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The Scenic Route

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” –Arthur Ashe

“A straight line may the shortest distance between two points, but it by no means the most interesting.” –The Third Doctor in “The Time Warrior” (Doctor Who; Season 11, Episode 1)

I have a horrible sense of direction.

It doesn’t take much for me to get lost and lose any sense of where I am, whether I am performing a combination in a dance class facing the opposite wall where I originally learned it, waking up after a long nap with no concept of what direction I’m facing when I am lying in bed, or I am driving from any Point A to any Point B.

My sense of direction, or lack thereof, has been a lifelong quirk of mine.  After many years of fighting it, I finally decided to try to embrace it.  I just had to accept the fact that dancing while facing a direction I’m not used to will confuse me to no end and squelch what little grace I have, my brain will always feel a little disoriented for a minute or two when I wake up after a deep sleep, and I will always make at least one wrong turn while driving to a place I’m not familiar with.

Embracing and accepting these aspects of my personality has been a battle.  The lost feeling I sometimes have when I wake up isn’t a big deal.  (That happens to many people.)  However, I wish I could pick up a dance combination facing any direction on the first try, and I would love to drive somewhere without taking wrong turns or getting lost.  Even if I have driven to Point B multiple times before, “side trips” and “detours” are part of the travel package, whether I like them or not.  To save my sanity, I jokingly tell people that I like to take “the scenic route.”

Of my notorious quirks, my lack of navigation skills is what drives (no pun intended) me the craziest.  I have lost count of the many times I have taken a wrong turn, continued straight on instead of turning, unknowingly cruised right by my destination, doubled back to try to reach said destination (only to sometimes drive by it again), missed a highway exit, or stayed on the highway too long.  (I once drove I-270 in its entirety while traveling from Missouri to Illinois.  For those of you who don’t know, 270 is a somewhat loop-like highway that is 50.59 miles long and runs throughout the St. Louis area.)  It stresses me to the max, especially if I have to arrive somewhere by a certain time.  Doubling the estimated travel times that Google and Mapquest provide has become a necessity over the years.

Fortunately for me, my constant curiosity about the world around me eventually outweighs the frustration I feel after my 15th wrong turn.  Once I stop pounding the steering wheel and calm down, I can take in my surroundings during the drive.  I have passed through many small towns that, to outsiders, mean nothing, but mean everything to people who call them home.  Hole-in-the-wall diners, mom-and-pop stores, towering mansions, city parks, old buildings, historic landmarks, trademark industrial sites, local geography, quaint homes, and school banners unique to the town are just a few of the interesting findings I come upon during my many “side trips.”  Sometimes, I decide that I’d like to go back and eat at that diner or visit that historic landmark.  I’ve also seen trashed yards, crumbling houses, barred windows, shattered glass, rusting parked cars, littered streets, graffiti-ed buildings, shuttered businesses, and wandering people who maybe didn’t have a place to call home.  (I have a knack for getting lost in dangerous neighborhoods; my mom once said I was lucky to get out of a few of those places alive.)  Call me crazy, but if it was safer, I would go back and visit those neighborhoods, too; especially since my mom grew up in one of them and I’ve always been curious about it.   Both of these settings and every setting in between have shown me something that I never saw or knew about before.  I was exposed firsthand to the various ways that people live.

Even if I don’t get lost enough to drive through a different town or neighborhood that was not on my itinerary, many times I have learned how some roads connect to each other or lead me to a place that I needed to find later on.  I have also been able to find my way back to familiar territory by taking a road that was part of one of my previous “detours.”  In retrospect, getting lost and making mistakes along the way often helped me find my way in a later situation.  And on those rare occasions when I do make it to a place on time without making any wrong turns, the feeling of victory sends me on an express trip to Cloud Nine.

People have told me over the years that I should use a GPS when I drive.  I can certainly understand why they think one would help me, but I always refused for three reasons.  One, a GPS doesn’t know which neighborhoods are safe and which ones are dangerous.  I could still just as easily drive somewhere that should be avoided at all costs.  Two, I don’t want to be too dependent on technology.  Many people nowadays are so plugged into their phones, tablets, and other high-tech gadgets that they wouldn’t know how to function if, for some reason, they couldn’t use them.  I don’t want to be one of those people.  I want to be able to put my problem solving skills to use and think outside the box, rather than just have the information constantly spoon-fed to me.  Three, I’m a stubborn bonehead who doesn’t like to ask for help.

That being said, I recently realized that since I might be doing a lot of driving in unfamiliar areas this summer, a GPS might come in handy for at least some of it.  Yesterday, for the very first time, I used a GPS to drive from a town I’d only visited once to another town about 30 minutes away.  Yesterday seemed like a good time to break in my Garmin GPS that I’d kept in the box for about four years.  True to its claim, it guided me to my destination with no side trips or detours.  I was surprised, however, at how little I truly needed it.  As I left Point A to drive to Point B, I was actually confident that I would make it to my destination with no problem, and I almost always knew what roads to take before Garmin told me.  Using a GPS wasn’t life-changing like I thought it would be.

