create happy

Category: Inspiration

27

I will turn 27 years old on Monday, May 27th. That’s right, it’s my golden birthday. I like birthdays just as much as the next person, but for a different reason. I like birthdays because having one means I’ve survived another year. As someone who spends a significant and unhealthy portion of each day contemplating all the ways I could die, reaching a new age is an accomplishment. I explain to people who complain about getting older that they should be happy they’re not dead yet. An uncomfortable laugh and a strange look later, I can tell they’re actually thinking hard about what I said. I get that reaction often. In fact, I should probably wear a sign that reads: WARNING! Fearlessly honest and opinionated.

When I tell people how old I am and how much I want to accomplish in life, they always tell me I’m “so young” and have “plenty of time.” Age, my friends, is irrelevant. There are 12-year-olds playing professional golf, 15-year-olds finding better ways to detect cancer, and 21-year-olds inventing technology platforms that tens of millions of people use every day. And contrary to the way we act on the daily, time is not plentiful. No one knows how much time they have left to live. I am keenly aware of how possible it is that I could die tomorrow. So could you.

I’m impatient as hell and I have high expectations for myself. I want to help people and do meaningful things with my life. Starting now, or yesterday. I’m more of the go all in and see what happens type. I refuse to sit around as the clock ticks and opportunities pass by. (As you can imagine, I don’t watch TV. Hate it.) I’d rather be making shit happen.

Sure, I’ve only lived 27 years, but I’ve endured more hardships than most people I know who are twice my age. Overcoming adversity has a way of aging you and changing the way you process the world. I never thought that when I turned 27 I would be an orphan. (Yes, adults can be orphans, too.) I never thought I would be married—at any age. I never thought I would still be living in Minnesota. I never thought I’d be in graduate school pursuing something I love. I also never thought I’d have so many good people in my life. Good, good people—the kind who restore your faith in humanity and in yourself.

No matter how long they’ve known me, people tell me all the time that I have an old soul and I understand things most people don’t understand until they’re twice my age, if ever. In the 27 years I’ve lived, I’ve learned these things are key to a fulfilling life:

  • Seek new experiences
  • Learn as much as you possibly can
  • Be good to people
  • Create things that don’t yet exist

It doesn’t matter how old you are. All that matters is what you do with the time you have.

Happy New Me.

I’m not particularly fond of New Year’s resolutions or celebrations because I feel like it perpetuates a mindset that it’s only once a year that we allow ourselves to reflect, forgive, and plan. To perpetuate this mindset deprives every other day of its potential for renewal. The notion of every day as a new beginning is not something that our culture makes easy to practice. We have jobs to do because we have bills to pay, along with other daily commitments that occupy our mind space. When we’re just trying to keep up, how can we be expected to gather the good sense to stop, reflect, and adjust or change our course? Ah, yes. That is why we celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. We need it to force ourselves to reflect on the past year and decide how exactly we’d like to spend the next.

I have a mind that does not settle and an unsatisfiable urge to feel productive at all times. This mental liveliness and ambition is beneficial most of the time (I get a lot done), but it can also be a bit maddening. A few days ago a friend introduced me to yoga, and I’ve practiced it every day since. Yoga allows me to tame my thoughts and focus, if only for an hour. For someone who’s never been able to do that, it’s like finding a spring in the middle of a desert. I’ve never known until now what it’s like to feel at ease, at peace.

Yoga, like writing, is something that I do for myself (though I do write with a reader in mind to ensure there’s something to gain from reading it). And yoga, like writing, renews my sense of purpose. Without purpose, we wander aimlessly through life. I don’t want to wander, I want to create, experience, and accomplish. I want to be good to myself, and I’m going to be, for possibly the first time in my life.

Happy New Me.

casie

Why write

Writing means creating something bigger than yourself. Something that has the potential to touch people. Maybe for a moment. Or, just maybe, for longer.

I write because I have too many thoughts to be contained. It would be negligent not to let them out. Give them a chance to grow into a few sentences that might someday become full paragraphs, or even pages.

Writing is about understanding people and finding meaningful ways to connect with them. It’s about uncovering a relatable story, then bringing that story to life in a way that it hasn’t been before.

