Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why Failing Forward is Just Fine

On this Lag B'Omer (the only #BlogBOmer piece I've done since last year), I've been doing a lot of thinking about my past, my present, and my future.

For someone lacking a sense of direction, clear signs are a must.

It's possible that this is in the forefront of my mind as our students are approaching finals, approaching graduation, approaching new jobs, life decisions, destinations--that we are often raised to believe that failure isn't a positive. When you see a red "F" on a transcript, your eyes might water. With every job rejection, you might shake, afraid of what's next. With any action you take, there's an element of risk--and that risk equally includes failure. 

Before I even got to college, I was a maven at making mistakes, a first place finisher at failing forward. Kicked out of camp at twelve, struggling with weight and relationships and self-esteem through high school, aiming to find my place in the world through stubborn viewpoints, harmless (?) flirtations, and countless wrong steps. My father, in his wisdom of knowing my lack of direction awaited the day when I would call him up and say "Dad, I'm lost! Help me." "Where are you?" "I don't know...didn't you hear me say I was lost?"

This is...relatively accurate. If I knew how to read a map. Should learn that skill.

I have countless "Dad" stories; parables of Jewish proportions of my having done something wrong (or perceived as wrong) and in a moment of conversation with my father, he says exactly the meaningful phrase that helps propel me to the next risk, action, or turn. When in college, I had found that despite my wish to help heal the children of the world through pediatrics, I lacked the capacity to handle math and science, I called my father crying. "I can't do this. It's impossible."

My father, to his credit, was patient (to my credit, he never wanted me to be premed in the first place). He said to me, "Amanda Katherine, you can practice your whole life to run a mile in a minute. Every day you can run a little faster, make your time a little better. But you, you are never going to run a mile in a minute. There are just some things that you can't do. This is just one thing that you can't do. It's all right." I graduated college with a 2.76 GPA, double majoring in Psychology and Judaic Studies, two fields which have done wonders for me in the work I do today.

Post-graduation, I failed. I lost jobs, lost money, lost my sanity in attempting to keep myself moving forward. With each job rejection, fight with my boyfriend at the time, decision poorly made, I kept learning. Attempt to make the right choices, not the easy ones. You can speak your mind while hearing out someone else. Try something, you might like it and see where it goes. It's okay to take the risk. I got accepted into graduate programs, took on leadership roles, found my voice in whispers, questions, and then as time continued, one strong statement at a time.  I continued to fail forward. I continued to learn from every error and aimed to help those going through similar paths learn from my mistakes as they made their own. 

Once hired, don't you worry...I continued to fail forward. I was lucky to have mentors and advocate both local and abroad--to have opportunities and trust and feedback and any number of students, staff, board members, faculty, and friends to let me know when I shouldn't have made that joke, taken that chance, or made that decision. I failed forward for four years and learned every day that this was in fact the best way to fail, to make a mistake, learn from it, move a few steps forward and put my hands out again in the chance of grabbing something great. In doing that, I was given new adventures, relationships, friendships, and a lifetime of memories fitting into the span of an election cycle. When I left Oregon for my newest adventure, I was ready for more failures--and for more friendships, family, and fun. 

My first decision out of Oregon was to go cross-country with the Dad and
this best friend (the Doof) who is all about failing, falling, and flopping forward.

We talk a lot in my field about how engagement is about meeting people where they are. What happens when where YOU are is in a constant state of motion, taking tentative steps towards an undisclosed location? You take the risk that you might fall. If you're lucky, you have a safety net. If not, you have the options to make sure the ground isn't too hard when you hit it and bring some extra padding for the next time. But in failing, you have learned something that you can't learn from constant bouts of success--you learn that everything worth having takes extraordinary effort. You learn that you are NOT alone. 

On a day that celebrates humility squared (thanks Kabbalists!) on a day that's supposed to be a celebration, this 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B'Omer), I can't say that I am not humbled by the many poor choices that I have made throughout my life. But I am also so proud of the many times that I've failed--because without them, I would never have ended up here. Failure may not be flattering (thanks New Found Glory!), but failing forward is just fine. 

Happy Lag B'Omer to all my friendly forward-facing failings out there!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

#BlogElul Day 4: Understand (A Day Late)

Maturity is owning that sometimes it won't all get done,
but acknowledging that it still needs to happen.

I missed this blog last night for a few reasons. First, because I got home super late after an experience that speaks to "understanding" at a deeper level. Second, because I completely forgot about it. Not for the entirety of the day (I had actually planned to write a post yesterday as soon as I got home from the play, but after hours of data entry, blogging seemed like not the world's best use of time. So I admit it: it's a day late, but the intention is still there...and the reflection may be better after 24 hours. 

