30 before 30: The most empowering thing you can do is the thing you think you can’t do

Intelligence is malleable. You do not have an innate, fixed level of intelligence. You can make yourself smarter. You’re not born good at math or good at writing or good at science. You can make yourself good at any of these things. You just have to work hard and believe in yourself.

As a young teacher, I was told to impress these ideas upon my students, and I understand why. Expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies, and for kids to be successful at school, it is crucial for them to believe that they can.

But do we, as teachers, live out these ideas in our own lives? I don’t think we do. And I think that’s problematic, because kids learn by example more than anything else.

See, we think we buy into the idea that anyone can be successful through hard work and persistence and believing in oneself, as we repeat that mantra over and over to our students. But we’re forgetting that many of us, as teachers, have always been more or less “good” at school. We’ve never really struggled to believe that academic success is attainable to anyone through effort, sticking with it, and never giving up. But when it comes to other things, outside of academics, we all absolutely do buy into the idea that there are certain things we just inherently can’t do.

For some of us, that’s art. I can’t draw. I can barely draw stick figures! I’m not artistic.

For others, it’s foreign languages. Never been my thing.

Or music. I sing in the shower, but that’s it, and just be glad you’re not around to hear that!

Or sports. I’m slow and clumsy.

We tell our students they can be successful in math class if they work hard enough and believe in themselves, then turn around and tell our adult friends that we can’t draw or swimming’s just not our thing or we just don’t have the such and such talent or we’re just not made for blah blah blah.

For me, that thing was running. For most of my life, I firmly believed I was incapable of running more than a mile without stopping. Shaking that mindset in my twenties and running my first 5k was one of the most exciting, freeing, and empowering things I’ve ever done, and a few weeks ago, I ran my first half marathon.

So here’s my challenge for my fellow teachers: Identify one of those things you always casually say you “can’t” do, and resolve to do it. Not only will you get a huge confidence boost when you soar past your own self-imposed limits, but you just might be able to inspire a few reluctant students.

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30 before 30: Breaking out of Comfort Zones

For most of my life, I was very much a comfort zone sort of person. It all boiled down to wanting to feel in control over my life. I remember signing up for a very popular political philosophy class back in college. I opted to take the class pass-fail, because the content was totally outside my comfort zone and I didn’t feel confident that I knew how to write a successful philosophy paper. So I chose the safe route. Several times in college, I turned down opportunities to go on ski trips, paintball excursions, and other activities I’d never participated in before. I thought I’d fail and make a fool out of myself. So I stayed home. And stuck to whatever I already knew how to do well.

Studying abroad midway through college turned me into a more daring and confident person. There’s something about traveling and living abroad that just does this. During that semester in Paris, I took a giant leap outside my comfort zone one day when I saw a 25 euro plane ticket to Morocco. I bought it before I had time to convince myself not to, something the me of a few months earlier would never have done. That trip changed my life. It made me start to realize that stepping outside my comfort zone, despite all the uncertainty and lack of control that it brings, can be immensely thrilling and rewarding and ultimately make me a better person.

Shortly after college, a friend invited me on a ski trip. I had never been skiing before in my life. A younger me would have turned down the invitation and stayed home in my comfort zone, but I hesitantly agreed to go. I fell on my butt approximately seven thousand times on the bunny slope, then tried to tackle a “real” slope that I wasn’t ready for, panicked and fell getting off the ski lift, fell a lot more times, and finally took off my skis and hiked down the hill. I was cold and frustrated and sore. But you know what matters? I tried it. I said yes. I was scared, but I went out there and I did it.

When you step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you realize things like “Skiing really isn’t my jam and the cozy fire in the ski lodge is where it’s at.” Other times, you discover a new hobby or passion because you weren’t afraid to take that first leap and give it a try.

