Plagued by Careerism

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out my next steps in terms of my professional life. I have yet to really “choose” a field to be in, at least concretely. I feel like my mood changes every week. The only thing that stays the same is that I like to travel, cook, write, and be creative. Those things either (a) point to nothing in relation to a tangible job or (b) are so broad I could do a TON of things. Not an easy choice, I tell ya!

But I also have to keep reminding myself of this phrase: “You are not your career.” Americans (and Westerners in general, I guess) are brought up under enormous pressure to rise to the top professionally, or if not that, then at least choose a career path. It starts early – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Then onto high school, where you often take career quizzes and are deciding on college. Then, if you are lucky enough to go to college, you’re encouraged to pick a major that has the most payout, more so financially than emotionally. It’s exhausting just thinking about how long I’ve been pondering “what to do” with my life.

Of course, I find it incredible that women have more and more career capability than ever before. It’s a big win for ladies, for sure. And I’m all for women who want to be stay-at home moms and dedicate themselves to raising their children. Hell, it’s something I’m not sure I could do! To the women who “do it all”, I’m continually impressed at how you function daily, and raise my glass to you. Here’s my theoretical situation, though: if I don’t have my own business, or if I never become a CEO, or if I never have any children, or if I never get married; if I’m just a girl who, say, happily works in a coffee shop for 20 years even though she has a BA and goes home at night to a modest apartment and perhaps a cute dog – am I not an accomplished person? Do you see what I mean? It feels like I have to pick a box in order to matter. “Powerful businesswoman!” “Dedicated mom!” “Loving wife!” “Juggler of all three and somehow stays sane!” Let’s face it, we all want to matter in some way or another, be it to 100,000 or 1 person.

I guess I’m not sure why “enjoying life how you want” isn’t on the menu. You have to make yourself fit into happiness instead of embracing what already makes you happy. Like your job as a writer? You must become an editor, it’ll bring you success and that’ll make you happy. Totally in love with your boyfriend? You must get married soon, it’s the ultimate statement and that’ll make you happy. Again, I don’t think that rising up in a company or getting married are bad things – I just don’t like the feeling that an upgrade in any facet of life is an instant ticket to happiness. It’s not.

One can technically enjoy a leisurely, non-“successful” life. However, you know what words often come with that lifestyle? Lazy. Unmotivated. Dumb. Trapped. Poor. Unhappy. I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s a result of this pressure we’re brought under. If you don’t make something of yourself, you’ve lost the game. Or, worse yet, you’ve failed to take advantage of the opportunities that our society provides to you, and scorned the American dream. For shame!

I read recently about how Denmark has the best work-life balance. An average of 67% of their day is leisure time – a.k.a., time to themselves. I find that amazing! To not only have that time, of course, but to live in a culture where that is the norm. Instead of thinking, “I’ve worked hard, but I should work overtime to prove my worth as an employee”, someone may instead think, “It’s 3pm and I’ve worked hard today; I think it’s time for me to go home and rest”. And that’d be totally kosher, not lazy. Your worth is in yourself. But the inherent problem is that an American like me sees this culture differently than the rest of the world. Can an expat truly enjoy this lifestyle without taking advantage of it, or eventually having your American ambition creep up on you, leaving you feeling inadequate? Is it something only the Danes can experience?

I’m sure I’ll look back on this post in 20 years and think, “Wow, I got all worked up about nothing.” And perhaps some of you are thinking the same thing. And that’s okay. I’m just trying to figure it all out, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Te Echo De Menos

Translation: I miss you.

It was three years ago this week that I embarked on what would become the best adventure of my life to date: living and studying in Madrid, Spain. I met some of the best people in my life while I was there. I also learned a lot about myself, independence, and traveling. Though I’m not going to be one of those study abroad people (“I’m so cultured now!”), I really do think that this trip changed me for the better. I’m feeling nostalgic, so I’d love to share some of my photos and relive the memories.

