TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

Here we are, at the end of another trip around the sun. It’s been a whirlwind year that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Last summer, I was focused on getting all my ducks in a row for my last semester of graduate school. I was getting new roommates, and preparing to start a new job at a bookstore, which was the most exciting thing ever. Fast forward to October, and two of my grandparents were in and out of the hospital. I finished my master’s degree in December, only to promptly slip on ice and take a fall down my front steps the next morning on my way out to work. An afternoon in the ER, five weeks of being house bound, and another three of physical therapy kept me down for the count through the beginning of 2020. In mid-January I lost my grandfather, and traveled down to be with my family for the funeral on the weekend before I returned to work. I had only been back at work for about six weeks when the bookstore closed and put us all on furlough for safety due to COVID-19. In May, graduation was cancelled. At the end of June, I was officially laid off from the bookstore due to COVID-19 financial strains and being one of the lowest people on the proverbial ladder. So far, I have spent more than half of 2020 in my house. It’s been weird to say the least. Here’s hoping I can at least do something productive with the second half of the year.

Looking at my list of goals for my 27th year, it doesn’t look like I got very far, but I guess that’s to be expected given how deep in focus I was during grad school and then how home bound I’ve been since. I got into better shape, but that was only after I really hurt myself. Expect a whole post soon about my post-accident fitness journey. Being stuck at home in a pandemic has enabled me to be more conscious of my nutrition, but that’s also something that I’ll need to keep working on.
Writing is hard under normal circumstances, but I definitely hit a wall during quarantine. No fiction, no book reviews, nothing. Even reading was hard for a while. I did manage to complete two outlines last fall though, so hopefully I can turn those into full drafts this year. Things like buying a car, saving for travel, and paying off some of my student loans have to be pushed to a back burner while I find a new job, but thankfully the government has cancelled loan interest and payments until the end of September due to the pandemic. My roommates and I are still hunting for the right cat for us, but we’re hoping to find one soon.

So, what does all of that mean for the next year? It means I still have a lot of work to do. My “Theme of the Year” is Further Reading Required, because I want to keep inspiring myself to dig deeper, do more research, more learning, more exploring of myself and society. I need to take what I wanted to get done last year and bring that with me, while also continuing to push forward and weave in new skills and routines. Here’s what that’s going to look like.

TOTY 28 Goals:
1. Practice, Practice, Practice. There are a couple things I want to learn to do this year.
● Learn to do crossword puzzles.
● Learn to skateboard.
● Re-learn to play guitar.
● Learn more about nutrition and practice my cooking and baking skills.
● Learn more about personal finance.
● Learn more website design.
2. Continue to work on strength and fitness.
3. Finish at first draft manuscript by the end of August, and at least two (2) more first drafts in the next year. I’d also like to complete two (2) more outlines, and solid second draft of the manuscript I’ll be finishing in August.
4. Educate myself better on human rights issues, specifically starting with racism and white supremacy.
The current Black Lives Matter movement and my experience working through Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy has helped me to see that I am not supporting Black authors, or my Black friends and acquaintances as much as I can be, so I’m committing to reading at least two books every month by Black authors, one fiction and one non-fiction, for at least the next year. I’ve already added the following to my list, but I welcome any recommendations!
**Apologies for the present lack of accented letters. WordPress keeps deleting them, but I am working on a solution.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Unraveling by Karen Lord
Queen of The Conquered by Kacen Callender
Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope
Lost Gods by Micah Yongo
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Becoming by Michelle Obama
The Immortal Life Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
So You Want to Talk Race by Ijeoma Olou
Why I am No Longer talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Between the World and Me by Ta-Hehisi Coates
The Autbiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X/Alex Haley
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

I hope that by working toward these goals I grow into a better person than I am today. I hope I find new interests and rediscover old hobbies. I hope I continue to grow in understanding and love for myself. I hope that I become better educated about society and continue to speak up for those that cannot, and amplify the voices of those who can. I also hope I have really good news to share in the next year, because the world could always use more good news.

Thank you for reading my Theme of the Year post, as you all do every year. I know they’re sometimes hokey, but I find that they really set the tone for my year and help keep me accountable throughout the next 365 days. Talk soon.

~Amanda

Past Theme of The Year Posts:
TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming My Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is NOT my Theme of the Year

TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars

You might think this title is cheesy, but I love it, and it’s my opinion that counts the most after all.

I turn 27 today, and I’m set to graduate with my Master’s Degree in December (I’ll walk the stage in May, 2020). This is a big year. And I have a lot of big goals I want to accomplish.

There’s a catchphrase I’ve been thinking about for well over a year, that I think sums up my ideas perfectly. It’s from Ashley Poston’s Once Upon A Con series, wherein there’s a mock-conglomerate version of Star Wars/Star Trek/Firefly/Stargate/etc… that’s called Starfield, and it’s tagline is “Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.” I want that kind of bravery in my life, so I’m adopting it as my theme for the year. Anything is possible, you just have to work for it. So, logically, if anything is possible, why not aim for the stars?

Here are some of my long-term goal for the next year:

1 – Get a Full-Time Job in Publishing.

