On High School: What I’d Tell Myself If I Could Do It All Again

Written on May 28th, 2015

If keeping a 4.0 requires you to lower the rigor of your classes, don’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get good grades, but you definitely shouldn’t compromise your learning opportunities just to maintain a number.

There will always be people who seem to have or get more than you. It’s because the world is full to bursting with all kinds of talent and sometimes it’s hard to recognize all of it. It’s not fair, but it’s true. Don’t get down on yourself.

There aren’t scholarships for making the most people smile or for being nice to the substitute teacher or for only saying positive things about your peers, but these things are infinitely more important than your test scores and GPA. Remember that.

No one really cares about prom queen ten years down the road, or honestly even just a month later. Popularity is an illusion – everyone has something to offer, and no one is the end-all-be-all of perfection.

Jealousy will hurt you more than anything anyone can do to you. It’s hard to overcome it, but try to realize that you don’t know enough to judge who deserves what. Someone is always better off than you, but someone is always less fortunate, too.

Get to know your teachers beyond how they grade your work or insist on teaching class up until the second the bell rings. They’re human too – vast, fascinating, flawed, wonderful. They have stories to tell far beyond the breadth of their subjects and it’s these stories that you really ought to learn.

Don’t run away when you mess up. Learn to turn and face your mistakes head on, because it’s better to fix them all at once than it is to let them shadow you for days or months or years. Be the person who apologizes right away instead of the one who slinks off into a corner to hide.

You’re going to cry, and you’re going to make people cry. It might be because of a boy or a girl or something silly like a failed group project, or it might be because your life is literally crashing down around you. The reason doesn’t matter so much as the recovery, and the recovery doesn’t matter nearly as much as those who help you with it.

There will be favorites in high school and you may not be one of them. There will be kids who don’t even have to work to get the same things you have to fight so hard for. Don’t think that this is your fault or that it makes you any less of an important member of your school; people are flawed, sometimes even those in charge. Be anything but bitter. Be understanding.

No one cares about your ACT score once you’re actually in college. It may feel amazing to score highly or awful to scrape the barrel, but it doesn’t matter to anybody else nearly as much as it matters to you. This is both good and bad – accept it.

Participate in every damn thing you can fit into your schedule, because the people you meet and the friendships you build and the experiences you gain are worth so much more than the time you invest in them. Sing your heart out on your school song, paint your face for homecoming, stop being afraid of what you look like or what people think. Just jump in. You only get this once.

Stay home with your parents once in a while. Talk to them. Vent to them. Listen to what they have to say. While you are growing up, they are growing old. It’s easy to forget how important they are in the rush of these four years, but remember that they are the biggest thing you’ll be leaving behind.

You are not better than anybody. I don’t care if you run faster or score higher or sing more on key. You are not better, you are different. You will surpass your peers in some areas and fall far behind in others and you need to be okay with this.

The first time you really struggle in a class, it will feel awful. It will feel useless and impossible and you will become convinced that you’re the stupidest person to ever walk your school’s hallways. Remember that none of these things are true. The truth is that sometimes it seems like not even the hardest work pays off like you want it to, but you can’t forget the value of your effort.

Watch your words, always. You never know who is around you or who they know or what kind of horrible day they might be having. Never say anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable justifying to someone’s face, and if you do, don’t wait to acknowledge it and try to make it right.

First impressions will kill you. They’re impossible to shake and you’re going to have to deal with whatever initial thoughts popped into someone’s head regarding you for the next four years. You might never fully change someone’s mind, but you can still always focus on being who you really want people to perceive.

This is it. You don’t get to come back and slink into your old homeroom desk like it’s a second home ever again after you graduate. You’re going to hate high school, and you’re going to love it. There will be days you can’t wait to graduate and nights where you want everything to freeze – but it won’t. Know this. Learn to soak up every single experience. You are choosing who you are and who you will be day in and day out. This is a beginning… but it, too, is going to come to an end.

Photo credits to the Wausau Daily Herald.

