How to stick out like a sore thumb (in style)

Warning: This post concerns some serious topics of race and gender. And it will most likely make you uncomfortable. If you’re fine with that, read on. 

In case anyone who reads my blog hasn’t noticed, I’m an African-American female.

This is 100% true, I promise. Feel free to check my profile if you’re still not sure.

And I’m a double major in economics and religious studies at a liberal arts college. And I’m a perfectionist, a social media obsessed millennial, and a fan of mystery novels.

In other words, I’m just like you! But at the same time, I’m not.

It’s not a concept that many are comfortable talking about, but if we’re being honest, being black and female makes me stick out like a sore thumb. I’m currently serving as a trustee student representative and I’m taking a high-level business econ class this semester and guess what? I am the only non-white person there. This often means that I’ll get a nearly hilarious barrage of questions related to my perception of Lafayette – because it’s presumably different? – or whenever the topic of race/ethnicity/gender/etc. gets mentioned, everyone uncomfortably shambles around, hoping to not make eye contact with me.

This originally made me feel special – I’m the only person like me in the room! Then I got really annoyed – why does it always have to be me? Then I got self-conscious – now I have to be the best because otherwise, I’ll get stereotyped! And now, I just look at it for what it is: an unfortunate, but current reality of my situation.  In many situations, I will be the odd one out. And I’m not shy about offering my opinion based on my ethnicity and gender, but I will most certainty call people out for making generalizations on who they think that I am.

I can’t be anything other than who I am. And I choose to go into the fields that I wanted because I want to be a face or a voice for people like me, and people from a variety of backgrounds. Even though 99% of the time any accolades I get will be prefaced with [the first African-American female X] I’m surprisingly comfortable with that. I’ll never claim to speak for every community that I’m a part of, and I won’t let people assume that I do (or can, really).

Oddly enough, by being an individual voice – or sore thumb – I’ve learned how damaging generalizations and dichotomies can be.  I used to think in that fashion about my own identity – still do at some points. There’s no checklist that will capture who you are completely, and I urge you to give that same leniency to others.

Until then, you can stick out like a sore thumb – just like how I do.

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Revamping Your Health Mindset

Whether it’s the beginning of a new year or a few weeks before the summer – there’s always the push to eat healthy and get into better shape. But even worse is the struggle to dedicate yourself to a solid plan, and stick with it on a day-to-day basis. Counting the New Year alone, only 8% of the American population manage to keep their New Year’s Resolutions throughout the entire year (myself included).  And unsurprisingly, 3 out of the top 10 resolutions are about health – with losing weight coming in at #1.

These are some pretty disheartening statistics right?

There is a really easy way to get around this: change your mindset instead of just your goals. We all have a natural, innate willpower to align ourselves with our larger, more beneficial values. Stanford University Professor Kelly McGonigal discusses this at length with TED. Use your willpower to push yourself into a healthy eating plan by deciding on what you really want to get out of eating better. This will only happen when you decide exactly why you want to become healthy, and turn it into a goal you’re excited for, instead of a commitment that you’re grudgingly trying to complete. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Take it one step at a time: There are two things in this world that can’t be completed in a day – Rome and your brand new diet plan. It’s perfectly fine to take some time and learn of the new ways you can promote healthy eating habits. And once you do, look for small ways you can break up those tasks. For example, make March the month where you drink a full glass of water every day, or prepare to sign up for weekly Zumba classes in June. If you’re looking for ideas, a healthy eating and nutrition startup in Philadelphia has a list of small ways you can improve your healthy eating habits as a starting point.
  2. Read up on the benefits of healthy eating: While there are plenty of benefits to healthy eating overall, plant-based eating is stated to have a number of positive benefits. From preserving the environment, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing weight, there are a host of reasons to try it. What’s important is that you find the one that will motivate you to stick with it.
  3. Become accountable to someone: The best way to stick to a goal is to have a friend, spouse, or family member hold you accountable. Essentially, let peer pressure work in your favor to stay healthy. Alternatively, bring that person along for the ride and push each other to become more fit, better eaters, or any goal that you are looking to accomplish. Make your new goal fun by including others on the path to living healthy lifestyles.
  4. Think long-term: What will be the benefits of healthy eating for you? Think 1, 3, 5 years down the road and decide what you hope to accomplish. If it’s maintaining a certain weight, visualize how great you’ll look in the future. If it happens to be reducing disease, envision spending time with your loved ones and being as healthy and positive as possible. Many of us work best when we picture our goals, so take the time to create a visual mental image of what you want to occur in the long term.

