Thoughts on Life and The Awesomeness of College

It’s official…I’m a college graduate! On May 10 I walked across the stage and had the opportunity to celebrate with my family and friends. It was such a bittersweet day. Although I’m sad to see college career come to an end, I’m excited to take the next steps in my career.

Let the future begin!

Let the future begin!

As we all know, college isn’t just about the books. There are so many life lessons the college experience teaches so well. Here are five of my favorites:

1. If you want to achieve goals, make them happen…starting now.

The summer before I went to college, my church’s youth pastor and his wife coached me on college readiness to help prepare me as much as possible for life as a college student. One of the most valuable pieces of wisdom they shared with me was that if I wanted to instill a new habit, I had to start as soon as I arrived to campus or as soon as my semester started. If not, busyness and routine would take over and any hopes of accomplishing that goal would most likely slip through the cracks.

This was GREAT advice. Right when I got to college, I set aside the time I needed to reach my goals, such as going to the gym, staying in touch with family and friends and practicing (I was a music major at the time).

As I plan out what my life will look like in the future, I know it will be more of a challenge to set good habits, as more responsibilities add up. However, it isn’t impossible and achieving goals is important no matter what stage of life I’m in.

2. Mom and Dad are cool.

There’s this shift that happens usually right before high school ends or halfway through the first year of college where mom and dad are suddenly cool! When I left for college I remember being excited to be on my own, but every time my parents made the trip up to Denton for the weekend I was always very excited to spend time with them.

Not only are they cool but also smart, contrary to what my teenage self credited them. I’m thankful that my parents were so involved in my college experience. My mom basically knew more than my advisors and quickly became a pro at helping me plan out my schedules so I could graduate with a degree and a half in four years. I’ve grown rather close to my parents, as I should. They’re the only ones I have.

3. Detours are sometimes the best things that can happen to you. 

I was a double major in music and public relations my first and second years of college. I knew I loved music and also knew I loved to write, although I wasn’t exactly sure I knew what PR was quite yet. As a music student I participated in music ensembles, took lessons and learned theory and music history at one of the most prestigious music schools in the nation. I really enjoyed it, but quickly saw my passion fading after hours on top of hours of practicing and struggling through my music theory assignments.

I finally came to a point where I had to choose. PR won and I’ve never regretted that decision, nor have I regretted the time spent making music at the University of North Texas. Some of my closest friends were made through the marching band and some of my favorite memories were in the music building and performance hall.

4. You don’t have to be the smartest to stand out.

I was honored as the Outstanding PR Student of the Year at the journalism banquet in May, an award chosen by the Mayborn School of Journalism’s faculty. It was a very exciting moment, that’s for sure.

A lot of people who congratulated me said things like, “Wow! You must make really good grades!” The truth is I’ve never been an extremely academic person. I worked VERY hard to make good grades in school, which paid off in the end, but certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for me as it was for some of my friends growing up.

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2014 Outstanding Public Relations Student in the Department of Strategic Communications at UNT

I think the key to being successful and standing out is hard work and being passionate about what you do. During my college career I had seven different internships, was the president of UNT’s Chapter of PRSSA and was the kind of person who attended networking events and watched webinars on her days off. People would always comment on how busy I seemed, but I was just doing what I think is fun! Those internships and tough classes flew by because I absolutely love what I do.

As my youngest sister and cousin graduate from high school this year I sincerely hope they fall in love with their major as I did. It makes college (an life)THAT more awesome and rewarding.

5. Friendships are a gift, not a guarantee

After I graduated high school I started to lose touch with some of people I considered best friends during middle or high school. It was sad at first, but as I changed and grew, my old friends were changing and growing too.

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since :)

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since 🙂

There are several friendships I have that have lasted more than ten years, but college taught me the value of learning when to fight for those friendships and when to let go to make room for others. Letting go of friendships is bittersweet, but I can’t think of a time where new friendships weren’t blossoming. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and as I’ve grown older, I’ve been even more thankful for these gifts and realized that they are blessings that I am not entitled to.

