Self-Help or Self-Improvement?

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 
― William Faulkner

I have a lot of books. Like a lot a lot. Multiple bookshelves. All full. Spilling out. Books under the bed, under the couch, in my drawers, in the car, in my classroom, in my backpack — everywhere. My family always had a library growing up, and books in every other room — so to me it seems normal. I’m always surprised when I go to someone’s place and don’t see books. While I honestly derive some (okay a lot of) pride from my book collection, it’s also a little scary when someone new comes over and starts to peruse. Despite having read more books in a year than most people have in ten  — books are a personal thing, and I don’t want to be judged for my choices. 

I have all kinds of books, but the overwhelming majority are non-fiction. Within the non-fiction I have several different types — one being self improvement. Personal development. Growth. Whatever you want to call it — terms we use because God forbid we say “self-help”. 

A common TV trope is the sad single in a bookstore self-help section. Hat and glasses on — invariably ends up running in to their ex/crush/mortal enemy. It’s looked at as shameful or embarrassing to look to a book for help. And I get it — I’ve felt it too. But more often I wonder why the stigma still exists — I mean, shouldn’t it be shameful NOT to want to improve yourself?

I think there are three types of people who have a problem with self-improvement: 

1. The people who already think they’re perfect (don’t need improvement) 

2. Those people who aren’t self-aware enough to understand or realize that it’s possible to improve (i.e. do not read) 

3. The people who think they’re just too freakin’ cool. Too hip. Too faux artistic, intellectual, blah blah you know the type (just follow the scent of elitism and overcompensation)

Well, maybe there is a fourth type. One that I fit into. And that’s the group that has some problems with self-help's false pop culture definition. Or maybe just the word help. 

Help and improvement - to me - are very different. Help is something you NEED. It’s aim is to make things easier. Improvement is about GROWTH. Development. Things you want to advance in your life — easy or not. Help comes from a needy place, and I don’t have to tell anyone that’s not a good look. It comes from a place of lack — I need something in order to be fulfilled. Improvement comes from a desire or a want deep inside — it’s active, it’s from a place of abundance. 

Help vs. Improvement is similar to the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. These terms are everywhere lately (like here, here, and here) so I’m sure I don’t need to go over them again — but basically, if you have a fixed mindset you believe your intelligence, traits, gifts, whatever, are fixed and that there’s not much you can do to change them. Just deal with it. Get help. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the mindset you have when you believe you can change. You can improve. Your intelligence, traits, gifts, whatever. It’s when you embrace failures as learning opportunities and continue to strive towards the things you want. 
 
That’s why I’m so interested in personal development — I know I can improve anything I want to improve. Now, I’m not so obsessed with improvements and efficiency and life hacking that I try to improve every part of my life unnecessarily, but I know that I can if I want to (through deliberate practice and hard work).

So why is there still a stigma? While there are definitely higher or lower levels of stigma depending on the type of people you surround yourself with - there seem to be some barriers that are fairly general. 

Ego

“The worst disease which can afflict executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it's egotism.” 
― Robert Frost

While it’s super hip and instaworthy to practice yoga, meditation, healthy eating, etc. it’s still somehow super uncool or cheesy in some circles to admit that you are actively trying to improve yourself through any of these methods. It's somehow better to be seen as someone who is just naturally peaceful, meditative, flexible, healthy, positive, etc. rather than someone who is striving to be. If we admit that we are striving for something more in our lives, it seems like we are admitting to being less than - and our ego doesn't like it. 

For example, I’ve been 95% vegan for the past several months (and yeah I know how annoying the 95% part is...), but I’m the first to admit that it’s not just for ethical, wannabe cool Colorado girl reasons. I like the way it makes me feel, and honestly I like the way it makes me look. Why is it wrong or cheesy to admit that we want to improve?

We don’t want to be seen as weak

"Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s hard to ask for help — we all know that. But it’s also hard to just admit that we want to improve. Which is cray because we all know about imposter syndrome — in fact, I just read that over 70% of people have experienced it at some point in their lives. Felt like they weren’t qualified or good enough to do their jobs. Imposters in their own lives. And while this isn’t a positive way to go through life, at the same time, if you don’t feel competent - you can do something about it! You can learn, improve, grow, and feel capable if you’re willing to help yourself. 

