Monday, October 18, 2021

Dear Gen Z (and younger)

I watched a panel of accomplished female professionals speaking to middle schoolers and high schoolers, sharing their experiences and lessons learned and cheering this next generation on. And something just felt…off. 

I understand the purpose was to give them hope and confidence for all that’s to come, but without acknowledging the inevitable challenges that face them, it just felt hollow. So here’s something for my daughters and younger that won’t make it on the TED circuit. 

There’s going to be a moment, and probably more than one, where you look around and go, “what happened to my life?!? This is SO not working out the way I thought it would.”

I’m not going to assume the circumstances. I’m not even going to share my own because here’s the thing. Most people have felt that way at some time in their life. 

And here’s the other thing: whether or not it’s your fault simply doesn’t matter. Fair or not, you’re going to have to figure out how to get through it. 

Because eventually, there will come another moment where you go, “oh yeah. I remember when I felt things were hopeless.” But only if you’re still here. 

So that’s Lesson #1: Stick around. Things will continue to change. The only way to see what happens next is to be here. 

I’m not trying to be flip about that. Suicide is too common. Even if you have those thoughts, you don’t have to listen to them. Not all thoughts have to become action. Please stick around. 

Someone recommended deleting failure from your vocabulary. If that works for her, great, but I actually think we spend too much time thinking about outcomes instead of process. Not just because that’s where we learn the most lessons, but that’s also where we are most of the time. 

Most of the time, our goal is in progress. School lasts years, but the graduations are few and far between. Of course, that’s what makes them special, but the majority of memories come from the during: when you’re in school. Whether it’s walking to school with a friend or sharing a look with a classmate during a boring lecture, or trying to finish that essay. 

The things to celebrate get even less predictable in the “real world” of work. Depending on the kind of work you do, you may just get a “great job” email at the end of a very long and hard project. Of course, do what you can in your own way to celebrate your accomplishments, but you’re most likely just doing it for a paycheck anyway. We all find what makes the work day enjoyable (or at least bearable) individually. It might be having a great friend as a colleague, or that you’re so busy, the hours fly by. Sure, you hope that work makes you feel fulfilled, but it’s rare that every day feels that way for most people. So we need to figure out how to get up every morning even when there’s not necessarily something exciting on our agenda that day. 

Lesson #2: Do something you love every day so that you can love every day. That’s a tall order, but it should be something small. It doesn’t have to be the same thing every day. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be. Maybe one day it’s a walk in the park. Maybe it’s listening to a favorite song while you dance around the living room. Maybe it’s just snuggling with a pet. Find a moment to be present and at peace. Even on the worst days. Especially on the worst days. 

I don’t mean those days filled with irritation. Pretty much every day this week something has gone wrong. I pulled a muscle, a delivery was missing an item, another went to the wrong address entirely, I mistakenly called someone the wrong name in an email, and my DIY attempt went so wrong, I had to call in a professional. 

And yet, I don’t look at myself or any of those days as failures. Because I also met a tight deadline, snuggled with my kitties, danced to a favorite song, enjoyed a stand-up comedy show through Zoom, and ate spaghetti with my parents. 

That’s one of the reasons I don’t get the mood tracker that’s popular in bullet journaling. I have a variety of moods every day. How on earth would I pick one? They’re all valid, and while they’re not all equal, picking one would give it too much weight. 

Sometimes, we should be sad. If we lost a loved one or were in an accident or lost our job, of course, we’d want to say that sadness (or fear or anger) would be the mood to describe the day. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t laugh at some point or smile at a fond memory of our loved one. And those emotions are valid too. 

Lesson #3: Don’t track your moods. 

Not dissimilar to the unexpected worst days are the unexpected wonderful days. You may think that there’s nothing fun on your agenda, but then you get a call from a friend with an extra ticket to a show you wanted to attend but was sold out. Or your kids surprise you by making dinner. Be open to those moments because: 

Lesson #4: It’s usually something totally unexpected that makes what you thought would be an ordinary day one of the best ever. There are a few days I’ll never forget. One of the most surreal was the day the OJ verdict was announced. I was at an event where Ed Asner bummed a cigarette off of me and we smoked together. Then I ended up at another celebrity’s house where I held her Emmy, borrowed an amazing dress, and we had dinner at one of my favorite (now defunct) restaurants. I woke up that morning with very different expectations of how that day would go. (Okay, so I’m not sure I expected an ordinary day with the event and the OJ verdict, but I think my point remains valid.)

