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How Adulthood Helped Me Unmask The Real Treat Behind Halloween

Halloween is my favorite holiday.

When I was younger, it was a full-blown festival. Halloween started the weekend before October 31st, with a costumed family pumpkin-carving party. It continued with a costume parade at school on the day-of and an evening of trick-or-treating with friends. The grand finale involved my parents hosting their friends with beer and pizza while us kids took to the living room floor for candy-categorization and trading.

Halloween made me endlessly happy.

Sure, what’s not to love about Halloween for a kid? You get to stay up later than usual so that your neighbors — even the one whose window you broke with that baseball — can fulfill their social obligation to give you candy.

But Halloween never meant candy for me. I was that kid who loved that old couple that everyone else avoided. The one that gave out crayons instead of Kit Kats because candy rots your teeth.

For me, Halloween was always about the costumes.

Even as Halloween became less about trick-or-treating and more about an excuse to drink on a weeknight and then became less about partying and more about winning the company costume contest, I never lost my desire to dress up.

This year, I decided on my Halloween costume in July and spent ten hours crafting it in early October. It currently hangs in my storage space, awaiting its debut.

Seeing it every day for the past two weeks, I couldn’t help but wonder why, as an adult, I still love Halloween so much.

What is it about dressing up in costume?

Gorilla and Shark Siblings

Senior Year: The Incredibles

Emojis

My past costumes were neither sexy nor scary and my intention was never to show off.

So what is it then?

It finally came to me this weekend when I was outside of cell range, escaping into nature to reset my mind.

In the early years, Halloween allowed me to “play pretend.” I found it thrilling to take on the persona of a fictional character or real-life hero. The day was a welcomed and socially acceptable way of escaping from my own skin. And as a kid, Halloween wasn’t my only opportunity to do so.

Others included playing “house” with my friends, speaking a gibberish language with my parents while pretending to be a different family, performing in school musicals, and taking the stage for dance productions. Over the years, I grew out of some and then some grew out of me. Although none of these opportunities exist now, my occasional desire to escape still does.

As an adult, escape feels less appropriate. Social norms tell me that any urge to escape the monotony of being “me” must be glorified. I can “reset” by meditating, be unapologetically “out of pocket” by going “off the grid”, get “immersed” in a book or “binge-watch” a show. But to admit outright that I want to escape my day-to-day feels wrong. A red flag, even. The proverbial “they” might ask, “Is something wrong?”

No.

But once in a while, it’s fun to be someone or something else. To be a character. To unleash the monsters within. To pretend.

To escape the monotony of “me.”

For us adults, Halloween still offers exactly this. As I’ve perfected it over the years, I’ve learned that the trick is to fully commit yourself to the cause. When you do, it’s a liberating treat.

It’s coming…

Trick-or-treat, sweeties.

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change, choice, college, decisions, experiencing, friendship, real world, Uncategorized

Why My Post-College Life Is About To Get Schooled

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Me and my college room/soulmate

When the time came, I wasn’t ready to graduate college. Emotionally ready, I mean. Logistically, I had the requirements met and the classes passed. Emotionally, however, I wasn’t the person who, four years prior, I imagined graduating from college. I imagined someone glorious, defined by significant scientific discovery, large-scale philanthropic impact, employment at her dream job, and having found a future husband. If I could have chosen when I’d graduate from college, it would certainly not have been as soon as I did. Hell, I might still be there. Despite lowering myself to the floor sobbing the night before, graduation day arrived and pushed me out the door. It tore me away from impeccable relationships, meandering academic exploration, and that lovely barrier to rules and consequence.

I entered the real world wearing a cloak of denial. In fact, in the year after college, I made the 2000-mile trek back to campus more frequently than I did in the following four years combined. With every visit, college felt a little less right for me. I had new passions, intellectual pursuits, daily routines, and relationships (while still maintaining the best ones from college). Still, I resented the fact that I hadn’t gotten to leave college on my own terms.

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“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition” -Timothy Leary

For the longest time, I never quite understood women’s rights activists in modern day America. While I recognized and staunchly disagreed with the way women were mistreated in other countries, I just didn’t feel that women today in America had reason to even whimper a complaint. To me, women talking about women’s issues was what created an “issue” in the first place.

It didn’t help that personally, I had never experienced injustice based on my sex. In fact, most of my activities and interests were ones in which girls were a majority and girls excelled. Sometimes more than boys. These included areas of studies like the liberal arts and extra curricular activities like dance and choir. In hindsight, most of my day-to-day was estrogen-filled. Psychology was a female-dominated major and my sports and performing arts teams were typically all-female.

It was when I entered the world of technology that I truly experienced a predominantly male society for the first time.

