Giveaway: Win A Kaplan Course Scholarship for Higher Education

Have you decided to go back to school? Then it looks like you’re going to have to face another entrance exam. Kaplan is the world leader in test prep and can help you achieve your test score goals.  Levo is partnering with Her Campus and Kaplan to give One lucky winner will be selected to win a free course scholarship to any graduate school test prep program.

Enter Here 

Deadline: You have until Friday, October 10, 2014 at 11:59 PM ET to enter the giveaway.

We will contact the winner through email on or around October13, 2014.  Good luck!

My Power Outfit: Fashion Blogger Georgiana Baboc

My Power Outfit: Fashion Blogger Georgiana Baboc

This week, Levo’s bringing you awesome street style from New York Fashion Week. Check back each day for a special edition of My Power Outfit.

Name: Georgiana Baboc

Job: Fashion Blogger

How does fashion boost your confidence?

You have to be very confident with what you’re wearing. It’s not necessarily about the fashion, it’s about the style. Fashion you can learn, but style is completely different. Everyone can be confident as long as they feel comfortable with what they’re wearing. If you’re feeling good, then you’re easy, relaxed, and fun. That’s all fashion is, to feel good in your own skin.

My Power Outfit: Fashion Blogger Georgiana Baboc

Photos: Sam Teich / Levo League 

How to Wear White into Fall

How to Wear White into Fall

In the old days, back when there were special outfits for almost every occasion, white became the summer uniform of the upper class. Rich women used the color as any post Civil War-era mean girls would—as a way to keep other women out of their clique.

“In summer, we wear white” was the historical equivalent of “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” and if you didn’t follow the rule, you were out. When Labor Day became a federal holiday in the late 1800s, it became the unofficial end of summer and in turn, the last day to wear white.

Here’s our take: Though the saying is still gospel in some circles, this fashion rule is totally archaic, and should have been thrown out with corsets! It’s our opinion (and if street style and fashion editorials are any indication, it’s the global fashion community’s opinion), year-round white is the epitome of chic. Break this outdated fashion rule with just three easy pieces.

White Jeans

In the past few seasons, white jeans have become a new fashion MVP. They’ve been paired with chunky knits and ankle boots at Paris Fashion Week in February, or teamed with stilettos and a black blazer for a modern workwear look. Once you pick up your first pair, you’ll be converted.

White Dresses

No, we’re not talking about the little eyelet dresses you wore to the beach this summer. We’re talking about crepe slip dresses and creamy wool shifts. Layer with a camel overcoat, a motorcycle jacket, or a pastel sweater for a luxe fall look.

White Shoes

Yes, you can. Thanks to the prevalent fashion sneaker trend, it’s totally appropriate to pair cool white slides with a pencil skirt and a prim crewneck sweater. If you want to be daring, pick up a white textured pump and add it to your office wardrobe.

Photo: Thinkstock

3 Techniques to Help You Take Better Risks

3 Techniques to Help You Take Better Risks

In a dusty corner of the Internet is a post from my angsty, teenage Tumblr that reads: “Life is SO full of possibilities. I think my greatest fear is regret.” Years later, this feeling still resonates. Regret might be one of the most unpleasant feelings life has to offer, so it’s worth noting that over the long-term, we’re much more likely to regret the things we didn’t do. Which leads us to our #FailureFriday message: Don’t let your passions and interests become regrets. If there’s something you really want to try, go for it.

I know. This is a little easier said than done. Putting yourself out there and exposing yourself to failure can be daunting, so we’re here to help. When doubts and fears begin to crowd out your thoughts, you need ways to bring yourself back to reality and keep your eyes on the prize. The next time you’re facing a new situation or taking a big risk, try the following tips adopted from a great book called The Charisma Myth:

1. Destigmatize Discomfort

Risk makes us uncomfortable because we feel like we aren’t in control. One way to overcome this feeling is to remind yourself of how completely normal it is to feel discomfort in this situation. For example, think of someone you greatly admire, someone who has accomplished amazing things. Imagine them in a similar situation, feeling equally scared and uncomfortable. (They all really have felt like that, by the way.) Now, think of all the other people in the world who are probably feeling the same way at this exact moment. You aren’t crazy. You aren’t overreacting. You’re just human like everyone else, and you’re trying to wrap your head around a new situation.

