A 4-Day Backpacking Trip at Isle Royale National Park

Thank you, Isle Royale, for gifting this wanderer a gorgeous, rugged, secluded little trip she didn’t even know she needed.

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It’s the biggest island in the world’s largest freshwater lake.

It’s home to the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.

It’s also considered to be one of the most beautiful yet isolated parks in the country.

And yet, Isle Royale National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the nation.

I’ll venture a guess here and say it’s likely the island’s remote, hard-to-get-to location that deters visitors from making the trip: Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or seaplane. But it’s one of the closest national parks to my home in Wisconsin and it also ranks as the #1 national park in the U.S. for backcountry use – and I was due for my inaugural backpacking trip! So off to Isle Royale National Park we were. Along for the journey were my boyfriend, Jackson, his cousin, Dusty, and Dusty’s girlfriend, Shelley (AKA “Fern.”)

Arriving at Isle Royale National Park!
The Adventures of Jackson, Mariah, Dusty & Fern!

Our mode of transportation into the island would be the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry. It’d depart from Copper Harbor, MI on Friday and return on Monday, which meant we had four days, three nights to explore as much of this 206 mi² park as possible!

Isle Royale Queen IV
The legendary Isle Royale Queen IV. Don’t forget the Dramamine!

Day 1: Arrival by Ferry // 8-Mile Hike to Daisy Farm 

I’m not one to get seasick but I had more than a few people warn me about the perils of the Queen IV. But we must’ve really lucked out because things were pretty calm! (Or, it seemed that way. Thank you, Dramamine.) Our group made our way across the big lake to Isle Royale’s HQ in 3.5 hours. We joked that arriving at the park did feel a little Jurassic Park-esque – the rangers there divided us in two groups right away for “orientation.” But within 20 minutes or so, we were on our way to our first destination – packs and all. We chose Daisy Farm Campground as our home base, which was 8 miles south of where we stepped off the ferry.

The hike was tough – for me, anyway. My eyes were mostly locked on the rocky, muddy, tree root-y trails but to my left throughout most of the 8-mile hike were beautiful views of Lake Superior. This was also my first time hiking for a significant amount of time with my 25-pound pack. I wouldn’t learn how to properly strap on the hip belt for another 48 hours so suffice it today, this hike was pretty brutal for me.

Beware the Sprained Ankle
Isle Royale is a breeding ground for moose, yes, but also sprained ankles. Lots and lots of sprained ankles.

But alas! Despite an uptick in visitors to the island (it was Memorial Day weekend), Jackson, Dusty, Fern and I were able to claim Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm Campground as our temporary home. It was located on a bubbling little stream that fed right into Lake Superior, which was visible from our “window.”

Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm
I spy Fern’s little head peekin’ out of Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm!

Day 2: Moose…Everywhere! // 12-Mile Hike along Greenstone Ridge to Mt. Ojibwe & Mt. Franklin Lookouts

I had one soul mission while at Isle Royale National Park: to spot a moose. This shouldn’t be difficult, I thought, as there are currently 2,015 moose on the island – and just 15 wolves. We decided to embark on the Greenstone Ridge Trail to check out a few lookout points, which ended up being a solid choice on our part. We spotted – and in some cases practically bumped into – 7 moose along the way! The sun was also shining on Saturday giving us our best weather day of the trip.

 

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Moose sighting #3: This bull posed for us for a solid minute or so. PC: @jburgau

Speaking of, weather is a tricky little thing here at Isle Royale – as with most islands. At times, I’d be bundled up in four layers of clothing and still not feel warm. And there were times when I was down to leggings and a tank top. The ‘feelin’ all four seasons in one day’ thing was a very real reminder that while we may be on a remote island, we still hadn’t left the Midwest.

Day 3: Everything hurts. // 13-Mile Hike to Three Mile Campground and Lane Cove

Legs are sore. Back is hurting. I think my toes are blistered. Are my shoulders bruised or am I imagining that? Muussst. Keeeep. Hiking.

Are we there yet?
Half way to Lane Cove!

Everything hurts but by this point, our plan to do 13 miles – nine of which would be without my pack – suddenly seemed pretty manageable to me! So, we changed up our plans on Day 3 and decided to say goodbye to Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm and instead staked a claim at a shelter on Three-Mile Campground. This provided an opportunity to explore a different trail to the north side of the island, where human life was pretty scarce! We spotted plenty of wildlife though, including a snake, some super tiny squirrels that I was weirdly enthralled by and also lots of chatty birds (with soprano vocal chords, I might add). This trail was verryyyy hilly. So I kept my mind busy by ruminating over which of my freeze-dried backpacker’s meals I’d delight in next. (Don’t knock ’em til ya try ’em!)

Bon Appétit!
“The best part about hiking are the snack breaks. Oh, and the views!” -Fern
Rest Stop
Jackson, Dusty and Fern take a little rest break.

Day 4: The Departure… // 5-Mile Hike along Tobin Harbor & Stoll Trails Plus Return to Copper Harbor

Last day on the island. I have mixed feelings: On one hand, I feel the inevitable bathos heading my way. Vacation today/Emails tomorrow. But on the other hand, man am I ready for a long, hot shower…despite my best purchase of the trip doin’ me proud (Travel Size IGK First Class Charcoal Detox Dry Shampoo, $14 FTW!!! <– not an ad and yes, it’s worth the money.)

