My Hair Loss Story: How I Cured Androgenic Alopecia Caused By The Birth Control Pill, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo

Health

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Today, I’m writing something very different than what I normally do. This post may come as a surprise since it’s so far from my usual topics, but it’s about an issue I’ve been wanting to talk about publicly for years. I used to be on the birth control, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, for four years before I realized that it caused horrible side effects. The worst of them was the hair thinning known as Androgenic Alopecia, which is hormonal hair loss that mimics Male Pattern Baldness. When I went through this, I remember it felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. As a young woman, you feel so much pressure to look beautiful and desirable, and then to realize that you’re balding and have no idea what to do about it… that’s the biggest hit to confidence and self-esteem that I’ve ever experienced. Luckily, through digging online, I found hundreds of women who have shared the stories of their horrible hair loss from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. Hearing their experiences and how they were able to grow their hair back was so incredibly helpful. So I finally wanted to open up about my experience on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, and how I was able to put a stop to my hair loss in hopes that it will help someone else who is going through this.

My story…

When I was a teenager I remember having horrible cramps and period symptoms that were so bad I was constantly missing school. I couldn’t stand up from the pain, I couldn’t focus in class, and I bled like crazy. So I did what my doctor and all of the girls I knew told me to do, which was going on the pill. I wasn’t informed about birth control or what it did to your body. All I knew is that everyone in my high school raved about it like it was a miracle pill. I was told that it made cramps go away, made your period less heavy, stopped symptoms like breast pain and bloating, cleared up acne, made you lose weight, made your hair grow faster, made your boobs bigger, etc. It was everything you could want and more. So without hesitation, I decided to go on the pill. It took all of 30 seconds for my doctor to put me on birth control, and I was happily on my way.

I had first gotten on the pill when I was around 15 or 16 and I stayed on it in college. I didn’t think much of it after I started taking it, but I noticed that my period cramps did, in fact, go away! Along with the aches, breast pain, and all that other fun stuff. However, I noticed that weird things were happening with my body. I was very tired, had extremely dry skin, and became severely lactose intolerant. Just one small sip of milk would have created that most terrible stomach issues for 24 hours straight. I also started to experience depression. Unfortunately, I  remember thinking, “Oh well, I’m a Cancer. We cry all the time, it’s normal.” But it wasn’t normal, I would sob every day. Whenever I was alone, I would cry uncontrollably, for no reason at all. I also noticed that I would get a cold every year that would then turn into a sinus infection and last for months. No medicine, or antibiotic, or natural supplement could help me. Last, but not least, was the problems that I started to encounter with my hair. 

Hair Loss

Over those few years, my hair had completely changed. My hair that used to be shiny, bouncy, soft, and long was now extremely dry and brittle. It actually felt like horse hair. I could put a hair mask on top of my head for an hour a day, but when I washed and dried it, it still rough and dry. I also remember that the ground in my dorm room was covered in hair all the time. It would stick to my rug and everyone would see it when they came in. Friends would comment on how gross it was to see hair all over. Still, I thought nothing of it. All of the changes happened so slowly over the course of several years that I never could figure out why these things were happening. So I just continued on vacuuming my room and conditioning my hair all the time. Until one day I was washing my hands in front of the mirror in my dorm bathroom and the fluorescent lights shined down on my head. My hair was pulled back in a braid and I realized at that moment just how thin my hair was. I could see my scalp perfectly and for the first time I realized that I didn’t just have “thin” hair, but I was actually blading. I took my braid out of my hair and ran my hand through it. Every time I did that several strands came out. I did it again and again, the hair wouldn’t stop coming off of my head. 

I was completely shocked and had no idea what to do. Since I was a kid, I was so overly obsessed with skincare and hair care that I couldn’t believe this had happened to me. I used to spend every single free moment on my computer researching shampoos, hair masks, beauty supplements, etc. I was more knowledgeable about hair care at 15 than most hairdressers. It was a full-blown obsession of mine. But that day, it dawned on me that maybe I should stop spending hours a day researching shampoos, supplements, and hair products, but I should actually research hair loss.

Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo

Within the first few minutes of scrolling on my computer, I saw an article that said something along the lines of “my birth control caused hair loss.” At that moment it was like I heard glass shattering or a light bulb turning on over my head. I realized that every problem that I was having with my hair was all internal and hormonal. 

Next, I came across a discussion page where hundreds of women that had all taken Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo for years and had major side effects, particularly hair loss. They all wrote about how they had drastic hair loss and hair texture changes. Every single one of them was currently balding from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, was now off of it and trying to regrow their hair, or had been off of it for a few years and was offering advice to the rest of us. Seeing that hundreds of other women were experiencing this made me feel so relieved that I wasn’t alone. 

To my surprise, they also reported a bunch of other issues they were having from it such as becoming lactose intolerant or having mood swings. I was so happy when I realized that I wasn’t crazy and that these were all real side effects from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. It wasn’t something I had imagined. The discussion page also gave me hope since many of them said that after stopping the pill, their hair grew back and their texture became more normal. However, they all said that it never completely went back to normal. Their hair was always less thick than before they started the pill, and their hair texture was different than what they had been born with. For example, many women said that their hair lost its curls. Now that I’m writing this post four years later, I can’t seem to find that same discussion page. It must be Lost Online (lol) among billions of other discussion pages out there. But if I do happen to find it, I’ll update this post with the link!

Seeking help

When I realized what was going on, I had no idea what to do for hair loss, so I immediately went to see my doctor and my dermatologist. To my surprise, they didn’t believe me and tried to make me stay on the birth control pill! The told me that I wasn’t balding, that it was all in my head, I just had extremely thin hair, and nothing was wrong. Even when I told them about the hundreds of women that are reporting this online, they still didn’t take me seriously. Finally, I was sick of arguing and demanded that they check my vitamin levels and hormones. 

After the results came back, the doctors finally saw that I wasn’t crazy! No sh*t. They saw that my hormones were completely out of whack. I had extremely high levels of testosterone. According to my doctors, the high levels of testosterone were creating high levels of DHT or Dihydrotestosterone, which is what attaches to hair follicles and causes the hair follicles to shrink and the hair to fall out. In turn, your body stops supplying nutrients to the follicle and the hair doesn’t grow back. This creates what we know as Male Pattern Baldness. Once the doctors saw this, they admitted to me that I was, in fact, experiencing hormonal hair loss known as “Androgenic Alopecia” a.k.a Male Pattern Baldness. They assured me that my hair would grow back after a few months as long as I took care of it and listened to their advice. 

The Treatment 

Below, are all of the steps that I took to treat my Androgenic Alopecia and includes a mixture of the advice of my doctors and advice from my own online research. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor, this is just what worked for me and what I recommend! If this is happening to you, make sure you go to your doctor and get your hormones and vitamins checked as well!

1. Minoxidil 2% for Women

The first thing that my doctor and all of the online articles about hair loss told me, was to use Minoxidil 2% for women. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically Rogaine. However, you can buy Minoxidil cheaper without paying for the high price of Rogaine. Minoxidil works by blocking the DHT to prevent more hair from falling out and stimulating the hair follicle so it can receive nutrients and begin re-growing hair. It can also extend the growth phase. I applied this topically once or twice a day for several months. I didn’t experiment with different brands of Minoxidil, but I did have a side effect which was painful acne on my scalp from the product being extremely oily. However, I dealt with it since I was desperate for new hair growth and scared my hair may still fall out. 

2. Biotin

My doctor also instructed me to take Biotin every day morning and night. I told him that I’d been taking it for years, but it never made a difference in my hair. He explained to me that I wasn’t taking the right dosage of Biotin. Most of the supplements contain 5,000 mcg of Biotin, which is not enough to see a change in your hair. In order to see a difference, I was told to take 10,000 mcg morning and night for many months. Only then would it be enough to see a real change. I started doing this and to this day taking 10,000 mcg of Biotin morning and night is my biggest beauty secret. It’s the one thing that I know works for certain. 

I also used to have extremely thin, bendy nails that I could never grow out. If there was just a tiny bit of white at the end of my nail, my fingers literally hurt. I was never able to grow them out even slightly. They would have to be completely cut down for me to be conformable and not have any nail bending. Taking this amount of Biotin was a miracle worker. It made my nails grow back so much stronger and now I haven’t had any nail problems in the last four years. I highly recommend it. 

When you’re buying Biotin make sure to buy a real Biotin supplement, not one of those “Hair, Skin, and Nail” vitamins. If you look at any of the “beauty supplements” or “hair supplements” out there, they all do a wonderful job at their packaging, marketing, and getting us to believe that it works. However, if you look at the ingredients there will not be enough Biotin to see a difference in your hair. Many of them only contain about 3,000 mcg. And if you look at the ingredients, you’re actually getting fewer vitamins for your money. You’d be better off taking a daily multivitamin which contains so much more.

3. Iron

When I got tested at the doctor, one of the things he told me was that I needed a lot more Iron. I had an Iron deficiency which contributed to hair loss, dry hair, pale skin, and weak nails. I believe that Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo caused this too. For the few years I was on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, I craved hamburgers and steak all the time, even after I ate those foods. I would want a hamburger every day and I was always going out for meat. With the amount of red meat I ate during those few years, it doesn’t make sense that I wasn’t consuming enough Iron, but I believe that Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo effected my absorption of it. Once I stopped Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and took Iron supplements for a few months I completely stopped craving meat. 

My doctor put me on a prescription Iron supplement with an extremely high dosage of Iron you can’t buy at the store. I was told that I should be taking it every day along with my Biotin. Iron helps with overall hair growth by carrying oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. Make sure to consult your own doctor before you try this method since I’ve found many articles that warn against taking too much Iron. By taking too much you can actually make hair fall worse. So it’s important to talk to a doctor and have them check your Iron levels!

4. Vitamin D

Another important vitamin that I was lacking was Vitamin D, which makes sense because I lived in Wisconsin where I could go a week without ever being able to go outside in the sun. The sun came up late, went down at 4 pm during the winters, and it would be too cold to go outside. So it’s no surprise that I was lacking Vitamin D. My doctor told me that I should be taking a Vitamin D supplement morning and night that I could pick up at a drugstore. I took 5,000 IU of Vitamin D in the morning and night along with my Biotin and Iron supplements.

If you live in an area where you may experience this too, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamin either through your diet, a supplement, the sun, or light therapy. Lack of Vitamin D can also contribute to hair loss. The vitamin stimulates hair growth and regulates the growth cycle. There are also Vitamin D receptors in the hair follicle that have to be fed while your hair is growing. Which means that if you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, your hair can’t grow optimally. 

5. My Miracle Hair Mask

If you’re trying to prevent hair loss, regrow hair, or make your hair healthier it’s important to do a regular hair mask. Through my research online I found two ingredients that are real miracle workers for hair growth and used them to create the perfect hot oil hair mask that I used on my hair once a week for months. I still do it sometimes, and it’s one of the beauty secrets that I absolutely swear by.

Here’s how to make it:

Once a week (I did it every Friday), put about a 1/4 cup of Olive Oil in a small bowl and warm it up in the microwave for around 30 seconds. Once it’s warmed up put three to four drops of Dottera Rosemary essential oil in the Olive Oil and mix it together. Make sure it’s not too hot! Rub a small amount on your palms and fingertips and slowly massage it onto your scalp until the whole scalp is covered. With any remaining oil, I like to put it along the hairline near the forehead and temples where hair loss is the most visible. Next, gently run that extra oil through the ends of your hair to act as a leave-in conditioner. Lastly, put your hair in a bun and cover it with a shower cap. Leave the mixture in your hair for an hour and then hop in the shower to wash it out with shampoo.

