Life thoughts

experiments

There’s this fleeting moment during an experiment, almost every time, where I stop and think I have completely messed up. I spent the past three days preparing to run an RT-qPCR (real time quantitative polymerase chain reaction if you’re interested) to see if our gene of interest is overexpressed in certain heart tissue. After 15 hours of work, today I put my eyes down, made sure I was ready to go, and began working with the tiniest volumes to prepare the final reaction. I manually pipetted into 96 wells twice (so 192 times). I was so focused on not messing up (this was my first time doing qPCR solo and they gave me the big experiment. . .) but that malevolent little thought rushed in once again. About halfway through the entire process I thought, oh no, you’ve messed up. What was the last sample used? Did you put the right primer in? Is the volume correct? Literally, every worst-case scenario entered my mind. In these often-had moments, I question my process, my accuracy, my proactive thinking, even my basic skills. No matter how confident I am, in these moments I lose all confidence and question things I know to be true. This happened to me today, and I’ve been experiencing this long enough to have mechanisms to mess-up-proof my experiments (like labeling everything, being very intentional in where samples are placed, and using my pipette box as a roadmap for where I’ve already been on the plate). Importantly, I catch my mind while immersed in this doubt and assure myself that I haven’t made a mistake, that I have been very cautious and attentive, and that I am doing just fine. If you’ve read this far despite nonsensical lab stuff, thank you. I realized that this self-initiated doubt is not confined to research but is universal in all of life.

How often am I moving right along, doing just fine, everything is working out, and my mind says to me, Oh no. You have really messed up. You’ve made a big mistake. Everything you’re doing is wrong. I’ll admit, very often. We have experiences, trials and errors, that guide us in life. We make decisions based on knowledge and feelings that we have previously experienced (either in hopes to feel or not feel that way in the future). For the most part, I’d say we are not blindly navigating through life without any guidance (like that cherished from friends, mentors, learning from past mistakes, intentional thinking, etc.). We live like skilled researchers, already filled with the knowledge of how to do our task or with the capability to obtain what we need to know to carry on. It is not that we are taking the wrong path or doing the wrong thing. It is that our minds are telling us that we are. Self-initiated doubt is a destroyer. In the middle of my experiments, it causes me to question what I know is right. In the middle of my life, it causes me to question my actions and pursuits. I so often am living my life, completely satisfied and happy, when that deceptive voice urges me to question everything. Unlike my research skills, I’m not as disciplined to channel my confidence and squander the doubts. This parallel became so clear to me today – doubt creeps in everywhere and to everyone (well, to me at least). Instead of worrying about everything I’ve done wrong or may do wrong, I hope to instead take a note from my laboratory self and remember that I’m capable, skillful, and perfectly fine carrying on in the way that makes me happy. While this example is very specific to my experience, I feel like anyone can think of a place they are skillful (on the court or field, in a job, as a mom or dad, in any hobby) where they don’t let doubt affect their ability to do that skill well. My hope is to live my life a little more like that so the nagging worry and unnecessary questioning don’t invade my happiness and peace of my mind. I guess I hope to live like a crazy scientist that trusts her hand, her skills, and her process – because we all deserve the peace of mind that comes from confidence and self-assurance.

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finish line

You’ve got people in your corner. You may not know who they are yet, or maybe you do, but they are there. There are people out there that want to see you succeed as bad as you do. They support you, encourage you, market you to other professionals, love you in your flaws. They see your worth, even if you don’t. They recognize your talent, even when you don’t. Something about you inspires them, and you feed off their success and hunger for life. You have people that are your cheerleader. They rejoice with you when you do great things and they fall hard with you when you don’t. They are acutely aware of your life goals and dreams, and they can see what lights your eyes up and sets your heart ablaze mid-conversation. They tell you that they know what you were made for. They are happy for you. They are there for you. They are rooting for you. It may be your mom, teacher, co-worker, best friend, mentor, stranger, boss, dad, roommate, or just a passing face – but somehow they know you and believe in you. People are rooting for you. They don’t wish to see you fail, wish to see you find trouble, but are instead genuinely happy for you! These are true friends. Real friends that you find strength in. Friends that you reciprocate this feeling of pride, excitement, and overwhelming love for. Forget yourself and remember the people that are rooting for you. Those people will be the first people you hug whenever you cross the finish line.