320520_2444743873337_1802979977_n First off: food! Classic drinks and tapas. It’s customary to serve free “snacks” with drinks in Spain. This bar was “El Tigre”, and is more or less known as an expat bar – but it was a great place to start the night. And hey, we were expats, after all. They had the biggest, cheapest mojitos and sangria (see on the left). They were so sweet, you couldn’t place your straw on the bottom of the cup without sucking up a lump of sugar!

292052_2400898697235_1250303752_nMy friend (now a “bset frienf” – inside joke – more later) Katie overlooking Barcelona. I was lucky enough to go to Barcelona twice on my trip – once with my study abroad group, and once with my mom. I am behind this camera and struggling to breathe, as I had a terrible sinus infection at the time. I made it through the daytime, but could not get out of bed at night. So I missed out on some crazy evenings! But I did get to spend some time in my cozy hotel bed watching “Biutiful”. *sobs*

308970_2378377534220_963140575_nA photo I love of my friend and Madrid roommate, Colleen. I adore all of the colors from the candy stand. We were in beautiful Malaga, where the sun shines forever and the Andaluces are friendly. Colleen’s friend Maricarmen lives there, and her family graciously housed us for a couple of days.

293467_2378367013957_469933157_nHer family was very, very gracious, indeed. Look at all the food they gave us for dinner! Look at those shrimp! Manchego cheese! We were in heaven. I should also note that I gave up my pescatarianism while I was in Spain. Didn’t want to give my beloved Señora a hard time.

317699_2421037560694_1445086217_nAlthough there were nights where my pescatarianism fared just fine. This is a beautiful dinner my Señora prepared for us one night: spinach, bean, and calamari soup, Spanish tortilla, and sauteed mushrooms. We also often had “tinto de verano” with dinner, which is basically red wine soda and was my life nectar. I wish they sold it here!

321660_2444773194070_599974808_nThis is Toledo, which is not far from Madrid. It is a quintessential Spanish town – stony streets, tiled roofs, churches everywhere, and Spaniards waltzing around with their hands behind their backs. We did a day trip there, and it was one of my favorite side trips – we saw a few of the main sights, but mostly just wandered around. We ended the day at a small cafe on a random street with wine, beer, and tapas. It was perfect.

305400_2444761273772_1172239121_nThis is one of my top five favorite photos of the trip. This is on Puente de San Martín (San Martín Bridge), which provided breathtaking views of the Tagus River and surrounding landscape. And my friends are admiring it so.

406414_2891087191641_785946966_nMy friends and I also took a day to hike the Sierra de Guadarrama, a mountain range outside of Madrid. It was a grey, cloudy day, but it was surreal. Earlier we had eaten sandwiches by a creek, and my water bottle was full with water from the creek. At this moment we were listening to “Love Is All” by The Tallest Man on Earth and it almost brought me to tears.

390034_2576621930206_521298202_nNow we’re on the campus of the University of Salamanca in, you guessed it, Salamanca. We had a weekend trip there as well and were on a tour of the school, which is the third oldest in Europe (founded in 1134!). This is one of the artier photos that I took. I’m not even sure where this Dalmatian came from. I hope he got lots of pets that day.

389570_2877709697212_743335467_nMy mother came to visit during Thanksgiving week. She’d backpacked through Europe when she was my age, but she’d never been to Spain! We spent part of our afternoon strolling around Retiro, the largest park in Madrid. This is just outside the Palacio de Cristal, which is a glass castle of sorts. There’s an incredibly peaceful pond just outside of the palace, and we watched the ducks. We had also bought new hats and were very proud of them (mine was unfortunately later stolen off of my sleeping head on a bus from Manchester, England to London – the nerve!).

397663_2877714777339_942255138_nFor Thanksgiving Dinner, we dined the oldest restaurant in the WORLD, Botín! Of course, we had to get a souvenir pitcher of wine.

405631_2877719337453_1823509663_nAs I mentioned, we took a short trip to Barcelona, and perused the glory of La Boqueria – a huge market on La Rambla. It was so colorful and aromatic I could barely stand it. Not to mention the abundance of delicious fresh food. Makes you feel lucky.

