Saturday, July 13, 2019

TIPs From TIP: Grown Up

Paraphrasing my TA I mentioned earlier in the week, "Don't be so hard on yourself. You're a shining star."
I've always had a high bar for myself. But this post isn't about that. This post isn't about expectations for yourself being loftier than the ISS. It's not about perfectionism looming like a shadow that takes up the whole bedroom wall, though I struggled with those, too.

This post is about my personal definition of self-esteem, and how I began discovering it was terribly, terribly wrong.

A lot of Soldiers grow up in a fixed world, where they're called "smart," "kind," "amazing," or, my two least favorite words in the English language, "special" and "inspiring." Those words alone deserve posts all their own. I'm even considering a TEDx Talk about them.

But the question is this: When these words wash over you your whole life, what's the result? The result is that esteem is measured on what you always have been, and will be, at least in your mind. You see yourself as stiff as the Tin Man, and it's crushing. In psychology this is a fixed mindset -- believing that your skills are set in stone with no malleable qualities whatsoever.

The result of that fixed thinking, then, is comparison. There's no room for healthy comparison to past you. Growth is at best ignored like your middle school yearbook photo, at worst avoided like the one-sided middle school crush. They're so liable to be an embarrassment. Just don't associate. It's not growth, it's luck, or practice, or happenstance. Heaven forbid people call you a braggart. You're abysmal at art. You're excellent with words. You can't comprehend anything about sports. You're just okay at debate, and it will stay that way.

This was me at TIP. I compared myself relentlessly to everyone with either a sense of arrogance or inferiority. It wasn't just my self-described Chocolate-Chip Girl. Oh, no. Everyone in my path was a measuring stick.

Until, that is, my final speech.

I did it. I finally decided to own up to my accomplishments. Yes, I was a debater, an apologist, an encourager. I did it all. Because I went through some stuff, and I was doggedly determined.
It was like finally settling gold and white or blue and black. Well, unless The Dress is still up for debate. I felt a swell of pride and relief. I could finally stop arguing with myself.
It was that day I took a first step to realizing the true definition of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not trust in your accomplishments. It is trust in your current perseverance, faith, purpose, initiative, growth, strength. It is acknowledgement the current you is better. The current you changed and can do it again.

Tell yourself "good job" for your growth. Otherwise you'd still be in sixth grade. No one wants to be in sixth grade again.

Good thing, then, that we all grew up.

Friday, July 12, 2019

TIPs From TIP: Oatmeal Raisin

We've all had that person that seems to be one step ahead of us in life. Whatever you do, they turn around and do it leagues better. Maybe it's that one coworker, or kid in class, or our sibling. They get the better pay, better grade, better Christmas toy.

I had a classmate like that at TIP. We're both writers at heart, both wear glasses, both have auburn hair. Oh boy, she had changed in a year. Not in look, or personality. But she was an editor for one of the leading student literature mags in the country. And we wrote answers to a prompt one evening that were of the same main idea. But hers was just miles from mine. She had jumped eight buildings in a single bound, it seemed, in terms of her skill. Oh, and she was ALWAYS writing something. I can barely get my muse in the same state that I am, and her's shows up at her beck and call. No big deal.

You could say I felt like she was the chocolate chip to my oatmeal raisin. Basically the same cookie, right? But one is awesome, and the other is a stale copycat.

Here's the deal: I had to realize I'm not a copycat. Think about it. Oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip are just different cookies. Some crazy people probably prefer oatmeal raisin to chocolate chip, though I haven't found one of those people yet.

Over those three weeks, I realized we weren't the same person. I'm far more of an extrovert, a speaker, an encourager. Not that she wasn't those things entirely, but she was also an observer, a storyteller, a poet. I am those things too, but I had put those behind my blog, my relationship, my diary, my apologetics. I had my priorities in a different order, and so she thrived in what she loved and I found twelve different jars.

Once I figured that out, it was really no big deal. There's never a bakery with only one type of cookie. Sometimes they'll sell ones that are sort of similar, but they'll both sell out.
It's okay to be oatmeal raisin. Imagine a world where we ONLY had chocolate chip, or macadamia nut, or sugar cookies.
I hate sugar cookies. I'd be heartbroken.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tips From TIP: Hospital Letters

One of the hallmarks of my particular nerd camp is the concept of Mandatory Fun. Simply put, it's an hour a day in which we are mandated to do some activity and socialize. Introverts must be forced into this if they are to have friends. The activities vary -- coloring, dodgeball, trivia -- but all have the same purpose.
One of these activities changed me for good. It created in me a commitment I am now determined to keep.
In Chicago there is a charity, Cards for Hospital Kids. Exactly what it says on the tin. We made letters for an evening activity.
You know what? That struck a chord. Having been in the hospital for extended periods to recover from surgery, I can tell you it's beyond boring. I watched Disney Channel, ate, drank, and wallowed. The most exciting thing that occurred was a visit from a service dog.
So I felt strongly about these letters. I worked with vigor, because I knew had I received one six years ago it would probably still be on my wall, a cherished artifact.
At the end of it all, I looked at our colored envelopes in a disparate pile. I almost cried. Because this was a cause that meant something.
I write a letter every week now. I urge Soldiers who feel useless to find a cause they really care about, and make a commitment. Service leads to purpose.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Tips From TIP: Floater

