How to Create Your Personal Style

An idea that always intrigued me from the time I started receiving glossy, overstyled Seventeen magazine, was the idea of personal style. There would always be articles about people who found a perfume when they were twenty and it became their signature scent, never changed in years to come. Then there were women who never left the house without heels on, and men who always wore blazers no matter how casual the look. Now the concept of a uniform has re-emerged, popularized by the likes of Zuckerberg and Jobs, and I’m seeing articles about people who wear almost the same thing to work every day – something classic and comfortable that they feel confident in.

It is interesting to me that this idea of finding a personal style is able to exist right alongside our rapid consumer culture. Stores like H&M and Zara change their inventories weekly in an effort to stay ahead of trends (which also seem to come and go by the week), and to persuade their customers to buy more. Every fashion magazine you pick up during any month will have at least one list of ‘must-haves’ for that moment, that list, of course, being ever changing if not also numerous.

The idea of personal style used to weigh on me because I was consistently distracted by all the different options that were possible, yet I still wanted to develop a sense of who I was through my appearance and maintain it. I’m still a long ways away, but I think at the age of twenty-four I’m finally figuring it out.

How does one cultivate a personal style? Number one rule is to pay attention. I don’t mean pay attention to trends, magazines, or influencers. I mean really pay attention to how the things you already own make you feel. Instead of just always paying attention to what the next best thing is as dictated to you by social media, pay attention to how you feel while wearing certain outfits or looks. Pay attention to how different cuts and fabrics feel against your skin and form to your body. I don’t mean just do a cursory glance in the mirror to make sure it looks fine, you should enjoy your appearance when you look in the mirror and anything less means these items may not be right for you.

For example, I never wear yellow. I always find that yellow looks washed out on me, and I don’t like the color all that much to begin with. I don’t feel good when I wear it. I feel sallow and unsure of myself, especially when I compare it to how I feel when I wear red or green. So I don’t care if ‘mustard’ or ‘neon’ is in at the moment, you couldn’t pay me to start buying yellow dresses.

Number two rule is that it is necessary to have style inspiration but with a caveat – you shouldn’t pick someone you can’t actually emulate. Rihanna is widely regarded as a supreme style icon but she is an impractical one to follow for numerous reasons. Her wardrobe is ever changing, extremely expensive, and not suitable for most of us to wear on a daily basis. It is still possible to draw inspiration from her looks, but it would be hard to pin down a more manageable version of what she does. Doing just a little bit of research into the people you admire can help you find the ones you’d actually want and be able to channel in your life. One extra step you might take here is finding icons as close to your body type as possible so that you can get a better idea of how certain styles might look on you. I know this can be hard for many, as fashion is a grossly underrepresented industry, but if you have the option it can be super helpful.

Last rule is that as long as you keep to rule number one, there’s no reason to actually find a personal style or follow any style icons. Part of the fun for you might be trying out different looks or having different outfits for different moods. Your style might have its personality in the fact that it is ambiguous and ever-changing. As long as you are still paying attention to what makes you feel good rather than what other people say, then you have still found a style that works for you and there is no reason to change. For example, I’ve also started to be inspired by aesthetics, seasons, and locations rather than specific people. In the summertime, I want to feel Mediterranean. I wear a lot of blue, white, flowy, easy fabrics to match, but it’s not based on anyone specific. I am trying to evoke a good feeling within myself through my appearance rather than try and copy one of my favorite fashionistas.

The basis for my personal style development is wanting to look polished no matter what the occasion. We’re talking lots of neutrals but in nice fabrics. Basics but better. Color in my wardrobe is minimal, but if worn, it is designed to be noticed and those pieces make me feel super confident. I take a lot of inspiration from the airport looks celebrities wear, and ‘french girl’ style as well as locations and seasons as described above. Slowly but surely, I’m getting to the point where I love everything in my closet and really feel like it represents me, not somebody who I thought I should be.

