I’m forced to find a reason to believe

The trees were tall around me, waving in the wind, and the blue in the sky was so intense it made my heart ache with the thought summer could be so near. In that moment I saw myself in the rear view mirror. Young in so many ways: by age and appearance, but there’s a part of me that feels old. I notice as the years go on that I begin to look different, hair beginning to turn gray, fine lines forming on my skin. It’s after that physical embodiment that I realize what I am faced with. Mortality.

It comes to me that I have put so much of my life on hold waiting for “one day,” yet my one-day hasn’t come. Each second we inch closer to the end of our lives and what would everything have been for; what have we accomplished? The feeling comes like I’m having one of those dreams where I’m falling from a bridge and only wake right before I slam into the water. I wake up in a sweat, breathing heavy, knowing it feels so real and yet, it’s very fake.

I think about how we never know when our time has come. Everything could end in the blink of an eye and what happens then? I’ve been the one to survive—to see what happens then, but what if I am the one gone? What if I never find out what my reason has been to walk this Earth? Just as fast as the question runs through my mind, I’m drawn back in to the blue in the sky and let it go. I secure these thoughts in their own box and place them far into the depths in my mind to go back to another time.

One thing about music– when it hits, you feel no pain

I started playing music when I was five. In an effort to keep my sister and I away from some of the neighborhood kids in the apartment complex we were living in, she had signed my sister and I up for private flute lessons. From that moment on, music became a part of who I am. I correlate everything I go through in life with a song. I can relive the moments I love, or feel the depth of the sadness whenever I play the song that belongs to that moment. As I grew older I learned to play a variety of instruments: flute of course, clarinet, saxophone, guitar, however, nothing could compare to writing songs for me.

At the age of 18 I got my first tattoo. Like all but one of my tattoos, this tattoo has to do with music. “Always Love” is etched in cursive on my left foot. This saying comes from a song by Nada Surf appropriately named “Always Love.” The lyrics mean so much to me, but mostly it serves as a reminder to treat others how I want to be treated, to choose to love others rather than showing hatred. The lyrics of all the songs I hold so close to my heart tie me to them in such a deep place that I can remember exact moments that they rang true for me. The first song I heard after my first uncle passed away was “From the Second I Wake Up” by the Promise of Redemption, a side project for Valencia’s lead singer. The words “don’t ever change” from the end of this song rest on my back as a reminder to stay true to myself through every struggle.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future—where I’m going, where I’m coming from, who is with me on this journey, etc. Being the music lover I am, I can’t help but relive the past in every song that I hear. I think of the exact moment when I heard that song and I wasn’t at my best (too much of anything can lead to some bad times, take my word for it)—who was around me then? Are they still a part of my life? Did they want to help make me better, or hold me back? Honestly, those people aren’t in my life today. I cut them out like they were a cancer growing rebel cells in my body creating a person I didn’t know. I can see myself justifying behavior because I’m young and I just want to have fun, or I’ve worked hard all week, so why not go out and drink? Now I have flashbacks every time I hear the opening music to those songs that were tied to me in my bad years. It’s hard remembering the things I did wrong, but I’m choosing to use them as a catalyst for the future. I want to remember the things I did that were unsavory so that making my next steps becomes that much easier. People grow and change every single day. I can honestly say that I’m not the same person I was in June before my father died. There has been too much loss and pain, too many life changing events for me to be that same young twenty something woman. As I stare down the path of my future, I’m excited, scared, and challenged. I don’t think that there has ever been greatness without those three key components. Just like I can change—the meanings of those songs will eventually change with me—that’s the incredible correlation between music and life; they’re both ever changing.

Because I’m Happy

I choose to be happy. I know that sounds kind of silly, but that statement can actually determine whether or not you’re successful in both life as well as a career. Each and every day we enter situations, interactions, and relationships with our own frame of reference. As a communications person, I’ve spent much of my time learning about interpersonal communications and how to best apply theories to best understand others in every facet of life. Throughout the years I’ve noticed the importance of choosing to be happy at work and in my personal life. The truth is—this is a very personal choice that can directly relate to where you stand in your personal life, however your choice here can affect those you work with.

