GRADUATION AND GRATITUDE

Two years.

Four semesters.

Endless life lessons.

Invaluable relationships built.

I graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of North Florida on May 1, 2020 with my Bachelor of Science in communication with an emphasis in public relations, and a minor in marketing. Though my graduation was a bit unconventional and did not involve a commencement ceremony or other celebrations, it was nonetheless a very sweet and memorable time.

The last semester of my college career took a turn I was not expecting, and experiences I thought I would treasure for the rest of my life were suddenly taken away from me. But graduating in the midst of a pandemic taught me that my accomplishments and successes are not lessened by the lack of a public celebration.

When I first transferred to UNF, I was insecure, full of doubt and unaware as to what I could even do with my degree. I questioned myself, my worth and my ability to become a successful communication professional.

But as I progressed through college, I gained confidence. I was provided with so many opportunities that gave me relevant experience. Through every job, internship and position, I fell more in love with my field. I was awarded Outstanding Student in Public Relations and had the opportunity to serve as president of PRSSA. The advanced education and the hands-on opportunities made a tremendous impact on my college experience, and will benefit me as I transition into the professional field.

I will forever be grateful to the professors, classmates, supervisors and peers who poured into me, encouraged me and challenged me every step of the way. UNF is a smaller university comparatively, which allows for deeper and more intimate relationships. I gained lifelong friends and mentors who made a tremendous impact on my college experience.

I’m now facing what every college student fears the most: what comes after graduation. I know I will soon be overwhelmed with the dreaded questions every college grad encounters (“What’s your plan? Where do you want to work? What are you going to do?”), and although I don’t have the answers right now, I’m confident in myself and my ability to succeed. The class of Spring 2020 is facing challenges no one has prepared us for, which will only make us come out of this stronger.

Here’s to two years of growing, persevering, maturing, learning, experiencing and overcoming. I will never forget my time at UNF and look forward to what the next chapter of my life will bring.

FINDING WORK-LIFE BALANCE WHEN WORKING FROM HOME

Work-life balance is tricky enough as it is, and with many of us making the transition to working from home, it may seem nearly impossible. Working from home has its perks (flexible hours, constant access to your pantry, the new uniform of sweatpants and a messy bun…), but like every good thing, it also has some downsides.

If you’re working non-traditional hours, you might feel pressure to spend more time online and working than you otherwise would in the office. And without coworkers around to remind you to take breaks, eat lunch and leave the office for the day, you might fall into the habit of working additional hours and not having as much free time as you otherwise would.

Work-life balance is important for your emotional and mental health. Setting boundaries and learning to separate work from your personal life will increase productivity and boost your mood.

How to balance work and life

Create a designated work space

Working from you laptop while lounging in bed or on the couch may seem like an appealing idea, but this actually makes it harder to relax when you’re off the clock. You begin to associate that area with work, which means if you work from bed all day long, it’s going to be difficult for your brain to switch from work mode to relaxation mode.

Find a space to be your designated “office.” Maybe it’s your desk or dining room table, or the bar in the kitchen. When you find this space, make sure you’re treating it the same you would your typical office. Try and act as if you’ve actually left the house.

Use personal activities to take breaks

One of the perks of working remotely is greater productivity—even during your breaks. You can use personal errands to break up your day when you need to take a couple of minutes away from your desk or computer. That way, your breaks are still productive and help you get personal tasks done so you can spend your time offline doing something you genuinely enjoy.

When you’re getting burnt or overwhelmed, take a few minutes to do the dishes, start a load of laundry or make your grocery list.

Make plans for your after-work hours

If your living space and your workspace are the same place, it can feel hard to truly step away from work at the end of the day, even if you’ve closed your laptop and signed off. Sometimes it can feel like there isn’t a reason to log off at a certain time if you’re already working from the home office.

Try making plans to do something you enjoy after your work day is over. This will not only give you something to look forward to, but will also prevent you from working overtime simply because you can.

