacation you took. It's pretty cool and it's fun to see each second as they flick by. You'd be amazed at how much you can remember based on that one second. So here is March. I hope you like it. Tell me in the comments what your highlight from last month was? Or some challenge that you conquered?



Sunday, March 26, 2017


In a previous post I mentioned picking up a postcard from a stationary shop in London that read, "Worry is a misuse of your imagination". I've kept that card propped up on my desk. I also have an extra one framed on my bedroom wall that I can see from my bed. Worry has been a constant companion of mine for some time now. Many years if I'm being completely honest. My wild imagination has been another companion of mine, ever since I was a small child. So the two together make my brain go a little crazy sometimes. Which reminds me of this pic I snapped of some street art in London a few years back. Sometimes my mind tells me wonderful things. But sometimes it tells me lies. It's always a bit of a trick to figure out when that's the case.

As I've talked about, numerous times now, I've been slowly but steadily working towards taking my comp exam. The exam finally took place on Tuesday (March 21st). At the time of writing this, it's been less than a week since taking the exam, so I'm still at least a week and a half (or so) from getting my results. And let me tell friend Imagination is having a grand old time with our old friend Worry. My worry has gone into overdrive and it's getting hard to handle. I've gotten so much better recently at not letting my worrying get out of control and to not constantly descend into worst case scenarios that play out in my head on repeat like a broken record. But since my exam that's been really hard to keep under control. And as a result it's not just my exam I'm worried about, it's starting to spill out into other areas of my life. Like, on exam day, it wasn't just my exam I was worried about! It was everything!

For example:

What if I oversleep?
What if I get sick the morning of and can't leave my apartment?
What if getting ready goes fine but then I trip and fall down the stairs on my way to my car?
What if my car isn't there, what if it was stolen? (No joke, I actually had a bad dream about this at about 6am on exam day.)
What if my car is there but it won't start?
What if there's a bad accident on the highway and I'm late?
What if the garage I need to park in on campus isn't open and I'm late because I have to find parking somewhere else?
What if I get hit by a car crossing the street from the parking garage to my building where the exam is?
What if I get stuck in the elevator on the way up to the 5th floor where I have to meet the person who's administering the exam?

Guess what? None of those things happened. You want to know the worst thing that happened between getting up that morning and getting my exam questions from our program manager at the start of my exam? 

I got a paper cut on my knuckle. Yep. A paper cut. That's it. That was the "big tragedy". It didn't even hurt! I just looked down and saw this red line on my hand. 

The exam itself went alright. I actually loved ALL the questions on the exam. There were 8 total, I only had to answer 3. But they were all really great questions, it was hard to pick. Some were definitely easier than others but I could have answered them all if I had to. I chose my questions and set to work answering them in the 4 hours I had. That's when the worry started to set back in.

4 hours isn't as long as you think it is.

That time went by so quickly. Like, lightening fast. My advisor had given me the tip of 1 hour to outline, 2 to write, and 1 to edit. It ended up being more like 1 hour to outline, 3 to write and then frantically editing for 5 minutes during the "time cushion" I had to email my exam to the program manager. It was NOT enough time. Not even close.

Then afterwards I was looking at the questions again and realized I had answered one of them wrong in a way other than what was specified. O. M. G. I felt horrible. That was when the worrying came crashing back in. I felt like I'd hit a brick wall. I couldn't believe it! I'd read that question at least 6 times before and while writing! Each time I'd misread it! How is that even possible!? I was devastated. (I still am if I'm honest.) But the exhaustion of all the weeks preparing and then a few sleepless nights leading up to the exam just finally did me in. I cried all the way home, couldn't eat dinner, and cried myself to sleep. I cried off and on the next day as well. Mostly from just how overwhelmed I felt from actually doing the exam as well as knowing it was over. It was such a monumental thing and now it was done. But the fear was starting to set in. No matter how much I talked about it with people online, with my friends, with my mom, with my therapist, the doubt started creeping in.

What if I failed my exam?

Most people will tell me not to even think that. But too late. I've been thinking that from the moment I realized I flubbed that question. Yes, sure, I know. It was still my longest answer on the exam, it was still answered in great detail, it still basically answered the question. The likelihood of being failed on that one answer is pretty small. But we can't help what we worry about right? Even if I had answered that question exactly as it was written, I'd be finding something else to worry about and torture myself with for the next week or so while I wait for the results. So what do I do to try to not worry? I have an idea.

