How to rebuild self esteem

Almost everyone has come across something that knocks you off their balance: a situation or a series of events that make you unsure of yourself.  Or maybe, you never had a lot of self esteem in the beginning, so this brings you a little lower.  Either way, I believe two things: people should do more of what makes them happy, and they should feel better about themselves than they usually do.  Today, I want to talk about the second.

Since I’m writing this post, you can probably infer I’ve had experience with damaged confidence.  I won’t pretend that it’s only happened once or that I’ve bounced back immediately, either.  Learning to view yourself in a positive way is difficult, because it’s so easy to focus on what you aren’t good at or need to improve on.  I believe that some personalities are more susceptible to lower self esteem: perfectionism, shyness, sensitivity, and social uncomfortableness are characteristics that I’d peg–mainly because I had them just like my friends who felt like me.

Give them some tools for self-improvement and a couple confidence boosting moments, and you’re on your way to watching their opinion of themselves flourish before you.

People can glue seemingly shattered fragments of their self worth back together.  But it takes time to fit those pieces back together, and a little more to let the glue dry.  I don’t like the phrase, “picking up the pieces.”  You can pick up a mess in an instant; to make order of the chaos is completely different, and it takes time.

I’m going to share some advice on how to build self esteem.  While this isn’t all you can do to rebuild your confidence, it’s a great start.

1. Do something nice for someone: When you help someone accomplish something, you feel useful.  People value what you offer them, and it proves to yourself how much you contribute to making peoples’ lives better.

2. Ask a friend for a pep talk:  Your friends want you to feel good and succeed.  There’s nothing wrong with asking them to give you a couple words of encouragement when you’re going through a rough time.  Friends are there to support you, so they’d probably be happy to tell you how amazing they think you are!

3. Work to understand your emotions:  This has been really helpful for me over the years.  Trying to gain an understanding of what emotion you feel and why you feel it is a good way to better understand yourself.  Your emotions are a key part in how you see the world, and understanding those can help you figure out who you are and how your mind works.

4. Compliment yourself:  There’s nothing wrong with looking at yourself in the mirror and saying you look fantastic.  Or looking at your last A-grade paper and commending your intelligence.  Or looking at your significant other and recognizing that your flexibility and understanding is helping to make the relationship work.  This goes along with becoming your own best friend–learning how to see the good qualities about yourself is the base of self worth.  And by creating this solid base of self-love and appreciation, you’re building a mountain of confidence.

5. Take good care of yourself:  When you’re eating foods that nourish your brain, stretching your muscles on a walk, practicing good grooming and hygiene, and taking a mental break when you need to, you’re benefitting your health and body.  These habits are what’re strengthening and refueling you to take on new challenges.  Physical and mental health are synchronized, so moving one forward can often affect the other.

6. Get more sleep:  There’s no question that you feel lousy when you don’t get enough sleep.  Your brain feels cloudy and you can’t think like you normally do.  It’s like being in a state of disorientation until you get to go back to sleep.  How are you supposed to build yourself up if you aren’t feeling well?  Hormonally, your cortisol levels are totally out of whack, which can make you end up feeling nervous and uneasy.  Not the best environment for enlightenment.

7.  Stop talking to people who make you feel bad: We’ve talked before about spotting and handling toxic friendships, so this may seem repetitive.  However, I can’t tell you enough how important it is to surround yourself with really good people who care about and support you.  They’re the ones you’re going to go to when you’re feeling down, and they’re the ones you’ll go to when you need advice.  You need reliable people and ones who want what’s best for you.  After all, people often slowly become more like the people they hang out with.

8.  Forgive your failures, but don’t forget them: Originally, this point was labeled “forget your failures.”  However, after thinking, that’s always the most constructive way to move forward.  We’ve talked about failure a lot on this blog, and I think it provides good lessons–mental nourishment for your future self, even.  I don’t think you should discount your wealth of experiences, no matter how badly you failed.  Each has taught you something about life or how to think, and each should be rewarded with remembrance.  This isn’t to say you have to think about them every day or torture yourself over what you did wrong.  Life would be a lot easier if we could live it backwards–then we’d never make mistakes.  But give yourself a break; you did the best you could, and now you know what you can do better.  Forgetting the experience altogether eliminates that crucial, second part.



Should you take an internship near or far from home?

Interning over the summer is my favorite part of college.  It gives you more time to dedicate to making money, networking, boosting your resume, and making a name for yourself in your field of interest.  Interning is also generally short-term employment which leads to it being relatively low commitment–not in a sense that you don’t have to show up for work, but more that it’s not a big deal if you don’t love what you’re doing, because you’re only working there for three months over the summer.

There are a variety of aspects to consider when analyzing an internship offer, and one of the most obvious is where you’ll be working.  Some students prefer to intern near home, and others specifically apply to openings somewhere far away.  There are benefits and drawbacks to each, and I want to inform you guys thinking about interning next summer and beyond about which situation is best for you!

