Halloween Poetry

Whatever you decide to wear this Halloween, do it for you-- not for your friends, not for boys, not for girls, not for societal approval. It's your choice. And if anyone tells you otherwise, you can go ahead and show them that you can be a monster.

Happy Halloween.
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Coffee and Cupcakes - Our Ritual

My friends and I have a relaxation/bonding ritual. Every so often, we do Coffee and Cupcakes. We had just escaped the valley of death known as midterms hell week, and escaped to the oasis that is a four-day weekend. Coffee and Cupcakes is actually coffee and cupcakes and magazines and deep chats.

First order of business was to hit the cupcake shop, Extraordinary Cupcakes.

This cupcakery has a strong following among William and Mary students. Not only is it delicious, but it's within walking distance from campus. Sometimes, we decide to stay a little closer to where we live and cut the cupcakes out of our ritual and opt for coffee at our local Bookstore. After a harrowing week of papers and exams, though, we knew we deserved cupcakes.

Look at that peacock with his come-hither eyes in front of the ferris wheel of cupcakes. Yes, it rotates. I think he's there to hypnotize people.

My favorite is the Red Velvet. That's the cupcake they really nailed! I'm not a fan of super sweet cupcakes, so the cream cheese frosting really makes it. They have a lot of other great flavors, too.

My best friend Jasmin is one of my favorite people to take pictures of!

We actually don't get coffee from the cupcake place. There is a Books-A-Million the next shopping center over with a Joe Muggs coffee inside.

We take our cupcakes, order coffees, and grab some magazines. It's usually wedding magazines, not that any of us are dating anyone currently. It's just the most interesting thing that also doesn't make us feel like we're wanting. Fashion magazines kind of make us feel like we need more stuff. Fitness magazines make us feel really guilty-- you can't look through those things while eating a massive cupcake and downing a flavored coffee drink.

Sorry, thighs. This was not a battle you could win.
The fact that wedding stuff is far off means we can talk about it without feeling any kind of pressure. It's also a really good starting point for funny stories because it combines topics of family, friends, relationships, and our general hopes for the future. We're all from very different backgrounds so the discussions are really great. We happened to get on the topic of tattoos-- turns out there are a lot of great family tattoo stories in my circle. Who knew? As of yet, none of us have tattoos, but several of us are at varying degrees of consideration.

This is our ritual. It's probably some of the best, non-sleep-deprived bonding we do. Do you have a relaxing ritual with your friends? Spa days? Manicures? Brunch? Sound off in a the comments!

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International Day of the Girl - PLUS Ad Promo

Today is October 11th, meaning it is UN designated International Day of the Girl. You've no doubt heard of the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban on a school bus after making herself a voice for change advocating for girls' right to an education. She's not the only one fighting for her fair shot at an education. Around the world, girls are being kept out of school. Whether it's the threat of violence, sexual assault, or money issues, it's almost always the girls who fall victim to broken systems. Girls who do not get educated are given few options. Many are forced into child marriages, and soon after, pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, on this planet, the number one cause of death for girls between 15 and 19 years old is childbirth. Others still are kept in poverty with few options for gaining financial security or political agency. Some are even forced into prostitution or slavery in order to survive.

Investing in girls' education is one of the best investments you can make. You want to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS? Send a girl to school. You want to strengthen an economy? Get girls into class. You want to help girls avoid child marriage? Enroll her in school. Putting a girl in a classroom takes her out of harm's way and improves the outlook of her life-- as well as that of her children, and their children. By sending a girl to school, we can break cycles of poverty, illiteracy, and disease. 

So how do we make a change for the better? The first step is to make noise and raise awareness. Tell your friends. Get educated by visiting sites like Day of the GirlThe Girl Effect, 10x10 / Girl Rising, and She's the First. Bring screenings of Girl Rising, an award-winning documentary about the importance of girls' education in the developing world, to your area or campus-- if not, screen the Nepal Chapter for free. Spread the knowledge. Then, take it to the next level. Fundraise-- whether it's a bake sale at school or asking for donations rather than Christmas or birthday gifts. A little money goes a long way, and a lot of money goes much further.

This week, I've worked with Her Campus W&M to bring Girl Rising to our campus, and we've run a small benefit concert and a night-time bake sale fundraiser outside the library to capitalize on midterm-munchies. It's been a lot of fun to bring our girls together to support a great cause. 

We raised over a hundred dollars with a few dozen cupcakes
I encourage everyone to take 10 seconds out of their day today to post a facebook status or video about this cause. Awareness is the first step.

In order to help get the word out, I'm running an ad promo. Write a post about International Day of the Girl on your site, and use the code "GirlEffect" when buying an ad spot on my blog (which you can do here) and get $10 off. That means that my Small and Skinny Medium sized spots are completely FREE and the Thick Medium and Large spots are significantly discounted. Ads run for THREE FULL MONTHS! There are only 10 redemptions for this offer, so get your International Day of the Girl Post up today for your best chance at getting an ad slot. What I hope is that this will help spread the conversation about the need to support girls in developing nations by getting them to school. Thank you to everyone who lends their voice to the cause today (and any other day).

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Dinner at Farm to Fork

Eating local and trying to know where your food comes from is never a bad thing. The sustainability initiative at my school puts together a meal every year to remind us of the importance of supporting local farmers and eating well. It's called Farm to Fork. It brings together the local farmers, local high end chefs, and the student body together. It's $12 but you can pay with dining dollars. Last Friday I went to Farm to Fork and it did not disappoint.

I had always heard of the event but this was the first time I'd attended. Everyone was raving about how amazing the food was every year-- since we don't live in a metropolitan area, the dining pickings are pretty slim, and there's not enough competition to make the restaurant around here a feasible choice for most meals.