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A perfect example of my style being influenced by my surroundings

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What to Sacrifice for Love?

Love is a funny thing. That’s probably my favorite adjective to describe love because even though it is so much more than that, the way that it affects us is truly funny. Falling in love is like going on the best vacation ever. The falling part is amazing, blissful, and extremely exciting. But if you decide to pursue a real relationship, it’s like going back to work afterward. Not that in the sense that it’s a letdown, but you realize that you both are separate people with separate personalities and desires and you have to work to reconcile those if you want to be happy together.

When I was younger, and romantic movies and books were my sole source of experience, I always thought people only broke up for dramatic reasons like cheating, or realizing their family hates you, but there are far more heartbreaking issues that can try and tear you apart.

There are big questions that inevitably have to be discussed in any long term relationship. Do we both want kids? Do we both know where we want to live? Is that the same place? How do our careers interact, does one of us have a lot of travel? Whose family do we live closer to? How do you treat money and deal with financial issues?

These are the heartbreaking issues because by the time you discuss them, you’re already attached and if you disagree it can be difficult to reconcile because these are topics of strong conviction. For example, if I was completely in love with my boyfriend but I find out three years in that he doesn’t want kids one day, we have a big problem. I know that I want them someday, so even though everything else in our relationship is going really smoothly, we would have to end it unless somebody changed their mind.

On the other hand though, I could think about it and say, you know, it’s fine if I don’t have kids. The caveat with these kinds of compromises is that you must be sure. Giving up your point of view on these issues is not to be done lightly. You may be able to fool yourself into thinking you don’t want certain things to agree with your partner so that you can be together, and this is a dangerous path. It may work for a while, your partner will surely be happy that you’ve changed your mind, but you may end up seriously unhappy and resentful that you had to give up something so completely important to you.

Why am I talking about such a heart-wrenching issue? Well, with respect to my own relationship’s privacy, our issue is the geography one. Where do we want to live in the end?

But wait Melina, I thought you already lived together, you made a whole series about moving to Canada!

Yes, you’re correct. Our current arrangement is that we live together in an apartment in Calgary, but it’s not the most ideal right now. I spend 3 out of every four weeks traveling for work and my boyfriend travels in spurts for work as well, sometimes for up to four weeks at a time. Furthermore, Calgary may not be sustainable for me at the moment since it lacks the number of career opportunities I’m currently interested in, and as an American, it’s extremely difficult to get hired anyway without already having residency status to work.

With my current job, we are just barely seeing the value of this arrangement. However, if I wanted to change jobs to something with far less travel, I’d have to move back to the U.S.. For the short term, this is fine. We have done long distance before and we’re confident we could do it again. The issue is the long term thinking. Where are we going to live? Where will we settle down and start a family? This is a question with no answer yet, in my mind because we are both so young and we can’t know what the next few years will bring, so I can’t commit to any place because I don’t want to close any doors as to where life could take me. On the other hand, my boyfriend really doesn’t have a huge reason to ever leave Calgary. His family and friends are all there, and his career trajectory fits perfectly with that city.

Part of me is desperately afraid that if I leave now, we won’t make it. He’ll realize how great his life is staying there and he’ll wish he had found someone else who didn’t present this problem. On the other hand, I also know I can’t stay. At least for now, I still feel the need to grow my career and my experience in other places. Part of me thinks that one day, Calgary could be my home, but I don’t want to make all my decisions with that end goal in mind since I want to be open to where my opportunities take me.

The only solution to this dilemma is time. We can’t know where we will be in five or ten years, and yet we’re still trying to plan for it, and we’re driving ourselves crazy with the possibilities.

