Best Friends are the Best

I never believed in the concept of love at first sight, until it happened to me. For me, it didn’t happen in a romantic context, but I immediately connected with my best friend, Toni.

We met almost 10 years ago, when we were both studying abroad in Japan. We had come from two different undergraduate universities on the same study abroad program. We connected instantly.

I kept a travel journal every day while I was in Japan. It not only helps me remember Japan, but I have documentation of the beginning of my friendship with Toni. The first six weeks of our friendship, I wrote about her almost every day. For example, the very first time she appears in my journal: “Right away, me and Toni hit it off… and planned to sit near each other on the bus tomorrow! :)” From our conversation on the bus the next day, “We had really bonded the night before, and we did it again today too… I enjoyed talking to her SO much. I just feel like we really clicked and just got along great!”

We continued to get close throughout our time in Japan. One of our favorite parts of the beginning of our friendship was the transition from Kamogawa to Waseda- the first to second part of the program. The first part was two weeks in the middle of nowhere (Kamogawa), 2 hours away from Tokyo in the mountains. The second part was four weeks in Tokyo. For the first part, we were placed with random roommates. For the part in Tokyo, we had filled out a roommate questionnaire ahead of time and they had matched us up at that time based on compatibility.

Toni and I sat with each other on the bus again when we rode from the seminar house to Tokyo and found out our roommate assignments. We promised we would continue spending a lot of time together, no matter who our roommates were. To our complete delight, we had been assigned each other as roommates! Even our pre-program questionnaire thought that we would be compatible. We were so happy with this and felt like our friendship was “meant to be!”

Though we’ve always been long distance friends, that has never stopped us. We visit each other a few times a year and even took a graduation trip together when I got my PhD and she got her MD. We’ve experienced a lot of similar life milestones at the same time, like getting our graduate degrees, switching programs (her for residency, me for my job), and its been amazing to have her support. I can talk to her about anything. When something goes wrong, she’s often the first person I call to ask for advice and support.

Recently, she moved to Ann Arbor, which is the closest (2.5 hours) we’ve ever lived to each other. It’s been awesome to see each other more often! The life of a medical Resident (aka Toni’s life) is incredibly stressful and her schedule packed, but we make time.

Like this weekend. She had only Saturday off and started a night shift on Sunday. Nevertheless, we decided to meet up halfway between where we both live for a staycation. We looked up the city (Toledo) and found that the number 1 most romantic hotel in the U.S, a spa hotel, was located there. So of course, we had to go. Since we made the plans only about 3-4 weeks out, there was limited availability. The only room available was the most expensive one. Oh, darn.

I was a little hesitant, but Toni talked me into it and I was SO glad she did. We decided to make it our 10 year friendship anniversary celebration! We brought wine, champagne, flowers, fondue, and snacks. The room itself had a gigantic bed with a fireplace, an unnecessarily large shower, a jacuzzi, a heated pool, and a sauna.

It was one of the best trips I’ve taken! We spent the first few hours pruning up in the pool as we dipped our rotisserie chicken in cheese fondue and drank wine. We pulled all the flowers off their stems and put them in the pool for extra “romance.” We lit dozens of tea light candles and put bubble bath in the jacuzzi. We ate fruit dipped in chocolate fondue on the bed. We played Code Names and painted our toenails. We talked about our lives until past 3 am. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up even close to that late, but I was barely tired at all because I was having such an amazing time.

It was hard to leave in the morning. Even though I’m on winter break, it was hard to come back to reality. My life without my best friend and a heated pool in my room. But I feel refreshed and rejuvenated after that wonderful break. I also feel amazingly grateful to have a person like Toni in my life.

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Self-Handicapping, Learned Helplessness, and Accomplishment

How many of you haven’t tried to do something because you were “sure” you wouldn’t succeed? How many of you waited until the last minute and threw something together so you could say you tried but not feel bad when you didn’t succeed? These, in psychology, are called learned helplessness and self-handicapping respectively.

These are amazingly and disturbingly common ways that we ensure we will fail. Not on purpose, of course. We are trying to protect ourselves. But in doing so, we often act as our own worst enemy.

