Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I want to live each day, each week, each month and each year the way I lived this past semester.  Because what I did with this 12 week challenge was absolutely necessary to my wellbeing.  
Allow me to explain.
Coming into this semester, I was a nervous wreck.  As a senior, all I could focus on was the fact that time was running out.  But two weeks into my semester came my senior seminar project and everything changed. 
At the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I felt inspired to do something significant and important, I wanted to be intentional about my senior year and this project was the perfect way to do it.  So I came up with the guidelines to this 12 week challenge.  
And with each passing week I became more grounded in the present.  Earlier in the semester I was so focused on the end that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy the present. I found that I was happier and less anxious when I took life day by day, week by week, challenge by challenge.  I was reflective and thoughtful and honest. I set goals for myself that I never thought I would do and never thought that I had the time to do.  
Along the way I learned quite a bit.  I learned that there’s always time, always re-prioritizing that can be done in order to do what you want to do. I learned the beauty and power of living a life without limits.  I learned about the person I am and found a little bit more of myself in each week.  So needless to say, the past 12 weeks have been an incredible experience.       
I stumbled across this quote the other day and I fell in love:
"Our personas convince us that there is nothing that we don't know about ourselves --that we are in fact the person we see in the mirror and believe ourselves to be.  But the issue with this is that once we have brought into the story of 'this is who I am,' we shut the door on any other possibility and deny ourselves access to all of who we can be. We lose our ability to choose, because we can't do anything outside the confines of the character we're playing. The predictable persona we've constructed is now in control. We become blind to the immense possibilities for our life."
-Debbie Ford (The Shadow Effect) 
If there’s one thing that I’ve enjoyed learning the most, it’s that there are immense possibilities for our life. 
It just requires a little soul searching, taking opportunities as they come and allowing yourself to be uncomfortable every now and then.
The truth is, it’s easy to be comfortable.  It doesn’t require much energy to go into autopilot and follow routines and do what everyone else is doing.  So for what it’s worth, my advise to you is simple: challenge yourself. 
Be self aware and courageous in your own self-discovery, ask the hard questions and don’t be afraid of the answers you find.  Be adventurous, seek out new experiences and do things that startle you.  Take opportunities as they come and focus on what you can do in the moment.  Strive to be a better person in each passing day, week or year.  Better yourself.  Understand the person you are.  Seek out opportunities to learn and step outside of your comfort zone.  The possibilities that you are capable of are endless.
And just in case you were wondering, my blog doesn’t end here.  Tomorrow I will be jumping out of a plane and free falling for 45 seconds, which will mark the first of many encores.  In theory I should be scared but I’m too excited to be afraid now.  This project has made me brave.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week 12 challenge: no texting, no facebook, no personal email

I’ll be honest, I went into this week with preconceived notions.

I thought that eliminating all forms of social media and texting would make my week with the people in my life more meaningful.  Face to face communication would be uninterrupted by text messages buzzing in my purse.  Calling people on the phone and actually hearing their voice would be more quality than four hour long text message conversations that could be accomplished in a four-minute conversation of the phone.  I thought that at the end of the week I would write this amazing blog about how virtual communication is bad and how we need to go back to the way things used to be: simple, personal and quality.

But that is not how my week went.

I felt disconnected, literally and figuratively.  I realized half way through my first day that a week without texting was going to be a week with an inactive phone, because it turns out I text way more than I thought.  I also realized that a week without facebook the week before finals made procrastination a lot less fun.  I only talked to a handful of people on the phone and when we did talk the conversations never lasted long.  When I got a text I forced myself to delete it before I was tempted to read it.  So needless to say, my week was very quiet.

The funny thing about this challenge was how unaware I was of the struggles I would face without texting or facebook.  I mindlessly log onto facebook or send out a text with out even thinking about it.  More than once this week I opened my computer and began logging onto facebook only to quickly realize I wasn’t supposed to be on it.  The same thing happened with texting, I would begin typing out a message and I’d have to stop myself.  I even had a bad dream that I forgot about my challenge.

I had absolutely no idea how much I depend on texting and facebook as a means for connection.  And admitting that I rely on impersonal forms of communication to connect with my friends, loved ones and family scares me.  A lot.

It scares me because I love people, I want to connect in genuine and meaningful ways.  I want to keep in touch and reassure the people I love that I do, in fact, love them.  A text message or facebook wall post just doesn’t seem to be enough.

