Please enjoy this cliché photo of a man sitting on a park bench alone.
This blog post is inspired by my lovely mother, who worries about me in the loving way that all moms do. When I told her that my roommates were all going out of town for the holiday weekend, she half-shouted, "So you're going to be by yourself, all weekend? Won't you be so lonely?" I quickly reminded her that "all weekend" meant Friday evening, and Saturday after my pottery class, because my roommates would all be home on Sunday. But still, she was worried. She didn't want me to be alone for all that time.
Being alone isn't scary or weird for me. It's quiet, which is rare when you live in a house full of eight (yes, you read that correctly, eight) college age girls, but as you can imagine sometimes you need some quiet when you have seven other roommates. Now, a whole weekend isn't ideal and I'll admit freely that I've already watched four episodes of Law and Order: SVU on a television channel that I had never heard of until today...but that aside, I think that spending some good ole' qt with yourself is a good idea. Another admission: I have Frozen on in the background as I write this so that I don't go to sleep scared.
I think that one of the reasons I don't mind being alone is the time it allows for thinking (and singing very loudly in the shower and playing your ukulele as much as you want!!!). I'm not encouraging that we should all go for a long period of time without interacting with other humans because I can already tell by the quality of my jokes in my group message with friends that I'm losing it a bit. But a certain amount of time without having constant conversation and chatter of other voices is helpful. It gives you time to sort through things that have been bouncing around unnoticed, cluttering up your precious thinking space. With graduation approaching, school, an internship, a babysitting gig, and a Relay For Life leadership position, I'm realizing that I don't have a lot of thinking space to spare. When I'm not planning for one thing, I'm brainstorming for something else. That doesn't leave a whole of time for a personal check-in.
Here's an example: I've been so busy lately, that when the thought of graduation comes up, my instant reaction is "ugh" and I try to stop thinking about it and I move on. This weekend, while I was applying to more jobs (side note: hire me please) I felt like I had plenty of time to consider what I was actually doing, and to be excited about it. I love UNC, and I'm more than happy to rewind and have one more year, but life after what essentially comes down to 1/4th of my life spent in one school or another actually is a pretty exciting concept. (Please remind me of this a week from now when I'm randomly crying after glimpsing my cap and gown hanging ominously in my closet).
So if you can make sense of this rambling, I guess what I'm getting at is that checking-in with yourself and spending some alone time every now and then is a really good idea. After spending a day to myself, I feel more connected to my goals and thoughts and hopes for the remaining month and a half of the semester. I'm very excited for my roommates to come home tomorrow for many reasons (one of which is so that I can stop jumping a foot in the air every time I hear a weird noise in the house) but I'm happy that in this period of high stress and worries about change, I've taken some solo time to wrap my head around everything.
Times when you should use the word sorry: when you genuinely need to comfort someone, show sympathy, or apologize for negative actions. Or if you accidentally step on your dog's tail because that is the worst thing in the world and you really should tell him or her you're sorry.
Times when I use the word sorry: When I make a bad joke, when I bump into someone, when I think there's a remote possibility that I've offended someone, when I make a weird noise, when I play a song that I think someone might not like, when I accidentally keep the children's lock on the windows and someone can't roll their window down, when I go for the coffee creamer at the same time as someone else at Starbucks--basically I say the word "sorry" at least 20 times a day, and usually, it's not because I need to comfort someone, show sympathy, or apologize.
Saying sorry for me has replaced the "ums" and the "likes" of everyday conversation. It comes out of my mouth faster than I ever expect it to, and I often realize that there's actually no reason at all that I should be saying it. I have a roommate who is known as the queen of saying sorry unnecessarily, and I've started to realize that I'm actually right along there with her. I didn't use to think it was that big of an issue, but then I realized how much I do it. I've started to identify some problems with it.
Problem 1: Saying "sorry" before saying something or after saying something instantly lessens the value of the words that you've just spoken. If you apologize for your opinions (or more often in my case your bad jokes), it's like telling someone that you don't at all value what you have to say...if you don't value what you have to say, why should anyone else?