Let's face it: Loneliness sucks.
I was sometimes very lonely during camp. Two weeks in I'd gone through a breakup of a four year relationship, my first, and it hit me like a truck. Even before that, in my first week, I was at a new campus. The vast majority of attendees were repeat offenders to Duke, so they already had established friends.
But you know what? Sometimes it pays to be a floater. I got to be on friendly terms with a lot of people, even if they weren't my best friend. Groups happen everywhere, and sometimes breaking from them can open you up a bit.
That breakup still sucked. But I had floated around, so I had acquaintances to lean on. People don't like to see others in pain. The helpful spirit comes out that way.
It was the day before our anniversary. I know. Yikes. The day after was a field day. Literally. Actual field day. I was on blue team. You wouldn't think nerd camp would be the place for this, but I guess I was wrong.
I sat down on the curb, dejected. Plus, the hubbub of the crowd was so not helping.
A girl in a baseball cap with my same auburn locks and wry aura finds a spot next to me.
"Man, our team sucks," I say offhandedly. I'm still wallowing, so my gaze is somewhat averted.
"I'm on red," replies Baseball Cap Girl. "I'm Sydney."
I introduce myself, and suddenly the conversation is ten minutes, half an hour, and then a full two hours long, until field day is over. We both had the same single event (limbo, at which I was not the star.) It worked out in our favor, and at the end of it all I had an awesome partner in crime for the rest of camp. Plus, I got an extra contact in my phone.
Being a floater is fun, but sometimes it's good to not be one forever.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Tips from TIP: Encourage

We all know that one person that's super positive regardless of circumstance, right? Well, I met a person like that at camp. Let's talk about it. Or, I'll write about it. You read.
This is an important one. Maybe my most important to date.

My TA at camp was nothing if not an encourager. "No self deprecation!" she would relentlessly beat into our anxious, scrambling little heads.  She was a true advocate of everyone, like a glittery megaphone was on her at all times. Not only in word, but in deed. She bought us all trinkets to fidget with out of her own pocket, complimented us, escorted us, conversed with us, laughed and sometimes cried with us. All of this she did with the protectiveness of a mother bear and a heart of Fort Knox gold. She ran out of energy sometimes, but she always had the courage to lean on people. She did so much for the class we were more than happy to help her.

Encouragement is more than just idle words on the street. It's encouraging dreams, encouraging fun, encouraging openness. All of us should be an encourager of love.

As my TA said of nearly everyone's good works, "Share this with the world." Fill in "this" with whatever your thing is. Anything you love personally can be used to encourage.
Encourage is to put someone in the mind of courage. That takes guts. Tact. Heart. Love.
When someone is In-Courage, they can do almost anything.
You can empower with your thing anyone, and persuade them to do almost any good in the world.
Yes, even you, soldier.
Share with the world. We need it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Tips from TIP: Role Models

You know, I think part of the reason Soldiers beat themselves up has a lot to do with example.
As in, we feel as if we are the only one in our predicament, and we have no precedent for success as far as our group is concerned. Most have never seen someone like us do well in life with their own eyes, so we assume we can't do well at all.

At camp, I learned role models for success make a big impact on your approach to life. My professor is sharp like a honed blade. She's one of the youngest staff on campus and began teaching at twenty one years. And as a black female she's a double minority, but she's also one of the most astute, honest, and encouraging people I know. She's authentic and has a rapier wit, and that's what people notice first about her. Not her gender or her skin.

I guarantee most people you regularly interact with do not remember you for your category. You see your category as a far larger part of your than any of your close circle. Those that do remember you for what box you're in don't know you well enough or don't care to know you in the first place.

Your box doesn't matter if you don't want it too. That's what my role model gradually burned into my brain. I encourage everyone in my shoes: get a role model, a true mentor. You have lots to learn, too.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Life Isn’t West Point

Life Isn't West Point

The following was a draft from, hilariously, June 8th (WOAH.)

I accidentally left this beauty collecting digital dust for a month. Can't win em' all! But please, enjoy it while I get Tips from TIP ready. I think this one's a good one.

You know, at some points in life I've noticed adults can be irrevocably boring.
Take the airport, for example. I see adults standing around the baggage claim, tight lipped and straight backed, when just a couple minutes earlier I spied a five or six year old boy hopping on one foot down the moving walkway.
Y'all, what happened in our lives that makes us think we're walking through West Point every hour of every day?
I'm not advocating for total anarchy, and I'm certainly not advocating for the selfishness that children sometimes have. I'm really just advocating to keep the free spirit, while still maturing into selfless and smart adults.
Of course, some of the things kids do get them hurt. And there's a time and a place for the free spirit. But that's the point. There SHOULD be a time and a place for the free spirit in all of us. Especially Soldiers, because a lot of us grow up thinking the only way to win at life is to take it as seriously as we possibly can.
I've talked about breaks, and pick me ups. This falls in the same vein. You need a break, you need recreation, and you need opportunities for play and freedom in adulthood.
Go outside and play tag. Draw with crayons. Hop on one foot done a moving walkway. There's infinite ways to play.
Just remember that life isn't West Point.