Nana, you did something so beautiful by raising my mom the way you did. You may not realize it, but it freed me.
You instilled values so deep, my mom chose the hard way instead of the easy way forward. As a result, I no longer feel I must do what is culturally expected of me. I feel free to explore what I am here to do. Maybe you didn’t realize this is what would happen, but for your part, I am infinitely thankful.
I’m also thankful you taught my mom cleanliness and care for her style and appearance that she passed on to me.
You taught her manners and the value of education, which she taught me.
You taught her to caringly cook for everyone.
You introduced her to nutrition and supplements. And she did this for me.
You showed us the simple joy in coffee and in saunas.
You taught us to love holidays, celebrations and traditions.
Augsburg University has a hold on my transcript and degree. And all I can say now is, you can keep it.
You can keep my degree and hold my transcripts forever. I am not asking you to help me anymore, because you have not. I am asking you to change. Please do better for the innocent and unknowing students who attend your university.
I gave Augsburg University everything I had and you took it. And you continue to take from me. I can’t afford it. And it’s disturbing. Not only do I have an inordinate amount of student loan debt, the student account balance I owe you cannot be consolidated. As a result, it is now negatively affecting my credit and employability. An expensive education has left me with crippling debt, and meanwhile the university has not helped me secure a career that would allow me to begin to pay it back.
Look at your school track and field record board. I rewrote it. My name is on the mile through the 10k. I earned the Elite 89 award, which is granted to the athlete with the highest GPA at the NCAA tournament. I earned All-American honors multiple times and received your female athlete of the year award. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. I earned Departmental Honors in Communication Studies. I’m not sharing any of my honors to brag, I’m sharing them to demonstrate the dichotomy. If this happened to me, it is happening to anyone at your university. While I was earning Augsburg positive attention through academic and athletic achievements, I was going hungry. I didn’t know whether I would be able to finish my degree, because there was no funding for my books and other necessities. Not only was I training and competing, but I was working a work-study job for near-minimum wage. After I graduated, I could not find a job no matter what I tried. I asked you for help with job connections or internships, but you offered none. I finally entered a retail position in desperation. Pure hunger and fear. I spent time homeless, because I couldn’t secure employment. I’m done asking you for help. I’m asking you to change.
I’m sharing my story with whomever will listen with the hope that no one else will have to endure the needless pain I suffered during school and after graduating. If people ask me what I think of Augsburg University, I tell them what I am stating in this letter. This is a problem and I cannot remain quiet while I watch innocent others get set up for the same suffering. I know I am not alone. My fellow graduates tell me they went into debt rather than gaining opportunities.
Augsburg University has a serious problem if their highest achieving and most well respected students are underemployed.
This is my sincere plea that you stop misleading innocent people into believing their financial investment at your university will secure them a better financial future. I ask that you acknowledge what you can do personally to help these young, vulnerable students. And I ask that you do it.
I love the word audacious. The first definition is: “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.” And the second, more commonly used meaning, is: “showing an impudent lack of respect.”
In my experience, these two meanings go hand in hand. When we take surprisingly bold risks, people often say we are showing a lack of respect. When you leave your position at work, they say, “Think of how this will affect the business you are leaving before you make the change. This will stress out your boss. This is a really great and flexible role. Make sure you have something lined up. Don’t burn any bridges.” When you decide to stop fully financially and emotionally supporting your mom, she says, “You are disrespecting me. I took such gentle care of you for many years.” Anger arises, because she has grown accustomed to your constant support. But you realize, in order to pursue your vision, you have to let go of hers. Her emotional state is not your responsibility. When you can afford to give her more financially, you will. It is not easy, but it is worth it. She doesn’t want to be your burden anyway.
Trust that anger fades into understanding as people who love you watch you come alive. People who aren’t being audacious alongside you may remain angry and will naturally leave your life. These are good things. Setting new boundaries and taking surprising chances is not comfortable, but it gives you your most fulfilling life.
