All the world’s a stage…

Breathe in, breathe out. Stay calm. You got this.

It was a Friday evening. I was backstage of the Palace of Fine Arts SF getting ready to go on stage and take my role as the host of my university’s talent show. The PoFA is pretty impressive. You might even use the word intimidating. It fits 900 people and we had sold over 500 seats. It was the biggest audience I had ever performed in front. The whole thing was pretty big…or at least felt like it.

Palace of Fine Arts at dusk

Palace of Fine Arts at dusk

When my school called for auditions for the talent show, I didn’t really consider it. I have always loved acting and being on stage but somehow, over all the marketing in the past months, I had pushed it back into the very back of my head. But then, a friend signed me up to audition for the role of the show’s hostess. I didn’t wanna go. However, due to a bit of pride, ambition and curiosity, I auditioned nonetheless. Plus, Judith (yes, my long-distance roommate) had given me a challenge book for SF as my parting gift and one of those challenges was “Go do some acting on a stage in the city!”
And what better stage than the biggest of them all, right?

I was picked as a host and the show took place last Friday. And it was absolutely amazing! I could notice how the stage transformed me, gave me security and strength and the feeling to belong. I wasn’t the weird gal that randomly started singing or beat-boxing in the hallway. I was the girl who was brave enough to invent weird dance moves in front of 500 people. Alongside my two co-hosts, I cracked jokes, made the audience laugh, clap, even give me standing ovations. And I finally remembered that theater makes me feel alive.

I am good at many things but there are very few things in life in which I both excell and find pleasure. Theater is that! Leaving my own self aside for a little bit and  bringing a different character to life instead is amazing. Theater smell is the best smell in the world. Being passionate about something is awesome. And the best part comes at the end. When you get to mingle with the audience after the show and you can tell how people look at you a little different. You showed a glimpse of your happy place, you let that wild extrovert peek through that is otherwise so carefully hidden behind a studious mask. People tell you “Great job!” “Wow, you were so funny, I couldn’t believe that was you!” “Amazing, I could never do that!”. And knowing that it was you who gave all these people an enjoyable evening, it was due to you that 500 people cracked up and laughed tears and left the theater with a big grin in their face is the most amazing feeling I have yet experienced.

People grow up and exchange their childhood career dreams for more realistic life goals. In real life, I am so so excited to dive into the field of marketing and advertising. But, in my dream world, I am holding on to the idea of becoming an actress. Nothing makes me feel more alive. And nothing else gives me the feeling of actually having an impact on other people’s lives.

I just want them to know
That I gave my all, did my best
Brought someone some happiness
Left this world a little better just because…”

Cheers,

Ari

 

Teach Yourself!

This is going to be a practical post.

Can you imagine? I’m not exactly known to be the most practical person. My mom (and many of my friends) used to joke that someone with such a great academic record should really be able to remember to buy milk or call the dentist (okay, forgetting the dentist MIGHT have been on purpose). In fact, I know my mother worries sometimes that with all my head-in-the-clouds daydreaming behaviour, I will be incapable of leading a productive grown-up life.

But in fact, I have thought about some very practical matters recently. Chief among them, what does a recent graduate do with his/her life? Well, this graduate here would like to be a brand designer. She’d like to create brand identities, develop strategies, be a creative planner and an artist. Really. That type of job has that faint but irresistible smell of “this could be your passion”.

However, agencies are a bit tough to break into, and many job descriptions will describe someone who’s a bit of an all-rounder. Having worked in a small agency, I see the point of that, and considering all that brand design entails, it really does make sense for me to know my way around the Adobe software, have a decent design portfolio, know how to program a website (basic HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.), handle big, intimidating copiers without causing paper jams, speak five languages fluently, be able to milk a cow in under 20 seconds, do handstands while juggling computers and decode the Facebook newsfeed algorithm on request… well you get my point. I was sort of serious up to the paper jams. Actually, up to the languages. But of course, that’s not the kind of stuff I learned in college.

