15 Good Things From 2015

Everyone’s positive energy building up to the New Year is absolutely contagious. I want to join!

Here’s my list of 15 good things from 2015:

*not in chronological order or order of importance*

  1. I was awarded a Chapter Distinguished Service Key (DSK) in Alpha Phi Omega (APO): Upon receiving this fraternity honor I wrote “I feel like this statDSCN4702us should go something like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or “nobody said it was easy…” but actually, in all seriousness, it was truly an honor to be awarded a Chapter DSK today. I am so thankful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had as an active Brother and I cannot wait to continue to serve with APO as alumni!” Just a few weeks later I was offered a position on Region 1 Staff! This fraternity has given me more than I could ever ask for. APO continually shows me the the meaning of brotherhood in ways I can’t explain. I made some of the best friends and learned some of the most important lessons and skills of my life.
  2. I went on Birthright and spent my 23rd birthday in Israel!
  3. I finished my honors thesis: but really 53 pages later! This seemed like an impossible task made manageable only by consuming inappropriate amounts of coffee and working ALL THE TIME. I still don’t know how I did it all. Before this project, conducting my own research seemed like a task that was beyond the scope of what I expected I could accomplish as an undergraduate; my advisors’ commitment to me and my project convinced me otherwise and showed me that I can accomplish more than I expect. Having an advisor who saw enough value in my ideas and capabilities to believe in my project was imperative to the success of this work and was necessary for me to grow both academically and personally. My confidence and pride was ignited because she didn’t tell me no. Rather, she pushed me each day to excel. This project not only taught me the research process but was instrumental in creating a foundation for both my future professional and academic interests. Now, I want to be a researcher! Of course, none of this would have been possible or as fun without my amazing HDFS honors cohort. We were a great bunch and I loved every minute of our learning and lamenting together.11149684_10204024050981885_3863601930795783864_o
  4. I became a runner: I used to have a witty excuse as to why I hated running. I’d say, “it’s physics. It’s just logic. If you start where you end then you’ve displaced nothing. So, why would I run if displacement says at the end I’ll have accomplished nothing?” I clearly didn’t really understand running or physics then. I still don’t understand physics. Now, whether I’m running to escape or running to gear up to something, running is important for me. It gives me time to think. It gives me order, control, discipline, expectations, freedom, and strength. Some days, the best we can do is put one front in front of the other and face the day. That’s what running has taught me. There are no unconquerable obstacles, just different paces with which we overcome them. On June 4th I posted this photo [yes on Facebook] and pulled the caption from the first time I publicly shared this picture during my senior year of high school public speaking class last lecture. I wrote, “In the face of a challenge, face it. You never know what you can do until you try”.Then there were sentiments of continuing to persevere until you 11351330_10204410118993344_5105233088170803531_nreach your goals and never stopping until you achieve what you want. Apparently my 18 year old self was more attuned to grasping at opportunity than I realized and, I may never learn to stop!

    What’s even more important (and timely/relevant) about this picture is this: it’s the first time I ran and triumphed over RSD (circa 2007).  And now, I consistently surprise myself by running farther, faster, and longer than I have in my entire life. Not pain free but, still confident and owning it! In 2015, I tracked 426 miles and ran a 10K (6.2 miles) in 1:04:47.

