An Unlikely Patriot

IMG_3188

That’s me. The wine-sipping, Italy-envying, nonchalant voter.

Even as a child, I compared 4th of July fireworks to blowing up money. I didn’t understand what all the pomp and circumstance was about. It
wasn’t just that I grew up in the ’90s, which meant the biggest political occurrence was the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal; it was the fact that I just couldn’t fathom why the preceding generations had such a deep respect for the nation and expected me to feel the same.

My interests were elsewhere— mainly in the dance world. I watched visiting artists parade into my summer dance camps with their European attitudes and dangling cigarettes. Ballet boasted a beautifully pretentious French vocabulary, the Russians had choreographed all the famous ballets, and the best modern dance flourished in Belgium. I found myself wrapped up in these other countries and their histories instead of paying attention to Mr. Featherstone, my junior-year U.S. History teacher. (It should be noted that this was partially Mr. Featherstone’s fault for sitting in front of the overhead projector, blocking my view and preventing worthwhile note taking.)

The rest of the world seemed so much cooler. Why couldn’t I have been born in a Venice hospital overlooking an ancient bronze-winged lion sculpture instead of in Lincoln, Nebraska, overlooking a Hy-Vee parking lot?

Yes, for a while, I blamed my lack of patriotism on dance and Mr. Featherstone’s large backside.

Once at college and on my own, my Europe-envy reached a whole new level. I started indulging in naps after lunch, going after foreign men and entertaining my more artistic side. I had chosen a college far away from my hometown. But after a short bout in Pennsylvania, I wound up in Chicago, a place I hoped would be an international hub and cultural cherry-popper. In many ways, it was. My narrow-minded idea of life, people and cultures was ripped apart and reconstructed. I was finally faced with culturally complex opposites. I was no longer smothered by other white, Catholic schoolgirls whose fathers were all avid Republicans. I grew in many ways.

I attended an arts school where hipsters, European-wannabes and gatherers of political ambivalence converged in all of their apathetic glory. FINALLY I wouldn’t be the least patriotic person in my community, or even in my dorm room for that matter. My Laguna Beach roommate was the queen of art-school apathy. Her knowledge of Andy Warhol, Jack Daniels and Bond No. 9 NYC fragrances was considerably more advanced than her political discernment. Nonetheless, she’d go on rampages at parties declaring, “We are the generation of APATHY.” She was clearly using this sweeping generalization to sound sexy and intelligent, which totally worked on the posse of PBR-drinking, electronica-listening, flannel-wearing boys who followed her around at parties. She knew her audience.

After hearing her proclamation so many times, I began to ponder it myself. Was I apathetic because I’d never had to defend my freedom? Was it because being patriotic meant fitting into a box, and I was trying so hard to be anti-box, which consequently put me into the anti-box box? Why couldn’t I force myself into reading political news or getting excited when legislature passed a bill?

The Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers seemed to think my roommate was right. To them, we Millennials sauntered around in our dispassionate vanity,
trying at all costs to avoid the political blood, sweat and tears that came before us. We were ungrateful and tuned out. We didn’t deserve the cushion-y life our parents and grandparents had created for us! Now, I know some Millennials out there are quite the opposite—involved, smart and politically ambitious—but at the time of my roommate’s party assertions, the theory rang true to me.

Patriotism means a love and devotion to one’s country. Seems simple, right? No. It couldn’t be more complex in an era when the very ideas of love and devotion are as nebulous as a broken kaleidoscope. Does loving one’s country mean to appreciate our government and honor our president? If so, the presence of political skepticism across our smattering of news outlets makes it difficult to blindly appreciate and honor. A 2014 article by The Economist said that young people, who are more “cosmopolitan, liberal and hopeful than their elders, tend to be switched off by negativity and cynicism.” It’s true—vultures of doubt encircle us, and doubt can cause emotional fluctuation.

Then there’s devotion. Does it mean partaking in civil duties like voting and upholding traditions like planting an American flag in your front yard? If so, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only 21.5 percent of young people ages 18-29 voted in the 2014 midterm elections. According to the same Economist article, that number is not because we’re lazy—this generation volunteers more, is better educated and uses less drugs/alcohol than previous generations. It’s because we feel there’s no one worth voting for.

So there I sat, on the outskirts of my roommate’s audience, having this internal dialogue and realizing it all boils down to emotion. With skepticism, negativity and grim leadership prospects contaminating young mindsets everywhere, it seems reasonable that emotional investment is at an all-time low. Only less than 5 percent of Millennials has personally served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces. Serving one’s country is an emotional task involving body, mind and spirit. The need for active service men and women is not as dire now as World War II, but what if that changed? Would Millennials drop everything if the expectation to serve and trust the powers that be were imposed upon them?