I’ve done this a lot throughout my life. Most recently I was able to overcome the initial learned helplessness. In boxing last week, we had a plank competition- whoever could hold the longest plank (a low plank) after the workout would get a cool prize. I spent a lot of November thinking about if I wanted to enter this competition, because it would be pretty embarrassing to try and only get a really short time. They had a schedule of planks throughout the month that you could do every day to prepare. I thought a lot about taking one of the paper schedules to work on it at home, but didn’t.

When it came to November 30th, after my workout, everyone left. I wanted to leave too and skip the competition, but I had no excuses. I entered the plank competition. I asked what the longest time had been so far, and was surprised to hear that I was the first person to participate (it was the 9:30 am class, so maybe not that surprising, but there are two classes before it). Nevertheless, I had a goal in mind (3:30) and got to work.

It should come as no surprise that after a 60 minute intense workout, including planks, holding a plank was immensely difficult. Personally, I also find low planks harder than high ones. I could feel my muscles start shaking after 1 minute in. My goal seemed way too far off.

I asked the coach to tell me after each 30 second milestone for a morale boost. Time had never ticked slower. 1:30 and she could see me visibly shaking and asked how I was doing.

“Not good. But I want to get to at least 2 minutes.”

The two minute mark couldn’t come fast enough. I held my plank for a total of two minutes and two seconds. Not terribly impressive, but I had no benchmark to compare it to. Still, I was proud I had tried.

I went home, posted on Facebook, and forgot about it.

Yesterday night, I got an email saying that I won the longest plank at my club’s location and got a $25 gift certificate to the Title store.

Wait, what? I won?

My first thought was that no one else from my club participated, which is obviously the reason I won. Let me be clear and say that totally could be the case. But the fact that it’s what my mind first jumped to made me a little sad (and reflective).

It’s hard enough for us to get over our fears and try something, especially something difficult, especially when we might fail. But when we succeed and we still don’t think it’s enough, that is the worst offense we are committing against ourselves.

Even if I was the only one who competed, that shouldn’t lessen my victory any. I still had the courage to try and to keep going, even when it was difficult. I felt proud after I finished my plank. Winning shouldn’t take that away from me.

Take time to appreciate your accomplishments. Don’t lessen them. Be proud of the work that you put in- whether you succeed or not!

Anxiety in Everyday Life

I’ve written on this blog before about my anxiety. It’s something that I have a hard time talking about, because I really want to believe that I don’t or that it’s gotten better or I’ve gotten over it. But I don’t think it works that way. And sometimes I’m reminded of the role it plays in my everyday life.

When you have anxiety, you often get hung up on an incident that most people would be able to get over fairly quickly. For example, I always notice that my mom can get really worked up about things that happen to her and don’t seem like a big deal to me. Sometimes her boss will take off Fridays from work or call off because he doesn’t feel like coming in. She will get very upset about this. I can understand how frustrating it is when you’re really busy and someone doesn’t seem like they’re taking their job seriously. But my mom will rant about this on the phone for awhile, to several people, and will constantly bring it up later.

It sounds so ridiculous when it isn’t you in the situation. But I can empathize with her a lot more now that I see myself doing some of the same things. Recently, I didn’t get my proposal accepted for a class that pays me to do research with students. I felt really upset about this, because the head of the committee was a person who had insulted me and my research previously. I felt that this person rejected my proposal because he didn’t take me seriously. I talked to all my colleagues about it. In about 20 minutes, I have a lunch with this committee and I’ve been freaking out about this a little.

I talked to one of my colleagues about it, who also happens to be a counselor. I knew I was overly anxious, but it didn’t really register to me how irrational I was being until she pointed it out. I questioned whether or not I should prepare a Power Point for my students to use last minute. I made assumptions about when and how the committee would judge me in possibly re-considering my proposal. I worried about the brown boots I had accidentally worn this morning instead of the black ones I meant to wear with this outfit. I was seeing the worst in everything. I was catastrophizing. But all of these things seemed perfectly rational to me at the time. Of course I should worry about these things! Of course they were reasonable!

When you’re anxious, your thoughts and feelings seem normal to you. It seems only natural that you are worried about those particular things. Sometimes it takes an objective opinion to point out to you that you aren’t making sense.

