In boxing, there are parts of the body that are deemed off limits to a deathly blow. Because if you’re the one to initiate an off-limits blow, fear of retaliation will have you guarding your loins until the apocalypse.
But these days, all of the boundaries are being pushed—not just in sports, but in every aspect of our lives where competition rules over us like the NRA rules over Fox news. We no longer can fade into the background of our cherished rules in hopes that success will somehow find us, buried under a mound of misery and Twinkie wrappers. Opportunity has become slimmer, and with it, the chances of success. So we break the rules. Or at least push against them with force greater than the Hulk on Red Bull.
So if our options are shrinking, is it really such a bad thing to push our limits? Rule-breakers have always existed in history—they’re the ones who we can thank for our knowledge of astronomy, the invention of the atomic bomb, and the freeing of the Tibetans. But now, more than ever, rule-breaking is critical. (And by rule-breaking I don’t mean packing your rucksack to couch surf in hostels because you think a desk-job is the death of coolness. I mean rule-breaking to find honest-to-goodness success.) There are so many people, with so much knowledge, in our progressive era that becoming successful in any domain feels like an impossible feat. But if Bill Gates wouldn’t have snuck into his university computer lab in the middle of the night to write code, would he have ended up another college bum crowding Cancun on spring break? If Warren Buffett wouldn’t have persuaded a janitor to let him into the office of a GEICO exec, would he be just another mid-twenty-year-old throwing a couple dollars at the trendy Facebook stock?
Rule-breakers matter. They make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary, between stagnancy and innovation, between the world as we knew it yesterday versus the way it will be tomorrow. And in a time and place where opportunity presents itself like a Bentley’s engine disguised in a Ford’s frame, our only option is to push the boundaries and find what’s hidden beneath the pile of rubble before us. As Thomas Edition so masterfully puts it, “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”
The groin is no longer off limits. So go ahead and wind up your sucker-punch.
It’s a rule at work that we can’t discuss politics or religion. Every day, I bring the newspaper to read during my lunch break, and my coworkers ask me if there’s any good stuff in there, pointing to advertisements for half-off Swiffer Dusters and $19.99 Bed, Bath & Beyond Deluxe Juicers—all of which are sandwiched between articles about mass murders in Syria and the Sudanese border conflicts. Sadly, the conversation goes far enough for me to pull out the ads and glance at them for a second before we ponder aloud whether or not Macy’s has better deals. Then, as quickly and boringly as it began, the conversation is over.
Likewise, in our modern social lives there’s an unspoken rule to not discuss anything political or religious. After all, it might lead to hurt feelings. It’s much simpler when we can just contribute a comment about Jessica Simpson’s Weight Watcher’s deal and then keep sipping our lattés in peace. Even Congress members don’t want to ruin the day by talking about the political climate of the country. In the midst of falling off the fiscal cliff, it only took the faint smell of a Christmas turkey before they had their jet-black SUV’s lined up and waiting for them outside.
So what’s happening in modern society that no one can, or will, have friendly conversations about the world-altering movements that are shaping our lives? Certainly the issues haven’t become more pressing than they were in the past, nor the perspectives more radical, nor the people more convicted in their beliefs. Yet the dialogue has slowed, almost halting altogether. Rather than engaging in philosophical discourse, everyone avoids the subject in fear that it will turn into a whirlwind of Hatfield & McCoy finger-pointing. So many interesting truths can emerge during a discussion about the role of government, the influence of religion, and the way social programs aid society. But everyone shies away from honest discourse, something I’m sure the CEO of Lehman Brothers would agree with. So what’s the real reason for this—the reason why I have to skip over the World News section of the paper to talk about Swiffers and Juicers or the reason why it’s not polite to ask my friends who they voted for in the elections?
The reason is that people are self-serving. If someone disagrees with us, it’s a personal affront to our way of living. People connect to political and social issues as if their very opinions are going to shake the world into perfection, often by expressing these opinions on Facebook (while subsequently cowering in the corner when any real discussion is about to occur). No longer does our society feel satisfied listening to others’ beliefs and then weighing differing perspectives. Why do that when it’s easier to shout something out an open door and then slam it shut? After all, ignoring others’ responses is as easy as turning off the computer. Influencing politics through discourse and then action is too altruistic in a world where we constantly want to shout (or tweet) our own beliefs, ignore everyone else’s, and then run away from action. People are self-serving. And it’s creating a world where each man is only out for himself.
