Each Day A Masterpiece

"My life is a success when I am living by my motto ... "

Very often a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.

~Arthur Christopher Benson

I never thought I would move back in with my parents after I graduated from college. In fact, all through my senior year, I told myself that moving from the exciting cultural metropolis of Los Angeles back into my childhood bedroom in the sleepy, small beach town where I grew up was out of the question.

So, I applied for fellowships to travel abroad. I poured hours into my applications -- revising essays, collecting letters of recommendation, researching programs, practicing interviews. I made it to the final rounds for two prestigious fellowships, but ultimately was not chosen for either.

Refusing to dwell on my disappointment, I applied to graduate schools across the country. Four months later, my mailbox was filled with nothing but rejection slips.

It was now April. I had only a month left before college graduation spit me out into the Real World. I went online and searched for jobs in the Bay Area, where my long-distance boyfriend had one more year left as a student at San Francisco State. I figured I could get a job up there, live close to him, and enjoy the creative stimulus of a new city.

Then, weeks after graduation, my boyfriend and I broke up. My college friends scattered to all corners of the globe. I packed my belongings into my parents' minivan and moved back home, feeling like a complete failure.

Don't get me wrong. I adore my parents, and I understood how generous it was of them to let me move back home and take some time to find my post-grad bearings. When I left for college, they probably shared the same belief I did: that I was moving out for good. But instead of being grateful, all I could focus on was how I felt like a loser. I had a fancy college degree, yet here I was, back where I had started four years before. I was sad about the breakup with my boyfriend. I missed my college friends. I felt like everyone but me was out in the world doing exhilarating, impactful things.

After a few days of wallowing, I came across a popular quote: "Make each day your masterpiece." I realized that I didn't have to be living out on my own in an exciting new city to make my days masterpieces. I could start that moment. I taped up the quote on my bathroom mirror. I typed it into my cell phone background. I added it to the signature line of my e-mails. "Make each day your masterpiece" became my own personal motto.

What did a "masterpiece day" look like? I pondered this question. For me, a day that was truly a "masterpiece" would include time with my loved ones, time spent exercising and taking care of myself, time volunteering to help others, and time devoted to my passion of writing.

I used this knowledge to organize my days.

I shifted my mindset and began to see my time at home as a gift in that I was able to spend a lot of time with my parents. My role in the household no longer felt like that of a child; rather, my parents treated me as an adult, and our relationship matured into one of mutual respect and consideration. Nearly every day I visited my grandfather, who also lived in town, and soaked up his stories. I reconnected with a few close high school friends from whom I had drifted away during the past couple of years.

In college I had often been too busy or stressed to cook healthy meals or exercise very much. Now that I was focused on making each day a masterpiece, I carved out time for nurturing my health. I began waking up early and running every morning at the park nearby my house. I visited local farm stands and bought more fruits and vegetables and scoured the Internet for healthy recipes. Within two weeks, I felt stronger and more energized than I had in years. My morning exercise became my treasured time to think and stay in touch with my inner self.

I volunteered in classrooms, teaching writing exercises and tutoring kids in reading. I spent time at the nursing home visiting with senior citizens. I got in touch with my hometown's volunteer center and helped out at beach clean-ups and fundraising events.

And I began to write for two hours every day. I knew I wanted to make a career as a writer, but my writing schedule in college was erratic — 20 minutes some days, none for weeks, then a whole weekend cooped up in my room with my laptop. Establishing a writing routine helped me more easily shift into the "writing groove." Some days, the words flowed easily. Other days, I spent the better part of my two writing hours staring out the window and scribbling down disjointed notes. But my pages of writing began to add up. I wrote articles, essays, short stories. I even started a novel!

Some days weren't as balanced as others. Tasks and problems popped up unexpectedly; not every day unfurled as planned. But as I lay in bed each night, reflecting on the day, I felt a deep sense of contentment and pride in myself. I really think the cliché is true that "things happen for a reason." Looking back, moving home after graduation was the best thing I could have done. Now, as I prepare to leave for graduate school in a few months, I feel focused, rejuvenated, and happy with who I am.

I was not a failure — I never had been. I realize now that my negative mindset is what held me back more than anything. My "success" is not dependent on what other people think or what my peers are doing or what I feel like I "should" be doing. My life is a success when I am living by my motto and making each day a masterpiece.