Follow me on Twitter

Friday, October 31, 2014


Happy Halloween!  Here’s a “trick” question for you:  is it better to receive a free treat or give one?  Actually, no trick…receiving free candy is empirically better than giving it.  Right?  If you are experiencing any discomfort with this statement, then I feel you.  We are supposed to want to give, it’s greedy to want something for nothing, free “treats” are for children; adults are supposed to earn everything that we get.  You didn’t earn it, you don’t “deserve” it!  Are you more comfortable with that statement?  I’ll bet the majority of you are, and for very good reason…it’s what all people born into Generation X and before were raised to believe.  We disdain the “everybody gets a trophy” culture, the frankly horrifying ability to retake a test when a score is subpar and the younger generation’s infamous “sense of entitlement”.  Well, I’ve got some news for you…although those beliefs are as deeply ingrained in me as anyone, I am starting to have a sneaking suspicion we are wrong.  And we are paying for this misconception dearly.

Have you ever done something really nice, really generous for someone and received no thanks for it?  Of course you have, we all have, millions of times.  Does it stop us from giving of ourselves in the future?  Occasionally it may give us pause to repeat our generosity to the ungrateful receiver specifically, but in general the answer is no, I am sure.  We are hardwired to give of ourselves; there is literally nothing else to do.  We give our time, our love, our compassion, our wisdom and our humor freely, and on a regular basis.  We lend a hand, an ear, a buck whenever we can.  We donate canned goods, “gently used” items, blood, a kidney, for God’s sake.  People give and give and give and give because that is our mission on earth—to express ourselves to others, generously and often.  But have you ever asked yourself what kind of receiver you are?  Because frequently this is where the flow dries up…this is where we stop the expression of love dead-in-its-tracks.
How good are you at accepting a favor?  How comfortable are you with a compliment?  How open are you to support, both emotional and physical?  How uncomfortable did you feel when I pointed out that getting free candy is WAY BETTER than giving it?  We have become, many of us, in our striving for self-reliance, independence and in general bad-assness, ungracious receivers.  Hear that!  Even if you think you are refusing someone’s generosity for “righteous” reasons, you are still being entirely ungracious by robbing them of the satisfaction of giving.  Think about how you feel when someone does not acknowledge a kindness you have extended…now imagine that person pre-emptively refusing your kindness.  That is what you are doing when you say no to someone who is extending themselves to you.  My Grandfather had a stock joke he made whenever anyone did something nice for him; he’d always say “You shouldn’a done it”.  He was kidding, but too many of us are not.  Too many of us are uncomfortable receiving what others have to give.  Too many of us are uncomfortable with the “treat” part of life.

The brilliant and entirely bad-ass late British author Iris Murdoch once posited, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats”.   Holla, Iris!  My best friend’s grandmother believed this as well, and at the end each of day treated herself to one piece of chocolate…there is something to be said for knowing the reward is coming that keeps the pep in our step.  Knowing we can have a piece of chocolate every day may even prevent us from having a hundred pieces of chocolate in one sitting when we are stressed out.  But I think most people would consider this protocol overindulgent nowadays.  When I was a kid we had dessert every night, as did most kids I knew; it was part of the dinner meal.  And childhood obesity was not anywhere near the problem then that it is now.  This stinginess we feel towards ourselves is ironically pushing us towards MORE unhealthy behaviors, because we are not allowing the flow of “continuous small treats”.  We deny our need to be treated and blood pressure, addictive behaviors and reliance on medication to get through the day all go through the roof.  So say I.
Of course Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive”, but who knows where that guy was coming from?  Ha.  Kidding.  But when you think about it, how can you give if there is no one willing to receive?  The two way street of giving and receiving must remain wide open for life to flow, for us to experience that elusive “happy life”.  Think of how good you feel when you get authentic recognition for your efforts, whether it be your work, your altruism or just your sense of humor.  It lights you up inside, makes you want to give more and more and more of yourself.  So how about returning the favor?  Give other people the opportunity to express their generosity to you, and you have opened an important gate to giving—giving thanks.  Thanking someone from the bottom of your heart for the wonderful way they have just expressed themselves to you.  If you are not open to receive, you are not open to expressing gratitude and gratitude is, IMHO, the real key to a happy life.  So open the door to receiving.  And have a very happy thanks giving.  Get it?  Word play kills me.