If you’ve seen the movie The Matrix, you may recall a scene toward the end of the film when Morpheus is held captive on top of a high building, and he needs to be rescued by helicopter.  Trinity does not know how to pilot one, but she instantly learns how once that particular information is downloaded into her brain in merely a few seconds’ time.  (You can watch that video clip here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AOpomu9V6Q.)  After seeing that part of the movie, I began to wish that such a method of learning existed for us people who never had the chance to take the red pill.  I could skip the frustration stage of acquiring new and difficult skills and instantly know how to put my newly found knowledge to use.  My productivity level for various tasks could skyrocket.  I could save copious amounts of time.  How could instantly downloading anything and everything I would want or need to know be a bad thing?

I found the answer to that question yesterday after turning off my GPS.  How many interesting places would I have missed seeing if I hadn’t accidentally taken those little side trips?  How many of those accidental discoveries of where certain roads lead me, that helped me later on, would I have missed if I didn’t take those unplanned detours?  It’s exactly like what I said to other people before: I don’t want information constantly spoon-fed to me.  It’s satisfying to figure things out on my own.

The same can be applied for dance, too.  It might take me all of class time–and in many cases, longer than that–to grasp the new steps I’m being taught, but once I get them, the feeling of victory after conquering those challenges is sweet.

The learning process for any knowledge or skills gained is more valuable than I realize.  I hate that I didn’t fully understand that while I was in school.  However, I still have numerous opportunities to learn about the world around me and put that knowledge to use in any endeavor I pursue, whether it’s interviewing for jobs, dancing, driving, or anything else.

As for my GPS, I have decided to only use it as a last resort in urgent situations.  Sometimes, it’s good to take the scenic route.

Open-Road-Wallpaper-6

Image from freedeskwallpapers.com

Surprise Regret

Why do some women wear mascara on a daily basis?

That was the question I asked myself numerous times yesterday.

I wore mascara yesterday for only the second time since last October.  (The first time since last October was last month for graduation day.  The last time I wore it before last October was probably the October before.)  I had no special reason to do it; I just thought that as an aspiring young professional trying to make her way into the working world after school, I should get in the habit of wearing at least a little bit of makeup, since apparently, that’s what female professionals do.  I decided that yesterday I would start to get in that habit of wearing makeup on days when I would have to leave the house.

For those of you who don’t know me well, I’ve never been a fan of wearing makeup every day.  Except for dance recitals, I didn’t wear it when I was a kid.  I only started wearing traces of it to school when I was 17, and only once in a while.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve painted my nails in the last 28 years.  I’ve never had any desire to dye, perm, straighten, or highlight my hair.  I’ve never cared about keeping up with current fashion trends or what other people think of my mostly hand-me-down and thrift shop wardrobe.  I almost never wear jewelry.  I wore makeup for a few special occasions, and for dance and skating performances as I got older, but I didn’t want to take the time to wear it on a daily basis.  I’ve gone through short phases of wearing it daily throughout my adult life, only to call it quits because of how inconvenient it is for me put makeup on every morning, especially when the reasons to not mess with it far outweigh the reasons to put it on.

I spent too much time in front of my bathroom mirror yesterday as I tried to trace the outside corners of my delicate eyelids with a razor-thin liquid eyeliner brush.  After waiting a minute or so for the dark brown eyeliner to dry, I brushed only one coat of waterproof mascara on my upper eyelashes.  I used whatever was leftover on my brush to coat my barely-there lower lashes.  Just one coat of that black goop made all of my lashes clump and look fake.  To me, fake is not beautiful.  But makeup, at least a little bit of it, is what many young professionals have to wear just so that they look more, well, professional.  Supposedly, anyway.

I made the necessary adjustments with my eye makeup before I moved on to covering my face with powder foundation to “set” (whatever that means) the liquid concealer that I had dabbed onto my numerous acne scars on my face.  I also colored in my nearly-white eyebrows, just so it looks like I actually have eyebrows.  After applying clear lip gloss to my lips, I decided that I was ready to walk out the door to face (no pun intended) the day’s adventures.

