New Job, New Adventure: Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone and Out of Academia

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As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I have some news to share:

I accepted a job offer two weeks ago. And it’s a non-academic job.

Now before y’all get all hype and confused and whatnot let me explain.

As many of you know, I left a tenure-track position at VCU to move back to Maryland for mostly personal reasons. My husband Derek got a promotion, and I decided that it would be better for us to be closer to friends and family (see FB note announcement below).

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However, I will admit that I also left VCU last year a little unsure of whether I am meant to stay on an academic career trajectory. The tenure-track path was really tough and stressful, (a lot harder than I expected TBH), and as much as I loved the flexibility of academia and teaching students, there were aspects of the job that (for me) were hard to contend with, such as:

Please note that this clearly isn’t the reality for everyone, but these were some of the issues that came to mind when reflecting on my own lived experience.

And yes, I will be completely and utterly honest: I know that a lot of this is on me. I am a recovering perfectionist and I’ve always gone above and beyond the call of duty when it came to work. I also get really emotionally invested, oftentimes to the point of negatively impacting my health. But lately I began asking myself: At what cost?

And so I had to do some soul searching.

This past year I was the Managing Director of the Oral Communication Program in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, my beloved alma mater. I am so grateful to the Department for allowing me to come back and try my hand at administration in higher ed, something I was interested in pursuing for a while. The added bonus was being able to see my mentors on a more frequent basis, and come back to a campus I’m familiar with and love.

I dove right into work, as I always do, trying my best to set up a calendar, trying hard not to be so upset with myself when I didn’t know how to do something, playing into my strengths and networking with entities all across campus.

But I also struggled, trying to manage expectations among the many constituencies I interacted with (i.e., graduate students, professional track faculty, undergraduate studies, etc.) and equally trying not to take things personally when those expectations could not be met (a hard enough feat when you are prone to social anxiety that includes LOTS of ruminating). I was the go-to person for faculty and student issues, which gave me opportunities to deal with conflict and engage in empathetic listening, but left me emotionally drained. I represented UMD’s basic course on campus, wrote assessment reports, and even taught a section of COMM 107 (something I had not done since 2010), but I realized that I missed my identity as a PR person.

And so, an opportunity came up to be a PR person again.

After this opportunity presented itself I did a lot of thinking (along with some discussing with my husband), and ultimately I decided to give the industry end of things a whirl.

After many many years of schooling and four years of teaching PR at the faculty level, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to go forth and finally practice what I’ve been preaching to my students.

Next week, I start my position as a copywriter for the in-house marketing team at Vectorworks, an engineering tech firm based in Columbia, MD.

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Although I’m a bit nervous, I am excited to go into the private sector, write for different kinds of audiences, get into a more structured and consistent schedule, and join a team that I seem to get along with and seems to be equally pumped to have me on board.

Did I expect to be making this career change four years into obtaining my Ph.D.? Nope. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this crazy ride we call life, you never know what twists and turns are going to be thrown at you.

I’ve decided to submit to the turn and see where it takes me next.

SO LET’S DO THIS. 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Nine the Musical

Those of you who follow me on social media (and who have chatted with me in person!) know that I just finished up a 5-week run of the musical Nine at The Colonial Players in Annapolis.

 

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All I can say is that the experience was everything I could have possibly dreamed of…and probably even more.

This production was particularly special to me because this was the first time I returned to the stage and had been in a musical in *almost nine* years. Due to major life events such as going to graduate school, landing my first tenure-track job, moving states, and getting married, I haven’t been able to make the time commitment work with my busy schedule.

But after I had moved back to Maryland from Virginia, and after I had started my new job back at my lovely alma mater in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland, I decided to get back in the auditioning game. And although I was a bit out of practice and had to remind myself what it meant to find a fitting audition song and learn a complicated dance routine in about 5 minutes (and then perform it 1 minute later! GAH!), I was able to audition for Nine on a complete whim…AND was good enough to get in. Even though I didn’t know the show at all I was excited to just get back on the stage. I was totally ready.

