We are what we consume

This week my mind has been swirling with thoughts of consumption (no, not TB; please don’t call me “Satine”).

Faced with the super-fun task of crafting a budget to pay down my credit card, I have been seeking ways to reduce my spending without sacrificing the quality of everything I put into and onto my body.

As most of you know—despite my unbreakable sweet tooth—I tend to be rather strict about what I eat and the types of products (personal hygiene, cosmetic, household cleaning, etc.) I use. I try to limit my exposure to harmful chemicals however I can. (Useful resource: the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database)

I am also devoted to raising awareness about climate change (if you are rolling your eyes here, please skip the rest of my blog post and instead check out theses informative, accessible webpages from NASA—or, finish reading and then check out the site).

On Wednesday, I tried to watch U.S. President Donald Trump’s first United Nations speech—I had only caught soundbites of it live. About halfway through, I paused, then closed the window on my laptop and decided to find something more productive to do with the remaining time I’d given myself to watch the speech.

Retrospectively, that shift was also reflecting a broader awareness of consumption that I have been gaining this week. The title of this post is “We are what we consume,” inspired by the timeless saying “we are what we eat.” However, in my journey to improve and refine my consumption habits, I am aiming to be mindful of more than just the food I eat and the products I buy; I am also striving to be incredibly mindful of what I am reading and watching daily.

After shutting down the president’s disconcerting speech (I’d already gotten the gist of it from my managing editor’s story; I already knew all I needed to, both as a citizen and a journalist, so watching it after the fact was just torturous), I opted for a few other videos:

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Lauren Singer of Trash is For Tossers | Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pF72px2R3Hg

This isn’t the first of Lauren Singer’s videos I watched, but it’s the one I recommend as a starter. On her blog, Trash is for Tossers, Lauren shares her experiences living a “zero waste” lifestyle. All her trash from the past four years is in that mason jar she’s holding.

From Lauren, I learned about Bea Johnson, whom the New York Times has crowned the “Priestess of Waste-Free Living.” But instead of just reading a Times story, I also explored Bea’s website, Zero Waste Home, and watched her TED Talk:

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Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home | Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSUmo-40pqA

I don’t think I will convert my lifestyle to fully mirror those of Lauren and Bea—at least, not yet. But from them, I am learning about how I can save money and produce less waste—which serves not only my bank account but also the planet. I hope to share some of that journey her as well as on my recently-switched-to-public Instagram account: @jess_corbett.

My first move was to buy food from the bulk section when I stopped at Whole Foods on Wednesday. I opted for their recyclable paper bags because I have not yet invested in the reusable ones, but I felt a sense of excitement when I came home and transferred my organic, unsalted almonds and dried mango slices into my glass containers. Baby steps.

Since I returned home from work last night, I have watched two additional documentaries. While they are not about zero waste living, they do align with my goals of mindfully consuming content, and giving more thought to what I do and do not need.

The first has been on my “to watch” list for ages, and I am so grateful I finally sat down to enjoy it. I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix, as I put DVDs into a giant case and ripped apart their individual cases to recycle the paper parts.

The film stars two men who have made it their mission to launch a minimalist movement in America, and while they don’t overtly state that their goal is to acquire less so they produce less waste, their key points resonated with me. Among them, we are happier when we just invest in high-quality things we actually need, and “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

This afternoon, as I shredded old bank statements, I watched a Netflix’s original documentary called Chasing Coral. Although it is heart-wrenching to see how climate change is impacting coral reefs around the globe, I was riveted. I encourage you to watch it until the end; you’ll be rewarded with an original song from Kristen Bell plus videos of baby sea turtles—and who doesn’t love baby sea turtles?

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Chasing Coral is available on Netflix.

The film also was not about living a zero waste lifestyle, but it motivated me to be more mindful of my consumption habits. Although we need to globally overhaul our energy systems to effectively combat climate change, seeing how the warming oceans are killing off massive swaths of beautiful coral reefs brought tears to my eyes. I also felt confident that watching the film fit with my goal of more mindfully consuming media content.

So far, this post has just been a list of suggestions for where you should seek information elsewhere; that’s because while I have tried for the past few years to prioritize mindfulness, this consumption component is still very new for me, and I don’t have too much to say about it just yet. I merely want to share these resources and invite you to send me any related/relevant suggestions.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re not bored of me yet, below I’m including a roundup of my recent articles for Common Dreams. 

xo, Jess

My recent articles—related and not to my comments above (read all my CD articles here)

#StopBetsy trends after our lovely Education Secretary takes a “horrific step back” on Title IX (aka the federal law barring sexual discrimination in schools)

Even all 50 state directors of Medicaid agree that Graham-Cassidy is terrible

EPA forces staff to attend anti-leak classes as Trump wages war on the planet

Two California cities sue Big Oil companies for their contributions to climate change

Surprise! Bill written by two male Republicans sucks for millions of women

Gun stocks surge as Trump pushes to ease export regulations for assault weapons

New poll reveals nearly half of Americans and 2/3rds of Democrats want a single-payer healthcare system implemented in the United States

New research released during UNGA reveals there are more than 40 million modern slaves worldwide—and many of them women and children

