My Top 5 Takeaways from #BlogHer17

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The past couple of days, I’ve been in Orlando, Florida at the BlogHer conference. ¬†It was INCREDIBLE. ¬†It was the first time I’ve ever been to a conference of any sort, and I was blown away by all of the passion, information, and people that I encountered on my two day stint.

There was so much amazing knowledge that was shared, and so many insights I gleaned from my observations and conversations.  Overall, though, I want to share with you the top 5 takeaways I gathered from my 48 hours at #BlogHer17

Takeaway #1: You Serve Best by Doing What You Love

As I was listing to all of the keynote speakers, it was evident that they had SO MUCH passion behind their individual projects.  While each of the speakers had lofty aspirations they wanted to reach, and they all wanted to make an impact on the world, they were doing it in so many different ways.   Likewise, when I dove into conversation with other bloggers, there was so much variety in what people were targeting in their blogs.

If you look at what everybody else is doing, it is so easy to lose focus on what we originally set out to do. ¬†One of the great quotes that I heard is “we envy what we don’t know”. ¬†I have found this to be true with me recently, as I am trying to solidify what impact I want to make in the world and how I want to do that outside of my teaching arena. ¬†I look at all the things others are doing and think “aw man, I should be doing that!” or “I should be doing this!”

In reality, we need to bring our focus back to us and what WE love. ¬†If we have passion, that passion will be infectious. ¬†However, if that true joy in what we’re doing is lacking, it will never end up being successful anyways.

Takeaway #2: ¬†Don’t Be Married To An Outcome

There were several speakers who touched on this idea.  The notion that we are going to go from A to B to C without any forks in the road or hills to climb is laughable.  Oftentimes we decide on a path and continue to slog through the mud, come hell or high water, even when stepping stones to higher, drier ground appear before us.  There were many examples at the conference of people who started out doing one thing and then pivoted and did something completely different than what they originally envisioned.

This idea of letting life lead you needs to be balanced with drive and ambition, of course, but if you find that you aren’t enjoying something as much as you used to, or you discover something else that gives you more fulfillment, it is 100% ok to change direction.

Takeaway #3:  Pressure is a Privilege

A couple of people discussed this idea that they avoided success because it meant that there would be a lot more pressure put upon them to perform.  If you are the best tennis player in the world, people simply expect you to win, which can be daunting.  However, being successful and having that pressure put upon you is a privilege in that it validates your achievements and gives you a platform from which to amplify your message.

Not having any pressure to accomplish anything is dangerous; it leads to complacency and a cycle of accepting the status quo.  If you feel that pressure to get better, go to the next level, or advance your brand or business, be thankful: It means that you are making headway and an impact.

Takeaway #4:  Celebrate The Power of Others

There were so many women (and a handful of men) at this conference who were doing so many amazing things, big and small.  There were several keynote speakers who blew me away with their social change efforts, and a handful of open-mic night participants that moved me to tears.  It was incredible to feel the constant energy, and it completely fueled my fire to do big things.

Someone else doing amazing things in no way dilutes your ability to reach success, too. ¬†If everyone helps each other up, all participating parties benefit. ¬†There are so many authentically awe-inspiring things that are going on in the world around you-get involved with other people’s success, and it can only augment yours.

Takeaway #5: Dream Big

Many times we imagine what could happen if our wildest dreams came true, and then we tamp our thoughts back down into the firm cold ground of ‘reality’. ¬†There were so many people who presented their accomplishments, and all of them conveyed them in a way that made it seem like it wasn’t an act of luck or happenstance that these things came to fruition but simply putting in the time or taking advantage of opportunities that cropped up along the way.

Our dreams are worth holding on to. ¬†There is no point in chasing a ‘realistic’ dream; than it ceases to be a dream at all. ¬†If you have aspirations that seem crazy, don’t let that dissuade you. ¬†Keep those goals in the forefront of your mind and actually believe that you can achieve them. ¬†We only have one life, and it is better to spend it working towards a bigger vision that squander it on the mundane.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, BlogHer was an amazing, mindset-shifting event that had a profound impact on my mindset and awareness.  While I still need time to process all of the information that I received, I am beyond thankful for the opportunity of going!