Yesterday I watched a one-man play called Wrestling Jerusalem, a show that displayed seventeen diverse perspectives of the conflict in the Middle East. Was every single perspective displayed? No. Were all of the audience members enthralled? No. But I was struck with a new level of understanding from a few things that happened yesterday evening. 

I attempt to come to most conversations/experiences/interactions from a place of understanding; a challenge when you're aiming to build relationships/learn a new place. I saw a wealth of understanding hit our students and staff last night (at least one perspective usually struck a chord), but it was the interactions with the students and staff themselves that pushed my own levels of understanding. 

Whether it was a conversation about architecture and alumni near a doorway, questions about directions, propsals, or genetic testing on car rides, hearing about future plans for international travel, or being questioned about my own motivations, aspirations, and understandings of the campus, I have begun to slowly understand my surroundings. 

This is where I work! :-)

It seems to me that the best way to increase our understanding is to open ourselves up to the process and understand that our different perspectives may lead to differing realities, and that the bridge to that comes from the dialogues we share and the experiences we discuss together. All in all? A good evening. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#BlogElul Day 3: Search

Without intending to, I've been searching all day for a topic to speak to me with regards to "searching" during Elul. The first thing that came to mind was this of course:

I find myself, often searching for a few things--most of all, time. I always feel like there are never enough hours in the day; that often I'm running around from one activity to the next, planning, scheduling, data entrying, meetings, so much so that I'm always thinking of the next time I get to breathe.
This is my third quiet moment of the day!

Sometimes it's searching for the time to "make time"--today I went from meeting to lunch to conversation and found myself with approximately an hour and fifteen minutes before my next meeting. Realizing that my walking back to the office would let me have thirty minutes there before my next meeting, I decided to walk to campus early and sit outside on a patio overlooking Ithaca. While I'm slightly sunburnt, the quiet time and time away from my computer helped me recharge--I looked at my planner, closed my eyes, listened to nearby piano playing, enjoyed the sun. By the time my next meeting came around, I was ready, enthusiastic, and excited.

I find myself searching for challenges--to push myself out of my comfort zones, ask questions, and try to figure out the things that I don't understand (and at times, face my fears). Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to seek out mice or anything --I'm not crazy--but I do attempt to not let fear get in the way of me doing things. I seek out opportunities to build relationships, to get lost on campus, to use different parts of my brain so that I don't get too worn out.
This isn't mine...but it's pretty cool.

I'm most likely searching for things on a daily basis, and only half of the time conscious of what I'm actually looking for. Like U2, I still haven't found what I'm looking for, but sometimes when you stop looking for something, it comes to you out of nowhere.

Monday, September 5, 2016

#BlogElul Day 2: Act

Shakespeare was good enough for my cover letter, and good enough to top this post!

It's interesting that I write about "action" on a day that I have purposely chosen to remain "lazy," if you consider bringing my inbox down to "Inbox Manageable" and catching up on scheduling/organization "lazy." In short, after a week or so of straight work, I made a promise to myself not to leave my property--and also to take care of business.

Above, the picture talks about acting many parts and I find that to be true in almost everyone's life, certainly in mine. I am a daughter, a sister, an Ellie-owner, a Jewish professional, a friend, a foil, an advocate, an opponent, a strategic thinker, a dissonant organizer, an artist, a traveler, a mentor, a mentee...[insert role here] and I may have played it (or dreamed of playing it). In some cases, some people believe that "acting" a part may help you eventually get there in the future:

I will NEVER be able to fake such impressive eyeliner skills

I believe that if you understand the motivation behind things, the "whys" (as I talked about in yesterday's preparation blog), the actions come naturally. You DO things because you understand the reason that they all need to get done. You prioritize. You prepare. You choose. But inevitably you need to take the first step to getting things accomplished. For me, it's about feeling organized. I use a written planner ( which I take everywhere. As an Assistant Director, I find myself using two calendars ('sup Outlook), AND if I don't write it down in my written planner, things just don't get done. I NEED TO WRITE IT DOWN. That's my first step. Writing it somewhere and then making a plan to get things done--sometimes in stages, in steps, in half an hour Friends shows if you will, but either way I find myself getting things accomplished. I choose to act, and somehow life becomes more manageable because I've taken control.

