College Students: Courageous, Not “Crybabies”

Surprise, surprise. Another “open letter.” This time, it’s a business owner’s bitter diatribe written in the New Boston Post “on behalf of CEOs across the country” when he describes a so-called “wussification” of college students (AKA: “crybabies”), and proceeds to insult their intelligence and values by using condescending and assumptive language throughout.

Well, excuse me, Mister CEO. But you do NOT speak for me.

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For starters, telling a college student that “The Business World Doesn’t Give A Damn About You” is problematic. As an aunt to a college freshman and a business owner—who, in fact, has hired both a high school age intern and millennial college students—I DO give a damn. I have seen the passion, drive, and courage in these individuals and others of their age. And I believe in the power of positive reinforcement to help them work through their struggles and meet their goals, both with me in my business and wherever their lives might take them. But any successful CEO knows the importance of positive reinforcement… right?

Sadly, writing an open letter to categorize an entire age group would be close-minded; such assumptions only divide individuals and breed hatred within companies, societies, and nations (just look at the state of our political system—amirite?). But a CEO of an organization consisting of cooperative employees would know that such language has this effect… right?

Plus, telling a budding businessperson that their career will not be a “safe place”? Some of the most happy, successful workplaces have been built by organizations who believe in creating environments that are both challenging AND safe/supportive. (Note: the two are NOT mutually exclusive.)  But a CEO of a thriving business knows the importance of its company culture… right?

I believe that each young person has individual strengths that must be cultivated. Not to mention, success is a process—one that requires a lot of hiccups along the way (even amongst the blessed CEO class). And, truth be told, some of the most so-called “successful” CEOs we can think of were/are also considered colossal failures in their personal lives—depriving family and friends of their valuable time and attention, all for the benefit of their companies. But a shrewd, and balanced CEO realizes this… right?

While there were certainly valid points in this letter, they were administered in a manner that would likely not be received favorably. Reading through it sounds—quite ironically—like a crybaby CEO’s experience with a few bad apples, in addition to a lazy attempt to make sense of a changing world. He oddly failed to mention one detail about this new generation of young adults: that they’re/we’re frustrated by seeing our own parents devote their lives to a system that has broken many of its promises. And y’know what? We’re afraid. We’re afraid that the educational/political/economic system is going to let us down. But any insightful CEO would recognize that and use words of understanding and encouragement… right?

To the professors, business owners, and mentors in this world who DO use words of understanding and encouragement: THANK YOU. You believed in me, and you believe in our current generation of college students, because you dispense advice that comes from a place of wisdom, self-reflection, and hope—sentiments that are, sadly, lacking in this letter.

And now, dear college students: please remember that challenging the status quo is HARD. But doing so doesn’t make you a “crybaby”—it makes you courageous. And I’ve seen your courage. In an age of information overload, you’re dealing with technological stresses and demands never before seen by earlier generations. And recently, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State found anxiety and depression, in that order, to be the most common mental health diagnoses among college students. I’m sure Mr. CEO might dismiss these diagnoses as “wussy”, but the rest of the thinking world recognizes them as very real, and very prevalent, and very dangerous, as this New York Times article about the link between college, perfectionism, and suicide points out.

But you are working through your struggles with anything but “wussification”—that kind of tenacity takes heart and a hell of a lot of patience to deal with widespread dismissal of your values. Please also remember that, despite this silly man’s bitter diatribe, you should keep pushing for change, and keep striving for success in your own life, whatever that means for you.

And keep listening to those of us who are proud of what you’ve become—and even more certain of your coming greatness. We believe in you. ❤

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Finger-Pointing and a Well-Aimed Slingshot

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about kindness and compassion—both how easy it is to forget the importance of these qualities and how quickly we remember them when we’re on the receiving end of harsh words or behavior.

Much of this frustration came to a head over the weekend when I ran into an old friend at a local beer market. We caught up over a quick conversation—only to have one of her short little crones… er cronies… approach, point a finger up into her face, and angrily say, “YOU should NOT be TALKING to her!” (Capitalization used to indicate the shrill inflection characteristic of a convincingly repugnant movie witch.)

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Here’s the thing: I had never seen this woman before in my life. And she didn’t know me; she only knew what she had learned from her companions in my absence. But there’s a reason for this behavior: I left their religion. Five years ago.

