Dreams and Disappointment

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for awhile because of how strongly I feel about it, but I just really need to get it out there.

Ever since I was in high school, it was my dream to go to Japan. Once I studied abroad there, I kept thinking about how to get back. I wanted to do the JET program after I graduated (teaching English in Japan), but it didn’t work out with graduate school. Finally, when I found out I could take students to Japan for Study Abroad, I was ecstatic. I worked with a good friend to make the trip happen.

At work, I’ve defined myself strongly based on this goal. I told all my fellow faculty and students about it. I decorated my office with Japanese paraphernalia, I started making plans for going to Japan every other year and doing my sabbatical there on a faculty exchange program. Faculty see me and ask about the program, send me articles about Japan, send their students to interview for this program.

I cannot tell you how excited I was to go to Japan this past May on my Exploratory trip with my friend/colleague. I talked about it to everyone. I posted photos every day and kept a blog for students to follow.

My friend and I had some conflict on the trip- to me, this seemed a normal part of any friendship, especially while traveling so closely together for so long. But she didn’t feel the same way. Instead of handling it with me, she brought it to the attention to some key people on campus. As a result, both she and I were taken off the trip.

I didn’t know how to feel at first. Partly relieved, because it was amazingly stressful to have the conflict go on for months instead of having it handled between the two of us back in May. Partly pissed, because this didn’t need to be escalated to the extent it was. Partly hurt, because it felt like a really good friend had betrayed me- not just personally, but professionally as well.

Today, I got the email they are sending to students. I’m happy for the students that they will still get to go and the leaders who are replacing us are wonderful people- the students will have a great time with them. But until I read that email it was easy for me to pretend like I was still going. Like I still got to live my dream. But now it’s real. I can’t deny the fact that I’m not taking students to Japan next summer. That I lost a friend.

I have to figure out how to tell people in my professional life. How do I reconcile my enthusiasm and passion for this trip with my inability to go? How will they judge me for being involved with this? How do I make this a part of my narrative in a way that helps me grow and learn ? I honestly have no idea. I’m scared for school to start, scared to see faculty outside of my department on campus and have to talk about this.

I have to figure out where to re-direct my energy. What will I be involved with this year? What will I do with all of this energy and enthusiasm I had for the program? What will my professional narrative be now that Japan has been cut out of it?

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not giving up on my dream. This is a temporary setback- in three years, I’m aiming for it to be me going with the students. I still want to do this program. I still want to do my sabbatical in Japan. I won’t give up.

But I have to sit back for now and watch someone else live my dream. And as much as I know they’ll do a good job with what I built, I can’t help wishing it were me there instead.

Getting out of your comfort zone

Tonight I attended the “members only” birthday party for my local board game cafe. I almost didn’t go- I haven’t been in a while because I started drifting away from my friend who used to go with me. It’s hard for me as an introvert to go places by myself- especially places where it’s assumed you’ll be coming with others. But I went alone, though I did know another friend who was attending with his family.

I sort of awkwardly hung around and watched him play a game with his adorable toddler, wife, and friend for about an hour or so. Eventually, we started chatting about social deduction games. I shared how much I love these- how I teach a class involving them, played a bunch on the JoCo cruise (the nerd cruise where I got together with my boyfriend). I mentioned how I would just grab random people to play and my friend encouraged me to do that here.

I’m not going to lie- I was pretty nervous. Was this the venue for it? Would everyone hate me for interrupting their games? The first few groups I asked refused. Very politely, but I’m still pretty sensitive to rejection. I was really nervous when they started trickling slowly to the table and I had to count if we had enough and figure out who to wait for and when to start the rules explanation.

We ended up playing that game and I organized another, larger one just as my friends left. I was almost confused as to how everyone listened to me. I felt proud of my leadership abilities. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do something like this until just a few years ago. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was as a child to want to be the leader but to be absolutely terrified to take charge.

