Does This Fit?

On Saturday, I was nominated to be the president of the New Mexico Fulbright Association. I have been a member of the board for the past two years so taking turns as president is a logical thing, but before I accepted the nomination I asked myself, "Does this fit?"

What do I mean by that? If you read my blog post last week, To Volunteer or Not to Volunteer, you'll know that I'm not an advocate of just piling on exracurriculars to pad my resume. If I'm going to dedicate even more of my precious spare time to things outside of family and self-care, then there has to be a compelling reason. There will always be more demands on me than I'm able to fulfill so "giving a good no," as Dr. Christine Carter likes to say, is important. 

So what criteria did I use for this decision:

1) What are the time requirements? After talking with the current president, it seems like the officers work collectively on planning events, so not many things are the president's responsibility alone. 

2) Does this make sense in the trajectory of my future goals? I know that I would like to apply for another Fulbright at some point and showing my continued dedication to the program will be beneficial in that application. 

3) Can I do this job well? Again, I wanted to talk more with the current president to know the goals of the Association (the national direction recently changed). If I didn't have ideas about how to improve the organization, I shouldn't take the job of setting the tone. See my post from last year about leadership lessons.

After considering these questions, I decided that running for president of the association would be a good fit for me. Even though some decisions seem obvious (or obviously a good thing), it's always good to take at least 24 hours and see how it fits with you. Let me know if you've experienced similar decision-making processes yourself, I'd love to hear!

There is No Such Thing as a "GOOD" First Draft

When I was writing my book, I joined a writing class that gave us time to dedicate to our work. The first part of the day was for talking about our processes and then the rest of the day was dedicated to just . . . writing. Some people um'd and ah'd about what to write, but I quickly learned that I just needed to get going. The best lesson from this class was: there are no good first drafts. 

If you are finally at the stage of putting some ideas down on paper, don't be intimidated. The first words you ever write will probably be long gone by the time you actually submit your application, but you have to start somewhere. Oftentimes, writing things down can help you think abut exactly what you want (and need) to say. It's a tool to clarify your thought processes. 

In my office, I work with some extremely talented people. For weeks, even months, two of my colleagues have been brain-storming a management plan. They round and round, talking about the components and the structure and the desired outcome. This week, I had the pleasure of being asked my opinion on their process. "Just start writing it," I told them, "you have been thinking this thing to death and it's time to put it on paper." The next day, they started writing. At lunch, I asked how it was going. "It's almost too easy, I feel like we're leaving something out," they told me. I posed an alternative, "Or maybe all your planning and talking about it made it so that the work is actually done and all was left was to write it out."

If you're waiting until you have everything figured out to start writing, you'll be waiting forever. Sit your butt down and get a draft done. It'll be a start, but from there, you'll overcome the hurdle "starting" your application and coming back to revise your thoughts will be much easier. I promise. Give it a try. 

Rainy Day in Santa Fe

It's rainy here today. Appropriate for the first day of fall. Since we don't get tons of precipitation in New Mexico, a cozy rain is always appreciated. One of my favorite things to do on a rainy day is curl up and dream. Dreaming is a big adventure for me. It's my favorite phase of preparing applications because anything is possible. In this cherished state, I can let my thoughts wander to the near future or the far, to a project in my town or to a country far away. I can be doing the same work as I do now, or I could be doing something completely different. Dreams are lofty and fluffy and wonderful ways to envision the journey of life. 

You don't need to have a rainy day to dream. Taking a walk or even just sitting on the couch, listening to relaxing music can allow you to let your mind wander. Try it sometime. Don't force it, just see what thoughts come into your head when you allow some free time. I have a worksheet that I use with groups when I give workshops. It comes directly from my book, which is full of resources to flesh out your future fellowship application. Once you plant an idea of what you want to do, you'll find that opportunities will start coming into your field of vision. And if you're interested in pursuing them, I can help you along the way. Happy dreaming!

Make the Most of Your College Resources

I often tell people that by the time I was a senior in college, I had finally figured out the system. That's right, it took me three whole years to understand the amazing resources available on a campus. But by that time, it was almost over. I even asked my mom, "Can I please stay one more year??" Guess what she said. So let me share some of the things that you should be doing as a college student to make the most of your experience. 

1) Check to see if your college has a fellowships adviser or fellowships office. My college had an amazing program in which students had to apply to work with the fellowships office. You had to show that you were serious about doing the work involved to get an award. Most campuses have at least a fellowship adviser available to consult with students. 

2) Meet with as many faculty about your field of interest as possible. Say you want to apply for a scholarship or even just do an independent project, start asking faculty if they can meet with you to brainstorm ideas. Even if you've never met them before, check through the directory and feel free to contact them. Who knows, they might even have some funding to spend on a student researcher. One of my best friends in grad school went to India on her faculty adviser's dime. 

