Are you getting ready for college or maybe you're getting ready to get ready for college? Either way, you can learn from someone who's been in the trenches, like my friend and colleague Ali O'Leary, a recent college graduate and aspiring author, who I interviewed for this post. You can read her blog at https://alioleary.wordpress.com/.
Me: Your introduction to college was a bit atypical. Can you tell me about how you decided which college to go to and when you started your college planning?
Ali: Ok, that’s a funny story. I got to April of my senior year and thought, “Hmmm, I should go to college.” I hadn’t applied anywhere. I thought I would start out with a community college, but my parents wanted me to apply to other schools as well. My dad had been supporting this college, Patrick Henry College, for a couple of years and since it was more of a Government degree type school, he didn’t think it would interest me. But he saw that it had a Literature major and, since I’ve always been interested in writing, he thought it would be a good fit. So I applied with one week to spare before the deadline and got in.
If you’re not a math person, don’t do online math classes.
Me: That is a crazy, crazy story! I’ve never heard of anyone going about the college decision making process this way. (not to be insulting, I’m just really impressed.) So were you stressing out about college before you decided what to do?
Ali: Not really, I knew I should go to college, but I wasn’t in any particular rush. I figured if I didn’t get into the fall semester, I could work until it was time to apply for the spring semester.
Me: And did you have a pretty good idea what you wanted to major in before you applied? I mean, did you know it would be English/writing/literature related?
Ali: Yes, I’ve never really been interested in anything else, so it made sense to study something I loved.
Me: So it looks like your dad had a huge influence on your college decision.
Ali: Very much so. I am the quintessential “daddy’s girl” and he’s always been a key voice in most of my major decisions. He knows what I like and don’t like very well, so I can usually count on him being a reliable source of information.
Me: And what was it about Patrick Henry College that attracted you both?
Ali: We saw that it was a classic liberal arts school that focused on a very traditional way of learning: grammar, logic, rhetoric, all that jazz. It also didn’t just focus on the major you went into, but really wanted all of its students to have a well-rounded education so that they’re prepared for any sort of discussion in the real world. We would know at least the foundations of subjects like philosophy, physics, and biology. I’m also a Christian and it is a Christian school, so that appealed to us as well.
I had three months to have a mental breakdown at leaving my family for the first time and to get my stuff ready for dorm life. :)
Me: So what happened after you were accepted?
Ali: They had a distance learning program that I started out with, so I ended up taking 12 credits my first semester to sort of ease into the whole college/distance learning thing.
Me: So you basically did online classes for the first semester, is that right?
Ali: Yes, really for the first two years. We could get our basics pretty much done online. It was a good way to save on costs.
Me: What was online learning like for you as a student?
Ali: I am an introvert, so I really loved being able to have my own schedule and have online discussions, as opposed to a classroom discussion. I do much better when I can write out my thoughts rather than speak them, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. But it was challenging when I had questions, because I could ask the professors, but it was often hard to get across the particular problem I was having, if that makes sense.
Me: Yes, because there are nonverbal clues we give when speaking that don’t come across online. Also, when you’re speaking to someone, you can kind of tell if they’re getting it or not.
Me: Do you have any advice for college students taking online classes?
Ali: Definitely. You get out of it what you put into it. I made an effort to make friends and have “study groups” online and that really helped me learn. I still have some of those friends today. Also, it really helps to have a planner to write down all of the assignments, because oftentimes online classes have more work for you to do to make up for not having class discussions/assignments.
I was extremely homesick for pretty much the whole first semester on campus.
Me: College was the first time I ever used a planner, and I made GREAT use of it! I planned exactly what work I would do every night and divided up long sections of text (like 100 pages or more) so that I would read just a section each night. I actually ended up planning how many pages and what pages I would read in my planner ahead of time. I personally am not very good at being last minute--too stressful.
So anything else you want to add about taking online class? Did you feel like you were missing out on the “real” college experience?
Ali: Maybe sometimes. Especially once I made friends, I wished we could hang out together, but I never felt like I was gaining a lesser education by doing it online. But again, it depends on how much effort you put into it. And also, if you’re not a math person, don’t do online math classes.
Me: So you did two years of online classes, and then what happened?
Ali: I had three months to have a mental breakdown at leaving my family for the first time and to get my stuff ready for dorm life. :)
I ended up praying a lot and that really helped.
Me: How far away was the school from where your family lived?
Ali: I think it was about 1600 miles?
Me: Ouch!!! And it was your first time away from home?
Ali: Yep! Go big or go home.
Me: What thoughts were running through your mind as you made your preparations?
Ali: They weren’t all bad, I was excited about meeting new people, but mostly I was super concerned about how I was going to handle having classes as well as homework. Which sounds funny, but online learning is basically all homework. Throw in class time and it’s like, freak out!
Me: What was it like when you actually made it to campus?
Ali: The campus itself was beautiful - it’s out in Virginia - and everyone was really friendly. But it was a lot of people and I am really bad at meeting large groups of people. I also didn’t have a roommate because mine called me the day I was leaving and told me she wasn’t going anymore, so it was hard to not have someone to immediately connect with.
Me: Were you homesick, and if so, how did you deal with it?
The more I started talking to people and accepting invitations to hang out, the easier it got.
Ali: I was extremely homesick for pretty much the whole first semester on campus. It was my first time away from home and we had just finished going through some pretty difficult situations in my family, so it was hard to leave right when we were starting to patch things up. I ended up having a lot of panic attacks and I called my parents pretty much every other day. My dad even offered to come and get me, but I really felt like the Lord wanted me to stay there. So I ended up praying a lot and that really helped, plus I also started making friends with my suitemates and they made sure I saw the light of day every now and then. The more I started talking to people and accepting invitations to hang out, the easier it got.
Me: I think homesickness is something a lot of college students struggle with and something they don’t even anticipate. What is your advice to students who move away from home for college?