394824_2877740817990_1222163445_nThen we trekked back up the hill to visit Parque Güell, an artistic masterpiece of a park. This is a tile creation on the ceiling of an underpass. Incredible, isn’t it?

396056_2881825120095_2018336794_nThis. This is my group. These are my people. I can’t think for one second about this trip without being grateful for them. We were a tight-knit group from the get-go. We did everything together. I am still friends with every one of these people, and we still get together over tapas to remember our adventures together. They’re indispensable to me!

377005_2881857640908_966312389_nOh Madrid, how I miss thee.

Home Office Inspiration: An Update

I failed you all in that I did not take a picture of my table before it was finished. Maybe I have a stray photo of it in the background somewhere, but I don’t want to burden you with sub-par photography.

Anyways, here’s what I’ve done with my little office nook:

10617085_559726744155960_191029603_n

Things that I changed:

  • There used to be a Lazy Susan where the catch-all box is. That Lazy Susan is now in my fridge as a little condiment merry-go-round (so helpful; would recommend). This little catch all is filled with my thank-you notes, stamps, envelopes, my camera, and my gold tacks for my inspiration board.
  • My gold four-leaf clover was originally up on my bookcase. I liked it here, though, as a setting for my jasmine tea candles. ~*serenity now*~
  • French press coffee. It’s where it’s at. It’s a little weekend treat for me.
  • So many things on this desk are Dollar Store finds: the gold tacks, the mason jar, the candy dish, and the Rolos in the candy dish. Everything else I already had in my house. Score!
  • Before, I used to use the entire table as a catch-all: random books, old receipts, scarves, sweaters, and dirty coffee cups were strewn about. I made a commitment to keeping the clutter out of this space. And you know what? It totally makes it more inviting. I now eat at this table more often than I eat in front of the TV, which was a prior bad habit of mine. Hoping this sticks!

I’ll show you my inspiration board as well. In due time! ‘Til then…

21 Day Challenge

Okay, so I have been doing a lot of blog-reading and not a lot of blog-writing over the past couple of weeks. The creative tank’s been a little dry, lately, but I can’t use that as an excuse, right? Just have to get out there and write, well, anything. Something.

One thing that has inspired me is the post “21 Days” from upperlyne & co. (I’m so obsessed with this blog! Whoops). I think that it might be good for me to try a little challenge of my own. Here goes nothin’:

  • Write something every day. Of course, work writing doesn’t count. I’d like to commit to writing something, be it a few thoughts of the day or a full blog post, every day of the week. I feel as though I’ve tried creating a regimented schedule for writing, but that’s almost more discouraging than a lack of creativity – you feel like something you love is a chore. However, I do think that I’m ignoring some inclinations because I’m afraid.
  • Study countries to teach English in. That’s right – I’m seriously considering teaching abroad next year! I love to travel, and I’m thinking about becoming a professor someday, so I think that this would be an “next step” for me. More on that later! I’ve already chosen South America – I want to invest in my Spanish skills. Right now my top contenders are Buenos Aires, Argentina, Santiago, Chile, and Lima, Peru. If you have experience in any of those countries, I’d love to hear about it!
  • Drink three bottles of water a day. I mean my refillable waterbottle, mind you (PSA: plastic waterbottles are a waste of resources! Don’t use them! Tap water is fine! Okay, I’m done). I’ve mildly committed to drinking more water daily, but I think that it will be helpful to have a number in mind. I am constantly feeling sluggish, have headaches, etc., and want to know if dehydration is really the reason.
  • Walk two mornings a week. It really clears my head, it’s good exercise, and I can stop at the Farmer’s market!
  • Only buy groceries on Sundays. I need to be more stern with myself in terms of buying food. I’m addicted to eating out and grocery shopping, and it eats away at most of my paycheck. I love food, though, so I’m thinking of this more as an opportunity to spend time in my kitchen and work on my cooking skills.

I’m keeping my motivation high by remembering that this is all about making me a better person, and as Juley says, being kinder to myself. I’ll check in on October 8 to update. Do you have any goals you’d like to push yourself towards?