On the other side of this texting and facebook are convenient.  It’s quick, it gets to the point and it can be done on your own time.

So now I’m stuck in this tension.  On one hand I believe that emails, texting and social media like facebook take an important element away from creating and nurturing relationships.  On the other I believe that texting and facebook are so integrated into how we function as a society that they’ve become very useful and efficient forms of communication.

So where do I go from here? 

I think that the challenges where something that I depend on is taken away, like food (well… good food: vegan week), drinking, my car, and makeup are very important personal challenges because they make me aware.  I’m getting to something, but I’m not quiet sure what yet.  So, like so many of these blogs end: I’m working on figuring this out.

And I’m satisfied with that because it will lead me to more opportunities to learn.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Week 11 challenge: break a bad habit (in my case: complaining)

This past week I attempted to go without complaining.  I intentionally did this challenge on the busiest week of my academic school year, so I knew that it was going to be tough.  I also am very aware that I have an issue filtering what I say out loud, it’s like word vomit and it’s a problem.  So I attempted to stop. 

I’m pretty sure I failed.

I mean… I know I failed.  I complained throughout the week.

I talked about how cold I was, how tired I was, how much homework I had.  Every time I slipped up I realized what I had done and vowed to stop.  But then I would say something again without even thinking about it and the cycle continued. 

Other times I was very conscious of what I was doing, like Tuesday for example, I had a terrible attitude in my morning class.  It may have had something to do with the lack of caffeine in my system that morning but probably more to do with my thoughts and anxiety level regarding a last minute 100-point project.  That morning I knew I was complaining but didn’t feel like exerting the energy it would have taken to stop myself.  I felt guilty for breaking my challenge so early in the week and tried being more intentional after that. 

And I was intentional. I became very aware of my habit. 

I also tried to understand the affects my complaining had on others.  Monday night was one of our last nights in my senior seminar class and we all went around giving advice to one another.  One of my classmates said something so insightful I made a scene as I shuffled through my backpack to find a scrap piece of paper to write down what she was saying.  It applied to my week perfectly.

She talked about energy, and how you can contribute either good or bad energy into the world by the words you choose to say.  Her advice was to be thoughtful and careful of the words you choose and to think about how they affect others.  She also said, “be conscious of the bad stuff you put in the world.”

I put bad stuff into the world when I complain.  It’s a waste of energy.  So I’m working on it.  And as I look back on my week, I realize that just because I didn’t correct a bad habit doesn’t actually mean I failed this week.

Because an important lesson I’m beginning to understand is that the process of bettering myself is about the progress, not the perfection.

This week was about the progress.  Becoming aware, attempting to correct myself, keeping myself accountable.  The point was to break a bad habit, and the first step in breaking a habit is becoming aware of that habit. 

And it turns out that even as I write this, a few days after my challenge ended I still catch myself thinking twice before I say something negative.  Which is funny because half way through the week I seriously considered putting a rubber band around my wrist and snapping it every time I complained or thought of complaining, so that I would associate the habit with the pain and eventually it would stop: classical conditioning (thank you very much freshman year psych class).  The reason I mention this is because I wasn’t getting results right away and I wanted to resort to (somewhat) drastic measures to stop my bad habit.

I realize now that I didn’t need that rubber band, because something significant enough took place over the past week that stuck with me.  I created a new habit, of being aware of my bad habit, and that was enough to change my mindset.

So I’m working on it, and that’s enough for me.  Because it’s about progress, life is about progress.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Week 10 challenge: Cook dinner 5 nights out of the week

This week I revisited my “things I don’t do list” and I discovered that cooking was at the top of my list.  So I thought to myself, in a very optimistic attitude, I’m going to change that this week.

However, I quickly became very aware of how many people knew I didn’t cook from the uncensored reactions I got from friends and family when I told them about my challenge.

Half of my friends laughed in my face when I told them I was going to cook and the other half expressed genuine surprise and borderline concern.  I thought to myself, well, at least I believe in myself.

But that confidence was quickly shaken on Monday night when I planned on cooking for an impromptu thanksgiving dinner with friends but failed when I realized that leaving thirty minutes to cook any sort of thanksgiving dish- including running to the grocery store to get ingredients- was not only poor time management but also impossible.  So I updated my challenge: cook dinner 5 nights out of the week (is it bad that I find loopholes to my own rules?).

