Category Archives: Adulting

Learning new adult skills.

What Young Grievers Want You To Know

The best tactic of any villain is to isolate you from those you care about–just ask any fictional protagonist’s best friend.

Grief is the ultimate villain. It knows exactly how to make you most vulnerable, inflicting a lethal combination of loneliness, irritability, and self-doubt. It touches everyone eventually, and we know it’s a part of the deal we make when we love someone, but somehow, we still underestimate it.

We don’t understand it. Society doesn’t really accept it. So, the grieving are often left in the clutches of the villain’s most powerful tool: shame.

I’m tired of allowing grief to be the unknown enemy. I am reaching out to you, fellow grievers, because I want to know what your life looks like after loss. I am most interested in hearing from the younger crowd, like myself, because I think we have a particular challenge that is rarely discussed outside of counseling offices and support groups.

Being young, we’re supposed to be in our prime, full of the energy and passion for life that gets us through the grueling early years of our career and helps us grow, explore, and fall in love. Our friends and peers are mostly doing that. Are we? Grief changed so much for me, and I don’t think I’m the only one who wishes they had a bit of that pre-loss optimism back. I’m probably not the only one who feels like the world expects from me a totally different story than the one I have to share.

I would like to feature guest bloggers on these themes. If you’ve lost someone close to you, and you have something you’d like to share, please reach out to me. What do you want people to know about your grief? Where did you find support, and where did you wish you had more? How has life changed for you? What do you know now that you didn’t before?

I’ll start with my own post on the topic, but I hope to have more perspectives to share. Everyone has a unique experience and process, and I want to hear about yours.

If you’re interested in sharing, please write to:
elenamcoe@gmail.com

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A Different Way to Prep for an Interview

Since entering college, I would estimate I’ve found myself in about 25 interviews.

Many of these interviews resulted in a second interview or a job. A lot of the time, I think it’s mostly because I was qualified and a pretty charismatic, amenable person. But at least once or twice, I attribute my success to the method of interview preparation that I’m about to share with you. It may not work for everyone, and it may seem like more work than it’s worth at first. But, when the alternatives are attempting to answer generic interview questions you don’t even know you’ll be asked or going in without any plan at all… I think this is worth a shot.

Step One: Make a list of times you rocked at your job.
The best examples of these are going to be projects you managed or had a good deal of responsibility for, but there should also be a lot of examples where you were just a great team player. Try to remember specifics about these moments and how you know your work stood out. But don’t write all this out. Just run through it in your head and make quick notes. I also recommend putting a star next to any examples that are directly related to the type of work you would be doing in this new position.

Step Two: Make a list of attributes and skills you know the hiring organization is looking for.
These attributes will probably come from the job description and the company/organization’s mission. But even if they aren’t listed, you can probably assume all employers are interested in someone who can demonstrate integrity, responsibility, and communication skills. Organization, multi-tasking, punctuality, and professionalism are also common themes. If this list is very long, as job descriptions can sometimes be a catch-all, underline the traits that you think are most vital to this position. It also can be useful to note anything that you think you are uniquely skilled in, since that will definitely help you stand out from your competition.

Step Three: Connect the tops.
Now comes the fun part. Figure out how to tell each of your top examples in such a way that it highlights one of those most important skills. You might have to alter which stories you use in order to accommodate all the attributes the company is asking for, but that variety will be stronger than a bunch of stories that all show you’re great at diffusing conflict. If you can’t find a story for one of the attributes, think of one!

Step Four: Find the weakness in your greatness.
The best part about this step is that you don’t even have to think up new examples! Rather than trying to come up with a weakness from scratch for that blasted question, look back at that glowing accomplishments list. Somewhere in those projects, you faced a challenge. Whatever made that situation challenging for you can be a weakness. And the best part? You can cite the weakness and prove immediately that you worked through it.

