Chris St Jean on Building a Live-in Van and Life on the Road

Nomadic living at its finest.

If you have ever thought that living off the grid, driving cross country, and waking up with the sun was for you, then you have just met your best friend Chris St Jean. After retrofitting a van and heading out West, Chris gives us the skinny on what it is like to live life on his own terms- minimalism and adventure at the forefront of everything. Reading all about his journey has, personally, given me a lot of perspective on my own way of life. We are often told who to be and how to act, but what if we had the breathing room to decide that for ourselves, just like Chris has? What if we imagined life led by our own ambitions, desires, and passions? If that sounds enticing, keep reading…

Chris! Tell the blog a little bit about yourself!

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Hey everyone! I’m Chris (obviously), and I’m currently living full-time out of a Ford Transit cargo van, because isn’t it everyone’s goal to live out of a vehicle after college? I’m originally from Francestown, New Hampshire, which is a tiny little town in south-central New Hampshire with about 1,500 people. Currently, I’m writing this in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is my temporary home for the next 2 weeks. 

A little bit of background about me, I grew up in the woods, which definitely was a driving factor for my love of the outdoors. Basically, ever since I can remember, my dad was taking me hiking, biking, or climbing in the White Mountains. However, it wasn’t really until high school that I found cross country running, which I believe had a profound impact on how I regard life and ultimately led to me becoming a van bum. 

A lot of what I do, including living in a van, comes from a desire to live a life that I will look back on in 50 years and be happy about living. I believe keeping perspective on what matters is incredibly important, and what I have always found to be the most profound memories in my life are the ones filled with amazing people and new, unpredictable experiences. It just so happens that that has led me to be probably the most hippy person you’ve met: living in a vehicle, running ultramarathons, and eating nothing but plants. Sounds like a great life, right?

What was the inspiration behind “revamping” your van and taking it on the road?

I don’t think there is a single moment I can point to and say “That’s when.” I knew I wanted to live an unconventional lifestyle probably since high school, when I decided some time around Junior year that a life of 9 to 5 work on a computer just wasn’t for me. I love moving too much, which is probably a product of falling in love with running.

Although we did a lot of exploration around the Northeast, and the occasional family vacation, I wouldn’t call myself a travel-minded person until relatively recently. Up until the fall of 2019, when I took off across the country in a pick-up truck- which I will talk about later-, I hadn’t really been on a solo trip before, let alone one that didn’t involve hotels and tourist traps. However, I started getting the itch to go explore when I started meeting tons of new people at Babson (including you Ursula), and I realized there are so many amazing people and places even just in this country, let alone the world.

Around Junior year of college, I knew I could take a semester off, and it was kind of on a whim that I decided to take a 3 month road trip of the country, living out of the back of a pick-up truck. It was that experience that really let me know I wanted to do this. Seeing places and landscapes I’ve never seen before, having a couple scary encounters- including one with a bison that was probably the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life- definitely pushed me towards this, but mostly it was the people. There were so many generous, kind, unique people, that I never would have met without getting out of the back woods Northeast bubble, and that’s what set it in stone that I had to keep meeting people and experiencing new things in my life.

How long did it take you to make your van livable and what were some challenges you encountered along the way?

I bought the van back in May, and I officially finished it up on December 31st. Now, that is a timeline that is very specific to my circumstances; i.e. working full time, marathon training, and the slight inconvenience of a global pandemic. Someone who was working less, had more time, and who wasn’t trying to ship everything to the middle of nowhere would be able to do that much faster. The one huge advantage I had were my parents, and I really don’t want to undervalue how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. Having access to their building tools, their knowledge, and just having a second and third pair of hands around occasionally was invaluable to this process.

Honestly, I think the biggest challenge I faced was just simple monotony and loneliness. It was, and still is, a rough time to graduate, and to then take on a monumental project like this was much more mentally challenging than I ever expected. But in terms of the actual building process, it sounds odd, but I think the cabinets were the most difficult piece of that process. You don’t really think about cabinets having so many different pieces, or so much surface area to paint, but jeez, it’s a LOT.

What are some of your favorite features on the van and what is your perspective on minimalistic, nomadic living? Why did you feel it was right for you?

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So, in terms of my favorite features, number one has gotta be the solar panels and off-grid living. It’s just so freeing, and I think it’s really cool to think that all of the light, water pumps, fridge, everything, is just powered from the sun. Basically I’m just trying to be as much like a plant as I can.

In terms of the minimalist lifestyle, the word that leaps foremost to mind is appreciation. When you just don’t have a lot of stuff, you have the ability to appreciate what you do have. At the risk of sounding too philosophical- which is a line I probably already crossed multiple times-, I believe we appreciate the things that we are aware of having. The quickest fix to be aware of something we have is to buy something new. Suddenly, it commands our attention because it’s different than we’re used to. Eventually, however, the newness wears off, and then we get something even newer to get that same feeling of appreciation. What I find in living this lifestyle is that I’m aware of the things around me much more, because there’s simply less of it around. As a bonus, living in a van is incredibly cost efficient, which means I just don’t have to work as many hours, so I can spend that time meeting people, moving around, or just generally not being stressed to be constantly doing something.

That leads into the second piece of the lifestyle that I truly love, which is nomadism. I am such a sucker for landscapes, be it mountains, deserts, forests, oceans, you name it. Living out of the van not only allows for the ability to get to these places, but that there’s nowhere else I really need to be. There’s no home base, so I can stay for as long as I choose, to explore, get to know people, or leave because it’s getting too cold or hot for a guy in a vehicle.

Anything you miss about living in a home?

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Toilets. For sure. Van living is really glamorous a lot of the time, but most people don’t really see the unglamorous sides of it. Shockingly, pooping in a plastic bag is not the most comfortable thing ever. But on a more serious note, I would say having regular people around. One thing that really got old in the truck in 2019 was that there was this pattern of meeting really awesome people, and then basically leaving immediately and knowing you’re never going to see them again. Having friends and family around regularly, especially at school, was something I really didn’t appreciate enough.

What are some destinations you hope to hit over the next few months?

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Right now, I’m in Flagstaff, Arizona, which I will be at for the next week and a half. After that, I’m planning on heading to Southern California, to visit some friends. But after January 31st, the plan is to have no plan! The spontaneous exploration is something I absolutely love doing, so I know I will be on the West Coast, but that’s about as specific as it gets. I love climbing, running, and (of course) landscapes, so Yosemite is an obvious place to go. Other than that, it’s going to be a process of bouncing around places that I know I have people to visit, in California, Nevada, Washington, and Montana, until trekking back east in late May to graduate. And after that, there really is no plan for the foreseeable future, which is both exhilarating and a little scary, if I’m going to be honest.

How do you figure out where you should travel to next?

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A really big driver (pun intended) of where I’m going to go is where I can visit people. A lot of times, I know I have somewhere I want to visit someone, and I’ll go explore places in between where I am now and where I’m ultimately going to see someone. For example, I left home in the van December 31st, and I have a good friend in Santa Barbara that I know I want to visit. But there’s a very significant amount of land in between, basically the entire country. So I now have a reason to go to Vermont, New York, Ohio, and every other state in between New Hampshire and California, which is how I ended up in Arizona right now. 

