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The Joneses Aren’t Keeping Up With Anyone

We are saturated. There are twelve different ways to watch TV, four mediums that allow you to receive emails, and push notifications to make sure you don’t miss a single “look what I cooked tonight” picture from the Twitterverse and Instagramers.

Admittedly, the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check my phone (despite advice to the contrary – highly recommend this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/13/1-thing-successful-people-dont-do_n_4769272.html). Call it a vice. Call it a knee-jerk reaction. Whatever it is, it sets the tone for the rest of my day – that, of which I’m keenly aware. I justify it by telling myself that I want to be prepared for the type of day I think I’m going to have. Ten emails from work detailing a mini-crisis that occurred at 4am tells me a I better have an extra bowl of Wheaties. Waking up to news that Taye and Idina split…. not sure how that’s going to affect my day, but I did grab an extra kleenex.

Whether this habit is good or bad isn’t really my point. I do it. So, after waking up and combing through my phone to make sure Kimye is still in tact, I proceed to get ready and hop on a train to the city. At this point, I have a no-cell phone rule. It is (and this is not an exaggeration) the one time of the day where I force myself to stay off my phone. I don’t text; I don’t tweet; I don’t answer emails. Why I’ll do it first thing in the morning but not on the train, I can’t say. But this is the boundary I’ve established for myself. I know that I’m taking the train into SaturationVille, and considering I work in media, the impact is ten-fold. I don’t allow myself to be saturated on the train.

So my technology-less hour ends, and that’s it – we’re off to the races. From the moment my workday starts, I’m inundated with mass messaging – literally. Our television is on all day. I’m fielding emails. I’m watching Twitter (believe it or not, this helps me do my job better). I’m texting and calling. I’m awash in sales pitches in the form of commercials and sponsored Tweets and media messages coded in top ten lists and best dressed pics. I’m not complaining – I love it. I work in an exciting, fast-paced, high-energy, albeit sometimes volatile industry. It thrills me. I learn something new everyday because I’m forced to stay on top of what’s happening in the world – politically and fashionably.

I’m saturated. So what’s the issue? I’m learning. I’m having a great time. I’m setting my own (perhaps puny) boundaries. It’s working. The issue is not that we’re saturated – this is the world we live in and I’m not suggesting anyone try to change it. There’s a lot to be gleaned from it. The issue is when this saturation stops making us aware and starts making us compare.

I think it’s an exciting time to be alive. Technology is advancing and some guy just invented the cronut. The world has become so much smaller since the 1950’s. My mom recounts stories of expensive long distance phone calls from Michigan to Illinois. Today, I can actually video-chat with my dad while he’s working in Saudi Arabia – thanks, Steve Jobs. It’s incredible when you think about it. But this access is only good until we start letting it make us insecure.

Celebrities used to be far away mythical creatures that you got to see a few times a year in his or her latest film. Now, thanks to cable, social media, and Kanye’s new music video, I’m seeing more of Kim Kardashian than I should probably see in an entire lifetime.

My family comes from the Christian part of Lebanon. However, many of our Lebanese friends are Muslim. They’ve explained their personal reasoning behind women wearing hijabs – you don’t desire what you don’t see.

I can’t speak to the truth of this specific rationale because as I said, I’m not Muslim. But it’s an interesting thought: you don’t desire what you don’t see. If you don’t know it exists, do you desire it? If you didn’t know that Kanye gave Kim 1,000 roses for V-Day (which, I definitely, obviously don’t know), would you desire it? If you didn’t hear the mass messaging that florals and pastels are in for spring, would you be inclined to rush out and buy them?

Social media allows us to create our ideal selves. It allows mass messaging of what’s cool, what happening, what’s exciting, and what’s not. We’re saturated – and it’s okay, until we start comparing. Because once we start comparing, we get off track. We lose ourselves. We stop trying to be what we’re meant to be and we start trying to fit into a mold. That old saying, “you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses” – the Joneses being some wildly successful couple who lets the world know it by Instagramming and Tweeting their every move. Let me tell you something: the Joneses – they’re not trying to keep up with anyone.