Long Distance is Not a Competition

Written on March 6th, 2017

My boyfriend and I are going to celebrate our four year anniversary this May. We’ve spent about one and a half of these years in the same place, and the rest has been varying degrees of long distance. We do pretty well with it, but of course there are times where we just feel sad – I’d be worried if there weren’t!

Last fall he visited for a weekend, and after he left I tweeted something about how empty my heart feels when he leaves and how those who live in the same city as their loved ones shouldn’t take it for granted. Sure, it was a form of complaining – but I have a right to post what I feel on my personal social media. It wasn’t inappropriate, it wasn’t attacking anyone, it was simply an emotional sentiment.

A girl who I went to high school with but was never close to was quick to tweet back “I would definitely settle for the same state 😓”.

I was a little taken aback. For one thing, my boyfriend transferred schools in January and is now over twice as far away from me as he was then – and get this – in a different state. Back in October when I tweeted that, I was hyper-aware that I had less than three months before he moved. This girl knew nothing about our situation or the fact that he was indeed about to go further away.

Moreover, I found the comparison ridiculous. Long distance is hard regardless of how many miles are in-between you and your significant other, and the magnitude of that distance doesn’t automatically determine how often you’ll see each other. One of my roommates is dating a wonderful guy who lives in England, and over the past semester she saw him almost as much as I saw my boyfriend. I’ve found over the years through painful battles with insecurity that comparisons rarely breed anything positive unless you’re looking at your own individual progress.

I was a little upset, but simply replied to this girl’s tweet with exactly what I was thinking: “everyone’s struggle/sadness is valid.” She never responded.

I quickly moved on from the entire thing and went on with my life. I respected that this girl also has a right to say what she wants on her personal social media, and I realized that it would be hypocritical to act as though she shouldn’t post certain things.

But it’s not hypocritical to encourage the world to compare less and empathize more.

I’ve seen many posts and heard many comments lately about long distance relationships and the people in them. Around Valentine’s Day people were “waiting for everyone in LDR’s to brag”. I constantly see individuals whose relationship stretches across a country belittling those who are “only” a few hours apart. It seems like we’re not allowed to share how we feel without someone questioning whether or not we “should” feel that way.

I’m sick of it.

Long distance is not a competition. No relationship is a competition. It doesn’t matter if you’re 60 miles or 600 miles apart – you’re still allowed to miss your person and you’re still justified in feeling sad. I firmly believe that we shouldn’t take what we have for granted and I do my best to be thankful that my boyfriend and I aren’t even further apart… but you would never say that you can’t be happy because someone has it better, so I don’t understand why we should feel guilty about being sad because someone has it worse.

Everyone’s relationship is different, and comparing them doesn’t do anything but create contempt.

Sure, I frequently think about the time difference and longer distance my roommate and her English boyfriend have to fight through, and it helps make my own struggles feel smaller. And yes, I know that watching my long distance relationship has helped one of my other roommates appreciate the fact that she and her boyfriend both live here in Madison. Acknowledging the battles of those around you helps put things into perspective, and that’s absolutely important – but you don’t have to fight your feelings or feel guilty just because someone might have it worse.

We all need more understanding, more empathy, and more support. We don’t need competition or comparisons.

If you feel lonely because you’re missing someone you love, I stand with you. I don’t care if you just saw them yesterday or if it’s been months. I don’t care if they live a half hour or a full day’s drive away. If you miss them, you miss them, and that’s okay. If you feel your heart caving in because they’re not there to hold you, that’s okay. You don’t have to pretend that nothing is bothering you simply because you’re afraid that you shouldn’t be sad. Here’s a pivotal truth I recognized a few years back: your feelings are valid, always.

Now, it’s important not to let those feelings dictate your life or make you bitter, but it’s also important not to squash them under shame. You feel what you feel, and that’s a beautiful thing. It makes you more human. It makes you more brave.

Your feelings, your experiences, and your life are yours. They are not anyone else’s. As difficult as it is, I’ve been making a massive effort lately to compare less and love more because I don’t want to participate in the judgment filling our world. So whether you’re miles away from your significant other or right next door, I support you in every last struggle you have. I stand with you in every last thing you feel.