This summer and fall I will be relentless in the search for a full-time position somewhere in publishing. I know that I want to stay in Boston for as long as possible, and that I don’t want to be in sales or marketing, but I will take just about anything else that will pay me a living wage and give me health insurance. I don’t mean that to sound like I don’t care what job I have, it’s just that I love so many aspects of publishing that I would be pretty thrilled to work anywhere in the industry.

2 – Get in Shape.

I’m over being weak and tired all the time. After my friend’s wedding at the end of June it took me days to recover, and the leg I messed up two years ago is still a little stiff. I’m ready to be in shape again like I was when I ran track in high school. I’m determined to get into some actual strength training this year. To that end, I did my first workout in almost ten years this morning! Big shout-out to my baby sis for writing me up a workout schedule to ease me back in to the practice.

3 – Eat Well.

Now that I no longer have night classes, I’m determined to set up an actual meal schedule and cook 4-5 nights a week, eating out only on the weekends.

4 – Sleep Well.

Again, no more night classes means I can go to bed by 10pm and get up at 5:30 or 6am and actually start my day nice and slow, the way I would prefer to, with yoga, reading, and journaling.

5 – Finish a Manuscript.

I’m determined to finish at least one MS this year, ideally two. This time next year I don’t need to be in a place where I can begin submitting to agents and publishers, but I think it will be at least a great learning experience to finish writing a book.

6 – Buy a Car.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that a tree fell on my car 18 months ago, and not having one has made it increasingly harder and more expensive to visit my family and friends, not to mention get a job. I’m hoping to be able to afford a used car by this time next summer, maybe a Prius like the one I had (I fit an entire Ikea ‘Billy’ Bookshelf in there once! In a flat-pack, but still!), or something else that gets great gas mileage because my family is pretty spread out. Send me your car suggestions!

7 – Get a Cat.

While I love all of my friends’ pets, I dearly miss having a pet of my own, and I’d like to adopt a cat sometime next year once my financials stabilize. I do also love dogs, but as a new professional I don’t think I’ll be home enough to give it adequate exercise, nor would I necessarily be able to afford regular doggie daycare/dogwalker/petsitter.

8 – Pay Off $8,000.00 of My Student Loan Debt.

My goal is to be debt-free by 35, so I’m hoping to get a jump on it and pay down my principles and avoid as much interest as possible. $8,000 in a year would require me to pay $667 each month – which should be doable once I get a full-time job and probably give up most of my coffee and eating out regularly.

9 – Save for Travel.

My friends and I are planning to go to Ireland next summer, once we’ve all graduated. I’ve never been overseas, and my friends and I all have Irish heritage, so we’re desperate to visit. Flights from Boston aren’t bad either, it’s cheaper than flying to the West Coast. Aside from paying down my debt and saving for a car, this should be my only big-ticket item for the year.

.
.
.

Aiming for the stars, to me, means putting aside my fears and worries and attacking my goals with renewed fervor. It doesn’t mean ignoring that part of me that always says “but what if everything goes wrong? Will I be okay?” and instead acknowledging it quickly and moving on, knowing that I will be okay and charging ahead into the unknown with a sense of peace that only comes from being okay with failing and having to start over and try again and again until something sticks. It’s simultaneously my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. The worrying makes me a great Mom-friend, a wonderful people-manager, and good judge of character, but it also holds me back from a lot of adventures and opportunities because I need to sit and weigh out all the options. The goal is not to stop doing that – that would be out of character for me completely – but to do it faster and more efficiently, to be more decisive, to start setting better boundaries on my private time and become stronger in my arguments, and to be a little more relaxed and go-with-the-flow rather than always worried about where my next step needs to be. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me at 27.

If being 26 ended up being about getting back to a sense of balance and keeping my head above water, 27 will be about blowing everything out of that water. Leaving my retail job and taking a part-time gig at a local coffee shop was the best decision I could have made this winter. I’m finally almost caught up on sleep and am finding time to read and write for pleasure again. It’s life-changing. I’m no longer volunteering at the yoga studio, but I’m trying to actually attend more yoga classes or do yoga at home. I’m focused on my health and am eating better, though still not cooking as much as I would like. I’m shopping less and more intentionally, and I’m focused on saving for the important things. I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished this year, and my hope is that this year will be just a drop in the ocean of awesome that my 27th year will bring. Here’s to my sixth year of blogging and sharing my favorite books and life-changing moments with you all. I can’t wait!

~Amanda

Past Theme of The Year Posts:
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming My Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is NOT My Theme of The Year

More TOTYs:
TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

IMG_6060

Today is a few days after my 26th birthday, and I am sitting in a Starbucks tearing up as I read my old TOTY posts. These yearly summaries serve as such a huge reminder of everything I’ve accomplished, and just how much has changed over the past four years. This will be my fifth consecutive year of blogging, and probably my fifteenth year since I started messing around with the idea of having a blog and playing with Blogger, WordPress, and Wix. I’ve loved long-form writing for a long time, and it amazes me that I have the freedom to do something like this every day. Of course, it’s been a bit of a struggle keeping up here over the last year, but there are some wonderful reasons for that.

