On Being A Girl

 

Note: This post is for all the wishy-washy ladies out there. The I-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-eat-so-I’ll-just-have-two-of-everything types. The I-don’t-know-what-to-wear-so-I’ll-wear-jeans-and-a-dress-because-this-is-all-just-too-much sorts.

It’s for the women who have a damned hard time deciding on much of anything at all. It is meant to band together those of us whom struggle our way through simple tasks, and unite us in our shared cluelessness and confusion. (This post is not, however, meant to encourage anyone to purchase “The Struggle Is Real” t-shirts, because this slogan has gone too far and I hope we all agree that these shirts are stupid.)

Before I continue, it should be acknowledged that not all girls are so…easily challenged. If you are a different sort of girl, that is all very well and good. Should you consider yourself decisive, confident, and a non-sweater of small stuff, you will find that this post does not speak to you. In all likelihood, you will find the writing to be melodramatic and irrelevant. I want you to know that I hear you sisters, and I am not offended!

It always feels good to get the disclaimer out of the way.

Now, where were we?

Sometimes, us girls are unintentionally confident. Like when we show up to Trader Joe’s in nearly translucent leggings, and grocery shop as if we are in anything other than skin-tight clothing. We scan the produce aisles, shamelessly fondling fruit, oblivious to the fact that the curve of our butt and upper and lower leg is very much on display. Our leggings are perhaps more noticeable than the newly imported exotic fruit section (Chinese kumquats and African aloe!), but we are truly and genuinely unaware. We assume that because we aren’t trying, we aren’t noticed.

Other times, our confidence wanes. We role-play the part of “pretty” at a friend’s wedding, and do the necessary (makeup, painted nails, straightened hair…insert beauty routine of choice). From a distance, it is determined that we clean up nicely and, really, we are unmistakably presentable. When we arrive at the wedding, we find that we are in a sea of other well-groomed females, most of whom have intimidatingly large hair and perfected pouts. We pretend that we fit in, but we can’t shake the feeling that deep down, this is all just an act.

Sometimes, rather than risk failing, we deliberately flop. It’s like purposely sabotaging an otherwise beautiful photo of your girlfriends by making the most grotesque face possible. We would rather look ugly on purpose than accidentally look meh.

Being quasi-confident is confusing to the majority of those around us, because it doesn’t quite make sense. We offer straightforward opinions in some instances, and noncommittal “half-answers” on other occasions. Innocent questions such as “What do you want to drink?” become monumental road blocks that render us dysfunctional. Rather than have our internal havoc be observed by annoyed friends and impatient wait staff, we would prefer to crawl into an underground hole while we sit and have a think. At least until last call.

Well-intentioned folks will suggest that we go with our gut, which is the politically correct way of suggesting we make up our damn minds. It is commonly offered advice that does nothing at all to help the decision-maker in distress. Perhaps it’s high time we switch to a more useful expression. Anyone know of anything that works? If you hear something, say something.

Anyhow, this is all just to say that ladies, if you are like me in any way, let it be known! Let us help one another get out of our indecisive ruts and micro-sweats (aka sweating small stuffs) and agree to unlearn these bad habits. If we abandon our obsession with getting it right, we could learn to feel content.

Advertisements

Shamed Into Silence: The Story of a Loud Nose-Blower

Dear Modern-Day Society,

I’m writing to propose the creation of safe spaces for loud nose-blowers.

As loud nose-blowers, we are the ostracized majority. Despite making up the masses of society, we live in a world that prefers individuals who blow their noses softy and quietly. We are safest only in our own homes to blow as we please. Stick with me here. Outside our homes, we are forced to silence ourselves. We muffle the sounds of allergens and illness, and for whom? For the untrustworthy, soft-blowing minority. I’m writing to share my outrage, and I sincerely hope that together, we can take a stand.