Why It Works:

Olive Oil – Using Olive Oil helps stop the production of DHT and prevents it from attaching to your hair follicle. Thus it will prevent further hair loss. It’s also a source of antioxidants with promotes scalp and hair health, so it can help your hair even if you don’t experience hair loss. Olive Oil is also a very common household ingredient so it’s always an easy hair mask to make.

Rosemary – Rosemary has been a beauty secret for years and has tons of different beauty benefits, but it’s most known for its ability to grow and thicken hair. In fact, in several studies, Rosemary has been proven to regrow hair as well as Minoxidil, which is why many hair loss products use it as an ingredient. So if you don’t want to spend a ton of money on that product, try putting Rosemary essential oil in a cup of water and then slowly pouring it on your scalp and letting it air dry. This way you’ll receive the natural benefits of Rosemary all day without spending a ton of money on products.

Using Rosemary essential oil also stimulates blood circulation to the scalp so more nutrients and oxygen gets to the follicle the hair can grow faster. Rosemary unclogs hair follicles and removes any product build-up that can be affecting healthy hair growth. It’s also high in nutritional value, antioxidants and is a natural anti-inflammatory which all promote healthy hair. Lastly, it’s known to and add shine for those of us who experience dull, lifeless hair.

Side note: I would not recommend picking the first Rosemary Oil you find off of Amazon or the drugstore shelves. Those products are diluted with water and don’t have the concentration that you need to receive benefits from the oil. I recommend using a trusted brand like Dottera or Young Living where you’ll get the real thing! Don’t cheap out on Rosemary, or you’ll never see how helpful this natural remedy can be.

Massage – The reason the massage is so important is that it will evenly distribute the oil through the hair and to each hair follicle so you receive maximum hair growth. Another benefit is that a scalp massage will strengthen the root of the hair to support the existing hair. Head massages will also stimulate the follicles and causes more blood flow to the scalp. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but if you have any hair loss issues, it’s super important to wake up those follicles to get the hair growth started. Otherwise, the hair follicle will continue to remain dormant.

Hot Oil – I have tried dozens of hair masks over the years in order to condition my hair and help it grow back, but nothing works as well as a hot oil treatment with Olive Oil. Hot oil treatments help the oil to penetrate the hair instead of just sitting on top of it like other products and conditioners, which means that it’s able to moisturize the driest and most brittle hair better than something you could buy at the drugstore. Hot oil massages will also strengthen any existing hair, prevent split ends and breakage, and add a beautiful shine. From my own experience with this treatment, I also know that by doing a hot oil treatment it enhances hair color and shine tremendously. I remember that every time I would do a hot oil treatment with Olive Oil, friends and family would ask me if I went to the salon or colored my hair! Keep in mind that in order to receive the full benefits of a treatment and notice a difference in growth specifically, you have to leave it on for the full amount of time.

Side note: If the oil is too hot it can damage the hair, just like anything else! So you have to be careful.

6. Switch Shampoos

If you’re loosing hair or very concerned about hair care, chances are that you’ve tried tons of different shampoos and have already done some research. However, if you’re losing hair, just using “natural” shampoo or “growth” products is not enough. There are actually DHT blocking shampoos on the market to prevent further hair loss. I switched to a DHT blocking shampoo and used it until my Androgenic Alopecia was cured.  Make sure that whatever you’re using is meant for hormonal hair loss specifically. 

7. Don’t Shampoo Everyday

Many people have heard this advice before and have already made up their opinions about it. Let me tell you, I have very thin, very oily hair, and I now live in a hot and humid environment. You don’t have to tell me about hair being “too oily” and how you must wash it every day. Trust me, I understand the greasy hair life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how gross it may look if you wait 2 days, 3 days, 4 days. The longer you can go without washing your hair, the better. Leaving the natural oils on your hair will help the health of your existing hair and support hair growth. If you can only wait two days before shampooing that’s fine. Whatever your normal shampooing routine is now, extend it. Eventually, your hair will adapt and it won’t be as oily. Most people just haven’t waited long enough to actually notice the change. 

8. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

When you’re having a hair loss issue as a woman, the best thing that you can do is to put it back. Once I noticed that I was actually balding, I put my hair up in a ponytail every day and wore a baseball cap. A lot of articles I found have urged people to not to put their hair in a hat or a ponytail, because it could cause more hair loss and breakage. But I noticed the opposite. While my hair was down, I would constantly be looking at it in the mirror, playing with it, moving it around, and always thinking about it. It was always on my mind which made the hair loss that much more stressful, and by messing with it I was causing more damage. Putting it up with a hat on meant that I also didn’t have to witness the hair loss if it was happening. I wouldn’t see strands of hair on my clothes throughout the day and begin to panic again. Plus, the Minoxidil I used was extremely greasy, so I didn’t want to look rough all the time. 

9. Avoid the Salons

Many people recommend that when you’re going through hair loss, it’s best to go to the salon and have it chopped off. I would recommend avoiding the salons all together. Don’t try to have it cut or colored. The hair is already extremely delicate, and if you’ve ever gotten a haircut, you know there’s nothing delicate about what the stylists do. There’s so much combing, tousling, blowdrying, applying products, and shampooing that it’s not a good idea until the hair loss has stopped. I stayed away from the salons for at least six months until I was sure that a trip to my stylist wouldn’t set me back 500 strands of hair! Plus, most hairdressers are very knowledgeable about hair care, cutting, and styling but not about hormonal hair loss. In my experience, the stylists I knew personally did not understand the severity of the problem or how to help me through the transition. 

10. Nighttime Hair Care

When experiencing hair loss, simply going to sleep at night could cause more damage and loss of hair if you’re not careful. The best way to prevent further damage, hair loss, and help your hair grow in is by keeping your hair back at night in a loose braid. Every night before I went to bed, I put a small amount of coconut oil on my hands and would gently run the oil through the ends of my hair. Then I gently braid if back in a French Braid before going to bed. This conditions the hair overnight and prevents the hair from getting tangled or pulled out if your tossing and turning in your sleep. 

11. No Styling or Heat

This is pretty obvious but very important. If your experiencing hair problems, you may try to cover it up by styling it regularly in hopes that people don’t notice. However, it will only make the problem worse. Heat and styling will cause more breakage, loss, and dryness. The best thing to do your hair health is to leave it alone and allow it to grow.

12. Use a Wide Tooth Comb

Another thing that you’ll want to do to help the hair grow is to not brush it! A big mistake that a lot of people make it brushing their hair too frequently, and brushing it when it’s wet. This will cause more hair loss and stretch and break the hair that you want to protect. You’ll want to only comb it once a day and use a wide tooth comb. It’s the most gentle way to get rid of tangles and knots in the hair. 

The Results

If you’re like me when I was going through this issue, you’ll be dying to know how long it took for the hair to grow back and if it regained its fullness. The most important thing to know is that I was determined to grow my hair back, and I did all of these treatments and supplements religiously for at least six months! New hair growth does not happen right away and it needs a lot of help after you’ve had a major stressor or hormonal changes. You’ll have to stick to this advice for a long time until you notice it coming back. 

It wasn’t until many months later when I found out that I was moving to Florida that I wanted my hair to look decent for when I moved to my new city. I rewarded myself for going through all of the emotional stress of balding as a teenager by booking an appointment for a cut and color at my favorite salon in Madison. 

This was probably a year after I realized I was balding from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and went off the pill. Towards the end of my appointment when my hairdresser had cut, colored, washed, and blow dried my hair, I looked in the mirror and could see through the salons’ fluorescent lights that I had tons of new hair growth. It actually looked like a halo or a crown over my head with all of the new hairs peaking up. It was about two to three inches long and because of the blow drying and fluorescent lights, I was finally able to visibly see the hair growth that had come in. My hairdresser also checked and made sure that it wasn’t breakage, but actually little baby hairs that were growing in. I will never forget how relieved I was in that moment to finally know that I wasn’t loosing hair anymore and it was actually coming back! So there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can grow your hair back, but it will take time and dedication to proper hair care. 

Four years later…

As for all the other symptoms, I’m still lactose intolerant ever since being on the pill. But the depression I experienced from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo did completely go away about six months to a year of stopping the pill. It did take some time for my hormones to adjust, so I got a little bit worse after I went off of it, and then I slowly got better. Ever since my body adapted, I’ve actually felt normal. I don’t sob uncontrollably and feel like I’m losing control of myself like I did when I was on it. It blows me away what I went through on this pill and how I didn’t feel normal for four whole years while I was on it. To this day, I’m so thankful that I’ll never have to feel that way again.

When I look at my hair today, I’m not sure if my hair ever regained its complete fullness. It’s hard to tell because I’ve always had very thin hair. I was not born with a beautiful head of hair like many people I know. I was always self-conscious of my hair even as a child. Experiencing women’s hair loss definitely made that much worse. However, my hair is much healthier now and I don’t have any sort of hair growth or hair loss problems anymore. My hair also went back to feeling soft again, it no longer feels like rough horse hair like it used to. So if anyone is going through this, know that there is hope! I understand the emotional stress and loss of confidence and self-esteem that comes when you’re a young woman going through this, but it will get better. Get off that disgusting pill that wreaks havoc on your body, do the steps listed above, and trust that it will grow back.

How I Broke My Bad Habits: Netflix, Junk Food, Procrastinating, and Shopping

Self-Help

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Let me paint you a little picture of what my evenings used to look like for a long time…

After I was done for the day with school, internships, or work, I would always pass the time in the same way — I would climb into bed with whatever junk food I felt like eating at the time and would sink into the Netflix hole. You know the one where your computer asks you if you’re still there? That one. It wasn’t pretty. This time would also be spent online browsing and shopping for things that I did not need at all and getting to stupidly high levels of Candy Crush. My levels on both the Soda Crush app and the original Candy Crush would shock you.

Until one day, in one of this Netflix black holes, I came upon a documentary called “Minimalism.” If you know me at all, you know that I’m the exact opposite of a minimalist. I’m 100% a maximalist. But I watched this documentary and instantly became inspired by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Seeing how they stepped out of traditional lives, sold all of their possessions, and lived with intention was uplifting. I’ve been reading their website and books and listening to their podcast ever since. I believe I’ve talked about them in past posts as well.

Anyways, I’m definitely not a minimalist, but I’ve found that listening to what they advocate for helps me to recharge and refocus on what’s important. Their conversations about digital media and consumption have helped me tremendously to curb the shopping habit and make sure that what I spend my time and money on adds value to my life. Their message came to me at the perfect time, towards the last year of college before I would be thrown into the real world and would have to decide for myself what I wanted my life to look like.

However, a major turning point in my life happened when I was listening to one of their podcast episodes. I heard the episode many months ago and I remember Joshua asked his listeners to do a little exercise as a way to show them how people often spend time in ways that do nothing but fill the hours. His exercise showed that as a result of bad habits and (let’s be honest) laziness, people prevent themselves from becoming the best version of themselves they could possibly be.