Problem 2: Similarly to problem one, saying "sorry" suggests that you're not confident. Now, when you're saying "sorry" often among your friends isn't a big deal. But the issue is that the habit of apologizing will follow you into leadership roles and the workplace. Apologizing for your ideas, suggestions, or even your personality in those situations suggests that you're not at all confident in yourself or the thoughts you share with others.
Problem 3: Saying sorry suggests that you're perpetually in the wrong. There's absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with a friend's opinion and discussing that disagreement. Saying "sorry" every ten seconds in that conversation suggests that you feel that you're causing a problem, that you're starting a fight, or that you're an instigator--you don't need to perpetually apologize for who you are or for wanting to discuss something that could be controversial.
Problem 4: This one is a bit difficult to explain, so stick with me. Spending all of your time thinking about whether or not what you say requires an apology is exhausting. If you keep doing it, you run out of brain space to think about the actually important things that you're trying to communicate. If you spend all of your thought process with the word "sorry" in the back of your mind, chances are you're never really going to express how you honestly feel.
So here's a goal: stop apologizing, unless you actually need to. For me, I think this might result in an annoying trend of apologizing for apologizing....and I almost just said "sorry" for that potentially happening, so you can see this is going to be a real challenge for me. Moving forward, I'll be saving the word "sorry" for the Justin Bieber hit that you can't help but love.
I woke up anxious this morning. Vacation ended today, so it's sort of predictable I guess. I think what it boils down to is that spring break was the last mark on the calendar before the big one: graduation. For some reason, as I sit on this flight listening to Adele (and hey, maybe this is only the Adele talking because she gives everyone the feels) I'm tearing up and I don't really have any reason why. It's not like I'm going back to a terrible week full of exams and bad weather. It's just that the countdown is on, and for whatever reason, today, it feels more real than it ever has. I worried that sharing the following would be too personal and weird and uncomfortable. But, this is my blog after all, the one place where narcissism greets you with open arms, saying, "Think about yourself, Tatum! Talk about yourself some more!"
With that, let's just jump right in. I went through a tough time my sophomore year dealing with anxiety. I sometimes woke up with stomach aches and occasionally would really just need a good cry. If you've ever lived in a dorm, you know as well as I do that there's no good place to cry. There's always someone just around the corner and usually it happens to be that cute guy from your Spanish class that also lives there--conveniently, he's only around when you're crying or when you have to roll out bed at 3:30 AM to the sweet sounds of the fire alarm and leave the dorm because some idiot burned popcorn, again.
I share this upon approaching graduation because there's a common idea that your time in college makes up "the best years of your life." So far, I think this is absolutely true. I have thousands of moments and memories to prove it. I also think, though, that it's not always so easy. One night, at the end of my sophomore year, I confessed everything that had been happening to someone who was still a relatively new friend. I worried that I was unloading too much baggage, that I was becoming a burden...but she soon told me that she was going through the exact same thing. She later told me that my confession was one of the only reasons she didn't drop out of Carolina after just one year. She needed to know that someone else sometimes struggled too, just like she did.
There's a certain pressure that comes along with living a full life and taking advantage of every opportunity and making the most of the very short four years you have at college. Discovering yourself isn't just steady sailing on a calm sea. Sometimes growing up feels like you've got 10 holes in your boat and you just broke an oar and it's raining and a bird just swooped down and stole the last bite of your sandwich and Dad isn't right there to help you paddle. But mixed in with those times are the golden days of sunshine and laughter, cackling at bad jokes that just get worse and worse, and Maple View Farms ice cream and fake plastic cockroaches that your roommate hid all over the house before she left for winter break. There's that 30 minute phone call with your mom that makes you question what the heck you were thinking when you told her pre-college that you probably weren't going to call that often. There's the time that you and your roommates each buy a different food item with cheese from cheesecake to queso and host what will become the first of several "cheese parties." There are bad grades, good grades, average grades. Awesome days and downright horrible days. There are days spent lying in the quad and days spent holed up in the 5th floor of Davis Library promising to yourself that you'll never procrastinate again (hey, at least you tried to keep that one).
