Stylish Academic’s Guide to Living an Active Life: How to Avoid Passivity

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Hello, World.

Do you ever feel as if you’re watching your life go by and you don’t have control of over it anymore? It’s funny how frequently I hear people say, “How is it almost October already?” “Where did the summer go?” etc. I mean, I’ve gone as far as to think, “Where did college go?” I just don’t understand where the time went. I’m only twenty-three, but sometimes it feels as if my life is just going by as I focus on getting the next thing. However, I think we are all worried that we’re going to be so focused on the next thing that we forget to enjoy the moment right now. I was also watching a movie or TV show (I can’t remember) where one of the characters said something to the effect of, “stop acting like this is all happening to you. Stop acting like you haven’t played a role.”

However, I think sometimes we do let things just happen. We don’t really take an active role in our lives and suddenly we’re living a passive existence where things are happening and we’re just taking them as they come without really thinking much further. It’s hard to know when we allow passivity to consume us. Sometimes we blame it on other things: “I can’t deal with that right now, so I just won’t.” “I’m focusing on my career so I don’t have time to deal with that.” “I cannot possibly date because I haven’t had good luck recently and I don’t want to get hurt again.” “I won’t be friends with someone who makes me feel bad.” We have justifications regarding why we aren’t taking active steps in some aspect of our lives.

However, Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries, who wasn’t my favorite character, but had some great dialogue, once said, “Don’t take risks. Stick with the status quo. No drama; now is just not the time. But my reasons aren’t reasons, they’re excuses.” This statement was said when she told Stefan, her almost-boyfriend at the time, what she would write in her diary about them. While it probably seems super dramatic out of context, Elena’s words have depth. Life is so much easier when we don’t take risks or when we play by the rules and take the safe, knowable route. However, I doubt wildly successful people, those so-called “household names” became such by playing the safe game. They undoubtedly took risks and defied the status quo. While none of us want drama in our lives, sometimes facing things that we’re unhappy with will lead to a better life. It’s important to stand up for yourself, to take active steps toward finding out who you should trust and who shouldn’t. We all want to live our best lives and that’s difficult to do when we refuse to take chances, put ourselves out there, and accept that disappointment is inevitable. If we live life with the purpose of never being disappointed we will make regret inevitable. When we’re ninety, looking back on our lives, we will most likely think, “I wonder if I had done x, y would have happened.”

People tell us we shouldn’t have regrets. People also tell us that everything happens for a reason. How do we reconcile things that happen when we do regret something? People say, “Oh, everything happens for a reason, even if you can’t see the reason right now.” Honestly, I’m someone who thinks this way and I never thought it had a negative side until recently. Until recently, I thought “karma will get that person,” or “my time isn’t now, so I’ll wait for my turn.” But then, while walking down the street one afternoon, “Home” by Chelsea Lankes blasting through my earbuds, I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks. Literally, I stopped walking, looked around, and thought, “hmmm. That’s new.” My thought was this: we regret the things we had complete control over and chose passivity or inaction instead.

There have been many times in my life when I did everything possible to make something happen and the thing didn’t work out (relationship, friendship, job application, academic application, etc.). When I fail initially, but then something does work out its much easier to say everything happens for a reason, and move on because something better came along eventually. However, when I knew I could make something happen, but allowed fear or anxiety control my actions, and rather than make it happen, I just… froze, watched the situation play out as if it was someone else’s life, moved on and didn’t give it much thought until I had a pit in my stomach that felt a lot like regret. It’s hard to be active in all aspects of our lives. It’s hard to make ourselves vulnerable, give someone else a little power over any aspect of our life, or put yourself out into the world and give it the power to crush you. Most people don’t want to relinquish control, but sometimes we have to if we want to expand, grow, change, and adapt. So, how do we overcome passivity?

Well, revising your life to be more active is similar to revising a paper to get rid of passive voice. You have to be strategic, you have to look for the problem, you have to address the problem when you see it, and you have to have confidence that the change is a correction. So, when you like someone, let them know. When you want the job, do everything in your power to get it. When you want to go to Harvard, work your ass off. When you want to move to that city, visit, make connections and do the thing. If what you want doesn’t pan out after all the work, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. However, if you put in the work, and it works out, you won’t regret it. Even if you discover later that what you wanted isn’t what you needed, you can make a change. Going after something with your whole heart won’t lock you in forever, but it will surely prevent those moments when we’re ninety, writing in our diaries about how sad we are we didn’t call that guy (Hello, “the one who got away”), or we didn’t go after the promotion in year two instead of year ten, or we didn’t live in New York for a few years, or we waited until it was too late to cut a toxic friend from our lives. Disappointment is evitable, but don’t allow your fear of disappointment dictate your life… it will only create inevitable regret.

