Grit and Gratitude

20181013_112133Last September, the Corvias Alumni Network gathered in Raleigh, NC.  In addition to our regularly scheduled networking and think-tanking, we were treated to a delightfully honest presentation called “Gettin’ Gritty with Goal Setting,” by Dr. Jermaine Davis.  

With a wide grin and a whirlwind of good vibes, Dr. Davis introduced us to his trademark style of ‘edutainment.’  He asked us what it felt like when we accomplished goals, and he taught us the “good job rap” (Good Job, Good Job.  Good Job, Good Job. G – double O – D- J – O – B. Good Job, Good Job). Grit, tenacity, explained Dr. Davis, the ability to work through adversity, that is what helps us reach success, not natural born talent or perfectionism or reinventing the wheel.  He pointed out that the line between success and everything else is really fine, photofinish type fine, and that we don’t need to barrel across the line to success, we only need to cross it by a hair.

What I appreciated most about Dr. Davis is that he didn’t tell us to go work our fingers raw, hoping and praying to be noticed and promoted.  Instead he gave us real tools, tangible and realistic examples of what we can do to get gritty so we can find success. He began by asking us what was on our plate each week.  Each person, he said, no matter who you are or where you from, only has 168 hours in a week. We spend those hours doing things we must and doing things we want. Between sleep, work, and all of our other basic obligations, there’s not a lot of hours left over to do the things that we love.  Dr. Davis asked us to think about that: does the way that you spend your weekly hours match up with your core values? Are your priorities in order? Are you neglecting something you ought not to?

We talked about emotion management.  Emotions happen, they just do (see: Inside Out), and depending on how you approach those emotions they can be helpful (facilitative) or less helpful (debilitative).  Facilitative emotions help propel you, they push you into new things. Debilitative emotions get us stuck, often in our own heads, unable to make decisive action out of fear or shame.  Jealousy of a colleague’s work can be used to invigorate your own work, or it can make you bitter and resentful. Bad emotions are not always debilitative, often they are just a response to negative stimuli.  Debilitative emotions are notable for their intensity (bitterness) and duration (bitterness over a long period of time). If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of debilitative emotions, Dr. Davis suggests gratitude practices.  Gratitude, he says, is the antidote to negative thoughts. While we often try to bury bad thoughts in positive thoughts, what we ought to do is focus on the things that we already have that we are grateful for.

At times in our lives, each of us will experience debilitative emotions.  The grittiest of us know how to identify those negative reactions and use that energy instead of succumbing to it.  It takes practice to know how to do this, the kind of practice that only comes with having failed enough times to learn to be gritty.  Paradoxically, failure is the only way to succeed. When we fail, it’s hard not to take it personally, especially when we’ve tried with everything we’ve got.   Even though rationally, we often know that circumstances are out of our hands, judges have their own interests, everything is politics, companies hire based on the dollar not on the best qualifications — even though we know that a setback isn’t our own creation, we can still feel like giving up, especially when we get in our own heads.  

But gratitude brings us back down.  It takes us out of our anxious headspace and back into the present moment, whatever that is.  Usually, the present moment isn’t the worst case scenario we’ve imagined. Gratitude helps remind us of the job that still pays, the friends and family that still love us in their own imperfect ways, of good health and of new opportunities — gratitude reminds us of the simple things that make our foundation.  A healthy social network, stressed Dr. Davis, is vital for both gratitude practice and recovering after a setback. Friends and family help us back up — nobody got where they are alone, don’t try to be the first.

There are four types of people, Dr. Davis, explained: Adders, Subtractors, Multipliers, and Dividers.  The Adders are your friends and peers, people who push you forward. The Subtractors are your bullies and adversaries, the people who push you backward.  Multipliers are your mentors, they push you way up. And the Dividers rip your life apart, tear you to pieces, break your heart. Most of us, those of us in school especially, struggle with Subtractors.  They’re everywhere and until you’re really comfortable asserting yourself, their influence can add up quickly. Lord help you if you know you have a Divider in your life; some people, you’ve got to love from a safe distance, but you never stop loving.  For me, I realized I was short on Multipliers and my life felt, subsequently, stagnant. Had I skipped this discussion, who knows how long it would have taken me to identify this easily addressed problem.

It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Davis.  I hardly encapsulated his speech and I definitely lack his eloquence.  I find that wisdom is not something new that I’ve learned, but something old that’s been put in its place.  That’s what “Gettin’ Gritty” felt like: lots of things I already knew being arranged in a way that made sense.  Perhaps you need that in your life; I encourage you to come to the next of these annual summits. If any of these points resonated with you, please leave a comment and let’s talk.  

