Dealing with the stress of decision-making

The past couple weeks (and honestly months) have been full of stress for me as I’ve been trying to figure out what to do next with my life and how to start my career. After graduating in May, I bought myself some time from having to find a job by doing a summer fellowship, though the entire summer, the thought of what to do next (and after that and after that) was relentlessly weighing on my mind. Finding a job in the museum field with just a BA proved difficult, so I decided to get more experience (and buy myself more job search time) by doing a fall internship. Now that I’ve finished that, the weight of figuring out my future is resting heavily on my shoulders again. Sometimes it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest with all the stress I put on myself to figure my life out.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I’m not great at decision-making. I hate even choosing what to eat. So making choices that can seemingly determine the course of the rest of your life entail a lot of stress for me. Add to that the complications of relationships, finances, second-guessing whether your career field is a good fit, deadlines for applications, decisions about grad school, etc. and it’s enough to make you want to cry or just give up and stick your head in the sand, binge-watching Lea Remini’s docu-series about Scientology to reassure yourself that other people’s lives are more screwed up than your own.

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Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

As I’ve been working on approaching career and life choices without stressing myself out completely, I’ve been figuring out some ways to make the process a little easier. It’s important to take time out to rest during the process, and to make sure that you’re not letting other people’s opinions take over your choice. Here are a few other thoughts:

Schedule a “freak out” time. I oftentimes find myself letting anxiety take over my thoughts constantly, turning over decisions constantly in the back of my mind. Or I would spend hours on job listings, stressing myself out with the long list of positions that didn’t work for me. This can make the decision hold more weight than it should and just makes your miserable. Try scheduling an hour or two a day to focus on weighing choices, making pro and con lists, applying to jobs etc. When your mind drifts to your decision the rest of the day, tell yourself you have to wait until later.

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Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

Get in touch with your priorities. It’s easy to be swayed and overwhelmed by others’ input and expectations when making choices. While it’s worthwhile to listen to the advice people have to give, ultimately the decision is yours and it’s your life. Try making a list of what are the external pressures your feel from others and what are your feelings about what you want, what your priorities are, what experience you want to have, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in ideas of what someone your age is supposed to be doing, but you are the one who has to live in that place or work that job or date that person, so you need to make the choice that’s best for you.

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Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

Think long-term, but not too long-term. It’s good to have some sense of what direction you want to be headed in to guide you in terms of what skills you should try and gain in a job now, but don’t get overwhelmed trying to plan too far ahead. Sometimes, especially when you’re young, it’s helpful to just give yourself permission to think in terms of a simple, “What do I want to experience next?” It can be easier to break life into semesters, with a general goal of “I want to graduate in May 20-whenever with a BA in History.” I find myself trying to trace how my future would pan out if I took this path or that path, but ultimately I stress myself out for something that isn’t practical. We can’t predict the future, so sometimes you have to look at what opportunities are available right now and trust that things will work out in the future.

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Exeter, England

Remember there’s no right or wrong path. Again, you don’t know what the future will hold, good or bad. A certain school or job or relationship can seem like your only ticket to the life you want or the only thing that can make you happy, but I’ve found that dream opportunities often can be very different in reality. Not to mention, you could take a job that you never thought you would and end up finding your passion. You could go to a school that was far from your first choice and form lifelong relationships. You could not end up with one guy but then months later meet the love of your life. We don’t know what life holds and sometimes we have to accept that some doors close and others open. There’s not a fixed path and we’re not doomed if we don’t do certain things in life, though it can easy to become convinced as much with the pressure other people put on us and the emphasis on Ivy Leagues, big-name companies, and meeting milestones.

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Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

Whatever paths you’re looking down, have faith that life is full of surprises. It’s easy to get discouraged about not getting jobs or not having relationships work out, feeling like that was our best chance. But so many people I talk to found their career by accident, practically falling into it, or met their partner when they swore they would never find love. So much pressure is put on figuring things out when you’re young, and it’s easy to look at all of the teenagers and 20-somethings in the worlds of sports and entertainment and feel stupid and accomplished for not having found your life passion or made a name for yourself, but those cases are the exception, not the norm.

Many great people whose accomplishments we celebrate didn’t peak until their thirties or even later. It takes time to build up a skill set, refine your craft, and gain experience and a network of people who recognize your abilities. Be patient with yourself, don’t stop pushing yourself, and don’t devalue the experience and skills you already have built. Seeing all the jobs, etc. you’re unqualified for or sitting in an interview where it becomes glaringly obvious that you’re not the right candidate can make you question whether you have any worthwhile skills, but you do. Know your worth and have faith in the future, but also remember to enjoy the present.

