Posts Tagged college

The past is gone. But wait, there’s more!

Whenever I think about the passage of time, I think in song lyrics — specifically this one: “The past is gone but something might be found to take its place.” (Thank you, Gin Blossoms)

Once I noticed that line hidden in obvious earshot in the chorus of the popular “Hey Jealousy,” I was drawn to it immediately. It’s true for everyone. The past is always gone. We can remember it all we want, but we’ll never get it back. The past is always gone. The lyric is true no matter who we are, but its emotional value depends on where we’re at in life — if we’re looking forward to exciting things to come or lamenting bygone times that brought us great happiness.

In each of our lives, there’s an element of both of these sentiments. In our twenties, many of us have exciting moments on the horizon of strengthening relationships, building commitments, succeeding in the career world in ways we find meaningful, adventuring and being ourselves. Yet many of us have moments when we look back and there’s no other way to say it: we plain miss college — miss our roommates and the closeness we shared, miss the $2 latte day at the best campus coffee shop, miss the atmosphere where friends and fun were two of the top priorities, maybe even miss a couple of our professors whose expertise guided us and an academic environment that taught us, if nothing else, how to learn about ourselves.

The further we progress toward 30 and beyond, the more marvelous moments our minds might stock up to recall with fondness. Maybe that’s why the lyric about the past didn’t strike me right away in college. Maybe, with a few more years behind me, I have that much more to miss.
The past is gone and that much is true, but the second half of what’s become my favorite Gin Blossoms line is just as true, too: “Something might be found to take its place.”
These words, to me, represent the hope and strength we need to move forward, even when we’re stuck in a moment of sadness for a past part of our life that we can never recreate. These words are a reminder that the best way to deal with the past and overcome nostalgia is to create a wonderful future.

Sitting here in the present of any particular moment, we can never truly know what elements of the future will take the place of the happiness — or the sadness or the struggles — of our past. We can’t always know, but we can find the answers. We can keep moving forward. We can do this. And we don’t really have a choice. Because “the past is gone but something might be found to take its place.”

The song doesn’t assure us that the future will be just as satisfying as the past. It uses the word “might,” which leaves a lot up in the air. But that’s what self-determination and free will are all about. Let’s use them to find our path and to find something new to take the place, not of everything in the past, but of everything we’ve loved. Let’s start now. Happy 2016.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, Z is for the end

Grow up at the end of the alphabet like I did and you know what it’s like to come in last, to bring up the rear. But by now, even the Aarons,

Abbingtons, Adams’ and Andersons of the world know what it’s like to be last. Everyone takes a turn. And that’s the beauty of growing up.

Each and every one of us has failed at something, be it large or small, and came in last in one rat race or another. These last-place finishes have given us an appreciation for all the times we finish near the front of the pack, symbolically, in our careers, friendships and families. We’ll hit a dead-end from time to time, but we’ll learn from it. And that’s the beauty of growing up.

Every phase has its end. Crawling ends in walking. Puberty ends in maturation (maybe). Ill-fated relationships end in dramatic breakups or the sadness of heartbreak. High school and college end in the fanfare of graduation. Jobs end in tense meetings or freeing moments of “good riddance!” Friendships end gradually, mysteriously. Races end at the finish line, duh. And twenty-something life ends at thirty. We know these things from lived experience now, and that’s the beauty of growing up.

So Z represents the end, that’s easy enough to see. But if you think about it, you don’t actually see the letter Z used all that often in the English language. And I think that’s symbolic, too. It’s a little linguistic gesture of luck, wishing us all good fortune along our journeys and bidding us all this unspoken wish: May your beginnings be more frequent than your ends; may your ends bring new beginnings and may you always see that every end is evidence of the beauty of growing up.

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A happy life … One daydream away

Here’s a late-breaking addition to the list of things that are different as an adult: daydreaming.

It just isn’t the same. Without classes to space out in and without assigned reading to have open while falling deep into thought, daydreaming feels different. It’s not any less satisfying, but it’s certainly less common. I’ve realized, I miss it.

As a teen, I’d daydream about getting asked to the homecoming dance or getting to wear a football player’s jersey to school on game day as his girlfriend. (Such meaningless, stupid desires to aim for, I know now, but they were on my high school mind nonetheless.) In college, I’d daydream about getting an internship with the Chicago Tribune or having a fairy-tale romantic ending to what was best left as a great friendship. I’d daydream to relieve the stress of desiring it all — my dream job, the ability to write for pay, the continued closeness of family and friends, and love, a relationship to bring it all together — but having none of it at the moment. Daydreaming was an escape.