I did his exercise back then, and because of that day, my life has completely changed. I was able to break so many of my bad habits and slowly become a better version of myself. One that doesn’t waste all of my precious time eating junk food, Netflix binging, procrastinating, candy crushing, shopping, and Instagraming. So today, I’m going to show you how this exercise worked and how I executed it in my life to get on the right path. Side note: This happened so long ago that I can’t find the exact episode. Therefore, this may not be the exact “minimalist exercise.” However, this is what I did and this is what I recommend if ever you find yourself slipping into bad habits and farther away from your ideal self… If you want to see how this could work for you too, get out a pen and paper and follow along.

Step One: Write down every one of your goals

Think about everything that you’ve ever wanted to do and accomplish. All of your life goals. The BIG things. The things that might even be so embarrassing that you’ve never told anyone before. Like a backpack through Europe, become a full-time travel blogger, launch a company, become a famous athlete, or write a New York Times Best Seller. Those dreams and life goals that you wouldn’t want to tell your mother because she would roll her eyes and say it’s unrealistic. Spend some time thinking about what you really want out of life and be completely honest with yourself. Most of us are so busy going through our day to day routine that it’s easy to lose sight of what we really want. This exercise will help you refocus on those goals that may have been forgotten.

Step Two: Write down your values

This one is super simple, and all you have to do is write a few words on a separate sheet of paper. Do you value your health, relationships, creativity, community, family, travel? Take a few minutes to really think, what do I care about the most? Anything that comes to mind that you personally value, jot it down.

Step Three: Write a schedule of your average day

Now, turn the page. Create a full schedule of what your average day looks like and don’t hold back. If you do this right, then it might be even more embarrassing than the first step. You have to be brutally honest with how you spend your time from day to day. Like if your alarm goes off and 8 am, but you stay in bed hitting snooze until 9 or 9:30. Or you come home from work and play on your phone for an hour while sitting on the couch. Or you go out to a bar every evening and drink wayyyy to much. Or maybe you binge-watch Netflix every night from 7 pm until you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open. Write it all down, the good and the bad.

Step Four: Compare the lists

The next step is fairly simple. Compare what you saw between those three lists and really study it. Then wait for that ah-ha moment… You see, when I first tried this exercise, that’s when I really noticed what the problem was. Those three steps were enough to wake me up to how I was spending my time and what I really needed to do to turn my life around, be successful, and make myself proud. To feel happy and fulfilled with the work I was doing and how I was spending my free time. My values showed health, relationships, writing, etc. and so did my goals, but my day to day activities didn’t reflect that.

It was like a lightbulb went off over my head and I finally found the motivation that I needed. I didn’t want to look back and realize that I never fulfilled my dreams and accomplished the things that I wanted to do, all because I watched too much Netflix and played too much Candy Crush. And neither do you! You don’t want to wake up one day and realize that you never started your dream company and now are unhappy and upset with yourself for not really going for it. Notice the difference between your day to day life and the dream you have, and prepare to make changes.

Step Five: Replace the bad habits

Now that you’ve noticed the little things that you’re doing to fill your time rather than becoming the person that you want to be, you need to replace those habits with better ones. I use the word replace because I believe that one of the biggest problems is that we encourage people to stop their bad habits instead of replacing them with healthier habits. I once went cold turkey and tried to stop all my bad habits in one day which did not work at all. I didn’t think far enough ahead about what I would do instead. This step involves studying your day to day activities and then creating a better daily schedule. For me, the time that I used to spend laying in bed, playing on my phone, and online shopping I now spend reading, writing, listening to podcasts, and meditating.

Figure out what you can do each day to incorporate your goals and your ideal way of life into your daily routine. Play close attention to when you hear yourself saying “I should…” statements. I should write, I should read, I should exercise, I should call…, I should plan…, I should learn… All of those things that you tell yourself you should do but have been putting off for whatever reason, start to do it now. Do just a little bit every day. Soon, you’ll look back and do so proud of everything you’ve accomplished once you started to spend your free time with intention instead of distraction.

I hope this exercise works for you as well. Seeing as it’s been such a tremendous help in my life, I wanted to share it in hopes that it would help someone else get on the right track. And if you were coming here in hopes of some quick and easy tips for breaking a bad habit, I’m sorry to disappoint. I believe that we could use all the hacks and the tricks in the world to help us stop bad habits, but none of that works as well as self-reflection.

Did you try this exercise? Did you notice a difference between your goals, values, and habits? What were some of the bad habits that you had to replace? What did you replace them with? Let me know in the comments!

Photographer: Ken McBride.

Why The Grand Tour Is So Important

Travel

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This past summer, I took a trip that I’ve been dreaming about since I could remember. I had just graduated and didn’t have any solid plan yet. I didn’t know what my next step in life would be, but I knew that this was the perfect time to take a break and travel before I would be thrown into adulthood. Being an adult could wait, but fulfilling a lifelong dream and my #1 bucket list item could not.

My dream was to drop everything, pack my bags, and travel through Europe. I wanted to see those beautiful landmarks that I’d only ever seen in photos. I wanted to make lifelong friends that I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I wanted to eat and drink all of the delicious foods from other parts of the world that I can’t go buy at my local grocery store. But most importantly, I wanted to discover things that I never knew and expand my mind beyond my own country.

I had been out of the country a handful of times before, but I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to be away longer and tour with a group of people I had never met. Traveling was just as important as pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I actually wanted to be a little bit uncomfortable the whole time I was away. I believe with all certainty that stepping out of my own little world and what feels safe and familiar is the best way to grow. The truth is that great things don’t come out of our comfort zones. They come when we do something that is a little bit risky and a little bit scary, but completely worth it.

This past June, right after I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I went on a month long trip abroad that I booked through EF Ultimate Break. This trip was going to be a tour of all of the major cities in Europe. It started in Rome, Italy and ended in Barcelona, Spain. 8 counties, 11 cities, and over 30 complete strangers traveling together.

Day two of the tour, I was standing right next to the Roman Colosseum listening to the best tour guide I’d ever had. (Side Note: If this woman would have taught my AP European History class back in high school, I’m sure I would have done a lot better.) Every bit of this tour was fascinating, but the part that caught my attention the most was when she started telling us about an old tradition known as “The Grand Tour.” There I was standing right next to the Colosseum and hearing about the concept of The Grand Tour for the first time. I had no idea that there was a name for it, or that this trip was so popular throughout history. All I knew was that I had to take this trip before I “kicked the bucket.”

 

What is The Grand Tour?

The Grand Tour, for anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept, is a cultural tour that used to be taken by young, upper-class men at the end of their education. At the time, it was viewed as a right of passage. Women and lower-class people could also have taken this tour if they found a generous sponsor, but it was not very common. This tour would loop throughout Europe and could last anywhere from a few months to even years. It was believed that by traveling and being exposed to different languages, cultures, music, and artwork that these men would return cultured, sophisticated, and well-rounded. And they didn’t just walk around museums and admire other cultures. There was a lot of studying done too. Throughout this tour, the men would study languages, art, and politics with the help of their teachers and guides (and also chaperones) known as a “cicerone.” Sometimes they would also bring family, teachers, or friends along for the tour.

On top of an already exciting trip, these young men would have an unlimited supply of money seeing as they came from Europe’s richest families. They would return home with crates full of books, fine clothes, artwork, sculptures, scientific instruments, and other artifacts. Could you imagine traveling Europe for 3 years with an unlimited supply of money as a right of passage? That’s the dream!

Not surprisingly, this trip involved a lot of shopping, mischief, and overall shenanigans. Drinking, sex, and gambling were also strong themes during this journey. They did not spend all of their time studying! It was a very interesting tradition indeed. A time meant for young people to learn, explore the world, and make mistakes. How lovely.

This tradition mostly happened in the 17th and 18th century, but actually stopped once traveling became easier and more affordable to us peasants. What a shame!

 

Years and years later, The Grand Tour tradition has died off. But I wish so badly that the concept would come back. I’ve found many different tour companies online offering affordable trips throughout Europe that are meant be act as The Grand Tour, just like the one that I had been one. It’s marketed as a way for young people to celebrate being done with their education, have a wonderful experience traveling the world, and expand their minds further before settling down into a profession. And that’s exactly what I did, but unfortunately, it’s nothing like it used to be. It was a rather short trip compared to what used to be taken, and there were no chaperons that traveled along with me to teach me different languages, or to teach me about art and culture. Maybe that should change.

Why is The Grand Tour so important?

I think the world could benefit so greatly if young people were encouraged to travel by their parents and teachers. Encouraging young people to visit different cultures to actually study them and giving the freedom to roam and to meet people everywhere could lead to world peace and acceptance. Especially if this tour didn’t just visit Europe, but other continents and countries too. Traveling is what makes people realize how small their own reality is. It opens them up to new people, new possibilities, and new ways of life beyond what they’re familiar with at home. It reminds people that they’re actually not the center of the universe!

It’s a shame that this concept of The Grand Tour ended the moment it became accessible to women and lower-classes because everyone could benefit from an experience like this. I encourage anyone who wants to travel do it! It’s the best investment you will ever make. And I encourage parents and teachers to inspire young people to take time off and travel, for a few months or even a few years. College students spend up to $100,000 on their education now (at least that’s what mine costed). But why don’t we encourage young minds to put that money elsewhere and invest it in the greatest classroom of all?… the world. There’s so much more we can learn by hopping on a plane and going across the world then we will ever learn from a textbook, four walls, and a professor one year away from retirement who clearly does not want to be there. Am I right or am I right?

Lastly, I want to leave you with this.. One of my favorite quotes by Anthony Bourdain that perfectly embodies my feelings towards travel and it’s importance…

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

-Anthony Bourdain

What are your thoughts on the concept of The Grand Tour? Do you think it’s important for young scholars to take an extended tour abroad? Have you gone on a trip like this or encouraged someone else to? Comment below!

 

Social Media and Finding Your “Thing”

Digital Dilemma

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I challenge you to go to anyone’s Instagram feed right now who you follow. It could be any friend or any content creator and I promise you that you will spot a theme. There will be a clear theme, colors, and captions that all go together. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and most of us appreciate the hard work that someone puts into their Instagram by taking the time to create an account carefully and thoughtfully. But what I’ve realized in the last few weeks is that you could literally put anyone into a category based on what you see on their Instagram feed. That guy is the one who does pottery in Utah… that girl is the yoga instructor from Hawaii… that girl is the Instagram model… that girl is the travel blogger… that guy does surf photography… the girl can do awesome hairstyles… that is the blonde vegan girl… I’m sure you get the idea. There is always an obvious theme that places that person in a certain category.

Strategically speaking, this makes sense. In order to attract followers, you want to have an aesthetic/a theme/a niche. You use certain colors, post about certain topics and slowing craft an online image for yourself so that like-minded people will follow. It makes sense in terms of growing your account and getting the glorified engagement that everyone thirsts for.

Unfortunately, yet another problem with social media is that we have all of these young people growing up online and following all of these celebrities and “content creators” who all have a strong theme, profession, and aesthetic. These young adults follow them, see their photos all of the time, and then being to internally struggle with the question, “What is my thing?” Am I going to be “the surfer”, “the makeup artist”, “the cook”, “the photographer?” But what happens is by choosing a theme, we place ourselves in a category, and that category bleeds into other areas of our lives as well. For example, the vegan girl from Hawaii now has long blonde hair, wears flowy bohemian pants, gets tattoos of waves and seashells, and places herself more and more into that specific persona.