Now, that may not seem like a good reason to outsiders, but it’s their reason, and these individuals are entitled to behave in whatever manner they see fit, just as bakeries in certain states can refuse to provide wedding cakes to homosexuals. It may not be just or kind, but it’s their right.

But when I saw that unfortunate woman’s furiously plump red cheeks and fleshy finger shoved into this poor woman’s face—and the insinuation that I was a disease-ridden monster to be avoided and abhorred—something in me snapped.

For a long time, I’ve decided not to share certain things about my life publicly, due to fear of speaking ill of my former friends, being labeled by them, or disregarded further by the few beautiful people (out of thousands) who still maintain even sporadic contact with me.

However, partly due to keeping pseudo-religious posts to a minimum, my blogging has come to a standstill. I now know I was doing a disservice to myself and others by writing about only cheerful and superfluous topics—without also sharing that which is honest and real. It was almost as if I was on a pathway leading into a verdant forest, but blocking my way was an enormous rocky crag, and the only way to move forward was to make a long difficult climb over it.

I’m beginning to realize that moving forward in life requires saying the hard things, and having difficult conversations that might hurt people. And, when I look ahead at my life, the risk of not saying them poses more harm than keeping them inside.

While I certainly have no desire to point fingers because that would be unkind (does anyone else see the irony here?), it’s worth acknowledging that the majority of this post is fueled by the brilliant Anne Lamott quote at the outset. So I won’t use names, but I will use examples. In honor of moving forward, it’s time for me to climb over the hard things that stand in my way.

I’m tired of protecting people who engage in shunning and ostracism because they believe they are representing the will of god.

I’m tired of making excuses for people who will go out of their way to greet my friends when I am in their company but simultaneously pretend I do not exist.

I’m tired of protecting people who hide behind religion as permission to administer so-called street justice in the name of their faith.

I’m tired of remaining silent about the people who heartlessly divided up and distributed my personal belongings amongst themselves during a drunken house party before my divorce was final.

I’m tired of defending people who blamed me for the same or similar mistakes they themselves have made throughout their lives.

I’m tired of defending a religious band of glorified frat boys who jeered and yelled at me one night as I walked along one of Boise’s busiest streets after having dinner with friends.

And as of Sunday, as I watched that sad little finger wagging in the face of one of my most favorite old friends, I’m tired of defending people who continue to deprive me of my basic human right to be acknowledged and to take up space on this planet.

Frankly, I’m also tired of making excuses for “nice people” who have not been all that nice to me. Throughout history, so-called “nice people” have committed terrible atrocities in the name of religion.

Ever read Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer? It will give you a whole new (and terrifying) perspective about churches that favor personal revelations and messages from god. And lately, if you’ve been watching the news, you’re likely tired of hearing about religions that deprive their children of proper medical treatment in the name of faith—but are defended by certain legislators who deem them “nice people”.

For the record, the intent of this post has nothing to do with religion. It’s not about god, or politics, or even activism. It’s about compassion. It is about the basic tenet of treating humans with compassion and dignity—and if that’s missing from your religion, you have some serious spiritual problems to address.

It’s sad to admit that I’ve learned as much about compassion in the last five years as I did in the decades previously. That may be partly because my former religion preaches that the “meek will inherit the earth”—while smugly acknowledging their own meekness will win them salvation (and simultaneously pointing both figurative and literal fingers in people’s faces).

Most importantly, I’ve learned what meek people (or “nice people”, for the non-zealots) look like. But strangely enough, they are some of the same people I was too busy judging in previous years that I failed to see their contribution to humanity. Here’s what one of them looks like:

 

Today, a Facebook friend shared the above video of the sweetest old Greek grandmother who accepts refugees in need with open hands and an open heart, when many in the world consider them a burden (or worse).

While I can’t relate 100 percent to the devastating plight of humans on the run for their lives, I do know what it’s like to be treated like a subhuman species by a large group of people which places more value on judgment than on human kindness. And it seems to me that this world would be a lot better off if we all tried to be a bit more like this grandmother.

Yet, some are so worried about protecting their own rights that we justify hurting people (or at least not helping them), simply to make a statement. When did being right come at the expense of others’ wellbeing?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself some big and very tough questions: ‘How do I treat people? How do they feel I’m treating them?’