For reference, I lived at home during my first summer of college to take classes and run The Candid Closet.  My second summer, I did a research internship at Texas A&M in College Station, TX.  This summer, I took another research internship at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA.  Each has been different (especially working pretty far to very far away), and I’ve gotten a general idea about what both situations entail as well as information from friends who’ve interned before.

The Benefits of Interning Near Home

Unless your parents are charging you rent, chances are you’re pocketing much of the money you make from working without worrying about rent, meal, or laundry expenses.  Also, this situation simplifies transportation to/from work.  At least this summer, it’d be a huge hassle to have driven my car to Seattle all the way from Pennsylvania, but if I lived near my parents, I could use my car or ask them to drive me on their way to work.

When you’re living at home, is you’ll probably have childhood friends and family who are also home for the summer that you can reconnect with.  Home is familiar–you don’t have to worry about adapting to somewhere new, so it can ease the process of adjusting to your new job.

The Drawbacks of Interning Near Home

Living at home might not be the most adventurous and exciting way to spend your summer.  Also, you may feel like you just got an independence downgrade from when you were on your own in college.  Depending on family dynamics, you may keep a schedule you wouldn’t normally make for yourself or be exposed to unnecessary family drama.  It may be difficult to readjust to answering to someone other than yourself, like you likely do in college.  Ultimately, I think it’s a practicability for independence tradeoff.

The Benefits of Interning Far From Home

Exploring somewhere new is exciting, and it’s one of the main reasons I haven’t applied to internships near my hometown.  When you’re on your own, you’re learning how to take care of yourself in a way you wouldn’t think of at home.  It helps you to grow and develop self reliance and resourcefulness.

In my case, Interning far from home let me visit new places I wouldn’t otherwise think to see (and get paid for it).  I’ve made friends from all over the country and networked in person with spectacular people I would’ve otherwise only known online.  My weekends gave me the chance to explore this new area and take on that part-time tourist role (which is a lot of fun).

The Drawbacks of Interning Far From Home

Things can definitely get more complicated and expensive than being at home.  Exploring somewhere new can cost money, and even if your program is paying for your travel and apartment, you often still have to cover your own meals and transportation around town.

If there’s an emergency, being far from home means you’re likely dealing with the situation yourself–something you might not feel ready for.  There’s also that initial, uneasy feeling you get when you’re somewhere totally new–in my hometown, I knew which sides of town were safe and which to avoid.  When you go somewhere you know little about, you might unknowingly put yourself in danger just by walking down a particular street, simply because you don’t know better.  Danger can take many faces, and it might be one you hadn’t recognized until you’re in trouble.

In my experience, interning far from home was an excitement for convenience tradeoff.

Ultimately, though, wherever you take an internship, it’s going to be a great experience for you.  Where you’re working during the summer is a temporary thing, and if you go somewhere and decide you hate it, you’re not required to go back! 🙂



How to win college scholarships

Everyone says it: a college degree is the new high school diploma.  While it’s totally possible to make a good life for yourself without one, today, you need a 4 year degree for a variety of entry level jobs, and more and more of them are requiring higher than a bachelor’s.  We can talk forever about why college really makes you successful, but ultimately, it’s generally agreed upon that it’s becoming more necessary for the next generations of workers.

But, it seems that that isn’t necessarily the issue: convincing someone that they need a college degree for today’s job market.  To me, this seems like a bigger issue: convincing someone to spend, no matter how valuable the future job prospects are, $150,000+ on, really, a slab of decorated parchment.  It’s a large financial commitment alone, and often, there’s a large opportunity cost that goes along with it.  It isn’t usually feasible to work a full-time job while in school, so you’re giving up the money you could’ve already been making to spend more time in a library and gnaw off pencils when it comes to exam season.

Enter financial aid.  Financial aid is money that is given to you that you can spend on college expenses.  Usually, they take the form of scholarships, grants, and loans, and the first 2 don’t need to be paid back (think of it like gift money).  Grants are great, but usually they’re distributed on a need basis; so, even if you’re in need of money for college, if it doesn’t look like it on the tax returns, then you probably won’t get much if you get anything.  But really, in my opinion, scholarships are the form of gift money you have more control over; you can apply to as many with as much effort as you want (even though some are income-based).  I can make a whole post on financial aid, but today, I’m going to offer some tips and lessons I’ve learned from applying for scholarships.  I’m not an expert, nor have I paid for all of my college with scholarships, but I’ve spent some long nights writing application essays, so I want to share what I do know and how you can maximize your chances of winning them.