How do you cultivate a more active life?

Truly,
Callie leigh

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Stylish Academic’s Guide to Working with People Different Than You: Co-Workers who you don’t like, have a different leadership style than, or make you uncomfortable

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Hello, World.

There’s a good chance that all of us have worked with people we didn’t necessarily consider “our people.” Sometimes you work for certain organizations or hold a job with people that you wouldn’t be around normally, but because of the circumstances, you are working closely with frequently. Working with someone who you don’t get along with can be difficult. Sometimes it’s not even that you don’t get along, but you just have different leadership styles, and that alone makes working with that person harder. However, situations where you are working with someone different from you or who you don’t like working with (note: the two are different, so you need to decide which is the problem, i.e. leadership style or personality). Today I want to share some methods of turning an unhappy working relationship into a healthy one. Truth be told, the people we work with are the people we see most often, so we should do everything in our power to make those relationships as strong and healthy as possible.

First, be kind. I know, I know. This seems obvious. You’re probably rolling your eyes thinking, “well, duh. Don’t you have useful advice?” However, I think an unhappy working situation can really wear a person down, and it becomes less and less easy to be kind and positive to co-workers. Your internal unhappiness starts to be projected outward. Even if you believe you’re handling the situation well, people are more intuitive than we think and they likely know, or at least feel, your discomfort or annoyance with the situation.

Second, do not discuss your disgruntled situation with other co-workers. I will admit, I made this mistake in college. I was really unhappy in a working relationship and at first, I kept all my emotions about the situation bottled up, then I started making comments to my other co-workers about how I was feeling. I told one co-worker just how unhappy I was (I was thinking of quitting or not returning the following year). While people listened, I know I was putting them in an uncomfortable position: they worked with both of us and some were friends with both of us. I’m not perfect and this mistake was one of my biggest in my first college job. Since then I’ve made a habit of never venting about work to anyone I work with because while venting is sometimes, and often inevitably, needed, try to keep the line between personal and work very visible.

Third, ask the person if there is anything you can do to better the relationship. While you may feel that the other person is entirely at fault, that may not be true. When we’re uncomfortable, we sometimes make other uncomfortable. Some people are oblivious. If they aren’t unaware we’re feeling a disconnect, they may just carry on, full force ahead, and never stop to think about whether we’re actually working well together. So, slowing the pace and asking if there’s anything we can do to better communication, openness, etc. may make them reflect on the relationship and go from there. Sometimes they will say “nope, we’re great together!” This is the nightmare answer. However, you can adjust the question. Say, “I noticed you seem to prefer email communication. Would you mind setting aside ten minutes each week to meet in person?” If the problem is blocked communication, having a weekly meeting will force in-person communication, which will allow the comfort level between you two to increase and allow for more honest communication down the line.

Fourth, figure out what the problem is and address it head-on. When I had my college job in which I was working with someone who I didn’t work well with, I couldn’t pinpoint the exact issue. I knew how I felt generally and I knew how I felt in specific situations, but overall I couldn’t figure out why we worked so poorly together. We had been friends for two years before working together and suddenly I felt like I was working with a stranger. Looking back, I think some of the dynamics of our friendship and things that annoyed me when we were friends were amplified when we worked together. I hate being put down or treated like I’m less intelligent than someone (though I do recognize when someone is smarter than me). The person I worked with made me feel like way regularly. I also felt like I was co-parenting. People would ask me something, I’d give my answer based on what my co-worker agreed upon and then they’d respond, “but *** told me (insert something completely different than we discussed).” Or, sometimes when I’d be handling a situation, she’d appear in the hallway, and just watch. It felt like Big Brother was watching and made me feel like I wasn’t strong enough to handle the situation. Let’s just say, different leadership styles, being made to feel inadequate or lesser, and lack of communication was at the root of this failed partnership. While it’s hard to pinpoint, finding the specific reason(s) for your feeling of discomfort in your working relationship is key to improving the situation.

How have you dealt with working in uncomfortable, less than ideal working relationships?

Truly,
Callie leigh

Guide to Graduate School Admissions

Stylish Academic's Guide to Graduate School Admissions

photo by Andrew Neel via Unsplash

Hello, World.