Here are some of the friends that made college such a wonderful time in my life:

This month I’ll be moving to Dallas, standing by one of the friends I’ve known the longest as she marries the man of her dreams, starting the next chapter in my career and vacationing with my family in Boston. I’ll miss the ability to plan my own schedule, nap times between classes and exciting intern adventures as a college student, but I’m so excited to see what the future has in store.

“ Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21

What are your favorite things about your college experience?

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The Cuban Five: Rediscovering Cuba

This year I had the opportunity of a lifetime. It all started with one question my grandmother asked, “Will you go to Cuba with me?”

Ready for Cuba!

Ready for Cuba!

My grandmother is basically Wonder Woman. She has been to all seven continents and wrote two books about it. The first one, Around the World in the Middle Seat talks about her many adventures as a group travel leader and the second one, Seven Before Seventy, is about reaching her goal of traveling to Antarctica, her seventh continent. I’ve been blessed to have her as a role model and I couldn’t be more proud to follow in her footsteps as a writer.

Of course I said I would go with her to Cuba. In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, not many Americans are able to travel to Cuba. In fact, only a few travel agencies have the certifications to bring American tourists to the island. Because of this reason, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I’d ever have the opportunity to visit. I savored each city we visited, knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can talk to anyone/anything, so it was no problem and I enjoyed learning about Cuba with each of them. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I learned a lot about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.

While Cuba was an amazing historical journey, I loved experiencing the culture first-hand. Here are five of the attributes I wanted to take home with me:

 1. The weather

When I left Dallas early March it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty. Although it’s spring in the United States, we were in Cuba during the middle of winter. I’m glad we didn’t stick around for rainy season, but I wouldn’t mind having such a mild winter here in the States.

 2. The cars

Back in the 1950s it was common for Americans to travel to Cuba on a ferry. Our local guide told us that many came to gamble in Havana and after one too many mojitos I assume, many bet their car. This explains why so many Chevys and Fords can be found speeding through the streets in Cuba. Our guide Ari said, “There are no mechanics in Cuba. Only magicians!” This is certainly true, as many of the old-fashioned cars are still up and running even though they’ve passed through many generations. Not all the cars have the antique charm only the 50s birthed, but these gems that do make Cuba such an exciting place to venture. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to ride around in a red convertible for an hour the last night we spent in Havana. By the end I was wishing I hadn’t taken the time to do my hair, but it was certainly a memorable experience.

3. The architecture

Because of Cuba’s history, there are so many types of architecture in Cuba. Some buildings had regal columns and others resembled brightly colored boxes. Each city we visited had a different style and even some neighborhoods were distinguished by particular architecture styles.

My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s mosaic style and then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.

4. The music

I grew up around music and although I thought I enjoyed music a lot, I quickly realized that Cuba is on an entirely new level when it comes to enjoying music. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?

 5. The outlook on life

Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easy going way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregated by the fences talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans do.

Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.

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Reflections on a Mason Jar of Memories

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

I don’t always play board games, but when I do…I typically can’t wait for someone to win so I can do something else.

Maybe I’m no fun, but something about the fact that most board games come with a million little pieces and a novel-sized book of instructions that people don’t read, but still manage to argue about the rules, makes them even less fun. I’d rather do something else, like have a conversation, bake or go outside like people used to do before televisions were invented.

On New Year’s Day I was with my boyfriend, some family and friends, and we started playing his favorite board game. I was reluctant at first, but since I was in the holiday spirit and figured it wouldn’t kill me, I went ahead and joined in. Seeing the delight on his face was something I wasn’t expecting. He was genuinely appreciative that I put aside my preferences and played his favorite game. Although it wasn’t a tremendous sacrifice on my part, it brought me joy in return and I started to think this would be a great continuation of my New Year’s resolution from last year.