Other than that, I have a map of North America on my door in the van, with push pins on certain places. They’re color coded, so blue is where I have friends to go visit, green is a place I’ve been to that I want to go back to, yellow is a place I don’t know anyone and I want to go explore, and orange is where I had a very memorable experience (such as staring down a bear in a hailstorm on the Olympic Peninsula or royally pissing off a bison during a run in North Dakota). 

What does a typical day look like for you?

Honestly, day-to-day life is pretty average. Those big experiences or amazing landscapes are definitely not the standard. One big thing is that I tend to get up and go to bed with the sun, because a lot of time is spent outside and when there’s no sun, there’s just not a lot to do. On days that I’m not driving somewhere, usually I wake up around 5am, have some breakfast and coffee, drive to somewhere with WiFi and do some work, go for a run, do some more work or van chores, and maybe go climb or do something to meet new people. Each day is very much dictated by just what needs to be done that day, so days that I need to get to a new state look very different than days where I’m in a place I’ll be in for a bit. What I really enjoy about this lifestyle is that you have full control over where you are and what you do. Again, your house is your car, so wherever that car is, your entire life is.

What are some pieces of advice you have for people looking to do something similar to what you have done?

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Do it. Don’t hesitate. There will always be a thousand reasons not to, and it’s impossible to predict and account for every piece of your life that will change. Decide to do it, begin the process, and figure things out when you get there. With that said, I definitely have some tips. 

  • Keep track of receipts! Not only will this help with budgeting, but even more so with insurance. Insurance companies tend to be a little hesitant to insure self-built vans, so knowing exactly how much it costs helps a lot.
  • There are amazing resources online, utilize them. I’m a business major who codes websites, I have zero education in how to build a house. But I am far from the first to do this, and lots of people have documented their stories online. Check out www.faroutride.com for an extremely comprehensive build journal, outlining insulation, electrical systems, water systems, and general building advice, from people who also do not have a background in carpentry or anything like that.
  • It’s a huge project, way bigger than I thought it would be when I started. Be careful not to get overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time, just focus on the next piece to get done. 
  • Have fun with it! Get some friends to come help, and to provide new ideas on how to accomplish certain things. Getting ideas from other people was incredibly helpful, there is no way I would have been able to do this on my own. That being said, this is your house, so keep that in mind as you consider different options
  • Take. Your. Time. Everything will go more slowly than you think. I originally thought I would be done by mid October. There will be things that don’t work as planned, or just take way longer than you think they would. Don’t get stressed trying to get everything done fast, because that leads to sloppy work or trying to take shortcuts that will come back and bite you later. If you have a choice between speed and quality, always go with quality, even if it is tediously and frustratingly slow.

How has this experience changed your perspective on life?

Honestly, I think this has actually done the exact opposite. It has helped me keep my perspective on life, and not let it get changed by things that seem important in the short term, but don’t really matter much when you get right down to it. As a business student, I saw the allure of flashy titles, bigger salaries, and the social status competition of working more, sleeping less, cutting more out of your life to be able to work more and more. I had this tugging voice in the back of my mind whenever I took part in that, that just kept saying,

“This isn’t worth it. You know what makes you happy, this isn’t it.”

What the road trip in 2019, and this process of building and moving into the van, has taught me is that that voice was, for the most part, right. I don’t want to pretend that money, jobs, and hard work are meaningless, they are very necessary to life, as frustrating as it can be sometimes. But I see them as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And this is a lesson that can be applied to many things that don’t involve becoming a nomad. I wouldn’t be able to run and climb if I didn’t have the means to support that. I wouldn’t be able to visit friends, make memories. There was a lot of hard, tedious, and if I’m going to be honest, really lonely work involved with getting to be able to do this. It’s important to keep perspective, and realize that your work should be a means of achieving the lifestyle you want to live, and not let work become the lifestyle itself.

What excites you about the future?

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Honestly, the fact that I don’t know what excites me about the future is what excites me most. There’s so much possibility, things to do, places to see, people to meet, that just the raw openness of it all is the most exciting thing. It’s a lot like when you graduate middle school, and then high school, but it’s so much more poignant now. To think about it all at once is somewhat futile, like to think about everything I could possibly be doing a year, or two, or five, from now is just impossible because there are so many variables. It’s a feeling that’s not that well suited for words, but it’s something I wish everyone could experience. 

However, if I were to name one thing in specific, it is to meet people that live totally differently than I’m used to living. I’ve lived in New Hampshire my entire life, except when I went to college in Massachusetts, which is not that much different. New Hampshire is not known to be the cultural hub of the Northern Hemisphere, and to be able to experience different ways of living, even just in the United States, is just an incredible opportunity that I hope I never take for granted. And eating new foods. Because food is great.

10 Things I Learned from Starting a Blog and Writing 100 Blog Posts

Eat some cake! It’s time to celebrate!

Wow! We have come a long way haven’t we? Although I wanted to 100 things I learned from starting my blog- trust me that could easily be done- I decided to spare everyone the lengthy reading and narrowed it down to my most significant 10 learning points from this experience. Starting my blog was undoubtably one of the highlights of 2020 for me and I am so glad to have had the opportunity to share it with you all. I thought that this milestone was something to celebrate and I cannot wait for the next 100 articles. But for now, here is what I have learned.


1. The importance of starting and committing 

I had the idea of starting a blog for a while, yet it was a professional mentor of mine who encouraged me to create an online profile for prospective employers to look at. Yes, that is the reason that my blog has a resume and I decided that, even though I have a job now, it still might be interesting for people to know a little bit about my journey. In such a tough job market, I was motivated to do anything that would help me stand out as an applicant and widen my reach to employers. I created not one, but two websites in the process and posted a few articles about my life experiences and professional takeaways. Little did I know that I would become so incredibly passionate about writing and sharing that we would still be here 7 months later! And employed! The reality is, however, I could have kept thinking about starting a blog, had it not been for one night that I took the leap to purchase a domain, roll up my sleeves, and start building the site. There is something incredibly important in committing to an idea and starting, no matter how much you think you know. If the interest is there, just go for it. You have nothing to lose and so much invaluable knowledge to gain. 

