20 Things I’ve Learned at 20

1. When you’re getting checked for skin cancer and the doctor leaves the room for you to undress, you don’t just get completely naked and sit there in your nakedness waiting for her to come in — especially when they have a 17-year-old intern with them (this is what the gown is for).

2. Strong character always trumps a high GPA.

3. Don’t give your social security number to a TJ Maxx cashier just to get a free rewards card.

4. Don’t pre-game the pre-game. It’ll ruin your night and everyone else’s.

5. Her success is not your failure.

6. Being healthy isn’t being skinny. It’s a mixture of physical, mental, and emotional components.

7. If you run out of laundry detergent, don’t just rely on water for the next two months. Your mom will kill you when she finds out you pulled that ratchet move.

8. There is a difference between true love and an unhealthy obsession.

9. A Goodwill store, especially in a rich neighborhood, is a godsend.

10. If the Great Value brand gets the job done, then why spend more money?

11. Stop trying to prove yourself to everyone. Let your success be your noise.

12. Don’t try to pierce yourself. Anywhere. Don’t. Do. It.

13. There are a LIMITED amount of times you can transfer your savings to your checkings before you get charged.

14. Have fun and let go. Productivity is the result of a good couple rest days.

15. Mom on Venmo might seem like a good idea until she sees that you paid Sarah $40 for “Shotz at da clerb let’s get figgidy” at 2 am.

16. You think you peaked in high school but remind yourself of Jenna’s glow up in 13 going on 30.

17. Simplicity is a blast. Starting a book, trying a new recipe, texting someone you haven’t talked to in a while, shoveling Nutella into your mouth alone on a Friday night . . . that’s the good stuff.

18. If you want your words to be effective, less is more. Think about Hemingway’s six-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Incredible.

19. You can do whatever you think you can do.

20. It will be hard for others to love you until you can love yourself.

My Battle with Perfectionism

I used to be a chronic perfectionist. From my sophomore year of high school to my sophomore year in college, I obsessed over appearance, grades, and exercise. If I was going out to a party, I would purposely try to eat as little as possible because I knew I would be drinking empty calories later on. I had a 4.0 GPA. I sacrificed my own well-being to make my appearance and grades absolutely perfect. I had a compulsive need to please everyone. Everyone was constantly telling me to lighten up and relax, but I never could. I never bothered trying to chill out because I thought perfectionism was an inherent trait that would never go away, but that is far from the truth.

Today, I am not a perfectionist. I occasionally skip class and workouts. I eat ice cream on the reg. If I go out, I don’t mull over how many empty calories I consumed. I don’t try to please everyone. Of course there is still a part of me who aches for control over my weight, grades, and others’ perception of me, but now, I am much better at silencing that part of me. Here are some of the factors that I believe helped me overcome my perfectionism:

1. Getting older

Yes, becoming more mature and level-headed probably played a role in helping me overcome perfectionism, but I think there is more to it than that. It was much easier for me to be a perfectionist in high school than it is in college. My school was small, and it was easy for me to be the star of everything. I’d known my peers since the third grade, so I knew what I had to do to please them. My academic workload was easier. I wasn’t subject to the social pressure found in dining halls and social gatherings as much as I am in college, so it was easier to eat less and be at that “perfect” weight. Additionally, there were less distractions in high school, and it was also much easier to focus on exercise.

Living on a huge college campus seven hours from my hometown changed everything. I had no chance in being the star, so I simply cared less. Don’t get me wrong, I still persevere and give my all here at college, but there’s no obsessive element anymore. I no longer freak out when I get a B instead of an A, and I no longer count my calories. There’s something about adulthood that makes you go from constantly questioning yourself, “Is this good enough?” to telling yourself, “This is f****g good enough.”

2. Social media

Yes, despite all of the research arguing how social media destroys self-confidence, social media has helped me become much more accepting of who I am, especially Instagram. I follow many fitness gurus on Instagram, and lately, many of them have been posting “12 Hour Transformations” where they compare how their bodies look in the morning versus at night.