Choosing Contentment

In 2013 I resolved to be more content and positive with my life the way it is. I have a perfectionist mindset, which often makes it hard to appreciate what is going right and focus on fixing what isn’t. To help me accomplish this new mindset I wrote down positive experiences and thoughts, and put them in a jar on my dresser. After ringing in the New Year, I read through all the little slips of paper. I remembered sweet conversations over mugs of coffee, thoughtful gifts I didn’t deserve from friends and family members, and the feeling of accomplishment that washed over me after seeing my work in print for the first time. Others included waking up to beautiful sunsets, volunteering at philanthropic community events and random acts of kindness.

Last year wasn’t perfect, but looking back on the positive things reminded me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for a year to be productive in accomplishing my goals. The strange thing is, I really didn’t even make specific goals when I decided what I would focus on in 2013. In addition, I felt much more successful than I had in years before when I wrote out a ton of things I wanted to change about my life.

Redefining Resolutions

Instead of a resolution that limits your possibilities, why not choose a word instead?

As a former, overly obsessive resolutionist, I know that more resolutions are abandoned than achieved, and the most apparent reason for that is the fact that most resolutions are about the person making them. As I looked back through all of the positive moments from 2013, I was reminded that contentment, which is defined as “a state of happiness or satisfaction,” is the key to accepting what I have without longing for more or struggling to be someone else every time January rolls around. If I’m distracted by what I don’t have, I can’t see past my own failures and can’t possibly be in tune with meeting the needs of others. Contentment is an open door to freedom from greed, envy, selfishness and severe expectations. Although contentment can’t solve all of life’s problems, it’s a great place to start.

Contentment takes discipline and can be difficult in our world where we know little of actual need, but reading through each of the positive things that happened in 2013, I was reminded that the good far outweighs the bad.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.                                    – Oprah Winfrey

Thankfulness

When contentment is achieved, thankfulness is the result. Thankfulness is a relational benefit of contentment, which is “expressive of thanks,” and “aware and appreciative of a benefit.” Oftentimes thankfulness obliges selflessness, which can lead to making sacrifices for the benefit of others. There are so many people and things to be thankful for and I sincerely hope that this year I will more effectively recognize what is lovely and worthy of gratitude (and even things that aren’t) and respond with self-sacrifice and love.

I would love to hear about the word you’ve chosen to focus on in 2014.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Icepocalypse 2013

It’s rarely very cold in Texas, but this winter is off to a chilly start. Last Thursday was the beginning of what UNT students called the “Icepocalypse” in Denton. I was cooped up in my apartment for several days and campus was closed for nearly a week, but the ice is finally starting to melt away.

Fortunately my power didn’t go out, but a few friends in Dallas weren’t so lucky. My old roommate and close friend, Nicole Bell, told me she was stuck in apartment without power. My roommates and I invited her over and after battling traffic and icy roads, she finally arrived with a bridesmaid dress and suitcase in tow, a little disappointed that her flight to North Carolina for her best friend’s wedding had been postponed.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 10.34.06 PMTwo nights of movies, laughter and failed attempts to drive on the ice passed and she was finally on her way to the airport. I checked with her later that day to make sure she made it to the airport safely and she had big news. She was asked to film a video diary for ABC News! The reporter had found her on Twitter and after she filmed some of the airport madness her clip was played on Good Morning America that night! Her hashtag #NicoleStranded2013 made for some good laughs and it was cool to see one of my best friends in the world on the news! I thought this was also a great example of how being in the right place at the right time can have its perks, even if it’s a life-giving-you-lemons kind of situation.

(Side note: People’s flights were canceled so they brought in some clowns? Uhh…)

As for me, finals week was condensed into three days (That’s another story for another day) and all of my finals were on the same day. It’s good to be done for the fall and even more strange to be registered for my last semester as a college student. For now, bring on the Christmas cookies!

