Category: life advice

A Day Done Differently

I don’t know about you guys, but this time of year usually finds me knee deep in a personal rut, whining with malcontent and mowing on processed carbs. An appealing picture, no? Over the past few weeks, I’ve attempted my usual malaise cures (joyful playlists, dressing my cat in a vest, travel) but none of them really cut it.So in an attempt to well and truly shake myself out of these doldrums, I decided to attempt a day in which I would do every possible thing in a different manner. Really! Every. single. thing. What follows is a dissection of this attempt at A Day Done Differently.

6:00 AM
I wake in the dark, to my alarm. I eat peanut butter/banana toast while listening to The Current, reading blogs and fending off my oddly needy cat.
Today: I rearranged my work schedule and attempted to sleep in until the truly decadent hour of 7 am. This mostly consisted of me tossing around and trying to force myself to sleep in – you’ll go back to sleep and you’ll enjoy it, missy! I then made a daring foray into the breakfast world of scrambled eggs and salsa which normally falls under my ‘gross and slimy’ heading. Not nearly as gross as I remember!7:30 AM
Usually: I’m at work, dressed in my personal uniform of dark wash skinny jeans/boots/button up shirt/scarf/messy bun.
Today: I was still at home, styling my hair (!) and applying red lipstick (!!) to coordinate with my vintage dress and sweater combo. I wandered into my office at the luxurious hour of 8 am and all my students shrieked at me and told me I looked like an actress. I promptly melted into the floor.

12:00 PM
: I’m eating a Lean Cuisine in front of the computer during a 40 minute break between classes. Sexy, right?
Today: After switching classes with my colleague, I had an hour and a half to do as my little heart desired. My first proper lunch break in months! So I headed Grand Avenue for boutique browsing, coffee sipping and bagel nibbling. Truly, it was entirely too cold for me to be paddling about in my dress/leggings/sweater combo, but we Minnesotans get so excited once the temperature’s above 40! I felt so.damn.smug being out and about in the middle of the day.3:30 PM
Usually: I’ve walked home, checked the mail and am 10 minutes into my post-work nap. Yes.
Today: I’m still at work. Wait, what? Eff this whole ‘change’ thing!6:00 PM
I’m eating a Chik’n fillet and some microwaved peas as I read a magazine/check email/attend to the oddly needy cat/put in a load of laundry. Simultaneously.
Today: I braved the aisles of a new and swanky grocery store to hunt down the ingredients to try a new recipe. $12 worth of produce later (never again, Kowalski’s) I started in on a version of coconut milk vichyssoise and a red pepper/papaya/avocado salad. I ate it while doing … nothing.

7:30 PM
I’m drinking vodka gimlets with a date. Or meeting friends for dinner. Or working out. Or plotting world domination with various bloggers. Or generally fussing over my apartment and painting/sanding/fancy-fi-ing it.
Today: I wandered over to Garrison Keillor’s very own book store, and spent a good hour paging through obscure collections of poems, Indian cookbooks, books with funny pictures of cats. I resisted the urge to make mental lists of things I should be doing or to worry that my red lipstick was too ostentatious.We all know that trying new things will help jolt us out of a boring routine, but ever the one to embrace a theme and a challenge, this Day Done Differently worked really well for me. It forced me to examine the ruts that I’d fallen into and think about how I could climb out of them. No makeup and jeans? I’ll show you a wiggle dress and red lipstick! Microwaved dinner? I’ll raise you a homemade meal! I like this idea so much I might just make it a monthly routine!Oh, the irony.

Would you ever partake in A Day Done Differently? What would yours look like?

How To Write Yourself a ‘Happiness Prescription’

Want to be happier? Looking for happiness tips? You can start by writing yourself a Happiness Prescription. Click through to find out how!
Like most people in the northern half of the northern hemisphere, I am rather non-plussed by post-holiday Winter.
Maybe non-plussed is an understatement.
Last weekend, I found myself trundling around a third-ring suburb, lost between the overcast sky and beige housing developments. I stopped in a Wal-mart to pick up a few things and while standing in line behind a screaming child, I had an overwhelming moment of “Oh, good lord. What. is. the. point? No, really. What’s the point.”

