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

Apps That I’m Loving Right Now

Digital Dilemma

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In another blog post, “The iPhone Makeover! How to Have a Healthier Relationship with Your Phone,” I talked about how to give yourself what’s I’m calling an iPhone Makeover. This involves making a few simple changes on your phone and reorganizing the layout so that it becomes less of a distraction throughout the day. One of my tips was to download new apps on your phone that are more in-line with your values and how you would rather be spending your free time. This inspired me to share with you the 9 apps that I’m loving right now. All of these apps have changed the relationship with my phone so going on my phone has become a more mindful experience instead of an epic time-waster.

1. Strides

Strides is an incredibly easy-to-use goal and habit tracker. This app allows you to set a habit that you want to do every day, and then it sends you reminders to keep you accountable. Once you finish a good habit, you swipe right to show it’s completed. This app has become so helpful for me. I can’t count how many times I said, “I want to start meditating.” “I want to start reading before bed.” “I should take my vitamins every day.” “I should be drinking more water.” “I should be reading a new article every day.” But the thing is, as much as we say we want to do something if it’s not a part of our daily habits and daily routine, it’s easy to forget and not do it at all! With Strides, I’ve finally started doing all those little things I’ve been saying I should do or I want to do. Plus, it’s so satisfying at the end of the day to see that all of your good habits are done, like making your bed or drinking enough water. Thanks to this app I’ve changed certain health habits, started writing more for my blog, and have already read a bunch of books.

2. Goodreads

This is another app I’m probably too obsessed with right now. Goodreads helps you discover new books, allows you to read and write reviews, and allows you to rate the books you’ve finished. My favorite feature about Goodreads is that whenever I discover a new book I want to read, I add it to my “Want To Read” list. Of course, everyone knows about Goodreads, but many people don’t actually utilize this feature. It’s become incredibly helpful to know what book I want to read next instead of trying to remember whenever I’m wandering through a bookstore.

3. Headspace

I used to know absolutely nothing about meditation until I downloaded the Headspace app. This app gives you guided meditations each day, provides you with information about meditation before the start of a new session, and has animated videos that explain how it works. Ever since I downloaded this app I’ve slept better, had less anxiety, been more productive, been more focused, and have been overall much happier. If you’re interested in learning about meditation and beginning a practice even if it’s only 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes a day, I highly suggest Headspace.

4. Google Calendar

This one is super basic, I know. But the reason why I’m suggesting this is because until last year I fought the idea of an online planner. I would get irritated when someone would dare suggest I use Google Calendar and I’d spew of countless reasons why my planner filled with post-it notes, scribbles, and horrific handwriting was someone better and more organized than an online calendar. But it wasn’t. And the most difficult thing about having a paper calendar was that I always had to tell people “Let me get back to you when I check my planner.” So finally, I broke down. I threw away that paper planner and downloaded Google Calendar and my life has gotten 1,000 times easier. Everything I’m doing is on my phone, and it’s color coordinated! Exciting stuff, I know. Plus, Google Calendar allows you to make multiple calendars and then share them with other people. So now I have one for work that I share with my boss and one for my personal life where I can keep track of birthday, doctors appointments, vacation plans, nanny jobs, etc. If you were like me and you haven’t made the switch to Google Calendar yet, it’s time.

5. Ted

Since I’ve downloaded the Ted app I haven’t looked back. This app allows you to explore thousands of videos from the most remarkable people in just one app. Now, when I find myself reaching for my phone I like to watch a Ted Talk and feed my curiosities instead of getting sucked into mindless scrolling whenever I find myself a bit bored. Ted even puts together playlists so if you’re interested in a certain topic like robots, or different cultures, or brain health, or friendship, or music, or science – they have a playlist for that! Thanks to this app, I’ve learned something new every day since I downloaded it.

6. Venmo

How did I ever live without Venmo? I used to have to go out of my way to hunt down an ATM and pay someone back or keep track of what I owed someone for lunch or whatever it was we were doing. Venmo allows you to plug in your bank account information and send someone money right from your phone. The only downside is it takes a few days until it’s out of pending, but I’ll take that over going on a scavenger hunt for an ATM or having to wait a day to get to the bank. Or even worse, forgetting to pay someone back forcing them to have an awkward conversation with you to ask for money. Don’t be that friend, download Venmo.

