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As 2011 concludes I can comfortably say I am not left with the same enthusiasm I was feeling last January. I know that many others, for a magnitude of reasons, also struggled this year with difficult decisions, experiences and loss.

Now is an appropriate time to turn over a new leaf, and just as importantly, to finally find closure in life's most recent chapter. It's important to focus on the things ahead of you, but ignoring recent obstacles will not equip you to approach the new year in the best position mentally.

I've been reading about detachment. As I've previously familiarized myself with the term, calling someone 'detached' carries a negative tone. Warmth and connectivity to fellow humans is what makes someone likable, and a detached person is seen as cold and closed off, maybe even bitter from a past experience that's jaded them from being able to connect to other people or projects in the present.

This is not the kind of detachment I'm studying. Detachment in the yogic texts is presented as a skill. Again, not meant to close off your connection to a relationship or a job at hand, but a way to work with your emotions, rather than against them or as a direct response to them. 

Note that this can also be useful for addressing attachment to something that's gone well. You can use detachment to resist burn-out, anxiety of losing something you've recently achieved, or just to re-evaluate your purpose. Whether things have been going well or poorly, it is always healthy to find a place where you can make a decision based on awareness, rather than perceptions driven by your "big feelings" (as my own emotions have been so endearingly named).

Be active in your transition to a fresh start. Set aside 20 minutes today, tomorrow or on New Year's Day. First, recognize your emotions as valid; be 100 precent honest with yourself about how you're feeling. Walk yourself through those emotions, digging into where they came from, where they've led you and where you might like to be instead. The important part is not to identify with them as a part of your being. Finally, take the emotional aspect of a loss or anxiety from this past year and put it away.

So, where do you put it? If you believe in a higher being you can offer that attachment, that experience, that anxiety, to them. This, ideally, will put you back into a place of neutrality, feeling comfortable that 'this thing' will work itself out without your interference, without your controlling its destiny. Practicing awareness and doing what's best without an alternative goal will allow that issue to play out exactly how it's "meant" to, by whichever means you might believe in.

If you want to take a less spiritual and more practical perspective, detachment can allow you to operate more efficiently in today's economic ideology by making choices in your best interest and resisting the fear of loss that could otherwise turn us into the direction of the 'safe route,' when really it's innovation and risk-taking that puts someone on top. Earlier this month I listened to a piece on the psychology of our current markets and how our emotions press so hard against the grade school fundamentals of economics. Buying low and selling high are logical choices on paper, but difficult to follow through on when you are fiscally and emotionally invested in your decisions, your possessions and economic status.

So maybe you've practiced detachment for closure in whatever you've chosen to let go of from the past year. You can utilize a simliar practice for progress in the future as well.

Cue smart meditation teacher lady and her very long article that inspired this post...

"In the Bhagavad Gita, the basic text on the practice of detachment... Krishna tells [his brother-in-law] Arjuna that acting with detachment means doing the right thing for its own sake, because it needs to be done, without worrying about success or failure. (T.S. Eliot paraphrased Krishna's advice when he wrote, "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
At the same time, Krishna repeatedly reminds Arjuna not to cop out of doing his best in the role his destiny demands of him."

I haven't personally read the Bhagavad Gita, but I have read the Tao Te Ching. This text also insists that your work should be done, decisions should be made for the outcome of that solitary act - never as a means to an end, or to control some final outcome you might be attached to. The literal translation in English is almost hard to read without interpreting it as discouraging you from doing the work itself. But the overall message really is to do your work and be done with it:

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

Life is cyclical, so maybe right now you're not feeling inclined to make this effort of detachment. Obviously this practice is not inherently connected to our calendar year, so consider it later if now's not the time for you. It's worth a try. If you do give it a shot, try making this time for yourself regularly as it's not a one-time cure. Like any skill, practice makes perfect.

I'm wishing those around me the ability to engage in mindfulness in the new year. I'd love for you to share your stories of awareness with me as I will be making this same effort to bring in 2012 with balance and wellness.
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When I first saw this scene I REALLY resonated with it. The situations being so relatable is a big part of Modern Family's success. They hit the nail on the head when Phil's new spa buddy tells him that his wife can solve her own problems HERSELF.
...but then they kind of lose focus and make it look like women just complain about problems and don't make changes necessary to fix/avoid them.

