Author: Raisa

New York // California // Idaho // all spaces beyond.

On getting caught in the rain

This evening, as I walked home from work, I got caught in the rain.

It started to drizzle as I made my way east on Houston St. As I began to wish I had an umbrella, a friend I haven’t seen in years interrupted my steady march.

“Raisa? Is that you?”

It was me. Hair in a sloppy topknot, wearing my loosest, most-pajama-like pants, mascara already smudged off from the humidity. That’s me, this summer.

“Are you gonna be OK?” she asked as we split, glancing skyward.

“I mean,” I said, “I won’t melt.” And I went on with my walk. The irony here, of course, is that I did once melt—when I was the Wicked Witch of the West, in our seventh grade play. It was dramatic. And traumatic, but that’s a story for another day.

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Spotted on East Houston. Sometimes, the city speaks right to my soul.

I’m solid flesh now, no witchy stuff left except a penchant towards wearing black and a nose with a bit of a curve. So when it started to pour—buckets, that whole “shower” analogy, lightning flashing, girls in short dresses screaming distantly—what choice did I have? I laughed wryly at my luck, felt my pants grow soggy, let the rest of my makeup wash off, and walked on.

No one wants to relive Hilary Duff’s musical years, but there’s a reason that the old favorite “Coming Clean” was such a smash hit.

I wanna hear the thunder

I wanna scream

Let the rain fall down

I’m coming clean

Poetry? No. Adolescent angst? Absolutely. Young-semi-adult-living-in-NYC? Even better.

We all come to a point in our very-young very-restless lives where, no matter how happy, no matter how lucky, no matter how privileged, we get bored or we get frustrated or we get a little crazy. We think we deserve more. (We don’t.) We think we should be getting somewhere faster. (Nope, not at all.) We think we need a change. (No—actually, we need to get used to consistency and routine.)

Last week, I was also caught in the rain. This time it was on my way to dinner to meet my mom’s close friend. I was late; it had been a long, challenging day; and I felt out of sorts. As I rattled off complaints about my (realistically, quite charmed) life—things like I wasn’t sure enough of myself, I felt out of my element lately, I needed more experience to feel confident in my abilities—she quietly raised an eyebrow as she let me finish.

“Razi,” she said, calling me by my childhood nickname: “What is all that?”

I looked down at my pad thai. “Nothing,” I said, ashamed.

It was all an excuse. We go around telling ourselves excuses. We go around explaining away our faults, calling them intrinsic when they’re really just bad habits we should be fixing. We say “YOYO” (You’re Only Young Once, as one friend has coined it), excusing ourselves from making stupid decisions or choosing the easy route or feeling sorry for ourselves because hedonism is as good a guide as any, and anything that gets in the way of a fun time seems like it should be wrong by default.

That, in turn, is wrong. This is what adulthood is about. It’s work, and it’s being thoughtful and conscious of your choices, and there are no shortcuts.

Which brings me back to the rain, and to getting caught in it. There’s nothing glamorous about being drenched, or about having to dry out your new suede booties and hoping they don’t smell. There’s nothing chic about getting splashed by a dirty street puddle (even if Carrie Bradshaw makes it look cute). There’s only the truth: this is what it is. Next time, come prepared—or go ahead and revel in the glory of some summer thunder and the rain on your skin. (Today, that’s what I did.) Either way: own it, and take responsibility for yourself and for the aftermath.

You really won’t melt.

 

 

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She must be learning in other ways

“She isn’t sure why she hasn’t cracked her Boas or Malinowski or John Murra, but assumes she must be learning in other ways that will prove equally fruitful. In bold moments, fueled by the boiled black coffee they serve each morning in the meal tent, Mindy has even wondered if her insights on the link between social structure and emotional response could amount to more than a rehash of Lévi-Strauss—a refinement; a contemporary application. She’s only in her second year of coursework.”

—Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

On hunger; or, an open letter to the Class of 2014

Dear Class of 2014,

Congrats! You’re a week out, and it probably feels pretty good. Now humor me: I want to tell you something, just like everyone else and their mother (and father, and brother, and cousin… We all just want to help!)

