Sunday, January 23, 2011

Less Than Perfect

Throughout most of my life, I considered myself to be a perfectionist. For as long as I can remember, I would do anything and everything I could to be as perfect as possible. My best was never enough, and I was consistently my own worst critic.

Case in point --I remember in first grade, the one time I ever got in trouble at school. We had a point system consisting of star stickers, and when you reached a certain number of "lost stars" you would get a phone call home to discuss bad behavior. One day, I came in late from recess -- a complete accident -- and I was forced to forfeit a star. I cried my eyes out. And I did get a call home, because the teacher was worried about how hard I took the "lost star". I was borderline traumatized over the idea that I wasn't the best student in the class for that single hour. This idea carried over into my teenage years and into my adult life. Whenever anything went wrong I would wonder what was wrong with me. I wanted control over situations to know that I could accomplish perfection.

This has been something very difficult for me to come to terms with. There have been many situations in my life in which I have had no control, but I have done the best I can to try to achieve perfection within them. Any time I failed, I blamed myself. A lot of areas in my life have been affected by this need to control everything, ranging from my personal relationships to my school work to my jobs.

I graduated college in 2009, in one of the worst economies on record for new graduates. I had a degree in English with a concentration in journalism, one of the industries hit hardest by the ailing economy. After my internship with CBS News, in which my supervisor reviewed me as the "best intern we have ever had," CBS laid off practically the entire department. I was unemployed with thousands of 20-somethings, and forced to move back home and tirelessly send out hundreds of resumes only to hear no response.

This experience was difficult. I wanted answers, and I wanted reasons why I was getting so few , interviews and barely any offers. I had worked hard, I went to a good school, and I had great experiences for a 22-year-old recent graduate. I blamed myself for being unable to find employment. I started to believe I wasn't good enough for certain life paths (for lack of a better term) and I let a lot of areas of my life suffer because of this feeling of unfulfilled need to be perfect.

Now that I have been living in DC for approximately six months, I realize how skewed my thinking was for most of my life. It is true that no one is perfect. But it is true that anyone can reach success and do great things. I owe much of this realization to my time of uncertainty after college. After only knowing school for 17 years of my life, it was hard to figure out who I am and what I want to be. To be honest, I'm still not sure I know. But I'm ok with that.

I start graduate school this week, and I'm really looking forward to -- as I look to put it -- investing in my future. I know there's no guarantees that this is the right path for me, or that I will be able to find a job in six years when I have completed my Phd. And of course the "investment in my future" (better known to most of the world as debt) isn't ideal. But I'm realizing that I like the unknown, and the idea that I have so much time to try new things, even if that includes failing a few times along the way. Life isn't about being perfect.

Shortly before I graduated from school, my brother showed me this clip on YouTube. It's Steve Jobs', the CEO of Apple, commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. I still think about it today, and if you have time, it is truly worth watching. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pointing Fingers

Along with the rest of the country, I've been following the Tucson shootings that happened on Saturday in Arizona during a meet and greet with Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords, who was shot in the brain, has remained in intensive care, while others, including 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, lost their lives. As the tragedy has continued to unfold throughout the week, everyone has been wondering what could possibly make someone kill six people and wound 19 others.

Throughout the week, the tragedy has developed in the media from a tragic act to a political finger-pointing of who-did-what. A lot has been made of Sarah Palin's crosshairs map and her negative rhetoric. If you haven't seen the map yet, it depicts crosshairs, or what appears to be a gun targets, placed on the districts of 20 U.S. representatives who voted for healthcare reform. Rep. Giffords is one of the "targets" on the list.

When the list originally was posted on Palin's Facebook page and websites, Rep. Giffords was quoted in an MSNBC interview saying that the map was dangerous because of its ambiguous and potentially violent message:

"I think it's important for all leaders, not just leaders of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party ... community leaders, figures in our community to say, 'Look, we can't stand for this.' I mean, this is a situation where people really need to realize that the rhetoric, and firing people up, and even things ... For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that actions."

