Thursday, December 13, 2012

Last Days (And Not Because of the "Apocalypse")

These last days of the semester are like every other semester, save for one exception: I'm not freaking out. Again, I think it's evidence that I'm growing up and handling challenges in a sensible, rational way. I didn't buy an industrial pack of Redbull from CostCo. I'm not wasting time on websites (except for this one). The final papers have instead turned into a reflection of 2012 and to a degree, further back.

Most of you have only heard about my academic obligations and my career endeavors. Only some of you have heard the nitty-gritty that has become my personal life. Most of the nitty-gritty has worked out and taken care of itself but some details still remain. These details have become the greatest stressors in my life, far more than school and work have been.

In juggling this personal life and my graduate program, I've figured out much about myself, how I operate, and why I think the way I do. And instead of trying to actively change these, I've figured out how to work around them.

I realized that I don't think linearly or even cyclically like most. Instead, I think conically, in circles and moving across a spectrum in a rapid and unpredictable manner. No wonder people have had difficulty figuring out how I got from Point A to Point F in a matter of a few steps.

I've begun to understand the basis of my relationships, both platonic and romantic. I've figured out where I'm invested, where I'm not, and where this stems from. What I struggle with is addressing these different problems. I'm seeing changes in my lifestyle and the effects these changes are having. I'm struggling to get back on track to where I want to be. But this came after the hardest reflection: figuring out what I want.

This existential reflection is necessary for human development. Everyone goes through it at some point and no one is excused from the "what does it all mean?!" moments that we often classify as quarter- or mid-life crises. While I haven't skipped them altogether, my existential crises have scaled back considerably (compared to last year) and only pop up under the inevitable pressures associated with deadlines (like the past two weeks).

The coping mechanisms have changed in some ways. I still clean extensively to clear my head and I still check my email compulsively. But I'm not pounding energy drinks and locking myself away. I'm not snapping at people under duress. I'm sitting comfortably in the library, writing notes in all places, listening to either RHCP or classical piano on Pandora. I'm not yearning for the bike rides my friends are going on tonight, as I used to. My wheels are rubber side down and I'm crossing things off the list.

The sense of success and accomplishment is also different. I'm taking more pride in my work (probably because I love what I'm doing) and working harder to produce better work. My success in my planning classes is evidenced by the perfect (or near perfect) scores on memos, maps, and presentations. And while I've not been as successful in my other classes, the fact that I'm reading comments and revising papers based on those comments shows that I'm taking it seriously. The truth is: I haven't been this serious about school in...probably four years or so?

Yesterday, I finalized my plans for my MPR and, while it's not necessary for another four weeks, began outlining my research and making notes. It's probably the most I've been motivated this semester. And although I still have two papers to crank out over the next two days, I'm not worried that I'm going to do poorly or that I'm not going to get it down in the timeframe I've set for myself. RHCP and the piano are keeping me going, as well as the reward of rebuilding and riding my carbon as soon as Monday.

Even with all this work, I couldn't be happier with this semester and every stumble-and-fall I made. Here's to the end of this and the beginning of that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


My dad has always told me "Life is a series of trade-offs, Jilsie. You have to realize that not everything is going to be perfect all the time, but that there's always a silver lining."It's a lesson I started to listen to sometime in high school and that has followed me all the way to my inevitable career path.

Part of public policy is weighing the costs against the benefits. We often call these trade-offs (or compromise, in some cases); what we are willing to give up, in order to gain.

In graduate school, there are many trade-offs we face in our daily decision-making:

  • Turn a paper in on time, but sacrifice sleep
  • Give up sleep to get that paper in time, but sacrifice some of the quality
  • Going to the library instead of going to the bar
  • Giving up a shift at work (and income) to finish class assignments

Most of my trade-offs have fallen into one of the above categories. My favorite one has been skipping bike rides with friends and going to the gym to work out, in order to finish papers and other assignments. One trade-off I have NOT given up is sleep. It may leave me turning in assignments a bit late or sub-par in quality, but it means that I'm not snapping at people or lashing out when it comes down to the wire (which is where I am right now in the semester).  

Trade-offs are also coming in the form of job opportunities. A few weeks ago, I was offered a job at a high end bicycle shop in Berkeley. This time, I wouldn't be selling, but working in an administrative and managerial position. In addition, I would be responsible for incorporating advocacy involvement into the shop's overall mission and goals. Aside from being able to work alongside some really cool guys, I'd get to work with one of my best friends, as well as one of the funniest mechanics that I know. Obviously, this is a great opportunity for me, to finally combine my skills with my passion.

But you know what happens next: something is standing in the way. That "something" is a dream internship position with the City. I applied for three different internships within the same division: parking policies, Complete Streets projects, and bikeway and facilities design. Again, an opportunity that combines both my passions and my skills. (Not to mention a SWEET pay and a foot in the door).

How do you choose? One job was offered before I find out about the other one. Do I say Thanks, but I'll pass, under the assumption that you'll get the dream job? Or do I say Here's the situation, let me get back to you?

Luckily, I didn't have to do either.

Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for 2 of the 3 internship positions. I also have considerable doubts in being chosen for the last one. 

But now, I can consider the job as a real possibility, rather than a missed opportunity. I still have to lay my future plans out on the line for the owner, but when in doubt, tell the truth.

While I'm mildly bummed out that I didn't get the internship, I've picked up where I've left off and have been working to make more money, finding a client for my MPR, and finishing up my work for the semester. 

The other silver lining is that I made the cast of Vagina Monologues, showing end of February. Not working 16 hours a week with the City means I can make all rehearsals and put on a great performance. Shameless plug: please come support Mills, as well as a cast of incredibly talented ladies, this February! More information to come. :)

And for your reading and logic pleasure, 
a pie graph displaying one of life's best trade-offs.