Ali: I think the first step is realizing that the time is going to pass faster than you think it is. Which is not super helpful at the start, but honestly, I wish I had spent less time wishing I was somewhere else and more time enjoying where I was at. It was hard, but it’s important to enjoy the season that you are in. And your family is an excellent support system, but sometimes the only way you learn more about yourself and who you are is by getting out from under their wings. So, I guess, don’t cut your family out of your life, but don’t panic if you’re suddenly discovering parts about yourself that you didn’t know existed before when they’re not around. It’s okay to do a little self-discovery.
Me: I had a similar experience. I stayed home for my undergraduate degree and commuted to a nearby college, and then I went 800 miles away for graduate school. It was okay at first because my sister moved with me, but then she left and I was all alone. It was scary at first, but I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was and that I had the capacity to become self sufficient. Do you have any other advice for college students?
Ali: Enjoy the college experience! I know that people say that all the time, but honestly, it is a great time of life to be able to dedicate time to learning what you love and hanging out with people your age all the time. It can be super crazy, but you’ll make some of the best memories during college. Also, it’s important to find balance between social life and academic life….I was one that was always erring on the side of too much academia and not enough fun, but I know it works both ways.
Me: Thanks for letting me interview you! I think the college years were the best years of my life, but it’s a sharp learning curve, and I think it’s good to go in kinda sorta having an idea of what to expect.
Ali: For sure. Thanks for having me!
Don't forget to check out Ali's blog at https://alioleary.wordpress.com/!
This is an interview I did with a former student, Ashlee W., about her college experience. Ashlee is a second semester college student at a small college in Oklahoma.
Me: So how are you, Ashlee?!?!? What’s it been--five years!
Ashlee: I’m awesome, thank you. It’s been about that long I’m pretty sure.
Me: So I was wanting to interview you because I think it would be interesting to ask people in college what their experience has been like and if they have any advice or tips for new college students. So let me ask you. Before you started college, what did you think it would be like? Did you have an idea of what you expected?
I was nervous about being older than some kids that were just out of high school.
Ashlee: I really kind of had this idea of what a big college would be like. Just how they show it on TV or something, a classroom with a ton of students. And teachers that really couldn’t care less about your grade and such and such.
Me: So did you think it would be pretty intimidating?
Ashlee: Yes, especially dealing with financial aid and learning how exactly college works. And also I was nervous about being older than some kids that were just out of high school, in math especially because it had been so long since I was in math and I wasn't good at it when I was taking it, so yes definitely intimidating.
Me: So was your original plan to start college immediately after high school?
Ashlee: Not really, I wanted to take a year off because I think my senior year after high school I had a busy summer and thought the rest of my year would be that way, and I just wanted to experience life without school for a bit.
I dropped out after the first week because I clearly was not ready and didn't know what I was getting myself into.
Me: Do you think taking a “gap year” worked out pretty well for you? I know some people think taking that year off is a great idea.
Ashlee: Yes and no, because I enjoyed my time off, but when I went that next fall after the break I dropped out after the first week because I clearly was not ready and didn't know what I was getting myself into. But now, I regret it a lot because I see people I went to high school with about to graduate and I just think to myself that that could have been me.
Me: So what was it about that first week that caused you to drop out? I mean, I’m not trying to make you feel bad or anything. I just want to share with high school students and new college students what college is actually like so they won’t be shocked. I assume starting was kind of an overwhelming experience for you.
Ashlee: It's totally fine. I was worried about financial aid because I didn't know how it worked and worried about paying for college. Then when I started classes, I put off my work, and that weekend I went to a One Direction concert and didn't do anything. So I put it off and was so nervous to go in empty handed with nothing done. So I wasn’t good at organizing my time or putting school first.
Me: I see, so you just didn’t feel prepared. Also, I think a lot of people worry about paying for college.
Ashlee: Right, and now my second time around it’s not as big as a concern for me because I have more of an understanding about financial help. I have Okpromise, and it's been a major help with easing the worry of money. And now I’m not as afraid to go to the financial aid office with questions on how I can manage the money aspect. I hope that made some sense. Writing all my thoughts about it is not as easy as I was thinking.
In college, a lot of times you have to go out and look for help yourself.
Me: No, I get what you’re saying. I think it can be intimidating for students to seek out the help they need. For one thing, you might not know exactly what kind of help you need or where to go to get it. Also, it’s different than in high school because sometimes in high school the help just comes to you. In college, a lot of times you have to go out and look for help yourself. Was that your experience?
Ashlee: Yes, and I don't think they prepare you for financial aide in high school as much as they do about which college to go to and how to apply and such. Also about what you said in college, you have to go out and look for help, and that could also apply to anything other than financial aide. Because in high school they really coach you on how to do things step by step, and now in college you have to figure it out. And what I had to learn is that I just had to go and do it because no one was going to come and help me; I had to grow up and do it. Which is hard for me because for one thing, I’m a pretty timid person, and for another, my parents usually did a lot for me that I should have been doing for myself. And in college I wasn’t going to have my mom tag alongside me figuring everything out for me.
Me: Yeah, there’s definitely a steep learning curve and maturity curve when you start college. I felt the same thing myself. So what advice would you have for an entering freshman about financial aid?
Ashlee: Probably not to let it ruin their life where that's all they think about and worry about. Because there is aid out there that helps with college. Okpromise is saving my life right now, and it takes a lot of the financial aid burden off. I realize that that's not everywhere, but I figure that there's something similar, not sure. But they also have scholarships for just about everything. I say that it's taken some of my burden off, but I actually will have to stress about it in a few years because it will only cover my tuition for I think 2 more years. Which is another regret I do have about waiting to go back to college for so long. All those years I could be getting a lot of free money, I wasn't taking advantage of it and it didn't even really cross my mind.
Me: You mean it didn’t cross your mind that the money would expire eventually? Is that how it works?
Ashlee: Right, I didn’t really know that there was a limit on how long it would apply for me. That's to my understanding.
Me: Wow--that’s definitely something that students in Oklahoma need to know. I wasn’t aware of that the money from OKPromise would expire. So what are some things you’ve learned about college that you had to learn the hard way or that you wish you’d known when you started?