Set a schedule—and stick to it

When you have the flexibility to work from anywhere, you start to feel like you need to be available anytime, too. If you struggle to sign off for the day when you’re technically supposed to, you’re in good company. Setting a schedule will be helpful for your coworkers and your work-life balance. Your team will know exactly when they can reach you, and you’ll be able to plan personal activities during your day outside of work, wake up and go to bed at the same time every day and work a manageable number of hours.

We’re all facing changes and adjustments during this time. It’s okay if you’re struggling because we’re all struggling. Nothing could have prepared us for the many ways our lives have been altered in this. The most important thing is to give yourself grace for not having it all together. Focus on surviving, tackling one thing at a time and celebrating your accomplishments, no matter how small.

AN EARLY GOODBYE TO SENIOR YEAR

I’m writing this with a heavy heart. I didn’t realize how important it was to cherish every moment in college until my senior year was cut in half. Due to the severity of the coronavirus, I’ll no longer get to walk across the stage and receive my diploma I worked so hard to attain. I’ll no longer get to say goodbye to the professors who encouraged me, supported me and challenged me. I’ll no longer get to say goodbye to my classmates, coworkers and supervisors.

It’s disappointing, to put it lightly, when you’ve spent years leading up to this one moment. I know I’m not the only one who had already scheduled their graduation photos, started looking for a dress and began planning celebrations with friends and families.

Experiences I thought I would treasure for the rest of my life were unexpectedly taken away from me.

It’s saddening, yes, but it’s not the end of the world. After reflecting on my past two years at the University of North Florida, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had, memories I made and lessons I learned for just a few more weeks. We may have lost what little time we have left, but what’s already happened can’t be taken away from us.

We are allowed to be sad. We are allowed to be mad (I know I’m definitely both at the moment). Don’t feel bad about feeling. But at the same time, remember that none of this changes the fact that we’re still graduating. Our hard work is paying off. Our accomplishments feel lessened because they won’t be celebrated in such a public way, but they don’t need to be. Have your closest friends and family over for a small, intimate graduation in your living room—it will probably be three times as special and memorable.

This semester took a turn none of us were expecting, but it’s up to us to make it count. Don’t look back at this last semester of your college career with regret, wishing things had been different. Look back at this semester and remember how you were able to change something so devastating and heartbreaking into a memorable, special and sweet semester.

Don’t give up yet. Give these last few weeks everything you have left. Get good grades and study hard. Make new memories, laugh with your friends, celebrate everything (even if it’s just that you changed out of sweats into jeans for the first time in five days). With your newfound free time, pick up a hobby, start a side hustle or catch up on all the sleep you’ve lost.

Regardless of how you decide to spend the last moments of your senior year, this won’t change: you have accomplished great things, pushed yourself to limits you didn’t know were possible and made your parents, professors and peers so proud.

And you should be proud of yourself, too.

MY MORNING ROUTINE AS A COLLEGE STUDENT

Mornings are my favorite time of the day. I literally go to bed excited to wake up in the morning and start my routine, which is a very abnormal thing to look forward to as a college student (I have been known to voluntarily choose 8 a.m. classes – crazy, I know).

How you spend your morning will set the tone for the rest of your day. A good start is always beneficial. If I’m a mess in the morning, I feel as though I spend the rest of the day trying to catch up. If I am intentional about my mornings, though, the day tends to go smoothly as well.

As a full-time college student juggling three jobs (and president of a national PR club because might as well add one more responsibility to my never-ending list), my mornings aren’t perfect. I have mornings where I wake up extra early to be productive before tackling the day, and mornings where I snooze my alarm eight times and am lucky if I have time to comb my hair before rushing out the door. Everyone will have a different routine that works for them, their life and their circumstances, but I thought I’d share my personal morning routine. I know I’m always interested to know what works for other people!