My experience with The Colonial Players and with this cast was IMO nothing less than extraordinary. Folks have commented that 13 women working together (especially in a theater environment) could have been risky, and things could have diva-ed and ramped up real quick, but to be perfectly honest my relationships with these women emerged to be quite the opposite. I left the show on April 30th bawling, being sad that it was over but ecstatic that I now have an amazing new group of friends that I can count on any time. I grew especially close with my dressing roommates; the fun times we had, whether it was belting out Kelly Clarkson, telling jokes, or sharing ridiculous Snapchats, are special memories that I will never forget. ❤️

Other than the close interpersonal relationships I’ve built in this process, it was so fun getting back into the practice of rehearsals. The music of Nine is beautiful, but also fairly challenging, and my transformation from a Soprano I in my high school and college days to an Alto I was more fun that I could have ever anticipated. Learning this music was a great way to re-train my ear and sing some killer harmonies that sounded gorgeous when we all blended and sang together. I loved how we kicked things off from the very start with the Overture full of “la las,” as well as the end of “Guido’s Song” when our overlapping voices crescendoed into chill-worthy awesomeness:

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However, my *most favorite song* was “The Bells of St. Sebastian.” Not only were the harmonies simply breathtaking, but the chorus of Kyrie Eleisons would oftentimes bring me close to tears as I would think about my late father, who not only loved to sing kyries at church but whose middle name is Sebastian (it was my late grandmother’s maiden name). Whenever I sang the song and looked up into the blue lights I would sing my little nun heart out. I know I would’ve made my daddy proud.

On a less sad note, there was also the gloriousness of the many roles (and quick costume changes!) associated with being an ensemble member in this show. From one of Guido’s lovers (who dreams of coffee tables…if you don’t get it don’t ask), to an angry German reporter, to a classy Folies Bergeres dancer, to a reverent nun, to a sassy Nore (read: “nun-whore”) with unforgettable pirate laughs and a tambourine, to a super-hype film actress with outrageous facial expressions…I had SO much fun transforming into these different characters that helped drive the story of this show.

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As my director Ron Giddings put it, we were meant to be the individuals cast in this show. It might seem corny, but I whole heartedly agree. I had been auditioning for several months at a number of different community theaters, not landing anything, when my dear friend Debbie sent me the audition call and I decided to audition last minute. Looking back at the experience now, I am so freaking glad that I did.

Being in Nine not only reminded me how much I missed performing and how wonderful and transformative this process can be, but Guido Contini’s story in particular taught me how to truly value the people who love and care about you, to be humble and grateful for your talents, and to not take any of it for granted.

And so, to my director and musical director, the production team, my cast mates, my husband, my family, my friends, and my colleagues, who helped make this comeback to theater the best experience imaginable…

…Grazie, ti amo. 💋

Birthday Reflections: This Is Me Moving Forward

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Today is my 31st birthday.

For those of you that know me well, you’re probably waiting for a month-long series of events with various activities in different locations.

But not this year. This year is different.

I’ve decided to tone things down a bit and focus a little more inward.

Now don’t get me wrong, there was still a bit of celebration. I went to NYC over the weekend and saw Waitress the Musical on Broadway; it was just as wonderful and amazing as I had anticipated (thank you Jessie Mueller for your breathtaking performance). And tonight, I had dinner with a small group of friends and participated in a Museum Heist-themed Escape the Room. We managed to breakout, with about 15 minutes to spare, despite my heightening anxiety.

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*cue segue into the actual purpose of this post*

Although I’m sure many of you see my outward, celebratory leanings toward my birthday via social media posts and in-person interactions with yours truly, I have doubts that y’all know what really goes inside this little brain of mine.

You see, I suffer from anxiety, and there are times when it can be so crippling I can hardly speak, let alone be the delightful host at my birthday party.

Wow, what does that look like, you might ask?

Here is a visual.

About a month ago the NBC television drama This Is Us aired an episode where character Randall Pearson (played by actor Sterling K. Brown) suffers from a panic attack at his office. Now I don’t watch the show (though based on that very realistic clip I feel like I should) but because it was being shared multiple times on my Facebook timeline I decided to take a look…

…five minutes later my husband Derek sees me bawling on our living room couch.

D: “Honey, what’s wrong?”

R: “I watched the clip. The one with the anxiety attack. It was so real. I know EXACTLY what that feels like” *continues to sob*

Kudos to the show creators for getting it spot on. I’ve been there.

A few key examples.

#1: The summer before I moved to Maryland for graduate school, I was suffering from attacks fairly regularly. I was so worried that it would mess with my success of getting my M.A. and Ph.D., and that my mother would think it was too risky to move from home. But I was able to pull it together and I moved to Maryland, where I obtained both my masters and doctorate within five years.

#2: About two years ago, my husband (who was then my fiancé), my mom, and my sister came to my home in Richmond, Virginia (where I was living at the time) for Thanksgiving. I was having some issues with depression that Fall semester, and was prescribed a new medication to help with the symptoms, but unfortunately it triggered an attack in the middle of a lovely outdoor picnic. I had to be rushed home, where my husband witnessed what my attacks were like for the very first time, and feeling completely helpless on what to do.