Ashlee: Something just recently actually--I’m not sure if this was something I should have been expecting which is obvious or not, but last semester my history teacher was literally so easy; he gave you exactly what would be on the test, and all you had to do is study that and eventually I stopped taking notes on what else he was talking about and just on what would be on the quiz. Now I’m in a summer intersession class, and I took my first quiz in there the other day and did horribly because you have to read the chapters in depth, look at his slides, and take good notes because it's not just some test you study for by what he actually talks about in class. I guess it's not that I wasn't expecting that; it's just not like what my first semester was like. But of course as you move on up in college, it gets harder.
Me: So you figured out that each professor is different. They all teach differently, and some are harder than others, I guess?
Me: How is college different from your expectations?
Ashlee: I can give you an example. In my comp class she would teach us one day, the next week our rough drafts were due, and then the next week we would turn in our paper. But it wasn't until two weeks after that when she would post grades, and I had thought it would be more punctual.
Me: I actually have heard of professors who wait until the end of the semester to grade any of your work and give you your grade. When I was getting my Master’s degree in library science, all the assignments were due at the very end of the semester. It was the strangest thing. The professor would grade everything at the very end, so you didn’t really know what your grade was until after the semester when you saw your grades posted.
Ashlee: That would drive me crazy, I’m very impatient when it comes to seeing my grades.
Me: You posted that you have a 4.0 so far, right?
Ashlee: Yes and I’m pretty proud of that considering my grades in high school. My goal in college was to do better than I had in high school.
In high school, for me it was like if you didn't do one assignment, not a big deal, but in college it's crucial.
Me: What advice do you have for new college students for keeping their grades up? How is college work different from high school work?
Ashlee: In highs chool, for me, it was like if you didn't do one assignment, not a big deal, but in college it's crucial because I’ve noticed that there's not as many grades taken so everything you turn in needs to be its best. The advice I have that I actually need to take more seriously myself is not to put stuff off because when it's hours before a paper's due, you’ll be thinking about dropping the class, not going, or just not turning it in. Every bad decision to not do it will run through your head, and it's extremely stressful. Even though I have turned in some pretty good papers on short notice, but that's beside the point
Me: I know my students’ number one problem seems to be procrastination. :-( Even though they know they are guilty of it, they don’t seem to want to change it, oddly enough. I have also had students wait until the last minute to submit their papers because I have them upload them online, and then they have problems uploading their papers and end up having to turn them in late and get points counted off.
Ashlee: Yes, that's one thing my comp teacher stressed was that TurnItIn can be slow, and you might not get your paper submitted on time if you wait until the last minute.
Me: Well, you seem to have learned a lot and become more confident about your college experience. That’s good news.
Ashlee: I know I still have a lot to learn though--I can only imagine.
As I’m learning how to be an adult it comes with a lot of frustration and stress and trying to not just give up.
Me: Do you have anything you want to add about your college experience or any other “grown-up” advice? :-)
Ashlee: My motto, I guess you can say, is just struggle now to succeed later. As I’m learning how to be an adult, it comes with a lot of frustration and stress and trying to not just give up. I just think about how it's shaping me for my better life when I have everything I’ve worked for. So I’ll have fun, live life in my 20’s, and learn to struggle so I’ll be somewhat of an expert at it later.
Me: Okay, well, I’m going to let you go then, Ashlee. Thanks for chatting with me and sharing your expertise. I think you know more about college that you realize!
Ashlee: Oh definitely, and thank you for asking me to do this, I enjoyed it very much
Me: Good, I’m glad to hear it. You’re welcome!!!! Okay, bye now, Ashlee! Good luck! I’m glad to hear things are going so well for you.
Ashlee: Bye bye it was so great talking to you
Me: You, too! :-) Bye!
***My thanks to Ashlee W. for sharing her collegiate expertise with me and my readers. If you would like to share your college experience on my blog, please leave a comment with your contact information (email or Twitter handle, not your phone number please) or tweet me at @WriteNonsense. Thanks!***
If you are an Oklahoma college student, here is some information you need to know regarding the expiration of Oklahoma's Promise, which Ashlee brought up in our interview:
"Once you start postsecondary education (any education after high school), your five-year time clock starts ticking. The year that you do not attend will count against your five years of scholarship eligibility; however, you can use Oklahoma's Promise again until your eligibility expires. Please contact the Oklahoma's Promise office for an exact date of eligibility expiration if you are unsure. (Limited exceptions to the five-year limit can be considered only if the interruption is due to certain hardship circumstances such as illness, injury, military service or other extraordinary situations. Please contact the Oklahoma's Promise office for more details. In no circumstances may an Oklahoma's Promise student receive benefits beyond a cumulative time period of five years.)"--from OKHigherEd.org
You know that person with that one little flaw--that person who would be perfect...
...if you could just change that one itty-bitty thing.
Or maybe there's someone with a whole lot of flaws, but he has a sweet inner core, and if you could slough off all the ugly stuff on the inside, he'd be a shining star.
If only you could change that person!
So can you change other people?
My answer is a resounding NO!!!!!!! *oh, such ugliness and pessimism* No, no, no, no, no! You can't change other people and you shouldn't even try...
I have met young people over and over again--it tends to be girls, unfortunately--who feel like they can "change" other people--usually boys they like. The thing is that you can't change other people. So if that's true, then why did I write "kind of" above? It's because yes, you can influence them. You can mentor them. You can try to be a role model for other people But the thing is that you can't change them. The only way a person can change is if he or she wants to change. And if that inner desire isn't there, it just ain't going to happen.
Let me give you an example.