I highly encourage you to search up conferences related to your passions and professions. ¬†Not only will you return with renewed purpose, you will connect with others who are like-minded and maybe, just maybe, you will have one encounter that alters your course for good. ¬†In the infamous words of Shia LeBeouf, “Just DO IT!”

The Three Most Annoying Words in the English Language

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I had a nice little chat with two different friends yesterday. ¬†I was detailing the horrors of the end of the school year, and lamenting that I wasn’t as far along with my real estate classes as I would like. ¬†I was, of course, expecting the sympathy to start rolling in–HA. ¬†I should have known better.

They both, in so many words, said “Sounds like a bunch of excuses.”

This, obviously, was the exact opposite of what I was wanting to hear. ¬†Aw man, that sucks! ¬†Yeah, you definitely have your plate full, I wouldn’t be that far along either. ¬†That is completely understandable. ¬†THAT’S what I wanted to rain down upon my ears.

But instead, I got “quit slacking”. ¬†“It all comes down to you.” ¬†“Sounds like you aren’t working hard enough.” ¬†So that was cool. *insert sarcasm*

But the most annoying part…the part that sucks….the part that I hated to admit was:

They were right.

I DIDN’T actually have any excuses. ¬†I legitimately was kind of being a slacker. ¬†And as much as I like to think of myself as a driven person who won’t quit until success is reached, I kinda sorta have to admit that lately, that hasn’t been the case.

“You are right”. ¬†Those three words can cause even the most seasoned life veteran to cough and stutter before spitting them out.

No one likes to hear that they are wrong. ¬†They especially don’t like to learn that they’re wrong in a direct, straight-to-the-point matter. ¬†With witnesses. ¬†And it SUCKS to have to swallow your pride and admit your downfalls to yourself, much less to the person casually pointing them out.

I know that if I were to have talked to any of my other friends, I would have gotten what I wanted-soothing words of affirmation that would assure me that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing, and I should just keep on keeping on.

And yet, I feel that this would have been a disservice to me. ¬†We don’t need people to encourage us to keep curling the 5 lb weights that obviously are a better fit for the tiny 80 year old woman in Silver Sneakers class. ¬†We need people who are going to yell in our face as we struggle to put up the 20 lb shoulder press, and encourage you to go for that last rep before our arms fall, exhausted, but our pride swells, elated.

Of course, this last metaphor would be a lot more effective if you’re being yelled at by a 220 lb jacked trainer rather than your 115 lb friend who loves Zumba and Yoga. ¬†Likewise, we need to have those friends in our lives who are living what they push us to do.

The two friends who called me on my shit?  Both male.  Both extremely hard-working.  Both putting in long hours towards their differing goals, so much so that most people would think them slightly nutty.  Both headstrong, very smart, and driven from within to succeed.

So yes, it was extremely annoying to have to admit that they were right. ¬†But I would rather have friends who push me to my breaking point and help me reach beyond rather than ‘friends’ who are content floating down the Lazy River.

“You are right” are the three most annoying words in the English language. ¬†But they are also the most necessary words to hear in order to move forward with your life and your goals. ¬†If you never feel the need to admit that you were wrong about something, then you have never felt the impact of growth.

Growing.  Changing.  Evolving.  These are all symptoms of realizing that we do not know everything, and we are better than our excuses and previous mindsets.  If the people that you surround yourself with have never ever made you say those annoying words, than you need to find yourself some other friends and mentors.

Flourishing as a person is not easy.  But it is infinitely better to go through the pain of mental reorganization and realization of temporary failure than it is to skip blithely along with the mindset of your youth unchallenged.

“You are right” is annoying only because of our pride. ¬†Set aside your ego, and those words become words of discovery, words of new beginnings, and words of positive change.

In today’s society, we have become so accustomed to others patting us on the back with a ‘there there’ and moving on that we instantly become offended when people try to point out how we could improve. ¬†Straight-shooters are seen as assholes. ¬†Individuals who keep it real are snubbed.