I don't mean to pick on Palin specifically. I only use her as an example of my greater point because she is the most publicized illustration of my feelings toward the issue. (In fact, investigators say the Jared Lee Loughner had no political affiliation, and was not motivated by politicians to shoot Rep. Giffords. Rather, he suffered from severe mental illness.)

I chose this example to demonstrate that the high levels of negativity between the left and right in our government have not produced a single result. The bickering and finger pointing have only led to arguments and immaturity, not change. Since the election of 2008, our country has reached a low point, not only with politicians but with citizens as well, in how we compose ourselves.

The United States is facing a difficult time, with the worst economy since the Great Depression and incredibly high unemployment rates. We are involved in two wars that cannot be won, and witness constant new threats of terrorism. We need our leadership — of both parties — to lead, and show by example that this current state is only temporary.

I remember watching the 2008 election, and most recently the 2010 elections, and thinking how depressing it was to witness. There was name calling, and finger-pointing. I was happy that last year I hadn't switched my voter registration yet because I didn't feel inclined to vote for any of these people. I felt embarrassed by the way our "leaders" were conducting themselves, and I wondered what the rest of the world thought us as Americans.

Nothing is going to change until both sides take responsibility for their short-comings, their mistakes, and most importantly, their constant negativity. By spreading messages of hate and violence, we are only going to experience hate and violence. Politicians are supposed to be the voice of the people, but I don't think any of them represent my voice. However, there are certainly people out there who will interpret the voices of hate to be theirs. This honestly frightens me.

I like to believe that with every tragedy there is some light that shines through. Although I haven't seen it yet, I really hope that the shooting in Tucson brings a call to action to stop using such negative energy to invoke reactions and party loyalty. Nothing is accomplished this way. The United States needs to show that this isn't the country we have been in the past, and this isn't the country we will be in the future.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green

I read this article by David Pogue on the New York Times web site today. He discusses the "Two-Year Itch," which is the need for Americans to replace small wireless gadgets (i.e. cell phones, digital music player, digital cameras) every two years, only to throw them in the trash. He specifically targets cell phones, and the offers by major corporations to upgrade to bigger and better things after customers' two year contracts expire.

I felt bad while reading this because I know I am guilty of buying new electronics while my last ones still work fine. My last phone worked good enough, but I needed to have an iPhone just to, well, have an iPhone. With Apple and now Google coming out with newer versions of the iPhone and the Android every few months at best, it's hard not to want a better phone.

I don't think the idea that electronics are made to break would surprise anyone. How many cell phones and computers have you had in the last two years? What did you do with it when it broke down? Major corporations make products with the intent of having the product break down within a certain time period. It's more difficult and expensive to replace parts, or try to repair a product, than it is to just buy a newer working model.

But we cannot blame big industries entirely. Our personal wants only hurt the environment. So many do not recycle their old electronics for reuse or resale. We upgrade our cell phones when the older model still works, enforcing the ideals of big corporations to produce, produce, produce. Without taking a stand, we say it's OK to make borderline working electronics. And of course, we don't recycle.

Here's a few facts about the effects our electronics have on the environment:

  • Each year in the United States alone, 3 million tons of e-waste (cell phones, TVs, DVD players, computers, etc...) are thrown away.
  • Improperly handled and poorly made electronics contain PCBs, cadmium, mercury and lead, which are released into the environment. These chemicals are proven to cause cancer, nervous system damage, cell damage and renal failure.
  • In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills come from e-waste. The EPA estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled.
There's always room for improvement -- for everyone -- to become more environmentally conscious. I try, but I can always try harder. I hope most people feel that way.

One of my professors in college once played a video called The Story of Stuff. I highly recommend watching to see what happens when we throw out those unwanted items that clutter our lives. There is also a newer (and shorter) version specifically about electronics. It's only between 5-10 minutes long, so please watch! And then go recycle something.

The Story of Electronics

The Story of Stuff