Progressive groups and lawmakers mobilize in response to Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to cut off millions of Americans from healthcare 

Conservationists are outrage after Zinke memo reveals the federal government’s unprecedented assault on public lands

Bolstering the case for a single-payer system, a new report shows how for-profit insurers are fueling America’s opioid crisis

“Spitting in the eye of transparency,’ the federal government reveals just 22 Mar-a-Lago visitors after promising to release full logs

The EU’s food safety watchdog is under fire for copying and pasting analysis from Monsanto into a Roundup safety report

As the United States reels from several natural disasters, 300+ groups endorse a sweeping climate bill

New research shows 10 percent of global GDP is hidden in tax havens while the world’s poorest people suffer

As Democrats and Trump bicker, Dreamers send a clear message: ‘No deal without us!’

In districts where Trump dominated, these Democrats delivered a stunning blow to the GOP in special elections

Trump gets shit for exploiting storm victims by pushing tax cuts for the wealthy amid disaster recovery

In a “groundbreaking” development, more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors rush aboard Bernie’s Medicare for All train

After Hurricane Harvey, Texas is left with a toxic soup of shit, spilled Fuel, pesticides, and more

16 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Muslims are still central targets in war with no end

If humanity doesn’t turn back from climate abyss, says Pope, “we will go down”

Mueller warns the White House that he plans to interview six Trump aides

Inspired by Standing Rock, First Nations ‘Tiny House Warriors’ protest pipeline project

Citing climate change hoax, Rush Limbaugh downplayed Hurricane Irma, then evacuated

As Scotland vows 100% transition to electric cars, the U.S. caves to the auto industry’s dirty demands

As the planet rages with fires and storms, experts are fed us with murderous climate denialism

Study finds 83% of tap water around the globe tested positive for tiny plastic fibers

Abortion rights are under attack as Kentucky moves to close the state’s last open clinic

“This is about basic decency,” says Obama, denouncing Trump as the DACA decision sparks nationwide protest

“This is evil,” say immigrant rights advocates, blasting Trump’s decision to end DACA

More than 120,000 of “world’s most persecuted people” are fleeing violence in Myanmar

Trump’s ending of DACA will spark protests, lawsuits, and congressional battles

“No more road left” for diplomacy regarding North Korea, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley tells the United Nations Security Council

Analysis reveals Hurricane Harvey triggered the release of nearly a million pounds of toxic air pollutants

An “Impeach Donald Trump Now” Billboard goes up a mile from Mar-a-Lago

Trump warned: “If you end DACA, we will make your life impossible”

The sinister side effect of an amazing new cancer drug: one dose costs nearly $500K

Relief for immigrants as court blocks a “patently unconstitutional” law in Texas

As workers ditch Trump, AFL-CIO president says the White House is full of “racists” and “Wall Streeters”

UN Human Rights chief questions if Trump is fomenting violence against journalists

With a midnight deadline, activists begin a final push to thwart Trump’s attack on net neutrality

“Unprecedented” rainfall and “catastrophic” flooding devastate the Gulf Coast

A Charlottesville coalition will march 10 days to D.C. to confront white supremacy

Thousands of San Franciscans celebrate after a far-right group cancels their rally

Trump’s “pioneering” hurricane news dump fails to prevent controversy

“Law is dead in America”: presidential pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio is widely condemned

Outside Trump’s White House, Dreamers vow to “fight like hell” to #DefendDACA

Defunding clinics, GOP governor “throws women under the bus” in South Carolina

Rightwing protesters to be welcomed in San Francisco… with piles of dog poop

100% renewable roadmaps for 139 nations reveal comprehensive path to fully sustainable system worldwide

Trump-allied firm slammed for $1 billion lawsuit against Standing Rock water protectors

Harvard study confirms #ExxonKnew and misled public about the climate threat for decades

Trump’s hint at pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio denounced as “an official endorsement of racism”

As Trump ramps up the War on Terror, U.S. bombings kill 170+ civilians in a week

Cleveland Browns football players kneel during the national anthem in the largest NFL racial justice protest yet

Treasury secretary’s wife provokes outrage with a classist tirade on Instagram

With Trump, warns Scahill, the “unelected national security apparatus” has been unleashed

Demanding a ban on killer robots, tech experts warn of opening “this pandora’s box”

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Grappling with responses to Charlottesville & my August article roundup

I haven’t posted in a while. I had some wifi struggles, took a trip, and this past week I have been grappling with violence and hatred that I have been trying to sort through both personally and professionally. However, an article I came across earlier today was the push I needed to go beyond my tweets, Facebook posts, and Common Dreams articles, in an effort to engage in more online discussions about racism in the U.S. today.

Before Charlottesville, I planned to share an article roundup that began with: Through emergency apartment construction, an internet outage that jeopardized some deadlines, work challenges, financial worries, and car troubles, this past week and a half has reminded me that we learn from struggles and failures, rather than from success.

All of that remains true, and I’m still working on how to deal with that concept, especially because last weekend I returned to my college campus for the first time in more than two years, which forced me to confront a lot of my emotions and experiences from the most difficult period of my life.  However, in light of current events, thoughts about fierce debates over nationalism and white supremacy in the U.S. have taken priority in my mind, so that’s what I’m going to address in the rest of this post.