Later on that night I had a mini panic attack while searching the internet for dinner recipes for the remainder of the week.  The ingredients and spices and instructions all looked like a foreign language to me.  One recipe after another I thought to myself, “nope, can’t do that one,” and “definitely can’t do that one”. I felt defeated before my challenge had even began and thought to myself, I don’t cook, I don’t cook, what am I doing?!

But really, I literally have never cooked before. 

Not real cooking anyways.  I boil pasta, I preheat ovens, I toss salads, I can set a microwave to a set amount of time. On occasion I’ll pore a bag of Bertolli frozen pasta into a skillet and pretend like I’m cooking… but I’m not.

And to make matters worse, back when I was feeling confident and giddy about my challenge, I promised this guy I’m dating that I would cook dinner for him on Tuesday night.  So now not only was I feeling discouraged about my challenge but I reluctantly had to kick off my first dinner with someone I was trying to impress.

Talk about a scary experience. 

So when Tuesday night came around my date and I navigated our way through the grocery store collecting all the ingredients I needed for our dinner.  While he set the table and poured the wine I pretended like I knew exactly what I was doing while chopping up the onions, tomatoes, peppers and garlic (secretly I made a phone call to my mom asking her about the garlic mincing).  I carefully read the recipe instructions and step by step, the meal came together.  I was so proud of the outcome I had to take a picture of it before either of us could eat. 

And the best part was it was delicious.

After I told myself (and proved to myself) that “yes, in fact I can cook,” my whole attitude changed for the week.

I looked forward to the opportunity to cook for my family and friends.  I made stir-fry for my family Wednesday night and on Thanksgiving I made a sweet potato casserole that was so yummy it didn’t last long enough for seconds.  On Friday and Saturday my family wanted to go out to eat dinner so I compromised by making grilled chicken and cheese sandwiches for lunch Friday and I repeated the bruschetta I made Tuesday for appetizers Saturday.  And just because I was on a roll, Sunday night I made a tomato, garlic and basil pasta dish for my friends.

I felt ridiculously accomplished at the end of this week.  I thought, “Oh my gosh, I just cooked, I can do this, I can cook!”

And of course I can cook, but to be honest, I never tried to cook before.  Not trying was safe; not trying meant that there would be no opportunity to fail. 

That’s what my “things I don’t do list” consists of: activities or experiences that I don’t try because I’m scared of what will happen if I do. 

But when you push past the irrational expectations you have set for the “things you don’t do” and face the reality of what actually happens when you simply do, everything can change.

It did for me. I am a cook.  I am a runner.  What else can I do? 

Self-talk goes a long way and how you label yourself matters.

So I’m trying this new thing where I eliminate the word don’t from my vocabulary… I’m excited for the limitless opportunities that it will present for me. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Week 9 Challenge: No make-up, no labels

This week I took a step outside of my comfort zone and went without make-up. The purpose of this week was to go without letting my looks define me, so the other half of this challenge was to go without wearing labels.  I down-graded my wardrobe and wore a lot of leggings, plain t-shirts and scarves.

And as much as I would like to think that make-up and how I dress are trivial things, going without it for a week revealed some underlying issues that I was very startled to find. 

I consider myself confident and strong, I thought no make-up for a week?  No problem.  And at first, there were no problems.  As the week went by, there was no difference in how people treated me.  Most people were surprised when I pointed out to them I wasn’t wearing any make-up.  The majority of the comments I received were people telling me they couldn’t tell the difference.

But as I reflect back on my week now, I realized that I could tell the difference, and unfortunately that’s all it took to make me feel less confident this week. 

For some reason, I thought that without make-up I looked like the sub-par version of myself.  And this attitude transferred into other areas of my life and became slightly detrimental.

I second-guessed myself. When I was talking with people, I was concerned with how I looked to them.  I even received more compliments this week than I ever expected, but instead of accepting those compliments and allowing myself to feel flattered, I brushed the compliments off and assumed my friends and family were just being nice.  I didn’t believe them. 

And when I dug to the core of how I felt this week without make-up, I had a hard time distinguishing which affected me more: how other people perceived me or how I perceived myself.

In theory, I would like to say that how I perceive myself is more important than what others think of me.  I believe that how you perceive and feel about yourself has a larger, more powerful influence on the person you are, more powerful than letting make-up, clothes or other people define you.

However, this week my theory was tested.

Eliminating an important part of my morning routine forced me to reevaluate what exactly makes me feel beautiful.  Getting ready in the morning, taking my time and looking my best makes me feel beautiful to a certain extent.  I realized that being in control of how I look also has a pretty strong influence on how I feel.