The real weakness we should be concerned about is passivity. Not doing. Not striving. Remaining stagnant in our lives. 

We also don't want to be seen as self-centered

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” 
― Miguel Ruiz

We don't want to be seen as weak, but we also don't want to be seen as self-involved. "Who does she think she is" "They are just trying too hard". While I wish the opinions of others held no weight, as a human I can't help but sometimes think about it. I'm sure we all do. If we are actively trying to improve ourselves, it's going to rub some people the wrong way. Chances are those people are insecure about that same thing, and wish they had the willpower to change it too. So be kind, but don't stop growing for others, you aren't taking anything away from them - there is enough to go around.

Fear of Change

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi

I’m sure you’ve heard the Alice Hoffman quote, “Once you know some things, you can't unknow them. It's a burden that can never be given away.” I think about this a lot, and have realized that I sometimes physically avoid things because of it. Once I check that email, ask that question, read that book, whatever — I can’t go back. I have to deal with it.

I don't think I'm alone in this. It seems like a lot of the people I meet are avoiding something. Not asking the hard questions. Playing it cool. Making excuses for their behavior and their lives instead of trying to change them. Sometimes I just want to scream, “how about you just get your you know what together like an adult?!” — but of course, no one has it together. So why are some of us so afraid to admit that? To show that we care? That we are trying to change? 

Change is scary - but staying the same is even more terrifying. When we fear change we end up repeating the same behaviors and thoughts that keep us in a cycle of negativity and passivity.

Entitlement

This one is a little controversial - but as a teacher, I see it every day. The self-esteem movement - yes, of participation trophy fame - really has had the negative effect of promoting entitlement (in some cases - obviously not all). Self-esteem is absolutely crucial, but the way it has sometimes been misused in the last few decades has led to generations with sizable groups of people who believe they are worthy of praise and adulation just for being. 

Think of reality TV. It's made up of people who have basically no qualifications or positive attributes - but they have achieved what many people in our society see as a successful life. They aren't trying to change - they are just being themselves. And I hate to say it, but yourself isn't always worthy of praise. None of us are born blameless or without fault, so why is it so common to hear the refrain of "just be yourself" "you deserve _____ just for being you" "don't ever change" "I'm just being me". While these all come from a place of positive intentions - and if used in the right way are positive phrases - they can easily be used as an excuse.

I'm just being me can easily be used an excuse to be a jerk. Like when someone prefaces a rude opinion with, "it's just my opinion" as if that let's them off the hook. Yes, just be yourself.... unless you're a jerk.  

So now what?

Don't be afraid of the self-help section - whether we want to admit it or not, we are all striving to improve our lives - which can only happen by improving ourselves. Be a little bit ruthless - what part of your life could benefit from some growth? Don't give in to negative behaviors just because "it's who you are". Then get to reading! Blogs, articles, books, whatever! Don't be ashamed! And while you may come across some cheesy stuff - more than likely you'll find some amazing insights.

11 of my Favorite Personal Development Books

If you don't know where to begin (or - like me - are always looking for recommendations), here are some titles to start with (that you may not have even realized are "self-improvement"!):

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

And don't forget to let me know what you think :) 

Friday Favorites - 3.10.17

"I always have my own rules, and I can bend them if I want. I can see the confines I’m working in, but nobody else knows I’m doing it." - Jack White

Reminiscing: 

Yesterday I had a really awful morning. The kind that makes you rethink your entire life/place in the world etc. I tried to achieve some balance from, what else, reading random things on the internet. I read one of those articles (blogs) that regurgitated the same "social media is filtered, fake, etc." story. I was struck, again, by how much I disagree with that. 

I wrote this on Instagram and, although it may not be super eloquent (like this) I really believe it. 

I accidentally just read one of those blogs masquerading as news. It told me for the umpteenth time that social media isn’t real life, take it with a grain of salt, don’t compare etc etc. I look at social media as the complete opposite. This is real life. It is the absolute best parts of real life. The real life that, on a complete dumpster fire of a day like today (and it’s not even noon!), I can go back to in my mind if only for the few seconds it takes to find some kind of a throwback photo that brings me joy. And then I can post it in hopes that someone else finds beauty or joy in a photo of light coming in through a window in a corner of the desert. Because this is real life. And, you know, it’s pretty great.