The solution, then, lies in realizing that just as we all covet our national right to vote, we should also covet our ability to have open and honest discourse with our bunk-mates on this planet.
Talk about what matters. Get heated. Have differing opinions. Observe how our government officials problem solve and interact during conferences and through various new channels; watch how they discuss the most critical issues plaguing our nation.
And then use it as a model of what not to do.
Yes, it happened: I discovered the secret to perfection.
Tempted by “mindless” reading, I recently bought a women’s lifestyle magazine to occupy myself plane-side (and to keep my mind off the person next to me coughing the Plague into my Diet Coke). Who would decline to enrich their appearance, career, and relationships just by skimming a few pages? Dahmer party included, everyone is seeking the latest diet that will make them live forever… or at least look good in the process.
Ironically, however, choosing my “mindless” reading wasn’t easy, as each magazine professes similar go-to tips. I stood in front of the kiosk for ten minutes, feeling awkward as Creepy Jones next to me fawned over Maxim’s bare-butt women, until I viscerally settled on an issue with Hayden Panettiere gracing the cover. At least within the celebrity world, she’s relatively “real” (a.k.a she hasn’t renamed herself something like Snookie or Lady Gaga). She must have some worldly tricks up her sleeve that none of us lackeys have. Right?
So here I was, nestled in Gate D4 between Chili’s and a pack of kids coaxing me towards alcoholism, when I opened the magazine that would transform my life from head-to-toe. Here’s what I learned:
- Apparently, all I have to do to achieve the physique of a Victoria’s Secret Angel is 15-minutes of squats, three times per week. In 17 days, I will have washboard abs and a derriere that would rival Beyoncé’s. Guaranteed. (Warning: nothing was mentioned about controlling my diet, so I’ll safely assume that ice cream can be included in my eating plan.)
- I, or someone I know, will get breast cancer. And the solution to early detection is, of course, to throw a shower party, in which everyone is invited to climb into the shower and feel their goodies for lumps. No, this isn’t just the wet-dream of a pimpled thirteen-year-old boy—this is the 21st century and the new key to prevention. So get down to your skivvies.
- It is of utmost importance to eat grapes, blueberries, and pomegranates to get all of my antioxidants. I also need spinach for Vitamin K, Salmon for Omega-3 Fatty Acids, oranges for Vitamin C, whole grains for Fiber, and beans for Folic Acid. In other words I should quit my job, because if I want to live a long and healthy life, I don’t have time to think about anything else. And I should probably put down my sugary latté—at best, I’m getting a tablespoon of Vitamin D. At worst, I’m wasting an opportunity to fill-up on food that doesn’t contribute to organ deterioration and an early death.
- I should refrain from spending my time and money buying department store creams and Retinols. Hayden apparently gets her gorgeous glow compliments of Neutrogena. Dermatologists, facials, and access to the healthiest organic foods have nothing to do with it.
- The new flavour combo is walnuts, beets, and garlic. I will already look hot with my washboard abs and glowing skin, so a little constipation, stinky breath, and red urine can’t hurt, right?
So besides unbridled optimism, why do we poison our minds with empty promises and faulty information? Even if the writers of my magazine were telling the truth—and generous enough to divulge life’s untold secrets—what am I to do next month? This issue was the unveiling of the perfect, total-body transformation and the sex-tips that will revolutionize my relationship. So perhaps next month I should only expect sub-par tips for leading a mediocre life.
Or, of course, I could take off my rose-colored glasses and concede that these magazines add nothing substantial to my life.
So next time you’re tempted by promises that you, too, could look like an Angel in 17 days, remember that exercise, a moderate diet, and finding internal happiness are still the keys to uncovering your best you—no matter how loudly the headlines declare to have unearthed Marty McFly’s secrets from the future. There aren’t shortcuts to anything.
There’s no way to predict whether or not you’ll survive adulthood. Or, in the least, get through it with minimal psychological damage and self-loathing.