I am attending Emerson College for graduate school in publishing and writing. You all helped me get here by reading this blog and encouraging me to follow my dreams. It’s a lot of work, but I am adoring every second of it! I have met wonderful, interesting, inspiring women who I might even go so far as to call bosom friends. I have had some spectacular professors who have helped shape my image of what the publishing world is and is not, and have pushed me to trust my instincts and pursue my passions. I have learned an incredible amount, and that was only the first year! I still have three semesters left to soak up as much as I can, and I am beyond grateful to be able to be here now.

Last September I moved out of my Uncle and Aunt’s house and into a rented room. It’s not my first time in an apartment – I lived in two apartments during undergrad – but it is the first apartment I’ve had where I have my own room and the first place I’ve paid for completely on my own. To pay for it, I took an assistant supervisor position at a large retail store, where I work 40+ hours a week in addition to going to 8 hours of class and doing 6+ hours of homework. I haven’t had a lot of time to look for a corporate job or an internship, but I haven’t given up. There are a couple very cool opportunities on the horizon that I am aiming for!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that school + work = not enough things to keep me motivated. This has led to me sleeping a lot, which has been necessary with my crazy work schedule, but not productive or overall healthy for my life. I’m hoping to hone my daily schedule this year to make room for what matters most – family, health, and writing.

Speaking of health, mine has been a roller coaster this year. Last June I started Accutane for my acne, and after almost nine months had clear skin for the first time in almost eight years. I had forgotten how good my skin looked when it was clear, and while the acne had never really hurt my image of myself, having clear skin definitely improved my confidence. It’s almost like I didn’t realize how awesome of a woman I had grown into until the acne cleared up. Like wiping off the grime of adolescence to see clearly the woman growing underneath. My acne didn’t make me feel bad, but it did keep me trapped in that ‘not a girl, not yet a woman’ stage of life that I was craving an escape from.

On my first day of work at my retail job in October, I sprained my foot at the bottom of my apartment stairs and ended up at the hospital for myself for the first time since I was born. I was bedridden for a week, had crutches for a month after that, and wasn’t allowed to run or do strenuous activities for six months after that.

I got off my crutches just in time for my first Black Friday in retail, and all of the new germs I was around 40 hours a week finally caught up with me. Thankfully, my store had a very quiet Black Friday, because the cold I caught robbed me of my voice for a week and it would have been a nightmare. I am beyond thankful for small miracles.

My six months without exercise ended just about the same time I was finally in the clear post-Accutane. My foot still aches occasionally, and my alcohol tolerance is crap because I wasn’t allowed to drink on the Accutane. It also took longer to finish the Accutane (about nine months vs six) because I had to stop taking it while I was on painkillers for my foot. Organs are precious, and I didn’t want to put mine at risk by pumping them full of chemicals.

Cut to about a month ago, when I traveled to Boise, Idaho to visit one of my best friends in the whole world, Jordan. This girl was my radio show co-host in college and has since become part of my family (seriously, we bring her on family-only trips because she blends in as one of us despite being the only redhead). She flew up to Boston last September to help me move into my apartment, and I cried when she moved across the country in January. I flew out there to spend the week between our birthdays together, and it was simply wonderful.

We spent most of the week in various pools, waterparks, and rivers because it was topping 100 degrees and we were super pale. For once, we were on our sunscreen game and avoided getting sunburn. I have my first tan in three years. I spent quiet mornings on her balcony reading and listening to podcasts (I’ll share my favorites soon!), and we explored the city with her local friends (who are just lovely and I miss them already!) late into the evening because the sun doesn’t set until 10:30pm in the treasure valley. We rounded off the week with my first hike since moving to Boston, climbing Table Rock  (follow the link for trail map!), which is 900ft above Boise’s already 2,600 ft elevation. My poor body is used to Boston’s whopping >50ft above sea level, and reaching the top of Table Rock (3,500 ft) was a struggle. It was worth it for the accomplishment and the views of the city and valley, ringed in rolling mountains, but oh boy did I feel it the next day.

IMG_5866

The cold I caught in Idaho was nearly but not quite gone when I flew back east a few days later, and I ended up with an ear infection and just two weeks remaining on my parent’s health insurance. Cue more little miracles. I tried to take it slow, which is why this post didn’t go up on my birthday like it usually does.

Just as I was recovering from the ear infection, I went home for my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bridal shower and wasn’t feeling too well. After yet another last-minute doctor’s appointment, I found out I also had strep, so now I’m on medication for that as well. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that all of this happened while I was on my parent’s health plan. To be fair though (in the long list of small miracles in my life) I was able to sign up for my graduate school’s student health care plan until I graduate. God is so, so good y’all.

I’m back from vacation and back at work, which right now is mostly training some new assistant supervisors, but I am trying to appreciate the methodicalness of it all as I prepare for my second year of graduate school to begin. Before classes start up again, I will be moving into a new apartment that includes a real kitchen and living room, and yet somehow costs less than what I am currently paying. How I found it beats me. (again, small miracles!)

I’ll be living with a few of my classmates, and I am beyond excited to be A – living with friends rather than strangers, and B – living with these friends who I can be completely myself with, whether that’s loud, quiet, happy, or sad. I think it is one of life’s biggest gifts to live somewhere you can relax and unwind and be your authentic self without having to monitor what you do or say or worry about offending someone just by living your life. These girls inspire me to do my best, but they also encourage me to take time to process life and be my true introverted self. I am so blessed to have them.

