Invisible Success

We’ve all seen the rise of the presence of ‘success’ social media accounts posting pictures with quotes like “I woke up in beast mode” or “Want it? Work harder”. They go on and on about how they’re grinding all day and living this super successful life. They post pictures of flashy cars and clothes and many times, they’re also selling a guide for how to achieve an amazing (read: wealthy) lifestyle.

I think these accounts are complete bullshit. I believe the vast majority of people behind those accounts aren’t doing half the things they’re preaching, and their business model is to sell ‘success guides’ when they really have never built anything. They are literally trying to make it selling a mere idea, not actual success.

Because unfortunately, the idea of success isn’t enough. Maybe its enough to get you started, maybe even keep you motivated as I’m sure those accounts will claim is their purpose, but it’s not enough to truly achieve anything. Because building something successful takes work. And what these accounts are trying to do is glamorize the ease of that work. They’re trying to make you believe that by buying a guide and selling a couple things, you’ll be on your way to seven figures a month in no time. They’re selling ‘fast success’ like supplements companies sell ‘fast weight loss’. It’s not real.

Real success, in any arena, is slow, unglamorous, and does not follow a straight line. Sure it’s cool to say you started a company, but it’s not really cool to say that you had to spend last Friday night working late on itemizing expense reports since you’re the only employee at your new venture.

It’s frustrating.

It’s cool to say you qualified for the Olympics, but it’s not cool to give up every single weekend to training and competitions.

It’s tiring.

It’s cool to say that you’re a venture capital backed start-up, but it’s not cool to spend weeks agonizing about whether you’re going to get your next round of funding or not.

It’s stressful.

These are the parts of the journey that are way more prevalent than fancy cars. And this journey just isn’t appealing on social media.

Do me (and yourself) a favor. Look up actual successful people. Look up Bill Gates. Oprah. Richard Branson. Sarah Blakely. The Rock. Serena Williams.

These people have active social media, but they’re not posting ‘motivational quotes’ every day. They’re not posting e-guides to their success. They’re posting things that social media was intended for – snippets from their lives, thanking their fans, promoting new initiatives they’ve spearheaded, shining the spotlight on things they enjoyed, etc.

They’re not shoving how much money they make, how fancy their car is, or their expensive vacation down your throat. They worked hard to get where they are there’s no doubt about that, and from time to time they may promote a book they wrote or offer a piece of contextual advice, but their whole presence to the world isn’t defined by pushing ‘the grind’ at people. These people each have their own empires that are based in real concrete accomplishments – entertainment, software, air travel, athletics, philanthropy. They’ve become super successful by actually producing something tangible, not just by trying to sell the idea of creating something.

So the next time you’re scrolling through your feed and you come across one of those accounts, just remind yourself what the presence of an actual successful person looks like. Remember that those ‘motivational’ accounts are trying to prey on those who crave the idea of success. Remember that success does come from hard work, but it’s ok if it’s not glamorous, and remember that as long as you focus on yourself and bettering your ideas, you really can’t be doing it wrong.

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A dreamy night in Crete, Greece. Greece always makes me remember to not get caught up in my own ambition – there are more important things in life than being rich.

 

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How to Get a Promotion

When I first started out in my career, I came across a ton of articles about how women were consistently passed over for promotions for a startlingly simple reason – they didn’t ask for them. Whether these articles held much truth or not is another matter, but they affected me in the fact that I became hyper-aware of the promotion structure and my own abilities related to it. I wanted to make sure I was taking my career into my own hands and that I was being proactive instead of simply waiting for people to notice all my hard work. I’ve since asked for and received a promotion and I know this first step when you’re starting out can be hard so I wanted to share how I did it.

The first thing you should do is examine your work ethic. Inventory your recent endeavors and be critically honest with yourself. Have you been putting in the work? Have you been meeting your deadlines and quotas? Do customers and clients like working with you? Are you making the company money? Are you truly adding value? Ask yourself all these questions and examine your answers. You may find that you’ve just been skating by and that means you’re not ready. If not, you should still dig deeper and figure out why. Maybe you hate this job or the company or maybe you’re simply bored, but either way, your work isn’t reflecting what you’re capable of and it’s not deserving of moving up.

