Archive for January, 2013

Pick your battles, not your pimples

Picking pimples.

It’s a bad habit most people either inherit and overcome, or avoid altogether, during their teens.

But for this twenty-something writer, it struck late. Still, it’s becoming a bad habit worthy of magazine articles warning of the damage it can cause your skin and advice on how to stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Magazines seem to indicate there’s a trigger for every pimple picker – something to take the person from mild-manneredly going about her or his business, to taking fingernails to skin and attacking the imperfections.

My trigger is writer’s block. If I get stumped on a story at work for as little as a minute, I find my fingers wandering from the keyboard to my chin, nose, forehead or wherever the zit-of-the-month has popped up this time.

But I bet for many others — in their twenties, teens or whenever — the so-called “trigger” isn’t so easy to spot. Then what do you do? How do you move picking pimples from the bad habit category to the list of former bad habits you’ve triumphed over, especially if you can’t even confront the unknown trigger?

Sounds like a stumper, but I’ve got an idea. It’s called prioritization.

Sure, picking pimples is a bad habit, but just how bad is it? On a scale of one (pushing snooze one time too many and consistently running five minutes late) to 10 (constantly parking by fire hydrants and racking up expensive tickets), where does picking pimples fall?

I’d put it about a two. Maybe a three if the pimple in question is already scabbed or scarred over, or smack dab in the center of your face.

So if the habit is only a two or three on the horrible habit scale, then overcoming it should only earn an effort of two or three, on a scale of one (setting an extra alarm to prevent snooze button use) to 10 (renting an expensive parking spot to avoid even more expensive parking tickets).

In pimple picking’s case, I’d say appropriate actions could include keeping your nails short to make the act of picking a little more difficult, or making a mental “no picking” rule and trying your best to adhere to it.

Despite its ability to create little dark marks on your skin, picking pimples really isn’t the end of the world. (That was last December.) And I’d venture to say it takes a twenty-something’s perspective (instead of a pimply-faced teen’s) to realize that one.

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You are (laughing at) what you eat

Sometimes in our twenties, we eat things that are just plain laughable. Or at least I do.

One week, I got laughed at by my boss and co-workers for eating what one of them thought was a “pickle sandwich.”

It wasn’t. It totally had more ingredients than just pickles and bread. There was ham and Swiss cheese, too. I thought I had done alright for myself in terms of packing a lunch. I thought wrong.

The humiliation of turning beet red while having to deny eating a “pickle sandwich,” reminded me of a previous laughable food experience in my early college days.

There was apple pie for dessert, and I decided I wanted it a la mode because ice cream makes every dessert better. So I went to the soft serve machine and pulled down the lever for vanilla.

Nothing.

OK, I can compromise a bit. How about cookie dough?

More nothing.

Alright, well I still want ice cream. And I do love chocolate. But with apple pie?

???

Yeah, why not?

The starving college student in me piled some chocolate soft serve onto my slice of pie as it cascaded out in one of those tubelike twists. And I was happy. For about thirty seconds, until all the girly girls from my dorm floor decided to ask what the heck I was eating and scrunch their noses like the popular middle school girls from those commercials about the guy trying to save money on a weight loss plan.

Yeah, just like that commercial. (“Eew, that’s gross!)

Needless to say, I only ate a little of my apple pie a la (chocolate) mode. And I didn’t enjoy even a single bite of it.

You’d think laughable food would at least be enjoyable for the person eating it, and maybe in some circumstances it can be. But a lot of times, the best way to get a laugh about food is to see the humor in things others eat. Especially all the Instagram pics of pseudo-gourmet meals twenty-somethings “cooked,” which in my case means foods I didn’t burn, spill, accidentally poison or otherwise wreck.

So next time I snarf down a pickle with half a slice of Swiss cheese and one measly piece of ham (because sometimes that’s nearly all that’s left in the apartment), maybe I should scrounge up my camera and take a picture. Not for Instagram or the Internet, but for my co-workers and a couple laughs.

Even if the laughter is at my expense, I’m all for having a chuckle about a meal that can’t help but be funny. And that’s how it should be.

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Work, drive, sleep

It’s the pattern of work-week life for many twenty-somethings, and a much shorter list than the tasks that create the pattern of life for the average college kid.

It’s a big change.

But after a couple years in the career world, I can’t say it’s all bad.

After all, being responsible for nothing more than doing our jobs to the best of our ability – no busy work, or procrastinated group projects, or pointless lectures to sit through – is what we all worked for, isn’t it?

True. But at first, the whole work, drive, sleep pattern seems a bit unsatisfying.

Where’s the feeling of accomplishment after managing to study for a poli sci quiz, take said quiz, make phone calls to prospective employers, scramble to cover for one of your co-workers at your campus job, meet a friend for lunch, fall asleep in stats class, work five hours for minimum wage and write a five-page paper – all in one day?

It’s gone. And there’s no way to get that exact feeling back. It’s trapped on campuses across the country and the world, where it fills the minds of the 18-22 crowd to the brim. But it never spills off-campus or into even the subconscious thoughts rest of the world.

Instead of mourning that collegiate feeling of overachieving and multitasking accomplishment, young adults need to find a replacement for it. A new sense of achievement that better fits a schedule that often truly includes nothing more than a commute, 8- to 10-hours of work, another commute home, some food three or so times along the way, and as many hours of sleep as possible.  A new feeling of everyday triumph over the challenges of life that doesn’t involve so many (sometimes meaningless) tasks all crammed into a one-day span. That’s what 20-somethings need.

