sarahgrand

Month: May, 2016

I Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures

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Like Dave Grohl, I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.

You ever hear someone say something like “Pop music is my guilty pleasure,” or “Reality TV is my guilty pleasure”?

I don’t understand what there is to be guilty about.

If my brain enjoys listening to a certain song, then I like it. Doesn’t matter if it’s mainstream or disposable. I won’t be ashamed to admit I dig it.

If I find a television show entertaining, then I like it. I’m very open about the fact that I keep Real Housewives running constantly on the TV in my apartment.

If someone is going to judge your intelligence based on what sort of entertainment you like, what sort of hobbies you take up, or really anything else you enjoy, then they’re probably insecure themselves. “Guilty pleasures” are BS– I removed that term from my vocabulary years ago, and you should too!

The Benefits of Being Single

Of course, I would like to have a boyfriend; like most human beings, I like being in a relationship. But yesterday, while putting new ink in my printer, it dawned on me that there are some benefits to being single.

gvvdvzq{Solid chunk of ink…pretty cool, right?}

If you know anything about me, you know that I love my printer. It’s not just a regular printer—it’s a very nice laser color printer that I use to make my printed design work (sarahgrand.com #shamelessplug). I first got my printer in September 2014, when I was still in a relationship with my now ex-boyfriend. Luckily for me, the printer arrived in the mail the very same day he happened to be visiting from Boston. It was a Friday, and that night, instead of going out and doing something more exciting, we stayed in to set up the printer.

I was super adamant about getting the printer set up that Friday because I knew we’d be going out on Saturday and Sunday, and it had to be up and running before he left, because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it myself.

Let me repeat that: I didn’t think I’d be able to do it myself.

We’re talking about a PRINTER here. I have an engineering degree. Granted, my printer may be a bit larger and more complex that your average at-home unit, but seriously, it’s a printer. Not only are printers generally pretty intuitive to set up, they come with something called a manual (not to mention all of the online forums and tutorials available for this particular model).

I had a boyfriend pretty much all throughout college, and before that, I lived at home with my parents. In high school, whenever some sort of new or unpleasant task came up, I had my mom or dad on call to handle it:

  • Bug in the room – Call Dad
  • Car/Miscellaneous Tech Issues – Call Dad
  • Emotional Support/Venting – Call Mom
  • Money Stuff (like setting up a debit card or credit card) – Call Mom

You get the idea.

In college, whoever I was dating sort of took on this role. It wasn’t that I bossed these guys around; it was more that it just seemed natural to me to get help in areas that weren’t exactly my forte, you know? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s normal to want help or moral support, especially when dealing with tasks you’re not totally comfortable or familiar with.

What I think was wrong about this situation was that I thought I couldn’t do certain things alone that, realistically, weren’t even that challenging (like setting up a printer).

It wasn’t until I became single and moved away from home that I realized I can pretty much do anything on my own, without help from anyone. It wasn’t until I became single and moved away from home that I realized, “I’ve got this.”

During the past year and a half of single-dom in Queens, I’ve:

  • Put new ink in my printer
  • Gone to the mechanic multiple times on my own and sorted out car issues
  • Driven on 4+ hour long car rides to Boston and the Adirondacks (and parallel parked)
  • Set up new furniture in the apartment
  • Planned multiple weekend trips
  • Stayed at a hostel by myself (and made friends with strangers in the common room)
  • Gone to MULTIPLE design events alone, designed a bunch of stuff with no help and no feedback, and got a new website up and running
  • Gone to sleep countless nights without recounting the details of my day to someone

…and a bunch of other stuff.

I understand that, alone, none of these things are anything to be exceptionally proud of. I get that something like parallel parking isn’t a big deal to most people – especially to city natives. But altogether, they show me I’m self-sufficient now, and that’s something I am proud of. I never felt this way when I had someone by my side, always there to help or, if nothing else, to offer moral support. I feel more confident now – more willing to take on challenges – at work, in my hobbies, and in my personal life. I don’t think I would have felt this way, at least not so soon, had I stayed in a relationship.

Quickly, some other benefits of being single include:

  • Getting to do whatever you want during your free time
  • Being able to get dolled up and flirt with a bunch of guys for fun (without feeling guilty you’re doing some really mild form of cheating)
  • Feeling like there’s so much of the unknown ahead of you. I have no idea who I’ll end up with, what they’ll be like, and how they’ll change my life. It’s pretty cool to know that’s all ahead of me, yet to be discovered.