So instead, I’ve been teaching myself. I called this post “school of life” but really it’s more like “school of awesome free (and not so free) online resources”. I’m studying for a certificate in Graphic Design (that’s the not so free part) but I’ve recently also found some other resources very much worth looking into, so I thought maybe I should share. Please note… this is a personal collection, I’m not being paid by any of these websites to advertise them (on a blog with 27 followers, that wouldn’t make much sense either, hehe), neither are they aware that I’m talking about them 😉

1) Duolingo.com

Learn Spanish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese online for free. Your progress is divided into sections on a “skill tree”, which you need to solve to unlock new sections. In each set of exercises, you are permitted a maximum of three mistakes (three hearts you can lose). In the end, you get points for the questions solved and the hearts you have left. It’s fun in an almost addictive way, and I’ve been using it to brush up my French recently. My boyfriend’s taking his first tentative steps to mastering my mother tongue, German, in the same program – he’s not quite as excited about it (yet, hehe), but German is also a bitch. Ariane has been using it to learn some Portuguese. You can sign up with Facebook if you’d like to connect with your friends and see their progress as well as yours (feeling competitive?). And since it’s completely free, you don’t lose anything by checking it out either 🙂

2) Skillshare.com

Yet to try this, but it looks like a really cool resource for a wide range of affordable online courses. I browsed through yesterday and I will for sure be enrolling in some of those once I finish my design fundamentals course.

3) Codecademy.com

Learn to code for free. Just started this now, it’s very hands-on and user friendly in its design and learning interface. I’m really excited to get deeper into it, and so far I didn’t have any trouble following the courses. I’ve learned some basic HTML and CSS already and now I’m just starting JavaScript. Kudos to Codecademy for keeping the courses fun…

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 2.04.02 PM

Those are my top 3 at the moment, but don’t forget one valuable point… work experience. Get student jobs. Really. Work with a professor. Last fall, I started what sounded like a very boring office assistant position. I took it because I needed money. I ended up learning how to create a personalized online survey and being head organizer for a three-day conference. I learned a LOT more than I had ever expected, and it was in no small part due to the fact that I just volunteered when something needed to be done. So be proactive. Take opportunities. Agree to build a WordPress site, make an online survey, organize an event, even if you’ve never done any of those things. It’s learning by doing and in the end, you’re benefitting just as much, if not more, than the professor who got around doing the wordpress site himself.

By the way, if you have any cool resources to add to the above list, please comment!

The right job for me?

So, I’ve actually been back on this beautiful campus that I just left earlier this month with a diploma in one hand and my teddybear Aristotle Panda, a goodbye present from my friends, in the other. (Okay, and a car packed to the roof… I really mean it, chock-full of stuff, I spent the car ride holding a plant on my lap and arranging my feet in between a guitar and a box that I’m pretty sure contained about 30 bottles of nailpolish.)

But never mind the tetris-like arrangement of stuff in the car… I wanted to talk about something else. I wanted to talk about coming back to help organize a conference. And by that, I pretty much mean, sending a ton of emails. Event management can be summed up in two words – “many emails”. I don’t want to offend any event managers reading our blog, so here is a disclaimer: It’s not easy. It’s not a lazy-person job. All these emails that you send – you have to make pretty darn sure you don’t delete the important ones, don’t forget to respond to the urgent ones, CC the people who will otherwise be confused and/or upset at being left out of decisions, and of course, you have to keep track of EVERYTHING.

A conference doesn’t just need people attending and people talking. It needs coffee breaks, cold drinks, accommodation, schedules, dinner catering, changed opening hours for the cafeteria, travel cost requests and reimbursements, conference fees, participation confirmations, flight bookings, emergency numbers, bedsheets, towels, soap, a welcome desk, a chair and table for said welcome desk, glasses, water, wine, beer, more coffee (this time for the organizer), and the list goes on and on and on.