1. Don’t discard sub-$1000 awards:  Here’s a fact: .3% of all students will receive full rides to college.  Forget your “all or nothing” mentality for a quick second.  Let’s be totally transparent–the chances of you scoring one single scholarship to pay for all of your schooling is out of the ordinary.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, because I know plenty of people who’ve gotten full rides to study, but I don’t think it’s the wisest approach to only apply to the awards that promise your entire education’s worth.  From what I’ve seen, the competition for these programs is also really high–when you think about it, it’s a great idea in theory: just get one big sponsor to fund the entire thing, and you’ll never have to fill out another application.  But, the thing is that other people are thinking like you: many of them also want full scholarships with as little work as possible.  I know some people who don’t believe that <$1000 scholarship applications are worth their time, because you’re spending a decent amount of time filling out an application for less money.  But, when the competition for the $500 scholarship is less than the more popular, generous scholarships, the chances of you winning money are statistically higher.

2. Every season is scholarship-applying season:  There’s no one deadline for every scholarship available to college students.  Some have definitive deadlines and others have rolling, “while money lasts” deadlines.  SWE scholarships, for example, have all their website scholarship deadlines ending on one day via one application.  You’ll still find scholarships to apply for in August, just like you will in March.  Also, applications are just limited to second-to-last quarter high school seniors; undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can apply to scholarships, too.  Scholarships are for everyone! 🙂

3. Profit from what’s different about you:  What makes you unique is very important.  This allows you to find your niche scholarships to apply for–like we said before, those are the ones that have less competition, which means that they’ll be easier to win.  For example, let’s compare two extremes I found online: the $1000 College JumpStart Scholarship vs. the GRCP Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids Minority Scholarship.  The first is open to anyone in high school through college, meaning you’ll have a wider range of competition; the second has requirements so specific (a certain race, major, county resident, socioeconomic status, and GPA) that only a couple people will probably meet them.  In order to win scholarships, you want to reduce you competition as much as possible, which means that you’ll want to go for more specific requirements with the ones you’re applying for.  However, make sure you meet the qualifications before you apply–if not, you risk wasting your time if your application gets thrown away, all because you didn’t follow the directions (those being: if a match, apply, if not, don’t).

4. Remember the locals: Usually, local community organizations. such as the Rotary Club, love to give out scholarships to students in their areas.  Again, by reducing the size of the area eligible students, you’re reducing your competition again.  National scholarships are great, but you’re competing against more students, and your odds can get significantly rougher.

5. Don’t just look in one place:  Having a go-to website like is a great start finding scholarships, but I don’t recommend you only look in one place.  Your university might post college-specific scholarships that a general college search engine doesn’t catch.  Having a few good, general websites to comb through, in addition to one or two niche scholarship websites.  This’ll give you an even larger list of all the scholarships available!

6. Don’t count yourself out until you get a rejection email: For whatever reason, it’s common for scholarship applicants to assume they’re not going to win the awards they apply for.  Until you get a letter from the committee that firmly states “sorry, you didn’t get this award,” don’t assume that you didn’t get the award.  It’s easy to create this perfect candidate in your head as your competition: one with a better GPA, better letters of rec, and more leadership roles.  However, that perfect candidate may not even be applying to this award; to someone else, you are the perfect candidate they made up in their head.  You don’t know who you’re competing against for most awards, but that doesn’t mean that they’re automatically more qualified than you.

7. Email and ask for clarification:  Leave no question unanswered.  If you can’t find out how long the essay should be, ask.  If you aren’t sure whether your major is eligible, ask.  By speaking up, you’re not only making sure everything in your application is right, but you’re also making yourself be heard and showing that you care about the criteria.  Sometimes, this doesn’t make a difference, but sometimes, one of the judges could be the one checking and replying to your emails.



6 rules that’ll help you tackle any overwhelming project

What do applying to grad school, renovating your basement, and training for a marathon all have in common?

You end up using more expletives than The Wolf of Wall Street if you don’t attack them all the right way.

Overwhelming tasks breed procrastination.  That feeling of “oh my lanta, I can’t handle that right now… I’ll just wait until tomorrow.” Until tomorrow becomes next Tuesday and next Tuesday becomes next October and before you know it it’s been a decade and you still haven’t planted that fig-and-other-small-fruits garden.

I like overwhelming projects; once you have a method of dealing with them, it becomes a game of how quickly you can implement the rules to conquer the task.  Kind of like fast chess, but the pawns are replaced by college days clutter or intimidating, summertime power bills.  Here are the rules I use to ensure project checkmate:

1. Be flexible with what “success” is: Pretend you’re applying to law school, and you have your eye on Yale Law.  If you define your range of success so narrowly that there’s only a small chance you won’t feel like a failure in the end, like defining success as only an acceptance to Yale’s Law Class of 2020, you need to adjust how you see success.  Of course, success is subjective—I might see something as a success that you don’t, or the reverse.  That being said, when you define just one outcome as a success, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  You could see that offer from Berkeley as just a consolation prize, meanwhile either school sets you up for a career brighter than a neon store light.