And maybe getting lost in the suburbs and enduring auditory assault from a kiddo who REALLY WANTS GUM! is enough to drive anyone to an existential crisis. But I knew that this was the beginning of my yearly bout with the Winter Blues.

And of course I know how to work myself out of a funk (dance to Shakira! cuddle the cat! try something new!) but when you’re a two weeks into your January-sulkathon, it’s hard to work up any interest in doing things other than watching Hulu and eating carbs.

However! Being the internet hound that I am, I remembered hearing about this study. Essentially, it points out that when doctors give patients vague, over-arching suggestions about exercise and diet, these suggestions are largely ignored.

But when the doctor gets out her prescription pad and actually writes out a specific, tailored plan for these things (“30 minutes of walking, after evening meal, 4 times a week”) the patient is much more likely to do these things.

So what if I applied this method to myself? Instead of knowing (and mostly ignoring) all of the things that I know I can do to pull myself out of funk, what if I viewed these things as the treatment for my Mid-Winter Sulk?

Post-haste, I wrote myself a Happiness Prescription

  • 30 minutes of fresh air and sunshine, to be applied daily at 7 am and 3 pm
  • 25 minutes of aerobic activity, 4 x a week
  • Skype video chats with various friends around the globe, 1 x a week
  • Thrifting (as needed)
  • Over-priced, out-of-season fruit (as needed)
And you know what? I think it’s working. All that air and sun and sweat makes me feel better. Of course it does – I knew it would.
But viewing all these activities as non-negotiable has changed my mindset. You wouldn’t willfully forget to take your allergy medicine or to wear your mouth guard while playing hockey. Why shouldn’t we treat our minds and hearts the same way?
What would your prescription for happy be?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

How To Become A Grown Up: Part 2

become a grown up

This is part 2 (here’s part 1) of my incredibly long-winded answer to this series of questions:

Dear Sarah Von,
I’m currently in my third year of undergrad and I feel completely unnerved. I’m studying Communication Studies and am second guessing myself. My passions and interests are so varied (education, public advocacy, public health) that I’m feeling pulled in so many directions. Will my degree be enough to land me a job after graduation? Can I survive working at a non-profit that pays approx. $2? How do I find the resources to network and find jobs? Do I have the courage to move? How long should I wait for grad school? What do I want to study in grad school? How do I get the good paying job that fulfills my pay-it-forward needs? Will I ever have the time/money/opportunity/courage to travel/move abroad? How do I get where I really want to go? What do I really want?

Don’t go to graduate school unless you’re really, really sure you want to
Many of us (myself very much included here) go to graduate school when it takes us more than a few years to find a job that we really like. Or maybe the professional world isn’t quite shaping up how we imagined and we were always good at school, so why not go back? Or everybody we know is doing it and, dammit, I’m totally as smart as they are! I want a Master’s!Dude. Here is my incredibly mercenary advice. Do not go to graduate school unless:
a) the school is paying you to go
b) you are really, really, really passionate about the topic you’ll be studying
c) a Master’s is required for the field you work in and you are 100% sure that you want to work in this field for a long, long time

I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school because I love doing ‘programs’ that have a beginning and an end and give me a piece of paper when I’m finished. Also, I thought I’d spend all that time engaging in witty banter in coffee shops with people who wore wool sweaters and scarves. Really? Grad school is really, really hard work, it can be quite expensive and it will completely consume those years of your life.

Now, I’m glad I got my Master’s; it’s made me a better teacher, opened doors for me and I had a great time in New Zealand. That being said, I know approximately a million people with MAs in English Literature who are working at Barnes and Noble and substitute teaching. Or people who could have gotten to the same place in their career simply by spending those two years climbing the ladder and gaining experience rather than spending all that money on an MBA.

I would never discourage someone from expanding their education, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

You don’t need super human amounts of courage. You only need enough courage to take one step
Traveling the world alone, moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone, starting graduate school – these are all scary, scary things. And, sure, they require courage! But luckily for all of us, you don’t need super human amounts of courage. You only need enough courage to take one little step at a time.

If you would have told me in 1998 that I would find the courage to move to New Zealand on my own, where I knew no one, and complete a Master’s degree there, I would have turned around to check if you were talking to the superhero behind me. Because that business sounds terrifying, y’all!