Hence, my question of sacrifice. I love my boyfriend so completely, but would I be able to sacrifice everything else for Calgary? If I’m being honest with myself, right now it’s impossible, and later on, I just can’t know.  So how much is too much to sacrifice for love? I know the ‘right’ answer to my dilemma: I should go where it’s best for me. At least for now, I’ll be happier in almost every other area of my life and as for my relationship, if we both really want it to work, we’ll make it work. But knowing the ‘right’ answer doesn’t make this any easier. I don’t want to stop living close to him almost more than I want anything else, even if it’s not the best choice for me in the long run. And that’s the funny part of it all. The irrational part. The part that makes love so infuriating.

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I do like the skiing in Calgary…

Don’t Make Resolutions, Set Goals

I feel like I make one of these types of posts every new year’s because every year, I still listen to my friends make resolutions. The whole idea of new year’s resolutions sounds good in theory, but when I hear what people are claiming to strive for that year, I can’t help but be underwhelmed. People’s resolutions are vague, without conviction, and have no plan of action for achievement. People say, this year I’m going to get fit! I’m going to learn a new language! I’m going to be happier, more productive, make more money, etc.!

This is why I’m an advocate for setting clear-cut goals rather than making inexplicit resolutions. Goals and resolutions may seem like synonyms for each other, but in my mind, a goal is something with a motivating factor, a clear action plan, and milestones. People love to share what they’re focusing on, but rarely have they thought about how to achieve that.

The main problem I find is that people don’t actually have a good reason behind most of their so-called resolutions. They resolve to do these things mostly because they think that they should, but they don’t have a specific driver. For example, for those that want to be more “fit”, why? Do you want to be able to walk upstairs without losing your breath? Run a 10k? Do ten pull-ups? Play with your kids without getting sore? What is your motivation? This is important for two reasons: 1. It informs your game plan. Coming up with steps to run a 10K will look much different than training for pull-ups. And 2. This is what will keep you going when it starts to get tough. Gym memberships have a huge spike in January, and by February participation has usually dropped off because people don’t have a reason to keep going.

Ok, let’s say you have a great reason. Next, you need to go one step further and create a plan for yourself. This doesn’t have to be crucially detailed and specific. For the pull-up example, this could simply be doing as many pull-ups as possible every time you go to the gym and recording your personal bests. Or it could be adding assisted pull-ups to your workout twice a week to build up strength. It doesn’t matter, the point is that you have a reason to do this, and you’ve created a plan to achieve it.

Lastly, people don’t usually give themselves any credit until they’ve reached the end goal, but that can be really disheartening. Keeping with the pull-up goal, if you are starting from a place of not being able to do a single one, then even doing one is a huge milestone. Then when you’re able to do five, go ahead and TREAT YO SELF! You’re making progress and that’s the important part. If you wait until you get to ten to consider yourself accomplished, then you’re not giving yourself enough credit and you may grow disheartened at progress if it happens to be slow going.

I’ll give an example of one of my own goals for the year (although I have about 5 big ones)

Goal: Spend maximum one hour on social media a day.

Motivation: I found myself using my phone to distract from negative things in my life and I don’t want to be addicted to it or use it as a coping mechanism when it isn’t a healthy one.

Game Plan: Most of my social media usage occurs when I wake up or before I go to bed so the first step is to put my phone away at least a half hour before I go to bed and put it out of reach so I would have to get up to look at it in the morning. Block all social media apps between 10pm and 10am. Track my usage weekly to see how I’m doing.

Milestones: Right now I average 2-3 hours of social media a day (I am so embarrassed by this), so my milestones to cut it down are pretty straightforward. By the end of January, I want to be down to an average of 2 hrs per day, by end of February, that should be 1.5 hours per day, and by end of March, it should be 1 hour per day. Furthermore, by end of April I want to turn this into a more automatic habit I don’t have to think about as much.

See? It’s not too hard and it literally takes a few minutes to think through each goal. You can build yours out in more detail if you want, but my point is that if your ‘resolution’ doesn’t have these three elements, I can almost guarantee that you will not accomplish it. Don’t sell yourself short this 2019. Think about what you want to accomplish and why, and make a solid plan to get there. What do you have to lose?

