Who Am I? My Ancentry.com Results

img_2345“What are you?” is a question I’m often asked and when I respond “black” it never seems to satisfy those who are so curious. I always get nudged to further explain my ethnicity (which is annoying by the way) but the fact of the matter is, I’ve never fully known. I’ve known that I have African and European traces on my father’s side and African and Native American on my mother’s. Yet it bothered me that I didn’t know details of where my African lineage traced back to. It’s not uncommon for media, or society in general, to refer to Africa as a homogeneous land without differentiating the countries and cultures within the massive continent (there are 54 recognized countries, 2,000 languages spoken and over 1.1 billion citizens within Africa).

It almost felt as though understanding and claiming my specific African roots would help debunk the myth that the entirety of Africa and African culture are identical. I also strongly identify as African American and an important part of our history is slavery. As one can imagine, slavery stripped us of our tribes, culture,  traditions, and ultimately the ability to track our African ancestry and details of our ethnicity. Getting my DNA results felt like I was taking back something that was brutally stolen from me and my family.

Therefore on my birthday this year I requested an AncestryDNA test to discover a small piece of my ancestors. Once I received the kit I simply had to provide a saliva sample and ship it back to the lab (which was complimentary by the way). Within 2 or 3 weeks I received an email stating that my results were in.

Before I revealed the results to my curious family, my parents gave their guesses:

Mom: 70% African, 15% European, 15% Native American

Dad: 65% African, 30% European, 5% Native American

The final results were as follows:

62% African, 36% European, 2% Asian

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You can see in the left tab that the majority of my DNA traces to Ivory Coast/Ghana (26%), Cameroon/Congo (17%) and Ireland (14%). Sorry mom, no traces of any Native American in my blood; not even one percent! I must say, that was unsurprising to me (I feel like everyone claims that they’re Native American) but of course surprising to my mother. What I was not expecting was any traces of Asian ancestry, especially since my DNA was mapped to India and the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Uzbekistan region. Although just 2% is apparent, it does make me curious about where that came from! Of course it was very valuable learning about my specific African ancestry: I was traced back to 9 African regions.

What’s also worthwhile about Ancestry.com is that based on your DNA, they’ll match you to other people who have taken the test who are believed to be related to you. The first person who popped up for me was my first cousin so I trust the accuracy.

At this point almost everyone in my family has now requested an Ancestry kit for Christmas since they’ve been so intrigued with the results. This excites me because if my parents take the test I’ll have a better understanding of my maternal and paternal history and which side my results derive from.

Overall I’m very happy that I decided to get the test and learn more about my family and myself. There’s definitely a relief in taking back something that is so personal to me.

How to Survive Your Move to New York

On this day last year I packed my bags, jumped on a one-way flight to New York and immediately began living a high-fashion super glamorous life.

HA–not at all, but due to Gossip Girl, Sex and the City and nearly every Romcom, that’s often the thought.

As Frank Sinatra reminds us about the city, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” He sang these words for a reason; it’s not easy. Considering a move to the Big Apple? I’ve listed the realities I faced a year ago that were never featured on TV. Let’s start with LaGuardia…

 

1. ARRIVAL

Reality will probably sink in as soon as you hop off your flight and notice that you are in one of the three worst airports in the country. Seriously, Conde Nast ranked the 10 worst airports in the US and the results are as follows: #3 – JFK, #2 – Newark and #1 – LaGuardia. Not a single decent option.LaGuardia-Airport

If you’re lucky like me, you will be landing into the luxurious LaGuardia Airport, an extremely modern place that still doesn’t have escalators or Starbucks. Because carrying your rolling luggage up and down the stairs builds killer arm muscles…and who really drinks coffee while traveling any more? You may want to run to the restroom like a normal person but oops! What’s this gigantic line? Turns out there are only two stalls per bathroom despite the massive number of people traveling in and out of New York. Who would’ve thunk there’d be a need for more than two?!

My advice:  Ask for coffee on your flight and get out of there…fast!

 

2. APARTMENT HUNTING

Breath in. Breath out. Repeat. You will quickly realize that nothing makes sense about the New York apartment hunting process. NOTHING. THERE IS NO LOGIC INVOLVED.

Why am I paying a broker? Who is this broker and what has he/she done to deserve my money? Why aren’t there any windows? Is that a bed in the kitchen? Is it really considered a 3-bedroom apartment if a fourth roommate is living in the closet? Wait, why is there a showerhead above the toilet? OH that’s because the toilet’s in the shower? Who invented the first railroad apartment and why hasn’t he/she been arrested? Why is Craigslist my most reliable resource? People don’t actually live here, do they?