So reminisce - please! Throwback Thursday, Flashback on Friday, whatever you feel like - it's your life. And it IS real life. How weird and unhealthy would it have been for me to post a picture of my morning breakdown in an effort to "be real?" Umm... no. I am purposeful in my life. I try to find beauty. It is there whether I instagram it or not - it is not a filtered view of anything. This is what I want to remember. 

More Reminiscing! (it's important remember)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Way to make me feel old ahhh. I never missed an episode growing up, I had the books, the VHS tapes, the posters, the outfits, and some crosses and stakes for the several years in a row I dressed up as Buffy for halloween. You can stream the whole series on Hulu and Netflix (and oh I do) - so if you never got into it in the beginning - do it now! It's still super subversive and amazing. 

There are so many great articles out today to commemorate the day. Here are a few I've read to start your journey into the rabbit hole (or should I say hellmouth) :)

Buffy's subversive feminism, NPR retrospective, how Buffy transformed TV, and Buffy and the birth of TV as art. 

Reading:

I just read this article/interview with Jack White in The New Yorker. I've always love White, but even more so now. Some cool takeaways from the article:

- White is obsessed with the number three. I have had an obsession (like, diagnosed) with it as well since before I can remember. "The number three is essential to his purposes. He says it entered his awareness one day when he was an apprentice in the upholstery shop. He saw that the owner had used three staples to secure a piece of fabric and he realized that “three was the minimum number of staples an upholsterer could use and call a piece done.” The White Stripes were built around the theme of three—guitar, drums, and voice. As both a stance and a misdirection, they wore only red, white, and black."

- He's into restrictions. This goes along with the number three. He says that, "the notion of restrictions appealed to White, who believes that, as far as his imagination is concerned, having too many choices is stultifying. The number three is essential to his purposes." I love this. I always talk (and write in this blog basically every week) about the importance of creative restrictions. Too many options is just that - too many. Restrictions are what allow us to come up with the most innovative ideas. 

- The Icarus Project. Omg. This is just geeky and perfect. "Recently, he put five years—a lifetime to him, he says—into a pricey piece of ephemera he called the Icarus Project, which involved sending a turntable into the stratosphere as it played a record, because a record had never been played at such an altitude. The project, he told me, exemplified his ambition “to be an eccentric and produce a beautiful moment that people will talk about.”

I especially love this quote, "White watched from a catwalk above the Detroit store, and about two hundred people watched with him, seeing the turntable revolve at one point with the curve of the earth behind it. The balloon exploded, and White thanked everyone for attending. Then he sat on a couch and said, “Now I can sleep at night.” This is exactly how I feel after completing something that I know is probably only important to me. But it is so important to me that I literally won't be able to sleep until it's done.

Listening:

I've been listening to PJ Harvey nonstop this week. I've been a fan for 15+ years, but like most things, the frequency of listening comes and goes.

I distinctly remember buying "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea" as a 15 year old - and falling instantly in love. The music, her voice, lyrics, everything.

I'm also just really fascinated in her as a person. Like Jack White, and most artists, she is totally unique. She changes her style for each album and always brings a fresh perspective. Anyways, if you aren't acquainted, here is a list of her top albums. And if you aren't convinced yet, this is how the number one album is described:

Rid Of Me proves disturbingly relatable to anybody who’s ever been hurt by love, which is everybody, but it’s not the sort of album you casually spin while going for a drive. Truth be told, I don’t listen to it very often anymore — it’s too draining. It’s for moments when you crave all-consuming catharsis. Sometimes it’s enough just to know that this album exists. That it’s there waiting, for when you need to douse hair with gasoline, set it light and set it free.

Who could say no to that? :)

 

Thinking:

For my graduate theory class this week I had to read a whole lot of Foucault and write a paper. I've read a lot in the past, but never this particular excerpt from "Discipline and Punish" (sounds great already right?) Anyways, the architectural Panopticon is discussed and, well, let's just say it led to a never-ending (literally, it is still going) internet hunt for more information. 

A Panopticon is a circular building meant as a prison, where guards can observe prisoners at all times, but at a vantage point where the prisoners cannot see them. Therefore, the prisoners never know if they are actually being observed, but must display the same discipline regardless. It was designed by social theorist Jeremy Bentham, and despite it's popularity in theory, a true panoptic prison has never actually been built. 