Interview Playlist

IMG_3441It’s interview season! Soon to be graduates are interviewing for full-time jobs and students are locking down plans for the spring semester. Interviews can be tough. Just thinking about them can make you feel tense and shaky.

Music has the power to change our mood, get us energized and help us feel optimistic. Why not listen to some upbeat songs that speak encouragement to you as you drive to your next interview?

Below are ten songs that are on my interview playlist, some funny, some serious and the rest are somewhere in between. These songs will help you get pumped up and help you get in the mindset to get the job (fingers crossed!)!

Good Day, Sunshine– The Beatles

Feeling anxious? Cheer up. It’s a new day and you’re about to destroy your competition. Listen to this one while you’re picking out which tie or pair of shoes to wear.

The Coffee Song– Cream

If you’re like me, your morning is incomplete without your coffee. (Coffee is so wonderful it deserves its own playlist, but that’s a playlist for another day.) Listen to this one while you wait for your coffee to brew or as you wait in the Starbucks drive-through.

We Belong Together– Mariah Carey

At this point you’re on the road, coffee in hand, hopefully feeling optimistic. I like to daydream about what my schedule might look like if I worked for the company I’m visiting for an interview and all that I could do to help them accomplish big things. We belong together.

Billionaire– Travie McCoy

Okay, so maybe in public relations I’ll never be a billionaire, but if I’m passionate about what I’m doing, I’ll never work a day in my life. Right?

Roar– Katy Perry

I may or may not actually like this song, but it’s pretty energizing. Think of the skills/attributes you have that you can emphasize at your interview. Think of possible questions they might ask you so you have an answer ready. They’re ready to hear you ROAR.

Fighter– Christina Aguilera

At this point you might be about a third of the way there, still feeling good but maybe a little nervous. I often reflect on past interview questions I’ve been asked and think of how I can answer them better this time around. To my past interviewees… Thanks for making me a fighter 🙂

Stronger– Kelly Clarkson

You’re getting closer. This interview won’t kill you. I guarantee walking in with a good attitude will help you learn more about yourself and make new connections even if you don’t get the job. Just keep breathing and trust that you’ll leave stronger than when you walked in.

Don’t Stop Believing– Journey

Maybe you’re having doubts. Don’t! Just relax and believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself your interviewer will notice. Think of a moment in your career that you were the most proud. Capture that moment and think of how you felt then rather than exploring your doubts.

Overcomer– Mandisa

As if Stronger didn’t get you pumped up, listen to this one if you’re having doubts. You can do this!

Hakuna Matata– The Lion King

This playlist wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a Disney song, so here you go. Hakuna Matata. It means no worries, so walk in with your head high and whether you make it or not, it’s okay.  Good luck!

New Year, Happier Me

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 7.38.44 AMNew Years Eve was always the time of year I’d compile a novel of resolutions that would make me a better me. I’d vow to make a 4.0, lose weight, or try a new hobby and stick to it faithfully for about a month, but by the time February rolled around, I’d be back to the same lifestyle I had the year before.

This year, tired of the endless cycle of discontentment, I wanted to try something different. I made one resolution. (Not 100. Just one.)

The resolution I made was to be more content with my life the way it is and to be more aware of the little things that make each special and unique. January has come and gone a lot less stressful than the Januarys before, where I’d scramble from one thing to another, trying to make time to fit in everything I wanted to accomplish.

Don’t get me wrong… I still run around frantically, signing up for way too many things and I still take delight in making goals to help me be a more well-rounded person, but I’ve realized that being a better me is not about spending more time at the gym, studying more or winning an award. Those things are great, but constantly trying to change who I am isn’t helping anyone.

This year I’m striving to think more positively without letting little imperfections weigh me down. I will never be resolution Lauren or the perfect embodiment of the prestigious list I composed every year on New Years Eve. This year I’m just going to be a more content and appreciative me.