Small Steps: A goodbye

When approaching the idea of closing out this column, I’ve found it difficult to figure out where to start. To me, the idea of writing about writing often seems a bit overdone, and as a 21-year-old who still forgets to use spell check and typically writes these entries the morning they’re due, I struggle to think of what I could possibly say about the act of writing a column.

However, as I look back through the backlog of Small Steps, I realized that I’ve already answered that question for myself. In a previous column, I discussed how creativity is not something that is innate to the core of a person. Creativity shows itself in different ways, and we should celebrate the ways in which it manifests in ourselves, even if that looks more like bullet journaling than it does abstract painting. I think writing can be seen in the same way.

To be honest, Small Steps was quite the challenge for me. My typical beat is pop culture critique and media commentary, so the act of sitting down to write a personal reflection every two weeks was a lot harder than I originally thought when I pitched the idea.

Yet, in a very pragmatic way, this writing has helped me get in touch with my beliefs.

I really relate to Joan Didion’s approach to understanding the act of writing. In her essay, “Why I Write” she states, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

It’s easy to go about your life with a general understanding of what you believe and what you’re passionate about. However, articulating these thoughts is a whole different issue. When writing Small Steps, I have sat down many times on a Friday morning (sorry copy editors) without more than a vague notion of what I wanted to say, and lo and behold, the ideas eventually started to flow. Often, I found I would write myself into a different opinion than I thought I held to begin with, and that’s totally okay.

Whatever style of writing you feel the most comfortable with, I encourage you to use it to learn a bit more about yourself. While I had a requirement to write every two weeks, lest our editor-in-chief, Lilly, come banging down my door, it didn’t have to be that formal. A journal, blog or poetry notebook can be a great way to stay in touch with yourself.

Above all, I’m thankful for this opportunity to write and learn, not just from myself but from all my amazing colleagues and editors.


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: Cutting the guilt from the pleasure

Sometimes it feels as if North American culture revolves around the notion of guilt. Between sex shaming, health food snacks labeled “guilt-free” and Spotify playlists full of early 2000s pop hits under painfully self-aware titles, it’s impossible to escape the idea that we should feel bad for the things we enjoy. Rather than flat-out admitting to liking something deemed unrespectable, it’s more tactful to couch it with the qualifier “guilty pleasure.” Between the popularity of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Carrie Underwood, and John Green novels, it’s obvious that we’re all consuming so-called guilty pleasures, however, the label remains.

In this view, every piece of media we consume reflects directly back on us as people. Now, I’m not here to argue that culture is removed from ideology or immune from criticism, and that we should blindly consume whatever problematic media we want. Because that’s not what people mean when they discuss guilty pleasures — it’s never an issue of media being harmful (unless you take “brain rot” literally), just media that isn’t up to some arbitrary taste level.

Labeling something a guilty pleasure is a sneaky way of distancing yourself from your enjoyment of it. “Oh sure, I enjoy this but I still know better, unlike some other people.” Somewhere between self-flagellation and self-flattery, designating things guilty pleasures pads our own intellectual insecurities.

Under late-stage capitalism, every action we take must have some goal or purpose in mind. Leisure for leisure’s sake has been eaten away by a drive to monetize every hobby and capture every moment for the perfect social media post, which in turn monetizes ourselves. Thus, even what we do in our spare time contributes to the easily packageable and brandable version of “you,” not to be muddied by unsavoury choices.

When you ascribe negative moral value judgements onto culture and media, it opens the door for the counter to be true as well. If listening to Bon Jovi and reading Dan Brown makes you worthy of shame and disdain, it would stand to reason that one could Brian Eno and Dostoevsky themselves into righteousness. Now, written out that may sound crazy, but tell me you’ve never met someone with a bookshelf where their social judgement should be.

It’s time we remove taste from its link to morality. The pursuit of a guilt-free media environment can easily force you down a hole of music you don’t like and books that don’t speak to you. And who does that serve but your inner critic? Posturing about your intelligence will only drive you deeper into the shame and guilt of your choices, rather than fully rejecting the notion of guilt in the first place. And come on, there are so many larger social ills to tackle than whether to listen to King Princess or King Crimson.


 Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: Turning back the clock

I saw a tweet recently that showed screenshots from a TikTok of a teenage girl saying that she hoped to age like the cast of Bridgerton, displaying a photo of the actress who plays Daphne Bridgerton, age 25. The tweet’s caption jokes, “why do they all think ppl rot at the age of 21.”

While, on first glance, the notion of a 25 year-old being seen as “aged” would cause any twenty-something to laugh, this Zoomer’s analysis didn’t come out of nowhere. Our late teens and early twenties are often posited as the most fun, defining and important time of our lives. These years are supposed to be a time to experiment and find your true self — whatever that means. So it would stand to reason that after we hit that horrifying quarter century, it’s all downhill.