I'm going to write down all the big things I'm worried about right now. Just write them down here, publish this blog, and let them go. Kind of the digital equivalent of writing them down on a scrap of paper and then symbolically burning them. I'm terrified of fire and accidentally burning my apartment to the ground so this is definitely a safer option in more ways than one.

Things I'm worried about:

1. That I've failed my exam.
Chance that this will happen? Low.
If it does happen? I'll retake the exam.
Will this kill me? No. I'll live. But I will be really annoyed. I'd get over that. Eventually.

2. My student loans for my final year will get screwed up and I will either not get them or will receive a drastically lower amount than needed.
Chance this will happen? Low(?) I don't know, it should go through just fine, but I'm not sure.
If it does happen? It would really suck. No London. I'd have to back out of the conference. I might lose my apartment.
Will this kill me? No. But my parents might if I have to move back in with them. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

3. Someone will break into my apartment and steal all my things (a recurring fear/worry, but is it paranoia if it's actually happened? That's another story).
Chance this will happen? Really low. Because I'm so paranoid about locking my door. Because it has happened and I never want to experience it again.
If it does happen? I'm insured. Learned that lesson the hard way.
Will this kill me? No. But I am reminded I need to back up my hard drive again.

4. I won't graduate on time (due to anything and everything from having to retake my comp exam to not finishing my dissertation on time to freak natural disaster--I told you I have a wild imagination.
Chance this will happen? Low. My advisor has promised to get me graduated on time and I'm equally committed to that goal.
If it does happen? Would open up a whole other can of worms financially.
Will this kill me? No, but it would prolong my time finishing my degree if I have to write my diss while finding/working a full time job.

5. Something horrible will happen to me or someone I care about.
Chance this will happen? It's life. Horrible things happen to us all the time. That's the risk we take living our lives.
If this does happen? Horrible things have devastating effects. It would be miserable if something horrible happens.
Will this kill me? Most likely no. I've been through horrible things before. I've lost people I loved, I'd had friends turn away from me, I've been hurt, I've had set backs and disappointments. But none of that, even the really truly horrible things, has killed me yet. It's only made me stronger. Hmmm. There's a lesson there....

We can spend so much precious time and energy worrying about things that haven't happened/probably never will happen. If you're like me, you probably try to convince yourself that by worrying about all these horrible things that probably won't even happen you're creating a mental battle plan for how you'll deal with these catastrophes that, reminder, having happened. This is one of the lies our brains tell us. That by worrying endlessly about hypothetical catastrophes we're "preparing for the worst". God, what a horrible way to live! I'm tired of doing this to myself. Aren't you?

I'm committing myself to posting this blog and focusing on things I actually have some control over.

Like, work on my prospectus and locking my door. Everything else, I just have to wait and see. My loans will probably go through just fine (and add to my long term mountain of debt, yippee), I will pass my comp exam (so my prospectus had damn well be ready), and at some point something horrible probably will happen, because that's life. I'm not going to hide in my apartment because I'm afraid of falling down the stairs and breaking a bone. You deal with life as it happens. The good and the bad. You can't live things that haven't happened yet, not matter what your brain tries to tell you. So I'm going to live my live, as it happens, and (try to) not worry about things that aren't realities in my life.

Is there something you've been worried about? Tell me in the comments. You can use the same format I did above. What's your worry? What's the honest chance it will happen? What if it does happen? Will it kill you? Share your worries like I did and then let them go in this digital bonfire of worries.

Burn baby, burn!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Countdown to Comp Exam...

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

I almost skipped doing a post this week, but I'm trying really hard to stick to doing a new post once a week. So I'm just going to ramble for a bit and see what I can churn out, I'm not going to proofread or edit, so forgive me in advance for mistakes. 

At the time of writing this post I'm two days, well, technically less than 48 hours, away from taking my PhD comprehensive exam, aka the comp exam. I've been studying for months for this. I have read approximately 60 sources, most of that books, but there have been some articles and individual book chapters. But still, it's a massive amount of reading. And this isn't easy reading, like fun novels. This is difficult and dense theory and academic scholarship. Some of it more related to my research (and therefore a bit easier for me to read) but my project isn't a simple research project, I'm bringing together three different strands of theory/scholarship to make my arguments, so it's a lot to not only read but also to synthesize together. For those who don't know, my dissertation will focus on fashion icons and public memory. So it's a fun and interesting subject, but I'm bringing together fashion theory, material culture studies, and memory studies, which are all fairly deep and complex subject areas. And merging them together is even more of a challenge. At this point my brain is ready to explode!