As a social media addict, I am constantly comparing myself to the bodies of women on Instagram, so seeing these 12 Hour Transformation photos is incredibly refreshing. I get discouraged at night when I don’t feel as “skinny” as I did in the morning because I look at photos on Instagram of who seem to have perfect abs 24 hours a day. But these transformation photos remind me that those perfect-bodied women are probably snapping those photos as soon as they wake up when they haven’t eaten in eight hours. They probably get bloated at night too, just like me.

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In addition to the transformation photos, Instagram is full of “strong over skinny messages.” I used to secretly go on pro-anorexia/pro-bulimia forums which would give me purging/starvation tips. They are horrific. Now, my feed is filled with strong, beautiful women who lift heavy and fuel properly. I strongly encourage those with body image issues to start following people like @nessasphere, @karinaelle, and @zuzkalight. Trust me, they didn’t get their ripped stomachs and perky butts from starving themselves.

3. Relationships

I know I say this in just about every blog post, but I am saying it again: you become the people you surround yourself with. Until college, I was never really around people with a lot of self-confidence. In fact, I liked connecting with people who also hated their bodies because they would share their weight loss tricks with me. Being around insecure people helped me maintain an eating disorder that I was very attached to. College changed all of that. I remember eating dessert — for the first time in a year — during my freshmen year of college with my friends. Even though it was just vanilla yogurt topped with chocolate chips and whipped cream, it wasn’t one of my “safe” foods and I knew I was going to regret eating it. After we were finished, I expected my friends to talk about how much they regretted dessert, but instead, they continued to laugh, talk, and move on with their lives. That’s when I realized something: life is so much more fun when you don’t spend 65% of the day freaking out over the food you ate. That was my life before I met my friends at college. Because of them, I went from being a neurotic eater to a normal eater. Overall, if you think you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, ask yourself, “Are my relationships furthering this habit?” If they are, find new people to be around ASAP. It’s amazing what new relationships can do for you.

For all the chronic perfectionists out there, I want you to know that your perfectionism is not a permanent trait, and you CAN minimize it. Changing my environment and building fresh relationships helped me silence the perfectionist voice inside my head. Learn to celebrate your mistakes. Be comfortable in your own skin. Believe in redemption. Remove the all-or-nothing mindset. Compare yourself to yourself rather than to others. Realize that it’s okay to binge on an entire Dominos pizza and cheesy bread all by yourself. Get the hell away from nervously perfectionistic people, because when you’re on your death bed, you’re going to regret all of the energy you spent trying to make everything so god damn perfect.

Teammates

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I spent the majority of my high school track  career pouting, bawling, and crying to my coach about why I was such a horrific athlete. It killed my parents to see their daughter beat herself up after every single performance. I was a hopeless fusspot burdened with an eating disorder that I thought would make me run faster (but only destroyed my body) and deadly perfectionism.

Now, as a collegiate runner, I’ve changed. A lot. In fact, my parents, coaches, and former high school teammates are baffled at how much I’ve changed as an athlete and as a person. In high school, I was 100% devoted to whittling down to an unrealistic race weight that did make me fast in the short-term, BUT I ended up with a stress fracture, osteoporosis, a damaged running career, and broken relationships. In other words, focusing on my weight throughout my training ruined me as a runner and as a functioning human being.

Now, I don’t focus on weight. I focus on training, recovering, and eating a balanced diet. I know that if I focus on these three things then the right “race weight” for me will come right along.

How I went from becoming a pessimistic, weight-obsessed, perfectionist athlete to a positive and self-loving one is all because of my teammates. They say you are the people you surround yourselves with and I think that is so true. Running at George Mason, I am surrounded by people who are so good at staying strong amidst physical and emotional hardship, so good at telling themselves that they really can reach their goals, so good at just having fun with the race, so good at being happy with who they are. Being around these people so much has made me cultivate a much healthier mindset, and I haven’t felt this happy with myself in a long time.