-Me, to myself, when self doubt infiltrates my thoughts on the beautiful things God has given me.

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Pushing stones

Find something you think is important and spend your life supporting it. How does one find meaning in the mundane, spontaneity in the ordinary, and purpose in the routine? These are questions I think about often, and I don’t think anyone knows. But I do think some are closer than others. I read a book over Christmas break that impacted me deeply (I wrote about it on here), and what I took away from it was the basic human need to do meaningful work. Some would argue that life should be spent pursuing fantastical adventures, exploring the unknown, living robust and exciting lives…and while this is true to some extent, it is supremely unconventional and sometimes plainly unattainable. I am a person that sometimes gets carried away on these lofty, imaginative thoughts as well, but nonetheless I find my roots and become grounded in the practicality of life. So what do we do when we can’t spend our lives traveling the globe, jumping out of airplanes, investing in nonprofit organizations, saving the lives of homeless people, writing best-selling books? I think my personal answer was revealed to me by a classmate in my European literature class yesterday. We were discussing The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. While we didn’t read this piece, there was a metaphor that we discussed. This was the vision of someone pushing a rock, up a hill, only to never reach the top. This person spent his whole life, some would say ignorantly, pushing a stone up the hill to never become satisfied in his efforts. In a way, we spend our entire lives doing the same thing. Maybe we are pushing along many stones, exerting ourselves in unnecessary ways, only to find that the end was never our goal. The entire journey is about the stone. What does all of this metaphysical, philosophical jargon mean anyways? For me, really a practical person, it means finding a stone I think worthy of spending my life pushing. Identifying, consciously, what it means to do meaningful work. It means actively engaging in my life in ways that I have been gifted, and exploring the limits of those treasures. Viktor Frankl would say that our fundamental human condition rests on doing and performing meaningful, purposeful work. This may not be a traditional “job”, but instead a cause that we support, a belief we are rooted in, or a purpose we feel destined to fulfill. Or, it may be a traditional vocation where we can utilize and implore our skills, grow, change, and transform. For me, what my stone is becomes clearer every day. Admittedly, there will be (and are) doubts (why should I spend my time doing this anyways?) but whether we are aware of it or not, we are all pushing something. Maybe yours is social media, the opinions of others, and mediocrity. Maybe it is a watered-down version of yourself. Maybe it is what your family and friends want for you instead of what you want for yourself. It really only takes conscious knowledge to change these things, and I have found myself in these examples as well. We are all spending our time, energies, and lives supporting something. For me, I want to be a part of this process. I want to push a stone that allows me to transform lives through my curiosities and my skills. I want to spend my life pushing myself towards fulfilling a greater purpose than I could ever be. I want to care for people in their most vulnerable state, discover new ideas, advance our understanding of the human condition and the science behind it. I want to allow myself creative exploration and the ability to write when I want. I want to permeate love and kindness and grace and hope in the places I share with those I cherish. Simply, I want to dedicate myself and my time to something meaningful. I think everyone does. The important part is to find that thing that makes you light up inside and is worth your time and energy. We all have them, and we will spend all of our lives pushing, supporting, sacrificing, all that we have to navigate that stone up the hill towards what we consider a meaningful and promising life.

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5 books you need to read and think about

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis

My life feels particularly desert-like in this respect right now. While I love my science courses and really find them fascinating, I deeply miss writing and reading literature and philosophy. When thinking about how I feel a little unbalanced because I am so focused my other passions, I decided I would share some books that are my favorites and encouraged me to have deep reflection. Some of them are autobiographical nonfiction, some are simply fiction, but they are all incredible and close to my heart. Here are 5 books you need to read and think about! I offer some of the thoughts that followed my reading of the books that maybe you would find helpful if you read decide to read them. Try to reflect on the passages and glean some of the important messages that ruminate throughout them. And just like I have to remind myself, remember that in life, balance is everything. Never let the other things you love fall to the wayside in pursuit of your dreams.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This is undoubtedly one of the most moving books I have ever read. I even wrote an entire post about my thoughts from this book, and I suggest reading that post after you have treated yourself to this book! Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a Stanford neurosurgeon who was unfortunately diagnosed with late stage IV lung cancer. This book is more than a memoir by a doctor; it makes you experience and feel what it is like to face death. This is a man’s honest and eye-opening journey to the end of his life. It is poetic. It is reflective and deeply emotional. I admire Dr. Kalanithi’s diverse passions and the ways he catered to both his reflective, literary side (by pursuing study in literature and philosophy) and the inquisitive, mechanistic side of life (through scientific study of medicine). He writes beautifully. This is a must read. I couldn’t put it down!