7. Word of the Day

I downloaded this app after I learned that learning one new world in our native language each day helps expand vocabulary, strengthens memory, and improves brain health! Each day a new word is hand picked by English professionals. This app allows you to log on each day read the definition of the word of the day, read a sentence to help you understand it, listen to the pronunciation, and save the words you like. So now, if I’m writing and struggling to come up with a word, I check my list of saved words on Word of the Day. As someone who loves to write and studies communications, I’ve been loving this app.

8. Stitcher

Stitcher is my favorite way to listen to podcasts right now and is one of the Top 5 Podcasts Apps of 2018. This app allows you to save your favorite podcasts, explore new shows, create playlists, and use Carplay. I also like how it automatically plays the next episode and makes it super easy to rewind and fast forward through an episode in case you missed something or want to avoid hearing an advertisement.

9. Spotify

I’ve been a fan of Spotify for a long time now, but lately, I’m loving this app even more than usual. I used to exclusively listen to Spotify in the car, but I’m enjoying this app even more after I started listening to the “Deep Focus” playlists. I play them all the time when I’m writing or working which I’ve found keeps me calm and focused, creates an engaging atmosphere, and helps me concentrate longer than I do without the focus playlists. Five stars to Spotify for making work more pleasant!

That’s it for the apps that I’m loving at the moment. I hope this list will inspire you to try some of these out and see if they’re working for you. Like I always say in my posts, technology should be a tool that we should use to add value to our lives and make us feel fulfilled, grounded, and more productive. These are the apps that allowed me to reconnect with the important things instead of filling my free time with Candy Crush or social media.

What apps have you decided to add after giving yourself an iPhone Makeover? Which ones are your favorite right now? And the real question is, are they making you happier or helping you be more productive?  Comment below and let me know!

Photographer: Allen Fajardo

How Many Times Do You Think You Check Your Phone in a Day? Is It Time For a Break-Up?

Digital Dilemma

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It’s ok, I’ll be the first to admit it… I’m addicted to my iPhone. That beautiful, shiny, ridiculously intelligent device that I’ve dubbed is the most important item in my possession. I take it everywhere, and I don’t think I’ve been away from my phone for a single day since I received my iPhone 4 in high school. But ever since I started studying digital communication, I’ve been more and more interested in our relationship with technology. And I’ve determined that as useful as that little gadget is, it may be doing more hard than good.

I know I’m not the only one. Many of us have gotten used to going through our day with our heads buried in our screens, completely unaware of what’s happening around us. And what has started to upset me more, is when I’m out in public and can see an entire room full of dozens of people, all sitting side-by-side with their heads down. No one talks, no one looks up, no one engages in real conversation anymore! But any of us will swear up and down that these little gadgets are what keeps us “connected.” How ironic.

We have a stronger relationship with a four-inch screen than we do with our own friends and family. What’s even more bizarre is the intense relationship that younger generations have with their phone, yet many of them refuse to talk on the phone because it’s “awkward.” We’ve become so lost in the technology that the thought of speaking to a human being on a phone and hearing their voice makes people uncomfortable.

Joshua Fields Millburn of “The Minimalists,” wrote a post on theminnimalist.com that describes how scrolling is the new smoking. It doesn’t matter where we are. Whether it’s in the car, at a nice dinner, having drinks with friends, as a whole, we can’t seem to pull ourselves away from the endless stream of emails, Instagram posts, texts, and tweets.

So this got me thinking… How much time do we spend on our phones in a day? How many times do we check our phones in a day? My curiosities lead me to a blog post that I found on dscout.com called “Putting a Finger on Our Phone Obsession,” by Michael Winnick. It’s all about a study that monitored the behaviors of 94 smartphone users and tracked every single interaction they had with their phone all day, every day for 5 days.

Collectively, they went on their phones over 33,000 times, spent over 60,000 minutes on their phones, and “touched” their phones over 1,100,000 times. On average, people clicked, swiped, or tapped 2,617 times a day. The heaviest users totaled 5,427 touches a day! In one day, the average amount of time spent on the phones totaled 2.42 hours a day, but the heaviest users spent 3.75 hours a day on their phones. Finally, the average user went on their phone 76 different times a day, and the heaviest users totaled 132 separate sessions.

