Category Archives: Life lessons

But What Can I Do?

The world is upside down.  It feels like we are experiencing 1918, 1929, and 1968 all at the same time.  Plus murder hornets.  And California is on fire.  And even the one thing we could always depend on (the US mail) is a question mark.  Due to a global pandemic we have no idea what the next hour holds, let alone tomorrow or next week.

During times like these it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “Why bother?  I can’t do anything that will make a difference.”  But you can.  You can do SOMETHING.  Which is much better than doing NOTHING.  You can wear a mask.  You can stay home when you’re not in class.  You can say no to that questionable party you were invited to.  You can encourage your friends to also say no to that questionable party.  You can make sure to maintain a six foot distance between you and the next person.  It’s SOMETHING.  And something is much better than nothing.

Sometimes it will feel like your finances are spinning out of control.  It’s easy to see what you CAN’T do and difficult to see what you CAN do.  I can’t pay my rent on time.  I can’t go out for dinner.  I can’t buy that extra textbook.  I can’t put gas in my car.  But what CAN you do?  You can arrange with you landlord to make payment after your student loan comes through.  You can make a pot of spaghetti for next to nothing.  You can borrow books from friends or from the library.  You can take the bus.  You can evaluate your belongings to see if there’s anything you don’t need that you can sell.  You can pick up a micro-job or gig work.  There is always SOMETHING you can do.

The world seems pretty weird right now.  It can feel helpless.  But you are not helpless.  Remember….you can always do SOMETHING!

This Isn’t What I Had Planned!

Things rarely go exactly as planned.  If this year has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that.  I started 2020 with optimism.  I was exercising and losing weight.  I had plans to attend at least 8 music festivals between April and October.  I was preparing for my 35 year high school reunion.  I was excited about the small desk my husband gave me for Christmas—a designated place to pay bills and work on some extra-curricular studies.

As you can assume, my year didn’t play out like that.  I decided my mental well-being was more important than counting calories.   Music festivals are not happening.  My high school reunion was canceled.  And my bill-paying desk has been the Penn State Law Financial Aid Office since March.

When things don’t go as planned, there are only two ways to react.  You can be angry and quit (which is less than ideal).  Or you can move forward and do the best you can with what you’ve got.  I’ve found joy in working from home and learning new technologies to make that process easier.  (I highly recommend the Adobe Scan app for using your smart phone to scan documents into PDF form.  And if you are extra lucky you’ll get to meet one of my cats during Zoom Drop-In Office Hours!)  I’ve gone on a few camping trips.  I’ve watched a number of streamed concerts.  My husband and I have taken to having front yard cookouts so we can talk to our neighbors as they walk by.  I have tickets to my first drive-in concert in a few weeks.  None of this is what was planned.  But I’m doing what I can with the hand I was dealt.

I don’t think anyone is excited about starting fall semester in a socially distant/hybrid manner.  But this is what we’ve got.  Focus on what you’ve got.  We are fortunate that Penn State Law is well equipped with outstanding classroom technology.  You’ll be able to commune with your classmates through technology.  You can choose your own classic football games to watch, making sure Penn State always wins!  (I highly recommend Penn State vs. Michigan—Oct. 12, 2013.)

As you start into the fall semester, anxiously awaiting financial aid refunds, remember to do the best you can with what you’ve got.  The refund will come in time to pay off the credit card you used to get your books.  You’ll be able to stock up on groceries very soon.  But don’t go nuts…that lump sum refund at the start of the semester needs to last until January!  Budget out your rent through January now.  Make a spending plan so you know how much money you can afford to spend on groceries and fun throughout the semester.  Deposit the bulk of your money into a savings account, and then transfer one month’s worth to your checking account each month.  Then do what you can with what you’ve got.

The world is weird this year.  But with the right attitude (and some imagination), it can still be amazing!

