December 2014 archive

Set the Right Goals for 2015

IMG_0133.jpgBack in high school, my journalism teacher had us write our New Year’s resolutions each January after winter break.

We’d put them in an envelope, give them back to her, and she’d give them to us the following January (if that seems confusing, here’s some clarification- I took Journalism I, II, and III in high school). I always picked somewhat vague goals (and I still do), so that I would be shocked and super happy that I had accomplished what I’d written on paper.

These days I normally make a ‘Resolutions’ list in the Notepad app of my iPhone while I watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with my family about an hour before the ball drops.

I’m a list-maker, so I really enjoy making this show of commitment, and it makes me excited to accomplish most of these goals (I never quite hit all of them, and that’s okay- I’m not perfect).

This year some of my goals are (I got impatient- so ta da!- here is the early version):

  • Do more yoga
  • Write a second book
  • Build the Happy Professor brand (in what ways, I’m not sure yet)
  • Play my guitar more often
  • Spend more time with friends and family

They’re not huge goals like ‘make a million dollars’ or ‘travel to 5 new countries,’ but for me, the above-mentioned are pretty significant, and will make me beyond giddy as I make the effort to ‘check them off’ (I know this from past experience- I’m very easily amused).

You don’t have to be an overachiever, and you don’t even have to make a list of resolutions for the new year, but consider some changes you could make to your life in 2015 that will make you ridiculously happy.

A Day in the Life of a Hungry College Professor (on Winter Break)

IMG_8656I don’t mean hungry as in ‘I could really eat something right now’ (although earlier I did the whole, “I’ll just have this one scoop of peanut butter,” and then half a jar later..  you know).

I mean hungry as in ‘I want to master my profession.’

I’m aware that this doesn’t happen overnight, more like 10,000 hours, as the research shows.

However, I’m always trying to figure out how to be the best teacher, have the best classroom environment, help my students retain material, and eventually have everything perfected (which doesn’t actually ever happen, but the desire to almost get there is what drives me). This drive is why I’m constantly talking with colleagues, reading books, watching videos, and generally thinking about education.

Even when it’s winter break.

By most people’s standards, I’m a ‘nerd,’ and quite possibly a ‘workaholic’, but my love for learning makes me very happy, and happy is a great thing to feel on a regular basis.

It’s not all work and no play for me, though. Growing up I was taught that balance is key to a good life, so I remind myself of that daily.

And because I think my day so far was pretty typical of ‘me on vacation’ (while most other people are at work- sorry, guys), I thought I’d give you a look into Thursday, December 18th.

(Keep in mind, I never really left the couch, and most of my ‘learning’ and ‘work’ consisted of watching videos, so my entire day was basically glorified laziness. Much deserved, though, so we’ll rationalize the last 8 or so hours with that justification).

Here’s the rundown:

9-11 am

  • Had a leisurely breakfast with my husband while deciding on our plans for tonight and the weekend.

11 am- 2 pm

  • Checked emails.
  • Mailed my book to a colleague who asked for a copy.
  • Searched online for a new doormat (it wasn’t intellectually stimulating, but our current doormat was left here by the previous renter over 3 years ago- so it’s about time).
  • Enjoyed a very long brunch/lunch of snacking on random things (like that jar of peanut butter I mentioned) while watching an extremely long (2 hours!) but surprisingly captivating video by Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do. I highly recommend both the video and his book.
  • Put a picture of my ‘home office’ on Instagram.

2 pm- 5:30 pm

  • Considered buying the book Sundays at Tiffany’s on Amazon. It’s one of my favorite cheesy movies (that I own, of course), and I wondered if I should get the book version to take to North Carolina for the holidays this year. The reviews say the book is creepy, but the movie’s great- so I’ll stick with the movie.
  • Found a whole host of TEDx talks related to teaching, and watched them. I ended up going down the rabbit hole for a crazy 3-hour-long journey that was insightful, but took more time than I would have liked. However, here are some videos I particularly enjoyed (I added descriptions for some, but not others):
  1. The 5 principles of highly effective teachers: Pierre Pirard at TEDxGhent
  2. What 60 Schools Can Tell Us About Teaching 21st Century Skills: Grant Lichtman at TEDxDenverTeachersA look at the evolution of teaching and education.
  3. A different way to think about technology in education: Greg Toppo at TEDxAshburn
    Not as much discussion as I would have liked about how technology is specifically used in education, but this close look at the evolution of various types of technology was thought-provoking.
  4. Creating classrooms that work: Esther Wojcicki at TEDxBeaconStreet
    This talk took me back to my days on the yearbook staff in high school. I wouldn’t advise throwing away the textbook, like Wojcicki originally did. But my two years of taking Journalism/Yearbook for class credit in high school- in a very unconventional setting, much like the speaker’s- might be why I have such a strong desire to read and write for fun today. If you like the movie The Dead Poet’s Society, you’ll definitely enjoy Wojcicki’s talk.
  5. More pedagogic change in 10 years than last 1000 years: Donald Clark at TEDxGlasgow
    Clark focuses on the benefits of TED talks, Khan Academy, and recorded lectures.
  6. Expecting More From Teaching: Deanna LeBlanc at TEDxUniversityofNevada
    LeBlanc seems like such a sweet teacher, with some great tips for troubled kids.
  7. Allow Students to do the Impossible: Aaron Donaghy at TEDxClaremontColleges
  8. The power of student-driven learning: Shelley Wright at TEDxWestVancouverED