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Exeter, England

 

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The Scenic Route: Taking the Pressure off of Decision-Making

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I always like to tell people that a road trip with me isn’t complete until I’ve taken a wrong road or missed a turn or screwed up something. I’ve been driving around up here in New England every time I have time because I love the scenery and I find driving so relaxing (sorry, environment.) Pretty much every time I miss a turn and end up lost. I always start out frustrated, seeing the ETA on my GPS change, but I could never stay mad for long because I would pass a group of wild turkeys crossing the road or see the sun setting over a pond nestled in a grove of pine trees. It made me realize that it was more of a scenic detour than making a mistake.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts

It’s interesting how we are so prone to frame things as right or wrong, labeling events that didn’t go the way we hoped or turn out positively as mistakes or failures. Oftentimes those times can be pivotal moments of growth for us, which makes me question whether they really can be called mistakes since they ended up playing a crucial part in our development.

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The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

This past couple months, having another relationship I hoped would develop into something more not work out and simultaneously having the internship I took not live up to my expectations really brought this point home. A lot of times I felt like I had failed because I had yet again misjudged a person and built up my expectations prematurely. I consequently feel anxious when I make choices about my future and pessimistic about new opportunities for relationships that present themselves, doubting anyone could really be interested in me and wondering if I’m over-idealizing a person again and ignoring red flags like the last time.

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The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

As I find myself in another time of transition with a lot of decisions facing me, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to make the “right” choices. But the thing is, sometimes you just have to make a choice, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong option; each avenue you could potentially take is just a different path. As cheesy as the metaphor sounds, it’s like hiking trails – sure you have to take into consideration how long one is or how steep, but for the most part each one is beautiful and relaxing, you just get a different view.

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The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

Considering grad schools and job options, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure I put on myself to find the “right fit.” Having had to transfer in undergrad, partly because the school I thought was a perfect fit ended up just not working for me, I feel especially anxious about my ability to choose a good program. But as I make pro and con lists for different options, I realize that there are, quite simply, pros and cons to anything. There is rarely ever a perfect fit. It all works out and adds to your story.

Even difficult things have beauty and worth threaded throughout. In my relationship that didn’t work out, I experienced a ton of emotional pain, but that precipitated me to re-enter counseling, which I have experienced tremendous comfort and personal growth through (including many of the ideas in this post!) And subsequently, when I did have another opportunity to start to develop a different relationship, it made me value that new opportunity even more.

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Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

The failed relationship also empowered me in a strange sense as I had to at one point realize the other person wasn’t invested in the relationship, decide I deserved better, and take action to withdraw from that person and make an effort not to let worrying about our relationship consume my thoughts. This was extremely hard to do, but I did it. I stopped communicating with him for probably six weeks to see if he would initiate conversation and ask after me. It never came, which hurt, but gave me perspective on what I need in a relationship and, most importantly, made me feel empowered about my decision to respect and stand up for myself.

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Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

As for my internship, as many tough days as I had, there is the satisfaction of knowing I pressed on through those tough days and I pushed myself yet again out of my comfort zone in the type of work I was doing. I learned completely new things and I did a lot of talking to people even though I find constant conversation exhausting. I persevered. And I got to experience a different place, visit lovely museums, enjoy driving through the curtain of New England foliage over the Massachusetts turnpike, and meet a few lovely people…one particularly lovely person in particular…There were so many things I felt frustrated about that I eventually realized had small blessings hidden in them.

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Naumkeag, the Berkshires, Massachusetts

I guess what I’m saying is, that if you’re like me and, because of things that have happened in your past, you question your judgment for the future to the extent that you can’t make decisions – it’s okay. Even situations that are difficult are redeemable. And for some of us more sensitive people, we just need an extra-long time to adjust, so something that seems awful may just need some patience and perseverance.

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The Berkshires, Massachusetts

You don’t have to make the right choice, you just have to do the best you can to consider your options and choose what seems like a good fit. Maybe it’s the fastest route to your destination, maybe it’s the scenic route. Either way has satisfactions and frustrations.

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Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

It’s been quite an interesting two months serving as an intern here at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. I’ve learned a lot as a historian and grown a lot as a human. A lot of people I’ve met have wondered what brought me up here from my home state of Maryland…It’s a valid question with a complicated answer.

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I guess it goes back to when I was in middle school and I first fell in love with museums, in particular with living history museums where people in costume pretend to inhabit historic buildings, usually set up in a town or village setting, recreating life in the past. Old Sturbridge Village was one museum I distinctly remember visiting, and while I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did Colonial Williamsburg, I remember respecting it a lot (and loving the sheep.)

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Fast forward several years to college…History majors from the first school I attended interned at OSV and I began to become interested myself in working in the museum field. I turned into some kind of internship maniac who would scour the Internet for museum internships to apply for. One that I found was OSV but it wasn’t until this past summer that I applied. I accepted at Historic Deerfield for the summer but asked if I could defer working here at OSV to the fall. The more jobs I didn’t hear back from, the better of an idea doing another internship sounded like.