I’ve been a hobby writer since childhood, really. But it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve spent time trying to cultivate my writing skills. The secret to improving your writing is to read all kinds of things, search for inspiration, and write as often as possible. I’ve taken a few classes at The Loft Literary Center, which have given me a better understanding of the structure and components of different types of writing, and opened my eyes to just how many talented people there are in the Minneapolis literary community.

“Either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Benjamin Franklin

I intend to do both. But intentions mean nothing. Only actions count. Aside from classes, my first small action was submitting a piece to a writing contest last month. The MinnPost contest called for a 100-word short story. I thought, Sure, why not?

And guess what? My entry was selected for third place. Although a small feat, it was somewhat validating, especially considering the other winners have had multiple pieces published. Maybe this is the beginning of more good things to come, I thought.

Here’s the announcement and my short story…

{images credit: MinnPost.com}

How to kick ass all day.

You might not know this, but your job…well, it isn’t your job. It comes with a description that lists your responsibilities and certain tasks that you do on a regular basis, but those duties are not your job. Nope. Your job is to become indispensible to the organization that employs you by contributing skills and expertise so valuable that it can’t function as well (or at all) without you. To knock the freaking socks off of the team you’re part of and make their jobs easier. In fact, if you’re really, really good – I’m talking valuable-beyond-measure good – your colleagues should never have to ask you for anything, because you will have already thought of it or taken care of it.

When you start a new job, especially in a very competitive specialized industry, there’s this phrase that people always use to motivate you. They say you should be the first person to arrive and the last one to leave. And for the time you’re there, they tell you to kick ass all day long. But the problem with this is that you’re not sure what exactly kicking ass entails. If your roles have been rather black and white, with positions like sales associate at the hipster-est hipster clothing shop, server at the neighborhood café, or warehouse stocking specialist, you’re probably unsure of what to do in the gray area that comes with embarking on your first “real” job. And why wouldn’t you be? Particularly if you have little to no college experience.

Regardless, they throw you in, and it’s sink or swim. These people and the organization they represent have invested in you. You! Of all the people in the world. They. Picked. You. So you better give them a hell of a return on their investment. You need to prove to them and to yourself that you’re worth it. You have to give it your all. That means working beyond scheduled hours, asking the right questions, building strong relationships, being an incessant learner, understanding how your success will be measured, then surpassing expectations and demonstrating passion along the way.

 

After hours

You’ve been given a schedule and, whether part-time or full-time, you have to dedicate yourself outside of those hours. If you’re in the office a few days a week and the organization, for instance, hosts events on the weekends, volunteer to help out with set-up, execution, and cleanup for those events. If there’s an important meeting happening before typical office hours, ask if you can bring coffee or breakfast and come in early to make sure the space is in top shape. If you’re invited to happy hour after work, by all means, GO! Get to know your colleagues in a more relaxed environment, but be professional – you want your integrity to be intact when you walk into the office the next day. Show your dedication by investing the time you need to.

 

Ask the right questions

Once upon a time when I was an intern, a mentor and friend of mine told me to ask the right questions. I thought, Yeah, okay, great. I just need to ask the right questions. And a few minutes later I thought, How do I KNOW what the right questions are?! What kind of advice is THAT?! Turns out, it’s great advice, and I didn’t realize it until I found myself repeating it. To ask the right questions, you have to start thinking differently. For instance, instead of asking why someone might have given you a chance, ask what you’re going to do to make sure they don’t regret it. Instead of asking what you should do about a problem, come up with a solution and suggest it. But at the very least, just ask questions. You need to understand that no one has all the answers, and no one expects you to either. That’s why it takes multiple people to run a team, a company, or even a country.

 

Relationships are everything

Whether you’re incredibly extroverted or prefer to keep to yourself, you have to create connections with people, both inside and outside your organization. The relationships you make early on in your career are some of the most important because they can lead to many others. The easiest thing to do is to be yourself. People can tell when you’re being genuine and they’ll appreciate it and feel a stronger connection with you. But it’s not all about you. Take interest in other people. Ask about their job and about what they do outside of work. You might just find that you’re surrounded by some of the greatest people you’ll ever meet.

