The Power of Always Being the Initiator

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to be a better friend. As someone who maintains a lot of long distance friendships, I’m keenly aware of the need to put time and effort into friendships. But after a conversation on the topic the other day, I realized that there was one thing that had helped me the most over my years of moving around, making new friends and keeping the old.

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts I’m calling Unsolicited Advice. Despite being far too young for wisdom, I feel compelled to share a few stories from my life that I think could help other people. This is because I need external validation that I am helpful, and you are a part of that. Thanks. But be warned, this is a long post, so if you don’t have the time or attention span, here’s the 30 second summary:

Spending my time and energy waiting for other people to read my mind and talk to me, invite me places, or generally pay attention to me made me miserable. If I wanted to make new friends or maintain long-distance friendships, I had to just decide to reach out first. All the time. It made me happier and improved my friendships. 🙂

 

Panicking about moving away to college is basically a right of passage for high school seniors. I was no different. Sure, I was excited to have my first taste of independence, but what if all of my friends met new people who were cooler than me and never spoke to me again? What if I was the only one who didn’t fit in when we all scattered to new states and tried to rebuild our social circles? What if they had only been my friend all of these years because it was convenient? These were just a few of the approximately one million world-ending anxieties that filled my brain as I approached graduation. And, as a perfectly rational being, I chose to deal with them by becoming hyper-aware of how everyone around me acting, searching for signs that my friends were getting ready to dump me.

No one likes feeling left out of things, but I almost plummeted into a state of lost puppy desperation for attention as I contemplated moving away. It wasn’t just feeling hurt if I found out that some friends had chosen to participate in an activity without inviting me. Suddenly, I was letting any empty space in my social calendar feel like a gaping hole of rejection. Impatiently I would wait for friends and acquaintances alike to hear my telepathic cries that I was lonely and wanted to hang out. If it did manage to occur to me that I had the power of technology and could use my words to invite them myself to participate in a variety of activities, I inevitably came up with an excuse as to why I could literally never do that. These excuses generally involved not knowing the person that well or being too awkward or not knowing what to say. Instead, it was much better to make myself miserable just waiting.

If I ever did reach out, my high school self had a very calculated plan for doing so. Despite my rather apparent neediness, I could never be the first to reach out to someone more than twice without looking unflatteringly desperate. It didn’t matter how busy I knew the other person to be, or how close we were, this was high school and appearances were everything. If I crawled out of my hole of social awkwardness for them too often without thorough reciprocation, I began to resent them for making me do all of the work in this friendship. Add anger to the list of negative emotions I was subjecting myself to.

Then, finally, I had a sudden realization. Other people were not the reason I was so upset. I was. I was the root of all of my problems here. When I was bored and alone on Friday night, there was nothing stopping me from making my own plans. Sure, I felt a little awkward and I was afraid of getting rejected, but that is normal. I make myself face that. I would learn over the years that everyone experiences those feelings differently, and some people have much more difficulty putting themselves out there. It’s not that they didn’t want to, they just had much bigger obstacles to overcome. Maybe it was time I started treating my friends like they were human, not alien telepaths.

It was then I resolved to become an initiator.

I wasn’t going to let the anxious lizard in my brain tell me that a few weeks or months had put an inseparable distance between my friends and I. If I needed forgiveness, I would simply ask for it. I would trust the people I loved, and say goodbye to manufactured misery and release myself of scores of guilt.

I wouldn’t let the pettiness of “but I reach out the last three times” keep me from seeing the people I wanted to spend time with. Right there, I released all of the pent up anger and resentment, all of the feelings of implied rejection, and secret fears that no one really liked hanging out with me. Not just from the past, but for every time in the future.

I wasn’t going to move to a new state afraid to ask the cool people I met if they wanted to hang out. If I wanted new friends, I needed to tell them that I wanted their friendship. Sure, I would feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

Now, I have failed to live up to this resolution time and time again. But even so, it has been immeasurably helpful for me as I have navigated college and beyond.

Making new friends has been one big test of my resolve to reach out.  I still struggle to meet people when I’m new in town, but once I’ve forced myself to go to an event, more often than not there are some cool people there. Cool people who I might want to see again. And people who are cool and at social gatherings will usually give me some way to contact them. Then comes the other hard part. I have made myself go into the unknown to socialize, and now I have go and put myself at the mercy of another’s whims once again and invite that person to hang out.