2. Give it double time:  I heard this from a student in the grade above me back in high school.  Have a plan about how long something’s going to take, like for example, an essay, double the time, and then assume that’s how long it’ll take to write it.  Sometimes, we’re overly optimistic; that means we don’t always take into account the setbacks and slow downs that keep us at our target time.  When you’re completing a task, expect to run into every one of those little obstacles: your pencil broke, you can’t find the charger to your dead computer, your motherboard caught fire, etc.  This also allows you to relax by taking some of the time pressure off, which, in itself, might help you finish the job more quickly.  Think about Murphy’s Law, people: if something can go wrong, it will.

3. Use a bell curve work method:  In school, I learned about bell curves only in the context of a teacher’s grading scale (aka “you’ll probably get a C in this class”).  But really, bell curves are much more helpful than just for telling you you’re average in a class, and one of the ways I use them is to describe working patterns.

The horizontal axis represents time, and the vertical axis represents task difficulty.  At first, I always start with a simple task to warm up to working.  Once I’ve completed a few easy tasks, my confidence in my productivity and work output is boosted, and I’m ready to take on more difficult tasks.  Once I’ve finished all of those, I try to give myself something as mindless and effortless as possible to complete—which acts as a cool down.  Most of the sports I’ve played also use this model, because all it’s really saying is that you start low, build up to a peak (whatever that represents in context), and gradually fall back down to where you started.

4. Make that to-do list:  In my experience, it isn’t the best option to try and remember every detail in your head.  You aren’t a robot, so you’ll probably forget things now and then.  When you write what you need to accomplish down, you’re taking the pressure off your memory and putting it onto a page.  Writing a list can also help you to organize the necessary, smaller tasks in your mind, and it allows you to visualize the project more clearly.  When you’re thinking more deeply about the project, too, you could also think of more

5. Delegate the work to the experts:  It’s okay if you’re not a superstar at everything.  Say you’re renovating a house, and need the exterior painted.  If you’re not skilled at painting, there’s a chance you’ll mess it up with a subsequent chance that you’ll need to hire someone to fix what you did in the beginning.  This costs you time and money you could’ve saved if you’d just delegated out the work at the start.  Knowing what you’re skilled at is just as important as knowing what you’re not.

6. Use the finger food method:  Cupcakes, chips and salsa, or those little meat skewers; people enjoy finger foods, and I think it’s partly because they’re in such small portions. For example, in comparison to the whole sheet cake, cupcakes are easy to manage and can fit more easily into a diet.  Stick with me, I know it sounds like I’m drifting.  Now, let’s pretend the total amount of time you have per day is like your daily calorie budget.  You can’t eat a whole sheet cake on this diet, but a cupcake or two would fit nicely into the allowance.  This is the same as budgeting time: smaller time commitments are easier to manage than larger, overwhelming ones.  Cutting the sheet cake (that is your time) into little pieces makes you feel less overwhelmed and intimidated by the task, and you can then conquer each of them individually.



How to spot and handle a toxic friendship

The people you’re surrounded with directly impact you.  They’re people who you’ll look to for support when you’re having trouble.  Sure, friends bicker and sometimes you hit low points, but you care about how each other feels, and you want to work to resolve it, even if you need a second or two to cool off.

A good friendship is one where you feel you can be completely yourself.  A not-so-good one is where you’re constantly being judged by them, you can’t be yourself, or you just don’t feel good about yourself when you’re around them.  Relationships like these aren’t in your best interest, and I want to show you how to spot a toxic friendship.

This isn’t to say that the person you have a toxic relationship with is always a bad person.  Differences in maturity, sensitivity, and insecurity can temporarily mold someone into a poisonous version of themselves, and sometimes, you’re just not the best person to be around them during that time.  That isn’t to say that the friendship has to be dead forever; maybe your personalities will mix better in a year or two, or maybe you blended best in the past.  But, either way, knowing how to recognize a relationship that isn’t good for you is important—in a way, letting a toxic relationship control how you feel controls a part of you.  And, to be clear, I’m not talking about physical abuse in this post.  So, here we go, let’s talk about how to spot a toxic friendship:

1.  You’re drained or angry when you’re done hanging out with them:  If you have a healthy friendship with someone, after your average get-together, you should feel energized, at peace, or happy that you got to see them.  If you often come back feeling emotionally exhausted or happy to have left, chances are, there’s something wrong.  You have friends for a reason, and one of those reasons is to have someone you can genuinely connect with and enjoy their company.  If you feel like you need to take up kickboxing when you’re done, that could be a problem.  If you have a countdown on your phone until you have to leave, that’s not enjoyment.  Personally, I use countdowns for chores, not things I enjoy—I don’t want to be there any longer than I have to.

