A Snowball Effect

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It’s been a pretty regular week in the life, more projects and classes and work shifts to attend to. Nothing special, not really.

At least not directly.

There is one news story that did catch my eye, one that got me thinking about my career and what it could look like. It has nothing to do with me, but it was about an author I used to read a lot of; I idolized her and her work. Sure, my tastes changed over time, but she does her job well regardless.

Most people do, that is, until they begin to abuse the position that job may give them.

I’m talking about Sarah Dessen and the slew of authors that got involved after the resurfacing of a commentary on her work. Here’s a quick rundown of what happened and why it matters on a larger scale to the rest of us:

As a junior in college, Brooke Nelson volunteered on the selection committee for the Common Read program. This program selects certain books for incoming students to read on Northern State University in South Dakota. As her reasoning for joining, she spoke out against the selection of Dessen’s books, as they were not on par with Common Read standards.

The reaction to this, however, was not as small as a single opinion. Dessen took to Twitter in order to say that authors are still people and that this opinion hurt her in a time that she is going through a lot. Many of her fellow YA authors backed her up, also offended by Nelson’s words.

So that’s the summed-up version of what happened. Here’s why I think it matters to the rest of us:

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On one hand, we need to remember that everything we do ultimately impacts someone else. What we say, what we do, when we do it… It all matters. In the words of author Jay Asher, “Everything affects everything.”

We only ever know our own circumstances and some semblance of how we impact our own lives. There is no real way to predict what skipping one class or getting gas another day or breaking routine will do for the people you may have come across. We don’t know, I personally don’t think I’d want to know all those possibilities.

In that vein, be kind when you can and pay attention to the world around you. Maybe it’ll make a difference, maybe it won’t. You can’t really know.

Now for the other hand: we are all in a position of power somewhere in our lives. Whether it’s with siblings or coworkers or just someone that friends look up to, that gives you power. With that power, the more you have reflects what you say or do on a much bigger stage.

You are never off stage.

By speaking out as someone whose work is widely read, beloved, and admired by fans and authors alike, Dessen found herself on a large stage. And a lot of other people decided to join her. Other popular YA authors then chimed in and supported her, therefore speaking down to Nelson. 

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Unfortunately, Nelson is now just a graduate student and when angry fans and authors came mobbing at her through social media, the impact was a big one. Because not only did Dessen back herself up, but she had a whole lot of other people to join her.

In the end, there was a lot of harm done to the girl and a lot of support for the author. As someone who writes and wants to be successful in that aspect of my life, I recognize that not everyone is going to like everything I write. I mean, I don’t even like everything I write; that is not an expectation I can hold over other people.

Beyond writing, it also extends to relationships and jobs even. Not every job is a good fit, nor are people always the right people. Though I used to try to get everyone to like me, that isn’t possible. So why bother? Ultimately, it’s not supposed to be possible. There’s a reason for that.

The adversity we face oftentimes opens up to other perspectives or opinions that we do not have. Sometimes that can hurt and sometimes it can help. But every time, it is also a chance to learn from what we didn’t see the first time. It’s almost like hindsight but seeing it from a different direction than looking back.

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So maybe this didn’t happen in my life, no one told me (directly) that they don’t like my writing this week. But it did happen somewhere. One person was punished for having an opinion when that is what she volunteered for in the first place. And the other took that opinion as a reflection of her own person.

Writing is personal, yes. I think to a certain degree, everything we do is. The question is whether or not we pay attention to how what affects the world around us.

So, think about it, what have you put out into the world today?

It’s Not You, It’s Me

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Someone asked me today why I don’t drink, and I realized that my explanation has grown as I have. Here’s the thing: It’s not that I don’t drink, not really. It’s that I choose not to a lot of the time because I generally don’t enjoy it.

That’s not always the case, but it got me thinking.

Just because we like something some of the time or other people are doing it, doesn’t mean that we have to always stay that way or join in with them. We’re far too complicated as humans to follow such social concepts.

Yet, we do. And part of me thinks I know why—at least for myself.

There are a lot of things I have done in the past, not because I particularly wanted to or because it felt right, but because I felt like I was supposed to. I drank occasionally at parties because everyone else did and I was tired of people judging me. In the same vein, there are a few AP classes I took in high school— definitely should not have taken calc AB— that I took because I thought I should.

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But right now, I’m realizing that this is one of the first times I’m seeing how much it matters as to why I do what do. If I don’t enjoy something or at least gain skills, friends, etc. out of it, then why am I doing it?

The last few years, I’ve gotten so involved because part of me wanted to despite being shy and afraid. If you ask my friends now, they probably won’t use either word to describe me. Considering that I’m 21, there are a whole lot of opportunities coming at me in life right around now that offer something that I don’t really like—options. It’s not that I don’t want choices, it’s that I don’t want to have to make those choices.

Because making decisions that just might change the direction my life is headed in is kind of intimidating. Kind of in the same way that doing things that you want to do but aren’t comfortable doing in the moment doing, it’s not always easy doing something that you have to do even if you want to.