For me, the dawn of the new feeling of accomplishment came from a conversation with a thirty-something co-worker over a workday lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. (Not being in college anymore doesn’t have to diminish your love for pizza, especially extra-large pieces of thin New York-style pie topped with pasta and eaten in the wee hours of the morning after a few drinks. No, that sense of awesomeness never has to change.)

Anyway, I complained to the thirty-something fellow journalist that some days, even when I write two stories, sometimes three, I feel like I didn’t get anything done, didn’t accomplish anything. There’s so much to say about the ever-changing suburbs of Chicago, it certainly can’t all be reported in a day. But sometimes even my best efforts to tell it like it is leave me feeling like I didn’t tell enough because I ran out of time.

“Any time you get something in the paper you accomplished something,” my co-worker replied.

A gem of a comment, I’ve repeated it to myself many times since.

Times when I see my byline but know I’m far from fully understanding everything about the towns I cover. Times when I feel like something’s missing because I didn’t triumph over the college balancing act of classes, part-time jobs, friends, homework and relationships all in one day. Because I just did my part in the work world – and worked.

Translation, for all the non-journalists out there: There’s pretty much an unlimited number of things we want to (and have to) accomplish in our lives. And despite every “carpe diem,” “live every day like it’s your last,” call to action, we don’t have to cram every required or enjoyable task into every day.

Because sometimes all we can do is work, drive, sleep and live.

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A mission to be who we’ve always wanted to be

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Let’s talk missions.

If there’s an all-encompassing mission for the entire decade that is our twenties, it might just be this: To truly be who we’ve always wanted to be.

This is a big mission. I’m not surprised it’ll take an entire 10 years. Halfway through mine, I know I’m not there yet.

The stages of the mission play out differently for everyone, I’m sure, simply based on our different ambitions and ways of working toward our goals.

But a few important steps, like trial and error, seeking advice and self-reflection are helpful to repeat along the way, and so is a strategy I’ll call JDI. Yup, that’s Just Do It, like Nike.

Trial and error comes into play when a new idea crops up about exactly what it is you want to be.

You’ve always valued volunteering, but do you want to be a regular at a soup kitchen or coach a special recreation basketball team? Try them both (maybe not at the same time) and see which is a better fit.

You always thought it’d be amazing to learn to fly, but assumed wings were out of your reach. In this case, why not take the most basic flying class you can find and ask yourself, “Is this me? Can I afford this? Can I do this?”

Where trial and error doesn’t work so well is with your job. Some failed work experiences certainly may feel like errors, but bouncing from job to job doesn’t seem like the best way to find employment happiness.

That’s why all of us twenty-somethings should seek advice. From mentors, aunts and uncles, co-workers, acquaintances, adult league softball teammates – whoever.

Is it possible to transform your current position into something with slightly fewer stupid responsibilities and a few more exciting opportunities? Would an urban planning degree help you land the type of work you truly want to do, or do you really need that graduate degree in architecture, too?

Someone among the assortment of friends, family members, work contacts and those phantom people you kinda still keep in touch with on social networking sites will be able to answer those questions. Or at least give such horrible advice that while pondering  their disastrous idea, you come to your own conclusion about how to proceed. That type of ass-backwards advice actually is my favorite – it’s funny when you think about it, yet quite effective.

The key, though, is thinking about it. Meditate, pray, write in a journal, go to a quiet place, or do whatever it is that really gets your mental juices flowing. Reflect on who you are now and if you’re there yet, meaning if you’re acting in ways consistent with the person you always envisioned yourself becoming.

If not, it’s never too late. Keep reflecting on why you’re not the person you thought you’d be. Reflect on what’s missing, or what’s extra, unwanted and always getting in the way.

If what to do about these obstacles isn’t immediately apparent, ask for help, or pick one of your theories and give it a try. You’ll find your way. Remember, you’re in your twenties, and this is probably the last decade you can stake any claim to that false impression of “invincibility,” so get you money’s worth while you can!

Last but not least, make like Nike and Just Do It. Don’t just dream of some elusive day when you’ll accomplish the twenty-something mission and truly be who you’ve always wanted to be.

It won’t happen predictably the day before your 30th birthday. There will be no magic day when you wake up as that idealized version of yourself. Sorry, but that’s just not how life works, and we’ve all been around long enough to admit it.

Becoming who you’ve always dreamed of being isn’t magic – it takes work. They don’t call it a mission for nothing. Here’s to mission accomplished in 2013.

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Twenty-something questions for the new year

Why do people always think this will be the year they’ll start going to the gym?

Why do New Year’s resolutions often fail? Why does failure have to hurt?

Will family gatherings always equal too much food?

What’s your favorite time of day? Why can’t there be more hours in the day?

What’s worse — sleep deprivation or a mega caffeine rush?

Is the long and winding road always the most scenic?

What have I forgotten today? And what will I forget tomorrow?

Why does time go by faster as we get older? Is it because we’re busier? More mature? Because our lives are more repetitive?

What new phone or gadget will they invent next? Will I care?

What creates pessimism? And what renews optimism?

Why can’t we predict the future?

How do we judge our past selves?

What drives you — other than your car?

It’s a new year, but does it matter?

Got answers? Or questions of your own? Feel free to share.

Happy 2013. As my coffee mug says, may this be your “Best year yet!”

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