#3: About a week ago, I was running late for a meeting at work because I couldn’t find something in the house. As I was frantically searching for the item, I felt another attack coming.

…but this time, compared to the previous two scenarios, I was able to get it under control within 30 minutes vs. the several hours it usually can take to subside, and I was able to function at the meeting as though nothing had happened.

What was the difference then?

A couple of things:

Yoga: About a year ago, I started getting into a more consistent yoga practice, thanks to the very accessible (and helpful!) videos by Yoga with Adriene. It’s helped bring an awareness to my body that I’ve never had before, and it’s helped me discover how my body deals with things such as flexibility, balance, energy, and flow. I’m at a point now where I need this practice, much like how I need coffee in the morning; it’s now that important.

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Meditation and Mindfulness: My new therapist in Maryland has been pushing me to meditate more to help alleviate my anxiety and stress; she wants me to start integrating mind awareness with my new found body awareness, and so far it’s been working. I am no where near getting into a daily practice, but I now have a few resources to start with, and that day while driving to my meeting I engaged in deep breathing exercises that seemed to help.

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Music/Singing/Dancing/Performing: In my most recent panicked episode, after taking some deep breaths, I played two songs from my Spotify playlist and belted at the top of my lungs until I felt the attack subsiding and I had tears streaming down my face. In a freaky-type of coincidence, a close friend recently shared a very poignant interview with actress Emma Stone about how acting acts as her personal therapy, and I completely agree with her insight:

“I wouldn’t say that performing is a cure for anxiety, but when you have excess energy that turns inward and makes you an over-thinker, you can begin to panic.”

Oh Emma, I can TOTALLY relate!

Not only am I super hard on myself pretty much ALL THE DAMN TIME (but I’m working on it this year; see my previous post!), but I also deal with all this social anxiety worrying about what others think of me (I go into detail a bit in my Instagram post for International Women’s Day) and it can get dang exhausting.

But when I’m performing, whether it’s singing on a stage, or dancing a routine at a ballroom competition, or throwing down some spoken word, or doing improv for my Murder Mystery troupe, I don’t feel afraid.

In fact, I feel quite the opposite.

I feel EMPOWERED. I feel UNSTOPPABLE.

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I feel HAPPY TO BE IN OWN SKIN, anxiety and all.

So why are we so ashamed? Why is it so hard to own up to our anxieties, insecurities, and self-doubts? Why is it so hard to ask for help, to seek community, to find solidarity? Why do we perceive these struggles as stigmatized weaknesses, when we can channel that energy to push ourselves into unknown greatness, through realizing that we only get this one life to make the most of the hand we’ve been dealt?

I don’t have the answers here folks. Hell, I’m still trying to figure it all out myself.

But if there are things that I’ve learned, now that I’m another year older and a perpetual learner, it’s this:

  • That I want to be more empathetic to myself, and others.
  • That I want to treat people the way they deserve to be treated.
  • That I no longer want to wait around to do the things that truly make me happy.
  • That I want to continue to surround myself with the people I love and make me feel loved.
  • That I no longer want to compromise my values for the sake of being liked.
  • That I want to speak up against injustice, no matter how scary or difficult.
  • That I want to be unapologetically, authentically ME.

THIS IS ME MOVING FORWARD. I HOPE YOU WILL LIKE IT. ❤️

Oh, and if you have a chance, please contribute to my birthday fundraiser for RAINN that closes at midnight tonight, thanks!

My Word of 2017

Happy New Year all!

At UMD I ran into an old friend who reminded me of my previous blog posts where I would encapsulate my hopes for the coming year in one word. I was able to consistently do this practice in 2010 (Achievement), 2011 (Renewal), and 2012 (Destiny). I suppose after that I fulfilled my destiny of spreading myself too thin in my first years as an assistant professor (if you’re confused you can read more about what I mean here) because I haven’t done that practice since.

Regardless, I was humbled and flattered that my colleague was still doing it, and I thought about other practices to ring in the New Year (such as Liz Gilbert’s homemade NYE ceremony, which I actually did myself to ring in 2016). I thought back to when I would write down New Year’s Goals (which, come to think of it, was what ended up taking the place of the word practice from 2013-2015), and I’ve decided that maybe it’s time to get back to some consistency when it comes to ringing in the New Year, because rooting oneself in traditions can help bring stability in an oftentimes very turbulent life.