Truth be told, I like most of it. I like being a head organizer. I like that this conference is something I created. I like knowing that people will have a vegetarian option at dinner because I requested it, and that they will have Internet vouchers because I thought of them in time, and that they will have a campus map with colourful dots on it that will make their lives so much easier. You know when you go to an event and you feel that you’re not being given sufficient information? Everything might be organized perfectly but you feel lost because nobody told you where to go. I like thinking that this will not happen because I created a guide to put in the welcome package which will tell people how to use the Internet vouchers and where (and when) they can get food.

So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not fun. But despite the fact that I feel I’m doing a really good job so far, I am also pretty convinced that this is not the right job for me. I’m not planning on pursuing it, anyways, this conference is the last big task of a student job I have held since October. But you know how people tend to tell you if you’re talented in an area, that is probably the work you should pursue?

I disagree. And you know why? Because I’m good at event management, but I’m not passionate about it. And I still believe that there’s that one thing out there that will excite me for the rest of my life. That one thing that will make me want to jump out of bed at some crazy early hour because I can’t wait to go to work. I know it’s in the creative direction, and I have a suspicion that it has something to do with branding, brand identity creation, brand design – both the strategic and the graphic/creative part of that field. I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis on this subject and I will start an internship in this field soon, so we’ll see if my suspicion was right. In the meantime, dear readers, I see a lot more post-graduation-confusion coming my way, and therefore your way… it’s good to know that our stories seem to be entertaining you guys, and by the way, can we say a big THANK YOU to our now over 20 followers… we know it’s a tiny number in the blogosphere, but it is hugely exciting to us that there are twenty complete strangers who like reading our ramblings. We’re not going anywhere – stay tuned! 🙂

On Life: Insecurities vs. Passion

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

This one is especially for Ariane, inspired by a recent conversation. I feel a bit awkward, to be honest, in trying to sell anything like a life philosophy – I really don’t know if I should be that bold at the age of twenty-two. Then again, I am young enough to vividly remember my teenage years… that time when everything that matters is what everyone else thinks of you. When judgements like “too fat”, “not pretty enough”, “teacher’s pet”, “loser”, “bad at sports”, “too tall”, “weird hair”, “not part of the cool kids”, are what seems to define a person. And trust me, my teenage years, particularly the early ones, were full of those. Later I sort of found my “niche”, but even though the judgements were no longer made to my face, my brain had already learned them and repeated them, endlessly, without my conscious attention. It was only recently that I became aware of just how damaging those little voices in my head had been, and how insecure they had rendered me.

I’m not going to tell you I have no more insecurities. Everybody does. Inside everyone is that awkward teenager that felt somehow they just did not fit in, or the child who felt that she was not loved enough, or the schoolboy who was made fun of because he was the teacher’s favourite.

In the process of reaching that state of adulthood, I believe it’s crucial to begin replacing the judgements that formed our identity in our teenage years with a new concept of the self. Now, a few years ago, my definition of myself might have been something like, “I’m a student… I like books… and travelling… and… uhmmm… I have a cat…” See my point? I wouldn’t have known how to define my identity, other than what I do, and what I like. The unspoken judgements that formed an enormous (albeit largely subconscious) part of who I was and how I behaved, were something like “too fat… guys don’t like me… my hair is too frizzy… I’m too smart, nobody likes a know-it-all… I’m not one of the cool kids… I don’t fit in”. The process of learning to answer the question “Who are you?” starts by identifying what we think we are, subconsciously. These damaging words that are so ingrained in us after our teenage years are what causes us to be insecure. So what makes us more secure? What can give us confidence? How do we arrive at a new self-concept, one that is not based on negative judgements that usually do not even have any kind of objective truth in them?

The obvious answer is, by finding what really is true about us. Ask yourself, what makes me tick? What am I passionate about? What is it that I love? Which are the activities that I enjoy so much that I don’t feel time passing anymore? What makes me unique? What are my talents? What have others noticed in me that they appreciate? What am I often complimented on? Whether that is your style or the way you do your hair, the way you kick a soccer ball, your ability to listen or to make people laugh, it does not matter. I could say what others think of you doesn’t matter anyways, and to an extent that is exactly what I am saying. But of course, mtu ni watu (a person is people, i.e. no man is an island), so our self-concept will naturally be influenced by our interactions with others. My point is that often we take from those interactions any criticism and judgement, real or imagined, and internalize it, but we dismiss compliments. Don’t. It’s not “nothing”.