I grew up with this very interesting guy. He was good looking, smart, funny--everything you'd think a great guy should be. He came from an impoverished background, and he was raised by a single mom. Expectations for this guy were pretty low, and it reflected in the choices he made throughout his life. He joined the military, left it, got married, had a couple kids, got divorced, went to prison because he couldn't control his temper, became a pothead, and drifted from job to job, mostly returning to Burger King. I've tried over and over again throughout the years to convince this guy that he is worthwhile and intelligent, that he can make his life better, that he can go back to school and create a happy life for himself. And even though he wants to be happy, he wants a better job and a better life, he still refuses to change. He just keeps at the same dead-end lifestyle. And you know what? There's nothing I can do about it. He has to choose the life he wants to lead, and I can't do that for him.
There is a particularly sneaky kind of person out there that you should know about. I've noticed it in guys, but I have no doubt that girls do this too. Read this exchange and see if you can detect how this guy is manipulating the girl.
Boy: I'm not any good at anything.
Girl: That's not true. I'm sure there's a lot you're good at.
Boy: No, I'm not. I wish I were smart like you.
Girl: You're smart. You shouldn't put yourself down.
Boy: I'm just telling the truth. Nobody likes me. I'll never get a girlfriend. I'll just be alone my whole life.
Girl: You're a great guy. Any girl would be lucky to go out with you.
Boy: No girl would ever go out with me. I bet you'd never go out with a guy like me.
How do you respond to something like that? Have you ever met someone like this--someone who reels you in by making you feel sorry for them? This is the strangest tactic I've ever seen, and I have seen it before. I actually knew a guy like this briefly, and there for a second he had me trapped by his pathetic-ness. But then I figured out his game and got away.
These people make you feel like you should help them, like you could be the person who helps them get their life turned around. They hook you by evoking your sympathy and then reel you in by making you feel like you could be their hero. Don't fall for it! Believe me--they've done this over and over again, and it's a manipulation tactic.
Here's what happens when you fall into the black hole of trying to change someone who doesn't want to be changed but keeps stringing you along anyway. You are under constant stress because you know that the other person can change and that the person is worthwhile--if only you could find or say the right thing to help that person. The person becomes your cause, and you devote far too much time to "helping" him or her. You neglect the opportunities in your own life because you're so focused on this other person. Other people associate you with this deadbeat and conclude you must be a deadbeat also. Now, the level of doom and gloom corresponds directly to how much time and effort you devote to your change-up project. For example, the guy I mentioned above--well, I didn't devote too much time to helping him out since I didn't see him that often, so my own life wasn't overly affected by his loserdom.
One of the truly ugly sides of loser manipulation is the abusive relationship. I was just talking to a colleague about this, and we agreed that somehow, without consulting one another, abusers have figured out the magic manipulation formula: be sweet, turn mean, make the other person (usually a girl) believe that it's her fault, become verbally and/or physically abusive, apologize and promise it'll never happen again when she's had enough, and start the whole cycle all over again. The girl stays in the relationship because....*sigh* I'm not a psychologist; there must be tons of reasons the girl stays. One of them, I'm sure, is that she truly believes she can change the other person.
So what does all this mean? Well, here's my advice, and it's going to sound pretty harsh--dump the dead weight in your life. That's right. Don't hang out with people who are downers. You don't have to. And whatever you do, don't feel like you're responsible for their happiness. If someone is a jerk or if someone is a loser, that's their problem, not yours. And if you're with an abuser, get out as soon as it's safe to do so and never look back.
Now I'm not advocating being mean or cruel to people. If someone honestly wants help or wants to change, it's up to you whether or not you should be there for that person. The trick is figuring out when someone is really devoted to changing and when they're just going through the motions.
For other ideas--
Read this article from The Huffington Post. Their conclusion is that you can change other people (say, what?) but only kinda/sorta.
And in this blog post, Lauren Suval says that we should adjust our perspective when we think other people need to change.
If you are in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship, the Hotline has signs to look for.
Have you ever changed another person for the better? How did you do it! (No, really, please share. I would honestly like to know.)
Today I had a bad experience. Whatever the reverse of serendipity is, this experience was that. It was out of the blue on a perfectly normal day. I got my daughter to school late and suffered some sharp words from the teacher. Ouch!
So maybe it's not that big a deal--it's not like I shot someone or lost a leg--but these tiny little criticisms can cause an otherwise sunny day to spiral into something dark and stormy. We've all suffered them--eye rolls, scoffing disguised as coughs (or not disguised at all), and sometimes out-and-out verbal assaults. What do you do when you’re the object of someone else's disdain?
Though I understood the logic behind the teacher's words—okay, yeah, I need to get my kid to school on time (even if it is preschool)—that doesn't mean it didn't hurt. Self-defeating thoughts ran through my head. I'm the worst mother ever…I'm so irresponsible…I let my daughter get away with too much…Everyone else knows what they're doing; I'm the only clueless one. I even came close to crying (I'll admit I'm pretty thin-skinned).
But then, I remembered the advice I told myself years and years ago that I’ve turned to repeatedly in my life. Now I'm going to share that advice with you:
This too shall pass.
That's right. Those negative feelings will pass. The bad times won't last forever. Things will get better. I know it doesn't feel that way when you're in the pit of despair, when you feel like the world is against you, but remember that it's exactly that--a feeling. And feelings are transient; they don't last forever.
I know I’ve had rotten experiences throughout the years—I was bullied in school, I had a terrible fight with my best friend from college that ended our relationship, my crushes were never reciprocated—but all that passed. It’s in the past. I got over it.
____________________________________ Oftentimes even if we know things intellectually, we don't acknowledge them emotionally.
And here's my second piece of advice: don't let other people determine how you feel about yourself.
Let's face it--people can be downright mean. Sometimes the world looks like a truly ugly place, and other people can reflect that ugliness in their actions and their words. What you have to remember is that if other people are throwing bad karma your way, it's their problem, not yours.
Now, this seems pretty self-apparent. Duh, you already know that you're not responsible for other people's behavior. But the thing is that oftentimes even if we know things intellectually, we don't acknowledge them emotionally. What I mean by this is that even if you know someone is lashing out at you just because he or she had a bad day, it doesn't mean that it's not hurtful.