Before I came to this realization, it occurred to me that maybe the universe was already trying to tell me something. I am ONE PRACTICE AWAY (noooo!) from completing Yoga with Adriene’s #yogarevolution practice, and in one of the videos Adriene asked us to root ourselves in a word, and after some brief soul searching I settled on this one:

self-empathy

So why self empathy? This was a concept that writer Wendy Chin-Tanner mentioned in a recent Dear Sugar Radio podcast…that so happened to be recorded live in Portland for the Writer’s Resist movement (I participated in the Memphis event, check out my bad ass pic below), and it truly resonated with me.

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As I alluded to in the above description of my former (super stressed out) life, I wasn’t being empathetic to myself AT ALL. In fact, I was burning myself out being empathetic to others; by being a helpful “team player” I was actually hurting myself and my true potential by running myself ragged in the process. 

In other words, as a friend quoted to me the other day: I was setting myself on fire to keep other people warm.

And lemme tell you: IT. WASN’T. WORKING.

My tendency to overcommit and work beyond expectations has been something I have been personally struggling with for a while. It took a lot of therapy, a wonderful social support network, a patient partner, and yes, even health issues in the form of kidney stones to get me where I am today. But something that has stuck with me through this process comes from my dear and wonderful mentor, Dr. Lynn Pelco.

Knowing that my empathy can perhaps drive me to become more self-empathetic (how interesting is that?), she very pointedly asked me how my stressed out mental/emotional state would look to my students.

“Is this what you want to role model for your students?” she asked.

Well damn. I hadn’t thought about it LIKE THAT before. In an effort to be a more empathetic person, I NEED to first be self-empathetic, otherwise I will never have the true mental/physical/emotional energy to help others at my highest potential.

…so at first glance this practice may seem selfish, but the reality is that our society needs more self-empathetic folks than ever before, otherwise we will implode from stress and we are never going to get through this year.

And so for my own sake, and for the sake of my friends and family who I love wholeheartedly, and for the sake of my students that I hope to inspire and mentor, and for the sake of the communities I want to advocate and champion for, I am taking 2017 to be more self-empathetic.

What about you? What is YOUR word for 2017?

A Social Media Fast to Work Toward Strategic Social Justice

Friends:

This may come as a shock to many of you, but I’ve recently decided to engage in a social media fast.

For me, it is to give myself the proper time and space to more deeply reflect and reevaluate my role in engaging in more meaningful, strategic social justice.

Because that’s what I’m purporting I’m doing here, yes? Even though in reality I’ve been so busy that I have little time to even update this site?

Yes.

Imma be completely honest. The last ten days have been pretty tough. I didn’t have a solid day of sleep in most of that span. I’ve been having really thoughtful, difficult conversations with folks as to whether my rhetoric as a feminist, activist, and passionate liberal has been too strong, too divisive, too imposing, too closed-minded.

 

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I also realized that with emotions running so high right now among my colleagues and friends I’ve been opening social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and closing it feeling more overwhelmed and anxious than ever. And it wasn’t until much more recently that I realized that I’ve been subjecting myself to this online echo chamber I’ve solely created looking for answers and inspiration…when perhaps it was such a passive information gathering tactic that it left me feeling even worse with very little outside perspective.

So here’s what I’ve uncovered in the past 10 days.

That there are more stories that are in need of telling. That perhaps there is a bigger, broader view to unpack. That as I tell my students all the damn time, there is a history and a context to everything; nothing truly exists in a vacuum. That my lived experience may not necessarily be the same as yours, and that’s ok.

 And that a break from social media is needed for me to ponder that.

The past week has been good to me in this regard. I have consciously stayed away from SM and engaged with people IRL, for example, at #NCA16. I talked to community organizations and academics about activism and social justice, about self care and healing. I came home from the conference and had brunch with a group of close girlfriends, where we shared our current life updates, our fears, and our dreams, and have been checking in on each other ever since. I have been writing spoken word that digs deep into my feelings in an attempt to make meaning of everything that is swirling inside of me. I have also been having some tough conversations with my husband that leave me raw and vulnerable, but toward more understanding that I hope will help strengthen our marriage and partnership.

ALL THAT, for me, has been cathartic and transformative. Although this is hard for me to say (especially given my personal and professional interests in social media) I have to admit that sharing a provocative article on Facebook (that all my FB friends had probably read already anyway) did not have that same effect.

So I’ve turned off the notifications on my phone. I’m going to be spending more time reading, writing, thinking, engaging. I’m going to reach out to folks directly to ask them how they are doing. I’m going to more actively listen, because I WANT TO LISTEN, and I think I need to. We all do. I’m going to work on building this site to more fully embody my voice and my craft. So get ready, folks.

I’ll catch y’all on the flip side. ✌🏽

 

Lessons Learned from Missing Dad: Year 3 Edition

Today is October 7th.