  5. I was published on The Mighty! You can read my piece: The One Statement I Want to Hear From Loved Ones About My Invisible Illness here. [Side note: I have a forthcoming  piece on Ravishly – I’m really excited!]
  6. I started this blog! When I started this project I said, “I’m starting this project to make space to wonder…I’m also using this blog to find a space to reflect. That’s a word that wasn’t in my vocabulary a year ago but, many great mentors and conversations later, I’m craving that necessary “me space”. However, not even my best mentors or friends would willingly sign on to interact with my every thought, question, challenge, insight, funny link, or freak out moment. So instead, there’s blogging. ” I’ve grown to love exploring and thinking on things. Sharing my work has been exhilarating and making connections through my writing [and my online community] has shown me that even when I’m feeling lonely there’s someone out there who “gets it”. My list of “things to write about” is growing longer and longer each day. These days, you won’t find me without a notebook in hand in case something sparks an idea. It’s been a risk, it’s still a risk but, I’m really loving this project.
  7. I learned about the importance of relationships and gained some amazing friendships: And of course the only appropriate comment here would be from Grey’s, “We’re friends, real friends. And that means, no matter how long it takes, when you finally decide to look back, I’ll still be here.” – Grey’s Anatomy
  8. I practiced saying what I need, asking for help, and being a better communicator: I started with being okay with things not being “okay” or “fine”. I found an outlet through writing and some great, trustworthy friends to express myself more honestly without worrying about being a burden or being a toxic friend.
  9. I graduated from UConn!  It’s true, some of the best learning happens outside the classroom. At UConn I was challenged, pushed, mentored and questioned both inside and outside of class. Rather than feeling inadequate or frustrated I was inspired and thankful for all that I learned and all the ways I grew. At UConn, I truly thrived! I felt supported and confident. I did it all and then some and, I had an amazing network of friends, mentors, advisors, and professors encouraging me along the way. This quote rings true for me and is so applicable right now, “I’ve learned that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”― Cecelia Ahern.  I miss UConn *literally* every day and I am SO proud to be a  Husky!
  10. Logically what comes next, I started at Brown University in the Urba10360465_10204185744024110_6042675827618780031_nn Education Policy Program: While this hasn’t been the BEST thing in 2015, one thing is certain, (in a paradoxical way) I know that if I never came here and if I stayed at UConn I wouldn’t ever know that I truly didn’t like it. I mean, beyond speculation. Also, and I guess obviously, the things I don’t like aren’t the things I was most nervous about so I suppose there’s value in that too. Regardless, I’ve had some amazing opportunities here to continue to grow as a researcher and an academic (whatever that means). I also learned the value of networking and connections beyond the colloquial saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m working hard and making it work day by day.
  11. I fell in love with stories and great conversations: I traded social media connections for authentic, personal connections and I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I’ve been listening a lot and also searching for those stimulating conversations that ignite wonder and create more opportunities to learn. The kind that leave you thinking and questioning long after the formal discourse has ended. I craved thinking critically and conscientiously. I’ve learned that when you’re open to allowing a conversation to change your perspective and you’re a partner in creating the space for meaningful, intentional interactions you’re facilitating change. Hence, this year, I adopted the use of the phrase “thought partner” in every, even sort of, appropriate context.
  12. MUSIC: Just music. But really, from country concerts and Broadway musicals, to the sounds and spirits of Kabbalat Shabbat I was reminded of and gained a new appreciation for the ways in which music connects us and fills a room (or a person) with such unique energy. Music fills the quiet space that so often feel lonely. A quote from one of my favorite movies August Rush seems appropriate here, “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” SO TRUE! And of course, Taylor Swift gave me more reasons to love her. Including most recently, topping DoSomething.org’s Celebs Gone Good list for the fourth year. Gotta love her!
  13. I traveled! In 2015 (and the last days of 2014) I went to the APO National Convention in Chicago, Israel with UConn Hillel, New Orleans with Honors Across State Borders, NYC, the first ever ParentCampUSA at the U.S. Dept. of Education in D.C., and more!
  14. I recognized and reclaimed my body: It’s easy to learn to ignore  your body when you’re living with chronic pain. Too much attention to your pain can be detrimental because then you can get stuck focusing solely on your pain. We’re taught (in the chronic pain world) to find ANY strategy to ignore the pain and distract ourselves. In 2015 I reclaimed my body and grew stronger! I’m more physically fit than I’ve been before. I pursued strength for me – starting with an earnest desire to be able to run a mile. Rather than my pain owning me, I owned my pain and I was in charge of my body.
  15. I accomplished everything I wanted!  2015 was the year of doing too much and not knowing how (or when) to stop. With coffee as my lifeline and internal motivation I didn’t even know I possessed (once described as a glowing purple ball inside my body that was constantly radiating energy, and another time described as “robotic” – as I operate with the same amount of energy an11008595_10204092958784537_8915779519335960414_nd efficiency at all times) I did some amazing things! And, perhaps more importantly, I learned that I am more than the list of accomplishments that fill up my resume or the things I do each day to feel productive or worthy. With the encouragement of some amazing mentors and lots of hours spent thinking (reflecting), I found myself when I intentionally took the time to critically consider my experiences.  I started attributing credit to myself for my accomplishments rather than luck. Told myself “I earned this. I did this. I am good enough” and slowly I started to believe it. Judith Bulter wrote, “life histories are histories of becoming” and that notion has been a driving force compelling me to consider what I’ve experienced and why it’s been influential in my life rather than just considering how it’s going to propel me on toward the next “best” thing. I am done quantifying my success by how others view my accomplishments. This year rather than reaching the top step and turning around to find 15 more steps to climb I’m standing proud on the top, looking down with satisfaction, attributing value to what I’ve accomplished, and just letting it all soak in.

Happy New Year!