I often feel stuck by "analysis paralysis," that things need to be done in a perfect way before I can submit them. If it's not right, I avoid it like the plague. AND SO IT IS WITH EMAILS. I get approximately 100 emails in a 24 hour basis (often more and 90% of which isn't automatically deletable). Today in my "lazy day" which included laundry, remaking the guest room bed, getting trash out, I, as I mentioned above, decided to take the 300+ emails in my inbox and aim not for "Inbox Zero" (this is a dream), but for "Inbox Manageable." In doing so, I emailed tons of Jewish student leaders, organized data, got the word out, made plans, got advice, checked in with friends, and got "organized" or prepared to act for the week ahead. Things weren't perfect with the plans before I sent emails, but the emails still needed to be sent; by taking one step at a time, by choosing to act in increments, the action was so much more worthwhile both on a personal and professional level.

TL, DR of the paragraph above!

Even this blog is a conscious decision to act. Each word, sentence, image, and joke are "carefully" crafted in an attempt to express and focus myself towards more intention. You see, "fake it til you make it" still has an underlying intention--the idea is that you'll get there...eventually. But with my approach of acting step by TV show by second if need be...I can see the finish line as it gets closer, it's not so intangible.

Day 2: Intentional Action and Blog Written? CHECK.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

#BlogElul Day 1: Prepare

I don't always do well with the daily blogging; in fact, much of the time I start off with good intentions, but get weighed down by job/personal/physical/Ellie-face demands...
How can you ignore that face???
When I realized it was Elul on Saturday night, I was determined somewhat to double down and treat this month with slightly more intention than I normally have in the past. I may not blog every day (I mean, I'll try...but don't get your hopes up!). 

Today's theme is Prepare. I feel like with this move, I've spent much of the past few months preparing: to find staff, onboard them, work with a great H.O.T. on Orientation, create staff meeting agendas, find ways to not get lost, head to police stations, fire stations, north campus, west campus, preparing for the next things that are coming down the pike (High Holidays being less than a month away doesn't not phase me). 

Double negative!

Perhaps this is why I really appreciate that #BlogElul starts with "Prepare"--it means that there has to be a sense of intention for what comes next. After a day of engagement intensive training with 5/7 of our awesome brand new interns following the heels of a lakeside havdalah and campfire, I'm spending a lot of time these days thinking about the why of what I do. It's not just that I love Simon Sinek's golden circle, it's the idea that if you're not sure of why you do what you do--if you can't get down to the essence of it, it's often not worth doing (and most likely you won't do it well). 

And so I find myself in an interesting perpetual state of preparation: thinking of the "whys" behind the work, the emotions behind the energy, the passion behind the performance. As we enter Elul, I'm constantly learning more about what drives me (and what doesn't) and aiming to work backwards, think strategically, and prepare myself for whatever comes back. With the new year coming later this year, I'm lucky enough to give myself more time for prep, scheduling "me" time, resting, and coming back stronger than ever. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sh'mirat HaChayim

I've been talking to quite a few people about the positive changes that I've been aiming to make in my life recently--positive steps to become a happier and healthier me. As many of you are aware, the past academic year has been an extremely challenging one, both personally and professionally. I am very lucky to have gotten back on my feet, but spent a ton of time feeling lost and down and trying to figure out what exactly to do to get out of my rut.

My first step was to ask for help. I went to Genuine Fitness and set up a meeting with a personal trainer (shout out to Tara!). The next morning (read: 7:30 a.m.) I was back in the gym for my first session with a second one scheduled for that Thursday (two days later). I had started to make changes, but still felt like this wasn't enough. I had started to make changes before...the problem was often follow-through, a difficult concept when you're lacking direction.

So on Friday, June 19th, I decided to give myself some direction. Remembering a staff learning session about areas of wellness, I googled the phrase and stumbled upon a great website: UCR's Seven Dimensions of Wellness.

I clicked on each section and looked at their questions for what they considered "healthy" or constituted "wellness" in each area. Unsurprisingly (in my rut), I found plenty of things that I felt were missing/lacking in these areas and took a page out of my Passion Planner to begin writing a plan. The image below describes what MY personal plans for self-improvement are:

I know the image may be small, so to reiterate in print:

  • Dedicate ONE HOUR PER DAY to interact with friends (in person or by phone)
  • Say "YES!" to more invitations (I often say no due to pure exhaustion)
  • Initiate more invitations (see above)

  • Dedicate ONE HOUR PER WEEK for therapy (ensure that this remains a priority)
  • Work on POSITIVE outlets for stress and utilize strengths to bolster weaknesses
  • Set weekly & daily priorities and try to live by them