There’s still a small part of me that tries to push me back into my comfort zone and hold me there whenever new opportunities arise. Here’s how I fight it! My four tips for breaking out of the comfort zone, “daring greatly,” and living life to its fullest:

  1. Think of specific things outside your comfort zone that you wish you were brave enough to do. Write them in a list of goals and set a deadline. Something like a 25-before-25 or 30-before-30 list is perfect!
  2. Commit yourself before you have time to second guess. Buy that skydiving ticket. Register for that 10k. Sign up for that art class. Just do it. Now you’ve signed up and paid: You can’t back out now!
  3. Recruit friends to go with you! If your friends are also new to whatever new adventure you’re pursuing, you won’t feel so self-conscious if you’re terrible at it. If they’re not, they can give you suggestions and support. Plus, including other people means accountability. No backing out or quitting!
  4. Be kind to yourself. If you come in last in your first 5k or paint something hideous in your first art class, so what? You tried! You put yourself out there and did something outside your comfort zone. That’s so empowering. And you can always try again.

Personally, I have three comfort-zone-defying items on my 30 before 30 list that I am currently pursuing:

  1. “Run a half marathon.” I was a swimmer growing up and running was never my thing, but I got into it recently. Thirteen miles is far more than I’ve ever run, though! It’s scary! But I’ve signed up for a race this spring with my husband and family, so I guess this half marathon thing is actually going to happen.
  2. “Learn how to do yoga.” I am probably the most inflexible person in the world. I can’t even touch my toes!! And because of this embarrassing fact, I’ve turned down invitations from friends to join them in yoga classes in the past. But no longer! I tried a series of free sunset yoga classes by the river last summer and loved them. I’m now taking advantage of a “30 days for $30” deal at a yoga studio down the street. I’m slowly becoming more flexible, the instructors are very patient and wonderful, and it’s helping me a lot with stress reduction and self care. And it’s fun!
  3. “Learn to salsa dance.” Okay, I’m a klutz. I am not graceful at all. It takes me a LONG time to figure out and follow dance steps. But after some free community salsa classes in a park last summer, some lessons at the Havana Club this winter, and the company of my awesome hubby, I’m starting to actually get it! I’m realizing that dancing, like pretty much every skill, can be learned. You’re not born with it or without it.

Well, that’s my latest 30 before 30 update! Alright people, let’s go out there and break out of some comfort zones!

 

My Two Favorite Recipe Hacks

In the spirit of goal #10 on my 30 before 30 list, here I am in the kitchen again! These are not recipes of my own, but rather, two easy and fast adjustments to recipes that already exist.

(1) Rosemary Cheddar Biscuits

Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary to the Food Network’s “Almost-Famous Cheddar Biscuits” before the kneading stage. I promise you, the rosemary will take them from almost famous to most definitely famous. These are easy to make and always a big hit.

(2) Best Ever Scrambled Eggs

Follow whatever method of egg scrambling you typically use, and just add a little bit of cream cheese when the eggs are almost done. Ta-da, the loveliest creamiest scrambled eggs you’ve ever tasted. Seriously, cream cheese, the secret ingredient to perfect scrambled eggs.

30 before 30 update: gratitude jar

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I’ve never been good at routines. And the next 3o before 30 goal I’m tackling depends very much on following a routine. This one’s going to be a challenge! So I “voluntold” my husband to join me in this endeavor. He’s good at the routine thing. I’m the spontaneous one. We both definitely need each other!

Goal #29 on my 30 before 30 list: Keep a gratitude jar for a year.

I thought Thanksgiving would be a good time to get a start on this one. I prettied up a mason jar with some festive ribbon, and each day, the hubby and I each write one thing we’re grateful for on a small slip of paper, fold it up, and drop it in the jar! Sometimes I write about something specific to that day; other times I write about something I’m grateful for in my life more generally. God is good, I have a lot to be thankful for, and I don’t always take the time to recognize it and when I do I’m just like… wow. Wow.

Here’s to keeping this up till Thanksgiving 2017, which will probably mean upgrading to bigger jars along the way!

30 before 30 update: cooking and booking

Since I first wrote up my 30 before 30 list and hung it on my fridge back in June, I have made it a third of the way toward accomplishing goals #9 and #10: Cook 30 new recipes and read 30 new books before my 30th birthday. Here are those recipes and books, for the record, and in case anyone’s interested in checking them out!