It doesn’t have to be January 1st to start creating healthy eating plans, so be sure to find different ways and opportunities to improve your health! What other ways do suggest for sticking to a healthy eating plan?

After College: 24 Things You Need To Know Before Turning 24

After College: 24 Things You Need To Know Before Turning 24

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of anything related to your 20’s, as I’ve written a whole post about positive things that 20 years old can do in the past. But I came across this post from After College a few days ago, and I just had to share it. Anyone in their 20’s should definitely check this out, as it’s a great guideline for how being in your 20’s is truly a case a trial-and-error for most of us. 

Want to be creative? Try disconnecting.

With my talk of social media and MOOCs, its pretty clear that I love the influence of the Internet. Even after listening to my grandmother’s woes about how ‘we’re always shoving some screen into our faces’ it’s difficult for me to think of how some things worked without the internet.

At the same time, the constant push to be online has caused a lot of problems. Whether its the dangers (and mass acts of cruelty) that come from internet anonymity or even the fear of missing out which seems to be a result of social media sites and the push to constantly be ‘on’ (but also off?) and show how exciting your life is. I try to be as mundane as possible, so the only purpose of social media is to post artsy pictures, vague statuses, and the occasional mention of my dog.

Side-note: If you tend to post a lot of pictures of dogs, feel free to connect with me on all social media sites. Double points if you have puppies.

But there’s another side effect of internet in my opinion – its saps creativity. It’s hard to have time to yourself to think and create when you’re constantly absorbing and shifting through a variety of information whether it’s articles, messages, or photos. While I think the quest for originality is highly overrated, it is important for people to be innovative. It’s a way to express yourself in a thoughtful and detailed way. And in some aspects, when you finally find yourself online again you’ll have something unique to contribute. 

There are plenty of small things you can do to go offline every now and then:

  • Take a walk every day: There are plenty of benefits from walking every now and then. It’s also a great way to reflect during the beginning or end of your day. My current dorm involves walking at least 4 blocks before I get on campus, and I really love the feeling of having time to think about my day before moving straight into work or school. In fact, I come up with most of my short story ideas while taking a walk.
  • Use a whiteboard/sketchpad/etc.: Sometimes you really just need to draw out what you’re thinking. Even absentminded drawing can be the start of something great.
  • Join a club or volunteer: Sometimes you need to clear your mind of your own self-reflection and think about the needs of other people. And I personally think volunteering is the most productive way of doing this, but joining a club and participating in a cause that you care about is another fantastic way to go about expending energy. And some get their creative energy through working around and with others, so that’s always a great option if you want to build creativity within the company of others.
  • Give up a day to chaos:  This one is simple – take a day, and day, and leave it completely up to chance. Instead of focusing on completing tasks and meeting deadlines, find a day that you can use to do whatever you what.

Instead of focusing on whether being online or offline is the better option – look into finding different ways to value the time equally. Focus on how you can maximize your time for growth, instead of pushing to be in one state of being or another.

What are your tips for building creativity?

The science of willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

“Willpower is about being able to hold opposites.” This one sentence pretty much wraps up how fantastic this article is about. Willpower has to do with accepting all parts of yourself, instead of trying to faze out your own perceived negative qualities.

TED Blog

By the second week of January, that resolution that once seemed so reasonable — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower is often misunderstood, and what we each can do…

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My 2014 Life Hack Plan – Hack My Mindset

Scenes at Lafayette College

Scenes at Lafayette College

I used to be obsessed with resolutions – I created personal manifestos (still have them in fact), goal lists, detailed diary entries, etc. In retrospect, I realized that I didn’t actually complete things well because I didn’t have the drive and I tried to automate my goals instead of taking control for my actions. It’s stated that to keep a New Years resolution you have to practice starting from Jan 1st until March. I realize that many people have the drive and persistent to do that rationally, but I sadly am not one of those people. So I realized that there’s a more obvious way that works well for my personality – hack my mindset.