But here’s the thing: you don’t need all of that courage at once.

You need enough courage to check out a copy of The Lonely Planet at your library. Maybe a week later, you can work up the bravery to google “tourist visas + Thailand.” Then you need to find the wherewithal to email your cousin who spent a year teaching in China. See? Totally doable! Don’t think in terms of “I am going to travel the world, alone, for one year.” Think in terms of “I might go look at backpacks at REI.”

You should also know that you are so, so much braver than you think you are.
I have been in ridiculous situations that I now look back on and wonder why I didn’t have a nervous breakdown (what’s up, getting from Santori, Greece to San Remo, Italy on my own, using six different types of transportation!) But you know what? While you’re in the midst of doing said scary thing, you will simply put one foot in front of the other and make it happen because you have no other choice. Weeping on the steps of the San Remo train station at 1 a.m. because there was no one there to meet me wouldn’t have accomplished anything, so I found a cab, found a hotel and then found my group the next morning.

You’ll figure out what you want slowly, one step at a time, after taking several detours
I have worked at a million different jobs – resort social director, receptionist, home health care, PR girl, event planner, newspaper writer. I have had multiple long-term relationships – with a golden boy, a charming punk rocker, a hipster nerd, an outdoorsy adventurer. I’ve lived heaps of places – rural Minnesota, urban Minnesota, uber-urban Asia, out of a backpack, semi-urban New Zealand.

Now, I could easily look at all these jobs and relationships and places as failures – jobs that didn’t fit, men who weren’t right for me, cities that didn’t work. But instead, I try to leave each of these situations thinking that now? I’m one step closer to knowing exactly what I want. Now I know that I need to live somewhere that has a Target. I need a job that doesn’t require sitting in front of the computer for eight hours a day. I need a gentleman friend who can entertain himself and take initiative.

Life is a game of trial and error, right? You probably won’t luck into your dream job/relationship/life on your first try. Try heaps of things! You’d be surprised how far the process of elimination can get you!

You’ll get where you want to go slowly, one step at a time, after taking several detours
Knowing what you want is a huge part of the battle. And now you’ve sussed out that you want to live in a large coastal city, date a successful, outgoing person and work in marketing for non-profit. Congrats! You are officially half way there.

But getting what you want, in any avenue in life, is a slow process. Maybe you’ll find work at a non-profit but it won’t be in marketing. Or maybe you’ll find a marketing job at a giant corporation. Or you’ll find the job you love in a tiny town that does little for you. No situation is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it and keep working towards something that’s a better fit for you.

It’s difficult when we see people who seem to have it all. But it’s worth remembering that
a) they probably don’t, in fact, have it all
b) if, by some miracle, they do have it all – it’s probably taken them a lot of hard work and time to get it

Any other advice you have for our friend?

P.S. How to be a grown-ass woman about your health, your finances, your friendships, your romantic relationships, your professional life, and your home.

photo by Susen // cc

How To Become A Grown Up: Part 1

becoming adult

Dear Sarah Von,

I’m currently in my third year of undergrad and I feel completely unnerved. I’m studying Communication Studies and am second guessing myself. My passions and interests are so varied (education, public advocacy, public health) that I’m feeling pulled in so many directions. Will my degree be enough to land me a job after graduation? Can I survive working at a non-profit that pays approx. $2? How do I find the resources to network and find jobs? Do I have the courage to move? How long should I wait for grad school? What do I want to study in grad school? How do I get the good paying job that fulfills my pay-it-forward needs? Will I ever have the time/money/opportunity/courage to travel/move abroad? How do I get where I really want to go? What do I really want?Oh, friend. This? This is a million dollar question.

Short Answer: you won’t wake up one day with all of the answers. Nobody knows 100% what they’re doing. Even if it seems like they do, they don’t. And that’s okay.

Long Answer

Your degree does not determine your life or your job

Unless you go to a technical college for hair dressing or welding or radiology, your bachelor’s degree is mostly a piece of paper that proves you
a) can write papers and make supporting arguments
b) are responsible enough to start and finish four years of educationI know some very successful people who didn’t finish their bachelor’s degree. I know a million people who are not working in the fields they went to school for. Really, I know approximately 10 people whose jobs are vaguely related to their bachelor’s degrees. My cousin has a degree in philosophy and works at a bank. One of my best friends has a degree in political science and works in marketing. Another friend has an MA in theater and does real estate evaluations. Working in the field you went to school in is practically the exception rather than the rule!