I don't think I would change my college experience for anything in the entire world. I had a bit of a tough time for a while, but who the hell doesn't? I will forever be someone who occasionally wakes up anxious, but I also think that I will wake up every day as a person who feels things more deeply, connects to everyone more closely, and appreciates the good times with more enthusiasm. I love who I am. I'm eternally grateful for everything that I've gone through to get to who I am. And, if you can't tell, I love the University of North Carolina.
We've all been here before: Writer's Block. It's the phantom, scary thing that lurks and waits to pounce at the moment when you need to be the most productive. Try as I might, I can't think of something to blog about. So, in a very meta fashion, I'm blogging about how I have nothing to blog about.
I think sometimes I feel like my brain has taken a vacation and gone to a nearby theme park. It's got great ideas, and horrible ideas, and they all come in go in the 2 minutes it takes to ride a rollercoaster. They typically follow the same pattern, too. You're waiting in line and there's absolutely nothing productive going on up there. Then you board the rollercoaster, and there's a spark of an idea. It builds and builds, until you're going downhill suddenly all too soon and the rush of excitement ends when you realize that blogging about all the ways you can use an avocado to enhance your life is actually not too great of an idea after all. I do love avocados though.
I think I'll call it a success that I've managed to crank out a paragraph of two, because everything else that I've written before this has been absolute garbage and I've quickly deleted it rather than sharing it with the world. Here's hoping for some inspiration.
“You’re not a $100 bill. Not everyone is going to like you.”
I don’t know to whom I should attribute the above quote, but whoever you are out there, you’re 100% right. We all want to be well liked. We want our coworkers, friends, and family members to have nothing but nice, positive things to say about us. Unfortunately, having everyone like you all the time just isn’t feasible. People are going to get angry, and sometimes, people just don’t click. I know that there are certain people I’ve met who I don’t necessarily like, and upon thinking about it, I can’t really tell you why.
As a perfectionist and a people-pleaser, I can’t stand when people don’t like me. I’ll begin analyzing everything that I do around the person, hoping to win them over or at least bring them back to neutral ground. But sometimes, it just can’t be done. Sometimes, people just don’t like other people.
I’ll give you an example. This past weekend, I was at my pottery class. For the first time since I’ve been going there (which has been for at least 3 months), a bit of a fight broke out. Before you get too excited, nobody threw any clay, broke any pots, or did anything crazy, but some harsh words were exchanged and the awkwardness of it hung in the air for the entire two and a half hour class. From an outsider’s perspective, I could not for the life of me understand how the fight had started—neither party did anything offensive or insulting, but I guess that’s just how I interpreted it. What resulted was a loud and far too long conversation (at least for a group environment) in which one party continued to berate, mock, and just generally hate on the other. The other party was reasonably upset. After I’d had about enough of the whole mess (I mean seriously, a group pottery class is not the place to discuss your personal feelings about someone), I intervened, asking the two to “take a pause.”
I don’t consider either one of the arguing parties to be mean or hateful people. But I do think that their argument quickly went from focusing on potentially constructive criticism to saying irrelevant, rude things to hurt one another’s feelings.
Now, the pottery class example may seem sort of silly, because, well, it’s a pottery class that consists of a few college kids and some middle-age women—not exactly a high stress environment. But I took two important things from this encounter. First, sometimes there is no reason at all for someone to be angry with you or to dislike you. You can both be the two of nicest people in the world, and your relationship might never progress past a small smile you pass one another in the hallway. The second lesson from this pottery class tussle is that negativity from others can fill an entire room. There were eight people in the classroom that day, and although only two people were arguing, the weight of that argument quickly came to rest on every student’s shoulders. In the workplace, you can’t stand in the middle of the cubicles and yell at each other. Your coworkers shouldn’t have to put up with that, and frankly, your fellow pottery class students shouldn’t have to either.
What I’m taking away from all of this is the importance of respect. I don’t care if you hate someone with the passion of 1,000 burning suns—you don’t need to share those feelings in front of an audience. Not everyone is going to get along, and arguments have the potential to be extremely productive in working through issues. But, you know those arguments whose comments focus on anger, trying to hurt feelings, and result in public confrontation? Those are the ones that I think we could all try to avoid.
Sometimes when a song gets stuck in your head you just want to share it with everyone (or the 10 people who read your blog).