2. Neutralize Negativity

In these situations, we’re often our own worst enemy. We see things from the worst possible angle, and before even giving ourselves a fair shot we convince ourselves that things are going poorly. Instead, realize that your thoughts and perceptions aren’t necessarily the objective truth. Try assigning a label to your feelings, like “self criticism” or “frustration.” Think about them through the lens of a scientist. Your negative thoughts may simply be your brain’s instinctive reaction to a high-stakes situation. Now, imagine that all of these thoughts in your mind are just noise from a radio. Slowly turn down the dial.

3. Re-write Reality

Let’s say something goes really wrong, whether it’s because you took a risk or because you didn’t. You’re here now, so what can you do about it? All it takes to turn a stressful situation into a positive one is a change in your perspective. You’ve probably heard something like this before, so how do you actually translate this into reality?

Let’s think through a real situation. Maybe you just received a negative performance review at work. Find a piece of paper and write down all the possible ways in which this situation could actually end up being good for you. Imagine how this might be the first step in a series of events that leads to a great ending. Maybe the performance review shines a light on a problem that you can now work through so you can become incredible at what you do. Or maybe you realize the way your company measures you simply doesn’t mesh with who you want to become.

By deciding to interpret bad situations as first steps in a story with a happy ending, not only will you see the light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll actually be equipped with the perspective to turn the situation around.

Now that you’re equipped to handle stressful situations, let us know how you cope with risk and doubt. If you try out these tips, share your experiences in the comments below!

This article was originally published on Live in the Grey.

Photo: Courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

It’s been a sleepless, yet blissful few months, and it’s time to return from maternity leave. Along with digging out your old work clothes and running an iron over them, here are a few things to think about to prepare for your return.

Start Date

You’ve talked to HR and your supervisor about your anticipated return date, but we all know that even the best laid plans can be thwarted. Check back in a few weeks before that date to confirm or adjust when you return to work.

Pump, Pump, Pump It Up

A 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) now requires employers to provide mothers with break time and a private location (other than a bathroom…ick) to pump for up to a year after the baby’s birth. It can be awkward to ask your supervisor for a pumping space, but it’s your right, so don’t give it up. Check out this FAQ for more. Other things to prep: double electric breast pump, milk storage bottles or bags, cooler, ice packs, and wipes if you don’t have access to a sink between pumpings. I also keep a roll of tape and a pen in my bag to label the bottles.

Dress Rehearsal

With the many changes that come with returning to work–your schedule, arrangements for the baby (daycare, nanny, family member, or other), and possibly pumping–it’s a good idea to do a practice run for up to a week beforehand. Since my husband’s leave continues after mine (we had some overlap), we spent the week before pretending I was at work while he managed the baby’s feedings and naps. It definitely put both of our minds at ease and let us work out some kinks (though we’ll have to go through it again when he goes back to work and baby goes into some kind of care). I’ve had friends dress rehearsal daycare, too, so they can troubleshoot any initial meltdowns or issues without having to leave work.

Headspace

Take a deeeeeeep breath. When you get to work, you’re going to need to BE at work. Sure, there will be some catch-up to be played, but realistically, that explanation can only fly for so long (and it’s not as long as you might think). People will ask about the baby, and they’re sometimes actually interested, but there’s always lunches and happy hours to catch them up.

Once you’re prepped and back in the office, just sit back and enjoy–eating lunch in one sitting, getting dressed up, talking to adults, and seeing the biggest gummiest baby smile when you get home.

This article was originally posted on ProfessionGal.

Photo: Thinkstock

4 Simple Keys to Side Hustle Success

4 Simple Keys to Side Hustle Success

If you’ve never run five feet in your life, running a 5k might as well be impossible. At least, that’s how we perceive the challenge in our minds.