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Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 1)

Some notes that I think should precede this post:

  1. I have been trying to write this for a while but I can’t seem to “finish” the post. It’s making me anxious to keep editing and rewriting so there will likely be a part 2 (at least). This is a starting point. We all have to start somewhere.
  2. I never thought I’d amount to anything better than state school (whatever that means). I feel like I was always “expected” to go to a public university. That being said, I LOVED UConn. My entire undergraduate experience was truly incredible and unexpectedly unbelievable. I learned SO MUCH! I grew so much. I’m incredibly proud to be a UConn alum and wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience.
  3. A part of me feels like there’s a lot of expectation for me to succeed here and not only represent myself well but also represent UConn well. It feels like any performance that is less than exceptional is unacceptable. I carry this burden (partially unwillingly) but also proudly. A part of me wants to prove I can do this. But it’s also a lot to deal with, especially when things aren’t going nearly as well as expected.
  4. Brown University isn’t a bad school. This writing is reflective of my experiences here NOT the institution itself.

When I was first deciding to come here, I had to confront a lot of my own insecurities and worries. I had to convince myself that my experiences and my aspirations aligned with the program I was accepted into. Essentially, I had to convince myself I was good enough, smart enough, intellectual enough to be here. Impostor Syndrome is real ( I didn’t know that then). Impostor Syndrome makes you work harder at everything you do while simultaneously forcing you to undermine and question your accomplishments by comparing yourself to your own perceptions of who and what is worthy of an “Ivy League Education”.  Basically , it makes you feel like all your accomplishments are a consequence of luck or circumstance. Basically, it makes you feel like YOU didn’t earn or deserve your opportunities or recognition. It makes it easy to prefer to be acknowledged as “mediocre” because then you don’t have to confront the disconnect between how you view yourself and how others perceive you to be. The best example of this I can recall, from my experience, is when an outstanding TA once said to me, “It started from my confused reaction to seeing such amazing things in you and also seeing that you didn’t see those things. I wondered to myself how things might change for you if you could see yourself the way I saw you.”  These words were super powerful for me!

Surprisingly, everything that challenged me about coming to this school (with regard to my own intellect, ability, and how “deserving” I was of this opportunity) became mostly obsolete (I realize that’s an oxymoron) once I got here. Admittedly, now (hindsight is 20/20), I NEVER could have predicted the real disappointments and challenges I’d face at this “elite” institution. That’s super frustrating! An advisor once told me that in life there are no counterfactuals (YAY economics!). He was super correct. Even when we think we’ve played out every alternative and every “what if” the truth is, we can never anticipate what we might experience and that reality coupled with the daunting feeling that once we choose we can never look back makes these decisions even harder.

In my opinion, Brown University oversells the name and undersells the quality. It’s one of those things you’d never know or think of until you’re here. No wonder I didn’t consider this! That’s the beauty of the signaling power of Ivy League universities. We find ourselves in these privileged spaces that are conceptualized as incredible and exceptional. [side note: taking a second to acknowledge there is privilege here regardless of how it’s created and maintained] This privilege is reinforced by how others think about and imagine “Brown University”. The thing is, I feel like this is a front. Because, the education I’m receiving doesn’t much different (certainly not better) that what I received at UConn. In fact, I recently found out that the professor I was so exited to do research with is collaborating with some of my professors at UConn on a few projects! So, in the world of academia everything is relatively interconnected. The name holds power and is desirable to employers BUT that’s probably and mostly because they don’t know any better.

I have yet to experience conscious conversations across or between difference. The kind of conversations where we separate the message from the messenger and critically consume what people are saying with the intention of crafting a collective learning space. I have no problem being challenged or having my perspective better (or differently) informed by additional viewpoints, opinions, experiences, or questions. I’m pretty sure that exchange is called learning. What I do have a problem with is feeling small. I have a problem feeling like I am constantly being judged, like my worth is decided before I speak based on anything I’ve said before, based on how others have interpreted my contributions, or what my peers believe to be my experience, intentionality, or privilege.

I absolutely realize the policy world is messy and challenging! I get that. What I didn’t expect was to confront this environment in the classroom. I expected to be exposed to a constructive, collaborative, communal, safe, eclectic learning space. Instead, what I walked into (and keep coming back to) was a condescending, unilateral, opinionated, inflexible, tense environment that is dominated by a select few voices that we’ve collectively put on a pedestal and allowed to be privileged in our space.