I came across this video on Facebook. My reaction to it was so detailed and complex that I decided against posting comments on someone else’s profile; instead, my blog seemed like a more productive space to respond to it and hopefully start a broader conversation.

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Screenshot from YouTube user Red Pill Black’s video titled “I Don’t Care About Charlottesville, the KKK, or White Supremacy” (Click the photo to watch her full video)

A list of my reactions, in no particular order:

  • Nationalism and white supremacy are notable components of U.S. history, and significantly influenced the formation of our government as well as our institutions that perpetuate systemic racism—e.g., public schools, prisons, as the vlogger notes. Nationalism and white supremacy never disappeared from the U.S., but immediately before Trump’s political career kicked off, these ideologies seemed to gain more public support, partly tied to the economic crisis and its impact on white working and middle-class Americans.
  • The perpetual racism in the U.S. seemed to intensify leading up to the rise of Trump because (1) we had a black president for two terms, and (2) before, during and after the economic crisis, politicians and media figures alike told white people who were financially struggling that people of color were taking their tax dollars via government programs—often ignoring that many white Americans rely on these programs, from food stamps to public housing, and the recession disproportionately impacted communities and people of color.
  • This intensifying racism contributed to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement (which this black vlogger is apparently also against). Although there has been violence at some BLM events, it’s worth noting that these events and this movement have come in response to violence against and systemic oppression of people of color. Dismissing the Charlottesville counter-protesters as “losers,” as this vlogger does, dismisses the violence and systemic racism that people of color have encountered in the U.S.
  • The growing threat of nationalism and white supremacism is not a false media narrative, as the vlogger suggests. The demonstrations in Charlottesville last weekend and the white nationalist/supremacist rallies across the country today illustrate that they and their ideologies significantly threaten people of color, and while it’s true that these racist individuals and groups were still organizing and demonstrating during the Obama years, and the decades beforehand, many nationalists and white supremacists have publicly stated that they feel empowered by President Donald Trump.
  • Trump’s accession to the presidency has not just motivated individuals to publicly proclaim racist views, it’s also a symptom of nationalism and white supremacy’s rise pre-Trump (which in addition to being partly triggered by the economic crisis, also intensified in response to the BLM movement). Trump gained supporters on the campaign trail by speaking to the (sometimes unconscious) racist views of many white Americans of all socioeconomic classes. Many white people who voted for Trump bought into his claims that he too was frustrated with the “swamp” of long-serving politicians and the influence money has on politics—in addition to arguments touted by white supremacists that people of color are not only taking money away from hard-working white people but also that they are negatively changing the culture of the US. As president, not only has Trump stacked the White House and agencies with “swamp” dwellers (long-time politicians, lobbyists, and corporate insiders), but he’s also  appointed agency leaders and advisers known for pushing racist and nationalist agendas—e.g., Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who couldn’t even get approved for a lesser role during the Reagan years because of accusations of racism, and Steve Bannon, an accused white nationalist who, until yesterday, served as the WH’s chief strategist. The nationalists and white supremacists cheered on Trump’s recent remarks about violence on “both sides” in Charlottesville—on their own social media and in interviews—and they have openly stated that they feel emboldened by Trump’s commentary as president. Thus, nationalists and white supremacists are a greater threat today than they were before the election because they, by their own admission, are emboldened by the Trump administration.
  • Although it is true that the news media often failed to cover the threats posed by racism and racist policies and institutions during the Obama years—and even before his two terms—and also often failed to adequately understand how much support Trump was garnering during his campaign (hence the “shock” when he won), it is foolish and ignorant of this vlogger to dismiss the threat of nationalism and white supremacism as a false media narrative. It is valid and reasonable to critique the news media’s coverage of race topics, but the thousands of people across the country protesting in favor of and in opposition to nationalism and white supremacy this week clearly illustrate that the news media is not merely making up these threats.
  • This vlogger also bases her conclusions that the racial war in the U.S. is “fake” and white supremacy is no longer a threat on only her first-hand experience. Based only on the outline she provides of her day (going to the gym, then buying a latte), it appears she may be wealthy enough to avoid some of the barriers and threats that many others—especially black women—in America face every day. As a white woman, I cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be a woman of color in America, but from my interactions with people of various races, as well as from studying racism, sexism, U.S. history, and U.S. politics, it seems that this vlogger is either ignoring or unaware of how her experiences differ from that of many other people—particularly women—of color. She doesn’t seem willing to consider that just because people of various races at her gym or local coffee shop appear to be getting along doesn’t necessarily mean that other people of color in the U.S. aren’t experiencing the full force of racism and white supremacy. I am especially intrigued by this vlogger’s apparent unwillingness to consider the potential limits of her perspective because although I disagree with many of her expressed political views, in the few videos I have seen she comes across as composed, thoughtful, and as though she has substantially engaged with history and current events.
  • Being concerned about high rates of black-on-black crime and being concerned about racist threats from white supremacy are not mutually exclusive. It makes sense that people target other people of their own race when they commit violent crimes because (1) often those who commit violent crimes target people they are near to and/or people they know personally, and (2) the nation’s long history of racist housing policies and “white flight” have led to segregation in communities across the country, so it is logical that statistically there is more black-on-black violent crime (and more white-on-white violent crime) than violent crimes across races. But just because violent crime is statistically more likely to occur between two people of the same race—and, as the vlogger points out, black people in the U.S. face many other threats and struggles beyond racist attacks—does not mean that we should dismiss threats posed by the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white supremacists, and nationalists picking up their semi-automatic weapons and tiki torches to riot in the streets across the country in favor of white dominance.