Next, try to get feedback from others. Performance reviews can be ideal for this but oftentimes they don’t occur frequently enough to be valuable. Ask people you work with frequently, ask your boss, ask the people you manage. Ask your clients. Whoever you feel comfortable asking – ask them! Tell them you’re always looking to improve and ask what you could be doing better. This will help add color to your self-assessment and help you see if you are giving yourself the same amount of credit others are.

Alright, so let’s say you have been working your butt off, adding value like crazy, clients and colleagues love you and you’re itching to take on more – now you’ve got to pitch yourself. You know you’ve been working hard, other people know you’re good at your job, so you’ve got a solid foundation to pitch. First thing I did once I got to this point was write down all the things I’ve been doing right lately, and I also wrote how they compared to how good I was at them when I started. Showing growth and improvement is a huge plus because it demonstrates that you are coachable and will most likely continue to improve. Have a good handle on all your positives, but also write down the things you can improve on and create high-level plans for getting better at those things. You want to focus on your positives, but you also don’t want to be taken by surprise if someone throws one of your lacking points back at you. You should be self-aware on all fronts before moving to the next step…

…which is is to schedule time with whoever the relevant party for a promotion is. Mine was my direct manager. Promotions and personnel changes ultimately go through C-suite management at my company, but my boss was the one I had to convince to fight for me at that level. I scheduled a specific time with him to talk about my progress thus far. My strategy was to approach this from a learning perspective. I knew I had been putting in good work, but I had to ask how he thought I had been doing, and what he thought was necessary for me to do to progress to the next level.

The thing is, I wasn’t comfortable yet just marching in and saying I deserve a raise and here’s why. Maybe someday I will be, but being so young in my career, I felt it was more advantageous for me to come from the perspective of wanting to improve and learn, rather than seeming entitled, no matter how much I really believed I deserved it. This approach took a little bit longer than maybe it would have otherwise, but it ultimately worked. I got proper feedback on my progress, my improvement points, and was able to prove that I deserved to move up.

Lastly, no matter how great you are or how deserving you may be of a promotion, it’s also important to realize that there might be external factors that could influence your progress. Your company may not have the budget to increase headcount or offer raises at the moment, there may be some management turmoil going on that you’re not privy to, they might be trying to restructure company hierarchy so promoting people doesn’t make sense at the moment. There are tons of things that could be happening so it’s important to be able to have those conversations as well.

If your manager declines your pitch, then you should ask why not. The answer to this question is important, because if it’s something as simple as title rearranging, then maybe you are ok to wait, but if they don’t give you a clear answer or vague feedback, then that could also be a sign that you’re in the wrong environment for your progress. Don’t be afraid to judge your managers and superiors just as critically as they may be judging you. You don’t ever have to offer that feedback, but it’s important to recognize it so you can change your situation if necessary.

Ultimately, if you’re only after a promotion for a title change or more money, then you probably shouldn’t be pursuing it. A promotion usually means those things, but it also usually means more responsibility and you should be ready to grow and change accordingly. This is why I felt it so important to learn about myself from this process so that I could truly be ready for that extra accountability when the time came. If they had given it to me when I hadn’t been ready, then I probably would have floundered under the pressure and that’s ultimately a loss for me and a loss for the company, and nobody wants that.

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The beautiful Calgary Library. I don’t live here anymore, but the library is still kickass

Overpromising & Underdelivering

A while ago I was working on a project with a client and I was getting great feedback from them but I couldn’t figure out why. Quite frankly, I hadn’t done anything extraordinary or above and beyond recently, yet the client seemed especially impressed and appreciative of my work. So I went and asked someone else close to the project why they thought I was getting such positive feedback and her answer was almost embarrassingly simple, she said – you do what you say you’re going to do.

At first, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why there was such a positive reaction to simply doing what I said I was going to do when I said I was going to do it. That sounds pretty basic to me. However, she explained to me that that is actually a pretty rare quality, and the reason I was getting so much positive feedback from the other person was because he wasn’t used to working with people like that on his team.

Now, this sounds pretty ridiculous. I got positive feedback for just doing my job? Maintaining the status quo? But then I thought about it a little harder, and you know what? Actually doing what you say you’re going to do IS a rare quality.

Think about your average day for a moment. How many commitments do you make? Sure, I’ll have that report to you in an hour; I’ll call you right back; I’ll meet you at 6 for dinner; Of course, I’ll try that new recipe you sent me; etc. But we’re selfish creatures, if something else comes up, or if we get distracted, sometimes things fall off of our radar, or we’re late, or we completely forget about them.