I might have felt ready to tackle the day, but as I stared at my reflection in the mirror, I still couldn’t help but feel fake.  I didn’t look or feel like myself.  I’m not trying to say that anyone who wears makeup isn’t genuine, but me wearing makeup, at least that much of it, is a sharp contrast to my laid back and low maintenance (or lazy, careless, etc.) personality when it comes to fashion and appearances.  Maybe it’s all those years working outdoors part-time where makeup was pointless.  Maybe it’s from working in a blue-collar office environment for nearly eight years, where the dress code was somewhat casual and makeup was definitely optional.  Maybe it’s the numerous dance classes where I didn’t wear eye makeup, because I felt like I would dance better if my sweat didn’t smear my eye makeup and make me look like a hot mess.  Maybe I haven’t completely grown out of my somewhat tomboyish childhood traits.  Maybe it’s because I feel completely free when my face is clean and bare, and my hair is down and loose.  Maybe it’s because I’m finally confident in who I am as a person, and I see nothing to be ashamed of when I look at my bare face in the mirror.

I didn’t ponder these reasons before I left the bathroom.  If I had, I would’ve taken all of my makeup off right then and there (in about two minutes, tops) and saved myself some of the regret that followed later that afternoon.

I drove to Missouri yesterday to visit people.  While visiting with a lovely woman that I’ve missed dearly since graduation, I wished that I wasn’t wearing makeup right then.  I wished that I hadn’t spent so much time in the bathroom trying to conceal, powder, coat, and apply various cosmetic products on various parts of my face, especially when it wasn’t necessary.  I wished I’d only washed my face and run out the door so that I could have spent an extra 20 or so minutes (yes, it takes me that long to put makeup on) with her instead of the bathroom mirror and makeup brushes.  I wished that I had felt more beautiful and more like myself while I was visiting with her (and other people later that day), and that would’ve happened if I hadn’t put all of that makeup on.

I’ve always felt the dread of inconvenience of putting on makeup, but I’d never felt the sting of regret over putting on makeup until yesterday.

To clarify, I don’t like leaving the house looking like a slob.  I always leave the house with a clean face and brushed hair.  I also understand that dressing up for special occasions is sometimes necessary, and depending on the occasion (prom, for example; I loved wearing my floor-length prom dress), it can be fun once in a great while.  I like wearing clean, neat clothes every day, whether I leave the house or not.  But I’m going back to my habit of foregoing makeup unless my acne scars are particularly prominent on some days or if a special occasion requires it.  Even then, I will use only the minimum amount to address any issues I’m having.

Today, I have to run some errands, among other things.

And I’m going to relish this day of not wearing makeup.

Who are You?

The semester I graduated from high school, I signed up for a full load of courses at a local community college across town from where I lived.  I was looking forward to my classes and what college would have in store for me.  I knew that some of my high school classmates would be attending the same college, but it was hardly a high school reunion.  It was definitely a new start for me, and I had to meet new people.

I think 99.9999 percent of the conversations I had with my new classmates, and witnessed among other students, started with a brief exchange of names and was followed by the same question that I would hear countless times for several years afterward:  “What’s your major?”  I’d had serious career objectives in mind since high school (a coach/choreographer for figure skaters, or a choir teacher), and I had some majors in mind (dance, physical education, exercise science, athletic training, and vocal music education), but I wasn’t sure which one would most likely help me get a job in my desired field or how much the practicality of the major should matter in case my dream job(s) didn’t pan out.  I always answered, “undecided” whenever people asked me that question and whenever I filled out my class schedule every semester.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but our majors became a strong part of our identities from the first day we set foot on that campus.  We all knew each other by our declaration of concentrated study.  I was just Sarah who sang Alto in Concert Choir and Chamber Choir at school, but I was happy and content with that.

After I left the community college and transferred to a four-year university across the state line at age 21, I finally declared a major:  dance.  I loved being known as a dance major by almost everyone I met on campus.  I also loved being friends with the people I hit it off with right away who were not dance majors.

I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Dance two years ago last May, and I have been defined by other occupations since then:  graduate student, graduate assistant, student teacher, part-time ballet teacher.   Since leaving school, I learned very quickly that the defining question for adults in post-academic life is, “What do you do for a living?”

Answering that question nowadays is somewhat awkward for me.  It’s true that I’m a part-time ballet teacher, but at age 28, despite the several applications I’ve sent to various job openings, I haven’t found a full-time job, or even another part-time job besides teaching ballet.  At age 28, I still don’t know where I should work full-time or what I should be doing.  (Teaching dance full-time is not an option right now.)  At age 28, I’m still living at home, and although I enjoy seeing my mom, brother, and puppy dogs on a daily basis, I’m ready to get my own apartment in my “adopted” hometown, however tiny and cheap my abode may be.  I feel like what I’m doing right now isn’t enough, that I’m inadequate, that I’ve screwed up royally somewhere between my first breath and now, which as result has put me in circumstances that most people try to avoid:  28 and still living at home, lonely because most of my friends live in another state/my adopted hometown, not employed full-time, clueless as to what I should do next, and single with no potential significant other. (I mention my relationship status only because by now, most of my friends are already married, and some have already had kids.  For the record, I am absolutely in no hurry to date anyone, much less get married.  It’s just that my current relationship status can be another example of how behind I am compared to the rest of my peers.)  In a nutshell, according to those circumstances, I am not a young adult who has it all together by any means.

