When Are You Done?

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A question you’d never ask

to a rising or setting sun;

Star, oh star, tell me-

When are you done?

Today, I woke up, took a deep breath, and was able to enjoy a sense of relief that has been a stranger to me for the last 28 days. Four weeks ago marked the beginning of my comprehensive exam, which is the point that has the power to transition you from a student to a candidate in the quest for a PhD. Embracing the reality that the power is ultimately within me, and not within the exam itself, has led me to take on this challenge as I take on everything else— with strength in my gut, and a smile on my face.

A major factor I had to consider in my decision to pursue such a degree online was sacrificing being surrounded by a community of fellow learners, all going through the same stressful crap, at the same stressful time. One of my favorite parts about the program that I selected is that it requires you to attend 3 on ground residencies, in varying cities, in order to interact with the faculty and your peers as you build your dissertation research plan.. or DRP for short. At these residencies, I was able to connect with fellow learners and form a bond outside of our digital discussion boards. The beauty of maintaining such connections is the ability to keep your community of fellow learners in your pocket, as you go back home and continue the journey of PhD-dum.

Another learner I have grown quite close to; a fellow lady boss who has embodied the spirit of “I can do anything I set my heart and mind to”, completed her comprehensive exam a quarter before mine began. Naturally, she was the first person I went to for advice. What she told me was quite simple… don’t procrastinate! Now, completing a degree online means you’ve got to dedicate your time wisely, however, I call myself “Last Minute Lauren,” and often find myself experiencing the phenomenon of— due today… do today!

This was not the case for comps, though. Instead, I found myself experiencing the feeling of— due in four weeks… freak out every day about it until it is done! But giving into the negative side of a stressful situation doesn’t get you very far. In fact, it blinds you from the very tools that you need to keep moving forward. So, once I was able to convince myself that “I’ve got this”, and truly believe it, I was able to start writing with a fierceness ready to take the scientific world by storm.

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So what exactly were my comps like?

A student can’t sit for comps until they have received a passing grade on their DRP, which has been developed throughout those 3 on ground residencies. The DRP is a detailed outline, rooted in psychological theory, advanced statistical methodology, and over 75+ scientific, peer reviewed articles that explains what exactly you plan on conducting a dissertation on.

When I say the word “dissertation”, people cringe. It’s a word that is associated with being long, difficult, boring, and most often related to Ross from Friends. But when I think about dissertation, I think about the love of a particular subject that it represents. If you’re willing to dedicate so much of your time and mental energy to learning so much about one thing, this must be what you were born to do.

On my very first day of grad school, my professor referred to us, those pursuing our Master’s in Psychology, as agents of social change. Everything I learned throughout this program, I learned through this lens, where I focused on how the tool of social media can be used in a positive way. On the first day of class at my online university, I was taughtthat a PhD is not something you get, but rather something that you become. It does not just mean being a learner to the highest degree, but instead, a creator of new knowledge. To me, my dissertation is the culmination of these two definitions, putting forth such effort and ideas into the world that are rooted in the promise of promoting positivity.

While there are hundreds of topics worthy of dissertation research, my particular interest falls within the category of Applied Psychology. Any time I tell someone I study psychology they say… “oh, so you’re analyzing me right now.” Psychology is so often associated with therapy that those outside of this psych world don’t know much about the other facets that exist. Put simply, there are two paths that you can take in studying psychology. If your goal is to become a therapist, your degree include clinical hours and supervised internships, training you to help others sort through their web of thoughts. Or, you can take the other path— a path that I never, ever ever ever thought that I would love as much as I do… the path of research.

As an undergrad, research classes were the most boring lectures I’ve ever had to endure. Statistics. Factors. Variables. Boring. Boring. Boring. The classes on the abnormal mind, on personality, on interactions, THOSE are the ones that really got me going. I learned and I learned and I learned some more, but when it came time to digest, that’s when I realized— hey, wait a second, none of these other classes would exist if it weren’t for research.