The super interesting part of all this is the connection to the CIA wikileaks this week. Read up here if you're unaware. Like the telescreens in 1984, technology has in effect placed us in a panoptic society. We may be under surveillance at almost any time. Because we don't know if we are or not, our behavior may change. Foucault would say that we have become more docile as a result of the "unequal gaze" and therefore more easily coerced. There's obviously so much more to this, but even just the surface is an interesting thought experiment. If you want to go deeper... let's get a drink :)

Until then, read more here, here, and here

Planning:

Spring Break is just two short weeks away! I have a ticket to LA and a rental car for a week. I have trips planned to a few National Parks, some awesome AirBnB's booked, and... that's about it. I'll be in Mariposa (outside Yosemite), Carmel Valley, and Malibu - and while I won't have toooo much free time, I want your suggestions! What are some overlooked stops in these areas? Let me know! 

Happy Friday :) 

Friday Five - 12.16.16

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now

"Ugly" Christmas Sweater Day

Today is apparently "Ugly Christmas Sweater Day" according to the made up holidays of the internet. While I have dressed up for my fair share of these days/parties - I have a problem with the ugly part. Why can't it just be Christmas Sweater Day? Festive Christmas Sweater Day? I've read a little about the classism associated with the trend and as much as I love dressing up I'm just not into the ugly part. 

Just like another made up holiday - #jessdaytuesday - to me the success of this trend is due to the novelty not the ugly. It's fun to dress up! If I could wear a costumey festive outfit for every random made-up holiday I totally would. 

This article sums it up well. A few tidbits:

 "The "ugly sweater" trend lets us have it both ways. We can indulge in the whimsy of a fun holiday sweater, while emphasizing that of course we are not the kind of people who would genuinely purchase and enjoy such a thing. Those people wear holiday sweaters to church or to Wal-Mart because they don't know any better; we wear them to ugly sweater parties serving hand-crafted cocktails because we do.

So if you want to wear a tacky, fun, joy-inducing sweater (and you should!), just wear it. You don't need a theme party with kitschy decor and ugliest sweater prizes. You don't need the protective irony of the adjective "ugly" at all. Christmas sweaters are fun. They're warm. They're comfortable. They make people smile. The rest of us should be thanking their stalwart fans for keeping the tradition alive, not giggling at them behind their backs."

Read more here and here

Holiday "vacation"

In a few short hours I will be at the airport headed for a (slightly - dang you polar vortex) warmer location to begin my two week break from work. This time of year I can't help but realize how lucky I am to have a generous break. Did you know that in the US, companies are not obligated to offer paid vacation? In fact, the US is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn't guarantee leave. There are over 24 countries that actually require employers to offer 4+ weeks of paid vacation with some as high as 6 weeks. 

While companies aren't legally obligated to do so, many still offer 2-3 weeks throughout the year. But the bizzaro part is that only 57% of workers actually use all of their days. I read that this is in part because Americans find more happiness from their work while Europeans find that from leisure (but I don't believe it) And while as a teacher I get a ton of "vacation" let's be clear - it is not paid. Teachers have limited sicks days and are paid for their work days (generally only around 180/year)  - one of the reasons salaries are so low - despite working an average of 53 hours per week during the year. 

So - off soapbox and back to my point - if you get vacation days, paid/unpaid whatever - take them! Time off leads to "higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and significant health benefits" It makes you a better employee, a better boss, and really just a better person in general. And it's fun. 

Read more here and here

Flight Anxiety

If you made it through my rambling above you know this evening I'm flying off for a few days of solo adventure. It's a short flight but as I've gotten older I've developed some pretty gnarly flight anxiety. I read that one in three people are in the same boat so here are some of the things I've found that help me:

- Podcasts! I won't listen to my favorite podcasts for the week or two leading up to a flight so I have a lot of new ones to download before boarding. It's a great distraction.

- Close the window. I generally like the window closed (or a night flight) so I don't have to see where I am. Trick your brain into thinking you are on a train instead and the normal bumps seem totally different and more manageable.

- Trust the industry. Easier said than done but reminding myself how safe air travel is actually does help. 

- Box breathing. This is  a type of breathing that helps any type of anxiety. Basically you exhale all your air for four counts, breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts,  repeat repeat repeat. Simple but effective. There is even an app!