You have to remind yourself as often as you need to that if a person's attitude is broken, it's not your fault and it's not your problem. That can be a hard idea to accept. Sometimes we might feel like if we did things a little differently, maybe the other person would be nicer to us. Maybe if we were just more patient or kinder or if we were more careful about what we did, the other person would be nicer to us. But that's not the case. The truth is that people with ugly attitudes are going to spew their hate no matter what you do. It's not because of anything you've done. It's just because they're unhappy. And that's not your fault.
I remember this girl I worked with the summer after my senior year of high school. She had the personality of a Tasmanian Devil and the sting of a bullet ant. If you said, "Good morning!" her response would be "Grumble grumble," *eye roll*. Actually, I don't remember any conversations with this girl. I just remember how horrible she was. For instance, months after we'd worked together, I saw her at the college library on the pay phone (yeah, OLD school), and so I yelped a greeting at her in surprise. Rather than acknowledging me with a smile or a little wave, she just held up one finger as if to say I-will-deign-to-speak-to-you-after-I-finish-this-very-important-phone-call-in-spite-of-the-fact-I'm-not-talking-and-there-doesn't-appear-to-be-anyone-on-the-other-end-of-the-phone. So after a few seconds standing there like an idiot, I just walked off. She just wasn't worth the effort.
And that's the hard truth: some people just aren't worth the effort.
So I'll leave you with this advice when negative karmic rays come your way--remember that this too shall pass and don't let other people decide how you see yourself. And good luck out there--it's a tough world.
For another perspective--
Here's a good article from Psychology Today about dealing with negative people.
How do you deal with negative people? Leave a comment below.
Serendipity happens. And it happened to me this past weekend.
Here's the backstory: I went to a writers' conference, one in which literary agent pitches (where the writer pitches his/her novel to the agent, not the other way around) were embedded right into the ticket price. Yay, DFW Writers Conference! And it just so happened that I had won an extra pitch session. Yay, me!
[NOTE: Here's the lowdown on how a book gets published--First, you have to finish your manuscript (unless it's nonfiction, which is another story). Yeah, you do have to finish the book first. That seems like the hard part, right? Well, then, if you want to go the traditional route and get published by a big publisher, you generally have to get a literary agent hooked into your work, so yeah, that's the stage I'm at....and it's harder than you think.]
Unfortunately, the agent I was supposed to pitch to was unable to make it. :-( So they did her pitch sessions using Skype. But then, there were technical difficulties, and I was a writer without an agent to pitch to. Poor me. :-(
Then, in swooped Super Agent to save the day! Swoosh!!!!
Think twice before you judge someone without
getting to know him or her first.
It just so happened that a really cool agent happened to be standing next to me and said that her agency might be interested in my manuscript. I had studied all the agent profiles before attending the conference and knew this particular agent would have subzero interest in my book. I write books for young people--teenagers, more specifically, and she was looking for romance novels. You might call my writing a lot of things, but romantic, it's not. So I explained to her that I definitely did not write romance. That did not deter Super Agent! She told me to come pitch to her anyway. So I did.
Here's the thing you really need to know about this agent--actually, I guess it's more about me and my insecurities than it is about her. Look at this picture of her. Did you look at it? No, really, go and look. You see what I mean? Stunning woman! Gorgeous, sophisticated, got-it-together type of lady--you know, basically everything I am not. So to say I was intimidated is an understatement.
Well, ya'll, let me tell you--Super Agent (aka Tricia Skinner) is really, really cool. She was so enthusiastic about my novel, so nice, so cool, and she was completely approachable. She was easy to talk to, and I was really shocked to find that she was actually interested in my manuscript after I described it to her. At the end of my pitch, she reached out her hand, and we shook, but then I had to go an extra step and give her a big hug because I was so impressed by her awesomeness.
So lesson learned--I am guilty of the sin of judging a book by its cover. I am intimidated by attractive and/or very sophisticated people. I do not consider myself to be terribly sophisticated or attractive. I'm more of a dog-hair-all-over-my pants?-guess-I'll-wear-it-anyway type of person.
Anyways, if you are writing some kind of cool romance novel, you should definitely query Tricia because she's building her client list. If you're not interested in writing but enjoy life lessons, then remember to always think twice before you judge someone without getting to know him or her first.
End note: I doubt Tricia will be interested in my book since it's YA and kinda/sorta anti-romance (It's safer to be skeptical, you know, so you don't get your hopes up. *knock on wood*). But I am so glad I met her! She renewed my hopes.
Be sure to hit the share button below, and thanks for reading!
It's that time of year again--the transition between the old and the new, when people get the bizarre idea that somehow this year is going to be different, that somehow they're going to be so full of pep and vigor in the first month of the new year that they're going to change their lives through the sheer force of will power.
And to that, I say, BAH, HUMBUG!
Yes, I am a Scrooge when it comes to new year’s resolutions.
New year’s resolutions are a scam that we perpetrate against ourselves. We begin the new year with fervent optimism, and then as the realities of life settle in, our resolve crumbles. Then, we think, I’ll try again next year. Next year will be different. There will be more time next year.
Well, this fantasy next year is never going to happen. We've built it up too much in our minds, invested it with too much importance, imbedded it with the sparkle of a magical amulet. And when you make something that grandiose, it’s bound to fail.
So in the place of this forever unattainable “new year’s resolution,” I propose something much more humble. Instead of putting off this new you until January 1, I say do it today. Don't wait; after all, a new year’s resolution is just a euphemism for procrastination. If you're wanting to make a big change in your life--or even a little one--start out small. Trying to lose 20 pounds? Go for a five minute walk. Eat a salad with crackers and cheese for lunch. Want to write the great American novel? Sit down and write 250 words. Need to find a new job that doesn't bore you to tears? Look on monster.com. Email someone in the field and ask how he or she got started. But don't wait until January. Don't put it off. Do it today. Do it right now. Tell yourself it’s just practice for the real thing, or play whatever mind games you have to in order to get yourself going.