This did happen well before social media too, but now it’s amplified because of the time spent online, and because we now have “content creators” running the show. But now, this persona or theme, whatever you want to call it, is very carefully crafted and then blasted out to the massive internet world so that anyone, anywhere can click on our “profile” and say “that is a ____fill in the blank_____.” When my generation started out of social media as teenagers, none of us had a theme. I remember slowly watching everyone’s persona grow stronger and stronger as time went on. I kept thinking about why this happens in the first place. Why this switch went off in our heads back when we were growing up that we have to find our “thing” that we would be known for by all of our friends, followers, and family. After sitting with this for a while, I came up with a few reasons why I think that young adults have this experience and how it leaves us so vulnerable to the unhealthy effects of social media.

1. Vulnerability

As a teenager or a young adult, you are already vulnerable and impressionable. You have a young, developing mind that soaks in all of the information surrounding you like a sponge, and you try your best to understand it. It’s why so many young women have eating disorders because they see Instagram models, girls on magazines, and sex icons on tv with a waist that’s smaller than their head. So they think “I should look like this.” Humans naturally go through this phase, because it’s all part of growing up. Consuming constant images of people who are sexy, well-traveled, popular, and photoshopped play on that vulnerability and makes it worse.

2. Finding your place

Another part of this growing up process involves trying to find your place in this world. Again, this is natural and is not a product of social media. Young adults go through several years of growth and self-discovery while they try to figure out “this thing called life.” What is different, is that today, we all go through this transformation publicly in front of anyone who decides to become loyal followers and watch our lives unfold online. People in my generation publicly went through these stages and documented themselves searching for their place in the world, one day, one week, one year, and one decade at a time. Anyone who followed us, witnesses as we went through various stages of self-discovery to find a place and carefully craft the person we became today, for good or for bad.

3. Leaving a mark

Similarly to finding one’s place in the world, it’s natural to want to leave a mark. Even as a teenager and young adult, we realize that the human life is not very long and we wonder what is the purpose of life. So naturally, it’s ingrained in us that we want to leave some kind of a mark and we want to be known for something. We want to leave behind photos, books, blogs, art, even a change. Although most people don’t realize this, the way that we post on social media is a natural reaction to wanting to leave an impression on the world and on people. To say, “Hi I’m here, this is what I’m about.”

4. Acceptance

Of course, the need for belonging, love, and acceptance has to be mentioned as part of the young adult experience. It’s even on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Right after we have food, water, oxygen, and safety, we have to feel loved. This need for belonging and social acceptance is magnified so strongly on social media. Because we can see just how accepted and liked we are in a little pink notification that shows up in the form of a number. You are liked by “150” people today. 150 people pressed a button because they like your photo… congratulations.

Which remind me of something I heard this week in a podcast, “Your Own Magic.” One of my girl crushes is Allie Michelle, a yogi, and poet living in Hawaii, who also has this beautiful podcast with her “soul twin” Raquelle Mantra. In one of their episodes, Allie Michelle admits that even she has days where she’s feeling less than happy with herself and she turns to her community of a half a million Instagram followers for validation. She once said something in a podcast along the lines of “Has been worth been externally validated today? Ok, thank you internet world.” This is how it is for so many of us, no matter what age, gender, social status, sexuality, we all need to feel socially accepted and loved. And many of us do this by choosing a persona or theme and then having that validated by our followers. So, simply put, we conform based on what we see is well-received by our online community and we follow it through.

The issue is…

There are plenty of problems with social media that we can talk about. But the big problem with this specific “Digital Dilemma” as I call it, is that humans cannot fit into a category. Humans aren’t a product that you can pick up in a specific section in a department store. We are multi-faceted. We have completely different interests, hobbies, and goals. We have friends that all come from different backgrounds. We experience sadness, vulnerabilities, and hardships. We are very, very complex creatures and cannot be organized and stored with the help of a few containers and a label maker.

Although we try so hard to place ourselves in these categories for reasons mentioned above, it affects us on a day to day basis, AND on a much larger scale. I believe that by placing ourselves into categories, it keeps us from growing. It shuts off our minds to all the different possibilities in life. From opportunities, from different people that we could meet, and from different projects that we could pursue. Placing yourself in a box doesn’t give you much room to expand, to move around, and to try new things. It forces us to live a much smaller existence instead of wandering around experiencing new things and growing as much as possible. I wish that I would have had this realization earlier in life when I was first thrown into social media… but better late than never.

The point of this post is that it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be just one thing. You don’t have to be “the poet”, “the photographer”, “the yogi”, “the painter.” The irony is that people put themselves into categories to stand out and be unique, but what really makes us unique is leaving ourselves open. So if you’re reading this and you’ve noticed that you yourself have fallen victim to this “Digital Dilemma,” remind yourself that you can be free to be your authentic self. You can explore and try new things, even if it seems like it’s not your “thing” and if it’s outside of your persona. You don’t have to place yourself in a specific category and do just one thing for the rest of your life. You can have multiple passions and multiple interests.

Be you. Be curious. Be open.

Photographer: Kendid Visuals.

As always, please comment below if you’ve experienced this Digital Dilemma. How did you personally step outside of this idea that you had to find one thing that you were known for? What projects or hobbies did you start to pursue that maybe didn’t fit with what you thought you had to be?

Why I Started Blogging: Thoughts After One Year of Being “A Blogger”

Digital Dilemma

Heather Clark Headshot

I’m happy to share that Lost Online is officially one year old! Today I’m delighted because if I’m being completely honest, this is the longest I’ve ever kept a personal project going — just for the fun of it. Since I started this blog it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I feel like I’ve come into my own over the past year by creating this. Even though this website is read by few, it means so much to me. In honor of it being officially a one year old, I wanted to share the top ten reasons why I decided to start blogging in hopes it will inspire someone else to start their own personal blog!

Before Lost Online

I always knew that I wanted to have my own blog and I actually tried and failed several times over the course of five years. I had this crazy idea in my head that if I wanted to be a blogger, I had to do what all of the other female bloggers I read were doing: write about fashion and beauty or about travel. I also thought that if I was going to have my own blog that I had to be successful. Very successful. That this little platform of my own had to make enough money to support me and end up pulling in a six-figure salary someday. I didn’t realize that I could just do it for fun, I thought that if I had a blog I have to do it for work.

I got myself all worked up about what it had to be like and then I would dive into the world of blogging only to be left disappointed and confused. I didn’t know anything about SEO or earning money online, and I thought that if I were to be a blogger I had to have it all figured out. On top of that, I was so terrified of someone that I knew reading my blog and being judgmental about it. I would always hide my blogs and keep them a secret, or make sure that friends and family couldn’t accidentally find it. Not surprisingly, the motivation and inspiration that I had to start blogging would be crushed and I’d delete the website.

Eventually, after five years of making and deleting blogs, a series of events finally pushed me to stop being a chicken and actually go for it. I let go of all expectations and built this platform for me, just because I wanted to. Today, I’m not making money from my blog, I’m not a “professional blogger,” and I’m not suggesting that I have it all figured out. I’m just a girl who’s been writing for a whole year who is stupid passionate about it. This is my own experience with blogging and why I find it fulfilling.

1. It’s a portfolio

When I was in my Junior year of college at Flagler, I had a digital media teacher who I absolutely loved. She was one of those rare professors I had who was actually passionate about the subject matter and really wanted to help her students flourish. Her name was Mrs. Hill and almost every class period she would talk about why it’s so beneficial to have a blog. Mrs. Hill preached about how being in communications today, it’s helpful (and almost expected) that college graduates have a blog. In a blog, you can really show off to employers your talents, passions, and personal voice. So in the end, it can set you apart from other people who are applying for the same job.

Mrs. Hill also shared that having a blog shows that you’re the type of person who is dedicated and hardworking. That during your weeknights and weekends, you sit down and write articles just because you feel compelled to. The fact that every month you come back and continue to sit in the chair, write, and post articles for employers to read, shows a lot about what kind of worker you are.

Now, I’m not sharing this to sound like a career coach or a college professor, but those words were one of the key factors that lead me to create Lost Online. I wanted to do it for personal reasons and for creative reasons, but hearing Mrs. Hill talk about how writing a blog showed initiative was like getting a permission slip to follow a dream. Telling myself and others that I was doing it to make myself “hirable” made it acceptable and less scary.

2. Self-expression

For many years I felt that I needed a way to express myself creatively. I would see people who had ways of expressing themselves through pottery, poetry, designing homes, or anything else and I’d think about how desperately I wanted something like that of my own. I wanted some hobby that felt natural to me that I loved. So I decided to start blogging. But even then, when I started Lost Online, I didn’t realize how good it would feel. I didn’t know how natural it would feel to brainstorm ideas for blogs and write lengthy posts. I thought that after the initial excitement went away that it was going to feel like homework. Far from it.

It gave me a voice to talk about what I was interested in. I literally got to sit in a chair and ramble on my computer about digital media for my own entertainment. And although I have little to no followers on the blog, it still gave me a voice and an opportunity to share my ideas in a concrete way. Not just over a glass of wine with friends. Blogging helped me express my views to anyone who was willing to read and helped me figure myself out along the way.

3. It strengthens self-discipline

As much as I love to create new posts for Lost Online, I still go through spells where I’m feeling less than motivated or too busy to get back to writing. But I know that I have to. I care about what I create on here and I want to continue to see my content evolve and get better… for all 24 of my followers, lol. And now that I’m so attached to Lost Online, there’s no way that I could let it go. Which means that sometimes, even when I’m not feeling up to it, I have to make myself sit down and get to work. I have to knock out a few paragraphs or finally post a blog that’s been ready for a few days. I even have to go out of my way to take a photo for a specific post that I have coming up.

It’s taught me self-discipline that I didn’t have before. Sure, I was disciplined in school and work, but never with my own projects. I could get things done for a professor or for an employer with no problem, but I couldn’t do it for myself. Writing for Lost Online taught me that if something is important to me, I have to work, even if I’m not feeling motivated. I have to get my butt in the chair and do the work because no one is going to come to my rescue to do it for me or suddenly bestow upon me the gift of motivation.

4. Blogging makes people interesting

I always felt that people who blogged were interesting. Maybe because I felt like they were so sophisticated because they spend their free time writing that it meant they must have a rich inner life. They have so many wonderful ideas bursting out of them that they have to share it with the world. Right? That’s how I view other bloggers, but not how I see myself.

However, what I didn’t expect out of my personal experience, was how interested people would be when I tell them that I blog. When people ask me about my hobbies and interests and I tell them that I have a blog, their ears perk up. People become naturally curious about what I write about. I proudly tell them that Lost Online is about “how we stay sane during a time when we live half of our lives online,” (my own quote that I share anytime someone gives me the chance). And what I’ve noticed is that it always ends up leading to a meaningful conversation about digital media and how growing up online impacted them personally. This platform has lead to many interesting conversations which continue to expand my perspective.

An extra bonus is that employers that I network with or interview for are especially interested when they know that I write a blog. I’m assuming that it’s for the same reasons that Mrs. Hill always talked about. It shows that I’m motivated and hard-working.