2. Learning to continue regardless of readership or engagement 

Cora_II-removebg-previewWhen I started the blog, just having one reader meant so much to me, I would think to myself  “I can’t believe people are invested and engage in what I write!” It felt incredible. However, as time progresses, you naturally expect to see an increase in engagement, readers, followers, subscribers- whatever it may be. You begin to expect more, which can be crushing at times, especially when you have spent 5 hours on an article that you can read in 5 minutes, read by only 5 people. In summation, the process can become increasingly discouraging if you don’t see any progress. This taught me a couple of things. Firstly, to celebrate the little wins and sharing those milestones with others so that they can celebrate with you. I love to post on my Instagram about the interesting places that my readers are reading from- the best by far has been the Seychelles- or how many email subscribers the blog has reached. If you take the time to be grateful for every achievement- like this one!- it will make the process much more enjoyable and encouraging. Another takeaway for me was to reflect on why I was blogging in the first place. Although it started out with professional motives, it has become personally motivated, as I have come to learn how much I have a passion for writing, interviewing, sharing, making collages, and learning. If I remember that I am continuing on with my blog because of how much I love it, I am reminded that I do this for me, first and foremost, not for other’s approval or interest. If someone feels motivated or inspired by my writing, that is the cherry on top. 

3. A plethora of new skills

Ok, when I said you would learn a lot by trying something new, I wasn’t kidding. Here are a few skills that I have honed or learned for the first time in creating my baby- I mean blog. 

  1. Google Analytics and Google Search EnginePeony_52-removebg-preview
  2. Writing with style and voice 
  3. Social media marketing 
  4. Creating a newsletter
  5. Networking
  6. Researching the best website hosts and softwares
  7. Photo editing
  8. Branding
  9. Web design
  10. Phone interviewing
  11. Proofreading and grammar
  12. WordPress software
  13. Search engine optimization (SEO) 
  14. Collaborating with companies to form partnerships
  15. Creating formal deck presentations
  16. Succinct interview note-taking
  17. Crafting my personal elevator pitch 
  18. Coding 
  19. I am sure that I am missing a few here…

4. Human connection is central to my life

Without sounding too dramatic here, this blog has really saved my life. In late July, when I first started the blog, I was completely burnt out. I had spent everyday for two months applying for jobs and having networking calls. I was still mourning the loss of the last two months of my senior year and not being able to graduate on stage with my classmates. Most of all, I missed my friends and my professors. I missed my social job at the library, interacting with friends, acquaintances, and strangers everyday. I felt as though I had no purpose and no one to share my life with anymore. This blog changed that. I was able to motivate myself everyday to work on something that I could call my own and take ownership of. And, most importantly, I was able to interact with people again, from every walk of my life. On my blog, I have had the chance to feature friends that I have only just met, never even in person, to friends from my middle school and everyone in between. Whether it be phone interviews, through social media, or chatting online, it was such a pleasure to connect again in so many different ways. Sharing that on this platform has made it all the better.  

5. Discovering my personal brand and written voice

Starting the blog has allowed me to really reflect on who I see myself as and facilitated a lot of self-discovery. I began to ask myself a lot of questions like “what content would I find interesting? What interests me? What do I like to read about? What is my personal brand? How would I like to appear to others online?” I also began to think about my written voice and who I identified as, as a writer. This process is continually evolving, yet really made me consider, in every decision, how I am able to put my best foot forward and who I want to be.  

6. Pushing my boundaries of productivity, organization, curiosity, and creativity every day

Peony_47-removebg-previewWriting a blog post 3+ times a week has forced me to be incredibly organized in how I approach scheduling and writing my articles. This has led me to consider what days people engage with my posts the most, what my readers enjoy reading, and how I can consistently push the envelope in terms of content, whether it be in the writing style, photos, videos, music, and gifs that I incorporate into my articles. I am forced to constantly look for inspiration in everything and everyone that I meet. Every time that I begin to doubt my ability to come up with creative ideas for content, I look back on all of my articles and feel compelled to push forward no matter what. My friends have also been a support in helping to collaborate with me on articles to diversify the voices on the blog. I am forever grateful for everyone who has contributed in a big and small way!

7. Learning content strategy

In starting my blog, I learned how to constantly iterate and improve both my content, strategy, and processes. Here are some insights about my blog that I have gathered so far:

  1. Utilizing Google Analytics, Google Search Engine, and internal WordPress analytics, has helped me to decide what external platforms gain the most traffic to my site. Believe it or not, the majority of my readers come from LinkedIn! 
  2. Learning about search engine optimization has been incredibly beneficial to me. Over the past two months I have averaged 12% of my website views as coming from search engines. This month I am on track for even more web clicks!
  3. Looking at trends on when to post. Looks like Monday at 10:00 am is the most popular time for readers on my blog. 
  4. Looking at trends as to what content performs better than others, which, for my blog, tends to be business, entrepreneurship, and fashion related content. 
  5. I have also evaluated what social media posts work better than others. Trust me, photos of people always perform the best!

8. Learning should be a joy versus a task

Screen_Shot_2021-01-21_at_9.20.31_PM-removebg-previewIf you really love something, you are going to want to learn more about it and dive deeply into how to constantly improve and evolve. I find that this was a good learning experience that will help me for the future. If something feels like a chore, then it’s probably not a passion or intense interest. If you are someone who is looking to find a passion of your own, this is a good litmus test. 

9. Better understanding current and future industry landscapes 

Starting my blog and writing interesting content has forced me to be engaged in current trends, culture, news, and events. It has encouraged me to read more news, discover more insights, and speak with people that are industry experts to understand where the future is headed. Articles that have allowed me to take a deep dive into learning more about the complexity of our world have been some of my favorites, including this article on TikTok fame, this post about the future of modern luxury retail, and this piece on cryptocurrency banking. The world is a playground, so make sure to use the monkey bars!

10. I am capable of literally making something out of nothing

When the going gets tough, I just get tougher. I am able to create something of value out of the resources around me and that is pretty special. Just making lemonade out of lemons over here baby! Now you get out there too. 

 

Ask Adam: COVID-19 Related Therapy Questions (Part II)

Answering all of your pressing therapy questions in the comfort of your own home.

Let’s be honest, life is incredibly tough and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it tougher on us. With unemployment at 6.7%, pandemic fatigue hitting a new high, and our loved ones becoming sick with the virus, 2020 is not all that we expected- and 2021 appears to be its evil twin. I thought that it was only necessary to interview Adam on questions regarding our current global pandemic. Although Adam disclaimed that there is no “one size fits all” solution to every one of my questions, he helped me to share his guidance on some of the most common questions we are all wrestling with over the course of the pandemic. I hope that this dialogue will be as helpful to you as it was to me when I sat down with Adam for this interview!

Adam, have you seen an increase of patients during COVID?

b625d5e2796629128c2d64b2d7dc636f-removebg-previewYes. Speaking for myself and what my colleagues tell me about their practices, our client books have become very full. However, these sessions have had to be modified to adapt to our “new normal”. Primarily, therapy sessions right now are actually taking place on Zoom. From a therapist perspective, the more information you have of the person that you are working with the better, so video communication is generally preferred to telephone. For example, it helps a therapist to see physical signs, for example if a patient hasn’t showered in a long time, in order to derive meaning from the interaction. From a patient perspective, if a video call is better for the therapist, it will be better for the patient in terms of receiving guidance and attention. Phone sessions are also completely fine if video isn’t an option or isn’t tolerable to a client! Whatever both you and your therapist agree on and are comfortable with is always the right way to go. 

What are the main topics on a lot of clients’ minds during the pandemic?

