Category Archives: Life lessons

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.

One Bite at a Time

The halls are eerily quiet.  Nearly everyone is wearing exercise clothing.  Coffee is being taken in intravenously.  The law school reeks of exam time.

Take a deep breath.  Have the extra piece of chocolate.  Stop by the shelter and pet some dogs and cats.  It’s ok to eat pizza for breakfast and potato chips for dinner.  This too shall pass.

As the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  And while I don’t condone the consumption of pachyderms, I love the sentiment.  If it seems impossible, break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Hang in there.  You’ve got this.  One bite at a time.

Sometimes You Need to Reboot

Sometimes you just need to reboot.  We’ve all had it happen with our phones and computers.  The system just gets so overwhelmed that the only way to fix it is to turn it off and turn it back on again, giving it a fresh, clean start.

I was away from the office last Friday because I needed to reboot myself.  Spring is a pretty overwhelming time of year in the Financial Aid Office, and my work and personal worlds both had me feeling a bit out of control.  So I took a long weekend to go to a small music festival (one of my favorite things to do) and disconnect from normal life.  Today I’m back in the office with the same mounds of undone work surrounding me…but I feel better than I did last week.  Because I’ve had a reboot.

Sometimes your finances will feel overwhelming and you won’t be sure how you’ll ever be able to dig out.  At those times you may need to reboot your financial plans.  Maybe you have a credit card balance that you could save money on by transferring to a different card.  Maybe your student loan payment is uncomfortably high, but you can make life more manageable with a different payment plan.  Maybe your housing cost is too high and you have to make the difficult choice to move to a less expensive situation.  If your money has you feeling like you are sinking rather than swimming, you may need to look at things from a different angle and reboot your plan.  You will experience this many times throughout your life.  But nothing is hopeless.  You just need to reboot.

Secure Your Own Mask First

When you fly on an airplane there is always a safety speech before takeoff.  And the thing that has been ringing in my head since my last flight is, “Please secure your own mask before assisting others.”

That one sentence pretty much sums up this semester for me.  Spring semester always seems a bit harried, and this semester is no exception.  I’m not getting things done in as timely a fashion as I would like.  I’m a little overextended and feel like I’m focused a lot more on caring for others than making sure I’m ok myself.  But a conversation with a student last week made me revisit a tip on this theme that I wrote a couple of years ago.  I need to stop and secure my own mask before I can assist others.  You simply can’t effectively help others if you are in risk of not keeping yourself going.

The “secure your own mask” bit also hits close to home in a different way when it comes to charitable giving.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who hears the phone ring, sees the number of their alma mater, and lets it go to voice mail.  I know they are looking for a donation.  Sometimes it seems like every charity I’ve ever donated to is reaching out for a contribution at the same time.  And I want to assist others.  But my husband and I have some medical issues that are challenging financially.  So rather than stretching myself to assist others as much as I would like, I smile, politely said no (or agree to only a tiny amount) and proceed with securing my own financial mask.  It won’t be this way every year.  And it’s ok to say no to charities if you’re not feeling particularly financially secure yourself.  It comes back around when things are steadier financially.

I am hopeful that summer will unfold differently for me.  But it’s only because I’m taking steps to secure my own mask first.  Then I can proceed with assisting others.

 

Good Enough Is Good Enough

Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.  This is a lesson that law students often struggle with.  Having always strived for (and often attained) perfection, it’s difficult for law students to retrain the brain to accept that “good enough” is very often quite acceptable.

I’ve talked before about how I am taking classes toward a Certified Financial Planner certificate.  This weekend I had a very full agenda.  And I had a quiz I needed to take.  Through the magic of online education, I have three attempts to complete and submit my quizzes.  On the first attempt I struggled and earned a 7 out of 10.  I thought about retaking it, but I was pressed for time.  I decided to wait and see what Sunday brought to decide if I would retake.  When I got to Sunday evening, I decided to take my 7 points and move on with life.  Reality is that the three points I lost will likely not affect my grade.  I’ll probably get a B in the class no matter how hard I try.  And that is good enough.

The bar exam is often the first testing hurdle you will face where the goal is not to get the best grade in the batch.  The goal is to pass.  Whether you have the highest passing score or the lowest passing score does not matter.  At the end of it all, if you have any passing score you become a lawyer.  If you waste your energy focusing on perfection, you are actually less likely to pass.  This is a case where good enough really is good enough.