Anyway, it makes me think about how men are socialized to hear a woman's problem and think it's their responsibility to:
a. tell them how to solve the problem
b. fix it for them
or
c. become annoyed at the woman because obviously her discussing a problem must be a complaint directed towards him.

In a world where women are just as valuable problem-solvers as men, where is this coming from? And, when is the reality of a modern family's function going to catch up with (and override) all of these social cues which imply that all problems, large and small, should be entrusted to the men?

At first self-check I wondered if I was applying my own relationship issue to an entire society, but other women's comments on this video clip have convinced me otherwise.
What's personal is political.
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Somewhere along the way I fell into a repulsive habit of tallying up my relationships in terms of who owes who. Points awarded for favors and compliments and patience, deducted for negligence, hostility and other evil doings like eating more than their share of our chocolate. You know, the important things.

I've realized in retrospect how unhealthy that can be. I'm not sure if this is common or if I'm the only one who's bat-shit-crazy enough to micromanage their relationships (personal, professional, familial and platonic) with such keen awareness and sensitivity. Either way, I learned my lesson eventually and am still constantly trying to keep myself in check. I remind myself that I cant be rude to so-and-so for a day just because she did it to me last week. I can't justify slipping up on relationship maintenance because of silly excuses I dream up for my own guilt relief.

If you catch yourself doing your own score keeping, I implore you: STOP! Instead of keeping tallies and doing just enough to stay ahead, treat the people around you the best you can. 
 
In real love there's no such thing as debt.
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I'm a college grad! It kinda snuck up on me, along with lots of unexpected gifts and feelings. I learned infinite lessons during my time at Ohio State, but just for you people at home I reduced them to a few pieces of advice. I think this really applies to students at any school, but I felt clever for thinking up the title and thus it remains. To anyone who is about to begin or is in the middle of their college career, here's some advice from a seasoned pro:

1. Do something scared.
I was blessed to have my college mentor kind of 'happen' to me, instead of taking the initiative to look for one on my own. The first memorable thing Patty told me was that my boyfriend was a loser. This proved true and I decided to listen to her following piece of advice, which was to do something scared. She actually assigned this to me, and I'm going to remember it forever.
Hang out with a group of people you don't "belong" in, go to a show by yourself, sign up for a leadership position and learn as you go. Taking these risks is what generates the best of pleasant surprises.

2. Learn to like coffee.
The regular kind. Not that you don't pull long nights in high school, but when you're out on your own, those triple lattes with caramel/chocolate/whip are the fast lane to empty pockets and the freshman 15.

3. Get active.
And/or a job. Right off the bat. Everyone says you need to take it easy your first year, but you probably worked hard just to get to college. Why lose that momentum? Everyone also says to get involved and join a student organization. The latter is the better advice. I slacked my first year and would totally do it differently if I could.

4. Travel.
Study abroad or volunteer abroad or play tourist! It's expensive and can be really scary. If it wan't for the support of my friends/family/Tyler I would have scared myself out of my trip to Uganda. But the exposure is priceless. Do whatever you have to do to make this happen.

5. Build relationships.
In high school, friendships seemed to kind of manifest all on their own. In my case, I spent every day with the same 25-ish people going from room to room, suffering through the same classes, exams and assessments daily. It was inevitable for us to become a little family. In college, relationships take a lot more time and energy. This includes friends, more-than-friends, and family. I wasn't great about checking in with family, old friends from home and even sometimes newer friends here at school. The important relationships have lasted, and others haven't. Take initiative and let people know you care about them.

6. Have your own projects.
Art projects, in my case, kept me sane whenever I was in a rut. My friend Danielle knit a hat that resembled a piglet to beat SAD, and Patty produces puppet show videos movies (red carpet premier and all). Find a project doing whatever makes you happy. It will let you stop thinking and focus on something simpler. 

7. Fight against something.
This is your time to learn to think critically. If your eyes are mind are open to the world around you, it's likely that you'll hear about something that really pisses you off. This might be human rights infringement supported by a university contract, or a new bill in your state that revokes women's rights, or the fact that 22,000 children die every day from preventable causes. Maybe you just really hate how people are dishonoring an old tradition like jumping into Mirror Lake. Whatever it is, work against something you really object, learn what it's like to organize people for a cause, and stir things up (Billy Joel soundtrack optional)! You can't depend on the man who made the mess to clear it up.

