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? 

đź’— 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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

36 Things I've Learned in 36 Years

Cake from my birthday dinner at El Chorro this year. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

It was recently my birthday. 36. Which, oddly, I like better than 35. I know. I'm weird. I think it's because 3 goes into 6, like, I just like the math better...ok, moving on lol.

I've always had an odd relationship to my birthday. When I was a kid it was a blast, because every year meant a new party for all my friends at whatever Army post we were living on at the time. And also a new amazing cake baked by my mom with buttercream frosting....oh those were the days! I had every kind of cake design you could imagine. Including a Popple. Does anyone remember Popples? 

As I've gotten older, by by older I mean, entered adulthood, birthdays have gotten more complicated. Lives change, friends get jobs and start families and my social group is pretty scattered these days. But I still managed to be overwhelmed by messages of love and birthday wishes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by friends all over the world, some who've I've known for years and many new friends that I've made through YouTube and have never met in person. It was amazing. 

This year I decided to take a casual approach to my birthday. No pressure on myself to arrange a large dinner with all my friends and family. No Facebook event to set up to plan it all. Pretty much no plans at all. Which I worried would make my birthday depressing, but it actually had the opposite result. I can pretty much say it was the best birthday I've had in years! It started on Thursday with a long afternoon out with my bestie Taylor for lunch, shopping, and then dessert at my favorite place in Kierland Commons, Zinc Bistro. Then Friday, my actual birthday, just a slow, lazy afternoon at the mall, shopping and watching a movie (Hidden Figures, it was amazing and you all need to see it!) and then writing on my poor, neglected novel for an hour at Starbucks, before picking up Chinese dinner to take home to enjoy while watching YouTube and then a cupcake from Caketini and a mini bottle of Brut Rosé to cap off the evening. It was perfection. Saturday I slept in....really late. It was glorious. Then I took my time to really do my hair and makeup (I haven't looked that good in months lol!) before meeting my family for dinner at El Chorro, and amazing restaurant in Paradise Valley. Such a great evening! Then to finish of the birthday celebrations, on Sunday my mom, sister and I did our usual lunch at Zinc Bistro (twice in one week is definitely a special treat for me) where I splurged on parmesan truffle fries, prosecco, and chocolate soufflé. All in all a perfect day. And a perfect birthday. I've definitely learned that birthdays are more fun when you spread them out into a long weekend!

But I've also learned a few more things over the years and I thought it would be fun to list them out. So here are 36 things I've learned in 36 years...

1. Be kind. No one likes a jerk. They don't respect them either. Kindness will always get you farther in life, even if it doesn't feel like it in the moment. No matter what society tries to tell you, nice people don't always finish last.

2. Being kind doesn't mean being a doormat. This took me longer to learn. Being nice doesn't mean allowing people to take advantage of you. It takes time and it's a little different for everyone, but you really do have to learn how to stand up for yourself and not take other people's crap but to do it in a way that still lets you take the high road and maintain a positive reputation. That's probably a separate blog post though.

3. Everything is better with a bit of sparkle. It just is. When in doubt, throw some glitter on it. This works for everything from home decor to the annoying colleague or classmate. Though, in the case of the latter, better to send them an anonymous envelop filled with glitter. There are online companies that can help you with this. No joke. See here.* 
*Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the consequences should you decide to cover your annoying colleague or classmate in glitter. That's entirely on you.

4. Smiling helps. Even when I'm having a crap day, making myself smile, or finding something that genuinely makes me smile, always makes me feel at least a little better. I have a whole Pinterest board called, "Random things that make me smile", it always works. And if that fails, popping in Singing in the Rain, and skipping to the scene where Donald O'Connor sings "Make 'Em Laugh" never fails. Ever.

5. But sometimes crying helps more. It's ok to cry. Sometimes it's necessary. Bottling that emotion up is only toxic. So have a good cry. Put on a movie that always makes you sob like a baby. Get it out of your system. Then see item #4. But seriously, it's ok to cry.

6. And sometimes, you need more than just something to make you smile or to have a good cry. When you find that #4 and #5 just aren't cutting it, it's time to turn to the professionals. Go to a therapist! That's ok too! In fact, it's more than ok, it's pretty awesome. For a few reasons. 1) You're getting the help you need and the tools to help you move forward. 2) Sometimes we all need an objective 3rd party to listen to us. Friends and family love giving advice but it's always colored by their history with you. 3) Those 45 minutes sessions are entirely about you, it's literally the one time it's 110% ok to be selfish. I love that!