Step Five: Know what you’re walking into.
Steps 1-4 will give you a really solid foundation to answer a lot of situational questions interviewers might throw at you. Most of my interviews for hourly positions haven’t required much more. However, going to interview for a salaried position with a larger organization, you will definitely need to do a bit more preparation in the form of research. Know what the organization does, who they work with, their biggest projects, possibly their budget, who their board members are, what social media presence they have, etc. Stalk your co-workers and superviser on LinkedIn. Learn as much as you can, and then explain what the organization is and what your job will be to as many friends and family as you can. They’ll probably ask questions you didn’t think of, and maybe some of their questions will be good to ask at the end of your interview.

Step Six: Make a list of questions. A long list.
Here’s the thing about questions for your interviewers: good interviewers will already have answered most of your questions by the time the interview is over. Plus, if you want the interview to feel more natural (and if the structure allows), I find it really works well to ask one or two questions throughout the interview when they are relevant. So, you want to make sure you have enough questions (or, perhaps, interesting enough questions) that you can cross off four or five and still have some good ones left.

Step Seven: Relax!
Once you’ve gone through these steps, you really ought to take a breather. Don’t over practice. Don’t script yourself. Don’t worry! Mostly, preparing for an interview is like reviewing for a test. You know all the information already; it’s all a part of your life and your work history. Your job pre-interview is just to organize that information and have it at the front of your brain for easy access. So do a little review, but don’t go overboard. Be yourself, be confident, and you’ll do just fine.

When Privilege is Grateful

In light of the spotlight on humanitarian crises and injustices across the world this Thanksgiving, I’m finding it really hard to be grateful.

On the one hand, I feel like I should appreciate that most of these atrocities are not directly impacting me or my loved ones. I should be grateful not to be searching for safety like a Syrian refugee family. I should be happy that I know where my loved ones are, ecstatic that they all have homes, food, and relatively healthy bodies. I should be glad that my family and many of my friends are not targets of violence and hate that has been perpetuated by terror attacks and brutal police misconduct.

But, I’m not really grateful for those things.

I refuse to look at my privilege as something to be grateful for. I know and appreciate the advantage that I have been given, just because of my skin color and the family I am a part of. But, I appreciate it the same way I appreciate the ocean–a powerful, sometimes scary presence in my life that I can only interact with when I come from a place of seeking to understand.

To be grateful for things that so few people have in this world just feels off to me somehow. I want so much more for the beings that inhabit this earth, and so much of what makes my life ‘good’ and ‘safe’ comes at the expense of others who are less fortunate–humans, animals, and planet alike.

So how do I answer the quintessential Thanksgiving Day question? What can I say I’m thankful for without feeling the words eroding away beneath me before they’re even spoken?

I’m amazingly grateful for connection. I’m grateful for the beings in my life that have opened me up, taken me in, shared with me, created with me, touched me and others’ lives in beautifully spiritual and human ways. I’m thankful for the beauty of the mountains, the strength of the wind, the patience of trees, the quiet of midnight, the questions in the sky. I’m grateful for music, for dance, for prayer, for communities that share those gifts with one another. I am grateful for hope.

There are so many things in my life that are good, and a lot of them are the direct result of luck. But what I am grateful for has little to nothing to do with who I am or the advantages I have.

I am grateful, above all else, for the wonderful, awesome, exhilarating parts of existence and for the fact that, with or without me, these wonders are shared and loved among people everywhere. On the days when we hear so many negative news stories reminding us of all the things in this world that are grim, I can only hold on to the potential of the utterly simple beauty surrounding us and hope that with all this light out there, we’ll one day figure out how to lift everyone above the clouds.

Why your “Dream Job” Doesn’t Exist

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about employment. This tends to happen to me when I am unemployed, as I currently am. (P.S. Know anyone hiring in Austin, TX?)

A fair number of the posts I see online about job searching and living your best life encourage us all to find jobs we really enjoy. They push us to create our ‘dream job’ because that’s a part of what leads to the ever-elusive ‘happy’ life.

And yet, when I look at online job postings, and when I examine the world around me, I find that there is quite a disparity between the jobs we’re supposed to strive for and the jobs that need doing.