6:30 a.m.: wake up

I’m pretty strict on waking up. I don’t snooze my alarm because I know the longer I lay in bed, the harder it will be to get up — so I just rip the band-aid off and get it over with.

6:35 a.m.: skincare

I do most of my skincare routine in the evening (exfoliate, cleanse, serum and moisturize), which leaves witch hazel and moisturizer for the mornings. I love having refreshed, clean skin first thing in the morning!

6:37 a.m.: make my bed

I cannot stress this enough: having a neatly-made bed makes me feel like I have my life together. Making your bed in the morning will not only make your room look more put-together in general, but it will also lower your stress level and improve your mood.

6:40 a.m.: make breakfast

When it comes to breakfast, I like to keep it simple and easy. My go-to breakfasts consist of avocado toast (with everything seasoning from Trader Joe’s—literally takes it to a whole new level), a bagel or a parfait. And no breakfast is complete without coffee! My favorite coffee is the Starbucks blonde roast with the white mocha creamer, but recently I’ve just been using half & half and some chocolate syrup to make an iced mocha.

7:00 a.m.: devotion

Spending intentional time with Jesus every morning truly does change my attitude. I find that the early hours of the day offer a peace and stillness conductive to hearing from God. Doing my devotions in the morning is a sure way to put God first in my day.

7:30 a.m.: get ready

The last half hour of my morning routine is spent doing my hair, makeup and getting dressed! I’d drop a makeup routine, but I’m no YouTuber.

Does this morning routine happen every day? Absolutely not. I slack off, I wake up late, I mess up. But I give myself grace and I try again the next morning. And I tailor it to meet my life and my schedule. Everyone’s morning routines are going to look different, and it’s important to establish a routine that works for you and makes you happy! Here are some ideas for a healthy morning routine:

Don’t get on your phone right away.

About 80 percent of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up. The worst thing you can do to yourself right after waking up is shove a bright screen in your face. When you wake up and immediately check your phone, you’re bombarded with several notifications, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Avoiding checking your phone for at least 30 minutes after waking up will help you start your day calm and in control.

Create a to-do list for the day.

Creating a to-do list every morning will help you stay organized and productive throughout the day. A similar method I’ve been doing is writing down two goals I want to have accomplished by the end of the day.

Multitask your mornings.

Take advantage of your mornings by multitasking: making breakfast while catching up on podcasts, chatting with a friend during your commute to work or picking out your outfit while your coffee brews. This will leave you feeling happier and more productive.

THE TRUTH ABOUT SELF LOVE

Real talk: self love doesn’t mean loving everything about yourself.

The self love movement that is oh-so-popular right now has good intentions, but I think it only scratches the surface of what self love actually is. Pinterest-worthy quotes such as “you need to love yourself before you can expect anyone else to,” and “we’re all beautiful in our own way,” or “insecurities about flaws are more off-putting than the flaws themselves” rarely offer real comfort, and there are many problems with them.

Regardless of the good intentions these statements have, they remind us that our physical flaws are evident but not talked about because no one really knows how to talk about the aspects of our appearance that are imperfect, so we rarely acknowledge that they are. Conventional beauty standards are constantly evolving, but the very notion of conventional beauty itself is constant.

The truth about self love is that not all parts of ourselves fit into the framework of conventional beauty, so we should stop trying to pretend like we do and accept ourselves for who we are, flaws and all. Because the reality is that not every part of ourselves needs to be beautiful, and insisting that we’re all flawless only promotes a world in which flaws aren’t welcome.

The other issue with the self love movement lies in the idea that you must love yourself first before you can expect to receive love from anyone else. This philosophy results in the end-goal of self love being to make yourself more desirable to someone else. If this is true, who are we really loving ourselves for? For ourselves, or for a guy on Tinder with some serious boundary issues?

When we believe that self love must precede another’s love, we’re still enabling the societal narratives of insecurities and confidence – and also a very simplified version of what it even means to love yourself at all. For some of us, loving yourself is something that doesn’t come naturally and has to be learned. And sometimes that learning process is lifelong work, and that’s okay.