5. A sense of accomplishment

Speaking of being hard-working and motivated. Another benefit of blogging that I’ve noticed was the lovely sense of accomplishment. It brings me so much satisfaction to sit down at my desk or at a coffee shop and see the words appear on the document. It brings even more satisfaction once I’ve finally edited it and hit that little green “Publish” button and watch it appear for the first time on my website. Every time I publish a post I can’t help but smile and think “I did that. I sat my a** down in my chair and worked on a post for hours and now it’s published.” No one made me do it. There was no deadline or obligation. I worked on an article for the pure joy of it, and now it’s finished.

It’s sort of like the feeling of finishing a book only 20 times better. And it’s not quite like finishing a paper for work or for school because I did it for myself and I put all of my creativity and my energy into it. You know that feeling! That feeling when you finishing a piece of art and can’t help but smile because of how happy and content you are that you made it. You did it solely for yourself and saw it through until the end. It’s that feeling of accomplishment.

6. It’s mine, no one else’s

Having a blog of my own means that I have my own space. It’s my own project. My own platform. I don’t have a boss, a partner, or a professor saying “No you can’t do that, change it.” No one could tell me that the picture I chose isn’t the best fit for my post, or my ending wasn’t satisfactory, or that it’s B average and could “use some work.”

I could ramble about whatever the hell I want to today and it doesn’t matter because there’s no one to police me. Nobody could tell me how to run this blog, because it’s mine. They can have opinions, yes, but they don’t have the power to make me change what I’m doing here. We spend our lives running around doing things for other people and trying to please our family, our co-workers, our partners, and our friends, but in a personal blog, you don’t have to! There’s something oddly empowering about it.

7. I was envious of bloggers

There’s a quote that I love by Susan Cain, who wrote the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Cain said, “Pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.” I always wanted to have my own blog, but the moment that I knew exactly how badly I wanted a blog was when another girl that I know (who I envied for other reasons) started her own blog and was excitedly promoting it on social media. I clicked on her blog and discovered that she was actually doing a great job and was writing posts that were interesting and engaging. She wasn’t making money from it, but she was a girl my age that I already compared myself to, who decided to pursue blogging.

I cannot describe the ridiculous amount of jealousy and green-eyed ugliness that washed over me when I first saw she started a blog. I’m ashamed to admit that some girl starting a personal blog was enough to put me in a tizzy, but it did. And that’s when I realized that clearly I really cared about this. That it’s a hard sign that I want to seriously pursue blogging. Even if no one looks at it but me, I would still feel compelled to do it, and it would always bother me if I didn’t at least try.

8. Self-discovery

I had been starting and deleting blogs for years and would always end up stopping after about two posts into it. I think it was because I had no idea what I really wanted to write about. So I wrote about random things that fit into beauty, lifestyle, and travel even though I wasn’t wanting to write those pieces. So before I even started Lost Online, I asked myself “What is one thing that I’m so interested in that I could write about it for a year straight and never get bored?” Instantly, I knew that it was digital media and the way that it had affected me in high school and college. I opened up a note on my phone and typed out all of my ideas for 24 hours, and within that time I had come up with my plan, my content ideas, my name, my tagline, and my philosophy. I spent the next week locked away in my room building the site and working on my first posts.

After 12 months of working on it though, I continue to have moments like that when I ask myself what I want to write about and I’m often surprised by my answer. Sometimes I don’t realize how interested I am in a topic until I’ve begun working on a post about it. For example, I didn’t realize how interested I was in the topics of self-help and self-love, and lately, those have been the posts that excite me the most. It’s been a wonderful way to explore topics that I’m very interested in and dive deeper into the subjects. Many of those posts haven’t even made it onto the website yet, but I still continue to learn and grow from them regardless.

9. Everyone’s doing it

The first six months or more of having a blog, I was so nervous about sharing it. Like actually scared of what would happen if people found it. I wanted to basically have a secret blog for internet followers but didn’t want friends and family to know. If you’ve read my blog about “How I Freed Myself From the Opinions of Others,” you’ll know why. But the more I continued to write in private, the more I discovered how so many of my friends online had blogs, and others would tell me how much they wanted to blog. Realizing just how popular blogging was becoming made me realize that it’s not a big deal. It seems that way when we first begin. It seems like a risk, it seems like a lot of work, and the nerves about what other people will think begin to settle in.

Blogs have been viewed in the past as a personal diary meant for sad people who want to vent to the world about their emotions. But it’s not like that anymore. Perceptions of blogs have shifted in the last few years and have become incredibly popular among online celebrities. Now it’s viewed as something only super successful people can do. But that’s not true at all. It’s not unusual to have a blog anymore, and it doesn’t matter what you want to write about. Everyone is doing it!

10. It makes me happy

Last, but certainly not least, blogging makes me happy. Simple as that. I enjoy every part of it. The brainstorming, the website creation, the writing, and reading the comments.

If you’re still here, I imagine it’s because you want to start a blog too (or because you know me personally and are super curious as to what the heck I’m doing and why I haven’t shared this with you). But if you do want to start a blog, I encourage you to find the courage, the motivation, the confidence — whatever you need — to do it. If it’s what makes you happy, nothing else matters. I wish I realized that before all of the other reasons listed above, but I didn’t. If you want to start a blog too, just do it already. And when you do please comment below what finally pushed you to start your own blog and share the link for me to see! 

Photographer: Autumn Clark.

Sacrificing Privacy for Opportunity​

Digital Dilemma

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It seems that everyone today from college professors to business professionals has a cut and dry formula for successfully landing a job out of college. The formula looks something like this: 1 LinkedIn Profile + 300 Connections + 3 Internships + 1 College Degree + 3 Letters of Recommendation + 1 Online Portfolio + 1 Blog + 5 Job Search Engines = A Job. Seems simple enough right? So that has been my formula and I’ve followed it to perfection. Most college students and professionals would agree that this is the best formula to use to create a solid foundation for the future. But what this magic formula doesn’t account for is the hundreds of hours spent online crafting this perfect and professional version of ourselves, not to mention the amount of information about ourselves that we put online… and that’s something that can’t be measured.

How the job hunt has changed…

Just a few weeks ago when I was enjoying my weekend off in Saint Augustine, Matt and I met an older couple that we completely hit it off with. We started discussing everything from politics, social media, job hunting, etc. They had tons of advice for me about life after graduation and how to prepare myself as I enter this so-called “Real World” that everyone always talks about. Of course, many of their suggestions included using LinkedIn and Indeed, creating a portfolio, networking with people, and getting recommendations. All of which fall into that formula for landing a job.

I told them that I plan on working in communications, public relations, and digital media and how I’m preparing for a career. I shared with them that over the last year I’ve spent all of my free time writing a blog, editing my LinkedIn profile, juggling multiple internships, job hunting online, applying through sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter, and “connecting” with people who currently work in communications. As I was telling this couple about my never-ending work of writing, editing, searching, and uploading content online for the purpose of starting my career, the woman made a comment that stuck out in my mind and has not gone away since. She said, “Today, younger people have to sacrifice their privacy for opportunity.” I couldn’t agree more. In order to start a career, my generation of college graduates has to do it online and follow the exceptions of us during the digital age.

This woman also told me that when she was a 22-year-old fresh out of college, job hunting meant walking into a place of business, filling out an application, and handing it in a few minutes later. It was done in person and the only information that they used to determine whether or not to hire you, was what they saw on your application and how your interview went. Today, people do the entire job search online while employers do their entire recruiting process online. Whether or not they choose to hire someone depends on what they see on the resume, the application, LinkedIn, social media sites, personal portfolios, and blogs. Employers can do extensive research on you as a person and decided whether or not you’re qualified and whether or not they like your online image.

Through my endless pursuit of landing that first job out of college, I knew that this modern way of job hunting was a bit odd, but it never really bothered me. The way that graduates job hunt today has always been drilled into my head through high school and college. I accepted the fact that I had to have an online presence to find jobs in the industry that I want to work in and it began to feel more normal. But this idea of sacrificing privacy for opportunity has been becoming more apparent as I actively job search.

How do we sacrifice our privacy for opportunity?

LinkedIn Profiles

There’s a couple ways we sacrifice privacy for opportunity. One of the most obvious examples is that now it’s expected that young professionals have a LinkedIn profile. This profile is online for everyone to see and have access to your resume and other important information about you. The LinkedIn profile shows all of your major projects, schools that you’ve attended, your past positions, the duties you’ve had, and past volunteer experience. This can be a blessing when it comes to networking and job hunting, but it could also be seen as an invasion of privacy. The reason being that it’s not only expected that people create this profile, but it’s expected that they regularly make connections with other professionals online. By making more connections, the user gets endorsed for skills by the people they know in their industry and get recommendations from the people they’re worked with. It’s also expected that this portfolio is updated every so often to include any new projects, jobs, or volunteer experience. The reason being that only way to really stand out on these sites is to build the profile and show that we are well-rounded individuals who are constantly growing and learning from each new life experience and have the tech savvy to broadcast it to the world. However, what if someone isn’t comfortable with having all of their professional experience being visible to everyone else online? But unfortunately, that’s the only way to have those opportunities is by sharing as much professional information as possible with as many peers, professionals, and recruiters as possible. Once someone has a profile created and is kicking butt on LinkedIn and is job hunting across several sites.

Blogs and Portfolios

Another example is how every college graduate today is told that they must have a blog and a portfolio. (Not to hate on blogging, because I’m completely in love with it!) These are both incredible tools that are meant to showcase young professionals skills and abilities to make them more hirable than someone else competing for the same job. These blogs and portfolios are meant to be displayed on your LinkedIn Profile for potential employers to see your work. The problem with this is, people already have a lot of information about themselves online today. Asking people to write lengthy posts about themselves and their opinions could be intimidating for some. For a few of my classes, I had to create blogs and regularly publish content for class assignments about the projects I was working on or about something we were learning in class, such as SEO. I had a lot of fun building the blogs and then publishing and presenting the content for all of my peers to see, but I noticed that some of my fellow students were not as jazzed about this. They didn’t like the idea of having their name on a new website, they didn’t like having to publish their class assignments online for anyone to read, and they didn’t like having to do it regularly. What felt fun and natural for one person, felt like an invasion of privacy for another.

Job Searching Websites

Another way that college graduates sacrifice privacy for opportunity, is that in our digital era, they now search for careers online through sites like LinkedIn, Teamwork Online, Zip Recruiter, Indeed, and Career Shift. Job hunters share their personal information through these sites, and then use it to browse open positions in different companies. These sites are user-friendly and make it easy to find job listings, apply for them quickly, and get instant feedback.

Unfortunately, a major downside that I’ve noticed about these sites, is that once you start sending out your resume, the websites actually start to apply for jobs for you. The real problem is that they don’t usually match the positions that you’re invested in, and you’re not even notified when this happens. To make it worse, I haven’t been able to figure out how to stop it from happening. I had gotten several calls back from companies thinking that it was a job I applied for so I scheduled my interview. Because of this, I ended up going different interviews for those positions and quickly realized that not only did I not apply for those positions but they were also pyramid schemes! My “interviews” consisted of people trying to suck me into the company like it was a cult. It definitely felt like an invasion of privacy knowing once I found out what was going on. Another more minor downside is the more applications someone sends out, the more and more junk mail shows up in your inbox. Too many junk emails to sit down and unsubscribe from all of them every day. These sites are supposed to be tools to help college graduates become successful, not sell their information and send people out of bizarre interviews.