I’ve always been an audible, but well-controlled, nose-blower. When it’s time to clear my nasal passages, I trust my nose’s instincts, and act accordingly. I don’t hold back. I do not mean to offend with the sound it produces, it just comes. I have come to expect this sound, as I associate it with a job well done. If I’m to blow my nose and produce no noise at all, I know there’s more work to do. This is all simply the natural physiological by-product of my body and I getting to know one another these past thirty years. When the nose knows, I oblige.

Now, keeping this context in mind, it should be no wonder that I do not trust soft nose-blowers. There’s something about making an occasionally violent act appear dainty that just rubs me the wrong way. If you are quietly blowing your nose-just a quick sniff into a tissue-how can you possibly be certain you’re done? Don’t you ever feel compelled to try, just a little bit harder, to produce contents of value? It is my suspicion that these people are, in general, under-performers. They set themselves up to complete tasks, and abandon them part way through.

I want to be clear by saying that I’m not suggesting we all try to blow our noses in loud and shrill ways. You all know the people who sneeze at such unbelievably high decibels, it’s impossible to believe the sound is not grossly exaggerated. Those people are over-compensating for something, and we won’t be discussing them here. What I’m simply suggesting is that we, as a society, collectively join together to create a world in which loud nose-blowers are not shamed into silence. If we stand together-if we organize-we might be able to send a real message.

If you are part of the loud nose-blowing majority, but have felt shamed or humiliated into blowing your nose softly and quietly in the corner of a conference room and then, when asked if you’re finished, sheepishly replied, “Yes, that’ll be all…” if you are one of those people, I urge you to be in touch. Together, we can let it be known that no one controls our bodies but us! This is a nose’s (nonviolent) call to arms: it’s time to act!

 

Regards,

Smaps

Protein Bars, Hot Yoga and Other Sweaty Things

We are intelligent, but easily fooled. We oscillate between fastidious participation in fads, and ironic disengagement from them. We are seduced by words like protein, paleo and Cross-Fit. We find these compulsions sexy, and therefore, worth our time / financial investment. Without thinking, we become tantalized by messaging. In falsely presuming that the advertised ingredient will better our lives, we succumb to consumerist urges- buying not one but two of the thing believed to transform our otherwise humdrum day-to-days.

While there is significant appeal in such teasers, the thing-in and of itself-is unlikely to wield any grand transformation of self. Just as purchasing a gym membership doesn’t guarantee a better bod, buying nice things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll look or feel any better than you did before. In fact, I’d wager a guess that you’ve never felt sexier than when you changed straight into sweatpants, after a day spent solely in skinny jeans. My point is that things aren’t always as they seem, so pay attention to the nuances. Some will be carefully disguised, but with proper investigation, the subtleties will become easier to distinguish.

The person you are on paper should sound good. After all, when you’ve run low on books, your life’s story is one you should feel compelled to read. But who you are on paper-the boxes you check, the qualifications you list- will only ever be so impressive. The people who know you best will always be capable of deciphering the myth behind each bullet point on your resume. Make it a point to transform your life’s nouns into verbs. Only through the manifestation of doing and acting will your life take on any real meaning.

Think about things, long and hard, but then act upon those things. Don’t be afraid that you are anywhere other than where you’re supposed to be. On the whole, we are a friendly bunch (I believe this), but we tend to be strangely competitive against one another. Many would argue that competition is healthy- it keeps us on our toes. I get that. But I also find that the more concerned we are with comparisons, the more likely we are to render ourselves (or others) inadequate.

The more focus paid to others around us, the less likely we are to observe our own growth. So fixated we are on the uncontrollable, we feel disempowered when things do not go our way. This creates an unwelcome cycle of envy and distrust. Rather than obsess over perceived inequities, best we opt for being grateful.

Rethinking the “Real World” Experience

Today I jumped headfirst into the depths of nostalgia. I swam through history and waded through old memory with a familiar, thoughtful grace. I touched down upon a floor filled with recognizable relics, and grazed gently against the pieces of my past.