There are a few things that my clients are concerned about right now some of them being an increased sense of job insecurity, concerns about getting sick and even dying, and worries around the repercussions of losing a job or family member. Tangentially, people have been thinking about their pasts a lot and reexamining their current relationships, given that so many people have more time to reflect on these aspects in their life. Marital and relationship problems have arisen, since people have been living in such close quarters. Some of my clients in their time off, for example, have also even wanted to talk through instances of childhood abuse that have been suppressed. It’s amazing that, when we stop to reflect and process, so much can become unraveled that we don’t even know we are suppressing. 

How would you consult people that have anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and are even afraid to leave the house? 

968073__39661.1564753443-removebg-previewFor people who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD, the best treatment is a combination of medication and therapy. Medications are not by any means cure alls, but they can make all the difference for many folks. Exposure therapy is also a great treatment for OCD, however, the troubling part of exposure therapy in this case is that the effects of getting COVID-19 are very real. In other words, having an extreme fear of germs is quite adaptive right now, so we certainly wouldn’t go for a walk and touch railings. I think that the most important thing, overall, is for those suffering with extreme anxiety or OCD to recognize the issue that they are facing and being open to treatment of some sort. 

How do you combat pandemic fatigue?

EntrelacKnittingTutorial1-ef838add67064bceb8b12a43ce1973d6-removebg-previewI recommend people can get outside if they can to take walks and be in the fresh air. If being social is something that you are struggling with, try to join a pod with others you trust, such as neighbors or close friends you can see on a more consistent basis. If that isn’t an option, make a point to check in regularly via Zoom or over the phone with friends and family. Zoom fatigue is definitely real, but it can make all the difference seeing those we love over just hearing them. I personally make it a point to make eye contact and say hello to those that I see out on my walks. It is easy to hide behind your mask, which is why engaging even in the smallest ways can make the most difference. The pandemic has also presented a great opportunity to try new things or do something that you have been putting off because you couldn’t find the time. Make learning a new skill a priority by setting aside some time in your calendar. Practice knitting, learn how to play the guitar, or speak a new language. Time is on your side. 

What are some strategies for not seeing an end?

What helps me to have hope is doing a historical analysis. We have overcome pandemics before and we didn’t have a fraction of the resources or knowledge we do today. Vaccines are here to help lower the rate of infection and spread, but it’s going to take educating people on the vaccine to ensure its effectiveness. Help is on the way! We just have to have patience and hope for the future. 


About Dr. Adam Brown

Follow Adam on Twitter @adamofbruce

Screen Shot 2020-12-13 at 2.15.18 PMAdam Brown, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, City University of New York and a psychotherapist in private practice. His research has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including “Children and Youth Services Review,” “The Journal of Interpersonal Violence,” and “Sexual Abuse,” and he is an invited presenter multiple times annually at clinical and scholarly conferences internationally. His research has been featured in Rueters, Yahoo!, and Fox news, and he has appeared as an invited expert for comment on events in a variety of media outlets, including for “The City” in New York City, and the “Shanghai Media Group” (SMG) in China.

Dr. Brown is an expert consultant for Park Dietz and Associates in Newport Beach, CA, and a consulting clinician at the Institute for Sexual Wellness in Weymouth, MA. He received his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and his Master of Social Work from Smith College School for Social Work.


Stay tuned for next week when Adam answers more pressing questions on therapy, life, and navigating our world’s current challenges. 

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What Learning to Code Taught Me

It’s not as easy as ABC or 123, but maybe 1010…

A few months ago, I had a phone call with a recruiter. It had taken me weeks to set this call up. It all began with a networking call, then an email reference to internal HR, then finally to the recruiter for the job that I was interested in. The job was as an Operations Analyst at a popular fashion retailer and I could not have been more excited. Despite my sticky palms, I hopped on the recruiting call, ready to discuss why I was most qualified for the position. After running through my resume with the recruiter, she mentioned that she was impressed with both my enthusiasm and experiences just coming out of college, however, the position required a working knowledge of SQL. At the time, I only had experience with R code, a coding language that I learned in my Quantitative Business Analytics courses. She said that this would not normally be a considerable problem, however there is a mandatory SQL test during the recruitment process that I would not be able to finish if I did not understand SQL. After thanking her for the call, I remember sitting in my room completely frustrated. I had just lost an incredible opportunity due to the fact that I did not have one simple skill. It was then and there that I knew I had to roll up my sleeves and take a crack at it. Challenge accepted.

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In simple terms, a coder is someone who writes specific instructions or a “program” for a computer to understand and process the submitted request in the form of a completed task. Different coding languages are used for different purposes and require a specific language for writing “instructions”. SQL is a particularly helpful language for managing data in a relational database management system, making it useful for data analytics roles. 

If you are a beginner, like myself, I recommend using Codecademy to get your feet wet! Codecademy is free to sign up and offers various different courses to learn coding languages, such as SQL, Python, R, and Java. After signing up for my SQL course on Codecademy, I decided to dive right into the first session. Each session is composed of a few parts, the main ones being lessons, informational articles, projects, and quizzes. I especially appreciated the variety in material the courses offer, which helps coders learn the language more than memorize it. I also really enjoyed the challenging projects within each session that tests your coding skills in a useful and practical manner. 

After earning my “Learn SQL” course with Codecademy this past November, I had a few takeaways that I thought were worth sharing. My first takeaway is that, although the phrase “learning to code” and other tech terminology may seem intimidating, coding can be learned by anyone no matter what skill level. If your ambition is there, there is no stopping what you can learn, especially given the incredible online resources at your disposal. If you put your mind to something you can just about teach yourself anything. Simply put, learning to code is just like learning a new language. It seems intimidating from the start, but the magic is in when you find out it really isn’t too complicated. You are just not versed in the conversation yet!

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Another noteworthy takeaway is that coding allows you to think in ways you never approached problems before. When you are in the process of learning to code, you are pushed to ask yourself difficult questions that may be frustrating in the beginning. Coding forces you to dive deeply into the “why” questions, which you must answer in order to write efficient and useful code. Learning to code orients your mind into breaking down complex issues into bit size pieces that you must understand in order to accomplish your goal. A life lesson almost more than a coding one. 

Lastly, learning to code helps you become more detail oriented in your thinking. When writing code, you must go through a step by step process of explaining to the computer what to do. But, once you get the basics down, it is just learning what more functions and short cuts are at your disposal. It is incredible learning about the possibilities of coding, organizing data, and the capabilities of modern technology. You just have to try it for yourself!

The future is only going to become more and more technologically integrated, making it worth understanding the fundamentals to fully appreciate the world’s sheer complexity. It is only when we uncover the basics that we begin to understand how far we have developed as a people, society, and world. Thank you internet. 

Tanya Garg on Finding Artistic Inspiration

Finding inspiration in the past, present, and future.

