Friday, January 29, 2016

Rainbows in the Produce Aisle

A few days ago, I realized something. I am 95% certain that more people have read this fledgling blog than have read, or ever will read, the dissertation I spent over three years of my life writing. Now, I’m the type to see the humor in the unfortunate, so this initially struck me as one of those amusing ironies of life. At around 2AM that night, though, I remembered the stress that my dissertation occasioned: the constantly broken out skin (which has cleared up since I stopped teaching five classes at once), the days without any sort of human contact, and the agonizing over each and every sentence. Ah, there’s that downer feeling I should’ve had in the first place! But you’re probably here for the outfit, so let’s get on with it, shall we? I’ll get back to the ‘oh my god did I waste the bulk of my 20s?!?’ bit later (*spoiler alert:* the answer is ‘no.’)

My sister would be so proud of me today – I’m wearing so much color, including a shirt that she got me for Christmas! I’m a pretty big Zelda fan (Ocarina of Time for the win!) and my favorite color of all time is green, so this shirt was a guaranteed hit. Thanks, Ronnie! The skirt was an impulse purchase in a shop I’d never heard of before stepping in: Varga, in the Fox Hills Mall in LA. A few months ago, I only wore this skirt with black tops, but the pattern is so colorful that it’s actually fairly easy to pick a bright top that matches. It’s 27 degrees out today, so I’m wearing pettipants underneath the skirt for a little extra warmth. The added volume they give the skirt is a lovely bonus!
Shirt: Gift! (but the internet is seriously crawling with Zelda gear)
Cardigan: Le Bomb Shop
Skirt: Varga
Pettipants: Malco Modes
Earrings: Summer Blue Jewelry on Etsy (her shop is on vacation till 2/6)
Boots: Bogs Pearl, from Amazon
Aren't tomatoes a beautiful backdrop?

I’ve just realized that this post is the exact opposite of how I liked to comment on student papers. Whenever I could, I used to employ the ‘sandwich’ method: begin by pointing out something positive about the paper, stick your critical points in the middle, and finish with another positive point. In this post, though, the heavy stuff serves as the bread, with cheery outfit stuff in the role of the turkey and Swiss.

It’s tempting to feel like you’ve wasted your time when you pour your heart and soul into something and receive nothing but that cricket-chirp noise from the universe in response. It’s also tempting to see that lack of response to your project as a reflection of the project’s inherent worth, or your own worth. That way of thinking is toxic and paralyzing. It’s also wrong, conveniently enough.

I don’t think that pursuing my PhD and writing my thesis was a waste of time. But to genuinely believe that, I have to unlearn the narratives about value and self-worth that I learned in graduate school (tl;dr: academic culture teaches you that your publication record and status within your field are the main, if not the sole, factors determining your personal worth), and replace them with narratives that are truer to my personal principles. And for this, I go back to my roots.
"No man is a failure who has friends."

I grew up hearing that “work is our greatest blessing,” that “virtue is its own reward,” and that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” When I started writing my dissertation, I made a conscious decision to do it on my terms. I chose to write on the topic I found most interesting, even though it wasn’t especially fashionable, and to see the remainder of my time in grad school as perhaps the only time I’d ever get to do exactly what I wanted, how I wanted, for a living. And I did. And that is a rare privilege in today’s economy.
Effects of graduate school (artist's rendering)

I’ve seen Rocky twice. The first time was the middle of my first year in grad school. Actual spoiler alert, if you’ve never seen Rocky. The movie totally perplexed me. Why on Earth was he so happy at the end? He worked his butt off, and for what? To get trounced by Apollo Creed? What kind of an ending is that? The second time I saw it was the year after I finished grad school. And that time, I got it. It’s possible to triumph even when you lose. I triumphed because I pushed myself to my intellectual limits, grew tremendously as a person, enjoyed my work and my time immensely (much of the time!), learned to exercise a great deal of self-discipline in pursuit of my larger goals, and perhaps most importantly, organized my entire life around a purpose I had chosen mindfully. #worthit!

Ok, now let me extrapolate from my personal experiences to a generally-applicable principle. (Wow, talking about my life as an academic brings me right back to my ponderous-academic-prose days.) I suppose the point is actually pretty simple. If you choose goals that genuinely reflect you, rather than allowing societal expectations to shape those goals for you, it's a lot easier to feel like you've spent your time on this Earth well. Don't focus on external measures of 'success;' instead, think about whether your actions line up with the person you want to become, and rejoice in those moments when you find yourself living your life as your own work of art. /endcheesiness.

What does success mean to you? What have you done that you are most proud of?

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  1. Ha, I'm very proud indeed. >:D Em I'm loving the look and the life lessons, so keep 'em coming!
    P.S. nice shirt

    1. Thanks, Roon! I had you in mind when I put on all these colors! Maybe someday you'll be a guest blogger here, since your rainbow skills are aces.

      I'm so glad that somebody special got me this shirt!! <3

  2. Excellent post - always a good reminder <3