Monday, August 30, 2010

Be Interesting, But Allow Others to Be So Too: By Laryssa Wirstiuk

I like to listen to stories. If you can tell me a captivating story, I will probably want to be your friend. However, listening for long periods of time can be exhausting.

Very few people understand the art of conversation. Have you ever felt completely drained by a chatty, self-absorbed storyteller? These people don’t know how to ask questions - they just know how to talk.
I also love to tell stories, but I'm better at sharing with people who make me feel comfortable or seem genuinely interested in what I have to say.

Otherwise, I don't open up easily. If my companion is dominating the “conversation”, I shy away. Trying to fight for speaking rights is almost as tiring as having to listen to a non-stop talker, and it’s seldom worth the effort.

So, how can you and I have better conversations? Find a reason to be genuinely interested in the other person, even if you don't think you share anything in common.

If you dig deeply enough, you can find something interesting about anyone. Make discovering another person a game you play with yourself. Dig until you find something interesting, and you will ultimately gain more respect for the other person.

Take turns. Keep track of how long you have been talking. Limit yourself to your most compelling stories. Before you open your mouth, ask yourself - if I were the other person, would I really want to hear this story? Pick and choose what you share. If you share only the best stories, the other person will most likely find you more interesting and ask you questions too. 

Ask follow-up questions. If you struggle with this, pretend you’re a journalist for the New York Times who has been assigned a very important story. You want to impress your editors. What questions can you ask your subject to extract the most interesting information?

Try to avoid hot-button issues like politics and religion, unless you're prepared for conflict. Sure, these topics can ignite a stale conversation, but you should be ready to face the consequences. 

Please, for my sake and for everyone's sake: be self aware. We all want to share, to feel like our presence is acknowledged. If you do catch yourself talking excessively about yourself, make a joke about it. Say, "Sorry, I got a little too excited. I've been rambling for a while. Why don't you tell me something about yourself?” How are you? is always a good place to start.

Laryssa Wirstiuk is a writer and teacher in New Jersey. Her recently revamped blog is Comma 'n Sentence.

Friday, August 27, 2010

James Franco is a Bad Influence, by J. Maureen Henderson

I have this habit where the more someone or multiple someones tell(s) me that I should like something (a person, a band, a movie, a brand of granola bar), the more I get it in my head that I'll do just the opposite. A petty holdover from childhood that I'm trying to quit, but one that I felt kick in lately over a certain Mr. James Franco. You might have heard of him - the actor/director/artist/writer/soap star/PhD student/college instructor/have I missed anything? A friend forwarded me July's New York Magazine profile on Franco as a testament to his well-rounded awesomeness, but all I could think of by the time I reached the end of the piece was what a poor role model this king of multi-tasking actually is.

While James Franco might have legitimate creative gifts and superhuman stamina that allows him to juggle a Hollywood career with multiple demanding grad programs, he also has the luxury of being James Franco and the benefits (an assistant who ensures that he gets from point A to B and remembers to eat, a built-in fan base for his works, an unconfirmed but highly likely easier academic ride than his anonymous classmates) that this entails. The rest of us don't. This lack of resources doesn't seem to temper our desire to be or have it all, though, nor does it dissuade the self-actualization for all set from peddling the pipe dream that anyone can be a location independent, passive-incoming generating, lifestyle-designed, multiple-hat-wearing, entrepreneurial whiz kid.

The truth is that most of us don't have limitless resources to pursue multiple callings and that by choosing X, we really are closing the door on Y and maybe Z. This is the way of the world. Being an astronaut –poet-chef at a professional level ain't gonna happen (at least not concurrently). There's a natural tendency to resist this reality, of course. No one likes to be told that they can’t have what they think they want.  But even if you are able to balance a bill-paying gig with an engaging sideline that speaks to your passion, there are still only so many hours in the day. Not every great opportunity can be pursued, not every rabbit hole is worth plunging headlong down. And trying to do so (because you believe that you should be able to manage or that that way fulfilment lies) is a recipe for exhaustion, burnout and a frazzled, middling effort on a bunch of tasks instead of a solid performance on a few. It will catch up with you and if your juggling skills are anything like mine (there are only so many times you can hit yourself in the eye with a beanbag before the rage descends, FYI), it’ll be sooner rather than later.