I technically started working on this phase of my degree two years ago. That was when I started my reading journal (the pink book in the center of the above picture). I bought that journal, and a matching pen, in the gift section of Boswell's in Oxford, England. And then I started reading and filling it in throughout that summer, typically doing my reading either in the Radcliffe Camera (yay for being able to get a summer reader card for the Bodleian!) or the Caffe Nero on High Street (and drinking an amazing latte made by either Magda or Fabio). Oh the memories! 

There were a bunch of stops and starts. Times when I'd do a lot of reading in a month and then times when I'd do no reading for weeks on end. Doing a PhD pulls you in a million directions on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis. But slowly and surely that journal got filled up. My exam is scheduled for Tuesday, and I officially finished all the reading on my last this past Wednesday. Since then I've been prepping and reviewing. I've read through my journal and highlighted important words and ideas (see picture below), I've created mind maps and other visual tools, and today and tomorrow I'll do some more reviewing but the nerves are starting to settle in. Hard.

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
Most of last week I wasn't nervous. Which felt really weird. I'm not used to feeling confident, especially in my academic abilities. I struggle with the classic grad school student problem...Imposter Syndrome. So to be less than a week away from my exam and not feel nervous was just weird. And I guess it was just a calm before the storm, but now I'm feeling pretty nervous. Like, on edge nervous. Panic attacks at 1am because I can't sleep and everyone says getting enough sleep and rest before the exam is important so why am I still awake I need to sleep I really need to so just go to sleep Andrea damn it just go to sleep oh shit I'm crying now oh shit now I can't breathe......ugh. 

But that's kind of the nervous response I was waiting for, so I guess I'm on track? Sigh.

At least I'm at the point where I can recognize the nervousness and anxiety for what it is, just nerves about the exam and I just try to breathe and ride out the panic attack. I mean, there's not much I can do that I'm not doing already. Every time I sit down to review I get 30 minutes into a review session and start to feel like, "I know this, I don't know how to review stuff I know, this feels redundant." It's not a "normal" situation or exam. So you don't really study for it the way you would for other exams. I've seen sample questions, basically an exam that was given to another student, so I know the type and scope of the questions I'll be given, and while I couldn't begin to answer those sample questions (because they're on a different research subject) if they were geared towards my research I'm pretty sure I could answer them, easily even. At the end of the day, I can review and speculate all I want, but I won't fully know what I'm dealing with until I get into that room and see the questions.

I've met with my advisor and we had a great chat. We talked about the exam itself and how to spend those 4 hours (1 hour outlining/planning, 2 hours writing, 1 hour editing). She gave me lots of tips, but what's funny was her biggest advice had nothing to do with reviewing or studying. It was stuff like getting enough sleep and bringing water, coffee, and any snacks or things that will help me get through the 4 hours. Which is probably pretty telling. I need to chill out lol.

So that's been a huge part of my strategy. I've been reviewing, sure, but I'm not spending hours on it each day. More like 1-2 hours tops. I've been doing my teaching work, filming and editing my YouTube videos, reading a novel, and binge watching Scott & Bailey on Hulu (British crime/detective shows are great distractions). Tomorrow, the day before the exam I have a physical therapy session in the morning and then I'm going to the mall to do a tiny bit of shopping and see a movie (hopefully Beauty and the Beast). Then get some takeaway for dinner and go to sleep early. Thankfully I schedule my exam for 12-4pm, so I don't have to get to campus early. I knew a 9am exam time would be disastrous for me, so I intentionally scheduled it for later. My brain works best around the middle of the day.

This post is really just a ramble, I have no advice for other in this situation because I'm still in it myself. I will do another post and probably a video on my YouTube channel about my study process and tips that worked for me. But right now I'm still in process and freaking out a little. Or a lot. I know it will be alright, but I can't help the nerves. It's such a weird feeling. Like, really, really weird lol. If you've made it down this far, thanks for listening to me vent. I appreciate it.

I still have about 36 hours to work on "not stressing" so if you have any tips or strategies for dealing with anxiety or being nervous about a big event, do be a friend and tell me in the comments? 

💗 Andrea xx

Sunday, March 12, 2017

PhD Update: Battle stations!!!

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

I had a different idea for a blog post today. And then a few things happened...

  • I passed my PhD portfolio review.
  • I neared the end of my reading list for my comprehensive exam (I'm down to my last 2 books from an original list of 60 sources).
  • I sent the email to start the scheduling process for my comprehensive exam.