Self love and steadfast comfort in our own skin have become the new standards to adhere to. Admitting that you don’t love what you see in the mirror isn’t attractive because we act as if, in order to be a strong woman, you can’t feel shame or embarrassment or anything other than total self-acceptance. This results in feeling abnormal if you don’t fully love what you see in the mirror, because it appears as though everyone does. When in reality, the concept of loving every single part of yourself is so out of reach that it’s practically impossible – insecurities and flaws will always be present.

Self love doesn’t mean loving everything about yourself. It means accepting yourself despite what you don’t love. It’s loving yourself despite the fact that doing so doesn’t guarantee the love of others. And it’s learning how to live in a body you wouldn’t necessarily choose.

5 LESSONS I LEARNED IN SENIOR YEAR

The last two semesters of my college career have been the best, hardest, most challenging, most rewarding, most crippling and thrilling all at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure of myself and where I’m headed while also being so filled with self-doubt and anxiety. As my graduation date gets closer and closer, questions such as “Where will I get a job? How will I support myself? Am I ready to become a ‘real’ adult?” consume my thoughts and effect my day-to-day life.

During my senior year I learned a lot about myself, my work ethic and how to ease into the transition from student to professional – but mainly about how little sleep I can get and still manage to be a functioning human (the answer is four, if you were curious).

1) You can’t say “yes” to everything

Being both a people pleaser and a die-hard extrovert who craves social interactions, saying “no” isn’t in my vocabulary. Even if I had a test to study for, homework due that night and was mentally and emotionally drained – I would still say yes to hanging out when I knew it was a bad idea. Don’t fall into this trap! Do what’s best for you and your mental health.

Why Saying “No” is Important for a Healthy Life

2) Grades are important, but you are more important

It’s very easy to lose sight of your self worth when you’re in college and pressured to maintain a high GPA, get straight As and never miss a homework assignment. In college, I developed an unhealthy, perfectionist mindset which I didn’t realize at the time was damaging me. I became my own worst critic and set my academic goals so high that I could never actually reach them. Nothing was enough for me, I was never satisfied with my grades (even though I was getting straight As every semester). I believed my grades were more important than my mental health, so I neglected myself.

If I could go back and re-do the past two years, I would put less pressure on myself and prioritize my mental and emotional health over my grades. Grades and GPA won’t matter in five years, so why stress over it so much?

Your GPA Doesn’t Matter

3) Cherish the good moments

In the midst of all-nighters, 8 a.m. classes and mental breakdowns, time spent with friends can make all the difference. Reflecting on my college career, my favorite memories are the sweet chats shared over honey lattes, the hurricane evacuation that turned into a mini vacay and the night my roommate and I made five million snickerdoodle cookies. I cannot stress this enough, friends make everything better.

4) It’s okay to not have it all figured out

There is so much pressure to have your whole life planned out when you’re a college student. Everyone’s favorite question to ask a college student is “So what’s your plan after graduation?” This can be extremely stressful when the answer is, “I don’t know!”. Just remember this: it’s okay to not have everything figured out. It’s okay to not know where you see yourself in five years. I mean, I rarely have the next day planned! Uncertainty is scary but it’s part of life. The best thing to do when you don’t know what to do is focus on what is currently in your control, and disregard the rest.

5) Take advantage of every (relevant) opportunity

This lesson contradicts lesson one in a sense, but hear me out. I took every opportunity relevant to my major that I could, and it’s proven to set me apart from the 707 other students graduating from the communication program with me (for those of you wondering, I am getting a Bachelor of Science in communication with an emphasis in public relations, and a minor in marketing!). I’ve had an on-campus job in marketing ever since I started attending the university, am currently president of a national public relations club and have had two marketing internships, one of which I currently hold. Getting involved both on and off campus is the best advice I have for current college students, especially seniors!