Although this data is a little bit disturbing to see, it’s not at all hard to believe. Think about how many times you’ve grabbed your phone, opened up the lock screen, and thought… “Wait, why did I go to check my phone?”

Chip Gaines says in his article, “A Breakup Story: An Unintentional Lesson On Letting Go,” that losing your cell phone today is like losing a part of your body. Gaines shares in his article that he accidentally ruined his phone one day when he fell into the water while the phone was in his pocket. So he had to make a choice: spend tons of money to replace it or wait a few months until it was time for his free upgrade. Instead of spending a bunch of money to automatically replace his phone, he did something that few of us could imagine doing right now. Gaines got a temporary flip phone to stay in touch with co-workers or family that absolutely needed to call him.

For months he went without the luxuries of our modern day smartphones and his account of those few months is interesting, to say the least. He began to discover just how reliant he was on technology. Gaines shares, “For the first few days I kept reaching for my phone only to realize I didn’t have it on me. At times I thought I even heard a buzz or a ring, but of course, that couldn’t be.”

He experienced what seems like multiple stages of withdrawal as he had to live without the beloved iPhone. Everywhere he went, he didn’t have that automatic access to conveniences like internet, emails, a calculator, the weather app, the notes app, a GPS, etc. But don’t worry, he survived.

Gaines explained that although the first few weeks of the change were difficult, it forced him to become more efficient and look for help elsewhere. He had to start doing things throughout the day that seems so old-fashioned now… like check a newspaper, find and use a calculator, walk outside to look at the thermometer, and use physical bank statements. Gaines says that although he wasn’t happy about losing his phone, it forced him to massage some other muscles that had grown weak. Instead of connecting with people over email or social media, he was actually talking to people more and having more meaningful interactions with people he met. He could no longer grab his phone to avoid conversations by scrolling through nonsense on social media networks.

Gaines shares that now that his new phone has come in, “The magic this little device once held for me has lost a lot of its luster.” He no longer feels completely attached to his phone and often leaves it in a drawer while he spends the day away from it if he finds himself becoming too reliant on it again.

There are many stories out their about people breaking up with their phone or other technology at home and how they were able to feel better and more fulfilled once they broke the hold their phones held over them. What I want to take away from these articles is not to necessarily be cut out our iPhones and other technology, but to limit ourselves and use it with intention. It would be unreasonable and unrealistic to ask people to go back to flip phones and cut out the technology in their lives. Instead, let’s find ways to simplify, and get back to those simple tasks we used to do before our phones took over. Write a letter instead of an email, use a calculator instead of an app, or reach for a book instead of the search engines. Or have a conversation with someone new instead of wasting that time scrolling. Only then, can we be free from the hold of our shiny iPhones and learn to live with these devices instead of being controlled by them. 

What are your thoughts? Do you think you’ve been too reliant on your smartphone? How much time do you think you spend on the phone every day? And what are your tips and suggestions that have helped you in avoiding mindless scrolling throughout the day? 

Photographer: Matt Rutski

Love Finds You When You’re Not Looking

Lifestyle

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I’m writing this blog post today because it’s June 12th, my one year anniversary. This day last year, Matt and I became boyfriend and girlfriend at the top of the Saint Augustine Lighthouse. With it being our anniversary, it has made me reflective about what it was like when I was dating around and trying to find “the one.”

Before I met Matt, I spent over a year casually dating and searching for that one person I wanted to be with. It seemed like everyone I knew was in a committed, long-term relationship, and I was their one “single friend.” And my friends loved nothing more than to give me advice about dating and tell me how I was doing it wrong. They always told me the second I stopped looking for someone, I was going to meet the love of my life. I thought that they were insane and that was the most ridiculous clique I’d ever heard.

Every time someone told me that, it irritated me to my core. Why does everyone make it seem like some magic trick where you stop looking and Voila, you’ve found your soulmate?! I didn’t want to be the single friend and I didn’t want to listen to people spewing cliques at me whenever they had the chance. So I worked even harder to find someone. I went out to bars to meet other singles, I Tindered, I had friends set me up, and I kept an eye out wherever I went thinking, “Maybe this is the day I’ll meet him.