5:30 pm- 6:30 pm

  • Read and took notes on the book Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (really fascinating book about learning for students, teachers, and anyone, really). 


I’m actually still reading the book, and who knows how long I’ll be at it this evening- just took a quick break to finish writing this. 

And I’m not sure if you, as the reader, are supposed to have gained anything valuable from this blog post (although, hopefully, you’ll at least take a look at those videos I mentioned).

What I’ve gained from the last 8 hours, though, is a hope that some overlapping themes from the book I’ve been reading and from the videos I’ve watched will evolve into something much more significant. Maybe some of the content will provide added inspiration for my next book, or make my time in the classroom more valuable for myself and my students. It’s pretty hard to tell how it’ll all come together, but it feels like I’m headed in the right direction, and I’ve learned to trust that instinct over the years.

All I really know is that I feel great when I’m learning and growing (and if I can relax on the couch while doing so, even better), and I’m slowly achieving mastery of my chosen profession.

And I couldn’t be happier.

How to Win at Life

IMG_8684I have this friend that constantly inspires me.

She’s young, extremely positive, has her own successful business, but like every other human, she still has bigger dreams and desires. However, unlike most, she doesn’t stop until she accomplishes those dreams. Her journey to making these dreams come true is consistent and positive.

And I get to see those pieces fall into place every time we talk.

One day about a month ago, she was telling me about her latest adventure over our usual Monday night Thai food date, and I thought to myself: I need to write a blog post called ‘How to Win at Life,’ because she’s nailed it.

I’ve mentioned here before that there are ways to overcome your fears, take chances, take small steps toward a goal, and that it’s important to surround yourself with inspiring people, and like I said:

She’s nailed it.

In the past few months, she’s been working on a book, she’s also experienced a healthy dose of self doubt (like most people). However, she reads books that inspire her, spends time with other positive, loving, and inspiring people who support her, she’s continued to nurture her relationships on social media, and she even took a week to fly to New York to establish more meaningful connections with some of the casual acquaintances she’s established in her field.

When she left for that New York trip, I couldn’t wait to hear what amazing things would unfold that week- because I had no doubt it would play out like a movie (yep, she’s the kind of person that makes miraculous things happen).

Fast forward to now, and her book and business are going places she hadn’t dared imagine (I would give details, but I don’t want to disclose too much out of respect for her privacy).

I like to think she and I learn from each other, and inspire new ideas and perspectives in one another. I don’t take nearly as many chances as she does, but we’re both happy, healthy, and have a crazy love for life.

Having said that, here are some ‘How to Win at Life’ tips that I’ve observed from her and other happy, successful people:

  1. Stay positive. If you start feeling negative, work your way back to positive immediately. You can’t accomplish big goals when you feel bad about them.
  2. Keep moving toward your goals, even with teeny tiny steps.
  3. Make meaningful connections in your field of interest through social media or in person, and nurture these relationships with occasional communication over time.
  4. Find friends and loved ones that are positive, inspiring, open-minded, and supportive. If everyone you spend time with believes in you, you’ll believe in you (and vice versa).
  5. Don’t let fear stop you. As soon as you take a scary step and realize this ‘obstacle’ was all in your head, you’ll be excited and less scared to take the next step.
  6. Stay out of your comfort zone. Try to do one scary, but beneficial, thing every day. If your everyday routine is too comfortable, you’re probably not growing as much as you’d like to.

To use an overused but undervalued saying from the biggest dreamer of all:

“If you can dream it, you can do.” -Walt Disney.

So go out there and win at life.

Community: Sometimes You Want to Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

IMG_0369I couldn’t resist.

I’ve been feeling really appreciative of community lately- all kinds of communities- and every time I get that warm, gushy feeling about how thankful I am, the Cheers theme song plays in my head.

I feel like I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people over the years, and I always feel such support from these people.