More than your degree, your work experience, personality, connections and work ethic will help you find a job. If you’ve got a few good internships, knowledge of the appropriate software, a friendly demeanor and a buddy in the company, it probably won’t matter if your degree is in underwater basket weaving – you’ll be in.

You will find a job you like. Eventually.
It would be totally, totally awesome if you landed a job making $37,000 a year doing PR for the Red Cross right out of college.

This probably won’t happen.

But you can make it more significantly more likely! See if your school can hook you up with a pertinent internship. If they can’t, take a little initiative. I got my first job out of school by literally typing the word ‘creative’ into and calling every company listed and asking if they had internships. Find out what software people in your field use and learn it on your own. Find pertinent volunteer opportunities. Call people who have the type of job you want and see if you can job-shadow them or do an informational interview.
Even if you do all of these things you might end of taking an unpaid internship in your field and waiting tables. You might become a personal assistant for someone in your field. You might land your dream job and discover that it’s totally not your bag.

Finding a career that you really love and working your way up that ladder is a slow process. I interned and worked in PR/marketing/event planning/journalism for several (misguided) years before I succumbed to my genetic destiny of teaching. Now I have a job that I lovelovelove; it has taken me four different teaching jobs to get here.

I think it’s important to realize that no job is a total waste of your time, especially if it’s in the field that you know you want to work in. You can always learn new skills, network and volunteer to be on committees.

If you manage it wisely, you need a lot less money than you think you do
If you want to work at a non-profit or teach at a charter school or travel the world, you’ll need to be careful with your money. But here’s the thing about money: if you’re careful, you probably need less than you think you do.
I earn approximately $2 and have pretty significant school debt, but I still manage to live in a nice neighborhood, in a one bedroom + office apartment on my own. I own my car, I travel, I wear (what I shamelessly consider to be) cute clothes and I pay off my credit card every month. I can do all of these things because I make sacrifices elsewhere. Nearly everything I own is second hand; I rarely eat or drink out; my apartment is super cute but also the size of a breadbox and I earn extra money by tutoring and writing on the side.I find it’s a lot easier to make these sacrifices when I’m doing it for a really tangible reason. I can’t buy $200 boots because I’m saving up for a world ticket. $200 is probably two weeks of travel in India. When I think about it in those terms, it’s a lot easier to stomach. I’m sure you can do the same thing! If you’re passionate about your job/saving for grad school/buying a house you’ll be amazed what you’re capable of once you’re committed to that goal!

Part 2 – graduate school, courage and getting what you want!

P.S. If  you’re having a quarter life crisis and need a bit of help, I made something just for you.

photo by Robertina Jeno // cc

5 Kind, Sensible Ways To Stop Psyching Yourself Out

Do you want to stop psyching yourself out? Stop procrastinating and freaking out over deadlines/projects/pitches/finals week? Click through for 5 tips that will help you right now!
How often do you psych yourself out? How often do you get panicky and procrastinate-y and do NOTHING instead of the huge to-do list you hate?

Friend, I have been there. There was a three-month period in 2007 in which I attended graduate school full time, held two part time jobs, attempted to go vegan and lived with three other people in a two bedroom cottage.

What? Yes. How ridiculous am I?

And when it came time to write my papers, my coping technique involved staring the computer into submission, crying and then eating several candy bars. However! That awful three-month foray into insanity taught me a bit about how to chill the eff out in the face of pressure and not completely psych myself out.

5 ways to stop psyching yourself out


13 Ways To Feel Cuter + More Confident

Sure, this post has great beauty tips and style tips, but feeling cute is just as much about makeup as mindset. Click through and feel cuter today >>

Yesterday was not the cutest day in the history of my life. I misplaced my contacts and spent the day rocking some glasses circa 1998, a rather greasy ponytail and a shirt that I thrifted and belatedly discovered was not so much empire-waisted as it was maternity-waisted. I wanted to feel cuter. Like, badly.