PLEASE "like" this on the HUFFINGTON POST:

Monday, October 27, 2014


A few years ago, while in the middle of a conversation with my Mom featuring a lot of my trademark stating-the-obvious-in-a-big-mouthed-way she said, “You know, you always were my child who had to let everybody know the emperor has no clothes”.  Whew.  What you need to know, as far as backstory goes, is that this is a radical reframing of what I heard from her over and over again growing up…what I was told as a girl was that I always had to “add a little piss to the situation”.  So somehow I have morphed from piss-adder to truth teller over the last 40+ years.   At least in my mother’s perception.  It got me thinking a lot about the ideas of truth vs. perception and why stating the obvious can seem to be kind of pissy.  I have been called pathologically honest, and while it was meant as a compliment, I think we all know that pathology refers to illness and that the Greek root “pathos” means suffering.  So I “suffer” from an overwhelming compulsion to get on a chair and start shouting about the elephant in the room.  That’s me, in a nutshell.

And my Mom was right both times; I am a person who says what needs to be said to clear the air, and I am a person who can be incredibly impatient and pissy about it.  Case and point:  years ago I was asked by someone very nice if her outfit made her look fat and I answered, “It’s not the outfit.”  That was the truth, btw.  It was also a pretty wretched thing to say.  And not an isolated incident by any stretch.  A friend was recently relating a story of an older woman she knows who has taken to walking out of meetings when she feels they have become vitriolic or unconstructive.  She just gets up, gets her things and leaves without a word.  My response to this was that kind of behavior is a luxury of the very old and the very young.  When I was young, I was the sort who would huffily leave a room, a conversation, even a church sermon for self-righteous reasons.  In retrospect, my causes were just, my behavior was not.  Because when you get to the middle of your life, you realize that living your truth is the most important thing on earth you can do.  You also realize imposing your truth on others is one of the most destructive.
I, like you, have a point of view and a voice that yearns to be heard…I, like you, am offended by injustice and imbecilism, if that is a word.  I have very specific thoughts and opinions and feelings on virtually every topic under the sun, and there is nothing I love more than to share all of these in conversation, debate and even lecture form.  I want you to know that the emperor is, in fact, butt-naked and that yes, there is an elephant in the room.  What has changed as I have aged is that I no longer need you to feel the same way about any of it as I do.  I understand that context matters, as does personal perspective…maybe you live in a nudist colony, and the emperor looks alright to you; maybe you work for the circus and it is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect there to be an elephant in the room.  I understand that the only subjects in the entire world that I am the definitive authority on are me, myself and I.  Even those three things can tangle me up a bit occasionally.

When we are young, we think that our opinion is the most important thing in the whole wide world; when we grow up, we know our opinion is the most important thing in the world, but only as far as our world is concerned.  We shout our thoughts to others less, and listen to them more.  We begin to trust ourselves without the need for outside validation…we begin to understand that as we communicate our truth with more compassion for ourselves and others, we can be heard more clearly than if we use a bullhorn.  We also know that when our communication “falls on deaf ears”, that is okay.  We are all here as messengers, so where one of us fails, another will succeed.  We learn to choose our battles so much more wisely, realizing that sometimes “the truth” is the key to our freedom, and sometimes “the truth” is just beating a horse that is already dead.  We learn to walk away from situations where our truth is not productive or welcomed.
So here is my truth:  nobody is ever going to call me demure.  I am a big-mouth, and strong-willed.  I am full to the brim of opinions, both informed and intuitive, that I would love to overshare with you in a very loud way.  I am such an advocate for the elephant in the room that I might as well be the elephant myself…and I will make 100% certain that there is NO WAY you could ever overlook me.  But what I dislike more than anything is anyone who tries to make me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, with my own voice.  So I will try always, to the best of my ability, to honor you in your skin, with your voice.  You may look and sound different than I do, but inside we are the same.  Inside we are seekers who want to live in peace with ourselves and others.  My “truth” and your “truth” are not going to be exactly the same, any more than my idea of perfect happiness will be yours.  So whether or not the emperor has any clothes on is actually irrelevant.  What is relevant is whether or not you can live peacefully with an elephant in the room.  I know I can’t.  But it’s okay if that’s just me.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Great news!  You are finally ready!!!  I am so happy for you and know everything is going to work out wonderfully!  You are being very brave and I totally applaud that, while at the same time knowing you have all the tools you need to succeed.  Go for it, and I will be cheering you on every second of the way!

