I Resolve To… ((A Journey of Growing.))

Hello and happy (almost) spring! If you are like me (and many hopeful others), you probably made some sort of resolution for 2015. How are you doing?!?! Are you seeing willful and meaningful changes in your life? Have you been measuring your progress? Have you formed some new and exciting habits?

I hope so!

2015 has been my year to center myself and take control of the person I want to be. It is also, coincidentally, my 25th year – the year my brain finishes its development. Honestly, it’s like I can feel my pre-frontal cortex making its final adjustments for impulse-control, planning, and sequencing consequences…

I’m totally kidding. But in all seriousness, I am really honing in on some skills that I’d like to continue for my next quarter century, and I think that it’s great if you’ve chosen to do the same! For myself, I looked at areas of intellect, adventure, and physical/mental wellbeing. It has been a lot to take on and challenge myself with, but I’ve set up very measurable objectives in order to meet my final goal which is ultimately to be a happier, healthier, more fulfilled person.

Tip: Fall in love in a comfy chair with an ocean view.

Tip: Fall in love in a comfy chair with an ocean view.

Do you have a lost love? When I was a kid, I was a ravenous reader. I starved for books and I engulfed them. Somewhere between high school and college, I lost my hunger. Reading became a chore and I became a couch potato. I decided that one of my primary goals this year was to revive my love of reading by reading 24 books by the end of the year. It’s March, and I am happy to report that I am about halfway through my eighth book. I’ve shifted my goal to reading as many books as possible this year. So, I’ll ask again – do you have a lost love? A forgotten hobby? Pick that shit up and revive it. (You’re welcome!)

Have you been anywhere new lately? Anywhere exciting? Anywhere that made you cry because of its beauty or warm you to your core? This year, I told myself that I was going to visit three new places. On a whim, I bought a plane ticket to Colorado ($120 roundtrip – thanks Spirit Airlines!) – a place I am well acquainted with and has brought me to tears more than once. If you do nothing else in life, surround yourself with mountains and be humbled by how small you are in this big, beautiful world. After hiking the Hanging Lake Trail and Red Rocks, soaking in hot springs, visiting old friends, and laughing (a lot) with one of my best friends, I returned home with a lighter heart and a smiling face.

Tip: Do go chasing waterfalls. (Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs, CO)

Tip: Do go chasing waterfalls. (Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs, CO)

Shortly after, I visited the Virgin Islands and had my soul warmed by the sun, snorkeling, and the beauty of the Caribbean. I cannot tell you how fulfilling these two journeys were to me, or how incredibly grateful I am to have had these opportunities. I can tell you that I don’t want to stop seeking these adventures and exposing myself to the world that surrounds us – whether that be a two hour drive to a state park or a flight to a continent away. I have found my cure for any ailment that may hinder me just by going outside. Nature is for everyone – go get your slice!

Finally, for the past three months, I have been trying to move past pretending to like exercise to actually liking exercise. This has worked to an extent – I have increased my endurance and I look forward to the proud feeling following my workout, but you will not find me dragging myself out of bed every morning at 6am to get to the gym. Unfortunately, I have not come to detest the taste of ice cream, but I have come to dislike the taste of things that are too sweet and most, if not all, processed desserts – particularly candy bars and anything packaged. Fortunately, I have come to really enjoy well-rounded meals, and incorporate a ton of fresh produce and water in my diet. It’s a lifestyle choice not a diet – I’m creating eating habits that I can maintain for long-term, not a short-term fix for weight loss. Listen to your body and abide by the things it needs – and give it a treat once and a while. I know from experience that it really likes treats.

Overlooking Nazareth Bay, St. Thomas, USVI

Overlooking Nazareth Bay, St. Thomas, USVI

My hope for this post is that you are motivated to get moving – whether that is to a new place, a new experience, or literally just moving your body. Moving on to the person you want to be, the person you have big plans for, and the person that deserves the most you can give them. Surround yourself with positive people that love and support you in environment that will foster and encourage growth and personal development. Adopt an optimistic mindset and refine the skills that make you innately you!