But maybe more specifically, ‘How do I treat well-arranged and beautiful living sculptures of bone and sinew and flesh, with their very unique backgrounds, life stories, pains, heartbreaks, and daily struggles?’

And that’s when I know: there is always room for more compassion.

Noted Scotsman and author Ian MacLaren once said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes I think humanness is synonymous with weakness; there are days when just living can be a challenge.

But there is a power transfer that occurs during acts of kindness and compassion. Doing or saying nice things hurts no one. In fact, it can change the world. And it definitely can change our relationships.

Occasionally, old friends and family members will ask why I don’t return to my former faith, in a tone that often borders on pleading. Part of me understands the desperation—many of these individuals honestly believe that I’m as good as dead, at least until I am properly disposed of by their supposedly loving “god”.

It’s during these conversations (and especially while writing this) that I think of the words of Maggie Kuhn, a lifelong activist who fought for human rights, and social and economic justice:

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind—even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.”

I don’t often share such raw, personal experiences. It’s scary and it’s very, very hard to do, especially in anticipation of the inevitable fallout, hurt feelings, and ridicule. But if “speaking my mind” means endorsing compassion over judgment, kindness over criticism, and love over condemnation, I will gladly bear my slingshot, and accept whatever punishment comes with it.

Ultimately, one major purpose of this blog is finding inspiration—and how can you and I be inspired unless we first climb over what stands in our way? So if sharing this writing with the world means it resonates with someone, then I have all the courage I need. Better yet, if it helps us understand one another, or empowers someone to have a conversation about something that’s been difficult to address, then I’ve done my job as a writer.

And if you need one, I’m happy to let you borrow my slingshot.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

I broke up with my gym last Friday.

I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual. We hadn’t seen each other in two months, and being reunited was, to say the least, quite awkward–for both of us.

Believe me, I wanted to give it another chance. I showed up with an open mind, ready to work hard at rekindling something, anything. But just walking into the place was an exercise in psychology: The sauna was too hot, the pool was too cold, and I’m no expert in bipolar fitness.

Also, there were other girls–and they were everywhere. They were too intense, too bubbly, too physically perfect, too single-track minded. (I’m not talking about the single track that requires applying feet to the pedals of an actual bicyle, either. And since mountain biking season has arrived and the spring rains have abated, I’ve been able to think of little else but the foothills and their firm, meandering trails.)

Amber on Pole Cat

I think the dealbreaker, though, was the excessive attention placed on my weight. For me, the minute body fat comes into question, I’m out. So I didn’t deal well when a newly placed physician’s scale greeted me upon my entry into the locker room. (I’ll save my love handles for someone who will love them, not for someone that wants to attempt to sculpt me into a 5 foot 1 inch, brunette–and very bookish–Barbie, thank you very much.)

The truth is, I moved on. Maybe we grew apart, maybe I got tired of feeling unnecessarily insecure.

Either way, it’s over. I see no sense in remaining committed to a boring routine that only exhausts and defeats me, when something beautiful and authentic is only a short distance away.

But I’m staying strong–by clipping in, putting my head down, and pedaling. And I’m rediscovering my sexy–thanks to a newfound love of pole dancing classes. Most importantly, I’m regaining my balance–both physically and emotionally–with the help of warrior and child’s pose.

I’m sure the gym will be just fine without me.

11 Golden Eggs: Learnings, Part III

11 Golden Eggs: Learnings, Part III

About once a year, I have these ridiculous (but amazing) epiphanies that come in the form of fables–I’m no Aesop, but these morals correspond with ever-growing pages of meandering tales. Each takeaway (a golden egg, if you will) has a story, I assure you, but hopefully you, the reader, can learn these lessons without having to read the books.

Or having to kill the goose.

feather and book

I’m learning (and I hope you can too)…

…how to give–and receive–a well-intentioned hug. Not just a one-armed back pat, but a real embrace.

…how to be kind to myself, even when the world around me isn’t.

…to ask for what I want, demand what I need, and how to have the grace to know the difference.

…to stop caring so much if someone has a negative opinion of me. (It’s actually a relief when hostile and hypercritical people dislike you–it means you’re doing something right.)

…how to let myself feel the love from those that want to give it, even when I don’t feel like offering it in return.

…that we are defined by what we allow to consume us, threaten us, and frighten us. On the flip side, we’re also defined by what we dream about, hope for, and aim to be.