But even if you do accept that you need to get off the multi-tasking merry-go-round and stop letting your head be turned by flights of fancy, how do you do that? It starts with figuring out/determining/deciding on your focus (of the astronaut-poet-chef triad, which will reign supreme?). Make a pro/con list, listen to your gut instinct (and if you don’t have one, that’s a whole ‘nother issue) or just throw a dart if that’s your thing. Once you’ve identified where you want to concentrate your energy, put the blinders on when it comes to projects that will distract from it. Sure, you’ll have to say no to some genuinely cool stuff, but you’ll be balancing that by saying yes to other opportunities that will support your focus.  It’s difficult and disappointing to have to pass on getting involved in interesting diversions, but keep in mind that these diversions are someone else’s priority area and by devoting your energy to their cause, you’re actually draining it from your own. Sometimes, it’s strategic and smart to be a little single-minded or self-absorbed.  At least until you’ve achieved James Franco status and have the means to support your dilettante inclinations to your heart’s content*.
*You still might want to skip the bodily fluid inspired art installations, though.

J. Maureen Henderson is the author of the Generation Meh personal development blog.

My Guest Post at Everyday Bright

All kinds of things going on at Too XYZ today! To begin with, I wanted to promote my guest post over at Jen Gresham's Everyday Bright. In it, I talk about the importance, to other people and to ourselves, of making sure we maintain plenty of "in person" communication and company with our friends in this highly digital age. Click on the link and check that out now. Jen is a great blogger and a major supporter of this blog, as I am of hers. She was also one of this month's AuGuests if you will recall.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don't Be a Hater, By Jamie Nacht Farrell

I love being cynical. I think it adds flavor to situations, conversations, and when stuck in a boring meeting - makes me laugh. What I've realized is that there is an art form to being cynical so that you can 'get away' with witty sarcasm without coming off as someone who's constantly negative.

Negativity, on its own, is wasted breathe. Sure, there is value in 'venting' once in a while - at least psychologists claim there is, but being a negative person not only brings you down, but everyone else around you. Well timed cynicism, on the other hand, can prove to spice up conversations - but in order to be seen and recognized as a humorous 'cynic', one must have other traits about them that will allow them to get away with this type of satire. Nobody likes a plain old "hater".

Have you ever asked yourself if you're a "positive" person? Probably not. I hadn't until someone recently told me I was a "positive" person. I actually looked at the individual and said, "No, I'm actually a bitch". The response I received was as follows: "You may be a bitch, but you're a funny bitch so you can get away with it. You have an infectious personality, so when you're 'on' and motivated, everyone around you feels the same way. That's why you get away with the snide, bitchy comments".

I'm still unsure whether that was an insult, a compliment, or a back handed compliment, but regardless - it made sense to me. Looking back on my day, there are two things that I always keep in focus: 1) Treat EVERYONE in your life as if they're you're most important client 2) Listen to all views and try not to judge.

Now, item 1 is really just saying, "be nice to people because everyone is important". In managing 100s of people as well as in numerous relationships / friendships, it is clear that if you make people feel important, they will respond to you. On item 2, I strongly believe being open minded allows you to learn and grow - even though you may not always agree with what people are saying.

By making the two items above my 'philosophy', I'm still a cynical bitch at times, but people see me as a "positive person". It's an interesting paradox.

Jamie is a Marketing professional and the author of Bizrelationships, a blog about her views and goals in the worlds of business as well as education.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dabbling in the "Taboo"

I do a lot of theatre. Most of my local "friends", (as in, one's to whom I could drive in an hour or less) were made through theatre over the years. Furthermore, a very large percentage of people in this "theatre circle" know one another. And have known one another for many, many years. In this context, though I have known a few of them for 6 years or so, I am still the relative newcomer to the group.

Now, some of these people are great friends with one another, and some are just casual acquaintances. But the fact is, 90% of my local "friends" are in the same social network. And for a while, it gave the impression that I too was friends with, or connected to a great many people. (Network theory for you.)