Fast forward to March 25, 2015 in Nenzel, Nebraska. It was time to bury my grandfather. Grandpa Fritz, born in 1924. A feisty, black-licorice type-a guy. I got in my rental car and drove 12 hours across Iowa and Nebraska until I reached the Sand Hills, where cattle are more prevalent than people. Although most of his life was spent as a ranch hand in Western Nebraska, he’d spent the last 10 years of his life living in San Diego with my aunt, a retired nurse. Up until his death, he insisted on taking monthly trips to Las Vegas, where his portrait hung among the top Sharpshooters in America. That’s just the
type of person he was—a stubborn, fire-spitting force with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. A Sharpshooter.

This man had been inducted into the Marine Corps in October of 1943. He served overseas with Company B, 5th Tank Battalion, 5th Marine Division, in the Hawaiian Islands, Iwo Jima, V.I., Saipan, M.I., Kyushu, and Japan. The battle and capture of Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest campaigns of its time. He survived when many did not.

At his funeral, we sang the official song of the United States MarineCorps, The Marines’ Hymn:

Here’s health to you and to our Corps, Which we are proud to serve.
In many a strife we’ve fought for life, And never lost our nerve.
If the Army and the Navy, Ever look on heavens scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded, By United States Marines.

The grandchildren carried his casket to the vestibule of the church where the American flag was unraveled and placed over his coffin. As we walked out, a handful of his surviving Marine friends stood with their rifles at attention, overlooking their fellow warrior. They were united by their sacrifices; sacrifices I could never personally imagine. In that moment, intermixed with sadness and nostalgia, I felt a wave of patriotism rush through me. This man, now encased, had once fought for my freedom, for all of our freedom. He’d set aside his personal ambitions to give his body, mind and spirit for the sake of
our country. I don’t know if I’d ever have the courage to serve my country like my grandfather did, but my profound respect for his legacy disrupted my apathetic slumber.

As I stood in a stupor, I realized I’d spent my whole life fighting away this notion, this idea, this feeling of patriotism, when all along it was right in front of me, even a part of me. Curiosity started to overcome my disinterest, issuing new vibrations of thought to my political consciousness. Things were finally awakening in me. And that’s when I decided: I’d rather be awake than asleep.

I still envy Europe, dislike fireworks and take naps after lunch, but now I choose to feel, rather than resist. I choose awareness over apathy.

 

 

How Serving Your Burritos Made Me A Better Woman

IMG_3155

A little over three years ago, I began serving at a Tex-Mex restaurant known for its kitschy, colorful interior and an emphasis on friendly service. The Tyler who started this position was unsure of herself, awkward in new interactions, and carrying a permanently furrowed brow. The Tyler who still works this position today is much different – she’s friendlier, lighter, more confident, and daresay easygoing at times.

This transformation did not happen overnight. In fact, I still get shit from management to smile when I’m in the kitchen. (Why do I need to smile at the ice in the beverage station, I ask?) But over the course of these three years, I learned how to craft an “onstage” identity that gives me emotional and cognitive distance from the things that happen to me. This helps with anxiety and panic, in social situations and otherwise.

I also learned the pure joy of being in a rhythmic work flow.  And maybe most importantly, I learned the value of that oft-used phrase, fake it until you make it.

Up until these last couple years of my life, I used to don this little turtle-face grimace when strangers smiled at me. It was like I didn’t know how to smile and share a moment of two pleasant beings existing in the same moment of time and space. In my college years, I walked around campus with my head down and my hood up, headphones lodged in my ears and afraid to meet anyone’s gaze or be gazed at. I had friends, but I found meeting new people impossible. I used to more frequently have days where my heart felt so heavy that there was no way my mouth could feign the smallest smile.

Then came serving, and the need to appear pleasant and happy at all times. When a server is “onstage,” or in the dining room under the eyes of paying customers and managers, there is a certain decorum demanded of him or her.  Servers must have egos, thick skins and senses of self-worth that are unwavering in the face of assholes. One bad tip (or several in a row, as streaks do happen) cannot shake the server, because that sense of pride and self-trust outweighs the reality of a night’s tips.

Horrendously bad tips ($2 on $100) can still shake me to my core, and I run into the walk-in cooler to bust into surprised, angry tears privately. Sometimes I don’t make it to the walk-in. But eventually, all crying must cease because the show must go on. In fact, the show is currently going on at all the other tables in my full section. If I think of it as a show, I can create in these situations a certain distance: I think, these people don’t know who I really am, so their perception (revealed to me through a tip) doesn’t matter.

With time I adopted a number of behaviors that once seemed false to me, but I realized they are my genuine expressions. I just wasn’t in the habit of using them before. Now I know that I can create a better mood for myself by flicking that “onstage” switch and placing my worries aside. If I’m depressed all afternoon before work for a legitimate reason, I find my mood is lifted by having a few pleasant interactions with my guests. It doesn’t erase the real pain I’m feeling, but it proves my resilience. I can set aside time for wallowing and feeling, and I can abandon it at other times. I can smile with my teeth showing and make jokes and dig into the lives of my guests and completely lose myself in the present moment. That’s a kind of therapy in itself. Fake it ‘til you make it, anyone?