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My advice: Meditate, pray, chant. You honestly need some kind of higher presence to get through this difficult period because apartment hunting sucks for everyone–there’s just no way around it. And yes, Craigslist is actually reliable. I was able to find a wonderful apartment without paying a broker’s fee so be patient and believe!

 

3. MTA

Not to crush your dreams, but you will not be jumping in and out of cabs for each and every commute. You will be like the rest of us 8.5 million who are swiping into the New York subway system. They try to convince us that MTA stands for Metropolitan Transportation Authority but you’ll quickly learn that it stands for Making Travelers Agitated. Nope, no one knows when the next train will be arriving and yes, those are rats scurrying around. Weekends mean your train is either going local, overcrowded or simply not running. And if you don’t care to be squished between two armpits, avoid the 1, 2, 3 and 6 trains at all times. Wish you could pass the time by scrolling through Instagram? Good luck with your 4G reception!

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My advice: Invest in an unlimited pass and a whole lot of patience. Become familiar with the different train lines so you’ll know how to get anywhere in the city, even when your train is out of whack. Also, be sure to always have a good book or playlist on hand.

 

4. WEATHER

Do I really need to say much about the weather after this weekend’s Winter Storm Jonas? If you’re coming from a warm state like me, prepare for real winter.

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My advice: Buy a winter coat, boots, a winter hat, a scarf, leg warmers,  gloves and a Netflix subscription. Constantly whining about how cold you feel is a dead give away that you’re not from here (don’t worry, I do this ALL the time). Don’t forget, fall is cuffing season for a reason. Which leads me to next point…

 

5. DATING

Remember in all the movies how people met insanely attractive people on a regular basis while riding the train, waltzing through the park, or sipping their mocha latte in the coffee shop? Maybe that’s how meeting people used to work but now it’s like this:

Dating apps galore: Bumble, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder, OkCupid, Hinge, Match–these are the tools used to meet fellow New Yorkers. Or maybe just no one’s approaching me in real life…

My advice: Either cave in and download all these apps or be courageous enough to approach him/her the old-fashioned way.

Did I scare you? By now you should know that I have dry-as-toast humor and that while I this post sounds like I hate New York, I actually don’t. Well…depends on the day. I promise to do a follow up post about all the reasons I love the city. If you’re planning a move to New York you’re in for a rewarding life experience filled with a lot of frustration, excitement, laughter and energy. As cheesy as it sounds, you learn so much about yourself and others.

Comment below if you have any tips on how to survive a move to the Big Apple or have questions about moving to New York!

Notes from an “Adult”

Not too long ago my five-year-old cousin asked me, “Cathryn, are you a grown-up?” Instinctively, I responded, “Nope!” He seemed confused, but then continued, “Well when are you going to be a grown up?” This kid must have been sensing my pre-quarter-life crisis coming on. “Umm, not for a few years,” I responded. We then resumed our intense action figure battle between the Hulk and the Ninja Turtles (Ninja Turtles won, go figure).

Yes, I am technically an adult. I recently turned 23 and have been out of college for over a year (wince). That means when I started school way back in 2010 I had a sliding phone that didn’t have access to the internet. No one used Snapchat or Instagram and people were just getting the hang of Twitter. What the heck was an Uber? Dinosaur ages, I know.

For better or for worse, I am obsessed with reminiscing. For some reason I enjoy looking back at what I used to say, how my views on life have changed and how badly I styled my hair. I remember my 18th birthday vividly. I felt very, I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR!-esque. I was finally the adult who I always felt I was meant to be! As a teen people often commented that I looked and acted “so mature.” So how did I end up with Benjamin Button syndrome? Why can’t I own up to being an adult now and why don’t I feel like one?

It seems as though the longer you live the more you realize how little you know. This past year has been humbling. Relocating to New York seemed like an extremely bold and inspirational move until I realized almost all of the 8.5 million people in the city did the same exact thing and probably overcame more obstacles along the way. The city also has a way of humbling you when you get on the subway and sit between a Wall Street exec and someone asking for change. I call the MTA “The Great Equalizer.” We’re all riding through the trenches of (what’s probably) NYC sewage with the rats and garbage so there’s no room for ego.

So it turns out I’m not as mature and wise as I had originally thought. Nonetheless, I’m coming into this 23rd year with a few notes to the younger versions of myself. Just in the case someone can also resonate with young C-Dub (true story: cdub11@hotmail.com was my first email address).


To 15 year old Cathryn

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Setting: Sophomore in high school who recently moved to Texas and knows no one. Shy and discouraged, she’s very confused as to why she has such a hard time making new friends. Missing her old friends in South Carolina, she frequently goes over her cell phone minute limit (but shoutout to T-Mobile’s Fave 5 plan for not putting me in complete cell phone debt!). She recently learned how to add falling stars on her MySpace page, so things are looking up. Her profile song is Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls” and her profile pic was taken on her hot pink Motorola Razr….originality is at an all-time low.  

