Happy One-Year Graduation Anniversary!

It has been 1 year, 6 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes and an assorted number of seconds since I walked across a maroon and gold decorated stage, shook hands with the president of my university, and handed an empty portfolio emblazoned with the Loyola Chicago crest. (Degrees are delivered by the U.S. Postal service, of course). Since that day I have attempted to “live an extraordinary life” and “set the world on fire” as my peers and I were encouraged to do that day and throughout our tenure as Loyola students. I naively and eagerly assumed that one morning I would wake up and know exactly what my next step would be.  The reality of the past year looks rather different; it has been a 365-day  journey of peaks and valleys, joys and sorrows, frustration and elation.

I spent my summer working the same job I have had since I was a precocious 15-year-old, anxiously waiting for an email or phone call that would notify me of where I was going next, either New York or Washington, D.C. As the sun set each day, I dramatically exclaimed to my ever supporting parents that despite efforts in college, perhaps I had peaked.  They laughed and told me to be patient.  So I waited, and cried, and waited some more, all the while thinking that fate was playing tricks on me. Then it happened, I was standing in line to get cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair (I am a midwestern girl at heart) when I checked my email and found out that I would be moving to D.C. to work at the most perfect place on earth.

I suppose the impetus for this piece comes from the nostalgia that has set in after seeing the endless stream of photographs on social media of friends and acquaintances alike proudly wearing their gowns, grinning from ear to ear. I, too, was one of them. I was starry-eyed, ready for the future, and somehow had convinced myself that the uncertainty of my future was not even a bit unnerving. Now, as someone who has one year of “real-life” experience under my belt, I have lost the endearing naivety that all recent college grads have. I would not say I have grown cynical per se, I would say I am now pragmatically hopeful.

Despite all that has occurred and the current journey that I am on-the search for that first post-college job in my career field, the past year has been replete with stories and adventures. Because I adore lists so much, I am going to give the longwinded literary paragraphs a break and simply list some things of this past year.

Top 5 Highlights:

1.) I took an almost complete family (Missed you Reesa!) trip out west before I moved to D.C.  We spent two weeks running free, climbing rocks, making friends with bears and elk, living the hippie road-trip life, and  seeing some of the most beautiful places in America. Yellowstone, I’m looking at you. It was bliss.

2.)I moved to Washington, D.C. and  interned at the place of my dreams and experienced the most perfect 6 months of any political junkie’s wildest fantasies (hint: it is featured quite heavily in shows like Scandal and my ultimate favorite, The West Wing). It was the most inspirational time of my life in terms of how I want to spend my career and my experience there is the biggest push I have to stay in D.C. and find a job here.

3.) I took a survival part-time job that has since expanded to a nearly full time job allowing me time to figure things out career wise without living completely off my parents dime. It has also led me to find the most unconventional D.C. friend family imaginable.

4.) I experienced my first Christmas spent in warm weather with an incomplete family. I spent the holidays with my parents kissing dolphins, drinking margaritas in the Florida Keys, lounging in hammocks tied to palm trees, and reliving my inner Hermione Granger fantasies  at HP world (Don’t do it. I’m not Ginny no matter how many times you bring up the red hair similarity).  It was a good lesson that adulthood brings changes to sacred family traditions and gives you chances to experience and enjoy new ones with the ones you love.

5.) I am currently undergoing a whirl-wind job search full of interviews with people and organizations that I dared to dream. I am learning so much about what I want to do, what I’m looking for in a job, and even though the process is as times exasperating, I feel accomplished every time I leave another office building with more and more interview experience.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Canyonlands Nat'l Park, Utah

Canyonlands Nat’l Park, Utah

Snowfall at the White House

Snowfall at the White House

Showing my mom around my workplace in D.C.

Showing my mom around my workplace in D.C.

 

Christmas in the Florida Keys- Islamorada

Christmas in the Florida Keys- Islamorada

It was a wet one.

It was a wet one.

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World

IMG_1956

You bet I got some butterbeer

Cherry blossom season at the Tidal basin

Cherry blossom season at the Tidal basin

An inspiration for my career- FDR Memorial

An inspiration for my career- FDR Memorial

My current workplace- the John F. Kennedy Center

My current workplace- the John F. Kennedy Center

Top 5 Struggles:

1.) I miss my friends everyday. Like other young adventurers, I moved away from home after college. It was new and exciting and all that good stuff, but it also comes with the heartbreak of leaving people who have become a part of you over the years.With friends in California, Chicago, New York, Boston, and scattered in every nook and cranny in Europe and Asia, I am lucky that I have such exciting vacation spots already lined up. However, every once in awhile skyping and phones calls just doesn’t cut it and you simply want to show up at your friend’s house in the middle of night, crawl in their bed, and contemplate life while drinking wine and eating hummus. This of course is a natural course of life, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

2.) Balancing a budget on pennies with no free food or events on campus dictating your social life is quite the adjustment. Excuse me D.C., you  are asking what price for a tiny English basement apartment? Money woes are the burden of nearly everyone no matter where they are in life, and living post-college is no exception. It is not as if I am a stranger to budgeting, I worked three jobs in college to afford things, but after college I wanted to be able to take care of myself with absolutely no parental help and pay off more than the monthly payments of my loans. This is one place where I had to adjust my expectations.