What I Feel Versus What is Real

How I Feel:

It is now day 63 of my captivity.  I enjoyed the solitude at first, but I have grown stir crazy.  I am allowed outdoor release time, but when the sun shines it is cold and when it is warm the sky drops rain.  My cellmate is amusing, but he often won’t share the remote control in our shared TV lounge.  I have car privileges, but I am only allowed to go to grocery stores where I am forced to follow directional arrows, stand on dots on the floor, and must wear a mask to disguise my obvious beauty.  I was awarded a day pass to visit my parents, but spent the entire day working tech support and teaching the octogenarians the inner workings of Zoom meetings.  I am told I am fortunate that I have occupational time that earns me grocery money.  This occupational time involves countless hours of staring at computer screens from a dark corner of a room that needs to be cleaned—often while being watched by the two feline guards and a towering basket of laundry demanding to be put away.  My “free time” often also involves screens.  When I am not bound to the screens, I am required to hunch over the machine of sewing.  It seems many friends are depending on my 8th grade home economics skills which designate me as a master maker of the required beauty-disguising masks.  On extra-good days I am released to the dreary basement room where I am supposed to think it is fun to run on the machine that takes me to nowhere.  While the running does indeed feel good, the path to nowhere has become all too familiar.  I heard news that my status of captivity has been updated to the level of yellow.  What this actually means is that I am now allowed to go to more places, but I am afraid to do so.  The outside people frighten me more than the captivity.  The end to this situation does not seem to be near.  I am trying to find joy in the bounds of my prison.  I am not ok.

What is real:

A brilliant unidentified person from the land of social media put together this masterpiece.  We should all use it daily.

Isolation Well-Being Checklist

We’re all doing the best we can manage.  We are not ok.  But it is ok not to be ok.

Take care of yourself!

Things I’m Looking Forward To: A Perspective Change

Undated planners have become a big thing in the last couple of years.  And I jumped on board.  I use the Panda Planner.  I never really use the calendar part of it.  That part of my life is much easier to manage electronically (Outlook for my work life, Google for my personal life, and a smart phone app that combines them together for me on my phone).  But I love my planner because it helps me to focus my attention on the things that matter.

My planner has a daily To Do List as well as an area to prioritize those tasks, and also a place to identify the day’s focus and a place to track my exercise.  But the part of my planner that has been most helpful during this time of social distance is two daily small lists.  Every day my planner asks me to list three things that I am grateful for and three things that I am looking forward to.  When I look back to the “before times,” my lists were very different than they are now.  Some staples on my grateful list have always included my cats, my husband, music, and coffee.  My looking forward to lists have often included travel, music festivals, concerts, and nights out at my local brewpub.  And while I am still grateful for those things and am still hopeful that I’ll be able to attend a music festival again someday, my priorities have become different over the last month.

I regularly write down that I am grateful for a job that allows me to work from home, a good broadband internet connection, a house with some outdoor space, and the occasional sunny day.  I could easily make a list of 10 or more things I’m grateful for every single day.  But the looking forward to lists have gone a whole different direction, and are much more difficult to produce in this time when every day seems exactly like the one before.  I find myself looking forward to dragging my wagon full of recyclables down the street to the temporary drop off spot.  I look forward to whatever my husband is creating for dinner each day.  I look forward to a phone call with my parents.  I look forward to whatever my current binge watch is (currently The Sopranos, so I should be good for a long time).  I look forward to a treadmill run.  A craft project.  A virtual happy hour.  I’ve learned that I can look forward to the little things, much like I’m grateful for the little things.  It’s a change in perspective to accommodate the current times.  But I hope that I can carry it forward into the new normal once we get there.  Because looking forward to things (and of course being grateful for things) feels good.  And we could all stand to feel good right now.

It’s OK Not To Be OK

I’ve been feeling like a failure lately.  I started off quarantine life on top of my game.  I was doing well on a weight loss plan.  I was working my way through Couch to 5K training.  I was excited about learning new technologies and working from home with a cat on my lap.

Now here we are a month later.  I haven’t tracked my food intake all week.  I twisted my foot last weekend and haven’t been able to run.  New technologies are great and all, but my learning curve is steeper than I expected.  And my cat spends more time walking across my keyboard than he spends on my lap.