Social Media Accounts

It’s worth mentioning that this idea of sacrificing privacy for opportunity is not just done on websites that list jobs. It’s also highly popular on social media channels like YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Vine. Countless millennials have become successful and famous due to their social media presence. They shared enough of themselves online and they created enough of a buzz and a following that they’re now established “content creators.” Now there is real opportunity found online. Millions of people have been able to create a full-time career out of sharing their lives on social media. Some of them can make hundreds of thousands of dollars from one simple Instagram post. However, for most people, this doesn’t work out. The vast majority of people that constantly share content online hoping to be the next famous digital nomad, don’t make it. Which means that they now have tons of information about themselves online, and no income from it.

Another big issue as it relates to job hunting is how easy it is for employers to find people on social media. Many employers check out someone online before they even consider hiring them. This is because companies want to know how the employees spend their free time and what kind of people they are like after the workday ends. Even if it isn’t a company policy, sometimes hiring managers are still curious. Which is why some applications now ask people to copy and paste the URL of their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

In my opinion, this is a huge invasion of privacy. Personal lives and work lives used to be completely separate. People went to work from nine to five and then went home. What happened in their personal lives was no one else’s concern when they left the office. Now our personal and work lives are so intertwined that our personal lives are an open book for anyone who wants to learn about us, even those that we don’t necessarily want to know everything. I know I don’t want my boss to know everything that I do on my weekends, or at home, or when I’m on vacation. Not that it’s because I feel my social media is inappropriate, but because that is my personal life. How I spend that time when I’m off the clock shouldn’t be monitored. The other issue with social media is that my generation only posts the filtered versions of themselves, not their true selves. And those filtered versions are usually carefully crafter for their friends to see. Social media was originally created to socialize with friends, not for people to stay in touch with their bosses and share their weekends with each other. Is it fair to tell millennials that they must represent a cookie cutter corporate image online?

We’re always on call

In this specific example, technology really is a double-edged sword. For my generation, technology has made it so incredibly easy to stay in contact with people. At any given time, my boss could text, send an email, or call me. If he has any concerns, I can be contacted immediately. The problem is that even when it’s our personal time, people are now expected to pick up the phone or answer an email for work. I’ve answered calls from work at the doctor, having dinner with family, and even while I was running on the treadmill. The problem with being able to communicate with each other so easily means that we’re always on call. We’re always expected to work. Co-workers and bosses call you off the clock to ask “did you get my email.” Of course, we did! But we’re busy having a romantic dinner right now!

Remember…

This issue of sacrificing privacy for opportunity is just another example of how my generation has become Lost Online. I’m lucky because I want to be in communications and digital media. I love writing and I love creating content online. But what I don’t love is how it’s demanded of everyone in my generation. It’s a requirement that everyone should follow this formula, while also updating at least 4 social media profiles. We’re already consumed by technology for incredible amounts of our day, but the internet, universities, and modern employers are demanding more. It’s important that in this digital age we remember that we’re not robots. Not every aspect of our personal and professional lives has to be written on the internet for everyone and anyone to come across. So when I hear someone scolding another for not having a LinkedIn, or a Facebook, or a portfolio, or an Indeed account, it makes me cringe. Technology is a tool and can be incredibly helpful when it comes to finding work, but it’s not the only tool.

What are your thoughts on scarfing privacy for opportunity? Was there ever a time that you felt you had to sacrifice privacy in order to get ahead professionals? And should it be required that everyone follow the formula for success even if they feel uncomfortable having all of that information online?

Photographer: Autumn Clark.

A Lesson in Pura Vida

Travel

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This past spring break, I went to the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Costa Rica was the place that I dreamed about for years. There would be nights I would lay awake thinking about how incredible it would be to see La Fortuna, to hike a volcano, and to see monkeys jumping from the trees. I imagined every moment of this trip and thought about how badly I wanted to be there. Then, by the generosity of Matt’s parents, he and I were finally able to take that dream trip.

He talked about how incredible it would be surf the waves of Costa Rica, and I talked incessantly about all the animals, hanging bridges, and waterfalls we would see. When the day finally came, we went there in search of adventure, delicious cocktails, beaches, and sunshine. And trust me, we got all of that. But what I wasn’t expecting from this vacation, was that I would leave having learned a very valuable lesson.

What I saw on this trip (aside from all the exotic wildlife and landscapes) was the poverty. Please excuse my previous ignorance, but what slipped my mind through all my fantasies of this trip and the preparation for travel, was that Costa Rica is still a third world country. A quick Google search will show you that the poverty level in Costa Rica is at a record high. Over 21% of its citizens are living in poverty – that’s over one million people. And 10-12% live in extreme poverty, meaning they have a severe lack of food, clean drinking water, education, health care, and shelter. In some areas of Costa Rica, the poverty levels are as high as 30%! But what is even more shocking, is that even though the poverty rate is this high, the country actually has the lowest poverty rate in all of Central America. 10-12% of the population living in extreme poverty is low?

I noticed the poverty while driving through Costa Rica from city to city. I was able to see with my own eyes just how little the Ticos had. The poverty is noticeable just by looking at the houses that were broken down shacks, no larger than my bedroom. Going from a gated community in suburbia to seeing homes that looked uninhabitable makes one pretty self-reflective. It was the definition of culture shock. But even though I could see what little all of the locals had, I never met complete strangers that were so wonderful to be around, so pleasant, and so polite.

You may have heard of the phrase “Pura Vida” before which means “simple life” or “pure life.” It actually came to the country of Costa Rica from a Mexican movie, ¡Pura Vida!, in the 1950s. The Costa Ricans liked this phrase that symbolized eternal optimism, and it stuck. Now it’s a phrase that’s spoken in every town and in every household across the country. If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica, then you know that the words Pura Vida ring through every street, store, home, cafe, and restaurant. I’ve heard the phrase many times before, and I knew what it meant, but I never personally met anyone who embodied it.  But it Costa Rica, every person I came across greeted me with a warm smile, asked how I was, seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me, and always said goodbye with a heartfelt “Pura Vida.”

Pure Vida is not just some popular saying, in Costa Rica, it’s a way of life. It’s the idea that life is wonderful and we should be happy just to be alive. The idea that you could live in a tiny little hole in the wall but be perfectly content with the smallest pleasures in life. Small pleasures like laughing with a friend, spending the day on the beach, being around family, or sharing a drink with someone. It’s the idea that happiness comes from within, not with earthly goods and services.

I’m sharing this today because it’s a phrase that’s worth incorporating more in our one culture. In America, at least in the areas where I have lived, there’s a completely opposite mindset. Americans tend to view happiness as an end goal, as something that needs to be achieved through hard work, promotions, lots of money, and luxury. And although we conceptually understand that “happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life,” we act very differently. Most people, myself included, try to find happiness outside of ourselves. People tend to think that happiness can be achieved if we only went and bought that handbag, had more social media followers, had a nicer house, had a more expensive car, bought Starbucks every day, had the latest iPhone, an Apple watch… you get the idea.

And I think that this could be why there are so many self-help books and blogs floating around today. People go on this life-long search for happiness, only to realize that it’s not achievable by money and possessions or popularity, so they go looking for advice. Did you know that Costa Rica is was named one of the happiest countries in the world? And I doubt many of them have picked up a self-help book.

That being said, what do we do about this? How do we embrace Pura Vida into our lives?

Step One: Go to Costa Rica (not really, but just humor me for a second)

I had always understood what Pura Vida meant, but I can honestly say that I didn’t quite grasp the meaning until I traveled to Costa Rica and saw it for myself. I didn’t really get it until I saw the homes that people lived in… the same people that drove us around, took us on adventures through the rainforest and brought us coconuts on the beach. That’s eye-opening.

I believe with my whole heart that it’s lessons like this that make traveling so important. It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up in our own little world – staying in the same town, reading the same news sources, shopping at the same stores, going to work every day, and getting caught up in our little projects like redecorating or baking gluten-free cookies… It’s easy to forget what’s going on in the world outside of yourself. That there are people who live with far less than many of us do, but live with such happiness and gratitude.

Of course, not everyone could afford to travel at the drop of the hat. The idea is to not get so caught up in what’s directly in front of you. Read different news sources, listen to new podcasts, watch documentaries, reach books, and get an idea of what’s happening in the world so you will be more grateful for all of the blessings that you have instead of being caught up in work, daily dramas, and social media.

Step Two: Simplify your life in a way that makes sense for you.

I see thousands of bloggers that preach about simplifying and becoming a minimalist. But let’s be realistic, not everyone is going to read a blog post and decide to sell all their possessions and move into a tiny house. That doesn’t work for everyone. In order to simply, you don’t have to do anything crazy. You can start by decluttering the house, turning off all the notifications on your phone, or taking a personal day. It could even mean learning saying “no” to people or getting rid of toxic friendships. Whatever works for you personally to turn off the “noise” of everyday life and ground yourself. When I started to simplify it meant spending less time consumed by my technology and more time spent pursuing my hobbies and passions.

There is both physical clutter that we keep in our lives that take up space and drain us, and then there is the mental clutter. I don’t need to tell you that the mental clutter is much more exhausting. It’s incredible all of the bullsh*t that consumes our time. Emails, text messages, notifications, meetings, lunch dates, errands, cleaning, etc. I didn’t see any of the Costa Ricans getting anxious about their email inbox while I was there! So find a way to simplify so there’s more time for joy, passion, love and happiness, and less time spent on the meaningless tasks that fill up the day.

Step Three: Find ways to add gratitude into your life

There are hundreds of researchers now that have proven in their studies that people who express gratitude daily are happier people, have a greater sense of life satisfaction, are physically healthier, and have better relationships. If you really want to read the science go for it, but I think those researchers may have been wasting their time. Anyone that embodies the “Pura Vida” mentality knows that already.

I know that for at least us Americans it can be very hard to start thinking every day about the things we’re grateful for it. Simply because it’s difficult to change our mindsets from all of the things we have to do throughout the day and reflect on what we’re happy about. Many won’t do it because it doesn’t feel productive. But if you regularly think about the things you are grateful for, or regularly talk about them or write about them, it becomes a habit. This habit will ultimately lead to a happier life. One way that I focus on gratitude, is every night before bed I write in detail about something I’m grateful for that day. It’s usually about a paragraph long, and it only takes five minutes. By ending the day focusing on something that makes me feel really happy and grateful, it reminds me how lucky I am all the time. It brings my attention to the more meaningful relationships and experiences in my life instead of on the mundane. That pure life mentality doesn’t come naturally to me, so writing is how I began to introduce it into my life.

Step Four: Fill your time and surround yourself with things that make you feel great

This may seem like a simple or cliche piece of advice to adopting a more grateful mindset and embracing Pura Vida, but hear me out. Most people that I know settle in dozens of little moments throughout the day for things that are good enough, rather than what makes them feel energized and alive. Most people I know are so focused on how “busy” they are that they forget about how they’re feeling. They might put up a piece of artwork because it was inexpensive at Marshalls, go to a job they hate so they can pay the bills, read a book that they have to finish just because they started it, or listen to a radio station just because it’s on.

