Just Breathe

breath1Recently I’ve felt like I never have enough time in the day. My to-do list is never ending, however, I typically throw in the towel around 10pm and start to get ready for bed (5:45 am comes early!) Most nights it’s hard to shut off my mind because I’m still thinking about all the things I need to do or what’s on the agenda tomorrow. There are many things in life that we simply cannot control. However, I recently came across an article that reminded me of one thing that I can control: my breath. I don’t know about you, but breathing isn’t something I often (if ever) think about–I just do it. I doubt I am breathing as deeply as I should and I know that breathing deeper leads to more oxygen to your brain and a string of other good things. So I tried the breathing technique that the article recommended and I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s simple. It’s quick. And it works (or maybe it’s just in my head…doesn’t matter either way)! It’s called 4-7-8. You simply inhale for 4 counts through your nose; then hold your breath for 7 counts; and finally exhale through your mouth for 8 counts. I cannot say that it made me fall asleep instantly as the author claimed in her article, but it definitely made me stop and focus solely one one thing for a few moments: my breath.

So many things are fighting for our attention at every moment and we rarely take time to simply just be.  Now, I’m not a yogi, but I have started to incorporate this little breathing technique into my day when I find myself feeling stressed and I always feel a little bit better after it. Maybe it’s because my brain is getting more oxygen, or maybe it’s because I’m simply saying no to all the other other stimuli around me for just a minute.

I find deep breathing to not only relax my body, but it also relaxes my mind. It gives me a chance to “inhale” all the blessings I have and a chance to “exhale” all the negative thoughts I have running around. We are our own worst critics. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves.  Yelled at your students today? Exhale. Ate 5 cookies in the break room? Exhale. Your bedroom is a complete disaster even though you just picked it up yesterday? Exhale.  And the list goes on and on. We can choose to inhale only the things that are good for us: You’re beautiful. You’re a good teacher. You’re trying your best. It’s not easy and it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us, but with some practice, I think we can make a habit. So if you’re like me and find your mind to be constantly racing, try the 4-7-8 method. You’ve got nothing to lose.

breathe3

-Emily Elizabeth

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Preparing for Christmas

lights Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, many of us turn our attention to “the most wonderful time of the year.” The Christmas season is filled with many beautiful traditions that we’ve been doing since we were children–picking out a Christmas tree, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, and decorating the tree. Although these rituals remain the same year after year, it is good for us to take time to reflect and silence our hearts in this season of preparation.  If are intentional with our time leading up to Christmas, I think our joy on Christmas morning will be that much sweeter.  Here are a couple areas that we might think being more intentional about.

Christmas-Gifts3Gifts. I imagine that most of us are thinking about purchasing gifts for our family and friends.  Last year during my AmeriCorps service, I barely had any money so I decided that I was going to make all of my gifts.  Now I’m not the craftiest person out there, so I’m sure you can do it, too.  I realized that making my gifts made me really think about what I was giving and why.  I made homemade body scrubs, chocolate spoons, popcorn seasoning, and mustard just to name a few. Pinterest has something for everyone in your life, I promise.

advent1Faith. Many of us probably go to church with our families on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but we need not wait until then to prepare our hearts for the Lord. The Advent season is celebrated in most Christian churches in the month leading up to Christmas; many churches have concerts, penance services, and volunteer opportunities.  These are great ways to slow down in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle and take time for peace and quiet. If you’re looking for something more concrete, here’s a link to receive daily reflections for the season in your inbox or guided meditation from Ireland! (check out the relaxing music, too!)

So as we each prepare for Christmas in our own ways, I hope you’ll look at it like a journey over the next 25 days and savor every sip of hot cocoa, frosted cookie, and lit up houses as you pass by. And when Christmas morning comes, soak in the time with your family and friends and think about what Christmas really means to you. I think this video says it all 🙂

How do you prepare for Christmas? Let us know in the comments!

Try Something New


leave-your-fears-behindF.jpg.As humans we are creatures of habit.  We like routine and in most cases aim to avoid uncertainty because it tends to make us uncomfortable.

Now humor me for just a moment:  think of that one thing you’ve always wanted to try but never taken any steps toward it.  Maybe it’s traveling, learning a new language, paying it forward  with your morning coffee, asking for that person’s number, greeting a cashier by name, writing a short story, cooking a new food, going back to school, applying for your dream job even though you’re under-qualified, networking—you know what I mean. Anything that you have a desire to do but are afraid because you’ve never done it before.