I'll be honest, this is difficult to write about.  Beauty should be about who I am on the inside, not what I look like on the outside.  I thought I understood and practiced that but this week I realized this isn't totally the case.  I have always been proud of my healthy self-esteem.  I thought that nothing could faze me.  But this week tripped me up a bit and now I am left with even more questions. Maybe all along I have based some of my self-esteem on how I look on the outside instead of defining my beauty and myself on what's on the inside.  

So this is what I need to work on: defining my beauty and myself on my own terms and asking myself what else I have mistakenly based some of my self-worth on, because I’m sure there is a longer list than I would like to think.

So ask yourself the hard questions, what do you base your self-worth on?  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Week 8 Challenge: Go a week without a car

This week I went without driving. 

To preface, I go to a college with a campus that spans about six blocks.  I live on 15th street and the majority of my classes are only four streets down. And to make my scenario even better this past week, West Michigan was blessed with freakishly warm weather with temperatures in the mid sixties. 

So in reality, this challenge wasn’t difficult.

But of course, I expected and anticipated the worst (funny how expectations and reality don’t always align).

Going into this week I thought this challenge was going to be dreadful.  I thought I was going to waste a lot of time, because usually I run at a pace of about 100mph and I like it that way.  With a car, I can zip around campus, leave my house 2 minutes before class starts and do anything on my own agenda.  Without a car I thought I was going to be limited. Here’s the thing about me, in case you didn’t know, I drive everywhere. I thought that if I had problems with time management and getting to class 10 minutes early before, my problems were only going to increase without a car.

But as the week went by and as I reflected, I realize there were no problems…with the exception of my feet.  Seriously after two days of this challenge I got blisters on my heals and by Thursday my feet ached.  It’s only funny because it’s true.

But this week was interesting because I was on time to every class I had.  I mapped out my days more realistically because I didn’t fall back on the excuse that I could drive and squeeze in more than I could handle.  I felt pretty content without a car.

I’ve never been stumped before writing one of these blogs in the past weeks.  Usually mid week I come to some sort of “ah-ha” moment and voila: lesson learned.  But this week’s challenge didn’t cause me too many problems; in fact, it was totally doable.  And of course it was doable - silly me to think I was going to have a hard time doing something the majority of people have to do on a regular basis: go without a car.

This week, on a superficial level, I learned that my shoes provide terrible support and are not comfortable.  But to dig a little deeper, I realized that I can easily go without something I thought I needed.

So the challenge I had to overcome this week had to do with correcting a false mindset.  I don’t need a car.  I don’t need a lot of things actually, what a ridiculous mindset to have in the first place.  So now I wonder what else I depend on in life that I assume I need but in reality can easily go without.

By the way, there was an ironic twist at the end of this challenge.  Saturday night I discovered my car had a flat tire.  A flat tire?  After a week sitting in my driveway and not being used, my car’s tire decides to give out.  That’s either a blessing or a curse, I haven’t decided which one it is yet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Week 7: write one letter every day of thanks or appreciation

This week I hand wrote little notes of appreciation and sent them out in the mail.
Snail mail, when was the last time you did that? 

This week and this challenge was inspired by a good friend, who, for as long as I've known her, has had ten pen pals going at once.  In college her friends would joke about her never having homework because she seemed to spend all her time writing letters.  To this day she sends me more things in the mail than even my mother does, and I’ve only sent her one thing back… until this week.

I always justified not writing back because phone calls, texting, emailing or facebooking are my preferred mediums for expressing love.  It takes more energy to intentionally set aside time in my day to hand write a note, which is the point exactly. 

So this week I found myself at the end of each day writing notes in bed because I had run out of time during the day to write my letters (go figure) but the point is I did them.

Late Monday night, after one of the most wonderful nights of my year, I wrote a letter of thanks to Shauna Niequist for coming out of her way to be with my friends and for saying all the things that we really really needed to hear.  Tuesday night I wrote a letter to my mom, explaining to her what I really mean when I say the occasional “thanks” and how that appreciation runs so much deeper and wider than I’ve ever let on.  Wednesday I wrote to my favorite professor at Hope College, I told her she probably didn’t know it but she had a huge influence on my college experience.  Thursday I wrote down every single reason why I love my best friend, something I realized last week I never tell her enough.  Friday I wrote to that good friend I mentioned before, apologizing for the lack of snail mail that comes her way (sorry if you’re reading this before you receive my note).