But I almost never do that. From a professional perspective, I’m painstakingly organized, so it’s never like I’ll forget to do something. Additionally, I have a level of work ethic that I simply expect of myself. I don’t make unrealistic promises so if I say I will have something done by this day or this hour, it will be done by then no questions asked. From a personal perspective, I view it as an insult to waste someone’s time so I don’t like to be late or to cancel or reschedule things last minute. Furthermore, if I say I will take someone up on an invite or a recommendation, I will actually do it. I will actually come to see you, read the book, watch the show, or try the food you recommend because I view it as a perfect opportunity to try new things and strengthen relationships.

Maybe most of us don’t realize how many promises or committments we make in a day. We use words like ‘for sure’, ‘definitely’, ‘absolutely’, so that we technically can’t be told we promised to do something, but they still create an aura of accountability. When we don’t hold up our end of these proto-promises, it still creates these little micro disappointments. You can see them on your bosses face when you tell him you couldn’t get to something but you’ll do it now, or when your friend asks if you read that book she was raving about to you and you say you totally forgot about it.

I do what I say I will do. It’s done when I say it will be done. If I set a goal for myself, it gets done. I show up when I say I’ll show up. These things sound simple, but maybe they’re not. Maybe we’re all in the habit of overpromising and underdelivering and we’re afraid to face our actual productivity capabilities in a day? Or maybe it’s the socially acceptable thing to do – take on more than you can deliver? Or maybe none of us think hard enough about the little things we commit to others?

I can’t say how I developed the skill of doing what I say I’ll do. In my mind, if I say I’ll do it, there’s just no other option. Turns out, that earns me a lot more respect than I thought.

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AMAZING hot chocolate at Dandelion Cafe in SF – courtesy of Ashley Chung who never underdelivers as a friend 🙂 

Your Fitness Goals Are Working Against You

Recently I’ve been having a lot of conversations about fitness with a bunch of people (hence last week’s post), and they have been telling me their goals and asking for tips on how to achieve them.

The thing is, fitness is not rocket science. You want to lose weight? Eat fewer calories than you burn. You want to be skinny-fat? Eat less. You want to be bulky? Eat more and lift heavy. I know I’m oversimplifying here, but so often I find that these are not the actual hard parts of fitness. It’s not that difficult to work out or to plan a food regime. The hard part is all mental.

However, most people’s fitness goals, have little to do with fitness. They’re usually exclusively aesthetic. People want to be thinner, more muscular looking, or have certain measurements. Obviously, there are ways to accomplish any of these, but the problem that I have with them is that they are exclusively focused on outcome. As in, if this person doesn’t achieve that certain ‘look’ or size, they will have failed. Furthermore, this type of goal setting implies that there is an ‘end’ and fitness never ends. It is a lifestyle. Of course, if you’re trying to achieve something for a specific competition or event then those can act as an endpoints, but most people consider a body type their endpoint.

However, achieving this body can leave a hollow feeling because work to maintain it would have to continue, you can’t just stop when you reach your goal weight and go back to old habits or you won’t keep your supposed ‘goal body’.

I bring this up because I believe this is one of the major reasons people become frustrated and disillusioned with working out or eating healthier. It becomes only about the outcome, and they view everything in between as necessary suffering to achieve said end result. This is particularly difficult because an aesthetic outcome can often be a hollow pursuit and the journey there can have many false starts. Changing your measurements doesn’t occur in a straight line so when people don’t see immediate results, they don’t view the ‘suffering’ as worth it anymore and they stop. Furthermore, it creates no relationship with the journey of becoming healthier so then even if people do reach their ideal body, they aren’t sure how to proceed in keeping it because their entire relationship with fitness has been with that specific outcome this whole time, not with fitness itself.

So when people ask me what they should do to lose weight or look a certain way, the first thing I ask them is why they want to look this way. This makes people stop and think because generally, the reason they want to look a certain way is because they feel they are supposed to look a certain way. Society or someone in their lives has made them feel as though their current appearance isn’t cutting it. Ok, fine, I understand. However, I then caution them that having an aesthetic as their goal can be really demoralizing, especially if they’ve already struggled with body issues in the past. Then I ask them to think not about what they’d like to look like, but what they’d like to be able to do.