Thanks for reading!
Elizabeth

The Revival of the Handwritten Letter

                In our hyper-connected world, handwritten letters are nearly obsolete. It is so easy to send a friend, family member or significant a text, Facebook message or email. Through these new forms of communication, we lose personal and more deeply invested – handwritten – letters.

                Nick and I began writing to one another in 2009 during the fall I went to college – a few months before we started dating. This continued for 4.5 years and has, quite literally, become a very complete journal of our evolving relationship. We’ve written to one another across many states and stages of life, through both our undergraduate college careers, and stopped just before moving in together.

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Embellish your envelopes! Here are a few between Nick and Elizabeth.

                Opening any random piece of mail between us would transport you to memories of the first time we went adventuring, confessions of feelings for each other, our first few dates, happenings in school between roommates and friends, Nick’s summers of field work in Wisconsin/Michigan/Indiana/Montana, my summer in Colorado, vacations, trips we’d take when Nick would visit me in college, plans to meet in Yellowstone, and, in almost every letter, our plans for the faraway future. The “future” we spoke of is no longer far off, and we are in a position that we’ve both been wanting for such a long time, but looking back on these letters full of thoughts and feelings is such a sweet and nostalgic activity.

                We have kept one another’s letters, respectively – embellished envelopes and all. They are a perfect, unchanged record of our past. It is one of my favorite things of what we have done for one another and how well we maintained our regular correspondence.

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4.5 years of letters between Nick and Elizabeth. When stacked, the pile is HIGH.

                I tell you about our experience with the hope to motivate you to pick up a pen and paper and write to someone you want to reconnect with. My younger sister and I have also written letters to one another for the past couple of years. She is the worst person to have a conversation with over the phone, but she updates me with (very funny) two page letters on a weekly basis. I look forward to getting these and responding to them every week, and it is always exciting to get something in the mail other than a bill, flyer, or general junk mail.

                So, dear reader, I challenge you to pen a friend, family member or significant other this week. Let them know why they are on your mind and what is new in life. Thank them for being your friend, and share great thoughts or happy memories with them. Decorate your envelope so that it is fun and exciting to receive! It will feel as good as it did when you passed notes between classes, now serviced by USPS between your apartments across much greater distances.

Thank you for reading!

Elizabeth

A Negative Nancy’s New View

Be Nice. We have – undoubtedly – all heard these words, but are we really integrating this into our every day, every hour/minute/moment lives? I will be honest; I have not – but I am really trying. When someone is rude, unapologetically late, or plainly unpleasant, it is sooo difficult to “be nice”. Our patience is tried and tried again, our attitude falters, and no matter how many times someone can tell you, “Don’t let it ruin your day,” it definitely may have dented it.

As a former debate team member and, later, mentor, I thrived on the “Negative” side of things. I loved being a pessimist among my friends, and, in retrospect, it was as though I was always fighting for the title of “Ultimate Debbie Downer”. On the Negative side, or what I viewed as the ‘realistic’ side, we would attempt to crush the Affirmative Team’s plan of action. This can easily be applied to everyday life: your partner wants you to change your evening routine, your co-worker wants to change the way you do paperwork, and your supervisor wants you to take on just one more client/project/report. But you don’t want to do those things, and therefore you are going to find reasons why it just isn’t going to work out.

Image                But, what is sometimes hard to realize is that their side – which is sometimes brighter and more optimistic – is also a realistic side and we should totally adopt it and go with it. You change your evening routine to spend more time with your partner, the new paperwork cuts the time to write a certain report in half, the new client/project/report is a huge boost to your portfolio and you grow to be passionate about it. Whatever it may be, it is not so bad living on the Affirmative Side.

What am I really getting to? Recently, I realized that my way of thinking has radically changed. I have been described recently by co-workers as “extremely optimistic” – probably too optimistic in some situations. Now, I’ve realized that, instead of seeing a person walk down the street and thinking, “Oh my god, how could they have worn that?”, I find myself thinking, “I really like her/their/his _____________”. I think that this brighter, more optimistic way of thinking has really come to reflect on the rest of my states of being – i.e. emotional, mental, physical, etc. I wake up and look forward to the day, to the people I will see (and hopefully help), and the things I will do with and for others.