When you’ve never done something–or if you’ve tried it but failed once or twice in the past–it can seem like it simply can’t be done. Never mind the people that are out there doing it. They must have known some secret, had some advantage, or are enjoying circumstances that are simply beyond your own.

Maybe successful people had connections. Maybe they had money to get them where they are.

Or maybe they just got fed up of negative, self-defeating thinking. Maybe one day they woke up and said, I am just going to start and simply starting would be the goal.

That’s the secret, right there. Just start. Imagine how far along you’d be right this very moment had you just started a year ago. Or two years ago.

Feeling like that doesn’t apply to you because you’ve failed in the past? Failure isn’t bad and it doesn’t mean you’ll never succeed. Our failures can drag us down, but only if we let them. So flip your mindset around. Understand that your failures are merely stepping stones to a future success.

If you’re open to evaluating and analyzing the experience, every time you give something a try you’re opening yourself up to a learning opportunity. Take advantage! And don’t fear failing. The only real failure? Failing to do anything at all.

Side Hustle Success Is within Your Reach–Right Now!

The truth is, side hustle success is easier than we allow ourselves to believe. And the obstacles in our path are smaller than we make them out to be.

Not convinced? That’s okay. I don’t blame you in the least, because it took going through the process myself to believe the words I stand by today. But at least let me try to show you how you absolutely can create a successful, profitable, fulfilling side hustle right now.

Check out these four simple keys to your side hustle success:

1. Be sincere.

In other words, be genuine. Be true to yourself and let that you-ness shine through the work you’re doing. It’s as simple as that and this one thing, if you can let it lead you through all your experiences professionally and personally, will always steer you straight.

2. Be honest.

In one respect, the Internet is like an infinite place in which to do business. We no longer have to compete because there’s room for everyone at the table; it’s an infinite pie and everyone can have a slice.

But in a difference sense, the Internet is a very, very small space where everyone will quickly learn your name and your reputation. If you lie about who you are or what you can do, the entire world is going to know about it.

Side hustle success can only happen for you if you’re honest, upfront, and willing to be transparent. Don’t use the fact that you might be separated by distance or a computer screen as an excuse to try and be less than virtuous 100% of the time.

Admit to mistakes when you make them. Ask for help when you need it. Acknowledge the fact that you don’t know everything all the time. Your honesty is key in building meaningful, lasting work relationships with quality clients and partners.

3. Be confident.

You’re establishing a side hustle because you want to pursue work that you enjoy and work that you’re good at. Own it!

You’re good at what you do. You offer real value to others. You’re totally rockin’ some socks off out there.

If you need a little help believing yourself when you say these things, consider printing off any praise you receive and putting it somewhere you’ll see every single time you sit down to work on your side hustle. That person probably didn’t take the time to send an email, text message, or call you up for no other reason than to blow smoke up your tail. If you did an awesome job for them–which you should be striving to do with every gig, every client–they’re going to appreciate that.

When they choose to share and express that appreciation, that should mean a lot to you and go a long way to making you feel confident and capable.

Of course, there might be a slight hang-up here for some folks. I know I just said be honest–so how can you be honest about your confidence if you don’t have any?

Being honest doesn’t mean belittle yourself or fail to play up what you can do. When it comes to confidence, you might have to do a little fakin’ it ’til you’re makin’ it. This isn’t a lie. It’s the act of having faith in yourself and what you can do for someone else.

Work to develop genuine, real confidence in yourself at every turn. That confidence will make you happier and more sure of yourself. And other people are going to pick up on that in a very good way.

4. Be nice.

If you’re already being sincere and honest, it’s likely that being nice won’t be too hard.

Obviously, you’re not going to be intentionally mean or hurtful in your interactions with others. But there is a difference between being a decent human being and going out of your way to make someone else smile. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Remember to ask people how they’re doing. Don’t forget to bid them a good afternoon or evening. Say please and thank you. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Even when you’re dealing with clients, treat them as you would good friends. Be warm, inviting, friendly, and just plain nice.

For those of you who weren’t raised this way–remember, I was born and raised to be a sweet ol’ Georgia Peach–it may feel like overkill. There’s no reason you need to over-exaggerate and be cloyingly sweet with your words. It should be within everyone’s capacity to address people by name instead of “hello Admin!” or to mind your manners when interacting with others, even in a digital forum.