I had so much social anxiety in the past that I painstakingly worked toward overcoming. In college, I don’t know that I would have even made it in the door to a party like this.

The games tonight were awesome. I met a lot of new people- several of whom I exchanged numbers with and who invited me to future game nights of theirs. My most exciting moment was the invite to the Cleveland social deduction gaming group! I didn’t even know there was such a thing!

I’m left just feeling so happy that I had the courage to gather people for those games and to lead them in explaining the rules. To chat with them after the game was over. To make new friends.

Like so many times in my life where I get outside of my comfort zone (especially in social situations), I’m left feeling why didn’t I do this sooner?

Take the leap! Do the thing you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the courage to. You’ll be amazed at what might come out of it.

Becoming Unstuck

We’ve been doing a lot on our trip to China, but we’ve also had a lot of downtime- on the bus, in the evening- where I’ve been able to relax and do whatever I want. Mostly, that’s been re-playing Fire Emblem Awakening (my favorite video game ever!) But I was reflecting recently on why I haven’t been writing. I spend a lot of time reflecting on why I don’t write. Sadly, probably more time than I actually spend writing.

It makes me feel stuck. I think this happens to people a lot. I used to be stuck when it came to exercise (until I found boxing!) My brother is stuck in his job- he hates it, but he’s still working there. My best friend was stuck in her last relationship- she was looking for a reason to leave, but didn’t. My boyfriend is stuck in eating unhealthy- he keeps talking about trying to eat healthier and has made some progress, but hasn’t made any major changes. In all of these cases, it’s just easier to maintain the status quo. It’s easier to keep doing what we’ve been doing rather than put in the effort to make these changes.

What is beyond frustrating to me is that I know I will be happier if I become unstuck. I know it’s what I want to do. I know what I have to do to get there. But I don’t do it.

I don’t have an answer for this, but I want to know how to become unstuck. I want to become unstuck in my writing and I want to teach people how to become unstuck in their lives.

The biggest obstacle for me is that becoming unstuck isn’t something that you do once. Sometimes, I have small patches of being unstuck with writing. I’ll write several stories I’m proud of, I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo, I’ll write every day for a month. And then I’ll stop. Every time I start writing takes a lot of effort. Every time I edit takes even more.

For me, it’s the voices of doubt. It’s thinking that my writing is bad or isn’t good enough. It’s thinking that I’ll never make it as a writer. It’s submitting my piece somewhere and having it be rejected- being disheartened even though I know this is completely normal- even for the best and most successful writers. It’s choosing to do something other than write.

Writer’s block is an excuse. Just one of many that I and others use to allow ourselves to feel absolved from working toward our goals. As I write this post, I’m already thinking of my new excuses for not writing tonight or tomorrow or on the airplane. I’m already thinking of how I can feel better for not pursuing one of the goals I’ve had for the longest in my life.

I think I’m looking for an easy answer. A solution where all I have to do is press a magic button and all of a sudden writing is as easy as spending hours playing Fire Emblem. Where as long as I know what I need to do, it’s not hard to do it. And I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. The answer is that to achieve what you want most in the world, you need to work for it. You need to make the choice to do it. Again and again and again if that’s what it takes.

Relatedly, I would love to study this from a psychological perspective. What happens when people do become unstuck? When I started boxing, how was that different from me failing to write? When I have more answers, I’ll share. In the meantime, keep putting in the effort toward your goals- you’re worth it!

 

Hiatus and International Travel

I’m in the airport right now, about to head out of the country for my trip to Japan! I’m going with one of my close friends (and colleagues) to explore Japan before we take students next summer.

It also happens to be 10 years since I studied abroad in Japan in college. I never expected to go back so soon. I wanted to, of course, but I assumed I would travel to other places I had never been before first.

I wish I had kept up with my Japanese language skills. I remember thinking in college- when will I ever use this? So after my two required years (and partly because it was really hard and bringing down my GPA), I stopped taking Japanese in college. I went to some Japanese language meetups during junior year and fewer in senior year. I stopped altogether in grad school and beyond.