This “onstage” persona has bled into the rest of my life and changed it for the better. Now, when walking around downtown streets or walking through the grocery aisles, I can feel comfortable when I notice strangers’ gazes. I can revel in the idea that I’m visually stimulating to other people. I can meet people while out and about and participate in the art of genuine-yet-surface-level interactions. I finally found that surface-level doesn’t always equate to empty. Sometimes you can just shoot the shit with another human being and both can walk away satisfied.

And, a final note about the joys of manual labor, because working in a kitchen has literally taught me how to work: finding my flow and gliding around the dining room and kitchen makes my body feel purposeful and fluid like a well-oiled machine. I’m still clumsy and drop things all the time, but when I’m in the zone, it’s a sight to behold, much like a figure skater effortlessly just doing her thing.

 

The Secret to Paying Off Student Loans

post-graduate-emily-long

I wandered through college not knowing what I wanted to do. An endless reel of questions plagued my mind at any given time: What major would be most marketable? What major would I enjoy most? What major is still a possibility, given that I’m already a junior?

I envied the students taking pre-med classes, the ones who had a firm grasp upon their dreams. How could these people be so sure? There were either a million things I wanted to do with my life, or zero. Regardless how I felt – which changed with the hands on my wall clock – there was never any certainty. I had entered college with one major and switched within two months. Even as I began my senior year, an English major with an odd collection of minors, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

More than anything, and with increasing ferocity, I regretted not taking a gap year between high school and college. “I would have a clear vision of my future,” I told myself countless times, “if I had just taken a year to think it all through.” But by the time I had these thoughts it was too late. I had taken the plunge, taken on debt, and wasn’t about to halt the motion.

In December 2013, I graduated. I had already decided – to my father’s great dismay – I would be looking for nanny jobs. He considered this a waste of a fresh and costly college degree, but I looked upon the experience as a delayed version of the gap year I desired. I planned to take the job for just twelve months, and use that time to figure out what came next.

Within a few weeks of my graduation, I began working for a single mother, watching her two daughters as she served as CFO for an international company. Not only did I have the utmost respect for my boss, but I loved her children and enjoyed going to work, too. We’d have dance parties, go to the pool, ride bikes – in what other job can you spend your days doing such things? The position served as the perfect escape from classroom and office, which was exactly what I needed.

In just twelve months time, I created relationships that could probably never be matched in a typical work setting. Not only did I walk away with a reputable reference, but also a friend and role model. My former boss showed me how to be a strong woman, and how to bestow that
strength upon her young daughters.

The girls I watched day-to-day instilled a sense of purpose in myself; they acted as my dedicated fans, loving me with sincerity that no officemate could have achieved. They wrote short stories for me, crafted priceless handmade cards for every holiday, and exemplified impressive gusto on my birthday.

At times I was embarrassed to talk about my job. People would ask, “So, what are you doing these days?” and I’d hide behind the title of “Freelance writer.” I didn’t brag about my job on social media and I shied away from the topic in casual conversations.

Despite my mild shame, however, I made more money than a lot of my friends. I was paid very handsomely, saved smartly, and – in just twelve months – put my college debt to rest. I used the extra time – when the girls were in school – to complete freelance writing assignments for resume content and extra cash.

And, as intended, I contemplated my next life move. Deep and thorough self-reflection led me to the Study Materials section of Barnes and Noble, where I purchased five different LSAT prep books. Now, a few months later, I have a full ride to law school.

Without taking that year to relax and reflect, I’m not sure any of this would have played out as it did. If I had taken the office job I was offered – the single “normal” job I applied for after college – would I be going to law school? Would I have had so much fun at my workplace? While I can’t be totally sure how things would have gone, I can tell you this: I have no regrets regarding my post-grad job choice. It was nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly not a waste of a degree.

I jumped into college because that was what everyone else was doing. I wasn’t going to make that same mistake again. By taking the post-grad route that I deemed appropriate for myself, and by shaking off the naysayers, I ended up here. As far as I’m concerned (which is really all that matters), this is right where I’m supposed to be.

(Photo by Emily Long)

 

You Have To Get Lost Before You Can Be Found

every_ella_emily_long

Have you ever heard the saying, “You have to get lost before you can be found?” Yeah, I thought that was crap too. But that’s exactly what happened to me.

I was lost. Like… crying in my car, banging my head against the wheel, clinging to a fortune cookie quote like it was my life’s last hope.

I was an “actress” in Los Angeles working as a delivery driver at night. That means I delivered food from fancy Beverly Hills restaurants to really rich people. So naturally, being an overachiever (I had my Master’s Degree at 21), I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t living to my potential. The few acting jobs I booked were wonderful but the in-between was killing my spirit.

Let me quickly say, I know I am fortunate and it could have been much worse. I wasn’t homeless, starving (definitely NOT starving) or suffering from an incurable illness. But regardless, I was still lost. My life wasn’t progressing like I had hoped. And that was disappointing.

Meanwhile, all of my friends back home were getting married, having kids, buying houses and making the “normal” transition into adulthood.