There’s even more to be optimistic about on Day 4 though. For example, today is the day I figured out how to properly use my hip strap on my backpack and it was as if the angels sang in unison from the heaven of backcountry gods. 🙌 How it took me 38 miles of hiking to figure this out, I’ll never know, but I’m gonna chalk this one up as my official rite of passage into the backpacker’s club.

Home Stretch
This was taken around the time I figured out how to properly tighten the hip belt…with about a mile left to go.

What’s more, while we were packin’ things up and debating as a group over what athlete had the most social/cultural relevancy of all time, a cow moose strolled right on by through our camp. She paused directly in front of the outhouse (or privy, as they say on the island), stared at us and then walked right on by. She’d be the last moose sighting of the trip 🙂 (And for the record, Michael Jordan is the athlete who clearly had the most social/cultural relevancy…)

With just 2 hours before the ferry was set to arrive, the island was not done showing off her beauty to us. When we made it back from Three Mile Campground to Tobin Harbor, Jackson and I decided to venture a bit north and we were so glad we did. The thing about Isle Royale is that the views tend to change quite drastically about every quarter-mile. Things just looked different up here – I swear the water was bluer and the trails seemed easier (although really, the trip in general may have just gotten easier for me at this point!). We stared at the waves, summed up our trip to one another (We agree: top 5 vacation for both of us) and took a few celebratory selfies before making our way back to the harbor to await the Queen IV.

Shameless Selfie
Our trip comes to an end!
The Clear Waters
The views here reminded me of Cave Point County Park in Door County, Wisconsin.

Here’s the thing about backpacking: It’s like a vacation you have to work extra hard for. You’re probably asking: Y THO. What you get in return is nearly impossible for me to put in writing. I found a sticker in the gift shop though that kinda sums it up better than I ever could: “My feet hurt but my soul is alive.” Thank you, Isle Royale, for gifting this wanderer a gorgeous, rugged, secluded little trip she didn’t even know she needed.  😌

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New Year. New GOALS.

Take actionable steps to achieve your goals but don’t beat yourself up if you fail. It’s all about progress!

I know how easy it is to scoff at new year’s resolutions.  I don’t personally like to use the word ‘resolutions.’ It just sounds like a word that is going to be hard to achieve. Let’s go with goals. Goals is a great word and it makes for a better hashtag anyway.

Before we hit the reset button on January 1st, I like to look back at some of the goals I outlined exactly one year ago. Here’s what I listed:

  1. Be more grateful.  
  2. Learn a new language.
  3. Read two new books per month.
  4. Create a stricter plan for student debt.  
  5. Master a gymnastics tumbling pass.  
  6. Learn an instrument.
  7. Volunteer more.  
  8. Try a new fitness class.
  9. Learn knitting.
  10. Experience more live performances.
  11. Take a trip.
  12. Write more.
  13. Eat cleaner.
  14. Make more time for people I love.

How I did: There are a couple goals on this list that I feel I genuinely accomplished. I did begin to learn a new language (French! via UW Madison Continuing Studies), I took a trip (to D.C. with my little brother), I learned how to knit (thanks to this amazing place in Verona called the Sow’s Ear), I created a much stricter plan for student debt (I’m on track to have them paid off this spring!), I tried a couple of new fitness classes and I do feel I practiced having more gratitude this year. There are goals here that I did just ‘ok’ at, which include: reading two books per month (I probably came close to this but not certain), writing more, experiencing live performances, gymnastics and making more time for people I love. And I outright failed at learning a new instrument, eating cleaner and volunteering more.

Looking back at your goals is so important. Even if you feel you miserably failed, force yourself to stare at your list. I made a note on my iPhone with all 14 of these goals listed and I would take a look at it about once a month. Sometimes even that quick little peek at my list would motivate me to research some French classes or find my next good read. Other times, I’d read through my goals and conclude something like: “Learning how to play piano is just not in the cards…right now.”

It’s fun to make lists like this. And it’s important to take actionable steps to achieve these goals but I also think it’s important not to beat yourself up if you miss a few of them or fail at most of them. It’s all about progress!

So, in the spirit of progress, here’s my new and improved ‘goals list’ for 2019.

  1. Bring student debt to…zero! The goal on my 2018 list that I am most proud of is the work I did on my student debt. Now, it’s time to say ‘good riddance’ once and for all!
  2. Hand-make at least 3 gifts for people next year. Whether it’s embracing my new-found knitting skillzzz or following through with a cool Pinterest project, I’d like to focus more on making things for people. (Taking suggestions in the comments.)
  3. Read 2 new books per month. My first carry-over from 2018. (Carry-overs are totally acceptable!) This year, I’m going to write down the books I read so I can track them 🙂 I am also taking book suggestions below.
  4. Get decent at cross-country skiing. I attended the American Birkebeiner last February and I was so inspired, I found myself dropping $500 for ski gear recently – despite the fact I’ve only gone once. So here’s to hoping I can find some great lessons and hit the trails!
  5. Take at least one more French class…and string together a sentence! I loved UW’s continuing studies program and found the course to be affordable. I learned the basics only but I’m eager to actually speak a little French here and there.
  6. Write more. Another carryover from last year. Writing is so important to me and yet, I don’t prioritize it like I should.
  7. Cook more. Anyone who knows me well may be in a state of shock at this point but yes, I do intend to cook a bit more in 2019 and have already lined up a few recipes. (Again…suggestions? Be easy on me.)
  8. Explore 2 new places. Ah, how I love to dream about the places I would like to explore! This goal should be a ‘gimme.’ (Hey, every list is entitled to at least one gimme.)
  9. Get started on something I’ve been putting off. I have some undercover career-ish ‘to dos’ that I’ve wanted to get started on. 2019 will be my year!
  10. Eat cleaner! Ok, my last carryover. I’m hoping goal #7 will help me better accomplish goal #9. But lord knows I’ll need all the help I can get when it comes to curbing my incessant cravings for anything with too much sugar.