Between coming-of-age movies depicted by deceptively old actors and rom-coms that try to make you believe the main character could have a lucrative career in the publishing industry before age twenty-five, pop culture places a lot of emphasis on those early years. If you watch film after film of people finding love, reinventing themselves in a new city and making a name for themselves straight out of college, it may start to feel like that’s the natural progression of everyone’s lives but yours. This sort of thing makes it seem like there’s some cap to the time you can experiment and make mistakes in your life. So, once you reach thirty you need to settle down, join the corporate machinery and start going to jazz brunch for fun until you die, I guess.

Add on to all of that stress of your supposed physical peak, for women especially. The age in which women are seen to be most attractive is astonishingly low. According to a study covered in The New York Times assessing dating app use by heterosexual people, a woman’s desirability peaks at 18 and falls steadily from there. So the moment we become legal, it’s just a ticking clock counting down until our sexual obsolescence. Whether you want to blame this on reproductive biology or near-pedophilic beauty standards, it’s enough to make you gag.

I know simply saying something is a “social construct” doesn’t do much to liberate people from their actual anxieties, but it is true that this timer put on your life is completely arbitrary. Whether it’s in relationships, career or just being a bit of a mess, it’s nearly impossible to fit that all into one decade, and why would you want to? While, yes, many amazing and identity-forming things will happen to you in your early twenties, that doesn’t mean they automatically need to stop at a certain age.

Our culture’s focus on youth stifles us from enjoying the fullness of life in our later years. I hope to continue to be curious and a bit chaotic well into my last years on this planet. Yes, I want a stable job and to not eat as much instant ramen as I currently do, but I’m done putting a fixed date on when this era of my life needs to end.

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: Irony culture will slowly kill you

In June of 2016, The 1975 came to my hometown. Virginia summers are oppressive, and the day Matt Healy and the band came to Charlotesville was especially so. After grabbing a few slices of pizza and stocking up on to-go cups of water to share amongst ourselves, my friends and I sat on the ground outside of the amphitheatre gates. In my American Apparel cut-offs, my thighs burned against the blazing bricks as we scarfed down our pre-concert nourishment and compared what songs we wanted to hear later that evening. I was filled with a mixture of unbridled excitement and agoraphobia-based anxiety that I have never experienced since, and likely never will.

Yes, this is partially because of the teenage hormones that spurred my fandom-like admiration of, well, almost anything. But there’s more to it.

I, like many other Extremely Online Zoomers, have become irony poisoned to an extent to which I don’t believe I could publically get that excited about a piece of pop culture again, no matter how much it connected with me. Rather than genuine admiration for art and media, I, like many of my peers, hide my opinions behind a curtain of cynicism and mockery to the extent to which my true beliefs are muddled by my own posturing. If I never express genuine excitement for something, no one can ever take away my fun.

This isn’t simply a necessary facet of exiting adolescence; the particular moment we’re experiencing right now has conditioned this all-encompassing cynicism.

As a generation that has only known a post-9/11 world in political and economic turmoil, how are we meant to react to the constant barrage of despair? You could put all your energy into rallying to change the world, but soon you’ll exhaust yourself anyway, and besides, how much could you ever really change?

In activist circles, there’s the concept of burnout culture, which is “a response to prolonged stress and typically involves emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment, and feeling ineffective,” according to The BBC. Many activists start with lofty goals and quickly devolve to hopelessness and cynicism once they get a full view of all the cracks in the system. With that, it’s so much easier to start from a point of apathy. It reduces the risk of getting your hopes up and inevitably falling short.

Some believe that irony culture, and its spawn cringe culture, are dead. But one long scroll on social media will tell you otherwise. For every “painfully” sincere teenager dancing on TikTok, there will always be five more making fun of them on Twitter or Reddit.

I often feel I need to put up the facade of irony when it comes to the media I consume. I’ve always considered myself to be someone with good taste, and thus my personality became intrinsically tied with what I like and dislike. This is a precarious place to value your self worth, however, as taste is never objective, so a shot to a liking of mine becomes a shot to me, personally. So, better to never reveal these interests unless they have been crafted and vetted by what seems right to like, right? Instead, I’ll just make fun of the masses obsessing over whatever recently dropped on Netflix or Spotify. God forbid anyone call me a joiner.

But, at the end of the day, irony is really just insecurity dressed up in another form. It’s a manifestation of the anxiety that everyone is secretly watching you — and they’re laughing. It’s clinging onto a certainty that you’ll always be superior, even as the foundation starts to crack beneath you. Unchecked, irony culture will slowly eat away at your spirit until there is nothing left but regurgitated Twitter discourse. As The 1975 said, sincerity may be scary, but try, for once, to let yourself have a bit of fun.


 Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: astrology is ok, actually

Everyday I wake up to an increasingly bizarre and cryptic notification from my Co–Star astrology app. Today’s message was a simple, “Are you starting shit?”

I don’t think I am. I’m barely starting the mundane things I need to do, let alone stirring any sort of proverbial pot. Should I be starting shit? Maybe this was a call to disrupt my typical routine and do something more impulsive than my typical bed-to-desk-to-bed quarantine routine. Maybe Co–Star wanted me to engage in some sort of civil unrest, shake up the system a little bit. Regardless, it got me thinking.

Astrology is often proclaimed to be pseudoscience; simply New Age spiritualism packaging itself as fact. That is, of course, to the dismay of astrologers who never claimed it was a science to begin with. This argument assumes that for something to be useful and impactful, it must be scientific in nature in the first place.

Many also argue that leaning into astrology and horoscopes is harmful, since they make it seem like our lives are predestined and we have no control over our actions. In this view, those who follow astrology must believe they are all fully guided by the stars, unable to control their impulses to act due to whims of planetary motion.

While I am not one for disregarding the idea of free will and skepticism, I think this notion is pretty flimsy. Are there not a myriad of forces in our world that limit our freedom to act as we truly wish? We’re born into a slew of conditions that form who we are and who we can be, for better or worse. Race, nation, year of birth, sex, family and more shape who we turn out to be. So are the stars really the system we need to question?

Additionally, astrology doesn’t make us more removed from human impulses; it could actually help bring us in dialogue with them. It’s human nature to view yourself as a sort of “main character” in your life and to have trouble truly understanding the complicated idiosyncrasies of others. There’s even a word for the phenomenon of realizing that all the people you pass by have lives just as extensive as your own — sonder.

Astrology could help fight this impulse. By knowing that all people have detailed charts showing how they love, how they fight, how they think and how they dream, it reminds us that everyone is just as complex and flawed as we are.

The current age is filled with uncertainty and insecurity, from a pandemic to contentious elections to economic downturn — It’s no surprise that people have decided to turn to a belief system to help guide them. There are many more dangerous paths to go down when looking for answers to life’s big questions than downloading Co–Star or hiring a chart reader. Astrology is a belief system like any other, and your ascription to it is as personal as what religion you may or may not follow — and that won’t change no matter how much people tear it down.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: Don’t let imposter syndrome get you down

Once, sitting at a Cook Out (a southern fast food joint, sadly missing in the “great” white north) at around midnight with my friend Hannah, the topic of nepotism came up. I bemoaned to her about my fears of never truly knowing my worth in the creative industry because I happened to be following in my parents’ footsteps. My mom is a broadcast media professor and my dad sports a 40-year radio career. And now, I am an aspiring media professional who does radio on the side. It all just felt a bit too close to home. How could I ever know if I’m actually good at what I do if I’m always being told where to apply and who to contact?

Hannah, never one to parse words, looked straight at me and asked “What does it matter?” She goes to a much more “WASP-y,” predominantly well-to-do school than Concordia, where many of her peers wear their generational wealth on their sleeve, so she was able to see things a little more clearly than I.

“Hey, if John Rockefeller Vanderbilt the fifteenth is using his nepotism, why shouldn’t you? At least you’re a woman,” she said.

She was right. I was using my fear of what little nepotism I am capable of gleaning as a smokescreen for what was really going on —  imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is basically when you feel like you’re a fraud despite ample qualification. It’s the gut feeling that you don’t deserve any of your accomplishments, despite having worked for them. It’s the difference between me and John Rockefeller Vanderbilt the fifteenth— he believes he is good enough for the position, regardless of circumstances, while I do not.

Imposter syndrome is not solely personal, though. It’s intrinsically tied to how society values the labour of certain people over others. If you’re conditioned throughout your life to believe certain fields aren’t meant for you, or you never see people who look like you reflected in your desired job, it only makes sense that you’d still feel like you don’t belong even after you’ve beaten the odds. For that reason, women are much more likely to experience imposter syndrome than men, and women of colour tend to experience it the most.

It’s extremely hard to break the cycle of negative thinking when it’s so ingrained in our culture. And exclusionary and toxic work environments only exacerbate these issues. It would be easy to say that women and POC should just put on a smile and “know their worth.” But that sort of #GirlBoss logic doesn’t fix the reasons why so many are plagued by feelings of inadequacy.

To actually stop imposter syndrome, we’ll need to address the structural reasons why people feel inadequate in their careers in the first place. The vast majority of workplaces were never constructed with women or marginalized people in mind, so of course those trying to navigate these structures will feel alienated. Additionally, a capitalist structure which views professional failure as akin to death doesn’t really help us put our careers into perspective.

