Can We Really Stop the Beauty Madness?

Stop the Beauty MadnessA few years ago, I realized something that I was doing surprised and angered me. When I met young girls with their parents, I would ooh and ahh over them, like everyone else, though there was something I unknowingly did that contributed to the ongoing beauty struggle that women everywhere endure.

I was telling little girls, “You’re so cute!” or complimenting their clothes. With boys, I vary rarely commented their looks, unless they were very small. I usually asked them about school. Geez.

As someone who struggles with self worth based on my weight and my looks, it was a rude awakening. Seriously? Is that the value I personally saw in little girls? Absolutely not.

It had me thinking of how deeply ingrained this looks-based approach to girls and women is in our culture. Apparently, it’s so deep we don’t even notice it.

Since then, I’ve changed my approach. When I meet a new little girl, I say hello and ask her about school or her interests or what she wants to be when she grows up. I may even say she looks like she’s carrying some serious “girl power.” No more comments on looks. Ever.

We are so much more than how we look. When I came across the “Stop the Beauty Madness” campaign, it made so much sense to me.  It’s an effort to call attention to how ridiculous it is that women are constantly judged based on their looks and size.

Please join me in sharing their images on your social channels. And let’s all give a bit more thought to how we talk to young girls. Every small change we make to how we talk about beauty and value to our girls and women makes a difference.

 

 

Happy Is Important – Here’s Why

Smiley LogsOne of my blogger girlfriends started a thread on social last week asking, “How important is it to be happy?” I immediately responded with a resounding “VERY!” Then I watched as others gave their answers. Some people said that contentment was more important than happiness, while others said that being happy was somewhere on their list, though not at the top.

March 20 was the “International Day of Happiness” so the topic seemed to be on everybody’s minds last week. It’s also been seeping into global consciousness for the last few years. From Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project (and the follow-up Happier at Home) to an article in Forbes a few weeks ago entitled Why the World Needs a Happiness Campaign to Live Better, it’s a hot media topic.

And of course, there’s Pherrel’s “Happy” video, which has been watched over 453 MILLION times. Yeah, I think we’re all seeking a little more happiness.

If you look at the definition of happiness, it covers an entire spectrum of positive emotions, including contentment, joy, cheerfulness and delight. I’d throw optimism in there, too, as when I’m feeling optimistic, I’m happy.

As someone who spent my early adulthood in a constant state of pessimistic angst – just ask my college roommates…no, it’s probably best not to – I got in on this trend decades ago. I wanted to be happy, dammit, but I didn’t know how. Years later – years filled with therapy, support groups and self-help books – and I can honestly say I spend 95% of my time being “happy.”

Why is it important to be happy? Because we’re only here for a short while and we might as well enjoy it. Because happy people are healthier and live longer. Because happy people are more fortunate. (Seriously, look it up – it’s true!) And because happy simply feels good. 

The general gunk and chaos of life can get in the way, though one of the advantages of being 50 is that I’m finally able to get back to a positive place quickly with my own unique set of happiness enhancers. I read material like Gretchen Rubin’s books and magazines like “The Intelligent Optimist.” I hang out with my family and my frogs, felines and canines. I surround myself with symbols of happiness like toys, hearts and peace signs. Fortunately, I’m usually able to turn things around pretty quickly. I KNOW – in my bones – that happy is important.

What about you? Is being happy important to you? What do you find makes you feel happy? 

 

Watching Out for Hidden Vipers

viperShe was a viper with a charming persona and a great big smile. And somehow I had no idea that she saw a target on my back.

I had been let go from a job I’d held for eleven years, due to “financial reasons.” (I actually believe that the decision was based on my political leanings, though that’s another blog post.) Within a few weeks, I’d been hired by the competitor and was feeling rather fortunate that I would be able to continue to support my family.

A few weeks after starting the new job, I was surprised to have my coworker, who also held a VP title, strike out at me about a client inquiry. We were a primary vendor for a few large corporations, which meant that our video materials were sometimes requested by the companies’ ad agencies to support their projects. I had gotten a call from a video producer that needed some video clips. “I called and left a message for (snake lady) yesterday, though no one has called me back.”

I went into (snake lady)’s office to see if she could help assist me with getting the needed materials together. “She said she’d left you a message,” I told her. “Did you get it?” As a newbie to the company, I was worried that perhaps messages were getting lost.

“I am very busy and I return client calls within 24 hours,” she snapped. (24 hours? In the video business, things move a whole lot quicker than that. A 2 hour turnaround on phone calls is considered TOOOO long.)