If it wasn’t for my teammates, I would have quit running by now because I would’ve been telling myself that I’ll never be good enough. Because of them, I do feel good enough. In fact, after my 3,000 meter indoor race, I came in dead last (it was my first race coming back from an injury). Yes, dead last. However, I returned to a group of teammates who cheered for me and hugged me as if I had qualified for the Olympics.

Now there are people out there who will say “great job” just because they feel like they have to, or because they don’t really know what a “great job” is in the track world, but I could tell that my teammates genuinely thought I gave it my all, and that meant so much to me.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if you are in a good spot in your life. I think the best way to make sure you are is to look at the people you’ve surrounded yourself with: are your coworkers/teammates/neighbors/friends building you up and helping you become healthier emotionally, or are they doing the opposite and making you feel like you aren’t enough?

Face it. You can’t build yourself up and become a better person all by yourself. You need a support system. I’m lucky enough to have an incredible and inspirational one that is my George Mason XC and Track family.

Eating disorders. They suck.

A lot of people know and have read the long, long story that I wrote a while back about my eating disorder, but I never got into the graphic details about it. I was asked to summarize my eating disorder for my friend who is doing a project on anorexia/bulimia and I’d like to share it on here. It’s shorter, more concise (I’m a lot older now and can . .  . write a little bit better) and pretty detailed. I want to share this story because it illustrates how eating disorder patients are always still suffering, no matter how physically healthy they are.

I want to spread awareness. I want to show people why I have this tattooed on my body. Most of all, I want you to love the body you’re in and recognize all of the incredible things it can do for you.

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I developed anorexia/bulimia when I was 17. One day I wanted to see how long I could go without eating and I felt so proud of myself after I did that. Eventually it turned into a habit and I went from 135 pounds to 105 pounds. I just hate (and still hate) my body type. I wanted —and still sort of want —to be skeletal. I wanted my clavicle and ribs to jut out and once it started doing that, I became so “happy.” I remember sitting with my friends at lunch and thinking I had so much will power because I was better than them for not eating. I ruined relationships with my family and turned into a liar. Anorexia turns you into a huge liar because you have to constantly lie about eating and purging. I remember purging in the shower and in the woods in my backyard. I would bring a toothbrush to school and purge there in the bathroom after lunch. My family didn’t live with me anymore. They lived with an eating disorder.

I stole laxatives from my mom and abused them all the time. I took so many laxatives every day. I only ate soft foods (ice cream, jello) so that they would come up easier. I was so thin and I felt high from starvation. It literally gave me so much euphoria. Temporary euphoria, that is. I would always go home to a brokenhearted family who watched their daughter wither away. I remember my dad, my stoic, unemotional, callous correctional officer of a father came up to my room, hugged me as I laid in bed, and just bawled his eyes out.

But that didn’t stop me from starvation.

I was obsessed with myself. I loved my new body. I threw out all of my clothes so my mom would buy me smaller clothes. She drove me two hours to therapy and the doctors every day and I always lied to them. Always told them I would get better and that I wanted to get better, but I wouldn’t.

So my starving and purging went on for two years, on and off. I finally started to make real improvement when I got to college and joined cross country. When you run as much as I do, you’re forced to feed yourself, and running pretty much saved me and my body. Running forced me to eat and I remembered how much I loved food. College and running, and an incredible support system out at college really saved me.

But did I recover? Well . . . physically I have. Mentally, no. I don’t think eating disorder patients ever fully recover. I will always hate my body. I try crazy diets all the time and sometimes go days where I starve myself because I miss the “high” that I get. I drink and eat too much fiber on purpose because I miss what laxatives did for me. I binge and sometimes I even make myself throw up. I still hate my body and think I am morbidly obese, and a lot of it has to do with the pressure society has put on me. I wish I didn’t hate my body and it breaks my parents’ hearts to see their daughter hate the way she looks and I wish I didn’t but I do.

And a lot of people feel exactly like I do.