I feel proud of myself that I was able to take that advice and take a step back from the situation. I knew she was right. So I stopped worrying about it and got back to my grading. Sometimes it isn’t that easy, but I’ve been making a lot of progress in this area.

Off to this lunch meeting. Hopefully I can retain this feeling of calm during it.

Writing a Novel in 30 Days

I did it. I won NaNoWriMo again! I finished writing my 50k word novel in not 30 days, but 27! For the third year in a row, I wrote a novel in less than 30 days.

In 2012, my third year in graduate school, I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time. I had heard of it since high school and always wanted to participate, but never had the courage to try. My graduate advisor pushed me over the edge. During a conversation in his office, I agreed to participate. I left his office feeling like I usually did after inspirational conversations with him- thinking Shit! When am I ever going to have time for this?

But I had signed up, so I didn’t want to give up before I even started. I got more and more excited as November grew closer. I imagined my amazing success as a famous novelist. Day 1 came around and I put on my headphones, sat down at my computer, and began to write. One hour and about 700 words later, I gave up for the day. I barely managed to get out those 700 words and that was less than half of my daily expected count. What’s more, they were awful. Truly terrible.

I was ready to give up. The biggest thing that stopped me from giving in right there was an inspirational quote from another Wrimo. She told me, “It isn’t the things you do in life that you regret, but the things you don’t do.”

That really resonated with me. All my life I wanted to write a novel. I couldn’t give up on Day 1, less than 700 words into my novel. And I didn’t.

I used that motivation to keep me going for all 50,000 words. I finished my novel in 30 days. It was crap, but I never felt prouder. I was elated. I was on top of the world. I came so close to quitting on day one, that I never thought I would get anywhere close to finishing a novel.

But the story doesn’t end there. I wasn’t done after one crappy novel. I realized that my goal wasn’t to write a novel, but to write a good novel. One that was good enough to get published.

So I kept working. I did NaNoWriMo in 2013, though I didn’t finish. I won again in 2015, 2016, and now in 2017.

Do I have good novels? Not yet. But they’re better.

Now I’m learning that you don’t usually get it right on the first try. You don’t just write a novel, you re-write it. And re-write, and re-write, and re-write.

I’m learning how to do that.

But most importantly, I’m not giving up on my dream. Each year, my novels get a little better. Each year I learn more about writing (and re-writing). Each year, I find that I actually love the hours I slave away at the computer trying to make my word count during one of the busiest months of the semester.

I write because I love it. And I’ll keep working toward my goal.

On Friendship and Gratitude

I didn’t have a lot of close friends growing up. It wasn’t really until junior year of high school that I found a group of people I really connected with. I lamented it at the time- why did it take me so long! I only had a year and a half at that point before I was done with high school and would leave all of my friends behind. I was jealous of the people who had the same best friend since preschool. They had so many memories together!

What I didn’t know, was that twelve years later, we would still be friends.

I just left a party with my high school friends. Four of them still live in the area and we hang out regularly to play board games, watch movies, or play Pathfinder. But every year around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, all ten or so of us (whoever can make it that year) get together.

It’s amazing that we have still kept in touch for this long. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have such good friends. I never imagined that I would still be friends with my high school friends today, but I’m so glad that I am.

There is no better feeling than spending time with someone who knows you incredibly well. We play social deduction board games (we used to play Mafia, this year we upgraded to Secret Hitler) and know each other so well, that it’s almost easy to guess everyone’s role each game.

I’ve been feeling frustrated lately that so many of my friends are getting engaged and it didn’t work out with the person I was dating. I kept looking and what I didn’t have.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve started to look at what I do have. I have some amazing friends who, after twelve or more years, still care about each other and spend time together. And I am so grateful for them.

What Doesn’t Challenge You, Doesn’t Change You

Right now, I’m procrastinating. Writing my novel this past week has been tough. I feel like I lost my momentum. I lost my lead as well. I had gotten ahead, but then two incredibly busy weekends changed that.

After I hit 25k, I really felt like this would be the easy part. In my head, it almost felt like I was done already. Instead, it got even harder. I’ve thought of some cool ideas, but it’s been hard to implement them. I sit down to my computer feeling tired and excited for being done but not for the process of getting there.