What I Learned From Getting Rejected By My Dream Company

Written on March 2nd, 2017

I’m pretty obsessed with Squarespace. It started casually this past fall when I realized they’re a dog-friendly workplace; I was sitting in the living room with my mom and I remember saying something along the lines of “hey, I found my dream company!” It was more of a joke than anything (she made sure to tell me that allowing dogs does not automatically make an organization perfect) but after some more research I realized I was onto something bigger than four-legged companionship.

In short, Squarespace blows my mind. The work they do is beautiful, the team they have is amazing, and the way they treat their employees is second to none. I’ve conducted two informational interviews with full time employees already and plan to conduct a third one next week, and pretty much all I’ve heard is great things.

It didn’t take long for me to become head-over-heels passionate about this company. From their espoused values to their gorgeous design sensibilities, I felt like I had stumbled upon my perfect match. I even carved a Squarespace logo pumpkin for Halloween this past year – sure, it was probably over the top, but that’s just how excited the idea of working for this company makes me.

I applied for their summer internship program back in January after laboring over my cover letter and resume. It hasn’t even been a year since I decided I wanted to pursue web development as a career, so I was a little nervous about the quality of my portfolio and skills, but I went for it full blast. One of the wonderful employees with whom I had an informational interview was kind enough to put my application in via their referral process, and then I waited.

I heard back just last week that I had made it to the second round and that the next step was a JavaScript code test. My stomach turned. JavaScript is the newest language to me – I started getting familiar with it about six months ago, and it’s been hard to find time to devote to it on top of my school and work obligations (you can read more about how I’ve improved my time management skills to fit this in here).

I spent the weekend and start of this week reviewing, then sat down for the code test last night. Let me be blunt: it was a trainwreck. I did my best with the knowledge I had, used up the full time, and sent an honest followup email to the recruiter acknowledging that it hadn’t gone well. Today I heard back, and while she appreciated my professionalism and told me to stay in touch as I grow my skills, the reality was that I just didn’t cut it.

It was hard. I knew it was coming after what I experienced yesterday, but nothing can really prepare you for the email that tells you your dream internship is out of reach. I thought that I’d feel absolutely devastated – and part of me does – but more than anything I just feel motivated. I have a full year before graduation to hone my skills. I have the attitude and capacity to learn infinitely more than I know now. And it helps that I’ve already had three backup jobs lined up for this summer, so at least Squarespace wasn’t my only viable option.

I’m disappointed, but I’m at peace. All I can do is move forward.

And while this experience didn’t land me my dream job, it did teach me a lot of valuable things I can use in the future. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

  • No matter how professional and passionate you are, your skill set still matters. I had the right attitude, I did the right research, but at the end of the day my technical capabilities just weren’t up to par. Professionalism goes a long way, but it still isn’t everything.
  • If you care enough about something, you’ll be able to make the time for it. I reviewed JavaScript for over 12 hours across a two-day timespan before my code test, and still managed to stay on top of schoolwork.
  • There’s always tomorrow. Failure isn’t the end of the world. It’s an invitation to get out there, grow, and come back a million times better. I feel ready to take on every challenge that comes my way.
  • It’s the people that matter. Through this whole process I’ve been unbelievably thankful for the support of my parents, roommates, boyfriend, and everyone else. At the end of the day, I’d pick these relationships over the best job in the world – every single time.
  • The only way to really fail is to give up. I know, cheesy… but it’s true. I might not have succeeded this time around, but I don’t feel like a failure – because I refuse to act like one. I could have cried and pitched a fit and decided I sucked (and trust me, I was close to doing just that) but ultimately I realized that the only course of action was to keep moving forward.

It’s difficult to face the reality of my failure, but it would be even harder to give up on something about which I’m so passionate. The web development world – and especially Squarespace – has not seen the last of me.

I’ll get there one day. Until then, there’s nothing left to do but hold my head high and my nose to the grind.