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Old Sturbridge Village is comprised of over thirty historic buildings that have been moved to the site to create a hypothetical rural New England Village. It doesn’t recreate any specific town exactly; it’s more of a sampler of some of the trade shops and homes and public buildings you might have found in a small town in the early 1800s. The village is set in a pretty overlooked time period of American history: the 1830s. Some visitors to the museum think we are colonists, pilgrims, or pioneers, but colonists and pilgrims would have been historical figures by our time period and pioneers would be living in places West of Massachusetts, like Ohio.

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Probably the most notable thing about the 1830s is that the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam (no pun intended), though that can be harder for visitors to see in our quaint little village. Something I would say our village lacks, in my humble opinion, are buildings like textile mills that would have been becoming prominent in this time period as the industrial revolution came into play and was beginning to radically change American life. In fact, a young woman like me might have gone and worked in a mill to be able to earn her own money and be exposed to fashionable new ways of dressing, eating, and cooking. And after simulating what it might be like to work on a farm as a woman in the 1830s for 8.5 hours a day during this internship, I can start to understand the appeal of going and working in a mill.

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My primary place of work during this internship has been the Freeman Farmhouse. The Freemans were middle class farmers so their house was a decent size, though the original property was just the front part when they bought it. Pliny Freeman, a housewright in addition to being a farmer, purchased the house at half its market value to pay off some of his debt by selling his old farm, and added on the back single-story wing, which has the kitchen, dairy room, and woodshed. You can also see the root cellar, underneath the boards in the center of the photo, and on the other side of the home is a large garden that would have been used to grow a lot of the household food.

Here’s a few (unfortunately bad quality) snapshots of the interior of the farmhouse. Most of my time is spent in the room pictured at the bottom – the kitchen. Female interns have to work in a house while male staff typically work on the farm, in a trade shop, or operating our four small mills. A lot of the museum’s interpretation of homelife focuses on what historians call “foodways” aka how food is grown, harvested, prepared, served, and eaten. While women definitely spent a lot of time cooking, this wasn’t all they did, though we can certainly give people that impression.

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All the same, it was a lot of work and I respect the women who did it immensely. I find it tiresome and confusing, which makes me wonder if there what you would do in the 1830s if you hated cooking or were terrible at it. I guess we all have things today that we hate doing, but all the same, I’m more thankful than ever for pre-made food and happy to go home at night and pop a TV dinner in the microwave.

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View out the front door. The picket fence was a fashionable new addition to the house in the late 1830s. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of there being a practical use for it, which is always a good sign that something is being done as a status symbol.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on 1830s life to come!

Final Farewells: Historic Deerfield Fellowship Pt. 5

It’s hard to believe, but on Monday I finished up my nine-week fellowship with Historic Deerfield, a museum in Massachusetts. The last weeks of the fellowship were particularly intense as the six of us fellows were completing our 25-page research papers. We did have some brief breaks from research with fun workshops learning how to dance in 18th century America, harvest flax, and polish pewter spoons, which we used to eat ice cream!

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Using metal files to smooth out the rough edges of recently-cast pewter spoons…Who said internships were all about making copies and getting coffee! (Photo by Penny Leveritt)

Researching my paper was both fulfilling and exasperating. The late nights made me wonder whether I had graduated, but ultimately I love having the chance to uncover the incredible story of a woman who has gone unrecognized for her prolific career in social work. It was inspiring to see how full of a life Elizabeth Greene, the subject of my paper, led, especially as I start off on my own career. She never stopped working, traveling, or getting involved in her community. And as a fun twist to my research, I found out that Greene was essentially a cat lady!

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The extremely powerful and poignant entrance to Mount Vernon’s exhibit on slavery. The doors list the names of some of the enslaved people owned by George Washington and Washington’s statue can be seen beyond them. (Photo by author)

Once we had finished our papers, we gave each gave a 10-minute presentation about our research findings to the museum staff. I remember sitting down from giving my presentation, breathing a sigh of relief, and suddenly realizing the enormity of what I had accomplished this summer! We heard an incredible talk from an alum of the program, Jessie MacLeod, who curated an exhibition dedicated to talking about the experience of enslaved people at Mount Vernon. She shared some words of wisdom about representing a wider constellation of people when we tell history.

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Celebrating finishing our fellowship and giving incredible presentations! (Photo from Historic Deerfield)

After our presentations, we got to head out on a 9-day trip touring historic sites in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, DC, and Virginia as a reward for finishing our papers and a continued learning experience about how different museums are run.

We started off in Connecticut with a tour of three historic houses in the small town of Weathersfield. This stop was especially memorable because the creative executive director of these houses, the Webb Dean Stevens Museum, likes to use real food coated in hairspray to liven up the houses. Next, we visited the Yale University Art Galleries in New Haven, CT, which have incredible pieces from all different times and continents.