So, if you’re single like me, realize all of the positive things about your situation, and how much you’re growing!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article, which will be called “I Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures.” Thanks!

Your Kind of Smart

I have been an overachiever all my life. One of my earliest memories is of my pre-school teacher holding up a drawing I made of a Christmas tree for the whole class to see. “Everyone, try to make a tree like Sarah’s” she said, as I looked down and smiled. I continued to get similar praises during my elementary and middle school years.

Up until high school, I actually really liked being an overachiever. Kids have this sort of naïve confidence about themselves. If I worked hard on something, I was excited to show it off. If I scored well at school, I felt proud and smart. I was never ashamed or embarrassed of my work ethic and genuine enthusiasm for projects.

All of this changed on an unsuspecting fall day during my sophomore year of high school. I was walking around the track during gym period, when suddenly, a peer of mine ran up to tell me that class rankings were just announced, and I was tied with a few people for number one. Boy, she didn’t look too thrilled. I remember it like it was yesterday. I would soon learn that a lot of other people weren’t too thrilled, either.

1526505_10151919787298977_260859689_n{Me in 2008, aged 16}

Before I move on, let me back up a bit here. Yes, I overachieved at school, and probably cared way more than the average teenager about projects, grades, studying, and the like. But it was never like I had an agenda. I wasn’t trying to get to the top of my class, or even accepted into a dream college. And even if I was, so what? I was just doing my thing, and working hard and trying my best are part of my nature. I don’t half-ass anything, even stuff I’m not passionate about or particularly interested in. That’s just the way I am.

Being that I didn’t even know rankings were a thing at the time, the news that I was tied for number one came as much a surprise to me as it did to everyone else. Up until this point, I had been able to mind my own business at school, but suddenly, I was thrown into the spotlight. And for the first time ever, I had haters.

Haters are a funny thing. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything remotely mean or wrong to get them. My haters thought I didn’t deserve to be number one because there were “naturally smarter” people in my year, and they made that crystal clear to me for the remainder of my high school experience.

To be fair, as mean as these bullies were, they had some valid points. There were a few of those “laid-back genius” types in my grade (you know…those kids who don’t even have to crack open a book or take down notes to ace physics exams), and god knows I’m not one of them. I am able to excel at almost everything I do, but sometimes I have to work at it. So, if school rankings are supposed to be some sort of measure of “natural intellect,” then yes, maybe there should have been a few people ahead of me. Though I consider myself a sharp girl, I’m not a genius, and I’ve never claimed to be one; what bothered me about this whole situation was not that I thought I deserved to be number one. It was how black and white my bullies made the notion of “smartness” out to be.

To them, a person was either “naturally smart” or a “hard worker,” and there was no in-between. Naturally smart people didn’t need to study or do homework to succeed, and they scoffed at grades and the “limiting school system.” Hard workers, on the other hand, were sheep guised as intelligent individuals, totally incapable of doing anything beyond their structured duties. They lacked substance and passion.

Though I think this “reasoning” is absolute bogus now, as a teenager, I really let it affect me. I started believing that just because I worked hard and put effort into my schooling, I was unintelligent. I began to attribute all of my achievements to external factors, rather than my own personal abilities. I began hiding my enthusiasm for school projects, downplaying how much I studied, and pressuring myself to not take notes in class, even when I really wanted to. These behaviors might seem silly to some, and I even cringe looking back at some of my more pathetic moments, but I know I wasn’t the only one feeling this way and doing these things.

I remember observing people during class, peering around the room to see if other people were taking notes before they’d put their pen down to paper. I remember listening to countless exaggerations of how little people studied for exams, the SAT, or AP tests. I felt like everyone was in some sort of competition to see who cared the least about school, while simultaneously caring a lot about school? Weird times. And though I saw all this going on around me, I felt like no one was willing to have an honest conversation about it. Perhaps my high school was the only hell hole where this culture existed, but I doubt it.

It took quite a bit of time, but I eventually stopped feeling unintelligent and worthless, and I have grown to not only accept, but also love being an overachiever and, dare I say, a perfectionist? (another touchy word from my high school times).

I think part of getting over it came with age. As you get older, you simply stop giving a crap about what other people think, and get a clearer vision of your strengths and weaknesses. Another large part of getting over it came with realizing that “smartness” is not as black and white as my bullies made it out to be.