It still can be, but I find myself using it as a strategy less and less often. When I space out during boring budget meetings I’m covering for work, my daydreams are far more shortsighted. Usually I’m just pining for sleep or for the dinner I didn’t really get to eat because the meeting started at 6 p.m. and I had to fight the slow annoyance of suburban rush hour traffic to get there on time. Or I’m impatiently waiting for the next weekend, can it please mercifully come! My daydreams have shrunk in imagination, and at the same time, in relief. Whoops.

Maybe this means I’m a little more present in the world at the moment. Maybe it means I’m closer to “having it all” than I was in high school or college, so my brain can live in the now without having to look forward to having things like a hard-fought career and a wonderful relationship of teamwork. Maybe.

But maybe it also means I’m not thinking far enough in advance. That I’m not dreaming big enough. That I should be expecting more from myself now that I have earned the securities I have in my job and my life. I guess I just need practice. Daydreaming practice.

It’s easy to let daydreaming fall by the wayside when the constant nature of adulthood weighs you down. Each day you have to wake up, work out (if you’re active, which is a good thing), prepare food, commute, work, prepare more food, try to do something more productive than just watch TV and go to sleep with enough time to generate enough energy to do it all over again. It’s exhausting.

But it’s life. It’s our gift. And we can see it that way if we just allow our minds to expand on it and take us elsewhere in a nice daydream every once in a while. Starting now.

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Growing up … One song at a time

If you’re like me, you’d love to find a band that gets you. A band whose songs speak to you — lyrically and musically — throughout your life no matter your mood or age. Whose music reflects you and enriches you and surprises you, no matter how many times you listen to it.

And if you’re like me, you’re not sure you’ll ever find that band. Blame it on father time. Blame it on growing up. Both are unavoidable.

Music is personal. Even when it’s pop tunes or anything mainstream produced for the masses, music is different for everyone who hears it because of our backgrounds and mindsets, our influences and preferences, and this is one of the miracles that makes us human. It’s originality in a nutshell.

But since we’re all so different, finding that perfect understanding with any one band and maintaining it for more than a couple of years is like finding earbuds that actually stay put — practically impossible, but worth a try all the same.

I won’t bore you with a historical listing of my favorite bands and why and how they’ve spoken to me at different times in my life. You all have your favorites. The ones that brought you through the awakenings and coming-of-age moments of middle school, the awkwardness and uncertainty of high school, the pressure and desire of college, the newness and overwhelming freedom of twenty-something life. Insert them here.

Then look at that progression. Try listening to your middle school favorites now. It might be good to reminisce for five minutes, but then I bet it feels pretty laughable. High school jams might seem shallow, hollow. And college tunes likely still resonate, but in a way that feels like something’s missing.

And it is. But it’s not the band, it’s you. It’s all of us. We’ve changed. We’re not the us we were 5, 10, 15 years ago — even if we’ve retained a lot of the same friends, hobbies, interests, habits.

The same can be said for any artist that ever sang a song. And that’s why it’s practically impossible to find a band whose progression through life and lyrics and notes will match ours. Because as we change, bands change too, and no one does it the exact same way. Originality in a nutshell.

But let’s not give up; there’d be no fun in that. We can keep progressing through artists and enjoying songs as they come to us and as they speak to us. There’s nothing wrong with that. And we can comfort ourselves with people who see our changes and change alongside us. Because better than a band, the ones we love can always find a way to understand us.

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Why it’s awesome to have no plans on the weekend

It’s Saturday morning and I wake up just after 7 a.m., thrilled that I’ve gotten to sleep in. It’s midday Saturday and I’m making brunch after a six-mile run, leisurely sautéing veggies before adding eggs to make a breakfast burrito. It’s Saturday afternoon and my laundry is almost done, so is my cleaning. It’s Saturday evening and I’m outside on the balcony, reading a book in the surprising warmth. It’s Saturday night and I’m taking a walk on the path by my apartment.

It’s Saturday night, and then I realize … when did it become so awesome to have absolutely no plans on a weekend?

When I officially reached adulthood, I guess.