Alright, there’s my list! What are you looking forward to achieving in 2019?! I’m dying to know! Comment below 🙂

Your Best Adventures Are Just Outside Your Comfort Zone

Time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

When I was 16, I took a job as a waitress at a restaurant. My work experience at that time entailed years of baby-sitting and about a few months as a cashier at the local Piggly Wiggly – two jobs that came rather easy to me.

But waitressing was a completely different story. For starters, I was pretty awful at it. I never seemed to have the right answers – or any answers for that matter. (i.e. Customer: “Is the blackened chicken really blackened or just kind of blackened?”),  The whole “multi-tasking” thing was just on an entirely different level and I am still scarred from that one time I spilt an entire pitcher of ice water on a mother. On Mother’s Day. (How waitstaff balance huge trays of randomly weighted objects and do not spill them constantly is a talent I will forever envy.)

Anyway, while it was a rather unremarkable gig on the surface, my waitressing days were life-changing. My teenage self was plucked right out of my no-sweat comfort zone every single night. I had to think on my feet, remember 87 things at once and defend myself when the cooks accused me of not grabbing the meals fast enough (i.e. I grew thicker skin).

On the eve of my first pageant in college, I paced backstage trying to come up with some believable excuse to get out of performing that night. My anxiety was through the roof. Actually, to say I had anxiety isn’t adequate; I was terrified. I was so far out of my comfort zone, the boundaries were not even remotely visible. While I was pacing backstage, I told myself: I will never, ever do this again. (Ha!)

But like a lot of people who step outside their comfort zone, I surprised myself that night. I did make it through the evening and dare I say, I had a little fun along the way. Actually, I felt totally changed after my first solo performance on stage; it was as if a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me. And that is the beautiful thing about the comfort zone – whether you tiptoe outside it or get yanked like I did that night: Life really does change.

Of course, you don’t have to sign up for a pageant to step outside your comfort zone. 🙂 You don’t even have to quit your job or move out of state or agree to give some big speech (unless you feel those things will bring boundless happiness!). I love the idea of “thinking big, doing big” but sometimes, even the teeniest micro-steps outsize ‘the zone’ will yield for you some magic. ✨

There is probably someone less talented doing exactly what you should be doing right this very instant. Once you quit resting on your laurels and slice through that sense of security, I bet you’ll uncover juuuust enough gumption and bravery to go do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. And when I swear I’m fresh out of gumption and bravery, I try to ask myself: Well, why the hell not? If it could change my life in only the best of ways, why not? Why wouldn’t I want to learn more about this world, and shape my story within it?

Time to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Actually, Money CAN Buy You Happiness.

Money can buy you happiness. Let me explain. First, a little background:

I mean, look. Obviously, I agree with the concept that you can have all the money in the world but if your life is out of balance, chances are: you’re not happy.

But here’s the thing: Money can buy you happiness. Let me explain. First, a little background:

I grew up with the understanding that money was a thing my family didn’t exactly have in spades. I was told, vaguely, that “credit cards are bad” but I didn’t quite understand why. I knew checks might bounce, cards could get declined and that shirt probably wasn’t worth buying unless it came from the clearance rack.

That was about the extent of my knowledge of money.

Fast forward to age 22, when I am graduating from college with $37,000 in school loans and an accepted job offer for $10/hour. I remember sitting at the kitchen table complaining to my dad, “How am I ever going to get ahead?” He shook his head, “Ah Kiddo, someday you’re going to look back and laugh.” And added: “The more ya make, the more you spend.”

Dad was right (on both accounts). Things have changed. And while I do look back at my financial struggles with a part-endearing-part-risible perspective, I can’t help but say to myself: Was all that strife really necessary?! I could’ve and should’ve done things so differently. I was grossly uneducated about what it meant to take on that amount of debt….I just did it because I thought it was what I had to do and from what I could tell, it seemed like there were a lot of other 18-year-olds doing the same so it couldn’t be all that bad? No one told me any different nor did I take the initiative to school myself.

Last year, I drafted a headline of a blog post that I called: “How to Make $100,000 by Age 30.” I knew I probably wouldn’t have the balls to actually publish it. I mostly wrote the headline as a way to motivate myself to actually earn $100,000. I knew that if I didn’t write it exactly right it could come across as bombastic and self-aggrandizing. So I thought I’d instead explain why I wanted to make $100,000+ in the first place:

There are a lot of things I want to do in life. I want to travel the world. I want to learn new languages, take more art classes and maybe learn photography. I want my kitchen to be stocked with food I love. I want to be able to give back more so that other people can achieve their dreams, too! Two things that are true here: these things make me happy (and not just temporarily). And these things are going to cost me.