Thoughts for reflection: If I was looking back on my life, what have I made important? Have I been happy with my life or have I lived in chase of something else? What would I begin pursuing if I knew the moments I had were limited?

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet is a book for introverts and extroverts alike. This book transformed the way I view my idiosyncratic behaviors. It made me realize it is okay to want to stay home. It is okay to want to work alone and prefer small friend groups. It is equally okay to be gregarious and love social environments. It made me realize that the qualities exhibited by introverted and extroverted people are all valuable. This is a nonfiction book full of thoroughly researched information about human behavior. It is amazing! It has some interesting pieces of psychology and sociology throughout. It shows the functional and dynamic world that we live in and the ways that all the different moving pieces work together perfectly. Highly recommend. (Watch Susan Cain’s amazing TED talk here: Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts)

Thoughts for reflection: How can I embrace who I am without feeling guilty or bad? What type of environment makes me feel most comfortable and loved? What parts of me are introverted and what parts are extroverted? How can I encourage others to be true to themselves in a conformist society?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Okay, I had to include this book because it is a classic read. Most people have read To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe in school for a class. For those that haven’t read, Harper Lee writes a book written from the perspective of a child named Scout about the struggles and perceptions of an unjust world. This book makes me feel childlike and more aware of the struggles within this world. For a child, Scout gives wisdom that we can all learn from. I think this book, published in 1960, can still give a powerful message to the society we live in today. Also, I have always had the biggest fictional crush on Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and the lawyer who fights for justice. Ahh. 

Thoughts for reflection: What have I become okay with that Scout, a child, would even know is wrong? Is the world we are living in today actually any different than the corrupt world that Scout was in? How can we fight for and seek the Truth in this life?

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Nerdy confession: I had to read a few chapters of this for a First Year Seminar class and I actually fell in love with it and had to read the whole thing (which took me a day). Randy Pausch writes an autobiographical book of important advice for living. Dr. Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and had recently been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. A young professor with small children and a wife, Dr. Pausch pours wisdom into this book that I use and remember every day. And yes, it made me weep like a baby (and books don’t make me cry). Just read it. Circle, underline, highlight his advice, even rip pages out and hang them up on your mirror.

Thoughts for reflection: How can I start using the advice that Dr. Pausch shares? Am I being sincere to myself and to those around me? How can I love more deeply with the days I am given?

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson

This book is one of my favorite of all time. I generally do not prefer fictional books, especially romantic fiction books, but this is different. This book makes me feel safe, loved, and hopeful. This is one of the first books I remember reading as a young girl (which is funny because it’s a James Patterson book… I have always been older than my age), and I think it holds some sentimental value because of this reason. I grab for this book when I need to escape this frightening, stressful world. It is so comforting. Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas is about the interwoven relationships of love, despair, happiness, hurt, and life. It moves to you Martha’s Vinyard to watch the lives of two playful personalities fall in harmonious synchrony. This book is a gentle reminder that the most beautiful things in life are sometimes greeted with pain and suffering.

Thoughts for reflection: If I was writing for someone, who would it be and what would I want to say? How can I invite the playfulness and simplicity into my life that Suzanne and Matt have in their own lives?

Well, there you have it! Five of my favorite books that I think everyone should read. Don’t just read them though, feel them, embrace them. Write about what you feel and think deeply about what the author is trying to give you. I am always welcoming book suggestions that I can curl up with and get lost in. What are some of your favorite books?