This picture was taken shortly before we lost my Papa (my mom’s dad), who was like a father to me. It was difficult for all of us.
When someone I know and love dies, it is extremely painful, yet it reminds me to recommit to who and what I care about, because all of our deaths are imminent.
We have a short time to listen to the song of our heart and express it. We do not know when we will be gone. The saddest story is not that you chased a dream and failed, it’s that you left this world with your song still inside you.
When you realize you might die soon or someone you love might die soon, will you stick to your guns in this argument you’re having with your sister? Will you keep letting yourself be mistreated by your friend or boss? Will you keep letting your fears stop you from opening a car wash? Will you worry what your friend’s neighbor will think of your new necktie?
Your life is precious and will never exist again, so do everything in your power to express yourself to the fullest. Even a silly whim to change your style or brush up on your Spanish skills are clues to what your life’s song will be. So get a stylist and take a Spanish class as soon as you can. Be brave in pursuing what is in your heart, even if it sounds silly. The world needs to hear your song.
I’ve been thinking about contentment. It’s especially important to me around the holidays when the focus is on consumption. I believe in reaching for big goals and dreaming about owning things like a tesla. However, in all my striving, I want to have a deep contentment for what I have and where I am.
Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.
Jim Rohn says, “Become a millionaire not for the million dollars, but for what it will make of you to achieve it.” And I love this quote, because it reminds me why we strive for better belongings and a stronger body. If we become aware of why we need goals, we can have what we really want, contentment and joy, right now. With all goals, the process of continuously learning is what matters, not what you end up with when you achieve the goal. When you understand this, you let your expectations for any specific outcome go. You instead focus on being present to what you need to do at this moment to become your best self and to serve others.
Contentment is a continued practice. It’s like in yoga (unless of course you’re an expert monk and your mind remains focused for extended periods of time at will), when your thought train wanders away to another village. You first have to slow down to notice that you’ve wandered and then you have to gently nudge yourself back to contentment.
To nudge myself back to contentment, I use some different techniques. One thing that helps me is to remember the nights I slept at a campsite or in my car with my mom and younger sister. Many of those days, we would eat one meal per day during Arby’s dollar menu deal time. We thought Arby’s was the most delicious food on earth. We spent a lot of time exhausted and crabby due to sleep deprivation and hunger, but we also still had so much joy. My mom and sister and I never laughed harder or spent more time together. One night, we were trying to find a spot to park and sleep where we wouldn’t upset anyone in the neighborhood (Basically, you need something not under street lights or directly in front of a home). I was so tired, I kept falling asleep in the process of finding a spot. I would pop up when my mom and sister would ask me, “How is this spot?” and all I could say is, “What? Where are we?” We could not stop laughing at how hilarious I sounded when we were driving around streets we all knew so well. Simply remembering how difficult that time period was and how we made it through, makes me more content with what I have.
Another technique I use when I feel worried is asking myself the following questions:
Is worrying about this serving me? If the worry motivates me to make a change, then the worry is serving me. I recognize it as a call to action. The worry dissipates when I take action.
If there is not a thing I can change, I ask myself, can I do something greater with my mind and my time? And the answer in this circumstance is always, yes. Sometimes all it takes is recognition of an unnecessary thought for it to disappear.
Another question I ask myself when I face worry or difficulty is: what is this teaching me? What am I learning because of this pain? Sometimes, I don’t get an answer to this right away, but I smile to myself, because I remember that every pain has made me better. I remember I am lucky to continue to face things that challenge me.
Can I more fully understand what it means to be hungry now? Yes. Can I feel a deeper empathy for those who are homeless and suffering? Yes.
If you look, there is always something to learn and an opportunity for growth and that gives me great contentment.