3.) No matter how many interviews I go on, I still get nervous each and every time. When I say nervous, I mean heart racing, sweat inducing, stomach muscles playacting a roller coaster, nervous. Yet, the minute I shake hands with my interviewer I calm down and do my best. At least I can turn it on when it matters, but I could do without all the earlier theatrics. I’m working on it.

4.) I am a perfectionist and incredibly hard on myself.  These things while pushing me to excel in school are proving difficult to my current situation.  I like most humans feel deficient when I hear a no, or a maybe later. My mom and friends are the absolute best at maintaining that I do not get down when things don’t work out or reminding me to keep going, but I am not going to lie and say that is has been easy to keep going every day.

5.) This goes hand in hand with number 4, but the uncertainty of the future is an incredible struggle for me now. I dealt with it much better in school because I compartmentalized it and let it hide dormant between my hopes and plans for the future. Now, I face it everyday as I try to decide the next step; it is a continual struggle.

5 Things I Have Excelled at:

1.)  D.C. is a city of happy hours. I have found I possess a knack at finding really good cheap places to enjoy great food and drinks and thus, I organize a lot of social events around this. Who doesn’t love good company, tasty sustenance, and libations?

2.)  I have been told that I am Midwest friendly countless times since I moved to D.C., something which still seems so strange to me. I’m just me, talking to strangers and all. Apparently this is something that not all people do as they are very busy with their high powered jobs. Even still, I try to make the time to to pay attention to those around me. It has served me well as I meet new people everywhere and I appreciate each new story and new relationship. Hopefully as D.C. grows and changes, more of my fellow Midwesterners can rub off some of our friendliness on this high powered city.

3.)  Craigslist has been my D.C. sanctuary. I found my current job and housing on it. I used CL before, but not to the extent that I do now. If you need something, first check CL.

4.) I used to moan and complain at the thought of writing a cover letter. What do you mean I have to write a new one for each job?  Due to my job search, I was forced to learn how to write professional and engaging letters that balanced talking about your experience while at the same time proving just what an asset you would be to the organization. I have become fairly competent at doing so and have received comments from possible employers that they liked my cover letters. Point for Courtney: 1.

5.) I have lived in three apartments in my 7 months in D.C. While globetrotting taught me to be go with the flow, living here has taught me to be just as flexible in your own country as well. Things just happen sometimes, and if you spend all your time worrying about it, you get too caught up and feel miserable. Instead, I have grumbled about it a bit, then picked up and tried to remain positive.

5 Things I Can Improve:

1.) I need to learn to be patient with the speed of my life. I cannot control the timing of jobs, how how quickly people get back to you, or life in general.

2.) I need to stop stop judging my life against peers. I have spent way too much time looking at Facebook and see friends going to grad school, teaching English abroad, working in the Peace Corps (something I almost did), etc. I’m not envious of their success, I am honestly happy for them, but it makes me uncomfortable with my current state. I suppose I am envious of their seamless transition.  I want to do a great number of things in my life and I am incredibly motivated so I should stop focusing on what everyone else is doing and think about myself. Plus, if I think about it, I have done so much already and they may be Facebook stalking me just as much I am them. (Pitfalls of social media, huh?)

3.) Since this is my second post in two years, I have been neglectful to my special blog world. I am changing this, NOW.

4.) I have learned to say no in some situations, but I need to work on this. I am a people pleaser, so I want everyone around me happy first. I am going to try be pragmatic and say yes to the things that will help me down the road and learn to be a little bit selfish until I feel back on solid ground career wise.

5.) I attempt to do Skype dates and phone calls weekly, but often life gets in the way. I want to be more efficient at scheduling time to connect to my friends who are away.

This is a brief overview my first year post-grad. I will fill you all in later about my various tips to survive and travel tips since I have done a fair bit of traveling in between.

To all my first years in real life, I say this. Keep your beautiful and perplexed heads up. You may have found your way already, but if you haven’t enjoy the ride. Whichever our speed, we can take this one step at a time or barreling forward. We can create our stories. Let us be the authors and illustrators; this is our life after all.

Cheers!

Beauty in the Mundane

I apologize in advance. I do not have any beautiful photographs of escapades in the city or any batty anecdotes to tell you right now. I do have some amazing road trip and camping stories coming up shortly along. Rather, this long-winded post is more of my way to unwind and release some of the tension that I have built up over the last few weeks. The weekdays have not been the most invigorating to say the least. In fact, they were practically lifeless if we compare them to preceding weekends. Honestly, the days merged together as they were a mash of assignments, clashing personalities, presentations, frustration and a nuisance of a head cold.