 

I think the world needs to turn the way we think about money on its head. If we view money as the resource it’s meant to be instead of this evil, ugly thing, we’d collectively be in a better place. Here are 3 things I think could help:

1. We should be learning about money much earlier in life. I know there is a lot of controversy over what’s getting cut from schools right now vs. what should be taught but in my opinion, financial literacy should be at the top of the list and I hardly hear any conversation about the topic at all. Money is a universal language – it’s a thing we’re all going to deal with whether we have a little or a lot of it. It can be an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people though. In many families, it’s a completely taboo topic to even bring up and I think that’s dangerous.

 

2. No matter how ugly, you’ve gotta take your finances head on! When I was broke (mehhh first 25 years of my life give or take) I believe it was my mentality that was holding me back the most. Money is a bad thing when you don’t have it. Like you view it as this nasty thing that causes all sorts of problems in the world. But when you do have it, money is this beautiful, glorious thing that solves all sorts of problems. Oh, the irony! No matter where you are at financially, face the music. Every single month. Keep a monthly spreadsheet. Download an app. Take a class.

 

3. We need to be wary of our culture of #YOLO. There is a very real challenge in toeing the line between finding debt-free/financial freedom and buying that thing because you are living in a constant #YOLO state of mind. I often ask myself, is it really about living life to its fullest? Or do I want this because someone else has it? Social media makes it easier than ever to compare ourselves to the Jones’. But that is weak and undisciplined – two things that you are not! 🙂 A hard-learned lesson on my end was the idea that no matter how hard I work, if I don’t have the money budgeted, I do not deserve the new shoes or the fancy car or the sweet vacation or even the $5 coffee.

I am not perfect. I’ve made – and continue to make – so many money mistakes….and I am still very much a student of finance. This is a journey and one I am finally enjoying learning about (and now sharing!). I just wish I had forced myself to learn about it back when I only had 89 cents in my checking account…because that’s when I’d argue it matters most.

So, can money buy you complete happiness? No. But it can buy you a lifeline to the things that make you happy. Now all you gotta do is spend it wisely.

How to be Alone

Being alone is a magical thing. It has taught me so much in three major areas of my life: My relationship with myself, my relationships with others and my career. Let’s break it down:

According to a 2014 issue of Science magazine, participants across 11 studies would rather give themselves a mild electric shock than spend 15 minutes alone.

That’s just insanity.

But in some ways, I’m not surprised. For starters, we live in a society that tends to celebrate extrovertism. And to be clear, the state of being alone is different from the feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, they’re linked. But I’m here to declare you can be alone without feeling lonely, bored or sad. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite!

Being alone is a magical thing. It has taught me so much in three major areas of my life: My relationship with myself, my relationships with others and my career. Let’s break it down:

Self-Love

When you’re not afraid to try things solo, you’re building your independence, self-confidence and resilience.

So you want to try that new restaurant? Grab a table for one. Dying to see the latest blockbuster? Hit the theater by yourself. Interested in learning a new skill or hobby? Sign up solo! I think you’ll be surprised by what you might learn about yourself by taking on even the smallest acts of independence. And overcoming the weird looks you may get (but probably won’t), is actually kind of empowering.

In late August – early September 2017, I embarked on a 9-day road trip through Michigan and parts of Canada. When I told friends and family my plans, I received a lot of gasps: “What? But why are you going alone?!” They were worried for my safety (which I appreciate) but I’m glad I didn’t let their reactions influence me. It was a trip of a lifetime. I played trivia with some folks from England, enjoyed poutine and local beers at a dive bar in Montreal and hit the hay in some odd, tiny and ecclectic AirBnbs.

When you head out on your own, you learn to be highly observant and appreciate (and look forward to) the quiet moments.

Without your friends and family by your side, you also get really great at forming your own smart opinions. This is such a rewarding, and oftentimes unforeseen, fringe benefit of “going it alone.”

Need a few ideas? Consider some inspiration from Women’s Day: 25 Things to Do By Yourself.

“So, why are you single?”

Let’s talk about being alone in the sense of being single. Ah, I’ll try to be brief.

I’m in a relationship now but I was kind of always known as the perpetually single girl. And I used to hate being asked, “Why are you single?” Every time, I’d have to suppress my inner sass. My preferred answer was: “Well, because I’m a strong independent woman who believes finding true love with a great partner is a rare thing. Add to that, I value my time and would rather not waste it alongside someone less than mediocre.” But in the interest of not scaring off nice people who I know meant well, I’d usually just shrug and mutter something about how I’m too busy, blah blah blah.

But now I am in a relationship. Shortly after meeting my boyfriend at Christmas this year, my dad remarked, “Huh. Yeah. We were starting to wonder if maybe you were a lesbian.” He was serious, and I thought this was hilarious. I spent most of my 20s alone and partner-less (albeit happy!). I thought my dad’s theory was amusing but I also thought it was interesting insight into how people view those not in a relationship. (i.e. “What’s the deal with her?!”) If you’re reading this and you’ve been single for a while, I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.

One thing I know for sure is that if you can’t handle being alone – if you depend on being with someone (or anyone!) – you should not be in a relationship at all. Work on doing things for and with you, and the rest will fall into place in the best way possible.

#CareerGoals

I am not sure if I’ve found professional success because I’ve been single, or I was single because I was focusing on my career – perhaps it’s a little of both. But there’s no denying the fact that being alone meant I was able to focus on the things I really, really wanted and cared about.