Life Hacks: Time Management

Written on March 1st, 2017

While I’m by no means a whiz at using all of my time effectively (I watch just as many cute dog videos as the next college student), I do think that I’ve done a pretty solid job balancing 16+ credit semesters with two jobs and at least a semblance of a social life this past year.

Here are my go-to ways to get everything done… and then some.

Productive Procrastination
I’m not immune to the empty feeling that is a complete and utter lack of motivation. Have you ever been in the middle of a task only to feel that you physically can’t continue anymore? This happens frequently in college, especially in the middle of my oh-so-fascinating finance readings.

My strategy in these situations is to stop the task that’s exhausted me, but make sure I keep doing something productive. That something could be working ahead in another class, writing articles like the one you’re reading right now, re-organizing my resume, refactoring some of my old code, responding to emails, connecting with my roommates, etc., etc. The idea is that I’m letting myself take a break, but I’m forcing that break to still be productive in its own right.

Now it’s true that working a week ahead in one class doesn’t make up for falling behind in another – but productive procrastination works well in short bursts. It keeps your work ethic going strong even when you have to step away from a particular task for a little while. I find that my motivation is actually longer-lived if I don’t let myself completely slow down; the key is to keep accomplishing tasks of varying difficulties and interest levels so that your time is balanced.

Dedicated Downtime
Similar to the previous strategy, dedicated downtime is the idea that even my breaks help me move toward my goals in some way. I think it’s important to give yourself time to relax, but that relaxation can serve a practical purpose beyond simply being refreshing.

When I have short breaks between classes or am waiting for a meal to cook, I watch web development videos like the ones from Treehouse, instead of pulling up my Netflix account. In the half hour it would take me to watch an episode of Parks and Rec I’m able to increase my familiarity with different programming languages while still having my hands free to eat. It’s interesting and relevant to my career aspirations – sounds like a non-zero sum game to me!

Something else I frequently spend my downtime doing is writing (surprise, surprise). Putting words on paper or a screen relaxes me, lulls my brain into a more creative state, and is extremely satisfying when I get to publish the finished product. It feels like a fun release from the stress of school – and it is – but it’s also a way to hone a very applicable skill.

In general, I try to focus on the things that I like to do that are also beneficial to my development in some way. Before you think that I don’t spend any time actually relaxing, I want to point out two things: 1) I mostly only dedicate my downtime on weekdays, and 2) the activities I consider to be a good use of my free time are diverse.

For example, reading a book for fun is productive downtime in my mind because it benefits not only my literacy but also my state of mind. Drawing or doodling is productive because it relates to the growth of my design eye. Listening to meaningful music is productive because it broadens my worldview, often for much longer than the length of a song. Just about anything can be considered good, dedicated downtime to me – it’s all about making the connection in my mind to some larger long-term goal.

An added perk of spending my relaxation in this way is that I don’t feel guilty about giving myself breaks. We’re all familiar with the dissonance you feel when you know you need to be productive but just don’t have the energy – and dedicating your downtime to things that are both enjoyable and beneficial is the perfect balance.

Priority Planning
I’m a huge scheduling geek. My planner is full to bursting with to-do items, meeting reminders, and just about anything else that I find to be relevant to my day to day life. I’ve found that writing tasks down is one way to make sure I get them done; the satisfaction of crossing an item off my to-do list is usually motivation enough to get my butt working.

But it isn’t just making a list of action items that facilitates my effective time management, although that’s definitely the first step – it’s being intentional in the way I order those items to create a plan for success.

Every semester I sit down with all of my course syllabi and make one master “grade” sheet. This paper lists all of the components of my grade in each class and ranks them by the percentage of my final score they comprise. It may sound a little over-the-top, but it’s extremely helpful when I have 10+ things to do and don’t even know where to start; I simply find the item on my grade list that is worth the largest percentage and prioritize it. When I finish that task, I move to the next one, and so on (sporadically incorporating some productive procrastination all the while, of course).