And that dress I borrowed, I wore to another event that went incredibly well and we won! And then I broke the trophy. (We eventually got a new intact one.) 

Lesson #5: Sometimes, we screw up. Or fail, or make a mistake, however you want to frame it. Sometimes the things that go wrong are our fault. We just need to sit with it. Figure out where we went wrong, if we missed any signs that doom was coming, apologize as needed, fix what we can, reflect, and move on. And maybe too, try to find a little grace when someone else’s mistake affects us. 

When the delivery went to the wrong address, we eventually discovered who had it, and she gave it to me, but she also got in the delivery driver’s face with her finger pointed and said, “This is your fault!’

She didn’t know that just moments ago, he’d sincerely apologized to me and I accepted it. He admitted he’d been distracted, and clearly felt bad about it. When she yelled in his face, he just turned around and left. I couldn’t blame him. 

We will all do something wrong at some point that impacts others because we’re all human. The consequences may not always be just, so we can’t count on that. We just have to keep going. 

“Resilience” has become a popular buzz word for this moving on thing. I think it’s just life. Sometimes, it feels like you’re just going from set of problems to another. For me, I try to enjoy every moment from the solution to the next problem. That can last for a few minutes (like the time we picked up Riley’s new glasses and she broke them that. Same. Day!) or a few days. And sometimes, the only way to get to a solve is to stop thinking about the problem for a while and do something enjoyable. 

Lesson #6: You’re going to make it. You’re going to succeed and you’re going to fail. You’re going to have moments of pure joy and you’re going to feel loss. If you stick around, you get to have all of that! 

The victories will be that much sweeter because you understand loss. You will appreciate the moments of peace because of the chaos you’ve experienced. You will be grateful to kind people because you will witness the opposite. 

You may have a moment where you wonder what went wrong with your life - as I have. And I have also had moments where I can’t believe that this is my life. 

Now go fix the world! (Sorry we screwed it up.) 


P.S. I’m not really sure if the kids in middle school or high school are also Gen Z. Does anyone know what we’re calling the generation after Gen Z? 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Balancing Children's Needs With Your Own

I was talking to a friend recently that I haven't spoken to since I was deep in the midst of single parenting - my daughters were in middle school and high school back then. He was truly surprised that I wasn't broken up about being an empty nester. I think because he saw me put my children first always, he thought I would have a hard time letting go. I did not. 

I told him, I think it's because I was a full-time single parent for most of their lives. There were far fewer breaks for me than parents who split custody and certainly two-parent households. 

But I also think that I was making a mistake by putting my children first, always, for them and for me. 

As they got older, there was still an expectation that I would drop everything for them, and it took me not doing so a few times for them to understand that they were capable of figuring out the solutions for themselves. It's not that they weren't a priority, but what they needed me to do was let go so they could shine. They needed to believe in themselves as much as I believed in them. 

But this isn't really about them. I also lost sight of me.

While I have said many times that I'm not a fan of labels (and I'm not), I didn't realize how much I depended on them to define me. Mostly, as a single mother. Also, as a loyal employee and colleague, as a paralegal, a feminist, supportive friend, my cats' loyal human. And while I am proudly all of those things, there is still so much more to me. 

I've been reveling in the gift of more free time. Without kids to shuttle to and from school, without having to commute to work in these COVID times, and without locking myself into Boards of non-profits, my evenings and weekends are mostly mine. And what's non-sensical is how much I still feel like the hours are limited!

It's not that I'm running around like crazy, it's that there's so much I want to do! I'm not anxious about it, I'm luxuriating in it. 

I'm taking virtual tap dance classes, I'm reading multiple books, I'm watching whatever interests me, I'm writing in my journal, I'm writing here again, I'm trying new recipes, thinking about the past, planning a future, taking online classes, enjoying my cats, asking Siri random questions, coloring, I'm getting to learn and explore anything that interests me. 

And that's exactly what I wish my children saw me doing more when they were growing up. Instead, they saw me always giving to others, and role modeling that behavior. 