I have experienced problems with housing and my landlord (s) that were hopefully settled today after a month of back and forth negotiations (*crosses fingers). I was kicked out of my house due to faulty building permits. It was only due to my friends that I had a place to live.  So in dear Melbourne, I have been homeless twice. Balancing my finances has also been particularly challenging this time around; Australia is very expensive in comparison to Central Europe. I have done side jobs in both places just for extra cash, which has supplemented me quite well. However, I will be going back to the States with practically nothing to my name and I am entering my final year of undergraduate studies, which means that I need to think about the future (a terrifying thought). Tell me why I cannot be a professional student, please?

Most of the time I can barely contain my joy for the opportunities I have been given and sought out for myself.  Of course, I am incredibly grateful and wouldn’t change a single thing but it’s not all fun and games that everyone seems to think. Life still goes on back home despite your distance and just because you are on a different continent, it does not mean that you are not affected by occurrences back home. Similarly, just because you live somewhere else does not mean that everyday problems won’t affect you. In, fact, sometimes the smaller things seem worse because you don’t have the comfort of the familiar and the support system that you have back home.  Nor do I have the means to fix things from afar.

Living in Australia has challenged me in different ways than Europe did, and I will be coming back with yet again a changed worldview (There’s no language barrier, but don’t let that fool you).  I feel stronger than ever and I feel confident imparting a little wisdom to other young, eager, and hopeful travelers.

You need to be resilient, robust, and a little bit more optimistic than most.  More importantly, you also need to stick up for yourself. Be a force of nature.  Demand the most out of your experiences.  Appreciate the people who you meet but don’t get bent out of shape if some bother you (its not a popularity contest). This is also applicable to long-term life lessons, but is particularly true when traveling. It is those who greet challenges head on, who move on when things don’t go the way they were planned, and who pick themselves up to greet each new day with abundant energy, spunkiness, and passion that truly know how to travel right.

If you focus on the little problems, they will eat away at you. Every time I swipe my credit card, I wince. I think about how much interest I will incur at the end of the month and how long it will take me to pay that off. However, when your eyes see the sunset over the ocean, or hike to the bottom of the waterfall, all is forgotten and you cannot help but be in awe of the earth’s beauty.

I am a born traveler. I am convinced that even if I did not start now, I would have found my calling later on. I love travel for many different reasons and clearly the endless possibility for adventure has stolen my heart. It is in the still moments, the mundane, the tram rides, the nighttime walks home, the laughs shared with my housemates, and even times when I am so frustrated that all I can do is turn on music and dance that I really appreciate travel and change.

I often underestimate that ability. There are in fact some people who do not exhilarated by getting on an airplane and being alone in a new place. I thrive in it, while others detest it. For others, there are limits as to what they will take. I have seen my housemates hit their breaking points and they are slowly making their way back.

One of my good friends withdrew from the university and left due to plethora of personal reasons.  I understand her reasons and she is much happier now that she is at home and I am glad that it all worked out for the best.  She hit her limit. I, on the other hand, continue to be tested and say keep them coming. It will take a lot more than being homeless twice, being broke, and being injured to dampen my wanderlust.

One more thing, I suppose I lied; I do have one photograph for you. It’s from my little porch during an exquisite sunset. Even the sky can brighten my spirits when I am down.

So cheers to the mundane. It makes us appreciate how special movement and travel truly is. I do not take anything for granted, even the low points because they make the rest just that much better.

Finding Myself Around the World

As much as this year is about traveling around the world and experiencing new cultures, I find my biggest journey lies much closer to home.

For all of my life I have been the person who knew what to do. I always had the answers; I always had the plans. I was constantly  motivated and I was perpetually moving forward.  It was not until recently that I realized that I had no idea what I was moving forward towards. When I confess to those close to me that I (like everyone else) am clueless as to what I want to do with my life, they look at me dumbfounded. I had successfully fooled them. I had everyone convinced that I would be the example of the successful planner. The one whose by-the-book life plans were working for once.

More importantly or perhaps tragically, I had fooled myself into believing this beautiful lie. I wanted to fit so desperately into the plans that I had set in motion. I was scared to admit my wrongdoing, but more so I was scared to continue down this contrived path any longer.

I believe that it took more courage for me to admit that I am unsure of my future and what I want than to blindly pursue some life that  is not mine.  I was terrified to admit that my plans may not be right for me.  I am anxious even now as I write this and announce officially that I am moving ahead blindly.

Here is what I do know. I am an independent, strong, smart, friendly  and capable young woman. No, I am not stroking my ego here. These are just facts. Facts that I know about myself and love.  Even though I do not know yet what my purpose is or any big picture ideas, I will be okay knowing these few things about myself. I have to allow myself to be content with the unsettling nature of life.

This is where travel has forever changed my life. Travel has allowed me to roll with the punches, to let things be unsettled, and to let the unknown not be so terrifying anymore. Travel has allowed me to feel, learn, experience, and to be without any plans at all.

So I choose to enjoy this journey despite its uncertainty. As enriching as my physical journey is, it is the inner journey that will forever change the course of my life because it is this location which never falters. The place that I long to find is deep down inside myself.  I surely am enjoying the journey thus far and I have to say my passport is too.

Happy reading! I do hope that someday you all will find yourselves that way I am doing so around the world.