I like to joke that as a Generation X introvert I’ve been quietly preparing for this moment all my life.  But the reality is that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and life is hard!  My normal knitting has been tossed aside in favor of sewing surgical-style masks for my family. The novelty of feeling like I’m in the intro to The Brady Bunch during every Zoom meeting has been replaced with the dread of continued staring at my screen.  Buying groceries is a choice between the fright of going out in public or the frustration of trying to book a pick-up or delivery time in an overcrowded schedule.  The adventure of my daily walk out to my mailbox to retrieve the day’s junk and bills is ruined by the hand washing ritual that follows it.  Every cough raises the hair on the back of my neck in fear.

We are living in a very strange and scary time.  And I’ve been failing this week.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  It is ok not to be perfect while things are all askew in the world.  It’s ok to be not as good as was normal in “the before times.”  We’re in the middle of a huge world crisis here.  It’s unpleasant.  It’s scary.  And it’s far from over.  Expecting to be perfect, or even normal, is ridiculous.  We’re all just trying to do what we can to keep ourselves above water.

Luckily every day gives us a new opportunity to make the choices that keep us sane.  This week I’m planning to track my food better.  I’m planning to start running again now that my foot has stopped hurting.  I hope to devote more time to mastering Canvas and PowerPoint.  These are attainable goals.  But, to be honest, if I fail again that will be ok.  I’m not perfect.  Things aren’t normal.  But we’re going to get through this.

Someday we’ll look back on this and reminisce about our time in quarantine and the silly things we did to stay sane.  And things will be normal again, even though different than before.  And if we’re lucky nobody will ever have to wear real pants again.  We must NEVER go back to real pants. 😉

Things We Can Control

With the world in its current state, it seems like we have no control over anything.  But the reality is there are SO MANY things we can control.  And what we do with that control can actually affect how we get through this challenging time.

We can control several things that improve mental well-being.  Maintain a routine.  Shower.  Exercise (even if it’s a march through the apartment or a YouTube workout video).  Go outside, even if only for a few minutes—preferably while the sun is shining.  Eat fruits and vegetables.  Talk on the phone with people you love.  Talk on Zoom with people.  Sleep.  Binge watch Netflix.  Listen to music.  Play video games.  Work puzzles.  Do your schoolwork.  All of these things have a way of making us feel better in this upside-down world.

We can also control some things having to do with finances.  You should be noticing significant decreases in many areas of your budget.  My Subaru is currently getting about three weeks to the gallon.  My outlay of funds for restaurants and concerts is much lower than a normal springtime.  I’ve had the same $20 bill in my wallet for the last two months.  But this is NOT carte blanche to spend frivolously on Amazon.  It IS an opportunity to get a little bit of money into savings for the future.  When the world turns right side up again, I’ll have a cushion.  Some protection against the unexpected.  And as we know all too well, the unexpected can and will happen.

We have so much that we can still control.  Use it wisely.

How Can I? We are DOING It!

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the last three weeks have been going on for at least a year.  In that short time we have gone from “Penn State is going remote for the rest of the month” to “Penn State will stay remote through spring semester” to this weekend’s announcement that Centre County is under a “stay at home” order.  Covid-19 has gone from something that is in far away places to something that Tom Hanks is recovering from to something that has claimed the lives of people that I have admired (Terrence McNally and Joe Diffie, with John Prine likely to be next).  The progression is frightening to say the least..

Every day we wake up to more bad news and new challenges (for example:  where am I going to store all of my recyclables until curbside pickup resumes someday?).  During times of great challenge, one learned skill towers over all the rest as being important right now:  adaptability.  We are in an unprecedented time right now, as our new normal evolves daily.  Online law school seemed impossible only a month ago.  Now we are doing it.  Virtual happy hour was never a consideration before. Now it is the social event of the week.  That meeting that could have been replaced by an email?  It has been.  Unnecessary items are no longer being purchased.  Unnecessary trips are not being taken.  Gasoline is cheaper that it has been for a long time, and nobody is driving their cars.  Within a few weeks life as we know it has shifted dramatically.  And we are DOING it!!!