  • This loneliness doesn’t last forever. You will outgrow your fear of being alone and make friends. Embrace this season, you’re here for a reason. Rather than mourn all the friends you “lost,” gear your energies towards joining clubs/activities and making new ones!
  • Please cut back on the mirror selfies!
  • Life is good! If you have a roof over your head with a loving family underneath, count your blessings. You may not realize it but not everyone has a stable home. Hug and thank your parents more.
  • Follow your gut and ditch any unsupportive friends. You don’t need their judgements or bad energies. Looking back, it’s clear to see that their negative comments are just projections of their own insecurities. Word of advice: confident people don’t pick others apart.
  • Don’t attempt that backflip without stretching! Your tendons and limbs are not made of rubber bands!

To 18 year old Cathryn

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Setting: Freshman in college where she loves being surrounded by peers, learning new subjects and most of all, becoming a journalist. She learns that she has a knack for holding conversations with individuals one-on-one and finds it truly rewarding to share their stories. The voice that people used to tease her about is now working in her advantage!

  • Heating up frozen food doesn’t count as cooking.
  • Don’t let praise get to your head or failure hurt your heart. Know yourself so well that no matter what other people say or do you won’t lose your spirit. You are not equivalent to a bad grade or someone’s negative comments. You are also not equivalent to other people’s compliments and words of praise. Some people’s opinions of you will fluctuate. Your sense of self worth should never fluctuate with them.
  • Keep those positive words of encouragement posted around your (itty bitty) dorm room.
  • Maybe you shouldn’t post that on Facebook.
  • Feeling scared can be a good thing. It means you’re headed toward something new and possibly improved, so embrace it. As Nelson Mandela stated, “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” Many people will tell you your goals are unrealistic or that you’re expecting too much. Spoiler: you get the last laugh.

To 22 year old Cathryn

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Setting: CBCF intern in Washington D.C. working on The Hill. She’s grateful to be in a professional setting surrounded by strong and supportive women  but also scared that she still can’t envision her future. She’s confused as to where her passions lie and feels as though there are almost too many options to choose from. The pressure to live up to others’ expectations is overwhelming.

  • You don’t know where you’ll be in six months but try to enjoy this time of uncertainty. You’re in Washington surrounded by amazing people who want to see you succeed. That alone is rare; enjoy it. It’s hard for you to feel so “out of control,” but use this time to practice letting go.
  • One of the hardest parts about transitioning from school to the professional world for you is the lack of mobility. You’re used to running around campus as a reporter all day and it’s very difficult being refined to one room for the majority of the day. You are not a robot. Allow time to shamelessly refuel mentally and physically in the middle of the work day. Take breaks, go on walks and get your blood pumping.
  • Your mom and dad will not be disappointed if you choose happiness over immediate security. In fact, they are much more encouraging than you expect. So go for it.

My Biggest Fear

One of my biggest struggles in life was learning how to overcome my fear of being alone. Solitude used to make me incredibly anxious because I would relive unhappy memories from when I changed schools often growing up. I knew no one and it felt as if no one really cared to know me. Not having friends in school, or anywhere remotely close, was a pretty miserable experience and I would be lying if I said it didn’t screw with my psyche. My loneliness used to put me in a very scary place. It’s difficult to explain but it felt as if someone was constantly whispering condescending messages in my ear about how no one would ever like me or care about me. What was scariest was that the whispers sounded like my own voice. It took me years to not become overwhelmed with panic and fear when left alone with my thoughts.

I want to make clear that I have a very loving family who has always been there, including my two brothers who are each 2.5 years apart from me. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know how I could have gotten through those moves.

It didn’t happen immediately, but focusing on my journalism work also helped me climb out of that scary place. As a journalism student, I was forced to work independently on projects where I discovered how much I loved roaming around Austin capturing beautiful  footage. Or zoning out from the world to edit a story that I was passionate about. Then I remembered how much I enjoyed reading a good book or writing in my journal. These are all activities that I enjoyed doing in my own company.

By now I’ve learned that neglecting alone time prevents me from being in my most creative space. So I try to embrace “me-time” when my plans fall through and I end up with an open schedule. In fact I make an effort to do this from time-to-time because I know it’s healthy for me.

Connecting to these images below: these pictures were taken on a Saturday when my friends cancelled plans for various reasons. So I charged my batteries, grabbed my camera and headed out. Over the last few years photography and filmmaking have been creative outlets and my camera has meant a lot more to me than most realize; it helped me overcome my fear of myself. If you have ever experienced similar thoughts or fears, I recommend taking up a hobby that consumes your mind with positive vibes. You don’t even know how much your soul will thank you for it later.