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Getting a behind-the-scenes look at historic photographs in the conservation lab of the art museums at Colonial Williamsburg.

We trekked down to familiar territory for yours truly – Washington, DC – where we toured the Smithsonian Castle, the monuments, the National Museum of American History, and the White House. Even though I’ve lived in the DC area my entire life, I often forget about the museums and monuments right in our backyard. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes tour of some of these places and see how the Smithsonian is making an effort to incorporate the stories of more Americans into the museum. It was also extremely powerful to see the lunch counter from Greensboro, NC where student protesters staged sit-ins against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.

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Learning about Southern furniture, a previously overlooked area of decorative arts, in Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Art Museum.

Our next stops were Alexandria, VA and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We toured the powerful exhibit on slavery at Mount Vernon, which I highly recommend visiting before it goes off exhibit later this year. We also toured Colonial Williamsburg, learning about how they are changing their historic spaces to be more interactive and engaging, and Winterthur Museum in Delaware, learning about their graduate program in American material culture studies. Our last stop was at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York to learn about early Dutch American culture, agricultural practices, and slavery.

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Panoramic of Mount Vernon (photo by author)

Overall, this summer has been full of learning opportunities and an enormous chance for personal growth for me. Stressful situations are difficult but also can change you as you overcome obstacles. I’m indebted to everyone who allowed me to have this opportunity, in particular Historic Deerfield and my professors at the Universities at Shady Grove‘s history program with UMBC. This is also sadly my last post here on Around the Grove, so I want to thank everyone who allowed me the chance to be a student blogger because I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Best of luck to everyone as you start a new school year!

Trekking Along: Summer Fellowship Pt. 4

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 25, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

If there’s one thing I’ve accomplished this summer during my fellowship at Historic Deerfield, it’s a lot of walking! Between trekking up and down the mile-long Main Street of town and going on trips to local museums and historic sites, I’ve really broken in every pair of shoes I own and toned my calves. But I’ve also been learning a lot about both myself and New England history.

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Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is a fun, interactive historic site recreating where the first Pilgrims who immigrated to the U.S. lived. You can sit on chairs and talk to real-life “Pilgrims.” (Photo by author)

Some of the highlights of the past three weeks since my last post have been visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Plimoth Plantation (a recreation of the village where the pilgrims settled), and the island of Newport, Rhode Island. These trips have allowed us fellows to see different ways of running a museum and designing exhibits, and have given us the chance to interact with staff members and learn about their jobs.

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The interior of Marble House, one of the mansions owned by the Vanderbilt family in Newport. It was jaw-dropping to see the wealth of families who summered on the island. (Photo by author)

I’ve also given tours of two historic houses owned by Historic Deerfield, which was quite a challenge! We only had three days of shadowing current tour guides and then had to give tours to the public. This was a great lesson in the idea that “you know more than you think.” I was not very confident about my ability to give a tour so soon, but I was surprised by how well things went. Even when you’re not confident in your abilities, it’s always worth giving something a try.

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Looking at an eighteenth-century silk gown with one of the museum’s curators during a seminar on historic clothing.

Currently, our last major project of the summer before we go on our week-and-a-half long road trip is finishing writing our research papers. Each of us have chosen a topic related to New England history and are using the museum’s library and archives to do research. I have been looking at a scrapbook created by a woman from Greenfield, Massachusetts, in which she documents her life story as an older woman. I was very excited to find a topic that had a Maryland connection; the woman, Elizabeth Greene, got a Master’s Degree from Johns Hopkins in 1917 and lived and worked in the Baltimore area for parts of her life. She had a pretty incredible two-decade career in social work, amazing for a woman living in the early 1900s!

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One of the pages of the scrapbook I’m basing my paper off of. Greene, who created the scrapbook, is the woman sitting one seat from the left in the large photograph, and she is surrounded by people connected with Johns Hopkins. Sadly, she was a supporter of the eugenics movement, and the paper above the photo describes a class she took in the subject. The other photos on the right page document a vacation she took. My favorite is the one at the bottom of someone trying to stand on their head on the beach! (Photo by author, scrapbook is property of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association)

Next week we will turn in and present on our papers for the museum staff, so the pressure is on to write! Of course, I’m also starting on the job hunt, so there is a lot to do right now, but I’ve also learned so much…the summer has flown by.

Read my previous posts about my fellowship here and here.

Around Town: Summer Fellowship, Pt. 3

This was originally written for the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog “Around the Grove on July 3, 2017 as an installment of a three-part series about my participation in Historic Deerfield’s Summer Fellowship Program in material culture studies.