The works of Tanya Garg can be described as many things- fanciful, delicate, whimsy, colorful, energetic, inspiring- the list goes on. Tanya creates genuine art pieces that are full of beautiful perspective, not only in the form of paintings, but also in the form of clay mushrooms and beadwork. Tanya finds inspiration wherever she has been, goes, or is going, whether it be the past, present, or future. Her works are intimate and incredibly detailed- pieces that I knew needed an audience like the blog! Scroll, read, and immerse yourself in the works of Tanya and how she finds artistic inspiration.


Tanya! Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi! My name is Tanya Garg, I am 26 years old, and an Aries. I went to school for painting and currently I live in India. I have a LOT of hobbies- including (but not limited to) cooking, traveling, dancing, playing with my nephews, online shopping, hoarding things, organizing, making crafts, cycling, gossiping with my friends, watching niche documentaries…the list goes on.

What has your journey as an artist been like and how has your art changed overtime?

Screen Shot 2020-12-10 at 3.43.34 PMWhen I was in school, the only things I made were photorealistic portraits with pencil. The only reason I went to art school was because I thought that was the only thing that I was good at, and I loved the idea of being an “artist.” I really can’t explain why I picked painting, because prior to college, I had never really painted. The first semester I was really awful at it—I knew what I wanted the painting to look like but I could never figure out how to do it. The only parts I liked about the class was going to museums, or galleries. Up until then, my perception of art was still very academic, and I only looked at the great masters of European art for inspiration. I started going to gallery openings on the first Thursday of every month because of the free wine, but it really opened up my eyes to different artists, art styles, mediums, and most of all to the fact that you could have multidisciplinary approaches to express yourself as an artist. 

 I sometimes cringe when describing myself as an artist, partly because I have a horrible case of imposter syndrome, and partly because I feel the formal education I received was quite academic and Euro-centric, and made me blind to the innumerable art forms that existed outside of the “art world,” or in some cases were not considered art at all. 

 The biggest struggle for me when creating work before was transcending my personal preconceived notions of what a painting should look like—what is the right way to paint a vase or getting the perspective right. It took some time to realize that the right way for me to express myself is not painting it the right way, but instead painting it the way that is most ideal to me. What objects can I put in, what colours can I paint, and what materials can I use to make this painting one that I enjoy the most. 

 What mediums do you primarily work with?

Again, I started painting with oil, because in my head that was the “proper” way to paint. I really appreciate oil painting. My favourite brand is Gamblin Colors, because I feel like they are innovative, and not stuck in the past, and they focus on developing contemporary solutions to oil painting, however, I recently switched to acrylics. I love the Golden Acrylic mediums, but now I try to just use whatever I can find.

Apart from painting, I hoard many things. I love making crafts, even though that is a bad word in the “Art World,” but I think that is just because historically women made crafts and the Art men were too insecure to give them the respect they deserve. Only now, people are waking up to all the genius women that were creating masterpieces. Obviously, I am not creating magnificent masterpieces (yet), but I like using materials from my childhood—play dough, papier mâché, beads. I have shelves filled with crap like that. I love collecting tchotchkes, and it is also one of my favourite words. I collect handmade toys, embroidery books, buttons, basically anything that looks pretty.

I also make iPad drawings because I’m bad at keeping a sketchbook. I use Adobe Sketch because I find Procreate too complicated. I only use one kind of brush but it’s so nice because I can work with different layers to have endless possibilities of the finished product.

What does your artistic process look like? What do you use as inspiration for your work and how do you find inspiration?

I don’t have one singular process. Sometimes I paint from photos, sometimes I make it up, sometimes I scroll through houses on Airbnb, sometimes I take inspiration from a book. I like having the tv on in the background when I paint, especially food shows. I am very inspired by my house and garden. I am a big consumer and a major maximalist, I love household objects, I love old things, I love antiques and really quirky objects, so I like to place them in my paintings.

Memory is a big one, since I am a very nostalgic person. Not only for the past, but also in a way trying to preserve memories for the future, and in some ways, I feel as our possessions are the only witness to time changing.

screen-shot-2020-12-10-at-11.50.57-amIn contrast, I do have a profound love for nature, and woodsy things- flowers, mushrooms, butterflies etc. I love painting on a cloudy day, in diffused light. My studio overlooks the kitchen garden, and it makes me feel like I’m painting somewhere in the countryside.

I don’t really draw out the composition with a pencil before painting. I always tint my canvas an outrageous colour and use another outrageous colour to paint out the general picture of where things will go. Throughout my painting life, people have been telling me to paint bigger, which I always resisted, but now I have started painting on the wall, and it has been really fun, and liberating to just put silly colours on the wall. My nephew got in trouble for colouring the wall once, so he keeps yelling at me, “Bua, you better not be drawing on the wall.”

What are some of your favorite pieces of art?

Some of the works that stand out are “This is not a Fountain,” by Subodh Gupta, “Non-Stop Conversation,” by Egyptian artist Amal Kenawy, where she covers a last remaining traditional building in a light pink quilt. Let’s see… I love everything Nathalie Lete does because I feel like she is the true definition of an artist- she is constantly making. I find conceptual artist Sophie Calle really funny- one of her works “Take Care of Yourself” was created when she received a break up email from her boyfriend at the time, and got it analyzed by 107 women in different occupations. Another time she went undercover and worked at a hotel for three weeks, and photographed all the guest’s belongings. I like her work because it focuses on the intimate lives and people and the possessions they own. I also really like her because she’s a little bit like a detective and I really wanted to be one when I was a kid.

If you could have dinner with anyone past or present who would it be and what would you eat?

Salma Hayek because she is so kind, generous, confident, cultured, hot, funny, and rich and we would eat whatever Salma wants because she has good taste and likes eating healthy. She also doesn’t like to diet or exercise so I think she’s the best.

 What do you find the most challenging when working on a piece of art?

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I take forever to finish a painting because it’s the least enjoyable part.

What do you enjoy the most about the creative process and creating your art?

Having an idea for a piece…starting it. The second I finish, I take a photo and post it on Instagram, because I love the validation. But also, because I want to be prolific in whatever I make and so I love posting regularly because it motivates me to make work in abundance. I feel that the more I make, the more I discover and that inspires more confidence and happiness in creating works.

 What is your ultimate dream in terms of collaborators, exhibitions, museums for your pieces to be in?

I worked at a gallery briefly and I really enjoyed being there, but I didn’t love the art world. So many of my friends, and also my mom, majored in fashion so I am always in awe of what they make. I really want to learn how to sew and embroider and those are mediums that I want to explore in my work. I don’t know about collaborations, because I don’t work that well with other people, but I like working with my mom.

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As for showing at galleries, I don’t love the idea of my paintings hanging on a white wall in a row. I imagine them in an environment, and that’s why installation art is so fascinating to me. I despise pretentiousness in art, and sometimes galleries can feel very cold and inaccessible. I make things that are familiar and comforting, so by displaying them on a cold white wall seems very lazy on my part.

I don’t like to take my art seriously, because then it wouldn’t be fun. I would like to work on a bigger scale and make works and objects that vibe with all kinds of people, even those outside the art world.