Last year, former UW Badger basketball player and current NBA hopeful Bronson Koenig penned a letter to NBA GMs. This excerpt really spoke to me:

“I’m good on all that,” he said. And then he proceeded to tell me something that I wasn’t expecting. He told me that if I really wanted to be successful, that I had to be O.K. with being alone, with staying home and working on my craft to the point of it becoming an obsession.”

-Bronson Koenig, Dear NBA GMs

Of course, when it comes to being alone to the point of obsessing over your career goals, you run the risk of living an unbalanced life. I hope nothing I’ve written has come across as an ode to disowning your friends and family – they’re crucial for success and happiness! But that seems to be obvious to most people.

Stop fussing over what could go wrong or what people might think. Just do it! Jump head first into cold water. Who knows what you might find?

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 of my Most Important Goals (Currently)

#GOALS

I’ve never been big on “resolutions” per se, but I am big on goals. I dream up, write down, re-set and re-adjust them throughout the year, not just on Dec. 31. But since New Year’s is a time of inspiration – and because I have loved reading others’ goals on social media – I decided to share a few of the goals I’ve set sometime within the last 6-18 months. Each goal has a different ‘due date’ – some I’d like to accomplish in 2018 but most are a bit longer-term.

If you have any tips or ideas on how to achieve them, comment below. And if you’ve set goals of your own, I’d love to hear about yours too!

  1. Be more grateful. Probably the hardest goal to measure on this list, but arguably, the most important.
  2. Learn a new language. Master Spanish (I was a Spanish minor in college but am a bit rusty these days) and/or learn a brand new language (perhaps French).
  3. Read two new books per month. I definitely read more in the winter. And I tend to read a lot of non-fiction. Time to keep my reading up every month – and take on more fiction! (Always accepting suggestions…)
  4. Create a stricter plan for student debt. I will not have all my student debt paid off in 2018. But my plan is to re-budget so I can pay it off by age 35.
  5. Master a gymnastics tumbling pass. My main goal at gymnastics class is to work on completing one pass on the floor: a roundoff back handspring back tuck.
  6. Learn an instrument. The two instruments I’ve always been drawn to are the piano and the harmonica. I may start with the harmonica… I hear that’s easier 😉
  7. Volunteer more. Volunteerism has always been important to me. But my job – particularly in the summer – has made it tricky to commit to a volunteer program on a weekly basis. My goal is to find something project-based and flexible with my schedule – and ideally involves working with kids!
  8. Try a new fitness class. I set this goal about a year ago and back then, I decided to take on aerial silks at a local “circus school.” I had so much taking these classes that I decided to “re-up” this goal regularly. Next on my list? Either boxing. Or rock climbing. Or maybe trapeze.
  9. Learn knitting. Although I’m not the most artistic person you’ll ever meet, I always enjoy working toward goals that force me to use my hands to create something.
  10. Experience more live performances. I’ll be seeing RENT this week(!) and hopefully Les Misérables in the spring.
  11. Take a trip. So as not to impede on goal #4, I embarked on a very budget-friendly solo road trip in 2017. Without a doubt, it was one of the best trips of my life so far. And it confirmed for me that I can uphold my travel-related values without busting the bank.
  12. Write more.  I very much enjoy working on my hosting/improv/in-person communication, but writing is where I have always felt most at home.
  13. Eat cleaner. Join my Whole Life Challenge team!
  14. Make more time for people I love. Whether it’s in-person visits or Facetime calls, something I’m trying to get better at is making more time for my own friends and family.

Bonus Goal: Be okay with the fact I may only accomplish a portion of this list. Because it’s all about progress…:)

Happy New Year! #GOALS

M.

5 Life Lessons I Learned in my 20s

Peace 20s. ✌ Bring on 30 and beyond.

I’ll be 30 next month. And probably like anyone entering a new decade and saying goodbye to another, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on what the last 10 years have meant for me.

Ten years ago, I was 19 going on 20. Things were pretty ugly back then. My stepdad had passed away the summer prior. Our house was getting auctioned off. My mom lost custody of my youngest siblings. My family life was in total turmoil. It was so distracting, it was nearly impossible to see past the fog and into a more optimistic future.

That year, I tattooed the word “hope” in white ink on my wrist. Because that’s what I held on to at that time: hope that things would get better. When I look down at my faded tattoo today, I’m reminded of what life felt like at 19 and, although I had fun in my late teens and early 20s, I’m much more grateful to be turning 30.

IMG_5644

And things did get better. Along the way, I learned a lot (as we all do!). Here are just five lessons that made multiple cameos throughout my 20s:

  1. Listen more.
    Why is listening so hard? I mean, seriously…WHY. My 20s taught me that it takes real skill (that too many people lack) to look someone in the eye while thoughtfully listening to the words coming out of their mouth. When people demonstrate terrible listening skills, it says a lot of bad things about them: They’re either insecure, self-important or boorish or all of the above.