Senior year is flying by and I’m trying to cherish the little amount of time I have left in college, because this time truly is so so sweet (despite all the anxiety and sleep deprivation). To all my fellow seniors, stay strong! Remember where you started and picture where you’re headed. I believe in you, so start believing in yourself!

COFFEE SHOP THOUGHTS

It’s Saturday morning, which means I’m at my favorite coffee shop sipping my very predictable order of a honey latte. My to-do list for the day is endlessly growing as I remember more and more responsibilities, and I’m feeling pressured to get everything accomplished in one sitting.

In today’s society, it’s easy to make being “busy” part of our personality. We pride ourselves on how busy we are, how good we are at multitasking, how long our to-do lists are and how many things we can cram into one weekend. Hustle culture is becoming the norm for people in the workforce, for students and for everyone.

Hustle culture perpetuates a kind of workaholism which can be especially attractive to new graduates who are trying to show their dedication and devotion. The busier you are, the more you are celebrated. The fact that you’re missing meals, losing sleep and neglecting yourself in general is irrelevant because success equals hustle.

Right?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to go above and beyond – the problem arises when you give so much of yourself to your job or your schoolwork that you have nothing left. You’re overworked, tired and drained. You rarely have a few minutes to yourself and when you do, you’re stressed because you feel like you should be working. Your mental health takes a blow and the repercussions are endless.

I learned the dangers of hustle culture the hard way. Ever since I can remember, I’ve believed that my grades define my self worth. I set my academic goals so unrealistically high and then I get upset with myself when I can’t reach them.

Work does not determine your worth, whether it’s the grade you got on a test or the amount of tasks you’re able to accomplish in one hour.

Here are a few tips you can implement if you want to combat hustle culture and redefine your self worth:

01) Work smart

Working smart means working efficiently. Imagine accomplishing a task in three hours instead of six. That way, you have time to double-check it before moving onto the next task. Aim to be productive, not just busy!

Key Ways to Develop a Performance Culture in the Workplace

02) Embrace a work-life balance

A fresh mind is a creative mind. Constantly working, on the other hand, creates dullness and monotony. Keeping your work separate from the rest of your life will allow you to relax when it’s time to relax and work when it’s time to work.

How We Can Achieve Balance in Our Professional Lives

03) Let go of perfectionism

A lot of us developed perfectionist tendencies at an early age when our responsibilities were more limited and it was easy to perform superior work. But as we get older, perfectionism gets further and further out of reach – and expecting yourself to achieve perfectionism only sets you up for disappointment. The healthier option is to strive for excellence in replace of perfectionism.

The Simplified Guide to Letting Go of Perfectionism

To combat hustle culture, share your defeats as regularly as you share your successes. Share the good, the bad and the ugly of your work. Share the goals and the accomplishments you have set out to achieve. Be real. These are the things that hustle culture has taken away from hard-working individuals, but something we need to bring back.

ON BEING A CREATOR

Creativity is experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes & having fun.

Often, people will associate “creativity” with artists, content creators, photographers, musicians and other industry professionals. Yes, these people are creating things. Yes, these fields involve a creative mind in order to succeed. But what we fail to realize is that everyone is creative in their own way.

Creativity is subjective. It means something different for everyone. It’s a myth that engineers, accountants, managers and others are not creative. You don’t need to have a degree in photography to be a creative – you just need to have a genuine passion for learning and growing, for taking risks and making mistakes.

Creativity is a human quality that exists in every single one of us. When you realize that you are a creative individual no matter who you are or what you do, you can start tapping into your explorer self, your artistic self and your student self. It is who we are that makes us creative. It is what we know that makes us creative. It is how we interact to our surroundings that makes us creative.