Sorry for the sob story–check out my pictures of cute kids and the doggies below to cheer up!

Note from a Recovering Perfectionist

Hello fellow perfectionist! I know you spend your free time planning your life out to a tee. I know you think your entire fate depends on how well you do on that one assignment next Monday. And I know that you secretly love being called a perfectionist. I mean, it’s not the worst name in the world and it has your favorite word, “perfect,” in it.

But remember, a perfectionist is not a perfect person. (Pssst! They don’t exist!) It is instead someone who chooses to spend their life walking on eggshells and in constant fear.

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Throughout grade school I never made a single B. In fact, I don’t think I ever made an A-minus. If I didn’t excel, then I had failed. And failure meant that my I was on the fast track to an empty life, full of regret. If I hadn’t misspelled “definitely” in the fifth-grade spelling bee, who knows what kind of success I could have now?! So I avoided trial-and-error like the plague. There was no room for error in the spotless life I was building.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a strong work ethic, overachievement and perfection became an unhealthy obsession of mine. In high school I spent many sleepless nights cramming information into my brain that seemed direly crucial at the time. By senior year I had cut out all afterschool activities, other than honor societies, to focus on all the studying, studying and more studying I had to do. (Can you guess which rung of the social ladder I was on?) I surrounded myself with other perfectionists, which, by the way, is a horrible idea. We are a dangerous breed and should not be left alone in our monstrously competitive state. We would frantically obsess about how to get 100s on all of our homework assignments, quizzes, midterms, essays and even busy work. Yes, you read that correctly. Perfect 100s because A’s were not good enough. A 99 meant that I had failed by one percent.  I was so consumed by this habit that when a concerned teacher actually confronted me about my unhealthy perfectionist tendencies, I broke down crying at her desk because I only heard one thing, which was that I had a problem. And as you can guess, I processed this as, PROBLEM = FAILURE. Needless to say, I missed the point.

[FUN FACT] If you ever want to see a perfectionist lose their mind, give them a pop quiz. Just watch! They’ll sweat profusely, shed a tear, and possibly *report you to an administrator for being “unethical.” 

*I never did this, but a friend did.

Not only did I miss my teacher’s point but I also missed out on that whole “living life” thing. In college I definitely loosened up but still carried along the belief that if I tried hard enough, I could gracefully enter the adult world without encountering any drawbacks or difficulties.

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What I’ve learned since is this: life is meant to be lived, not tip-toed across. Difficulties are unavoidable. Spending precious time obsessing over perfection means you have inevitably failed yourself. It’s proven that perfect people can’t exist on this planet (*we are still waiting on Beyonce’s lab results), so what’s the point? Modern Family actress, Julie Bowen, shared that she wishes she had failed more as a young adult and learned “to pick myself up from embarrassment rather than becoming an expert at avoiding it.” Successful people don’t practice perfection, but rather strategic risk-taking and failure-recovery.

As a former gymnast, I understand the importance of falling. For too long my fear of attempting a back-handspring kept me from advancing so I decided I was going to stay at my then-current level until…forever. Months passed until I mustered up enough courage to try it. Low and behold, I fell on my face. I didn’t hurt anything other than a bit of pride but I quickly realized that all I needed to do was keep my arms straighter. Within the day I could perform the skill without falling on my face and was eligible to move up to the competition team. Even though I wasn’t always able to learn a new skill in a single day, I figured out that the hardest part about progressing was mustering the courage to attempt something new. During my gymnastics career I fell a lot…and I mean a lot…but it was the only way to advance, so I never questioned whether it was worth it.

I’m FINALLY learning that the real world works similarly. I have tried for years to plan everything and avoid faltering any steps. But despite my best efforts, not everything in my life has gone according to my original plan. Shockingly, I’m not crumbling apart, but rather thriving in a great place and have been led on some pretty amazing experiences by seizing the opportunity. Sometimes you can’t do anything about setbacks, obstacles or detours other than embrace them. I’m trying to live by the philosophy, “do something everyday that scares you.” Now, my proudest moments are when I pick the challenging route, especially if it causes discomfort. For instance, when I say to myself, “This is scary, this is risky, this goes against my exact calculations, I’m uncertain of the outcome, but I’m going for it anyways!” Those moments don’t come easy because the perfectionist in the back of my mind still screams, “No! Play it safe! You might fail!” It’s a constant struggle to remind myself that making mistakes isn’t the worst thing in the world.

So to all the perfectionists out there, I have given you a fair warning about the dangers of your habit but if you’re anything like me, this concept will take time. More than anything I hope this note brings you some relief. Know that the fate of your future does not rest on you being perfect, but rather courageous enough to fail and try again. Stop tip-toeing through life and start sprinting, skipping, cartwheeling, dancing–I don’t care, just go for it!