7. It's great to treat yourself sometimes. Not everyone is a shopaholic like me, so this can manifest itself in a number of different ways. When I get through a rough time or a massive project, I like to reward myself with a new purchase. But for you, maybe it's taking a Saturday to just sleep in, or an afternoon to just read or go for an extra long bike ride, maybe it's buying a new video game and playing it for hours. Or going and getting a blowout at the salon or a mani/pedi. Or a luxury meal at a fancy restaurant. Whatever. The point is, if you've been sticking to your daily grind for a long time and working your backside off with no break, take some time to reward yourself in whatever way feels the most lavish and decadent. You've earned it.

I love to not only stop and smell the roses but to also pick up some fresh ones every couple weeks or so. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
8. Stop and smell the roses. No, really. If you don't have roses, then any flower will do. If you don't have flowers, then stop and look up at the clouds or take a window seat in your local coffee shop and watch people go by outside. Whatever you do, take a moment...stop...take a deep aware of your surroundings. Stop letting life just race by without noticing it.

9. Do something nice for someone. Offer to babysit for a friend, bring someone dinner if you know they're going through a busy or stressful time, pay for the person behind you in the Starbucks drive thru, it doesn't matter how big or small the gesture is, just make that gesture. It will always be appreciated, and that kind of karma always comes back to you eventually.

10. Don't be afraid to dream. I used to feel bad for being a day dreamer and for having a wild imagination. And sure, it's gotten me in trouble occasionally (I'm great at coming up with worst case scenarios) but it's also gotten me to some pretty awesome places. Dreams are important. Don't ever let someone stifle them.

11. But remember, dreams aren't enough, you have to be prepared to work and work hard. I can dream all I want about getting a PhD. But I'm the only one who can go through the steps and and put in the hard work to actually achieve it. So...dream it, believe it, work at it, achieve it.

Just one of many PhD work sessions at Starbucks. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi

12. Don't rush grief. And don't let anyone else rush you through it. We all respond to grief differently and there is no set timeline. Yes, we've all heard of the 7 stages of grief, but those stages last for different amounts of time for each person. So if you're going through something devastating, whether that's getting laid off, breaking up with your significant other, or a loved one passing away, don't let anyone tell that you need to "get over it". Grief is tragic and crushing and knocks everything out of you. And only you can put yourself back together. If the loss is particularly difficult I recommend a grief counselor or other therapist to help you work through everything. You don't have to do it alone, if you have friends and family supporting you that's great, but often they might be grieving the same loss or might simply not have the capability of supporting you emotionally longterm. Working with a professional can be enormously helpful in realizing that what you're feeling is completely normal and give you the strength to fully work through the trauma of your grief.

13. Love deeply. Don't be afraid. It hurts like hell if/when you lose it, but it is always worth it.

14. Don't be afraid. Life is big and scary and it's easy (and tempting) to stay in bed under the covers. But get out there and live your life. Push yourself. Take small steps if you need to, but challenge yourself.

15. Eat good food. Moderation is healthy, but life is short, so for goodness sake, eat good food. Indulge. Bake the cake and eat it too. When I was still doing course work for my PhD, I loved baking cookies and muffins and bringing them to class. It allowed me to make my favorite sweet treats without being tempted to eat the whole batch by myself. But you can also plan trips once or twice a month to your favorite restaurants to have amazing food that you either couldn't or wouldn't cook for yourself. Order dessert. Don't feel guilty and don't regret it. 

I never regret French toast at Zinc Bistro. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
16. Be open to other cultures. If you can afford to, travel. If you can't travel then read, watch YouTube travel vlogs, watch documentaries on Netflix or PBS, but broaden your horizons somehow. Try food from different countries. Learn a language. Visit local cultural centers. Living in Phoenix there's a large Chinese Cultural Center. There are also a number of Mexican and Hispanic organizations. And of course a ton of Native American reservations, historical cites, cultural centers, etc. Most cities and countries have a lot locally that can help you experience cultures different from what you were raised in. The more we explore and learn more about what it's like outside our own bubble, the better we can be as a global society.