 

 

 

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new beginnings

The textbooks are purchased, the desk is decorated, and the coffee has already been brewed (multiple times). I can smell the start of a new year, and I can certainly feel it. Sophomore year as a pre-medical student is full of the “hard” classes and a lovely phenomenon called the “sophomore slump”. My year as a sophomore will be filled with organic chemistry I and II, genetics, microbiology, molecular biology, statistics, and some humanities classes. As I sit and prepare for the upcoming year, I naturally feel very overwhelmed (taking a look at the syllabi didn’t help either). But the truth is, I don’t want to fear what God has given me. My education, my freedom to pursue a career that I picked and no one picked for me, is a blessing. Sometimes I get so attached to the things of this life (GPA, honors, awards, leadership positions, and ultimately two letters after my name), that I get consumed with the accompanying anxiety of it all. The only way I can escape this anxiety is by remembering the true honor of this life. The reward that satisfies only the deepest desire of my soul. The heavenly eternal promise following this temporary life. And while this seems extreme, it is the only thing that keeps me at ease in the midst of chaos. This world and the society that I am a part of is increasingly negative, judgmental, and uncertain. Belmont, although one of my favorite places to be, is a place that is an extension of this world and cannot fulfill the greater call I have been given. My place in this world, molded by my decisions and mediated by the purpose God has placed on my life, is to seek and glorify the Lord’s name in all that I do.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” -1 Corinthians 10:31

So “whatever you do” for me right now is a whole lot of studying, reading, writing, calculating, speaking, meeting, and trying for success in the career I aspire to pursue. Likewise, I will seek to glorify God in those things and by doing so that requires that the anxiety accompanying it all to cease. A difficult challenge (not just for those in college, but in any profession or situation) but I believe by chasing the things of above, God will grant strength to all those who trust in Him. I can only hope that the things I am pursuing in this temporary life satisfy and please the Creator of it all. My prayer is that this semester I see my studies as an opportunity to learn new knowledge to impact the world in the way God calls me to, whatever that may be. I pray to see challenges as a test of character and faith to encourage me to grow stronger. I pray for comprehension, retention, and recall in understanding the complex content that I will be required to learn. I pray mostly for optimism, hope, and joy in this semester. I pray that love permeates the air that I walk and that the people I encounter know that they are loved, cherished, and important to me. My prayer is that God blesses everyone’s pathway this semester and that we all possess thankfulness for the blessing of new beginnings. This is my prayer.

 

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cogito ergo sum

Descartes

A Saturday morning cup of coffee and contemplation.

When I sit down to read René Descartes, it is more like sitting down and getting lost in conversation with an old friend than sitting alone while reading philosophy. I love Descartes. I am utterly captivated by his approach, explanations, and rebuttals. I want to share some of my adoration into this philosophy and specifically Descartes’ way of approaching God. I have personally found this short, concise book to be very influential in the way I methodically approach understanding and especially difficult spiritual questions.

Before I begin on Descartes’ methods, I should explain his background briefly. Pre-enlightenment, scientists were artists and philosophers and all of these creative roles were generally classified under the umbrella term, “thinkers”. Today, these disciplines are so extremely divided that scientists have abandoned art, artists know nothing of science, and philosophers the most removed from both. Although I think this dramatically harms our current society (the separation of explicitly intertwined ways of thought), there indeed was a time where these things were married and remained congruent in society. René Descartes was one of those men who was innately curious and this crept into everything he did in life. He was a scientist, a mathematician, and a philosopher. He was a Frenchman and wrote many of his philosophical musings during the 17th century. His perpetual skepticism is what attracts me so magnetically and is one of the chief reasons I regard him so highly. He doesn’t accept what anyone before him has argued and he even calls into doubt everything he has argued. His methods are logically sound, scientific, yet elegant and beautiful. He is clear, comprehensible, and takes your mind places and into thoughts you’ve never been before. He makes you think in novel ways, about new problems, with a unique perspective. He isn’t afraid of refutation or objection, in fact, he welcomes it and applauds countering opinions. He seeks the Truth, not status or some kind of intellectual superiority (like others I like much less such as Socrates). He brings together science, faith, and reason and shows that they are not separate from each other (not largely challenged during Descartes’ present day, but within a century would become a ludicrous argument in the eyes of modern scientists). He shows that we don’t have to compartmentalize our “selves” and can indeed prove that every particle of our being is in fact connected. He shows that at our most reduced selves, we remain thinkers. We possess the ability to dwell on things, contemplate them, and make decisions of logic and reason. René Descartes’ philosophy is one I hold very close to my heart.