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23 Was Not My Best Year

It’s that time of year again, that awkward five-day space in between Christmas and new years where some people have to work, some people just keep the party going, and I have my birthday. Tomorrow I will be 24 years old.

One of the ways I make my birthday feel a little special amidst all the other holiday commitments is by reflecting on my year a little earlier and I work on setting goals for myself based on my birthday, not based on the new year (the two just happen to very closely coincide).

Last week I listed out a bunch of accomplishments I had this year (link here) and while all those are great and I’m super proud of them, 2018 honestly wasn’t my best year. This year felt like one long uphill battle, mostly with myself, in which I would try so so hard to make things work out, only to have those same efforts backfire or crumble. I spent a lot of time feeling resentful, ungrateful, fearful, anxious, and panicked. Consequently, I spent a lot of time crying, venting, or snapping at those around me.

I struggled a lot with moving to Canada, adjusting, making new friends, picking up new hobbies, and changing my perspectives.

I struggled a lot with the demands of my job, the intense travel schedule, unwieldy clients, and what I perceived to be a lack of recognition.

I struggled a lot with my relationships, maintaining old friendships, striking up new ones, moving in with my boyfriend but traveling all the time, making sure I spent enough time with my own family.

I struggled a lot with my goals. The whole world feels so large and limitless that it’s overwhelming to think about my place in it and what I could be doing to make the biggest impact and bring me the most joy.

This whole year I just haven’t felt good enough. And most of that feeling is on me, I realize that, but that almost makes me feel worse? I can look at that laundry list of things I accomplished this year and still feel like I wasn’t able to keep it together, that I disappointed so many people, and that I wasn’t happy enough.

So something’s gotta give, right? Right. In 2018, the root of a lot of my issues was my own insecurity, my own tendency to over think and analyze an issue half to death until it’s so distorted and unrecognizable and I completely freak out over any decision regarding it. I have more specific goals for this year, but the overarching theme is going to be jumping into things feet first. I want to spend a little less time overanalyzing my choices, and more time committing to them and making the best out of the situations I find myself in no matter what. And as I stare down the barrel of turning 24, I have to think, it can’t be any worse than 23 was, right?

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Me looking back at 23 like BYEEEE

Recognize Your Accomplishments

With about a dozen days left in the year, the time for reflection, albeit cliché, is inevitable. It’s natural to want to linger in the present and even the past when the future is looming overhead. Even though the new year doesn’t necessarily mean anything for most of us other than changing the year column for our dates, it still feels like something is ending, and something new is beginning.

This time of year can actually be pretty hard for a lot of people so I wanted to talk about how to best leverage this period for your peace of mind and reflecting more on the good than the bad.

In the age of social media, it is almost impossible not to find your self comparing yourself to other people at some point. But what if we harnessed this need to compare for good, for once? Because this time of year can be so special, it is easier to remember it from year to year, so why not compare your 2018 holiday self, with your 2017 holiday self?

A year can feel super long, or super short depending on what you’ve filled it with, but I guarantee that no matter how miserable or great it was for you, you’re in a different place now than you were last year. At most you might’ve gotten married, had a kid, had a loved one die, got a new job, or moved countries. At the very least, you learned, saw, or went somewhere new. And all of those are important!

Sometimes, it’s so easy to get bogged down in all the tough stuff, or the stuff that doesn’t go right, or the menial tasks that make up the day to day. That sounds cliché (again) but it’s terrifyingly true. Nobody appreciates when things are going ok, they only notice when things go wrong. But all it takes is a few minutes to pull yourself out of whatever is currently bothering you and revisit your former self.

