Friday, June 26, 2009

Meeting Goals That I've Never Set

I read an article today that inspired me to think hard about what I have improved about myself in the past month, in the past six months, and in the past year. This article asks you to be honest with yourself - have you set realistic goals for self-improvement, and have you met them? Or are you going through the motions of life, living day-to-day, and not thinking about such things at all?

By setting goals, and writing them down, you're more likely to achieve those goals. We've all heard this before. Yet, often when I set goals, I neglect my own self-improvement. I suppose I do, to some extent, make myself better, I grow as an individual and a professional, by achieving the goals I have set for myself. But, my focus has never been on myself, and my own personal development.

When I got to college, I decided to relax a bit, not involve myself in so many things as I did in high school, have a social life, and balance it with my schoolwork so that getting A's was not something I ever stressed about. As a result, I had an enjoyable college experience, I didn't always get the A, but I made great friends, and did some important things. I made a difference in the lives of the people who were closest to me, and in the lives of people I'd never met. I felt fulfilled by my life there. That is, in every area of life except my "career". I began my philosophy degree with a positive outlook, I enjoyed the few classes I had taken in the discipline before, and I looked forward to contemplating large and unanswerable questions further and learning how to answer them. What I didn't realize I would miss, however, by choosing a philosophy major, was everything else. I enjoy a variety of subjects, and I thought I was doing good for myself by picking a major that covers topics of all sorts. I took a Philosophy of Science course, and a Philosophy of Language course, and an Ancient Greek Philosophy course. I learned about all sorts of different disciplines by making philosophy my chosen subject. However, the manner in which I learned them was not my style.

As a philosophy major, one is required to think critically and analytically about questions that are impossible to answer correctly or incorrectly. You read and read and read these profound works that philosophers have written to try to answer these questions, and then you discuss in class how they haven't actually answered them at all. It may be a cynic's major, and a cynic I am not. I would have preferred a more "useful", practical major, as it turns out, that allowed me to think for myself, and get the answer correct occasionally, if not all the time.

Regardless, here I am now, a fresh graduate of the College of William and Mary, searching for employment in fields in which I have no prior experience, and competing with the rest of the largely unemployed world for those few spaces. Now is a good time to think about how I've improved, and to start setting goals for myself.

Here's where I think I've been in the last year or so:

- I have grown as an individual. Throughout college, I have learned to communicate with people in a way I was never able to do in high school. I have grown from someone who was buried in her books and her music, as an awkward high-schooler, into a well-balanced, informed adult.

- I have defined my religious, and political beliefs. I have moved out of my mother's Catholic house and found that the world makes more sense to me and I am a happier person without the guilt and threat of hell that Catholicism put upon me. I have become a listener of NPR and engaged in discussions with friends and family about political beliefs, and adapted my own ideology based upon what I've seen and heard.

- I have realized what is most important to me in life. I have ranked my priorities, my values, written them down, and acted accordingly to reflect where those values stand.

- I have striven to be kind and caring to everyone around me, and to be patient. I have made conscious efforts to stay positive, and to expect the best from people, but not to let disappointment take over when they don't always deliver.

- I have defined my strengths and my weaknesses, and I have asked my friends and family to help me with it. I have gotten them involved in my life, and my search for self-fulfillment, and happiness.

What will I aim for next? That's something to think about. These things listed above just happened. They were not planned out, they did not come about through thoughtful examination. It will be interesting to see what that extra thought does to accelerate my personal development, my self-improvement.

What has worked for you? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We're Not All Spocks

According to this article on npr's website, the city government in Greensboro, NC is paying teenage female students $1 for every day that they're not pregnant, in an effort to reduce teenage pregnancies. As a result of this plan, the teenage pregnancy rates in Greensboro have dropped dramatically. Some economists and psychologists explain this as a phenomenon that traditional economics cannot explain. Traditionally, economists have built their models based on what the perfectly rational person would do. Since experience has proven that these super-human rationalists do not exist outside of the Vulcan world, liberal economists are suggesting that we (and our government) should "nudge" the irrational away from poor decision-making.

While I'm all for "nudging", I fail to comprehend why certain American tax-payers, who are just doing their part to make a living, provide for their families, and maybe help a few other people along the way (by their own, direct choosing), are responsible for providing the "nudge" - in the form of their own hard, and well-earned income. Maybe this "nudge" should be implimented in a more positive way for the government, and for its hard-working, honest, clean, and mostly rational citizens. Say, for instance, instead of giving teen girls money for not getting pregnant, the government could enforce a law that pregnant teens should be imprisoned, and then educate them of this law. That's basically what they're doing to themselves anyway by "allowing" themselves to become pregnant. They are committing themselves to a lifetime of strife, and committing their child to the same. That is, if these young mothers choose to carry their fetus to term. If it was common knowledge that teen girls under the age of, say, 18 got sent to institutions for the rest of their lives, I think the effect would be similar to giving them money. Maybe the way to knock some sense into people is by empowering them to make rational decisions based on their fear of the consequences for them not making those good decisions.

