Alone time

Alone time

In every day life, it’s rare to find yourself truly alone. Even when I’m technically by myself, I’m surrounded by other voices in the form of texting, phone calls, emails, TV, ect. Not that any of these things are bad, necessarily, but it does make me wonder when the last time was when I was completely and utterly alone with my thoughts.

Our society doesn’t seem to place much emphasis on the importance of “alone time”. The concept is usually sold in the form of laying in bed watching Netflix or taking a ten minute break at work. While Netflix is great, watching New Girl in my pajamas isn’t exactly the same thing as spending quality time with myself. And ten minutes to organize my plethora of thoughts has never seemed like a realistic plan.

I’m a people person. Being around others fills me with energy and happiness. Most of the time, I seek out company, even if it’s just someone to eat lunch or watch a movie with. Since I’ve gotten to Brussels, however, I have spent more time alone than I have in quite some time. And I mean, really alone.  Since I don’t have an international cellphone plan, when I leave my flat, it is without texting, calling or Tweeting abilities. Even if cafes have Wifi, I often find myself forgetting about my phone completely by the time I reach my destination. I’ve discovered that for me, this leads to a completely different kind of experience than I usually have when I’m with someone else or on social media.

For example, yesterday I visited Le Chat Touille, the Brussels cat cafe. First of all, this was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can pet cats??? While drinking coffee??? Literally amazing. Evidence below. IMG_8439

Anyways.

The rest of my group had gone to Antwerp, a nearby city, for the day. Due to the fact that I had overslept, I found myself alone in Brussels. Although I had planned on visiting the cat cafe with a few others, I decided to venture out by myself. While I was a little nervous about finding my way there by myself, I forced myself out the door anyway.

I have discovered that walking along the streets alone in Brussels, or any city, is one of my favorite past times. Of course, experiencing new things with someone else is amazing, but there’s something special about venturing around by yourself, not talking, not texting, not really doing anything except IMG_8433_2soaking in everything around you. For example, I was completely enthralled by this building. I probably spent a solid three minutes staring at it. I’m not saying that I would have missed it completely if I had been with someone else, but perhaps I may not have spent the time I feel it deserved to really look at it and appreciate the details of its architecture and artwork.

When I reached the cafe, I opened my laptop and was texting a few people because I obviously had to share my absolute overwhelming joy at finally arriving at Dream Destination #1. During this time, I chatted with the owner a bit and pet a few nearby kitties (obviously). After I closed my laptop, however, I found myself almost a little bored… but in a good way. It was the kind of boredom that leads to probably one of the best past times of all: people watching. I watched as pedestrians strolled past the window, stopping to smile and interact with the cats sitting on the windowsill. I saw a small French boy stop his dad at the shop as he stood and laughed at the two cats playing nearby. They entered eventually, and although I had no idea what anyone was saying, it was heartwarming to watch the owner, the boy, his father and the cats all interact with one another.

In this way, being alone, or at least not being with anyone else I knew, lead to me paying far more attention to the strangers around me. Quality time with loved ones is extremely valuable, but a few short minutes or hours getting to know a couple of strangers is fulfilling and invigorating in its own way.

On the way home, I took a spontaneous detour just because and ran into this gorgeous side street. There was no rush to get home, no conversation or destination to be had, and nobody to discuss which way to take. Strangely, I found myself thinking about Alice in Wonderland. The experience of stumbling upon unplanned places and things reminded me of her adventures, wandering through a strange place by herself and discovering random people and things because of her solitude. Things at that moment may have seemed a little nonsensical and erratic, but somehow I felt peaceful in its chaos. And, like Alice, I think when I returned from my journey I had discovered just a little bit more about myself and the world.

Perhaps sometimes being alone can be a little lonely. And yet, in its own way, being your own company can provide invaluable experiences and realizations. I don’t think we give enough time solely to our thoughts and feelings, or to truly just exist outside of all the external parts of our lives. While I love other people, there’s something incredible and empowering about sitting inside a coffee shop or walking down the street, alone, a little lost and strangely happy in a world of my own. alice

Our insecurity blanket

Our insecurity blanket

The first time I raised my hand to pitch an idea in a newsroom, I began with four to five disclaimers before even getting to my actual point. It went something like this:
“Sorry, I know this is probably wrong, or someone already said it, or it’s probably stupid, and I don’t know if it makes sense, but ________.”