I’ll go first. 2018 was not the best year for me, but compared to last year, I have grown a TON. Here are all the things the 2017 version of me hadn’t accomplished –  I didn’t know how to cope with living in Canada, I hadn’t made a single new friend in Canada on my own yet, I hadn’t asked for a promotion, I had never run a Spartan race (or any road race), I hadn’t come into my own as a fully fledged project manager, I hadn’t been to Mexico, Milan, or Crete, I couldn’t speak as much Greek, I didn’t know anything about Canadian immigration laws, Canadian politics, or Canadian economics – I could go ON and ON, about all the tiny things I did that I had never done, new restaurants I went to, new events, new people I met, books and movies I saw, and things I learned over the course of the year.

So if you’re looking back on 2018 as a shit year (like I was), please take another step back and make sure you recognize all the things that you DID accomplish and that made you HAPPY this year. No matter how bad your year was, somebody made you laugh, something interested you, and you did something new – cherish all of those because those are the things that make each year different from the last.

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Photo Credit: Kiki Moussetis

What it’s Really Like to Travel for Work Every Week

Next Monday I will take my last flight of 2018 home to Chicago for the holidays. That flight will be flight number 70 for me this year. SEVEN ZERO. Seventy flights, seventy different planes. I traveled 30 weeks out of this year for work, 4 weeks out of this year for planned vacation, and 4 weeks for family/friend visits in between it all. That is nearly 38 out 52 weeks spent away from home. I know some people travel way more than this, but this is the first year I’ve had to cope with a schedule like this.

I thought about writing about travel tips or airport routines but I wanted to focus on something more important. What I actually want to talk about is the toll this travel has taken on me this year. I never thought that I would be on a plane this much, and if I did, I’m sure I thought it would be infinitely more glamorous. In the past, traveling was always an exciting event. Airports were fun to explore, and the rush I would get when the plane would take off would last me until my destination. Unfortunately, only a small percent of my trips this year invoked those feelings – my vacations. The rest of my trips were for work and decidedly un-glamorous.

My work travel is slowly killing me. In the past, I would travel once or twice a month which I think is my ideal. I get a chance to go and visit new clients, explore a couple of new cities, great. But for most of this year, I have been shuttling back and forth every single week. A lot of San Francisco with some Denver, Seattle, LA, and Salt Lake City sprinkled in. Monday morning fly in, work, work, work, Thursday night fly back. This is pretty typical for consultants, but because the first year or so at this job I didn’t travel this much, I didn’t realize how much this type of schedule would drain me.

I don’t want this to be a depressing post, but I do want to be honest about what it feels like to travel for work all the time. The first issue I have is physical. It’s much harder to get into a good routine of working out when your schedule is never consistent. I can’t join a gym or commit to new types of training since I would never be able to participate. Eating well is a nightmare since while I’m traveling, I can’t cook for myself so I have to spend increasing amounts of time getting my hands on foods that are actually good for me. Just the plane ride itself can be hazardous since they are known incubators of disease and can also do a number on your skin and hair since the air is so cold and dry.

The second, and far more damaging issue with this way of life, is the emotional part. It is lonely, living this way. The actual traveling part is always done alone. I go through security alone, I sit at the gate alone, I fly alone, I uber alone, I eat alone. Then when I get to the client, that’s obviously all work. I get some social interaction, but being a consultant is having a lot of either work conversations, or small talk conversations that don’t really mean anything and are more draining to participate in than refreshing. Evenings are usually, once again, spent alone. There are occasions where I’m able to meet friends that are in that city, or there are work dinners, but nine times out of ten – I spend the night alone.

Doing this every once in a while wasn’t so bad. But every week? It starts to wear you down. I grow more and more resentful of my trips because they take me away from spending time with people I love. Earlier this week my Monday morning flight ended up getting delayed by two and half hours and I broke down in tears in the bathroom because if I had known this before I left my apartment, I could have spent those two precious hours in bed with my boyfriend instead of wasting away at the airport yet again.

There are, of course, two sides to every story. Travel really wears me down, but I do have an insane amount of air miles, credit card points, and hotel status that I can take advantage of now. I’ve barely paid for any of my vacations out of pocket because I have so much status to use up. I also have my airport routine down pat and most of the time it only takes me ten minutes or less from the curb to the gate area. Sometimes, I even get upgrades and then I really feel fancy. But all of that feels hollow compared with what I’m sacrificing.