Thursday thoughts

Pebbles_on_beach_at_Broulee_-NSW_-Australia-2Jan2009.jpg“We modify each other just as pebbles in a tumbler rub the rough edges off each other.”

-Nagapriya

Be mindful of who you are surrounded by, because maybe, just maybe, you are the sum total of all the people you have ever met and their influence on you.

 

 

What a 12-year-old taught me

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Last weekend, my 12-year-old sister tried out for her high school musical Mulan. Everyone in my family expected her to get the lead role because she has an incredible voice. A few days after auditions, I texted her and asked if she had heard anything at school. about the auditions

“Yes.”

A one word answer. That has bad news written all over it.

It turned out that my sister did not get a lead role. Instead, she was a dressmaker, and according to my mother, she balled as soon she she got home from school. And she balled for a long time.

When I found out her state of misery, I texted her paragraphs and paragraphs of pep talk. I told her how talented, beautiful, and ambitious she was. But like most pubescent females, she ignored my words of wisdom and continued to beat herself up.

I gave up.

The next day, she sent me a photo of a poem she’d written. I was in awe at her creative word usage, engaging tone, and mature writing style.

I wondered what drove her to write such a beautiful poem and uncover this new talent of hers, and then it came to me: rejection.

My sister did not get a lead role in the musical, and that rejection pushed her to discover a new talent that she had. I don’t think she would have had the motive to write if she’d gotten the lead role.

Rejection and failure are painful things to deal with. However, my little sister taught me that although they are painful, they are also the catalysts that drive us to uncover our talents. Rejection and failure carve us into our true characters. They knock us down, spit on us, and force us to become so miserable that we have no choice but to find the beauty in ourselves.

My sister inspires me to find the beauty in myself.

Semester struggles — You are not your GPA

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This semester, I was required to take a class covering a non-Western culture and decided to take Buddhism. I’d always been intrigued by the “your thoughts create your world” mantra from the Buddha, and I figured it might be a neat class to take for self-improvement.

For my homework, I was required to read about the Buddha’s philosophy on teaching. The reading explained that the Buddha was more focused on instilling skills in his pupils rather than feeding them with knowledge.

At first this was confusing. What is the difference between knowledge and skill? Don’t you need knowledge to have skill? A quote from the reading helps distinguish the two:

“The nature of the knowledge that the Buddha was trying to convey to his pupils is more akin to a skill, like knowing how to play a musical instrument, than a piece of information, such as what time the Manchester train leaves tomorrow.” 

~Gethin, “Foundations of Buddhism,” pg. 36

As a college student, I have a habit of defining my success by how much knowledge I know. Instead of defining myself by rich character qualities and talents, I define myself by my GPA. And a lot of us do it, and I have a feeling that by the time we graduate, we are going to say to ourselves, “I can’t believe we did that.”

I have a feeling that when we graduate, we are going to go out into the real world ready to brag about our excellent GPA to all of our employers, only to discover that they could care less. Only to discover that employers know better than to think that just because someone has a high GPA means that they will make a great employee. Only to discover that we should have never let our feelings and our self-esteem be dictated by a number or a letter grade.

The Buddha wasn’t focused on how much knowledge his pupils acquired, rather how much skill they developed. News flash — knowing does not make you skilled. Having strong interpersonal skills, charisma, empathy, and kindness makes you skilled.

Knowledge is information acquired through sensory input: reading, listening, touching, etc. But skills, on the other hand, refer to the ability to apply knowledge to specific situation. Success isn’t about how much you know. It is about how you use what you know to kick ass in life.

You could know everything about a sport, but that doesn’t make you any good at it. The same applies to a job. One could know a lot about a subject, but might not have the skills to apply that knowledge to specific tasks.

I would love to live in a world where teachers recognized that to better prepare individuals to meet a desired performance, they don’t need lectures. What they need is practice. I think I am a credible person to say this because, well, I learn much more from my internships (where I put my skills into practice) than from my classes. I’m not saying that class is useless, because it isn’t. What I am saying is that the best way to learn, in my opinion, is not to read about it, but to actually do it.