What I really learned from this is that you can make anything relevant to your career if you want it to be. If you are passionate enough about something, you can make it happen. I love Japan and tried to figure out how I could get there again. When Clare (my friend and colleague) was interested in Study Abroad too, it became a reality!

I tried studying Japanese, but as a non-student, it is much harder to learn. A lot of free sites and apps will teach you the basics- but I really need a more intermediate level, which is much harder. I wish I had spent more time on it, too, this past year. Next year, my goal will be to study Japanese before I go with students!

Either way, I am beyond excited to be going back! I can’t wait!

This blog will be on hiatus for about a month as I travel to Japan for two weeks and then to China for another two weeks for vacation with my family. You can follow my Japan trip on my travel blog (primarily for students going on the trip with us next year, which is why it isn’t hosted here).

I hope everyone has a wonderful month. Don’t give up on the things you love. You never know when they might be back in your life one day!

Happiness and Goal Updates

I’ve been meaning to post about some goal updates for about a week or so now, but I never get around to it. I’ve been frustrated at myself in general for posting less on this blog. At first I told myself it was because I had a crazy busy semester (which was true), but then when things settled down, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say and not much at all writing it.

I’ve thought a lot about how mood affects creativity. When I was younger I was frustrated I hadn’t had any negative life events because I felt that that was why I wasn’t inspired to write. Now that I’ve had some, that’s really not what’s stopping me. What I’m trying to say is that I think that this year- and this semester in particular- I’m happier than I have been in a long time. And sometimes happiness can be distracting- I’d rather keep doing things that make me happy (finish that book or go boxing or play Magic) than pause to write a blog post.

But here we are, finally. So: the goal updates!

Despite occasional setbacks and snags, my weight loss/health goal has been progressing extremely well! I’ve gotten quite frustrated by a lot of these setbacks, but recently I’ve been reminded in several areas that I’m making great progress. One of the trainers at the boxing gym two weeks ago complimented me on how good I looked. My parents both commented on how it looked like I lost weight. My doctor reminded me that I’ve lost 16 pounds since this time last year. I even managed to complete my goal of a no dessert weekend last weekend (and let me tell you, passing up a free cake party was one of the hardest things I’ve done!) I box at least 4 times a week and I’m hoping to increase that number over the summer.

I’m a little concerned with how my upcoming trip to Asia is going to affect both of these goals. I won’t be able to box for a month and while food in Asia is relatively healthy, I’m worried I’ll go into “vacation mode” and pig out. My hope is to work out when I can (even if it’s just doing core or squats in my hotel room for 10 minutes every day!) I’m going to try to be reasonable with food as well. Last time I went to Japan, I lost a bunch of weight, so I’m hoping that will happen again, or at least that I won’t gain any!

Writing has been not going so well. I failed spectacularly on my short story goal- at least in terms of getting those out once a week. It was a really rough semester in terms of my workload and I often used this as an excuse not to write. On the bright side, I did get a couple of short stories written. None of them won the weekly award, but I am proud of them. Honestly, I think working really hard on this one story that I submitted to the weekly award and a local literary journal and having it be rejected in both places really sunk my motivation. I wish rejection of my writing didn’t affect me quite so much, but I’m not sure how to change that other than sheer willpower (which hasn’t been terribly effective so far).

I haven’t renewed my commitment to my year of spending less, but for the most part the habits continued. Last weekend was the first time in over a year that I had a sort of “shopping spree” where I went out and bought way too many clothes, some of which I really didn’t need. It was especially hard to resist because my mom was buying them and I had the excuse of “needing” some of them for an upcoming trip. I think I also felt that since I hadn’t done it in awhile, it was okay. Some of my wardrobe did need updating, but I did splurge on some pajamas I didn’t need, for example. I’d like to continue to minimize my spending in these areas and give away at least as many older clothes as I buy newer ones.