Meditations on First Philosophy in Which the Existence of God and the Distinction between the Soul and the Body Are Demonstrated

Okay, Descartes wasn’t afraid of lengthy titles either. Often shortened to Descartes’ Meditations, these series of thoughts walk through his own methodology for understanding the existence of God. He doesn’t yell at you, throw anything at you, he never even speaks of sin, but he holds God at the foundation of his understanding (inadvertently expressed through the way in which he speaks of God at the beginning of the Meditations). Descartes’ thought journey is certainly spiritual, but it is not solely spiritual. It is intellectual. By nature, he approaches problems with a logical magnifying glass. He pokes and prods at the question from different angles, essentially using a complete reductionist approach (what a scientist).  He begins by calling into doubt every single idea he has ever stored away in his thought bank. Not individually, but as a whole. Everything he knows and believes is erased and everything he once held as true becomes questionable, doubtful, uncertain. In doing this, however, he removes any prejudices. He becomes objective. His mind isn’t muddled by the opinions he has developed over the years. He takes a completely cynical and skeptical approach on a topic that is usually regarded as blind, with no basis for logic. He takes this route, walks you through a series of investigations of reason (dreams, physics, mind and body separation) and arrives at a beautifully comprehensible and sharp picture of what he was working through the entire time. His conclusions aren’t complete, and he even expresses his lack of empathy for those that only dwell on his conclusions and not on his methods of getting there. Descartes is not cowardly. He does not fear refutation. He shows that everything we know, everything we can know, and our most central reason for being is governed by God. Not because of lapse in reason, but because of reason. I won’t work through all of his argument, although I would love to, but I will leave some fragments of his work and an additional resource where you can contemplate your own conclusions from this book. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, much can be learned from his calculated, succinct Meditations and the mental joy ride he takes you on as you work through them.


On dreams being equally as devious as reality:

How often does my evening slumber persuade me of such ordinary things as these: that I am here, clothed in my dressing gown, seated next to the fireplace – when in fact I am undressed in bed!”

On mathematics being the only reality not subject to perception:

“Thus it is not improper to conclude from this that physics, astronomy, medicine, and all other disciplines that are dependent upon the considerations of composite things are doubtful, and that, on the other hand, arithmetic, geometry, and other such disciplines, which treat nothing but the simplest and most general things and which are indifferent as to whether these things do or do not in fact exist, contain something certain and indubitable. For whether I am awake or asleep, 2 plus 3 make 5, and a square does not have more than 4 sides. It does not seem possible that such obvious truths should be subject to suspicion of being false.”

On what cannot be called into doubt:

“I am therefore precisely nothing but a thinking thing; that is, a mind, or intellect, or understanding, or reason – words of whose meaning I was previously ignorant. Yet I am a true thing and am truly existing; but what kind of thing? I have said it already: a thinking thing.”

“If the objective reality of any of my ideas is found to be so great that I am certain that the same reality was not in me, either formally or eminently, and that therefore I myself cannot be the cause of the idea, then it necessarily follows that I am not alone in the world, but that something else, which is the cause of this idea, also exists.”

Rene Descartes: Meditations, Objections, and Replies

 

 

 

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adaptability

It’s time to talk about change. I’m not talking about national campaign agendas or world peace or equality or restoration of the constitution or any of the pressing issues that are featured in the tabloids and news websites. I’m talking about the changes we experience on a personal level throughout our lives. Change is undoubtedly hard. Our human nature encourages us to maintain an inertial groove that we have established for ourselves. We hardly discuss the mechanisms that are necessary to deal with change, and especially the methods that we use to deal with change that can actually optimize our lives during change.

