Learning to Let Go

Day 3, Let go of old frames: How are you framing yourself, your relationships, your community, and your dreams? Could you reframe these as begin 2015? What do you need to let go of to cultivate your best life in 2015?

I’ve set a list of goals for myself in 2015. I’m not going to list them now, as I feel I will touch upon them in these posts, but the one I want to talk about today is something I have struggled with for a long time, and will probably continue to struggle with throughout this entire year. But it’s something that I’ve actively decided to work on, and that’s the important thing.

My goal is this: to decrease my anxiety this year. Many folks know that I have some anxiety issues, and I know it happens and that’s not a problem, but what I mean is that many times I give myself unnecessary anxiety that doesn’t need to be there in the first place. Let me give a case example that I’ve used when discussing this with friends and co-workers this past week.

Let’s say that my Director sends me an email saying that he wants to meet with me. My instant gut reaction? Oh no, what did I do wrong? Am I in trouble? Am I going to get fired? etc. etc. Then begins this downward spiral of me freaking out and thinking the worst scenario possible, when oftentimes it’s absolutely nothing at all. Actually, sometimes it’s just the opposite – it’s actually a good thing! What tends to happen in these situations is that I blow it all up in my head and get all anxious and worried for no good reason. There’s no hard evidence to back my fears up. And this situation doesn’t just happen in regards to work, no, it’s happened in all aspects of my life, including my relationship with Derek and my friendships.

So in 2015 I’m going to try super hard to STAHP feeling unnecessarily anxious, to STAHP over analyzing every email or text thinking everyone is mad at me, and to just relax, breathe, and LET IT GO. Because 9 times out of 10 everything is fine and things will get worked out. And that 1 time out of 10 I probably deserve to get my ass kicked anyway. 😉

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Making More Time for More Quality Time

Day 2, Time: Time is a valuable resource. Did you spend your time wisely last year? What can you do to cultivate more quality in your time during 2015?

When I was a grad student at UMD, I had to learn effective time management skills, and I had to learn it fairly quickly. Between teaching classes, taking your own classes, writing papers, reading books and articles, working with your advisor and other faculty, and doing additional side research projects (that may or may not include grant writing), you are constantly trying to find time to do it all, which only gets more complicated when you’re in the last stretch and you have to apply for jobs and finish your dissertation on top of it. Whew it makes me tired just writing about it, let alone thinking about how in the world did I manage to do it.

In my first few years of grad school, I was pretty terrible at maintaining good work-life balance. I was constantly working, using school-related time as my only real social time. The further along I went in my program, however, and the closer I got to my Ph.D., the more I realized that I needed to add something in my life that not only serves as a fun distraction, but would also keep me sane.

In comes ballroom. Thanks solely in part to my first ballroom partner and good friend Ken, I joined Ballroom at Maryland (BAM) and started dancing in Fall 2011. In almost no time, I was hooked. I traveled with the team to ballroom competitions. I spent several days a week in practice space taking classes and dancing. To this day, I tell folks that if it weren’t for ballroom, I would have probably never finished my dissertation and graduated. And believe me, I am totally dead serious.

With all that said, the #1 reason why I kept dancing, is hands down the amazing people I met along the way. As my very wise Ballroom Big (who happens to now be my boyfriend, go figure) once told me, it’s not the dancing that keeps us in the club, it’s the people. The friends I’ve made through BAM are people I want to keep in touch with for the rest of my life. Definitely the forever friends kind, and I ain’t lying. I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now if it weren’t for this great community of folks that I consider my BAMily.

So what does all this have to do with time, and how my time was spent last year? Fast forward to three years to Fall 2014. I am now in my first year at VCU, away from UMD and away from my ballroom friends. As much as I missed them dearly, I kept in mind what they helped me to achieve in my last years of grad school – taking the time to do the things I love and not spend every single waking moment working. I took it to heart and I made it a point to find outlets to pursue my passions outside of my job. For example, I joined the Richmond Women’s Chorus and took Cuban salsa lessons at the Cary St. Gym. I stopped working on weekends (something I never ever could do as a grad student!) and used that time to hang out with Derek and our beloved friends.

The point of the matter is that last year I tried to make more time for more quality time. What does this mean? Well, I wanted to make sure that addition to my work I was spending time cultivating my relationships as well – whether it is taking a break to chat with someone at the office, or making time to meet with a student about future goals, or taking time during research team conference calls to check in on how everyone is doing. Outside of those work-related examples I tried to keep up with friends in NJ and MD, and to try to see them as much as possible.

I’m continuing to work on this going into 2015. I must admit that the past week has been rough, as sickness over winter break caused me to spend my recent days prepping my classes and catching up on work. But now that the first day of the semester is behind me (it went very well by the way!) I am hoping to get back into better work-life balance habits, and start the new year getting back into all of my fun activities and spending time with the fun people that make my life so worthwhile.