Growing up, weekends were family time, filled with activities governed by the parents, the park district soccer schedule and whatever the siblings or extended family might have going that day. In high school, weekends were important friend time to do a whole lot of nothing — watching movies in someone’s basement, piling into someone’s car and driving around aimlessly, or better yet, wandering to that reportedly “haunted” road on one of the many edges where suburbia meets a rural abyss and hoping something creepy happens.

Some anxiety entered into high school weekends, too. What if if was homecoming time and you had no prospect of a date? Or what if it was any old Saturday night, and you had nothing to do but stay home with your parents, listlessly chat on AIM and watch the 9 p.m. news on TV? Disaster! Weekends became something to be filled with friends to prove you had friends, with adventures to prove you had adventures, with plans to prove you had plans for your social success, and therefore, your life.

College was a vast improvement, but those few weekends when it was tough to find anything real to do still posed a challenge. Huddled with a few friends from the dorms on a cold Friday night, you’d scroll through your phones, wondering if you could scrounge up anyone who was having a party, anyone old enough to buy alcohol, anyone willing to bring you warm cookies without requiring you to walk outside to the late-night cafeteria. The weekend remained something to be filled — until Sunday afternoon became mandatory homework time, which blended into all of Sunday night and at least two hours of early Monday morning. Ahh, the 2 a.m. sleep cycle … Now that I don’t miss …

But when I suddenly realized, at the soundly adult age of 27, that it’s glorious to have a free weekend, I knew times had changed. When I admitted I don’t care if I have plans every Saturday, because me-time is important, it allowed me to place a little more value on having a moment. And really, we all need a moment. Maybe it’s a moment to chill, sleep in, catch up on some TV; to read, relax, get organized, clean; even to make plans for future fun-filled weekends and be active on our own terms.

A free weekend with a blank calendar stretching out before you with 48 hours of unoccupied bliss isn’t a social snafu, a popularity fiasco. It’s something to be thankful for. And maybe, just maybe, one of these fantastic free weekends could be coming up … in as few as three more days.

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How to do laundry: A twenty-something approach

I still approach laundry like a college student.

Oh, the hamper is overflowing? No biggie. It can wait a couple more days. This doesn’t all want to fit into the washer? Too bad. Stuff it down harder. It’s not quite dry yet? Oh well, I’m out of quarters – time to air dry! No more socks? Well these ones don’t stink too bad – throw ‘em on again! And why bother sorting anything by color or fabric type? Wash it all in cold and you’re good to go.

“Don’t worry if you forget to add the laundry soap,” my mom told me during one laundry lesson before my freshman year of college. “As long as everything gets sloshed around in there, it’s better than nothing.”

That “better than nothing” philosophy still permeates my laundry habits today. That’s why I’m not picky about load size, type or colors. And I usually skimp on the powdered laundry detergent, too, buying the cheapest or second-cheapest variety at Wal-Mart and never filling the scooper completely to the top before dumping it to the bottom of the washer and calling it good enough.

I don’t advocate for a “good enough” or “better than nothing” philosophy in other areas of life. I’m all about keeping my word and exceeding expectations in my career. I’m all about being thoughtful, caring and loyal toward others in my personal life, definitely not about doing the bare minimum in anything that matters. I keep my life organized (except that my to-do lists often become messy) and my apartment clean (except when I’m attempting to bake chocolate chip banana bread), and I take care of my possessions so they’ll last a long time.

But when it comes to laundry, I’m not a stickler. I’m not a germaphobe. I know people aren’t very observant, so that speck of blue ballpoint pen ink on my light khaki pants surely will go unnoticed. I know people are lazy, so if I show up to work in an un-ironed shirt that’s slightly wrinkly, either no one will notice, or they’ll smile and understand. I guess I just have better things to worry about than what temperature my clothes reach inside the shared washer at my apartment and whether my sheets are washed with my dishcloths or the T-shirt rags I use to clean the bathroom sink.

The college philosophy is great – give it the old college try. Stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep until 9, then still make it to a 9:30 a.m. class on time. Think ahead, but only to next weekend or next summer. Try new foods, classes, drinks, experiences. Meet new people and make them your favorites. But spend as little time as possible on dishes, cleaning, paperwork and laundry.

