In Self Reflections and Refinements

Journals Revisited

One of the more consistent habits of my life is keeping a hand written journal. I couldn't stop now if I tried. For 15 solid years I have filled books with my frustrations, my annoyances, my hopes, joys, sadness, and inner most feelings. I've filled 35 unique books with the story me, and the script keeps on being added to. 

I keep all my journals in a plastic tote in my basement. A very heavy piece of my life that would be a high priority to save in a fire. I've gone back and read about different parts of my life by picking out a specific book before, however now I'm starting the project of reading them all. 

I don't believe I've ever written my journal with the priority of documenting my life for memory's sake. I journal because it's therapy. With thoughts, feelings, and experiences bouncing around in chaos in my head, they seem to drive my a little nuts from time to time. But in writing them down they become more clear and I'm able to quiet my mind from all the thoughts that build up. What's left as a byproduct of this therapy is documentation of time when I was upset, happy, hopeful, hopeless, and all those times I wouldn't get around to remembering. 

Going back to the journals of my late teens and early twenties is a bit of an embarrassing experience for me. If 31-year-old Alex met 17-year-old Alex, she might give her a good slap across the face for some of the things she thought about relationships. It's refreshing to know I don't believe some of the same things anymore that I did then, but it's a bit hard to believe some of the ways I felt then. 

I always say "you never know how you are going to feel tomorrow" so I can't fault myself for feeling the way I did in the past. This experience is showing me that there are many things about me that are very different, and for that I am thankful. But, interestingly enough I'm finding so many things to be the same. Documenting things from that far back shows me a foundation for what I am now. Some things make a lot of sense now. 

One thing I will never fault myself for are the countless entries about me and my friends having good fun. Some of my earliest entries are filled with stories of nights going to movies, playing games at someone's house, and me being fully aware that I was a young woman appreciating a carefree life of living in the moment. 

Sunday, November, 23rd, 2003 (Age 17)
Last night was so amazing. Just like Friday, except maybe better. The first hockey game was a blast. I totally let go and screamed my lungs out for the team. I made a sign for my friend L.T. After the hockey game all of us went to Kahley's for a little bit and ate. After that we played this really fun game that the boys made up. It was hide-n-seek in cars in the dark. We went to this neighborhood by Allie's house and played. It was so much fun and very funny. Our team; Matt, Colby, Kahley, and I were really bad! LOL. But after about two hours of that we all went to Rock-n-Bowl from midnight to two a.m. We had fun there too. After that we were all burned out, but it was such an awesome weekend with so much fun. 

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In Year of 30-day challenges

30 Days of Women's History

For this month's 30-day challenge instead of giving something up, I'm adding something to my daily life. In a flash of inspiration I decided I wanted to research one new woman from history each day. It began on the night of March 1st, when I watched a documentary called Brave Miss World.  Former Miss Israel and Miss World, Linor Abargil became my first women researched. 

I've created an icon on my phone's home screen to a page listing dozens of women with amazing stories throughout history. Each morning, shortly after waking up, I choose a women I don't know much about and read a short bio on her. 

After five days, here are the women I've learned more about:

1. Linor Abargil- Former Miss World who survived a brutal rape and turned to public speaking on the issue. 

2. Sappho- archaic Greek poet, known as one of the first female writers. 

3. Boudica- Leader of ancient Britons who helped lead rebellions against Roman rule. 

4. Mirabai- 16th century Hindu poet and devotee to Sri Krishna. 

5. Margaret Fuller- 19th century journalist and women's rights activist. 

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In Year of 30-day challenges

30 Day Challenge: No Lying

For this 30 day challenge, I am going to channel my inner Honest Abe. For 30 days I am going to be conscious not to tell any lies. Am I some kind of pathological liar? Of course not. Few of us are, but, what most of us are guilty of are the little white lies we tell everyday for various reasons.

  • Self-centered (lying for one's personal benefit) 
  • Other-centered (lying for someone else's benefit)
  • Prosocial lying (lying to look better in the eyes of others)
More specifically:

  1. Not admitting we don't know something, to appear smarter
  2. Being embarrassed about something we've done or haven't done
  3. Not wanting to hurt someones' feelings with our opinion
  4. Wanting to appear stronger, faster, more capable than we might really be

Why I want to do this challenge:
I want to overcome these reasons. We want to be liked, be accepted by a group, and be looked at in the best possible light. But, we are human, we make mistakes, we should own them, and we are not perfect. Lets stop trying to pretend to be.

This challenge will mostly consist of being conscious of when I might want to fib or bend the truth. If I feel that coming on, I want to fight it and tell the truth no matter what the consequences will be. In truth, the consequences will likely be nothing, showing me that we don't have to be afraid to just be honest.

Being honest all the time is about confidence in who you are. If you accept yourself, your decisions,  and your actions, you will less likely have the need for others to accept them.

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In Stop Using Disposables Year of 30-day challenges

Using No Disposables

*Paper cups are happy to serve us, but are they serving the environment?

I am now three weeks into my 30-day challenge of using no disposable, one-time-use products. So far, I give myself the grade of a B. 