The fact of the matter is, however, that I am not that well connected with many of them. I keep putting "friends" in quotation marks here, because most of them do not do what friends do. Not by my definition of the word anyway. There is little emotional support when I am in need. None of my invitations are accepted, and I am invited infrequently to things myself. They don't read my blogs, follow me on Twitter, or come see my shows, unless they are in them themselves. I have never been visited by a single one of them at home. Messages, texts, voice mails are rarely returned. My increasingly rare offers to help them with projects are never reciprocated when I am in need of assistance in mine. All of those types of things seem to be reserved for each other.

You get the idea.

It has only been in the last few years that I have come to realize this about a lot of them. The friendships I thought I had I realize I just don't. They fail to live up to all of my standards for friendship in many cases. And there are any number of possible reasons.

Some are just asses, I suppose. Masters in the art of being fake. Some I gather do not like my honesty, even when they beg  me to share it with them. Others may have changed so much internally that there is no longer room for the likes of me. Some are just small, and don't treat anybody that well when the chips are down.

So maybe I don't need them in my life. Or maybe I need a way to determine who among them, if anybody, values me in my entirety, and not simply as a dancing bear that entertains them at times. It may not be fullproof, but I have a plan which will, I hope, help clear things up a bit; I am going to dabble in the "taboo".

You see, I don't openly discuss my politics, my religion, my views on sex, or marriage, or any of those other things about which we are not supposed to talk if we want to keep our friends. (Or so they say.) And while occasional comments, decisions, and Facebook status updates have probably over the years given many people a broad sketch of where I stand, in most cases I have never come out and stated my position on any number of things. As a result, more than one person sees me as a bit "mysterious" or even "withdrawn". Worse, I fear incorrect conclusions about my beliefs may have been drawn by some.

I haven't hidden my positions on things because I fear reprisal. I value my principles too much to sacrifice them just to make "friends". In fact I have lost some because I couldn't ignore such things. But at the same time I haven't felt the need to broadcast all my beliefs to certain people because our relationships were not based on my views on such issues. (Not to mention the fact that it is pretty much a guarantee that most of my local people are not going to be coming from the same place that I am on such matters.) What is the point in risking offense when a crisis of conscience is not taking place? After all, I can live my beliefs without having to say what they are. If doing something violates my heart, I won't do it. Why make a speech about it?

But I have started to wonder over the last few years if that silence is wise. Whether this "mystery" quality to me, this diplomatic ambiguity has prevented some people, (though not all) from engaging me as fully as they otherwise might have done. Could the very reticence that I utilized in order to keep friendships stronger actually have contributed to this emotional force field I detect between me and so many others? There is only one way to find out.

To this end, I have been planning for some time now a series of messages, probably in video form, for my private Facebook page. Messages that will reveal my position on certain key areas on which I have been mostly silent over the years. (Silent with this group anyway.) Matters like religion, sex, friendship. The purpose of the messages will not be to offer counter arguments to the views of others, but to provide a more full picture of myself. That way, at least in my mind, people can begin to make choices about how close or far from me they want to be based on a little more than "he is mysterious".

This isn't a perfect plan. For one thing, there is no guarantee anybody will read/watch the messages. But then, if they don't that might be an answer of a sort right there. Another problem is that not every question can be answered in a message. A clear position on one thing often leads to more questions.  And there is the very real possibility that I will lose even the superficial friendships of some of these people.

Indeed, my positions on any number of taboo or personal subjects varies a great deal from that of many of the folks in this large, local circle. And while some may have been content with my company through the ambiguity, they may decide that my company is undesirable once they hear certain things directly from my lips without having to deduce anything themselves. This may even be true for some of the few people in the group that have actually treated me with respect and engaged my privately. It is a very real risk.

Losing connections is not a pretty prospect, regardless of the reasons. So to an extent I do fear it. But unlike in previous years, I feel things are reaching a point where I must either fish, or cut the bait, as it were, with some of these people. I am at a point in my life where I would like to have a better idea of who my real friends are, and who wants to become closer to the total me. The distance I keep from these subjects doesn't provide that level of assurance with this crop of people.

And perhaps it will not be as bad as all of that. Perhaps there may even be a handful of people who have wanted to get to know me on a more personal level, but have never known how to ask certain questions. These messages may give them a needed opening to allow our friendship to blossom further.