This sea of recollection filled me with the sense that it had all happened “just yesterday,” though a discernible distance had wedged itself into my mind, distinguishing past memory from present moment. I stumbled upon written exchanges with friends and sensed the unmistakable enthusiasm that had defined my youth. I discussed love and life with confidence and passion, unconcerned with the fact that I was a novice on such matters. As a young person, there was no expectation that I be wise. My naiveté protected me from having to explain myself.

It felt good to talk often of big ideas and future plans, for they were the very things that kept me tethered to my dreams. Without such thoughts, I would be grounded in reality, forced to look only at that which my eyes could see. Society ascribes a particular pessimism to the notion of the “real world.” The real world is referenced casually, like a bad habit. It’s something that we are forced to endure, despite its tendency to be both exhausting and cruel.

The real world, as commonly understood, is viewed as an inevitable misfortune. Through our own collective acceptance, we have designated such a world to represent the things which we most loathe. We say that this world is defined by 40+ hour work weeks, taxes, health insurance, mortgages, child care expenses, deadlines and checking accounts. “Back to the real world” is a common expression, indicating a return to the things we least enjoy.

I wonder if it is possible to shift this mindset, and reconstruct our notion of what it means to really live. If we expanded upon our understanding of real life, could we begin to feel greater fulfillment from our everyday? My inclination is to say yes. If we stopped pretending that real life is something to be feared and dreaded, we could begin to enjoy more of its simple pleasures.

According to Buddhist philosophy, suffering is inextricably linked with the human experience. No matter how hard you try, you cannot separate suffering from real life. I share this mantra, but I also believe that it would be foolish to mistake the anguish we willingly subject ourselves to-due to our own misconceptions of reality-as being representative of the type of suffering the Buddhists refer to. Certain hardships in life exist outside of our own control; I can accept this. For many other of life’s challenges, though, there is space for ownership and self-command. There exists an opportunity to intervene before it’s too late. To pour a different mold before our entire life path is set out to dry.

Seizing upon such opportunities is important, particularly for those of us who find ourselves wanting more from the life we live. Should we choose to reorient our lives towards greater meaning, reward will likely follow. Contentment and acceptance will step out from the shadows, for unbeknownst to us, they were there the whole time.

The Art of Having Fun

Fun is best understood in three ways. First, you plan the fun. You anticipate it. You sip beers and brainstorm ideas. You conjure up brilliant plans—tales of escape—and you devise ways to turn fantasy into reality.  You think of all the places you’d want to go in the world if time or money were of no concern, and you plot out those places on your scratch and sniff map. You have a couple more beers and you start thinking what better time than now. You book flights that night.

Nothing beats the anticipation of a good time. Arguably, even having the fun sometimes can’t compare to the joy that comes from simply thinking about fun things. But the next step comes after the planning stage. The next stage of fun includes actually doing the thing you’ve set out to do. This second stage can’t be faulted. You go on the journey, see some live music, dance like you just don’t give a damn, immerse yourself in the unknown, and travel to the depths of your soul. It is here where you discover a fresher, more revitalized sense of yourself. You meet this person, and fall in love. You wish he/she would drop by more often.

The final stage of fun is the reliving part. After anticipating and having the fun, you recreate the highlights over and over again. You put the best of moments on repeat, and spend your post-fun days reminiscing on that which once was. You peruse old photos and read through past journal entries. You reach out to those who were with you at the time the fun was had. You send texts or emails. Make out of the blue phone calls. Anything to connect to those involved in your fun quest, and send a small “thanks” to those who rendered fun possible.

After the days have passed, you will quickly find yourself back to square one. Note, this doesn’t have to be a bad square; it’s just an ordinary one. You will find that your routines have quickly tracked you down. Your old habits, mannerisms and ways will find you, even though you deceptively thought your new self was undiscoverable. You will behave much as you always did, and your day-to-day will pick up much as it had before.

