Commencement speech from a twenty-something

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It’s unlikely I will be speaking to a stadium full of eager students preparing to graduate anytime soon. But, as ceremonies near and party planning ensues, I can’t help but think about what advice I might share with the next generation if given the chance. What would I talk about?

What experiences could I possibly have had this early in life that would lend a hand to those about to enter the next step in their lives?

To the class of 2012:

In 2009, the late Steve Jobs told students at Stanford the only way to be truly satisfied in life is to do great work. President John F. Kennedy shared the importance of attitude during his speech during a graduation ceremony at American University in 1962 and in 2007; Oprah Winfrey used her own story to encourage students at Howard University to dream big.

I certainly don’t have the experiences of these prominent figures. Nor, do I have their influence. But, what I do have are my own lessons, and if choosing the most important learned since high school, it would be the ability to value change.

Most of you have probably experienced change in your lifetime in one way or another. You may have moved schools; you can now drive; you changed jobs – I did too. But, what I didn’t do was appreciate the change. After leaving the comfort zone you call high school, there will be times you feel awkward or uncomfortable. That’s OK. Embrace it.

If attending college, you will likely change your major, your living space, your wardrobe and hopefully your bed sheets. Change a diaper while you’re at it; you will thank me later for having that experience.

And, if you decide to move out of your parent’s house, your taste buds will change, too. Peanut butter and jelly on hamburger buns will become a staple food in your life in effort to save a few extra pennies.

Throughout the years, you will be surprised at the number of times you change your mind; becoming in touch with the person you never knew you were. Old friends may become distant memories and simple schedule may seem like an oxymoron.

But, while you’re riding the rollercoaster of life, remember who you are at the core and never let that change.

Because with change comes growth and as you learn more about yourself, it will become clearer how you can change the world.

Congratulations.

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Life is like a cup of coffee

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A friend recently shared this video with me and I thought it perfectly summed up my hope for this blog: using coffee and its surrounding environment to highlight commonality between us, regardless of our differences. Enjoy.

coffee, cup of coffee, life

10 Awesome Things – Coffee Shop Edition

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You might have heard the old cliché “stop and smell the roses”.

No?

How about “appreciate the small things in life”? Or, “enjoy every day as if it’s your last”?

They’re all sharing the same message: live a fulfilled life – every day, appreciating every moment.

I recently learned of 1000 Awesome Things, a daily blog pointing out the common joys in life we all share. Among them: getting grass stains, fat baseball players, illegal naps, sleeping in new bed sheets, snow days, high fiving babies.
After reading, smiling and relating to the list I began to wonder: what makes these moments so awesome? How is it we can all be in different stages of life, work in various professions, live in different parts of the world, and yet still have these common threads of enjoyment?

This led me to research and find out more about the 1000 Awesome Things project – how it got started, who was behind it and the impact it’s had. As it turns out, Neil Pasricha started the personal blog in 2008 after experiencing a number of unfortunate life events in a short period of time, amid an economic downturn. The blog was created in an effort to help him consciously recognize and appreciate the small joys in life rather than focusing on the negative.

Fast forward to 2012 and the blog now has over 43 million views, inspired a TED Talk presentation and resulted in the publication of three bestselling books.

As I learned more about this project and its origin, I began to think about how coffee shops follow a similar theme, gathering individuals from all walks of life and various backgrounds to enjoy a simple, yet satisfying treat – coffee. So, I decided to make my own list and share what makes this meeting place so awesome.

1. Abnormally loud laughs – this happens when the coffee grinder stops suddenly and the rest of the customers are greeted with a chuckle from the back corner of the building
2. A barista who knows your name and, sometimes, even your drink order
3. Coffee shop friends – others who frequent the same places at the same time you do, creating a friendship by default
4. A decaffeinated customer – usually found slouched in a leather chair, head back, mouth wide open and enjoying a few minutes of shut eye
5. Stocky men ordering skinny lattes
6. The only seat left near an outlet
7. Coffee served in mugs
8. Chalkboard menus
9. Display cases
10. Free Wi-fi

Awesome.

Stop acting like a fish and sit where you want

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Stereotypes. You’ve heard of them, and probably taken part in using them. Usually a popular belief about one specific group of individuals,it’s no surprise using stereotypes to define others can be somewhat misleading. What is even more interesting, however, is the same principle seems to hold true when identifying ourselves and where we ‘belong’ – in social settings, at school, work – and in coffee shops.

It only takes a few minutes after walking through the door of an aroma-filled building to scan the customers and recognize the “rules” of a specific coffee shop — who sits where and how one should act in the given environment. Nearly all coffee shops are the same, collecting patrons from all walks of life while overlaying invisible seating charts to designate where a person should sit.