Sound the alert and man the battle stations! Things are getting real here.

So I thought it might be a good time to do a bit of an update on where things are at with my PhD work. Just as a reminder for you all, I'm in my 4th year (which is rapidly coming to a close) of my PhD in English, with an emphasis in Rhetoric, specifically fashion rhetoric. It's been a tough one and a half years since I finished my course work. I feel like I haven't progressed as fast as I would have liked. I got sidetracked too much by my teaching duties (which is a whole other blog post) as well as health problems (I got diagnosed with fibromyalgia! Yay! Not. But that's also another blog post). So my 3rd year was pretty stagnant as far as progress went. Which means my 4th year has been intense, to say the least.

But, in the past year and a half, I've:

  • Compiled a list of approximately 60 academic sources (mix of books, book chapters, and journal articles) in the 3 fields of research that I will be using for my dissertation.
  • Read all those books, as well as a few others that were on the list but then got cut off
  • Revised a paper five billion times until it was finally ready to be submitted
  • Had more panic attacks than I can count
  • Finally submitted my official PhD portfolio (aka Part 1 of my PhD exams)
  • Passed my portfolio review!
  • Initiated the scheduling process for my comp exam

That list may not look long, but trust me, some of these items took a substantial amount of time and energy, so I'm exhausted. Mixed in with all that during the past year and a half I also:

  • Taught 7 classes between my uni and a local community college
  • Got diagnosed with fibromyalgia 
  • Wrote a book review for a major academic journal
  • Had to switch health insurance plans, which meant switching doctors and mental health providers
  • Co-wrote a chapter
  • Saw a sharp spike in my anxiety/depression
  • Started a YouTube channel
  • Dealt with private crises
  • Traveled to London
  • Submitted a conference presentation for a conference in London...and got accepted

YouTube and London were great, the rest were time consuming and stressful. Even the academic successes like the writing projects and the conference acceptance had their ups and downs. But when you're a PhD student you're literally living a double life. 

On the one hand I'm already a teacher and scholar. I'm expected to teach my classes, work on research projects, submit for conferences and publications, and do all kinds of amazing things to put on my CV so that I can get a great job when I graduate. Those things are all a full time job.

But on the other hand I'm also a PhD student, with exams to prepare for, a prospectus to write, and then the dissertation. Even when you finish your coursework requirements, that time each week that was spent on coursework is now spent on reading for your comp exam, revising your portfolio papers, and preparing to write your dissertation. That's also a full time job.  

Yet, despite working basically two full time jobs, and rarely taking a break or a holiday (even in London, I had work I did in the hotel at night), we still earn only a minor stipend that most of us then supplement with student loans. But that's also yet another blog post.

So yeah, I've been overworked, underpaid, and absolutely exhausted in every possible way. But that's taught me a few things:

I am definitely stronger than I think I am.

There's been a lot that I've had to deal with over the last year or so. I felt like I hit my breaking point at least a half a dozen times. But I didn't break. I may have bent a little at times. Or got knocked flat, once or twice (getting sick sucks). But I didn't break. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got back to work. I learned the importance of giving myself time to recover. When I caught a bad cold just before Thanksgiving last year, I literally put myself to bed for a week. I watched Netflix. I slept. I ate. I slept some more. I cancelled appointments and I didn't do any work. I recovered faster than I usually do, and was able to get back to work. I didn't beat myself up for not doing any comp exam reading or portfolio paper revising, I just focused on getting better. It worked.

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia I set to work researching ways to manage it that felt right for me and I slowly started learning how to bend with the fibro without letting that break me. Being "strong" isn't just about physical strength. It's about mental and emotional strength. It's also about flexibility and being able to adapt to new situations. I didn't get upset or convince myself that my life was "different" because of the fibro. It wasn't different. I had been living with all those symptoms for years. I just finally had a name for it. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got back to work. I didn't break.

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
I am also smarter than I give myself credit for.

I have struggled with this for years. It goes back to my first MA program (which is another blog post too lol, I have a lot of blog posts to write). I've never been a confident academic. Even with two MA degrees and two years of PhD level coursework I still feel like I'm not as smart as others in my program sometimes. But that's started to change over the last year as I've been working through the portfolio and comp exam readings. Ok, I can't quote Aristotle despite being a rhetorician. Sue me. I don't study the classics. I'm a contemporary/alternative rhetorician. I talk about fashion and identity. That's my thing. 

