Delve into Your Dreams

I spoke at the Los Alamos Rotary Club this week. It was the second time I had presented to their club, the last time being almost three years ago. I was invited back because November is Foundation month, and since I was a Rotary Scholar, they wanted to hear how the Rotary Scholarship impacted my life. Recounting the many ways in which those first interviews for my scholarship formed who I have become was easy, since they were practically the beginning of the rest of my life. 

I also took the opportunity to present the work I've been doing with my book. Before the meeting started, I introduced myself around and took the opportunity to talk with some people. One woman asked, "What will you be talking about today?" I told her my book and topic was about finding funding to do what you love. The woman, about 70ish, said, "Oh! I am way too old for that, but I just learned about this amazing effort being done to help protect giraffes. Everyone thinks giraffes are safe and in no danger, but it turns out they are! So they've developed this technique to transport the giraffes because they are so tall and unwieldy."

What a wealth of enthusiasm! I made sure to tell her right then and there that she certainly wasn't old enough to pursue her passions and it sounded like she even had her project pinpointed. I also made a point of bringing her up multiple times in the presentation. When you take the time to think about what you would do if anything in the world were possible, you'd be surprised at how some "impossible dreams" are already mapped out for you. Do yourself a favor and delve into your dreams sometime, you might find some treasures!

Funding for Families

Are you a parent or in a relationship? Does this sometimes make it feel like you'll never get to travel or do your own projects again? I know it did for me. Last winter, I was so nostalgic for traveling that it felt suffocating. Somehow my husband and I had built up this wall of impossibility, where we couldn't afford traveling or taking time off. And there was no relief in sight. Until I decided that this assumption wasn't true. I started to put together different ways to take time off and reduce my airfare. I think it's about the mindset. 

Before we had children, my husband and I lived in Senegal for a year. Luckily, my fellowship added an extra stipend for dependents, but I know that not all of them do. At the orientation training for a separate fellowship I did, one woman (who had a child and husband) was seriously fretting the financial feasibility of going abroad. "What about our mortgage payment? And I looked up the cost of living in ______ and our blanket fellowship stipend amounts to about HALF of what we'll actually need to live there." So a fellowship is not always the blank check you hope for. 

But here are some ways to make traveling with a family work:

1) Reconsider where you are going. Is there a similar place where cost of living is less? Even though you may have always wanted to live and work in Paris, take the time to consider all the OTHER amazing places in the world (and how much less it would cost to live there). 

2) Reduce your at-home expenses. If you are fortunate enough to own your home and have a mortgage on it, think about renting out your house for the year. Some countries have home-swapping services (like where you can trade homes for a duration of time. This would lower your cost of living both at home and abroad!

3) Think how your partner can make the most of the experience. This was hard for us, admittedly, when we lived in Senegal. My husband doesn't speak very much French and so couldn't work there. But he did do online and campus-based classes. Is there an aspect of your partner's work that could be enhanced by being abroad?

4) Don't send your kids to private school. I have known American parents who do both things: pay for private, American schools abroad and free public school. If your kids are young enough and don't need to worry about getting enough school credits while you're away, think about sending them to the local schools. Kids pick up language faster than adults and they will become more immersed in the culture. 

5) Reconsider whether this should be a whole-family adventure or an adventure for you. I know this may sound sacrilege and selfish, but some things are easier alone. Maybe it would be best to do the project or abroad time without your family (for now) and then they can come on the next one. This may mean your travels are shorter, or closer to home, but maybe that's the best way to keep the family balance stable. 

I hope these have helped you, they are certainly considerations I will be making!

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!

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. 

Goals- Getting Things Done

It's always easier to get things done when you have a goal. And not just any broad goal, but a quantifiable and attainable goal. I'm talking, of course, about getting a fellowship. They are great goals (once you figure out which one to apply for) because you have a task of things that are required to submit and you have a DEADLINE. Deadlines are essential, see my post about time management from earlier this week. So once you have the big goal, what are some things you can do to break it into manageable chunks?

Have a SPECIFIC task for each day

Break your goals down into infinitesimal bites. Like bites that can take you twenty minutes: Make a phone call to a university; revise bullet points in your resume; create outline of application essay. These are the small and manageable tasks that will leave you feeling accomplished and get you well on your way towards a strong application. 

Make your goals MEASURABLE

This is a great lesson for any professional. I myself still have to work on this goal in my city planning work. How does a MEASURABLE goal in an application process look? How about: Write for 15 minutes per day; edit first paragraph of essay; do research for 15 minutes on fellowship website. 

Make sure your goals are ATTAINABLE

This gets back to the infinitesimal point. If your goal is going to take three sessions to complete, that's not an attainable goal. A goal should be something that you can accomplish in one sitting. So if it's too big (and you'll realize which these are because they'll keep weighing down your task list), then break them into smaller parts.

Make mini goals that are RELEVANT to the big goal

Focus, what are you trying to do in the big picture and are the small goals really taking you in that direction? If you find yourself going on a tangent that's unnecessary, scale it back. For example, you get really interested in the research phase of finding a fellowship but you start doing much too much research on what previous fellows did. Is this really necessary? It's good to become familiar with your predecessors' work, but don't waste time here. 

Make sure you are TIME-BOUND

This part is somewhat built in because there is a DEADLINE. But if you have to block off a whole day to accomplish your mini goal, it's not sustainable. You'll work on it for one day and then set it aside for months before you have another whole day free. So set a specific time limit (again see post from earlier this week). You'll find that you can build up momentum from the positive feeling of accomplishing small goals every day.