Most visitors can be grouped in one of the following categories: 

1. Businessman/Businesswoman: Professionally dressed, confident posture and an uncanny fixation on the computer screen in front of them. Usually order the largest coffee and consume in one sitting, only pausing to take a quick (and noticably important) phone call. Watching sometimes gives me the urge to instate a “don’t drink coffee and type” rule, as I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen unnoticed coffee dribbling down the chins of these folks and onto their shirts. Without saying a word, it’s evident others in the establishment understand their message: “I came here to work, so please don’t bother me.”
Location: Sits around the perimeter of the room, hoping for less noise in case needed for an important phone call.  

2. College Student: It’s common for these individuals to sport sweatpants, glasses and half-brushed hair. Books with titles I cannot yet pronounce cover every inch of their table, except for the small space being occupied by a silver laptop and flashy iPhone.   A calm and relatable air to them, the college student nonchalantly orders the largest drink on the menu. He/she has open more than five web browser tabs at one time, alternating between social media sites and email to try to forget about the blank Word document lingering in the background; a reminder of an unfinished assignment.
Location: Near an electrical oulet, close to the front counter in preparation for a quick coffee refill.

3. Parent: Usually a mother, the parent enters the place with children attached, as if desperately looking for a break from reality (not to mention a fix of caffeine!). Food and drinks are ordered for the kids and the stay isn’t long thanks to the screaming toddler leaving a trail of crumbs, even on their way out.
Location: Far away from anyone in the place without kids, hoping for less interuption and feelings of guilt.

4. The Others: A ‘catchall’ for those not fitting nice and neat into the categories above, among them: couples, girlfriends of varying ages and ranging from teenager to adulthood, middle-aged women reading alone with a cup of tea and the weird woman in the middle of it all, writing in a small pink notebook (that’s me!).
Location: Varies

I find it interesting that no matter the location of a coffee shop, they all have a similar theme – a common place, collecting people who enjoy coffee and others who don’t. Either way, there’s no dress code, no prerequisites, no judgement. And yet, stereotypes and unsaid cliques still exist.

In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo shares an experience a friend of his had while cleaning a fish tank and found it resembled something we often see in our society among humans.

“[He] put the fish in the tub, so he could clean their tank. After he’d scrubbed the film from the small walls of their make-believe deep, he went to retrieve them. He was astonished to find that, though they had the entire tub to swim in, they were huddled in a small area the size of their tank. There was nothing containing them, nothing holding them back….I began to see just how much we were taught as children to fear life outside the tank.”

I recently overheard someone say “find yourself in everyone you meet.” I am, and have been, in every one of the categories above. Yet, I too continue to stay in  the same corner of the coffee shop based on my identity on a given day, sipping coffee among the others in my school of fish.

The next time you walk into a public place, look around. Have the fish gathered? If so, find your fins and join a new school of fish. Because whether in life or as a fish, it’s better to swim than to float.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

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“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

I sat in my own cozy coffee shop (also known as a living room with a pile of clean laundry on the floor) –  remote in one hand,  cup of coffee in the other.

In an effort to relax from a long day, I took at a look at my lengthy list of DVR recordings, settling on a new airing of Oprah Winfrey’s new “Life Class”series.

For those of you who don’t watch the new Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) or haven’t been (or won’t admit to) sucked in by the big surprises and controversial topics – Oprah Winfrey has launched a new network on cable TV. The new network still hosts shows accompanied by introductions so loud they sound like a whale in the middle of the ocean (Think: “You get a car, You get a car”). 

But, the  particular show I was watching isn’t as flashy. No special guests. No live audience. No giveaways. Instead, the show is a one-hour slot, with the objective to teach life lessons to viewers. Oprah’s the teacher, we are the students.

Today’s lesson? Stepping out of the box. A little cliche, if you ask me.

Throughout the show, Oprah posed this question to viewers: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.

My wheels starting turning….

All fears aside.
 

Worries out the door.

I started to make a list.

If I wasn’t afraid, I would:

  • Open a wine bottle with my face in front of the cork;
  • Run a second marathon…this time pushing my daughter in a stroller;
  • Eat more ice cream;
  • Sit down with a homeless person and ask them about their dreams;
  • Take my dogs for a walk – alone and in the dark;
  • Ride more elevators;
  • Write a book;
  • Swim with my eyes open and nose unplugged;
  • Wear sweatpants to work;
  • Sing in public;
  • Set up a lemonade stand;
  • Travel the world;
  • Pick up a penny that is face down;
  • Decline life insurance;
  • Change scheduled plans at a moment’s notice;
  • Try a new ethnic food every week;
  • Drive through the mountains at night; and
  • Go down a waterslide, on my back, head first.

The point is – what’s keeping us from doing these things?

What about you? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?