The upside of this strategy is that I get to take an active role in forming the friendship. I can chose who I want to devote my time to, rather than waiting for others to decide. Plus, I get hours of my life back not agonizing over every minute facial expression of the person who I am waiting to text me, trying to determine their innermost thoughts. I can simply ask. And while I do put myself at some risk of being rejected, there are not as many people who secretly hate me as I sometimes fret over there being. I’m not asking my new friends for their first born child. I just want to grab coffee or see if they want to go to an upcoming event. Viola! New friend.

But not all of my friendships were new. Even as the friends I had in high school and I dispersed across the country, and then around the world, I wanted to make sure we stayed in touch. Plus, it felt like every time I was settling in somewhere I was getting ready to leave. I needed a plan. My plan ended up being pretty simple. If I thought of someone, whether randomly or because I saw something that reminded me of them, I would do my best to stop for a moment and let them know. If one of us was busy, we didn’t have to have a huge conversation about it.  But this helped to shorten the breaks between when I had spoken with everyone last. It gave my friends an opening to say by the way, something big has happened in my life and I’ve been trying to find the right way to tell you. All I was doing was making sure to keep communication lines open, and the friendship themselves were what made the distance feel like nothing.

In the end, this system is simple. It isn’t easy or perfect, but it has made me significantly happier since I made it a part of my life. If you are reading this and relate to feeling rejected and upset when trying to start or stay in contact with people, I highly encourage you to run your own experiment. Live your life with the inviter setting on. Text first like no one is counting. And then let me know how it goes. Do you feel less stressed and better about your relationships? Are you happier? I know I am.

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Best Books of 2016

After a year full of reading and a total of 55 books finished, I am so excited to finally be able to talk about my favorite books of the year. To switch things up a bit, I made a video to properly talk about why I loved all of these books so much.

Books Mentioned:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Use These 3 Tips and Become a Library Power User

I absolutely adore libraries, and in the past few years I’ve been a member of four awesome libraries. But it wasn’t until recently that I started to realize all of the amazing services they offered. From digital tools like free streaming and music downloads to actual power tools and musical instruments, libraries around the country are getting creative with what they have available for patrons. Now that I have the 411 on all of this cool stuff, I’m using my library more than ever. Not every library will have the same services, but it is worth taking a look, you may be surprised. Here are my tips on how to get the most from your local library:

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  1. Holds, holds, holds. One of the keenest pleasures of going to the library for a book is browsing, unbothered through the stacks and stacks of books. But if you are anything like me, that takes time that you don’t always have. Rather than forgoing your trip, put your book on hold and it will be right at the front of the library when you need it, waiting just for you.

If your library has multiple branches, holds can also help you utilize more of the books they have available (as well as DVD’s and even CD’s in many places). If you search for a book in the library catalogue you can choose books from other branches and have them delivered to your library to pick up. How convenient is that?

Sometimes you hear about a popular title, and have to wait forever on a holds list to get your hands on it. But, if you know in advance that an author you love is coming out with a new book, or have heard buzz about a hot new release, you can usually put it on hold ahead of the release date in the catalogue and beat the rush. To the top of the list you go!

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  1. Check the website. This is the place where you can find what digital resources your library has to offer. Chances are, if you want to check out e-books, they will be available through services like Overdrive and 3M Cloud Library. In fact, 95% of American libraries now have e-books. Free services like Hoopla also allow you to stream movies, TV shows, and audiobooks. With the rise in popularity of audiobooks, more and more services are popping up to allow you to listen to books for free, wherever you like. Spending a few minutes browsing your library’s website will show you the many new ways you can experience you favorite stories.

Digital services don’t stop there though. Online magazine subscriptions, free, legal music downloads, and even Android apps are all possibilities. Right now I’m crushing on Freegal, a free music service from my library. It lets me download six songs a week, and has a great selection of new music and old favorites. For years my iPod has been filled with music that wasn’t always above reproof. And the sketchiness of my methods made me hesitant to update with the latest songs. But now my music library is full and happy again :).

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  1. Don’t limit yourself to one library. You may be thinking that this all sounds great, but there’s no way your library has any of these cool services. While I would encourage you to give your hard-working librarians a chance, you’re right that not every town has the same resources. However, I have found that libraries are increasingly teaming up to bring you the best stuff. Several libraries I have joined are part of an e-book collective with other area libraries, allowing more cities to use the system. Plus, you can often join a neighboring town’s library by being a part of the same county.

Beyond all of these great options, there is always the interlibrary loan system. It lets you check out hard to find materials from other libraries in a network that can reach across entire states. If you are lost as to where to find a book, try looking it up in WorldCat, and maybe it’s closer than you think.

 

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There is no one right way to use the library. If you still read only print books, or if you have gone totally digital, there are plenty of options for you to make the most of what your library offers. And while I hope you feel like you have learned a library hack or two, the best way to get the most out of your local library is to talk to our librarian. They are more than happy to help, and will be a wealth of knowledge.