“Got it,” I told her. “If you need help, please feel free to pass those calls along to me. I’m always happy to take those kinds of things off your hands.”

She smiled her great big smile and brought out her insta-charm, which was magnetic and particularly appealing to the guys. “Thank you,” she beamed, before she filled me in on what I needed to do to meet the request.

Over time, there were several occasions like this one. I’d do something, she’d get angry and snipe at me. I’d fumble through it and we’d get things managed. I talked to the president and the owner of the company and asked if we could talk it over in a meeting. “Oh, no,” they’d respond. “Leave it alone. You’ll start World War III.”

Seriously? I was flummoxed. Why would this VP level staff member be allowed to act in any way she wanted, with impunity. Was it because she was prone to walk out of meetings in anger if things didn’t go her way? Or her magnetic charm, which she could turn on and off in seconds?

I began to understand that she wasn’t happy to have another strong woman on what she perceived as her turf. She’d been with the company for several years and I discovered that any other woman who held a position similar to mine had either quit or been fired within a year or so.

It wasn’t until several months later, as the relationship between us continued to deteriorate, that I found out she made fun of me to other people and complained to the owner about perceived weaknesses she thought I possessed. (And, yes, her complaints worked. The owner’s confidence in my abilities waned.) Within nine months of my hiring, I resigned, leaving that day.

“I thought you were a fighter,” the president of the company said, when I told him of my decision. “No, you misread me. I don’t like to fight. I like to collaborate,” I replied. I drove home crying tears of joy.

What was the key to snake lady’s success at this company? She was able to turn from full-on bitch mode to charming, magnetic warmth in seconds flat. It was truly amazing to watch. (Plus, she had an uncomfortably close relationship with the company owner, but again, that’s another blog post.)

What about you? Have you ever encountered a hidden viper? What happened?

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Why Do We Imprison Our Mentally Ill?

medium_3109692508I read a story in the news the other day that was truly tragic. A young doctor, who had been plagued with mental health issues, has disappeared from a highway in Michigan. Gone without a trace.

Her family knew she was having some issues. She tweeted crazy things and had aggressively pursued the affections of a minister who wasn’t remotely interested, until he got a restraining order. She heard voices that told her to do things that weren’t safe or healthy. Her parents and her ex-husband tried to get help for her, though unfortunately, in our culture, mental health care in extreme cases like this isn’t compulsory. Her family and her ex-husband should have been able to press for care. A few months have gone by, and unfortunately, it’s likely that she’s living on the streets somewhere warm, in a paranoid and delusional state. Here’s hoping she surfaces before something horrible happens.

It brought to mind an old friend of mine from high school. We were very close throughout our 20s. Karin struggled with bipolar condition, which became activated when she was 29. I was present for her slow breakdown, watching her behave strangely. She became extremely angry because I “knew that she was the Virgin Mary” and didn’t tell her the news. Watching a close friend’s mental capacities decline was horrific.

I watched her family try – over and over again – to get her the help she needed. They’d have her committed after she did something dangerous, then once she was in the hospital, she’d get on medication and get released. A few weeks would go by, she’d feel better and  she’d stop taking it. The cycle repeated over and over. She became dangerous, as her mind’s crazy fantasies sometimes involved fighting with others over what she knew to be true. I was forced to let the friendship go for my own safety.

Fast forward twenty years and she attempted to friend me on Facebook a few months ago. Knowing that reconnecting might be risky, I ignored the request, though her profile was public and I helplessly watched her go through another breakdown on social media. She believed she was God and for days, she would post non-sensical posts about her career as a movie star and “beauty queen” whose relationships with Steven Spielberg and John Travolta had led to a movie being made about her high school class.

After a few weeks, she disappeared and her mug shot showed up online. In the photo, the terror in her eyes is palpable. It’s obvious that she’s frightened and, most likely, delusional. A search revealed that she’s in Florida and has been arrested several times over the last few years.

We’ve created a system wherein our mentally ill citizens don’t get the treatment they need. Families are helpless. Mental health care for extreme cases is insufficient and hardly covered by insurance. Our mentally ill citizens become homeless and end up in jail. Why does this happen and how can we change it? I wish I had even an inkling of an answer.