The past three weeks here in Historic Deerfield‘s summer fellowship program have been unbelievably busy, but full of incredible learning opportunities. Every day has been packed full of tours of historic buildings, seminars with museum curators, and talks on the town’s history. We’ve studied ceramics, silver, textiles, architecture, and more. I’ve also had fun taking in the sights periodically as we’ve gone on mini road trips, a trip to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and some of my fellow fellows and I even went swimming in the local creek!

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Handling a drawer from a dining room sideboard once owned by President James Monroe. (#SixDegreesofJamesMonroe, anyone??)

One of the coolest parts of being here has been having the chance to handle historic objects and think about how they would have been used, what they can tell us about the people who owned them, and how they were made. My knowledge of antiques and decorative arts isn’t too extensive, so it’s been tough to put myself out there and guess about what things are, etc. (and be wrong sometimes), but it’s a good lesson in taking chances and being humble about learning.

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Examining a ceramic pitcher from the 1700s with an incredible drawing printed on the sides. It’s amazing to handle objects and think of all the history they’ve seen and the people whose lives they’ve been a part of.

We’ve also each chosen an object from the museum collections to research and write a paper about. Each object is a recent acquisition that has very little information about it. I chose an album of photographs taken by a woman visiting Deerfield in the 1920s. It’s interesting to think about how now, almost a hundred years later, we do the exact same thing: take photos of new places we visit and put them into albums to share with friends, though today they might be digital albums on social media.

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A scene from one of our seminars about clothing with one of the museum curators. I’m getting pumped about examining a pair of women’s stays (basically the predecessor to the corset) from the 1700s! On the table are also a pair of women’s shoes and a stays for children.

In addition, we fellows have also chosen our research paper topics. This was a tough task for me; since sixty years worth of fellows have already written papers, I found a lot of topics I was interested in had already been written on. Also, it turns out that people had sucky handwriting even in the 18th and 19th century, which makes some sources, like diaries and letters, hard to read and write about in a limited time frame.

After exploring a lot of options, I ended up deciding to look at a young woman’s scrapbook, made while she was attending high school nearby in the early 1900s. Since I examined scrapbooks made by young women in the same time period for my senior thesis, I think it will be interesting to continue my research, especially since scrapbooks are a fun source of self-expression that often get overlooked by historians.

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We had an awesome workshop where we did open hearth cooking like in the 18th century. Here I am hard at work shoveling hot coals onto a pot to create an oven to cook an apple pie I made…The fire was pretty stifling, I can’t imagine cooking over it every day (#respect to colonial housewives.)

Today was also my first day giving tours in one of the historic houses here, which is designed to have each room look like a different historic era. I had only gotten to shadow other tour guides for three days, so I was pretty nervous about giving my own, but pleasantly surprised at how well my tours went (though doing four in a row was pretty exhausting.)

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Learning about stoneware pottery from a woman who makes and studies ceramics. We each got to try throwing pottery…another humbling but fascinating experience. (It was also my birthday!)

Overall, this experience has been a great lesson in how much we’re all capable of doing when we put our mind to it! If you’re feeling overwhelmed by whatever you’re up to this summer, have faith in your abilities, but also remember to take breaks, be open with your struggles with friends and family, and to go easy on yourself – we all make mistakes and get overwhelmed, but we’re also capable of much more than we think.

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The apple pie I decorated and baked, a true work of art.

And, of course, now I can say I’ve baked an apple pie in a ginormous fire, which is a great skill for my resume!

 

 

Just around the bend

I have to admit, I feel pretty lost sometimes now that the prospect of forging my own career is on the horizon. Whenever people find out I’ve graduated and ask the inevitable question of, “So what’s next for you?”, I feel like I’m under a microscope.I had a plan myself going into this summer, but the more I think about my future, the more I question it. I keep erasing and rewriting my plan, scribbling arrows and bullet pointing all over it.

There are some fellow recent graduates who I’m working with this summer who have precise career goals in mind, grad schools picked out, and networking opportunities zeroed in on. Listening to them give their impressive answers for the “what’s next” question, I feel even more lost. I even subtly scooted out of a conversation last week because I realized that two very impressive people I’m working with were telling a third party about their next steps and career goals, and I did not want to be the one to hem and haw about if’s and maybe’s after their impressive answers.

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Basically how I feel when people ask me about the future.

I guess I don’t have much faith in the idea of planning my life out any more. I’ve tried doing that quite a bit in the last few years, and my life turned out completely, completely different from how I anticipated. I went into my freshman year of college thinking that I would absolutely love my school, become really popular there, get involved in lots of activities, graduate summa cum laude, get married the summer after (in Christian college tradition), work as a teacher for a couple years, and then settle down and pop out some babies. If I really wanted to be wild, maybe I’d homeschool them.