Three years ago, I was getting ready to teach a social media class at my first “real job” post-graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University when my sister called.

It was 3:30 PM.

I immediately sensed something was wrong.

Unfortunately I was right.

My wonderful, funny, patient, and kind father had passed away after a hard fight
against esophageal cancer.

He was only 66.

And now here we are, three years later, and I’m thinking: damn, time flies by so fast.

LIFE flies by so fast. 

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So now I have a question.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you just felt…I dunno, off?

Yeah, well I was having one of those weeks, and I finally realized it’s because we were approaching today.

The day I would never get see my dad laugh, or sing karaoke, or play poker for hours on Facebook ever again.

…and it totally, absolutely, positively…

sucks. like, really damn hard.

So what do I do? Well as per usual whenever I feel sad, I sing. So here you go:

In addition, I suppose due mostly in part by my recent Hamilton/Lin Manuel-Miranda inspiration, I wrote a spoken word piece about my dad’s passing as well:

…it still ain’t over yet…

Lastly, as a final homage to my dad, my hubs and I made corned beef with potatoes, onion, and white rice, a common Bob Briones food staple and my personal version of comfort food:

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I am very proud to say that despite my fumbling a bit to figure out how to get this simple meal all together, it tasted exactly how I remember it, and Derek even thought it was yummy.

So it ended up being an ok day after all.

So there you go. I taught, I graded, I did a bit of research…and then I pulled together a song, a poem, and some food. I think dad would have been pleased.

The #kindnessbombs Movement

I decided recently to start approaching my life by giving back to others…

…and I CAN. NOT. STOP.

It started on my birthday. Now folks may have seen my post on giving people fun things via YouTube (if you don’t what WTF I’m talking about, feel free to check it out here, and if you are still waiting on something I will get to it soon I promise!) but it didn’t end there.

I didn’t post my first act of kindness on social media because I didn’t want to be showboaty about doing nice things, but I did tell some colleagues in person soon afterward and it looks like I was slightly “outed” on Facebook:

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No worries Lindsay, I’m not mad (hehe), but I think this opened something up that I want to explain.

On my birthday, I had a quick lunch at a restaurant by VCU before having to go to the meeting where my colleague Lindsay was present. Because it wasn’t very busy for lunch (things pick up at happy hour and dinnertime), I decided to pay it forward and pay for everyone’s lunch who was present. The server was shocked, and asked if he could let everyone know. I said yes. When the people sitting with me at the bar area asked why (“We should be buying you something, it’s your birthday!”), I told them that when I was having dinner with friends last year a random stranger paid for our dinner – he said it was his birthday, and that every year he pays it forward. And that I liked that idea.

So, it appears Lindsay has done as such, and as you see in my Facebook comment I said “Let’s start a movement!”

Well, after today I think I have an idea of what this movement could be.

In a similar anecdote of random kindness, my friend Bonnie bought someone a cup of coffee who looked like he needed it:

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Again, I was humbled and inspired.

Fast forward to later this afternoon. I went to get my eyebrows waxed and there was a homeless woman right outside the door. She asked for money and I asked her if she needed something to eat, and she said she’d like a cup of coffee. I told her I’d get her something after I’m done at the salon.

While getting my eyebrows did, I had an idea. After I paid for the service, I flagged the woman down and gave her the Starbucks gift card that my sister gave me for my birthday last week (sorry Atey, but I feel like you would approve!). I told her that there should be about $20 on that gift card and that she could get coffee and some food too, if she’d like. She asked me if the card was for a particular Starbucks and I told her she can go to any one she wanted – she then broke out into a huge smile and said thank you.

It was in this moment where I came up with the idea for a movement.

I am calling it #kindnessbombs.

And I am calling them this for two major reasons:

  1. Bombs can drop on us unexpectedly. As evidenced by my friend’s experiences and the two I shared on this post, sometimes opportunities come up unexpectedly where you can drop a little kindness and it can completely transform someone’s day. It is a matter of being aware of those opportunities, and also realizing that it doesn’t take much to drop a little kindness on someone’s life.
  2. We are inundated with messages of hate and fear and to be quite frank I am sick and tired of it. I have decided that I am RE APPROPRIATING the negativity that comes with bombs, and turning it on his head – instead of the fear mongering and hatred associated with dropping bombs, let’s show the world that LOVE > FEAR with our kindness bombs. Always.

So what do you think – is this worth a go? Do you think we can drop some #kindnessbombs this week, this month, this year, this century? Can we work together to create a movement that focuses on kindness instead of opposition or worse – indifference?

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready.

So let’s do this.