Now, I think they already understand this better than I did at their age, even with my mistakes. So my regret is not about what it did to them, but about the time I lost for me. 

Some of our fondest memories are the times we spent immersed in theatre together; being in plays together, going to see musicals, listening to them in the car. A lot of conversations were sparked by a song or a line. 

I know that sharing my love of theatre with them is what brought this connection. I think more connections could have been built if they'd seen me enjoying other things as well. 

And I think I would've been stronger, a better mother, a more patient human, if I hadn't let so much go. 

Now, obviously, we have to put our kids' safety first. We have to make sure their needs are met. Sometimes, just doing that can take up most of our energy. 

Usually, when mothers talk about "me time," it's a ladies' night with alcohol or a bubble bath. Those are great, sure, but they're indulgences. Somewhere along the line, I also lost sight of reading books for pleasure, listening to music when I wasn't driving, taking my eye off the to-do list. 

On a walk recently, I realized that even though I wasn't listening to a podcast or music, my mind was spinning with my to-do list - which was ridiculous because I didn't have my planner with me to write anything down, and I was actually doing something at that moment that was on my to-do list! I could just enjoy the rest of the walk and not think about what comes next. 

We mothers get criticized anyway you look at it - we're either hovering or negligent; too distant or too friendly with our kids; spending too much time at work or not giving the kids breathing room. Screw it. 

Once you answer these type of questions for yourself, the best thing you can do for both you and your kids is to remember what brings you joy and to share that joy with your kids. 

Yes, their grades matter, but more important is their mental health. They will learn to take care of that by you role modeling what works for you. 

It will probably help to think back at what you liked when you were their age and introduce that to them. They might not love it as much as you do, but they'll love being with you when you're happy! 

That's the crazy, cool thing about it - focusing on your needs is actually good for your kids, too. 



Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I Hate People who say they Hate Musicals

 It's such a stupid thing to say. It's like saying, "I hate to be entertained." "I hate it when people try to bring joy to my life." Or really, any emotion, because I have felt them all when in the audience of a musical.

Next to Normal left me unable to walk for a few moments as I recovered from the traumas and attempts to heal. Hamilton reminds me that the only thing that has ever changed the world is a small group of people. I feel the sisterhood in Wicked, the longing to believe in The Book of Mormon, the fight for humanity in Rent, the terrifying darkness of humanity in Sweeney Todd, the magical wonder of humanity in Come From Away and the celebration of musicals in Something Rotten. What's more, it shall not be forgotten that all of life's lessons are in Into the Woods.

My daughter and I were watching the live capture of Allegiance, and I was reminded how much I miss the beauty of people standing on a stage, chests open, chins up, looking longingly at a future somewhere between the heads of audience members and the light booth above. That's all it takes: a stance (similar to a superhero stance) and a dream! Just sing your I Want song, and in less than 3 hours, you will be living the dream! 

For anyone that doesn't appreciate that EVER, we don't need to know each other. 

What's even more infuriating is that usually when someone says that, they then go on to admit to one or two (or more) musicals that they did enjoy. OH, so it's NOT the whole genre after all, IS IT? 

Superhero movies are not my thing, but I've seen Black Panther, the first Iron Man, Superman (with Christopher Reeve) and a few others. So I don't say that I HATE superhero movies. I say that they're not my thing. I'm not going to line up to be the first to see a new superhero movie. I'm not going to set up a Google alert for superhero movies. I'm not going to obsess about them. But I'm not also not going to dismiss the entire genre.

Whenever I do say I hate something in front of my father, he says "hate is such a strong word," and my response is usually, "yes, I feel strongly about this!" 

So if you feel strongly that you hate musicals, you can never visit this blog again, please and thank you. 

But if you do love musicals, I'm getting very excited about the Tonys this Sunday! And I have been loving and living for the Broadway (and off-Broadway) content appearing again!



Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New Shopping Rules

 My daughter and I are just about to complete YNAB's 34 Day Reset, and I've been thinking about my shopping habits and what I want to change. 

I've written previously about my quest to buy from women-led companies, and that's still a priority, but so is supporting businesses led by people of color, and companies that are eco-conscious. 