17. Find a hobby. Knitting, running, writing, starting a YouTube channel (lol), it doesn't matter. Just find something you love, that brings you joy and satisfaction. That connects you to others if you are looking for connection, or that gives you peaceful solitude if you're looking for quiet. Find something you do just for you, and not because it's something you have to do. No matter how busy you are, even if you only indulge in that hobby once a month, when you find something you truly love even that limited time is so worth it. And you'll find that because it fills you with so much satisfaction you will start making more time for it.

18. Don't give up on relationships that matter to you. Keep calling and texting to let that friend or family member know that you care. You don't have to spend a lot of time and energy on this. And sometimes relationships change and evolve. But sometimes people are going through things they can't articulate, and getting your calls and messages mean they still have a lifeline to you. If they matter to you, make sure they know the door is always open. 

19. Let go of the toxic in your life. This kind of relates to #18. Sometimes the relationship doesn't really matter to us. Sometimes it's downright toxic. It makes us feel small and horrible about ourselves. We've all had that friend or family member that even five minutes with them leaves us feeing worse about ourselves than we did before we saw them. Let them go. It's really not worth it. Either they're legitimately a jerk and a horrible human or they are going through something that's causing their toxic behavior. If it's the former, just let them go and walk away. If it's the latter try to get them help if you can. Get them into therapy or rehab or whatever they need. But leave it to the professionals and then choose if you want to remain open to repairing the damage and rebuilding bridges after they've sorted out their lives. But it's not your responsibility to save them. We all can only save ourselves. You are not obligated to take abuse of any kind from someone else and it's not selfish to let go of toxic people in your life. It's the same principle as the airline safety directions to put on your own oxygen mask before helping the people around you.

20. Read. Read as much as possible from as many genres and sources as you can. Try out books you normally wouldn't turn to. You might be surprised.

21. Don't compare. As Mark Twain is quoted, "Comparison is the death of joy." Comparing yourself to others is a spiral of misery you don't need. 

22. Take a drive. Or if you don't have a car, take a random bus or train, or go for a walk in a different direction than you normally take. Whatever you mode of transportation, the point is to wander, a bit aimlessly, if you're driving or walking, just start taking random lefts and rights and see where you end up. If you're on a bus or train, choose one you don't usually choose and then get off at a completely random stop. And then explore. Sometimes you find a great new restaurant or shop, sometimes you just find a quiet moment. Either way, you win. 
Sometimes a good road trip can really clear the mind. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
23. Learn about your past. The good and the bad. Family histories are fascinating. Even if you don't have a good relationship with your family, learning about where you come from can be a huge benefit to your own personal growth. You might learn amazing things. You might learn incredibly painful things. You are not defined by your family or it's history, but learning about it can help you in your own life. It can give you a connection to something bigger than yourself or it can allow you be the first in the family to finally break a destructive chain of behaviors. Knowledge is power.

24. Listen to music. It makes our hearts and souls happy. I know some people say they don't like/need music in their life. I'm always a little suspicious of those people. Music is so powerful, embrace that power in your life. Crank up the music in the car. Dance around your house. Create the soundtrack to your life.

25. Tell the negativity committee that meets inside your head to sit down and shut up. (Found this on a postcard and thought it was awesome.)

26. Take risks. Ok, I don't mean stupid or dangerous risks. But if you find yourself in a situation where you would normally play it safe and back away, ask yourself, what do you really have to lose? Playing it safe is, well, safe. But it can also be boring and stifling. Take the job in another country. Go out with the guy who isn't your usual "type". Apply for graduate school. Sign up for those trapeze lessons you've dreamed of since you were a kid watching the circus. As the quote from a poem by Erin Hanson goes, "What if I fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?" Take the risk. Fly.

27. Inform and educate yourself. Learn about the news and current events from as many different credible and reputable sources as you can. If you're liberal look at reputable conservative sources. If you're conservative, read some more liberal sources. Don't stay trapped in your bubble or echo chamber. Even if you disagree with what you read, back up that disagreement with facts and evidence from your perspective. Be critically engaged.