It helps to know that imposter syndrome isn’t just you, because most of us all feel unworthy every once in a while. Keeping that in mind may just help you navigate our capitalist hellscape a little bit easier.


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: creativity is overrated

Creativity is overrated.

Have you ever gone so deep into self-reflection that you come out the other end knowing less about yourself than when you started? It happens to me a lot. I fall so far down the rabbit hole of astrology, Myers-Briggs types, enneagrams, and Buzzfeed quizzes, that by the end I know I’m a taurus, ENTJ, 3 wing 2, Schmidt from New Girl, but have no concept of what these labels actually mean for my life.

These ways of categorizing people can be alluring because they all play on the base desire to truly know oneself. Overall, as much as I participate, I’ve become a bit wary of this desire to mine the depths of our psyches in order to gain some knowledge of our elusive “true selves.”

I think most of these characteristics aren’t innate to the core of a person whatsoever. Honesty, loyalty, warmness, sensitivity, neuroticism are subject to change for a myriad of personal reasons, this is especially true for the characteristic of creativity.

Whether or not I’m an inherently creative person is a question that has bothered me for most of my young adult life. Culturally, there is a romanticization of the sort of creativity that causes artists to isolate themselves in tiny studios and stay up all night making their masterpiece because they were compelled by some intense inspiration. But how many of us truly relate to that experience of creativity?

This focus on monumental and sporadic artistic output as the definer of who is and is not creative really limits how all of us view our own creations. This view causes us to make up excuses for why we cannot produce artistic content. You either don’t have inspiration, don’t have the right materials, have too busy of a schedule or so on. Then, you never create the art you wanted to make, and convince yourself that you aren’t a “real” artist because you don’t practice a craft consistently. The cycle continues.

I noticed this defeatist cycle most prominently in the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. I had time to make all the creative output I desired once I was staying at home indefinitely. However, I couldn’t bring myself to bust out the random craft supplies lying around my apartment for fear of not being able to achieve something I was proud of.

But since divine inspiration never struck, I convinced myself that I was indeed one of the world’s poor left-brain “uncreatives” and that was that. However, after beating myself up time and time again, I no longer believe in this sort of dichotomy.

Creativity looks different on everyone. As children, we’re all fairly confident in our artistic abilities, and then something happens throughout the years to knock that out of most of us. And through our adolescence, as we’re no longer practicing drawing, music, dancing etc., the skills stagnate. Then, when we try to pick the habit back up, nothing has progressed. That’s not a failure of us individually, but of a system that convinces us that as we grow up, creativity becomes a skill we either have or don’t, rather than a component of every choice we make. Viewing creativity as something inherent to the human condition, rather than a personality quirk can be helpful to escape from the confines of what you expect from yourself.


Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Small Steps: learning to value time alone

Though it may seem counterintuitive, forced isolation can help you realize how good spending time alone can be

Throughout my life, there have been many things I learned so late that I kick myself for never doing earlier. There are even more things I have yet to learn. In this new column, I plan on exploring the importance of these changes and asking myself why it took so long to get to the modicum of maturity I currently have.

In my teen years, I was painfully extroverted. Not in the sense that I was loud or especially outgoing — but in the true sense of the word extrovert: I gained all my energy from being around my friends. If I didn’t have some sort of social engagement at least once per weekend I would start to go a little bit insane. I didn’t understand how to use my spare time, and the thought of being stuck in my bedroom on a Friday night made me feel like a social failure. Not that whatever a 17-year-old could do in suburban Virginia would be all that thrilling anyway, but at that time, anything was better than trying to entertain myself for a night.

So why, for so many years, did the idea of spending extended time alone scare me so much? Years of untreated anxiety disorders? Well yes, but we can put a pin in that one. But I think in a more “big picture” sort of way, I valued my time in relation to others, not on my own terms. When you’re so worried about what other people are doing, it’s easy to forget to listen to your body’s alerts that you’re overstimulated or that you need some time alone.

Breaking the cycle of fear-of-missing-out or “FOMO” dictating my behavior came slowly with age and then rapidly with COVID-19, the great social-life equalizer. During COVID, especially in the beginning of lockdown, most of us had no choice but to stay home and entertain ourselves. At first, lockdown hit me with the realization that everything I did for fun involved going outside and socializing — going to bars, shows, or restaurants. But soon, it made me realize how much I had been craving time just alone with my thoughts.

Sometimes it takes a major outside force to make you realize you’ve been ignoring shifts and changes in your personality all along. Spending a lot of time alone made me realize that I had just been running away from spending time with myself, and that’s a skill that I’ll need to continue building up. Over the past months, I’ve been able to gain an appreciation for solitude as a time to reconnect with my emotions, assess my goals, and process my week. It’s an ongoing process, but I’ll pin it as a COVID highlight of sorts.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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