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Reconsidering the Promises I’m Making

CommitmentMy days are busy. I work a 40+ hour a week job, writing social media posts for an ad agency. I’m an entrepreneur with a partner in a  customer service business, selling training and workshops to companies that need to enhance their organization’s service excellence. I plan a menu and grocery shop every week so I can make dinner for my son and my husband just about every day. I’m on a fitness journey, so I’m taking walks every morning or evening, sometimes both. I’m on the board of directors for a marketing and sales trade group. I blog here and on our customer service blog. I manage the family finances. I have a MasterMinds group that meets twice a month. Plus, I like to take on freelance projects doing sales coaching and social media planning.

Whew! Just writing about it brings me a bit of that “overwhelm” feeling, though I know I’m leaving out a lot and I can’t imagine what I’d cut if I had to. And, yes, I do have a choice in what I take on. My biggest issue with all the “busy” right now is making sure that I honor the commitments I make. Like most women, I want to say “YES” to every request. And I always always always think I have more time than I do. (Of course, I might have time if I omit any relaxation and “me” time, running myself crazy in the process.)

One of the new habits I’m creating is to look at the commitments I make and say “NO” when necessary. I love helping people, though when I try to help too many people, I end up letting them, and myself, down, either by not spending enough energy on what I promised or letting it slip off my radar.

Moving forward, I will give some thought to my commitments before I say yes. I will consider my available time and my energy stores. And I’ll only say yes when I’m sure I can give it my all. I will make slow and steady progress on this one, though I will definitely improve on making and keeping my commitments.

What about you? Do you do too much? Ever overcommit and let someone (and yourself) down? 

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Familiar Routines Breed Contentment and Healthy Habits

Morning CoffeeI heard the line, “Listen, Lady! You don’t know anything about anything” on a bad television movie this evening, as I was flipping through the channels, searching for something to play in the background as I worked on my laptop. I had to stop and watch. The Lifetime Movie Network film, A Stranger at the Door, starred Linda Purl, and told a formulaic story of an abduction by her character’s long lost adopted son. I found it lovely in its lukewarm scripting, mediocre acting and non-existant character development.

I am drawn to bad Lifetime movies. They’re kind of like Cheese Whiz. Light and airy, kind of tasty, though they make you sick if you consume too much. There’s something comforting about them, too. You can pretty much predict what’s going to happen and the good guys will most likely win in the end. (Or at least they will if it’s a good bad movie.)

My husband and I took a walk tonight, during which he told me about what he would be doing after we got home. Letting the dogs out, putting them to bed, making tea for us to drink as we watched a bit of television, and getting lunches ready for the next day. It’s the same routine he runs through every weekday and it’s as comforting to him as my bad Lifetime movies are to me.

They say “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I don’t believe it. Not for a second. Research shows that familiarity and a routine can be beneficial for you both emotionally and physically. We live in a world full of chaos and unpredictability, so a routine that allows you to predict what will happen reduces stress and can make it easier to cope with day-to-day life. Routines can also help you stick to a plan for building healthy habits.

The familiar routines my husband and I have created include:

  • Family dinners at least 5 days a week
  • A half hour walk with the dog every evening, 6 days a week
  • Going to bed at the same time during the week
  • A half hour of reading for both of us before lights out
  • Morning coffee together at 6am to start the day
  • An over easy egg on Ezekiel bread for breakfast every morning on week days
  • Watching the program, CBS Sunday Morning, every Sunday as we wake up (It’s so very, very smart!)
  • My husband always winning at the shower Olympics, i.e. he always, without fail, takes a shower before me

My husband’s more attached to his routines than I am, though I completely appreciate his predictability. In this case, familiarity has bred more attraction and big happiness. And I think my guy is actually starting to like my bad Lifetime Movies.

What about you? What routines have you found help you in developing healthy habits? 

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Every Story Reveals a Prism of Truths

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week, I’ve been witness to some  interesting happenings that have me looking at what’s considered “truth” in a whole new way.

A group to which I belonged hit a bump in the road when the partners had a falling out. The break-up played out on social media and those who thought they knew the “truth” chose sides based on what they thought they knew about what had happened. In fact, many of them only knew what they saw announced publicly or what they’d been told through email or private messaging by one or two of the parties. Claws came out and reputations were damaged. It was horrific, as people who were only peripherally involved demanded information and made public comments about what should have been a private matter.

In another situation, I witnessed a team in my work sphere manage a challenging situation. I’d watched it play out and made assumptions about what had happened. I made some snap judgements about the team’s competence. Over a few hours, the details became clear and in reality, the situation was handled remarkably well. I was disappointed in myself, as I had only seen my perspective and assumed it was “truth.” It wasn’t.

In reality, truth has so many sides. So very many sides. What you see depends on what part of the prism you’re looking through. And I’m learning, as I get wiser, to hold off on my judgements until I see more than one aspect of the “truth.”

