What I want my little brother to know about life

As of fifteen days ago, I am twenty-six years old. I act like I’m approximately three much of the time. Thus, as I walk hand-in-hand with my little brother across a street, swinging my arms and singing any number of the weird songs we have written together, any thought by passersby that I might be mature enough to be his mother is immediately squelched when they see how I’m actually acting.

Despite our vast age difference, this little ball of energy (and occasionally, terror) and I have a lot in common. We both love video games, we’re both noticeably taller than most people in our respective age groups, and we both have a fastidiously-maintained collection of shoes. Well, okay – he takes way better care of his shoes than I do. And he probably has more than I do at this point, too.

Being the older sister to him along with five additional younger siblings has conditioned me to be a special kind of worry wart. You want your younger siblings to have fun, but not too much fun. You want them to do well in school. You want them to never, ever text and drive. You want to serve as an example to them, but you don’t want them to get any ideas from the stuff that you got away with doing (and believe me, I got away with a LOT). Even if you yourself would totally do it all over again if you knew you wouldn’t get in trouble. Yes, it’s complicated and it’s freaking difficult beyond belief at times. And that’s just the beginning.

Most of my siblings are grown adults now. At this point, I feel confident that my siblings are aware of the world around them. They’re aware of modern socioeconomic phenomena like the financial crisis, technological trends, and how social media has changed the world. They know that this is not the world our parents grew up in. My littlest brother, however, is just breaking into this world and is hardly aware of anything beyond his own bubble at this point. He has a lot to learn, and not all of it’s going to be comforting.

Mankind has made amazing feats in the fields of science and technology, but human beings are less connected than ever. Competition in job markets is fierce and wages have only marginally increased to keep pace with the rising cost of living. As my little brother reaches adulthood, I worry. The ubiquity of the Internet has allowed access to an amazing breadth of knowledge but also bombards us with images of mindless, sensational news chatter, Donald Trump, and the Kardashians. As a result, I feel an obligation to give my brother a heads up on what’s to come – and to be the best sister I can be.

kid on snapchat
Snapchat: an app my dad will forever regret downloading onto his phone.

I’m probably not the perfect example for my brother to follow. I was a pretty dramatic child. I was a rebellious teen. I had, like, twelve different majors in college (which was not cheap) and out of pressure, I chose the most ill-suited one for me because – surprise! – that’s where the jobs were. I worked my butt off to get a great job out of college that I ended up loathing. To add insult to injury, I want to be a writer now, for crying out loud. I’m virtually a parent’s worst nightmare.

But after going through many years of school, finding my old job, going through my old job, quitting my old job, finding my new one, and now having the time to pursue what I love, I know a thing or two that I can share. Moreover, I’m finally starting to get a sense of myself back. I finally feel happy. I finally feel like I’m living.

So, in the midst of the often-scary stuff that this world will throw at him, here’s what I want my brother to take away from all of this:

There are going to be a lot of pressures to be someone else, or do something else, especially after middle and high school start. I want you to know that, sadly, that pressure doesn’t end, and if you let it get out of hand, even you start to turn against yourself. But you can’t let that part of you win. You have to keep going. You have to be who you were meant to be.

little boy in drag
If you want to be a lipstick zombie, be the best dang lipstick zombie you can be.

Now, on that note, it’s not always easy to “find yourself.” It’s not always easy to know right away what you’re interested in, whether that’s for hobby or job purposes. Take your time and remember that understanding these seemingly simple things about yourself takes years. Whatever you do, pick your future job because you want to do it – not because Dad, Mom, your friends, or I want you to do it.

One of the ways that you figure out who you are (or what you want to do) is by putting yourself out of your comfort zone. This means traveling, getting an education, and, yes, talking to scary old successful people. Or even just other people in general. Occasionally this means doing karaoke at a company party and crowdsurfing halfway through it. Just make sure the song isn’t “Freak-a-Leek” by Petey Pablo and we’re all good. (Oh, wait, I shouldn’t have introduced you to that song yet. Forget I said that!)

kid in ninja outfit
Putting yourself in this outfit counts, too.

Friends will come and go and that is okay. The friends that enrich your life and encourage you to be the best you can be will always be there, even if you occasionally lose contact. It’s not always easy to tell who your “true” friends are, but the truth is eventually revealed. I want you to nurture your true friendships, especially since the number of people you can call a “friend” dwindles as you get older. That’s okay, though. You don’t need 100 million friends. Having a lot of friends is like having a second job – it’s exhausting. What you need is an all-star team who loves and supports you and for whom you do the same.