Millions of people live their daily lives like this. Then what happens is at the end of the week or at the end of they feel exhausted and unhappy. This causes them to go out and drink all night, online shop all day, sleep for twelve hours, binge-watch Netflix, eat a whole can of Pringles, etc. This I think is the real difference between my culture, and theirs. Our mentality is different which then causes people to search for happiness in outside objects and entertainment.

There are a million ways to change this, but it’s about what works for you. Instead of searching out comfort in food, work, shopping, Netflix, etc. find happiness in the people in your life and whatever genuinely makes you feel good. When I decided to make this change, I surrounded myself with things that made me feel happy was to call good friends on the phone, spending my free time working on hobbies, picking out music that made me feel inspired, exercising and eating better, listening to motivational speeches, and more. I do anything and everything that now adds real happiness, comfort, and gratitude. Don’t just settle for what’s good enough, go out of your way to surround yourself with the activities and people that make you feel wonderful.

Have you ever been to Costa Rica and come back with the same lesson, or did you have a different experience? What do you do to adopt the Pura Vida mentality in your life? How did you simplifying your life? And do you have any gratitude ritual of your own that helped? Let me know in the comments!

How I freed myself from the opinions of others

Self-Help

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Let’s talk about criticism

Today, I’m writing about something a little bit different than usual. I’m writing about a problem that deeply affected my happiness over the last year. It’s a problem that I have faced almost every day that has caused fear, tension, anxiety, and all sorts of other icky feelings.

In this blog, I’ve shared how my whole life used to be dictated by the opinions of other people and self-comparison, especially through social media. But what happens when it’s not online and when it’s not in your own head? When someone takes the time to criticize your life decisions, to sabotage your happiness, and steamroll you? What happens then?

My experience

This past April, I’ve graduated college and have been busy creating the life that I know would make me happy. I knew I was finally becoming a full-fledged adult: graduating from college, starting out a career, setting down with my partner, and getting my own place, etc. But I’m unlike most people that you’ve probably met… Because unlike most people, I’m bound and determined to do what I want to do for my own joy and happiness. And that meant making a lot of decisions that were just for me.

That meant going on a month long trip through Europe with a group of people that I’ve never met. It also meant starting a blog where I regularly write about topics that I’m passionate about. It meant making a decision to move to Tampa with my boyfriend. And it meant patiently waiting for the right apartment and a job offer that I’m really excited about (not taking the first one that comes along). I should mention that these were all wildly unpopular decisions with just about every person I talked to.

Like I said… I’m not like most people. I’m one of those crazy, nut jobs that believe that we have one life, and we should do what genuinely makes us feel happy and fulfilled regardless of what others think. But what I’ve learned throughout this transition period more than ever, is just how critical others can be. I’ve learned just how eager people can be to try to control the lives of others.

You Are A Badass.

Jen Sincero, a New York Times Best Selling Author talks about this issue in one of her books, “You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness And Start Living An Awesome Life.” In my favorite part of the book, which actually inspired this post, Jen writes:

“Very few people are even aware of what’s available, however, because we live in a fear based society that loves to get all uppity toward people who wake up from the Big Snooze, blast out of their comfort zones, and follow their hearts into the great unknown. Oftentimes, taking great leaps of faith is labeled as irresponsible or selfish or insane (until you succeed of course, then you’re brilliant). This is because: Watching someone else totally go for it can be incredibly upsetting to the person who’s spent a lifetime building a solid case for why they themselves can’t.”

Side Notes: “the Big Snooze” is Jen Sincero’s term for the Ego.

Opinions

One of my experiences with this issue over the past year happened to me while sharing that I was taking my dream trip to Europe. I received heavy criticism for my decision to book a graduation tour through EF College Break. Let me share with you some of the comments and criticisms I heard from family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers…

  • Taking this trip was dangerous, irresponsible, and selfish.
  • A trip like this would be a huge waste of money.
  • I should wait until I’ve established a career, got married, and had kids to take this trip.
  • I could be killed by a terrorist.
  • I would be sold into sex trafficking.
  • A stranger could throw acid on my face like a girl they saw on the news.
  • I could be drugged and assaulted by some guy on my tour group.
  • I would be lost in some foreign city and not make my way back.
  • I would be “Taken.”
  • I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the tour and I would want to come home.
  • It was going to be scary.
  • It would be a bad decision to go.
  • It would be smarter to stay at home and focus on finding a job instead of taking a graduation trip.

Very few people acted excited for me and encouraged me to go. And excuse me while I add… Isn’t finishing five years of college worth celebrating with a vacation? Isn’t now the perfect time in my life to take this trip? Wouldn’t a trip to Europe expand my mind and get me out of my comfort zone? Wouldn’t it be an incredible experience that I can look back on my entire life? And doesn’t this decision affect me, and me alone?

Fast forward to now…

I’m back from my graduation trip, I’m on a waitlist for the apartment I want, and I’m about to move to Tampa. All of those people that gave me such heavy criticism liked all of my social media pictures from my trip, left wonderful comments on them, and told me how incredible the trip looked. But… now there are new decisions I have made, that are getting just as much backlash. People are even going so far as to have arguments with me about the mattress that I would like to buy! As if somehow the mattress I sleep on at night impacts their life in any way.

This pattern of making a decision for myself and my own happiness, and then being harshly judged by others has caused incredible stress, anger, and confrontation. To say the least, I’ve had a very difficult time dealing with it. That is until I started reading “You Are A Badass.” Jen Sincero made me realize that I’m not the only person that has ever had to deal with this issue. This happens to people all the time throughout every stage of their lives. Other people will criticize you based on what major you choose, whether you breastfeed or use a formal to feed your baby, for your decision to become a vegan, for which school you send your kids to, for which neighborhood you live in, etc. It happens to everyone all the time, and it’s not worth taking offense to. It’s human nature to avoid risk and change, so much that it makes other people nervous when they see others doing it.

Jen Sincero writes, “…one of the first things you might have to deal with when you decide to wake up from the Big Snooze and make massive positive changes in your life is disapproval from other people who are snoring away. Especially the people closest to you…”

So what now?

Now that I’ve realized this, I feel a lot less angry and stressed out over what other people think about my decisions. I have also figured out how to liberate myself from everyone’s two cents. And it’s so easy that you could do it too.

Step One: Just go for it and don’t hold back

That thing you’ve been wanting to do that you think about all the time… do it. Buy the ticket, move to that city, start that business, go vegan, whatever. If the opinions of other people are the only things holding you back from doing what you want, that’s insane. You will never be able to make everyone happy. Even if you do take all of their advice, live like a hermit, and avoid risk and change at all costs. Humans are naturally judgmental, that’s not going to change. So what would be the point of trying to keep everyone happy then?

One of my favorite quotes is, “You could be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, but there will always be someone who hates peaches.” Point being, don’t change yourself and the course of your life in hopes that it will make everyone else happy, it’s impossible to make everyone happy.

Step Two: Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing!

When you’ve made the decision to do something that you want to do for your own happiness, don’t tell anyone! Not unless you know that the person you’re talking to will support you. That friend or family member that thinks plastic surgery is the devil… don’t tell them you’re getting a boob job. Refrain yourself from telling people those things that you want to do for your own satisfaction if you know that it’s only going to cause an argument, bring on criticism, and make you feel bad. Save it for later, once you’ve already gone to that festival, transferred to that new school, taken that yoga retreat, or sold all your possessions and moved into a tiny house.

This seems so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I could have saved myself a lot of stress over the past year had I learned this earlier. Now, I have some big changes coming up in the next few years that would cause even more upset than my trip to Europe! And they’re all going to be surprises. Unless I know that someone will be immensely supportive of me, I won’t be divulging my plans. I shouldn’t have to feel like crap, justify my decisions to others, and ruin my excitement for the sake of other people’s opinions. And neither should you.

Step Three: Don’t be that person

Once you’ve decided to live the life that you’ve dreamed of and not hold yourself back, you want to make sure that you don’t become that person. That person who used to jump on you about your decisions. Be extra conscious that you don’t accidentally make the same mistake with others. Have an open mind and avoid looking at people’s decisions through a lense of concern, fear, or judgment. When friends or family tell you something, have a conversation without immediately sharing your own philosophies and opinions. People who are judgemental suck all of the fun out of life for the rest of us and cause people to go their entire life having never accomplished their dreams.

 

Thank you for reading! Comment below and tell me about a time when you made a decision for yourself and received harsh criticism! Which groups of people criticized you the most? How did you find ways to liberate yourself from their opinions and live the life that you’ve been dreaming of?

Photographer: Allen Fajardo

“Ok Google, tell me something good.” 

Digital Dilemma

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If you can stand watching the news today then you’re a tougher person than I am. I’d like to know what’s going on in the world, but every time I see the news I either hear about sexual abuse, police brutality, natural disasters, or yet another mass shooting. The news has always made me feel like there’s nothing good happening in the world. But my hatred for the news got even worse this past election year. As a Democrat and a female, I can’t stomach what I see on the news. Starting my day hearing the latest horrible thing that Trump said, doesn’t put me in a good mood to go pursue my dreams and have a wonderfully productive work day. But I’m not writing this blog to discuss politics with you… that wouldn’t get us anywhere and it wouldn’t change what’s happening. The point is, I hate the news.

The Problems With Our News

1 ) All Negative

The way that the news operates, is it highlights the bad things that are happening. Then at the end of a half hour or hour long segment, there’s one positive little short story to leave you with some hope. But unfortunately, the thirty-second bit about a cute puppy doesn’t undo the stress that all the other stories caused. Seeing so many horrible news stories, one right after another causes feelings of anxiety and gives people a negative outlook on the world. Sometimes it even feels like there are no good people in the world and that everyone is out to hurt you. For me personally, when I watch the news it makes me fearful and paranoid especially when the news is focusing on violence against women.

2) Offers No Solutions

The other big problem with our news sources today is that not only do they share one awful story after another, but they offer no solutions to any of the problems. This is the big reason why I stopped watching the news. When news sources share all of the bad things in the world and then offer no solutions on how to be involved in the issues, it causes the feeling of helplessness. Millions of people turn on the news every day but then end the news segment thinking, “there’s nothing I could possibly do about this.” It appears that the world is completely screwed up but nothing can be done.

3 ) The Fighting

Have you noticed that news, instead of being informative, purposefully puts one group of us against the other? Every time you turn on the news it’s black vs. white, police vs. citizens, republicans vs. democrats, pro-life vs. pro-choice. So much time on the news is spent showing people argue with each other, which then causes the viewers to go on social media and fight with strangers. Even the commentators on the news yell at each other and call each other ignorant and uneducated, or a “snowflake.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I wanna see when I’m watching the news. If I wanted to watch people yell and scream at each other, I’d turn on The Real Housewives.

4 ) The Illusion of Getting Worse

The last issue that I always notice while watching the news is this illusion that the world is getting worse. Watching so many stories of murder, crime and corruption creates the idea that more and more bad things happen every day. It makes the world appear as if there’s been no progress in any national and global issues. I can’t possibly count the number of time’s I’ve heard myself say, “What is happening with the world?” I’ve probably said it every time I’ve watched the news in the last few years. When you never get a break from the bad, it’s easy to feel like the world is sprinting out of control.

