Archive | values RSS feed for this section

The Deeper Business of Being Beautiful Inside

4 Mar

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.11.10 PMIn a moving speech given prior to her Oscar win for supporting actress, Lupita Nyong’o encouraged women to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

It’s a simple but difficult proposition.

In the same Oscar ceremony where Nyong’o won her award, 81-year-old actress Kim Novak also appeared–noticeably and disturbingly altered by plastic surgery.

What a contrast. I was named after Kim Novak, so I’ve always paid attention to her over the years. It’s sad that she felt she had to go to such lengths.

Why can’t an 81-year-old woman look 81? Grandmas rock. I always thought my grandmothers and older aunties were cool, even if they wore funny teased-up hairdos and cat-eye glasses with rhinestones. They made excellent peanut butter cookies, smoked Salem cigarettes, and ate Chinese food. Their skin was soft and pale–protected from the sun because it was a sign of poverty to have so much color on your face. By night, they wore Pond’s cold cream, and by day they wore little to no makeup. Well, maybe a little bit of lipstick.

It was a shock to see Novak’s face, but why? There’s an expectation that women will look young for as long as we can. With many women my age, it starts off with Botox or collagen injections. Mouths go from normal-looking to Joker-esque. Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Cameron Diaz, et al. And it just gets stranger-looking from there. Joan Rivers and Madonna–why? Looking one’s age is better than looking like someone else–or like a puffed-up doll.

I read today that Kim Novak was criticized from a young age and began altering her look long before preparing for last night’s Oscars. Even during the era of Bell, Book, and Candle and Vertigo? What a shame.

I remember when I was a teenager looking at myself in the mirror and not liking what I saw. At the time, I pretty much felt like an ugly duckling and looked nothing like Kim Novak in the movies. I don’t think I started liking what I saw until I was in my late 30s. I regret not appreciating even little things about myself, inside and out, much earlier.

Now, it’s fine. I am content with what I see and who I am. There are scars, lines, and wrinkles on my face. I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. I have light skin, freckles, a noticeable nose, larger than I would like pores, and a stripe of silver hair in my center part. I procrastinate and indulge my children more than I should. So what?

If I saw something different, it would be a lesser version of me. Why go to all the trouble of changing what it took so long to earn? I don’t want to go back to my 20s or look like I could be 20. Why not go forward?

A natural face at any age is more beautiful than plastic. And Nyong’o is right: it’s inner beauty that makes for happiness. We need more Betty White than Kim Novak.

Herbert Hoover’s Tennis Game

9 Oct

Image courtesy of Dan / freedigitalphotos.net

Back in the early 1930s, my great-grandfather and his farmer friends had a date with President Herbert Hoover. At the time, the productive farms in Ohio’s Ross and Vinton Counties were struggling–like most other “real people” during the Great Depression. These farmers combined their limited resources for a trip to D.C. to talk with the president they helped to elect, to explain why they so desperately needed low-interest loans to help them get through those tough times.

A bit of background about these farmers:

Like my family, most had settled in the Scioto River Valley in the late 1700s, when Ohio was still the Northwest Territory. They built the towns like Richmondale, Eagle Mills, and Ratcliffburg. They planted and put down roots in the little dales surrounding the Salt Creek, where they could forge their own way for their families and generate enough of a profit to feed everyone and lead good enough lives. By no means wealthy, they were satisfied with the self-sufficient way of life that they had developed through their own hardscrabble and grit. Most among them were “traditional conservatives”–Republicans who had voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928.

Everything changed with the Depression. My grandmother, a teenager and young woman during most of the Depression, counted herself lucky to be just one step away from having to wear a flour sack for a dress. When my great-grandfathers George Washington Brown and Noah Ezekiel Ratcliff made the decision to travel to Washington with the dozen or so other farmers, it was a calculated risk.  They pooled their resources with the group, thinking that it was a worthwhile investment for the future of the land their families had worked for generations.

But the end of the story was not a happy one. When they arrived in D.C., they were told by the president’s scheduler that he was double-booked for their meeting. Instead of keeping the date with them, the president was playing tennis.

What a foreign concept to a group of farmers. How could someone have enough time to do something as frivolous as play tennis–let alone do that instead of keeping a scheduled appointment with constituents? Later in his administration, under pressure, Hoover did end up making a decision to create low-interest loans for farmers, and then FDR expanded the program.

But it was too late for my family. They like many others around them lost their farms. My Grandfather Ratcliff went to work at Meade Paper Plant before moving up to Columbus, where he got a job in construction and became one of the first presidents of his union affiliate, Local 44, representing asbestos workers. My dad went on to follow him in that role, both as a construction worker and union president. I grew up living in twin singles for much of my childhood–hardly the life that is often portrayed for a “union boss’s” family. But I never felt less than successful or well cared-for, so the move north was a positive one for the family overall.