Making to-do lists that rank my tasks from most important to least important allows me to put my workload into perspective. Some nights, if I’m especially exhausted, I’ll make it a goal to simply get everything done that’s due the next day. Other times I’ll work to get as far ahead as possible. I try to listen to my body’s cues about how much I can effectively do, and I make action plans that let me get all the necessities done even on the days where I’m gone from my apartment for twelve hours straight.

Finally, I make sure to prioritize non-school related things as well – I set an alarm that tells me to get ready for bed every night at 11:00 pm, and I wake up at 7:00 each morning to fit a few hours of web development in before class. Scheduling these activities like sleep and career development that might normally fall by the wayside helps me stay on a consistent schedule, and it reminds me of an important truth I seek to internalize every day: school is important, but it does not define everything I am.

Respond to Reflection
Finally, the biggest way I stay on track with effective time management is by evaluating how my schedule is working and then responding to that reflection with action. If I’m feeling burnt out I’ll make it a point to prioritize more downtime. If I’m stressed because I keep cutting it close to deadlines I’ll prioritize working ahead. I try to adjust as much as possible to the indicators of my body and environment.

A prime example of this was just a few weeks ago when I switched from exercising in the morning before class to doing it in the evenings. Waking up has always been hard for me, and I realized that I was much more likely to stay in bed procrastinating (and doing nothing but scrolling through my phone) if I knew that once I got up I’d have to exercise.

On the other hand, if I knew I could wake up and do something sedentary to gradually get myself ready for the day, I’d spend a lot less time laying in bed and a lot more time actually working. This realization led me to plan a few hours of web development each morning directly after waking up and to spend my heightened evening energy on a good workout later in the day. (Added perk: a hot shower before bed does wonders for my sleep).

This simple schedule change has drastically improved my productivity – I used to waste so much time in the mornings, but now I find that I’m using every minute more effectively. All it took was listening to my body and being willing to adjust to its response.

All in all, I’m still trying to “hack” my life to be more productive in every way that I can – and boy, do I still fall short sometimes! These strategies have done wonders over the past months, but I know I have a long ways to go before I really feel like a time management professional. My life is a work in progress, and I can only hope I’ll be better at it tomorrow than I am today.

Stop This Train

Written on February 23rd, 2017

I try to keep an open mind
But I just can’t sleep on this tonight

Nights like this I feel the world swirling around me, gaining momentum, threatening to throw me off and leave me behind somewhere all alone. Everything moves so quickly and I barely have time to breathe – the lightheadedness creeps in at all hours of the day, requiring a focus I rarely seem to possess to fight off.

I stumble through the hours with to-do lists and “how are you”s and smiles probably nobody realizes are fake, but in my stomach I feel everything unraveling. In just over a year I’ll be graduating and no longer a student – and a student is the one thing I’ve always known how to be. How do I know who I am if I’m not reading textbooks and pushing for A’s?

Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can’t take the speed it’s moving in

I remember the days when I would come home from school just after three pm and grab a snack and sit in front of the TV, letting myself unwind from what I thought was actual stress. I’d do anything to go back to the safety of my parent’s house, the comfort of our living room couch, the unshakable feeling that everything inside those walls was mine – because although I still call Wausau home, I know one day that term will become a thing of the past.

And that day is coming too quickly.

I cling to everything now that reminds me of my childhood. The fleetingness has never been so tangible. In less than six months I’ll be in my twenties; that age has always seemed so distant, so far away, like I’ve had so much time to get there. But suddenly it’s upon me and I’ve never been more unprepared.

So scared of getting older
I’m only good at being young

I do everything in my power to build myself professionally, socially, mentally… but deep down I worry that I will never be good enough. I will never compare. There’s a huge workforce out there and I’m about to enter it, as green as can be, eyes as wide as ever. There’s beauty in that, and I swear I see it – but there’s danger, too.

I feel the fear.

One generation’s length away
From fighting life out on my own

I call my mother for comfort and advice and the familiarity of her voice, and my heart breaks all over again as I realize that someday I will not have my parents to go to. Someday I will be all alone, with no one who has loved me from birth in quite the same way to stand by my side and hold my hand through the slips.