AND I WAS DELIVERING FOOD. Maybe getting one or two auditions a MONTH… if I was lucky. Managing my apartment building just so I could get a rent reduction. Being told by my acting manager that my butt was too big and I needed to start a juice cleanse. And drowning in student loan debt that will be paid off when I’m 94. Let’s be realistic, probably 97.

So…with that said, during my delivery runs, I would usually snag the fortune cookies out of the customer’s bag. On pins and needles, I would crack open the fortune cookie like it was a magical crystal ball that would lead me down the yellow brick road to happiness.

Obviously, it didn’t. It’s a fortune cookie. They give them away for free for a reason.

I moved on to my fiancé for answers. Surely he would know what to do with my life. I laid restless in the bathtub. He sat on the counter just listening. I must have vented for 30 minutes without a peep from him. When I finally stopped to take a breath and see if he was even awake, I noticed his face was white. He sat silent for several moments and then simply said, “If your life was a food item, it would be a sloppy joe.” I laughed… briefly. And then I cried.

Even though I had been with my fiancé since my freshman year of high school and he knows me better than ANYONE in the world, I knew he couldn’t fix me. This was something I had to do for myself.

As a last resort, I started making a list. A list of everything I loved and wanted to do (aside from acting). After much internal digging, my list came to this:

-Be creative
-Write
-Charity work
-Empower girls
-Build something I believe in

And there it was. It just clicked. This would be the start of Every Ella. A company I knew I had to create to achieve all of the above.

Every Ella is a lifestyle brand completely centered around empowering girls through fashion and raising money for charity. All of our shirts have original, positive messages and $3 from every purchase goes to charities focused specifically on girls and women. My vision for Every Ella is to be more than a brand, but a sense of community and support for girls.

After over a year of working my night job, saving every penny, writing, editing, sampling, brainstorming and driving myself crazy, the true beginning is here. We have launched, and although now is when the real work begins, I am loving every minute.

No, most of my struggles aren’t immediately solved. I still have to make money doing random jobs to get by and invest in the company. I still have student loans. I still manage my building. I still have a sloppy joe style life. And that’s okay. Because I am happy.

Well, ONE problem actually IS solved. I kicked the acting manager to the curb. Big butts are in anyways!

In all seriousness, I would have never been here without my mini quarter-life crisis. One of my friends was worried about me being so open and honest about my struggles, because Every Ella is all about empowering girls. But I think it’s important to share that you don’t always have to be strong and perfect. In fact, it’s just not realistic. Life will undoubtedly knock us all down at some point. The most important thing is that we get back up.

That’s what Every Ella helped me do. She is my baby (obviously a girl). I have high hopes and big dreams for her.  And I believe that with your help, we CAN change the world… because we are girls, of course.

Thanks for reading,
Lauren

P.S. — Funny enough, the exact month I launched Every Ella, I also booked two huge acting roles. Maybe it just goes to show that when you let go and take the pressure off of yourself, what you want will find YOU!

 

(Photo by Matt Klasen)

 

Looking Backward, Moving Forward

Quarterlette_Article_Julieanne_Viray

It is easier to see the narrative and decisions of your life more clearly “in hindsight”. Though it seems like an obvious (and perhaps useless) revelation, it was this process of looking backward at my experiences that ignited the much-needed leap of faith it took me to change my mindset, and more concretely, my career path.

A few years ago, I found myself in a windowless office sitting across from the eager eyes that often accompany that fresh-out-of-college glow. I had been asked to step in last minute to interview a prospective junior level employee to join the marketing agency I had spent the majority of my early twenties working for. Once through a rapid-fire round of “why are you here, what are your future aspirations and what does your 5 year plan look like?” she quickly shot the same line of questioning right back at me. I’m not sure why I was surprised, but I was. In hindsight (there’s that word again), the immediate sweat and flushed face that took over were a manifestation of the truth: I didn’t have the answers. The words coming out of my mouth were far from the thoughts running through my head, and I realized at that moment that I felt like an imposter in my own body.

Following this period of self-reflection, I realized that up until that point I had been making decisions by simply doing what I thought I was supposed to do. Driven by a deep-seeded combination of family, religious, (American & Filipino) cultural and societal values, a formula for success developed in my head and became engrained in my psyche. For me, this meant unwavering hard work & achievement + financial security + being a (reasonably) good Christian = success & happiness in life.

After graduating with a four -year degree, working five+ years in marketing and media and with 26 years of “achievements” defined by paychecks, report cards and accolades to display on my fridge, I realized that I had miscalculated somewhere. The truth was, I didn’t feel particularly successful or happy at all. In fact, I felt guilty, selfish and ashamed that the same things that seemingly made my peers happy didn’t make me happy. So I spent the next the year and a half proving to myself that they did. Instead of changing my actions, I tried to change, and at times more accurately ignore, my own feelings and needs which felt painfully counter-intuitive to that one-size-fits-all equation I had so rigidly followed thus far.