Most recently, my “thing” was strength training.  I’ve never lifted weights seriously before and it’s something I’ve always wanted to try because I’ve heard about all the benefits.  However, walking into the weight room can be intimidating for a woman who has absolutely no experience.  So I sought out an option that I did feel comfortable with—a strength training class. And so one day I just bit the bullet and tried it out.  The instructor was helpful and encouraging, the music rocked, and I was mostly surrounded by other women.  And just like I had tried something new. And I came out alive. The ironic thing is I asked myself why I had waited so long–I should have started this a long time ago!

So maybe that helped you think of something that you have been wanting to try as well and now that you have your idea of “that thing” you’ll need to do something about it. Guess what doing something about it doesn’t even have to be that hard!

4 Steps to Getting Startedpartner-strengthF

1. You can ask a friend or partner to take on this new task with you so you have someone to keep you accountable.

2. Set some kind of deadline for yourself and stick to it. Put in on your calendar if that’s what it takes.

3. Muster up the courage and put your pride aside.

4. …next thing you know you did it!

So why should we try out these things?

1. You can cross it off your bucket list–doesn’t that always feel good?

2. It will build your self-confidence and self-esteem. Let’s face it, we will take any extra help we can get as we emerge as twentysomethings who are trying to figure our lives out one day a time.  Sometimes that extra boost can change your whole day.

3. Because you are brave and beautiful and you really can do anything you set your mind to.  (As cheesy as that is, it’s true, and you know it.)
So get out there and take a chance!
-EmilycourageF.jpg.

Living Simply

Simply.MM

There is one week left to go before I complete my year of service with AmeriCorps through the St. Joseph Worker Program.  I’ve have had many new learning experiences this year, but the concept of living simply and sustainably will undoubtedly stick with me as I leave the program.  Here a few of my big take aways:

The Farmer’s Market–not just for Saturday morning!  FarmersMarketMM

If you haven’t already, check out one of your local farmer’s markets.  This is the place to buy relatively inexpensive produce along with many other tasty treats, including my all-time, cheese.  Not only are the fruits and vegetables typically cheaper than the grocery store, but you know exactly where they came from.  You can ask the vendor specific questions about how they grow and harvest their produce.  And if you find yourself wondering, “what can I make with this?” I’m sure the vendor would be happy to suggest how to cook your new veggies or a recipe to try.  Saturdays are usually the busiest days at the Farmer’s Market, so if you wish to avoid the rush, check out another smaller location during the week.  So get outdoors to the Farmer’s Market and bring your reusable bag, too!

BikeMMAlternative Transportation–bicycling, buses, walking–oh my!  Last August I found out I would need to travel 7 miles one way to my workplace from home and I did not have consistent access to a car.  I was left with two options: bus or bike.  The bus takes approximately 45 minutes; I knew I would need to do this is in the winter, but in fall and spring, I opted to ride my bike for a total roundtrip of around 15 miles.  I invested in a rear bike rack and pannier bag (maybe $50 all together) where I could fit my lunch and a change of clothes.  Riding my bike early in the morning allowed me to see a beautiful sunrise and it was a nice way to decompress after work. If you live in a bike-friendly city, I cannot recommend biking enough.  The bus is great, too, because it’s inexpensive and you never have to work about finding a parking spot. Try changing up your transportation and see how it might impact your day in a positive way!

Bulk.MMBuying in Bulk–and I’m not talking about Sam’s Club.  Our program directors encouraged us to buy certain things in bulk because it would save us money in the long run.  If you live near a Co-Op and are not familiar with how it works, I suggest asking for a tour and how to go about buying things in bulk.  Most Co-Ops sell things like flour, sugar, coffee, grains, olive oil, nuts, spices, soap, eggs, etc. in bulk.  Just bring an empty tupperware or canister and fill up on the goodness.  They have scales available and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  You’ll end up saving money and reduce waste from using less packaging. And when I saw that my local Co-Op in Minneapolis was selling cranberries from my hometown in small central Wisconsin, how could I not support them?!

There are many other ways to live more simply, but these are just a few that I have found to be consistently doable for myself.  In what ways do you try to live simply? Leave a comment and let us know!