With “I’ve always done it this way” removed as an option, we must replace “I can’t” with “How can I?”  Creative juices are flowing for everyone as we explore new ways to do just about everything that used to involve person-to-person contact.  As I work from home, everything I used to do with paper is being shifted to electronic versions (and the trees will thank me!)  Senior citizens are learning online bill pay and mobile check deposit.  Elementary school kids are learning online education.  Parents are learning how to balance working from home while taking care of their kids.  Sit-down restaurants are learning how to offer take-out and delivery efficiently.  The reality that this is not a short-term scenario, and that we really are living in what often feels like a scary movie, has kicked in.  And we are adapting.  We are DOING it!

Life will continue to throw you curve balls, long after Covid-19 is a thing of the past.  And you will have the most important skill to deal with them:  adaptability.  Most of life’s curve balls will NOT be life-altering historic events like the current one.  But the skills you are learning from this will carry you through quite well.  We are DOING it!  WE ARE!!

 

 

Focus on the Positive

When life becomes difficult, I often turn to one specific line from a Sheryl Crow song.  “It’s not having what you want.  It’s wanting what you’ve got.”

This is time of great uncertainty.  Not just at Penn State.  Not just in the United States.  This is a global time of not knowing what is next.  And at times like this it is really easy to focus on the negative—all the things you can’t have or do.  We can’t be in our law school building.  We can’t hang out with friends.  We can’t eat in restaurants or drink in bars.  We can’t attend live music concerts or festivals (and many of you know this is my favorite thing to do!).  We’re all going a little stir crazy.  But changing the focus to the positive side can go a long way in uncertain times.

We are fortunate in so many ways.  We can’t be in our law school building.  But classes and services are still happening through the magic of technology that didn’t even exist not too long ago.  We can’t hang out with our friends in person.  But we can call.  We can Facetime.  We can Zoom.  We can watch Netflix together.  We can use the social networks (as a Gen-Xer I’ve favored Facebook as the best way to stay in touch with friends for a very long time).  We can’t eat in restaurants or drink in bars.  But we can buy groceries and take-out food (and beverage).  And it’s a great opportunity to explore cooking as a hobby!  We can’t attend live music concerts or festivals.  This one hits me close to home.  But there are a lot of recordings of concerts and festivals available to view and listen to.  I’m looking at this as an opportunity to listen to shows on the Internet Archive that I wasn’t able to attend .  And so many musicians are doing live performances from their living rooms right now!  The reality is I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to ticket prices for canceled festivals being refunded to my credit card.  Not-quite-quarantine is saving me a boatload of money!

We are, however, all going a little stir crazy.  It’s important to practice some self-care at this time.  Go for a walk or a run.  Fire up the YouTube workout videos.  It’s important to keep your body moving, even if you can’t really go anywhere.  Eat healthy foods.  Loading up on chips and chocolate to drown your sadness and fear will not help anything.  Eat some protein and vegetables.  That will actually make you feel better.  Establish a routine.  I’ve done everything I can to keep my remote work life as similar as possible to my on-campus work life.  I built myself a little office in the corner of my guest room.  That’s my daily 8 to 5 spot.  I turn on the lava lamp on top of my desk (yes….I’m very much a hippie) to symbolize the start of the day.  I turn it off when I finish working for the day.  I (usually) take a shower before I start working.  I get dressed.  Not dress-up clothes—I’m not crazy! But something other than what I sleep in.  These little steps make me feel more normal.  In a time that is very much not normal.  And I have to say, I’m liking it.  I’m comfortable in my new routine, and a little bit of comfort goes a long way right now.

It’s not having what you want.  It’s wanting what you’ve got.  And right now I’m so amazingly grateful that I’ve got so much that I want.