Of course I think everyone deserves to have a job that fulfills them. We spend too much of our lives working to do jobs that we hate. But, I think there is a big expectation difference in this generation. No one expects to have to work as a plumber or a mover or the person who installs your cable. We all want these jobs that give us the goods along with a little glamor.

I think about how many marketing advisers or television newscasters or event planners we, as a society, really need, compared to how many people we need to figure out what to do with the trash we produce as a country, or how many people we need to assist the people who are ill or dying or disabled, how many people we need to ship things, build things, fix things.

Yes, I believe services that add to the quality of life in this country are important. But are they more important than making sure the basics are covered for everyone?

I think our western culture has a lot of priorities to sort out, and I wish we paid people based on the social utility of their job rather than what the most privileged and wealthiest among us think is most important. Money obviously isn’t a real indicator of someone’s value, but in this country, where money goes or doesn’t go is pretty significant evidence for what we believe to be most valuable. When we have people paying as much money for cars as most people make in an entire year in some of the most vital roles in our society, I think we have some problems.

It’s when I get to this point in my line of thought that I remember how few truly useful skills I’ve learned so far in my life. My heart reminds me that listening to people, giving them their humanity in a momentary, interpersonal way, is vitally important. But, it isn’t enough. It certainly isn’t enough when I know I am capable of doing so much more.

I just don’t know exactly what that looks like yet.

My Next Adventure is…

Much more local. I had to put a lot of my dad’s stuff into storage a year and a half ago because I had no other place to put it all. I don’t own a house, and all my family lives more than 12 hours driving distance from me. Even then, most of them don’t have the space to store this stuff for me.

So now, I’m moving out of state, and I needed to feel a real fresh start. So, this stuff has to be figured out. A lot of my goal here is to sort and sell. Some of this stuff is being shipped to family members, some will be shipped ahead of me to my new apartment. But these videos will hopefully keep me sane while I figure that all out. Wish me luck!

Words from My Journal

Journaling has been a common prescription for people in times of emotional distress or crisis as a tool for self-awareness and analysis, tracking patterns of behavior, mood shifts, life choices, that sort of thing. Keeping a journal is also highly recommended for us ‘writer’ creative types as a means to keep our juices flowing and keep track of our potentially brilliant and largely flippant thoughts. For me, keeping a journal has always seemed… normal.

Sometimes, I flip through old journal entries to do a little remembering. But lately, I’ve been a little afraid to do that. Holding the faded purple journal I’ve been keeping since last September (a whole year? Wow), I think about how much sadness is recorded there. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever really enjoy looking back through these particular pages. Would reading it only make me sadder? Would I chastise myself for errant explanations or misguided reactions? I wasn’t sure. But somehow, today, I found myself leafing through the handmade paper. (Not handmade by me, by the way.)

Here is a small sampling of what I found:

“I’m realizing it’s really easy to just wait and watch time pass, which is very bizarre.”

“I really just feel… like I’m sinking into myself.”

“I want to go out and live so fiercely that… I don’t know. That I feel ultra-human.”

“I can’t tell if that’s me being philosophically driven and aware.. Or if it’s me being a 20-something with mistaken concepts about security and an impulsive streak.”

“Thank you for this chance. For these people. For hope. Love. Peace in the midst of chaos. For strength. For light.”

“I feel like a really bad person sometimes–often–and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“I wonder a lot if life always ran away from me with such abandon. I don’t much remember what has happened in the last few months, even the last few days, and a part of me doesn’t really care that I don’t remember. It’s almost like I have to focus on nothing in particular or else the very smallest thing might swallow me.”

“Life is a very pointless thing. And I used to be okay with it because I found comfort in people and writing and the idea of a life I’d imagined. But that doesn’t comfort me anymore because it can all fall apart in the blink of an eye. And then what are you left with? Seems to me like you just get a very sad story.”

“I sometimes (often) worry that nothing will ever be my choice again. That now, somehow, I’ve been let out of my bubble and realize that if we’re good people, we probably don’t have choices. Because there are just so many things we should be doing to help people. And we do so few. So are we selfish? And how can we live happily if we aren’t ignorant to that selfishness? I don’t have many friends right now.”