Through our adult lives, we move through a cycle of making mistakes, fixing them, and learning our lesson before making new mistakes. But it turns out that all of these lessons wear out faster than Danny DeVito competing in the Hurdles. Once you learn something new with which to defend yourself against the next challenge, you find out that everything is different, the rules have changed, and the tidbits you’ve learned no longer apply. Life is transient and so are its lessons.
Fortunately, this isn’t all bad news. And you will still be able to swaddle yourself in a plush blanket of every-mistake-I-make-is-justifyable-because-it-will-arm-me-for-the-next-situation. The only way in which you can learn from your, or others’, mistakes is to eventually build those experiences into a compass that will alert you when you start to spiral south. While lessons are transient, experience is not, so it’s never a bad idea to expand your reservoir of knowledge with folks who have lived through Smallpox and war-with-bayonets. Of course, despite what many people think, good advice is not an inoculation against mistakes. You’ll still make them. But your compass will start to form, and in the future your worldly experience will keep you from traveling down detrimental roads, like deciding to bring fannie-packs and mismatched socks back into style.
Yet alas, even experience only goes so far, and our compasses can only point us in the right director for so long (aka: if you find yourself having a conversation about Xenu with Tom Cruise, you need to realign your needle). I’ve never known any adults who have woken up one morning and thought: gee, now I know the secret to life. There is no secret. So for those of us just beginning adulthood and eager for the day when life is normal or steady or no longer a rollercoaster ride: save your eagerness for the Spice Girls revival tour, because a normal life is never going to happen. No one holds the key to life and everyone just pretends to know what the heck their supposed to do—which basically means you can (re)invent yourself as many times as you want. As long as you, too, slap on a little confidence and poise. There isn’t a right way, there isn’t a wrong way…there’s just the way you choose to make it through, with relative sanity and a whole lot of the happiness that most adults forget to hang onto along the journey.
It’s Monday night and you’re showering your friends with a torrential downpour of the frustrations about your adult life, which week-after-week fails to appear as glamorous as Paula Abdul’s sequined bras. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s never easy—it won’t get easier and it won’t get less chaotic. But it will get more fun, more exhilarating, and way wilder than you could have imagined.
There may not be a manual for surviving adulthood—but there is a lot of wine and a whole world full of adults who will polish off the bottle with you.
It’s official: according to the LA Times, it now costs almost $235,000 to raise a kid. And kids are fun, but that’s a whole lot of great vacations manifested in wailing little monsters that are determined to not let you sleep. And while a lot of these costs are due to rising prices of the necessities for the little money-munchers, we can’t avoid the fact that there is another component that makes parents shell out cash for these ultra-techy Late Millennials: big-ticket gadgets.
Parents of ‘90s kids had a much cheaper experience than their counterparts today. They didn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on iPads and Kinect game systems. In fact, the only gaming option for ‘90s kids was Oregon Trail, which we all know was less of a “game” and more of a lesson on how to avoid dysentery and starvation. But besides that, our parents were able to pull off the biggest scam since the Pet Rock: Pogs. Cardboard disks that, for who knows what reason, we couldn’t wait to trade with our friends. And such a great concept: throw your Slammer at someone’s pile and you get to keep all the Pogs that flip over! (Non-‘90’s kids: it’s even more awesome than it sounds. I promise.)
But it wasn’t just our constant begging for decorated garbage that kept parents’ wallets full. Gifting a Furby practically guaranteed that you would never have to buy your kid another electronic toy in their lifetime. Because they were über creepy. Those things could have easily replaced the Chucky doll, with their mechanical eyes that would pop open without any provocation in the dark corner of your room while you were sleeping. Then, as if you weren’t already terrified enough, it would start growling that it needs to be fed and blink its eyes as if undergoing an exorcism.
Our parents even got a pass when it came to paying for the pure-bred, teacup dogs that Paris Hilton made popular as we grew older. Instead, our parents threw Giga Pets at us, or if we were really lucky—some Seamonkeys. To their credit, they probably used these toys as a way to teach us responsibility, and it’s our own fault that we were too naive enough to realize that we were virtually doing chores without any of the actual perks of having a pet. And Seamonkeys were cool, but I think our whole generation forgot about them after two weeks and left them for dead in our basements.