8. Take it all in. 
Like 'they' all say, it goes by so fast! Don't miss out on opportunities to reflect on what you've done and to plan for your future. Turn your iPod off for a minute and just be 'unplugged,' allowing yourself some time to marinate in the present. The Japanese have an expression: Ichi go ichi e, means that each and every moment you live is special, the only one of its kind, in your and everyone else's life. As transient as life can feel, grounding yourself in the present for just a minute can give you the right perspective for making the best of your future.

To all of my friends with time left at Ohio State, enjoy it! And to everyone who just graduated with me, congratulations! 
I look forward to working/saving the world with you.
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I'm just getting back into my usual routine in Columbus after a long weekend. 5 days surrounded by people I am most familiar with and who love me unconditionally.

One thing I noticed is that all of my favorite people have the quiet minds I'm constantly working so hard to get to. Which is ironic, right? Working hard to relax? I know. My best friends take care of themselves. Whether it's with keen attention to physical health, retail therapy or maintaining their relationships, I see them enjoying the benefits of investing in themselves.

Serving others is usually how I take care of myself. It's kind of my 'thing' now. It makes me feel fulfilled and gives me direction. My 'big feelings,' as I have come to call them, are what have allowed me the motivation to do so much good and maintain the energy it's taken to juggle so many events and activities up until now. Social justice will always be a part of my life, there's no question about it.

But in all honesty, things are slowing down enough for me to recognize how burnt out I am. I realized lately that with service, like with anything else, there can be too much of a good thing. Spreading myself so thin that I'm just getting by and completing task lists is not the best way to take care of myself. Scratching to-do's off in my planner should not be a higher priority than being social on a weekend night. Not for weeks at a time, at least.

By overwhelming myself I'm probably not doing complete justice to the responsibilities I've taken on, either.

I'm transitioning. Which is great because I have the flexibility to do whatever I want, wherever I want. But change is always hard. Every week or so I make a new decision about what direction I want to take with my life. I know I will always have my projects, my causes, and I've had absolutely amazing relationships come out of my work as an advocate and will foster those forever and a day. But I have some changes to make.

I want to take two hours to get ready some days. I want to experiment with food and fashion and hair styles. I want to listen to new music and do art again. I want to spend time and money on seeing my friends and family. I want to take bike rides that serve no purpose regarding transportation. I want to do yoga and I want to do it well. I want to cook for myself. I want to drink craft beers without guiltily calculating how many vaccines I could be buying for Africans instead. I want to go shopping and try things on that I can't afford. I want to share things with people and invest in myself.

I'm not sure what this means about my post-grad plans, but I know I'm going to take a really hard look on what I can do to maintain better balance. I know if I take care of myself, I'll do a better job taking good care of others. And maybe this is temporary and by January I'll have a restored sense of selflessness and will be prepared to commit to the "active nihilist" servitude I've envisioned for myself thus far.

But in the mean time, I'm going to read international development books at leisure on a beach somewhere.
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Today I was in the library and practically force-fed a conversation happening on the other side of my table. There was a lot of frat talk about people's 'littles' and relationships and who knew Rodeo Dr better. It was beyond obnoxious. But what really caught my attention was when the female in the group said to one of the young men, 'you just hate girls,' in a totally matter-of-fact, nonchalant manner. The accused “girl-hater” immediately accepted this statement as truth and proudly endorsed this new title by saying “I actually get that a lot.” The sorority girl continues to discuss how this guy isn't a bad guy, and once he's ready to settle down he'll be great at it, but until then, he 'just hates girls.' He knows how to be a gentleman and treat a woman well because he grew up with sisters, but since all girls are needy and his sisters didn't give him that experience, that's what makes him hate girls he dates or could potentially date.

So the details I'm remembering from this conversation I was not actually involved in might seem a little creepy, but they were speaking quite loudly in the otherwise quiet library, and by this point they had my undivided attention. I could go on forever about the things that were so, so wrong with this conversation. But what got to me most is the young woman's participation. She literally condoned misogyny, or 'hating girls' by insisting that her friend/acquaintance is still a nice guy. This might seem really confusing, right? Why would a “girl” (since apparently she's uncomfortable calling females her own age women) condone girl-hating? Doesn't that mean he would hate her too?