Material things are really not as cool as you think they are right now (yes, shoes included). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with owning material things and occasionally buying new ones. But they don’t represent you. Material things break, become obsolete, or fall out of fashion. The experiences that you will have in life will stay with you forever and will shape you as a person.

boy with baseball
The ball won’t last forever, but the fact that you caught it will.

Your health and physical ability are some of your most precious assets and taking care of your body will let you live a more fun and comfortable life as you get older. No matter what, nobody is invincible, including you. Take care of your body and your health.

Mom and Dad are going to be super, duper annoying at times. You’re probably going to want to run away, and you may even make it onto the next bus outta there once. But everything they do for you is out of love and a desire for you to be happy and successful. Ask me or any of your other siblings. I wanted to become a ward of the state when Dad told me I couldn’t wear makeup or have my computer for a week one time. He’s now one of my best friends. As siblings, we will be less annoying, but we still love you more than anything and, as such, will occasionally be pretty annoying, too. Be prepared for that.

A partial crew for father’s day last year: my 21-year-old brother, my 15-year-old sister, me, my dad, and my little brother’s gigantic mouth.
A partial crew for father’s day last year: my 21-year-old brother, my 15-year-old sister, me, my dad, and my little brother’s gigantic mouth.

I’ll talk to you about “like-liking people” when you’re ready. Thinking of you going through the trials and tribulations of the romantic world is giving me forehead wrinkles – and I DO NOT need to add anymore of those yet, please. Let’s table that for later.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything I want to tell my brother. I will be that sister who gives earfuls of unwarranted advice to my brother while his eyes roll so hard they disappear into the back of his head. I will have nightmares when he decides he wants to go on a trek through the Gobi desert (even though I’ll probably end up joining him because holy crap I want to do this). If he finds himself in a serious bind, I will drop everything I’m doing and help as much as I can, just as I would for any of my other siblings.

These days, I often tell him that I want him to “go through life actually living”, to which he shrugs his shoulders a bit and asks me if I want to go play soccer or watch a movie with him. I almost always say yes, because his asking me if I want to play with him is the only answer I need in return. I have no idea what life has in store for my brother, but he’s got a family that will be there for him every step of the way and is already a strong, determined young person in his own rite. Someday he’ll realize that those facts about him are even cooler than the new Nikes he’s rocking today. But I’ll be patient – that might be a while.

On confidence and over-worrying

“I’m dropping out of school,” I told Adrienne.

“Uh…no you’re not.” A firm response from one of my dearest friends came back to me.

I was sitting on a wooden bench in ASU’s business building. Despite the deluge of students pouring out of their respective classrooms to head to their next obligation, I was crying, as I customarily do whenever any more-than-minor blow comes up (people who know me: sorry). But this was a long, continuous cry – a sure-fire sign that I was having a more grave difficulty with my life at that moment than usual.

I was sitting at a solid 3.6 GPA for my Master’s degree. I had passed 3 of the 4 sections of the CPA exam. I was the president of my business fraternity and ostensibly doing a fantastic job – we had earned a community service award, drastically increased our membership and attendance, and had finally elevated ourselves to the level of Nationally Distinguished Chapter. I had put hundreds of hours into volunteering for my community and had changed lives in the process. I had had a job lined up at a top accounting firm for months. I had built friendships with my college friends that would prove to be rewarding and life-affirming.

So…why exactly was I crying? Because I failed a test. One. Freaking. Test. It had been for a class I hated that I felt was thoroughly inconsequential to my long-term career goals. But it didn’t matter, because in my mind…

If I failed the test, I would probably fail the class (which was probable, had I not taken steps to ameliorate my grade). If I failed the class, I would fail my degree (which is true). If I failed my degree, I would lose my job offer. If I lost my job offer, I would go back to being a nobody with no job. And if that happened, well…I might as well be the most useless human being in the world, right? And all of the great things I had done would be overshadowed by this one measly indiscretion, right?

It seems completely irrational and stupid that I went down this mental path. And, to be frank with my 22/23-year-old self, it was, honey. It was. But it’s a perfect example I can use to illustrate just how crippling and debilitating my lack of confidence can be.

Of course, things have improved since then. At nearly 26, I no longer think that my world will detonate if I “fail” a work assignment/task (since school doesn’t apply here anymore). I can analyze things a little more rationally and I cry a little less often. But I still have my moments.