Let me explain – Sometimes my shoulders make me insecure. They’re pretty broad and muscular, and there are lots of tops I feel I can’t wear because they’re too delicate or don’t stretch right across the muscle.  When I look at magazines, I see women with slim, sometimes even dainty shoulders and everything from necklaces to sweaters seems to just hang so perfectly on them. So sometimes, I think about trying to lose the muscle and making my shoulders and arms very slim. But then I think about what my shoulders can do. They were built on swimming for hours every day, and now I can lift heavy things, rock climb, do all sorts of exercises with my own body – including pullups, I can lift suitcases into overhead bins for old people on planes, I can move furniture around by myself, the list goes on and on.  They’re really strong muscles. In order to slim down my shoulders, I’d have to lose some of the muscle, and I wouldn’t be able to do the same things I can do now. And that’s not worth it to me. Once I come to that conclusion, I realize being insecure about my shoulders is fruitless because I wouldn’t be willing to compromise their abilities for looks anyways. I take pride in my strength and as a result, I also take pride in how I look.

Consequently, this approach to your body works for two reasons – one, it takes the pressure off what you look like. Your looks will fluctuate from day to day, as your mood changes, how much you ate on one day, as you age, and we all know logically that it makes no sense to compare ourselves to people who have been redone and retouched. Two – it forces you to think more about the journey of your body than the outcome. If you’re thinking about what you want your body to be able to accomplish, whether it’s dancing, being flexible, lifting heavy, or running far, you start to enjoy the journey so much more because that progress truly is trackable and more rewarding than dropping pounds or inches. And honestly, if your goal was aesthetic in nature, you’ll probably end up accomplishing it anyways based on your functional goals.

I have met people who have been successful in their fitness journey through aesthetic goals, but I would say they are in the minority. Of course it can work, but I think it takes a type of mental fortitude that most people don’t have when it comes to fitness and body image. But if that’s what gets you going, then you do you! But for myself, and for most other people I meet, it can be so discouraging to focus only on how your workouts are translating to your appearance. It is so much more satisfying to realize you’re able to run farther, do that crazy squat jump move, or have more energy in a day, because that’s what makes the journey fun too. It also forces you to think about the pride you have in your body, what it can do, and what it needs. Once you’re proud of what you’re body can do, it’s a lot easier to be proud of what it looks like as well.

 

 

 

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…

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

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?

Moving to Canada: Finale

As of last month, I hit my one-year mark of living in Calgary, Canada. This is the official conclusion to my moving to Canada series that has slowed down over the course of the year. I’ve spent a whole year residing here, picking up new hobbies, making new friends, and exploring. What did I learn?

Making friends, especially in a smaller city is HARD. Like BRUTALLY HARD. The thing is, in cities like LA, or New York, there are SO many people that aren’t from the surrounding area, that state, or even the country so you bond with other people that didn’t grow up there over your same ‘otherness’. In Calgary though, it’s smaller, so more people you meet are from the surrounding area or provinces. As such, there is a tribal knowledge that is tough to break into. This isn’t a dig at Calgary, I’m sure this would happen in any city of similar size. Everyone has gone to school together, or lived and worked there for years and they have all these little things that just don’t make sense to an outsider. Jokes about different parts of the city, a restaurant that used to be where that bar is, different sets of hobbies, etc. It’s one of those cities that you can walk around pretty much anywhere and bump into someone you know (to be clear, I am not a fan of this. I adore the anonymity in big cities). To truly fit in, would take a long while. I have done a good job I think, making friends, but more often than not, I still feel like I’m on the outside.

I also am having way more of an identity crisis than I bargained for. Before moving up here, I was pretty indifferent to being American. Honestly, I was a little embarrassed due to our incessant antics around the world. But since moving, I’ve become way more patriotic. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why, though. Since Americans and Canadians look and dress pretty much the same, I am often assumed to be Canadian and this irks me. Part of it is because I can’t help but compare the two countries since they are so similar but so different at the same time. The other part is because I think I’ve realized how much being an American is integral to my personality and the way I am, and I am intensely reluctant to give up that part of myself.