Obviously, this all can’t just stay in my mind because I want others to feel good about themselves and I want to have a good impact on their day, rather than denting it. I’ve been putting in a genuine effort to Be Nice, in whatever way that looks like. ImageActively giving back to others, telling strangers that they have great hair/smile/shirt, giving that friend an extra “like” on the picture (selfie – let’s be real)/status they posted earlier that day, leaving enough money for a coffee for the person next in line, and going through and donating those clothes that you do-not-wear-and-probably-do-not-fit-into just to make someone else’s day better will also make your day better.

                This sounds so simple, I totally know. It is elementary level in terms of new knowledge, but I (and you probably) still see people continuing their Negative Nancy/Debbie Downer ways. Make it a goal to engage those people, to make them smile or even laugh, and, believe me, you will feel great and hopefully they will too. I see this so frequently working in human/social services; people are upset and pissed off to be involved in services they do not think they need or want, and the least I can do in my job is to try to make my appointment with them a pleasure so they can look forward to the next one.

                So, my friends, be actively nice to others, so that you may brighten their day and they may brighten yours. 🙂

 

Thank you for reading!
Elizabeth M.

“Hello, I’m Ms. M.”

In addition to my full-time job as a professional listener, I substitute teach on the side. I remember telling Samantha Courtney, during our senior year of high school, that I didn’t feel like my time there was finished – that I felt like I’d come back somehow. And, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I totally did.

The first few times were hard; I tried to demand respect rather than build rapport. Once I started to understand the process and filled my teaching with pieces of my own personality and humor, things fell into place quickly. My sisters (a middle school student and a high school student, respectively) started telling me that their peers were saying good things about me and, shortly thereafter, I started getting a lot of phone calls to substitute for specific teachers because the kids were requesting me. I was good at what I was doing, and it felt great and very reaffirming.

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It took me a long time to get some GGG Students – but I did it, and now it is awesome.

So why did I get into it in the first place? I love working with children and adolescents, and I am still trying to figure out how I would like to incorporate that into my life – whether that is through becoming a teacher or simply continuing to work as an advocate for them. It is because of the kids I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with that I’ve really fallen in love with this particular position. In some personal ways, it has really shed light on my middle and high school years and I have been able to have some meaningful conversations with some students regarding their behaviors or their feelings/reactions toward others. I have also formed some pretty fun relationships with some students, and I am always up for banter.

When I really think about it (which I often do during prep hours), I feel like I am giving back in some ways. Someone taught me about this topic five, ten, fifteen years ago and now I am teaching it to twenty other kids? That feeling is awesome. It is even more awesome when I can offer clarification or a better and more relevant way to understand a topic. For example – Endocrine Bingo with high school seniors? Sure! Let’s just infuse that with some information learned in Human Sexuality during college; that will really get the kids interested.

Bad idea, but it happened and I am very sure that those kids will not forget what I told them about oxytocin or testosterone.

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So… why am I writing this blog post? To encourage you to try that one thing you’re interested in doing. In my case, it was working in the education system. If you are too, and if you enjoy working with children of any age, have an educational/professional background, or just a strong desire or curiosity to do so, do it. Most school districts (especially in Wisconsin) are in extreme need for substitute teachers, and there are a lot of classrooms that will simply go without a teacher for a day. That said, in Wisconsin, you need to have a four year degree, complete an application through the DPI website, get fingerprinted, and complete a training regarding substituting. The fees are roughly $150 altogether, and it is totally worth it and basically pays for itself in a day.

Substitute teaching has really given me a unique insight into the world of education, and has both strengthened and weakened my desire to pursue a Master of Education. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I went to college when I was 18, and I feel like if I had sought out more opportunities to try out or shadow other jobs before deciding to do them, I probably would have taken a different undergraduate route and maybe teaching would have been one of my options. Either way, the hope now is that I continue to grow and make better/more committed academic and career decisions in the future!