I especially felt support from friends, bloggers, and authors when I published my book, blog, and social media sites- and I still feel it. Who knew social media could make you feel authentically connected to people you might not ever meet in real life?

I continually meet new part-time college instructors at work, and I love the number of things we immediately have in common, not to mention the genuine support and encouragement that comes from these friendships.

For instance, I recently had a colleague agree to host my book club at her house if I couldn’t find other venues- no hesitation.

My heart melted.

Another quickly agreed to rearrange her schedule to be my date for an important event when my husband almost couldn’t go at the last minute.

Everything worked out, but I’ll never forget that thoughtful gesture.

My alma mater has even been incredibly supportive of my interest to get involved as an alumna, and they’re more than willing to offer incredible opportunities to me as an author and educator, just because I’m associated with the small, lovable university.

Lastly (and this is where the whole ‘Cheers’ thing is felt even more), over the past few months I’ve gotten to know the incredible owner a Thai restaurant I frequent with a girlfriend every Monday night (Thai Design, check it out if you’re ever in the Sanford, Florida area!).

The owner is friendly, always engages us in conversation during our meal (which is so pleasant and fun), does all the cooking from scratch, absolutely loves her job, remembers our favorite dishes and how we like them prepared, and even secretly bought our books in paperback for us to sign.

And she always give us free dessert.

Maybe it’s because the holidays are coming up, or maybe it’s because small gestures always seem monumental to me, but I feel very lucky.

Appreciate any bit of meaningful community you have in your life. It doesn’t seem as common as it used to be, but it’s tucked away in your life somewhere.

Don’t forget to enjoy it, and let it make you happy.

Rise and Shine: Have a Meaningful Morning

IMG_0358I’ve been really into Courtney Carver’s blog ‘Be More With Less’ recently.

Not only do I love the message, but the student in me loves the courses she has to offer (p.s. I get a small commission if you purchase the course from my site).

I’m not one to spend money impulsively, but I purchased her How to Build A Meaningful Morning Routine course within a week of discovering her blog, and it has changed my mornings in the most wonderful way!

(Plus, I think I rationalized the purchase well: I like learning, being a student, it doesn’t take up space, and I think it’s important to support other peoples’ work, so it’s a win all around.)

I waited until after the 21-day mark to share my changes- since 3 weeks is technically the point at which a habit has officially become a habit.

I’ll go ahead and give you the basic rundown of my journey so far, plus some ways you can make easy, positive changes to your morning:

First, I started this course because I wanted to get back into my morning yoga routine. I missed the daily stretching and calm immediately after rolling out of bed, so I hoped this would motivate me to get back to it.

How to Build a Meaningful Morning Routine did that, and much more.

During the first few days, I started with 5 minutes of yoga in the morning. Luckily, I’ve committed to memory the basic moves from my occasional Sunday morning outdoor yoga class, so I enjoyed those easy stretches for 5 minutes while listening to some nature sounds I found on YouTube (It took me about an hour the night before to find the perfect 5-minute-long ‘yoga’ track. But it’s perfect! Here’s the link if you’re interested: Relaxation Meditation Nature Sounds.).

Midway through the week, I tacked 5 minutes of reading onto my 5 minutes of yoga.

It was only 10 minutes of ‘me’ time at 6:45 am each day before work, but it felt much longer. The combination of quiet, distraction-free, slow activities made the short minutes feel like much-needed hours of relaxation.

As an added benefit, those 10 minutes seemed to set the tone for a very positive and well-balanced day.

Of course, there were still days that I didn’t want to wake up early, and some mornings I was in a bad mood for no reason at all, and thought to myself: I can’t believe I have to do stupid yoga for 5 minutes.

But I persisted. I happen to be a fan of life-improving habits, so I stuck with it.

My morning routine- 21 days later- is now at around 20 minutes, and includes equal parts yoga, reading, and journaling my aspirations + positive notes.

Twenty minutes is nothing. But used purposefully, it can change the next 10 hours for the better.

I look forward to carrying this habit with me during the next few years (and hopefully longer).

Last year I made a promise to myself to simplify (fewer ‘things’), slow down (more online, fewer face-to-face classes), be healthy (not super healthy, but healthy), and do yoga daily- all by my 30th birthday.

So far so good.

Thank you, Courtney Carver, for being a kindred spirit and for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us :).

Set an Intention for the Day

IMG_9384During yoga this morning, I set an intention (a few, actually). It always varies, but this time it was “be calm, happy, inspired.”

Today I’ve sipped tea, laughed with my husband, watched my favorite cheesy Christmas movie (for the third time this year), written for hours without noticing the time slip by, and picked out my favorite inspirational quotes online to save in a folder on my desktop called “Beautiful Quotes.”

I feel calm, happy, and inspired. How about that.