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be perfect with your finances.  You will someday pay a bill a few days late (or miss a month altogether when you have misplaced the mail).  You may experience a month when you are unable to pay your credit card in full.  You might buy a stock that tanks.  You may discover that your bank has been charging you fees you could have avoided.  There is always room for mistakes and room for improvement.  But the reality is that this is another area where good enough is good enough.  You may have temporary setbacks.  But if you continue striving to do all the right things, it will likely be good enough.

Perfection is difficult to attain and attempting to do so can wreck your mental health.  It’s ok to ease up on yourself.  Because in so many cases good enough is good enough.

Pivot!

Sometimes in life you just need to pivot.  You are headed on a certain path and it becomes clear that it is not possible to continue on that path.  You have to pivot…you make a sharp left turn, quickly adjust the plan, and continue on in your new direction.

The whole “pivot” idea hit me full-force when I was traveling this past week.  I was in Arizona for a conference the early part of last week. (I promise—I learned a lot of great things that I’ll be utilizing with you!)  The conference ended Wednesday afternoon, and I was on a red-eye flight home at midnight Wednesday night.  (The red-eye—a great way to get an extra day at your location without paying for an extra night in a hotel!)  That first flight was not a problem.  I got some sleep, watched some Netflix (previously downloaded to my Kindle), and arrived in Detroit shortly before 6 AM.  On Thursday.  The day of the big storm.  The big storm that shut down Penn State for the better part of two days.

I had been watching the weather forecast.  I knew there was a decent chance I wouldn’t make it home on Thursday as planned.  Before I left Arizona I cozied up in the hotel lobby (because I had been checked out of my room for several hours by then) and did some unpacking and repacking.  I needed to make sure that everything I needed for an extra night in who-knows-where was in my carry-on bags.  I was anticipating the need to pivot.

As I sat through my breakfast layover in Detroit, I watched in anticipation as the flight cancellations started coming in.  Much to my surprise, my flight boarded pretty close to on-time.  And then the real adventure began.  As the snow was flying in Detroit, my plane waited in line for de-icing.  Then we waited for a runway to become available, as we were running behind.  All the while I was thinking about the snow that was about to pummel Pennsylvania.  But we got into the air about 45 minutes after scheduled.  Not bad considering the weather.  The flight to State College was a bit turbulent, but I breathed a sigh of relief as we descended and I saw Happy Valley below us.  And then we started climbing again.  Visibility was too poor to land.  So we started circling above State College, hoping for conditions to improve.  After twenty minutes or so, we descended again.  The visibility was better.  But the runway was too snowed in to land.  Back to circling.  The pilot announced that we had enough fuel for one more landing attempt, and if that failed we would have to divert to a different airport.  We continued to circle the skies as the crews attempted to plow the runway.  After about a half-hour we came in for landing attempt number three.  And we were able to reach the ground.  The passengers immediately broke into applause for the pilot and crew.

But the adventure didn’t stop there.  There is nothing quite like an airport in bad weather to bring out either the very best or the very worst in people.  The roads in State College were a mess and getting worse quickly.  The University had already dismissed for the day.  The taxis had stopped operating.  And the airport was full of people who were trying to get to anywhere other than the airport.  Some of us were my flight that miraculously arrived from Detroit.  But most of the folks in the airport were people whose outgoing flights had been canceled and they were trying to get back to wherever they came from.  The only real options to escape the airport (for those who hadn’t left a car there) were Uber, Lyft, and friends and family.  And, of course, there was an accident blocking the major path to and from the airport.  But that’s when the magic started happening.  People pivoted.  Cars arrived and picked up not just their stranded friends, but other stranded travelers heading similar directions.  Strangers were sharing Uber rides.  People in the parking lots were sharing snow brushes.  One of my fellow Detroit travelers and I taught a man how to use the Uber app.  That same fellow traveler caught a ride with me when my husband (after a long detour due to the accident) showed up with our Subaru.  Kindness was everywhere that snowy afternoon.

When faced with a situation that steers you in a different direction than you expected, you don’t really have much choice other than to go in that new direction.  This could something small, like a used textbook you planned to buy wasn’t available so you had to buy new.  Maybe you have to drink Pepsi products instead of Coke (or change your plan to something different).  Or it could be something bigger, like a major car repair, or an unexpected vacation in Detroit (which in retrospect I wish I’d had).  The important thing is that you pivot.  Pivot with grace, and keep moving on.