Tag Archives: change

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.

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!

How Being Right Can Be So Wrong

27 Sep

Sometimes, you can be so right that you actually become wrong.

How is this so?

In business, time is money. Drucker’s The Effective Executive offers up some good advice on prioritizing time. In business and in life, time matters. Spending time doing things that don’t matter wastes time.

Drucker’s words ring so true:

Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.

Take for example:

  1. Belaboring the point when the point has already been made.
  2. Having the last word.
  3. Saying more than you need to and/or repeating yourself.
  4. Proving yourself right.

All of these things can at times be related, but it’s the last that’s my focus today. Spending time on proving myself right is so often both an exercise in futility as well as lost on deaf ears. Most people think they’re right anyway no matter how much energy you waste trying to convince them.

Really, what does it matter? I am saying this from personal experience, as an individual who HATES being wrong. But over the years I have either become:

A. Too old/lazy to care,

B. So full of my own Zen that it makes no difference to me, and/or

C. So right that I no longer need to make a point to people who will never get it anyway.

You decide which it is!

A, B, and/or C….my new middle-aged approach of no longer proving my “rightness” has freed up a lot of time for doing other things, like getting real work accomplished (while at work).

Another added benefit is not obsessing on work stuff while I’m away from work (i.e., compulsively checking email all of the time and being on alert so that I can be ever-responsive…I only do that some of the time these days—progress). And this gives me time to hang out with my family, play with the dog and learn righteous guitar solos.

Peter Drucker would be proud.

Breaking Away

19 Jul

At my new employer, there’s a saying that goes like this:

In school, we get the lesson, followed by the test.

In real life, we get the test followed by the lesson.

Oh so true! And I can speak from personal experience. Back in 2004 and 2005, I was at a “mid-term” (okay, yes ,”mid-life”) point, soul-searching in both personal and career matters. On both fronts, there were situations that tested me more than I’d ever been tested.

Up to that point in time, I’d been pretty lucky. Happiness had not been difficult to find. I’d married the man I loved, had two lovely kids, a house in the suburbs and a respectable career. I didn’t have to fight to reach any of those classic milestones in life. Not saying that I didn’t work hard and deserve my lot in life. Just saying that my path was never unnecessarily complicated or challenging.

Then, suddenly, I felt the need to ask myself some pretty deep personal and professional questions:

Do I like where I am?
Do I like who I am? Is this what I want to be when I’m ‘grown up?’

Because ‘grown up’ is now.

Annoyingly, a mentor of mine kept asking me this:

What is the lesson?

At the time, I’m not sure that I knew what the test OR the lesson was! The only thing that I had in mind was:

Gee, life is really difficult right now, and I’m not really having all that much fun.

I felt like reading a lot of Sartre, and I’m glad I didn’t do too much of that. Enough existential angst running around my head already!

Now, looking back on that time, I can better understand the test, and the lesson. The substance of it doesn’t matter, but the process does.

We’ve all had these moments in time. For me, they’ve hit at predictable developmental points in my life and in my career. Like my mentor’s question, this is also annoying. Because it just goes to show that I am not much different (aka better) than anyone else. That’s the first part of the lesson.

If you are at a point of feeling “stuck” in life, with family or career questions bombarding you, you may have reached a critical turning point–a time that will define what’s next.

Here’s a good checklist to help you build up momentum again and head in the right direction:

  1. Know thyself (and don’t snow thyself). Everyone is capable of lying to him- or herself. Don’t fall into this trap, because it’s a deep hole and requires a superhuman effort to climb out. Be clear about and stay true to your own values, and the choices you make will reflect them.
  2. Keep close friends (and friends close) and listen when they question you. Trust the counsel of your allies, even when it’s hard to take in.
  3. Change is a funny thing. Sometimes is best made quickly and cleanly. Other times it requires a lot of endurance and has to be made over time. Before you make a change, consider the short- and long-term consequences. Think through all of them and imagine yourself there. While changing can be cathartic in the moment, it may not feel that way after a few years. Think before you leap. Conversely, sometimes slow change creates needless pain over time. Better to yank off the band-aid than to draw out the agony. What type of change would this be for you?
  4. Seek out evidence that will help you to “pass the test” and “learn from the lesson.” If you get past an obstacle and it was just by luck, you’re going to run into that obstacle again. Guaranteed. So save yourself some heartache and learn it the first time, even if the lesson is painful.