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way, and I can only imagine how much more guilty and awful I would feel if I had kids or something that I was leaving behind each week, but I also have met a ton of people that cope with this lifestyle just fine. They leave every week, are home on the weekends, and that’s just their life. Part of me knows that eventually, I too, would get used to this, it would just become my norm and I would figure out how to feel less lonely. But part of me also doesn’t want to. I don’t think I want to be one of those people that is everywhere but lives nowhere. Maybe this lifestyle is easier for people who already have an amazing community built up at their hometown, but I feel travel pains ever more acutely as my social life in Calgary hangs by a thread since I’m never there to nurture it. When I travel, I feel like I’m missing out, and when I return, it’s obvious that I have and that feeling is killing me. And it’s not missing out on parties, or dinners that gets to me, it’s missing all the small moments – watching a movie with a friend on a weeknight, laughing with my boyfriend while we cook dinner together, going to a gym class where I see the same people every Tuesday. None of those things can happen for me with this life, and THAT is what is killing me. THOSE are the things I’m becoming more and more attached to, and I’m coming to the realization that I don’t want to live a life that means giving those up all the time.

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The darker the line, the more I’ve done the route.

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One of the only flights I did for fun this year – my boyfriend flew me over the rocky mountains

I’m the Serious Friend

I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never be the ‘fun’ friend. I love to laugh, tease, go out, and try new things. But I’m not the catalyst for ‘fun’ events. I’m not the friend you call when you want to get the party started. I’m not the friend you call when you want to do spontaneous events. And I’m not the friend with funny stories about that one time I got lost/was at a party/etc. I’m just not.

I’m the serious friend. The reliable friend. I’m the friend you call when you want to just go for coffee and talk about heavy shit. Or politics. Or business. I’m the practical friend. I’m the friend at the party that is sober to make sure everyone gets home ok. I’m the friend that will check on you when you’re not feeling well. I’m the friend that you can make plans with and who will be on time and who will never flake. I’m dependable.

This distinction used to bother me to no end. I would watch jealously while some of my other friends exuded this capability to infect others with spontaneity and charm. They attracted people to them and they knew how to just let loose, and perhaps more importantly, how to get others to let loose. I was jealous that they were so well liked. I was jealous that people always wanted to be around them, and they were the leaders of group social events. No matter how hard I tried, I could not emulate that carefree attitude.

I tried for years. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m not the fun friend, and that’s ok. Because I know from personal relationships that the fun friend isn’t always fun. They have bad days, they need alone time, they don’t always want to be out on adventures. They need to relax, and they need to process too. Everyone does. But that’s where someone like me comes in.

I get the most out of relationships where I can just have real, frank, one on one conversations with people. My friendships are built on coffee dates, and visits to new places, not parties, concerts, or nights out. Nothing against those kinds of evenings, I like to let loose (as much as my control freak persona allows), as much as the next person, but they don’t solidify friendships for me. So I realized I don’t HAVE to be the fun friend because I don’t need to have crazy times to build relationships. Plus if I think about it, I actually get a sense of pleasure from helping out my ‘fun’ friends. I don’t enjoy losing control, but I like making sure my friends are safe if they do.

So I think I’m finding my spot. I may not ever be the center of a social circle, but if the social butterfly needs to discuss some deeper stuff, I’m a great sounding board for whatever they want to talk about. And then that’s how I bond with them. Everyone needs to just talk sometimes, and that’s what the serious friend is for. My strengths lie in the smaller events. I’m a good listener. I don’t judge and I don’t shy away from serious topics. I will always go above and beyond to help a friend out and make sure they have what they need and that they’re ok.