Starting my second year/third semester of graduate school means I finally know what’s coming and can build a schedule around it. I know my general work schedule, and my class schedule, so I can plan writing time around them, and even *gasp* make time for a bit of working out.

In June of this year, my co-worker/friend Patricia and I signed up for a month of Yoga classes, and I fell in love with it. Two weeks ago I met with one of the studio managers where we attend classes and signed up for their Seva program. I’ll be volunteering there a few hours a week to help keep the studio running smoothly! This particular program includes free access to a few classes in exchange for my volunteering, which is just beyond amazing, but I would probably do the program even without that carrot. I always have a craving to help ‘mother’ people and organizations, and I so rarely have the opportunity to feed that craving.

Yoga has been even more life-changing than I imagined. It is simultaneously harder and easier than I thought it would be, but the inner peace that I find in the practise is another one of those small miracles I’ve been experiencing all year.

This brings our total of ‘things Amanda does’ to three. Why stop there?

My theme for this year is Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise like the Benjamin Franklin quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’ve had that quote taped to my childhood bedroom wall for years, but I noticed it for the first time in forever last time I was at my parents’ house. It’s been floating through my subconscious ever since, and it finally occurred to me last month that that’s what I’ve been searching for. During my vacation, I took some time to sit with my thoughts and see what bubbled to the surface, and I came up with a few truths about myself I haven’t been acknowledging lately.

I am a morning person. My days are best when I get up before 7am and go to bed around 10pm.

I thrive on having too much to do because it forces my brain into organization mode. I was at peak working ability when I was working 4-5 positions and attending undergraduate classes my senior year, and again when I had to schedule my writing time around my cousin’s nap schedule as a nanny. I thrive on slim-to-no time, and I am very good when I am down to the wire. When I don’t have enough to do I procrastinate, and things fall to the wayside and get forgotten easily.

I need to mother. Whether it’s a person or a company, I need to get into the nitty-gritty of what’s going on and fix it, whether physically or through advice. I’ve had a ton of people tell me over the last year that I give great advice, so I guess it’s about time I embrace the title of advice giver and own up to my need to fix things. I will continue to endeavor not to smother people, but also to help them be their best selves through self-care and organization.

These revelations led me to create a list of things I want to accomplish this year, each of which falls under healthy, wealthy, or wise.

Under the Healthy category, we have the following tasks:

#1 – Do Yoga Every Day.
I’ve been following Yogi Rachel Brathen for… Well, probably longer than this blog has existed, to be completely transparent, and I’ve always been fascinated by the practice of yoga. My mother has the cold, hard proof in the form of a VHS copy of Yoga for Dummies from probably 2002 that I used to use! It’s taken me sixteen long years, but I’ve finally caught the yoga bug and I don’t plan on letting go of it any time soon.

#2 – Get Eight Hours of Sleep Each Night.
Sleep is the most important thing you can do for yourself. My current job has my sleep schedule all over the place. Most recently in June, there was a fortnight where I fell asleep between 2am and 5am on any given day. It was trippy. As a morning person, working late night hours isn’t good for my creative side or my health, but until I find something 9-5, my sleep schedule is something I need to be proactive about and focused on if I want to avoid getting sick again.

#3 – Cook Three Nights a Week.
The new apartment I am moving into in September has a full kitchen, so I’ll actually have space to spread out and make a full meal – with side dishes – to fix my diet, which has been minor meal prepping and a lot of sandwiches over the last year. If I get a more normal job, I’ll be home for dinner most nights and can actually take advantage of the new kitchen!

For Wealthy, I came up with:

#4 – Shop Small.
I want to only shop in used and vintage clothing stores this year. Not only will this help confine my spending, but used and discount clothing hunting is a skill I think everyone should perfect at some point in their lives. By hunting for clothes that come from across multiple years, I think I’ll finally start to build a personal style rather than jumping on whatever the current trend is. I’m excited to see where this resolution takes me.

I also want to only shop indie and used bookstores this year. This is a goal every year but at some point, I end up in Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million spending money like water. Canceling my B&N membership card didn’t help, I just pay full price now. To combat my horrible book-buying habit, I am going to attempt to go on a 98% book ban this year. Meaning I will do everything in my power not to buy or acquire any new books and to solely use my library card. Unless there is something I am dying to the read and none of the local libraries will stock it for me.

#5 – Save Money.
As I continue my Master’s program, I can feel my loan payments creeping up on me, just waiting for graduation to pounce. I also have a million other things I want to be able to do over the next few years – weddings to attend, overseas trips I want to take, writing staycations, book conventions, etc. To combat all of this, I am going to attempt to curb my general spending (and my eat-out budget) so that I can save at least $400 each month.
– $100 for my emergency fund
– $100 for my loan fund
– $100 for my weddings fund
– $100 for my travel fund.
If this means I have to cut even my book budget and only get books from the library, I will suck it up. It’ll pay off in the end, right? The only things that make you richer by spending money are books and travel, so I’m just trading one for the other. Library cards let me have my cake and eat it too.