3) Look through your school's list of awards. Oftentimes colleges and universities have awards and small scholarships for which students must either be nominated or apply themselves. If you can apply, go for it. If you need to be nominated, approach your best professor and ask them to do you a favor by suggesting you. Most students don't know these awards are available so they are low-handing fruit. In other words, the selection pool is usually small. 

4) Go to your career counseling office on campus and ask what kinds of scholarships they know about. If you school doesn't have a fellowships office (or even if they do), the career counselors might have some different advice about internship placement or scholarships for post-grads. 

5) Take advantage of sister campus programs. My college was in a consortium with four other colleges, so I could use any of the resources on ANY of these campuses. Amazing. That's 5x the faculty, 5x the libraries, 5x the possible reviewers for essays, 5x the specialists. Many schools have some kind of cross-campus exchange, check it out. Maybe they even have international connections that could help you when you're trying to find a contact for your Fulbright application. 

So many resources, makes me wish I were still in school!!

 

To Volunteer or Not To Volunteer

On Saturday, I was asked whether volunteering was a good idea. I was talking to high school and early college students about how to line up materials to get funded. Staying active and engaged in your area of interest is always a good idea, but just volunteering? Maybe not. 

"Volunteering can look like a bad tattoo," I said, "something random that is slapped onto your resume with no context." If you are volunteering just to fill your cv with content, then it's probably a bad idea. But if the volunteering has something to do with a logical track of interests with which you can show continuity, then yes. 

So take for example a student who has good grades but you see on their list of activities: volunteers at the homeless shelter, the wilderness society and did a 5k for the local teen center. You could possibly weave a narrative about how these interests overlap, but more likely, it just looks like someone who is volunteering just to check off that box. 

Instead, think of something that makes sense contextually with your areas of interest and with the field you want to pursue in the future. It's always good to explain how your actions and passions intertwine, but having a coherent and logical train of extra-curriculars makes this plainly obvious. If you're volunteering for the sake of volunteering, take some time to think where you are headed with your career (or academic) plans and see if you could use your time more wisely. 

Decorate Yourself

I bet you are really good at something. It might take you a minute after reading that sentence to think of what that is, but I know you do something better than most people you know. What is that thing? Have you ever been recognized for it? One of the things that I love about fellowships, scholarships and grants is that you can finally get noticed and congratulated for doing something that you already know how to do. 

Maybe the thing you do is obscure, like some exotic instrument or type of singing. Maybe it's something you can't possibly imagine getting funded for. But after researching literally thousands of grants, I can tell you that you'd be amazed at what types of funds are out there. 

Take a chance, look into finding a fellowship or scholarship that would compliment your unique skillset. You might be surprised. This could be your chance to decorate yourself with an accolade that nobody else can claim. 

What Gets You Down?

This week has been a very emotional week for me. My sensitivity radar has shock off the charts for some reason so all the news and daily interactions that usually pass me by have been getting me very down. As I tell my daughter all the time, everybody has feelings and it's normal to feel ALL of the emotions from joy to anger to fear. It would be really weird to not feel those things. And yet, when I'm feeling like the world is falling apart, I have to remind myself that everybody has ups and downs. 

Sometimes the downs have lasted a long time for me. Months, even close to years, but then the ups come again. So what is good about a down? For one, it makes you appreciate the ups more. Like when you experience a harsh winter, you are so much more grateful for the warmth of summer. But it can also let you tap into motivation. If something gets you so down, perhaps the only way to get out of the sorrow is by doing something about it. Your DOWN could become your UP. 

Brainstorm some things that make you feel down (I know, if you're not in a down spot, thinking about the downs is the last thing you want to do). But just generally jot down some ideas of things that have made you sad or hopeless in the past. Then think about something you can take action to do about it. There may be the seed of something brilliant in those negative feelings, it just takes some investigating!

Making Your Passion Persuasive

In ninth grade, we were assigned to write a paper on something we were passionate about. Even back then, I felt so violated and distressed about how humans treat mother nature. I wrote about how we needed, as a species, to change the way that our selfish behaviors destroy the planet. I got a C- on my report. I completely shut down, thinking that my topic was stupid or unworthy. In fact, it was how I stated my feelings. 

 Capture Your Passion

Capture Your Passion

In order to be successful and persuasive in the fellowships sphere, you have to CARE about something. Passion drives you study and pursue a topic, but oftentimes our feelings block logical argument and articulate dialogue. This certainly happens to me when I try to calmly discuss politics. 