So I’m slowly getting to the point where I’m glad I’m the serious friend. Not everyone is dependable and prefers conversation, just like not everyone can be the social butterfly. But that’s the point of having different kinds of friends anyways, everyone brings something to the table.

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Me visiting a museum. one of my favorite places to go with friends. I’m boring, I know.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Most people define their lives by milestones – degrees, jobs, relationships, trips – but what about all the other parts of life? Those milestones only make up a tiny percentage of our lives and although the feelings produced by them might be amazing, there are so many other little things in life that give us joy and they never get any credit. Yet those are the things that really make up our lives, and the cumulative effect of enjoying them can have a better impact on our lives than any one singular incredible moment.

This is my ode to the little feelings –

The feeling of taking off my makeup after a long day

The feeling when my head settles into that perfect spot on my boyfriend in between his chest and shoulder

The feeling of that first sip of cappuccino when the warmth spreads through my body on a cold morning

The feeling of unwrapping a perfectly wrapped present

The feeling of a good hug with someone you haven’t seen in forever

The feeling of being completely spent after a hard workout (or great sex)

The feeling of baking under the sun on the beach

The feeling of climbing into a bed made up of freshly washed sheets

The feeling you get watching someone’s face light up when they see something new they love

The special feeling when someone else’s fur baby comes up to you and can’t get enough

Everyone has their own little feelings that make them happy so I hope you take the time to enjoy them at the moment and don’t always let them pass by unappreciated. Life is made up of little moments and if we just look at them as filler in between the big stuff, then we’re missing out on a whole lot of goodness.

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The feeling of watching a beautiful sunset

 

Gratitude

Even though Canada had their Thanksgiving over a month ago, I still subscribe to the U.S. schedule. As such, it’s only fitting that I talk about gratitude this week. Gratitude is something I have only lately learned to practice (as in, the last year or so), and now it has become both my best friend and my worst enemy. Gratitude, as defined by Webster’s, is as follows: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. So let’s start with that.

I never used to be consciously thankful. I would, of course, say please and thank you during interactions and I would profusely thank a friend or family member when they came through for me, but I never actively practiced being grateful every day, and for things that weren’t dependant on other people doing something that served me.

However, recently I heard the notion that when you are being truly grateful for something, there’s just no space for any negative emotions at that moment. I like to think of it this way – when you’re being grateful, you’re starting from the bottom and exceeding your expectations. If I say I’m grateful for my healthy hair, I’m simply being grateful I have hair at all, and that it is healthy. Anything above that is like sprinkles on the sundae. On the other hand, if you’re happy or pleased with something, it’s like going from the top down. If I say I like my hair, that opens me up to being jealous of someone else’s hair or finding small flaws with my own because even though I’m happy with it, I am not grateful for it, so there’s always room for improvement in the mind.

In any case, gratitude is something that has eluded me lately as I’ve gotten increasingly overwhelmed with work, family, other obligations, friends, and my own loneliness. And on top of any personal anxiety I feel, there’s also the fact that the last two mass shootings in the states were in places mere steps away from loved ones, the area I spent my most formative university years has been scorched by fires, and now when I travel to San Francisco each week for work, the city is choked with smoke.

So it’s been hard to feel grateful. As a response to all the strife above, I find myself becoming unappreciative, bitter, and looking at these as excuses to believe I deserve more. More family. More time with friends. More time with my boyfriend. More attention. More money. More time. More hobbies. More direction. More of an identity. Just more. Nothing feels satisfying right now and it’s a horrible, lost, and lonely feeling.

But when I step back and take a look at all of these through a lens of gratitude, I realize that’s not really fair. Not fair to myself, nor to anybody else I’ve been dumping this stuff on recently. Because there is a lot I should be grateful for and all of those things deserve credit as well.

I am grateful for the fact that no one I know was killed in either shooting. I’m grateful my university didn’t burn down in the fire. I’m grateful that my family is always there for me and always makes me laugh. I’m grateful that I have friends all over the world. I’m grateful that I’m physically healthy. I’m grateful for quiet nights with my boyfriend. I’m grateful I have a job that allows me to learn and pays me really well. And I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’m offered each year.