Because of that, I went on one horrible, cringe-worthy first date after another. Then, something would happen. I would meet someone that I was interested in and infatuated with and we would casually date for about two months. But it would always end the same way. Every single time, just as we had gotten through the get-to-know-you part of dating, they would hit me the excuses about why they didn’t want to date. I heard it all…

“I really like you, but I’m just not looking for anything serious right now.”

“I really like you, but I’m still in love with my ex-girlfriend.”

“I really like you, but I travel a lot.”

“I really like you, but I just need to focus on my career right now.”

“I really like you, but you’re cool and I don’t want to ruin the friendship.”

“You’re just too good for me, you deserve better.”

“We live a half an hour away, it would be hard to make it work.”

“I just think it’s not natural for humans to be monogamous.”

“I’m just want to have fun.”

“I just want to be friends.”

Or even worse, they would completely ghost me and disappear altogether. They didn’t want to come up with a little excuse as to why they weren’t interested. Instead, they wanted to ignore me until I got the hint. So, after casually dating a long line of giant d-bags and having it end the same way, my thoughts on dating had completely changed. I thought that it was actually impossible for me to find love.

How on earth was I going to find someone who loved to travel as much as I did? Who was supportive? Who would deal with me when I’m at my worst? Who would tell me I’m pretty when I roll out of bed in the morning looking like a troll? Who would spend the day hopping around to different cafes or donut shops with me? Who would treat me the way that girls are treated in romantic comedies? Who would buy me flowers for no reason at all? I couldn’t even get a text back! There was no way on earth I was going to find “the one.”

I told myself that some people are just not meant to be in romantic relationships. Some people might just be destined to be on their own. And I’m happier being by myself with no dates lined up than I am on some quest to find that person. So, I made a sweeping declaration. I declared that I was not going to be dating anymore. I was officially done and exhausted by the torturous casual dating experience. I said that I would not be dating again until I was graduated, had a job, had a place of my own, and was at least 25. From that moment on I was going to “focus on myself.” That night I met Matt.

If that’s not cosmic irony I don’t know what is. I must have yelled at countless people for telling me “The second you stop looking you’re going to meet the love of your life.” I hated that clique with all of my being. So of course, that’s the way that I met Matt. Just hours after my sweeping declaration when I was downtown and his friend had made a comment from across the room that got us talking.

A year later it still amazes me that I found someone so perfect after I had sworn off dating. That night I met the most kind, supportive, genuine person on the planet. And all it took was for me to stop trying so hard.

The reason why I’m writing this is that now I’m watching other girls go through the same thing that I was. Who are struggling to find that perfect person, and who keeping looking for him wherever they go. And all I want to tell them is the second you stop looking, you’re going to meet the love of your life. I know you too have probably heard this from friends or family before, but it’s worth listening too. It’s one of those cliques you hear over and over again that are worth having faith in. So turn off the Tinder, pull yourself out of that bar you don’t want to be in, and stop looking. He’ll come to you.

 

I Pretended to be a Travel YouTuber for a Week… Here’s What I Learned

Travel

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What comes to your mind when you think of a travel photographer or a travel videographer? If you’re anything like me, then you have visions of nothing but ultimate luxury, beauty, adventure, and fame. And it seems effortless! Easy stuff right? All you have to do is travel the world and take photos for a living! But this past spring break I decided to do a little experiment. It decided to spend my spring break shooting a Go Pro travel video while in Costa Rica. And I learned what life is really like for someone who creates travel videos for a living… and let me tell you it’s far from easy. This is what I learned while shooting a travel video that you’re favorite YouTubers won’t tell you:

1. You have to have a plan
If you think you could just shoot a travel video on the spur of the moment without a plan… you’re so wrong. In order to create a video that will get people interested, you have to have a beginning and an end. You need to seem like you have a story to tell. Before my trip, I have to plan the entire introduction and ending to make sure that when I got back my footage made sense. The planning process also involved getting the rights to a song and deciding on a theme and style that I wanted to shoot so I could take my videos accordingly.