Do you know what I’ve learned, though?  My circumstances do not define who I am.  I am not a college major, an age, a job, a living situation, an employment status, or a relationship status.  I am much more than these circumstances that can change at the drop of a hat.

So are you.  Your circumstances do not define who you are.

Circumstances can shape our lives, test us, teach us, and help us grow, but they do not define us.  Whether they’re trying us or treating us well, they are not us.

So, who am I?  I am:

a woman, who sometimes still feels like a young girl.

creative; I dance, write, make art, etc.

patient (most of the time).

determined.

forgetful (if I forget your name after we first meet, I apologize for needing to ask you again…five more times).

goofy (at least I think so 🙂 ), once I’m comfortable around the person/people with whom I’m being goofy.

hawk-eyed, when I’m in editing mode.

imaginative.

hopeful.

playful.

a dreamer.

curious.

an introvert (an INFJ, to be exact).

desperate to make a difference somehow.

His (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+5%3A17&version=NLT).

I like getting to know my readers.  Who are you?  You can tell me your occupation or about other circumstances, if you like, but I want to know more about you.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Green Arrows

I have a question to ask those of you who drive.

Do you like to stop at red lights, especially when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere important?

Me, neither.

People often say that I’m a very patient person.  It’s very nice of them to say that, but I should tell you that these people probably have not seen me behind the wheel.  I spew sarcasm at drivers who turn without using a blinker (“Nice blinker, genius.”), who stay put when the light turns green (“It’s the pedal on the right!”), and who drive in the rain without headlights (“Really, dude?”), among other things.  I never honk at bad drivers, only because it’s too late to do so when I’m finished yelling at them.  (If I’ve yelled at any of you, I’m really sorry.)

Sometimes I’m particularly anxious if I’m trying to turn left onto another street.  Even if I’m at a stoplight and the light is green, I still have to wait until other cars have gone by before I can turn.  I get antsy as the wave of traffic comes, because each car that passes by takes time away for me to turn before the light turns red.  I tend to get more impatient when another car pulls up behind me, also wanting to turn left.  I have to not only wait, but use good judgement as I decide whether or not I should make a speedy turn before the oncoming car reaches the intersection, or if I should be a cautious driver and wait it out a little bit.  (For the record, I prefer to be cautious.)  Sometimes I get lucky and find enough of a gap for me to turn left while the light is still green.  However, sometimes there is so much traffic that I have to wait as the light turns yellow, and finally red.  By then, it’s too late to go anywhere.  I have to wait some more.   Sometimes this situation forces the driver behind me to wait, as well.  It is one of the few times that I might feel a little bad for another driver on the road.

On the other hand, sometimes while waiting to turn left at an intersection with a green light, I notice that all oncoming traffic slows to a stop.  I look up, and a green arrow lights up in front of me.  I don’t have to wait anymore.  I have a clear shot, with a direction specifically for me, telling me that now is the best time to go ahead.

I think life can be like that sometimes.  We’re trying to go somewhere important.  Maybe it’s to a new job, a new home, a new graduate program, a new relationship status with our significant other, or some other new chapter in life, but we have to stop and wait, whether we want to or not.  Many times, we don’t want to.  We know where we want to go.  Why can’t we just get there already?

One way we can react to this situation is to let impatience have the upper hand.  We anxiously wait for the next available opportunity to make that turn, sometimes accelerating like crazy to make it there before the next obstacle comes along.  It’s sometimes effective, but it’s stressful.  Is that extra stress really worth it?  What do we gain by jumping the gun?

Another option is to wait for a little while.  People might think this is unproductive, but it doesn’t have to be.  While you’re stopped where you’re at, take in the view.  Enjoy the beauty that God has created and placed around you, whether it’s flowers growing on the side of the road, the shapes of the clouds in the sky, or the setting sun.  Learn from the people around you in your present situation.  Stay busy while you wait.

Before you know it, you’ll get a green arrow, specifically for you, telling you that it is the best time to go ahead to what’s next.

If you know me well, you know that I can stress over people and situations quite a bit.  I don’t always stop and smell the roses as much as I should, and I’m very hard on myself.  If life was a series of left turns at stoplights on a busy street, I’d knot up my stomach as I waited for a slight break in the traffic and the chance to make a break for where I want to go next, especially if a driver comes up behind me.  It’s unnecessary.  In this crazy life, I should trust God, take a deep breath, quit stressing over strangers’ opinions on how I roll, and enjoy the ride as I wait for that arrow.

Here’s to learning how to do that in the days ahead.