  • Say "Modeh Ani" every morning
  • Dedicate 30 MINUTES PER DAY for meditation
  • Be more involved inside of services (rather than sitting outside of them)

  • Plan ONE DAY PER WEEK for house cleaning
  • Plan ONE DAY PER WEEK to take out trash & recycling
  • Vacuum 2-3 TIMES PER WEEK 
  • Do laundry ONE DAY PER WEEK  

  • Dedicate TWO HOURS PER DAY for reading & learning
  • Take advantage of all new learning opportunities
  • Pass on one piece of learning to others EVERY DAY  

  • Dedicate ONE HOUR PER DAY to physical activity (yoga, personal training, Couch to 5K)
  • Be honest and truthful when tracking nutrition
  • Go grocery shopping TWO TIMES PER MONTH
  • Get a massage ONCE A MONTH
  • Get a manicure & pedicure ONCE A MONTH


Why am I sharing this? For a few reasons. First, because others have asked about how and why I came about my new positive changes. Second, because by publishing, it holds me accountable and explains why I'll be posting certain things on social media (another way of keeping myself accountable and entering into a positive feedback loop). Third, because I'm excited about it.

While speaking with a friend about this tonight (hi Ari!) we were talking about sh'mirat hanefesh (guarding the soul) and sh'mirat haguf (guarding the body). Both of these are included in the action steps outlined above. But more importantly, I'm concerned about sh'mirat hachayim, guarding my life and making it worth guarding in the first place. One step, bite, smile, sore muscle, and phone call at a time.

Comments are always appreciated, but I ask that they be respectful--change is never easy.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

#BlogBOmer: Hod B'Hod (Lag B'Omer!)

The next seven or so blogs are inexcusably I won't make excuses for them! Apologies for the delays, but expect that this weekend will act as a catch up as we enter into the end of the Omer with the next week...

This special Lag B'Omer (the name sake for #BlogBOmer) post is a mystery one. It goes out to 33 different mystery people. If you happen to think that you fall into one of the categories, "Like, Favorite, or Retweet or +1. If any of these inspire you, share the post with someone and let them guess their own mystery number! Chances are...these inspirations are due to more than one person. Here goes...

#1. I am humbled by the way that you speak to people with grace, understanding, and compassion.

#2. I am humbled by the way you're able to turn the darkest day into the greatest joke.

#3. I am humbled by the way you can find the perfect GIF or meme for any occasion.

#4. I am humbled by the tenacious way in which you lead.

#5. I am humbled by the way you are NOT afraid to have the difficult conversations.

#6. I am humbled by your seemingly endless effort to get the job done.

#7. I am humbled by your creativity, your candor, and your caring.

#8. I am humbled by your wisdom, and your humility around it.

#9. I am humbled by your patience for yourself and for everyone around you.

#10. I am humbled by your sass and your sense of humor.

#11. I am humbled by your enthusiasm and abundant energy.

#12. I am humbled by your ability to always put aside five minutes to listen.

#13. I am humbled by your brevity and your ability to make so few words so meaningful.

#14. I am humbled by how you were able to take me outside my own comfort zone.

#15. I am humbled by your grace, the way you move with such surety.

#16. I am humbled by your agility, the way you move with such freedom.

#17. I am humbled by your love, the way you are able to share it with so many around you.

#18. I am humbled by your silence, your ability to think before you speak and not say it.

#19. I am humbled by your stories, the way you weave them into life.

#20. I am humbled by your sense of direction, both on the road and in life.

#21. I am humbled by your sense of confidence, and how sure you are in your choices.

#22. I am humbled by your due diligence, the research you put into the choices you make.

#23. I am humbled by your organization, how everything has its perfect place.

#24. I am humbled by your minimalism, the realization that not every memory must be tangible.

#25. I am humbled by your kindness and your understanding without a word.

#26. I am humbled by your ability to remind me of years of memories with a single picture.

#27. I am humbled by your ability to teach me when I thought I was teaching you.

#28. I am humbled by your acceptance of my apology when I've made a mistake.

#29. I am humbled by your encouragement and engagement when I might hide myself otherwise.
#30. I am humbled by your easy laughter, when I know what seriousness lies beneath it.
#31. I am humbled by the way you make every moment beautiful and bold.
#32. I am humbled by your strength and the way you use it to protect/inspire others.
#33. I am humbled by your secrets, especially those you have chosen to share with me.

So many of you inspire me. So many of you have so many secret hidden yet still appreciated qualities. So much more than 33 of you are recognized in this post. My love to all who read it.