And then when you fail--which you are bound to do--are you going to walk away from the "new you"? Are you going to put it off until next year's resolutions? No! If you fall off the wagon once or twice, it doesn't mean you're a failure. It just means you've hit a bump in the road. Jump back on that horse (okay, I see that my metaphors or not very consistent...but hopefully you get my gist). Try again and again and again. Don't give up--you know, all those phrases that Nike summed into their three word slogan, "Just do it."
And don't forget--Carpe the diem! Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Okay, I'll get off my soapbox. Happy new year, peoples!
For my composition students' first paper, they wrote an essay based on a quote. It was a diagnostic essay, which implies that I am a "doctor" and they have writing "ailments" that I have to cure. :-) Below is one of the quotes they were allowed to choose to write their paper on as well as my own meditation on the quote's meaning and its relevance to my life.
"I think there's a time in your life where you don't feel like you fit in. I think everyone has that when you're a teenager, especially, and especially in the society we live in."--Matthew Vaughn
We were reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self Reliance"--his proclamations that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," and that "Whoso would be a man, must be a noncomformist." Eleventh grade English class, Calera High School, 1993. After we reveled in Emerson's trenchant philosophy of life--which went completely over our teenage heads--the teacher, Mrs. G.--who in my opinion looked like a witch with her sharp eyes, crooked nose, and cackly voice--asked the class if they knew anyone who was a noncomformist. Tara, a girl with a big voice who never sufferd her presence to be unknown, piped up and said that I, yes, me, Cheryl Clark, the brown-haired pipsqueak who sat at her desk and never said anything ever, never spoke up in class, never gave her opinion, always let gossip and mayhem flow around her, never to graze the flesh of her skin, I was a nonconformist.
I was shocked in two ways. First, I was shocked that someone had called attention to me in class. The thing about me as a high school student is that I abhorred attention. I was a tiny mouse who crept around the corners of social life, peeking in from the outside, never one to be looked upon, except to perhaps comment on the background wildlife in the room. My heart sped up, just like that of the tiny creature I identified most strongly with--the field mouse--one who's spotted a predator in its periphery. Maybe my mouth dropped open; I know for certain all thoughts fled my little mouse brain. I had no way to respond because all I wanted was for the attention to pass around me, like a stick flowing around a rock in the middle of a stream.
_______________________________________ The identities we carry as teenagers remain with us throughout life.
Mrs. G. protested. What? No, Cheryl is not a nonconformist. Don't be ridiculous, Tara. I'm talking about a real nonconformist, she said. And that's where the second shock came from.
Was I a nonconformist? I was very shy, didn't speak up in class. I tried to avoid crowds, not to stand out in them. And I read. A lot. I loved to read. I rushed through my assignments in class so that I could grab the novel I kept at the ready next to my desk and devour every last morsel of prose. I got good grades, really good grades. Most of my peers were satisfied with C's or even D's. But for me, it was A's, preferably A+'s, or nothing. So in many ways, I did not blend in; I did not conform to the behavior of my peers.
But Mrs. G said I wasn't a nonconformist. Was she right? I didn't live in a cave or eat worms. I wasn't a hermit. I didn't dress like I bought my clothes from a retired theater troupe. I didn't do anything zany or ever stand out. People's eyes trailed over me, never lingered. I was the forgotten girl. I was not special.
So perhaps my nonconformity--that which Mrs. G. scoffed at--was a quiet sort of thing. Mine was a silent rebellion. Against the negative expectations, the self-destructive behavior, the brashness, the idiocy, the irresponsibility, the promiscuity, the boldness that marked my peers. I stood out by not standing out. And no, I didn't fit in. I had friends, but they were the weird kids--the kids no one else wanted, the fringe folks who just didn't connect with the mainstream.
The identities we carry as teenagers remain with us throughout life. I still feel like I am the odd girl out of the group. I still feel like a noncomformist, but whereas it bothered me when I was younger, these days I embrace the status of the outsider. I don't want to be like everyone else. I don't want to be a typical middle class white lady. I don't want to keep up with the Joneses. I don't want to strive for mediocrity.
I remember a few years back when I was working as a school librarian, a teacher told me that her aspiration was to be the epitome of middle class-ness. She wanted to have the best house on the block, the kids with the highest grades, the nicest clothes a middle class income could afford. She want to be the best example of the middle class that small town Oklahoma could offer. I had never heard such an aspiration verbalized before, and I found it shocking. It seemed like she was striving for everything I had railed against all my life--why would anyone want to be the best at being like everyone else? It seemed a strange idea, and it still seems strange to me.
So how important is fitting in? For a young person, I suppose it is the thing, and for many adults it is as well. But like Emerson and like Robert Frost, the great American poet, I like to think that I have taken the road "less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference."
If you enjoyed this post, please click the share button below. Thanks!--Cheryl
My experience working in public high schools has caused me to shake my head in dismay and declare that feminism is dead. I've seen too many girls who wear skirts so short their rear ends hang out and blouses whose necklines dart precariously toward their belly buttons. I've also known teen girls whose entire lives seem to revolve around their boyfriends, and when their relationships end, they trot like lemmings to the next guy who will have them.
Fortunately, not all girls are like that. Many of them fly under the radar because their lives are not sensationalized and they actually have self respect. Recently I had the pleasure of doing an email interview with one of them, 12-year-old Alyssa Dodd, the daughter of one of my very dear friends. Here is our exchange, my questions in bold and hers in regular font:
Based on what your mother has told me, conversations with you, and your online presence, you seem to be very interested in feminism. So I was wondering, what is your impression of feminism as a twelve year old? In other words, what does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism is fighting for female human rights. No matter what skin color, sexual interests, or religion a person has.
Why do you think that females need someone to fight for them? Do you see examples in your own life (or in other places) where females' rights are compromised (i.e. abused)?
I think every female should fight for herself, but not all women think they need to. I do see examples in my life where women are oppressed. For example, a friend of mine who is a girl, wanted to help a teacher move some desks, but the teacher wouldn’t let her and chose boys. She is actually bigger and stronger than the boys chosen.