As they say, things happen for a reason. If the family hadn’t moved out of Appalachia, I probably would not have had the same incentives to attend college. And there’s a larger lesson in this bit of family history.

Being insulted is not something easily forgotten in a “culture of honor.” Certainly my family, like other families who came to America from isolated areas such as Northern England or Sicily, continued to maintain a stubborn and independent streak in order to survive in the post-American Revolution “Wild West.” This way of life and attitude is what helped them to succeed as farmers, and what motivated them to make a change in party after the tennis game incident.

My father tells this story today, not to emphasize the reasons behind my family’s change in political party, but to explain the difference between wise and unknowing leadership. Timing and thoughtful decisions make a difference, for real people.

RIP Kurt Cobain

5 Apr

A little bit of reflection.

Eighteen years ago today, I had just finished a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. I’ve already written about how special this place is to me, because it is where I can go to be with “God Alone.”

It was a beautiful spring, and I took the winding back roads heading north back to Ohio. It was storming a little bit, but the bright green rolling hills and blooming bulbs were beautiful as I started my drive home.

After being on the road for a few minutes, I turned on the radio and had a rude awakening back to reality: Kurt Cobain had shot himself.

I remember cursing a little bit (probably not appropriate after so much time with God) and then crying for a while–in anger. What a loss. He could have created so much more.

It hit close for me because I was the same age as him at the time (27), and because I appreciated the music. Cobain was no musical genius, by his own admission, and he wasn’t the best singer or musician. But he put things together in the right way, for the time. He learned about catchy melodies from the Beatles, and combined that with drastic changes in volume that highlighted his band’s talents.

If he were still alive today, he’d be a great producer.

Addiction, mental illness, and the nasty results on mind and body. A lot has already been said about this.

Today’s a good marker for my generation. It is through luck and hard work that we can celebrate life and fulfill the potential we had when we were young. Not everyone has the personal capability to do this–by their own choosing or because of demons they cannot control. Many live but just get by, never being everything they could be.

Rest assured that I’ll play some Nirvana today to remember Kurt Cobain’s accomplishment. Even though he cut it short at the tender age of 27, his life was a blessing to many. “In Bloom” indeed…rock on wherever you are, K.C.

My Moriarty

13 Mar

Another in the category of: My blog, so I write what I want.

I particularly enjoy the Moriarty character in Sherlock Holmes stories (as well as the movies…Jared Harris plays it perfectly). This is a bit of reflection on Moriarty’s role, for each of us. It is also influenced by some recent reading, of Brené Brown‘s work on authenticity–I recommend it.

________________________

Everyone has their Moriarty, but not everyone knows who he is.

Dr. Moriarty is the archenemy of Sherlock Holmes, a mathematical genius who sets traps, builds bombs, and makes the world a more dangerous place for Holmes.

Moriarty would not exist without Holmes. Their struggle makes Moriarty stronger. Moriarty’s mathematical masterminding improves only because Holmes pushes him into a corner.

And in their final battle, they play a game of chess, which devolves into punching and shoving, followed by both Moriarty and Holmes falling hundreds of feet off a ledge into an enormous waterfall in the Alps–into the Reichenbach Falls. Pretty dramatic stuff.

A mind game, capped off with a sloppy boxing match and an incredible risk. What better metaphor for fighting off old (and often inaccurate) memories, shame, regrets, and remorse?

There’s a reason that villains such as Moriarty ring true: These people do exist–for all of us–in real life, as the actual cast in our own day-to-day existence, be they people, feelings, or thoughts. My Moriarty has been a distraction, a lessening of joy in my life. I am ready to get back the time I’ve wasted on this nasty character.

Sometimes I have been locked in mortal combat with something for so long, it becomes a habit–until I can find the strength in myself to no longer give it life. Trying to think my way out of it usually doesn’t work. In my case, the cerebral solution can (and has) resulted in years of making things more complex and angst-ridden than they really are. Obsession brings zero improvement. The process of letting go isn’t pretty, but it’s better than hanging on to an old arch-nemesis.

Pushing my Moriarty off the ledge requires that I go over with him–at least a part of me. Scary to let go of an old part of myself, even if I know that I no longer need or want it. It’s the ultimate renunciation of attachment. This is the rebirth process for Holmes, who survives the fall, a baptism of sorts for him.

When I make the decision to kill off my Moriarty, I am going to celebrate. As a matter of fact, there are two very specific Moriarty characters that I am pushing into the waterfall very soon. I will relish their drop into oblivion, because they have held me back from being as true to myself as I can be–from consistently being the person that I am supposed to be (insert God reference if you’d prefer).