I’ve written in the past about how important it is to love what you do and who you do it with because we spend more time with our colleagues than our own families. Well, imagine working with someone who only mentions the negative aspects of the job, negative interactions with clients and coworkers, and nit picks everything you do. Chances are this person is unhappy in some way in their life. Maybe they’re going through something challenging, or even just a bad day, but their energy can wear on you—slowly creating an environment that breed’s negativity. I won’t lie; it’s incredibly easy to feed into the negativity. It’s extremely easy to only see the negative aspects of the day, to choose to focus on the one rude client you dealt with rather than the ten polite ones—it’s all a choice. I like to say that “complaining keeps it remaining.”

Recently I’ve been training new staff members at my current job. It’s always interesting to me because this is a time when someone is most innocent—they haven’t been poisoned by someone else’s opinion. They are learning and experiencing this position and department for the first time. This person can be an incredible gauge on what is actually happening throughout the staff. This whole conversation of choosing to be happy in everything you do came up while training the most recent staff member to join the team. The idea behind fake it until you make it proves to be an important idea for me. Choosing to smile when you feel like crying, instruct instead of tear down, and encourage even if you’re discouraged is what makes the difference between a good day and an awful one. If we all choose to be happy while we’re at work, shopping, or just in everyday life, imagine how peaceful the world could become. Idealistic—I know, however I don’t think that’s the worst thing anyone has ever called me. In each situation I encounter, I bring my very own frame of reference (loss of many important people in my life, struggles to find a career, crushing weight of student loan debt, etc.) that I use in choosing how to communicate with others. If we all treated others how we would want to be treated according to our frame of reference, the world would be a better place.

True life: I was in a sorority

My graduation cap

The longer I’m out of college, the more I realize how much I truly learned there. I can remember my freshman year being the hardest adjustment period for me. I went home every chance I had and even thought about transferring somewhere closer to home to be with high school friends and family. It’s hard to say when that exactly changed, but it was sometime during my second semester. I had found my way, made my own group of friends, and actually started enjoying my classes. However, nothing compares to the first semester of my sophomore year when I joined a sorority.

I know that you’re probably thinking all of the cliché things you’ve seen in Legally Blonde, The House Bunny, or read in Cosmo. While I know some sororities can definitely live the stereotypes, my sorority was my family, best friends, and most of all one of the biggest preparations I had for the real world. I joined Zeta Tau Alpha after having my best friend join our freshmen year. She dragged me to the house, introduced me to all of the girls, and invited me to all the events. I fell in love quickly. These women were the funny, sarcastic, smart, and the talented women that I needed to create my own home away from home.

During my time in ZTA I held multiple positions including, sisterhood chair, service chair, and Vice President 1. It was an honor, challenge, and invaluable opportunity to create a change in my chapter. We had the opportunity to recruit people who held the same values, wanted to create a change in the world, and most of all wanted to support and lift one another up. Most of my favorite memories are shared with my sisters: late night crafting, Dunkin runs (because college kids and sorority girls run on Dunkin), and creating incredibly detailed banners that take well over 48 hours to make.

There are many things that I’ve learned from my time in ZTA. I’ve learned that small talk is an important skill—yes skill. Being able to pick up on social cues, create conversation with a complete stranger, and create a positive first impression is something I’ve used in every job interview I have ever had. I’ve learned how to sell myself and the people I surround myself with. It’s not a mistake that I end up in sales positions, my sorority years have taught me how to showcase a products best qualities and talk up just about anything. Most importantly I’ve learned that you can truly be the change you want to see in the world. I spent countless hours raising money for breast cancer awareness and education, cleaning up highways, and supporting other organizations philanthropic endeavors—all of this while laughing until I cry with an incredible group of young driven women. These are the women that give Greek life a good name and I couldn’t be happier to have had the opportunity to stand with them. Here’s to those who go against the grain and every stereotype in society.