Unrelated to goals, but an exciting life update: I’m about to leave for my trip to Asia! I’m going to spend the first two weeks in Japan on an exploratory trip in preparation for the Study Abroad trip I’m co-leading with students next week. I imagine I won’t have too much time to post here in the next month, but if you’d like to follow my travel blog in Japan (it’s not hosted here, because it’s mostly for my students who are going on the trip), here’s the link!

I hope your lives are just as happy and, if not, it’s time to start doing something to change that!

Health and Support

A few weeks ago, I finally set some health goals for myself for the first time in months! I’ve been making very slow progress since around August or so, but I haven’t really been doing it very seriously. I’ve been making excuses like “I’m focusing on exercise now” or “I want to set realistic goals” or “I want to do something sustainable” and then I don’t feel bad when I don’t make much progress on them.

Recently, I’ve been inspired to be healthy again and support came from a somewhat surprising area. SeaMonkeys! Not the fish things, but the people on the JoCo cruise. To me, the community of SeaMonkeys has always been incredible. Going on the cruise each year is like being with my people. It’s being somewhere I really, truly belong. We share similar hobbies and interests and mostly a community of kindness and understanding.

I found a SeaMonkey Facebook group for health and fitness and it’s been great! I tried a paid app a few months ago that tried to set this up with random people and health coaches, but this is much better! Everyone is so supportive, asks you about your goals, follows up if they haven’t heard from you, and gives you the kindest encouragement. It’s been so refreshing to have this kind of support.

Last week, I got a surprise message from the group saying I won! Winning is always nice, but I got a $25 gift card to wherever I wanted! (Chipotle, of course!) It was a really great feeling to have a surprise gift like this. It made me extra motivated to keep going with my health and fitness goals.

I had a bit of a setback this weekend, when I discovered one of my biggest weaknesses- movie theater popcorn. It doesn’t help that I can just eat it mindlessly while I watch a movie either.

What I’m learning, though, is that the important thing isn’t to do amazing all the time, but to not give up when you have a setback. It’s so easy to say Darn, I failed! Let’s go eat some more popcorn! It’s a lot harder to say Well, that wasn’t the best decision, but let’s get back on track.

Nevertheless, that’s what I’m doing. I’m committed to being healthier in the long term, not just when it’s convenient. I want to make this a permanent change in my life.

I’m buying and eating more fruits and vegetables so I have healthy snacks instead of unhealthy ones. I’m buying desserts I like too, though. Surprisingly, this has actually helped. When I want dessert, it’s good to have something I want and feel like I get a treat. I used to scavenge around to eat any dessert I have because I desperately wanted something.

Most importantly, I’m learning what works for me, doing that, and not giving up!

Embrace the Pain

Today, the owner of the Title Boxing franchise I work out at came to teach our class, which was a real treat. He is especially motivational and intense.  He pushed us farther than we usual go in practice, in the best possible way, while shouting things like “Embrace the pain!” and “It’s either positive or negative; you work or you don’t” and telling us to focus on our minds.

It was an incredible workout, even though it was one of the hardest I’ve had in awhile. I feel like I did after my first few boxing workouts- great, but rather sore and tired.

I really appreciate the kind of motivation he gave us throughout the class. When I was in college, one of my friends remarked about me that I “relish a challenge.” It’s a phrase that has stuck with me for years, because it sounds cool but also because I think it describes me well. At the time, it rang true, but it wasn’t something I had thought of before. Since then, I always come back to it while I introspect.

I love being pushed to reach my goals. I’ve had some great mentors in life who have taken this approach with me too- my mom, my graduate advisor, and my boxing coaches stick out in particular. People who challenge me to work harder than I think I can. People who push me test my limits and see what I can do.