But stop and think about it. ¬†Who really cares about you? ¬†The person who nods their head and agrees externally while rolling their eyes and shaking their head on the inside? ¬†Or the person who stops you in your tracks and says ‘wait a minute dude, you’re selling yourself short’. ¬†I know who I’d want on my team.

So challenge yourself to truly see what you are. ¬†Call yourself on your own shit. ¬†If you actually care about the people around you, be (wo)man enough to call them out when they aren’t serving themselves well. ¬†The quick slice of a knife always heals faster and less ugly than the slow degradation of flesh. ¬†And the sting of reality is substantially better than the suffocating cloud of self-deception.

Embrace the annoyance.  Relish the feeling of those words on your tongue.  Love the effect of pushing yourself to constantly be more.  At the end of the day, the moment of irritation and ego deflation will fade away in the bright light of fulfillment, and you will thank god that someone took the time to call you out.

 

Worth the Wait

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Yesterday, one of my best friends/roommate spent her time with a guy she had met the previous weekend at Stagecoach.  It was a typical drunken meeting: spying each other across the way, one person working up the courage to say hi, and then talking, laughing, and eventually exchanging numbers.

Usually, in today’s world, that would be it.¬† The next morning would come, and groggy and hungover, a text may or may not be sent, and the ensuing conversation would eventually peter out into the ether.¬† End scene.

However, as luck would have it, this did not end in the typical fashion.¬† In fact, John* turned out to be a really awesome guy.¬† So awesome, in fact, that he seems a bit unreal when compared to the hordes of individuals we women have come to accept as ‘men’.

He treats Leah* like a princess: compliments, opening the door, paying for her, and overall being the consummate gentleman.¬† He was able to converse with me freely, obviously feeling confident and at ease.¬† And the biggest gold star came from the fact that he didn’t once try to sleep with her.

As one of her best friends, I am so incredibly happy and excited.

As a woman, I am so, so envious.

In my dating experience, when I have expressed that I want to wait before we sleep together, I’ve been called a “prude” or “dick-tease”.¬† Men try to flatter me with “but I want you” or “but you’re so hot!” or guilt me with “well why did you even invite me over, then?” *angry huff*.

This has become so normal that I pretty much expect it to be a reality every single time I go on a date.¬† And if the guy doesn’t try to immediately get in my pants, I internally believe that he doesn’t find me attractive.

Let’s just pause there for a moment.¬† This has become so “normal” that if a guy doesn’t want to immediately screw me, he’s either a) a pussy, b) not attracted to me, or c) not really a ‘man’.

Sex has fallen victim to the instant gratification mentality.  No longer is it an act to be treasured, valued, or treated with respect.  In fact, it is frequently used as an icebreaker, helped along with copious amounts of alcohol.

There is nothing wrong with wanting sex. In fact, I’d say that if you’re in a relationship and a day goes by without it, that’s a sad day.¬† Physical intimacy is an amazing way to connect with your partner while also selfishly enjoying all the personal pleasure that comes with it.¬† And it has been argued that there is a time and place for just using sex for selfish pleasure if that’s what the other person wants as well.

However, you cannot sustain or grow emotional health on sex alone.¬† This is akin to trying to survive on eating nothing but cookies, candy, and cake.¬† Don’t get me wrong-dessert is awesome.¬† One bite of a creamy custard or warm slice of pie can send you in to ecstasies.¬† A life without dessert is a very miserable life, indeed.

And yet, imagine your body trying to survive off of a steady diet of ONLY dessert.¬† A constant influx of sugar and simple carbs.¬† Your taste buds may be happy, but your body receives nothing of substance.¬† Your systems begin to function improperly.¬† Obesity starts.¬† Cavities form.¬† The pervading sense of ‘ick’ becomes normal.¬† In short, there is zero physical progress, and in fact, some pretty significant decline.

When you fill up on a good meal, dessert is something that tops it off and sends the experience over the edge.  This is because it follows good, real nutrients.  You are able to enjoy the indulgence because you have taken care of your basic needs first.

This truth is evident in relationships.  If you are constantly grabbing just for sex, your relationships will never flourish.  Your mental and emotional needs will never receive the building blocks they need from real, honest, person-to-person interaction.