Even if you’re not someone who regularly says “ma’am,” surely it’s within your personality to be kind. That’s the takeaway here. Be kind.

It’s common sense, my friends. Don’t let your communications be cold and distant. People want to connect with other people, so be accessible and eager to do what you can to make someone else’s day a little better than it was before they ran into you.

Side hustle success really can be this simple. Be sincere, honest, be confident, and be nice.

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Photo: Thinkstock 

What it's Like to Be a Stylist

What it’s Like to Be a Stylist

In honor of New York Fashion Week, I nabbed a few minutes with stylists who work the runway (and the interwebs) to style everyone from celebrities to C-suite executives. One can be found dressing models or moguls in NYC. The other spends her time helping socialites and the like (plus the rest of us) from her home base in Orange County in-person and online–with clients as far as Hong Kong.

Clothes hangers in one hand and coffee in the other, they were gracious enough to sit down with me for some quick-fire questions on the life, love (and loathing), of a stylist.

“A stylist is an artist who uses clothing as her medium and it’s one of the few professions that your medium (client) talks back to you,” says Shaunya Hartley, stylist and creator of Shop, Eat & Sleep.

Hartley has worked in the field for over 12 years, beginning her career while still in college. Her first gig? An assistant on a photo shoot with Vanessa Williams from Ugly Betty. Not bad.

She says most newcomers think that since they love clothes, follow fashion trends religiously, and dress their boyfriends and best friends, they can be a stylist. Beware: there’s more to the job description than picking out cool threads. You’ll be fulfilling the needs of varying visions and personalities (sometimes people with multiple personalities). Imagine the characters involved….

To help paint a clear picture for you, here’s one of her, um, most memorable clients:

“I worked with a very well known, but difficult celebrity. We were going to Europe and we had to go that night. I had to get clothes, pack, and be ready for a flight in less than seven hours. This is before smart phones. The celeb’s assistant didn’t understand budgets or timelines. I enlisted my entire family and an assistant to help out. I got to the airport with seven pieces of luggage. Got held in customs, but created a fun look that was seen online.”

One more thing that she wants aspiring stylists to know is that most of the heavy lifting of the job has nothing to do with massaging and maneuvering large client egos. Nope, it’s actually the manual labor.

“Newbies should understand this is a very physically demanding job and requires someone to be detail oriented, super professional, and constantly learning. And, I’d also add constantly moving…running, skipping, and jumping if need be to complete a look before showtime.”

Damn.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Nicole Longstreath is a wardrobe strategist and founder of The Wardrobe Code. She’s developed a virtual coaching program to help women all over the world build wardrobes they love at a sensible cost.

She says that her day to day can be extremely varied, but on an average week, you’ll find her shopping with clients in person, shopping for them online, and editing a client’s wardrobe.

“I try to go for clearing out at least 60%, and showing clients how to make outfits with what they have,” Longstreath says. “But a significant portion of my week also goes to marketing and networking.”

That’s something to note here, future stylists. It’s always a hustle if you want to work for yourself. And, your clientele doesn’t have to be an A-lister or government official, there’s a serious need to bring styling to the people, as competition in the workplace calls for people to spend more time honing their personal brands. It isn’t cheap, but it also isn’t expensive when you consider this:

“The truth is, knowing what you’re supposed to look like can save you money and time, and give you enough confidence to accomplish anything you want in life. I truly believe that wardrobe styling should be as accessible as getting your hair colored at the salon, or regular pedicures. My favorite part about my job is helping clients uncover the authentic style that’s already coded onto their soul, whether in-person here in Orange County, CA or online with clients across the globe,” Longstreath says.

Though most of what she does everyday is peachy, the one lemon in the stack of challenges is when a client lets fear get in the way of a transformation.

“Working with me as a stylist is hard work for both of us, and the client usually has to let go of bad habits and patterns that caused them to come to me in the first place,” she says. “Factor in overcoming body issues (we all have them) and the investment of services and clothing, and it’s easy to see how the process can become interrupted sometimes.”