In 5th grade, the teachers took all the girls in my class aside and told them that they were causing problems by being so dramatic and that the boys never caused similar problems, which was not true.
What has influenced your views on feminism?
My main influences on my views of feminism are my mom and social media. I follow people on Instagram who share my interests and inspire me and I talk about everything with my mom.
What are your mother's views on feminism? How has she influenced your views?
She thinks girls shouldn’t have to prove themselves and that they should get the same respect boys do.
She has taught me a lot about sexism and what to do about it.
What do you see in social media regarding feminism?
I see all kinds of things on social media, things against racism, sexism, self-harm, beauty standards and more things.
What do your peers (your friends and classmates) think about feminism?
My peers strongly disagree with feminism. Mostly because they think some of it is against the bible.
In what ways do your peers think that feminism is against the Bible? Do you agree that it is against the Bible?
They think that feminism is against the bible because it also regards gay rights. I do not think that feminism is against the bible, because the bible also says to love all people, not hate and disrespect them.
What do your peers think about your ideas on feminism?
My peers do not like my ideas of feminism, mostly because they believe it is a movement for gay people’s rights too.
Why do they associate feminism with gay rights? I don't get it.
The reason they associate it with feminism is because it is for all women, not just straight women.
Do you think feminism is also a movement for gay rights?
I think a small part of feminism is also gay rights, but feminism is made up of a lot of things.
Why are they against gay rights?
I honestly think that the reason they are against gay rights is because they want to feel [like they are] better than other people.
How do you feel that your views on feminism might influence your future, such as your social life, your relationships, your career choices, and your life choices in general?
I want to be a powerful woman when I get older. I plan on becoming a lawyer. And I do not want to marry.
Thanks, Alyssa, for the interview!
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Have you ever seen that tv show about people who hoard the oddest, most random things? Their houses are so full, you can't even see the floor. Boxes and piles of junk are stacked all over the place. Trash is accumulating and slowing being turned into coal under mountains of garbage, kittens are being fossilized in the briefest nooks and crannies, and crumbs are attracting complete civilizations of insects. And you look at those places, and you wonder to yourself, where would you even start cleaning?
Life is like that, really. Stacks and stacks of boxes to be unpacked, sorted, sweated over. Trash to be picked up and thrown out. Order to be made out of chaos. The truth is that if you want to have a happy house, a clean, well-ordered house, the home-sweet-home of your most fervent dreams, then you're going to have to put your back into it, you're going to have to burden yourself with the task, drip salt water and scowls over it, put time into it again and again and again...until finally, somehow you've reached that shiny, happy place you've pinned your star onto. Yes, dreams take hard work.
That's the thing that people don't seem to get. Yes, they might say, I'm really into this, I'm willing to pour my life into accomplishing my dreams. Their eyes are on fire because this time, this time, will be different, this time they're going to turn their wishes into reality. But then, things start getting a little bumpy, there's a pothole in the road to their destiny, so they give up. Oh well, if it's hard, they complain, then I guess it's not worth doing. So they sigh and shrug their shoulders, go eat potato chips and watch reality shows on tv.
What these people don't seem to realize is that the things that are the hardest are usually the ones most worth doing. I remember reading a Dear Abby letter one time in which an older woman was lamenting her age. She wanted to go back to college, but she thought to herself, Imagine how old I will be when I graduate. In turn, Abby replied, "Well, how old will you be if you don't go to college?"
That's how goals are. Imagine how much time, energy, frustration, and mind-breaking work goes into achieving a goal. It's such a pain...so much crap, really. But where will you be if you don't achieve your goal? Well, you'll be nowhere. I mean, you can sit on the couch for five hours watching tv or you can work toward your goal for five hours. Afterward, you're either five hours closer to your goal or you've created a five-hour dent in your couch. Which is worth more to you?
If you're not willing to do the tough work to reach your dreams, you're not going to reach your dreams.
If you don't like the way I wrote it, or if you think that I'm an idiot-nobody who is not worth listening to, then read how the 20th century uber-genius Albert Einstein said it instead: "Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work."
Yeah, I know it's a drag, and while luck does play some role in fame and fortune, hard work is what separates winners and losers. It's that simple.
So how do you keep at it when something gets hard?
First, make sure you actually know what you really want. If it's something that is really important to you, then it should be worth the hard work...even if nobody ever sees all the time and crap that went into it. So think about it. Do you really want to be a pro-football player? I mean, really? Do you really want to do the work involved to get to that level? Or do you really want to be a doctor? I mean, if you're not putting effort into your science classes, then face reality, compadre--you ain't never going to be a doctor.
So, the first step is just making sure that whatever you're dreaming of is something you really, really want.
For example, I once toyed with the idea of learning to play the fiddle. I thought it would be superCool to be able to play "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" on a fiddle. I could imagine myself at festivals and family get togethers breaking out my fiddle and waxing hard on a country jig. The problem is that I wasn't really dedicated, and I knew I wasn't. I knew it would take hours of practice to learn how to play the fiddle, and I had other goals that were more important to me (like making a living and honing my writing skills). So in the end, I knew it was just a fantasy and that I would never follow through with it.
______________________________________ Don't focus on that far-off goal and how hard it's going to be to get there. Focus on the tiny milestones in the middle.
Also, be realistic. You know, I'd love to be a tall, willowy, sexy bombshell on the cover of fashion magazines, but at 5'3" and 130 pounds, that ain't happening. Likewise, if you've got legs that go on for a miles and no coordination, the chances of your becoming a gymnast are pretty close to zilch. Try looking yourself straight in the eye and seeing if you really have it in you. If you're crap at logic and computers, you're not going to be a hacker, and if you have no sense of rhyme or rhythm, you're not going to be a rapper either.
So after you've asked yourself these questions, if you're still stoked about whatever that awesome goal is that you've been dreaming of, then right on! Just remember, as the proverb by Lao Tzu says, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." So don't focus on that far-off goal and how hard it's going to be to get there. Focus on the tiny milestones in the middle.