28. Related to that...take a stand. Don't be passive. Stand up for what you believe in. And you can do this in really small ways. Obviously voting is crucial, especially in local elections. So is calling/writing/faxing your representatives and making your voice heard by them. But when it comes to systemic issues like racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, basically any of the "isms" that are plaguing society, speaking up when we witness examples of these by our own social circles is the most important but also the scariest and hardest. When your friends make a racist or sexist "joke" call them out on it. My favorite way is to ask them (with a blank face) to explain the joke. When a joke is relying on sexist or racist stereotypes you're then forcing them to explain the stereotype and why you'd find it funny. When you stand by and let stereotypes and microagressions stand unopposed, you're supporting the system that feeds it. Don't be part of the problem, be part of the solution.
29. Don't be ashamed to have your spiritual beliefs, but also remember that you are one of a vast many people in this world to believe (or not) in a higher power. No matter what your chosen religion says about sharing your religion with others I'm pretty sure none of them promote being a jerk about it or forcing it down someone's throat. Pretty much every major religion has some version of the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated. Religious respect will get you much farther in this world than religious intolerance.

30. A saying that's always stuck with me is "be better today than you were yesterday, be better tomorrow than you were today." This always reminds me that today is a new day and to not be defined by yesterday. And if today is crap, it's ok, tomorrow is a new day and a new chance.

31. Laugh often and laugh loud. Smiling and crying, as mentioned above, is good. And so is laughing. When something legitimately funny happens, laugh and laugh loud, and don't care about who's watching.

32. Spend the occasional day in bed watching Netflix. Or reading a good book. Really. It's ok. No, you're not a failure of a human if you do this every now and then.

33. Make mistakes. Then learn from them. This kind of goes with #26. Sometimes risks lead to failure. And that's ok. That's part of life. When something doesn't work out you take a moment to figure out why it failed and you learn from that. Then you move forward. You don't stop taking risks because one or two ended in failure. You try again, taking a different path.

34. Be a kid. Kids can teach us a lot. We have some of our best life skills as children and then society "teaches" those skills out of us. Kids dream big, live and love hard, think outside the box, are silly, and don't give a flying flip what anyone thinks about them because they know they are awesome. Kids only start doubting themselves then the adults around them teach them to doubt themselves. The world that kids live in is a million times bigger than the world of adults. Sir Ken Robinson has some great TED Talks on kids and education and one of the things he talks about is the concept of divergent thinking. The average 5 year old can think of hundreds of uses for a paper clip. The average adult can usually only think of a half a dozen or so. In today's world that's a huge problem. I look at my friends and their amazing kids and I'm amazed at some of the things they say and do. I envy them the freedom they have at their age. Reclaim some of that freedom. Be a kid. Dream big, live and love hard, think outside the box, be silly, and don't give a flying flip what anyone thinks about you, because you are awesome.

35. Buy yourself flowers and jewelry. This is more for the single girls out there, but it could apply to anyone I suppose. Don't wait around for some future significant other to buy you flowers or jewelry as a gift for special occasions. If you have someone in your life that does this for you, fantastic. But if you don't, don't feel bad about it. Go buy your own flowers. Save your pennies and buy yourself that necklace or bracelet you've been longing for. I learned this pretty early on. If I waited for a guy to buy me jewelry I wouldn't have any. And ultimately this isn't really about flowers or jewelry. Some people don't care about those things. The point is, everyone as an idea of all the lovely things our future significant other will do for us. Don't wait. Do it yourself. Plan the night at the great restaurant you've wanted to try. Book the weekend away at the charming B&B you've always wanted to try. Organize the adventure camping trip. Spend the lazy day on the couch reading a book. Sure, these things are great to fantasize about doing with a special person. But why wait? Don't put your life on hold while waiting for someone to come along. Treat yourself with the same time and attention you expect your future significant other to treat you with. Set that standard and find someone who meets it.
Just a couple pieces of jewelry I've bought myself lol. Instagram @jesuisjustemoi
And finally...

36. Be yourself. I could write a whole blog post about this, but I'll keep it brief....You are the only you on this planet. You are wonderful and imperfectly perfect just as you are. In this hyped up social media age where we see carefully constructed and captured "perfect" moments in other people's lives it's an easy trap to want to be someone else. To believe your life would be better/easier/happier if you were them. But we all have issues, no one's life is perfect. The one thing we all have going for us is that we are the only one of us in this world. I'm the only me out there. I am unique and different and special. I am my own weird and wonderful combination of likes, dislikes, quirks, knowledge, experiences...there is no one else exactly like me. And that's amazing. My favorite people in my life are the ones who are unashamedly 100% their own authentic self. It's taken me 36 years, but I've finally learned in the last 6 years or so of that time that being myself is the one thing that I can do better than anyone else. 

Me at Christmas with my family's black lab Luna.