Now it’s time to go forth and show libraries some love!

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Decisive Review: Can Decision-Making Be Improved?

I love reading non-fiction. At least half of everything I read is non-fiction. Sometimes, I’ll 6259977find a book I like on a particular subject and end up doing a deep dive with several more books. A recent example was decision science. After being completely fascinated by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, I discovered that there is an entire academic field dedicated to studying decision-making. This lead me to pick up Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath.

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Like many other business and life help books, Decisive does not bury the lead. The framework the Heath brothers have developed is explained in the first chapter. However, the explanations and examples covered in the rest of the book were informative and helped me to understand how the framework could be applied.

Two of the principles from the book, I found myself applying in real life as I faced a decision about where to live. I had to look for housing online, so I was particularly concerned about making a good decision. One big idea was that you should avoid making yes/no decisions about a single idea. The best plan is to make a decision about the solution to a problem, with several options for what that solution might look like. So, in the case of finding a place to live, I focused on all of the possible types of housing I could look for, not approving one choice.

The book also had a lot of good information about how to find information. It went into a lot of detail in what kinds of questions to ask and examined why people often don’t get the answers they need. The authors offered evidence for why very specific questions are the most helpful. For example, ask, “how many times in the last two months could you not find a nearby place to park?” vs. “do you have problems with parking?”. I felt that this was extremely practical advice to takeaway from this book.

The writing in the book did a good job of breaking up passages on theory with interesting case studies and anecdotes. The Heath brothers infused a punchy sense of humor throughout the book as well that livened up the writing style. Clearly, the authors took pains to make sure that they informed the reader without being boring.

Recommending ‘helpful’ books can be tricky. It isn’t always obvious who will be open to advice. That’s why I can only say that I enjoyed this book as a reading experience, and I feel that I walked away having learned something I could apply to my own life. That’s my recommendation for you.

3450744What about you? Do you like non-fiction? Have you read any books about decision science? After Decisive and Blink, the next in my queue is Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. What’s next on your to-read pile?

Beautiful Boulder

For about a month now, I’ve been living in Boulder, Colorado. My summer internship means I get to spend June- August basking in the sunny, not too hot weather and the beautiful mountains.

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The Flatirons, Boulder’s pride and joy.

Settling into Boulder, I’ve been struck by how beautiful it really is here. Not an experienced hiker myself, I have gone on a few “nature walks” in my neighborhood and in the mountains. I’m obsessed with the beautiful flowers that grow wild here, in the mountains and planted in front yards.

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I even checked a book out from the library to help me identify flowers.

While the wildness here is stunning, I also found a great art museum. The Leaning Tree Museum of Western Art is a few miles from downtown Boulder, and I took a picnic one Saturday to explore. Outside the museum there is a statue garden full of life size, bronze icons of the West. There were bears and buffalo, mountain lions, and statues of the Native Americans who lived in Colorado.

 

Beyond the sculpture garden there was a two-story art museum full of western art. The paintings depicted virtually every aspect of live in the Western plains. The collection was excellent, and many of the pieces were magnificent. I really enjoyed seeing such a specialized type of art, and such excellent examples of it.

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So far, I’ve gotten a taste of what Boulder has to offer, but there is still more to explore. Historic downtown Pearl Street is home to tons of cute shops and great restaurants and bars that I am slowly working my way through. And there are sure to be hidden gems everywhere. Hopefully I will have another update from beautiful Boulder soon!

What I Read in January

Winter break and the surge of productivity that comes with the start of a new year have left me feeling exhilarated. Specifically, I am super pumped about reading in 2016. My classes are scheduled to involve quite a bit of reading, but I powered through the first two novels assigned. Adding to my reading high are five (!) other books I finished this month. Usually, I am lucky to read two books a month. This may be a new personal best.

Before I dive back into the sea of school and job search, I wanted to take a minute to share my thoughts on these books. In the future I may write more about them, but I want to make sure I am getting real time thoughts out there about the books I am reading.

So, here are my January book reviews.

Hour of Mischief by Aimee Hyndman

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Starring an extremely feisty thief who goes on an end-of-the-world stopping adventure with the God of Mischief, this was a steampunk fantasy novel that I felt bridged the gap between young adult and “proper” adult really well. It was good, escapist fun. I liked that even amidst the fighting and shenanigans, there were some moments that did make me think. It’s the first in a series, so I look forward to the next release.

Funny story about the author: she and I actually went to high school together. Meaning I brag about her success to pretty much everyone. Totally unbiased though, I liked this book and if you are into fantasy you probably will too.