And each night when I thought about who I was going to write to, a million other people popped into my head.  I came to the conclusion that I want everyone to know how much I appreciate them and the reasons why.  Words are incredibly powerful and I want to use that power to make a difference in the lives of the people I love. 

So I’m extending this challenge until Thanksgiving and I strongly encourage you to join me.  This past week I went out and bought 20 stamps.  Go do the same and challenge yourself to use them all before Thanksgiving.  That’s my new goal.

Write to twenty different people in your life that you love, appreciate, want to get back in touch with, have a crush on or have had a lasting impression on you.  Write to your neighbors, your teachers, you family, your best friends or even to strangers. 

I promise your gift of words will mean more to them than you could ever imagine. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week 6 Challenge: Party sober!

This week I intentionally went without drinking.  It wasn’t a battle of self-control, I don’t have a problem so let’s just clarify that, but this week was about being mindful- it was about being aware. 

So when I went to dinner and couldn’t order wine I was aware of how that made me feel.  When I went to the bar and got hit on by drunk strangers, asking me if they could buy me a drink, I paid attention to their reaction when I said “no, I’m not drinking”.  When I didn’t drink Friday night at one of the biggest parties of the year, I took note of how people treated me.

It was an interesting little experiment and it started off with genuine curiosity.  I was interested in asking why: why people enjoy drinking, why people feel more comfortable with a drink in their hand, why people abuse alcohol and why the drinking culture is the way it is.  But somewhere in the middle of the week I crossed a very thin line and I found myself judging other people, which was the opposite of what I wanted to accomplish this week. 

It’s much easier to evaluate others than to take the time to evaluate yourself.  It’s almost like a defense mechanism: to deflect the attention away from you and your own actions and put that attention on someone else.  It’s also a low level to stoop to in order to make you feel better.  I could have wasted a whole week analyzing the actions and behaviors of others when the more constructive thing to do would be to analyze my own actions and behaviors. 

Which reminded me of this friend I have, she is often the life of the party.  She is loud and cute and fun and she can out-drink most of her guy friends.  In the past few years that I’ve known her, I’ve noticed every once in a while she’ll go a few weeks without drinking at parties and I never got around to asking her why.  When we were talking about my challenge this week she mentioned her occasional patterns of sobriety.  She said that when things start to get out of control, she’ll take a break from drinking for awhile to prove to herself that she can do it, to prove to herself that she doesn’t need to drink to have fun.

I admire my friend because she’s intentional about keeping herself in check. This week was about being intentional about asking the tough questions and evaluating my own actions.

So here’s what I learned:  I learned that I can close a party down without drinking.  I learned that I assume the worst will occur when I go into a situation I’m uncomfortable with and I also learned that it’s never as bad as I image it will be.  I learned that it is, in fact, possible to have a great conversation at the bar as well as have a great time on the dance floor sober.  I learned that my expectations determine my attitude and behaviors more than anything else. I learned that people, specifically the people at the Halloween party Friday night, are better people than I gave them credit for, not once did I feel pressure from others to drink (so thank you).   But most importantly, I learned that while it’s important to be aware, it’s so much more important to be self-aware.

I encourage you to ask the hard questions, to evaluate your behaviors and to be intentional about reflecting on your own actions. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Week 5 Challenge: Go for a run every day

If you know me, even if you know me just a little, you probably know that I don’t run.  In fact I hardly exercise and there are two reasons for this: laziness and terrible coordination.  When I run (away from people or to speed things up) I’ve been referenced as looking like a horse galloping.  Okay, so my long limbs and I are still getting to know each other and while I strive to be composed and graceful, when I run things just don’t seem to work out, so I just don’t run.

Have I mentioned I have great friends? Because I do, and ever since day one with this blog, my friends have been telling me I should challenge myself to work out for a week straight, or run for a week or pick up a sport.  I said sure, sure but really I was thinking heck no, I’ll avoid that challenge as long as possible.

But there was no avoiding it last weekend when I spent my fall break in Denver, Colorado where my friends and I ate out every day, visited a few breweries, took a car ride up a mountain and did a lot of sitting around and catching up with old friends. 