I feel like I have a lot of learning to do, but I think the ultimate dream would be to always be making and exploring. I don’t like limits and I like to imagine and make generously.

Ask Adam: Finding a Trusted Therapist and More (Part I)

Answering all of your pressing therapy questions in the comfort of your own home.

For Dr. Adam Brown, the path towards receiving a doctorate at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and becoming a consultant, professor, and licensed clinical social worker was anything but straight. 

When Adam graduated from Colby College with a degree in English, his goal was to become a professional working actor. With this in mind, Adam moved to New York City, Boston, and finally to Los Angeles in order to chase his dream. Shortly after arriving in LA, he also began performing stand-up comedy and eventually working as a comic. Approaching 30 years old, Adam began to reevaluate what he was striving for, imagining his future working in the industry. To Adam, it boiled down to becoming famous and acquiring the privileges of those with whom he rubbed shoulders. Thinking about it further, having known members of the rich and famous personally, Adam did not see them as any happier than he was. Adam realized that even if he did achieve the fame he was looking for, it would only make him more unhappy if he didn’t feel fulfilled internally. 

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Adam soon packed up and moved back in with his mother in Rhode Island, taking a job from his uncle who owned a construction company. In taking this job, Adam had access to health benefits which he used to pay for psychotherapy, hoping it would help him in figure out his next steps in life. To Adam’s surprise, the therapist recommended that he come more than once a week, his visits turning into regular occurrences 3 to 4 times a week. Adam cites his experience in therapy as being such a transformative time that it helped him to realize a lot about his priorities, perspective, and values. More than that, Adam saw himself as being interested in doing the work of his therapist. 

Adam felt compelled to go back to school, attending Smith College School for Social Work to get his Masters of Social Work (MSW), which has an outstanding reputation for training psychotherapists. After Smith SSW, Adam worked at a foster care agency, which had an opening for a clinician to work with kids as a psychotherapist. Through this experience, Adam worked with many children and adolescents that committed sexual offenses. Adam became troubled by the way in which the system treated the youth, as perpetrators more than victims, and found that he wanted to become part of the solution to the systematic problems that he saw.                                                   

With that in mind, Adam went to get his doctorate at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Now, Adam is a professor of clinical social work at the Silberman School for Social Work Hunter College. He is a sexual abuse prevention researcher who focuses his research on youth and young adults who have committed acts of sexual harm. Adam also has clients that he sees regularly for general therapy. 

It is safe to say that Adam is the expert when it comes to social work, which is why I have enlisted him to answer some therapy questions on the blog. So, let’s jump right into it. 

How do you know that you need or should see a therapist?

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Everyone in some way could benefit from seeing a therapist, but some specifics include individuals that could need help getting some perspective, are stuck in a job or a relationship, it could be anything. Going to therapy is not going to solve your problem, but it will shorten the process- maybe even shave off some years if not months. It is all about getting you somewhere where you are already headed in terms of problem solving. A therapist does not give advice, they really help you ask yourself the good questions to enable self-discovery. 

What are things you look for in a good therapist? What makes a therapist a good one? 

Even though it’s hard, it is really important to take at least two to three sessions to decide how you feel about your therapist. A good therapist will encourage you to do that and shouldn’t make you feel that you are pressured into seeing them. Therapy is such a personal journey, if you are uncomfortable after the first session, it may be that the therapist is pushing you to confront the tough questions. It might be a good test to say to your therapist on your next visit “I almost didn’t come back because… XYZ reason” and see how your therapist reacts to this statement. If you feel ashamed, sad, uncomfortable, or don’t want to tell the truth to your therapist, that is a different story. Then, you should consider looking for another therapist. 

It is a therapist’s job to provide a “holding environment” for you, where even if life is uncomfortable you feel like you are in a safe place. 

What is the average duration of a relationship with a therapist?

It really depends on the presenting issues and on your readiness. If you come to a therapist with a very specific and identifiable issue or goal to address things might take a shorter time, like three months. It is more common for therapy to last a year or longer. Sometimes, many years. There is really no definitive way of knowing when you start. 

What is the best way to prepare for a therapy session?

To not prepare. You really need to go in and be ready to be yourself in a therapy session. When you first arrive, your therapist is going to say things like “how can I help you” or “what brings you here”, don’t over think what it is you are supposed to be doing there. If you have a specific goal in mind then that’s always great, but there is no need to “prep” necessarily. 

What are some resources you recommend for people that are looking to seek help?

If you have a very specific issue, a good place to start can, surprisingly, be Google. You can use your zip code to find support groups and specialists in your area of need oftentimes. Most of the therapists I know have a page on www.psychologytoday.com. I don’t have a page there now because I only work on a referral basis, but if I were going to accept more clients, I would. Another place to find a therapist is to ask a friend that has been in therapy. In some cases, your friend’s therapist could talk to you about what’s going on and act as a referral. 

If you are not ready for in person therapy, there is online texting therapy. 7cups.com, betterhelp.com, and talkspace.com are good ways for people to dip their toe in. You can pay one month at a time and see how it goes. 

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For resources, Brene Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us” could also be a great resource. She talks about many things related to mental and behavioral health that most folks can relate to. Additionally, these are books I always recommend to those I work with:

“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book provides really wonderful models for having difficult conversations and how to engage with people that are typically hard to engage.

“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, and Roger Fisher is also an incredible resource.


Stay tuned for next week when Adam answers more pressing questions on therapy, life, and navigating our world’s current challenges. 

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My 2021 Fashion Predictions

Stepping out in 2021 lookin’ like…

If 2021 is anything like 2020, it will be unpredictable! Nevertheless, I thought it would be super fun to make some future fashion predictions based off of my observations within the fashion industry. This year, I have many predictions for what is to come. Comfort will prevail, but in more sophisticated and put-together way. Mesh and velvet will be worn in unconventional ways. Unique puffers will continue to compete as a statement piece with the sneaker. Retro will be all the rage, with throwbacks from the 1960s and 70s, while keyhole cut outs will contend with bare all outfits. If my predictions are right, we are in for one fashionable year.

White Cowboy and Gogo Boots

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The black over the knee boot taking a backseat as white cowboy and gogo boot styles take center stage this year. This boot is a new versatile and stylish alternative to some of the styles we saw in 2020, adding a pop to any mini dress or fringe skirt moment. Already making its way into influencer’s wardrobes, these two styles of boot are on the cusp of hitting every department store shelf and e-commerce virtual shopping bag. Get them while they are hot, which, honestly, might be for a while. I think these styles are here to stay!

Statement Jackets

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Although it would be hard to stamp out the frenzied nature of sneaker buying and selling, I spy statement jackets catching on the trend of limited releases and exclusive collaborations just the same. We can thank Moncler’s Genius Collection for this shift in attitude, where the company invites individual artists to collaborate with the brand to create innovative and dynamic designs. These fun coats help us to stand out and stay warm. It’s a win-win if you ask me. 