“I’ve had a lot of fantasies about really bad stuff happening. Like getting mauled by a bear. Or driving off an overpass. Quite frankly, I’m amazed how rarely that seems to happen because I feel certain that almost everyone imagines that outcome every other time they drive over an overpass… Right?”

“So many questions. So few answers. So much angst. Ugh, bad journal entry. It’s because I’m sick and everything seems awful.”

I think this one is my favorite:

“I’m having some trouble being happy. Or productive. Or nice. or compassionate. Or excited. About anything. I’ve come to expect this as relatively normal.”

The reason I’m sharing these is because I actually read them now and find some of them a little humorous–a reaction I wasn’t expecting. Not because the situation is funny or because I’m so much happier now or anything like that. No, I think it’s because I just have to laugh.

I guess it’s a little self-centered to laugh at your own writing. But, I do think it’s better than being depressed by it.

New Languages

I didn’t expect words to fail me. As someone who consistently writes about my life, I have learned to expect my thoughts to come most clearly through English written form. In recent months, though, using words to express my thoughts has been harder than ever before. As much as I write about my dad’s passing or my own person reactions and feelings, I never reach that level of satisfaction that I used to get.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this, since virtually none of my previously trusted comforts proved helpful to me in this entirely foreign and world-shaking situation. My relationships with just about everything and everyone changed. You know you’re in trouble when even your guilty pleasures turn into neither guilt nor pleasure–just pointlessness.

So the question then becomes this: if your previous methods of processing and expression feel like trying to wring out a desert-dry paper towel, where do you go?

I somehow gravitated toward movement.

I don’t want to say that dancing has been my savior because it hasn’t. In the worst of times, I would force myself to go dancing and still not enjoy it. I think it had a lot to do with the social aspects of ‘social dancing.’ Sometimes, I wanted to dance without any conversation at all–something that just isn’t possible most of the time when you’re out in public. I wanted to relate to people on a different, non-verbal level, perhaps because I knew there was no verbal equivalent to how I was feeling. I can’t say I’ve gained many new meaningful connections through movement, and I may not even have truly processed that much. But somehow, getting lost in movement has been a comfort at times when I needed something–anything–to distract me.

There is something intrinsically real about movement that words don’t quite have. Movement is a concrete, physical, tangible, sensory experience. It communicates without any frills. I don’t have to say, “She was crying,” because if she’s crying right in front of you, you see it, hear it, sense it physically. If you’re dead tired from hiking up a mountain, you don’t really have to form words to explain that feeling. Tired just exudes from you. Your breath shows it. Your muscles ache with it.

Maybe my attraction to physicality right now has something to do with realizing that life is so impermanent. Maybe I enjoy movement because it forces me to live in the moment more than words do. Words can take you anywhere; that used to be what I loved most about them. Dancing, hiking, running, swimming, sign language, etc. all requires you to focus on right now. (And maybe a couple seconds into the future.) Isn’t it odd that I have ended up desiring to escape to the present moment?

Then there is the expression factor. Writing requires a certain distance from feeling, a type of intellectualizing, that doesn’t really work properly when I’m in complete distress. (Although, I have to wonder: if I gave up the need for coherency and reader comprehension could writing become a more useful self-expression tool? And, in fact, would that subsequently lead to better writing?) Physical movement doesn’t require translation from feeling to words to page. It just requires displaying feeling with your body. Since we already do that through body language pretty effectively, I think this comes more naturally. Plus, I think there’s a huge benefit in knowing that when I dance, I am not dancing for anyone else to watch and understand what I’m feeling. When I write, sometimes even the page is an audience to whom I feel compelled to prove myself.

I’m still trying to write, and I’m still figuring all this ‘life’ stuff out. But I think I’m realizing one of the few beautiful things about tragedy and earth-shattering events is that it forces us to try new things. When the whole world we knew has collapsed beneath us, exploring the rubble can feel like the only way to find purpose again.