Posts Tagged progress

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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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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Now open: Intro to caring for twenty-somethings

There could be a post-college class for twenty-somethings called Intro to Caring. Those of us who occasionally become self-absorbed, or who lack the confidence that we can adequately care for others as well as ourselves, our work responsibilities and our home lives – all at once certainly would benefit. Heck, I’d say we all could benefit from it. And luckily, it’s available if we’re listening. In a sillier world, it’d be a real class, and it’d be something like this:

Intro to Caring (CAR 101): Introduction to Caring for People and Property

Required for anyone who wants to have a car or a bike, house or apartment, bank account, furniture, decorations, clothing, dishes, a plant, a pet and/or a child.

Learn from a variety of sources sharing the best techniques in care for homes, vehicles, fabric, décor, wood, tile and other household materials, finances, personal health (physical and mental), houseplants, grass, trees, bushes, flowers and common garden plants, dogs, cats, turtles and fish, infants, toddlers, children, tweens, teens and budding college students. This course will cover basic maintenance all the way to advanced and precise care for all of the above living and non-living things.

Gain insight from experts about the best routines to provide proper care for all of the people and things under your purview in the most efficient, empathetic, cost-effective and appropriate ways possible. Offers plenty of opportunities for learning by doing and real-world experimentation. Take this course before living on your own, if possible, or at least before buying property (unless you’re playing Monopoly). Be sure to take this course before having a child, especially if maintaining plant life or a pet has proven challenging. Refresher courses are available in various specialties including household maintenance, indoor and outdoor plants, pet care and child care.

Pre-requisites: Birth, pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college (graduation from college preferred but not required)

Instructors: Your parents, grandparents, bosses and slightly older friends, with guest lectures by your favorite aunt, two of your funny uncles, that professor you never wanted to listen to but who was always right, your significant others (of the past and present, but unfortunately not the future) and your middle-school home economics teacher.

Cost: Full commitment to learning to best care for yourself as well as the people, places and things around you. Because that’s what it’s all about. And this is a course called life.

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In the ABCs of twenty-something life, U is for Understanding

And we’re getting a lot better at it.

Twenty-somethings, I feel, are learning to cut each other some slack. We’re learning no one is perfect and everyone oversleeps or runs five minutes late from time to time. We’re realizing life can be exhausting, and sometimes, friends have to take the backseat to more pressing concerns, like insane weather or family medical emergencies, last-minute assignments at work or a simple desire to avoid extreme sleep deprivation. We’re noticing that anyone can say insulting things, but deciding that everyone deserves a second chance.

We’re learning these things because we’re making these mistakes, and that’s allowing us to understand why they happen. Understanding is a beautiful thing.

Understanding is applying our knowledge of situations we’ve faced to our treatment of others. It’s thinking before we speak and finding perspective. It’s staying cool when your college friend takes eight days to return your call and not feeling hurt when your former roommate who moved to another city doesn’t have time to see you when she’s home. Understanding is something I’m feeling from my friends more and more. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Maybe we’re only showing more understanding because we’re older and more mature, or because we still have so much in common when it comes to sleep schedules, careers, friends, dating, drinking, traveling, housing, cooking, eating, exercising – the stuff of life. Or maybe our new degree of understanding results from the increased connectivity we have compared to previous generations. Since we share so much of our lives online, we create more opportunities to see into each other’s world and appreciate what our different situations might be like.

Either way, we’re showing our new level of understanding most when it comes to forgiveness. We’re gaining the ability to forgive for missteps that previously might have annoyed us, like a friend canceling plans on short notice. We’re avoiding birthday drama and cattiness and replacing those bad habits with acceptance, tolerance, and even better, kindness.

We might not give ourselves enough credit for it, but we’re beginning to build a new strong suit, and it’s a helpful one for all involved. But I don’t have to spell it out because I know you understand.

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T is for Time: Why family reunions fly by

Shucking corn in the shade beside a lake. Shooting hoops on a patch of concrete at a campground. Pelting my cousins with plenty of water balloons. Body surfing in a wave pool or tubing behind a waverunner.

I have fond summer memories of family reunions that seemed to last forever. We’d drive to somewhere in Indiana or Wisconsin or Ohio and my Illinois-based family would all convene in a big gathering of at least 25 people. There’d be group photos that inevitably turn embarrassing a few years later, games with unusual prizes only a grandmother can give, big meals with all the good ingredients (like pepper-jack cheese) that you don’t always buy at home, and spare moments of sneaky camaraderie with the cousins.

Reunions seemed never-ending and that was a good thing, even to a child’s impatient, instant-gratification-seeking sense of time.

Reunions now seem like they’re over in a flash, and that doesn’t strike me as a good thing, even to a twenty-something’s supposedly more thoughtful, rational mind. But it does make sense. It plays into one of the main warnings I hear about growing up: the older you get, the faster the time flies by. I never knew that theory would strike in the context of a semi-annual family gathering.

And then it did. It seemed as though I had only just arrived in DeKalb for our get-together at a picnic shelter in the city’s largest park, when it was time to pack up the extra jars of pickles and tupperwares of chopped tomatoes and head back home. The speed of it all made me a slight bit sad as I drove away from Illinios’ unofficial corn capital after saying a series of surprisingly speedy family goodbyes.