BREAKING NEWS

I recently discovered while scrolling through Ted.com a video that enlightened me to what really is happening in the world. The Ted Talk by Steven Pinker is called “Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers.” As it turns out, the world is becoming a better place! Pinker shows how all of the world’s greatest and most terrifying problems like child mortality, terrorism, world hunger, poverty, homicide, pollution, and nuclear weapons have all gone down tremendously.

Not only that but the world is getting safer as we go about our daily lives. Here are a few statistics from Pinker’s presentation:

Over the last century, we’ve become…

  • 96% less likely to be killed in a car crash
  • 88% less likely to be hit by a car on the sidewalk
  • 99% less likely to die in a plane crash
  • 95% less likely to be killed on the job
  • 89% less likely to be killed by an “Act of God” (drought, flood, wildfire, storm, volcano, landslide, earthquake)

Also, in the last several centuries…

  • Life expectancy went from 30 years old to 70-80 years old
  • 1/3 of all children used to die before the age of 5, now it’s less than 6% of children in the poorest countries of the world
  • 90% of the world’s population was in extreme poverty, today it’s fewer than 10%
  • 90% of the world’s population under the age of 25 can read and write today, compared to 5%
  • Westerners used to work 60 hours a week, today we work less than 40 hours
  • Instead of spending 60 hours a week doing housework, we spend less than 15 hours a week (thanks to the help of appliances, running water and electricity)

Pinker discusses how there’s been progress in all of the areas that make up the well-being of the human race including life, health, sustenance, prosperity, peace, freedom, knowledge, leisure, and happiness. So as it turns out, the world has seen drastic improvements on a global scale. But my favorite statistic is 86% of the world’s countries happiness increased in recent decades! The world is getting better every single year!

But as I mentioned above, the news that we consume doesn’t reflect the reality. Call it “fake news” if you want 😂 Pinker shares that even though the world has gotten healthier, wealthier, wiser, safer, and happier, the news doesn’t reflect this because “if it bleeds it leads.” Most journalists don’t want to share stories that are about peace, love, and happiness. That isn’t going to get ratings. So we see the news that’s interesting, scary, gut-wrenching, and “feeds off our morbid interests,” as Pinker would say.

I would also argue that our access to information plays a key role. Due to technology, we can access stories from all over the world. I can go on my phone right now and learn about all of the horrible things that happened in my country, or China, or India, or ___fill in the blank___. I can turn on dozens of different news channels, go on social media, Google it, etc. And because this news is so easy to access and we’re only exposed to the bad news all day long, I’ve believed with my whole being that the world is steadily getting worse. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one. But it hasn’t, what has gotten worse is how easy it is to access those depressing stories. Lucky for us, there’s now a way we can easily access positive stories… 

“Ok Google, tell me something good.”

I’m completely excited about a new feature that Google developed! As of this month, using Google Assistant, you can now say to your Google Home or Google Home Mini, “Ok Google, tell me something good.” Google will then tell you the positive news stories that are happening in the world. This new feature has been designed to give users a sense of optimism so we no longer feel like the world is crashing down around us. It also focuses on the news stories that revolve around solutions. Google does this by sharing the issues and how people are working to fix or eliminate the problems. It will remind people that even though there is a problem, there’s something that can be done about it. The audience doesn’t have to feel helpless about what’s going on. This may also inspire people to be proactive and create more conversation about what we can do. It changes the question in our head from, “What is happening in the world?” to “How can I help?

What makes this feature even better is that Google is also working on a Google Assistant app for smartphones. That way people who don’t have a Google Home can use this feature on their smartphone. Everyone will soon be able to access positive news stories simply by saying, “Ok Google, tell me something good.” I’m so grateful that I no longer have to feel like I have to avoid the news. I’ve tried many times to seek out positive news sources, but there wasn’t anything that I found with decent writers and regular content.

My hope is that over the next few years, news stations will start to follow in Google’s footsteps and include positive stories, or at least solution based stories. Imagine a world where people didn’t feel like they had to avoid the news and where the news inspired us to be proactive about making the world an even better place.

What do you think about this new feature using Google Assistant? What are your thoughts on the news today? Have you ever fallen into the belief that the world is getting to be a worse place? Do you think that this feature may inspire more journalists and news stations to share the good news? Let me know in the comments!

The iPhone Makeover! How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Your Phone

Digital Dilemma

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So maybe you’re like me, and you’ve realized that you’ve become too reliant on your phone! In a previous post, I talked about the incredible addiction that we now have with our phones. I talked about statistics that showed how much time we spend a day in a never-ending, mindless scroll of social media content, and how many people are taking a break from their phones or living without it altogether. I think that people who can make such a change like this or take an extended breakup from their smartphone are admirable, but I don’t think it’s realistic to ask that everyone ban their smartphones altogether. Instead, the solution is to limit ourselves and use our devices with intention.

So what does this mean?

What can we do today to have a healthier relationship with our phones and let this be a device that brings us happiness (instead of one that eats up our time or throws us into hours of self-comparison with other social media users)? I came up with an idea that I call “The iPhone Makeover.” This was inspired by a Podcast I listened to by Rachel Brathen called “From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl.”

In Episode 40 – “Setting Intentions and Manifesting Love,” Brathen discussed that she makes sure to put effort into using her smartphone with intention and going onto her phone with the purpose of adding value instead of mindless scrolling:

We use our phones so forking much. I mean, is there a moment in your day when you don’t have your phone right next to you, or in your hand? We’re always on our phones, all the time. I am deep in the practice of trying to make my phone or keep my phone, as sacred as possible. Because I spend so much time with it, working, social media, connecting with my friends, all of this stuff, I really really really try to make a point to only connecting with my phone in a way that’s actually grounding, and that helps me stay present. It’s easy to get sucked into this endless scrolling on Instagram, and left and right, comments from people that you don’t even care about, to get sucked into things that maybe aren’t as mindful.

She then goes into detail about how she changed the layout of her phone to make it less of a distraction. Brathen shares that on the home page of her iPhone, she removed all of the apps and moved them to next page. That way, when she goes to open her phone, she’s not instantly overwhelmed by tons of apps and notifications. She can purposefully decide where to go on her phone. That way it allows her to re-evaluate why she’s going on her phone, and avoid using it out of boredom. Brathen also shared how she started to use her Notes app with intention and writing down her thoughts, epiphanies, and daily challenges which allows her to use the phone as a way to keep her connected.

Brathen’s phone layout made me think long and hard about the way that I use my phone. Finally, I was able to come up with a perfect set up so that I began using my phone with intention. Here are ten steps that you can do right now to give yourself an iPhone Makeover:

First things first…

1. Delete!

Go on your phone and spend some time deleting all the unnecessary apps, photos, and messages. Think of all those apps that sit on your phone that you never even open. I had tons of apps on my phone like Groupon or the Target app that I never even used, but they still took up space on my phone and I still received notifications from them regularly. Getting rid of some of that clutter on your phone makes it less stressful and less distracting.

2. Turn off notifications

Next, think about all of those apps that might be sitting on your phone that you only use every once in a while but send you notifications every day. I had so many apps that sent me notifications for no reason at all, as a reminder to go on them. And when I got a notification, even if it was something unnecessary, it would cause me to pick up on my phone, look at the notification, and then open up my phone and go on it regardless. For example, I use to get notifications from Groupon, which would cause me to pick up my phone and then waste time on social media. Take the time to go into your Settings, click on “Notifications” and decide which apps you want to allow notifications from and which ones you don’t.

3. Unsubscribe from emails

I don’t have to tell you what a pain it is to get 30 emails a day from random stores that you maybe shopped at once in your life (you probably already know). But for some reason, those big chain stores feel the need to spam us with daily emails about their sales and new arrivals. You can eliminate the email clutter once and for all by unsubscribing to all of these sites today. I like using a site called UnRoll Me. UnRoll Me is a site where you can log into your email and see every website that you’re subscribed to and then unsubscribe in just one click!

4. Disable Raise to Wake

After one of the Apple updates, I noticed that my iPhone started to wake up the moment I flipped it over and moved it. Yes, it was convenient to have it light up right away, but it caused me to be looking at my phone so much more. I would move my phone and suddenly it would light up, causing me to go onto it for no reason and waste countless hours of my time. Now I have that feature disabled, so I decide when my phone turns on. All you have to do is go into the settings, click on Display & Brightness and then turn off Raise to Wake.

5. Change the Wallpaper

This one may or may not be necessary for you to make the phone less of a distraction. But since we’re giving ourselves an iPhone Makeover, change the wallpaper of your phone. I like to change mine once in while to keep it fresh and have something new and interesting to look at.

Now that the easy changes have been made, here are the next steps to really transform the relationship with your phone:

6. Relocate the time-wasting apps

The first thing that I noticed when I was studying the layout of my phone to plan my iPhone Makeover, was that my home screen had two rows of all social media apps. That meant the second I opened my phone I would see Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Pinterest, and Snapchat. My eyes were instantly drawn towards those apps from the moment I unlocked my phone and I would open them. Even if I hadn’t even gone on my phone to go on social media, I would see the app and it would cause me to waste tons of time.

Instead, put all of the social media apps and games into folders on the second page. Putting the time-waster apps out of site and making them harder to get to, allows you to re-evaluate why you are on your phone in the first place. The few extra clicks that it takes to get to the time-wasting social media apps or games makes you think more about whether or not going on Facebook or Instagram is the best use of your time.

7. Replace your old apps and download new ones

Once you’ve deleted apps that you don’t need or you waste too much time on, add apps to your phone that align with your values and are a better use of your free time. Since we’ve gotten into this habit of grabbing our phones the second we’re bored, it’s important to selectively choose apps that are more thoughtful. So now, instead of having two rows of social media apps on the home page, I installed apps that allow me to be more productive, mindful and spend my free time learning something new. Now, I’m going on apps where I can read articles, search for books, and learning new vocabulary.

8. Install an app blocker

If you’ve made changes to your phone, but you’re still noticing that the social media apps are a distraction, I recommend downloading an app blocker or an app that tracks your activity. A few that I’ve heard great things about are apps called “Quality Time” and “In Moment.” Apps like these show your own smartphone usage daily, gives you reports on the amount of time you spend on certain apps, and allow you to set usage limits or block apps when you should be focused on other things.

9. Edit your Notes app

Before I gave myself an iPhone Makeover, my Notes app used to be a hot mess. It was cluttered, disorganized, and confusing. Even though I used it every day, it wasn’t as helpful as it could have been. Now, I create folders within my Notes app to separate notes for work, my blog, errands, or inspirational quotes or messages. Now, instead of having a long list of disorganized notes, everything is neat and easy to find. I also highly recommend using your Notes app the way that Rachel Brathen does. Using your smartphone notes to record any inspirational quotes, thoughts, and epiphanies is a way to utilize your phone to keep you grounded and connected to the important things in life.

Like I said before, and will probably say many more times throughout my posts – I don’t think that technology is evil or we should ban it all together. But many people today have become Lost Online, spending almost every waking hour on their devices, completely oblivious to the wonderful and real world around them. It’s important to find ways to utilize our technology so it adds value to our lives and leaves us feeling happy, instead of feeling constantly distracted.

Let me know if you decided to give yourself your own iPhone Makeover and if any of these tips helped you! And don’t forget to comment below if you have any of your own suggestions to make our smartphones less of a distraction.

Photographer: Allen Fajardo