You’ve most likely already figured out your next step, but even so, here’s the deal: you have three choices about what you do post-grad. You can move to a place for a job. You can move to a place for the place itself. Or you can move to a place for the people, or to be near a person.

Choose wisely. Know yourself when you make the choice. Know what makes you tick. If you’re lucky, all three will come together, and it’ll be an obvious decision. If you’re not lucky, then it’s one of the first hard decisions you’ll have to make. Make it independently. Make a mistake, and a few months or a year or five from now, fix it.

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It was beautiful while it lasted, wasn’t it?

I don’t believe in a metric of “success” (it’s different for everyone, but the word has connotations that are a bit too cut-and-dried for me at the moment). I do believe in a metric of satisfaction. Your days are either full, or they are empty. It’s not about filling up your time, exactly; your time can be full, and your days can still be very, ruthlessly empty, as I’ve learned.

So choose to go to the place that will fill you up. God knows you’re hungry; we all are. Every day I’m hungry for more.

Then, use that hunger. Use it to learn more. Use it to work harder. Follow your taste buds, and follow your stomach. Let your hunger tell you how to balance work and play, and play more and harder (if that’s where your appetite leads you). Use it to recognize when you’re unhappy—and use it to revel in your happiest, most gluttonous moments. Use it to step out of your own expectations of yourself, and to disentangle from everyone else’s expectations. Don’t let others judge you for what you want to pile on your plate, and how you want to consume it. You are what you eat. Eat the good stuff. Do what’s delicious.

In college, we often complain of never having enough time. This is wrong, of course; we’ll never have more time. I let that fact bother me for a while after graduation. In my first year out, I wandered, trying to see what time would do with me when I didn’t have an agenda for it. The wandering bored me. That was the first lesson—for me. Find your own lesson.

As everyone else will also tell you, post-grad life is just… different. But the hunger is the same. On days I don’t satisfy my cravings—when I do less, when I am less, when I settle for less—I miss college in a way that almost hurts. I feel directionless; I feel lost; I feel alone. But on days when I expect more of myself, when I don’t let the mundane stuff—missing my subway, staying too late at work, cleaning the bathroom—get me down, when I find a great new song that makes me smile, when I let my curiosity drive the way I think: that’s when something clicks. I’m satisfied, if only for a moment.

As they say, happiness is fleeting. As they say, it’s worth chasing.

So 2014: chase it with me. It’s a marathon for sure, and it will last the rest of our lives, and I’m the last one to say I’m any closer to it than I was this time last year. But damn it if it isn’t an endlessly exciting game to play.

Love,

Raisa

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Come play with me.

On new jobs & killing the incompetence game

On Monday, I started an internship in an industry that is new to me. I was nervous, so I wore my favorite pants (you gotta take your confidence boost where you can get it).

On Tuesday, I submitted a completed Excel spreadsheet of social media marketing campaign analytics, listened in on a status call with a client, and formatted a slide pitch deck for a digital strategy plan. Sound a little too corporate to you? Don’t worry, my desk chair is an exercise ball and there’s beer on tap on Friday afternoons—not that it matters. Sometimes, a little bit of corporate, structured medicine (and an education in how to use a PC) is just what the doctor ordered.

Desk with a view.
Desk with a view.

At every job, internship, or activity I’ve participated in over the past five years, the constant has been a focus on writing, on understanding storytelling and news-gathering, and on building a better organization. But not now. Now I’m learning to tell the story of the numbers in a chart, to gather news about relative efficiency of dollars spent and keywords used, and to find where I fit in a large, well-functioning operation.

We forget how entrenched we’ve become in the ecosystems of the intellectual paths we choose early on. In liberal arts college, they call each major a “discipline” because you train your mind to think in certain ways—to approach problems with a particular toolkit, a template for coming to a conclusion. For me, the anthropological approach was a natural fit with the journalistic activities I pursued outside class. In brief, the process is (1) interrogate and investigate the accepted reality, (2) observe and collect in-depth information about the truth of the matter, and (3) present your findings with panache—and without judgment.

