2012: The Year in Lessons

“Still, I am learning.” — Michelangelo

What a difference a year makes.

I wrote an upbeat post about this time last year, something I hoped contained a positive message. But I’ll admit now, I struggled with it. You wouldn’t think writing something positive would have been so difficult at that time; after all, the last quarter of 2011 brought some pretty amazing events: publishing my book, catching up with some great friends, going back to my college town for a quick but great trip to see a basketball game. Yet through the month of December last year, especially, I remained unsettled.

I didn’t like where I was at with my job. I’d known for over a year that I wanted to go down a different path; besides the anxiety of of opening up my e-mail every Sunday and the daily stress, the bottom line was I was no longer passionate about what I was doing. I had, by this time last year, figured out a new path to go down. I’d apply to graduate school, and hopefully start up the next year. But without even a letter of recommendation written, that all still seemed a little up in the air — I had a long way to go.

My book was published, and I even had a visit scheduled to talk to the seventh graders at my old middle school about it. But something had happened at the end of November to throw a wrench in the message I was trying to convey. A chance encounter brought some negative of the story back to haunt me, reminding me about some things that had never made sense, and some events I hadn’t fully found closure with. I wondered if I ever could.

Speaking of the book, I also remained unsettled about my bigger plans for it. I’d owned this website domain, Sky Blue Mission, for a few years, blogging and talking about my ultimate goal to use the funds to help kids get to college. But I still didn’t know exactly how I was going to do that. I couldn’t even promote my bigger plans, really, for fear of false advertising. Was I going to spend the proceeds? No. But until I started my own non-profit — an initiative that seemed a little far off and overwhelming — they sat idly in a section of my bank account.

So there I was last December, trying to inspire people, but not feeling very inspired myself. 12 months later, I’ve come a long ways. It’s been a transition year for me and thus not always easy — there have definitely been some low points. But there have been some pretty amazing high points, and I’ve learned lessons from each and every experience. On this last day of the year, I thought it appropriate to reflect on them.

(Quotes courtesy of my favorite quote book, I Believe in You, which has been providing me inspiration since I was a junior in high school).

I Believe in You

1) “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”–Thomas Edison

I was ready to throw in the towel at my job in January. And in February. And really, really, in March. And I could find a lot of quotes and wisdom that says I should have. Life is short, right? Don’t waste any more time doing what you don’t want to do. But I had a bigger plan, and that bigger plan involved accomplishing two goals: 1) Saving the money I’d need to pursue my dream and passion in graduate school that coming fall, and 2) Achieving the company’s reward for 5 years of hard work that I had coming to me.

So I put my head down, fought through the stress, the challenges, the bad attitudes, and stuck it out. It meant taking things day by day, and continually reminding myself of the bigger picture. Again, conventional wisdom will tell you to quit as soon as you’re ready, but “ready” can mean a lot of things, and fighting through tough times to reach your ultimate goal can teach you what you’re made of. Perhaps someday I’ll look back and wish I hadn’t kept at it those months I was so unhappy, but I accomplished what I set out to, and it seems to be paying off. Oh, and that reward (besides the padding to my savings account), was a pretty amazing opportunity….

2) “Go as far as you can see. When you get there, you can see farther.” — BJ Marshal

When my (now former) company announced a few years ago that they would offer a one-month, overseas sabbatical to employees who reached the five-year mark, I thought “well, that’s cool, but I’ve got a long way to go to get there.” Even though I could feel myself fading towards the end this past year, I couldn’t let the incredible opportunity slip away.

Incredible does not even begin to describe it.

Manarola

My mom and I spent the month of May in Italy this year. One month in another country. At a couple points, I grew homesick, yet for the most part, I just soaked it all in. The canals of Venice, the cliffs of Cinque Terre, the rolling hills of Tuscany, the busy streets of Rome, and, oh yeah, the Eiffel Tower — I couldn’t possibly go to Europe without making a brief stopover in my favorite city. It was a vacation, no doubt, a chance to relax, read, and explore  (I told my mom at one point: “Our only “job” for the next three weeks is to figure out where to go, and how to get there”); but more-so, it was a chance to gain perspective, on both the world and myself. I came back with my eyes open much wider, my horizons much broader. If you haven’t traveled across that big blue ocean, I highly recommend it.

3) “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you deal with it is what makes the difference.” — Virginia Satir

Despite being unsettled with my book’s message at the beginning of the year, I visited that classroom in January. I even brought up idols, fielding questions about my own. “Do you still talk to her? What made her your idol?” I answered the inquisitive seventh-graders as honestly as I could, trying to remember the positive to pass on, trying to extract the lessons from the negative.

In February, a fellow author posted a review of my book in which she described the plot: “It’s {Megan’s} journey to find the strength within herself and become the person, the example to others, that she really wished Maya had been for her.” I cried. A lot.  And then I refocused. After all, my reviewer was exactly right. The overall lesson of my book is not about wishing things could be different; it’s about accepting the things that you can and cannot change, and doing all you can with what you have. I realized this year that part of that acceptance is that “closure” doesn’t always stay closed. Once in a while something creeps up and eats at you a little bit, and that’s okay. We’re all human, and letting go is the hardest human thing to do. The important thing is to hold the power over your own emotions and know what it takes to overcome them. Maybe you need a good cry. Maybe you need to write a blog post that you never publish or write a message you never send (yes, an important lesson, do not hit send). I’ve done all of those things, but most importantly, I’ve continued to channel that negative energy and anxiety into something much bigger and more positive.

middle school

4) “All we can ask in our lives is that perhaps we can make a little difference in someone else’s.” — Lillian Davis

This quote is a repeat from a previous post, but that post is relevant. If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’ve figured out a bigger way to make a difference with my book than just telling the story. Two years ago, I came across an organization 10127_132239542086_6651234_nbased in Chapel Hill, NC that helped get underprivileged and underrepresented kids to college. At the time, I thought “how cool that another organization, especially one in Chapel Hill, has the same mission I do.” This summer, a different thought hit me: “Why wouldn’t I want to partner with them?”