In a relationship, there will be times when you have to eat the broccoli because it’s good for you, not because you want to.¬† You will have to pay attention to how each interaction makes you feel and take the time to make sure that it is all net positive, both for you AND your partner.¬† Just like time-consuming homemade meals are the best for the body, so too are conversations, interactions, and efforts that are given the time and energy they deserve the best for relationships.

Truth be told, you can tell a person’s maturity level by how they regard sex.¬† Just as a child wants to live on Sour Patch Kids alone, a young-minded boy or girl simply wants all of the pleasure of a relationship without the meat.¬† Sadly, both the child and the immature adult have not yet learned of how good you feel both physically and mentally when you feed your body and your emotions what they need to thrive.

A relationship is a privilege.  It is an amazing opportunity to weave an unbreakable bond of trust, love, laughter, tears, successes, failures, communication, and most of all, respect.

Respect yourself enough to want the homemade chocolate cake, not the stale store-bought cookies fluorescent with cheap food coloring and crumbling exterior.

Respect yourself enough to wait for someone who appreciates the effort that goes into a three course meal, and who eagerly pitches in to help.

Respect yourself enough to gather the ingredients for a meal yourself, so you don’t show up empty-handed.

Most of all, respect yourself enough to know that dessert tastes sweeter after the meal.¬† Don’t fall victim to the junk food of life; love yourself enough to know that for each shiny, tempting bag of chips, there is a less flashy, more filling pot-roast waiting on the table.¬† And remember, if you fill up on junk food, you often lose your appetite for the good stuff.

And oh, how that good stuff is SO worth the wait.

Mature Communication

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Today my thoughts have been centered around communication and the vital role that it plays in every aspect of life. ¬†However, despite its crucial nature, I feel that so many people either undervalue it or simply don’t put in the effort required to make it effective.

If you want anything in life, you need to communicate that desire. ¬†When we are babies, we don’t shy away from screaming at the top of our lungs when we want food, comfort, or a diaper change. ¬†While tantrums are not the most sophisticated form of communication, they do get the point across rather effectively. ¬†As parents, we know that it can only be one of several things, and it’s a short process of trial and error before the ‘off’ button is magically found.

However, there are many people who dish out the equivalent of an child’s meltdown-screaming, silent treatments, insults-and a) they expect the individuals they are communicating with to go through the trial and error process in order to figure out what they want and b) they believe that this is an okay way to get their needs and desires across.

As adults, we need to be mature enough to admit to ourselves what we want and need, and kind enough to those around us to tell them those things in an effective manner.  It is not fair to anyone, be it a spouse/partner, friend, family member, or business associate, to expect them to figure out what the heck you are wanting.  No one should have to take on the role of Sherlock Holmes when it comes to their relationships.

So how exactly DO you communicate your feelings in an effective manner?

You need to decide first and foremost if they are feelings that actually need to be communicated. ¬†There have been several times where I get annoyed at something that someone has done and I feel like I should ‘clear the air’ or let that person know that such and such bothered me. ¬†However, if I sit on it for a bit, I am able to work through those feelings myself and avoid an unnecessary confrontation. ¬†If I had flown off the handle at the first feeling of irritation, the problem would have escalated rather than slipped silently into the abyss of “stuff that actually isn’t that important”.

If the feeling needs to be communicated, communicate it in the way that is most effective for you. ¬†For me, writing has always been how I express myself the best. ¬†In all of my relationships, the most productive conversations that I have had have started with me writing a note or an e-mail to that person. ¬†I’m not good at thinking on my feet, so taking the time to organize my thoughts in written form is extremely helpful in making sure I include everything I want to mention. ¬†In my most recent discussion, the other person responded with a voice recording because that is how HE communicates the best.

Don’t be afraid to be unconventional with how you communicate. ¬†The status quo of sitting down and hashing things out might work great for you and whoever you’re talking with—it also might cause things to escalate and completely backfire. ¬†Exchanging e-mails and voice recordings might seem weird, but for me, it works. ¬†Always go with what works for YOU.