But even as we look back and think: wow those were some lame toys compared to what kids have today, these toys are a mark of our generation. And they actually made our childhoods pretty darn epic. Kinect may be fun, but who would want to give up memories of sitting on the blacktop at recess throwing our Slammers until we (finally!) won the My Little Pony Pog? And who could forget the excitement when you found out you were getting a Furby for Christmas, not because you unwrapped the box, but because it started talking under the tree before you made it all the way down the stairs? And what about traversing the Oregon Trail until your whole fleet of cattle died and your family was left schlepping through the Rockies?
Yes, ‘90’ kids rocked childhood. And the icing on our cake? We did it all to the beat of the Backstreet Boys.
Negativity drags us down like a midnight rendezvous with a dirty martini at an empty bar. And the worst part? We don’t even realize we’ve been intoxicated by it. This isn’t just blatant negativity, like griping about a co-worker who swears she has Lupus every time she sneezes—this is the culture of negativity that seems to have seeped in under our doors while we we’re sleeping, essentially re-setting our “normal” button to a steady level of self-deprecation.
As with many life lessons I’ve learned in the past two years, I realized just how gripping this new-age pessimism was during an elevator ride at my apartment building. As I came home on a Friday (after a long week of work) I slipped into the elevator with a tall, crop-pant wearing woman, roughly the age of a seasoned mom. We stood in silence for three floors. Then in a sweet voice the woman asked me how I was doing, to which I replied with a groan and an explanation that the week just dragged. And what did she say back to me, with her cheery voice and a smile that rivaled a kid at Disney World? “Well, congratulations—you did it!” At first I thought she was being sarcastic, but as she continued to sincerely smile at me, I realized that she was completely serious. What? What is this verbal pat on the back that threw me back to grade school? It felt like someone had just stuck a Great Work! sticker on my shirt and gave me a round of applause. Here I was reveling in the misery of week, and this woman had the nerve to come along and turn my frown upside down!
And this wasn’t the only elevator ride that jolted me from my clouded mind. Another day, on my way home from work, I was asked the same question—this time from a gentleman. Of course I replied that I was really happy the work day was over, that I was bored from sitting in an office, and glad that the misery was coming to an end. And what did this guy have the gall to say? “Oh that’s a shame. You really should enjoy what you do.” My equilibrium was completely thrown. Why was he not following the social convention of complaining about the weather or your job when engaged in small-talk? And what was this work-enjoyment thing he was trying to press on me? Keep it to yourself, man.
So when did negativity become the norm? At some point we stopped praising all the great things we do, like getting through a tough work-week, and instead began criticizing our missteps. Our bosses don’t send us emails telling us we’re fantastic and hardworking employees—they walk over to our desks and criticize us for incorrectly filling out the TPS report. And they certainly aren’t going to say You did it! at the end of the week; they’re going to assume you did, or fire you on Monday if you didn’t.
How much more successful and happy would we be if we re-implemented positivity in our lives? What would happen if I brushed off my co-worker’s hypochondriac behavior and make thought-space for something more valuable? What about if we looked in the mirror and congratulated ourselves for our toned triceps, instead of thinking about yesterday’s doughnut that went straight to our thighs? And what if—brace yourself—we told elevator strangers that we are actually doing really well and had a good week at work?
Maybe the key to shifting the paradigm of negativity lies in the policy of “fake it ‘till you make it,” until eventually we push the “normal” button back to a steady stream of happiness. Will this permanently alter the current aura that’s hanging over modern society?
And most importantly, what will become the future of elevator small-talk?
Whether or not you grew up in the Girl Scouts, you’ve probably heard the Scout Pledge at least once in your life. You know… On My Honor, I Will Try, to…well, basically be fearless and fantastic?
Those were the days of sugary innocence, when you delved into day-camp and then couldn’t get “Make New Friends” out of your head, or when the Christmas ornament (which you hand-made by drenching it in red glitter) was the gift you couldn’t wait to give. And who could forget the cookies that you ran around the neighborhood selling, hyped up on Thin Mints and the prospect of winning a Lisa Frank sticker sheet?