I guess the whole thing is like pulling weeds. Or better yet, like a fire. The true friends and people I want in my life won't burn up when I light this torch. They, like gems, will remain long after I have burned away all the chaff in my garden of "friends".

Moderation is still the key, though. I don't intend to use these messages to attack the view points of others. And I don't intend to constantly speak what I believe. (Some of them do this, and it drives my crazy. But if they are going to shout their beliefs all the time, I might as well level the playing field once in a while, am I right?) The goal is education, not pontification.

I am still an intensely private person in many ways. I am not going to reveal every intimate thought I have to these people, or to anyone for that matter. I am still an introvert after all. But there comes a time when you have to at least place the "You Are Here" sticker on the map of your life, so other people have a sense of what to expect. 5 years ago, being polite and being a fellow actor was enough. I sense now that with these locals, it isn't anymore. They have to either love or hate me based on something more than what they currently have. So, in the best way I can, I hope to give some more to them.

I am sure even after I do this, there will be fake people in my circle. People that pay lip service to loving me, but never showing it. But in the end, I suppose I am not really doing it for them. I am doing it for me. It feels more authentic for me to do this, despite the consequences. I feel that I want these people to know more about my spirit now. What they will do with a more clear picture of that will, in the end, be up to them.

Have any of you struggled with being open about something in a similar manner to this? I know that most other people my age are from the "privacy is dead, share every little thought you have and fuck everybody else" mentality. But that isn't me, and never will be.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I Learned From "What I learned From"

World of Warcraft. Watching the NFL Draft. Burning Man. The BP Oil Spill. Being Bedridden for a week. Getting dumped. Getting lost in the New York Subway System. Making my first souffle.

These are just some of the catalysts for some of the blog posts I remember reading in the last year. Some good, some bad, but all with this common thread...each author learned some kind of valuable life or career lesson from engaging in the seemingly unrelated title activity. Said titles often in fact begin with "What I Learned From Doing X." Or it's popular cousin, "What Doing X Taught Me About Y".

Not the most creative impetus for a blog post. But legitimate for the most part, I suppose. But sometimes like the ubiquitous "X is like life..." platitude, the "What I Learned From X" posts inspire me to wonder if we are standing off to the side of a bigger point.

Notice I didn't say missing the point, because if playing dodgeball or shopping for t-shirts has honestly helped you realize something that improves your outlook on life, than more power to you. You have at least brushed up against something that to you is a truth. Good for you.

But I don't know that you have hit it dead on if you believe that it was the activity itself that taught you whatever lesson about which you felt compelled to write. I think rather something dawned on you because of your state of mind when engaging in said activity.

Most of the "What I Learned From X" posts, relate to activities that either cause a great deal of joy for the blogger, (The World of Warcraft, Watching the NFL Draft types), or caused maybe a little bit of survivable anxiety. (Bedridden. Getting dumped.) In other words, those that have learned from their activities, whether all of a sudden or by way of a gradual education over the years, were actively engaged in something. Maybe not by their own choice, but even the pain we suffer makes us actively engaged in it, at least at first. We run from it later at our own peril, but that is another post.

And by actively engaged I don't merely mean doing something. I know plenty of people who spend days at a time on World of Warcraft and I assure you they have never learned a thing. They are there to escape, or to conquer, or to feed an ego, or just to be lazy. No, engagement in this sense entails an exploration of nuance. An attention to detail. A voracious desire to understand the broader implications. And most importantly in all of this, a willingness to learn. That's active engagement in something. And if you are actively engaged in this fashion with anything, you will learn something. Again, maybe the learning doesn't happen in an instant, but by the time you write about learning something, you have been open to being taught, obviously.

So by all means continue to chronicle your lessons and enlightenment. Let chess or baking or what have you by the means by which you are engaged in existence. But always remember it is the engagement, far more than the activity, that is teaching you something.

We are here to live, folks. Go do so.

And that is what I have learned from all of the "What I have learned" posts.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Coming into the Light: A Shot at Opacity, by Mehnaz Thawer

All my life, I've been invisible to some degree. For those that already know me, you'll know I have a penchant for complete candour, and you can hear my rambunctious ramblings from a mile away. This isn't what I'm talking about.