I have a specialized research focus and I know it really well. Sure, I'm nervous as hell about my comp exam, because I've always had test anxiety, but I've read 60+ sources related to my research. I've been living, breathing, and sleeping this material for a years now. I know how my scholars talk to each other and about each other, how they agree and disagree with each other. I was absolutely terrified to submit my portfolio. But the feedback I got from my committee was incredible. And that feedback is in black and white and shared with directors and managers in my program. My committee has publicly validated my work and my intelligence and declared that my work is sound. Do I need that validation? No, I know I'm good enough. But it sure felt great. After the experiences of my first MA degree reading that review report felt like the doors to the attic had been thrown open and the ghosts were starting to be expelled. That attic isn't completely cleared of old ghosts. But it's getting there.

Sometimes life twists and turns. That's when I adjust my invisible crown and get stuff done.

I didn't expect to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I also didn't expect for someone I am close to to get hit with a health crisis of their own. And there were some unexpected twists with my PhD work as well that I wish hadn't happened. Oh well. That's life. It's unpredictable. And it's unfair sometimes. But if you sit and complain about that, you're only wasting precious energy. Life doesn't wait for us to be ready. Enjoy the good moments and persevere through the hard moments. Adjust that invisible crown you're wearing and get to work. 

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

"Worry is a misuse of your imagination"

On my last day in London I wandered into a Cards Galore shop in Paddington Station. I found a small rack of motivational postcards and one of them said, "Worry is a misuse of your imagination." I've always been proud of my wild imagination. I think it's one of my strengths. It's helped me in a number of different ways. But it has also been my worst enemy at times. You see, a wild imagination can be a double edged sword. It can help me think outside the box and visualize amazing things happening to me. But it can also help me think of the worst outcome possible. I'm pretty great at doing the whole "worst case scenario" day dreaming. The two weeks I was waiting for my portfolio results could have been absolutely miserable. But I have this postcard framed and hanging by my bedroom door. I can see it from my bed and I see it when I leave my room each morning. So I purposely spent those two weeks imagining things working out. I try to imagine the positive these days. Worry is not only a misuse of our imagination, it's also a waste of it.

"It will be ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end."

A couple summers ago I was living in Oxford for the summer and I was dealing with some health issues and other difficulties. That's a separate story, but definitely another example of how I am stronger than I think I am. But during that summer I happened to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Dev Patel's character kept saying, "It will be ok in the end. If it's not ok, it's not the end." This idea not only got me through that summer, but it's helped me in the two years since. It helps me to remember that I'm simply going through a moment in time. And this moment, even if it's a really hard one, is not the totality of my life. It will pass. I won't be stuck in the hard times forever. So I try not to dwell on the times when it's no ok. Because I know it's not the end of my story. I got through my portfolio review. I'll get through my comp exam. I'm sure that writing my dissertation will have it's ups and downs, and I'll get through those too. Because things really are ok in the end, you just have to stick with it and believe that if things aren't ok, it's because it's not the end yet.

I think the biggest lessons that graduate students learn are the ones learned outside the classroom...

They're the lessons we learn about ourselves. About how strong and smart and capable we are. On one of the first days of my second MA, and my first time back in a graduate school classroom after my first MA experience, my professor (who is now also my PhD advisor/chair) told my Research Methods class that "high school is where you think you know everything, college is where you start to realize you don't know everything, and grad school is where you realize you know nothing at all." At the time I thought she was talking about school knowledge, but now I think she was including knowledge about ourselves. In high school we think we know exactly who we are and what we want. In college we have so many new experiences that that certainty in ourselves gets tested and our minds start to change about a lot of things. For those of us who go to grad school, we soon go through feeling like we don't know who we are at all. We doubt everything about ourselves. I struggled with this throughout both MA degrees. And it's taken me 4 years in my program to start to figure myself out and learn what I'm really capable of. I'm not all the way there yet, in a lot of ways I still feel like I'm in that darkest dark before the dawn and I've been stumbling in the dark for awhile. But these last few months especially have taught me that sometimes we have to stop stumbling blindly. We have to slow down. Stop. Breathe. Become aware of our surroundings. Let our eyes adjust to the darkness. And then, slowly, start taking cautious but steady steps in the direction we know we need to go. We have to trust that we really do know what we're doing. 

Let go of the fear and be open to our inner strength.

The dawn will come.

xx Andrea

Instagram @jesuisjustemoi