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Looking Back on 2014: A Reflection of This Past Year

I’m happy and excited to once again participate in #Cultivate15, a blogging challenge that helps me reflect on this past year and to think about what I hope to accomplish in the year ahead. For me, it’s important to look back on my experiences from 2014, both good and bad, and to think about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to blog again, something I haven’t dedicated much time to do in the past several years. As much as I love writing academic research, sometimes it’s nice (and a bit refreshing!) to write for a different type of outlet.

So let’s get started shall we? Meredith sent out the first prompt at midnight, which allowed me some time to think about my response:

Day 1, Reflection: What did you set out to accomplish last year? What have you done to cultivate your goals and your life? Did your intentions manifest during the year?

2014 had a lot of amazing moments, to say the least. Here are some of the highlights that stick out in my mind:

On a personal level

  • My boyfriend. First and foremost, starting a relationship with Derek in January 2014 was by far the best thing that happened to me this past year. It’s funny, when I was reading up on last year’s #Cultivate14 posts I mentioned how I was hoping to find “a man who will love me wholeheartedly that I will love wholeheartedly right back.” Little did I know that a mere 18 days after writing that post my wish would come true. Derek has been one of my best friends for the past three years – even when we were just friends I thought so highly of him (if you don’t believe me, read this post I wrote about him in 2013)! Since day one I knew he was someone special. And now, almost a year later, I feel even luckier to know him and be with him. I think he is absolutely the coolest – he’s so funny, smart, generous, passionate, understanding…the list goes on and on. All of the moments we shared in 2014 – such as the trips (Europe, the beach, skiing, yes, even Renn Fest!), the meals (we like to eat!), the deep, intimate discussions, even the tough times were easier to get through this past year because we were able to support each other and face every challenge together. Derek is truly a “Big” reason why 2014 was so amazing, there are no doubts about that.
  • My faith. I will admit, there were times over the past year where I could have been better, but I will say that 2014 was a giant step forward for me in terms of my faith. One thing did stay constant however – my connection to my small group at Atlee Community Church – and for that I am so incredibly grateful. It’s awesome to sit with a group of wonderful individuals and not just chat about the study in front of us, but also discuss what is going on in our lives in an effort to support each other. At our last small group meeting at the end of 2014, my small group leader, Mark, commented on how much I’ve grown in the past year. And I couldn’t agree with him more. It’s because of having people like Mark and my small group in my life that I was able to make such great strides. I’m hoping this year I can work on becoming more plugged into Atlee, as I originally intended. I also started a Bible reading plan with my YouVersion app and hope to read the entire Bible in one year. Because in all honesty, finding that church was just what I needed in my life when things were not looking all that great – I am so  thankful.
  • My health. As it goes with every other year that passes, and I’m sure I’m not alone, I always begin the year with such high hopes that end in a pretty epic disaster fail when it comes to eating healthier and exercising. But ya gotta keep on trying right? So I’m going to make a concerted effort once again, only this time I’m going to try to be more realistic. I can no longer kid myself – I’m not really a gym person, so this year I will try to dance more, whether it’s ballroom socials, salsa nights at Havana ’59, Cuban salsa classes, maybe even a hip hop or contemporary class thrown in there. I’m just hoping to stay active. With that, I need to overall eat better. When Derek and I got back from Europe, I was totally in that mindset, but alas, the US food culture took over my brain (and wallet!) yet again and I was back to bad habits. I’m going to try harder this year, and take my buddy Alton Brown’s plan into account when eating meals. And speaking of which, I really really need to stop eating out so much. Last year I wanted to cook at home at least once a week – I don’t think I reached that goal, so I will try once again. Of course, it’s helpful that Derek likes to cook, but when I’m home alone in RVA I can’t rely on that. It’s time to be more self sufficient in that regard, suck it up, and buy some damn groceries! 😛
  • My finances. Oh, what a mess I’ve made as a poor grad student obsessed with Coach! No more! With the help of my man (another reason why he’s the best) I’m working on getting all of my finances in order. I’m trying to spend wiser, and no longer purchase frivolous things I don’t really need (such as 30 Coach purses!). Now that I have a good salary-paying job, it’s time to wise up and think about stabilizing my financial future. And speaking of my job…