If you are able to communicate what you need/want in a way that works for you, don’t forget to listen. ¬†Oftentimes we are so relieved to finally be able to express what has been bottled up that we completely forget that conversations are a give and take. ¬†You should want to know how the other person is feeling about what you say; perhaps there is something that you didn’t take into account, or something that they have neglected to transmit on their end.

At the end of the discussion, both parties should feel heard and feel good about the result. ¬†And if that consistently doesn’t happen, then either your communication skills need to be revamped or that relationship is simply not worth keeping. ¬†Many times people think that if there is an issue, it’s an automatic deal-breaker. ¬†For me, having issues does not discount the relationship; it’s the communication piece that reveals if it is a solid investment or not.

Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. ¬†This includes communicating the good AND the bad. ¬†If you only communicate the positive and sweep the negative under the rug, this is like living on a diet of sugar; it’s delicious, but not life-sustaining. ¬†However, if you only focus on the bad and leave out the good, that’s akin to being on starvation rations; eventually, that relationship will look as bad as a wanna-be Instagram model.

You need to be able to communicate productively with each and every person who is in your life. ¬†If you aren’t used to conveying things in a mature manner, it can take some getting used to, but once you gather the courage to approach it head-on, the results will speak for themselves.

Don’t go through your life stuck in teenage drama mode. ¬†Figure out how you really feel, own that truth, and be able to show that to others in a way that invites quid pro quo. ¬†Resist being sucked into immature exchanges. ¬†And most of all, embrace how you feel without discounting the perception that others hold. ¬†Be bold, be aware, and be open.

Optimization=Personalization

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As I have been setting up my foundation for 2017, I keep coming back to the question “HOW will I make my life optimal?”¬† I already know WHY I want to make it the best it can be, but what does that actually look like?

There are some people who cannot wait to ditch their 9-5 job and enjoy life through alternative sources of income.¬† There are some people who cannot wait to climb the corporate ladder at their company and enter into the top-level executive world.¬† There are some people who can’t wait until they have their first child so they can leave the working world behind for good.

It all comes down to one simple truth: everyone’s optimal life is unique to them.

When I first started thinking about the Optimization Operation, I felt pressured to emulate the dreams of those around me.¬† Frantic thoughts of which business I should start or how I could climb the schoolyard ladder at my site ran through my head, but didn’t end fruitfully.¬† After much contemplation, I made peace with the fact that I do not have to imitate anyone else’s plan for success, but instead concentrate on formulating my own.

Therefore, these are the building blocks I will focus on to contribute to the optimization of my life:

  1. A steady source of income.¬† This is currently being fulfilled with my job as a teacher.¬† I am lucky because I actually like my career, and I don’t feel the need to escape it by formulating some other source of life funds. I have recently batted other ideas around¬† including tutoring, consulting, and product invention, but I have come to the conclusion that I am perfectly happy with where I’m at for now.
  2. Small life experiences.¬† Our life is a patchwork of big, memorable occasions that are stitched together with the small, everyday moments that make up the entire fabric of our existence.¬† These are instants that may not be remembered a week or a year later, but they contribute so much to our overall happiness.¬† Things like taking a walk and deeply breathing in the fresh air, pausing to look deep into our partner’s eyes while saying nothing, or caressing our baby’s tiny fingers as she sleeps.¬† I want to concentrate on filling my life with an abundance of small, forgettable, yet oh so important day-to-day moments that will provide an unshakeable foundation for the bigger milestones I will steadily experience.
  3. Big life experiences.  Equally or more important than the mundane is the extraordinary. These are the moments that you will recount to friends and family throughout the years, the moments that you are proud of, and the moments that define you.  Some will be negative, and some will be positive.  I have had my fair share of big life experiences thus far: marriage, divorce, moving across the country on my own, and working my way up from a temporary hire to a tenured teacher.  Each leg of my journey has taught me something new.  Going forward, I want to expand my opportunities for life stimulation through travel, seizing and creating opportunities for adventure, and putting myself out there in every way possible.
  4. A small circle of friends. As I have matured throughout the years, I have come to realize the value of true friendship.¬† When I was younger, I dreamed about having scads of girlfriends who would always want to go on adventures and have sleepovers and show off our tight-knit group to the world.¬† I never managed to attain such a crew, but I have something much better: two extremely close friends that I would do anything for and vice versa.¬† True friendship does not consist of empty conversations and dime a dozen parties.¬† It does not consist of taking selfies together to throw on social media.¬† It does not consist of helping that person only when it is convenient for you.¬† True friendship is discussing your boring day and actually caring¬† to hear about theirs in return.¬† True friendship is building each other up when it‚Äôs just too hard to do it on your own.¬† True friendship is knowing that no matter how much distance or time separates you, you‚Äôve got each others’ back when it counts.¬† This year, I want to focus on optimizing the relationships that I have, building our already strong bond into an unbreakable chain of support and love.
  5. Tight family bonds. Family is something that I have come to value more and more the older that I get.  I am the only person from my immediate family who has moved out of my home state of Minnesota, and I have no extended family here in California.  Even though I absolutely love the life I have created for myself, having some distance from my family has made me appreciate them in a way that I simply did not when I was living at home.  You cannot choose your family, and I am so different than my parents and siblings in more ways that I can even count.  Yet, even with differing viewpoints and lifestyles, I know that I would drop everything and fly home in a heartbeat if there was a situation in which I was needed.  Family is not always convenient, but they are yours.
  6. A life partner. I was recently accused by someone of wanting a relationship ‚Äėjust to have a relationship.‚Äô¬† In the moment, I disagreed with him, and now after several days of contemplation, I still strongly disagree.¬† Yes, my optimal life includes finding a partner: one who shares my joy and laughter, who makes me a better person, and one who is a solid rock and outstanding example for our future children.¬† But for me, finding someone to build a life with is not about finding any random peg just to fit into the hole.¬† I have had too many relationships that tore me down rather than built me up, and I would rather live my life happily alone than to have the ‚Äėsecurity‚Äô of a relationship that is wrong for me.¬† This year I want to focus on becoming the best version of myself so that if when I meet someone who adds value to my life, I can give them that same value right back.

Optimization is not something that happens overnight.  It takes focus, dedication, and a lot of soul-searching.  Take the time right now to jot down what an ideal life looks like for you.  What are the building blocks of your Optimization Operation?  Once it is down on paper, you can formulate a plan to make it happen.  If nothing else, the act of truly trying will do more for you than all of your nights sitting on the sidelines combined.

-Beauty-

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Today I went to the beach for the first time in WAY too long.  It had been raining off and on all day, but when I got out of the gym the sky was full of sunshine, and the air was fresh and clean just waiting to be breathed in.  When I walked onto the boardwalk and saw the glittering ocean, a giant, cheesy smile immediately came across my face, and reappeared intermittently throughout my 45 minute walk.

The point of sharing this is quite simple: beauty.  In our pursuit of creating greatness for ourselves, or simply trying to tread water in some cases, the thing that most often gets overlooked is the beauty around us.

Here in California, we are beholders of some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the country.¬† Every single time I go to the beach, I ask myself why I’m not there more often.¬† I have been organizing my apartment like a madwoman the past two days, and while I love the feeling of accomplishment I have right now, it was so nice to take some time out from optimization and just be.

Observing the beauty in the world can bring you so much joy.  Take a pause today to really soak in the beauty around you.  Maybe that beauty is as simple as a piece of art in the office you always pass by but never really study, a swath of untouched snow, or even a vibrant green sprig in the cracks of the dull cement leading up to your front door.  Creating the time to pause and soak in all of the small glimpses of beauty in your life will bring you a calmness and appreciation that is all too often lost in our crazy roller-coaster lives.

Observe, just be, and revel in the knowledge that you are alive.

Laying the Foundation

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I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple days about the foundation for optimization.¬† What is it that is going to make me truly ready to take on this new chapter in my life and make more than just a pipe dream or a flash-in-the-pan burst of inspiration?¬† What will guarantee that I succeed?¬† Putting together everything I’ve experienced with things that I’ve read and conversations that I‚Äôve had, I’ve come up with a five things that I feel are essential for progress.

Organization

This skill is something that needs to be applied to every area of your life.  Being organized is the basic element that allows to you optimize your time, which is the most precious commodity of success.  There are several different things you can do to be organized in all aspects of your life.