#6 – Pursue Passions.
This year I want to focus on what matters most. In the job sense, that means being aggressive and going after those competitive internships and positions that I’m afraid I won’t qualify for. I need to have courage like the Gryffindor I am and charge at my fears head on if I want to overcome them. I can’t just sit around and wait for fate to do its thing when I have the power to help it along in the direction I want so desperately to go. I can do this by grabbing every freelance opportunity I see and giving it 100%, allowing it to build up my writing resume for more permanent positions. This will also up my ‘things Amanda does’ count, which will help me be more productive overall.

And finally, for the Wise category:

#7 – Write more.
It probably won’t be every day, because I’ve never been able to keep that promise, but I want to write for myself more regularly than I do now. Blog posts, book reviews, short stories off the top of my head, work towards completing one of the numerous longer-form things I have in the works – I really want to have something I can show people and be able to say “Hey look what I can do!” or “Here’s how I write, take a look!”. I spend so much of my imagination in my head that it never makes it onto the page, and people only know I write at all when they read this site or ask me about my writing and I go down a rabbit hole of explaining my characters and their motivations.

I really want to attempt writing short stories this year. I have a habit of starting and not finishing novels, and I think it will be an interesting exercise in editing myself to try a short-form story. I need to learn how to describe things succinctly, instead of letting the world building run off with my plot. I feel like it’s time to start leaving my mark on the world, and this is how I want to start doing it.

#8 – Become more business literate.
Through podcasts, workshops, webinars, and online classes, I want to educate myself about how to run an actual business, so that I can manage my freelancing and my soon-to-be crushing debt in the best ways I can. This includes learning about advertising and marketing, finance, and SEO.

#9 – Pursue Peace, Grace, and Simplicity.
Through it all, I want to focus on cultivating grace, not perfection. I want and need to organize my life in little ways to make a big impact. I’m taking Emily Ley’s advice and running with it. After reading her book Grace, Not Perfection last year, I am inspired to read her A Simplified Life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. All three promise to be inspiring.

This year, I want to learn to have patience and grace with myself and others. I want to focus less on what the world thinks of me and more on what I could be doing for the world while taking the best care of myself. I want to reach for the stars but in order to get there, I need to build a solid catapult, or a ladder, or a tower. Clearly, I am not an engineer, but you get it. I can’t get anywhere without a solid foundation, and that foundation has to be me.

Here’s to my fifth year of blogging. I am so looking forward to all of the cool things I will accomplish and experience this year, and I hope you will join me on this journey.

Sincerely,

Amanda

Past Theme Of The Year (TOTY) Posts:
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming my Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is Not my Theme of the Year

More TOTYs:
TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars
TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

TOTY – 25: Responsiblity

IMG_3085
A+ self-confidence here, letting you know that this photo is 100% makeup and filter free. Wheeee!

It’s July! Which makes it my birth month, the anniversary of this blog (starting its FOURTH year!!) and also time for a new theme of the year, or as I like to call it, TOTY. If you’ve never read one of my TOTY posts before, allow me to explain. Every year around my birthday, I like to select a broad theme for the next year of my life, to help guide my decision making for the next 365 days. I’ve focused on things like experience, health, and writing. You can find links to all of my previous TOTYs at the bottom of this post.

It’s been one heck of a year. Being 24 was one of those strange in-between years like 19 and 20, where you’re not really sure what the objective is except to survive. I’m turning 25 today, which to 12-year-old me seemed impossibly old, but to be honest I still feel fairly young. Turning 24 helped me to take a little control of my life. I wasn’t so much in my early 20s anymore, and people stopped expecting me to go out and party with them every night, which definitely allowed me to come into my own skin a little more. Now that I’m turning 25 and officially in my mid-twenties, I feel completely free of that party-hard culture that tried to suck me in during college, and people have stopped looking at me strangely when I talk about career opportunities like the important things they are. I’m extremely happy to be out of that age where people say ‘oh, you have plenty of time! Just concentrate on having fun!’ instead of taking my job inquiries seriously.

The last year started off by helping two of my friends plan their respective weddings, both of which were at the end of August/beginning of September, on back-to-back weekends. Cue tons of crazy drama, none of which is mine to share but I was somehow a part of anyway. Let me just say: WEDDING PLANNING IS HARD! Thank goodness I had both of them to bounce ideas off of for each other. I was able to fill in the holes in both plans based on what each was doing to make sure all of the bases were covered, down to vases on the reception tables for the bridesmaid bouquets. At the end of October, I made the huge decision to leave my part-time retail job of 10 months in Allentown, Pennsylvania to become a nanny for my then seven-month-old cousin in Boston, Massachusetts. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, though I do still miss my amazing coworkers.

One of my goals for last year was to write every day. While that didn’t happen, I did do quite a bit of writing, and I’ve definitely adjusted mentally so that writing is at the forefront of my mind 90% of the time. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and you can find my weekly updates from November here. Besides NaNoWriMo, I’ve worked hard to locate some of my favorite coffee shops in the city where I can work besides my room, and it’s helped immensely.