Conclusion: Nationalism and white supremacism currently threaten our nation, and their rise especially threatens people of color, but it should concern all of us because silence is complicity; by not condemning racism, we enable it to continue and become partly responsible for it. As a white woman from a middle-class family, I recognize that I had I privileged upbringing and I feel it is my obligation try to learn from and advocate for reforms that improve the lives of people who have been oppressed by the systems that have given me my privileged status, in an effort to contribute to creating a more equitable and inclusive country. This rise of nationalism and white supremacy we’re seeing isn’t a narrative made up by the news media; the movement existed long before Trump was elected, but also it has intensified as a result of his campaign and election. This video worries me because it signals to her audience that people of color and white people alike don’t need to worry about nationalism and white supremacists, as if the systemic racism in the institutions she mentions isn’t a direct result of the culture of white superiority that influenced our country’s creation, and continues to influence our institutions and society. What’s baffling to me is that she acknowledges that systemic racism in schools and prisons keep people of color in a cycle of crime and poverty, but she is apparently unwilling to recognize that the way those institutions operate is a direct result of the same nationalism and white supremacism that’s currently being debated in our nation’s streets.

I encourage you to share this post/respond privately or publicly/send me related articles, books, videos, and documentaries. I am interested in exploring and understanding these topics more.

My recent articles—related and not to my comments above (read all my CD articles here)

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Court Ruling Against Major New York State Pipeline

Al Gore Has Just One Small Bit of Advice for Trump: ‘Resign’

ACLU Will No Longer Defend Armed Demonstrations After Charlottesville

Despite Death in Charlottesville, Republicans Defend State Bills to Protect Drivers Who Hit Protesters

Public Support for Impeachment Grows Amid Speculation Trump Will Resign

Four Arrested for Toppling Confederate Statue, But No Neo-Nazis Arrested for Brutally Beating a Black Man in Charlottesville

Oregon Lauded as Progressive Model for Reproductive Healthcare Reform as Texas Passes Troubling Anti-Choice Measures

Ignoring Threat of Rising Seas, Trump Eliminates Flood Risk Standards for Taxpayer-Funded Infrastructure Projects

Weeks Before Charlottesville, Trump Cut Federal Funding for a Group Fighting White Supremacy

“Shame! Shame! Shame!”: New Yorkers Surround Trump Tower to Protest President’s Return Home

Democrats Demand Answers About FCC’s Apparent Favoritism Toward Conservative Local News Giant Sinclair Broadcast Group

Scientists and Environmentalists Condemn the Trump Administration’s “Assault on America’s Water Resources”

Analysis Shows Trump/GOP Sabotage to Blame for Coming Insurance Premium Hikes

Canada Builds Border Camp for Asylum Seekers Fleeing US

Pence’s Indiana ‘Cautionary Tale’ for Privatizing Infrastructure Projects

Trump DOJ’s Decision to Support Ohio Voter-Rolls Purge Program Confirms “Worst Fears” About Voting Rights

Medicare for All Supporters Are Ready to Hold Democrats to Account

Leaked Emails Show USDA Staff Were Told to ‘Avoid’ Term ‘Climate Change’ Under Trump

‘Brazen Attack on Media Freedom’: Critics Blast Israel’s Move to Ban Al Jazeera

“We’re Ready to Stop It Again”: KXL Opponents Flood Nebraska’s Capitol

Court Throws Out Blackwater Guards’ Sentences for 2007 Nisour Square Massacre

New Report Reveals Water Threats Posed by the “Dirty Three’s” Pipeline Routes

Trump’s War on Science Forces Federal Officials to Consider Polluters’ Demands

Asylum Seekers, Fleeing Trump’s Hostility, Overwhelm Quebec’s Refugee Resources

Responding to the Democratic Party’s 2018 Campaign Plan to Support Anti-Choice Candidates, Progressive Groups Release Pro-Choice Platform

Far-Reaching Bill Would Legalize Weed and Offer Reparations to Communities Impacted by the War on Drugs

Docs Reveal Monsanto’s Attempts to Influence Reports About the Dangers of Roundup

Sen. Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill Aimed at Ending ‘Tragic’ Youth Unemployment Crisis

“America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio Violated a Court Order to Stop Racially Profiling Latinos

Green Groups Celebrate as Court Orders EPA to Reinstate Obama-Era Methane Rule

Reproductive Rights Advocates Condemn Democrats’ Support of Anti-Choice Candidates

Climate Science Out, Coal In: EPA Exhibit Will Reflect Trump’s Deregulatory, Pro-Coal Agenda

What ‘successful’ people do

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Me, enjoying The Great Outdoors, before the EPA and U.S. environmental regulations are fully done away with and the beauty of nature is destroyed (Photo credit: Ian Engel)

As I noted in a piece a couple of weeks ago, this post has been dwelling in my drafted email folder for quite some time. Whenever I considered publishing it, I found an excuse not to — I’m too busy with work; it’s missing something; do I really believe in what I’m writing?