Take me, for instance. I really really want to be a published writer, and it's a goal I've nurtured since I was a wee lass in junior high (something you probably know as "middle school"). But it's taken years of reading and writing to even get to the point I am at now, and in that time, I had to work to earn a living and do all the in-between things that are needed to live an okay human life in these modern United States-ian times.
And to finally get a novel written, I couldn't look at the word count and say, "Oh my Chrysanthemum! I have to write 70,000 words to get a YA novel under my belt! That'll never happen." You know, because if I look at the huge amount of work it's going to take, then I'll never even get started. Instead, I've myself a daily goal of about 100 words. That's not only reachable, that's easy peasy, companero.
So remember to think about the end goal sort of abstractly, and focus on the small goals in between instead.
Finally, here are a couple of other tips. Set yourself some deadlines for accomplishing your mini-goals, set manageable goals (i.e. 100 words at a a time instead of 70,000), and reward yourself for your work. I have to grade papers all the time, which is not fun in spite of what you may have thought when you were in 5th grade. So I break down the workload over several days and give myself rewards every few minutes or hours. I'm not talking big rewards--I don't splurge on diamonds or Ferraris every time (just some of the time). I'm talking about rewards like getting up and going to the bathroom or grabbing a glass of water. Chocolate is also a great reward (or whatever kind of food you think of as a treat). In fact, chocolate is a great carrot on the end of the stick no matter what your goal is--even losing weight.
Now you have the information you need to get started. And here's the thing--YOU CAN DO IT! It takes hard work, but you've got enough grease in your elbow to get it done, I guarantee it.
If you need more inspiration and tips for those moments when the going gets tough, try these:
How to Get Going When the Going Gets Tough--Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP, offers tips for getting your head back in the game when things get tough.
7 Ways to Keep Your Dream Alive When the Going Gets Tough--As the title suggests, Sean Kim gives seven ways to frame your thoughts when things don't seem to be going your way.
6 Ways to Keep Yourself Motivated When the Going Gets Tough--Are you noticing a theme in these titles yet? Colleen Kettenhofen offers six strategies for keeping yourself in the race, a couple of which I mentioned in my post above.
When the Going Gets Tough--Christianity is full of biblical scripture to keep you at it when things get tough, and Joe Stowell tells you about it in this article.
If these four articles aren't enough, try googling phrases like "how to persevere," "what to do when the going gets tough," and "how to overcome adversity." Also, try clicking on the purple word "Motivation" in the right-hand menu on this page; here's a post I'm particularly fond of. Or leave me a comment and I'll try to light a firecracker under your posterior (figuratively speaking, of course).
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So just to be completely transparent, I didn't come up with this idea. In fact, it comes from a TED talk I watched by Amy Cuddy, which I've tried to spread far and wide and which I hope you check out after reading this post. I'm summarizing it here because I just think it's too darn great not to.
Alphas are big. They may not have big bodies, but they use their arms and legs to make themselves deem bigger than what they actually are. They hold their heads up high. They emanate power and confidence and maybe even arrogance and aggression as well. They don't walk; they swagger. They're in charge, and they know it.
It turns out that big cheeses exist in both the animal and human world. In fact, we behave a lot like animals in this regard. When we feel confident, we tend to make ourselves physically bigger. Cuddy talks about competition winners in particular. At the moment of victory, their arms go up and they lift their heads so that all the world can see *I'm It. Yes, look at me. I'm Super-Awesome, and I know it.* It doens't matter if they've seen anyone stand this way or not; it's a natural human (and animal) response.
On the flip side, people who are feeling insecure tend to close in on themselves. They keep their arms and legs close to their core bodies, lean over, keep their heads down, and avoid eye contact. They don't try to make themselves big; in fact, they do the exact opposite.
Or if you're sitting down, you can put your legs up on the desk in front of you and cross your arms behind your head, like you're the CEO in a fancy Manhattan building with a big window and an awesome view.
But wait! Does this really work? I mean, it sounds a little bit goofy, right?
Apparently it does work. Standing like this--in your power pose--actually changes the chemicals in your brain. It increases the testosterone levels in your brain, which leads to feelings of dominance and confidence, while decreasing the cortisol levels, which diminishes your feelings of stress.
So, yeah, just by standing like Wonder Woman, you can hijack your brain chemistry.
Of course, this research doesn't imply that you should constantly stand around like Wonder Woman or dress like Wonder Woman or tell people your name is Wonder Woman (which is what my niece used to do). People might look at you like you were a lunatic if you did. What you should do instead, according to Cuddy, is try out one of these poses before an evaluative situation, such as a performance, a test, a speech, or a job interview. Instead of just sitting around panicking and checking your phone messages, try slipping away to a private area--like a bathroom stall--and get your superhero pose on. Be quiet but be proud.
Cuddy suggests doing a power pose for about two minutes to pump yourself up. Her research shows that's all the time you need to make a real (temporary) difference in your brain chemistry.
Full disclosure--I decided to test out this technique before my last job interview. I stood in the bathroom with my hands on my hips, feet apart, and head up for a few minutes. During the interview itself , I felt very confident even when they asked me questions I hadn't prepared for. And best of all, I ended up getting the job.
So next time you're facing a stressful, evaluative situation, pretend you're Wonder Woman (or some other superhuman). Be the alpha!
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So which one are you? A big cheese or a tiny crumb? Well, maybe you're both. It probably depends on the situation, right? If you're thinking about giving a speech in front of class, you're probably a sweaty, nervous, car wreck, but if you're playing that video game you're the bomb at, you're probably Captain Fearless. The truly good news-tastic thing is that there's a really simple way to transform yourself from a pile of sweaty wimpdom to a superhero fantasticon.
Here's how: Hack your brain using your body language.
Make yourself physically bigger. Extend your arms and legs into a big X shape. Or try this--the Wonder woman pose:
Word and Book Lover.