We were all feeling sufficiently unhealthy when Sunday came around and that’s when Kat suggested it would be a good idea to go for a run once a day as my challenge for the upcoming week, and she offered to join me.  At first, I refused.  I had two more days in Colorado and it was difficult enough climbing stairs with the elevation there, and besides I wanted to spend my time enjoying life, not gasping for air and making a fool of myself.  Kat’s persuasive, if you didn’t know, and talked me into doing it.

The next morning as we left our friend’s apartment I thought to myself, when was the last time I even ran?  I racked my brain, sifting through memories and as Kat and I began to jog, I remembered. Summer of 2008.  Over two years ago was the last time I went for run… and then I thought what am I doing? 

I won’t lie, it was extremely difficult to run in Denver, especially for someone so out of shape.  Kat and I made it 10 minutes the first day and an arguable 15 the next.  My lungs hurt for the remainder of the week.  But when Wednesday rolled around and I was back in Michigan, something happened that genuinely surprised me: I found myself actually looking forward to run.  I think the fact that I survived Denver and proved to myself that I could actually do it made me see the whole situation in a different light.  I finished my challenge without a problem and even ran two days on my own.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what the root of my problem was with running: fear.  I was afraid I won’t be able to, afraid I would look like an idiot while trying, afraid that I would confirm the fact that I’m out of shape, afraid that I would fail.

So as a defense mechanism, I limited myself.  I told everyone that I don’t run, which eliminated the possibility of even trying.  Because ultimately, deep down I had this fear that I was incapable.

Fear has this huge presence in our lives that brew underneath the surface of the majority of our issues.  Identifying that fear is the first step and understanding it’s irrationality is the next.

Which reminded me of Coach Carter, at the end of his long speech about fear he says this: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others" (*originally a Nelson Mandela quote).  

Liberation.  To be free from fear.  It can be a powerful feeling.

So what’s on your list of things you don’t do?  
Why are they there?  
How do you limit yourself and how will you attempt to liberate yourself?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 4: Be 10 minutes early to everything (time manage)

This week I challenged myself to be 10 minutes early to everything.

I must have subconsciously known this was going to be a hard challenge for me, because while my conscious self would argue I chose this challenge without thinking, my subconscious self would argue that I somehow strategized, because not only was my intercultural and gender communication class cancelled all week but on Thursday afternoon I left for Denver for fall break, meaning that I had less time commitments this week than on average.

And even with that said, I have to admit… I failed.  Miserably.

On Tuesday I had gone a whole two days trying to be on time, honestly trying, with good intentions and all, but for the majority of the classes and meetings I had, I was either late or just barely on time.

I was discouraged, anxious, and a little bit hopeless.  For a brief second I thought to myself: I’ve always been bad at time management, so maybe that’s just the way it is. 

But then I thought back to something my art professor said earlier that day.  After one of my classmates asked me what my challenge was this week, we all got into a conversation about students being late to class.  Somewhere in the conversation my professor joined in and shared some insight.  She said, “you know a lot of instructors have a hard time with students coming in late to their classes, it’s kind of like a sign of disrespect.”  I knew she wasn’t being passive aggressive and the comment wasn’t directed towards me, but it sure hit home. 

I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I show up a few minutes late, but I realized that it doesn’t matter what my intentions are, it only matters how my actions are perceived. 

So this subtle epiphany dawned on me and on Tuesday night I decided I needed to do something, because for one I didn’t want to write a blog about failing, I didn’t want to be labeled as disrespectful, and I also wanted to prove to myself that I’m not a hopeless case.  

With the remaining one and a half days I had left for this challenge, I’m proud to say I successfully made it 10 minutes early to one appointment, three classes and two meetings. 

A very small step in the very long process of breaking a bad habit. 

I think it’s scary to admit you’re in the wrong and it’s also scary to try and change a habit.  This week for me was about those two things, and now that it’s all out on the table, I know a little bit more about myself and I know what I need to work on. 

So, do you have bad habit… or maybe it’s just a habit to you, but do others perceive it as bad?  Be honest with yourself and bring to the surface some issues you’ve been pushing back down into your gut for some time now.  

What is it that you need to work on?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Week 3 Challenge: Go vegan

I went vegan this past week - well, actually five days. Monday through Friday. Eating a vegan diet required me to subtract all animal products out of my diet, which meant no dairy, no eggs, no cheese and no meat.

More specifically to me that meant no butter, no waffles (mmh egos), no milk in my coffee, no yogurt, no pizza, no sandwiches, no dessert or pastry (of any kind) and NO TACO BELL.