I could almost laugh at how differently my life has turned out. After three years of trying to make things work and failing to make friends or find my place on campus, I transferred schools, graduated late, still haven’t gone on a date, and talk about careers and grad school and networking while acquaintances from my original school register at Buy Buy Baby. There are so many other little parts of my life that have been completely unexpected, but ultimately, I’m really happy with how things turned out. Even the really shitty parts ended up having purpose, as trite as it sounds to say. But it’s hard to say I know what I want to do for the future because life has hammered it pretty well into my head that things never turn out the way you think they will.

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A room with a view

Early this morning these thoughts were still on my mind when I woke up way too early for work. I closed the curtains against the newly risen sun and tried to get back to sleep, but I felt restless, especially after having caught a glimpse of the magnificent view outside: a misty field of wheat backed by green rolling hills and crowned with the warmth of the fresh sunlight. I decided it was too good of a photo opp for my artsy soul to pass up, threw on a flannel shirt and some flip flops and tried to open the door as quietly as possible to go outside.

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The cool dewy morning air greeted me as I wandered across the street to take in the view from my window. There were overgrown weeds obscuring the view, so I wandered a little further to see if I could get a better shot. Each few yards, I would get a completely different view of things, and soon I bumped into two pastoral little country roads lined with rows of crops. The stillness, the peace, the beauty of things so far beyond me and the stupid little problems I complain about every day…I finally felt truly grateful for where I was and when I was, if you will.

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A couple weeks ago, a lady on staff here where I’m working at told us about how she once went to Mexico to see the Monarch butterfly migration, and while she was there, she had an epiphany that she wanted to go to grad school and become an entomologist. Some people made fun of the story later, but I kind of envy her experience.

I wish that when I went on my early morning amble today, I had had a moment of realization where everything clicked into place and I suddenly knew what to say when people ask me what the hell I’m doing next. But the only realization I came away with was that I am supposed to be here right now. And in a couple months, I’ll be somewhere else. And I’ll supposed to be there too. Every few feet you walk in life, there’s a different view. It’s hard to strike a balance between remembering to savor and take in the sights right around you while still staying fixed on your destination. I tend to either zero in on where I’m going and forget to appreciate what I’m passing by on the way there.

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So maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have a destination mapped out right now. It forces you to just keep exploring, looking for the next opportunity, and enjoying the sights each one affords. When we get caught up in the end goal, we tend to get tunnel vision, turning everything into a countdown to some aspiration that may not even be as fulfilling as we think. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have plans, goals, and focus – I envy people who do and wish I had a better idea myself – but I think it is good to take time every once in a while to remember to savor the journey, giving thanks for the opportunities instead of just crossing off the days.

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And if you’re like me and you’re not exactly sure where you’re headed, it’s okay. We can both give wishy-washy answers to annoying questions and the excuse ourselves to go to the bathroom and not feel shame. When people give us a condescending smirk because we’re simpletons who don’t know what’s next, we can remind ourselves that the joke’s on them because life rarely ever goes according to plan.

I guess in a way that means I’m prepared.

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You never know what might crop up around the bend.

Day One: Historic Deerfield Fellowship, Pt. 2

This was originally posted on Around the Grove, the blog of the Universities at Shady Grove.

Today, I started my fellowship at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts at full speed with a series of tours and talks orientating myself and the five other undergraduate fellows to the museum. I’ve never been to Historic Deerfield before or even this part of Massachusetts, but it’s a huge change of pace from the D.C. suburbs. Things are very quiet and scenic, and we fellows are living in historic houses on the main street that comprises the museum. It’s lined with houses from the 1700s and 1800s and surrounded by small towns and green landscapes.

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For lunch today, we climbed to the top of a local mountain (ironically named Sugarloaf, just like one of our mountains in Maryland) to look out on the landscape below, the Connecticut River Valley. We learned that in Native American folklore, the mountain was made by a beaver deity whose head was decapitated and fell in the middle of a lake. Apparently, from above, the mountain looks like a beaver’s head and body, bordered by the Connecticut River!

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We also had a tour of the museum’s exhibition center and a look behind the scenes at the collection, where we will be doing the bulk of our work during the fellowship, learning how to handle historic objects and learn about the past from them. Then we ended the day with a tour of a tavern from the 1700s, learning about how taverns were one of the important centers of town life and socialization in colonial America.

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We also went on a brief walking tour of the town. As you can imagine, it was pretty hot out, but we learned about the history of the raid of Deerfield in 1704, where French and Native Americans invaded the town and killed and captured people as part of an ongoing war between the French and English settlers and various Native American tribes. This raid is one of the town’s claims to fame, but has been told in a very skewed manner over the years, so we discussed the importance of examining how history is told and representing a variety of points of view.

DSC01111.JPGThe start of a new job in a new place, with new people is admittedly very overwhelming, especially with such a packed schedule, but my motto has become “one hour at a time.” Just take things as they come, don’t look too far ahead and stress too much about the future, because you never know what is coming up ahead, and you’ll get too overwhelmed.