College Stress and Mental Health

Have you noticed that Mental Health Awareness month coincides with the end of spring semester?  I hope that your finals went well; but, if you’re anything like me, then maybe they didn’t. Back when I was an undergraduate, it was difficult for me to be anything but hard on myself after a disappointing test…class…semester…  In hindsight, I was going through something more serious than I could acknowledge at the time; perhaps you are, too. College is brutal. Mental health suffers in the environment, where the stressors are many. Before diving into your summer plans, be they a new internship or some hardcore R&R, take some time to reflect on your semester.  Better understanding your stressors may help you to feel better about the semester and may even help you overcome these challenges in the coming semesters. Need some help getting started? See the inventory below.

There’s the workload, the reading assignments, the homework, the studying — none of this is new, but the volume and subject matter density seem to be growing exponentially.  This author had to completely relearn healthy study habits (because my old high school techniques were not cutting it).  Speaking of healthy habits, college is a lot of scheduling (hard) and self-discipline (harder).  “This is when I need to eat, and this is when I need to sleep.” Sleep! Dorm living, roommates, lack of personal space.  Friends eating up “free” time. Stressful romances. Diet and exercise? Oh right, and money. Some of us may be thinking, “That’s just life,” but our freshmen may be doing all this — alone — for the first time in their lives.  Overwhelming is an understatement.

stress comic 2

I’m here to say: rough semesters happen, and it’s alright.  Higher education may be the hardest four years of your life thus far, and you are doing your best.  Some days, your best may be better than other days. Sometimes, your best may not compete with your colleagues’ best.  It happens, it’s alright. College is brutal which is why it’s especially important to be forgiving of yourself. Once you forgive yourself for being a growing, learning human, then you can appreciate that what you learn in college is more than fact, theory, and practicum.  College is an immensely complicated experience, and what you are truly learning may not be apparent while you are in it. Yes, it can get messy, but it can be positive for those who learn to manage stressors and mental health (which is one very important lesson).

So what do we do now with this long list of challenges and new found appreciation for the capacity for growth in college?  Be kind to yourself and practice!. For many of us summer break is a low-stakes opportunity to practice self-care: at first it may feel scary, and it may feel silly.  In my experience, those were the two quickest ways that I talked myself out of doing something that I knew would be good for me. However, a little bit of self-care goes a long way, especially if you are (as I was at the end of spring) in a self-care deficit.  Start small and build up to lavishment. A bath, a gas station ice cream, a non-judgmental cry can be enough to be kind to yourself. Taking good care of yourself will not get rid of your stressors during the semester, but it may help you approach them and recover from them differently.  I suppose that’s what I learned about self-care in college: I did my best. It was all I could do, and it was enough.

stress comic 1

A Corvias Scholar in 2018

Dear fellow readers,

It is an important time to be a Corvias Scholar.  There is a certain energy in the atmosphere, across the United States, across the globe — from the globe.  Have things always been so happening, or are they happening more often these days?  While each of us gets along from day-to-day, I’m sure we all know somebody who is afraid, or uncertain, and angry to top it off.  And then there’s all these things that come between us at work, at home, and online.  It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, we’re all feeling it.

 

Corvias is a different energy; Corvias is a coming together.  It is a community, conceived just ten years ago by John Picerne.  It is a reinvestment in a community, and it has raised up the lives of 131 scholars from student debt.  In a decade it has grown, and it is now a network for personal and professional connections.  Corvias has come to represent opportunity, hard work, and compassion.  All year round, Maria, Melissa, and Erin keep lit a flame, inspiring us to use our hands for local volunteerism, to reinvest into our own communities.

 

I am sometimes embarrassed writing about Corvias, because I so often find myself talking around changing the world — with good reason, that’s not light reading and that’s definitely not rEaLiStIc.  But it is with good reason the subject always comes back to saving the world — Corvias was founded with the very intent to incite passion.  John Picerne was one man with the means and the wherewithal to start something, a scholarship foundation for military brats.  He set an example for me, of the kind of person that makes an impact, of the kinds of actions that make a person great.

 

The world needs example-setters, participants of a healthy community.  Corvias is a coming together, and sometimes that means a setting aside.  We’ve all got something in common, an opportunity we’ve shared.  The community that has since emerged is a testament to the power of giving back.  It should make any scholar proud to reflect upon.  The world is looking for leaders with compassionate hearts and hands ready to work.  It is an important time to be a Corvias Scholar.

 

PS.  Dear readers, you won’t believe how hard I tried to fit this fact into the post, but alas.  I love it too dearly: Corvias is a mash-up of two Latin words: corvia meaning ‘heart’, and vias meaning way.