Another goal was to apply to graduate school, which I was intensely nervous about. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get in right away because of my lack of writing experience aside from this blog, and I would need to reapply a few times before I got accepted in another year or two. BUT I WAS WRONG! I have been accepted to the Publishing and Writing Master’s Degree Program at Emerson College here in Boston, Massachusetts where I will be starting in September! I think because I didn’t expect to get in right away, this all still doesn’t quite feel real. I have to pinch myself a few times a day just to remind myself it’s all happening. Just thinking about it makes me tear up from joy. *as I start to tear up*

My last goal was to apply to full-time jobs. This one has been a little complicated because I took the nannying job in October, and I’ve been pretty happy doing it. I cannot, however, continue doing it once I start graduate school for logistical reasons. So I am back to square one, but with a lot more writing under my belt than I had last year. I’m ideally looking for an Editorial Assistant or Copy Editor position, but I would take something like an administrative job if need be.

Last year around this time, I was contemplating my current nannying position and the general idea of Boston. I had only been here twice, both briefly, and yet the city enthralled me. I’ve now lived here almost nine months, and if possible love this place even more. Sometimes I take a train to a random part of the city and then walk back to my aunt and uncle’s place, just to explore. I guess what I’m saying is, not only do I have to remind myself that I got into grad school but I also have to remind myself that I live here and that I get to go on living here, not leave when a semester or internship ends. It’s an amazing feeling: a mix of freedom and adventure, the world an open book in front of me.

This feeling is fueling my theme for the next year: RESPONSIBILITY
I need to continue working things like time management skills, becoming financially literate, and getting better at cooking and baking. General skills all adults should have. Looking towards a future that includes moving out on my own, it would irresponsible of me not to learn these basic skills. So, how do I plan to achieve these things?

To become more financially literate, I’m going to start reading about it. From finance and money management blogs to Finance for Dummies, I’m going to try to read something every day for the next year to help me better manage my money and understand the finance industry (ie, stocks, bonds, bank account types). I also started a spreadsheet to track my spending in January 2017, and starting January 2018 I’ll be able to make fairly strict budgets to help me get the most out of my time in grad school and still pay off my debt in a reasonable amount of time.

To become a better cook, I’m rounding up family recipes to practice. I want to combine these into a cookbook that I can refer back to anytime I need a meal idea, which should take the pressure off of making a full meal for dinner when I live on my own. I’ll probably be moving out of my aunt and uncle’s house and into my own apartment this Fall, so knowing how to make more than Mac and Cheese and Chicken Parm should be pretty helpful.

Fridays this year will consist of a mix of lifestyle posts. Finance posts will share secrets to money management I’ve picked up, and share some cool blog posts to help you with your own money skills. Food posts will share my favorite family recipes.  In addition, Fashion posts will chronicle my building of an adult wardrobe appropriate for all aspects of life, Fitness posts will share snapshots and thoughts on how to get back in shape your way, Focus posts will share study and writing tips to help you get the most work done in your spare time, Family and Friends posts will teach you how to deal with your family as a new adult, and Faith posts will share ways to incorporate your faith into your everyday life. Obviously, I won’t have a chance to share on all of these topics every month, since there are seven of them and only four or five Fridays per month. My plan is to mix it up a little, and we’ll see what we get.

If this all sounds like a lot to do on top of grad school, finding a new job, writing book reviews, and continuing work on my novel(s), that’s because it is. But I’m excited to share this journey with all of you! I feel that at the age of 25, these are the things I should know how to do. I’ll be on my own next year for a lot of grown up things (like healthcare), and I think that makes it important now more than ever that I know how to take care of myself in any kind of situation.

What are some things you want to work on this year?

Past Theme Of The Year (TOTY) posts:
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming My Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is NOT my Theme of The Year

More TOTYs:
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars
TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me

Here we are again, the beginning of summer. This July I’ll turn 24, and we’ll mark the 2nd anniversary since I began writing here. I’m so proud of all the writing I’ve done here on Highlights and Hot Chocolate, and elsewhere on the internet.

In my first year of writing here, I experienced everything I could. I traveled to Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Both were incredibly amazing. I also held a number of executive positions in the organizations I was a part of in college. I was the Program Director of my campus radio station, President of the newly revamped television production club, and Vice President of Public Relations in our chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. The icing on the cake, though, was graduating Magna Cum Laude last May after 5 years of higher education. I felt happy and fulfilled, ready for anything that was thrown my way.

In my second year, my plan was to step back a little and focus on myself. I had planned to get fit and work on my physical well-being. I did start seeing a dermatologist and addressing my acne problems, but otherwise, I could not have been more wrong about how the year would go. I had assumed I would get a grown-up job and the grown-up apartment and life that came with it. Instead, I am working part-time and living with one of my friends. I haven’t run over 6 times this year, and my posture is still terrible. Yet in not fulfilling the goals I set, I have discovered SO MUCH about myself.

I said that this year wasn’t going to be focused on self-discovery, but in a sense it was. I went out on a limb to apply for a job in retail that I really had no experience doing, and I got it. Now I’m working in a bridal shop with some of the loveliest people. Other highlights of the year included my parents and my aunt and uncle buying a lake house together in Maine, and that same aunt and uncle welcoming my newest baby cousin, 2 months old at the end of last month. I am in the midst of helping two of my closest friends prepare for their nuptials, and I am beyond proud to get to stand up with them on their special days. In the last month alone, I got my ears pierced for the first time and my first tattoo. Sure, I had some sad and frustrating moments over the course of the year, but I feel a sense of self now that I didn’t have before. I had the outward confidence and leadership skills, but I lacked the self-awareness and understanding to believe in myself and to have the courage to stand up for my dreams, however unattainable they seem to everyone else.