The reason the Joneses got to be the Joneses is because they used their awareness of the world and themselves to create their own success. They weren’t trying to imitate or copy. They didn’t replicate. They may not have even seen Glamour magazine’s Spring 2014 Most Wearable Fashion trends. They’re the original, authentic Joneses.

We’re saturated. And it’s not a bad thing. There is something to be learned everyday. Social media – I look at it as a wellspring of inspiration. We have the ability to share our ideas and findings globally – that’s exciting. But we need to use these tools to grow each other – not measure each other. That’s when we stop using them well. When we start keeping up with the Kardashians instead of ourselves – that’s when we’re headed for trouble. Media is there to create awareness. We can’t let it allow us to compare ourselves, or we will lose ourselves in hot and not lists and forget what we’re really after.

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5 Ways to Make the Most of a Disappointing Internship

We’ve all been there. That job where you’re watching the clock. The job where five o’clock never comes and nine am comes too soon. It’s never a fun feeling. It’s even more disappointing when you started out with extremely high hopes of the experiences to come. No one applies for a job or an internship with the intention of wishing each day away, but it happens.

I’ve been there. I’ve done the internship that made scraping popcorn paint off of a wall sound fun and running a mile sound painless. The upside to a disappointing internship is that internships typically have a set duration. You’re never truly “stuck” in any situation, but internships are especially temporary.

So you’re there. You’ve applied for the program, made it past the rigorous interview process, and been accepted to…well… definitely not do what you thought you’d be doing. Maybe it’s the setup of the program. Maybe it’s the people. There’s no challenge. The atmosphere is hostile. The tasks are mundane. Not even the savviest coach is going to be able to make these “responsibilities” look moderately impressive on your resume. Stay calm – experiences are what you make of them. Yes, there are limitations to this, but they might be broader than you’d expect.

5 Ways to Make the Most of a Disappointing Internship:

Make Friends

Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the people in your internship program. Once you realize that the experience isn’t shaping up to be what you wanted it to be, it can be very easy to slide into your own anti-social vacuum. Fight the temptation. The people you’re interning with are going to be your network – don’t neglect them. Invest in those relationships. This is your community – chances are, their journey is similar to yours. Help each other out. Share experiences. Make allies. One day, they might be able to put in a good word for you somewhere, just as you might be able to do for them. When I was a performance major, an alum from my program shared an interesting story – someone in her graduating class dropped out of the performance industry…and wound up in casting. You just never know. Plain and simple – be nice and make friends.

Find “The One”

During each of my internships, I managed to find one person at the company with whom I was able to bond. I’m here to tell you – one is all you need. Offer your services to everyone. If they all seem too busy to care, find the ONE person who seems semi-interested in your help. Blow that task out of the water. Speaking from experience (the experience of both BEING an intern and HAVING an intern) it only takes one task. If you do it thoroughly and with care, I guarantee you that person is going to lean on you again. The more work you do for that person, the deeper and more thoughtful their perception of you becomes. Yes – the ideal situation is to get to know the entire staff and have a sack full of references and new friends. But if it’s apparent that there’s very little room and interest for staff/intern bonding, it only takes one. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work your butt of for everyone, but make it a point to foster at least one strong relationship. Because flash forward a year or two or ten, when you’re applying to jobs, you will have at least one person from that company who knows you’re capable of more than fetching coffee and whose reference for you will be deeper than the fill-in-the-blank form letter tucked away in the depths of their external hard drive.

Show Interest

Here’s my take – full time staff get annoyed with interns for two reasons:

1. They’re under pressure and they want you to read their minds.

2. They perceive a lack of investment on the part of the intern.

Alright. That being said – perhaps neither of these reasons is fair, but I’d wager my favorite pen that they’re true. Have you ever been in a situation where someone snapped at you because you didn’t know what to do? You may have messed something up because hey – it’s day two and yeah, you don’t have protocol memorized yet. Not your fault. Chances are, that person is wrong for snapping and he/she knows it, but the problem is that a) you’re getting lumped into a general category of people and b) you can’t really snap back. The generalization is this unfair assumption that interns aren’t invested and don’t care. I think this is, for the most part, wrong. I think what happens is that interns are actually nervous and don’t want to mess up. So instead of confronting the issue when they do mess up, they slink back and hope the error disappears. This is perceived as not caring. If you mess up – and even if you don’t – take the time to ask how people want things done. Ask them how you can help make their job easier. Tell them you want to do the best possible job. If you mess up, sit down with someone and talk it through. I promise – they’ll be impressed that you cared enough to want to better yourself. Even for the three months you’re there.