Emily Elizabeth

Grateful for Rejection

RejectionIn my last post, Jen mentioned that she wished I would have talked more about overcoming rejection throughout the job search.  My outlook has been pretty bleak up recently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked the question, “So what are you doing next?” without any confident response lined up.

Coincidentally the other day, a conversation fell into my lap around this topic.  I was chatting with a co-worker at the school where I am completing my AmeriCorps service and she asked me how the job search was going.  Instead of saying it was going well, I was honest: I have applied to x number of jobs, mostly at schools in the area, and that I had only heard back from one school–and the answer was “no.”   My co-worker’s response not only surprised me, but humbled me.  She suggested that I write a thank you note to the principal stating that their school stood out to me because they actually took the time to let me know that they were moving forward with another applicant. To top it off, she also suggested that I express my interest in visiting for an observation.  In my head I was thinking, “Are you crazy?! You want me to write a thank you note to someone who just said that they don’t want me to work for them?! How backwards is that?

It took a little while for this to sink in.  After I gave it some time, I think I will take her advice.  What have I got to lose?  Just a bit of my pride I suppose.

Dear Principal So and So,

I have applied to many jobs and I wanted to compliment X High School on your tact for letting me know that you were moving forward with someone else for the position that I applied for….

OUCH. My pride is melting away. I’ll spare you the rest.

Maybe they will remember me down the line and my note will have been worth it.   Or maybe they won’t.  But in today’s world where technology is everywhere, a handwritten thank you card is hard to come by.

Thank you

Now I’m transitioning a little so forgive me–I recommend sending thank you cards (or any type of card for that matter) as often as possible.  When one takes the time to write a card and send it off, it shows the recipient that he or she was worth your time.  It is so easy to send a text or an email expressing your thanks, but a handwritten note is irreplaceable.

So next time you receive some form of, “Your Name, we are moving forward with another candidate” in your inbox, think about sending a thank you note. Because I bet that  you’re happy to receive any kind of personal response in the job search, even if it happens to be a “no.”  We all have the other zillions of other job applications out in cyber space and we have no idea if we will ever hear a word back from the majority of them.

Remember that you’re not alone in the job search.  I believe that everything happens for a reason.  And I also believe that the best things are often worth waiting for.  So don’t give up.  I’ll leave you with a phrase I saw in a classroom the other day that I needed: somewhere someone is looking for exactly what you have to offer.

-Emily Elizabeth

If you’re looking for a prayer to grow in humility, I would suggest this.

The Response:

As a recent graduate of the UW I completely understand the frustration of applying for job after job and getting no response back. While it isn’t any fun to get a rejection letter, it’s much better to know the company, school, or wherever you applied took the time to give you ANY type of response.

I think my biggest frustration with job searching is how abysmal the chances of landing a decent post-graduation job are. The job market is absolutely terrible and the class of 2014 is, not surprisingly, graduating with the largest collective debt in country history. I believe that there is something admirable about any employer trying to do what they can to soften the blow of a terrible job market, but I think the bigger issue is how our country is failing post-graduates.

My parents always taught me to write thank you letters whenever necessary. However, I think it’s time people start writing letters to our government asking for a change in the loan system and job creation management, which are both leaving post-graduates out in the real world without the proper tools to succeed.

The Defining Decade

DefiningDecI was recently chatting with a friend on the phone and we ended our conversation by giving each other book recommendations.  My friend was so enthusiastic about her recommendation that I think I had put the book on hold at the library before we even hung up.  The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD is one of those books that I could hardly put down.  It’s a mere 200 pages and reads as quickly as Harry Potter. Now I’m not a professional book critic, but I promise that if you’re in your twenties, that you will find something relevant in this book.

The message in this book is straightforward: reclaim your twenties because they are a transformative period in life. We do not need to wait until we are thirty to find our dream job or settle down. Despite what society might be telling us–“that the twenties don’t really matter and that that they don’t count; you can start real life when you turn thirty. Have fun until then.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend the next several years just waiting around until life is supposed to count.

There are three sections: work, love, brain & body. Because it would be illegal for me type the contents of the entire book in this post (even though that’s how compelled I am to share it with you), I will give a few of the big take-away points.