Many people experience stress from expectations of what the holidays should be like. I remember one of my favorite Thanksgivings was when I spent the day alone. I ate a pumpkin pie. I worked out and read and wrote and spent time outside. Letting go of what many people think the holiday should be allowed me to have a wonderful day, even if it wasn’t traditional. As a baby of divorce, I learned this perspective the hard way. Many of my holidays were not nearly so pleasant. The worst Thanksgiving I remember was when my mom was taken to jail the day before Thanksgiving (for a crime she did not commit that is not punishable with jail, even if she had been guilty). On that Thanksgiving, I visited my little sister at the emergency foster care center she was taken to and then some family friends drove me from the Canadian border to North Carolina. I tried to eat Subway from a gas station. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more than I did on that specific day. Now, most anything that happens on a holiday feels quite lovely to me. And I’m hoping you all can recognize how beautiful your holidays are, even if you’re in the midst of some chaos or feeling like you’re alone or suffering.
“I’m not even sure what I want,” you say. “That’s okay,” I say, “But the most important thing you will do in your life is figure out what you want.”
Most people don’t know what they want. They are either accepting the reality their family or culture created or they are doing the hard work of figuring out what they actually want in life. You either design your life or other people design it for you.
Think about people you admire. Copy them as much as you can or you feel you would like to. So you like the way this woman you work with wears her hair, but not how she talks and she walks? Just take the hairspiration, and look elsewhere for the rest of your presence. Maybe it’s a sign you want to care for your own hair more fully and present yourself as well as you can. Do you respect the way a person speaks? Figure out why they speak well. Listen to them or be around them as much as possible. Watch yourself speak in your own mirror. What do they do that you don’t? Record yourself on your phone. And steal the habits and practices and styles you admire.
Another way to figure out what you want is to think about who or what makes you jealous. What could you do to mimic the qualities you are jealous of or make them a part of your life? People tend to feel bad about jealousy, but it can be a very helpful tool if you pay attention to why it’s there.
People who are listening to their curiosity and following it where it takes them, are the beautiful ones. They face their fears over and over to become this beautiful. They live their lives in alignment with what they value, because they have taken the time to figure out what they value. They adjust their course when they realize their life isn’t looking quite like they would like it to.
Last week, I felt frazzled. I was grappling with certain relationships in my life. I’ve been exploring myself creatively and it has really made me think deeply about who I am connected to and why. I frequently have pushed back from people in my life as I have realized we were aiming for different things. It never is fun or easy to leave a relationship or adjust your boundaries in a relationship. There’s a bond that has to be broken and a pattern of behavior to be left behind. It’s also a bit scary. I think to myself, “Well, what now? I’ve pushed away from almost everyone I know. Who will fill this hole or specific connection for me?” Right now, I answer myself with, “What I am doing now is creating. And I am doing activities that bring me joy to spark this creation.” And I believe in doing these things wholeheartedly, the right people will come into and stay in my life.
And I remind myself that this pain of moving away from people who no longer fit in my life is a good thing, it’s growing pain.
I’m choosing to surround myself with the best people I can. Hopefully, these will be real, live people, who are continuously evolving themselves and striving to make the world a better place. I’m also not opposed to finding my people in books and podcasts and movies. I think I’ll always have a mix of real and imagined connections. For example, I have Ina Garten as an aunt/grandmother figure in my family that I’ve created for myself.
We’re wired to remember negative things people say about us. To combat this, I create lists of compliments people give me. When a compliment happens, I type it word for word in a note in my phone. Later, I transfer the compliment to my discovery journal (more on this journal in another post) or my vision board. The rewriting helps me focus on positive aspects of myself. Sometimes when I create a new vision board, I have to write the compliments out once again, which helps me think about these positive comments even more. I have my compliments displayed where I will see and read them often. Right now, they are posted on a vision board on my closet door. I also have compliments that are specific to my writing posted on the desk I write upon, in my room. These compliments are wide ranging, so I encourage everyone to write down every compliment that helps you feel more confident, no matter how silly they might be.
To get started, think about your favorite compliments people have given you and write those down. If it was in an e-mail, you can print that email and post it in your room or office or add it to your journal. Post them where you will see them. You will be surprised at how they make you smile and feel more confident. And the importance of confidence can’t be overstated. Confidence helps you live the life you want to live.