Instead of focusing on a list of tasks I want to accomplish, I’ll focus on the mental acuity I’ll need to do so. That helped me narrow my list from 20 items to four, as everything else will fall into place afterwards. Here are my Mindset Resolutions for 2014:

1. Strengthen my impulse control: I used to have terrible sleep problems – as most college students do. I’ve gotten farther into my original goal of exercising regularly, but I still have a long road to go to keep a daily schedule. Instead, I’m focusing on having more inner strength and regulation: If I say that I’m never going to up until a certain time, I’ll keep thinking it until its a fixture in my head. This may not work for everyone, but it helps me to keep up to date and phase out the lazy parts of my persona until its 11 PM and all I can think is “it’s bedtime.” This also means scheduling my fun time until its ready, and not being sucked into other projects/activities just because I’m asked.

2. Flash card my studies:  While I’m the type of person who can do long-term in-depth study sessions, I like to do them in quiet areas, which outside of my room, is a very fleeting thing in college. But you can study at all times, so if I’m in noisy areas or studying with friends, I prefer making and reviewing study cards. Not everything can be learned with route memorization, but considering that I’m doing a senior capstone, learning how to build a website, and taking Spanish for the first time in 3 years, I can definitely use it to automate a few things in my mind.

3. Develop a ‘diet-Extrovert’ persona:  I’m an INFP, which (pretty accurately) describes me as someone who is very active in deep, one-on-one conversations, but not well tuned to large groups or sparse conversations. I don’t consider this a bad thing necessarily, but it also means that I’m not quite the best at networking, public speaking, etc. But I actively battled that in 2013 by signing up for group events, networking fairs, and speaking at a host of events. I still get nervous at the occasional speech, but I’m willing to push forward by drawing on my extroverted qualities and utilizing them for my own purpose.

4. Be open to risk, rejection, and growth: As much as I love participating in social causes, I realize that this puts me in a bit of a controversial stance: I’m an African American female who is active in feminist, LGBTQ, race & ethnicity,  economic development, and social justice clubs. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, but I also know that while I’m applying to jobs I could be seen as a too risky or radical hire. I’ve accepted that, and ultimately I decided that I need to be as authentic as possible. At some point in my career my stances may or may not come up, but it would be  disingenuous to pretend since these experiences have made me who I am.

For the casual reader, this means that instead of making a laundry list of resolutions, thinking about mental-improvement abilities over self or skill-development. What can you change about your mindset instead of just thinking about a specific, abstract skill? Additionally, instead of thinking in year-long terms, think about what you can start now which will cause lifelong benefits, and work your way back into a mental strength you can turn that into.

What do you want to change for your future personal development?

4 Trends for U.S. College Students in 2014

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

I hope you’re all as excited for 2014 as I am. I have a strong feeling that this will turn out to be an amazing year. And now that I’m in my last semester of college,  I’m excited to leave my college days behind.

At the same time, I’ve noticed a lot of interesting trends that may have a bigger impact in 2014 especially among the collegiate world. I won’t claim to be an expert in any of these, but here’s my opinion on some new developments for this year.

Finance/Business

Unsurprisingly, I think the days of the unemployed and confused millennial generation are far from over. And I think that above everything, this is going to cause an long-term sense of frugality and savings. Sine the U.S. is an economy that runs significantly on consumption its likely that this will cause long-term problems and heighten the level of concern that most are feeling. But this isn’t anything new – we’ve all been concerned about unemployment rates, spending, and the economy for a while.

What I think will be more surprising is that many college students will take the little money they have a learn how to invest. I think for now most students will invest in stocks with low interest rates, but many of my friends and acquaintances are slowly breaking into the investment world. I’m thrilled about this mainly because I think students are creating their own finances now instead of focusing on what’s been handed to them up until this point. Mashable has already gotten on this trend, and put out a finance guide for millennials.

