What my piano teacher taught me about passion

Or: why I spend my days off at the library.

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I began piano lessons in second grade. Although I don’t currently play, I was lucky to learn about music at a young age. I practiced often, though not religiously, and had lessons every other week at the home of my teacher, Mrs. G.

I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation — whether we were discussing how often I practiced, or her career as a pianist and teacher, but during one of our lessons, Mrs. G said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said that when she was at the piano, there was nothing else she would rather be doing. There was nowhere else she’d rather be. I thought that was so inspiring, for someone to have found an activity they love so much that there is nothing else they’d rather be doing. I knew that, although enjoyed playing the piano and taking lessons, that I didn’t feel that way about music. And so, at the end of seventh grade, when the time came to decide whether I would serve as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, which would mean the end of my piano lessons, the decision was not so difficult.

One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, created a list of Eight Splendid Truths while writing her bestseller The Happiness Project. The fifth splendid truth is: I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature

This summer, I’ve spent several of my vacation days at my local library. I love hanging out there; it’s a relaxing place to write, check out books, and do research for a writing project I’m working on. I can see why some people would think that’s lame, since there are so many fun activities a person can do on a summer day. But, when I’m writing or working on my project, there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. There is nowhere else I’d rather be. 

On Getting My First iPhone at 30

 

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I got my first iPhone a few weeks ago, at age 30. Not a lot of people know this, since most people who know me know that I like to keep up with the latest in social media and communication.

But it wasn’t always that way.

I was a middle schooler in the late 90s, when ~the~ hot way to communicate with friends  was to send messages to each other’s beepers from a landline using numeric codes like 143 and 133. Compared to the emojis and GIFs available on smartphones today, these codes seem comparable to using a carrier pigeon or chiseling a message into stone. But, as a blissfully clueless late bloomer, the only tech device I owned during my tween years was a Tamagotchi.

When I started high school, I was given my older sister’s maroon beeper, complete with a miniature elastic bungee cord, should it slide out of my pocket. As for voice communication, there was the family landline, which I would call collect after sports practice or play rehearsal ended, blurting, ITSKIMBERLYCOMEPICKMEUP when asked for my name. Then, I would hang up and wait.

When I was a junior, I got my first ~real~ cell phone. The year was 2002, and it was an Ericsson that did not flip closed, prompting a classmate to ask, “Does that thing come with its own briefcase?” The phone didn’t have a vibrate function, so it chirped during class whenever I got a text message, but I didn’t mind, because the Ericsson was a major step up from the pay phone.cellphone

I T9-texted my way through college on Verizon LG and Razr flip phones.  In my early and mid-twenties, hanging on strong to the family plan, I took whatever Verizon phone I could get for free during our biennial upgrade.

But, within the last five years or so, it became clear that I was an Android girl in a world designed for iPhones. Group texts with friends who had iPhones almost never worked correctly. Photos would materialize hours after the accompanying text message. The emoji selection was limited and often mangled in translation. (If an Android user sends a smile and it comes through as gritted teeth, is it really still a smile? Serious philosophical question.) I couldn’t use anyone else’s charger when my battery was low. And major retailers typically only offered cases for iPhones. 

 

While I wanted to be able to download the latest version of Snapchat and use iMessage, I recognized that these were first-world problems, not the end of the world. In the past, when I was eligible for an upgrade, upgrading to the iPhone was still several hundred dollars. A big expense like this wasn’t realistic or important while I was paying down my credit card debt, and even immediately after.

In high school and college, I occasionally got my hair highlighted with money I earned babysitting. My hairstylist said something that I’ve never forgotten. I asked her how long I should wait until getting my roots touched up, and she said, “Wait until you can’t stand it anymore.” That’s good advice when considering any non-essential expense: the better TV, a fresh manicure, a new couch, a phone.

The hairstylist’s advice was in the back of my mind when, a few weeks ago, I became eligible for an upgrade again. Several years ago, I interviewed for a job that involved managing social media for a major brand. In the midst of trying to explain why the brand could benefit from having a presence on Snapchat, I admitted that I didn’t currently use Snapchat. I had, for a while, but I had to delete it from my phone because there wasn’t enough space for it, and it drained the battery. It occurred to me that having an outdated Android phone had put me at a professional disadvantage.

Social media has become an important part of my current job, so being well-versed in popular and emerging platforms has become increasingly important to me. Plus, more and more businesses have developed apps that make everyday tasks easier, from banking to meditating to ordering coffee, but not all of them are available to Android users.

For just under $200, I got the iPhone 6+, and I’m happy with the choice I made. I got a lot of congratulatory “Welcome to civilization!” texts, but I’m glad I didn’t give into the peer pressure sooner. Is there anything more lame than someone with a new iPhone who complains about how “poor” they are?  (My friend Donna Freedman wrote a great post about this back in 2010 that still resonates.)

I waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

 

My Word for 2016: Permission

Two of my thought-leadership role models, Gretchen Rubin and Ann Shoket, recommend choosing a single-word theme to shape the new year.

Other than signing up for a new Goodreads Challenge (I’m aiming to beat my 2015 challenge of 52 books with 55 in 2016), I haven’t made new year’s resolutions in the past couple of years. Instead, I set small goals throughout the year. However, I like the idea of a one-word theme. Gretchen’s is two words, “Lighten up,” and Ann’s is “Deeper.”

For 2016, I’ve chosen PERMISSION as my one-word theme. One aspect of myself I’d like to work on is self-compassion because I tend to be highly self-critical.

A few months ago, I had planned to work through a to-do list I had made on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember what was on it, specifically. It was probably running errands, doing some cleaning and other things to get ready for the week ahead. But I felt too tired to power through the list. I wanted to take a nap, but the voice in my head told me that if I did, that would make me lazy and self-indulgent. What reason did I have to be tired? I hadn’t stayed up late. In a brief moment of self-compassion, I thought, I am giving myself permission to take a nap. And this permission was a light-bulb moment for me. As it turns out, I wasn’t lazy, I was sick. The next day, I woke up with a bad case of the flu. My body needed rest; I gave it permission to take that rest.

The theme of permission, to me, isn’t about sleeping. It’s about getting out of my own way. It’s about providing myself with opportunities to work hard and also to have fun. I want to give myself permission to say yes and permission to say no, and permission to let go of the guilt that comes with those choices. 

2015 was a good year for me. I finished paying off over $35,000 of credit card debt, adopted an adorable cat, took three courses at NYU (including fiction, which was terrifying, but fun!) and got promoted at work. In 2016, I’d like to do more writing, so my goal is to give myself permission to write, and permission to say no to things that aren’t as important as writing.

What would you do if you gave yourself permission?

 

 

On Getting the Big Fashion Magazine Interview… But Not the Job

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The New York Post has an essay by Cosmopolitan.com editor Amy Odell detailing her interview for a fashion writer position with Anna Wintour at Vogue. Amy details how nervous she was, what she wore to the interview and the questions she wishes she’d answered differently. Ultimately, she wasn’t offered the job. “If they had hired me, I would have done it well, I’m sure of that, but it would have been an enormous struggle, and I’d have gone on Valium just deciding what to wear every day.” It’s an excerpt from her new book, Tales from the Back Row, about working in fashion while feeling like an outsider.

I can certainly relate to the bungling of interview questions and feeling clueless when it comes to the fashion world. More job seekers might feel at ease if it were more common for people (other than anonymous Glassdoor reviewers) to write about their job interview fails. Of course, one can’t be too careful when blogging about work-related issues, which is probably why most people don’t. However, it is possible to share the ups and downs of interviewing without naming the company specifically or burning professional bridges. With that in mind, here is my own big fancy fashion magazine interview fail.

After I graduated from college, I reached out to some New York City-based alumni from my university for help as I searched for my first job. Since I like fashion and loved writing for my college newspaper, I decided to pursue a career in fashion magazines. As luck would have it, one of the alums from my school worked for a well-known fashion magazine and was kind enough to set me up with an interview for two entry-level openings. Aside from spending the previous summer working as an intern at a law firm (and deciding it wasn’t for me), I didn’t have much real-world work experience. So, naturally, one of the first questions I asked the alum when we met in the reception area was if working at the magazine was “like The Devil Wears Prada.” I can’t think about it without cringing, especially because even if her answer had been yes, it would not have kept me from taking the job.

I met with two different editors; one was on the fashion side and one was an editorial assistant. I gathered that they were trying to gauge if I would be better suited to work as a fashion editor or writer. The editorial assistant who interviewed me seemed exhausted. She was quitting to go to graduate school and interviewing potential replacements. She told me that the job involved long hours, grunt work, no opportunity for advancement and no time for a social life, but I didn’t care. I said that sounded great. I was 22 years old and unemployed; I couldn’t care less what kind of job demands I had to meet.

I don’t remember many details about my meeting with the fashion editor. She was impeccably well dressed, but she explained that when she started at the magazine, she didn’t know much about fashion: “I was like, ‘Narcisco who?'”

“RODRIGUEZ!” I all but shouted, nearly hurtling out of my seat like the next contestant on The Price is Right.

The next day, my interviewer informed me the magazine had decided to go with another candidate. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have done the fashion or editorial assistant jobs well if I had gotten an offer. Thankfully, I accepted a job at a different company the same day, though I have often wondered where I might be today had my interview gone differently.

Now that several years have passed, I’ve realized that there is a danger in wanting a job too much, on placing so much importance on a single interview, even if you are perfectly qualified for the position. It’s unnerving, at least for me, to know how close I am to having a job I want, even with so many factors in play that are out of my control. I’ve been on many job interviews since the big fancy fashion magazine, and I’ve been nervous, and talked too much, or not enough, but I haven’t had an outburst of a designer’s last name since.