Excerpt from a post UNC-Duke game conversation:
"Did you ever think that I'd be calling you crying about a college basketball game?" -Me
"Thank you for saying that, because I seriously wanted to." -Dad
"[Laughter]"-Both of us.
When I came to UNC as a freshman, I knew basketball would be a big deal. Michael Jordan, a sea of Carolina Blue, and "Jump Around" filled my thoughts as I looked forward to our first home game. I went to Late Night with Roy, and thought "Wow. This is intense." Little did I know that my freshman year excitement and curiosity would turn into a full-blown obsession filled with four years of heart-stopping moments and screams at televisions and rival basketball teams I never thought I would utter. I never thought I'd have aching calves for the first few minutes of a game after I jumped with everything I had until tip-off. I NEVER thought I would leave a game in tears, trying desperately to explain that I was both happy, sad, nostalgic, and proud all in one moment.
Growing up, I was never a huge sports fan. I watched my brother and sister play soccer constantly, and tried about every possible sport myself. But watching sports or connecting with a team and following them with passion was something that I never really did. I would laugh when my dad would mutter (or sometimes yell, although he denies it) comments at the TV when Georgia Tech would play football or basketball. I would look at my mom and say, "He knows they can't hear him, right?" Now I'm the one doing just that. It's a similarity my dad and I share that I never expected, but that I absolutely love.
I'm not ready for home games and student sections and screaming until my voice is hoarse to be over. I'm not ready to stop screaming every time that Brice Johnson dunks or Marcus Paige makes a three. I'm not ready to say goodbye to my quickening pulse and the feeling that my heart is literally rising in my throat and squeezing a friend's hand and watching the final seconds count down on the clock to result in a Carolina victory. I'm not ready to stop singing the alma mater after every game, win or lose. I'm just not ready, at all.
When I attended my last home game as a student, it hit me. Being a part of this has become as a key part of me and a part of how I identify myself and the world around me. My final comfort in graduating is this: I will be a part of this school, this rivalry, this team for the rest of my life. I will be proud of this team until the day I die. I wasn't Carolina born or Carolina bred. But when I die, I will be a tarheel dead.
Coach Roy Williams said it best: "Other folks wonder why we’re obsessed with this place. Being a part of the University of North Carolina is something that you never really get over."
I'm not a neat person. I've gotten better over the years (throwback to the days where I used to just shove anything and everything into my dresser drawers as a kid--sorry Dad) but if we're being honest, I'm still not the type to make my bed every day. Don't get me wrong, I've read all of those articles about how helpful it is to make your bed every morning, but it's just not gonna happen. When it comes to tidiness and organization, everything in my life is pretty much lined up to a T (seriously, just take a look at my planner for the past week). But my bedroom is like that part of my brain that doesn't stop running around and throwing things everywhere and making a mess. My friends think it's strange. I'm the roommate who will vacuum the house and clean the bathroom, but if you want to borrow a shirt, I might have to look around for it for a minute because it's probably not hanging up neatly in my closet.
I'm a strong believer that you need to have a little bit of a mess in your life. There's something about a mess that makes me feel more expressive, unique, and just more like myself. Aside from my messy bedroom, there's one place where I regularly make a mess and I relish in it: the pottery studio. Putting it simply, throwing pots is kind of just like playing with mud on a spinning wheel, splattering it everywhere and trying to create something new out of it. It's a process, and it's a really messy one. When I'm done throwing, dark clay covers my hands and forearms and stains my old jeans and t-shirts. But the end result is usually something pretty great.
You start off with a block of clay, and begin patting it into a ball-like shape to throw on the wheel. Your hands are already stained brown, and then you make it even messier by adding water to the clay and beginning to center it on the wheel. Slowly, this ball of dirt forms into a smooth, moldable, centered being on the wheel. I used to laugh when my pottery teacher at the Chapel Hill Community Clay Studio would say things like, "Let the clay become whatever vessel it wants to be," thinking...."Uh, what? Dude, I just want to make a coffee mug." But it's 100% true. The clay has a mind of its own, and sometimes the messier it gets on the wheel, the more unique and fun it becomes.