Finding your inner creative is not a difficult task. Typically, we find ourselves bursting with creativity at the oddest moments: while taking a shower, going for a walk or while driving. This is because your mind is relaxed and distracted enough to engage a different part of your brain. When creativity strikes unexpectedly, make sure to write your thoughts down, engage in relaxing activities and act on your ideas!

If you want to start brainstorming, here are some fun links on creativity!

How to be creative when you’re not naturally creative

6 ways to become a more creative person

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

The secret to being a creative? Let yourself make mistakes. Let yourself get frustrated, stuck and discouraged. Let yourself fail and try again. Creativity is messy and that’s just part of the process.

FALL: THE FLORIDIAN WAY

When you don’t get changing leaves, you need something else to be excited about. Fall in Florida does not entail a steady drop in temperature and a dramatic change in scenery. For Floridians, fall means a light breeze and a slight chilly morning on very rare days. It means we get a break from worrying about hurricanes just long enough to lay out by the pool for 30 minutes without sweating instead of three. It means contemplating wearing a jacket in the morning, but deciding against it because at 10 a.m. you’ll be wishing you were in a tank top.

It’s hard to partake in fall activities when you live in Florida and fall does not exist.

Here are 5 ways to celebrate fall in Florida.

1) BUY FALL-SCENTED CANDLES.

Candles play a huge role in the perception of the season. Once Bath & Body Works has their fall scents out, it’s all over for my wallet. And as a result, our apartment always smells like cinnamon and pumpkin (no complaints here!).

2) BAKE YOUR HEART AWAY.

One thing you can do to celebrate fall that has nothing to do with the temperature is bake! A few of my favorite fall treats are homemade pies, candied apples and pumpkin-flavored everything.

3) (NOT SO) SCARY MOVIE NIGHT.

You can enjoy your freshly-baked pie and candied apples while watching some Halloween classics! And if you’re like me, this means Halloweentown, Hocus Pocus and Nightmare Before Christmas because all the others are too scary.

4) ENJOY THE FLAVORED DRINKS ON ICE.

Floridians know to ask their barista to make their pumpkin spiced lattes iced to enjoy it on those 80-degree days. Not a fan of the fall flavors? Ask for an iced cafe con leche and thank me later.

5) DECORATE.

There may not be leaves falling off the trees outside, but you can still get an autumn effect inside your home using leaves or flowers, plaid blankets and pumpkins (don’t even ask me how many pumpkins I have in my apartment right now). Fall is a great time to try out some DIYs on Pinterest!

All in all, Florida isn’t so bad. We may not have the fall temperatures or colors, but we still have the fall spirit!

BACK TO SCHOOL ESSENTIALS

It’s that time of the year again!

Going back to school after a much-needed summer break is never easy, but there are a few things we can do to make the transition more fun. Here are some of my favorite products I loved having around during the school semester!

01) A CUTE PLANNER

A cute planner is a MUST! I keep my whole life in my planner and never let it out of my sight. I use the monthly view pages to write down deadlines and events (color coded, of course), and the weekly view pages to schedule when I’m doing which assignments. My planner is from Fringe – click here to glance at their available planners!

02) TRENDY WATER BOTTLE

I didn’t realize how important water was until I was on campus running from class to my office all day long. Now, I’m more hydrated than ever thanks to my Ello water bottle! Having a cute, practical water bottle makes drinking water fun.

03) PAPER MATE PENS

I’m very OCD when it comes to the way I take notes in class. I color-code everything, and it took me such a long time to find colored pens that didn’t run or smear on the pages! But these Paper Mate felt-tipped pens are a gift from God. Highly recommend!

04) LAPTOP STICKERS

Though arguably laptop stickers are not back to school essentials, they are very cute and make writing papers fun! I get my stickers from Redbubble. Tips for picking out laptop stickers: stick to one color scheme, and choose stickers that reflect something about you! I love my laptop stickers, and they’re always such a good conversation starter – even in professional business meetings.

Here’s to a great semester with (hopefully) less stress, more sleep and plenty of coffee. Happy studying!