I’m so excited because today’s post is a guest post featuring one my best friends, Holly! You’ve probably seen her alluded to or featured in many of my college posts. She’s the Paris Gellar to my Rory Gilmore. While my blog focuses pretty heavily on college and law school, I realized that I want to be able to reach all stylish academics, but I don’t have enough personal knowledge to speak about graduate school admissions or experiences (graduate: excluding law or medical school). Then one afternoon, I realized I should call in the best person I know to speak of such things: my best friend! So, today on the blog, Holly will be sharing her experiences with graduate school admissions. The post is riddled with tips and tricks for making the process as painless as possible. I hope you enjoy. I will put the disclaimer out there that Holly is pursuing a M.A. in History at the present time, so her knowledge is tailored to that field. However, I do think her tips are useful for any graduate program, but obviously be sure to do your own research about your individual program.


I knew as early as high school that I was destined for graduate school. Though the desire to punish yourself with 2-7 more years of advanced education is not a decision everyone makes so early in their life, nothing can prepare you for the roller coaster that is graduate school. I studied history for my Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in undergrad, so naturally, I decided that my future was destined for the halls of academia. A life of teaching as a professor and writing historical books and articles appealed to me. While all my best friends in undergrad chose the route of law school, I was the only one who pursued a conventional graduate program. The major hurdle on the road to graduate school was actually applying and surviving, the harrowing process of graduate admissions. Unlike law school, whose admissions process is similar to undergraduate admission, the graduate admissions process (at least in the field of history) is vastly different. Since I have successfully survived the process (though not without a lot of rejections, tears, and comfort food), I am offering my two cents and encouraging support for anyone who intends to take the same crazy adventure on which I embarked.

First thing first, as soon as you discover you want to pursue advanced degrees, find out what kind of standardized test you have to take and start studying for it. For most conventional grad programs the test is the GRE. I know, it’s the words that no one wants to hear. But, the sooner you can take the exam and get it out of the way, it will give you more time to focus on the actual admissions process. Since I knew early on that I was pursuing graduate-level degrees, I took a GRE prep course at the end of the spring semester my junior year of college and then took the actual exam over the summer before senior year started. All I can say is that no matter how you slice it, standardized tests suck. Luckily, in most cases, the university won’t give two figs what you actually scored. Still, if you want to take it again go ahead and take it again. That’s the benefit of taking it early!

The second part of the process starts with countless hours googling potential advisors and programs of interest. All grad programs are unique, but in the case of history, whether you are pursuing an M.A. or a Ph.D., keep this in mind: you’re shopping for an advisor, not school name recognition. Name recognition of particular schools (e.g. Harvard, UC Berkeley, University of Chicago, etc.) is not nearly as important as the professor who is going to serve as your advisor for the next 2-5 years of school. That is not to say that I am discouraging anyone from attending those schools (because seriously if you get in then go). I am just saying that big name schools are not the only way to go. Many brilliant and well-respected historians teach at universities that aren’t Ivy League or typical big name institutions. Your academic advisor in graduate school (at least in history) is everything. They are not only responsible for guiding you through your program, but they are responsible for whether your pass your comprehensive exams and/or your thesis or dissertation. Their name will be linked to yours if you are applying for a job as a professor later so you want to choose an advisor who is respectful to you, respected in the field, and has a good track record of landing graduates jobs after graduation. How do you find an advisor? Bust out your FBI hat and start googling. This requires knowing what you want to study. So at least have a general idea of what want to pursue in grad school. If you know that much, you can start looking up different schools and finding people who study what you like to study. Another way to go about this is reading different academic journal articles or books about what you like and finding where the authors are currently teaching. Or, you could go the old fashioned way and ask your undergrad professors if they have colleagues or know of any professors who study what you like. The most important thing to do is to email the professor you’re interested in and introduce yourself and express your interests. Also, make it clear that you are contemplating applying to their program and inquire whether they will be accepting graduate students for the next year. A professor who responds (because to be honest not all professors will answer your email) is likely to be brutally honest about whether they are accepting grad students or are interested in your research. So if a response expresses interest in you and your area of study, then do not hesitate in building a professional email relationship with that person. Professors hold a lot of power in graduate admissions so any morsel of communication and interest is helpful to the process.