Messiness is a process--a beautiful one. How difficult is it to have every aspect of your life 100% together every single moment? I've tried, and I'm sure you have. It's exhausting. The messiness of my bedroom? I'm willing to admit that it might just be because I'm lazy and I'd much rather curl up with a good book than put my clothes away. But I think it's really important to let yourself go sometimes. Make a mess every now and then, and appreciate what comes out of it.
As many of you know, this week brought with it a huge rivalry game between UNC and Duke Men's basketball. I'm not here to talk about the rivalry, the tragic loss, or how much I love my team. I'm here to talk about the phenomenon that is the student ticket lottery. When I received that fateful email stating that I had gotten a UNC v. Duke ticket, I was thrilled. I was phase three (which means that I would most certainly be in the upper level, as I was in the third section of students to enter the Dean Dome), but I didn't care. I was going to be there. Shortly after this, FaceBook lit up with posts offering money, favors, and everything in between for a better ticket. At first, I thought, "This is dumb. Why can't these people just be happy that they're going to the game, even if they're going to be in the last group of students to enter?" But after a day or two, I got sucked in. I scoured the student-run FaceBook groups hoping to be the first to respond to someone posting that they were selling or trading a ticket better than mine. I started to lose appreciation for the fact that I was going to be at arguably one of the biggest college basketball games of the season all because I wanted a better seat.
This is just one example of a phenomenon that I've noticed lately that I'm going to call "can't-be-happy-with-what-we-have-itis." It's sweeping the nation, especially among my generation. We seem to have lost the ability to cherish what we have because we're too busy thinking about what we don't have, or what we want to have. This happens on all levels and to everyone--it's not just college kids. Are we spoiled? Yes, but we don't seem to recognize it. So what's the solution here? We could go off on a big tirade about the dangers of capitalism and greed and all of that, but I think there's something more simple that we can do on a daily basis to recognize the positive aspects of our lives that can so easily slip away. It's called mindfulness.
My first introduction to mindfulness came from a friend who I spoke with often about anxiety. I've always been an anxious person, and over thinker, and a snowballer (I'll start with one small scenario and then snowball all the way down the hill to turn it into something huge and terrible). She taught me that mindfulness is about recognizing those thoughts, accepting them as they are without judgment, and letting them pass through the mind without letting them take hold and do the damage that they so often can. I'm not an expert, but I've been working on mindfulness for about two years now, and it's made a really big difference in my life.
Mindfulness often comes with the idea of meditation, which usually instantly freaks people out and makes them bring out their "anti-hippie" pepper spray to fend off the weirdness. Let me just say, I was a doubter for a LONG time. My mom would suggest it, I would roll my eyes, and I'd go right back to my anxious thought patterns that did me no good. This all started to change when I read a book by Dan B. Harris called 10% Happier. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Harris discovers the utility of the phrase, "Is this useful?" It's such a simple thought, but it has so much power. Stopping to consider, "Is this useful?" certainly isn't easy, but when you can do it, you start to realize the nasty tricks that our minds can sometimes play on us.
To continue my journey with mindfulness, I downloaded Harris's app, 10% Happier, with the awesome subtitle, "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics." Through guided mediations and discussions, Harris and Joseph Goldstein (who I would define as a meditation pro, although I'm sure he would disagree) help you start on the journey to mindfulness, just five minutes and then ten minutes at a time. I've stuck with it for a couple of months now, and although on some days I forget, I've found that it's made a big difference in my day. Starting off the day with meditation makes me aware of the anxious thoughts in my mind, and allows me to notice them, accept them, and try to move past them.
The biggest benefit of mindfulness and meditation is that, at least in my experience, it makes you notice the small positive things that happen on a day to day basis. Obviously it's not perfect--this week, I still wanted better basketball tickets--but when I'm having a bad day, I find that I'm able to notice how happy I am thanks to the smaller things like the running into a friend unexpectedly in between classes or seeing a particularly beautiful autumn day when the leaves are changing to orange and red in the quad. If you've never given meditation a try, I strongly encourage it. It's going to feel weird, uncomfortable, and quite possibly useless at first, but it's not. Give it a go and hopefully, with some time and practice, you'll see it for all it's worth.