Take Meetings

Once you build a certain level of trust with your coworkers, ask to take meetings. I would suggest doing this towards the end of your internship. Tell them that you’d love to learn a little bit more about what they do and the path they’ve taken to get there. Ask to steal just five minutes of their time – I guarantee they’ll give you more than five. Have your questions ready. Ask them where they went to college? What was their first job? How did they wind up with this lovely company that you’re not enjoying? (omit the last half of that question). And what does their job entail? Remember – these people were once interns too. They are probably very willing to help. You just have to ask. Show interest and show commitment. Remember that individually, people are not the company whose internship program you don’t like. They have insight and experiences they can offer, too.

Stay Positive

Look. This is a temporary situation. Yes, the internship might have not been everything you’d hoped it would be, but the good news is you do not have a contract with this company. Once you get through your twelve week stint, you don’t ever have to look back. Do what you need to do in the privacy of your own home to get through it (within reason…!). Complain to your roommate, draw huge red “x’s” on the calendar to celebrate the end of each day – whatever. But leave that at home – don’t bring it into work. When you’re at work, stay positive. Try to make the most of each day. Disinterested and distant co-workers might not have anything good to say about you, but definitely don’t give them anything bad to say. Be eager to help – even if it’s constantly refused. When you look back on this experience, you’re going to want to have no regrets. Allow the future you to rest assured knowing that you did what you could to make this the best experience possible. At the end of the day, it’s a credit on your resume and another opportunity to learn – even if it’s not in the areas you initially expected.

The Power of No

Tonight, I got mad. Like, can’t focus on a conversation mad. Like pacing my house mad. Like consuming copious amounts of chocolate mad. Alright, so I look for pretty much any excuse to consume copious amounts of chocolate, but that’s beside the point.

I recently completed a writing project I’ve been working on for roughly six months. It’s something of a passion project of mine, and to finally finish it was extremely exciting. But, given that it’s a passion project, I know that I’m too close to the material to objectively criticize it. And, given that it’s a passion project, I want to achieve the best end product possible.

This winter, I took a writing course. I took this course knowing that I wanted to hone my skills and hopefully meet someone who would be willing to coach me through this personal project. During the course, I was advised against using this project as my main class project. I was told that it would be better if I work on a less personal project in order to learn structure and make mistakes. Okay, fine. So I picked a different project and began putting it in motion.

Once the class was finished, we were asked to submit goals. I shared that my goals were to apply what I’ve learned to my project in order to shape and complete it. I then asked if this instructor would consider coaching me privately. The response was yes – but that I should really consider pursing the project I started in class. Completing this project would really help develop my skills as a writer. I was assured that this teacher only works with students with the drive and talent to complete their projects (cue flattery, hand over money).

So time out. I have no formal writing credentials. My mom forced journaling on me when I was a kid, and, while I hated it then, I will be the first to credit her for the joy it brings me now. But, given that I have no formal training, I put my confidence in this instructor and believed this advice was coming from a genuine place.

I agreed to develop the other project, but couldn’t get my passion project out of my head. After an insanely busy January, I made no progress on either project. But, by mid-February, something was made very clear to me. I wanted to work on MY project. On the project I’d already started and that meant a great deal to me. So, I emailed the teacher and made it known that this is the direction I’d be taking, and would the teacher be willing to coach me on this project.

After ignoring the issue for several weeks, I received a response informing me that the teacher felt it would be too-time consuming of a project in which to get involved. Declined.

At this point, you’re thinking “Okay, chill out. So this teacher didn’t want to work with you? Find another teacher.” To which I’ll respond, “Oh, I already have another teacher lined up.”

But I was mad. Really mad. Fast-forward to the lack of focus, pacing, and chocolate eating. I was mad because I don’t like being told no. I was mad because I felt that I’d been manipulated, and I’d almost let myself continue to be manipulated. I wanted so badly to find a well-meaning mentor that I let myself accept direction and advice blindly. Moreover, I tried to ignore my gut.