I’ve rated the recipes on a scale of one to five stars:

* = yuck, ** = meh, *** = okay but nothing special, **** = pretty good, will probably make again, ***** = yum, yum, delish, will definitely make again

  1. Greek chicken stew with cauliflower and olives from NYT Cooking ****
  2. One Pot Red Lentil Chili from Minimalist Baker *****
  3. Poulet a la creme from Sur La Table ***
  4. Asian lettuce wraps from allrecipes.com*****
  5. Pork tenderloin steaks with wilted cabbage and apples from the Food Network ***
  6. Blueberry Baked Oatmeal from Cookie and Kate ****
  7. Creamy tomato basil tortellini from TipHero *****
  8. Cajun Chicken Pasta from allrecipes.com *****
  9. Shakshuka from Tori Avey *****
  10. Salmon Alfredo Pasta from RecipeTin Eats *****

 

Books I’ve read since making my 30 before 30 list:

  1. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Read this if… you read The Great Gatsby in high school and found yourself thinking, “Every character in this book is a dysfunctional hot mess but I can’t look away and I don’t even know why I like this book but I kind of do.” (I should point out that you will find more punkrockers than roaring twenties speakeasiers in Goon Squad.)
  2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah. Read this if… you want to dive into complicated questions about race, culture, and identity while reading the work of an author who writes so beautifully that you’ll almost feel disappointed when you get to the last page.
  3. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink. Read this if… You like learning more about what drives human behavior and this fascinatingly weird world.
  4. Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican. Read this if… you love beautiful memoirs that read almost like fiction.
  5. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake. Read this if… you’re wrestling with questions about identity, or you’re interested in stories about immigration, coming of age, navigating multiple cultures, and finding oneself.
  6. Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men. Read this if… you’re into fantasy, fairy tales for grown-ups, and/or funny phrases in Scottish accents.
  7. Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown. Read this if… you liked The Wee Free Men and want to find out what happens next. (It’s not quite as good, though.)
  8. Lois Lowry, The Giver. Read this if… you like dystopian novels that make you think. This book is basically Brave New World for kids.
  9. Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation. Read this if… you like stories about immigration, coming of age, and overcoming challenges. The last couple of chapters will have you cheering out loud, then holding your breath, and then feeling all the feels.
  10. Ngugi wa Thiongo, A Grain of Wheat. Read this if… you want to know more about African history and literature because it was woefully neglected in your high school curriculum.

30 before 30 update: green thumbs, brown thumbs

Goal #20 on my 30 before 30 list: “Keep a plant alive for more than a year.” This one’s going to be a real challenge for me, people. I have owned many plants over my twenty-seven point something years of existence and they have never managed to survive longer than a few months. You could say I have a brown thumb. I am ze plant killaaa. But I am determined to overcome this challenge.

Two months ago, I bought a succulent and another cactus. I figured I should start at a nice easy level. Succulents are supposed to be hardy and low maintenance, right? Every basic millennial seems to have one, and let’s be real we’ve barely figured out how to feed ourselves and get out of bed in time for work. I can do this.

Here they are, lookin’ pretty with an instagram filter, awww. New plant babies!!!

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Well, that was two months ago. Fast forward. The bigger cactus is looking okay, but the smaller one has some droopy yellow and brownish looking leaves. It looks a bit sickly. I’m thinking the little pretty square glass container I originally planted it in might not have been the best home for it. So my little cactus family has now moved into new homes: less pretty but more functional flower pots with room to grow and drainage holes at the bottom.

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Here’s hoping they hang in there! Because I can’t help thinking of this Dmitri Martin comedy moment: “About a month ago I got a cactus. A week later, it died. I was really depressed because I was like ‘Damn! I am less nurturing than a desert.'”

Too real. Too real.

This ivy thingy, on the other hand, seems to be doing quite well. I was given this one as a housewarming gift and told to throw a cup of water in it every Saturday and otherwise leave it alone. I’ve done that and it’s thriving! This might be my first plant to make it past its first birthday.

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