Living My Best Life

Although people usually use the phrase “living my best life” ironically, I have been using it as a guiding mantra the past year or so and it’s served me well. Everything isn’t fabulous all of the time, but I do get bored without challenges to motivate me. In trying to figure out what living my best life means, I think about what makes my heart happy (this is different than just general contentment- it’s more an overwhelming feeling of joy that takes your breath away a little bit).
Photos in this post are from joyful outdoor moments!

When I thought about moments that stood out with how happy they made me, most of them were outside. I feel like my best self when I’m on top of a mountain, hanging off the side of a cliff, or 60+ft underground covered in mud. Throw in some little bubs (aka children), friends, giggles, or overcoming nerves and it’ll be even better. My head is clear, my eyes are open, and my heart is full.

It was with this in mind that I decided to leave Emory. While I LOVE my people there, I didn’t feel fulfilled by my plethora of theory-based classes. I wanted to be outside, learning and sharing knowledge with others. That’s where SMSC came in! As the semester winds down, I am glad that I took that leap of faith. Not only for all of the opportunities that the program’s afforded me, but also proud of my past self for choosing to actively seek out happiness.

Top experiences/moments of the semester:

  • Living in the mountains! From breathtaking sunsets and stunning views to cool breezes and green hillsides, living in the mountains restored my soul that was drained from the Emory grind. Taking a deep breath of mountain air is an unparalleled experience.
  • Sense of Place Hikes. We went on a winter/early spring and a spring/early summer hikes to learn about the plants and biotic communities of the Shenandoah. I learn by asking questions and hiking with professors provided many opportunities to ask “what’s this?” “what about this one?” (stumping them is always fun too;)). Taking class outside of the classroom allowed for more specific/practical discussions.
  • Our professors! I know they’ll read this because it’s a class assignment (hi Jim!) but for real, they are the bomb. Not only are amazing role models for sustainable living and being educated, involved citizens, they truly care about the success of each individual student. I have yet to encounter more dedicated, inspiring, creative and passionate educators.

Lower points:

  • Moving in with hurricane force winds. Talk about a whirlwind of a transition!
  • My peers. Assuming makes a donkey out of you and me, but I was 100% convinced that the other people here were going to be hippie crunchy nature children like myself. I quickly got over that disappointment but I was not prepared for the negative energy choking the group of nine young women. I never have an issue making friends (see this post for context) until this semester. Judgmental cliques and gossip apparently aren’t exclusive to middle school. While I spent many nights alone (more than my extroverted self wanted) it allowed me to focus on my physical health. I started going to the gym multiple times a week, doing yoga/stretching before bed, and trying to eat less sugar. #findingsilverlinings?
Sitting atop a mountain at Stony Man overlook

All that being said, I would definitely come back and do it again. Nowhere else would I have gotten to interact with so many established conservationists, directors/higher-ups of Smithsonian programs, inspired educators, and cutting-edge researchers. Learning about nature (especially while in nature) fills my heart with joy and my head with purpose.

After this semester, I feel more motivated and empowered to tackle environmental issues. When faced with an issue, I’m better at determining stakeholder involvement and taking into account multiple perspectives. I’m leaving a more experienced presenter, writer, problem solver, interviewee, network-er, teacher, and all around human.

I plan on continuing this blog although updates will probably not be weekly (especially over the summer while I am in the woods). Stay tuned for more environmentally conscious brain dumps, nature adventures, all the feels, and random musings 🙂

Hope you’ve enjoyed my class blog posts! Be sure to check out my Dress Project posts as tomorrow is the last day to donate/sponsor!

Find what makes you happy and the rest will come.