I was immensely frustrated. I toyed with the idea of quitting. Quitting! After being more than 50% done! I was annoyed at myself for even considering it.

Still, I remembered previous years when I had finished early, sometimes even before Thanksgiving so I could better enjoy the holidays with loved ones. I dreamed about that this year too, but I am not even close (34,500 words for anyone keeping track at home).

Sometimes I think that I get too excited about the destination and forget about the journey. Sometimes when the going gets tough, I find it hard to remember why I wanted to start in the first place. I think about being a published author or getting my reward for completing my novel. I don’t think about the act of writing itself. I don’t look forward to writing like I used to.

But it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to want to give up. You can’t help the way you feel, but it is entirely up to you what you do about it.

Writing, like most things in life, isn’t easy. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. When I write a novel or do anything else, I get frustrated sometimes. I want to quit sometimes. Some days I’m inspired, but others I have to slog through.

Just because you hit a rough patch, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you should quit. When thinking about my struggles with writing lately, I remembered something that my boxing coach always tells us during our workouts:

“What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”

During the workout, I think: Of course! If we don’t work our muscles hard, they won’t develop. We won’t get better.

This doesn’t apply only to boxing, however. It applies to writing too. Or anything else that you want to do with your life. It’s not always easy. But take comfort in the fact that if it’s difficult, it will change you- likely for the better.

Tired but Happy

This month so far has been the craziest and busiest I have had in a long time by far. I’ve also felt happier and more myself than ever before.

I am so glad that I decided to go forward with NaNoWriMo. I have 23,410 words written so far. I should get to the halfway point by the end of the day today! It’s amazing that I’ve come so far already when I didn’t think I would have time to do any of it.

And I don’t hate it. I think the novel is turning out to be better than the ones I’ve written in previous years. It’s amazing that with the progress I’ve made on writing in the years since I’ve started doing NaNoWriMo, I’m actually able to see myself getting better. I’ve always been frustrated with not doing enough, but I don’t think I’ve valued enough of what I have done. Maybe this will be the year I finally write a good novel for NaNoWriMo!

It’ll be hard this week to work on my novel, because Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson came out today and what I want to be doing is dropping everything to read all day. My best friend is also coming to visit this weekend and, of course, I’ll want to prioritize spending time with her.

But somehow, I’ll manage. I have so far.

This month, in addition to my novel, I’ve continued boxing every other day and eating healthy, I’ve spent time with my little sister, continued running my Pathfinder game, joined a D&D game, started dating someone, hung out with friends and family, and kept up with things at work, just to name a few.

These experiences have reiterated my self-knowledge that the busier I am, the happier I seem to be. I love doing things, especially things I love.

They’ve also encouraged me to go for my goals, like writing a novel, even when I don’t think I have time or think it will be impossible to achieve them. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, I feel energized and enthusiastic. I’m excited about life. I’m excited about the future. I’m excited about myself.

Too often, I’ve stopped doing one thing I love in pursuit of another, because I was worried I wouldn’t have time or wouldn’t be able to put enough time or energy into both. This month has really proved to me that I shouldn’t limit myself (and neither should you!) Certainly, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stopping and taking care of yourself is most important. But give your dreams a shot. Even if they’re hard. Even if you’re already doing a lot. Because they’re worth it. You’re worth it!

Why I’m Writing A Novel This Month

For those of you who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo (NaNoWriMo website) The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. This works out to be 1667 words (or about 8 double-spaced pages) per day. Sounds crazy, right? It is, but it’s also pretty awesome.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I want others to read my fantasy books and be immersed in my world, just like I so often am in others’. I’ve come up with story ideas in my head since grade school, occasionally writing them down in short story or idea form. I first heard of NaNoWriMo in high school, but I didn’t start participating until my 3rd year in graduate school. I always found an excuse- I was too busy, I could never do something like that, now just wasn’t the right time.