  1. Create a to-do list. I am a nerd and absolutely love my to-do lists that I make for myself every day.¬† It gives me such a sense of accomplishment when I can cross things off. (Yes, I have gone back and written down something I’ve already done just so I can cross it off).¬† Aside from giving me a nerd-rush, to-do lists allow me to prioritize my time and focus on the things that need to get done.¬† On the days I haven’t written a to-do list, I find myself doing random crap that isn’t actually that productive.
  2. Write a menu for the week.  If you want to optimize your time, money, and fitness, planning out your meals for the week (and actually sticking to it) is critical.  Not only will you be ensuring that you are eating healthy things throughout the week, you will also be saving money by buying only the things you need at the store, not the random box of cereal that catches your eye or the good-intention vegetables that you end up throwing away because you never actually got around to cooking them.
  3. Clean your house/apartment/room.¬† I am a firm believer that your outside environment affects your headspace.¬† There is nothing I like better than the feeling that comes after an intense deep cleaning session (yes, I know, I’m a nerd).¬† The more you keep things clean, the easier it will be to be productive.¬† If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning that needs to happen in your space, chip away at it a little at a time over the course of a couple days.

If you are currently not an organized person, don’t worry.¬† Organization is a skill that needs to be practiced.¬† I use SO many different tools to stay organized: lists, calendars, reminders on my phone, etc.¬† Don’t be afraid to use the tools available to you!

 

Focus

This skill is how people actually accomplish their goals.  When I first started my Master’s degree, I was teaching full-time, in charge of several different clubs/activities at my school, and taking online classes two at a time.  Trust me, there were several tears shed throughout those months, but I sit here now with my degree finished and my job performance unscathed.  This is only due to the fact that I kept my focus on my degree and job and nothing else.  I did take breaks during the weekend to keep my sanity, but the majority of my free time was spent writing discussion posts/papers, planning, and grading.  If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish a LOT in a short amount of time.

I have taken some steps in the last couple of days to optimize my focus.

The first thing I did was *gasp* delete Snapchat.  It was a spur of the moment decision, and you know what?  I don’t miss it.  It was nothing but a waste of time.

The second thing I did was to put all of my entertainment apps (Facebook, Instagram, etc) into a folder on my phone on the second page so that it takes more work to access them.  The only things on my front page are boring things like my clock, calculator, contacts, etc.  It sounds hokey, but it actually works.

The third thing I did was to make a giant list of all the things I want to accomplish over the rest of my holiday break.¬† I‚Äôve been chipping away at the list the last couple of days, and it has been an immense help in staving off the ‚Äúguess I‚Äôll just waste the next couple of hours on Netflix‚ÄĚ black hole that seems to crop up whenever there isn‚Äôt a purpose or structure for the day.

Positivity

This may seem odd to include in a list of skills, but I am convinced that I am where I am today because of my positivity.  While my life is pretty rosy right now, there was a time that things were not so great.  I got married at 19 to a man who prioritized drugs over our marriage, and it took me four years to actually get fed up enough to leave.  Overall, that’s five years of my life that I wasted tied to someone who seriously weighed me down.  Rather than let the emotional abuse and resulting insecurity keep me from achieving my potential, I chose to view it as a learning experience and built myself back up from the ground floor.  In the last couple of years, I have observed that my positivity is what people notice and appreciate about me more and more, and I can’t count the number of times my colleagues and friends have commented on my positive nature and thanked me for it as well.

If you are not a naturally positive person, I suggest that you start by resisting the urge to dwell on the negative.  Go do something active and get your endorphins going.  There are so many times I arrive at the gym pissed off and leave doing a happy dance.  Think about things you are thankful for.  Do something nice for someone else.  I know that when you are in a negative state, trying to think and act positively is the LAST thing you want to do (I’ve been there).  I promise, though, if you muster the courage to actually do it, you will be amazed at your transformation!

Education

Education is not so much a skill as it is a process.  We tend to think that once we finish our schooling, we’re educated.  This is not the case.  Education is a practice that should be undertaken daily and should be pursued with a purpose.