2. S/he’s the focus:  Fun conversation goes back and forth.  You ask about him/her, s/he asks about you, and both people feel like they can talk and be heard.  One-sided conversation is where one person is constantly talking or the focus of every conversation and the other isn’t talking or being engaged.  A friendship works two ways: there should be a balance in focus, listening, and contribution from each side.  It’s exhausting to just listen to someone talk about themselves, or constantly turn a conversation about neither of you towards themselves (or worse, a conversation about your problems into one about their problems).  Put bluntly, a relationship where it’s all about one person is meant for a therapist, not a friend.  When someone turns it around to end up talking about themselves, it feels like s/he isn’t there to listen to you.  Instead, you’re there to listen to him/her.  Remember when I said that friendship is about support?  Yeah… this isn’t that.

3.  S/he tries to control you or monopolize your time:  Now, you have to take this advice with realism.  It isn’t right of a friend to expect you to drop something that’s really important to you just because s/he has a problem.  It’s indirectly saying that what you’re doing isn’t as important as what s/he needs, it conveys disrespect, and this is totally different from an actual emergency or serious situation.  This also goes with you wanting to spend time with other people: you are your own person who can spend your time as you want.  Having someone babysit your time or feel you need their permission to do something isn’t okay.  You’re just as much of a person as s/he is, and you can make your own decisions, period.

4.  All s/he does is point out your flaws:  We already know what’s wrong with us… we don’t need someone to keep telling us over and over.  It’s destructive for our self-esteem, and it doesn’t get us towards that place of self-betterment.  Telling us our flaws and helping us better ourselves are one thing; telling us our flaws just to keep it in our heads is different.  A great friend does the first; a toxic friend does the second.  Intention really matters here, and it shows through actions.

5.  S/he enjoys saying bad things about you when you’re not around: There is a difference between venting out of confusion and concern and trying to figure something out and gossiping out of spite.  You need someone who isn’t going to tear you down whenever your name comes up in conversation.

I think you have the idea—chances are, a toxic friend prioritizes their interests much more than that balance we talked about earlier.  S/he might not hesitate to tear you down, or s/he might try to control you.  So, now let’s talk about what you can do, and it’s actually very simple: mend or end.

First, start out by talking to your friend about what bothers you.  Be honest and genuine, and don’t attack them.  Instead, seek to understand and fix the problem.  You became friends for a reason, and you probably have a history with them.  Remind them that you care about him/her and your friendship, and that’s why you’re being open about what bothers you.  You want to fix it instead of watching it worsen.

Having said this, you’re important.  If the friendship is something you don’t believe can be fixed, the friend wouldn’t be a good influence even if it were fixed, or the friendship is too much, then you can begin distancing yourself from the person and gravitate towards good friends.  If you don’t have good friends, then you begin to search for them: through work, in clubs, at your church, or anywhere you think you’ll find people who want to support you and who you want to support.



What’s conflict and how do you deal with it?

It isn’t a question that conflict is unavoidable.  Plans don’t go as scheduled, personalities clash, everyone’s tired… whatever it is, there’s a disagreement, and you need to know how to soothe the tension to get everyone back on track.

Conflict is a clash or a disagreement that inhibits progress.  It can stem from an infinite amount of sources, and, bottom line, it keeps things from getting done.  It’s also expensive; whether money-wise or relationship-wise, it’s unnecessarily costing you.

The most important thing to know is that you have the power to diffuse conflict.  Now, you may not be able to turn everyone’s feelings into those of Christmas Day—but sometimes, the only thing that’ll mend bad feelings is the clock.  There’s the potential for disagreement in almost everything you partake in: at the DMV, on a project, or on the internet.  Knowing how to pacify an argument is an infinitely useful skill and vital for fortifying good leadership skills.  I’m not an expert at solving conflict situations, but I have experience with a bunch that I feel I’ve learned a lot from.  Here’re the top tips I’ve learned for diffusing disagreements:

1.  Empathy is key, so try to understand: It’s easy to think in terms of right and wrong in a world of black and white.  So, cue empathy: your best friend when dealing with a dispute.  When you work to understand what and why the other person is thinking differently, you’re exercising the precursor to compromise.  As long as both of you continue to think that the other is wrong, you’ll never get anywhere.  This isn’t the time to be stubborn; it’s the time to be open-minded and caring about what the other person thinks.

2.  Communicate respectfully: Saying what you feel is important, because leaving things unsaid can either lead to an unhelpful compromise, or it can just lead to you feeling unheard.  And both are avoidable if you just say what you mean.  If you’re not talking about what’s bothering you specifically, that person will never know and won’t be able to help you solve the problem.  Bottom line, “Say” by John Mayer has the message you’re after.  On a separate but related topic, make your respect towards who you’re talking to evident.  I’m not saying you have to curtsy when you see them, but keep this in mind: you both win by talking it out, but as soon as you call the other person names, you’ve lost.  If you want the conversation towards a place of betterment, keep in mind that people don’t respond well to being talked to like they’re nothing.  The objective of compromise isn’t to make the other person realize that they’re wrong or right, but it’s instead to come to an agreement that satisfies both of you.