I've done really well with not using any conventional disposable products like paper products or throw away cups from restaurants. Where I have struggled is with food packaging and the few times that I have eaten out that had some disposable products.

I have stopped myself on several occasions from using a product that I knew I would just throw away after one use. For example, I had a couple of times that I forgot my reusable coffee up in my car when getting coffee. One time I ran back out to get it, the other I just used a glass mug inside the coffee shop. Where I could have carelessly said "oh well" and taken a paper cup, I really tried to stick to my rules.

Food packaging has been tough because it is so out of control. Since I don't have easy access to a bulk store or a farmers market, most of the food I have access to has packaging. I have deliberately tried to buy products that aren't individually wrapped and don't have much inner packaging. I haven't been 100% successful in eliminating this, but I have tried to be  more conscious of what I am buying. However, I have turned down many purchases that I know come in an individual wrapper, knowing that I just can't buy something like that this month.

I have been more thoughtful when I go to reach for any type of paper or disposable product. I have been successful in using cloth towels when I need to dry anything and using washcloths to wipe up any messes. Just because this is in the front of my mind, it helps me to be more conscious and not just mindlessly reach for a convenient wasteful item.

For this challenge, I bought a reusable Keurig refillable cup. I use a Keurig at work to make coffee each day. It is a mesh cup that you can load up your own ground coffee in and empty once coffee is made. I recently found this Buzz Feed List of 24 resuable products for things you usually throw away. In case you are wondering, no I do not use #24. It's one disposable product I don't have thoughts of eliminating!

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In Self Reflections and Refinements

My Debt Story

People of my generation are graduating college with piles of debt from their education. Is it worth it? Is it hurting us? Is it harming our economy? These are questions I ponder a lot.  In the world of personal finance, most of us have debt stories. This one's mine. 

I went to community college right out of high school for two years. At that time, the tuition and book costs were reasonable enough that my parents were able to pay cash each semester to pay for those school years. All the while I knew I'd be going to a more expensive university someday. 

Once I knew it would be Michigan State University I got to work figuring out how it would be paid for. Since my parents made enough money, I wasn't necessarily that academically or athletically talented, and I had no unique struggles in my background, no scholarships or grants were in my future. My parents had loans themselves to finance a chunk of my education.

Just at the same time I began taking on debt my dream to join the Peace Corps was born. Most of that time I wasn't sure if I could actually live that dream, due to my mounting debt. How can I go and live as a volunteer and still fulfill financial obligations after graduation? Then, a chance encounter with a waitress in Jackson appeased my fears. As luck would have it, her best friend had joined Peace Corps and she assured me that student loan debt could could be deferred during Peace Corps service. Once I learned this, my dream continued to blossom. 

That's just what happened. My loans were frozen with no interest accumulating for the entirety of my 26-month Peace Corps service. Once my service was complete, my first payment came due the very next month. At first, I had minimum payments of about $400 per month with a couple different loans. I didn't earn super high wages for a few years after Peace Corps so minimums were about all I could handle. Plus, I had living expenses of an independent, single woman. One who still liked to travel and have adventures.

Six years later, and about $35,000 paid, here I am now. DEBT FREE! 

Here's how I did it: 

I had one loan from a local community trust with a 2% interest rate. It had a five year term and I paid it off in four years. My second loan was a federal subsided loan with an interest rate of 6.5%. I plugged along on that one, but after about three years of payments I hadn't made a very substantial dent. My minimum payments were doing little more than feeding the interest.

When I got my job as Executive Director of Fitness Council of Jackson and I was making the highest salary of my life, I wanted to get much more aggressive with my loan payments.  I had a conversation with my dad that year where I expressed disdain at the fact that too much of my hard earned money would be going to interest instead of helping me get dug out. Then we made a decision that helped me get to where I am today. My dad made the incredible offer of paying off my loan in full and allowing me to pay him back with low interest. Since fall of 2014, my federal loan has been held with the Bank of Dad, at the reasonable interest rate of 2%. Then, we both felt better about the fact that my payments would whittle down the principle much faster.  We both can agree that our country has a huge problem with out of control interest rates and he didn't want to see me subject to suffering because of it. It shouldn't cost so much to finance an education.

Whenever I earned extra money, I threw it at my loans. Any side hustles, tax returns, or unexpected gifts went to dwindling those balances.

In summary:

Put extra money that you can live without toward your balances. Consolidate if you can. Pay down small loans and roll the amount you were paying on larger ones. Pay down ones with large interest rates. Find out if there is anyone in your life with the ability to pay off your balance and allow you to pay them at a reasonable interest rate. Live your life, do what makes you happy, don't stay home all the time, and live your dreams.

There are a couple of extremes with debt repayment. One being that a person does absolutely NOTHING for a period of time and spends every last dollar on loan repayment. Another being that a person pays minimum payments for decades, basically only feeding interest and never sees themselves out of debt. Myself, I went middle of the road. I knew I wanted to experience places and things, so I've been doing that. But, I also wanted to be a responsible adult and get out of debt as quickly as possible. I got to see the world, live my dreams, and reach my financial goals. 

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