There’s no denying I tend to seek out challenging — and thus often stressful — opportunities. I crave personal progress and whenever possible I give most of my energy to professional projects. When I did the final revision of this piece, I took on someone else’s full-time publicity job (she went to Thailand, and yes, I’m eternally envious) while also freelance fact-checking and working my part-time job. Some nights, I slept 3 hours; some meals, I skipped simply because I couldn’t stop working. I try to be an advocate for wellness, but exemplifying that — especially in my line of work, media — is tricky. But as I struggled to regulate my sleep and eat nutritious meals, I found myself thinking about what it means to be successful, and I returned to this drafted essay…

***
Forbes piece appeared in my Facebook feed last spring. At the time, I was working about 65 hours a week — half at a lefty national magazine; half at a luxury fitness club. I would roll out of bed at 4:30 AM to drag my sleepy self five blocks to the gym. Five hours later I’d speed walk back to my apartment with exactly 15 minutes to change, pack lunch, and brew a second cup of coffee. For five months, I hardly slept or socialized, and my body shut down. For weeks I battled sicknesses that built upon each other, until I found myself curled up in a Midtown CityMD waiting room, unable to work and in need of an antibiotic. I considered leaving the city when my lease ended last August. I spent much of my summer browsing housing sites. Twice, I had apartments fall through just as I was about to fork over hundreds of dollars for deposits. I finally found myself a new home — a spacious Crown Heights apartment with two wonderful roommates. I couldn’t be more grateful for the changes the late summer brought: a new apartment, a new job, fewer hours at the fitness club, and just a bit more time to socialize (read: sleep).
Although my new schedule allows more freedom, I keep coming back to the Forbes piece. I read “How Successful People Spend Their Weekends” on a Sunday night. At first glance, I was very excited; I figured it would offer some Thrive–esque advice about time, stress and/or money management. It didn’t necessary fail to do that, but I found myself repelled by its assumptions. I was drawn in by “successful” in the headline. Success is a concept I’ve been seriously grappling with for the past few years. But as I read through the Forbes cheat sheet for how to make better use of my weekend time and model myself after “successful” individuals, I grew frustrated because it didn’t apply to me or many people I know.
Some samples of my reactions:

#2 They Designate Mornings as Me Time. 
That sounds lovely, and since I stopped opening the fitness club, I’ve tried to do that more. Still, sometimes I have to send emails, make calls or run errands, because it’s the only time I can. But when I first read this piece, I was already rising before the sun. To have “me time” in the morning, I would’ve had to wake up between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. I was working so much to pay rent — and yet I couldn’t help but wonder, “Does working insane hours to pay my bills on time make me ‘unsuccessful’?” The folks at Forbes probably think so… but I saw it as responsible. I’d rather work extra hours than get evicted, acquire a ton of credit card debt, or have to call home to beg a parent for extra cash.

#4 They Pursue a Passion.
 I agree that “indulging your passions is a great way to escape stress and to open your mind to new ways of thinking.” It’s a key reason I try to work jobs about which I’m passionate during the week. On weekends, I clock in at the fitness club by 7:30 AM, and those shifts on Saturdays and Sundays allow me to maintain my membership, so I can work on weightlifting and attend yoga classes. The gym job is far from a dream position, but it allows me to pursue my passion for fitness, as well as stay healthy enough to spend weekdays on my primary passion: journalism. It’s fundamental to personal development to pursue passions, but if we designate only the weekends for our passion projects, it seems likely we’ll end up miserable the other five days of the week.

#6 They Minimize Chores. 
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I really hate household chores — but I must also confess to being a stress-cleaner who derives satisfaction from scrubbing floors and disinfecting all surfaces in sight. My journalism job (or “jobs,” since my main gig is freelance and I often work for multiple outlets simultaneously) can keep me at the office late. The hours are unpredictable and when I add that to my attempt to exercise regularly, I don’t spend much time at my apartment. I can occasionally squeeze in some late-night laundry, or vacuum on an afternoon off, but I tend to dedicate one of my weekend afternoons to cleaning, because I like the tidy space and that’s when I have the time.

I am only 23 years old; I have many, many more years in the work force, and I plan to continue working jobs about which I’m passionate. I still struggle with whether I’d call myself “successful,” but I care deeply about the work I do and try to make sure each task aligns with my career goals and personal values. The Forbes list reads to me like advice for people who hate their day-jobs and only tend to their passions (and mental states) on the weekends…but rather than success, I see that as failure. Success should mean pursuing your passions (and finding a way to make a livable profit from that), rather than putting off passions until the two days per week a ‘successful’ person does ‘me time.’ Sure, sometimes I go weeks without a full day off…but when you (mostly) enjoy and believe in what you do for money, you don’t have to reserve your weekends to recover from your miserable day-to-day life. You end up living for more than the weekends; you end up living for every day you get to wake up and take on your next challenge.

