What I’ve Learned from Being Neutral

Side view of the author gazing to her left on a beach with mountains and houses in the background
Photo by Emilios.

The idea for today’s post came from Sarah F. Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah!

Unlike most of my fellow citizens, I had to sit out the recent election cycle. I voted, but I did not display a yard sign, put a bumper sticker on my car, contribute to a campaign, or like any candidate’s Facebook page. As a federal judicial employee, I’m prohibited from engaging in any political activity at any level. I’m not permitted to campaign on anyone’s behalf, nor am I allowed to publicly endorse any candidate. I cannot like a partisan post on social media, or attend rallies, and in most cases, I can’t participate in issue advocacy. At least for as long as I serve in my current role, you will not see any politically focused posts on this website.

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The Weekend Listen

A pair of wireless headphones for podcast listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts while driving, working out, and doing chores around the house. In this weekly feature, I’ll tell you about one episode I particularly enjoyed that week. (I do not receive any compensation for these recommendations.)

I had a hard time choosing a podcast for this post because I listened to several this week that were so good.  The one I initially selected is pretty short, so I decided to pick a second bonus episode this time.

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To the Blue Collar Kids Applying to College

The author's high school yearbook picture.
Me at 17, sporting a truly awful haircut and braces. Carlisle High School Oracle, 2002.

Fifteen years ago, I was a high school senior ready to graduate and move on to bigger and better things. My parents had always expected me to pursue higher education, but they hadn’t gone to college themselves and couldn’t provide me much advice in the search and application process. My high school guidance counselor was responsible for too many students and didn’t know much about me beyond the grades and test scores in my school record. He didn’t have many occasions to see kids like me, the ones who usually showed up for school, got decent grades, and didn’t get into trouble very often. So, like many aspiring first-generation college students, I was unaware of most of the tips and tricks that some of my more privileged classmates had been taught.

I’ve always been pretty resourceful and independent, so I figured things out on my own, with the help of several books, a fantastic admission counselor at the college I ended up attending, and a financial aid office that was willing to work with me. I was accepted to the four colleges to which I applied and received a generous scholarship package from my top choice.

My college admissions journey didn’t end once I matriculated. As a student, I worked as an intern and work-study in the admissions office for three years. My first “real” job after graduation was an admission counselor position at a different liberal arts college. After leaving that job, I volunteered as an alumna admissions ambassador for my alma mater. I also went through the process of applying to law school, which is different than applying to college, but similar in many ways. Based on my experiences, below are some things I would tell my seventeen-year-old self if I could revisit 2002.

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On Being “Humbled”

A peacock, anything but humble, shows its feathers.

One of my language usage pet peeves of late has been the increased use of the word “humbled” in contexts that demonstrate a lack of humility. A connection of mine recently posted on LinkedIn that he was humbled to have been selected to receive an award. I suspect that he was in fact feeling honored or proud rather than humbled.

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Quote of the Week

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. . . . There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957.

Wall decal available from LucyLews on Etsy.

Watch Selma on Hulu. 

Writing a Personal Mission Statement

The beginning of a new year is a good time to reevaluate our priorities. Setting New Year’s resolutions is one way to define our goals, but it can be helpful to do some deeper thinking about what’s important to us and what we want our lives to look like.

When I was in my mid-twenties, trying to find myself and feeling some existential angst, I decided to write a personal mission statement. I thought about what I really valued and about the qualities exhibited by the people with whom I most enjoyed spending time. I considered how I wanted to be perceived and what I could bring to the people with whom I interacted. I crafted a brief manifesto of sorts, about ten sentences long, which is longer than a traditional organizational mission statement. What I wrote could probably be better described as a combination mission, vision, and values statement. I won’t include the whole thing here, but it began by stating that “I value compassion, fairness, and forgiveness,” and it ended with the following sentence: “I want to better the lives of the people around me by comforting them in times of need, lifting their spirits, and inspiring them to do the things they are meant to do.”

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In Defense of Jury Duty

clipartfest.com

People often tell me about the jury summons they received or their experiences serving as a juror, usually with a groan.  If they’ve been summonsed, they want to get out of it, and if they’ve been called to serve in the past, many express relief that the case was resolved before trial or that they weren’t selected and got to go home after a few hours.

I’ve never served on a jury myself, and I probably never will now that I’m a lawyer.  Most American adults, in fact, will not be called for jury duty.  According to one source, less than a third of American adults have ever served on a jury, and the number of federal jury trials is declining.

I have, however, worked in several courts and sat through a number of jury trials.  In this post, I hope to demystify jury duty and maybe even convince you to be excited about your next jury summons.  My discussion will mostly center on the federal courts, as each state does things a little differently.

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A New Project for the New Year

Happy 2017!  Last spring, I decided to get up early every weekday morning and write before going to work.  After reading nonfiction for years, the time seemed right to tell my own story.  My initial plan was to write a series of personal essays and reflections that I might eventually compile into a memoir.  The process was revealing, therapeutic, and cathartic.  In no time, I was hooked on writing.  I started writing poems – something I’d loved to do as a child – and enrolled in a poetry workshop class through Coursera.  I found a couple of local poetry groups and attended a few of their readings and workshops.  Then I decided to try my hand at fiction and began working on a novel.  At the end of 2016, I had lots of ideas, a big stack of unfinished pieces, and no clear plan of what to do with them.  Read more