I’ll jump straight to the problem with this methodology. There is no universal formula, and if there is, it sure isn’t linear. What the variables were weren’t so much the problem as where they came from and how they got there. And those are questions I had never stopped to ask myself. I had for the most part achieved all of the things I had set out to achieve in the “first quarter” of my life and I felt more lost and unfulfilled than ever. So I broke. Countless sleepless nights, ugly cries, and long-winded conversations with anyone who would listen later, I was finally forced to take the first step, or rather the first look, in the mirror.

What I found was that I had left my little girl dreams, (to become a pediatrician, a musician, an artist and a back-up dancer for Beyoncé all while running the world) behind to follow a more socially comfortable and traditional route. Where did those dreams go and how had I strayed so far from that hopeful, tenacious and confident little girl?

It’s funny when you think about the memories you hold on to and how they affect your adulthood. The way I viewed myself was shaped equally if not disproportionately more by the negative feedback than the positive. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words had broken my spirit. Whether they were true or not, the times people told me I was “too competitive, so nice it was annoying or fake, weird, dramatic, trying too hard, and pretty…for an Asian” were the things that stuck. And they crept their way into my internalized self-perception. When I revisit those moments in my mind I don’t think I ever felt any of those things at all. And allowing other people’s judgments to define your feelings and drive your actions can be a really scary thing in your teenage years, which then inform your early adulthood.

So I learned a couple of things from these experiences. 1. People need to simply be easier on one another and themselves, and 2. I personally had to take control and responsibility for my own feelings, intentions and actions, which were all connected. I had subconsciously allowed the quick-to-judge and petty interactions between teenage girls to prevent me from showing and exploring the vulnerable parts of myself, (which I am now learning are some of the best parts). Instead, I grew up scared to ask questions or ask for help. I shied away from anything that might be perceived as a weakness or strength or as unconventional and different. In a way, you could say I was presenting a watered-down version of myself. Consequently, I started chasing the idea of happiness as something that could be obtained as a result of making others happy even at the expense of my own needs.

Although I appreciate the part these experiences played in shaping my relationships, the need to blend in and accommodate at all cost can be an exhausting and anxiety-ridden way to live. I remember the exact point in my life that I started dumbing myself down, second-guessing every word, internalizing my thoughts and making jokes that I didn’t even think were funny and were actually self-deprecating. At the underlying root of this need to accommodate and adapt was fear. Anyone who knows me well knows that I can be highly anxious in situations testing both my rational and irrational fears. Among the hardest to shake are the fear of disappointing and being judged by others and the fear of disappointing and judging myself. These oxymoronic fears and insecurities crippled me in a way that made asking for and accepting help from others and leaving a reasonably lucrative job to start all over again seem impossible. I felt stuck.

When I took away the insecurities, fear and anxiety what was left in the mirror was that same little girl; the girl who felt empowered, confident and deserving enough to follow her dreams, felt comfortable with being uncomfortable, and who was guided more by truth and passion than norms or the opinions of others. It was clear to me that the variable that had been missing from my equation was me.

Now, a few years older and well into the last year of my twenties, here I am: back in school pursuing my masters in nutrition to eventually become a registered dietitian, helping my sister run a small business that fosters creativity and self-acceptance and engaged to be married to someone who loves and supports my individual dreams (even when they change and delay our plans as a couple). I have never been happier, but I have also never been so scared, unsure of the future and dependent on others. When I started asking questions and accepting help and stopped trying to prove myself, it became easier to recognize and respect my own unique ideas, needs, feelings and voice. Happiness isn’t something I chase or aspire to be. It’s something that happens as a consequence of my own intentions and actions every day. I guess you could say that my twenties were defined by a journey of self-discovery. I’m not sure what my thirties or even my forties will bring, but I do know that they will be defined by me.

 

Photo by Emily Long

 

Pursuing Passion, Activism and Sustainability

IMG_2975

What are you going to do? What’s next? I was inundated with questions as college graduation neared.

My answer was clear, yet never seemed to suffice for others. I had been working since age thirteen, when I co-founded my non-profit, Turning Green, though it did not feel like “work” – and I never once intended it to become a full-time job. Our fun, informative, actionable campaigns focused on public and environmental health, ranging from personal care to apparel, school campuses to food, prom to dorm. Once we got started, the energy, enthusiasm, and interest from all propelled us to continue and to grow.

The mandate was clear: young people were eager to learn, take action, and move the needle in a positive direction on relevant issues. And the world of environmental education, advocacy, and social good captivated me; by the time I graduated high school, it was inextricable to my identity, becoming even more paramount throughout college.

Still, others thought I had to get “serious,” choose a career, change directions and start “real life.” Why? I had spent eight years building a movement that I believed in wholeheartedly, gaining unrivaled professional insight, and forging meaningful connections with industry leaders-turned-mentors.

I used my learnings to begin speaking and consulting about millennials and sustainability, an organic extension of my in-depth work with Turning Green, personal passions, and knowledge as a member of my generation. A teenage or twenty-something activist and digital native sharing her truth has real world value!