So here’s the thing:  if you read those words and kind of got that sick pit of excitement in your stomach and started thinking specifically about something you’ve wanted to do but have been putting off for whatever various reasons?  Then I am 100% correct!  YOU ARE READY.  If on the other hand you were like, “WTF is she talking about?”, then my apologies.  As you were.  But it’s time for all of us to stop procrastinating in general, don’t you think?  No time like the present and there will always be reasons “why not” for you to fall back on.  But what I want you to know right now is this:  if there is a situation, job, relationship you want to get out of but feel you can’t?  YOU CAN and you are fully capable of not only doing so, but thriving elsewhere.  If there is a dream, invention, or business that you want to pursue but feel incapable of bringing to fruition?  You are MORE THAN CAPABLE, just put one foot in front of the other and off you will go.  Stop thinking so much about what you wish you were doing and start doing it.  Is that a clear enough instruction for you?
So now maybe a small number of you are thinking—“You know what?  She’s right!  The time is now and I am going to go for it!”—while most of you are thinking, “Yeah, right, Ms. Nike.  I’ll just do it and screw over everybody involved, including myself with my lack of planning and forethought”.   HA!  Love the “Ms. Nike” bit, you guys are very funny.  And of course to a degree you are correct…there is planning and forethought that need to happen before you make any kind of major move in your life.  So start planning already.  My point is that the obstacles you perceive outside of yourself are NOTHING when compared to the obstacles you face inside of yourself.  The problem isn’t that you’re too old or too poor or too dumb or too unorganized or too whatever-the-hell-you-think-you-are to achieve your objective.  The problem is that you THINK any of these things and let that thought decide the course of your future.  The biggest obstacle is, as I have said before, that you are more adept at building a case against yourself than for yourself.

When I was growing up, my Dad had a number of excellent lines that he applied, sometimes indiscriminately, to life situations both great and small.  One of his absolute favorites, something he said to all of us over and over was “This is it!  This is what you’ve been trained for!”  It was his general rallying cry, and he may have been talking about getting ready for church, a big test, or just as likely going on a lark.  My Dad preached readiness, no matter what the situation.  There was never a moment, big or trivial, that he felt we weren’t “trained for”, fully capable of achieving.  In fact, he said it so often that it became a kind of background noise, a given.  And as far as subconscious programming went, I think he did a pretty good job, because if I could think of one word that describes all of my siblings, it would have to be capable.  Nobody is throwing hands up in despair during tough times.  We are all right there being…well, tough.  Difficult to dismount.  Determined.  All in all, not too shabby.  That’s another one of Dad’s gems, btw.
“The Little Engine That Could” is not an enduring tale because we all love to be annoyed.  And that engine is very annoying.  It endures because we need to be reminded to believe in ourselves, not give up so easily on what we want.  I will now take that premise a step further:  not only are you READY, you were BORN to DO whatever it is you are thinking about doing.    I’m paraphrasing Joan of Arc here, just so you know…people thought she was crazy, too.  Fortunately, whatever YOUR “crazy” dream, plan or idea, we no longer burn people at the stake, so what is stopping you?  If Joan was not afraid, why are you?  That’s not a hypothetical question, so here’s the answer:  Joan was not afraid because she had faith.  That’s all you need to take the first step.  Faith.  In YOURSELF.  If you have that, everything else is just icing.  Don’t believe me?  Ask anyone who has accomplished a big dream.  Yes, there will be setbacks, yes there will be disappointments but you are READY for this, perhaps most of all.  Like Dad always said, “This is what you’ve been trained for”…to endure setbacks and disappointments and keep going anyway.  You’ve done it a million times before, why not do it for something that really matters to you, really counts?

Great news!  You are finally ready!!!  I am so happy for you and know everything is going to work out wonderfully!  You are being very brave and I totally applaud that, while at the same time knowing you have all the tools you need to succeed.  Go for it, and I will be cheering you on every second of the way!   I hope you can hear these words and know they are the truth.  You were born to do this, and I am really so very excited for you.  You are ready to be happy.