I can’t take the reality of it all. There are days where I feel unbelievably excited about life, and then there are nights where I feel incapable of handling even the simplest of things.

Tonight is one of those nights.

The walls are closing in, the deadlines are approaching, the disappointments are becoming more and more frequent as I leave childhood innocence behind and step into the mess that is our world. I am excited for all that’s to come, but underneath it all is a trembling stress that borders panic in my weaker moments.

Stop this train
I wanna get off and go home again
I can’t take this speed it’s moving in
I know I can’t
‘Cause now I see I’ll never stop this train

There is nothing to do but embrace the chaos and hold on with white knuckles… but sometimes, when I feel like the world is about to throw me off, I wish I would let it.

I have no plans to let go of a single dream or goal or love, but confronting my own fragility is not easy to do with a straight face.

Social Media Shame

Written on February 18th, 2017

Lately I’ve been posting a lot of pictures of my family’s new dog on social media. Like, a lot of pictures, as in literally my last fifteen Instagram posts… oops. I realize that “oversharing” like this can be annoying – and I respect every individual’s right to feel annoyed! But the truth is that I don’t feel bad and I’m not going to apologize.

Social media exists to give people a platform to share the things they’re passionate about. Some of the things I happen to be passionate about are my pets; they bring me a lot of joy. And yes, passion can sometimes be annoying… but in a toss up between being annoying or failing to fully embrace the things that make me happy, I’ll choose the former every time.

I’ve wanted a husky since I was a little girl, and the last few weeks have been huge for me. In the midst of an extremely busy and stressful semester, our new family member has given me so much to look forward to. I truly feel this indescribable elation when I’m around her – and I’m not ashamed to share that with the world. I will never apologize for using my own personal social media outlets to let my friends and family know about the happiness in my life.

I honestly think social media is great, and I love the fact that it gives so many people – regardless of who they are – the opportunity to share things. Connecting with others is human nature, and I know that I personally find immense fulfillment in relating to those around me. If sites like Facebook and Twitter can facilitate these meaningful interactions, then I’m all for them.

I mean, of course social media has it’s problems – there’s often drama and fights and way too much political banter (at least in my opinion). But everyone uses it for different purposes, and there’s something pretty cool about that too.

I’ve made a deliberate effort in the past few months to redirect my thinking whenever I see something that annoys me; instead of complaining that so-and-so is whining about being single again, I try to be happy that so-and-so has a place where they feel comfortable sharing and getting support. I know that if someone started to get annoyed with my social media habits (and I’m sure there have been plenty over the years) I would want them to extend the same kindness to me. I’d want them to think, you know, I’m kind of sick of seeing another pet post, but I’m really happy that Haley likes her new dog, instead of just complaining to their friends about how much I suck. (I mean, I totally do suck sometimes, but we all just want some understanding, right?)

2017 has already been a year of reflection and realizations for me, and one of my lightbulb moments has been that I refuse to feel bad about what I post on social media. I’m conscious about being polite and relatively positive, and my posts are authentic to who I am. At the end of the day, I’m an animal lover, and I wouldn’t want to present myself as anything else.

I’ve struggled with insecurity for almost as long as I can remember (in truth, I think most of us have had our battles with this particular demon) but I’ve become so much more confident in the past few years. I still overthink much more than I should, but I’m growing into someone who feels proud – not embarrassed – about who she is. This is in large part because of my relationships with some amazing roommates and friends, but also because I’ve simply started to retrain my thought processes.

At the end of the day, I’m going to keep posting pictures of my dog. And my cat. And probably random web development and writing links that no one really cares too much about. If these things bother you, you’re more than welcome to unfollow me – no hard feelings at all. My social media is a place for me to express what makes me who I am; I respect that not everyone gets as excited about those things as I do, but I also refuse to stifle my passions just to avoid being a little annoying.

So keep being you. Keep saying what you want to say. Keep sharing, keep being transparent, keep being honest about who you are and what you love. I promise to hit that “like” button even if I’m not crazy about what you are – I promise to simply like the fact that you have a place to express yourself.