Once you can narrow where you want to apply and who you want to work with, then you can start the real application process. Basic requirements for a history program will include three letters of recommendation (which should be from professors you have worked closely with or who know you and can attest to your work), a writing sample (of anywhere between 15-30 pages), a letter of intent (which should state: “I want to study –” and “I would like to work with Professor(s) —”), and transcripts from every college level institution you attended (and I do mean every. single. school.) Some schools may also require a CV or resume and a statement on language proficiency levels (fun fact: you’ll need foreign languages for history). Keep track of all the requirements, deadlines, and the like in a spreadsheet of some kind. Kiss your wallet goodbye and wave as the fees for applications, GRE scores, and transcripts make your bank account a barren desert and then begin the awful process of waiting.

This is the stage of the process that I think is akin to setting yourself on fire in misery while everyone else is happily going about their own business. If I could do this whole process over again, I’d omit one very large, and very bad, decision. Since I knew I was going to be a professor I decided to apply to all Ph.D. programs straight out of undergrad. It can be done (in fact I know many who have done it) but I do not advise it. Trust me, there is nothing wrong with doing an M.A. before the Ph.D., even if you already know you want the Ph.D.. While my friends were receiving what felt like numerous acceptances to different law schools, I waited, and waited, and waited, only to receive crushing rejection letters. Sometimes it wasn’t just one rejection in a day, but multiple. There is no way to describe how utterly discouraged, defeated, and depressed I felt about the rejections. I tried to put on a happy face and be happy for my friends, but truth be told every time they talked about where they were thinking of going I wanted to curl into a ball and cry. I had phenomenal grades, amazing recommendations, teaching experience, and numerous other things on my CV that I considered assets to my admission into graduate school. But, at every turn, I was being told, ‘sorry kid but we don’t want you.’ My friends didn’t know what to say, my family didn’t know what to say, and I faced the very real reality that I would need a plan B.

I am writing this now in an effort to make it clear that despite how scarring the experience was, it’s not the end of the world if you receive rejections. It certainly made me feel like I was a failure at the time, but getting punched in the face by grad school admissions doesn’t make anyone a failure. I wish I’d kept this phrase in my mind throughout the whole process: IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY AND TRY AGAIN. Part of life is learning how to fail and face rejection. I don’t think I ever truly knew what it felt like to fail or be rejected before that moment in time. But, this whole process was unique. It was a unique lesson and at the end of the day, I am grateful for the rollercoaster that it was. Learn to fail and learn not to take it personally. Graduate admissions exemplify how not personal many failures and rejections are. Graduate admissions contain many anomalies. How many students does the program already have? How many people were competing for the same advisor? Did the department have enough funding for x amount of students? How many graduate students are your potential advisor already supervising? Is the professor going on sabbatical? All of these questions and numerous others are just a sampling of the variables that are taken into account when accepting graduate students. They symbolize not only how my rejections and failure were in no way personal, but about bureaucracy, logistics, and matters out of my control. If you’re put into the position of utter defeat by something like grad admissions, or by something else, then have your moment to grieve, pick yourself up, and keep going forward.

It turned out for me that I didn’t need a plan B. While I was at work one day my father texted me a picture of a letter from Boston College. I told him to open the letter, thinking that if it were a rejection he would at least be able to soften the blow for me. It was the last school that I heard anything from. He replied with a picture of the letter. It read, “Your application for admission has been reviewed by a faculty committee in the Department of History. While you were not recommended for admission to the Department’s doctoral program, the committee would like to extend an offer of admission to the Department’s Master of Arts program.” I was absolutely stunned. It turns out that in the application process there was a small and discreet little box that stated something like ‘would you like to be considered for the department’s M.A. program if you’re not accepted for the Ph.D.?’ For whatever reason, I don’t remember why, I was compelled to check that little box and thought nothing of it after the application was submitted. Turns out that little box really saved my bacon. It did bring up new challenges about finances and moving across the country, but my dream was to be an academic and at that point I would take any steps necessary to get there.

I have since completed my first year in the M.A. program. I will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall and though I am still suffering from immense anxiety about going through the whole application process again, I know this time around that I won’t let rejection put my dreams on hold. One way or another, as long as you keep moving forward, it will all work out in the end.


Guest Post- Holly
Thank you, Holly! If you have questions about graduate school or Boston College, please email us at bottledcreativityblog@gmail.com or comment below. I will forward all graduate-related questions to Holly.

Truly,
Callie leigh

Stylish Academic’s Guide to Doing It All

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Hello, World.

I was having a conversation with an alumnus of my law school last weekend, and he mentioned that law associates who come in guns blazing, who charge the highest amount and work all hours of the week won’t [usually] last a year at his firm. Then he mentioned that it’s the same for law school – some students go in so hot that by the second semester, they cannot hang anymore. So, why is burnout such a real problem among young professionals and how do we prevent being one of the shooting stars (this is a How to Get Away With Murder reference, which if you aren’t watching, I recommend you start! So wickedly entertaining)? Well, a lot of not burning out is pacing yourself and preparing properly.