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A few more things I’ve been learning in these overwhelming beginning days: Trust your skills and capabilities. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something, and approach your work and learning humbly. Don’t stress about trying to impress people or be the one who knows everything. And push yourself out of your comfort zone, but also have compassion on yourself; you’re only human and we each have our own things that are tougher to do.

DSC01104.JPGPat yourself on the back for the things you accomplish, big and little, and don’t get hung up over little mistakes, mix-ups and places where you don’t seem as accomplished as others. Be patient with yourself; learning and developing professional skills is a process!

One foot in front of the other

The entire car ride up here, I felt my stomach churning with anxiety, my chest tightening with every thought of the unknown that lay ahead. By the time the car turned onto Main Street, I had tears in my eyes from the stress and I thought I was going to blow chunks.

Once we pulled into the small gravel lot though, it was time for action. The next few minutes were a blur of new faces and signing papers and trying to think of something clever to say but drawing a complete blank. I took the keys and said thank you and hopped back into my parents’ car to drive to my new summer lodgings, a weathered, wood-paneled addition onto the back of a brick Federalist house, bookending the finish of a tree-lined street.

My excitement picked up as I ran up and down the stairs, exploring the nooks and crannies of my new home and deciding which room to pick. We hauled my obscene amount of newly purchased professional clothes and bags of tattered “I guess these are still nice enough” shoes into the spacious, if a bit run-down, room. Then my parents suggested we go for a walk through the historic district before they said good-bye for the night.

As we headed back down the road, underneath the shade of the trees, I turned to my mom and said I missed her and dad already. My stomach squeezed at the thought of going back to have a proper conversation with my new co-workers. I’m not famous for talking well in groups, and while I’ve made vast improvements in my social anxiety, the pressure of making a good impression on people I need to get along well with for nine weeks was a bit overwhelming.

But somehow, I hugged my parents, and went to have an awkward but interesting conversation with my newfound colleagues. Little did I know I would be laughing until I cried with some of them, swapping stories about crushes, and staying up way too late for recent college students who now have to wake up at 7:30am.

First weeks are always incredibly stressful, especially if you’re an already anxious person; meeting people whose names you can’t remember, navigating new relationships, figuring out how to answer all the “nice to meet you” questions. Even worse is hearing the laundry list of assignments, rules, and protocol and wondering how on earth you’re going to accomplish this all without crying yourself to sleep every night. This week was no different, but I was incredibly blessed to be able to connect with the people around me like I’ve never been able to do before. This meant that, while my chest still felt like caving in at times, I was able to stretch myself rather than just feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated. I guess the following is a stream-of-consciousness collection of lessons I’ve been learning over the start of this journey:

Other people are stressed too. I tend to assume that because I struggle with anxiety, I’m the only one who’s having a tough time, but that’s not true. People might only give you little glimpses of it, but if you pay attention, or maybe just even put yourself in their shoes, you might realize that other people are overwhelmed too. It can be helpful to be understanding and cut people a break, and to feel less alone, like you’re the only one struggling. Similarly, I think sometimes you need to open up and let people know you’re overwhelmed – nothing major, but just a bit of honesty with someone who you think might understand. You might receive an obnoxious pat reply, you might get some encouragement, you might find you’re not alone. But it’s good to be genuine. In my opinion, people can’t hate genuine. And it does more good than pretending you’re superior to others.

Stretching yourself to your limits is terrifying, but it really does help you to grow.

Don’t approach life trying to prove yourself to other people, but be humble and willing to ask about what you don’t know and remember how much we all have left to learn. Classmate and colleagues can sometimes, admittedly, feel like competition, but we’re all here to learn from one another. We all bring unique experiences and backgrounds to the table, so it’s worth learning from each other rather than, a) beating ourselves up for not knowing enough, or b) dropping names and dates to prove we’re hot stuff.

It’s not about being the best, but doing the best you can.

At the end of the day, whatever work you do isn’t about furthering your career, but rather contributing to your field, and ultimately to the world. Approaching work with this kind of attitude is humbling, and can help take the pressure of impressing people off of projects and let us reconnect with the joy of doing what we’re passionate about.

It’s okay to be a quiet person. Some times this week, I’ve felt guilty for not talking enough or not volunteering an answer because I was too nervous or not being able to think of something to ask a person I found myself standing next to. I’ve felt bad for having a quiet voice that gets talked over instead of commanding attention, for being tentative instead of self-assured. But then I contrast my experience with the self-assured people who seem to have it all together with the down-to-earth, vulnerable, relatable people who connect with you without pretenses, and I realize that, while it’s always good to continue pushing myself to be less tentative and fearful, I don’t need to be ashamed of being someone who listens more than she talks. We need people like that in the world to create safe havens where we can be ourselves, not be judged, and feel understood and comfortable.