3.  Don’t be afraid of confrontation: Confrontation often gets this reputation that you have to bring swords to this battle of who’s typing the report or whose house you’re staying at for the holidays (or whatever the source of conflict is).  Confrontation doesn’t have to be scary; it can lead to positive, constructive outcomes if executed a certain way.  I won’t pretend I don’t understand how confronting someone can be intimidating and uncomfortable; sometimes, it feels like you’re calling someone out, or you’re afraid of how the person will react to what you’re saying.  Granted, in my experience, it’s been that how someone reacts to being confronted is more in your delivery than what you’re saying.  Being calm and respectful in your approach is the easiest way to drive anger out of their response.

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to Hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” ~Winston Churchill

4.  Figure out what the exact issue is:  Simply put, you’re going to put at least one conversation into talking about the issue you’re disagreeing about.  If you’re not actually talking about the problem, or you’re pretending that it’s something else that’s bothering you, your progress is significantly diminished.  This goes back to advice #2: if you want to solve the issue, talk about that issue.

5.  Listen and pay attention:  Value what the other person is telling you; if they’re genuinely explaining what bothers them, then it probably means they want to fix the problem, too.  When you listen, you learn.  When you talk, you inform.  In solving conflict, there’s a nice balance between listening and talking that’ll give you your best outcome.  Listening  and observing closely to a person can also give you clues to what they’re thinking, even if they won’t tell you—their pitch, body language, and mannerisms can give you a much better look into how they feel, because those unconscious gestures give more insight than conscious word choice can.



The importance of being your own best friend

There are even professions dedicated specifically to helping us form better relationships with ourselves.  But still, sometimes more often than we want, we feel like we aren’t enough.  Like we aren’t significant.  Like we’re failing.

It’s taken me a while to become someone I like.  Some of my teen years were tougher than anything, and I didn’t think I was worth much at all.  But now, things are different—and I think that has something to do with the relationship I’ve built with myself.  Learning how to love yourself—it’s not something you learn in school, but it’s so important for your happiness and success.  It’s as if we’re expected to come to that realization by ourselves and automatically know all the steps to take.  But it’s about forming your identity, and it’s more than just figuring out your favorite music or clothing brand like you usually do at school age.

I think becoming your own best friend has to do with understanding your own emotions and what you want.  Forming a good relationship with yourself is about knowing what you want out of life, what you stand for, and who you want to be to people.  Forming a good relationship with yourself is about being able to spot when a relationship with someone else is hurting you and being able to walk away from it.  It’s all that self-realization stuff: those existential questions people are afraid to ask and even more are afraid to answer.

If no one else has told you yet, you’re doing a great job.  You’re not failing—you’re doing your best, and you’re trying to figure things out with what you know.  But, let me tell you, if you haven’t tried it yet, becoming your own best friend can lead to that positive tape playing eternally in your head.

Here’s why your relationship with yourself is so important: bottom line, you’re with yourself until your death.  Relationships may leave, memories may fade, but you’re always going to be with yourself through whatever you do.  Sometimes, you’ll feel on top to the universe and you won’t need a pep talk.  Other times, you’ll be in a valley, and you’ll need some support.  What you need is a cheerleader to get you through what you’re doing in every stage of life.  You need to be your own support system and talk to yourself in a way that’ll help you feel better and motivate you to continue.

And, unlike other aspects of life, this isn’t necessarily a characteristic that grows with age.  I’ve met people my age who love themselves and adults three times my age who don’t.  Becoming your own best friend requires persistence, but anyone, no matter the stage of life, can learn to be a self-cheerleader.

So, onto the DIY part.  How can we make you your own best friend, so nothing can hold you back?  Here’re a few tricks I’ve used:

  1. Don’t regret things you did or didn’t do: A really wise friend told me this after I’d been angry at myself for not saying something when I knew I should’ve.  She told me that, when you’re in that moment, you’re doing the best you know how to.  It’s easy to go back and figure you should’ve acted differently, or things would’ve turned out better for you if you’d just done that other thing instead.  But thinking like that isn’t doing you any favors.  Looking back and regretting how you acted is silly, because it isn’t constructive towards who you are now.  For things you regret doing or not doing, remind yourself that you were doing all you could in that moment—you didn’t fail yourself.
  2. Talk to yourself the way you would someone you love:  If someone you care about had hardship, you wouldn’t beat them down with all of the mistakes they made to get them there.  You’d tell them how strong and smart and amazing they are, and how they’re going to make it through this.  That you’ll be with them if they need anything.  That they’re so special, and you want to see them happy.  Do.The.Same.For.Yourself.  You need that too.  Be understanding of yourself when you’re in a struggle, and be cognizant that not everything’s in your control—sometimes, even if you acted differently, you’d still be in the situation you’re in.  You deserve some of kindness you give everyone else.
  3. Recognize a toxic friendship:  As much as we deny it, we become who we associate with.  If you’re surrounding yourself with someone who makes you feel like you’re nothing, soon, you’ll start to feel like you’re nothing.  And it isn’t something wrong with you—it’s something wrong with them.  Surround yourself with people who’re excited and inspired to see you accomplish things.  Surround yourself with people who recognize how special you are and who make you feel good about yourself.  Their voices are the ones you want in your head.
  4. Create a personal mantra:  When things get difficult and you don’t know what to say, it helps to have something prepared.  Having a word or phrase that makes you feel safe or strong can help take lost/confused/scared-you out of the bad situation and put in the version of yourself who knows they’ll get themselves out of it.  Forget if it sounds cheesy; if it’s helping you, it’s helping you.