So I’m pacing my house, feeling short-changed and angry. And then, I just stopped. I stopped because I realized something. I realized I was allowing this teacher’s limits to influence the limits I was placing upon myself. The “no” from this teacher gave me an unexpected jolt of energy – only I was channeling it in all of the wrong ways. I was angry and anxious and worried that the teacher I’d already lined up would also turn me down.

As I was pacing my kitchen trying cursing my luck, it suddenly dawned on me what I needed to do with this pent up energy. I realized that this experience and the subsequent feelings would be wasted if they weren’t shared constructively. If I could harness this energy and use it to someone else’s benefit, this experience wouldn’t be in vain. So I decided to jot down the lessons I learned in hopes that someone else won’t make the same mistakes.

3 Lessons Learned from Natalie’s Writing Coach Tragedy:

Self-Deprecation Only Works for Your Mom and Chris Rock

I was very quick to let this teacher know that this was my first writing class. That I was very grateful for the direction. That I was a little uncertain. Despite my inexperience, I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted someone to see my desire to learn and I wanted to excite someone to teach me. In the best case scenario, this would have played out fine. Instead, my self-deprecating speak caused the teacher to see me as weak and caused me to start believing the words I was saying. I left myself open for manipulation. Complaining to your mother that you’re “fat” and waiting for her to tell you that you look skinnier than ever is one thing. Self-deprecate your skinny little butt away. The professional world is different. Your word will be taken at face value. Speak kindly of yourself. I’m not saying to boast – I’m saying be your own advocate. No one else will be.

Your Gut is for More Than Storing Beer:

Here’s the thing. All along, I wanted to work on this project. I was actually pretty far into this project when I signed up for this class. I set a goal for myself, and I was almost persuaded against fulfilling it (at least for now). I kept trying to tell myself that the advice this professional writer was offering me was sound. That it had my best interests as a student in mind. I kept trying to force myself to believe that this is what was best for me. In this situation, the effects of this behavior were minimal. I would have done some extra writing and potentially wasted some money. Big deal. But deigning to ignore your gut instincts is risky business.

Feelings of Passion are Human Fuel

I consider myself to be a sensitive person, so when I saw an article on HuffPost entitled “16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People,” I thought “Hey! I should read that and confirm that I’m a sensitive person!” So I read it, and I can report that I do, in fact, suffer from extreme sensitivity. #tear. But one of the traits listed in the article stated that we sensitive people, we’re more emotionally reactive. We experience higher levels of anger, empathy, excitement, etc. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the anger I experienced tonight was inflated by my extremely sensitive nature. But here’s what I learned – emotions are our body telling us we need to express something in some way. Stagnant emotion, to quote Dr. Brene Brown, is not benign. It metastasizes. The trick is finding a way to express it. And not just express it, but express it productively. Feeling angry? Fight for a change. Feeling excited? Spread the joy. Channel the emotion and release it productively. Make your feelings make a difference for you or someone else.

But Really… What’s in a Name?

I feel like I was unknowingly part of my own social experiment a few weeks ago. I was hired to work a freelance job one weekend, and as anyone freelancing in the entertainment industry can tell you, you’re often thrown in to the mix with little to no information. So it’s a delicate balancing act of pretending like you know everything and admitting you don’t. Most of the time, you’re waiting around for the next direction.

By waiting, I mean constantly approaching extremely busy people and asking how you can help (thereby admitting you don’t know what needs to be done). And if that fails, you mess up something you already did so that you can redo it (I jest. Sort of.)

Freelance workers can sometimes feel like oil in water. We try hard to assimilate and contribute, but there’s no denying that we’re not part of the core team. It’s a very similar sentiment to what interns experience – you work your butt off for a team you don’t fully belong to and aren’t guaranteed to stay with. But, it’s definitely not philanthropic – after all, you’re gaining a credit for your resume, experience, and let’s not forget pay (unless you’re one of Charlie Rose’s interns… two years and one class action later, they’ll finally be able to record that experience on a W2).

I digress. So the credit, the experience, the pay… it really is nothing to complain about. But when you invest your time and energy into something, often times you crave something more. Backtrack to a few weeks ago. My supervisors were excellent – very helpful and encouraging. But there was one supervisor I always felt eager to help.