In my third year, I will surely continue applying to full-time jobs, but I will do so with a significantly larger amount of assuredness that I know what I’m getting myself into and that I am prepared for it. I will reach farther, for jobs that interest me and will challenge me. I will apply to something I know I can do even if I don’t have all of the outlined qualifications because I believe in myself and in my ability to learn.

In my third year, I want to focus on writing. I am going to write every day. Even if it is for 15 minutes in my diary, I am going to write. I am going to write posts and book reviews for Highlights and Hot Chocolate. I am going to write all of the books and worlds that are in my head, I am going to write about anything and everything that is affecting my life or just making a brief appearance in it. And I am going to attempt to publish at least some of those writings somewhere people will see them. Not just here on HHC, but out there in the expanse of space that is the internet and even print media.

In my third year, I am going to apply to graduate school. I want to get my master’s degree in publishing and writing. It’s something I’ve always felt I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to put it into words or go about it. I have my bachelor’s in communications, but the more I learn about society and how we communicate, the more I yearn for the simple days when long-form writing was the main form of communication. The more I read on the internet, the more I want to contribute to it. I don’t want to simply be a consumer. I want to be a part of the product. I am no longer happy as a bystander. I need to be a participant.

I have no way of knowing what the next year holds, but these are the things I think I need to do to be an even better version of myself. Never stop growing, never stop learning, never stop creating. This next year is about ME, doing ME. I am digging deep and letting my crazy writer flag fly for the world to see. Because only by doing so can I grow into the woman I know I am destined to become.

Here’s to year 24,

Amanda

Past Theme Of The Year (TOTY) posts:
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming my Best Self
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is Not my Theme of the Year

More TOTYs:
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars
TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming My Best Self

 

Too often I find myself saying ‘I’ll just watch one more episode’ while I’m watching Netflix in bed, ‘I’ll run tomorrow’ when I’m feeling sluggish, or ‘what should I have for dessert?’ When I just claimed I was too full to finish my dinner.

These little things quickly turn into big things, which weigh on my mind and make me feel less than fabulous, trick me into not loving myself, and cause me to doubt even my most inherent skills.

My goal for this year is to watch out for the little things, and to address them before they become big things.

I guess you could say that my weight bothers me. Not because of how much I weigh, but because of how I wear it. I’ve allowed myself to slouch all my life, maybe in part because I grew quickly as a child and was always taller than my friends. The more people commented on my height, the more I slouched, wanting to fit in, to hide from the spotlight cast upon me by my physical attributes. But I was also just lazy. Slouching took less effort than sitting up straight. I’ve actually had my doctor tell me during a routine physical when I was younger that I might develop a curved spine because of it. Still, I slouched.

I was never a stellar athlete, but I did run Cross Country and Track in high school. During those years, everyone would comment on how skinny I was, how I ‘should eat more’, how if I got any skinnier it might effect my menstrual cycle. As a runner, I was hungry all the time. I ate nearly as much as my brother did in high school, though we weighed nearly the same and I was taller. I couldn’t gain weight. When I attempted to talk to my friends about it, they laughed in my face or told me to shut up because I made them feel bad. They said I should be thankful I wasn’t like them, struggling to lose weight.

When Cross Country ended my senior year and I had already decided for entirely different reasons that I didn’t want to run track that year, I stopped working out entirely. Typically I gained 5-10 pounds during the holidays and lost nearly all of it in the spring. This time it didn’t happen, because I had stopped running entirely. I was tired of people telling I was too tall and too skinny, so I maintained the extra 10 pounds through the summer, and then I left for college. Being in college was stressful, and in college they like to give you a meal plan that allows you to eat everything and anything you want. It was great at first. People in college are much less likely to comment on your body simply because they don’t know you. This freedom was wonderful. I missed running a little bit, but my campus was huge, and I walked everywhere.

Freshman year I gained 10 more pounds. When I visited home, no one made comments about me being ‘too skinny’. I was happy. I still missed running. Sophomore year I gained another 5 pounds, astounding even myself. I had to go up a pants size, and I no longer needed a belt to keep them up. However, ‘Low-rise’ jeans soon became the enemy. At first I loved them, but as I gained weight and grew out of puberty, my body distributed my weight throughout my hips, thighs, and boobs, and the cut of the jeans gave me a permanent roll.

I didn’t notice it at first, but somewhere between transferring colleges and moving back home during my junior year, it became really obvious (to me at least. I doubt other people really noticed). I started driving everywhere because nothing was in walking distance anymore. I switched to a major where I was sitting in meetings or at my computer all day rather than hiking and searching for signs of wildlife. Between my transfer and my graduation, about three years, I gained another 5 or 10 pounds, making it 30 pounds total since highschool. I had run maybe 5 times in as many years, and I felt it. I developed terrible acne, and I started to see myself as, horrifyingly enough, overweight. Looking at my BMI I could easily see this was not so, but that didn’t stop me from worrying about how my clothes fit.