But even though we look back and chuckle at all of that childhood innocence, I’ve discovered that our inner Girl Scouts have a lot to teach our adult-selves. In fact, those young’uns were at the pinnacle of becoming the perfect ladies, but somewhere down the road (culprit: middle school) many of us forgot about the songs, the friendship bracelets, and the mantras about loving ourselves regardless of weight or perceived rate of coolness (apparently watching the Victoria Secret Fashion Show and learning the art of self-deprecation through body-slamming comes later in life).
The proof of our evolving-selves is all over, as we see reality T.V. behavior seep into every corner of our culture. Don’t you think our inner Girl Scouts would frown if they saw us “cutting out” our best childhood friend, who we claim to have suddenly “grown out of?” Or how about when our inner-Scout sees us pinch our stomach fat the morning after a night of Screwdrivers and Sliders (I mean, you can’t have a night of fun with friends and achieve Victoria Beckham hotness-status. Duh.) Or how about when we let Mr. Suit-and-Tie tell us that we aren’t bold enough to spear-head the next presentation at work, and then we just complain about it to our friends (probably as we snowball into another night of Screwdrivers and Sliders)?
I know we’re not guilty of making every single one of these nauseating mistakes, but I also know that none of us are innocent either—at least not the sort of innocence that our former scrunchie-wearing selves would approve of. So here’s the new pledge, The Grown-up Girl Scout Pledge, that all women should post on their bathroom mirrors (and yes, that might mean taking down the “inspirational” photo of Jillian Michael’s abs that you torture yourself with every morning.):
On my honor, I will try:
- To be honest with myself when assessing my personal skills (Don’t let the barista job you got because of the sinking economy make you feel like you can’t be the career-woman you dreamed of becoming.) Despite what you’re told, just because your skills don’t fall into a LinkedIn category doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
- To be friendly to the guy in the bar who just flirted with you for fifteen minutes and then asked for your friend’s phone number. Yes, it’s a bummer, but maybe he’s shy and this is his first time ever experiencing human contact. Besides, if we’ve learned anything from Carrie and Mr. Big, it’s that love really is out there. With a lot of patience.
- To be considerate when you get married and are tempted to require your Maid-of-Honor to wear something even tackier than the teal, taffeta dress she made you wear in her wedding. Trust me, the only victim would be you, when it looks like you’re standing next to Snuffleupagus in your wedding photos.
- To be courageous when you ask for the raise you know you deserve at work. If your boss doesn’t give it to you, watch Office Space as a guide for what to do next.
- To be responsible for making your life exactly what you want it to be, even if it means taking tremendous risks. Always wanted to be a world traveler? Pack a bag, get to the airport, and take the first plane outta town. (Hint: if the next plane is to Oklahoma, grab a cup of coffee and wait an hour.)
- To respect this double dark-chocolate brownie by refusing to look at the calorie count (and reminding yourself that you are fabulous regardless of a number).
- To use resources to move up the corporate latter, even though it feels like a boy’s club every time you walk into the office.
So go put on your (imaginary) sash, make your mark in the world, and show your former Scout-self that you haven’t given up on the Pledge you were sworn to. And if you make some mistakes along the way and feel defeated by end of the week? Well, that’s why you bought a year’s supply of Thin Mints to gorge on.
A Girl Scout knows to always be prepared.
In our current iNeedEverything era, most people don’t just have an iPhone. Most people also have an iPad to flash at the office, an iPod that connects to their paycheck-sucking iTunes account, and probably an old iTouch lying around (because at one point in our lives, paying for a $30 data plan was just plain outrageous!). And it’s not our fault we’ve collected this myriad of digital companionship. (Right?) I mean, why wouldn’t we fall into the trap of buying all this after watching Apple commercials that proclaim that all of life’s happiness is neatly packaged into this little gadget? And even if you aren’t tantalized by the promises of everlasting happiness, then at the very least you must want to join the revolution, so as not to be left out as one of those people who still reads paper newspapers, looms around the bookstore, and use phones for (gasp!) calling people.
But the problem is not the gadgets, or for that matter, anything else that us modern consumers can’t seem to live without. The problem is that when consumerism sky-rocketed simultaneously with mass-media advertising, all of a sudden the concept of dissatisfaction was born. Well, that’s even saying it lightly—dissatisfaction was born and then quickly grew into a toddler who constantly screams at us and leaves us half-drunk at the end of vodka-infused night of regrets. In other words, nothing is ever good enough for us these days. Not even having four different forms of iCrap.