Researchers are the ones who dig deep, and ask the questions, based upon questions of theories that those before them have pondered. The next fork in the road comes when selecting what type of research you’d like to conduct. One road is numerical in nature, quantifying constructs into statistical puzzles. The other road, qualitative research, analyzes data in a descriptive way, painting a meaningful picture of a complex situation through methods such as interviews or case studies. I chose to trek along the numerical road of quantitative research, for math has always been a subject that my hyper-analytical mind has found soothing. In my comps, I wrote that “numbers are meaningless unless we can find the patters that lie beneath them”, and that’s something that a nerd like myself finds fascinating.

I always quote my favorite professor in defining science as a way to solve a problem. With the endless problems that exist in the world, science is pretty damn important. My dissertation will begin with the explanation of a problem. But, in science, you can’t just say that something is a problem… you’ve got to back it up. You back it up with the research that’s been created and peer reviewed by other researchers, that is based upon the research that someone else has researched. There a scientific world of interconnected truths that exists outside the realm of what we’re being fed by the media, but, I digress.

I have not digressed too far, though, because the problem that I am explaining in my dissertation is that of a distracted, digitally connected society. It has been said that because of the integration of digital technology into our everyday lives, we are becoming too distracted to consider our own thoughts. That is a terrifying reality. Living life in a thoughtless way makes us so easily controllable, but is something that I think can be remedied if we all choose to practice a little something called mindfulness. Being mindful is a concept that’s based upon Eastern thought, and represents the act of being present. If we are mindful, and choose to use digital technology in a mindful way, we are regaining our power over our own minds.

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A dissertation must not be confused with a plan of action to save the world. Such a mindset in tackling such a lengthy endeavor will drive you crazy. While science is a way to solve a problem, the world is not black and white. Each study that is conducted are the building blocks used that when considered together, become a force towards positive change.

So, I’ll ask again, what exactly were my comps like?

I received 3 separate questions, requiring a response of up to 17 pages per question, with 20+ research articles referenced within each response. Each question will be graded by 3 separate professors, double blind, meaning they don’t know who submitted it, and I won’t know who graded it.

Question 1 asked me to explain the theory my study is based upon, and why this theory is best suited for my topic, by also explaining other theories that I won’t be using. Classic learning… examining what you DO know, by comparing it to what you DON’T know! My study is rooted in Carl Jung’s theory of personality. This is the theory where that four letter typology comes from— like, for example, I’m an ENFJ— meaning I prefer extraversion to introversion, intuition to sensing, feeling to thinking, and judging to perceiving. Without going into 17 more pages of detail, spark notes version is here to explain that I’m interesting in knowing if these aspects of personality are associated with how mindful an individual is.

Question 2 asks about the current literature in the field. The board that approves or denies the right to research (which is my next step in this journey.. *gulp*), will throw your study out so fast if it’s been done before. A study can only have scientific merit if it explains why and how it is filling a gap that exists within the particular field of interest. Such a gap keeps widening within the world of social media psychology, because media itself is changing daily. What I’m doing, that other researchers have not done before, is considering the relationship between one’s personality type and mindfulness, along with how integrated social media use has become within their life.

Finally, Question 3 was where I explained my research methods, starting with my reasoning behind choosing quantitative research over qualitative, in a more words than just, “Math is cool. 😎” Each concept I explain, from personality, to mindfulness, to social media use integration has to be defined through valid and reliable assessments that exist. Then, once I get all of this data, what am I going to do with it?! I’m going to statistically analyze the hell out of it, that’s what I’m gonna do.

What comes next?

In one week, I’ll find out if I pass my comps, or have to make any revisions before resubmitting. Then, I get assigned to a mentor, and have to explain my study to the big, bad, Institutional Review Board, that can make me or break me. After jumping through that hoop, the dissertation games begin! I will write more, and more, and more about the theory and literature my study is based upon. Until finally, it comes time to actually collect the data. After reaching my magic number of about 100 participants, I’ll crunch the numbers and see what statistics has to say about the relationship between personality, social media use integration, and mindfulness. Yada yada yada.. there’s my dissertation!

But when are you done?