“Natalie, do you mind hanging these signs?”

“Hey Nat, can you run this to the other room?”

“Thank you for your help, Natalie.”

Are you seeing the common thread here? I honestly didn’t for a while – all I knew was I was feeling valued.

“Hey Natalie, would you mind hanging a few more signs?”

Natalie. That was it. Every time this supervisor addressed me, it was by name. I no longer felt like the semi-recognizable but nameless part time help. All of a sudden my investment in the task at hand skyrocketed – because I felt acknowledged. I became hyper aware of this respectful action – everyone this supervisor spoke to was addressed by name.

Sometimes I think that in their haste, higher ups fail to acknowledge the workers greasing the wheels. They may not be driving the car, but they’re definitely helping it move more smoothly. Their overlooking of lower-level workers only ends up being detrimental to the overall success of the task at hand. It’s a domino effect. The simple act of acknowledging someone by name fuels them – tasks on the lower level are done with more enthusiasm, with more precision, with greater desire for accuracy, with a refusal to disappoint. It’s an exchange of value – you value me, I value the work I’m doing for you.

For some reason, I’m name disabled – I don’t know what happens to me, but when someone is introducing him/herself, my brain stops processing. Two seconds later, I’m thinking, “Was it Jim? Jack? Jeff?” There’s really no excuse for that. It’s lack of focus. Since that experience, I’ve made a personal vow to stop whatever I’m doing, stop whatever I’m thinking about, and focus on giving that person the respect they deserve.

It’s such a simple thing that yields such powerful results. Growing up, my dad would often use his frequent cigarette breaks as a mentoring opportunity. My dad is an engineering project manager and possesses a greater wealth of leadership knowledge than any text book I’ve ever picked up. I remember one time confessing to him that I felt I’d gotten bossy during a group project (one time? try…every time. Hello from the future, my anal-retentive thirteen year old self! You haven’t progressed much). Between puffs, he replied that being a leader doesn’t mean using the word “I” – it means using the word “we.”

To this day, I find that to be the essence of leadership. Using someone’s name acknowledges that they are an important part of the “we” – no matter for how short a duration. At the end of the day, all people want is to feel that their contribution – regardless of how small – was valued. It motivates them to be better for the whole. I can tell you from experience. That was the best sign hanging I’ve ever done.

10 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Kindergarten Self

A week ago last Thursday marked the last class of the last course I needed to take in order to complete my undergrad degree program. One presentation stood between me and ultimate liberation. I nonchalantly finished the project at about 11pm the night before and ad-libbed half of it (thanks, Second City improv!). And then it was all over. 18 years culminated in one three-hour class and now freedom (or as free as the nine to five world allows).

A few days ago, I was sitting around the table talking with my boyfriend and his mom, who has been an elementary school teacher for the past 20 years. She proceeded to recount a very disturbing story of distributing test results to her students and consequently having to talk a distraught elementary school aged child off the floor of the school bathroom.

Days later, I can’t get past this. That girl was, at most, twelve years old. No twelve year old should be so upset about a test score that she’s inconsolable on a bathroom floor. Quite frankly — NO ONE should be that upset about a test.

But, this is the society we live in. Fast moving, high pressure, overly connected, and ridiculously competitive. The truth of the matter is, I wasn’t always so calm and collected as I was on the night of my last class and final presentation. My family (especially my poor, therapist of a mother) will be the first to tell you, I was quite the anxiety-ridden student. For the 17 and a half years leading up to my last uncannily cavalier semester, I might not have been crying in the school bathroom… but there was a high possibility I would have been crying in my own bathroom.

Students shouldn’t be spending 17 years of their youth grappling with stress and anxiety. And they shouldn’t be waiting until their last semester of school to figure out how to cope. So this is what I came up with: 10 things I would tell my kindergarten self and other kids who are just starting on their educational journey. These are the lessons I (finally) learned about coping with school-induced anxiety. Because the truth of the matter is, stress is no longer just a scary adult emotion associated with paying bills. It’s a very real and very present emotion for kids, too.

10. You Can’t Turn Back Time, Cher.

I don’t know why this is, but we have a tendency to think we can change the past.