Sometimes my confidence is like an overheated engine running way too many RPMs too fast and I’m bordering on arrogance with how good I feel about myself. Other times, I struggle to pick out one positive attribute about myself and I let myself downward-spiral into a pit of harrowing despair. For instance, when I start to care about someone from a romantic perspective, my confidence levels go especially berserk. My mind is nothing but an endless feed of “doubt snippets”, or questions and comments that continuously flow through my stream of consciousness and prevent me from acting like a normal human being. So if I like someone, my brain is tapping away at my mind-door going How do I keep this person? At the same time, how do I be myself? What does “being myself” mean anyway? I’m kind of crazy, but in a good way, like it’s funny…I think? Am I actually funny? Am I enjoyable to be around at all? I feel like I’m ugly. But this person says I’m pretty. Am I pretty, though? They could totally be lying! Are they lying? What else are they lying about when they say nice things? Oh God, I’m starting to feel like I want this person to be my..you know…BOYFRIEND soon. Should I feel this way already? Should I feel that other way instead? How should I act? Do I act interested? Do I have the right to care about x or y? And so on and so forth.

All the while, I accidentally end up being myself – open, wacky, and emotionally vulnerable, that is. And traditionally, the people who choose to boo me up tend to be the people who are okay with open, wacky, and emotionally vulnerable. And when things ended, it generally wasn’t because of who I am a person, but because of things totally unrelated. Which, you know, is pretty common among people, the super-awesome and confident included.

Still, it’s not fun to deal with those negative thoughts while I’m trying to do something positive. I want to start going into situations and minimizing those thoughts as much as possible. Whether it’s for a new job in the future, a pole competition, or a love interest, I want to be confident in who I am and know that things will play out for the best. I might get that job – if I don’t, there’s a better one around the corner. I might win that competition – if I don’t, I walk away learning what not to do in the future. I might snag the guy I stan for, and if I don’t, he wasn’t the one for me anyway.

Things, generally speaking, happen the way they are supposed to happen.

I want to be confident. I want to worry less. I have already spent countless hour hypothesizing why I don’t feel confident and why I worry at times, but I’m at the point where I’m just trying to improve with regards to these matters.

And as lazy as it sounds, I think the best thing I can do is just let life happen.

-H

On choosing art over STEM

When I use Twitter for the powers of good over evil–“evil” meaning Beyonce gif retweets and personal rants about sexism when I should be working– I stumble upon some extremely useful and scarily-pertinent-to-my-own-life articles. The most recent one that caught me off guard something fierce was this one from Femsplain, which discusses a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time: am I contributing enough if I choose a creative career over a more science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM)-focused one?

You readers are scoffing at me right now. “Haley, are you serious? Mozart, Picasso, and Meryl Streep are all artists and have made some of the greatest contributions to the world ever through their art. Whatchu smokin’?”–and I get it. Of course artists have always been, and will continue to be, vital to society and the human experience. Of course these people (and many others) have changed the world through their art.

But here’s the thing.

Creativity, as a person who I currently admire put it, is not something that can be forced and is not something that is ever-flowing. Creativity isn’t there 8 hours a day turning a profit. And even when it strikes, it is not always striking gold. One can create continuously and may still never have their creations seen. Or, they may be seen by a few people, but not many. Even even if they are seen, they may not help the creator live by making them money. Oftentimes, art’s impact is determined by the random placement of the right eyes on it. Art that is just as meaningful or impactful can be overlooked simply because it wasn’t provided with this privilege.

Conversely, in a world that is pushing for STEM jobs to be taken, one can find oneself building products or infrastructure that dramatically change their community or the world. That same person might be managing millions of dollars in people and stakes. They may be making millions of dollars a year because of this. They will be seen as an innovator because their “creations”–however uncreative–have a lasting, functional impact. They will be seen as useful because there are figures tied to their name.

This begs the question: is life about making an impact on as many people as possible? Or is it about doing something–anything–that impacts at least ONE person in a positive way?

Though my path is a series of awkwardly-placed stepping stones towards a creative life, I like to think that I have chosen the life of an artist nonetheless. My accolades, my income, and my recognition will not be guaranteed once I officially strike out on my own. But when that time comes, I’m willing to give it a shot anyway. I take care of myself well enough to afford a roof over my head, groceries, and–okay–new pole gear from time to time. But I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m willing to risk some of that, even if I impact just one of you.

How do we feel about this? For those of us who STEM doesn’t sing to, do you sometimes get scared or intimidated? Is it worth it to risk everything to live the life you love, regardless of what it is that you love?

-H.