Sometimes you should take the leap

Special: New Zealand from the West Coast for $450. Roundtrip.

It was the day before graduation.  I hadn’t found a job yet.  I had planned for that, and had some money saved up to last me at least through the summer.  I even had set aside $600 for travel.  Figured I’d go visit my roommate in Mexico.

Or I could go to New Zealand.  For a fare that would usually get me halfway across the country, I could go halfway around the world!

But what about finding a job?  I had just submitted some job applications, and was in the middle of doing a lot of informational interviewing.  Wouldn’t it be reckless to just up and go to New Zealand? Continue reading

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Envision your dream life (and make it real)

Back when I was in the third or fourth grade, I came up with a list of things I would do the time I turned 30:

-graduate from college
-get a job
-buy a house
-get married (closer to when I turned 30)
-get ready to have kids (by doing the rest of the things on the list)

It recently occurred to me that it’s time to come up with a new vision for my future.  I’m 29 now, and I’ve done almost every item on my by-the-time-I’m-30 list.  (I’m not married yet, but I am engaged.  Love you, Sam!)

This time around, I’ve chosen to approach my future in a different way.  Ever since my sister watched The Secret, she had talked about how we should create vision boards for ourselves, visual representations of what we wanted in life.  I liked the idea, and we agreed that someday, we’d get together and do just that.  For years we put it off, but with the impending completion/expiration of my by-the-time-I’m-30 list, I figured now was a good time to get together over a weekend and get it done.  My cousin came over, too, and my living room turned into an arts and crafts and vision and encouragement fest.

Visions are different from goals.  Continue reading

Defusing the I-need-a-job-freakout

Let’s be honest.  Two years ago, after I graduated without a job,  I had days when I freaked out.  Last winter, months after my friend also graduated without a job, she freaked out.  A few months ago, when my boyfriend realized that his under-employment was not sustainable, he freaked out.

(source)

We’re all bound to go through it: the “I need a job!” freakout.

It’s ok.

Freaking out can be legitimate. We all have bills to pay in order to maintain life’s necessities, like food and shelter.

Freaking out can also be therapeutic.  If you’re around a bunch of other people who don’t have jobs, it’s something you can commiserate about.  Aaaah freakout! Le freak, c’est chic.

But there’s a point where all that freaking out isn’t healthy.  And I doubt it’s making you happy.
Continue reading

Breaking a bad habit

Even though I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions (you can read my new year’s post to find out what I did instead), there is at least one bad habit I’d like to break. There’s something I say all the time, without thinking, and for no good reason.

My boyfriend pointed this out to me, a couple months ago.  I had the refrigerator door open for about a minute when he asked,

“What are you doing?”

“I need to figure out what I want to eat.”

“Do you? Do you really need to?”

“Huh?”

Continue reading

New Year’s List and the Law of Increase

The holiday season is officially over and it’s time to return to my regularly scheduled life.  Around this time, it seems like everyone is making lists, and I am no exception.  I feel compelled to make lots of lists: of things I would like to do differently, of places I would like to go, of people I want to see, of things I want to make, and all sorts of other stuff.  It’s not even a new year’s thing; I just like to make lists.  Lists make me feel like I have a plan, and crossing things off my list makes me feel like I’ve achieved something.

However, a lot of the cultivation-of-happiness work I’ve done this year makes me feel like creating another list of things to do isn’t the best course of action.  One of the lessons I learned in 2011 is that I spend far too much time thinking of the past and the future, and not enough time in the present.  So instead, I’m going to apply one of the lessons that popped up in a number of things I read this year.  Srikumar Rao calls it:

The Law of Increase
Continue reading

Back to School

Monday was Labor Day, so this week was what has traditionally been the first week back to school for students across the United States.  I figured it’s an appropriate time to return to studying myself, exploring how I can continue to grow, and blogging about what I’ve learned.

This week I returned to the UC Berkeley campus, and will be there at least three times a week for the rest of the year.  It fees a little weird, because after I graduated from business school in May of 2010, I thought I was done with Berkeley (and happily brought all of my Stanford gear out of hiding).  I was wrong.

I am now back on campus as a member of Main Stacks, Berkeley’s competitive hip hop dance group.  This first week of practice reminded me of a lesson I failed to retain in the months since I first learned it.

To be completely honest, I was more apprehensive about the prospect of getting into Main Stacks than I was about the audition process itself. 
Continue reading

What were you doing when time just flew by?