(NB: I would like to note that my ability — especially at my age — to pursue a career about which I am passionate has been made possible in part by my white privilege + middle-class suburban upbringing, and the educational and networking opportunities provided to me because of that…in addition to a lot of all-nighters, many missed meals and excessively high stress levels.)

My struggle to define success

Burnt pastries

While trying to feed myself a subpar dinner, I almost burned down my apartment building.

For months, I have been revisiting the same nearly complete blog post. It resides in my email draft folder—waiting, lurking. Every time I consider publishing it, I stop myself. 

Its topic: Success.

Part of me is turned off by the idea of success—if I consider myself “successful,” won’t I just become complacent?

Part of me is lured in by it—if I consider myself “successful,” won’t that be an indication that I feel fulfilled by my daily life?

I don’t think this internal dichotomy is uncommon, especially among 20-somethings…or dare I even write the dreaded term millennials…but in my day-to-day I don’t often encounter in-depth discussions focused on defining success and analyzing how it pertains our decisions.

My unpublished piece is a critique of a popular news outlet’s BuzzFeed-style listicle about how “successful” people spend their weekends. The listicle’s main premise is that weekends should be reserved for “me time” and passion projects. My argument against that is essentially that success shouldn’t mean doing something you hate every weekday so you can spend the weekends doing what you love (which describes the vibe I got from the listicle); rather, I claim success should mean taking care of yourself and doing something you love every day, and finding a way to live off of that.

And I know, that’s extraordinarily easy to say and immensely more difficult to practice. What’s held me back from hitting that daunting publish button is doubt in my own argument and whether I’m actually practicing what I preach (don’t hate me for this cliché; it’s just too fitting to resist). 

As I type this from the heart of Midtown, guzzling endless cups of tea and coffee to keep my sleep-deprived brain marginally more functional, I ponder my definition and whether my life reflects it. I have spent the last week temporarily doing someone else’s full-time job, while freelancing during mornings and evenings, and working part-time on the weekend (gotta love the Brooklynite’s freelance hustle). 

“Me time” has meant me knocking out from exhaustion in the early hours of the morning, clutching pints of Halo Top or cups of Yogi tea that by some miracle haven’t yet spilled on my laptop (plus facilitating the rescue of a 35-pound raccoon from an eight-foot barbed wire fence and almost burning down my apartment—see photo above—but those are stories for another time). 

As I contemplate my upcoming career and location decisions, I wonder what will be required of me to pursue my passions. I wonder whether I truly want to solidify my currently dubious definition of success, or just keep chasing it; I wonder whether concretely defining success for myself will actually guide me to becoming successful by my own measure; I wonder whether continuous personal growth requires us to allow our individual definitions of success to constantly evolve, and if so, how to navigate that.

With this unsettled definition to consider (not to mention all my swirling thoughts about where I want to live and work), I struggle to determine whether my daily choices are truly enhancing my skills and aligning with my career goals—i.e. paving a path to success.

So, I put these questions to you, internet dwellers:

1. How do you define success?

2. How does passion interact with your definition of success?

Exploring identity formation in the Land of Selfies

Screenshot of Instagram

A screenshot of my Instagram profile

Hi, everyone… (As you should expect at this point), it’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts here. I’ve spent the past few months getting acclimated to a semi-crazy schedule working two jobs (both of which I love) in Manhattan. Inspired by a recent conversation with a colleague, I have decided to give myself a writing prompt each week. If I come up with something (even remotely) publishable, I will post it here; if not, I will table the topic and consider revisiting it later…

Lately I’ve been thinking about why I love Instagram (beyond the vain indulgence of capturing that rare, stellar selfie). While recently chatting with a friend at work, I explained that I enjoy Instagram more than most social media because on Instagram people less frequently post awful statements that make me want to unfriend/unfollow them (I’m looking at you, Trump supporters). I don’t consider myself a super skilled photographer, but I love that Instagram allows me to share snapshots of my life with friends and followers, especially through its connection to platforms like Twitter and Facebook. On Instagram, I follow friends, family, foodies, fitness experts, fashion designers, public figures, politicians, artists, musicians, and news outlets. Beyond my love for an app that could be called the Land of Selfies, I am intrigued by how social media both shapes and reflects identity, as well as its impact on how we socialize.

Our social media selves are intentional; they are simultaneously reflections of how we see ourselves and who we want to be. I have frequently encountered arguments that this is a fundamental flaw of social media, but I think that it is actually one of its beauties. Whether our social media profiles accurately capture our personalities is based on our individual capacities for reflection, but ultimately, I think it’s a safe bet that most of us idealize ourselves online at least occasionally. We may present idealized or censored versions of ourselves (even unintentionally), but in doing so we are setting goals, and in an accountable way. We are declaring to friends and family: this is who I am.

The space between who we are in person and online—the space between who we are and who we want to be—offers room for personal growth, if we can force ourselves to see and interact with that space.