But seeing clients change from the inside out is worth all the little bumps in the runway.

Want a work wardrobe makeover? Contact me at ProfessionGal for styling info.

10 Tips from an Active Venture Capital Investor for Getting Your Startup Funded

10 Tips from an Active Venture Capital Investor for Getting Your Startup Funded

Earlier this year, I left a career in digital media to join the world of venture capital—an exciting and sometimes unpredictable place that, at present, is dominated by male investors. While I’m technically new to VC, I’ve met with hundreds of female founders over the years through my work as an angel investor and as an executive at Time Inc. And let me tell you—while just 10 percent of today’s venture-backed startups are founded by women, there is certainly no shortage of savvy female entrepreneurs building awesome tech businesses.

But no matter how brilliant your business is, getting the funding to grow it is exceptionally challenging, especially given how crowded the startup space has become.

Here are ten simple tips to keep in mind as you begin your fundraising process.

1. Content is King

When it comes to the pitch, focus on substance rather than form. Spend less time worrying about aesthetics and cutesy sales tactics and more time proving your case. Why this business, why you, and why now? Tell a story that’s interesting and evocative. If you can make a compelling case, I don’t care what font or format you’re making it in. Also, always be prepared to give a 15-minute and 30-minute version of the presentation. You never know how much time the VC will have (even if an hour is blocked off for the meeting) and you don’t want to get caught off guard.

2. Conviction

Being a CEO is hard work, and it requires unwavering conviction. When I meet with founders, I always assess whether they have a true north—a clear and authentic sense of where they’re headed and why.

3. Clarity

Be clear with your potential funders and your team about what success looks like. Ideally, you should identify a few key metrics that everyone can rally around (and be careful not to promise miracles). These metrics will likely shift over time and that’s fine, as long as you communicate changes with your stakeholders.

4. Perfect is the Enemy of Momentum

Don’t let your desire to make things perfect prevent you from missing an opportunity. I met with a founder once who was supposed to email me some follow-up materials. Instead of sending them to me the next day, she waited three weeks because she wanted to make sure she had it all “tied up in a bow.” The momentum had passed; I was already onto the next thing.

5. Signals are Important

If you get the sense that funders aren’t “getting it” or there’s something off with your pitch, don’t ignore your intuition. That goes for product and consumer-related signals, too. Don’t squash feelings of uneasiness—confront them so you can figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. This is the perfect time to reach out to trusted advisors to get a fresh perspective.

6. Make Choices

Building a business while fundraising is a ton of work, and you’ll need to be selective about your priorities. Develop criteria that will help you decide which meetings to take and which events to attend. Also, be strategic about the order in which you do angel/VC meetings. I always encourage founders to meet with “friendlies” first so that they can hone their pitch.

7. Confidence and Power

The basics are so important: great posture, eye contact, and speaking up. To see what I mean, watch this TED Talk from Amy Cuddy about “power posing.” When I start doubting myself, I think about why I’m the best person to be doing what I’m doing. Claire Shipman and Katty Kay got it right in their recent Atlantic feature—there’s a confidence gap for women and I do think it impacts their ability to get funded.

8. Pre-Mortem

Some consulting firms use a practice called the pre-mortem, which involves putting yourself in the future, assuming your venture has failed, and identifying the reasons why. While this may sound like a depressing exercise, it’s actually a very effective way to understand your biggest risks so you can mitigate them as much as possible. Along with this, develop the answers to the five questions you hope VCs won’t ask. A great salesperson always tries to anticipate what the objections are going to be.

9. Nourish

The one almost universal thing I see with female founders is that they’re not taking enough care of themselves. Finding time to meditate, work out, or even just go for a walk has a huge impact on your demeanor and how you see the world.

10. Let Your Mind Wander

This is the best advice I’ve received in a while and it’s something that we Type-A personalities don’t do enough. We’re driven, focused, and highly productive (sometimes to a fault). When I actually give my mind time to wander, I come up with my most creative ideas and solutions to complex problems.

This article was originally published on Women 2.0.