Aliens at Work

7 Dec

A version of this post was also published on the Executive Elements blog earlier this year.

At work, we can sometimes sense that we’ve been dropped onto an alien planet. I’m very fortunate to be working for and with people who are from “my planet,” but I’ve been in places that felt alien.

Don’t think you’re alone if you find yourself pondering:

  • What is this strange language that’s being spoken, and why don’t I understand it? Will they understand me if I say, “Plergh?”
  • Why are decisions made without any seemingly rational train of thought?
  • Is this a bad dream, or am I really awake?
  • Where’d I park my mother ship? I need to get back to Earth!

If you’re having these feelings, don’t despair. We’ve all been there. Every workplace can be awkward or downright difficult at times. Even the most healthy workplaces have their moments.

But if there’s a pattern of dysfunctional behavior, recognize it and take stock. In some sense, it’s all relative. Each of us has a different tolerance to workplace problems like aggression, passive aggression, professional neglect, workplace bullying or general incompetence. One person’s abyss is another’s heaven.

Don’t accept unreasonable behavior that jeopardizes your career growth or negatively impacts your ability to perform. Work is hard — that’s why it’s called work. But it should not kill your soul.

I’ve realized over the years that I have a high tolerance for environments that are not conducive to human life. Out of loyalty or pride (“I won’t give up!”), I’ve let myself suffer for too long at times. Don’t make that mistake.

If you are caught in the alien planet dilemma, here are some survival skills:

  1. PERSPECTIVE – Talk with someone outside of work about your situation. They can help you to get some perspective.
  2. CAMARADERIE – Blow off steam over lunch or coffee with a coworker that you trust. Chances are if you are feeling off about something at work, you’re not the only one. Don’t wall yourself off from your colleagues and make yourself feel more isolated. By commiserating, you may also find some humor in the madness.
  3. STAY POSITIVE – I remind myself that having a positive attitude and healthy self-esteem can’t change other people’s problems. What it can do is to help keep my head clear and my heart clean while seeking out what’s next.

Remember that it’s possible — and preferable — to thrive in the workplace. While it says something about a person’s endurance and fortitude to be able to to survive in challenging conditions, sometimes enough is enough.

Over time, I’ve realized that it’s important to go with my gut instincts when I start feeling as if things just aren’t right. A decision to move on when the time is right is not a failure. It is simply a decision to make a change.

Listen Here, Whippersnappers!

29 Nov

In the spirit of being Old Enough To Know Better (the long version name of this blog), I have reached the point in my life (officially 44 on Dec. 20) where I freely offer advice, to just about anyone.

Being old comes with privileges like that. Doesn’t matter whether or not people listen. That’s not the point. How handy to have this blog to help in my endeavor!

Along those lines, this post is a random collection of items that make me happy in life. Of course you want to know about them because they are sure you make you happy as well. Consider my tips an improvement over what you might find in high-brow periodicals, such as Martha Stewart Living, Oprah’s O Magazine or Real Simple—only better. The great thing is that I am sharing these happiness-makers with you for FREE, via my low-brow blog!

Here are five FREE! happiness-makers:

1. Make the bed every morning. No matter what.

This is something that I can easily control, even when the rest of my day is insane. Bonus: When I collapse in bed at the end of a long day, the covers are not in a messy heap. This gives me the illusion that I’ve conquered all chaos in my life.

Extra credit for remembering to sprinkle some baby powder between the sheets while making it…keeps things extra fresh.

2. Sit on a ball, not a chair, while at work.

I am not kidding. Unless you work in a profession that gives you frequent freedom to move about, your body is getting weaker every second you spend in that chair. Scientists agree with me, as empirically proven by this one study, as well as plain common sense.

At least sitting on a physio-ball ($20 from your local Target) keeps you working core muscles while you are sitting, because if you don’t work your core you will fall off the ball. The entire process will make you feel better. Especially the part about not falling off the ball.

Anyone who thinks you’re a weirdo has too much free time on their hands to be worrying about you and your ball…suggest that they get back to work and let you continue being on the ball.  Who can argue with good posture?

Extra credit for one or two backbends during the day, supported by your trusty ball. If you are both self-conscious and stealthy this can be accomplished while co-workers are in the kitchen or on bathroom breaks.

3. Even if you don’t like habits, pick a few that give you comfort and practice them every day.

I like change and don’t enjoy a lot of repetition in my days, so this is not an easy discipline for me. What hooked me on habits is that they are both nurturing as well as efficient use of time.