Needless to say this challenge involved a lot of self-control.

Self-control has never been something I’ve been good at or even been close to mastering.  Well, I should give myself some credit, I can control some things. Actually, I like to control most things, but when it comes to food and when it comes to being hungry, I’ll eat anything in front of me.  Just the other week I was so hungry my stomach ached, so I ate handfuls of Cheerios until I felt full.  And for anyone that knows me well, they know I need breakfast before all other things in the morning because being hungry makes me angry.  I realize I’m coming off as ungrateful for the food I eat… which brings me to lesson number one this week: I’m ungrateful for the food I eat.

In chapel on Monday, Kate talked about food.  She reminded us that food is a gift from God and somewhere along the way we’ve turned it into a product that we consume.  She encouraged us to reframe the way we see food, as a gift that we receive rather than a product we consume.

Combine that with the phrase: “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone” and trust me, lesson learned.

Restricting my diet made me more aware of how much I took for granted; animal products are in so many of my basic meals.  After spending Monday through Friday eating vegan, Saturday and Sunday felt like Christmas morning.

However, I didn’t shovel food into my mouth (like I envisioned myself doing earlier that the week) in fact, I was thoughtful and conscious of what I ate.  When I ate egos Saturday morning, I thought: dairy and eggs.  When I ordered a non-soy cappuccino I thought: dairy.  When I ordered the deelite plate at Dee-Lite I thought two eggs, four pieces of bacon and butter… yuuum.  

And even now, as I plan out what I’m going to eat for lunch, I feel lucky and excited and thankful that I get to eat meat and cheese and milk and eggs.  I am grateful. 

Now, I realize this is basically the complete opposite mind frame vegans have, so let me make it clear I only adapted the vegan diet, not the vegan attitude or mindset.  Because let’s face it, eating vegan was hard enough.

And I suppose while I’m being honest I should mention I cheated… twice on accident (one chocolate m&m and an oatmeal cookie a friend made for me) and two times with full awareness I was cheating (spinach and artichoke dip- with cheese- and the breadsticks at olive garden- drenched in butter).

And there were many times I wanted to cheat, but didn’t, and for that I’m thankful I have good friends.  One Thursday morning I caused a scene in the Kletz when I wanted butter on my bagel and the 20 girls I was sitting with yelled back at me “don’t do it, don’t do it.”  So I resorted to jam.  And I wanted sushi on Friday with everything in me, I was even sitting at Wild Chef ready to order a California role, but my girlfriends told me NO.  So I went with the veggie low mien. 

Which brings me to the second lesson I learned this week: friends and family that are supportive are the best kind of people to have in your life.  They held me accountable when I was unwilling to meet the expectations I had set for myself earlier that week.  Because friends and family have this way of seeing things a lot clearer than you can in times of desperation (I really wanted that butter), and those voices of clarity are important listen to.

So, I owe a thanks to the sibs that were at Kletz lunch this past Thursday, my thoughtful mother for making me a vegan dinner on Saturday night (when all I wanted was meat), to Kat for her guidance and patience in Meijer when I was still optimistic about going vegan, to Lauren who genuinely thought there was no cheese in the spinach artichoke dip at City Vu, to Emily for being my voice of reason and Rowe for not allowing me to snatch the sushi off your plate Friday night.  And of course, I owe a thanks to the animals I take from, thank you for your delicious contributions to my meals (and I apologize if that came off as insensitive).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Week 2 Challenge: Finish something you've started

This past week, I finished a painting I started back in July.

It took me until Thursday to do it. 

As each day went by and the week progressed, I had this nagging feeling mixed with anxiety to finish the painting that I didn’t want to finish.  But thankfully this blog was holding me accountable to finish the dang painting, because several times I wanted to cop out (kind of like last week, hmm I wonder what that says about my character).  So finally I forced myself to sit in my room, put some Kid Cudi on and whip out the paints and brushes. 

I sat there, on my floor staring down at my unfinished work and remembered all the reasons why I hadn’t completed the painting in the first place.  I thought, this doesn’t look as good as I want it to be, the lines aren’t clean, the huge tree in the middle is awkward, etc.  But quickly I stopped myself, took a deep breath and started mixing colors and put the brush on the canvas. 

And the whole process, with all my doubts, anxiety, paint mixing and even downloading a few songs as I painted… finishing the piece of art took me about an hour and a half.  An hour and a half.

 So, if you want to do the math on that one, I spent 3 months putting off a task that took me 90 minutes to complete. 