Therefore, I pose this question to you – Are you where you want to be? Are you questioning yourself like me? Are there other options out there that you want to pursue?

What is stopping you?

The Reaction:

First off, I remember when Elizabeth told me that she felt her time in High School was not over yet… my response, at least in my head was “You’re crazy, I am never coming back… EVER”.

Check out my blog post on Wednesday for my full reaction to Elizabeth’s article and questions in my blog post “The Pursuit of Happiness”.

-Samantha Courtney

Will You.. Move In With Me?

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I love intimate relationships; I love studying relationships, learning about relationships, and, most of all, I love my relationship. So it makes sense that I would like to talk about the “next step” in my own (and maybe your?) intimate relationship. But first, I’m going to let you in on a personal story and theory that I’ve fully believed in and carried on with since I was a child. I’d like to start our relationship out on a good step, dear reader, and to do that, I think that telling you something very near and dear to me is the way to do it.

When I was in 5th grade I had the biggest crush on a boy, who, unfortunately, my best friend also had a crush on. Filled with a very limited amount of excuses of ‘why he should like me more than her’, I was constantly looking for more until, one day, I scrawled our names together in my notebook and lined them up perfectly on top of one another and realized that our names had the same amount of letters in them. The Nineteen Letter Fate Mate Theory was born. “It was meant to be!,” I thought, “We will be together forever!”

I do not need to tell you that we were not together forever. I was in 5th grade and obviously did not know anything about anything, but the Nineteen Letter Fate Mate Theory stuck. I used and abused this theory on all the crushes that have followed – taking out a letter from their middle name, adding in a space – anything that would make their name match my Nineteen Letter long one. I met my best friend in college this way, and, shortly after, started dating my true Nineteen Letter Fate Mate who I have happily been with for four years.

And here we are now.

Four years into a long-term, long-distance, serious relationship about to make our next really big move, literally and figuratively, and I’m still trying to figure that out. By that, I simply mean that I am trying to understand and learn what this means for us and how to make it a successful and happy transition for the long-term.

In college, I took an amazing class with an amazing instructor about intimate relationships. In this class, I wrote an extensive research essay about cohabitation and came to the conclusion that cohabitation was not for me. I told all my friends and my mom that I would never cohabit before marriage, that it was an awful idea, and that the relationship would be Doomed. While there are many studies that confirm this personal conclusion, there are also more recent studies that strongly negate it. (SPOILER: My mind has since changed. Mom, let me say this publicly now: I was wrong; you were right.)

I’m a planner. I always have been. It drives Nick crazy because I will plan every detail that I can on any trips we take or days we spend together. When we first started talking about moving in together, I began planning and researching everything I knew that would support this decision, as well as preventative measures on issues that others have had in their experiences of cohabiting, and that, my dear reader, is what I would like to share with you today. If you are like me and you are at this step, or will eventually be at this step in the near or far future, I hope that some of what I have found is as helpful in your decisions as it has been to me.

About half of all couples entering their first marriage today live together before marriage, and there are at least 10 times as many couples living together today than there were 30 years ago (Bumpass & Lu, 200; Smock, 200). Is there something inherently bad about living together before marriage? Probably not. The relationship instability that goes along with cohabitation seems rooted instead in the characteristics of the people who opt to cohabit and in the relationships they form.

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If you plan to move in with your partner, marriage should be discussed (if marriage is for you). Studies show that couples who marry first before living together are more successful in staying faithful because of their ‘vow of permanence’, more sexually active/satisfied, and may be more likely to share finances, therefore avoiding some arguments with financial roots. Moving in with someone without strong and stable plans on marriage means that anyone can leave at anytime, which may breed mutual disrespect rather than mutual respect. It is important that the couple share goals for their future with the same timeline and that the discussion continue after moving in!

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From this first point alone, we also learn that communication is a huge key in success. It is proven that happy couples talk more! People in the most successful marriages and relationships spend five or more hours a week being together and talking. It is extremely important that partners cultivate positive interactions every single day by giving one another compliments, reliving a fun memory, showing your appreciation, or simply by doing something nice for them. Similarly, when it comes to strengthening your relationship, studies show that the most crucial factor is how you celebrate your partner’s good news. This is as simple as showing enthusiasm, asking questions, congratulating them, or livening up and living the experience with them.