Short answer, never. While graduation commences after the dissertation is complete, you are never really done with your PhD. Again, this degree is not something you get, it’s something you become. I am slowly but surely realizing what people mean when they talk about their life’s work. The topic of social media use integration was quantified by researchers that I have been fan girling over since 2012. As a PhD you keep building upon the knowledge that you create, expanding this web of information to inspire others in your field to run with it, adding their own twists and perspectives.

I can say, with a smile on my face that the knowledge I am seeking to create is in fact my life’s work. Because here I am, on my first day that I don’t have to be writing about my dissertation topic… writing about my dissertation topic.

So when you see the rising sun,

And say; oh star, when are you done?

It will simply continue rising;

Her duties only just begun.

Rising. Setting. That consistent sun.

Oh star. Oh star. But when are you done?

Life and learning are but a process;

And such a journey is quite fun.

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The Path You Pave

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Tough as a rock,

strong as a stone;

take a deep breath, 

and go alone. 

Luck favors the bold,

so go and be brave; 

you never know who’s following

the path that you pave.

Whenever someone says, “Travel solo?! I could never do that!” I say, “…not with that attitude.” 😏 There’s a tremendous amount of empowerment that comes with going somewhere on your own. Somedays often turn to nevers, and if you spend your life waiting to coordinate with the schedules of others, you may never climb that mountain, or see that beach, or taste that poutine. It’s ok to be nervous, nerves are cousin to excitement. Embrace time spent with yourself; the Earth is awesome, and so are you. 🌎

10 Things I Learned From 10 Cities in 2017

In 2014, I made my first New Years Resolution – to travel to five cities I’ve never visited before, and to fly solo on at least one of these trips. Since 2014, I’ve visited over 35 new cities and 10 countries, with more than a handful of these being solo adventures. There’s something about traveling that makes me feel like I’m not just living— but that I am truly alive. I’ve pushed further beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone than I could have ever imagined, which has given me a sense of confidence that has trickled down to every aspect of my life.

Each year, I reflect on my trips and the pearls of wisdom they have brought me. This has become my favorite post to write, for it forces me to mull over the moments that have been marinating in my mind as the months have gone by.

  1. Savannah, GA. | I’m my Mother’s Daughter

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This year I realized that I am one bob haircut away from turning into my mother. We’re two ENFJ’s in a pod, who have walked through fire to live a life of sunshine. Savannah was the first time my mom and I traveled together— no Tammy, no Grammy, just us. On the first weekend of January, my sister attends a theater conference in Upstate New York. My mom and I seized this window of opportunity to do something we’ve never done before: go on an adventure. The combination of a short flight, open containers, and River Street made Savannah the perfect destination.

My Mom has not been bitten by the travel bug as I have, however, we have both been plagued with a different beast: anxiety. Sharing my love of travel with my Mom goes so much further than showing her some of my favorite destinations. I am deeply indebted to travel for allowing me to realize that I can tame my own anxious mind. Our weekend in Savannah was spent going with the flow of what River Street had to offer. Not everything in life needs a plan— which sounds blasphemous when you’re as type A as we are. We didn’t have an itinerary telling us to take syringe jello shots at the dueling piano bar… those things just happen.

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2. Boston, MA. | Embrace change

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I don’t feel completely ready to say goodbye to 2017. My baby sister is a senior in high school, and will be going off to Emerson College in the fall. I’m not completely sure how that’s even possible, because I feel like I graduated high school 20 minutes ago. Going away to college is the experience that transitions you into adulthood. It’s the years that you’ll build relationships that will bring you into your next phase of life.

We visited Boston this summer, and it was such an obvious fit for my sister’s college experience. This trip allowed me to face reality. The truth is that I’ll never be ready to let my sister go (ammi right parents?!), but I have faith in Boston, and the happiness this city will bring my sister. 

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3. Montréal, QC  | Fly solo (and do some pull ups)

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Sometimes you gotta go, where nobody knows your name. ☝🏻🎶 Montréal is my first Canadian adventure, eh, and certainly did not lack in poutine, friendliness, and maple syrup. Once you travel by yourself, it becomes something that you crave. I love to immerse myself in a new location, and flying solo forces you to dive in differently. One of my favorite things to do is take classes at different gyms, so I can learn from different trainers, and trainees wherever I am! On this trip, I visited Studio Epix for their HIIT morning workout. This was the first class that pushed me to try pull ups… and life has never been the same.