And I have to cut myself some slack some times…we can’t do everything perfectly. If I don’t say much at a meal, that’s okay. I’m not one for small talk; I’d rather have a one-on-one or small group conversation where we really get to know each other or come up with inside jokes or really, genuinely laugh until I cry…the kind of laugh where you look ridiculous but are in such good company you don’t even care because you know they won’t judge you.

Even when I make “mistakes,” what matters is that I’m trying. I’m stretching myself a little further every day to overcome fear, push through anxiety, and dismiss hesitancy. While other people, myself included, may only see my shortcomings compared to an ideal of gregariousness and forthrightness, I know how far I’ve come. They don’t know that I used to never speak in class. They don’t know that two years ago, I considered quitting college. It’s easy to let shame darken our hearts because of societal stigma or bad reactions we’ve gotten in the past. Celebrate the obstacles you have overcome; let them remind you of the strength you have built and the mileage you have traveled to get to this place. The things that have cut you up inside (or perhaps even out) and left you broken have given your a story, made you wiser, stronger, more loving. The world needs broken people to pour love out into lives of others. I supposed there’s a time and place for a confident facade, but more and more I wish we made more room for an honest conversation.

More importantly, I firmly believe that, as cheesy as it sounds, empathy and humility can make a big difference in communities, relationships, group dynamics, and our lives if we let them. If we’re vulnerable, we can have deeper, more satisfying relationships, but we have to open up if we want others to see who we are so they can love us. We have to be present if we want to make connections that make an experience rich and fulfilling.

Summer Kick-Off

This was originally posted on the Universities at Shady Grove’s student blog Around the Grove on May 22, 2017. You can read my other posts here. You can also browse my Public History and Museum internships blog for design, marketing, education, library science, archival, curatorial internship and fellowship opportunities at historic sites and museums. 

It’s a bit weird to write this post because my summer hasn’t officially started yet (us UMBC retrievers are still working away at finals!) But I am very excited to kick off our Around the Grove summer posts by giving you a brief introduction to the fellowship program I’m going to be participating in this June, July, and August!

Starting in mid-June, I will be one of a group of six undergraduate students working in Historic Deerfield’s 61st Summer Fellowship Program in early American material culture studies. During my time as a history major at Shady Grove, I was introduced to the concept of material culture studies, which is basically the process of looking at historic objects to learn about the past that documents might not tell us.

Historic Deerfield is a small town in Massachusetts filled with houses built in the 1700s and 1800s. Some of the houses are now privately owned homes while others are historic house museums open to the public to visit…basically it’s a history nerd’s paradise! I’ve never been to Historic Deerfield, so I’m excited to experience living in a different place for nine weeks. Thankfully, the fellowship program provides me with housing. In fact, I’ll get to live in one of the historic houses with the other fellows, right in the historic district! (Don’t worry – there are bathrooms and A/C units…)

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Dwight House in Historic Deerfield, framed by New England’s famous fall foliage! Courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism Flickr 

Taking summer internships and fellowships away from home can be an awesome way to explore a different region to see if it would be a good fit for you to live there after graduating. It’s also nice to just get a change of scenery for a while (especially for those of us commuters living at home…#realtalk.) An awesome thing about museum internships is that they sometimes offer housing for interns because they own multiple properties, which can be a big help for us poor college students who can’t afford to relocate.

And here’s a pro-tip: Museum internships aren’t just for history majors! Museums need graphic design, marketing, business, administration, visitor services, management, retail, writing, social media, gardening, and education interns…and sometimes more! They welcome people with different skill sets from the traditional history major, so if history or art interest you, consider that as another potential area to look for internships (or even careers) in.

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Wells-Thorn House at Historic Deerfield…Aren’t you excited?! No? Okay, maybe it’s just me… Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons – Penny Leveritt for Historic Deerfield

Anyways, I’m psyched for the chance to push myself in terms of building skills and growing as a person, but also to meet new people, explore a new place, and continue to pursue my passion of studying unique historic topics using unorthodox source material. My main tasks this summer will be writing a 25-page paper (ahhh!) about items in the museum’s archives as well as giving tours to visitors. I’ll also get the chance to participate in seminars, workshops, and field trips (whoo-hoo!) with my fellow fellows as we learn more about museum work and material culture.

Ultimately, I’m so grateful that my time at the Universities at Shady Grove allowed me to learn about new developments in my field of study and connect with my passion – material culture. Since then, school has been so much more interesting and I’ve taken ownership of my education.

Stay tuned throughout this summer to hear every Monday from myself and two of our other incredible Around the Grove bloggers – Joel and Christine – as we keep you updated on our summer adventures…Good luck and safe travels on all of your own endeavors!