This brings me to a phenomenon I see all the time. Women like to think they are some kind of exception, and no this isn't a He's Just Not That Into You reference. Women are aware of men's perceptions of them; weak, dependent, moody, catty, and so, so needy. Instead of working to change these perceptions, women mentally isolate themselves from the group. They say “girls are catty so I'd rather just be friends with all guys.” When a girl thinks she's “one of the guys,” she can feel safe from the aforementioned perceptions of the catty, bitchy girlfriend type. But maybe the real story is, those girls are the ones who can't play nice with other women. I think it's pretty likely that the reason you would resent women for their cattiness is because you've been involved in one of those cat fights. Maybe those girls who claim to be just 'too laid back for girl drama' are actually too immature to get along and interact in a group of strong-minded, confident females.

My point is, women need to NOT contribute to the misogynist dialogue. Not in a way that is sympathetic to 'girl-haters.' If a guy has a bad thing to say about “chicks” “bitches” or whatever name he uses for women, that statement is about you too. Please get off of your pedestal and realize that you're responsible for these perceptions, and saying 'all women really are catty and bitchy and two-faced' is only perpetuating the stereotypes and perpetuating the disconnect between women (ever heard of divide and conquer?). Whether you really believe that you're an exception or not, you live in this society just like the rest of us. And we live in a patriarchy. Stand by your sisters. Don't slut-slam, don't cat fight. Work together and eventually being one of the girls will have the same esteem as being one of the guys.
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On April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. preached a famous sermon at Riverside Church in New York.

"We are faced," he said, "with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such as thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The "tide in the affairs of men" does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. . . . We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be [humankind's] last chance to choose between chaos and community."

What makes Dr King's words so influential, like Shakespeare's and Plato's, is their timelessness. He was speaking about the idolatry and racism of the war in Vietnam, this idea of a lost sense of urgency remains relevant, whether you want to have an introspective, national or international perspective.

Most of the people who read this, I believe, are college students. I don't need to go on about our habits of procrastination on a personal level any further. We've all heard enough of this.

But what about the state of our nation and race relations today? Some might say Dr. King's dream has been realized. I would say we're not there yet. Today's debate isn't over whether inequalities exist. Gaps in education, incarceration rates, homelessness, unemployment, gross income, and overall security and well being between whites and people of color are obvious. The argument is over the source of inequality. Some chalk it up to choices people make, that people of color are no longer systematically disadvantaged. Even if today's 'systems' did encourage equality as best as possible, I think it's important to recognize the historical implications of centuries of repression and slavery. Dr King was assassinated in 1968. There was enough racial tension for that kind of catastrophe only 40 years ago. Many of our parents were teens by then, Just to put everything in a time-relevant perspective.
I'm not going to make a complete argument for the source of racial inequalities here, but if you want to learn more I'd strongly encourage you to read up on White Privilege by Tim Wise. Or, he's got plenty of videos too. There's obviously lots of other resources but he's passionate and speaks in a very relatable language. Oh and he's white.

Even if you think race relations in the US are flowers and rainbows, there's still plenty of other reasons to maintain a sense of urgency. Our generation has experienced genocide. Most of us didn't know about it when it was happening, but it did. The conflict in the middle east and in sub-saharan Africa deserve our attention. 22,000 children die every day from preventable causes. Every day that people let these problems fall lower on their priority list, that's how many lives are lost. That's what Dr King meant when he said "there is such a thing as being too late."

So, whether it's stopping genocide or working for racial equality or fighting for comprehensive sex ed, hell even if you want to save all the fluffy aminals, do what you do with a sense of urgency. If we do our best to live with intention for 365 days of the year, it's a lot easier to trust in the process, knowing everything else will fall into place.
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The karmic philosophy appeals to me on a metaphorical level because even in one lifetime it's obvious how often we must repeat our same mistakes, banging our heads against the same old addictions and compulsions, generating the same old miserable and often catastrophic consequences, until we can finally stop and fix it. This is the supreme lesson of karma (and also of Western psychology, by the way)—take care of the problems now, or else you'll just have to suffer again later when you screw everything up the next time. And that repetition of suffering—that's hell. Moving out of that endless repetition to a new level of understanding—there's where you'll find heaven."

Elizabeth Gilbert loves em dashes. And maybe I wanna be Hindu.

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2010. I remember being really excited this time last year for my big, big plans.
Knowing that I realized such a HUGE dream of mine, to go and volunteer in Uganda, definitely gives me a sense of accomplishment when i look back on last year.
But that was just one of the highlights.