Bell Bottoms

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I would agree, this style is a far cry from the skinny jeans that were popular not too long ago. Yet, as looser fitting clothes have become more commonplace, it’s about time our pants got similar treatment. What is attractive about this cut it that they accentuate the hips and butt, while providing a lengthening effect on the legs. I see these 70s staples as a returning popular cut, just you wait!

Hippie Halter Tops

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Just as 70s flare bell bottoms are preparing for a rerun, so are these hippie halter tops. Coming in a variety of different styles, colors, and textures, I predict that this flattering top will be the latest trending showstopper. Paired with a high waisted jean, this top exudes the hippie, laidback spirit that is making a comeback in our culture. 

Velvet

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The original sweat suit material will now be integrating itself into tops, bottoms, jackets, and so much more. A luxurious fabric that is the epitome of comfort, velvet will be incorporated into more clothes as we seek to be comfortable on dinner dates or even at parties and events. A fabric that is rich in color and can be either dressed up or down, it’s the perfect option when stiff taffeta no longer seems attractive to squeeze into.  

Hair Bandanas

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They have been used as tops, bag adornments, and coverups, it was just a matter of time before they made it onto our heads. This cute look is coming in full force in 2021, an easy way to elevate any outfit. A head bandana also serves as a perfect head covering for all of the beach days in our future. Whether you have short hair, long hair, or no hair, this is such a fun look that I cannot wait to see more of this year. 

Mesh tops 

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Although these mesh tops have already been making their rounds, I think that they will start becoming more mainstream this year. Sexy, yet subtle, these tops showcase trippy patterns that make a statement with a simple pair of black jeans and some matching booties. They come in almost any color. You just have to pick one!

Fine knit dresses with tights

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It’s my bet that this 60s inspired look is going to be everywhere this year. Everyone has a go to tiny dress in their closet and an investment in a $5 pair of candy colored tights will elevate any look to a fun and flirty one. With retro being all the rage, this showstopper is just waiting to make an appearance. My guess? Right around Spring time.   

Keyholes

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The past few years, we have seen our fair share of skin. Take one scroll through Instagram and you’ll find mini skirts, high slits, and deep V necklines. This year, I foresee a bit more modesty being incorporated in the form of tasteful keyholes, that still offer a sexy look, but one that leaves a little more to the imagination. Until you find a key at least. 

Elevated Loungewear Outside 

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We have been wearing our loungewear every minute of every day in 2020, so naturally, because we have accumulated so much of it, it’s going to make its way outside. To avoid all of those shady side eyes, I see us elevating our looks to compete with true outerwear. White sneakers, expensive sunglasses, camel coats, and designer bags will be accompanying our silk pajamas and cotton sweater. Mark my words!

My 10 Best Reads of 2020

A review of some of the books I read this year.

This year, unlike many others, has allowed me to really take the time to sit down with my thoughts, a good book, and a cup of tea. Some of these reads have moved me to tears, some have broadened my perspective of the world, and some have encouraged a smile on my face. I once read that it is important to note what you enjoy reading about, as this will point towards your passions and interests. However, in reading a variety of different books this year, I have found new interests, new passions, and new discoveries. I am excited for more interesting reads in 2021- if you have any favorites let me know! Here are some of the best books that I have read over the past year.

That Will Never Work

Book by Marc Randolph

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As I have mentioned before on the blog, this book just cannot be missed. Written by Marc Randolph, the co-founder and first CEO of Netflix, the book takes you on an intimate journey of the creation and evolution of Netflix, the streaming service that we all know and love. What many don’t know, however, is that the company started by mailing rented CDs to customers and grew exponentially from there. Did you also know that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, offered to buy Netflix in 1999 for $12 million dollars? The book is filled with interesting anecdotes and provides an insightful birds-eye view of what running a business looks like- newsflash it’s often not as glamorous as depicted. My top read of 2020 and probably will be for many years to come.

Kite Runner

Novel by Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

When I am unsure of what book to read next, I often find myself scrolling through lists posted by news outlets and blogs alike of the “Top Books to Read in Your Lifetime”. On almost every list Kite Runner appears near the top, a novel I have heard of before, but never read. Once I picked the novel up it was one I could not put down. Kite Runner is just one of those books that finishes so perfectly, tying together every theme so well at the end, leaving such a satisfying aftertaste you’ll be tempted to read it over again once you finish.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Book by Malcolm Gladwell

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Tipping Point is all about uncovering what sparks massive trends, epidemics, and social movements. If you are passionate about marketing, then I definitely recommend the read. Gladwell expertly breaks down the important facets of such “tipping points” using an accessible approach to the everyday reader. What I love about all of Gladwell’s books is that they cause you to apply his logic to personal facets of interest and this book is no exception. You’ll have yourself thinking about everything from TikTok’s ever growing popularity to the ripped jeans trend- the list goes on!

Educated

Book by Tara Westover

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book was one of two choices in a virtual book club that I was recently apart of- which was such a fun experience that I highly recommend seeking out! Although this book is not one I would have grabbed off the shelf to read myself, I really enjoyed learning all about life in a survivalist Mormon family, a life contrasting my own. The resilience and sheer vulnerability that Tara displays throughout the novel is totally inspiring. Tara shows us an intimate look into the human experience of discovering personal identity separate from any entity that surrounds us. It’s a New York Times Bestseller for a reason!

Little Fires Everywhere

Novel by Celeste Ng

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Little Fires Everywhere is another book from my virtual book club that I am so glad that I had the chance to read. Now an acclaimed TV series, the novel takes you into the parallel lives of two families who could not be more than different, but uniquely intertwine. It is such a thrill to watch the stories of the two families unfold that you won’t want to put this book down for a second.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now

Book by Meg Jay  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Being someone in my twenties, I thought that this would be an appropriate book for helping me navigate some of the tough questions that many people my age face. This book was especially interesting because it is written from the perspective of a clinical psychologist talking with her patients who are all in the twenty year olds. Although it was a bit anxiety inducing- talking about time and big decision making does that doesn’t it?- the book was an insightful read. If you think that you are alone in asking “if my twenties are supposed to be the ‘best time of my life’, why doesn’t it feel that way?” this will be the book for you.

The Rich Boy

Basil and Cleopatra

Love in the Night

Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

These short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald were such a joy to read. Packed with delightful details, you will feel all of the emotions in reading a large novel in just a few pages- a true testament to Fitzgerald’s eloquent writing. One of the many things that I love about short stories is that you can embark on many different literary journeys in just one afternoon, exploring a variety of themes, characters, and motivations. If it isn’t this book of short stories, I recommend you pick up another.

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Book by Jake Knapp  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Although this isn’t a book I would normally pick up for a leisurely read, Sprint was super helpful in guiding me with a project I was working on. Sprint is especially helpful to entrepreneurs and leaders who are looking to shake up convention and provide a new way of doing things in a speedy manner.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Book by Malcolm Gladwell

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Although Malcolm Gladwell is my favorite author, I had to give this one a three out of five stars because of the lack of cohesion between the stories within this book, although understandable considering they are a compilation of the journalist’s articles published in The New Yorker. If you are looking for a light read or even a book to consistently pick up and put down, this is a good one for that. Packed with interesting stories and anecdotes, you will never get bored reading this one!