There is absolutely no use beating yourself up about a bad grade or a fumbled speech or spilled milk. Do your best and keep moving forward. All the retrospective analysis I did post test-taking was wasted energy that only stressed me out and had no effect on my score. Seek constructive criticism, but don’t dwell. You can’t change the past but you can learn from it. As long as you tried you best, there is nothing to regret.

9.  No One Dubbed You King or Queen of the Group Project If you’re a control freak, a loner, or anal-retentive, the words “group project” make you want to run out of the building like it’s on fire. Here’s a secret: you aren’t and SHOULD NOT BE responsible for the entire project. Here’s another secret: come presentation time, it’s extremely obvious who actually studied the topic and who was handed a notecard with their two obligatory sentences to read five minutes before the presentation. I spent so much time doing the work for others and micromanaging any work I did allow them to do — I was so wrong. This only enables group leeches. STOP enabling them.

8. Don’t Play the Name Game

This is a lesson meant for high school seniors, and it was something that took me until sophomore year of college to believe. Take finances into consideration when selecting colleges. Don’t accept burial by college loans as the norm. It doesn’t have to be. I hesitate to generalize and say that the name of a college never matters — it might help in certain professions. But figure out what those cases are — you’ll save yourself a lot of financial headache down the road. In the end, it’s your own passion and drive that get you to where you want to be — not the name of your college.

7. Make Room for Failure

There’s a stigma associated with failure that suggests it’s an ugly stain. Stop fearing failure. A “failure” (and I use this word lightly), can be the best thing to happen to you. I attended a rigorous and highly competitive musical theatre conservatory for two years. I failed my first board (final performance exam). Immediately after, I felt so ashamed; I just wanted to hide it and forget about it. There was no room for failure if I was going to be on Broadway. Three years later, I can honestly say that “failure” was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I faced the issues head on. I allowed the failure to change me for the better. Instead of scolding kids and shaming shortcomings, we need to make them understand that some of the best potential for growth lies in a seemingly “failed” situation.

6. Acknowledge Your “YES!” Moments

To quote Jay Z, we’re a very “on to the next one” society. We’re so concerned with the end product that we fail to acknowledge the little victories along the way. Good test score? Fine. Good. On to the next one. NO! There will always be “the next one.” Stop RIGHT where you are and celebrate “this one.” Find one “yes” moment per day, and pat yourself on the back. We need to stop brushing past the small moments in our race to the finish.

5. You Might Not be Good At Basketball

Look. Some people are going to be good at math, and some are going to be good at science, and some will stick to flute. I checked my boyfriend’s essays, and he advised me on my accounting homework. A well-rounded education is good and necessary. The belief that you have to be perfect in every subject is an express train to Breakdown Central.

4. In Five Years, No One Will Ask You About That Test

Plain and simple. Keep perspective.

3. Allow Yourself to Be Uncomfortable

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher said something that has stayed with me to this day (hi, Mrs. Eifert!). “There can be no amount of learning without a certain level of discomfort.” When I think about every time I have truly grown, I can recall an uncomfortable process (see: Freshman year board exam). In my experience, discomfort and struggle has led me to my greatest times of growth. Don’t shy away from a challenge or believe that because the process is difficult, you’re not cut out for it. Dive into discomfort.

2. Listen to Bill Withers

His message, I mean. You can listen to his music too, I guess. Lean on your friends. I had a small group of friends in high school who were in a lot of the same classes as I was. We were each other’s support system. There are so many benefits of studying in groups — students sometimes have a way of teaching each other in more simplistic language than teachers. Bouncing ideas off of each other reinforces understanding. Teaching someone a concept you understand better than they do also reinforces understanding. My study group helped to keep me calm and prepared.

1. Stay Curious

I think that in some cases, people associate learning with long lectures and insurmountable tests. Don’t let organized schooling quash your curiosity. I’ve always been amazed by human potential. For a while, I stopped pursuing my own “personal education” because I was so fried from “mandatory education.” Try to find something that interests you and find a way to learn more about it — it’s liberating and satisfying. School can be temporary, but education should be perpetual.

 

Link to HuffPost version: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/natalie-bounassar/10-things-i-wish-i-could-_b_4550658.html