…the best time to discern the genuine friends from the half-hearted ones is during a crisis.

…also to expect that sometimes the ones you need or love the most will disappear in your darkest hour. Not because they’re bad people, not because you’re too needy, simply because we’re all fighting our own battles, and sometimes adding someone else’s pain to our own is too much to bear.

…that loss is just a part of life. And it makes the gain that much sweeter.

…to let myself love, lose, cry, smile and rediscover.

…when getting what you want isn’t an option, wanting what you already have isn’t a bad alternative.

Learning Love, Loss, and How to Plant Flowers

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“In Loving Memory…”

So begins the piece of writing that is refusing to finish itself. On this very difficult month, me and many of those I love are facing the same dilemma so many millions before me have grappled with: We’re trying desperately to find the answer to the question “why?” and attempting to make sense of our lives after having lost someone we held so dear.

The difference is, this time it’s my loss. This time death actually feels real.

Now, I realize that’s a very heavy way to open, especially considering that the intention of this blog is to inspire. But sometimes the inspiration is found in healing, and in honesty. And in writing these words so candidly, this is my time to be honest–and to heal. Read them if you like, move along if you don’t.

Here’s the honest truth: Over the past few weeks, I’ve been kind of a mess. Actually, QUITE a mess–leaving my desk at work in tears, taking out my frustrations on those I care about the most, struggling to get anything better than fitful, nightmare-filled sleep, and pretty much living in what feels like a hazy cloud. To be honest, I don’t really know if it’s normal to grieve like this.

Hell, I don’t even know what normal is these days.

But I am coming to learn this: Processing grief is never black and white, though death most certainly is. (Quite ironic, it seems, because this beautiful, magical woman lived her life in color.)

And another thing I know is that even with the pain, there is grace, there is beauty, and there is recovery. I believe this. (At least, I’m trying to.) From times past, I’ve seen old give way to new, and learned that the more devastating the loss, the more elevating the redemption.

That’s why I’ve been planting flowers. Quite a lot of them, actually. And lately, I’ve been making things (lots of things: art, music, poetry). As if the creation of beauty might serve as some way of reversing the disappearance of it.

Specifically, however, my hands have been in the dirt for the better part of the last two weeks. I’ve been planting seeds, buying flowers, and letting myself feel rich soil between my fingers, soil that holds so much promise for growth. It almost feels like the mere act of planting is symbolic for the growth I wish could occur when you put something else in the ground, someone you love.

And oh, was she loved.

But like the blooms that appeared prematurely on the trees this spring, she came into the world, too anxious. And when the cold April winds came, she left too soon, like the petals on the blooms of the branches, so fragile. It seems hardly fair.

And speaking of what’s “fair,” at 18, how do you begin to write your mother’s obituary? This is another question I ask myself as I try to support the sweet young girl who I watched grow from infancy to the beautiful young woman she is today, when it feels like I am falling apart. But when I look at her, I see her mother’s eyes. When we talk, I hear her mother’s laugh, and feel her mother’s love–kind of like the continuously blossoming tree that, despite the cold, has brought forth life.

That too, THAT is inspiring.

While none of this may be “normal” or “black-and-white” or “fair”, what in life really is? I’m beginning to realize that sometimes the best (and only) thing there is to do is hold the ones you love so very close and appreciate every precious moment spent with them.

That and plant flowers. Lots and lots of flowers.

Day (247) – If

So good, so timely, so fitting. I had to share.

The Better Man Project ™

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of…

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By a friend: A story so timely and so beautifully told, I have to share.

May we all “keep on holding doors, holding hands, and holding onto hope” but most importantly, “keep on listening to big words and remembering the Kings and Queens who said them.”

Happy MLK Day, friends.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

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Dear Lulu,

Many years ago lived a man with dreams, ideas and words so big that some of the world couldn’t handle his greatness. His words were so powerful that 44 years after they were gone, you sat on my lap listening to them and shed a handful of tears when you heard he was killed. You were confused and thought he was a King. I whispered “he was.” You said it’s not fair that he was killed when all he wanted was for people to be nice. I whispered “you’re right.” You wanted to know if I had ever met him and I said “no, but I was lucky enough to meet his son.”  I let each tear fall without intervention, explanation, or even the dab of a tissue. Some tears are so deep that not even mommies can stop them.

You worried someone would shoot me because my…

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