But the issue goes even deeper than consumerism, and looms in the depths of how we mold our lifestyles. Job dissatisfaction, economic dissatisfaction, relationship dissatisfaction: all these are hitting us at the same time, because we see movies and TV shows that produce an image of a life that doesn’t really exist. It’s like the world has begun to choose for us how to feel, rather than us choosing for ourselves. And here’s my guilty confession: I sit back and take it! Well, of course, as a writer I should be living like Carrie Bradshaw, flirting with an expensive lifestyle filled with martini lounges and Manolo Blahniks. Oh, but reality: I get paid nothing to write and I go out for drinks at a Japanese grill because it’s half-priced in the afternoon. And my shoes are from the Rack. Oh how trendy TV shows paint a pretty picture of what we all think we should have.
But of course there’s always a caveat. While the dissatisfaction virus does propel us into a very fake reality (hello, ‘made in China’ Fendi bag!), there is a way to use our dissatisfaction for good rather than evil. How? Separate dissatisfaction from unhappiness. It’s okay to demand more from life, as long as you realize that the way life is right now is perfectly great, too. Dissatisfaction makes people aspire to be better, so we can’t kick it down completely. I mean, if I felt all-together satisfied working my day job, I certainly wouldn’t be giving up an afternoon at the beach to sit at my computer writing, while Pandora keeps choking me with Justin Bieber songs.
Moral of the story: don’t let media make you hate your life! Just like a Mullet, dissatisfaction has to trimmed and tamed. Let dissatisfaction propel you forward. But don’t be unhappy with your current job, bank account, or friendships.
No matter how many times Apple tries to convince you that Siri is the only companion you need.
Okay, I admit it: there’s one place in this city where I am instantly recognized the moment I step in the door. Yes, in a city with three million people and enough tourists to create our own Model U.N. Ahh, the candy store. And really, at first I wasn’t embarrassed, thinking that the staff must have fantastic customer service skills to be able to recognize their patrons (perhaps I shouldn’t give so much credit when I’m the only one tall enough to see over the counter). But as I kept returning, the staff began engaging me in conversation as if we were old friends, reminding me about details of our past discussions and even (gasp!) remembering my husband’s name! That’s when it got out of control.
In all fairness, I tried to stop going due to sheer embarrassment, but there’s something about those walls of sugary bliss that I just cannot, and will not, resist. So as I walked home last week, somewhere between noshing on chocolate raisins and sour gummy bears, I began to wonder why we all can’t seem to resist the lure of our favourite childhood desires. Are we drawn to the memories of childhood, or is childhood a universal place that we never really leave?
Our biggest mistake is to believe that we all stop being kids at some arbitrary point in time and then start being adults at another point. We all grow up assuming that one day we will reach that magical birthday when we shed our childish ways and suddenly feel like adults. But I haven’t met anyone, even amongst the over-the-hill crowd, who has admitted to reaching that point yet. Everyone keeps insisting that they still feel young and carefree, that they are still trying to figure out life. And you can see the proof just by watching The Real Housewives party until they can’t stand up anymore or by flipping on C-SPAN and watching grown men look flat-out b-o-r-e-d for three hours. There isn’t a pre-designed manual on how to act like an “adult”—we all just make some good guesses about life based on our reservoir of experiences and then live with the illusion that everyone else knows what the heck is going on (don’t worry if your reservoir seems to be in the middle of a drought…mine does too).
Only a couple of days ago I ran down the street in my neon-green, orange-laced Nike sneakers, and a five-year-old girl pointed at my feet and exclaimed: mommy, preeetty shoooes! I chuckled inside, not because of the memories of youthful jubilance, but because when I found those shoes at the store last summer, the voice inside my head sounded exactly like that little girls’. Ohhh, preeetty shoooes! Yes, I know I’m an adult by my age. I just don’t feel like one.
So the next time you order ice cream with extra sprinkles on top, dance to the Spice Girls in your bedroom, or nab that extra scoop of sour gummies, remind yourself that everyone else is permanently young and carefree, too. And nobody has quite figured out what it means to be a grown-up, whether they admit it or not.
Even the gents on C-SPAN have probably done a cannonball or two in their lifetimes.