One last piece of advice from another mentor of mine:

Keep your head on straight, and be true to your heart.

In the midst of even cataclysmic change, this will not steer you wrong.

The Union Debate

5 Apr

Today’s issue of The New York Times had an interesting editorial about “union-bashing” by governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. Such a hotly political topic. People are on one side or the other. Is there an in between? Bear with me as I work through this.

I’ll admit that I’m outright conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, I’m the daughter of a union president. I believe that there are situations when unions have served a purpose and still do. My father’s union was for construction workers, guys that worked hard but didn’t have the inclination or communications expertise to independently negotiate their wages and benefits. So the union did it for them.

When my dad was president, he didn’t get any of the supposed perks of so-called union bosses. I used to work for someone who talked about the power of union leaders. This makes me laugh every time I remember it. I believe that my former employer spent too much time watching 1940s movies.

Not that there aren’t situations when union leaders don’t abuse power — I’m sure there are. Power can corrupt — we’ve seen plenty of cases in business as of late. But for the most part, union bosses are pretty regular guys. I grew up in a squarely lower middle-class family. We didn’t have a pool, fancy vacations or designer clothes. We lived in half-doubles for much of my growing up. We were neither rich nor poor. We had enough.

Because of my background, the merit of unions gets more foggy for me when the working situations are professional and not construction or old school trade-oriented. Additionally, I’ve had my own personal experiences with unions as a manager, having supervised union members working in state government. I’ve seen instances  where people pretty much did nothing or whatever they wanted because they knew their job was protected. So my “on the other hand” is that I can see the downsides to unions. But in all honesty my experience the downsides are more theoretical than actual.

It’s pretty clear that unions do have benefits that are beyond what most people could hope for. I can have a pretty spirited argument about the need to right-size health care and retirement packages. But it seems to me that unions have also been quite willing to negotiate with management on the thorny issues. There’ve been many concessions made since the recession.

In America, we are in a quandary. There’s a part of the American psyche that’s stubbornly individualistic. Those pointing to unions as communists in the early days of labor tapped into this uniquely American trait. If you organize, then you are part of a group and lose your individualism, says this logic. Kind of like the Borg.

Yet there’s another part of our American way that does barn-raising, community action, neighborhood watches, and the like. Grassroots, word-of-mouth and trending are all about group effort — and results. We’ve never been above this.

When individuals have money, they can use it to gain power. They do this through funding campaigns, paying lobbyists and launching public relations campaigns that shape opinion. What percentage of the population can pony up these resources?

When individuals don’t have big money — and face it, this is most of us — they can take action themselves because in America the playing field is probably more equal than anywhere in the world. Here, we are motivated and some of us have time to strive for change.

But let’s be realistic — the playing field is not entirely equal. So another practical thing to do, in the absence of money to gain power, is to form a group to make something happen. To represent ourselves, to lobby for fair working conditions and pay, and a standard of living that’s not rich but is respectable.

I’m not going to discuss any of the arguments around whether or not the unions are to blame for our budget issues, or whether the union-bashing is an effort to get rid of the Democratic party. Everyone has their own thoughts along these lines — and most of the time people just play back the rhetoric that they hear around them. Don’t get me started on that.

It seems to me that there’s a big difference between getting rid of unions altogether and disagreeing with the benefits they’ve negotiated for their members and the collective bargaining process. I have friends on both sides of the issue — friends I want to keep.

All I’ll say is that making tough decisions requires muddling through a certain level of complexity. Do we have the stomach, and the patience, for that? Is there time for that? Or is the supposed quick fix the way to get us to the future? We’ll see.

I’m still conflicted.