Why reinvent the wheel when this organization already had a tried and true way of accomplishing the same goal I had? In June, I contacted their Director of Development, and in August, I sent them the first royalty check. The feeling I had when I saw that check had been cashed, knowing And Then it Rained: Lessons for Life was truly helping kids get to college, was actually better than the feeling I had the day it was published.

5) “Everyone has an opportunity to be great because everyone has an opportunity to serve.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

I didn’t stop with the book’s proceeds.

I couldn’t. Here was this organization doing all of this great work, and all I’d do is send a check? No way. In addition to speaking with the Director of Development, I also set up a meeting with a regional director who happened to be located in my current city (quite the lucky coincidence :)). I offered to take on some more duties, working to help the 500 college advisers who serve in high schools across the nation.

Part of this great opportunity meant attending a summit with advisers, national staff, and dozens of other education leaders in Washington, DC this past October. For 3 inspiring days we listened, learned, and strategized on ways to give more kids the opportunities to reach their full potential through education. One of the speakers, a former businessman who left to start an international nonprofit, told us “go big or go home.” Fitting, and just one of the many lessons I’ve kept with me since that trip.

advising corps

6) “If you believe in yourself, so will others.” — Phillip Marvin

In March, I got the second college acceptance letter of my life. To be fair, it’s actually only the second college letter I’ve ever gotten at all, since I only applied to one school for both my undergraduate and graduate careers.School_of_Education_doors I know what I want, where I want to go, and apparently I’m pretty good at conveying that message to admissions officers. My first acceptance letter sent me screaming and jumping for joy (and evoked a few happy tears). This one brought a more content sigh (and of course some additional happy tears). I can only hope that my graduate journey contains as many exciting twists, turns, and adventures as my undergraduate one did. So far, it has.

7) “One can do anything, anything at all, if provided with a passionate and gifted teacher.” — Pat Conroy

Some of my opportunities and successes this year were predictable; others have come more as a surprise, like the mentors I’ve found. It’s funny: at that same classroom visit with my book back in January a few kids asked me who my idol was, and I couldn’t think of a good answer. Maybe it was just that I’d gotten jaded, and didn’t think anyone was deserving of such a highly-esteemed title any more.

Maybe not.

This year, I could give you a list of people that inspire me every day; people whose actions, attitudes, and ideas I aspire to emulate. From professors, to the founder of the Advising Corps, Nicole Hurd, to other leaders in the field of education who I’ve worked with, for, and whom I’ve heard speak. Not only have these people inspired the title of idol this year, they’ve taken the qualities that can earn a person that title in my mind to a whole new level. Their dreams have motivated me to dream bigger, their accomplishments encourage me to aim higher.

8) “Friends are kind to each other’s hopes. They cherish each other’s dreams.” — Henry David Thoreau

“Surround yourself with people who believe you can.” — Dan Zadra

I couldn’t decide which one of these quotes I liked better, but overall, the point is that I’ve had a pretty amazing support network this year. Through the ups and downs of my stressful job the first several months, I had friends to lean on, friends who sent me cards telling me to hang in there, friends who reminded me that I had bigger things to think about, and not to let a setback get me down.

In my graduate school classroom this past semester I was surrounded by a 30-member support system. In fact, after a short three months, the diverse group of people I started my program with almost feels like a family in some ways. We’re all in this together, inside and outside the classroom, and I’m looking forward to more of the same throughout our next 3+ semesters.

AlexFriends are also people that continue to inspire you even after they’re gone. One of my letters of recommendation for graduate school is the last thing I have of a good friend of mine who passed away unexpectedly in March. His final words to me, were actually about me, telling my admissions officers how we’d worked as a team to accomplish some pretty big things at his organization, and that they could count on me to do the same thing in graduate school. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read his words without getting teary eyed. I am a better person for knowing Alex, and he continues to motivate me to make sure that one day, the friends in my life can say they were a better person for having known me.

9) “Assume that people are good until you actually and specifically learn differently. And even then, know that they have potential for change and that you can help them out.” — Leo Buscaglia

In other words, don’t stop trying. Now, without going too far back into my book’s plot, my point is not to keep trying with one person when that person continually pushes you away. Sometimes, you do have to walk away. But don’t let that keep you from trying to help someone else, or even thinking that someday, something you thought didn’t or couldn’t have an impact still might have one. At the summit with the Advising Corps this past October, when they announced to the advisers that I’d be donating the proceeds from my book, they all gave me a standing ovation. It might have been the most humbling moment of my life — after all, these are the people that are actually putting that money to work. More importantly though, it reminded me never to give up. There was a time not too long ago that I thought nothing would come of my story. Now, well….

maya

 

IMG_2652

So there you have it, all the lessons of 2012 from the good, the bad, the hard, the amazing. Here’s to more learning, growing, and paying it forward in 2013.

What was your biggest lesson of 2012?

You may not recognize success when it happens. It’s not always the thing you expected it to be. Looking back, you will realize that there are successes to be recognized and joy to be seized in every day.”  –Elizabeth Keane

 

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