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4. Austin, TX | Be Genuinely Curious

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A professor once told me that the key to being a good listener is in being genuinely curious. That was a tip that has always stuck with me, and has been brought to life during my time in Austin. This year on my solo adventures, I grew quite fond of hostel life. During my time at the Firehouse Hostel, I went on daily adventures with interesting others, traveling from as far as Australia. It wasn’t hard to be genuinely curious about the paths that my new traveling posse have taken, that led us to the same place, at the same time. It makes me think of all the people we cross paths with on a daily basis, that we may be inspired by if it were for just a little bit of curiosity. We’re not cats, after all…

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5. Pilanesberg, South Africa | Life extends beyond ourselves

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This year I took the trip of my dreams, and went on safari in South Africa. Being smack dab in the middle of the animal kingdom was a consistent reminder that the universe does not revolve around us. We humans get caught up in our own lives, and don’t often sit and ponder about the lioness that is hunting to feed her cubs. This trip was a refreshing culture shock, that allowed me to disconnect from the human world. Albert Einstein once said, look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. Albie, you weren’t kidding buddy.

[Read more: Lessons learned on an African Safari]

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6. Cape Town, South Africa | Don’t talk about it, be about it.

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Many of our dreams are reserved for laters and tomorrows. I prefer to-do lists to bucket lists, because as much as I’m a dreamer, I’m also a doer. South Africa was a destination that I always considered a “someday” trip. One of those majestic places that I’ll visit “one day.” Until my best friend said- I’m going, you coming?

We should all dream big, but don’t be afraid to jump up and make things happen. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have travel buddies with travel dreams similar to your own! This trip will hold a special place in my heart, with each moment affirming my love for planet Earth.

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7. Atlanta, GA | You can always count on Waffle House

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This year, two of my trips were rooted in the nuptial love of my college friends. In September, my prom date, his girlfriend and I traveled as sister wives to Atlanta, where we celebrated the wedding of my cat’s namesake, (human) Jordan. Did we lose you, yet?

There a couple of things in life you can depend on. You can depend on the New Yorkers to be the loudest ones in the room.  You can depend on your best friends to travel as far as it takes to watch you walk down the aisle. You can depend on your road trip buddies to keep you belly laughing the whole drive. You can depend on Turbulence by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke to get you pumped up. And, most importantly, you can depend on Waffle House to make sure you will fall asleep with a full belly.

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8. New Orleans, LA| Don’t jump in the Mississippi

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New Orleans was the scene for another nuptial adventure, that was fueled by Hurricanes and sleep deprivation. But oh, I’m sorry… I thought we were here to party.

This trip wins the award for most fun had in 2017. It has been four years since my friends and I graduated college, so this celebration also served as an epic reunion. There is nothing quite like a New Orleans hotel doubling as your old dorm. Our strong bonds was made stronger with the topsy turvy times that Bourbon Street introduced us to. If you look deep down to the bottom of the Mississippi, you may find some memories that were meant to be forgotten. But, take it from the itchy skin of my friends… you may not want to take that plunge.

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9. Miami, FL | If they don’t tell you how much, it’s probably $300

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South Beach has officially made its way to the top of the leaderboard on my list of cities visited. This year, I visited on my own in February, and as a birthday celebration for one of my best friends in November. We are a crew who would not snub our noses to the likes of a happy hour, and are a group of gals who don’t back down from a challenge.

On one South Beach Saturday night… we got got. If the hot waiter looks too good to be true, he probably is trying to sell you something. Heed our advice and ask how much, and how big, one Coronita is before ordering four of them. But, my friends, if you do order four of them… you don’t stop until the last one is empty. Remember, your body can do this, don’t let your mind stop you!