I can hear the argument now: For a teenage girl, the consequence of having a baby at their young age is already a fear. They already know they'd be trapping themselves in a life that is much more difficult than they had planned, where their dreams will be that much harder to achieve. I haven't been a teenager for years, and the thought of becoming pregnant at this stage of my life is terrifying to me. For some reason, however, I can think rationally about this, and stop those hormones from taking over my life, and use my brain. These teenage girls are not all stupid. They may come from backgrounds that are not the best influences, that have not molded them into perfect little future lawyers, doctors, etc. But that doesn't make them stupid. We should be giving these girls more credit for their smarts, not money to bribe them into not having unprotected sex. Young people who grew up in 'bad' neighborhoods, in poverty, with poor education systems often end up having better common sense and street smarts than those who have been pampered from birth. But, I doubt you'll see too many city governments passing out checks to teenage girls at the country club. Why is that? Because their parents protect them from boys? Because they don't have the people skills to interact with a member of the opposite sex, let alone sleep with one? Because their teachers told them not to have unprotected sex? Are we really expected to believe that less-well-off cities have teachers who promote their students engaging in such activities? I don't think so.

Put on your thinking cap, Mr. mayor, economists, and psychologists, because this one doesn't sit well with me, and I have a feeling it's not going to sit well with a lot of other folks out there either.

On a more extremist end, earlier tonight, Andrew posed this simple solution to the problem: kill all pregnant teens. That's a bit more than the "nudge" that would likely be most effective - more like a wallop.

Thanks to @GuyKawasaki for tweeting the link out to his Twitter-following world via npr.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Transitioning to a New Watering Hole

A few weeks ago, Andrew and I moved to Tysons Corner following my graduation from William and Mary in Williamsburg.  I grew up in Clifton and thought I knew the surrounding suburbs well.  Andrew lived in Fairfax Station for 4 years, and is familiar with DC, but has spent very little time exploring the 'burbs.  Together, we should have been a fantastic team to move in together in Northern Virginia.  Alas, I do not know the area as well as I thought I did.  The truth of the matter is that whenever my mission took me as far as Tysons from Clifton, I was going shopping at the mall.  Tysons Corner shopping is fantastic, but it is such a small part of the place where we now live and work.  

Coming from Williamsburg, we were both very expectant.  We had high hopes for what this area could offer us.  Williamsburg is a beautiful town, with a lot of history, but for a young couple with unending energy, Williamsburg moves very slowly.  Still, we have our favorite places there to eat, to get drinks, to see a movie or to buy a pair of jeans.  Tysons presents us with many new and exciting things.  I told Andrew yesterday as he expressed his feelings of detachment from everything we knew and were used to, "I'm glad for that.  This is our home now, and that gives us a million new and urgent reasons to make new friends and to explore our surroundings."  

Tysons has a lot to offer us.  However, the one thing we have been unable to replicate from Williamsburg, that we wish we could, is our favorite "town watering hole" - The Green Leafe.  There aren't exactly 'bars' in Williamsburg, per se.  The college students refer to the trio of pubs on the corner of Richmond Rd. and Scotland St. as "the delis".  This trio is comprised of The Green Leafe, Paul's Deli, and The College Delly.  During the day, these places are normal small, quaint restaurants.  The Green Leafe is a traditional pub, Paul's is a sports bar, and College Delly is...well, it's a bit of a dive.  At night, the delis come alive with activity.  The flow of students and townies into the delis is slowed only by the bouncers, checking IDs as people enter.  

What made the Green Leafe so special for us, and different from other bars that we have tried out in Northern Virginia?  
The Green Leafe was so close to us.  For the majority of the time we lived in Williamsburg, we could walk there from our residences.  Inside, the place was filled with friendly people, who were open to meeting people, and not afraid to act silly.  The bartenders knew our names and we knew theirs.  They took care of us, and we took care of them.  If we had a moment of introspection, they would draw us out of it and back to the public scene, where we were surrounded by friends and laughing.  Every 21st birthday celebration was held there, and for that matter, 22nd, 23rd and 24th birthdays as well.  The food was good, the prices were good, and the beer selection was incredible.  30 beers on tap, and tons more in the bottle.  Drink specials every night of the week.  We're not alcoholics, but we enjoy to go out occasionally for a drink or two, and if we have the urge to do that on a Tuesday night, we know that the Green Leafe is having "pint night".  Or, if we've been buried under a pile of work and need to get out for some air and some stress-free laughs, we can build ourselves up to attend "mug night" on Sunday.  Some might say the Green Leafe became the center of our social lives in Williamsburg.  

Now, nothing seems good enough in Northern Virginia for Andrew.  I've found places around us that seem comparable, and we would get used to them as we were to the Green Leafe if we spent some more time there.  We'd get to know the bartenders, and find "our table" and learn the weekly specials.  But the one thing that these local Northern Virginia pubs will never have that the Green Leafe does is the memories of our college days.    

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Maybe I'm gonna have a petite moment"

Recently, I was watching re-runs of The Real Housewives of New York City, when Kelly said something that made me laugh, and then got me thinking.  She had a stylist come in to her closet to pull everything that was old or unnecessary (which turned out to be a LOT) to donate to charity.  While her stylist was going through this 6-foot tall, former model's closet, she pulled out a cardigan, looked at the tag, and said "Kelly, this is a petite medium.  You are not petite.  You are never going to be petite.  Get rid of everything that's petite."  To this, Kelly, without hesitation replied, "Don't tell me I'm not petite!  Maybe I'm gonna have a petite moment!"  

I was struck by this, since so often I have moments when I'll pick up a piece of clothing in a store that I think is great, and might buy.  But then, I have to stop myself, and say, "Wait a minute.  This would not fit your body-type in a million years.  You were just not built to fit into this.  Someone was, but not you."  Why is it that we so often fool ourselves into thinking that we have a body that we simply do not?  And is there a way to target train areas of our bodies to change our so-called "natural body-type"?  Or is there necessarily a limit, of which the upper and lower boundaries are weight?  This is something I'd like to explore more in the future, as I hone my diet and exercise plan to fit the kind of figure of health that I wish to exude.