Don’t dismiss compliments. Don’t dismiss yourself and your talents. Don’t say, “Well yeah, but that’s nothing extraordinary”, or, “Well, everybody can do that”. Your skills and talents are worth something. If someone asks who you are, tell them what inspires you. Tell them what you dream of. Don’t be afraid to share what you love. Of course you are not just your skills and talents. I’m talking about what makes you passionate, what makes you come alive. Have you ever had a conversation with someone about their greatest passion? Have you noticed how their eyes are bright, their whole body is alive, they’re almost beaming with excitement… and suddenly the most boring subject seems interesting, because they are speaking of it in such a passionate way? It’s happened to me with a biology teacher speaking about amoebae, and a scientist who builds little robots that scan the ground of the ocean and bring up dirt samples. I also had the great privilege of being taught Calculus by a man who was a mathematician not just by profession, but with every fiber of his being. I always preferred languages and social sciences, but that year, math was my favourite class.

It’s amazing what passion can do, and how much it can change our lives if we find what we are passionate about. If you already know, great. Think about how you feel when you’re doing whatever it is you love doing. I bet you don’t feel inadequate, or insecure. I bet you’re not thinking you should really lose a few pounds or wishing your hair was longer, or less unruly. When you’re in the zone, there is just no room for such thoughts. THAT is who you are. Share that part of your life. It’s the most genuine you can be – and that’s how connection happens.

If you’ve read this far and you’re shaking your head and saying, nice, but I’m really not that excited about anything… I hear you. I said the same thing a while ago. It can take time to figure out what you’re really passionate about. If you have an inkling… you always took art classes as a kid but stopped because it wasn’t considered cool, or you didn’t want to spend the money, or life got in the way… but you really enjoyed those classes… that’s a good starting point. If you keep getting compliments for something, that’s another good starting point. Like I said – don’t dismiss compliments. Listen.

If you have no idea, you get to try something new. Try a sport you feel drawn to. Join a choir. Get a library card. Learn chess. Plant a few herbs or flowers and be a gardener. Take a class in sewing, or Russian, or anything else that sounds like fun. If you don’t love it, try something else. Think about what you consider yourself to be talented in – but don’t limit yourself to that. It’s entirely possible to be good at something and not enjoy it at all. It’s equally possible that you’ll be good at something you didn’t think you could do.

And when you’ve found that thing that you love, that makes you forget the passing of time… share it. Let that be what others see in you. Not your self-doubts and your insecurities. Those aren’t ever going to go away.. but if you can recognise them for what they are, instead of calling them truths, you’ll be able to handle them much easier. And the first step to that, I believe, is to find something that is actually true about you – so true that when you share it, others can see it in your eyes and your body language and hear it in the way you speak. Call it your passion, your favourite hobby, your talent, your calling, whatever you like. Just promise me that you’ll take away from the time that you spend doubting yourself and worrying about yourself and your shortcomings, and invest that time into finding what makes you tick. It’s more than worth it – and you owe it to yourself to find out what makes you come alive.

PS:

Of course, there is much more to a self-concept than your passions. Something else I’ve been pondering a lot is the question of values. Where are my boundaries? What is acceptable behaviour? How do I treat others, and how do I wish to be treated? Are those two in accord? … etc. … Another is the question of personality – part of that, of course, is what I wrote about above, but there is more to that too – being honest about your character traits, identifying where there is a need for improvement… but also realise that your shortcomings are not you, they are just aspects of your personality that you can observe and change. I might write a second part to this in the not too distant future, if I feel like it… I mean, if I find the time, considering my other commitments.

I’d also like to say that this is just what my young, idealistic and sometimes over-analytical self came up with when I thought about insecurity versus confidence. It’s obviously not the gospel truth. Take what you like from it, leave the rest. Also leave comments if you like. Cheers!