The first thing I attacked wasn’t my weight or my posture. It was my acne. I had your basic, run of the mill acne during high school, but once I got to college, I started to break out a LOT more. maybe it was the stress, maybe it was my diet, maybe it was my lack of exercise, but I quickly became a pizza face. At first it didn’t bother me. Sure, I had red bumps all over the place because I picked at it, but it was just skin, right? and it wasn’t like I really had time for a boyfriend, so what did it matter what I looked like? When I moved back home junior year, I finally realized that it wasn’t just caused by my stress levels. I spent the next 2 years attacking my acne full-force, trying everything from drug store cures to Proactive, but nothing worked until I acknowledged that maybe I had over reacted. Maybe I had jumped on the medical miracle band wagon before I looked at all the clues. I recently dumped all my acne creams and cures. I’m now washing with just water, using a gentle astringent when I need it, and adding a daily moisturizer.

The second thing I did was tell my aunt I would run a Thanksgiving 5K with her this year. That means I have until November 26th to whip myself back into shape. I am thankful to have an event to work towards and people to keep me accountable for getting back into running. It may be slow going, but I refuse to give up.

Finally, I’m addressing my posture. I am being extra mindful of how I am sitting, making sure I have adequate back support in all my chair and couch choices, and not watching Netflix in bed! I’m looking at starting to lift weights again like I did in high school to compliment my running. There’s a technique called the ‘farmer’s carry’ that looks especially helpful.

I’m increasing my awareness in terms of diet as well. I adore dairy and carbs. I refuse to give up my carbs, and since I still have a high metabolism I’m not worried about my caloric intake, but I am cutting back a lot on dairy because too much of it could be assisting my chronic acne. Not so much pizza and yogurt and cheesy sandwiches for me, and more of what I need, like fruits and vegetables.

The last month has been rocky because of my travel schedule, but now that things have calmed down for a while I can focus wholly on my health and fitness. I have the power to be whatever or whomever I want to be. I don’t want to lose weight necessarily. If during the course of getting shape I lose or gain a few pounds, it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I DO want to scourge my closet of old clothes that don’t fit me right. I want to wear ‘hip-hugger’ jeans that actually hug my hips, not my butt, and I want to get back in shape. I want to be healthy. I want to get enough sleep and have enough energy to keep up with my little cousins and my more active friends. I want to have a nutritious diet so that my brain will function at its best and I can get back to doing what I love: learning new things.

So, now that I am 23, I want to take control of my life. Part of that involves getting an adult job, and part of that involves taking care of my body and my health. I hope you’ll read along and follow my journey as I chase my theme for the year: Becoming My Best Self.

 

Sincerely,

Amanda

 

Past Theme Of The Year (TOTY) posts:
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is Not my Theme of the Year

More TOTYs:
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 25: Responsibility
TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
TOTY – 27: Aiming for the Stars
TOTY – 28: Further Reading Required

TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is NOT my Theme Of The Year

Favim.com-30036
Source: Favim.com
     Every year as I near my birthday, I try to think of a ‘theme’ for the next year of my life. When I turned 20, my theme was Organization. I got my crap together and managed to transfer from a school I was drowning in to a school where I now flourish. This past year, my 21st, my theme was supposed to be Health. I took a weight lifting class and a horseback riding class, and I’m pushing myself to start a workout regimen that I can continue once classes start up again in September. In truth though, this whole last year has been about Soul Searching more than it was about Health. I wanted to learn about myself and how I felt about different things in my life. I am only just now realizing that this is not going to be a short process. Soul Searching is something that I am going to be doing for the rest of my life.
     So far, I’ve learned that I absolutely LOVE the beach. Way more than I ever thought I did. I love the sun and the sand and the smell of it. I love the sound of the waves, even if I don’t love nearly drowning in them all the time. Maybe it’s just because I was a Summer baby.
     Reading is my passion, but I also really enjoy writing, editing, and organizing, whether its a major event or just my desk. I love when everything has a place. It makes me feel powerful and at least somewhat in control of my life.
     I can’t live without sunshine and orange juice. Again, maybe its something to do with being a Summer child.
     I found out that I really need to get back into shape, and I love the idea of Yoga and Pilates, but I don’t know if I will ever really get back into running like I did in High School.
     After looking at everything I decided that just because Soul Searching is going to be a long process, that doesn’t mean it should be my only focus for the year. So, my plan for my 22nd year is to experience as much as possible before I graduate next May. I’ll be doing a work study in the Audio/Visual department of my University, and I’ll be serving as an officer on three different club boards: Program Director of my university Radio Station WESS-FM, President of the Television Production Club, and Vice President of Public Relations for my university’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). I am completely stoked to have been elected to these positions and I can’t wait to work with all of my fellow officers to make this year amazing. I don’t want to stop there though. I want to go a step further, push myself to ace my last 30 credits, and at the same time find new ways to learn things, whether through shadowing professionals, attending conferences, making new contacts and friends, and reading books on new subjects.
     Am I going to make myself a little crazy? Maybe. Am I work-a-holic? Probably. Do I wish I was Hermione Granger with a time-turner so I could learn even more and still get enough sleep? Absolutely. But where is the fun in life if you don’t keep challenging yourself to reach higher and higher goals? I honestly can’t wait for September.
     What are your plans for the next year? Let me know on Twitter @Amanda_HHC!
Until next time,
Amanda