    Likewise, I learned that most people love to hear themselves talk. But the real talent lies in the skill of listening. I think I undermined this 10 years ago. I wish I had realized the class, professionalism and intelligence that come with closing your mouth and using your ears. I’ve had to re-learn this again and again with my on-camera role. It’s my job to help my interviewee tell their story; not to interject with my own insights every two seconds.When I’m sitting around a conference room table at work, I try hard not to blurt out my opinion first. Hear what everyone else has to say. And then share your opinion if you feel moved to. I am still in practice but I know that listening never makes you look stupid. You do run that risk though when you run your mouth. 😕

  2. Hand out (genuine) compliments more.
    People don’t verbalize compliments enough. And that is a very strange thing to me.When I was probably 22, I remember sitting in a meeting with an influential and talented director-level colleague. This woman is one of the smartest people I’ve worked with even to this day. Our small group was discussing the topic of giving feedback to one another and she made a comment that the further along she’s gotten in her career, the fewer compliments she has received. “People expect me to be good all the time,” she assessed. This was odd to me because I thought everything this woman said was practically genius. And I thought to myself, “Why is it that I’ve never told her this?” Well because, I probably assumed everyone told her how smart she was. But that’s silly – why are we sometimes so scared to tell people what makes them great?

    I think compliments – when authentic – are important, whether it’s your sister or your CEO. (Did I mention you’ve gotta be genuine about it?)

  3. Don’t get into relationships that just don’t feel right.
    I probably could’ve written an entire article about relationship-themed mistakes I’ve made but in the spirit of not doubling my wine intake while I type this, I’ll include this teeeeny tinnyyyy flaw I repeated more than once in my 20s: Getting into relationships that did not feel right.

    Perhaps you too are familiar with the drill: You see potential in someone but despite your internal voice screaming: “This should not be a thing,” you continue the thing anyway. The worst is when you swear you won’t get into anything without it feeling 100%…and you do it again. On one hand, you definitely learn from every failed relationship but in general, this is not fair to either party. Wait it out. That whole “when you know, you know” thing is just a cliche way of saying “trust your instincts.”

  4. It’s never too late to start.
    It seems like the message we get these days is: If you didn’t start the sport or hobby by age 3, you’re outta luck. And that is beyond frustrating. My parents did not enter me in any dance recitals or band lessons. (I was lucky to get to be on my elementary school’s basketball team.) So by the time I reached adulthood, I was certainly not an expert at any given thing. I was, what most would deem, of average talent. And in my teens and even early 20s, I think I let that way of thinking intimidate me.

    Until one day, I decided to embrace a sport I’ve always been obsessed with but had zero experience in: gymnastics. I found a gym in Madison that admits adults, regardless of experience level, and I went for it. That was 2012. I still go to class every week. I’ll clearly never make an Olympic team but I’ve found something that makes me very happy every Monday night. (Hobbies coming down the pike include: learning French, piano and knitting. Stay tuned 🙂 )

  5. (Most) people don’t change.
    I was hopelessly optimistic about this one for a very long time. And I hate to end my dissertation here on something so gloomy but it is, by and large, the truth. People are who they are at their core. “When people show you their true colors, let them” are words of wisdom worth remembering.

Everyone glamorizes the whole being in your 20s thing. I’ve found it humorous (ok, maybe even borderline aggravating) just how many people have brought up my impending birthday with sorrow and sympathy. i.e. “Are you going to miss your 20s?” You mean, am I going to miss being broke, insecure and in a state of perpetual confusion? No, no I am not going to miss that but I’m grateful I went through it. My 20s were full of good times but I’ll make sure to make more good memories in my 30s (and continue learning hard lessons, obviously).

Peace 20s. ✌ Bring on 30 and beyond.

M.

Before You Win, You’ve Gotta Learn to Lose

The thing is, people hate to fail. And that is ridiculous. 

“We can be truly successful only at things we are willing to fail at.” -Mark Manson

Someone recently exclaimed in despair to me that I “win everything.” First, I laughed. Second, I denied it. And third, I thought about how badly I wanted to bluntly reply: you clearly have not seen all the ways that I have failed in my life! I didn’t though. Instead, I’m writing this blog post.

Most people don’t talk about their failures. It can be awkward and embarrassing. But such is life. Here goes!

The thing is, people hate to fail. And that is ridiculous. 

The only way to step out of mediocrity, as I see it, is to stick your neck out, raise your hand, speak up, try something you’ve never done before, and then fail at said thing a thousand times. Because failure is a beautiful, humbling, edifying path to learning the best lessons life has to offer.

Over this past weekend, I had the honor of attending the 2017 Emmy© Awards in Chicago. Now, I have a lot of opinions about awards like these. On one hand, it feels pretty damn good to get acknowledged for the work that you do. And an Emmy is the ultimate form of acknowledgement in my industry. On the other hand, people obsess over awards. It’s strange to me when I see someone get so wrapped up over a pretty trophy that they lose sight of the big picture. And believe me, it happens all the time – I think particularly in the TV/entertainment industry.

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My friend and colleague, Teddy, and I at the 2017 Emmy Awards in Chicago! This photo was taken shortly after I got my gown stuck in the escalator. 🙄

Anyway, my work crew and I decided as a team that this ol’ stamp of approval was indeed a goal of ours. And we did it. Two colleagues and I were up for an Interactivity award for our work on Discover Wisconsin. To get a nomination alone was a huge honor and one I am very proud of.

And I’ll admit it: I really did want to win that award. But that is not what happened. Someone else walked away with it. (Congratulations Melinda Davenport!) I’m proud of the work we did but the lesson I learned was: maybe we didn’t put our absolute best foot forward. Maybe next time, we’ve gotta be even more clever, more creative and more inventive. And that is exactly what we’ll do (while keeping our eyes on the bigger picture, of course).

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.”