If your routines served you well in the past, there is no harm in returning to them. To the places and people whom you love and that help to fill your cup. But this time, when you return, you will always keep one foot slightly higher off the ground. This slight pep in your step will unmistakably differentiate you from your past, and you will find that the revitalization you experienced during the fun has uplifted you ever so much. You are now lighter and calmer.

With your new and uplifted self, you will stay open to new opportunity. You will welcome the chance for adventure. You will embrace human contradiction, and become a cautious risk-taker. You will find that if you try just a little, you can be a pretty good time.

 

What Taekwondo Taught Me About Hard Work

I’ll give you a hint: perseverance.

I never knew how tempting it was to give up, until I worked really hard. Throughout the last few months, graduate school has forcibly escorted me through some emotional times. And by some, I mean several. By several, I mean on the daily. You get the idea.

At some point along the way, my thoughts on school began to shift. The feeling in me changed from initial excitement to having been accepted into the program, to disappointment at having been subjected to it. The long hours, the infrequent breaks, the constant, never-ending stream of studying which awaited my every waking moment. It’s been, to put it mildly, unreal.

I feel like normal stress-the good, or at least tolerable kind-allows some space for head clearing.  Normal stress feels like a pain in the ass-like the guest who continues to hang out at your house despite everyone else having gone home and you suddenly find yourself cleaning, not because you’re bothered by the mess, but because you’d rather do anything than continue to entertain this person. But the thing with normal stress is that it gets tired of being the bad guy. Normal stress takes breaks every once in a while, because even normal stress has to pee.

Last semester’s stress was not normal. It did not pause to clear its throat, use the loo, or get a breath of fresh air. Instead, it rather torturously demanded a sort of super-human attention. It was not just your needy girlfriend; it was her psychotic, insecure, calls you at the same time she’s ringing your doorbell evil twin. The stress demanded all of my focus, and wasn’t satisfied until I said, “Okay, you win. I will no longer sleep.”

The semester asked for everything I’ve got, and then some. It beat me down repeatedly, and each time I’d regain my footing, it would knock me down again. Without my knowing, it had me sign on the dotted line of a document which read: “Gone is your life.” Any attempt at establishing a sense of normalcy or routine outside of school was useless and foolhardy. No matter how I tried to pretend I had a control on things, my emotion-laden sleeves were quick to reveal otherwise.

As you can imagine, this kind of stress poses several complications. From the mental toll-sleep-deprived feelings of powerlessness-to the physical-weight gained or lost, new blemishes popping up every which way-last semester’s stress was a new and twisted type of fucked up. Pardon my language. I’m not offended by that word. Unrelenting in its demands, school requested that life, as I once knew it, disappear completely.

Now, at this point I have sufficiently explained my thoughts on this program. If the point is unclear, please refer back to paragraphs 1-6. Reading all of this might beg the question, “But, why? Why put yourself through something so awful, when the outcome of such an experience offers no guarantees?” These would be fair ponderings, and if you were beside me asking such things aloud, I would willfully shake your hand. But the truth is, I don’t have an easy or ready-made answer.

When I begin formulating the “why” in my head, my mind is led in many directions. Why have I ever done anything difficult in my life? Why have I intentionally inflicted suffering upon myself, and what good-if any-came from the experience? I could argue that I’m going through all of this pain and anguish for the good of the people. That I’m suffering to single-handedly improve the state of healthcare in this country. But if I were to proclaim as much, I would surely hope to be challenged, because this reasoning isn’t consistent with the overall truth. All of our life’s actions should take into account the bigger picture, but it is not solely for bigger picture fulfillment that we endure the tough stuff. Sometimes, it’s the very act of overcoming our own modest barriers that provide us with a feeling of purpose and accomplishment.

Although I have come close a number of times, I have yet to quit. My refusal to quit can be assessed from multiple angles, but I’m going to credit a piece of my past in order to shed light on the subject at hand. I’d like to introduce you to Master Yong Sue Rho. Master Rho deserves a bit of praise for his commitment to teaching me life principles long before I could understand what these things meant.