The days of walking around the reunion site with my cousins, prank-calling each other’s friends or making s’mores for dessert around a campfire seem to be over. They’ve been replaced with days of scrambling at the last minute to chop too many tomatoes and find that old red reunion polo with my name embroidered on it. They’ve been replaced with days of enjoying a break by hearing the stories of my aunts and uncles, but realizing all too soon that it’s back to my story, for better or for worse.

I never thought family reunions would be something to change with age, but boy do they ever. I never thought family time would pass any faster, but boy does it fly. And that doesn’t teach me anything, except that I need to listen.

Those warnings about the accelerating passage of time are all too real, and not even the love of family can change it. So stick around when family time comes close to ending. Tell one last story. Listen to two more. You might forget them in an instant. You might still feel like the time blazed by way too fast. You might still reminisce and sorta want to be a kid again. But you’ll be be better off for it.

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In the ABCs of twenty-something life, S is for Small World

If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to graduate college, find a job and move out to your own place all in the same metro area where you grew up, it really is a small world after all.

People you haven’t talked to since freshman year of high school may make an appearance at the Panera where you’re somewhat of a regular. Girls from the flute section in high school marching band definitely will be there when you accompany your mom to band fundraisers just to be nice.

Anybody and everybody from your public school past may show up at the movie theater, the only non-creepy bar in your town, or that bowling alley/laser tag place where you still occasionally gather with your high school friends when they’re back in town.

But my personal favorite small world moment was when I recently ran into a guy I hadn’t seen since sixth grade at the gym. In sixth grade, this boy was dreamy. He was the apple of the eye of many a girl, but not me. I had other boys in mind.

But before I decided I wasn’t head-over-heels for Pat, (*Name have been changed. It’s more fun that way) I remember gazing at him on the school bus one morning, and noticing something strange – he was blowing small, clear, spit bubbles right off his tongue! Without gum!

I was intrigued. If some of Pat’s other admirers had seen his spit bubble-blowing, they may have been disgusted and decided to move on to a new crush. But I was impressed that he could make a bubble without the assistance of gum and I wanted to gain the talent myself. So I kept watching him, every morning on the bus. And within a few days or weeks, I had mastered spit-bubble blowing myself. I had a permanent metal retainer along my bottom teeth, which probably helped me form the bubbles.

All I had to do was click my tongue down, slowly draw it toward the back of my mouth, then push it forward. Gingerly lifting a bubble onto the tip of my tongue, I’d raise it up out of my mouth and push a soft stream of air until the bubble would take flight.

Ta da!

OK, now I realize I’m way off topic. But when I ran into this guy we’ll call Pat at the gym, I literally hadn’t seen or thought about him for more than 10 years. Even when people would ask me how in the world I learned how to blow bubbles off my tongue, I’d just answer that I learned by watching someone else do it, without giving any mention to Pat.

Seeing him again reminded me that I’m not in control of who from my past will pop up at any given moment. None of us are.

Sometimes the old acquaintances who reappear are a welcome sight, a trip down memory lane. But other times, they can bring up strange or unwanted memories of middle school humiliations or the silly desires of our high school selves.

I guess our best defense – against unexpected or unwelcome figures from our past who we can’t help but run into – is not to treat the encounter like something we need to defend against. Life isn’t a popularity contest, and even if we didn’t realize that in middle school or high school, chances are it’s at least occurred to us by the time we reach our twenties.

We also can remind ourselves how well time makes memories fade. If we haven’t thought about these prep-school figures from our past in five to 10 years, chances are they haven’t thought about us in that long, either.

But if we get really desperate, we can always blow a spit bubble at them (figuratively, of course) and get the heck out there. Of all the gin joints in all the (small, small) world, we can always find one not frequented by our high school graduating class and make it our own.

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Older and wiser? True, but it takes work

Now that it’s swimsuit season, I find myself thinking back to a piece of “news” I heard on the trashy TV playing in the locker room at the gym, back when there was still Super-bowl Sunday snow on the ground.

This “news” really should have been ordinary by now, but somehow, it wasn’t.

There was a plus-size model in the Swimsuit Edition of “Sports Illustrated” this year.

It’s too bad this happened for the first time in 2015, that plus-size models are just beginning to become mainstream in a nation where the average woman wears a size 12, at least according to my memory of a news report I heard a few months ago.

But more saddening than the news itself was the reaction of a 65ish woman, who heard the plus-size swimsuit model story and then lamented how models create such an unattainable image for the rest of us.

This woman seemed genuinely disappointed that she’d never have a body like a model’s, genuinely torn up about the prospect of having to compare herself to that ideal.

I’d say she’s in her 60s, maybe closer to 70, and that’s how she had to start her day one winter morning – feeling wholly inadequate.

I thought that feeling was something we’d get over. I thought comparing ourselves to others – be it based on the shape of our stomachs, the size of our salaries, the grades on our report cards, the titles on our business cards or any other factor – was something we’d grow out of.

I’m feeling pretty adult these days at 27 and I haven’t grown out of my own bad habit of comparing myself to others at times, so I don’t know when I thought this would happen. But I was holding out hope that it would. Magically. Without any real effort. The way nothing in this world ever actually happens.

And that was my downfall, I guess. I assumed age would instantly solve problems, when age really does nothing but convey the passage of time. Time can heal all wounds, but only if we apply the ointment. Time can make us wiser, but only if we use it to educate ourselves and expand our perspectives.

In this case, time can help us stop second-guessing ourselves … if we work on building confidence from within. Time can help us be happy with our own lives instead of measuring them against someone else’s … if we celebrate our own successes without making others feel inferior.

Time can help us, but only if we help ourselves

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