The Shack

Novel by WM. Paul Young

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I am not quite finished with this novel, but I knew that it had to make the list. Incredibly detailed and nuanced, The Shack tells the story of a man and his meeting with God and the subsequent adventures that they embark on during their meeting. For anyone who has ever grappled with questions about the Christian faith, this book is a compelling and quite beautiful read. Young humanizes God in such interesting ways, which makes the read altogether enjoyable and thought provoking. I can’t wait to finish this novel over the holiday break!

CEO Sit Down: Bert Cumming on Mijimask

Inspiring individuality and identity, while covering up and keeping safe.

Masks have been on everyone’s mind since the beginning of the year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has become an increasing concern for people across the globe. The Center for Disease Control has advised mask usage in helping decrease the spread of COVID-19, as masks provide a barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from being transferred from person to person. For many Americans, mask usage is a new concept that makes expressing who we are difficult, because of the area of the face masks cover. Realizing this, Bert Cumming started a business during the past year that focuses on helping children show their personality and individuality with Mijimask.

Screen Shot 2020-12-15 at 6.08.24 PMBert! Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am a junior, and recent transfer, at Babson College.  I am concentrating in finance and entrepreneurship with hopes to one day take one of my companies public on the stock exchange.  I consider myself an innovator and a doer, what I mean by that is that I love to create solutions to all sorts of problems and my motivation drives me to attack these ideas.  

Some hobbies include Jet Skiing over the summer, snowmobiling over the winter and day trading in between.

What is Mijimask and what was the inspiration behind the business?

Screen Shot 2020-12-15 at 6.23.55 PMMijimask is a customizable face mask designed for children of all ages. Our mission is to provide children the opportunity to “own the pandemic” by wearing a mask that represents who they are. It provides children the ability to customize their own masks thereby providing them a unique mask and gaining confidence. Mijimask allows kids (recommended ages 5+) to customize their masks with attachable and detachable Mijis making them unique to their personalities.  

My inspiration behind the business is to prevent kids from losing their individuality by covering their faces every day.  At young ages, children are susceptible to every little thing they are exposed too, and I do not want their creativity to be effected in the future years because of the pandemic that is happening at this pivotal time in their lives.

What excites you about the business and the business’ mission?

Screen Shot 2020-12-15 at 6.24.03 PMWhat excites me the most about this business is the direct correlation that comes from COVID-19.  In today’s marketplace supply chains are affected across the globe affecting businesses, and if I can learn to navigate the supply/product market in the hardest time in history, I will be more than capable of navigating the market when COVID-19 does not exist.  

My mission is exciting because I am working towards protecting the creativity of young minds, and this is important to me because I consider my creativity and innovative abilities to be some of the most important traits I have.

What makes Mijimask different from other masks on the market?

Mjimask is different from other masks because it promotes the personality and customization of face masks. Other masks in the market are extremely generic and mass produced with printed designs on them, limiting the rarity of the mask itself. Mijimask makes it nearly impossible to have the exact same mask as anyone else, promoting creativity when designing the mask.

What has been the most challenging aspect of starting and operating the business?

Screen Shot 2020-12-15 at 6.24.19 PMMarketing has been the most challenging aspect of operating my business.  This is due to the sole reason that I do not know how advertising and marketing work, and I have to spend a majority of my time studying and learning instead of actually doing something since it is costly.  I had previously underestimated marketing as a whole, and now have much more respect for that industry.

What has been the most rewarding moment of starting and operating Mijimask?

The most rewarding moment of starting Mijimask, MaskMate L.L.C. is demonstrated in the picture of the two girls below.  When I received this picture of the kids choosing their mijis to put on their mask, I knew what I was doing was for the right cause and my mission was chosen correctly. 

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are starting or would like to start a business during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Do it. Do not let COVID-19 delay your plans to start a business or intimidate you into not starting your business at all.  We do not know how long this will last and the longer you wait, the less passion you will have for your idea in the future and less of a chance to be successful.  Start your business not matter the environment around you, and learn as you go–like I am currently doing with marketing. 

What about the future excites you?

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I am excited for these vaccines to be released, and for things to go back to normal as soon as possible.  People keep saying, “our new normal”, but I do not want to accept a world wear wearing a face mask and doing work and school online is considered our “normal”.  The way we are currently living is a false reality and we need to do everything possible to return to the world we used to live in, where it was normal to gather in groups for holidays and no one needs to feel scared when a simple cough is let out. Mijimask is made to make these times easier, but it is not made to make these times acceptable forever. We need to wear our masks while we are told to prevent the spread, but we also need to accept the time when it comes to abandon these masks and return to our normal way of life, and I am excited for that day to come. 


Contact Mijimask

Website 

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3 Friends Picking their Top Gifts Under $100 (Part III)

Because… everyone needs a bit of gift inspo.

Bring on the gifts! It’s our last post of the series, but did my friends save some creative ones for the end! I love personalizing my gifts in little ways and with some of these you can do just that. Whether it be picking scents, colors, or graphics, adding a personal touch to a present makes all the difference in making your gift a special one. In the end though, gifts are not what’s important. What is important is that you went out of your way to communicate that you love someone and that they play a meaningful role in your life.

No matter what the present, make sure the person knows you care about them, you see them, and you love them. If your gift doesn’t communicate that, words will do.

Elisabeth Harris

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The Gift

Custom Album Cover, $12

I think this personalized Spotify plaque is such a creative gift that is perfect for any holiday or celebration. I love sentimental gifts with meaning behind them, which is why this is going to be one of my favorite gifts to give this holiday season!

Susanna DSouza

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The Gift

DIY Jewelry Box, $5.40 and Acrylic Paints, $10

During these quarantine, better-to-stay at home times, there’s definitely more time on hand and a great gift idea would be to try making your own DIY gift. Hobby Lobby, among other arts and craft stores, sell unfinished wood items such as coasters, picture frames, jewelry boxes, and wall hangings that with some acrylic paint, stencils, and varnish, you can make your own customized gift that’s not only easy, affordable, but also super thoughtful!

Sarah Charles

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The Gift 

Gleamin Vitamin C Clay Mask, $41.99

For Sarah, this holiday season is all about pampering and taking some time to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. That is why, for a gift, Sarah is recommending this Vitamin C Clay Mask from Gleamin, which even comes with a mask brush! Too bad it also doesn’t come with cucumber eye coverings and a cup of tea too!


Bonus Gift!

Nadia Kim

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The Gift 

Le Labo Hand Soap, $23 and Hand Lotion, $33 

Although it is on the pricier side, this hand soap and lotion duo is a very stylish gift. Because I have to wash my hands so often, I realize they’re very dry nowadays especially with the cold weather. What scent would I recommend? The Hinoki scent for sure, which is so calming and a unisex fragrance.