 

You can never learn enough

As I said before, nobody knows everything. And no one ever will. That’s what makes life such an adventure, right? (Just nod along.) Learn as much as you can about the industry you’re in, the organization you’re part of, and about organizations like it, or ones it could aspire to emulate. Look for inspiration everywhere. Read articles, study people and places, go to events, talk to smart people – just get out there and soak it up. Then use all that knowledge to improve the things around you.

 

Understand expectations

The biggest barrier to doing a kick-ass job is not knowing what you’re being measured against. You can’t succeed without knowing what success means to the people who are evaluating you on a daily basis. Every day of any job (and of life, even) is a test. And you don’t just want to pass it, you want to blow the minds of the test makers so hard that they have to rewrite it to make sure those after you perform at as high a caliber as you.

People appreciate honesty and humility. If you’re unsure of how you’re doing, request a review. It will only benefit you to know what you’re doing well and how you can improve. Ask what success measurements you’re being evaluated against. No doubt it will be a matter of solving business problems. If it’s recruiting volunteers, put together a game plan and execute it. If it’s recommending the best audience for a product or service, do primary and secondary research and interpret it into a persona. If it’s developing a creative campaign, make sure you have fantastic insights to inform the creative work – don’t just make cool shit for cool shit’s sake.

 

Wear your passion

Finally, show that you’re passionate about what you’re doing. People don’t want just anybody behind their brand or company. They want a team of passionate, ambitious leaders who’ll be better advocates for the organization than any consumers they could ever hope to buy with a marketing program. Your enthusiasm and curiosity should shine in everything you do. (Unless, of course, what you’re doing doesn’t light you up. In that case, find what does and use this same recipe for success.)

 

That’s how you kick ass all day. The secret is that it’s your own ass. The bottom line is you must do more than the bottom line. Be so remarkable that you make everyone else aspire to your awesomeness. If you can do this, it’s likely that you’ll get a job offer, or at the very least, you’ll get the kind of referral that would make anyone else snatch you up in a heartbeat.

Work every day to be better and make things around you better. If you’ve found what makes you happiest, you’ll know. You’ll feel like a better you with every ounce of effort that you contribute to whatever it is.

Happy creating,

Casie

Image

 (photo credit: http://frenchbydesign.blogspot.com)

The simple pleasure of literature

They always move things around on me. I think it’s a ploy to keep me there longer, trying to find my way through the shelves twice my height. Actually, it might be that I don’t come in often enough. With every visit, I wonder why it’s been so long. No other place makes me feel as surrounded by brilliance. By history, by love, by faraway places, and by things I’ll never even know about because I won’t have a chance to go through it all.

One step into a bookstore and I’m like a kid in Toys “R” Us. I walk around in wonder, taking my time. I look for the perfect item to take home because this is a treat. It’s not every day I get to spend time in such a special place.

I usually peruse the New Fiction, Humor, and Literature Studies sections. I go through the rows carefully, running my fingers along the spine of each book as I read its title. I’ll even get on hands and knees to appropriately assess the bottom shelf. I’m so discriminating about the design I might miss out on a good book because the casing doesn’t draw me in. The coloring, the imagery, the type treatment – all of it should come together to create a style so captivating that I can’t help myself.

When I’ve found one worthy of a closer look, I tip the top corner toward me then pull it from between its neighbors that don’t seem to want to give it up (jealous, I’m sure). I look at the cover a second then flip to read the back. I hate when the back is crowded with nothing but reviews from every newspaper with the word Times in the title. Sure, it might be a charming anthology, or a terrific debut, or even a book for the ages, but I’d like to understand what these 342 pages entail before I’m willing to care how they were interpreted by someone else.

After the back, I dive in to a few chapters at random. Nothing else quite smells or feels the way a book does. The smell is like that of sawdust long settled on a workshop floor. The smooth, soft paperback cover like thick tissue paper. Flipping the pages, it’s as if the same paper variety and weight has been used for every book printed in the last hundred years. I’m not talking coffee table books or textbooks here – those are far less magical, what with their glossy pages and charts and pictures. A real book doesn’t need pictures. It needs to be unusual, enlightening, and full of heart.

With most of them, I don’t get past the second paragraph of a chapter. This always reminds me of the importance of great openings to any piece of writing. If I haven’t been hooked, I gently spread apart the books that have fallen together in its absence and put it back.