I do have to balance this with my other priorities, like the roof over my head! So there are still Amazon purchases in my past, present and future, but doing this reset reminded me that sometimes, I hit "checkout" a little too soon. So I'm also working on putting more time between the thought and the actual purchase, and when I can afford the time and purchase price, incorporating my values, too. 

While I'm not entirely doing Project 333, the fact that I've gained weight during this pandemic (+ menopause!) means many of my clothes just don't fit anymore. I'm slowly purging the items I know will never fit me again, and boxing up clothes that I would like to wear again someday, but getting them out of my closet for now. 

I'm also thinking about the high cost of clothes. Buying cheap means they're using either slave labor or something close to it, but I don't want to pay high prices for clothes that hopefully will be too big for me if I'm able to achieve my weight loss goals. So for now, I've decided that most of my clothing will be purchased second-hand, which is also good for the environment. I found a second-hand shop that supports women's shelters and is women-owned: triple win!

I also keep a list of businesses led by women* and POC. From now on, I'm only buying new clothing from those companies. Bonus points for women/POC-led companies that are also somehow sustainable. If I'm paying an arm and a leg, I need to feel good about who profits from my purchase. 

I'm also going to start researching B-certified corporations, companies that are legally required by such formation to consider the impact on the environment, their workers, their suppliers and their community. I know that even with the rigorous requirements, that still doesn't make them perfect, but it might be a worthwhile option for other kinds of purchases besides clothes. 

Looking back at my purchases over the 34 Day Reset, there are far fewer! I might've slipped a couple of times, but even then, the drastic decrease of receipts and orders to track was startling. I've never claimed to be a minimalist, but it opened my eyes to how much of a typical American consumer I am. Or have been. It's a work in progress.



*My definition of women includes anyone that identifies themselves as such






Saturday, September 4, 2021

I Said No and I Don't Feel Guilty!

This may not seem like a big deal to some, and I hope that's the case for most, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how easily "no" came to me recently!

A former colleague and casual acquaintance reached out to let me know about her new business venture. It's not my thing, and I wished her well, but told her I was going to pass when she offered me a "friends" package. 

I realized as I was sending that "no, thank you" that there have been many times in the past where I've felt that since someone was kind enough to think of me that I had to reciprocate by participating. This time, that thought felt foreign. In a previous life, I would've fretted about the timing and place, but felt obligated to be there. I do hope she finds success and I'm glad that she's excited about this, but I can express those feelings in a simple text instead. 

I have made some stupid, awful mistakes for the sake of "being nice." Mistakes that were meant to avoid hurting others, but inevitably led to others, as well as myself, being hurt. Turns out that being dishonest is never nice, no matter one's intention. 

It's no secret that women are conditioned to sacrifice themselves for others, and it's not always wrong to do so, but I think I've now internalized that I can say no without worry of how others will view me. 

I was tempted to say that it's because I have more self-confidence, but really, I think I've realized that people are going to think what they think, and usually, they're not thinking about me as often as I used to think they were! I'm sure my friend that invited me has just moved on and is more concerned with finding people that are interested than whether or not I am. 

Certainly, there have been plenty of times when people have said no to me, and it's been for a variety of reasons. If I noticed that people never showed, I took note of that, but ultimately, I didn't let that one note define our entire relationship. I trust (now) that's how most people will weigh my own "no." 

I told my friend, no thank you and wished her well, and she responded with appreciation. Turns out, the thought really does count! 




Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Meditation So Far

I resisted mediation for a long time. I was one of those that said, "I can't sit still," "I can't do the breathing" and "My mind won't stop thinking." It's amazing how much we get wrong when we hear a few phrases and think we know what meditation is. 

Now, I am no expert, and I'm not even going to try and talk about its history or what meditation is for anyone else but me. So why bother?  I think maybe this might provide encouragement to others who think they "can't" meditate. 

My company sponsored a few virtual sessions on meditation last summer, and that was when it started to make sense to me. 

To begin with, it reminded me of the relaxation exercises we would sometimes do in acting classes. We'd lie on the floor, eyes closed, and focus on relaxing the top of our head, then the forehead, etc., all the way down. 

Meditation uses different language (that form of focusing your attention on your body top to bottom - or bottom to top - is called "scanning"), but the purpose is to give your mind a singular focus. It's not about "not thinking," but about thinking about one thing at a time. 