-Thomas J. Watson

Exhibit B: My involvement in the Miss America Organization. Having competed in the program for three years, I lost far more than I won (7:1). For three years, I worked harder than I had worked for anything in my life at that point. And seven times in a row, I watched someone else be awarded the job I was so sure I would nail if given the chance. Each time, I had to reckon with the fact that a panel of five judges watched me interview, dance and sashay my way across the stage and said: “Nah.”

Each time I failed, I looked back at my performance and tried to figure out where to make adjustments. I asked my friends, family and most of all, the judges, to steer me in the right direction. I’d weed out the opinions that didn’t feel right in my gut and I’d hold on tightly to the ones that did. That’s important — following your instincts while navigating the success/failure line.

I did end up winning, only to lose a couple months later at the state level. And I learned so much about my own skill-set: I found talents I didn’t know I had. I also felt more in tune than ever with the areas I needed to work on.

When I gave up my crown a year later, I said to the next round of contestants: “Congrats to the future winner…take lots of pictures and enjoy the ride! But to all of you who don’t hear your name called tonight (I know how you feel!), know that you have an even tougher job. You can not give up. Keep trying and I promise you, something really great is just around the corner.”

Thankfully, lots of people encouraged me to keep trying before I won. It wasn’t just my own ambitions and dreams; it was also the encouragement of others. (Of course, there were naysayers, too. They will also be in the background. I liken them to “Ursula’s Garden”…remember those creepy sea creatures from The Little Mermaid? That scene is how I envision all the haters in my life.)

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Haters not welcome. 🙅

The “failure journey” is maddening. There is no way around it.

Even before landing my gig with Discover Wisconsin, I must have reached out to hundreds of folks in the TV industry with the hope that just one would crack that door open. Just one tiny crack in the door…that was all I was looking for.

Unless you’re one of the golden few who just happens to get “discovered,” you will get 5,000 “No’s” before you hear “Yes!”

Persistence and the willingness to play in the first place is everything.

 

My Day as a Gymnast at Badger Gymnastics

I gravitate toward gymnastics because it requires an insane amount of fearlessness.

 

I didn’t grow up a gymnast. But I was always obsessed with the sport. As a kid, I’d sit so close to the TV as the tiny teenage gymnasts would appear one by one, each of them so powerful and confident and mega talented.

I grew up on a farm in the “middle of nowhere.” I was the oldest of five so there was no talking my parents into driving me 30 minutes away for class. My elementary school offered a gymnastics unit once a year and my eyes would light up at the sight of the vault, four-inch beam and foam mats set up across the floor. That excitement has never waned, even through my adulthood. And that is exactly how I found myself at Badger Gymnastics in Madison. It was the only place around that offered adults (with or without gymnastics experience) the opportunity to feel (and be!) a real gymnast.

Welcome to my workout with Jessie Carlson, owner and coach at Badger Gymnastics.

From Wisconsin to Tanzania

I had no idea I’d be finding some of Wisconsin here in Tanzania. Life has had a habit of reminding me that people just aren’t so different.

 

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Adam Nothem, a fellow UW-Oshkosh alum. 

Sometimes, a seed sprouts best after it lands in new soil.

I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I grew up near Green Lake in Farmington and I always felt a sense of community around me there. We all knew our neighbors and people watched out for one another. My summers were spent with my friends swimming in the lake, exploring the nearby woods, and hanging out in the yard with my family and our dog and having campfires. Where I’m from, and likely many of you as well, we walked through yards to visit our neighbors because no one has fences. And when I got called home for dinner, it was by hearing my name being called from the porch. My drive home from school passed innumerable corn fields, dairy farms, and a quaint village named Cheeseville. Wisconsin was always my home and, in 2014, when I was leaving home to live in Tanzania for my US Peace Corps service, I had no idea I’d be returning to a very similar sense of community; one that I had lost slightly during my time in college and while living in the city.

In case you are unfamiliar, the Peace Corps is a government organization that favors a grassroots development strategy and a commitment to a particular village for at least two years. I lived in a small, rural village named Mnavira near the southern border of Tanzania where the sandy soils nourish mostly corn, beans, mangoes, coconuts, and lots and lots of cashews. Most people are subsistence farmers but many farm cashew nuts for pay as well. Cashews are the main cash crop and are harvested once each year. Many villages like Mnavira are absolutely dependent on the cashew harvest. If the rains or high winds affect the trees and the yield is less than planned, many families can be left with light pockets and heavy burdens. It’s common for extended families to share homes to all help one another out. Generally, the men do the farming and are responsible for bringing in income and the women maintain the home. Often though, with their child on their back and more in tow, the women find themselves in the fields as well or hauling water from the stream or spout.

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Upon first arriving, one may focus on many of the cultural differences. But part of what makes our 2 year time frame so advantageous is that it gives us and our community members time to get used to the shallow differences and start to connect to our deeper commonalities. And what I began to see early on is a very similar sense of community that I grew up with. This was partially due to how readily they welcomed me into their community. My neighbors kept watch on my house if I was gone, they would check on me if I was sick, and they would always welcome me to share meals with them. The Tanzanian people are an extremely welcoming people. That made my time here so much more comfortable and helped me integrate to my new home. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to receive a cold welcome or open animosity. It would’ve been nearly impossible to integrate effectively or to learn the Swahili language. As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), I have several goals. The first one, since I am a health extension agent, is to assess the health situation in Mnavira and to try to improve it in any way I can. The second goal is to make Tanzanians more familiar with America and the American people. For many people in Mnavira and Tanzania in general, their only experience with America is through news headlines, movies, or music videos. As you may imagine, that leaves people with a pretty interesting perspective of our home and an endless flow of questions. The third goal is to make Americans more familiar with Tanzania and see it as the individual country that it is among the vast expanse of Africa.