2. You always have to keep the shot in mind while on vacation
When everyone else is sipping Pina Coladas, you’re thinking: “How do I capture this moment? Should I move more to get a different background? There are people in the way, I should wait for them to move. Maybe I should face the camera this way instead? Is it in focus? Is the lighting too harsh?” You get the idea.

3. You’re constantly thinking about your camera
When you’re trying to shoot a travel video, your camera is absolutely everything and it starts to make you a little paranoid. When you’re not actually shooting something, your mind continually thinks: Will someone steal my camera? Is there something on the lens? Is there enough storage? Is there enough battery? Should I have brought another sim card?” It adds anxiety to what should be a super relaxing week spent in a tropical paradise.

4. You constantly have to keep the audience in mind
While pretending to be a travel videographer I learned that if you’re someone who makes a living traveling the world and creating content, it means making content all the time. And it can’t be half-hearted either. It means creating interesting, engaging content on all social media platforms. It sounds easy because we use social media all the time right? But it involves thinking of blog ideas and taking notes, shooting videos, making interactive stories in the moment, tweeting about your adventures, and posting on Facebook or Instagram. Doing all of this all day long is surprisingly exhausting.

5. It can be scary!
If you want to shoot a video that people will actually want to see you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to zip line, get close to wild animals, skydive, jump into freezing cold springs, and do all of the things that you’re scared to do, but will keep people coming back to view your content. This past trip I was so determined to get a shot of me petting the cow, but the cow ended up being super aggressive and almost knocking me to my feet into barbed wire, as he proceeded to rip the fence out of the ground.

6. You have to have a lot of patience
It takes a long time to get that perfect shot for a video, so you sometimes have to take it a few times just to be safe. Another thing that I learned, was that people act very different on camera. We tend to act awkward and stiff as soon as we know we’re being recorded. Which means that if you’re shooting a video you have to redo it over and over again to get someone to loosen up, relax, and act normal. And let’s not forget all the other hundreds of tourists that keep getting in the way of your shot… there’s nothing that will test your patience more…

7. You have to edit everything and it takes a looong time
Although editing can be fun once you get in the hang of it, coming back from vacation with 32 GB of video footage and having to edit everything is super intimidating. Organizing the timeline of the video, putting it together, and getting the video to match the beat of the music takes a lot longer than I was anticipating. If you’re a student with four part-time jobs like me, it could take months to get through editing.

8. You’re not really on vacation, you’re working
It’s your job to bring the audience along on the trip and keep them entrained. You can’t drop the ball and spend the day enjoying your vacation in private. There were many moments when I didn’t want to have to film or make a story, but that’s a travel videographers job. They have to get that footage even if they don’t feel like it.

9. Without Wifi, you’re screwed!
When you’re traveling to certain areas of the world, Wifi can be hard to come by. Even businesses that advertise that they have Wifi might not have working Wifi. It’s hard to keep in touch with your audience if you’re not able to share those moments with them throughout the day.

10. Everyone gets annoyed with you
When you’re trying to shoot a Youtube video, take Instagram stories, and take a perfect picture of you, basically everyone gets annoyed by you. You have to hold everyone up and reshoot something over and over until you get it right. Nobody likes that person who spends so much time on their phone on vacation!

What I’ve learned from this experience now that I spent a week pretending to be a travel videographer is that I have so much more respect for travel photographers and videographers now. It’s not as easy as it looks to travel the world and create perfect content all the time. It can be surprisingly exhausting. There’s a lot of little things you have to think about in order to create a video, and it takes a long time!

SO, with all that being said, would I ever consider being a travel videographer for a living? Maybe. Being a travel photographer and videographer for a week was surprising stressful, but I don’t think there is a single job in the world that is stress-free. If I was going to be a little stressed out, I guess I’d rather be a little stressed while I have a cocktail in my hand while I’m sitting at the base of a volcano rather than in an office! Personally, I think I’d be more of the traveling blogging type rather than a videographer.

What do you think? Have you ever shot a travel GoPro video or Youtube video before? Would you consider creating videos for a living? Or would you rather do blogging instead?

Photographer: Matt Rutski