After graduating, I stepped into a role as sustainability and purpose consultant, gaining fascinating and vital experience in the business world, which often can affect change at a scale larger than the non-profit sector and a speed more rapid than government. I firmly believe in its power to achieve sweeping global transformation, however I quickly realized that my heart lies in hands-on interactions with students, kids, young people – a demographic that is hungry for knowledge, receptive to my messaging, and still willing to shift. I am committed to pursue that which ignites a spark within me, channeling my energy into raising awareness about being the change; about safer, healthier, more just and sustainable choices for individuals, schools, business, communities, our world; about educating, inspiring, and mobilizing youth.

My mother raised me to be an eternal optimist, but has always reminded me of the need for intent and disciplined action. Dream and DO has long been our motto, for one must follow through with the real work. “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” That question propels me forward each day. And I have an answer, albeit ever-evolving: to work directly with young people around environmental education, youth leadership, conscious lifestyle, and citizen activism.

I now wake up with passion, purpose, and the resolve to make that a reality.

 

Confessions of a Caged Glamazon

IMG_2976

Sadly, my life after college is not what I expected. Another day at the office, another day where no aspect of my work excites me or ignites any glimmer of passion.

I work for a Fortune500 company, and landed an enviable position immediately upon graduation, a position that was offered to me my very first day of senior year. As is
characteristic of my work ethic, I still continued to pour my passion into my classes senior year, and challenged  myself by taking 18 credits both semesters.

I love to learn, and I wanted to soak in as much high quality education as possible during my undergraduate career. I went to Boston College, and studied Operations Management at the Carroll School with a second major in Political Science. It was the Human Rights classes, the political science professors, the polisci students passionate about changing the world that inspired me to live up to the university’s mantra to “set the world aflame.”

Yet, I accepted an offer working in Corporate finance. And despite this position that offered things such as “competitive salary, exposure to senior leadership, blah blah blah “I don’t think I’ve set anything aflame. I don’t think I’ve managed to live up to the BC mantra at all, despite my desperation to do so.

So you may be wondering why I accepted my current position. After all, I knew there was a slim chance I would fit in with the corporate world. Those soul-sucking aspects of corporate finance are not a secret. I can answer this question with a weak comment such as, “I needed the financial stability,” or “there are plenty of travel opportunities
in such a global company,” But the true and authentic reason is a deep fear of following an unknown path. Not accepting a lucrative, clear cut career when so many of my counterparts in this country are leaving school with no job offers and shackled with upwards of $100k in debt, seemed highly irresponsible.

So here I am, living and breathing in an environment where everyone is squeezed into the uniform of “business casual,” which is basically the equivalent of the overly preppy, formerly popular all-start athlete, sorority sister, or the like. If you haven’t seen this uniform it is something like this for women–neutral colors, stiff shapeless  navy blue or
black dresses, made fashionable by a very particular amount of jewelry. For example, if you’re wearing earrings that stand out, don’t also wear a statement necklace. Try to limit yourself to one bracelet, as you wouldn’t want to attract too much attention  to your wrists while gesturing during a presentation. Look pretty, but don’t stand out too much.

Spend $75 on a bi-weekly manicure so you can leave the salon with just a shade different than your natural nail color–baby pink, nude, or french. Spend 45 minutes doing your makeup in the morning only to look as if you have nothing on, aka the all natural look.

Follow these guidelines because there is no room at the office for the smokey eye, or the glamorous red lip, or god forbid a little volume to your hair. You are never supposed to exude any sexual attractiveness as this might hinder your reputation amongst the men you work with, yet you’re never held equal to a man. You are someone who should take up as little space as possible in the conference room, with your legs crossed and hands folded in your lap. You are the helper, the second-in-command, the supporter, but never  the leader. In a company where at the Corporate CEO is retiring, and at least 2 divisional CEOs are retiring, there is not one woman in the running to take over these positions.

As I continue to build a career here, the same question appears in my mind every day, and hangs over my head like a rain cloud. Why am I here? After two years of struggling to fit into a uniform that is two sizes too tight and squeezing out any sense of individuality in my appearance, why am I still here? It is as if I have locked myself in a cage, and I have the key to release myself, but I never use it. I constantly look at the key, examine the key, and think about the key, but as of now, the door remains closed.

 

Getting Noticed, Respected, and Hired

work_hard_sabrina_stone

Discovering what you love to do and getting someone to pay you to do it seems almost mermaid-unicorn-triple-rainbow unachievable nowadays. It isn’t. But getting there does require a lot of finesse and hard work, especially when you’re in that terrifying post-graduate oh-no-life-is-real-now stage.

A few months ago, I came upon the work of a young author and speaker named Charlie Hoehn. Charlie was not immune to the panic of job desperation. In fact, he spent quite a while in the throes of it and his brilliant break-through solution actually occurred to him when he was lying on his bathroom floor, in his parents’ basement, in what I can imagine was not exactly a state of zen.