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10. Denver, CO |  Get high

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I get by with a little help from my friends, and I get high with a little help from my friends. Denver was one of the last cities I visited this year. It was one of those Google Flights cheap rate induced decisions that I’ll never regret. The Rocky Mountains were calling my name, and I was like, u up?

We visited Estes Park on the last day the road to highest peak of the mountains was open for the season. In less than an hour, we were in a completely different climate. There was a ridiculous sense of tranquility that came with the altitude. I felt like an astronaut that was exploring a totally different planet (ok, maybe that was the edibles talking).

My faith is something that I often struggle with, but I always seem to find answers in nature. This year, I have been coping with the reality of the progression of time. My sister is growing up and going off to college. My grandparents are aging and have been ailing. We’re born, we grow up, we do some things between A to Z, and then life ends. Depressing way to end such an uplifting blog, huh?

Sometimes I feel stupidly optimistic, clinging to silver linings. But, my mindset so often comes from considering darkness, forcing me to exude light. I believe that the role I play in this world is dictated by my ability to be present, be appreciative, and be mindful. Sometimes it takes standing at the highest peak of a mountain to remember that you’re braver than you think. Take this time as we begin the new year to really reflect on the world and your place in it. Try to give more than you take, feel as much as you think, and smile at as many humans as you cross paths with.

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10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2016

10 Lessons Learned from 10 Cities: 2015

Freedom

 

The internet has brought light to many different holidays, from National Donut Day to World Penguin Day and everything in between. Today, we’re honoring a holiday that has a far reaching significance to both groups and individuals.

April 27th is celebrated as Freedom Day in South Africa, commemorating the first post-apartheid elections in 1994. On the first anniversary of this holiday, Nelson Mandela stated,

“Few of us could suppress the welling of emotion, as we were reminded of the terrible past from which we come as a nation; the great possibilities that we now have; and the bright future that beckons us.”

The term freedom can mean different things to different people. For those who have never felt trapped, “freedom” is a broad word. To be free, unrestrained, unbound, allowed. But, for anyone who has lived under a grand sense of restraint, the meaning of the word freedom digs deeper. 

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Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.

When we are denied freedom, our growth as human beings is being stifled. Suppressed. Denied. For South Africans under the apartheid regime, freedom was determined by the color of your skin. In other instances around the globe, individuals are being denied their freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom to marry the person they love. Bound by rules, laws, and judgements; there is a hell on earth that exists, and it is a life without freedom.

But freedom isn’t strictly systematic. Freedom, or lack there of, can exist in relationships. Abusive partners, denying their supposed loved one the freedom to enjoy life. To enjoy love. Preoccupations with materialistic wealth, or visions of success, rob an individual of the freedom to live their life in a way that is altruistic. Mental illness, denying their host-body the freedom of a clear mind.

Freedom isn’t free.

If you believe in something, you fight like hell for it. Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind that I would still be in prison.” Freedom begins within. You cannot conquer the outer world until you are free within the world that you have created for yourself. Your mindset. Your attitude.

As I sit here, and proudly practice my right to the freedom of speech, I think back on a life I once lived that wasn’t so free. It was a life of being controlled and manipulated, with freedom being the light at the end of the tunnel- but it always seemed too far to reach. But I fought, and I trekked, further and further, until I escaped the cage in which I was once held prisoner.

Today I celebrate my own freedom. I celebrate the freedom of my Mom, and my Sister. I celebrate the freedom of South Africans in their equality of voting rights. But mostly, I am celebrating the freedom of every single individual who knows what it feels like to fight like hell for what they know is right. What is just. What is free. 

I’m Not Done Yet. From Finstas to Finding Yourself

 

“Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination.” – Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable. 

As I flip through my copy of “The Inevitable”, my mind wanders to the corners of its own protopia. Kevin Kelly describes it as a state that is better today than yesterday, although it may just be by a little bit. A Protopia is the realistic future we should be striving towards. It’s the unavoidable tomorrow that will arrive come sunrise…

As a working member of this technological society, I know first hand that we are morphing. We’re growing, expanding, and changing, every. damn. day.