And then I ended it with, “That probably made no sense, sorry, I don’t know.”

Let’s analyze this for a second, because chances are, you have either heard yourself and/or others do this same self-deprecating, questioning speech many times. And you’ve probably heard it, unfortunately, from a woman.

This type of speech is common for women in professional settings. (This brilliant WashPost article, for example, rewrites famous quotes, “the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting”. ) Not only ingenious and entertaining, but also poignant and telling.

Throughout my life, whether in a classroom, at a party or in an office, men typically make their voices known more loudly, more assuredly and more often than their female counterparts. Of course that is a generalization, and I’ve met my share of confident, outspoken women and shy, uncertain men. People of all genders suffer from insecurity or are just not outspoken. And yet women have been proven to be less confident and less likely to speak up than men, especially in a professional environment.

I read this article recently on this phenomena known as “The Confidence Gap”. While I wish it had gone more in-depth about the social and psychological aspects, overall it provides an excellent analysis of the difference between the confidence levels of men and women and, more importantly, why it exists.

To summarize (even though you should definitely at least peruse that article) there are a number of aspects that may play into this discrepancy. One example begins in the schoolyard.

Firstly, girls are taught from a young age that they are rewarded for being “good girls”: quiet, neat, calm. They are rewarded for being this “perfect” child and learn to link their self worth to this praise. Boys, on the other hand, are excused by a “boys will be boys mentality”. They are expected to be rowdy, loud and messy. While generally this means that boys are scolded more often than girls, it also means that when children are criticized, girls take it more to heart. They internalize those feelings, attributing them to a problem with their deeper selves, while boys often learn to blame external factors.

This is just one example (shortened and simplified quite a bit: read the article!!) of the way in which boys and girls are socialized to see themselves a certain way and to act based on the expectations of others. Many girls, then, learn that being quiet gains approval while speaking up can lead to judgement and, even worse, mistakes. Many boys learn they are rewarded for displaying “masculine” qualities such as competitiveness, outspokenness and assertiveness. (Both sets of these expectations cause problems for all gendered people; this particular post is simply focusing on women.)

And so, after years of sociological and psychological imprinting from a society still steeped in sexism, we reach the later part of our lives when we may be entering the professional world.

Many women, even unconsciously, have a fear of speaking in front of others because they’re terrified of being wrong. For me, even if I was 99% sure I knew the answer in class, I bit my tongue. If I had been thinking of a great idea for a week, it rarely crossed my mind to actually bring it up to someone. Even in large groups outside of work or class, I would often edit everything I thought about saying before actually saying it and then, if it wasn’t perfect, kick myself for speaking up at all.

Of course, not every woman does this, and many men may experience the same problems. Additionally, part of this problem can come from anxiety and other disorders, which impacts millions of people, no matter the gender.

And yet, as I’ve said, women have been proven again and again to suffer from this intense confidence-anxiety more often than men.

This manifests itself in a number of ways. Many females, even those that meet all of society’s requirements for being “successful”(wealthy, powerful, intelligent, ect.), second-guess themselves, constantly self-critique, underestimate their abilities and downplay their own role in their successes.

When I first started thinking about this, I kind of scoffed, to be honest. I don’t do that. I thought. And just like that, I was taken back to a moment my sophomore year during my first news reporting class. My professor told me that my article, which was assigned as a project not meant for publication, was brilliant and well researched. She told me to take it to the local newspaper (the good ol’ Missourian) and look into getting it published. I remember telling a friend and hearing him exclaim how great that was and complimenting my work. I told him that there was no way I was going to turn in that story, I had just gotten lucky and stumbled on that information, and I was definitely not the most qualified person to write the story. And I really believed that. (And no, I didn’t end up publishing the story or going anywhere near the Missourian until the next year).

During my multimedia class, my professor told me I had a gift for photography. I had been told I was bad at art my entire life, and convinced myself I had just magically stumbled across good shots. When a coworker told me I was good at interviews, I laughed and said no way, I talk too much.

Even writing this, it feels like bragging, like I should throw a disclaimer in here to make sure readers don’t think I believe I really am good at all of those things. Which proves just how entrenched this low confidence attitude really is, that even when you recognize it, it’s still hard to shake.