That speaks volumes to a very simple fact: that the fear of doing something is always worse than actually doing it.

So this got me thinking and I remembered a passage from my most favorite book, Cold Tangerines: Shauna writes:  “It matters, art does, so deeply.  It’s one of the noblest things, because it comes from such a deep place inside us.  There’s nothing scarier than that moment when you sing the song for the first time, for your roommate or your wife or when you let someone see the painting, and there are a few very long silent moments when they haven’t yet said what they think of it, and in those few moments, time stops and you quit painting, you quit singing forever, in your head, because it’s so fearful and vulnerable, and then someone says, essentially, thank you and keep going, and you breath releases, and you take back everything you said in your head about never painting again...

So, to all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything.

Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.

Thank you, and keep going."

So what is it that you’ve been putting off? 
What fear of yours is limiting you, right at this very moment? 
What have you started and neglected to finish?
Is it a project, a piece of art work, a conversation with a family member or broken relationship? 
Is it that phone call or email or letter you’ve been meaning to get around to? 

Take initiative today, I promise only good can come from it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Week 1 Challenge: Visit the Prayer Room Every Day

For those who didn’t know, Hope College has a prayer room. It’s this tiny room in the basement of Graves Hall, white Christmas lights are strung from the ceiling and when chapel music isn’t playing all you can hear is the soft, rhythmic hum of the vents.  Over the past week, this room became my relief, my source of peace and a very practical place for God and I to meet.

Every day of this challenge, I was temped to make an excuse not to go.  When I saw somebody else in the prayer room (which happened three out of the five days) I thought twice about going in, I even turned around to go back up the stairs on Monday.   And every day I wanted to rationalize that instead of going to the prayer room, there was something else I could be doing.  But everyday I pushed through that uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable and I opened the door and walked into the room where I spent time in silence, by myself and with God.

So here’s what I learned: Time spent alone, especially while in college is precious.  And time spent in silence is even more precious.  When you invite God in on the mix, very good things happen. 

Each day was different: A few times I journaled and twice I made lists.  Sometimes I listened to the chapel CD and one day I sat for 30 minutes in silence.  On Thursday a new friend happened to be in the prayer room when I arrived which turned out to be no coincidence at all.  I listened while she talked and we held hands and prayed together.  As we walked out of Graves together I thanked God for discipleship and the reminder that friendship is acting out God’s love in tangible ways.  Friday was the last day of my challenge and I realized I didn’t want that day to be the end of the good thing I had going.  I need to keep this challenge going and carve out time once a day to be with God and by myself.  So for now, I’ll keep going to the prayer room every week and establish it into my routine because right now in my life it seems necessary.

So, when was the last time you sat in silence and thought?  Or sat in silence and allowed yourself to just be- to take deep breaths and not allow your mind to wander with anxiety or doubt?  When was the last time you had a conversation with God?  Or a conversation with yourself?  Carve out this time in your day, find a room, a location and discover what happens when you take a moment to be still, and just be.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Advocates and Activists

This is the story of a 12 week challenge, a weekly reminder to live with intention and never cease to grow and better understand the person you are. 

Quick background: it's my senior year at Hope College and one of the requirements to graduate is to take a Senior Seminar class, so I enrolled in a class called Advocates and Activists.  Two weeks ago our class met for the first time and Professor Kipp explained to us that we needed to participate in an activist/service project, and at first I thought: easy, I volunteer all the time so I'll fulfill the minimal 15 hours required for this project through one of the volunteer activities I already do... easy enough.  So that was that.  

However, the following Monday our professor really encouraged us to challenge ourselves with this project, to do something outside of our comfort zone and actually take this project as an opportunity, to make it personal.

I knew then that I needed to rethink my project.  I looked back through the syllabus and read the project description again: "I insist only that when it comes to your individual project, you incorporate some sort of service component that involves action in the world."

So... this got me thinking. 

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “do one thing everyday that scares you."  And when I read that quote I hear: "Challenge yourself, push and stretch yourself, take opportunities and grow from new experiences."  

So I am modifying that quote and turning it into my service project: 

I’m doing one thing every week that scares me and I’m inviting others to join me… I will set goals every week for the remainder of the semester to do something that is uncomfortable, foreign, different or difficult.  At the end of each week I will write about the experience.

This challenge is about bettering myself and others. To live with intention.  I encourage you to join me, follow me or support me.