Social Media

Jobs, jobs, jobs. As many of the people who started out with Facebook/Twitter/etc. move into adulthood, they’re using all of the skills they’ve gained over the years to serve them as well as possible. And what better job can you have then becoming a social media manager? BusinessWeek reports that social media will be one of the largest expanding fields next year, with a ton of positions opening in this field. Some notable titles are, PPC associate, SEO Specialist, Social Media Copywriter/Blogger, etc.

If you’re worried that these positions won’t be taken seriously or paid well, show them exactly how you can benefit the overall brand. I like to think of social media as the full-on marketing plans of the future. If a company wants to stay afloat, they have to bring clear, interesting content within a timely and easy to reach manner. And you can be a forefront of that team. Mind you, its a fast-paced business, so get ready to bring in some interesting hours.

Tech/Computers

As a result of the earlier mentioned frugality and cutting costs among college students, 2014 may be the year where the Apple corporation sees its largest dropoff. While the iPad still dominates everyone else in the tablet market, 2013 had a notable decrease in Apple computers – with an increase in Chromebooks over both Windows and Apple. I predict this will continue into 2014, and not just because students are suddenly tired of Apple.

I think it’ll be because of the education field. Chromebooks in particular are cheap, and many academic institutions are buying them up. My high school recently purchased Chromebooks for our entire campus (mind you, we’re very, very small) but many other institutions are doing the same. And I have a feeling that many college and high school students may stick with these computers for price and logistic reasons. Alternatively, Apple may eventually cut down its price to be more reasonable for lower-income students, but I suspect that will happen 5+ years from now.

Education

Why do something in person if you can digitize it?

This question has been asked of almost every industry, and now it has looped back around to academia. For a number of reasons, I hope that this doesn’t spread to elementary/secondary education, but I think this is a solid question to ask of higher education. As a college student, I respect and understand the value of higher education, but the model is ultimately flawed.  Many people will tell you that college isn’t the purpose of getting a job – but then what is the purpose? Why should anyone spend thousands of dollars for an experience? I think colleges will now have to reinvent their purposes and show exactly what kind of purpose they can bring.

And this will lead to MOOCs for many. Online education has been significant across all ages, but colleges don’t need to reinvent the wheel for these programs. While there has been resistance due to beliefs of the college experience and what that should entail, it’s important for many colleges to acknowledge that having a sense of inclusion can be a significant benefit and help them to get more students on average. I don’t think the traditional college will ever go away, but higher education needs to expand its viewpoint of teaching or else face lower enrollment and tuition crunches.

What trends are you looking forward to in 2014 and beyond?

2014 Inspiration: 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person by Cracked

2014 Inspiration: 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person by Cracked

Happy 2014 everyone!

While I’m not always a big fan of reblogging “self-help” articles, I truly think that this one is something that everyone should read. I read this post from David Wong last year, and it was primarily my main inspiration to write a blog in 2013. It’s full of biting knowledge, but I definitely think that we’ll all be better off for reading it.

Business Tax Filing Season Begins January 13, 2014

For those living in the United States who are interested in being kept up to date with the 2014 tax season, here is an excellent post that gives a quick overview of the details. I’ll be participating as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant for the IRS in PA this year, so I hope to provide more updates on the tax season for you all. Especially in light of the health care issues and resulting fallout from the government shut down this year.

Holt Accounting & Tax Professionals, LLC

tax time clock

The IRS will begin accepting 2013 businesstax returns on Monday, January 13, 2014. This start date applies to both electronically-filed and paper-filed returns.

Business returns include any return that posts on the IRS Business Master File (BMF). BMF returns include a variety of income tax and information returns such as Form 1120 filed by corporations, Form 1120S filed by S corporations, Form 1065 filed by partnerships and Form 1041, the return filed by estates and trusts. It also includes various excise and payroll tax returns, such as Form 720, Form 940, Form 941 and Form 2290. The IRS expects to be able to begin processing any of these business returns on Jan. 13.

The Jan. 13 start date does not apply to unincorporated small businesses that report their income on Form 1040. The start date for all 1040 filers is Jan. 31

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