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The familiar sense of community that I returned to made reaching those goals possible. It’s amazing how much information you can share just through normal day-to-day conversation and inclusion into a new culture. I would do this while helping my neighbor farm his cashews, while my friend Mudi and I would do home projects and he’d teach me the local way of doing it, and while I would just sit with my neighbors on the grass mat under a mango tree. I was there during holidays, weddings, and funerals. These were new experiences for me because of the difference in culture but also because they were done along the Islamic traditions and prayers.

In Tanzania, Muslims make up nearly half the population and Christians make up nearly the other half. This ongoing interaction creates a very peaceful life with most people thinking of others as fellow Tanzanians first, and their religion or tribe second. In Mnavira, nearly everyone is Muslim but the few Christians were warmly welcomed to share their food even on holidays like Eid. I celebrated Eid twice during my time in Mnavira and I highly recommend it. There is just such a good mood in the air and the food is fantastic. And during Christmas and Easter, many Muslims break bread with their Christian neighbors. This close sense of community and togetherness gave me all the motivation I needed to do health work.

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In Mnavira, many people get infected with the malaria parasite. At the local clinic, an average of twelve people a day tested positive for malaria and got treatment. This is a heavy burden on a community both financially and emotionally. For some, the symptoms are fever, chills, muscle pain, and vomiting. For others, it can be serious enough to cause seizures, cognitive impairment, or death. These severe outcomes are more commonly seen in children under five, pregnant women, and people living with HIV. Mnavira, like many Tanzanian villages, also struggles with water availability, nutrition, and HIV. These factors combined with low income, inadequate health education, and inconsistent healthcare access can create a crisis for many families. That is why the headmaster of the primary school, Rweikanisa, applied to the Peace Corps for a health volunteer. He and I quickly became close friends and he was an invaluable neighbor to have throughout my service. Together, we came up with new ways to teach people about health information. To name a few, this ranged from doing formal lessons at the primary school and clinic, to painting a mural on the school wall, making radio programs for the nearest station, an educational storybook to be read by students and parents, and making visualizations of the high cost of continually treating malaria in the village rather than preventing it. He was also essential in our lessons about reproductive development and gender equality, a beekeeping program for people living with HIV, and in organizing the construction of a new pit latrine at the school.

During our time working together, he always helped me integrate further and helped strengthen the community ties between all of us. These projects were no easy task as many people often seem complacent in their situation. Malaria has always been here and it is difficult for people to imagine life without it so they can sometimes look at the disease like we may look at the common cold. I focused on malaria in my time at UW Oshkosh, so I was especially keen to put forth extra energy to our malaria work. It is a disease that is entirely preventable and treatable and I find it unacceptable how many people, especially young children, die of the disease. The number of funerals I attended for my community members was truly saddening and I was highly motivated for the two years I lived in Mnavira to give help in any way I could to the community who welcomed me so thoroughly.

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In fact, I decided to extend my time in Tanzania for another year. I found a small non-profit organization in the north of the country in a city called Tanga called MEA. I saw that they trained community health workers (CHWs) in the surrounding villages to treat their fellow villagers for minor ailments. Often, minor ailments can go untreated and can develop into bigger problems so these CHWs put in the time and effort to help. The organization, MEA, mentioned how they’d like to get those CHWs involved with malaria work and I applied to help start the program. During my third year of service, I was technically still a Peace Corps Volunteer but I was also the Malaria Program Manager for MEA. During the course of the year, we were able to gather the support and encouragement from the district level to the national governments for our new program, the first of its kind in Tanga region, and we were able to train and certify nearly 200 community health workers. The health workers, along with their usual treatment duties, now also test people for malaria using rapid diagnostic tests and treating people with the proper drug regimen. Most of them do this in addition to their normal work because they are paid whatever little bit their patients can chip in and no one is turned away for not having any money to pay. Their individual agreements are driven by their shared sense of community. The patient wants to help the health worker be paid for his or work, but the health worker doesn’t want to burden patients to where they won’t seek treatment any longer. As of now, nearly 200 health workers are participating in a program that will test and treat more than 41,000 people each year for malaria.

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When I was at UW Oshkosh, I dreamed of being able to do direct malaria work. I thought often of what it’d be like to live in a new place, to learn a new language and actually be able to use it to teach and have conversations, and to immerse into a new culture. I knew that, if I wanted to fulfill that dream, I’d have to leave my home of Wisconsin. I had no idea I’d be finding some of Wisconsin here in Tanzania. Life has had a habit of reminding me that people just aren’t so different. As my service comes to a close this week, I can’t help but reflect on that and count myself very privileged for being able to have this opportunity. It can be a scary thing leaving one’s home. For some, time like this can be a break from the life they were living and they can go right back when they’re done. For others, it can be a jumping off point to a new life if and when they return. For myself, I’m happy to not choose and just to see where it goes while enjoying my newfound perspective.

 

Adam Nothem, a native born Wisconsinite, has spent spent the last 3 1/2 years living in Tanzania serving with the US Peace Corps. There, he has continued with his passion for combating malaria; a passion he’s had since his time as a biology student at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.