There is a certain comfort in things that are American versus Canadian for me. Like how everybody is so rude on the road in America. That might sound like a terrible thing, but I miss it. I miss talking about the audacity of American politics with people who don’t see the situation as an elaborate media joke. I miss the sheer amount of things to do in U.S. cities like Chicago and LA. Pop up shops, concerts, art shows – they never skip major U.S. cities, but they definitely skip Canadian ones. I miss the fact that everything is instantly at your fingertips in the states whereas in Canada the mail takes for fucking ever. I miss the intensity of ambition that is ever present in American cities whereas Canada is more laidback (I’d like to point out that this is most likely due to the fact that they have amazing benefits no matter your socioeconomic status so there’s not as much worry). But the point is I MISS IT. And right now, I’m not willing to let that part of me go.

So this is the struggle of identity I face now. How do I keep my American identity while still successfully assimilating in Canada? Is it even possible? Or must I say sorry to everything and sell my soul to the oil industry?

The thing is, Canada is great in many ways. Since being up there, I’ve learned a ton of new hobbies – skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking and I’ve learned to enjoy the outdoors a lot more. I’ve also really enjoyed being closer to my boyfriend, discovering cool parts of Calgary, and learning how to set up a life from almost nothing.

And maybe I only feel this way because I’ve truly only been halfway in this whole time. Due to my job, I’ve spent nearly the same amount of time outside of Canada as I have in it. How can I really be a good judge of the place when I’ve never worked there and only developed the bare minimum of a social life since I’m gone all the time? A terrible one probably.

But this is all I’ve got right now. I’ve tried my hardest to make the most of the situation, but I’m at a loss of how to continue this way. I have no roots in Calgary, but also not enough time there to plant any. In the same vein, turns out it is ridiculously hard to get a job in Canada as an American, and what’s more, is that Calgary doesn’t exactly align with my career interests.

But all of that aside, let’s say I got an amazing job in the city, and joined a bunch of things to meet people. The risk in the back of my mind is the feeling that I’d have to give some part of my identity up to be 100% happy up there versus clinging on to my familiar self and perhaps only ever being able to achieve 70% happiness. When is the proper time to allow yourself to change?

So many questions, so little answers. To help cope with this feeling of being in between, of being lost, I’ve dedicated a large amount of mental space to taking things one day at a time. Right now, I’m not moving anywhere different, and I don’t have another job on the table. So why drive myself nuts? The best I can do is navigate each day and ask myself what I can do to make myself as amazing as possible no matter where I am.

To catch up on my entire Canada series, you can start here.

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The outdoors are a major perk of Canada living

What do you want to want?

I just finished reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari and that is one of the major questions he leaves the reader with at the end of his novel. In the context of the book, there is a lot to unpack with this statement, but I want to focus on it on an individual level.

We all know, in theory, what we want. Or at least, what we’re supposed to want. We want money, fame, success, recognition, love, sex, etc. But these desires are programmed into us by society and our communities. On some level, we do get choose which of these is most important to us and how to go about achieving it, but the goal ends up being how we make peace with each of these wants, not question if these wants are what will make us most content.

Perhaps we do a little of this already. Sex is an easy one to dissect. Maybe we know having sex with a stranger would feel good in the moment but the next morning we would feel negatively so we abstain. We know that we pursue sex because it’s physically pleasurable and from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re programmed to want it for reproduction. However, have we ever stopped to wonder if our lives would improve or worsen if we didn’t want sex?

Personally, I had never considered this question before Harari’s final chapter. I had never thought about which pursuit of desires would make me the happiest or most content, I had only thought about how to achieve the things I already supposedly crave.

There is no answer to this question, at least not at present, but I think it might be an important one to consider for each individual person. If you could start from scratch and program your own desires, what do you think would make you the most satisfied? Would it be the pursuit of new technologies? Creation? Destruction? Relationships?

The things I currently want and pursue are healthy relationships, recognition of accomplishments, and fortune. But logically I know that at least two out of these three are merely fleeting examples of contentment in my life. No matter how much money I get, I would have to learn to be satisfied with what I’ve got at some point, and no matter how many people congratulate me on what I’ve achieved, I will never reach everyone. Even relationships can be steeped in turmoil and there’s no guarantee the misery of pursuing people won’t outweigh the reward. If however, I figured out what I should want to want, then life would be simple right?

So what, then, is a suitable thing to want? I’m open for suggestions.

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Peyto Lake, Alberta, Canada