The adventure of finding a career

There have been some interesting jobs I’ve held during my 10+ years of work experience. I find myself always in search of the next big adventure—always looking for something better. I know that the grass is always greener, however I cannot help but dream and aspire to have more. I had the opportunity to move to Harrisburg when I was 22 and I decided to take it. There would be more opportunity to find a job in my field and begin my career. So, I searched all over the Internet trying to find a communications job that would hire someone with mainly customer service experience. Lucky me, I found an outside advertising agent position.

Little did I know that this “outside advertising agent” position was literally walking outside, door-to-door in residential neighborhoods. Take a minute and let that sink in…I went and knocked on random people’s door and essentially tried to sell them on an idea that they didn’t need or want. To preserve some anonymity, I am choosing to not disclose this company’s name. However, I can tell you that if I were to see one of these people knocking on my door—I wouldn’t answer. The hours were obviously aimed to catch people when they were home from work, so mostly afternoon and evenings. Often times we had to travel to each area that were sometimes hours away. This meant that I was stuck in a van with seven other people, most of which were smokers, some of which chose to do drugs during work hours.

This gave me quite the shock. I’ve worked in some challenging work environments before, but nothing like this. Not only are you exposed to the elements (rain, extreme heat, etc), but you’re also exposed to how your coworkers choose to live their lives. It’s no question that we spend more time with the people we work with than our own family, however this was on a different level. This bridged that gap between being coworkers and practically living together. Despite that fact, each time I found myself walking up to knock on a door my stomach would sink, my heart would drop, and I prayed to be anywhere other than there. I never knew what hid behind each door, how one person would react, and dreaded the threat of calling the police. This kind of “advertising” is allowed, however there are proper steps each company is supposed to take to allow them to canvass an area. Most townships require you to pay a fee and purchase a solicitation permit. This company refused to do this by the book. Instead, they would walk an area until someone was threatened and then we would be sent out of town with our very own police escort. I left work each day absolutely amazed that I was doing this for $9.50 an hour and was constantly concerned that some crazy person would answer a door with a gun.

I did learn quite a bit from this experience in how to deal with people, but mostly I learned about myself. I learned that I can do any kind of job to support myself, learn to deal with any kind of person, but most of all I learned that I am resilient. I can be told no, have doors slammed in my face, and still go to knock on the next door ready to do it again. I guess the idea behind this is you can live life each day looking through shit colored glasses and then all you’ll see is shit, or you can look at experiences for what they are—experiences. These things we go through are opportunities to learn and grow. Was this my ideal work environment or career path? Absolutely not! I can tell you that this experience makes me ten times a better sales person I was though, and I can tell you that it has landed me quite the little anecdote in job interviews. Now a days I feel lucky I can be inside and only deal with people who come to me, or call over the phone, but I can’t help and think about what the future can hold. What’s my next big adventure? I don’t know, but I’m ready to find out.

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time

January 13, 2015—exactly one month after my mother’s birthday. That is the day my great aunt passed away. After 92 incredible years on this earth, her energy fled her body and everything I knew and loved was gone. There’s something to be said for a woman who was known affectionately as the world’s aunt. Someone who could live their life in such a way to influence, encourage, and love that many people.

I had moved home after my father passed away in June to assist my mother in day-to-day chores as well as being an active caregiver for my aunt. The smile grew across my aunts face, shining ear to ear, the day I moved home. There were tears in her eyes as she came towards me to grab my cheeks in her hands and tell me how happy she was to have me home, how proud of me she was that I would come to help. For me, there was never any other option—my family needed me, so I answered their call for help.

The following months would be incredibly challenging. None of us could foresee my aunt falling and breaking her femur, only to be followed by me falling and breaking my shoulder trying to get help. She never fully recovered from how weak the surgery made her and how tired she was from trying to recuperate. Still, she got up each morning fighting each day to support my mother and I with all the love in the world. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind she survived those final months because she didn’t want to leave us if we couldn’t make it without her.