Photo: Thinkstock

How to Make Money Off of Your Closet

How to Make Money Off of Your Closet

Let’s be honest, everyone has those moments when they make an impulse buy. And then you try it on when you get home, just to realize that it’s not exactly what you thought it was. But instead of taking all that effort to return it, it just sits in your closet collecting dust. Sometimes our spending habits gets the best of us, and as a twenty something, I see this happen all the time with my friends–myself included.

As I prepare for my upcoming move, I’ve been taking a long hard look at the stuff in my closet. I’ve decided it’s time to clean house, so I’ll be organizing all my belongings into three different groups: keep, donate, and sell.

The keep pile is obvious, keep the things you wear and like. Donating clothes is great; someone gets a new item and you get a deduction for your taxes. But then there’s the other group, the group that includes those heels that you wore once, or that sweater that still has the tag. You obviously don’t want to keep these items because you don’t have a need for it, but you certainly don’t want to just give them away either. Today there are many different outlets to help you sell your unwanted fashion–and make some money:

1. Poshmark

This has become my newest addiction. I’ve sold some items on Poshmark, but am guilty of purchasing, too. I’ve found that this is easier to use on your smartphone. You set up your closet, post pictures, brief descriptions, and a checklist of the items you wish to sell. Then everything goes on the market and people can purchase through the app or website. You’ll get notified when you sell an item. Once the payment is made, you just mail the item out. It’s really easy and safe to use.

2. Tradesy

Tradesy is another website where you can sell your stuff online. This site helps advertise and market your items to make sure they sell, so Tradesy takes a small commission (9%) of your sales.

3. Consignment Shops

Find a local consignment shop and try to sell your belongings there. They try to sell the item within 60 days; if it sells, you receive 40% of the ticket price, and if it doesn’t, they call you and you take the item back. This is an easy and effortless way to make some extra money.

4. Garage Sale or Flea Markets

Set up a stand at a local garage sale or flea market with your unwanted clothing. You never know what people may be looking for and someone might find a treasure in your “trash.” This is another easy way to sell items, but the ticket price is often a lot cheaper than the other options. People shopping at these types of events are looking for a low price, and they’re always going to try and negotiate.

5. Make Your Own Online Store

There are many websites that let you create your own online store like eBay or Etsy. It’s almost like hosting a virtual garage sale. The internet helps you open up your business and belongings to a larger audience, and hey, it might even convince you to start a fashion side project.

Photo: Thinkstock

5 Unexpected Things I Learned at Burning Man

5 Unexpected Things I Learned at Burning Man

“Where there is artistic achievement there is human dignity.”

You may have heard of Burning Man—a week-long art festival in which 70,000 people come together in the Nevada desert to create Black Rock City, only to disappear on the 7th day and leave the environment as untouched as it was upon its arrival. This year marked the 29th year of an audacious experiment that began with a gathering of a few friends on Baker Beach in San Francisco. They asked, “What would the world be like if it were radically inclusive? Radically self-reliant? De-commodified? If people gifted their talents, their passions, and their skills to others without monetary exchange? If it were fully respectful of its natural environment?”

Too curious to ignore the application of this idea, I set out to find the answers. I expected Black Rock City to be nonstop fun in a low-hygiene, “we’re adventure camping for a week” kind of way. I anticipated experiences that would be indescribable, but what I found defied my preconceptions. I couldn’t have predicted the artistic and spiritual journey that ensued. It taught me valuable lessons and a perspective I hadn’t previously absorbed as a 27-year-old workaholic*:

1. Be a giver, and learn how to receive.

Every single person comes to the festival with a gift, whether it’s offering cut fruit in the morning (our camp served fresh brewed and gingered Chai) or sharing your life’s research with a broader audience (some MIT professors were giving daily TED-like talks at their camp). Even the artists who designed the 250+ live installations—as what can only be described as the largest and most beautiful interactive gallery in the world—gift their art and don’t receive any compensation.