As I said before, I’m not a genius. Of course, sometimes I still envy those people who can gracefully absorb really complicated stuff through listening alone. Of course I think it would be awesome to, I don’t know, be the next Albert Einstein or something. But the truth is, I will never be that kind of smart. Still, my kind of smart is just as important.

My kind of smart is that I’m highly efficient, organized, clear-headed, and ambitious. I might not be able to understand every really complicated concept as fast as a laid-back genius, but give me some sample problems and a few hours, and I’ll pick that stuff up quickly and be raring to go the next time I see a similar problem. I’m the girl you go to if you want something done right, on time, and without a headache. Though I think I’m a more of a detail-oriented person by nature, I’ve been taking on more “big picture” tasks at work, and through practice and experience, succeeding at those too, and really enjoying them.

What’s your kind of smart?

Regardless of what it is, there’s really no point in feeling inferior. A good team has people of all different types of smart. Sometimes you need a straight-out physics-type genius. Sometimes you need a people-person that’s socially smart. Sometimes, you need a total sleazeball to get a specific task done. I swear! There will always be a way to spin your “smartness” to bring a lot to the table.

Since this essay is geared towards hard workers, I just need to say: If you’re an overachiever like me, and at times feel embarrassed or ashamed of your work ethic, stop that thinking right now! People that take initiative and seek out work are so desirable in the workplace, and honestly pretty hard to come by.

And one more thing I have to say: just because you’re hard working, doesn’t mean you’re just a workhorse either. I know so many overachievers who also happen to be very passionate and creative. Not only do they have bright ideas, they also take action and follow through on their goals diligently. As Picasso once said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Just because you’re willing to work hard on pretty much anything does NOT mean you lack substance. Maybe you haven’t found your passions yet. I didn’t home in on my passions until I was 21. Or maybe your passion is working hard, and there’s nothing wrong with that either! I personally find almost any type of work to be fulfilling as long as I’m super involved and I feel needed. You could throw me into a startup about cars, and even though I don’t care much about cars right now, if the environment was super fast-paced and I had a lot of responsibility, I’d probably get really into it. I think this is why I enjoyed working on pretty much any school project as a kid, regardless of the subject.

To close this up, since you’re probably wondering, I didn’t end up being number one in high school. During my senior year, I got a B in gym class on purpose because I couldn’t take the bullying anymore. I understand why I did this, because I was young, impressionable, and going through a tough time. If dropping to number 3 was going to ease the hate, then I wanted to do that.

If I could go back to high school knowing what I know now though, I would handle some things a bit differently. Most notably, I would own it. I wouldn’t dampen my projects, restrain my note-taking, or act chill about tests I was secretly freaking out about. I would just be myself, do my best, share my work, and shamelessly overachieve.

Am I An Artist? (Getting Over Impostor Syndrome)

“So, is anyone here not a designer?” The moderator of the event peered around the room as the audience broke out in laughter. I nervously looked over at my roommate, who I had brought along with me as a wing-woman, not sure if I should raise my hand in response to this question…

I was at an event hosted by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in New York City. Four design directors of prominent magazines were speaking about their backgrounds and the responsibilities of their current positions. How did I end up here? I joined AIGA a couple months earlier because I love graphic design, and want to learn anything and everything I can about it. Yet, clearly, I am reluctant to consider myself a designer, well, a real designer at least.

If you ask me, I’m a civil engineer. That’s what I went to school for, and that’s what I do for my day job. I have no qualms about identifying as an engineer because I have tangible proof of my validity. I have a degree from an engineering school, a full-time job at a construction company, and I have even passed my “Fundamentals of Engineering” examination. Identifying as a designer, or dare I say an artist, is a bit more troublesome.

Aside from a semester-long internship at Martha Stewart (where my responsibilities primarily included pinning up inspiration images around the office), I have no formal work experience in the art or design industries. I have barely any educational training in these areas either. I have never experienced a critique of my work, and to be honest, I’m not really sure if I’m any “good” in my creative endeavors, at least from an expert’s standpoint.

Yet, making visual ideas come to life is something I’m extremely, madly passionate about. It’s something that I absolutely need to do, kind of like how a musician needs to make music. This insatiable desire to create is something that never goes away for me; I am always susceptible to becoming inspired, and my list of goals is always increasing.