We often experience change. Throughout our entire lives we move through school, changing grades every year with new teachers, new material, and possibly new classmates that we see everyday. Some people may have experienced more profound changes, like moving schools, houses, or even states. We experience change when we switch jobs, learn something new, or gain failure or success. Our lives are constant waves of change, sometimes small and unnoticeable and other times crashing, extraordinary waves. I think our reactions to change largely determine what we gain throughout the experience.

I speak from a very personal experience with change right now. Nothing in my life right now is as it was this time last year. For the first time in 17 years I had to leave my family vacation early, I flew home alone and stayed at my house alone washing my clothes and packing myself to move away for the summer, I am not being in my hometown for the summer (for the first time in my life), I am living with people I have never met in a place I have never lived doing something I have never done. I am experiencing one of those crashing, extraordinary waves of change. I have learned a few things about change that have really modified the way I both approach change and deal with it.

The first thing involves perspective and the second involves emotions. When it comes to change in life I feel there are many ways to view it. The two most important ones for me personally are terms I have identified as reflective perspective and progressive perspective.

Reflective perspective puts your vision in the past, focusing on the ways in which your life is different now than what it was previously. Reflective perspective invites feelings of nostalgia, past memories, and often times, homesickness. This type of mindset encourages you to compare your life during change to your life pre-change and can entice feelings of anxiety, worry, and uncertainty. I think reflection is really important but not at the brink of change. A reflective perspective means that you are constantly contrasting your past to your present, and with it the person you were then, the people you had around you, and the experiences that you had during that time. You live in the past and find yourself yearning for that time. Reflective perspective can make change seem inconvenient and negative.

Progressive perspective is the vision of where this change is taking you. Although not all changes are necessarily positive, their outcomes can always be. Progressive perspective means that you are controlling your change and not letting it control you. When we experience great movements of transition we typically feel helpless and out of control. A progressive perspective means that you view the change as what you can extract out of it for the future. Instead of the change compromising what you had in the past, you actively use it as a tool to enhance your future. Progressive perspectives rely on comparing your current situation during the change to where you are headed in the future. I have found progressive perspective to give a more positive aspect on change. Although it is surely scary sometimes to imagine where life is traveling towards, it is important to be watching out the front window towards the future than staring blindly through the back.

I mentioned emotions as another important part of handing change. I want to briefly mention this and plan on writing about it another time because it is very important to me and has transformed the way I hold myself towards my emotions. Emotions are entirely controllable. 100%. We are thinking humans with the ability and the capacity to manage our emotions. Emotions are these tricky little things that can really alter the way we behave and view our world. Emotions can send someone from smiling and laughing into a raging fit of anger. They can turn a truly enjoyable experience into one that is anxiety-inducing. When you learn that you have control over how you feel towards certain things you can learn how to create the best possible outcomes for those things. I’ll give an example.

You get a new job at a new place. When you arrive, you keep thinking about the old job and the people that you will miss and the memories that you have there. The people at your new job are kind, welcoming, and attempt to make conversation. You are so consumed with feeling sadness for the loss of your old job (reflective perspective) that you are incapable of allowing the future to come into play. You then decide that this is your new job and you feel excited to have the opportunity. You make friends and decide that you can use this to strengthen your portfolio and gain skills for your future (progressive perspective). Throughout all of this, you have fleeting emotions of anxiety, worry, joy, contentment, excitement, and uncertainty. I don’t think you should suppress these very real emotions, in fact I think they are a fundamental human trait; however, I don’t think you should allow emotions to control your perspective. Feel them, acknowledge them, but then remember your ultimate goal is to embrace the change and maintain a steady emotional peace. Truly experiencing and allowing these emotions to capture your mind will feel like a roller coaster during times of immense change. Just food for thought (and discussion) on the importance and adaptability of emotions and our control as humans over them.

I am going through change right now with my research internship. It is new, exciting, overwhelming, encouraging, and has required some shifts in perspective and emotions. I cannot wait to experience the next ten weeks, accompanied by all of the failures and successes that I will encounter. I know that change is inevitable but with mindfulness and contemplation, there is a best way we can all seek and attain optimal joy, fulfillment, and happiness.

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