I remember the call at work telling me her last rights were read and that she wasn’t showing signs of getting better. I rushed home and up the stairs to her room and took her hand. Her breathing was pained, almost like she was breathing through a hose filled with water. I stayed up with her all night giving her the medicine to calm her, relax her, and, I hope, took some of the pain away from her body failing her. The last words my aunt was able to speak were “I love you too.” I couldn’t bare to leave her side, despite how hard it was to watch her slip away.

I would be writing for days, weeks, years, if I were to go through the countless things this woman has taught me. If I were to even try to explain what kind of impact she has had over her 92 incredible years of life, there’s absolutely no way I would be able to do her true justice. I know that I’ve been touching on sadder, more challenging topics—but these are very real challenges in my daily life. These are feelings and thoughts that I’m still learning to navigate. Whether I like it or not, I’m still searching for directions each and every day that no one has the answers to. Losing people you love is heartbreaking and life changing. Having lost so many people at such a young age has taught me things that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life. I know now that my initial reaction to any crisis “everything will be ok” is not accurate most of the time. We have no idea how much time we have here, not everything will be ok—however, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Each and every single one of the challenges I have faced is for a reason—for some lesson, experience, and life molding opportunity to make me the person I am sitting here writing this blog. Instead of focusing on how deafening the loss I have felt can be, I’m choosing to make it a learning experience and know life is too short to not live how I want to.

There is one quote from one of my favorite bands, Death Cab for Cutie, that I’ve been thinking about lately: “Love is watching someone die…so whose going to watch you die?” I think back to who stood there by my side while my father was dying, who was there when my aunt was slipping away. It’s an interesting thought; we’re always told the people we surround ourselves with are a reflection of who we are and how we act. I challenge each of you to look at your life and reflect on these same things that I have been: Is this how I want to live my life? Are the people I’m surrounding myself with ones that would watch me die?

The power of determination

When I was younger my mother had me write one journal entry a day. She never cared what I wrote about, only that I wrote. She always said she did this because she was never good at writing and she wanted my sister and I to have opportunities—all the ones she had wished she had. The thing about that is my mother may not have had those opportunities made for her, but she made them herself. This is a woman who after having two children decided to go to nursing school. Determined is only one of many adjectives I would use to describe her. My mother was one of six children born in six years. She survived the loss of both her parents by the age of 13, two house fires, the loss of four brothers, the loss of her husband, and the loss of my family’s greatest role model—our great aunt. Through all of this, she has propelled herself forward, creating a trail and a life where others would have given up.

There are many lessons like this that I have learned from my mother making me do things that I never felt like doing. I would moan and whine and constantly ask why, not realizing that by having me do these things, she would teach me where my passions lie. I learned to love writing. I wrote journals for years, and when I got tired of writing my daily happenings…I wrote songs and poetry. I shared my hopes, dreams, and deepest feelings with people fearlessly behind words that I placed on paper. I became a member of the school newspaper where I found out how hard I will truly work if I love what I’m doing. All of these things lead to me finding my way to Susquehanna University where I grew into the woman I am today.

During my years at Susquehanna I held offices in almost every club I was a part of, held down three (sometimes four) jobs, and managed to keep my GPA above 3.4. I challenged myself both in my education, but also in my personal life stepping out of the box I had lived in during high school. All of these things would never have been possible without my mother so tenaciously pushing me forward, challenging me when I needed it and loving me when things didn’t end up like I had hoped. Not only has this woman created a life for me so different than her own, but she also changed her life into something she never thought it could be. If there’s one thing I can take away from this flashback today, it’s that while I may feel completely lost right now and have no idea which direction I am heading, I can always change directions. Who’s to say just because I chose the steps to land me where I am now, that I can’t turn around and make my life into something completely different tomorrow? The most valuable lesson my mother has taught me is, you can do anything you want in life if you put your mind to it. Now, it’s time to figure out what I want to put my mind to.