On a professional level

  • I survived, maybe even thrived? It’s true – in 2014 I completed my first full year as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. And I still really like what I do, which is a good sign that my Ph.D. wasn’t all for naught. 😉 In all seriousness though, VCU has been such a dream. From the people I’ve met, to the students I’ve connected with, to my amazingly supportive boss and Director, I am so happy to be here. And I even got validation of my hard work with a very good first annual review this past fall (phew!).
  • The traveling! 2014 was the year of international travel. It was amazing. Unforgettable. And now I have caught wanderlust and want to go to all of the places (with Derek if possible). In 2014 alone I went to China (Hong Kong & Beijing), South Africa (Durban & Johannesburg), Spain (Malaga & Barcelona) and France (Perpignan, Sete, Avignon, & Nice) – most of these places I presented research and networked, while some were extensions of those trips for some good ol’ sightseeing and fun. I’d like to think that after this past year I’m a much smarter and more confident traveler. I now have lots of stamps on my passport and I want to add even more! Who wants to join me? 😀
  • Finding my research identity. I’ve started buckling down on who I want to be as a researcher and what work is worth my while. In 2014 I worked with amazing collaborators, from my grad school friends at UMD to the amazing folks in my Intimate Partner Violence/Sexual Assault Research Development Workgroup at the VCU Institute for Women’s Health. This past August, I received my first grant from the Avon Foundation for Women to activate bystanders on campus in response to dating violence, stalking and sexual assault. And this year, I am a proud participant of the VCU’s Office of Research Grant Writing Institute, where I am closely working with folks across the university to become a stronger grant writer. It’s been such a wonderful learning experience and I hope to get a completed grant application submitted this coming spring!

Whew, that’s a lot! I guess 2014 was pretty awesome, and can only be summed up by this Facebook post from January 29, 2014:

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Here’s to another great year in 2015!

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The Visits: Dreaming About My Dad

Dating back to ancient times, dreams have fascinated people and have often served as guides. Describe the most vivid or reoccurring dream you’ve had in 2013. Imagine it’s a mysterious message in a bottle from your Higher Self. How might it direct you in the coming year?

I’ve been told that dreaming about those who have passed away can be considered “visits” to show you that you’re being watched over and thought about. I don’t dream about my father too often, but whenever I do, I usually always remember the dream when I wake up, as it is often quite vivid.

This is one of the first dreams I had about my dad, which struck me because it was the first time in a long time that I heard his voice. This is what happened:

I’m at my parents’ house, playing cars and trucks with a child, a little boy (Mine? My sister’s?) on the kitchen floor. I get up and go get something from the garage. I hear my dad banging outside the garage door, saying “Rowie! It’s me! Let me in!” I run back inside and yell for my sister and I tell her, “OMG, Dad is here! I heard him!”

…and then I woke up.

It may not seem like a very significant dream, but my heart was racing when I woke up because I heard him. And that meant a lot, because I was afraid of forgetting what he sounded like. Hell, I get afraid of forgetting many things. But it’s dreams like this one, and the pictures, and the videos, and the karaoke recordings, that will keep his memory alive, that will keep the memories we had together as a family written on my heart.

I miss him, but I have his “visits” to look forward to, to help me remember that he’s in a better place, that he’s at peace, and that I’ll never be alone.

Me and Daddy

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Spirituality and Wonderment

How do you cultivate magic and wonder?

Perhaps it was a budding bloom, or a child’s observation, your heart skipping a beat when you stood under a tree bursting with the colors of Autumn. Tell us about a time in 2013 where you found yourself in awe of the wonder and/or magic around you. Did you have enough of these moments in the past year?  How do you plan on cultivating more of these moments in 2014?

This past June, I went to France and Portugal with my parents, as a sort of healing pilgrimage for my dad.

At the time, I was a lost, non-practicing Catholic who had not gone to church for quite some time, and suddenly I found myself thrown into the heart of Catholicism as we toured Lourdes and Fatima.

Initially I was a bit overwhelmed (and yes, I’ll admit it, perhaps even a bit annoyed) at all of the churches, and praying – I wasn’t ready for it. I even joked with my tour guide at Lourdes – when my candle wouldn’t light I said it was because God was confused at why I was there. But all joking aside, I was uncomfortable – I hadn’t experienced that much religion in my life for a really long time.

By the end of the trip, however, I was no longer annoyed and skeptical. No, I actually enjoyed going to these holy places. I was in awe at how devout these folks who visited these places were, and how strong of a faith they had to travel thousands of miles to get there. At a time when my faith was pretty much nonexistent, I wondered if someday I might have what they have, if I would ever find myself in that sort of place again.

I was particularly struck at Fatima. There was this path, that led from the top of a hill all the way down to the Chapel of Apparitions. And people would walk on their knees to get there, as an act of devotion to our Lady of Fatima. I thought, “wow, that’s so hard core.” And I think it planted a seed in me, in terms of asking myself what have I done for God lately.