Finally, in 2012, my graduate advisor encouraged me to do NaNoWriMo with him. I had even less time than ever before, but what I did have was the motivation and the social support. I convinced another grad student friend to do it with me, and together we embarked on this crazy journey. Day 1: less than 1000 words in and I already wanted to quit. The writing was awful- nothing like I imagined- and I already had run out of ideas. I probably would have quit, but I kept thinking how do I tell my graduate advisor that I quit on Day 1?

So I kept going. And going. And 50,000 words and 29 days later I had a novel. It was a crappy novel, but it was a novel. I have never felt prouder of anything in my entire life. What I had dreamed of for so long had finally come to pass.

I tried in 2013, but didn’t finish (I was also applying for jobs, teaching 4 classes, and writing my dissertation at the time). I was glad I tried, but also glad that I prioritized my career.

I skipped 2014- my first year in my brand new job.

I participated again in 2015 and 2016 and “won” both years with two more crappy 50,000 word novels. Finishing didn’t feel as good in these years, though there were some extenuating circumstances (mostly to do with my ex). Nevertheless, I was still proud that I participated and completed my novels.

Now it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo 2017. I promised myself back in September that I was going to do it again this year.

But.

Since September, I’ve had about a million things going on. I’m teaching more classes this year than I have before, I have more advisees, I’m prepping new courses, I’m boxing every other day, I’m running a Pathfinder campaign, I’m working on my 2nd year review for work, I’m playing Magic, I have a little sister. And those are just the NEW things I’m doing. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed every day after I come home from work, barely able to heat up some food and collapse on the couch for a few hours before bed.

I’ve been dreading November. I keep wanting to call it all off. There’s no way I will have time to do everything AND write a novel. I keep trying to convince myself to quit. I almost have so many times.

But I refuse to let myself be ruled by fear.

Why do I want to quit? It’s the fear of failure. Fear that despite winning the last two years in a row, I won’t win this year. Fear that I’m not good enough. That I’m never going to be a writer. That I’ll never write a good novel.

This fear hasn’t stopped me just in November, but for the past year, I’ve hardly written anything because I’ve been afraid of failing.

No more.

Trying and failing is far better than sitting back and watching your dreams float away because you were too afraid to reach out for them. If I don’t finish this year, because of everything else in my life, I will at least be content that I tried. That I didn’t quit before I even started.

Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it. Like my boxing coach says, What Doesn’t Challenge You, Doesn’t Change You.

On Being Motivated

In general, I’m the kind of person who likes to take action. I hate sitting around and planning. I’m impatient. It’s hard for me to do nothing. Once I know what I want to do, I do it.

Sometimes that makes it hard for me to understand when others don’t make progress toward their goals. When someone tells me they want to achieve a goal- whether it’s my students who want to get better grades or a friend telling me they want to lose weight or start exercising, I’m immediately on board. I tell them everything they can do to start making the changes they so desire. Go to the Learning Center on campus. Come to my boxing classes with me. Often, I’m not met with enthusiasm, which is baffling to me. If you know what you want and you know how to get it, why don’t you do it? Sometimes I get angry in these situations, because I don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to achieve their goals and meet their fullest potential. Our biggest enemy is so often ourselves.

Lately, I’ve started understanding them better. For whatever reason, this semester, I’ve had a rough time feeling motivated. I’ll think about what my goals are and how to meet them, and choose to sit around the house instead. I’ll read or watch TV or even mope and wonder why I’m feeling bored and sad. I hate it. I hate myself when I do it. But I do it anyway.

Occasionally, I’ll engage in an activity that seems to re-inspire me. Boxing often does this, (though while I’m mentally energized, it does leave me physically tired). Yesterday, I met with someone on campus who recruits faculty to write for the newspaper. I went into the meeting feeling bleh and unmotivated. But I came out of with a newfound desire to work on planning the novel I want to write next month for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been avoiding that for at least a month and avoiding creative writing for almost a year. It was exciting and inspiring.

It got me thinking a lot about motivation. I’m usually someone with almost endless amounts of it, but I’ve really been sensing its limits lately. Maybe my motivational energy has been used up for inspiring me to keep boxing and eating healthy. Maybe it’s just decreased in general. Either way, I was so grateful for yesterday’s energy.