In the business world, people talk about "flow" state. Turning off the bells and reminders and focusing solely on the work in front of you. 

That is one of the benefits of meditation: it helps you learn to focus the mind on just one thing at a time. 

Of course, it doesn't always work. That's where "noting" comes in. You don't judge the mind for wandering, you just "note" it. And then bring your focus back on the body, the breath, whatever that one thing is. 

This has been the real revelation for me! I think many of us who consider ourselves type A personalities, those of us who strive for perfect attendance, 100%, straight As...we can be rather hard on ourselves. Sometimes, we're also hard on other people, too. 

I am learning to forgive myself. I am learning that it's okay to not be perfect at this. That's why they call it a practice. And beating myself up only takes time and effort away from doing the thing. 

I do get restless, and I want to change positions or stretch out my back. So I do! I don't get caught up in doing this "perfectly," and not moving a muscle. If I have an itch, I scratch it. Otherwise, I will be spending all my energy and focus trying not to. This way, I move, then I go back to scanning the body or counting my breaths, whatever the exercise is. I'm a beginner, and I'm not going to be perfect at this. 

The whole purpose is to help me, so it doesn't do me any good if I just mad at myself. I just have to begin again. 

This is also helping me in other areas. I've started tap dancing again, and I was getting angry at myself for not getting it quick enough - for what, I don't know! Now, I just do it, practice it, and remember that I'm doing it for fun! So I should probably have fun with it. 

And, bonus, it is helping me feel a little less anger or resentment towards others. Not all the time, of course, but sometimes. Like there was a day when I was driving, and a car totally cut me off. Rather than get angry, I just thought to myself, "that guy's an asshole - noted!" and moved on with my life. Granted, calling him an asshole is indeed a judgment, but it didn't affect my own emotional state. 

Progress: recently merging onto a freeway, I had that experience where someone decided that they needed to be in front of me, even though it was not their turn. That time, I thought, "wow, you really need this, don't you? Okay, I'll give you this win. Clearly, it means more to you." Again - not without judgment, but I didn't call them a name this time - even in my head!

BTW, sorry that both of my examples are regarding driving, but (a) I live in SoCal - we spend a LOT of time in our cars, and (b) I'm still not getting out much yet! 

Of course, I still lose my temper, I still get distracted, and I'm not consistent with my practice yet. Overall, however, I'm really glad I started! 




Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Balancing the Game of Life

 We use gaming terms effortlessly in our everyday language. "She's on a roll!" "I'm a loser." "He needs a win." And, of course, every parent's favorite: "It's not fair!"

I get it. Sports are popular. Games are popular. Many people thrive from their competitive nature. It's a natural analogy or metaphor that most people understand. 

Unfortunately, it can also create an "us" against "them" atmosphere. It makes it instinctive to think that someone else's win means that you've lost something, when that's not always true. 

Yes, it can mean that you didn't get a promotion that went to a colleague instead, or someone outbid you on a house. But even then, it doesn't mean that you'll never get a promotion or a house. 

When we think of something as a zero sum game, it can create resentment that's not only possibly unfair, it hurts us more than it hurts them. 

Quite simply, it's just not a good use of our time. 

Now, I'm still about balance here. There is such a thing as healthy competition, and sometimes we can strive for more by seeing where we are compared to others. 

But when it starts making you feel bad, it's no longer useful. 

Get back to your personal goal. In the housing example, maybe it's not the right time or market for you. Could you look for something smaller or further away? Maybe wait another year and save more or pay down more debt. If you didn't get a promotion, ask for feedback on what skills you need to gain. 

Let's also remember that games are supposed to be fun! If striving for your goal no longer motivates you, is it time to re-examine that goal? 

I don't necessarily mean to give up entirely, but maybe it needs a tweak here and there. If home ownership isn't viable right now, could you move to a better apartment with more amenities? If it looks like you're at a dead end in your career, could you make a lateral move with more opportunities down the line? 

Thinking about those areas that are in your own locus of control will be way more productive than focusing your attention and energy on those that "beat" you. 

In the name of balance, go ahead and take a happy hour to vent with your friends. Everyone is allowed some time to process. 

The next day, give yourself some time to brainstorm other avenues to score your own goal! 

Yeah, couldn't help it.