Last summer, I took a week off to visit my grandfather in Bangalore. As I waited at the terminal for my return flight, I flipped through The Design of Everyday Things on my iPad. Either my device or the content caught the eye of a middle-aged gentleman next to me who casually asked for my thoughts on the design of the Singapore Airlines website. It is miserable I returned definitively. I agree. What didn’t you like? He asked with a half smile. It turned out that he was a web design consultant for Singapore Airlines (oops) but we had a wonderfully insightful conversation about usability and user experience (and he agreed that the website needed remedial help. Otherwise I would have no job! he joked). Once back at work, thrilled to share the wonderful nuggets of wisdom we exchanged, I told several colleagues the story.

Imagine my surprise when my story completely flopped. The irony, the foot-in-mouth moment when I found out he worked for Singapore Airlines, the awkwardness of his reading my book over my shoulder, all was lost on my audience. Silence. Finally, someone (a male) spoke. You know, I highly doubt it was your thoughts on usability that he wanted. I was shocked. Mostly because I am convinced that had I been a male, this story would have come across as one of successful networking or in the least, travel humor. It just certainly wouldn’t have been one of flirtation.

Shortly thereafter, I was leaving the cafeteria after having lunch with a male manager. Apparently a lady several tables away had been calling his name but having been engrossed in conversation and surrounded by several other conversations, we had not heard her. Finally, we noticed her and stopped at her table on the way out. What, so you’re eating lunch with a pretty girl and you just ignore everyone else around you? The lady asked him. Naturally, I felt extremely comfortable. What perhaps may have been intended to be an extremely backhanded compliment made me feel insulted. If I had been a male, and my manager a woman, I can hardly imagine someone would have accused her of ignoring others while having lunch with a “hot guy.” (My manager brushed it off extremely well, in case you’re wondering).

It was around this time, about a year after joining the corporate world, that I began to question whether my gender could inhibit my rising up the corporate ladder. I had received feedback that I was “too nice” and “submissive” and “smart but not aggressive enough.” Upon some self-reflection, I realized that I care too much about others’ emotions and feelings  to be the opposite of these words. I, for the first time, felt the need for strong female leaders to emulate. I just couldn’t identify with some of the key tendencies of strong male leaders. There’s gotta be a feminine way to get where I want to get, I thought.

Right around the time that I was trudging through the slump of regret for not having chosen teaching over technology, I came across this article on exploiting beauty in the workplace (note: this absolutely does not mean being inappropriate). I highly recommend the read, which essentially turns feminism on its back by suggesting that women can actually use their sex appeal to get ahead in the workplace. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the views of this article, but I do to some extent. The author argues, “Women are more charming, more graceful in social interaction, and have more social intelligence than men, but they don’t exploit those advantages. Men, on the other hand, have no compunction about using every asset to get ahead in their careers and have no embarrassment about reaping the benefits.”

Since the aforementioned slump, I’ve continually sought out strong female managers and role models in the workplace. They’ve demonstrated to me the importance of retaining feminine qualities both in the workplace and in your personal life. For them, career advice means not only navigating the corporate world but also thinking about how it will intersect with a future “personal” careers, say, in motherhood. Given that my mother left the corporate world to fully devote herself to me and my brother until we were in high school, this advice is not played to deaf ears.

The first day I met my current manager, we talked about how we are perceived by others, what we like about the perception and what we’re trying to change. People know that I’ll get things done and they see me as a leader. But I’m also seen as maternal. I’m really trying to shirk that one. She continued by explaining that she had not only just had a child, but when the leader of the group had unexpectedly passed away, she had been the mother hen helping the team through it. All the while she was explaining, I couldn’t help but think that maternal was not only “not bad,” but quite a wonderful quality to have, even in the workplace. To be able to bring a team together in a time of hardship — that’s a huge deal, and not anyone can do it.

Better yet, when I tried to communicate the connotation of “maternal” to a guy friend, he simply didn’t get it. Why is your manager trying to change that? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The concrete moments in which I am reminded of my femininity at work have certainly not subsided. A few days ago, I came across this article on how girls’ success in school does not translate to success in business. Just today as I was speaking in a meeting, someone commented, “Sorry, I didn’t hear a word you said. I was distracted by how cute your dress is.”

What has subsided, however, is my feeling like these concrete moments are noteworthy events. The more we as women make them a big deal, the more we women accept feminine words like “maternal”to be negative, the bigger a deal this becomes.

I’ve only been in this world for a little more than a year, but I can already see that it’s not about changing man’s perception of women. It’s about changing the woman mindset itself. In striving to be like men, we will only ever be an inferior version. But in striving to be successful corporate women, we have the opportunity to be truly superior.

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