This may sound like I’m just saying we should simply “look on the bright side” but I’m not. I’m saying, no matter how much shit you have going on or how much you’re affected by the state of the world, there is always, ALWAYS something to be truly thankful for. Something as simple as a really good meal, or something as life-altering as getting that new job you were after. It can be so easy to fall into the spiral of wanting more or telling yourself you’ll be happy “as soon as I get ____”. But if we think that way all the time, we never escape. There will always, ALWAYS be more money to be earned, more time to be spent, or more joy to be found. So if you can’t even find it within yourself to be grateful for what you have right now, then when will you?

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Grateful for my family (dad was in the Philippines but I’m grateful for him too!); And grateful for Kiki’s purple hair because how can you even look at hair that bright and not smile a little?

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

You wake up early, you’re completely refreshed. You stretch, get up, and get dressed. You walk down to your local café, passing by a newspaper stand on the way where you pick up a few of your preferred editions. You get to the café, grab a little table by the window for yourself and order a cappuccino with a chocolate croissant. As you pick through your order, you alternate your reading with casual observations of the people around you. Perhaps in a couple hours, your girlfriend meets you and you chat about nothing for an hour or two before returning to your apartment to make a simple tomato salad with fresh bread for lunch.

I don’t know about any of you guys, but that sounds like an amazing morning to me.

There’s a great scene in the movie Eat, Pray, Love (don’t ask me about the book), when Julia Roberts’ character is hanging out with her new friends in Italy and they are talking about how Italians have mastered a concept they call “the sweetness of doing nothing”. They explain that this concept is a worldview about how to enjoy oneself. Americans are shit at this, they say, because we have this need to always feel as though we are being productive. We can only take a break when we’ve supposedly earned it, and even then we still feel as though we should be doing something. In my example above, many people would feel that was a wasted morning. And if you did view it as relaxing, I doubt you’d pursue it because relaxing in the U.S. means vegging out in front of the TV for a few hours.

Because I’ve spent enough time in Mediterranean Europe thanks to my heritage, I believe that entire area of the world has one-upped America (and perhaps Canada now that I live here), in enjoying the simple pleasures of life. I’ve met Americans who claim to want the kind of morning I described above, but for most of them, this is just a fantasy. Sure, one could get up, go to the café, and read all morning, but unless they change their mindset, it would just be going through the motions. They would tell themselves, well I planned to go to the café today and read until 12. And they would do it, but there would be an element of dissatisfaction. They would be fulfilling yet another obligation that they’ve set for themselves, and what’s worse is that they might even feel as though there was something more productive they could be doing with their time spent at the café.

This is why Americans love multi-use products and activities. Killing two birds with one stone is a compliment. This is why we have supermarkets and malls whereas Greeks or Italians have to go to the fresh market, the bakery, and the butcher to get their groceries. This is why the economies of the two areas have inverse happiness ratings as compared to our economics. Over here we are obsessed with getting more done in a day. It’s a source of pride for some people to tell everyone else how busy they are and how many things they’re going to do that day.

I’ve had it. It’s so much unnecessary pressure to always be doing something. Furthermore, when you’re obsessed with always doing something, too often you end up burnt out. I want a happy medium. Perhaps, I will always err on the side of being busy since I am an American, but I want to become at peace with the idea of doing nothing. I’m only really great at doing this when I’m on vacation, but it’s because I’ve given myself over to a relaxed mindset, and I need to figure out how to incorporate this feeling into the everyday. Maybe it’s as simple as people watching out my window while I have my coffee, or going for a little walk, there’s got to be an easier way to live life than to be obsessed with productivity every hour of every day

 

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Me on a beautiful day where all I did was go for a run with my mom, take my sister downtown to go for lunch and shop around aimlessly for hours.