Much like many introverts, I take a liking to "behind the scenes" types of work. I used to be in a choir and subsequently, a stage manager, a communications manager and all kinds of managerial posts that required that I be behind the scenes. Given that these were supposed to be fun endeavours, it was always a lot of work. When I was thanked on stage - as often is the case when you have a big blow-out-end-of-the-year concert - I would have to come onto the stage, under a spotlight, which would cause me to blush (given my naturally dark skin-tone, you can imagine this might have been quite the feat)!

It's not so much that I didn't want my work recognized, and that I didn't appreciate a thank you here and there; it's just that I worked really hard to appear invisible when I could. Call it a natural aversion to attention or what have you, but I have to say, after a while, it started to get old.

Recently, I spoke to a woman who pointed out that I very much liked being alone, and being recognized meant taking responsibility for myself - something I appear not to be completely comfortable with.

I got to thinking about how this connected to my life. I noticed that I tended to bury myself in work until nobody could really find me. I make excuses for my invisibility (and not strangely, I know a lot of people who do).

While being okay with your invisibility is fine (we're not spotlight-mongers), we tend to miss out on opportunities that really benefit us, when people recognize who we are and what we do.

As lame as it sounds, my concerted effort to walk into the light is going to be by joining something - for fun! It has to be something where I'm not working, where I can use my skills and my language to network, and to be grateful for praise and attention.

If you're anything like me, and spend your life hanging out "behind the scenes", make an effort to do something where you are forced into the light. Might sound like it's on the lighter side of being too XYZ, but you'll be surprised how difficult it is.

At the risk of sounding frivolous, be opaque, so that people don't look through you, so that they remember to recognize you properly for your contributions, your humour, your brief moments of endearing stridency.

What have you done lately to come out into the spotlight?

Mehnaz is a professional writer in Vancouver and the owner of "Speak Softly and Carry a Red Pen".

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Fetish for Change?

I sometimes think that people go overboard with the whole "life is change" thing. There are so many religions, modes of operation, slogans, mottoes, blog posts, platitudes, proverbs, and all around contemplation, (and sometimes pontification) over the inevitability of change, and I sometimes doubt not only it's usefulness, but it's accuracy.

True. A lot of things in our life have the potential to change. For good or for bad. But to begin with, does the high level of potential for a thing mean that it is inevitable? Is the fact that something could occur mean that we should accept "constant change" as a world view? I say no, because that is just inviting instability into many aspects of our lives. It deprives us of any degree of a blueprint for moving forward if we are not careful. We become reeds in the wind of time, producing whatever whistled tune the world decides to play for us.

What's worse about it, I think we deprive ourselves of certain dedications, goals, loves, if we begin everything we embark upon with "this is only temporary, no matter how good people think it is."

Way to rally the troops, there. If that's your attitude, go join a Kansas cover band. (Think about it...)

I'm on a second floor apartment. I have faith that I am not going to fall through the floor. It has been inspected. Maintained. I see the landlord around here all the time. Every indication is that I have every right to assume the floor is going to stay under me throughout the entire duration of my living in this domicile. One day, this building, and this floor beneath me, and even the city in which the building sits, will not exist. This I grant you. But the idea that the floor will support my weight as I live here is not something I find subject to any practical change. It is a fact. A constant from the perspective of a life, if not from the perspective of the entire Universe.

Some will no doubt point out that I can never know. There may be a change that  makes the floor fall out from under me, and maybe even kill me in the process. And to this physical possibility I yield. Somebody could chuck a bomb at this building. A tornado could come through and rip it apart. A rare earthquake. Each of those would cause obvious change. But does that mean I should live my life in this apartment each day saying to myself,

"The next step I take in this apartment could be the one that collapses the floor. I might as well embrace the possibility of falling to my death. I should learn to be excited by the process of tumbling in a heap of rubble and being buried in same one day. I should appreciate it,  because life is change, after all. You can't count on anything."

I don't know about you, but I don't feel that embracing the possibility that the floor could cave in is a prescription for a happy life.