Charlie’s solution was, “Work for free!” Unto itself, this may not seem like a revolutionary plan, but if you implement it correctly, it is.

Here are the steps:

1. Stop acting entitled. (Seriously, holding onto this helps no one.)
2. Choose a few areas that you’d like to work in. (Disregard what you majored in, what your parents want — figure out what’s of genuine interest to you.)
3. Get skills. (There is always someone with more experience vying for the same job, but if what you bring to the table is enthusiasm, consistency and a set of specialized skills, you’ll be ahead of the pack. Side note: The most valuable skills are in high demand and difficult to learn.)
4. Build an online presence. (This one’s pretty straightforward, but as Charlie so scientifically puts it, you know: “blog, blog, blog, dorky stuff.”)
5. Pay the bills and cut costs. (When you’re doing your main gig for free, side income becomes a necessary evil.)
6. Contact the people you’d like to work for and prove your worth to them. (I realized this step is a big one, but if you’ve laid the groundwork, it should be pretty organic.)
7. Transition to Paid Work. (Same here. Big step. But if your work is consistently excellent, they’ll be sadder to see you go than they will be to part with a few shekels.)

Free work gets your foot in the door, it gives you lots of experience, a great resume, and the connections you need to move forward in whatever industry you choose. Employers are terrified of parting with their hard earned money, now more than ever, in what I like to call “the era of the intern.”

Play into that dynamic. If they don’t want to pay you, tell them why they should. Give them value first. Prove your excellence. Then the opportunities will pour in.

Charlie has had enormous success implementing these tactics. He’s had the opportunities to do high-level work for hugely respected author and coaches and has now become one in his own right. His totally enlightening Ted Talk is available on YouTube. Both of his excellent e-books are free on his website. And now he’s actually offering a master class, that costs about the same as a one-month phone bill.

It took me years to figure out that writing was a calling, not just a thing to do in my journal. When I eventually, sheepishly told my loved ones that it was something I wanted to do professionally, there was a resounding, “duh!”

I had always just assumed that because I had never been paid to write, I never would be. Well, now I am… sometimes. And other times, I enjoy doing the work for free, because I know how to turn it into opportunity.

I didn’t think I needed someone like Charlie to tell me to go ahead and pursue my passion. I didn’t think there were secrets to doing work the right way. I held a million different peculiar jobs that did not improve my life or my resume. But we all need encouragement. We all need to be nudged in the right direction. We could all use a Charlie.

 

Photo by Emily Long

 

Encouraging More Women to Pursue STEM Careers

IMG_2900

With all women’s progress over the past few decades, it’s hard to believe that only 13 percent of working engineers are female. But as an electrical engineer at Intel Corporation, Alicia Lowery is one of the brave few – and she’s passionate about getting more girls and women involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

When she’s not developing cutting-edge technology, Alicia works with Intel’s STAY WITH IT program to encourage female college students to “stay with” their engineering majors and graduate. Quarterlette chatted with Alicia about her experiences as a female engineer, her advice for young women and why it’s so important to have full female representation in STEM.

Q:     How did you become interested in engineering? What do you love about it?

A:  I went to a science and technology high school, which introduced me to many different types of engineering. I loved the hands-on problem solving and was really interested in understanding how things work, so choosing to major in engineering seemed like the right and natural thing to do.

What I love most about engineering is that it’s a challenge – it allows me to continuously test my understanding and push my own limits. It’s also really cool to see products that I helped develop being sold in stores and used to enable awesome technologies!

 

Q:     Tell us about your work with Intel to encourage women and minorities to pursue science and engineering. What else does Intel do to support this goal?

A:  I’m involved with Intel’s STAY WITH IT program, which encourages female engineering students to stay enrolled in their major and graduate. I recorded a video for STAY WITH IT about some of the challenges I had to overcome to become an engineer and get to where I am today, which I hope will inspire young women and show them that staying with engineering can (and will) yield great benefits.

Intel supports a wide range of programs and initiatives to support women and minorities at every point of the STEM pipeline. The company sponsors several education programs that provide opportunities for young women to get involved in STEM, such as annual competitions like the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which took place just a few weeks ago. Nearly half of this year’s finalists were female and it was incredible to see all the advanced technologies and inventions created by teenage girls, from a brainwave-activated robot to a $5 HIV test that can be used in low-resource communities.

At the other end of the pipeline, Intel is also really committed to workforce diversity and closing the gender gap in the tech industry. Earlier this year, our CEO announced a new goal to achieve full representation of women and underrepresented minorities at Intel in the U.S. by 2020. Intel is investing $300 million to help build a pipeline of female and underrepresented technical talent and support hiring and retaining more women and minorities.

 

Q:     Why is it so important for more girls and women to get involved – and stay involved – in STEM?

A:  Girls and young women can gain valuable technical and problem-solving skills through their involvement in STEM activities, as well as increased confidence and autonomy. These experiences can help encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM fields and significantly increase their earning potential – women in STEM fields earn a third more than their female peers in non-STEM fields.