It feels incredible to succeed in these challenges. To do something you didn’t think you could. My boxing workout today reminded me of that feeling. Before today, I certainly wouldn’t have thought I could spend 3 minutes straight doing push ups (if this doesn’t sound impressive, try it, especially after 40 minutes of cardio!) One year ago, I never thought I could be boxing four days a week.

You may not always succeed. Some of the exercises tonight, for example, I couldn’t quite do. Holding a 10 pound ball 6 inches off the ground on your back while also holding your feet up 6 inches off the ground is something I have yet to master for more than about 5 seconds, while we were supposed to be doing it for 30 or so at a time. But I made progress. Two weeks ago I wasn’t even using the 10 pound ball.

Most importantly, if I never tried Title or avoided tonight’s workout or slacked off during it, I would never have felt the sense of accomplishment and empowerment that I get from these experiences. If you don’t try, you will never succeed. Nothing works unless you do.

 

One Year Later

On the 19th, Facebook informed me that it was the 1 year anniversary of this blog! It is amazing how fast time speeds by. I thought I’d reflect back on the past year and the goals I’ve been working on.

I think this blog honestly started because I was bored and lonely after I broke up with my last boyfriend, but it, like me, has come a long way since then.

The very first post I made was about a project I wanted to undertake, over the course of a year, in which I drastically reduced my spending- especially on clothes and books. In case anyone is interested in my progress there, I failed pretty spectacularly in my specific goals. I definitely bought more than three items of clothing over the year and some months bought five or so books instead of just the one. However, I think it was a success overall. It really changed the way I thought about my spending. It made me more conscious of it. It reduced the number of times I went into a bookstore or a clothing store and just bought stuff because I was lonely or bored or felt like it. I spent a long time thinking about my purchases, especially when I was already over my self-imposed limit. Going forward, I hope this will help me reduce this kind of spending in the future as well.

After that project, my blog kind of morphed into my emotional progress in getting over my relationship. It was a pretty bad break up and I don’t think I realized how deeply it affected me at the time. I wrote to help others who might have been in a similar situation. And I wrote because it helped me to heal. Recently, I started a new relationship with an incredible guy that I have been friends with for a long time. Comparing the two has been like night and day and I’m grateful that I went through the hell I did with my ex so that I could come out of it with the growth and self-understanding that allowed me to be ready for this relationship.

I wrote a lot also about my struggles with eating healthy and working out. Partly, I was inspired by one of my undergraduate mentor’s book’s, Beauty Sick, though it’s something I have struggled with my entire life. I reflected on this a lot, until I finally joined Title Boxing Club. Truly, this was life changing. I have not exercised regularly or been in this good of shape since high school sports. I didn’t realize how big of an energy- and self-esteem- boost working out was, especially making it a habit. As time went on, more people have commented on how good I look and how in shape I am. It is so surreal to hear those comments, because that has never been me. It’s been so odd to adjust my self-image to include these new parts of me.

The last area I’ve focused on has been writing. November tends to be the most writing focused, as I almost always participate in National Novel Writing Month. But I’ve slowly been trying to spend more time writing throughout the year. It’s one of the few goals in my life that I want so badly, but also don’t put much effort into because I am paralyzingly terrified of failing. I’ve been writing short stories (almost) every week now. It has been tough because of how much I’ve had going on these past few months, but when I finish a story I’m proud of, it is amazingly rewarding. Each story is like a small, sometimes painstaking, step toward showing me that I can write and I can be a writer.

The underlying theme through all of these seemingly unrelated events has been inspiration and encouragement. One of my primary goals in life is to inspire others. This is one of the reasons I teach. I believe that if I make the world better for just one person, then my life will have been a success. I don’t want to just give up after one though; I’d like to make the world a better place for as many people as possible, one person at a time. I love hearing feedback from people who say that my blog has inspired them. I hope it continues to do so!

Thanks to everyone who is reading this for helping to make my life better. It truly is the people in your life who make it worth living. Surround yourself with people you care about and who care about you.