DreamsDon't#1 Identity Capital 
Jay encourages us to stop having an identity crisis and start building our identity capital.  This simply means adding value to ourselves and investing in opportunities that are worth it.  For example, a client told Jay that she was a talented photographer and wanted to work in the art world, but had been nannying to pay the bills. She said she was going to take a job at a coffee shop and pass up an interview to be a floater at an animation studio because the pay wasn’t stellar.  This decision has a clear choice to build identity capital.  Although being a floater wasn’t the client’s ideal job, it was an “in” to the world in which she wanted to ultimately thrive.  If she got the job she could build connections and learn about the art world. Long story short, the client got the floater job, worked her way up to a movie director and then to a cinematography assistant where she works on movies in Los Angeles.  Jay says, “But something better doesn’t just come along. One good piece of capital is how you get better” (13).  So if you’re like me and you’re trying to find your way in the career world, take Dr. Jay’s advice and take the opportunity that will help you explore an option that counts.


weak-ties#2 The Strength of Weak Ties 
Obviously our close friends and family have value, but when it comes to new information, weak ties are where it’s at.  These are the people in our lives who are only acquaintances.  They force us to communicate differently because we aren’t in the same clique. We have to speak more thoroughly, which promotes “thoughtful growth and change” (22).  Because our weak ties aren’t people we are in regular communication with, they provide access to fresh information.  “Information and opportunity spread farther and faster through weak ties than through close friends because weak ties have fewer overlapping contacts. Weak ties are like bridges you cannot see all the way across, so there is no telling where they might lead” (21).  If you’re looking for a job or to meet someone new, talk to your weak ties.  They are often willing to go out a limb for you, even though they barely know you. This is strange but that’s how tons of people get that job.  And what do you have to lose by reaching out to a weak tie? Nothing.

Beintentional#3 Be as intentional about love as you are about work. Because the trend is to settle down and marry later, many people end up with whoever they’re with at the moment when they feel the pressure to settle down. Jay gives a scary example in her TED talk: “Dating in my 20s was like musical chairs. Everybody was running around and having fun. But then sometime around thirty it was like the music turned off. Everyone started sitting down. I didn’t want to the only one left standing up. Sometimes I think I married my husband because he was the closest chair to me at thirty” (6:40 TED talk).  She urges us to be intentional our relationships and not to “date down.”  Don’t stay in your relationship because it puts a roof over your head or fills the void of loneliness. Another piece of Jay’s advice is to start working on your marriage before you have one.  Don’t settle for less than what you deserve: the best.

So go put this book on hold or go buy it.  This is a book that I could read over and over again. Get out there and claim your twenties–they matter!

Emily Elizabeth

The Response:

To start off, I am for sure adding this to my summer reading list! I definitely feel like I have been floating through my twenties so far; it’s been far too easy to fall into a rut of putting off big decisions until later because “I’m only 23!”. SO DANGEROUS! Even though I’m still in school, I still feel like I’m coasting, and I definitely want to pay more attention to how  I’m doing and what I’m doing to better my future, in all aspects of my life!

In the first point that you highlighted, I absolutely align with the idea that it isn’t so much about passively allowing something better to happen, but rather the importance is in how you get better. This point makes us accountable for our own futures and careers, which is easy to let slide into the “I can work when I’m 30” mentality. However, I wish you had talked more about overcoming the rejection we all face in the job search, and how to keep your head up when you’re looked down upon for your “young” age, as well as staying motivated when we take the more explorative and low paying jobs that may get us to where we want to be, but in the current time absolutely suck.

Similarly, I really enjoyed your analysis on networking, and how you (and Jay) connected networking to invisible webs and threads of interactions. This point of networking is drilled into our heads throughout college, but it doesn’t seem to become real until we’re out of the safe and sheltering college bubble and are trying to make it on our own. I think this also extends to relationships with friends (and at times family as well). I have so many friends that remain on the edge of acquaintance/close friend, and I don’t want to give up on potential friendships because I may not have time or am busy with work.

MUSICAL CHAIRS IS SO RIGHT. Just step into any bar at around 1:45 a.m. and you’ll see a game similar to musical chairs that is happening right before your eyes: who is going home with who, which usually has to do with proximity (i.e. they were the closest person to me on the dance floor or the last person I talked to). I try my best to distance myself from this game of musical chairs, but it’s hard to find fellow twenty-somethings that aren’t bouncing around from person to person and actually want what you want too.

I’m totally going to check out this book, and find some great tips and advice about navigating my twenties, because someone has to have better advice than the fortune cookie I had yesterday: “every exit is an entrance” (which is questionable on so many levels).

Thank you so much for sharing this book!

Jen