Friday, October 10, 2014


So the other day a friend of mine joked that he was going to call his autobiography, “The Lives I’ve Ruined”.  HA!  At least, I hope that was a joke.  But as a recovering perfectionist, it got me thinking a lot about that idea that things get “ruined” because of our actions…a cake, an event, a relationship…we say we “ruined” it by adding too much sugar or scheduling it on a day it rained or enabling bad behavior or behaving badly ourselves. 

I think the reality is that most things are pretty tough to ruin.  I guarantee you will find someone who thinks your ruined cake is delicious (or at the very least hilarious), your rainy wedding poetic and your “failed” relationship good riddance to bad trash.  Most good things are very hard to ruin, and to ruin a life is damned near impossible.  There goes the premise of my friend’s autobiography.  See, I ruined it for him.  Ha again.

I used to be the kind of person who never left the house without make-up.  Never let anyone see my house messy.  Never let anyone know they had hurt me, exposed my fear of not being lovable, not being good enough.  Perfectionism was recently redefined by Elizabeth “Eat, Pray, Love” Gilbert as “Fear, in really good shoes”.   I used to be afraid that if I was unkempt or messy or vulnerable, these obvious markers of my imperfection would declare me unlovable, worthless. 

I lived in a constant state of anxiety about “ruining” things and this anxiety caused me not only to screw up more, but also rendered me incapable of enjoying anything until it was completed and deemed by the royal me as a “success”.  Naturally I set the bar so high for what was “successful” or “clean” or “attractive”, I could rarely accomplish my objective, which would leave me with massive case of “aftershame”.    Eventually I realized it was my expectation that things go “perfectly” that was the real enemy.  Not the rain, the zit or the dust on my mantle.  It was the idea that anything less than perfect was “ruined”.

For example, as an achievement driven society, we tend to view marriage as a “goal” in a relationship; a long term marriage is a “success”, a marriage that ends in divorce is a “failure”.  Divorce means we “ruined” our marriage.  But not all relationships are meant to last forever. 

This message brought to you by a Cancer, stage three clinger if there ever was one.  Just ask any of the people who have been engaged in 20, 30 and in a few cases 40+ years of friendship with me:  I hang on for dear life.  Like the crab that is the symbol of my sun sign, once I attach I am very, very difficult to shake off.  

I am passionate in my friendships; in fact, I am passionate about all things I love, from people to places to movies to books and in a few rare cases even things.  But I have had to accept, fortunately again in a few rare cases, that some relationships are not built to last.  There is almost always some pain in this, but endings are actually new paths that open for us, paths that the relationship prepared us for and pushed us towards.  This is the gift of a “failed” relationship:  it sends you in a new direction that you never would have conceived of if you hadn’t come through it exactly the way you did.  It was a gateway to a new part of your life, a new part of you.

There is humor and wisdom in the expression, “There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk”, because it reminds us to laugh at the hypocrisy of judgments.  Have you ever known a slob who becomes a self-righteous neatnik after living with a worse slob?  We see ourselves mirrored in our exchanges with other people and when we don’t like the reflection, it is our invitation to grow and change. ..“When the student is ready, a teacher appears”.   I think this applies to every single relationship you have in your life. 

But here’s the rub:  in each of those relationships you are BOTH teacher AND student.  We learn from each other, sometimes through joyful communion and sometimes…not so joyful.  The Buddhists believe it is the people who irritate us and push our buttons that we have the most to learn from.  There is an old legend about a man who was relocating to a new village and insisted on taking his worst and most insubordinate servant along.  When the head houseman questioned this decision his master told him he had heard the inhabitants of the new village were so pleasant he was afraid he would not have any opportunity for personal growth without him.  Love it!

So here is my conclusion:  you haven’t ruined anything.  If you are still breathing, you still have an opportunity to bring your best self to the table and live a life you feel good about.  That will mean a million different things to a million different people and that is how it is supposed to be.  We travel many roads with our various companions while we are here on earth, some of them more enjoyable than others, all of them crucial to the development of our true selves.  

 Like an irritant forms a pearl, we are honed into our best selves by the people who challenge us as much as those who love us.  We learn from each other and while we definitely will have preferences about the lessons we get, all of them are ultimately useful if we remember to see them that way.  Not a single thing you have done in your life has been in vain, because you (and/or someone else!) have learned from it.  You haven’t ruined anything.  You are on a journey and even if you sometimes feel lost, the destination is never in doubt.