Social media allows us to explore our identities in a public sphere, but also from a certain comfort zone—with our computer screens serving as buffers. I want to take a moment to acknowledge how incredibly empowering that can be (before I complain about its downfalls). It affirms the (supremely simplified) speeches many of us encountered in elementary school: “You can be anything you want to be.” Now, as we transition to adulthood, we learn that phrase is untrue for a myriad of reasons…but, we can always improve upon ourselves, and our idealizations of ourselves often come alive in our online profiles. Now I am by no means advocating for lying about passions or personal details online; I’m just speaking from my own experience: establishing a public identity that often displays the ideal picture of me encourages me to be better—strive to fully match that public persona; strive to become my best self.

That being said, there are issues that can arise in this idealization process, which can be exacerbated by our friends and followers’—or even strangers’—interactions with our posts. Social media is often used to demonstrate and reinforce social norms that can be damaging and/or limiting—e.g. In an interview with NY Magazine’s Rebecca Traister, Fusion‘s Collier Meyerson noted: “But I’m not immune to the pressures of marriage or the stain of singlehood. And the place I most experience this pressure is on Facebook.”

This resonated with me. I am immensely irritated by social media posts that tell me—directly or indirectly—what makes me a person, or a woman; what my relationship status should be; what I must have or achieve to be considered successful. I make a very conscious effort to set my own goals and define success for myself, but seeing those judgmental or limiting ideas presented as societal standards online can be tricky to navigate. Social media can expose us to new ideas or individuals, but it also opens up our identities to public scrutiny. If social media has a fatal flaw, I think it’s that it allows us to attack each others’ identities from a distance—from behind the computer screen buffer—lessening the amount of shame we may otherwise feel for imposing our unsolicited judgement or personal standards on others.

Social media has the potential to be a vehicle for self-expression and sharing powerful ideas, but so often we use it to spread undue judgment and hateful comments. I am not calling for the policing of posts for constant positivity or a lack of strong opinions—let’s all remember I work in journalism, which means I often spend my days wading through tragic and/or controversial news—but this personal exploration of why I like Instagram better than other social media has renewed my sense of mindfulness about what I share about myself, especially online.

Like the clothes or makeup I choose to wear (I’ll spare you my anti-uniform rant, for now), my website, my résumé, my work as a journalist…my social media platforms represent both who I am and who I want to be. I see my accounts as opportunities to share myself with others. By being more mindful of what I share, I am practicing a mindfulness about what I believe, what I desire, and how I engage with people.

So, I am giving myself a challenge, and anyone is welcome to join me: I will strive to be mindful, as well as genuine, honest, and compassionate, in my public presentation of myself on the internet. I will use social media to share stories and ideas that strike me as powerful, profound, or positive. I will use my profiles to attempt to honestly reflect myself, but also to hold myself accountable to that reflection, in an effort to constantly improve upon the person I am.

(I will also continue to take selfies and love Instagram because it shows me photos—both of beauty and suffering—that are brief but fantastic bursts of life.)

Note: The second-to-last paragraph is adapted from a personal mission statement I recently wrote for myself, inspired by an awesome interview with Julianne Hough. If you have an hour to devote to a provocative and motivating discussion about developing a personal definition of success, then this interview is definitely worth watching.

Practicing mindfulness – my main takeaway from Thrive

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (Photo courtesy of Crownpublishing.com)

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington (Photo courtesy of Crownpublishing.com)

A few months ago, I wrote this piece, but never posted it. It felt so much more personal than a simple book review. I have been reconsidering it for the past few days, but was finally pushed to publish it after reading a somewhat thematically related blog post by Wil Wheaton.

So, here is my (slightly revised) reaction to Thrive: 

Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder is about burnout, happiness, and balance; it’s about health, redefining success, and working toward mindfulness.

It fit well with my mentality this summer. My three goals for this summer have been: patience, positivity, and productivity (listed from most difficult to easiest for me).

It’s been a struggle getting through this book, but I have enjoyed it immensely – particularly the conversational tone. The concentrated guidance toward mindfulness resonated strongly with me. At many points I wished I could have read this at the beginning of college. I spent a good portion of those four years rather unhappy. My strongest motivator for seeking this new approach to living is the realization I had the end of college that I couldn’t continue living in a way that sacrifices my happiness. It sounds like a common sense statement that shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it was for me, but living in a way that prioritized genuine happiness didn’t feel natural to me.

Some practices such as yoga proved to have a positive impact on my mental health during my college years, and I have tried to hold on to that feeling through at-home practice, while I attempt to sort out the next phase of my life.

While I was in the midst of reading Thrive, I found out that one of the mindfulness mentors I encountered during college was diagnosed with cancer. She is a young, seemingly healthy yogi, so I was shocked by her diagnosis. But it was a reminder about the unpredictability of life, and as she works through her treatments, I am working more to value my health while I have it.

In addition to trying to maintain a sleep more/eat better/work out regularly lifestyle, I took myself off social media for the a week this summer, in an effort to practice the kind of mindfulness Huffington explores in this rather personal book. Even before reading Thrive, I was well aware that have serious trouble disconnecting. (I even caved and reconnected shortly shy of a week when the #GOPDebate and #JonVoyage were scheduled for the same night.)