Alexander the Great by Peter Chrisp

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Yes, this was a picture book. But, I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Alexander the Great from it. Like that he named a city after his beloved horse Bucephalus. What I liked about the way this book was written was that it allowed the reader to make up their own mind about what kind of person Alexander the Great was. It gave the bad with the good and provided a variety of accounts and historical perspectives. Not bad for a picture book.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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Another fantasy novel. This time with witches and fairies and magical kingdoms. I saw the movie a long time ago, and remembered really liking it. After reading the book, I honestly preferred the movie. The plot, especially the end, was more exciting, and the supporting characters were better developed. But, the book did give a bit more back-story to help me understand the world. And the writing style was lovely. Neil Gaiman is a legend for a reason, and his writing was what shone in this book.

Leave Your Mark by Aliza Licht

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Recommended to me by my friend Ashleigh over at ashleighreads.com, this was a memoir/ career advice mash up from the senior vice president of PR at DKNY, Aliza Licht. The casual, chatty tone helped make the reading experience less like a lecture and more like a pep talk. Plus, Licht included lots of actionable advice for every stage of a career, from finding your passion, to navigating office politics. I definitely felt that this was the right book to be reading with graduation fast approaching.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

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If Leave Your Mark gave me actual advice for the future, Hyperbole and a Half was there to sympathize with me where I am now. This book was hilarious. I was laughing out loud at pretty much every chapter. But deep down, this book speaks so many truths. It doesn’t shy away from hard life-stuff. Instead it deals with it using superb humor.

For school I read Erec by Hartmann von Aue translated by J.W. Thomas and Sundiata by D. T. Niane. Both were written around 1200. Plot heavy and rich, I enjoyed the stories. Sundiata is the story of a young king who unites the kingdom of Mali. The political intrigue and many folktales were really interesting. Erec, on the other hand, deals with a medieval German knight who wins, loses, and regains his honor. The scope of Erec was less broad, but the character studies of him and his wife Enite were more in depth. This semester I will have the chance to read several more medieval romances and stories from the African continent. As they are both new topics for me, I am excited to see what is next.

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Reading makes me happy, so I am pleased as punch with January. All of these books were pretty good too. February is the shortest month, but I hope to keep my streak going. And please let me know what you have been reading lately. I would love recommendations.

January Reads

One-Serving Apple Pie Ice Cream

I genuinely enjoy cooking. But just because I like it doesn’t mean that I always have time to whip up every recipe. Especially when it comes to dessert. Plus, when cooking for one, an entire cake or a dozen cookies start to look like a lot. Still, there are nights (or afternoons) when I just want something sweet and a little special. Those nights are where recipes like this apple pie ice cream topping come in handy.

Fast, easy, and delicious, I would eat this all year long.

Ingredients

Half of a medium sized apple (any variety you like)

Lemon juice

Sugar

Cinnamon

Butter

Apple juice

Ice cream

Equipment

Knife and cutting surface

Skillet

Spatula

Ice cream scoop or large spoon

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Directions

Dice your apple into one-inch pieces. They don’t have to be exact, you just want small, roughly even pieces. Add lemon juice as you go to prevent oxidation.

P1130069.jpgOnce you have the apple chopped, heat up a generous amount of butter in your skillet. You want to coat the bottom thoroughly. Margarine or sunflower seed oil would probably work here in a pinch, but the butter makes it so delicious in the end. I also splashed in a touch of apple juice for a little liquid and flavor. This isn’t necessary, however.

Now add the apple pieces to the hot skillet with lots of cinnamon. No measurement needed, just keep sprinkling cinnamon until you think it looks good. Then add about one tablespoon of sugar. Again, this doesn’t have to be exact, just eyeball it. I used regular white sugar, but brown sugar is fine as well.P1130070.jpg

Cook the apples on medium heat until they start to get soft. The butter and sugar will mix with every thing and begin to form a sort of caramel-like sauce. This is a very good thing. If it starts to bubble, however, turn your heat down some.

P1130072.jpgServe the cooked apples over a scoop of ice cream. Vanilla works fine, but I opted for walnut, and it was amazing. Get creative with what flavor combos you want.

P1130075.jpgClean up note: All of that delicious caramel sauce can become a clean up nightmare. To avoid, soak your pan immediately after you are finished and clean it as soon as it is cool enough. Then you should avoid any sticky mess.

If you are pressed for time or don’t have a stove: You can put the apple chunks, butter, sugar, and cinnamon in the microwave for a minute or a minute thirty seconds. You don’t get as swell of a caramel sauce, but it is still yummy and very very fast.

Apple Pie Ice Cream