January - I learned how to do the best with what I've got, and made a video I could be proud of (it was even used on the State of Ohio's web site!) Also, my bedroom made it's YouTube debut. haha
February - Ironically during the month of Valentine's Day, I learned to love myself and be happy in solitude
March - I experienced the 'typical' college spring break, and learned to let go of responsibility, just for a few days
April - I learned more about my capabilities with production as I presented a more professional, more documentary-esque Ohio Stater's video for the celebration of the Multicultural Center at the new Ohio Union.
May - I learned how expensive being 21 is, with lost phones, spent money, and okay, it might have hit my dignity bank a few times, too. 
June - I attended the UNICEF Campus initiative conference and learned how to make a life out of 'believing in zero'
July - I learned how to experience Vegas - with lots of gambling, heat and tequila - for Ashley's birthday
August - I learned how happy I could be for someone else's benefit when my best friend Michelle got engaged
September - I learned what life with two jobs is like, and made the best out of all 3 weeks of that double-employment
Also, I learned what it's like to be a national TV star as a photo from June's UNICEF conference was used in OSU's OH-IO commercial, played during every football game. That .5 seconds qualifies as stardom, right?
October - I learned to appreciate the enormous amount of support from friends and family at my Lodge Bar fundraiser
November - I learned how to manage lots and lots of fear, coming up to my Peace Corps interview and my departure for Uganda. I had some lapses in composure a few times, but all-in-all I think I fared pretty well.
December - I learned everything else.

Today I'm two days in, and I am terrified of 2011.
The only thing I definitely know I'm doing is graduating. After that I'm really not sure. I hate that. I do have at least one post-graduate option in progress, but nothing is for sure.
I have so many big, BIG decisions to make coming up really soon. I have a lot of research to do and I want to make sure I make these decisions wisely. But it all comes down to instinct. This is one of those times when you realize there's no formula. You can't just pick the safest route and expect to be happy and healthy and successful and fulfilled.
Sure, I can find stats on what profession makes the most money, what grad school has the best employment rates and what kind of chances I have at finding a job straight of out undergrad versus option B, C, D. But I don't think maximizing your likelihood for happiness is something you can figure out with numbers and odds. Life isn't a black jack game, you can't just count the cards.

So my resolution for 2011 is to follow my heart. I know when things feel right, and I know when they don't. Even if my decisions put me in stomach-turning anxiety, I now know the difference between fear of the unknown and the more unsettling, this-isn't-right-for-me feeling. Following my heart hasn't let me down before, and if I trust it, it won't let me down now.

Then, once I make a decision, I'm going to stick with it. I'm not going to play what-if games and drive myself crazy over idealizing my alternatives. So much of my happiness will depend on my attitude towards whichever course I end up choosing, and while none of them are going to be easy, I know I have great potential anywhere I go, as long as I go whole-heartedly.
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I AM NOT A MAN.
I should not have to impersonate one to be taken seriously in a professional environment! I should not have to pay hundreds of dollars to make myself look like a male version of myself. My body looks the way it should look and I can dress it well without being inappropriate OR looking like a box. 

But advice like this tells me otherwise...

1. Wear a suit. Nothing says professional like a conservative suit... When choosing a suit, consider whether a man in your office would wear a suit just like it.
2. Pair a suit with a white blouse. To keep the look professional, put a white or off-white blouse with a dark suit. Stick with basic cotton button-down blouses without ruffles or other embellishments.
3. Combine a dress with a jacket. A dress can be professional if paired with a suit jacket... A print dress is fine if the print is muted and conservative. When choosing a print dress, consider whether a man in your office would wear a tie in the same print.
4. Stick with pumps or flats... Your flats should look like a man's loafers.
5. Style hair conservatively. A professional woman's hair does not provide distraction to herself or anyone else. Long hair should be pulled back or put up and secured in place. Short hair should be neatly styled out of the face.
(distraction? wearing long hair down or only half-up is a distraction? to who?)
6. Choose jewelry carefully. A wristwatch and wedding rings are acceptable and one pair of non-dangling earrings.
I wonder if a man or a woman wrote this, seriously. Is that a joke??? Apparently the only way you can look 'professional' and be successful is to look like a man. 

People get scared when feminists use the word patriarchy but this is just another thing that people seem to downplay when it comes to women's places in the professional world.

If I ever end up working in a place with this kind of attitude, just shoot me.
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