Let’s explore a simple analogy.  If you want to build a house and you have never built anything in your life, you have set a steep learning curve for yourself.  Of course, everyone knows what a house looks like, and you could muddle your way through the process and throw together a nice little shack that falls down when the first person sneezes inside it. However, if you are actually serious about building a house, you need to read about houses, talk to people who have built houses, and spend some time actually building the house.

Our life is the same way.  Everyone knows what a successful life looks like; it is what we all watch and envy on TV and movies and the media.  However, it is not enough to simply know what that life looks like.  Optimizing your life requires that you have the necessary tools and knowledge of how to use them.  This means reading books written by people who have experienced more things than you.  This means talking to people who are where you want to be.  This means actually taking this information and applying it.

Change is the end result of all true learning.

Leo Buscaglia

In order to truly optimize my physical fitness, I am in the process of hiring a personal trainer (talking to someone who is where I want to be).  While I know that I could eventually get to peak physical condition on my own, I don’t want to waste time going through trial and error.  With the trainer educating me, I just have to worry about my focus, allowing me to spend more time educating myself on other facets of my life.

Spontaneity

The final trait that I feel is vital for progress is spontaneity.  A great majority of the good things in my life happened because I just did them.  I didn’t think about it a whole lot, I didn’t make a pros and cons list, and I didn’t agonize over how it would affect other people.  I simply decided, and took the necessary steps to accomplish it.

Case in point:

  1. I was talking to a boy in California during my last semester of college. My friend was moving to Arizona to teach.¬† My desire: Get out of the Midwest (and explore this relationship possibility).¬† My thought process: ‚ÄúI‚Äôll live with you, sub for a bit, and be interviewing for jobs in Cali!‚ÄĚ My action: I moved down to AZ with her and ended up getting a full-time job in AZ.
  2. I was still talking to the boy in California during my first year teaching in AZ. My desire: Actually make this thing work.¬† My thought process: ‚ÄúI‚Äôll move to Cali and find a teaching job so we can actually date because I like you!‚Ä̬† My action: I finished out my contract in AZ, moved to California, stayed with the boy, scoured Craigslist and found a great live-in nanny situation within a week, applied for a million teaching jobs, and got hired for my current position within three months.
  3. I was tired of wearing glasses and contacts day in and day out.¬† My desire: Perfect vision. My thought process: ‚ÄúI‚Äôll go in and get a consultation for Lasik surgery!‚ÄĚ My action: I paid for it that day and was on the operating table getting my eyes lasered open within a month.¬† Best. Decision. Ever.
  4. I was newly single again and living alone (albeit 45 minutes away from my job), and my friend I had met a couple months before wanted to move to a city together up the coast that would be closer to work for me. My desire: A shorter commute and a town with a younger crowd. My thought process: ‚ÄúWell, I‚Äôll look at the apartment and consider it‚ÄĚ.¬† My action: Signed the lease in March and moved in April 1st.¬† My roommate and I are now best friends who do everything together, and my commute to work is a dream.

The common denominator in all of these scenarios is that I knew what I wanted and took steps to accomplish whatever it was immediately.  The thought of failure didn’t even enter my mind.  It didn’t occur to me that I may not get a teaching job in California, I just moved.  It didn’t occur to me that Lasik might leave me with worse vision or blind, I just did it.  It didn’t occur to me that my roommate and I could end up hating each other, I simply moved in.

In my view, overthinking things can paralyze you to the point where the easiest decision to make is to not make a decision.  Could things go wrong?  Yes.  Could you make a turn and realize down the road that WHOOPS, that was a terrible life choice?  Hell yes.  But you need to trust yourself enough to know that you can rise up to any occasion.  Trust your instincts.  You will cover more ground correcting a wrong turn than you will sitting in the parking lot.

This blog and the whole idea of The Optimization Operation was a spontaneous decision that arose out of my reflection on a few conversations and life observations I have made over the past couple months.  All of my past experiences and life skills that I have attained are coming together to springboard me into the next successful phase of my life.  While I don’t expect it to happen overnight, I know that if I focus part of every day on achieving my highest potential, it can’t help but manifest.