Here's the thing: feeling 'cute' is equal parts makeup and mindset. Click To Tweet

13 ways to feel cuter + more confident

1. Make a list of all your great traits, physical and otherwise

When confronted with tight jeans and a questionable complexion, it’s easy to get hung up on the ways that your appearance is failing you.
But what about your great calves? And those adorable freckles? And your ability to quote the entirety of Legally Blonde ver batim? Not things to be over looked, friend! Make a list of the ways in which you rock and post it somewhere you’ll see it every day.

2. Have a one-person dance party

Sure, dancing (and all physical activity) boosts your endorphins blahblahblah. More importantly, it’s wicked fun and silly and will probably make you feel heaps better. I challenge to you rock out to She-Wolf in your ruffled underwear and maintain any sort of grump.

3. Call someone you love

Your mom, your BFF, your unfailingly positive and funny cousin. Talking to someone that loves you feels good, right?

4. Have a bit of lady bath time

Maybe immersing yourself in bubble bath and scented oils probably won’t change the way you feel about your haircut, but it’ll sure make you smell good!

5. Try a different hair style

Hairstyles make a huuuuge impact on how you look. Now, I know that I look better with swoopy side bangs and that sexily messy hair that takes so long to sexily muss. Despite this, I spend most of my life with my bangs pinned back and my poker-straight hair mashed into a messy bun.
But on these rough days, taking the time to actually (gasp!) style my hair makes all the difference. Blowing your mind here, I know.

6. Or cover it up

If you can’t be bothered to fuss with your hair (or honestly can’t do much with it) embrace the hat! Or the headscarf/head band/fascinator. It’ll make you feel mysterious and new, I promise.

7. Get a makeup counter makeover

Why not let a professional apply your blue eyeliner for once? It’s a fun (and cheap) way to spend 30 minutes and you’ll hopefully come out of it looking like a new woman. Those Sephora people know what they’re about!

8. Change who you follow on social media

For many of us, crises of self-esteem are triggered by images of pert, curvy-but-somehow-still-thin women on Instagram. Cut that shit out. If someone’s (perfectly lovely!) IG feed is making you feel about about yourself, engage in a bit of self-care unfollowing.

Studies have shown a not-insignificant increase in happiness when women follow people online who are their size or bigger. Give it a try!

9. Reconsider those features you dislike

Now, I’m not one to advocate pinning your self esteem to your appearance, much less how your appearance compares to what we see in the media.
That said, it’s pretty likely that the bump in your nose that you hate so much or your wicked curly hair has graced the pages of Vogue at some point. I don’t have much patience for my blond eyelashes or eyebrows. Supermodel Maggie Rizer has both.

10. Try a bit of structure

Sure, I’ll feel more cozy once I’m in my XXL U of M sweats, but I actually feel emotionally and psychologically when I add a bit of structure. A big belt cinched tight around my waist, a button-up shirt, or a pair of wedges make me feel a bit more human.

Devolving into a slob, comfy though it is, generally doesn’t make one feel more attractive, does it?

11. Play dress up

Remember the dress-up trunk you had as a kid and all the fun you had in those prom dresses? Why don’t we treat our closets like that? I don’t mean that you should do some of that ‘shop in your closet’ sensible-ness.
Try on the most ridiculous combinations you can find, top it off with some purple eye shadow, a messy top knot and then try to scare your cat. And devotedly hope that your neighbor doesn’t pop over to borrow a cup of sugar.

12. Slap on some color

Sometimes just altering your appearance is enough to feel better. I’m a big fan of ye old ‘red lipstick and big sunglasses’ trick, but you can probably accomplish the same thing with a big swipe of blush or some epic eyeshadow.

13. Reference some cute photos of yourself

When you’re suffering from a crisis of self-esteem, it’s easy to forget that you ever looked cute. This is when you check out those professional photos of yourself I’ve been banging on about!
I know looking at myself all well-lit and touched up, certainly makes me feel better. If you don’t have any fancy pro photos, surely you have a few snap shots on Facebook that do you justice?

What do you do when you want to feel cuter? Tell us in the comments!

P.S. How to feel good (or any other way you want to feel)

photo by brooke cagle // cc