Getting ready for work or school and arriving at the same time every day is a simple habit that most of us have to do anyway, so that’s easy. Fitting in some time for meditation and journal-writing prior to work is something that I have grown to enjoy. Practicing an instrument is another.

If you have too many habits, make it a habit to drop some of them. This would include frequent trips to the office stash of Reese’s Cups (one of my too frequent habits).

4. Walk more than you do now.

This is something that just about anyone can easily do. I have for many years owned dogs that will drive me crazy if I don’t get them out for a walk or hard playtime in a field. This is terrific motivation.

There are so many little things that I notice about the world around me by moving more slowly than I can by car, and my body is thankful for the chance to blow off some steam and soak up the outdoors. Even in bad weather, being both outside and simply walking gives me a mood boost.

5. Pick one day each week when you will not use social media or electronic devices.

This is very difficult for me. I really hate it at first because I am quite obsessive-compulsive with being “in touch,” but it’s very beneficial for my peace of mind to go off the grid and not be always connected to everyone and everything.

All of it is still be there when I plug back in the next day. Most things can wait and don’t need immediate response. The Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” is a good reminder that not so long ago we communicated with more delay between the send and response.  Immediacy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and being off the grid is a good reminder of how the world keeps spinning without my interventions.

There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on these tips. I will give you a full refund if you are not happier after putting all of these into practice for a month. Promise!

Flour Sacks, Ketchup and Thrift

12 Oct

Reflecting back on this post from a year ago….branding in a time of thrift, aka the “spend shift.”

________________________

I’ve heard stories about the Great Depression and WWII economy from my family. Losing the family farm just before President Hoover changed policies so that loans were more accessible, my grandmother later described feeling “very lucky” that she never had to dress her kids in flour sacks. It could always be worse, as they say.

Eating ketchup sandwiches sounds like a novel idea to my kids, but it was less than romantic for my mom in the early 1940s when nutritious food was rationed. Ketchup is not a vegetable, despite what Ronald Reagan and the USDA said in 1981.

But this post is not really about flour sacks or ketchup sandwiches. It is about a set of hard-core self-determinism and conservative (I am not talking politics here) values that got us through those tough years. And apparently the American consumer is returning to a model of saving rather than spending, focusing on time with family and friends rather than outward-oriented and ambitious ideas of success, and more consciousness for community benefit rather than self-aggrandizement.

What’s really important in life: continued acquisition or living more simply?  Is it better to encourage my son to save his money for the newest video game system or sock it away for something he may need in the future? Does it matter, in the end?

I heard an interesting talk by consumer expert John Gerzema at the Inc. 500 conference in D.C. over the weekend. Look at my twitter feed or search on #werthinc for my posts on his talk and others’. His discussion prompted me to buy two of his books, Spend Shift and The Brand Bubble. This is a man standing atop mountains of data gleaned from tens of thousands of consumers, all telling a story about buying behavior in the past and predictions for the future. It’s fascinating stuff.

This quote stood out for me: “As we stopped acquiring, we became more inquiring.” Apparently, 68 percent of Americans now have library cards — the highest number ever. I like this, although browsing in a library is different now. I like browsing books online and “buying” the free books from Amazon for Kindle. There are a lot of classics there gratis.

Here’s another: “The badge of awesomeness means being more nimble, adaptable and thrifty.” I’ve been on both sides of the coin here. I’ve had my moments of being shopaholic. Once I spent three hundred dollars in one trip at a Banana Republic for things I really didn’t need. My three hundred dollars didn’t take me far, but that was three years ago and I’m still wearing the stuff, except for one wool sweater that mistakenly was washed and put into the dryer. My daughter could wear it for a year, but soon it was too small for both of us. It’s been relegated to the doll-clothes container.

On the flip side, I decided that I wasn’t going to break the bank for the Inc. 500 conference formal. Not regularly attending such highbrow events, I needed to buy a gown and all the trappings. So here’s how I approached it:

  • From Clintonville consignment shop Rag-o-Rama, a black taffeta one-shoulder full-length clean line gown, not a designer label: $10
  • Dry cleaning the gown at Caskey Cleaners: $10
  • Patent leather shoes, beaded silk purse and black velvet/silk wrap from Grandview consignment shop One More Time: $30
  • Same earrings I wore for the rest of the conference
  • A seed beaded cuff I bought for $15 from the Columbus Museum of Art gift shop several months ago.

Grand total: $65. And I will totally wear that dress again. It fit great and made me happy because the price tag was my secret. Both my grandmothers would be proud.

So there you go, John Gerzema. I am looking forward to reading both books, but as you might guess I’ve started with Spend Shift. I’m hoping to unlock some new learnings to help communicate with this new brand of consumer. I can see applications here for work and home life.