I’ve heard so many of my female friends and coworkers say these same negative mantras about their own work. I just guessed well and got lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. I’m not really good at this, I shouldn’t be here. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m not as qualified as someone else. I don’t, I’m not, I can’t, I shouldn’t…

And so on and so on with this unsure, insecure, second-guessing… well, bullshit, to be frank. This isn’t modesty. This is taking all of our talents and successes and badass-ness and burying it underground beneath excuses and inaccurate attribution. This is undermining all of our hard work and natural gifts. This is taking our incredible natures and throwing it in the universe’s face. This is dooming us to never fully grasp not only how great we are, but how great we can still become.

Because it is not ridiculous at all to say every woman I’ve met has had an enormous amount of potential. I know women who are incredible doctors, artists, mothers, CEO’s, journalists, athletes, friends, teachers, photographers, writers, listeners, talkers… And I bet half of them don’t even know it. And they should.

So I have a message for them (and for myself).

It’s time to stop starting every sentence with an apology. It’s time to stop ending every thought with a disclaimer. It’s time to stop attributing every success to some external factor. It’s time to stop telling ourselves we’re not good enough or we don’t belong here. It’s time to stop second-guessing ourselves.

It’s time to shed our insecurity blanket.

It’s time to be confident.

Today was my first day at my internship at Politico in Brussels.

When I had an idea, I called over a coworker and said; “Hey, here’s my idea.” And that was it. And it was a good one.

 

Photocred: Katealia Lilly

Brussels: Arrival

Brussels: Arrival

Currently writing this at 10:17 pm Brussels time after getting very little sleep last night, or this morning, however you look at it, so please excuse spelling, grammatical and logical errors.

I’ve finally arrived in Brussels, Belgium for my three-month-long study abroad/internship program. It seems very strange and I’m not sure I quite believe I’m here yet. You know that feeling when you wake up really early and you get through half of your morning routine without really realizing you’re even standing up? Yeah, that’s about how I feel.

Some things I learned from my first international flight this morning!

  1. If, hypothetically, you decide to place a water bottle in the inside pocket of your jacket and then go to sit down on the plane, you’re probably, hypothetically, going to sit on the bottle, causing the cap to explode off and soak your seat and your neighbor, causing a very tense and wet beginning to an eight hour flight. Hypothetically.
  2. Airplane food isn’t that bad.
  3. Airplane wine is.
  4. Drinking four bottles of water prior to an eight hour flight is not the best thing in the world. Especially when you have the middle seat. Yikes.
  5. London airports are fun because all the announcements are done in a British accent and somehow that makes them less annoying.
  6. That is the only fun thing about a London airport.
  7. The flight to London from Fort Worth is eight hours long. It is NOT seventeen hours long, no matter what the New Girl episode you watched the night before incorrectly informed you. Please don’t pass this false information along to others.
  8. Star Wars is still a great movie even when you watch it in the bitch seat of a long ass flight in-between going to the bathroom and spilling water everywhere.

So I made it to Brussels (barely) and then discovered a few more important fun facts. Such as:

  1. BRUSSELS PEOPLE DRIVE LIKE THEY’RE GOING TO GO PUT OUT A FIRE BUT DON’T REALLY CARE IF THEY MURDER SIX PEDESTRIANS AND THEMSELVES IN THE PROCESS.
  2. Belgian beer = just as good as people say it is. Better, actually. Much better than natty light, my dear freshman year Kaley.
  3. Water isn’t free at restaurants? Which sounds bad until you realize that water costs the same as beer, which means you are allowed to get beer everywhere and not even feel bad about it.
  4. Brussels has these random green posts about three feet high everywhere and I’m sure there’s a good reason for them but the only purpose they served today was for me to run straight into one of them while taking a picture and literally fall over it and onto my face on the sidewalk. So. Yeah.
  5. Brussels is beautiful. I know that’s an obvious statement, but I’ve only been here for less than one day and I’m already obsessed with the multicolored blocks of houses and the flowering trees and the rows of shops and the people and the food and yeah, pretty much all of it, even just the four blocks I’ve seen.

Oh, and here’s my first meal in Brussels (aka typical tourist/instagram food pic post) and the picture I took that caused me to faceplant on a sidewalk in the middle of a group of people. Worth it?