You may be reading this and thinking, “duh.” We’re not static beings, but instead are multi-faceted humans with the capability to learn and morph with our environment… This is universally understood. However, how often do you stop and think about how our technological presence plays a part in all of this?

Maybe you’re one of those naysayers who believes that social media is the devil. Maybe you’re a child of the 00′s, who doesn’t know life without an online identity. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, we can all agree on one thing: the internet isn’t going anywhere. So, let’s come together & brainstorm ways to use these intertwined virtual networks to create a very real protopia.

Create

Unless you live under a rock, it is likely that you are a member of at least one social network. Whether its Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or a blog platform like Tumblr- you have created a virtual portrayal of real life you. I had an interesting conversation with my 17 year old sister yesterday about this topic. She was talking about how important “aesthetic” has become, and the great lengths her peers will go through to completely scrap an old look to become something new. “Finstas” are being created, and for all y’all who aren’t in high school, these are fake instagram accounts used to post photos that you only want your close friends seeing. It’s not even a matter of these posts being nasty or offensive, these are typically just photos that don’t go with the users “real” insta aesthetic.

The question then becomes, what is real? 

If you scroll all the way down to my very first Instagram post, I’m still the same ol’ Lauren I am today. Just younger, and strapped with an iPhone 4. The core of a social media identity is to represent who you are, but in a virtual world. This is sort of a crazy concept to wrap your head around, so it does not come as a surprise to me that we’re running rapid with finstas and gym posts, when we haven’t once lifted a weight IRL.

On or offline, there is a (not so) simple solution to this: self awareness. 

How do you define yourself? How would you describe yourself to others?

When I was in 6th grade, I shopped at Hot Topic and listened to Good Charlotte. In 7th grade, I had a change of heart and style, and started shopping at PacSun. The middle school years are when you’re searching for your identity. Trying on different masks, seeing which one fits. If I had an Instagram back then, do you know how many punk rock princess posts I’d have to delete before setting foot in PacSun…

It is concerning to me that kids have to go through this process of finding and creating themselves with a smartphone permanently attached to their hip. Social media has become a window to the world, and rather than developing their own identities, we’re clinging to the identities of others. Everyone wants contoured skin, a million followers, and an A1 aesthetic… but are losing touch with their own reality in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, if anyone is a social media advocate – it’s me. But, I am not blind to its dangers, In fact, I’ve made it my life work to create an anecdote.

Educate

We’re always learning, whether we realize it or not. While scrolling though Instagram, you’re learning about the world. About what people ate for lunch. About protopias. Literally– anything and everything.

This classroom is an interesting one, though. With the exception of posts that are created with the intention of being educational, most users aren’t putting their content out there with the thought, “wow, someone is really going to learn something from this.” But we should. What if everyone on social media stopped and thought for a second, “what can people learn from this?” before hitting that – post – button? Unrealistic, I know. But this can be flipped. What if everyone on social media stopped and thought, “what can I learn from this?” as they are scrolling though online content. This type of open-mindedness and thirst for knowledge can lead to a more fully developed sense of self. Think about thinking. Don’t just get lost in the mindless clatter that social media can be.

Inspire

Perhaps content we see or post isn’t meant to teach a lesson, but instead has the power to spark someone’s imagination. At the core of the platform that I’ve created, Out There Social, my goal is to inspire others to leave their comfort zone. This is the fuel that ignites the fire of everything I capture, ponder, write, and share. This is why I do what I do. This is why I love social media. Because I can reach the masses with messages that are so near and dear to my heart. I left my comfort zone in the dust years ago, and have been virtually screaming from the rooftops for everyone else to do the same.

We must realize the power we have as social media beings. Anything you post online, is seen by someone. It may not be a crowd of millions, but an audience is an audience. You have the conscious choice to decide how you will use this virtual stage. You have the free will to portray yourself to this audience anyway you choose. Your best bet, be yourself. Easier said than done, when most of us have a hard time grasping who we are.

Think of yourself as an online source of inspiration. Use your voice to challenge others to think for themselves. Allow people to walk in your shoes, but give them the freedom to tie their own laces. Close your eyes an imagine your own protopia. Then, get out there and make it happen.