What about you? Have you ever made harsh judgements based on limited information only to find out later that you were wrong? Tell me about it!

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Fetching Up a Teenage Boy…Now What?

medium_5372081748Growing a teenage human isn’t the easiest thing in the world. My son turned 15 in mid-September, around the same time he got his first girlfriend, and I, as Mom, have no idea how to handle it.

Do you tighten down the controls, in hopes of preventing too much of a fixation on the girlfriend?

Do you trust, based on past experiences with a wonderful young man who makes great decisions in school?

The girlfriend has only become “official” in the last few weeks, and I find it so sweet that my son has met someone who appreciates his smarts, wit and kind personality. And it’s a bonus that I’ve talked to her mother a few times, who seems as protective of her daughter as I am of my son.

My boy has always shown an outstanding ability to fend off peer pressure, though I’m not naive enough to think that the biological drive to have a more “intimate” relationship isn’t incredibly strong. I’m also wise enough to understand that, at this point, I’m here as an advisor. He will do what he does. My work as a parent – to raise him to understand the value of caution in creating intimate relationships – is pretty much done. My job as advisor and supporter, when asked, is it for now.

What about you? How did you handle the teenage years with your son or daughter?

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Giving Up First World Problems

SpheresIt’s so easy for us to complain about the little things that bother us in our day-to-day lives, though what I like best about hitting midlife is how much easier it is to distinguish between real problems and what’s become known as “first world problems.” (KnowYourMeme.com defines them as “frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.”)

Lately, when I’m feeling annoyed by something work-related or less-than-happy with somebody at the office, I remind myself that I write social posts and website articles AND teach people how to be nice to people, FOR A LIVING.

Some people stand over hot stoves all day, or stand on their feet and wait tables, or care for the elderly in nursing homes, or perform the same redundant function, over and over again, on an assembly line. All day long, they do something that they don’t love. Something that they have to do to pay the bills. Something that leaves them physically exhausted and unsatisfied. They dream of having a job that they love, though they have bills to pay and family to care for, and they don’t have the option of going back to school or pursuing a new career.

Me? I’m incredibly blessed with my work. Even I work too many hours. Even if it seems to  hurt my brain. And how incredibly self-centered would I be to let any of it truly annoy me?

When I think about it for just a few seconds, I’m pretty stupified by how fortunate I am to get to do what I do. And extremely grateful that it pays for my family to have a comfortable home, clothes on our backs, and food on the table.

The “first world problems” lens is a good one to hold up when you feel angry or annoyed about just about anything. How important is it really?

What first world problems have you stopped complaining about? Tell me about it! 

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First World Problems of a Kept Young Man

CatI can only imagine who pays the bills of the young man I saw at the nail salon last week. He was probably in his late 20s, with an expensive haircut and an effeminate manner. He was there for both a manicure and pedicure and I was fortunate to overhear his entertaining banter. I was awed by his lifestyle, which was obviously so completely different than mine.

“I wish my skin was as dark as yours. I have to go lie in a tanning booth three times a week, just to look like this,” he told the Asian nail tech, holding up his arm next to hers. “You’re so lucky to have skin that color.”

“I’m going to ride my horse this afternoon when I’m done here,” he shared. “I have three pairs of riding pants, with the patches at the knees? They’re so ‘in’ right now. I need a new pair of riding boots, though. I’ll probably wear a jacket and a hat, because it’s such a cute little stable, it makes you want to dress up.”

“I spent an hour at water aerobics this morning and after that, my trainer worked me out for two hours,” he complained. “I’m so tired! But if I don’t do that at least a few times a week, I can feel myself getting flabby.”

As he walked up to the counter to pay for his treatments, he asked the same nail tech, “So you like Gucci, too?” I couldn’t help but wonder if he realized that her wages were probably not significant enough to afford high-end designer labels.

It was a fascinating snapshot view of a day in the life of a wealthy man. On a Tuesday when most are at work earning their livings, he’d been working out, getting his nails done and riding his horse. As I watched him drive away in his Audi A8, I kept wondering how the rest of his week played out.

Me? I was taking a one hour break from my day job to get a quick manicure, after which I’d run back to the office, finish up my assignments for the day, then go home and make dinner for my family, then work on my entrepreneurial venture through the evening. Wow. To have so much leisure time is almost unthinkable to me. What a contrast.

What about you? When have you encountered someone whose day-to-day life was completely different than yours? What did you think?

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