We’ve got all of our lives to manage our households and keep our things fresh and clean. So why spend any more time during the adult version of the “prime of our lives” than we absolutely have to worrying about doing the wash? Even college-style – crammed, procrastinated, mismatched and lacking adequate supplies – the laundry will get done. And that’s something to be thankful for.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, V is for Volunteering

Every time I hear an organization call for volunteers, or every time I hear a story of some great work volunteers did, I think “I should do that.”

“Yeah,” I tell myself, “I really should start volunteering, start giving back.” It’s the right thing to do. I mean, plenty of people helped me become the at least moderately successful 20-something journalist I am today, so I should provide similar help for the younger generation.

I should volunteer in a way that makes the “highest and best use” of my talents as a writer, my endurance as an athlete and my feminist belief in equal opportunity and treatment for all, regardless of any factor, especially gender. I should do my best work at my job, be the best version of myself to my friends, siblings, parents, cousins, etc, and then, I should top it all off by volunteering for causes close to my heart.

We all should.

Lots of us do, and even more of us try. But for me, so far, no matter how much I might want to begin volunteering consistently, it just doesn’t happen. I’ll start off with the best intentions, and then life gets in the way.

I’ll decide I should volunteer with the Illinois Prairie Path because it’s one of my favorite places to run, it’s the first successful rails-to-trails conversion in the U.S., and heck, it attracts just as much garbage and weeds as any other outdoor space. So I’ll get my mind set on volunteering to keep the path clean and pristine for all the runners, bikers and walkers who find comfort in its suburban seclusion. Then life gets in the way.

I move to Chicago instead of the suburbs, and realize I won’t be very close to the path during the majority of my free time. I look at the website and see there aren’t really any volunteer events, or anything listed for volunteers other than a yearly “members meeting” in which you basically pay $25 to hear a status update about the path. Not really my idea of doing good in the world, or “giving back.”

In college, I tried to be a volunteer soccer coach for the nearby park district. My cousin had coached a little kids’ baseball team at a housing project during his college years, so I thought the idea of giving back by helping youths develop soccer skills and a love for running around was a great one. In a way, it was.

But then I learned more about the program. The practices were at faraway fields not easily accessible by bus or any other mode of transportation available to the car-less me. The games conflicted with the times of Illini football games, to which I’d already bought season tickets. And I don’t even remember now for sure, but there were probably all kinds of background checks and hoops the park district would have made me jump through before letting scary, intimidating me coach any little tykes.

Other volunteer efforts I’ve tried have been thwarted by more simple factors like a lack of time, an awkward uneasiness about dropping in somewhere once to “help out” never to be seen again, or a gnawing feeling that anyone with any skills could help out at a food pantry or a homeless shelter or an elderly meal delivery service, so maybe I should be serving elsewhere.

All this isn’t to say I haven’t given a second of my time to others. I helped with one of those used prom dress giveaways during college, and I prepared food for a soup kitchen once. I participated in one of those group volunteer events, where I basically scarfed down free bagels and did some light cleaning at a church that didn’t seem to know what projects could actually use volunteer help. I donated blood, but it took forever, bruised my veins and made me dizzy. In my most fulfilling volunteer effort so far, I’ve went back to my high school and to a middle school near my office to speak about my job as a newspaper reporter and give advice on how to break into journalism.

Still, I seem to be finding all the bad aspects of an activity as great as volunteering, and that’s totally not my style. So here’s the part where I begin to discover I’m on to something. All I really need to do is find the right cause, the right volunteer group, the right organization. I’m leaning toward some type of mentorship group, and/or Girls on the Run Chicago, or anything else I find that would let me do something uniquely worthwhile using the writing, speaking, running and feministing skills I’ve built through my education and life experiences.

It seems I want to volunteer for the right reasons – because I believe it’s important to pave the way for girls and aspiring writers or anyone who may be struggling with obstacles to success. And it seems all my strikeouts are leading to something – I don’t want to volunteer with some run-of-the-mill food pantry, even though those are necessary and really help people who otherwise might go hungry.

When it comes to volunteering, I don’t really think mine is the lead to follow. But I do know that in our 20s, we’re old enough to begin seeing the world outside ourselves. We’re old enough to give this “giving back” thing a real shot. So when we try to volunteer, we should strive to serve the right cause – one that fits our life experiences and interests – for the right reasons. Then, we’ll really begin to make the world a better place.

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