I make all different kinds of things. When I was younger, I expressed my creativity through food design. A couple years ago, I discovered Adobe Illustrator, and got into graphic design. I bought myself a laser color printer and started making invitations and stationery out of my New York apartment. Today, I continue to do this, while searching for art and design opportunities with a farther reach.

Technically, you could say I’m a freelance artist and graphic designer. But, I feel super uncomfortable calling myself this. Maybe it’s because, unlike engineering, there are no standard qualifications or professional degrees to prove that one is a designer or artist. Maybe it’s because I did not go to art school, and my “side business” is not my main source of income. Maybe it’s simply due to a lack of personal confidence. Or, perhaps it’s because I don’t fit in with the art and design “scenes,” if you will; I’m not troubled or edgy or trying to make some sort of ironic statement. To quote Kevin Smith, “I just like making shit.”

Whatever the cause, it’s a conflicting feeling. I love my work, and deep down I know that I have talent. But, particularly when I share my work with other creative people, I wonder if it “counts” or is “valid.” I feel inferior compared to real artists, yet I’m not exactly sure what a real artist is.

For a long time, I lived in silence with this inferiority. Last summer, I attended a panel called “The Creative Journey” with three artists-turned-authors at BookCon in New York City. During the Q&A portion of the event, I decided to speak up about the invalidity I associated with my work for the very first time, asking the panelists if they had ever experienced something similar.

The moment I finished speaking, one of the panelists exclaimed, “Sounds like you have Impostor Syndrome!” Right then and there, just like that, I had a diagnosis. A simple diagnosis for something I thought was so emotionally complicated.

Though not officially listed in the DSM, Impostor Syndrome is a very real and common phenomenon, in which those affected have trouble internalizing or accepting their accomplishments. To put it simply, it’s a form of intellectual self-doubt. People experiencing it often brush off their own abilities and attribute achievements to luck, timing, or other external factors, fearing they will eventually be exposed as a “phony.”

The syndrome can affect anyone. I am an engineer/designer who feels illegitimate compared to those who went to art school, or work in creative jobs full time. Maybe you are a passionate musician with an unrelated day job, and feel fraudulent compared to those who fully devote their lives to music. Maybe you love to cook, and have many impressive accomplishments as a cook, but never went to culinary school, and feel inferior compared to “chefs.” The list goes on and on. The panelist that first told me about the syndrome, a well-respected author, cartoonist, artist, and blogger, even admitted that she feels uncomfortable referring to herself as an “author” in front of other writers.

The panelists at BookCon left me with some parting advice, which has really helped me get over feeling like an impostor, though I still have my moments of weakness (hence almost raising my hand at the recent magazine event). I’ll share their advice with you, and hopefully this will help if you have ever felt the same way before:

  1. Understand that being good at multiple things is BADASS: I used to think that going to engineering school and working in construction showed I wasn’t “truly” interested in art or design. But it’s actually quite the opposite. The fact that I come home from work, and voluntarily work on more work, solely out of passion, says a lot. Not many people have something they will devote time and energy to without some sort of reward other than personal satisfaction. If you are one of these people, understand that you are rare and special! And if you balance a totally different day job at the same time, that’s pretty badass.
  1. Own It: “Own it” is probably the best piece of advice I have ever received. Giving roundabout explanations for why you are qualified, acting a certain way, or interested in something just makes you seem like you don’t know what you’re talking about – the exact opposite of what you are going for. Take yourself seriously, be direct, and unapologetically own your accomplishments. Even if someone doesn’t like you or your work, they’ll at least respect the fact that you’re owning it and being yourself.
  1. Keep Making Stuff: Keep making stuff and never stop. Again, even if someone is not a fan of your work, they’ll respect your passion and the fact that you are producing volumes of work in the first place. Also, making things leads to new opportunities and better technical skills. I’m a novice right now, but I’m sure if I keep making things as diligently as I have for the past two years, I’ll eventually surpass those who went to art school, but are lazy bums.
  1. Realize You Are Not Alone: There are so many people that feel this way, that they named a whole syndrome after it! What you are feeling is totally common and normal, and knowing this may help you get over it. Also, remember that there are many, many people with lots of confidence that feel totally comfortable calling themselves artists (or whatever) that might not even necessarily have anything to show for it. So,  as long as you have the work, that’s all the proof you need.