On a broader level, it’s important to expand the STEM talent pool because science, technology, engineering and math are increasingly essential to our global economy. In order to drive competition and innovation, we need to tap into women’s ingenuity and potential. Additionally, women make up half of the population and have tremendous buying power, which means companies will need to understand and develop products for women in order to stay relevant. How can a company successfully do this without female representation and women’s unique perspective in the development and execution of its products?

 

Q:     What has it been like to be a woman in a very male-dominated field like engineering?

A:   I think it hasn’t really been a challenge for me for two reasons. First of all, my team is very open and focuses on results, irrespective of who they come from – which makes it easier for any minority to thrive. Second, I’m confident enough to speak up when necessary and demand the respect I think I deserve. These two factors have worked to my advantage and helped me thrive in a male-dominated field. However, some of my friends’ experiences haven’t been as favorable. Their team members discount them because they’re women, don’t value their input and make it harder for them to grow and succeed.

 

Q:     In your experience, what factors cause girls and women to drop out of STEM activities, careers or educational programs – or discourage them from getting involved in the first place?

A:   There’s a lot of reasons women don’t get involved in or drop out of STEM. I think many women don’t get involved simply because they haven’t been exposed to it, so they don’t think it’s fun or interesting. It makes it hard for them to see themselves in STEM careers. I’ve had so many women say to me, “I’m just not smart enough to do what you do.” This is so far from the truth! While engineering is challenging, it just requires some dedication and discipline. I’ve also heard women say they’re not good at math or science, but I know many excellent engineers who weren’t good at math. Engineering is really about problem solving and thinking outside the box, and learning how to utilize the tools to do that.

There are also people along the way – teachers, college professors, co-workers, etc. – who will question your ability simply because you’re a woman. It becomes evident in how they talk to you, listen to you, value your ideas, judge your performance and promote you. One of my college professors actually told me I shouldn’t become an engineer but instead of discouraging me, it fueled me to try harder and perform better – and now he has to eat his words. However, many women can become discouraged for these reasons.

 

Q:     What advice would you give to young women who are pursuing careers in STEM?

A:   Stay with it! Believe in yourself and your abilities. Internalize feedback that is given to enable growth and throw out criticism that is given to harm and discourage. Take advantage of all of the resources available to succeed and network. Stand up for yourself, speak with a calm and wise authority and always strive to be the best you can be.

 

A Wake Up Call to Make a Change

IMG_2733

For years, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Even after I bought the book, Conquering your Quarterlife Crisis” and many years of soul searching, I still couldn’t settle on a particular path.

I eventually did have a sign that led me onto my current path, but it wasn’t as simple as it sounds.

The setting: Sunday afternoon in early February in the city of brotherly love.  I was walking leisurely to my parked car when, upon arriving, I found the car to be completely destroyed.

My bumper was split into hundreds of tiny pieces, all over the street near my home. Pieces of my own car were on the street.  As I saw the panels banged up on both the side and front, I wondered if the driver had been drunk.

There was no note, no security camera or witness to help reveal who had damaged my car. But when I got the shocking news that my car was totaled a few days later, that diagnosis forced me to make a pivotal decision: I could either buy a new car to get to my job that had, for the past few months, left me feeling empty inside. Or I could use the money from my insurance company to invest in my passions.

Following the car dilemma, I had a conversation at work that wasn’t in my favor. I went from being an all-star employee to being totally disengaged due to a lack of challenging work. My creative freedoms had been reduced and I quickly went from an ambitious over-achiever to simply existing in the workplace.

I knew it was time to make a change and take a risk.  There would be no new car purchase in my immediate future.

It wasn’t an abrupt decision. I had previously taken a 60-hour class to learn how to run my own business.  After years of building a blog that grew a strong following, hours of networking and learning, I knew that I’d never be satisfied sitting in a cubicle again… at least if I was following someone else’s orders.

Once I decided that I wouldn’t get a new car, I still had to report to work. Luckily, I had a few colleagues who commuted from my neighborhood to our job in the suburbs and they were generous enough to offer me a seat and conversation. But during that time, I also began to build my business on the side, at a faster pace than I anticipated. I continued to network feverishly and spread the word about my new business venture. I worked tirelessly during after work hours and over the weekends.

While being without a car was slightly inconvenient, I recognized the blessings. I didn’t have to waste time circling and looking for parking. I saved money on the countless errand runs I used to go on during my lunch hour. And my carpool buddies ended up being pretty rad – they were merely acquaintances when we began our commutes but transformed into friends.

After losing my car, and spending months planning an exit from my job, I’m happy to say that I gave my two weeks notice and left the corporate world behind.

I know that my journey has just begun and I recognize that I’ve traded in one or two bosses for a variety of inconsistent clients. Yet when I wake up knowing that I’m in charge, I know that I made the best decision possible for me.  And while I spent years searching for my “calling”, it took an unexpected and challenging event to help me gain some perspective and go after the life I wanted.