DevotionThe seed didn’t take root until months later, after my dad had passed away. Again I felt lost and confused, and I didn’t know where else to turn. It wasn’t until my sister invited me to her church that I felt some sort of peace. I decided that perhaps I should give this church thing another try, and I thank God that I did.

My mother told her priest that while my dad was sick, he said that his suffering wasn’t in vain, and that if it could bring one person back to God, he would do it. He probably had no idea that it would be his own daughter. His death, in a way, has brought me new life. All circumstances aside, I am much happier, and I have found an amazing church community to help me on my journey.

So yes, traveling to holy lands and foreign places can instill a sense of wonder and awe, but beyond that, I am amazed by people of strong faith, whether it is my mother, or my pastors at church. I know I can get there, but I also know that it will take time. I’m ready though, and I look forward to seeing how 2014 will play out in that regard.

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You’re Invited: Cultivation Shower 2014

We were married about five years and moving into our new house when I adopted the philosophy that bridal showers are wasted on newlyweds. Young and blushing soon-to-be-brides dreamily choosing bathroom colors and bedding sets don’t know that they will constantly run out of kitchen towels. Now that I’ve been married 15 years I want a new shower, one that would replenish my home with real necessities discovered by living– not dictated by wedding planners, gift-giving guides, or giggly roommates.

Of course, aging and changing is much the same. We prepare ourselves with certain expectations only to discover that our journey leads us to needing something more. Throw yourself a Cultivation Shower, fill a plate of refreshments (calories don’t count here), and gift yourself with what you need. If you were able to throw yourself a shower to begin 2014, what gifts would you give yourself? Has there been something you’ve realized has been missing and now need? What has it been?

Overall, I’d say that I’m happy with how things are shaping up so far in 2014. I started a new semester at a job that I absolutely love, I’m getting closer to my wonderful friends and family, I’m singing again with my beloved choir, and I’m getting more involved with my awesome church community. I’ve never been the type to want much to keep me happy. It’s always about the little things, right – the moments you share with your loved ones that don’t cost much, but mean everything.

If I were to say one thing was missing however, I’d have to say that I’m currently no longer in a relationship. My 7-year relationship with Michael ended in July, and it was definitely hard, but it was probably for the best.

Not too long after the break-up, I was kinda all over the place, going on random dates, giving men a chance when I shouldn’t have…it was probably my way of coping with the break-up, mixed in with loneliness, and I’ll admit it probably wasn’t my finest hour, er, semester.

But now here we are, in 2014, and I’m putting all of that stuff in the past. I’m starting over with a clean slate. And like my sister’s pastor told us at service right before I came back to VA, I’m going to take 2014 to work on making myself a better person, so that I can attract the kind of man that God intends me to be with. I just need to stop putting so much pressure on myself, be patient, and I know it’ll happen. Besides, I’m way too cool to be single for the rest of my life, right? 😛

So there ya have it – not asking for much for my Cultivation Shower, just to strengthen my relationship with God and with those I care about so much, and if it’s not too much trouble, a man who will love me wholeheartedly that I will love wholeheartedly right back.

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Procrastination? Won’t Find It Here!

I don’t know where I would be without my to-do list.

It’s true. Everything that needs to get done for the week, the month, the year, it’s all there, on a fancy website called Toodledo. I decided to go electronic because I got tired of having post-its and papers all over the place. Plus Toodledo has an app, so I can sync it with my iPhone or iPad and I can add tasks from anywhere! It’s fantastic! (And I am definitely broadcasting my nerdiness by being so excited about it, haha).

Anyway, what keeps me focused is deadlines, deadlines, DEADLINES. Want me to get something done for you? Give me a deadline and I’ll have it done. I have ever rarely missed a deadline, and if I have, something must have been terribly wrong. When it comes to deliverables, I’m always your lady who can and will deliver.

My work ethic was ingrained in me ever since I was in school. As soon as I got home from school, I would go straight to the table and do homework. By the time I got to college, I was an assignment machine. I never ever procrastinated. In fact, oftentimes I wrote papers two weeks in advance. I never in my entire life pulled an all-nighter to get something done. Friends have asked if I ever sleep. I do! In fact, I really like sleeping. I guess I just mastered the art of good time management over the years.

I posted this Huffington Post article about Type A Personalities on my Facebook timeline because it describes me to a T. I get very anxious when I’m doing nothing, and sometimes it is hard for me to relax and not think about work.

Work-Life Balance has always been a struggle for me, especially as a graduate student. But I’m definitely getting better. I’m making time to pursue my passions, whether its through singing with the Richmond Women’s Chorus or joining a small group at my church. I’m getting out there and meeting people, and I’m loving every minute of it.

So yes, of course the work will get done, but this year, I’m having some fun too, and I’m excited. 🙂

Always working, always with Starbucks next to me

Always working, always with Starbucks next to me

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