Here’s a slightly different example that changed my week up a little bit.

Earlier this week, my seminar class on literary theory and criticism—yes, it is as dense as it sounds—was trying to unpack a passage we had just read. Though the reading itself was on the concept man being the superior sex, it was likened to race as well. Now, this part didn’t bother me even though I was one of two minorities in the class, both of which were used as an example in the readings.

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My issue came up when someone raised their hand to offer their own insight and used the words “colored individuals” as a way of referring to people of color.

I think I froze when I heard her say that, my shoulders going still and fingers actually stopping mid-reach for my water bottle as an old segregation sign popped into my head. Many of us, our professor included, were so surprised to hear it that nothing was addressed about the usage of language.

In that moment, I wanted to say something; I felt like I was supposed to say something. But I didn’t. Because Cal Poly isn’t the easiest place for people like me to speak up.

What I did do, however, was email my professor after class to express both my discomfort with the language and concern as we move into queer and postcolonial theory. When I felt uncomfortable, I didn’t do something just because I thought I was supposed to or obligated to. I’m not really sure that would have benefited me in any way and most likely would have felt worse.

Instead, I found a way to do something I personally wanted to do that didn’t put me in an uncomfortable situation in the process. Sometimes, you can’t avoid the discomfort. Sometimes, you can. So, I did.

There are a lot of situations and settings that I don’t drink in simply because it would be uncomfortable and hard to enjoy. But when I am comfortable and actually want to, I can. Because that is my decision to make.

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Studying when I don’t want to is a benefit to me just like going to class or working. There are other things we do for other people or for ourselves only out of expectation or sometimes a lack of self-respect. That isn’t really any way to live a life we want to be living.

So, don’t live it that way. It took me a while, but I’m starting to understand what it means to lead my own life rather than let other people or circumstances dictate it. After all, my life is about me, isn’t it? Even in the face of uncomfortable moments or hard decisions like last week, I think dictating my own life is worth it.

Don’t you?

Take Yes for an Answer… Unless

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Over the past 3 years, I’ve done everything I could do here on campus and sometimes I forget just how much that is. From my adings and my WOWies to my OLs and my coworkers, I guess you could say these past two years were a whole lot of saying “yes.” Especially my junior year. It was my year of yes.

Honestly, I think it was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I don’t think I would have gotten so involved otherwise.

The thing about all of my involvements, from working as customer service to orientation, a lot of it has been work focused on the benefit of other people. Not me.

Now I say this to point out that these are people I adore and would truly do anything for, but at this point I kind of have. I’ve done a lot and I am proud of all the people I have done it all for too. Even so, there needs to be a balance.

This is my fourth year here and college has been incredibly hard for me on just about all fronts. I’ve grown a lot, yes, but I’ve also been through a lot. We all have. So when a decision came up this week whether or not to put all my time and energy this year into continuing the work I’ve been doing, it wasn’t an easy one to make.

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To me, it was an either or thing. Either I put my time and energy into the program and CCE or I put that time into myself.

Until now, I hadn’t considered that it’s possible to do both. Just differently. In knowing that, this time I said no; no to an opportunity that would benefit so many people I care about because maybe I care about me too. In some ways, that no to them was very much a yes to myself and the focus I need to be putting into my own wellbeing.

Because the better I am for me, the better I can be for other people regardless of what position or title I hold.

If someone asked me what the difference was between the me walking into freshman year and the me right now, I would probably say my perspective—the way I see the world, myself, and what I owe to each has grown immensely. And I am only just reaching the beginning of that change.

For those of you who know me, you know that I tend to put the needs of others first. Whether that’s a positional need that I can fill or support for a friend that I can give.

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Looking at myself, there are endless things that I could do for other people or positions. And I have. Even when I shouldn’t.

Everything we do is a give and take: if you give in one area of your life, you are most likely taking from another whether that is a positive or negative thing. For me, I always thought giving to others and being the person to fill those roles was my job if I could; I mean if I didn’t, who would?

Someone else. And sometimes, that’s okay.

Regardless of who does it, the job always gets done. I don’t always have to be the one to do it.

Neither do you.

Personally, I’ve been fighting a cold for the past two and a half weeks and migraines/tension headaches for over the past month now. If that is any indication, it’s probably a good time for me to be focusing on my own life.

It’s a give and take: these past few weeks I’ve been so diligent about giving time to my schoolwork and getting things done and other people that I’ve been taking away from myself.

See how that all kind of plays out?

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Just like I talked about a hierarchy of needs a few weeks ago, we also have a hierarchy of people or things we care about. When it comes to us, we’re not always on the top of that list and that’s okay. Unless it isn’t.

There’s a time and place for everything including when to place other’s needs above your own.

This week, I chose for that time and place to be here and now.

Considering that it’s November, the second to last month of the year, I want you to think about this: are you choosing yourself in some way, every single day? Because you deserve to, we all do.

If you aren’t, start now. There’s no time like the present. Happy Friday.