In the past year, I’ve made a habit of asking folks who seem to be contemplating their future:

What were you doing when time flew?  What were you doing last when you completely lost track of time, and when you finally did check the time, wish you had more to keeping doing what you were doing? 

I first encountered this set of questions in Professor Randy Haykin‘s class, Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship.  He was introducing us to the concept of flow, that sweet spot when we have the highest potential for creativity.

I like asking this set of questions because it feels easier to answer than the “What do I do with my life” question.  That’s because when time is flying, when you are in the flow, you are so fully immersed in what you are doing that you are unfettered by the usual thoughts and constructs that keep you unhappy.  (This is the exact same feeling described in my previous post here, except that it’s being prompted by something you’re doing instead of something external to you.)  And somehow by simply recalling that moment, you experience freedom from the pressing thoughts of shoulds, coulds, and imaginary boundaries that prevent you from answering the “life” question.

Ok, a couple of the instances when time flew were when I was making my Up Halloween costume and when I was creating clues for The Game.  But I didn’t go to business school to become a costume designer or clue writer.  How does this have anything to do with what I want to do as a career?

It might.  It might not.  But if you were so fully enjoying what you were doing that you lost track of time, it does point to a part of what to do with your life.

These things that I love doing don’t necessarily need to be how I make my living (although I am toying with the idea of being a full-service themed children’s birthday party planner, complete with invitations, decor, costume design, and cake decorating options).  I just need to make sure that I make time for them in my life.

Often our dilemma is that we think that by dedicating time to these pursuits that we love, we will have less time for the “more important” things in life, like work, our partner, our family, etc.  How could I possibly find the energy to do that on top of everything else I need to take care of?  That’s the magic of it.  It isn’t a zero-sum game.  In fact, dedicating time to these activities give us more energy at the end of the day, and re-energizes us for the other parts of our lives.

Think about it.  What do you LOVE doing?  What were you doing the last time you were really excited about what you were doing?  When were you last in your element or in the flow?  How did it feel?

Have you felt that way in the past week?  In the past month?  In the past year?

If not, I think you owe it to yourself to think about why not?

The pursuit of happiness is not what you think.

“There is nothing you have to do, get, or be in order to be happy.  Happiness is hard-wired into you.  You cannot *not* be happy, because it is your innate nature.”

These are the words of Srikumar Rao, who I went to see speak at an alumni event last week.  Six months after I concluded a year of inspiration and deep introspection, I was in need of a psychological tune-up.  I went to see Dr. Srikumar Rao, because I had heard great things about his previous talks and his course, Creativity and Personal Mastery.  Bald, smiling, Indian, and a Ph.D. in marketing, he is a guru for type-A personalities.

But if happiness is my innate nature, why am I not feeling it right now?

“You do not feel happy, because you have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy.”

Type-As are a skeptical set.  But how do you *know* that happiness is my innate state?

“How do I know?  Have you ever seen something so spectacular that it took you outside yourself to a place of great calm?”

 

In that moment I was back on the deck of the house I lived in during grad school, where I would lose myself in the beautiful view of the area I called home.

Grad school was the most hectic two years of my life.  It was the first time I found myself needing to manage my time all the way down to 15-minute increments.  Yet no matter how worried, stressed, or completely overwhelmed I felt, that view from our deck could always give me refuge.

“Why were you transported? Because, somehow, you were able to accept the universe exactly as it was. Your habitual wanting self dropped away, so you didn’t have to do anything to experience the happiness innate in you, it just rose up and enveloped you.  I know it exists, because you remember it.

“When you are unhappy, it is because you are rejecting the universe as it is.  And the universe is not playing ball.  It is beating you.”

It sure is.

I reflected on the moments when I’ve been less than happy.  Sometimes it’s because I am engulfed by not-so-pleasant mental chatter that is preventing me from connecting with the situation or people right in front of me.  Maybe I am replaying everything that went wrong.  Or I am obssessed with trying to shape the future into exactly the way I want it to be.

Thanks to some time off between graduation and re-entering the workforce, I had made strides in learning to quiet my mental chatter, and I’m going through exercises to tame my inner critic.  But it’s been an awful lot of work, and there are moments where I wonder whether I’m really capable of just being happy.

It dawned on me that I had this “pursuit of happiness” stuff all wrong.  When people coined this phrase, they didn’t mean “pursuit” in terms of  chasing something beyond me, but “pursuit” in terms of an activity which is always accessible and I’m regularly engaged in.  I just need to choose not to forget that it’s always with me.  And reminding myself of that is as easy as remembering a sunset.