This also happened to me when wrote the first draft of my Fulbright statement of purpose essay. I wanted to describe how beautiful the Senegalese culture is. And yet, the words were so . . . dull. I couldn't articulate my feelings of love, sophistication, implication in an essay form because they were just so visceral to me. Not being able to describe how the dance made me feel was a just roadblock. 

If you are lucky enough to be passionate about something, how do you transform it into a document or relatable form? I think it helps to bounce ideas off of other people. When you have a vision in your head, it's hard to know which parts of it are coming across when you describe it. Write down, or talk about your topic and then have someone who is unfamiliar with the subject read or hear it. Ask them to repeat back what they heard, and start to note the gaps in the story. 

Having a passion is one of the great joys and distresses in life. Caring so deeply about the planet, or protecting children from abuse, or an element of culture is a gift. So try to use that gift to make a difference in the world. But don't get discouraged if your first attempt to communicate falls flat.  

When You Are Not the BEST

As a parent, I have learned that encouraging kids to have a growth mind-set is more important than outright praise. What do I mean by that? Instead of saying, "you're so smart!" or "you won!" say, "you worked really hard on that, even if you didn't get a good grad." This type of encouragement fosters the belief that a person's most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work (instead of just innately being good at a subject).

Even if you have fostered this belief in yourself, you will usually never be the best at what you strive to do. This can be discouraging, especially when you're trying to convince yourself that you deserve a large fellowship or scholarship. That nagging voice in your mind might try to stop you before you even start, cutting you down by saying, "why even bother when there are so many more qualified people who should get this?" 

But don't let the voice (which you have control over) squander your talents. You may never be the premier scholar or activist or teacher, but you have something unique to offer. 

When I was writing my book, Funded!, I was about two months into the process when I saw on my friend's desk, The Ultimate Guide to Grants (or some such title). My stomach dropped but I asked if I could borrow it. This was pretty much the book I wanted to write, wasn't it? I sat with the book by my computer for a few days, feeling depressed, but one day I jumped into the fear and cracked it open. As I skimmed through the chapter headings, too nervous to actually delve into the info, I realized this wasn't the same book I wanted to write. This was about getting funding for non-profits. I had something different, and unique, to contribute to this field that was not addressed in the tome. 

When you are beginning the process of looking into funding, your nagging mind might unhelpfully present more qualified applicants (I know a few of my outrageously extraordinary friends kept popping into my thoughts as I applied for my Fulbright). But come back to thinking about what makes you special and what combination of experiences give you a different angle than practically anybody else out there. 

You may never be the best person to win a fellowship (or write a book), but something inside you deserves a chance to try. So remember the qualities that you, only you, can offer to the world. 

That Terrible, Wonderful Subject: Money

I've been on a money journey this year. On January 29, I got an email from my marketer about a class that she did last year called the Art of Money. I was skeptical, it sounded a little like a money-making scheme, but after returning to the website multiple times over a couple weeks, I joined the class. Among the plethora of online resources, articles, interviews, worksheets, I found that the first three months of the program were all about figuring out how I feel about money. 

 

So how do I feel about money? I have always known that money comes and money goes, and when I hold it less tightly, sometimes it flows more. I have had the privilege of always having family that could give me money to get me out of a tight spot if I needed, so I was never worried that I wasn't going to have a home or food. I also like the nice things in life, I am willing to splurge on myself and buy the nicer brand or the higher quality furniture. 

 

However, this terrifies my husband, an accountant, because although we always make it work, we have been in some tight spots before and I could never seem to recall how my credit card had suddenly racked up a couple thousand dollars. I was unaware of where the money was going. 

 

So this year, in consideration of my husband's anxiety, and as a gift to myself, I started taking this course. So here are some of the things that I have come to realize in the past eight months of becoming more aware of my relationship to money:

  1. So many parts of life relate to money but socially it is unacceptable to talk about this subject, even with close friends
  2. Up until this summer, my concept of "budget" was similar to most people's concept of "diet"- it felt like deprivation and seemed unsustainable 
  3. When I listen to  my emotions instead of spending when I am feeling sad or anxious or deprived, I can nourish myself holistically instead of putting on a bandaid
  4. I look forward to looking at my credit card and bank statements now instead of crossing my fingers when I open them in hopes that the damage isn't too bad
  5. Money is my friend because it is a tool, and not a means to an end that is always taunting me

I have the pleasure today to introduce my teacher, Bari Tessler Linden, at her 13th Art of Money book reading tonight at the Railyard Performance Center. If these insights intrigue you, then Bari's new book will be a great starting point for your own money journey (and a very affordable one). Please come out if you see this in time, 7pm at 1611 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe NM FREE