But in this industry I’m now exploring, the process—the one-two-three of approaching and attacking a problem—is new. The end goals are different. On an institutional level, the social structure of the place is complicated and foreign. The vocabulary that’s tossed around in the office leaves me slow on the uptake, too: what’s a project manager vs. a brand strategist vs. a media planner? What’s the difference in our partnerships between vendors, creative, and clients? And how is social different from digital different from mobile? I knew what ROI stood for, but CPC, CPE, CPV, DSP, KPI, RFP, and SOW are all brand-spanking-new. The two main things that remain the same across all my working experiences are snarky email exchanges and the expectation to stay late.

Here’s what happens when you step outside your comfort zone: you feel incompetent. You want to apologize for taking up people’s time by asking questions—but if you don’t ask the questions, then the work doesn’t get done (and you have to apologize for that, too). You sit at a meeting and frown, lost before it even started, trying to memorize faces and names. I haven’t felt so young and fish-out-of-water in years. Being a n00b happens to be pretty damn uncomfortable.

But I’m not going to apologize. I’m still convinced my youth is my best asset, and so is my inexperience. It’s early days for me yet, but I have a feeling—in fact, at the ripe old age of 22, I know—that my current (and hopefully just momentary) incompetence is actually a plus. I’m being forced to bend my ingrained ways of thinking into new paths.

So if you’re considering a career you know nothing about, here’s the takeaway: it never hurts to stretch.

It’s kind of like a yoga class. Worst case scenario, you enjoy some undisturbed meditation, take in the chill music vibes, and work on your flexibility. Best case, you kill at your headstand and warrior three and your crow—and you just fly outta that studio, dripping with sweat and ready to take on the world.

 

On the whole #BanBossy vs. #BeBossy debate

Some smart people have written some very smart things on this latest Sheryl Sandberg / TeamWorkingLady / bossy-is-a-bad-word marketing fiasco, so I’ll let the links do the talking:

Ann Friedman — NY Mag’s The Cut

Katy Waldman — Slate’s XX Factor

Jessica Roy — TIME

And my favorite: my friend Zara Kessler on Bloomberg View. Zara has coined the word “bossiful”, which we should ALL be using immediately. Goal for the weekend: use it in a sentence with 5 different people. Just spreading the bossy love.

Above is the star-studded #BanBossy campaign video, which has the right message but, ultimately, just the wrong hashtag. It goes back to the basic Lean In debate: do women adapt their attitudes and vocabularies to the already-existing culture, or do we attempt structural change? Sheryl says get with the program; the women linked to above say we’ve gotta change the paradigm. (Disclaimer: I agree with them.)

On a personal note, sure I was called bossy when I was younger—mostly by boys, but often by girls too. Sure it hurt—because it was somehow an insult; because it suggested I wasn’t “chill” enough, that I needed to just relax and care less about the class project, or the dance we were choreographing for a school show, or the extracurricular we were organizing. And yes, these were good lessons to learn about interpersonal communication and social interaction. You can’t go through life bossing people around indiscriminately. (Not that I was doing that, I hope…) Couch your commands in kindness; delegate with reason; lead with humility.

But bossy isn’t bad. I figured that one out soon enough. Bossy gets things done. Bossy doesn’t take no for an answer. Bossy knows that without her, things don’t happen.

Bossy is being a leader at the age where standing out from your peers is scary, uncomfortable, and not “popular” or “cool.”

And that’s really, really good. So, as those writers have articulated in the links above: don’t ban bossy. Celebrate what it truly means in a youth context. Encourage its positive affiliations for girls who are afraid to stand out. Don’t ban the word, because that makes it a stigma. Turn it into a compliment, because it means you’re speaking up.

As for me, right now I’m not the boss; far from it. But I damn well plan on being one. And being called “bossy” as a kid? There’s no shame in that now. In fact, in retrospect, it was definitely a compliment.