With every return to the shelf, my disappointment grows along with my eagerness to find one worth keeping. As I search relentlessly for the next author I hope to stir my soul and make me think differently, I realize that everyone around me is doing the same. For the time these people are here, they’re removing themselves from the complexities of everyday life to appreciate the simple pleasure of literature.

The authors of these books have created something bigger than themselves. They’ve created whole worlds or new ways of looking at our world. And brought characters to life in so real a manner that we feel we know them better than our closest friends. The stories they’ve constructed have the potential to touch people for decades, or even centuries.

{photo credit: brewbooks flickr}


Permanent inspiration.

It’s one thing to surround yourself with inspiration. It’s another to permanently affix it to your body. Being an incessant editor of everything I do, I can’t commit to such permanence.

My younger brother, however, has no problem with this. Danny drafted his first tattoo in a sketchbook and has done the same with every one since. Before getting the inaugural tattoo, he thought about it for months. He even brought the sketch to my dad and told him what he planned to do. The placement was a statement in itself – wrapping around the wrist of his hand-shaking arm. The different elements creatively denote his birthdate and favorite number. Impressed by the thoughtfulness behind the mark, my dad became a supporter of permanent body ink that day.

Each subsequent tat is symbolic of something meaningful to my brother. Some are dedicated to our dad (one being his signature and date of birth). Some are reminders of how to live well (the newest reads: enjoy the little things). And one was done as a gift to me because he felt so strongly about the meaning behind it…

That’s my handwriting. I wrote it in his sketchbook.

Arms exposed, my brother is a walking inspiration before he ever says a word. And when he does start talking (or singing), he rarely stops. Dude has got a lot to say, and whatever it is, he always speaks with gusto. I’ve never met someone with a greater passion for each day. He epitomizes create happy.

I write because…

I’m always getting sidetracked by random thoughts. And if you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you know the randomness is not limited to pondering to myself, but also comes through when I talk out loud. The best way I can think to describe it is like the scan function of a radio. I may begin at one station then take you through a few more before I finally come back to where I started. There’s just a lot of thinking to keep track of here. Since I’m not elephant-like in memory or in any way whatsoever, I try to have notebooks, sticky notes or even my phone handy to capture my musings. It often takes me a while to revisit what, to me, are the beginnings of stories I feel an intrinsic desire to tell. It’s almost as if my fingers are resentful of being used on a daily basis for so many other less impassioned purposes. But when it’s time to sit down and add more substance to my scratch paper scribbles and the half-thoughts saved on my MemoPad app, all is forgiven and my pent-up urge to pour myself onto pages rushes to the keyboard with such energy that from another room you might think there’s a hail storm happening.

Today’s random thoughts have been brought to you by my appreciation for the below passage written by Sylvia Plath. It inspired me to think about why I write and there’s no better way to describe it than the way she did more than six decades ago.

[photo credit: http://mailordermind.tumblr.com/]

Make time

Being one of the rare days when I wake up and actually crave breakfast, I went to the Good Day Café to take advantage of it. Now, I’ve been to this café in Golden Valley a few times before, but never had I looked around like I did today. I was scouring the joint like an art director selecting a location for a photo shoot. As I took in every detail, from the strawberry seeds in my freshly blended smoothie to the light fixtures made from wire whisks, I realized how precious this place was. Precious and really, really popular.

Sometimes it’s so packed that there’s a line out the door. But it’s one of the few restaurants where the line isn’t an accurate reflection of the wait time. Long wait or short wait, each anxious diner knows it’ll be well worth it once they take their seat.

Each of the tables is rather unique. The table I was seated at today was reminiscent of antique barn oak like it’d been plucked from a farmhouse kitchen far away just for me. The mismatched pairs of chairs around it seemed to have been separated from their four-piece families, abandoned at a nearby thrift store until the cafe took them in. And I can’t forget the straws. Yes, folks, they have straws – bendy straws – in the middle of the table so you don’t have to ask for one. Pure dining bliss. That’s what this was. And I hadn’t even started eating yet.

My powered sugar topped Belgian waffle and personal-sized jar of maple syrup looked like something from the pages of Bon Appétit magazine. The plates came out no more than five minutes after I’d placed the order. The staff is super friendly, and twice as speedy. I was halfway through my waffle, sausage patty and smoothie when it hit me. This was all going by way too fast.