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Having an honest and open conversation about splitting finances is essential in the success of cohabitation. Ideally, splitting everything 50/50 would work 100% of the time, but sometimes (surprise!) it doesn’t. Talking about it can really only help. It is also worth discussing who is purchasing what furniture/appliances/groceries/etc. so an equal contribution is made to household items. Obviously there are exceptions to this; for example, Nick does not drink coffee, so I wouldn’t expect him to go in on K-cups with me to fuel my caffeine habit. Integrating two different lifestyles into one household will absolutely yield independent maintenance toward certain things.

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Finally, you must vow to continue dating. Living together doesn’t mean you should become too comfortable – shutting yourself in on the weekends to watch Netflix will become very old, very fast. Continue to do things you did before you moved in together, pick up a new hobby or activity you can both participate in, or surprise your significant other with plans at a new place in the town/city to keep things exciting! If finances are an issue, Pinterest has some a m a z i n g ideas for free to little cost date ideas at home or in the community.

Many experts say the experience of cohabitation is necessary to allow a couple to grow and sort out their differences before making a life-long commitment to each other. These differences can be as simple as the cleanliness around the house (i.e. splitting chores) or who cooks what/when. It is also an opportunity in allowing a relationship to naturally progress.

I agree with these experts, and I feel that I have been preparing very well for this upcoming experience. No matter who you are, cohabitation is a decision that a couple needs to make together and discuss at great length. On a more personal note, I am extremely enthusiastic for this next step in my relationship with Nick, and I am very optimistic and confident that we will have a very long, happy and successful future with one another. If cohabitation is in your near or far future, I wish you luck on this exciting adventure!

Thank you for reading!

Elizabeth

 

The Response

First, let me say congratulations! What a big and exciting step to be taking in your life! Second, I should admit that I’m not the most knowledgeable in this area since the idea of commitment in a relationship sends me running for the hills unless it’s with Leonardo DiCaprio.

However, I think your points are very well stated and topics that every person should make when moving in with his or her significant other. I may be biased as a journalism student, but I think communication is the key to any relationship, whether it is a romantic or platonic relationship. Clearly when moving in with a significant other, it is important to talk and to continue to talk. Make sure the two of you are on the same page. It’s amazing how easy it is for one person to take his or her partner’s words out of context.

I loved your point about finances. Money is the big scary part of life, whether it is budgeting your own or having the discussion with another person. I believe a couple should sit down and discuss monetary issues before moving in together. Money can easily cause a rift between two people, which means it is important to have guidelines.

While I’m on the issue of money and budgeting, I should say that I have another point to make supporting the idea of cohabitation. Though it may sound cold and unnecessary in conversation about a relationship, I would argue moving in with your significant other (if you two are ready for this step) is a great way to save money. As a person who is moving to a big city come August, I cannot imagine paying rent alone. That being said, I would strongly suggest a couple does not move in together simply to save money. I’m merely pointing out a great benefit of the decision.

Lastly, I loved your idea about continuing to date! It is way to easy for a couple to fall in to a routine and forget why they fell in love in the first place. I’m not saying a relationship will be the same in your twenties as it is in your fifties. In fact, I think it’s wonderful that a relationship grows and changes over time. However, I think it’s completely possible to keep the “spark alive” for lack of better phrasing. I would also argue that this is when a person should start making time for himself or herself. If a couple moves in together they may fall into the trap of becoming one person. If a person is thinking of moving in with a significant other, he or she should make time to pursue a hobby, spend time with friends or travel solo. You’ll appreciate your partner even more when you have your much needed alone time.

Moving in together is a big step. You will learn things about your partner that you would never know without this experience. It’s a good test for your relationship and a necessary step. I think with open communication, monetary guidelines and much needed alone time, moving in together can be a rewarding experience!

-Kelsey Manders