4 types of naps and when to take each

I count myself lucky, because I think in my past 3 years of engineering school, I only remember 3 or 4 times where I stayed up all night doing schoolwork.  I’ve known people who’ve stayed up all night 30+ in a semester, and I’ve known some who always go to bed at 10PM every night with a clear, no-homework-left conscience.  I’m sympathetic to the first and envious of the second.

College, and particularly finals week, is perhaps one of the most sleep deprived episodes of someone’s twenties (except maybe when you get a job with unreasonable deadlines, have a baby, or watch The Conjuring too many times).  At the risk of sounding like my dad, though, sleep is probably the most important component of your finals week prepping.  When you sleep, you’re forming long-term memories from your short term.   You’re rejuvenating your brain so you can tackle problems and learn more quickly.  By letting your body rest, you’re letting yourself prepare properly for the next day.

But, sometimes we can’t get 8 hours a night.  Sometimes we can’t even get 5.  I totally get it.

And that’s where napping comes in.

I saw this cool infographic about the different kinds of naps and found it insightful. Here are the 4 types of naps that’ll benefit you during finals season:

  1. 10-20 minutes: it’s often dubbed the “power nap.”  According to researchers, it can help with energy and alertness, because you’re in a lighter sleep, which is easier to wake up from (you start feeling groggy once you wake up during deep sleep).
  2. 30 minutes:  this is when you start falling into a little deeper of a sleep.  Apparently, along with the benefits of a 20 minute nap, 30 minutes can help to clear your mind.
  3. 60 minutes: now we’re hitting REM sleep.  This is the rejuvenating part of sleep, and it’s the part you need to feel well-rested in the longterm.  For example, have you ever known someone who suffers from sleep apnea who complains of tiredness?  When you’re waking up in the middle of the night constantly due to snoring, you’re not letting your body go head-first into the REM sleep it needs.  A 60 minute nap does everything that a 30 minute nap does, but scientists believe it also increases our creativity.
  4. 90 minutes:  this is apparently the “perfect nap,” because it goes through one complete sleep cycle.  Depending on how much you sleep every night, your body goes through about 4-6 complete cycles every night.  Even though it’s just one cycle, it’s giving you the maximum brain benefit of all the naps, because it’s not waking you up before you’re body’s ready.

So, bottom line, if you want the most out of your nap, try and carve out an hour and a half from your study time.  But, if the length of a Youtube video is all you can spare, you’re still going to benefit from it! 🙂

Happy studying,


Why we need to ditch IQ testing

People put so much weight on IQs.  I think the IQ is probably one of the only numbers where it’s split between those who waive their number around like it’s a grand prize and others who don’t really care about it.

Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m this bitter soul who didn’t score what I wanted to on the test, so now I’m out to defame it altogether.  I’ve never taken an IQ test; sure, I took elementary school standardized tests and the SATs, but never anything that told me my intelligence in a three digit number.  (Granted, I’ll admit, I’ve also taken some of those knock off IQ tests; the ones that ask you things like, based on a president’s approval rating, what are the chances of him being elected for a third term, or whether brown sugar is considered a dry or wet ingredient when you’re baking a pie (the really important stuff).  But once they started asking for your email, I backed out—so, I guess that doesn’t count.)  However, I have done some research on IQ testing, including the methods, history, and reasoning of it, so I’ve gained a bit of an understanding on how and why it is what it is.

I remember in high school, the IQ score you got in middle school decided whether you got into certain classes and field trips. There’s also the Mensa program, an international high IQ society.  I think these programs are great, because they bring some of the world’s most intelligent people together, a lot of the times for the greater purpose of benefitting humanity.  I’ve talked about it here before, but bringing intelligent people together who come from different backgrounds, I believe, fosters the greatest potential for change.

IQ tests are good because they’re a quick way to test—and by quick, I mean it takes half an hour.  It also makes it easy to set cut offs; instead of doing holistic measurements that give a bunch of intelligence levels and other data, this gives you one number for each person, and it makes it easier to categorize.

But, here’s my problem with IQs, and thus, I suppose, a fundamental problem with defining intelligence for these programs: IQ tests, by nature, are flawed.  Just the idea of thinking that you can measure a person’s entire mental capacity based on a few questions about puzzles and spatial orientations is irrational.  How can a test determine an intelligence if it only takes 30 minutes to complete?  But, aside from this, I have a few particular issues with IQ testing.