I watched a fellow law student my 1L year constantly stay up until the wee hours of the morning, only to get up early to be able to commute to school. This person worked constantly, rarely taking breaks and sort of overworking himself past the point of efficient studying. There were a few times I watched him fall asleep in class. I mean, if you’re sleeping through lecture, you cannot possibly be helping yourself. Also, if I noticed, there is a high probability the professor noticed considering we sat in the second row. At the time, I just kept feeling like that lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable. When I had my first day of property second semester, my professor, an older man who’s been teaching for years, said something about how last semester was over and the people who did well may do worse and the people who didn’t do well may do better.

Well, burnout was real, and a lot of those people who burned the midnight oil in the library looked so tired and worn out. A similar burnout occurs during finals. People don’t pace themselves, and by their last exam, their fingers flutter over their keyboard at a lag and their eyes don’t stay open without effort. Doing it all can be exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are smart strategies for getting it all done without suffering from complete burnout. So, today I want to offer my guide to getting it all done and remaining intact in the process.

Going back to How to Get Away With Murder for a moment, the law students who are referred to as the “Keating five” seem to be doing it all. They seem to be the top of their class, assisting their professor in criminal case trials, having a personal life, and covering up murders. I mean, the five stars are busy people. One of the interesting things about TV that we all know? It’s scripted and only shows us the highlights. We obviously don’t need twenty minutes of footage where the law students are studying in the library. The fact they study is implied by their status as a law student. However, there could be twenty minutes of footage of someone studying or someone working and it wouldn’t be inaccurate, just boring. Still, those boring moments contribute to the person’s outward success (if the students don’t study, their grades suffer, and ultimately they may lose their status as one of the chosen criminal law students). The boring moments are part of the “doing it all.” The reason we don’t focus on them, however, is because we focus on people’s major moments even though we are well aware that there’s much more that goes into that moment.

ONE || Find something that releases stress. The quickest way to get it all done without killing yourself is having something that you love that doesn’t cause stress. In fact, it shouldn’t be a neutral activity, but an activity that actively releases your stress. If you do not have something that releases your stress, you’ll be too stressed out to get everything done well. Remember, a lot of people get everything done, but they cut corners and don’t always get it all done properly.

TWO || Stay aware of your limits. Become familiar with any limits you have, and stay aware of them. If you know you are not someone who can work on Sunday nights, build a schedule that excludes Sunday night working. If you know you’re not someone who works well with a certain personality type, figure out ways in which working with that personality becomes easier (or figure a way to work with them less). Knowing your limits allows you to better play to your strengths.

THREE || Do what makes you happy. This may seem like an odd tip, but I feel like doing it all doesn’t really mean anything if you aren’t doing what you love. It’s a lot easier to stay vigilant and motivated if you love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, chances are every step on your career road will feel like you’re weighted down.

FOUR || Be selective. You can do it all, but when I say all I mean you can do everything you want to do. If you don’t want to do something, you are wasting precious time. When I was in college, my friend proposed that I try to be Co-Editor-in-Chief with her for the school newspaper. I thought initially, yeah, that’d be a good resume builder. However, after more thought, I realized it wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do and I knew my efforts would be better spent on the things I loved. So, be selective in what you want to do, then do it all!

FIVE || Stay organized. When you’re trying to do too many things at once, chances are something slips through the cracks. So, make sure you have a well-established system of staying on top of your tasks and commitments. For me, I make to-do lists. Loads of to-do lists. To-do lists help me track what needs to get done when. I put them in order of highest priority to lowest priority. I also have a section of things I should get done if I have a really productive day and finish my to-list early.

My final tip is this: doing it all is about preparation. You can do it all, but you want to be sure you’re prepared for what’s coming and that you remain in control of your schedule. If you become overwhelmed, you’ll probably start to let things slide, and your work product is diminished. Stay on top of your life and make strategic moves in your career. Look at things with the big picture in mind (aka do NOT get bogged down in too many details, but don’t lose sight of making sure the details are right). Life is about balance. If you are unbalanced, you cannot succeed because you will not know how to handle a heavier workload, a moved-up timeline, etc. Doing a lot of preparation on the front end will make the end result much better (and far more stress-free).

How do you do it all?

Truly,
Callie leigh