If you know me personally, you likely know these social media cleanses aren’t out of character for me; however, this one was the first that was motivated by more than just a personal desire to go off the grid and live in semi-isolation for a few days. It was motivated by a desire to practice mindfulness with regard to every choice I make – even with Tweets or Facebook posts.

A few hours after I finished reading Thrive, I retrieved a package from the mailbox addressed to my sister. It was a Lokai bracelet. Unfortunately, I had been planning to buy her one for her upcoming birthday (fortunately, it means I know her well enough that she would have appreciated the gift). However, the size small was too tight on her wrist, so I bought it off of her and she has ordered a new one for herself. (Update: I have since broke my bracelet and I’ve been meaning to order another.)

The Lokai bracelets feature clear beads with one black and one white bead on either end. The white bead is filled with water from Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth; the black bead is filled with mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. It’s supposed to represent the universal human need for balance, and remind us that we all experience highs and lows in life.

I am grateful for this gift from the universe (and my child-sized wrists), as it will serve as a physical reminder to internalize and practice the lessons I took from Thrive. I highly recommend the book for everyone, but especially for young people focused on personal success and just beginning their careers. For me, while I like to believe it would have been nice to read it earlier, I think I found it at the perfect time.


P.S. I am immensely grateful for my friend Erin, who lent me her personal copy of Thrive, and has encouraged me to pass it along to someone else who may benefit from reading it.

What I have to say about The Unspeakable

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum (Photo courtesy of www.meghandaum.com)

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum (Photo courtesy of http://www.meghandaum.com)

Since I’m still jobless (Potential employers, if you’re reading this, here’s a link to my résumé. Please hire me.), I am back to blogging about books I’ve read for fun. One of the most miraculous post-grad discoveries I’ve made thus far is that unemployment and lack of homework allow me to read for pure enjoyment. It’s incredible. As a born-again bookworm, I have realized how vital leisurely reading is to maintaining a high level of happiness with my life.

I’ll admit it: the number one reason I picked up this book is that a reviewer compared her writing to that of Joan Didion. While I won’t go so far as to call Meghan Daum the next Didion, The Unspeakable is well written, honest and enjoyable. I laughed out loud; I related to the narrator. Reading it, I felt as if we were having a long conversation — a telltale sign of a good writer in my not-so-humble opinion. I found myself captivated by her tales of growing up and finding herself; making major life decisions, especially with regard to marriage and parenthood; and confessions such as not being a foodie, which resonated with me and my inability to achieve #domesticgoddess status despite a newfound love of The Food Network and HGTV.

Daum even made me briefly reconsider my instinctual rejection of Los Angeles, which is no small feat – just ask my LA-bound college friends. She also made me consider the acts of reading and writing memoirs, and on a broader scale, why we write.

In May, I wrapped up my final semester of college, during which I was enrolled in the most challenging course I have ever taken. It wasn’t that content was difficult, though making sense neo-Lacanians and higher ed pedagogy is not at all easy; it was emotionally challenging.

Around mid-March I asked to meet with the professor. I was struggling with the course; I dreaded each class meeting and watched the clock intently, silently counting down the minutes until 5:15 p.m. As someone who has always loved school, this was new to me. Even suffering through a semester of calculus in high school wasn’t as painful as the mid-semester class meetings for this course. Before my meeting with the professor, I bought a cup of coffee at the library. My nerves got the better of me and I spilled the coffee instead of drinking it. I was bursting with anxiety when we sat down in his small, cluttered office. He asked how I was – how my semester was going. It took me months to understand why I almost immediately started to cry.

His question – his concern for me – was genuine, which was shocking to me. I have found that when most people ask “How are you?” they don’t really mean it. They often don’t want to hear about your sickly relative or unemployment or money problems. They want to hear that you’re happy and healthy – that all is well. Somehow, real life has become too uncomfortable to talk about. That’s why my mother consistently reminds me not to discuss politics, sex or religion before we leave the house for holiday dinners with our extended family.

One of the key points of this professor’s course was to interrogate the question “Why do we write?” Based on Daum’s collection of essays, I suspect she writes to answer “How are you?” a bit more honestly than many of us are used to. Throughout the book she skips the small talk and invites the reader to take a look at her real story and taboo topics that we often avoid in day-to-day conversation. The course challenged me to do the same, and my dedication to doing so is a major reason why I enjoyed Daum’s writing so much. Telling her truth takes a lot of courage, but she does it well. She doesn’t leave things unsaid.

Next up: Tina Fey’s Bossypants and How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. In May I was in the midst of a feminist rampage and ended up on Amazon. I justified the purchases by reminding myself that there are much more reckless ways of dealing with my pro-woman rage and doing damage to my bank account than by adding to my already overflowing bookshelf.

Update: I finished Bossypants on my way to New York and loved it. Before I read Moran’s book, I’ve started Thrive by Arianna Huffington. Clearly I’m still in my memoirs-written-by-successful-women phase. I suspect I’ll need some fiction soon!