The Best Things In Life

I am the kind of person who feels emotions really strongly. Sometimes this makes me think that in order to enjoy something or to be happy, that I have to be REALLY happy. But recently, I realized that some of the best things in life just feel natural. They don’t necessarily make you deliriously happy in the moment.

Let me explain.

I talked with my Case Worker today for the Big Brother Big Sister Program. I’ve been doing the program for nearly a year now- spending some time with my little sister about twice a month. When they ask me how it’s going, I always think about what I expected and what my relationship with my little sister is actually like. I expected to walk into her life and be A Hero. I was going to save her from everything bad and she would love me and it would be amazing. It didn’t work out that way, obviously. But that isn’t bad. I love my little sister. She is one of my favorite people to spend time with. She constantly defies my expectations in the best possible ways. But I’m not A Hero. I’m not Amazing and Infallible. I’m a person. And so is she. The best part of our relationship is getting to know each other. It’s our genuine conversations on my couch or at Starbucks or as we are terrified together completing a high ropes course. It’s watching the TV show she recommended to me and texting her when something absolutely crazy happens. It’s how I can be genuine with her. It’s how we can know each other and appreciate each other for who we are. That’s far better than being worshipped.

I recently started a relationship with one of my close friends from college. It’s been very different for me in a few ways- the biggest one being that all of my past relationships have been with someone who I just met relatively recently. In this case, I’ve known him for 11 years. I’m used to the beginnings of relationships being emotionally intense, full of that immediate infatuation you feel for someone you just met and are attracted to. This isn’t like that, but not in a bad way. In most of my past relationships, I felt like I had to change my life and myself to accommodate my partner. I didn’t think of it like this at the time, but in retrospect, that’s definitely what I was doing, and it wasn’t good. What I love about this relationship is that I can be myself. I can still engage in my hobbies and hang out with my friends and also be in a relationship. We got together on the beginning of the JoCo Cruise. We were able to spend some time alone together on it, but we didn’t let that monopolize our purpose for being there: playing board games and hanging out with fellow nerds. I loved that we could do what we wanted, while also being together. It feels like my life, but enhanced.

Sometimes the best things in life don’t always bring amazing intense feelings. These are deceptive: they feel good, but don’t last. Instead, I’m learning to look out for those things- or those people- that just feel right. Those people around who you can be yourself. Who make you happy. Who make you more yourself.

 

Down to the Wire

Last Friday, I received the short story contest prompt from Reedsy. I wasn’t sure when it was due, so I started on it immediately. I was excited- I had a cool idea (a supernatural twist on a day at the office) and my character’s voice was coming through really strongly. The length requirement was 1,000-3,000 words and I got to about 850 before I was stuck. My main character just realized his gun wouldn’t work on the ghost- his ex-wife- who was pointing a gun at him (which would). How was he going to get out of that situation? And more importantly, how was the story even going to end?

I decided to take a break from the story and work on other things. Throughout the week I revisited the story, mostly just to look at it, think Wow, what a cool start! and procrastinate some more. To be fair, it was a busy week, but I made time for reading and playing Magic, so it wasn’t like I actually didn’t have time to write.

I made myself finish it this evening (after discovering that today was the deadline. Hopefully 9:30 pm wasn’t too late). When I sat down to write it and made myself put words on the page, I was surprised to find that they came . I didn’t eat dinner until 9 because I was so excited to start writing, and I didn’t stop writing as I finally got around to eating it. I really got into the story!

I told myself I just needed to finish it, even if it wasn’t good, but honestly, I think it is pretty good. It’s probably not professional quality, but I’m proud of it. I wasn’t expecting that.

It’s not that we don’t do things because they are hard, but they are hard because we don’t do them. Once I actually started writing, it was a lot easier than I had expected. We psych ourselves out about things like this that we are really nervous about. That’s what actually makes them hard.

Don’t doubt yourself. You are capable of more than you think you are.

Go out there and do the thing that you want to!