However charming the surroundings and wonderul the food, people are rushed through as if they’re trying to break a record for the number of times a front door can swing open in one day. As I left, I found myself wishing I could stay longer. I’d love to be able to enjoy a few cups of coffee and even read a book. The magic of this place was lost to the limited time granted to appreciate it. Sadly, this is far too often the case with things we enjoy most.

We don’t take enough time to delight in as much as we should because we’re too busy rushing here and there and doing this and that. As I thought about this, I glanced over to a sign near the doorway that read: Make time. What an interesting setting for such a message. I said it to myself over and over again. Make time…make time. We don’t make enough time. Not for ourselves, the people we care most about, the places we love, or the pursuits that make us happiest.

Happy Anniversary, Me.

Today is the one-year anniversary of my first blog post, wherein I explained my realization that it’s apparently unique to create happiness for yourself and for others. At that time, I knew the coming year would be a hard one, but I hoped to get through it with a smile. Well, turns out it was the most heartrending year of my life. And there were more tears than there were smiles.

That said, I’m determined to cram as much happiness as I can into the coming year and each one thereafter because, well, life is short and the only way to live it properly is to spend each day doing things that make you happy.

So, what makes me happy?

Good people. Don’t be fooled. These are rare. When I say “good,” I mean… always have a smile on their face, give the best hugs, offer advice that shows they really know you, laugh at the same things you do, make you feel better about life… kind of people. Make time for them – they’re the only ones really worth your time.

Ice cream. As a kid, my dad and I would always end the weekend nights with ice cream. Since I’m a big girl now, I’ve been ending every night with ice cream and, damn, is it delicious. Indulge as needed.

Sunshine. Sunny days have a way of washing cares away and I’m pretty sure I’m due for a dousing. Along with warm weather comes warm weather activities like walking, hiking, sunning and biking. All of which I wish I could do year-round. Perhaps a move westward is in order.

Writing. If I could do anything in the world, I would spend each day writing my little heart out. The only way to become a better writer is to…

  1. Write.
  2. Write more.
  3. Write even more.
  4. Write even more than that.
  5. Write when you don’t want to.
  6. Write when you do.
  7. Write when you have something to say.
  8. Write when you don’t.
  9. Write every day.
  10. Keep writing.

(I love this. But I did not come up with it. Read the original post from @copyblogger)

Traveling. This is something I’ve done very little of in life and I plan to change that. As a bit of an edit to my prior statement, if I could do anything in the world, I would travel the world and write about it. And I think I will, thank you very much.

I believe I just made an unintentional to-do list. Looks more inviting than any of the other to-do lists I’ve tackled lately. Guess I’ll spend time doing these things. How about you? What makes you happy?

Happy Anniversary, Me.

Never too old to play outside

When considering an organization to give memorial donations to in honor of my dad, it was important to me to choose something that was representative of how he lived and what he loved, not how he was taken away.

My dad took trips each year to the north shore surrounding Lake Superior, to the Boundary Waters, to Grand Marais. I owe my love for the outdoors to my dad and I know it’s shaped my way of thinking. Playing outside as a kid allowed me to develop the confidence to go into unexplored territory. As a child, that territory might have been a new tree to climb, but the confidence gained by being allowed to explore is something that translated into my independence as an adult. After teaching me where I couldn’t go and what I couldn’t do, my dad showed he trusted me to play outside on my own. I was free to discover new things for myself instead of learning from stories told by someone else. I remember walking around my yard doing a lot of free thinking about anything and everything in my young life. This is something I doubt I would have had as much time to do if confined indoors.

My dad insisted on venturing up north on his own for his yearly trips. I know that these trips served the same purpose for him as playing outside served for me as a kid. They gave him time to explore and think freely, away from everyday stresses and modern normalcy. You see, you’re never too old to play outside.

Today, my brother and I met with a representative from the Friends of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to give a donation to help preserve and protect a place dear to our dad’s heart. In talking with him, it was clear he held the same belief that we did in the ability of areas like the Boundary Waters to free your spirit. And when I visit this summer, I know my dad will be with me, giving me the confidence to explore on my own.

The Singing Wilderness 2.0 from Interstate Films on Vimeo.

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