 

Taking One for the Team

Life has suddenly become very weird.  There are certain things that happen in your lifetime that you know are history-making events.  For many of you the first one you remember is 9/11/2001.  For some of you it may be the unfortunate demise of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  For me it was the resignation of Richard Nixon.  I was a young girl and my family was visiting with friends.  I remember wanting to play, but my father said I needed to watch this on TV because it was history.  He was right and I am grateful.  And now we are once again watching history unfold before our eyes.

We have arrived at a point in our world where everyone is making major sacrifices for the greater good.  We are all being asked to take one for the team.  It’s not an unusual concept.  We do it all the time.  A football lineman takes a hit to protect the quarterback.  A basketball player intentionally fouls the other team to stop momentum.  A family foregoes a vacation because a child needs braces.  A student rents textbooks instead of buying so that extra money is available for dog food.  I buy secondhand clothes for myself to better afford new for my husband.  We have all at some point made a sacrifice to allow for others to have something.

We as a country have been asked to keep our distance from each other.  Penn State is venturing into a world where not only are all classes being taught remotely, but all major services are also being offered from a distance.  And we are very fortunate to be in a good position to be able to do so.  The technology we have available to us is going to make this much easier that it would have been only 10 or 15 years ago.  It’s very strange to be swapping in-person contacts for phone calls, emails, and Zoom meetings.  But life has sent us a curve ball.  And we all need to take one for the team.

There are a lot of things we don’t know right now.  Including how long our new social distancing lifestyle will last.  But we should focus on the things we do know.  Your Penn State Law faculty and staff are still here for you.  We may not be in the building that is our home away from home, but we are here for you.  The quality of education that brought you to Penn State will continue.  That familial feel our community prides itself on is still here.  I am embracing the opportunity to employ new (to me) technologies that will improve my services for the long term, not just for the duration of this weird time in life.  And I’m not heart-broken that every day is casual Friday and I can have my cat on my lap while I work now.  I’m trying to keep myself focused on the positive things and the things I actually can control.  We are all in this together (from a distance), taking one for the team.  We can do this.  Because WE ARE!  And someday I hope we can look back on this time and think, “Wow, that was a huge overreaction!”  And that’s how we’ll know it worked.

 

Failure is the Best Teacher

I feel like I’ve been failing a lot lately.  I was taking an accounting class that I late dropped because I wasn’t understanding the material.  I’ve been horrible about getting the Moneywise Tip out regularly.  My house needs to be cleaned.  My laundry needs to be put away.  My front porch needs repair work.  Everywhere I turn I see my face on a big pile of failure.

To some people this might be the worst feeling in the world.  But I like to think of failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.  Failures are some of the best learning moments in life.  It’s so much easier to learn from a failure than from a success. You can usually see pretty clearly where you went wrong.  Why wasn’t I doing well in my accounting class?  I didn’t enjoy it because it focused too much on something I don’t care about at all (I wanted to learn federal tax for individuals….not for businesses).  Why have I been bad about the Moneywise Tip?  I haven’t been assigning it a high enough priority…which is a mistake.  Why is my house a mess?  I need incentive (like a soon-to-be-erected Christmas tree!) to inspire me to clean.  Why is my laundry all over the guest bed?  Apparently, I haven’t found the obstacle of finding something to wear from the giant pile to be great enough (but it’ll be there very soon!).  And I’m sure as soon as I hurt myself on the front porch, I’ll get it fixed.  Failures make the answers so easy to find.

The important thing about dealing with failure is not to wallow in it, but rather to pivot toward something that works better.  Find the teaching point and learn from it.  When you overdraw your checking account, you have to look into why it happened so you don’t let it happen again.  When you can’t pay all of your bills with the funds you have available, you have to examine your budget to see where you spent too much.  When you apply for a credit card and you get denied, you have to look at your credit report to see what is wrong (and whether that’s even something you did, or just a credit report error).  You can’t wallow in it.  It’s important to keep moving ahead…even if that means you are moving in a direction you didn’t originally plan for.

Failure can feel terrible.  But it’s also one of the best teachers in the world.