- Just accept it. I've heard anxiety described as like a lid on a boiling pot. If you try to keep the lid on you're going to create an explosion. When you try to fight your anxieties you're only making them worse in the long run. Recognize how you are feeling, acknowledge the tools you have (or don't) to change the feeling, and then just accept it. Because really what other choice do you have?

- Watch this video. It goes through the takeoff/landing/normal sounds etc and is actually helpful :) 

Read more here, here, and here

Reading Challenge

I'm in the final stretch of my 2016 reading challenge. I challenged myself to read 52 books and I'm currently finishing up the 52nd! I wanted to know how much of a weirdo I actually was so I looked at some US reading statistics.

According to a Pew report in 2015, 72% of adults have read a book in the past year. The part that gets me about this number is that it's a book "in whole or part" - umm a part of a book could be 10 pages - does not count in my challenge. 

Anyways, some other interesting stats are: those aged 18-29 (the dreaded entitled millennials who are killing everything) are actually more likely to have read a book in the past year than any other group. The average number of books read was 12 but the median was only 4 - outliers like me screw up all the data. Women are much more likely to read than men (average of 14 books per year with men at only 9) as are those with higher education and incomes. 

Another interesting thing I found was statistics on the reading habits of successful people. Studies have found that successful people generally read at least two books a week, and that they're almost always nonfiction and personal development related books. One of the daily habits highest correlated with success is reading for self-improvement every day. 

For example, Bill Gates reads at least 50 books a year, Marc Cuban reads for over three hours a day, and Warren Buffet spends an estimated 80% of his day reading. "In fact, when Warren Buffett was once asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of nearby books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

So, even if you don't have the free time or desire to read like I do - set a goal! Set up a goodreads page, track your progress and learn some new things in 2017!

Read more about reading here, here, and here

Angel Tree

Christmas is only 9 days away! But luckily there's still time to help make a child's Christmas a little more joyful. I've participated in the Angel Tree program through the Salvation Army the past several years and it is always rewarding (and easy!). I usually pick a local child off a tree at Starbucks - it gives their age, gender, and three things they want for Christmas. You shop for them, wrap the gifts, and then drop them off. So fun! 

Last night I shopped for the 8 year old girl I chose. She wanted a dollhouse and Barbies so I got her the coolest Barbie Dreamhouse, some Barbies, and Barbie outfits. Did you know they make Barbie career outfits now?? I got her teacher and painter outfits haha I just hope she likes literally everything I like. I also ran into a family spending their evening shopping for Angel Tree kids all together - super heartwarming.

My gifts aren't due back until the 23rd so if you're interested check a Starbucks! You can see what the child asks for before you choose them if you don't want to get stuck buying something you can't afford. It would also be so easy to do as a group so you can pool the money and get extra awesome gifts.

The Angel Tree programs are region specific but learn more about my region here

Happy Friday :)

My First Portrait - Kurt Vonnegut

"Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something" - KV

People often ask me how long I've been painting - or what my training is. They are surprised to find that I just started painting portraits about 14 months ago on a whim. I've been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut for as long as I can remember and was inspired by the above quote to do more than just create, but to try something new. So I found the photo below and got to work. 

My process is fairly simple. I start with a regular canvas usually from Michaels or somewhere similar and pencil sketch a photo that I like. I start with the face itself, and fill in colors/shapes without regard for any details. It's important to use several shades of a color rather than immediately try to lighten or darken with white and black. I add in those last.

I usually stop there for one sitting. I paint fairly fast and the first layer could be only 30 minutes or so of work. The next day or two (or hour) I start in on more details, but with the same basic idea of colors/shapes/variation in tones. The only real difference is I'm using a smaller brush and - duh - smaller brushstrokes result. The process of building the facial expressions is my favorite part. 

The last part of my process is generally more details and sometimes an unexpected element (like the red below) depending on what I'm working on. The whole process could take as little as a few hours or as long as a few months! I tend to come back to paintings a lot and I've used the same basic process since I started. 

This was my first portrait ever and the first printed canvas I sold through the store after getting the site up! You can too - here :) 

Stay tuned for a more in depth look at paints, brushes, mediums etc! (and maybe another gif!!) 

<3