The food did not disappoint. Everything was perfect and delicious. It's all served family style, so it's nearly unlimited food. If I could tell you how much I ate, you might judge me. If you could taste the food, though, you definitely wouldn't. They had crab dip, guys. Do you know how often that happens here? (The answer is "not often.")

Being a college student, it's really easy to let some things take a backseat to convenience. Eating healthy, supporting small businesses and farms-- these are important things, but it's so easy to just pop a Hot Pocket in the microwave and be done with it. It's great to experience something like this and remember what real, good food is. 

Farm to Fork style events are hosted across the country to help get people eating local produce and livestock. (Don't worry vegetarians, there are plenty of options for you too!) If you're at W&M I recommend coming to ours-- I think they do one once a year or once a semester. If you're not in the Williamsburg Area, see if there's one at your school. If not, you could organize one! It was a wonderful time, and I'm glad I finally made it out! I'll definitely be going whenever it returns to campus.
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Passion or Paycheck?

The conundrum facing much of the working world, and indeed, looms heavy in the mental foreground of the career-minded individual, is one of following your passion, or pursuing a more stable career. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, discussing it with friends, and I don't have a single answer, but I believe most personal choices are about having a dialogue with yourself (it sounds stupid but it's true) and thinking about what you want out of your life.

I discussed it in my 9 Lessons from the HCICC 2013 post, but what I've learned is that success looks different to different people, and if you allow people with different ideas of success dictate what your next step is, instead of deciding for yourself where you want your horizon to lead, you'll probably take a lot of steps in the wrong direction.

So let's talk about some of the factors that can affect the sort of ideal future you paint for yourself.

Work isn't everything, but it is a lot.

You will probably spend the majority of your time at work. You'll probably be working longer hours than you spend in class if you're a college student. If where you spend your time has a huge impact on how you feel about yourself and your life, this is something to consider. Don't be somewhere that makes you miserable. Don't do things you don't feel good about. Don't do anything that betrays who you are as a person. We are what we repeatedly do. You should feel good about what you do. Not everything is going to be awesome all the time, but know what challenges feel rewarding overall, and which ones are just burning you out.

Work shouldn't be the only place you go to for fulfillment.

If you plan on that, and if you live like that, you're basically placing all your happiness eggs in one basket. That's high risk. Your overall happiness and life satisfaction is not something you want to high-stakes gamble with. You don't want to be in a position where having a project cancelled or getting laid off sends you into a downward spiral in which you hate yourself and have zero self-worth. If you want a family, and if that is important for you, it is okay to take a different more flexible job or not accept a promotion if it is better for you and the lifestyle you want to lead. Don't shut the rest of your life out for work. Have hobbies. Have passions. Don't feel like work has to be the only or even the main thing going on in your life.

Make deposits into the "work" account early so you can make withdrawals later.

Some women I've heard speak described working their tails off early-on in their careers granted them the freedom to spend more time doing other things later on in their careers. It's like working hard put coins in their "work life" bank and they could be withdrawn later to go on vacations, set their hours, etc. Sometimes you delay the gratification of pursuing a passion early on to build a solid foundation for yourself later on, whether it's a financial security blanket to fund your passion project or the esteem, respect, and rank to more freely set your own schedule and responsibilities.

The side project model is gaining popularity.

People are more and more pursuing side ventures with blogs, etsy shops, graphic design businesses, app development, stand-up comedy, party planning, DJing, etc. It's extremely common for people to simultaneously work on a side project without quitting their day job-- until they're ready. Or for all eternity. It's like having a long-standing hobby but also getting a little extra cash on the side from it. It's getting more popular amongst our generation, and many employers are coming around to being respectful of these side ventures so long as the main business isn't affected. At the end of the day, happy workers work better, and it's better to keep your trained employees working at the company than to force the decision between the paycheck and the passion project and lose a member of your team over it.

There is no shame in needing money. 

If anyone tries to tell you that "your art" or "your passion" is more important than things like having food and a home, tell them that they can shove it in any number of places. Needs and wants are two separate things. If someone tells you that you can't or shouldn't do something unless you are willing to sacrifice everything for it, they are a toxic influence on your life. If you want to be an artist but are constantly afraid of "selling out," consider whether pursuit of art outweighs your very survival, because that's what it could come down to if you sacrifice a living wage. Chances are, it doesn't.

If you are the type of person to consider someone less of an artist because they decided that maybe feeding themselves and/or their families was higher up on their list of priorities than making music or art or games you like, you are a selfish person. (Major understatement.) Not that you have to agree with people's new directions (new sound/look/etc.) but don't begrudge them their means of survival. Seriously, guys. There is no shame in needing money. There is no shame in working a stable job. There is no shame in wanting to maintain the security one has worked toward.

There is no shame in wanting things and changing your priorities.

That said, there are also wants, like a shiny new sports car, that some people will sacrifice their passion projects for. That is okay, too. That is a decision you are allowed to make. If you care about your art more than the car, you'll make that decision. If you care more about the car than your art, you just gotta take that as what it is. Your priorities are allowed to change. If we all lived our lives according to all the standards we set forth for ourselves at age 4, I would probably be training to be a Power Ranger right now.

In the end, I personally believe in finding a balance between both whenever possible. Granted, it's not possible in every situation to find a happy medium. At the end of the day it's about making choices you can stand behind. It requires thought, reflection, and self-evaluation. Some people are super work-oriented, and that's okay. Some people will do anything to make ends meet while pursuing their passions, and that's okay, too. Don't let people who operate differently from you tell you how to lead your life, and remember to center your goals on what is fulfilling to you.

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