Being in an environment where there was no place for nickel and diming and each person contributed what they had, I learned how much more pleasant and happy life is when you’re a giver and surround yourself with them; something one of our Office Hours speakers, Wharton Professor Adam Grant, writes about in his books. Giving is only one half of the equation, though. Are you one of those people who flinches when someone pays you a compliment? Or who feels, deep down, that you don’t deserve what you have—materially or emotionally? Learning how to graciously receive a gift demonstrates vulnerability and thus creates an instant bond with the giver.

5 Unexpected Things I Learned at Burning Man

2. Talk about what matters to you most.

I’m an extreme introvert. (Watch a “Dance Between Two Introverts, part 1” in which Warren Buffett talks with us about his introversion.) For me, meeting new people is intimidating and requires an energetic outlay. After meeting hundreds of new people in the course of 72 hours, I came home energized, not exhausted, for the first time in my life. What was different about these interactions? The nature of the conversations. They were substantive and ambitious—we talked about transformative ideas, what we were passionate about, what we had learned, what we felt guilty about, what we wish we had known. We didn’t talk about commodities, complain, or peacock. In fact, I don’t know (and don’t care) how any of the people I interacted with live their lives outside of Black Rock City—we tapped into conversations that were less about the individual and more about our shared experiences as fellow humans.

3. Respect your context.

Radical self-reliance gives you a dauntingly accurate perspective of how much you consume on a daily basis and how much you waste. We had to shower over plastic containers to collect the “greywater,” dirty water that you’re responsible for sealing and disposing of safely in order to preserve the desert’s natural ecosystem. We had a contained recycling system for our whole camp that made us painfully aware of how many bottles and cans we went through in our time together.

Every person makes a huge difference. Although 70,000 people left the earth behind them relatively clean, one to two camps had cigarette butts and other odds and ends sprawled around, which to my astonishment other people were picking up (don’t worry, Mom, I joined!). My disrespect of my context falls on someone or something else—we’re all part of a closed system.

 4. Let your freak flag fly.

An environment that suspends judgment is one of the most invigorating things to experience. Ordinary people without artistic backgrounds or lofty Warholian-installation aspirations created some of my favorite art. Everyday creativity has the power to move people. The most incredible costumes you could imagine dotted the monochromatic desert horizon, sported by people who you would never imagine to be so fearless and creative in any other context.

5 Unexpected Things I Learned at Burning Man

5. The only thing you own is now.

On the last day of the festival, every single piece of art and structure that has been created (such as the Man effigy or the Temple) is burned to the ground in respect of Burning Man’s “Leave No Trace” edict. My first burn was Embrace, a beautiful 50-foot structure depicting the mutual understanding and admiration between Alpha and Omega—it was hard to watch. All that hard work, passion, and beauty was gone in a little over forty minutes.

5 Unexpected Things I Learned at Burning Man

What Alpha and Omega taught me, and what the Man and the Temple reinforced, was the most powerful lesson I have taken away from this: the only thing you own is now. Those burns were a rehearsal of life’s joys and losses. Every single person you love, every single reminiscing smell, every single immutable monument, will end one day. Feeling the sting of that on a small scale, coupled with the ensuing “I wish I had spent more time in the Temple, or I wish I had made it out to that art piece that is now a pile of ashes” awakened a new sense of urgency in me. An enduring sense of urgency around enjoying people, experiences, art, everything in its moment. Our sense of permanence is relative—everything in life, including life itself, is limited. There’s no reason not to live your life with the same perspective you would apply to something you know for a fact will be burned to the ground tomorrow.

(*) Confession: Take from this what you please—this is coming from the perspective of an under-thirty-workaholic who fluctuates between being dogmatic about health routines (“I must have fruit at 4 p.m. sharp every day or the natural order of my world will descend back into the chaos I had just organized”) and being extremely flexible (“Yes yes yes, let’s change the course of our product priorities based on this new data; where do we start?), and who relishes observing all colors of the rainbow in our natural element with an anthropologist’s sincerity. Post-BRC, I would like to re-brand as an under-thirty-lifeaholic, and pledge to enjoy every element of the human experience, from artistic expression to affection, with the same inexorable, oppressive determination and focused relentlessness.

Photos: Caroline Ghosn