There’s an art to taking a test.  I took a class for GRE prep, and our instructor basically said that the GRE doesn’t tell you how intelligent you are, but rather how well you can answer the questions.  What if you misinterpret the question, but you would’ve gotten it right if you didn’t?  What if you take a little longer to complete tests?  What if you have testing anxiety?

Those are all testing related issues, but let’s even go over some of the non-testing ones: what if your pet goldfish died before you took the test, and you can’t focus?  What if you fell down the stairs when you were walking to the room to take the test?  Your emotional state while you’re taking a test can affect how you do on it, too; the ability to concentrate is key.

Now, let’s talk about the actual test itself.  It’s split into four indexes that measure your total IQ: verbal comprehension (i.e. vocab and reading), working memory (i.e. arithmetic and sequencing), perceptual organization (i.e. picture completion and block design), and processing speed (i.e. patterns and sequences).  Ok, cool—sounds like we got our basic, standardized testing subjects down.

But, here’s the thing: there’re nine types of intelligence: spatial (i.e. seeing the world in 3D), naturalistic (i.e. nature and the environment), musical (i.e. pitch recognition), logical (i.e. the scientific method), existential (i.e. what is the meaning of life), interpersonal (i.e. reading people’s emotions), kinesthetic (i.e. hand-eye coordination), linguistic (i.e. your way with words), and intrapersonal (i.e. self awareness).

They don’t ask questions that would measure things like emotional maturity or interaction with others; this is a pencil and paper test, so it’s probably a good bet that it doesn’t measure any physical coordination skills either.  IQ tests don’t test for half the intelligences there are, so how is it supposed to give you and accurate estimation and account for what you excel in?  Not to mention, it doesn’t even test for creativity or work ethic, which are often regarded to as two of the most important factors in personal success.

Now, let’s cover this.  What if you didn’t try on the test, and you didn’t care about answering the questions wrong?  That doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent or incapable of answering the questions—you just don’t care.  The IQ test doesn’t take that into account (granted, that’s a difficult thing for any test to correct).  And, going solely off the number you get once or twice when you’re 12 may not apply when you’re 40.

So, how do you fix it?  How do you accurately measure someone’s intelligence?

One of the best ways I can see is to test each of the nine types of intelligences individually.  This would involve a variety of testing; i.e, you might want a discussion to test interpersonal or existential intelligences, get up and moving around for the kinesthetic intelligences.

So, even though the IQ test is an easy testing method, there are a bunch of areas where it can fail you in terms of accuracy.



How to find your career purpose

We’ve been told all this time to do what we love.  That it doesn’t matter if we can’t make any money with it.  That it doesn’t matter if society doesn’t get a real benefit from it.  That nothing matters but what you want to do.  And I both agree and disagree with that.

Should you hate what you do?  Absolutely not.  You probably won’t have as much motivation to make a stellar career out of something you despise.  I believe that you should have an interest in what you do.

However, in my opinion, careers are also meant to make money.  You have to be able to pay rent, and you have to be able to eat.  If your passion isn’t paying the bills, it might be more of a hobby.  I’ve observed that society works on a reward system: you give people a unique skill that benefits them, and they’ll give you money in return.  This is an important idea to keep in mind when we start talking about purpose.

So, what have we got so far?  Society needs solutions.  Sometimes, trying to make a living out of your truest passion isn’t realistic because society doesn’t feel it needs it to advance (I’m not saying society’s always right, because I have lots of short stories that I think contribute to the greater good, but stick with me).  We also work on a skill-for-money system.

Let’s cut to the real reason you’re here: how do I figure out my purpose?  What am I supposed to be doing?  I think there are two very important questions you need to answer: “what problem do you want to solve,” and “what are you really good at?”

When you start shifting the focus from what you like to do to what you want to improve, you also shift from an activity that’s just for you to an action that benefits the world.  For example, if you’re passionate about cooking, you might find interest in issues that surround food safety or hunger.  If you volunteer at homeless shelters, you could give poverty activism a go.  Converting what you love into a bigger, world issue is the first step to finding your purpose.  The beautiful part about this is that society needs these problems solved, so there’s a greater chance that you’ll be in a higher demand in your field.

The second is the fun one: finding out what your good at, and making that fit into the problem that you want to solve.  It’s like a puzzle, where you’re looking for a perfect fit for your unique skills.  Take me, for instance.  I like to write, and I want to help develop some of the most impactful pharmaceuticals of our generation.  Technical writing, or maybe patent law, seem like pretty good fits to me.

I’ve always heard from people that kids need to do what they’re passionate about, and the money doesn’t matter.  But, I don’t like that advice, because if that passion doesn’t make you money, you can’t feed your family.  Ultimately, discovering what problems you want to help solve and your strengths that you can use to solve those problems can aid in finding your purpose.