I’m tired of talking myself out of participating or preemptively convincing myself that my contributions are worthless (so others don’t do it for me). I know that I’m smart enough and intellectual enough. Those concerns may once have been my foci but that’s not the problem here anymore. Now I’m more preoccupied the toxic space we’ve created where I feel small and insignificant. It’s a space where I feel like my opinions don’t matter and my contributions are only considered to the extent that they can be criticized. The thing is, nobody is asking me my opinions – hence this blog! I realized recently, if I didn’t put myself out there, I’d never be heard because I’d never be invited to speak. Why is that? What does this say about our class dynamic? What does this dynamic indicate about whose voices and who, specifically, is respected, privileged, heard, or acknowledged?

I feel like I left what I knew and where I felt entirely comfortable. When I left, I jumped, deep, into something that was built up to be so amazing and stimulating. That basically left me with farther to fall. And I went because they pushed me! [side note: I’m really trying not to be mad about how forced this all felt] I left something so great for what I presumed (and certainly others presumed) was better.  I guess you can’t know or truly appreciate what you have til it’s gone.

Overwhelmingly, Brown University hasn’t met my expectations.

How You Know You’re Home

Driving up to campus on Friday I was filled with so much nervous energy. My stomach hurt and I noticed my hands were shaking (kind of like they are right now as I’m writing this). So many wonderful memories flooded my mind and I knew that coming back again would likely make it harder to move on. I thought for a second I should just turn around. I wouldn’t have to be reminded of what I was missing if I never went. But I was also excited! The familiar roads and sights reminded me instantly that I love this place and quickly, as I was greeted by old friends and reunited with my typical Friday afternoon routines, I fell back into a comfortable rhythm. I was home.

I felt like I was alive again. I know who I am when I’m at UConn.

And so, as I was watching the band rehearse early Saturday morning and remembering all th20151017_131745ose long rehearsals and early mornings, it became apparent that now none of that really mattered. The petty things we thought were so important just simply faded away. All that was left was a warm feeling. If it could speak it would say “this is where I belong”.

At UConn, we always say “Students Today. Huskies Forever.”  And on top of that, when you’re in the UConn Marching Band, you’re part of a family. These values are becoming more and more meaningful to me each passing day. It’s really quite true! Every year, alumni return for the homecoming game. This year there were nearly 160 alumni band members sharing the field with early 320 students during half time. What a spectacle! And every person was beaming with pride. So you can probably imagine, the passion and excitement about being back was absolutely contagious!

Everyone was standing tall representing their affiliations by wearing their memories on their clothing. We collectively relived our college experiences by fondly sharing stories and connecting over our similarities.  I was surprised and inspired to meet two alumni brothers of UConn’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a National C0-Educational Service Fraternity, from the 60’s and 70’s who shared with me the lived history of our UConn chapter and explained that “in their day the fraternity and band was life”. I’m glad to see nothing’s changed!

UConn Marching Band alumni and Brothers of Alpha Phi Omega from the decades!
UConn Marching Band alumni and Brothers of Alpha Phi Omega from the decades!

It’s really quite stunning though to be connected to all these people. It showed me that I was part of something that’s so much bigger than the four years I attended college. I saw truly how influential these experiences were so many years later. And for those reasons, I made sure to thank each alumni I met for their contribution and commitment to our school. I know now that they really did pave the way for me to have the best experiences I could. For that I am thankful. For a day (and ultimately forever), we were connected and reunited because of our love and pride for our Alma Mater. There’s something about UConn and I can’t precisely put words to it but it’s remarkable. It’s unbelievably special and I’m so lucky! I was blissfully, happy. It was so easy to be comfortable. To be myself.

So, this is how I knew I was home: for a whole day, I couldn’t stop smiling. My heart was warmed as I was greeted with hugs and “how are yous” more times than I could count. I was boiling over the top with energy and charisma. I felt like my personality clicked back into place almost like a Lego once it’s re-positioned and re-centered. I could breathe again! Like really breathe! A full deep breath of satisfaction. Confidently and securely I knew who I was in that space and it felt good.

I’ll end with this quote:

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

These words rings true now even more so than they did the days and weeks immediately after graduation. You know you’re home when you get there and you effortlessly feel comfortable. You can pick up right where you left off and most of your important friendships are salient enough to overcome barriers such as distance, time, or social media. And I am lucky. I’m lucky to be challenged with visiting a place I love so much because I know it’ll be both so wonderful to go back and so difficult to leave. I know that each time I leave and look back I’ll have learned something new about why UConn was so meaningful to me.

A good friend said it best. She said, “you can’t miss something if you never leave”. So, in the face o20151017_132544f all my lamenting, a small part of me is appreciative for the opportunity to miss this so much. Because I know I can always go back home.