I think what makes me motivated is achieving or working toward achieving goals.  But I realized yesterday, some self-knowledge I’ve been resisting, is that other people motivate me. I feel motivated to write or even eat healthier when others praise my existing efforts or tell me they’re good ideas. I feel embarrassed that others motivate me, because I’d like to think I can just do everything myself. But it’s okay to rely on others for help and it’s okay to be who you are.

Figure out what motivates you. Whatever it is, don’t be ashamed of it. Use it to start achieving your own goals and taking control of your life.

Why Don’t We Do Things?

It’s been quite a bit longer than usual since my last post, so of course I spent awhile thinking about why I haven’t posted in awhile. I came up with a few theories which I eventually rejected, like I only needed this blog to get over my ex or the classic lie I’m really busy. Partly, I think it was because I psyched myself out over it. It had been so long since I last posted, I figured this post HAD to be really good. Thinking about it that way meant I always second-guessed my ideas for the next blog- it was okay, but was it the really good one I needed to keep people interested? Often we make these issues much bigger than they need to be in our minds. That can be what prevents us from doing them. I similarly have trouble coming up with creative ideas. One really helpful tip I found was instead of thinking of just one idea, think of ten. Then, you’re not picking the *best* one, but just listing anything you come up with. That helped a lot!

The other reason I haven’t posted in awhile is that I’ve doing horrible with my happiness project and I couldn’t figure out why. I also don’t like failing at things (I mean, who does?) I did a terrible job meeting my creative goals last month (I rarely did any of them) and I had been dreading the Work month. Surprisingly, not because I didn’t want to focus on work. Instead, it was because it wasn’t something to work toward. I already work hard at work and need to work harder this month (it’s advising season, so my time in the office is taken up by meeting with students about their schedules rather than getting other work done). I want this project to be about goals that I want to integrate in my life that I don’t already. Things I strive to achieve.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor’s office for my yearly physical (I swear this is going to be related- just bear with me). I couldn’t wait for her to get to the part where she asked me how often I exercised. In fact, I didn’t wait- I told her about how I joined Title Boxing Club right after she came in. Never in my life have I been excited to even talk about physical exercise. I’ve never sat in that seat in the Doctor’s office and felt proud. It was such a different experience.

As I talked to her, I found I was really interested in getting more information about health and exercise. We talked about my progress on losing weight and eating better. We talked about how to improve my sleep. I knew a surprising amount about these things, but I didn’t always utilize them for my own life.

I also got some good advice in health-related areas- things like is Diet Coke actually bad for you? (My opinion, biased of course by my love for Diet Coke, is that it has 0 calories so it’s fine!) Surprisingly (or maybe not to you!), that’s wrong. We both thought it might be leading to other health issues I’ve had like my low percentage of REM and deep sleep each night.

I told her about my counting calories weight loss strategy and as I was talking, realized that though I don’t do this every day, I should. I mentioned that I felt guilty not having seen a nutritionist all year, even though we talked about it the year before. After we talked, we both came to the realization that I didn’t really need to see one. It’s not that I don’t know what to do, it’s that I’m too lazy to do it. And I don’t like failing- if I don’t try, I can’t fail.

I absolutely hate that point of view though. I don’t want that to be me.

After that appointment, I felt inspired. I realized that what I really wanted to do was focus on my health. For so long, I’ve been lazy and uncaring about working out and about eating healthy. I just did whatever I wanted. It worked okay. Mostly, I felt a lot of guilt- I knew I *should* be doing it, but I just didn’t. Now I’m at a point in my life where I care about getting rid of the guilt. And I care about being healthy.

So, instead of my monthly happiness goals, what I want to focus on this year is my health. I want to track what I eat every day. I want to learn to eat healthier. I want to give up drinking Diet Coke every day. I want to keep boxing and do it more often. I want to take control of my health and my life. Instead of being intimidated by and feeling guilty about these activities, I want to embrace them full on.

I think I’ve made a great start with boxing and with getting myself on track to eat right, but there are a lot of other areas in which I still need to improve.

It helped me a lot to realize why wasn’t I inspired by my happiness project. I don’t like doing something just to say I did or just because I want to meet my goals. I want it to be for a purpose. Now I have my new purpose. And I can’t wait to get started!