In my former life, Master Rho taught me taekwondo. Besides schooling me in blocks and punches, he taught me a great deal about perseverance. As I bumbled my way through Korean counts of 1-10, and roundhouse-kicked my way up the colored belt chain of command, I learned about patience and hard work. I learned that in order to advance to black belt status, I would have to first acquaint myself with the rainbow (namely yellow, blue and red colored belts).

I haven’t always been good at respecting the rungs of hierarchy, but as a ten-year-old tot practicing tae kwon do, I had no choice but to respect the rules as they were. It was a time in my life, much like school is now, that required I no longer attempt to set my own rules. Martial arts, like graduate school, operates under the assumption that personal sacrifice is the only way towards advancement. Skillfully crafting ways to achieve a life balance is admirable, but in this instance, unlikely to be successful.

While I am beginning to come to terms with this sacrifice, the time trade-off will remain a struggle until the day I graduate. If and when that day comes, I hope to feel stronger and more disciplined than I did a year ago. And one year before that. This program has taught me that while personal boundaries are comforting, it’s not until those boundaries are pushed poked and prodded that a sense of reward is felt.

The bottom line: Hang tight during the hard stuff, in order to see it through. Remember Master Rho’s philosophy, and know that giving up won’t earn you the black belt. Your best bet in times of struggle is to do one thing, and one thing well: persevere.

How to Achieve Life Fulfillment with Ten Simple Steps and a One Time Only Fee of $9.99

Ten Steps to Fewer Steps

Ever wondered how to put less effort into everything you do?

Follow these Ten Simple Steps to reduce the steps you take in your life by up to 50%. Once you’ve read through these ten simple steps, you will be THREE steps closer to living the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Confused? Don’t be. There is no time like now to start over.

Step #1: Set a low bar.

People may encourage you to set a high bar. They (bosses, mothers, distant relatives) may even demand such. What I’m suggesting is that you advocate for the exact opposite. Tell everyone you know that you refuse to surrender to their societal norms, and introduce them to the low bar that is your new normal. While they may appear puzzled at first, you will convince them by being unwaveringly consistent. Insist that they accept your poor taste and subpar standards. Before long, they will come around to the idea that a low bar is, in fact, better than no bar at all.

Step #2: Do more with less.

Ever come across scintillating snapshots of people having what appears to be so much fun? If you’ve ever come across such photos and thought to yourself “If only this could be me!” I challenge you to think again. Why? Because the pictures are entirely contrived. How do I know? Simple.  According to highly reputable studies, “No one does anything worthwhile anymore. Ever.” (True Story, 2015). Remind yourself that anything resembling cool is actually a superficial sort of construction, staged merely to stroke someone’s swaggering, social media-reinforced ego. When you find yourself bemoaning your unremarkable existence, remind yourself that at least your mediocrity is authentic. You are the average real deal.

Step #3: Downsize, two steps at a time.

The final trick to succeeding in life with fewer steps is to downsize your belongings. In this step, I’m suggesting you go above and beyond your seasonal spring-clean. With step #3, I’m asking that you take everything you own, and place it into a pile in the center of your living room (office/bedroom will also suffice). Once your belongings are assembled, begin removing things from the pile, one at a time, until you are left with only three things. Use these three things to help guide you in figuring out life steps 4-10.

Now, wondering what to do with the rest of your things? If unbroken and/or tolerably useable, consider donating the remainder of your items to your neighbor (or any person who has not yet gotten a hold of these simple life steps). At this point, it’s likely that such a person still believes that things-big, small, shiny and dull-are the key to happiness. Exploit this person’s knowledge deficit by gifting him/her your “treasures” (read: junk), pat yourself on the back and take a deep breath. You have started anew.

UP NEXT: For a small, one-time payment of $4.99, you can gain immediate online access to my new book, “Five Ways To Become Rich and Skinny Overnight By Eating Only Cookie Dough Scented Scones.”