Yet people apply this rationale to things other than my admittedly extreme example. They don't aim for job security, or they don't make lasting relationships their goal, because, "everything is change, and the more I accept that, the happier I will be."

Really? You don't think you might be avoiding the emotional commitment of establishing something "permanent" in your life by saying these things?

Maybe the very fact that there is so much change that we cannot control in our lives is why we should all work even harder to establish something that is more resistant to change. Something that can withstand at least the storms that we know are likely to happen in a day, or a lifetime. And as for the highly unlikely scenarios, we can't prepare for them to any great degree anyway. So why not shoot for something permanent?

And permanent things do exist, when taking from the perspective of a human and not a god. Long lasting marriages. People that live in the same house their entire lives. True friendships. Those lucky enough to find and follow their callings. These things I feel are in fact examples of permanence, in so far as everything that is alive at some point will of course die. I just don't think that the fact I will one day die an earthly death signifies that life is nothing but change.

To embrace positive changes as we seek to improve our lot is one thing. So is being prepared for the possibilities of bad changes knocking us off course. But both of these concepts differ from this notion of,

"The hell with it. I'm not going to fall in love with anything, because everything constantly changes anyway. Whatever."

There is nothing wrong with building something to last. There is nothing wrong with looking for things that are long lasting, or even permanent in our lives. Working for those things. Struggling, even dying for them, if needs must. And when such things fail it's okay to mourn them, instead of pretending it doesn't bother you because "everything changes".

I say things are always happening in life. Whether or not that has to mean change all the time is to a great degree up to us.

What about you? What is your take on change? Do you head into battle assuming it will happen, or merely accept it if it does? Is anything permanent from the human perspective? Does embracing change mean that setting goals and keeping relationships is difficult or meaningless? Let me know.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not for Love or Money: A Better Way to Choose a Career, by Jen Gresham

When I decided to leave the military after 16 years of service, just four years short of the necessary time to collect a retirement check at the ripe age of 42, people thought I was nuts. What in the world couldn't be endured for just four more years with a payout like that? What made my decision even harder to understand was the fact I rather enjoyed the job I was leaving. Definitely nuts. Either that, or Too XYZ.

It's not that I don't care about money. I tend to agree with Jennifer Michael Hecht's theory that a certain amount of money brings a great deal of happiness, but after that, returns diminish. I always thought "for love of money" was a crass, albeit popular, way of choosing a direction. Turns out the correct phrase is "not for love or money," which I think is much better advice but runs counter to a lot what people will tell you. In this post, I'll talk about my journey to discover the perfect career and lessons I've learned along the way.

1. Look up. I'm a dreamer. Growing up, I went through a ton of potential professions, most of which tried to satisfy some version of the "for love" clause: actress (for fame, a version of love), animal trainer (for love of animals), and diplomat (for a suspected love of glamorous embassy parties).

The one exception was an inkling I might want to be a scientist, primarily because I was a naturally curious kid and had really enjoyed spending my summers working in a genetics lab at the University of South Florida. I had also developed a huge crush on a graduate student, so I guess the "for love" aspect wasn't completely missing.

My father decided to test my resolve by leaving copies of Discover magazine lying around the house. When I didn't read them, he advised me I didn't have the "fire in the belly" for science and should look for another profession.

Did a failure to read magazines really serve as the best indicator? I had won my county science fair. Where was that in the equation? Another way of looking at it might be to look at how I spent my free time, which was largely reading and writing poetry.

All this dreaming meant I was significantly ahead of the average kid in terms of introspection and my parents didn't even have to pay for a therapist.

2. Ignore the roar. Despite my father's advice, I decided to major in biochemistry over English because poets are some of the poorest professionals in America and I really like to eat. Turns out kids have good instincts that we often smother when we get older.

What neither my father nor I realized was that being a "biochemist" encompasses a pretty wide range of jobs. Over the course of my career, I have:

  • Served as a first line supervisor for an analysis lab
  • Performed original research as a graduate student
  • Managed a portfolio of basic research grants
  • Taught college level chemistry
  • Provided scientific guidance and vision for a medium-sized research lab
  • Headed corporate communications for a large research organization

Each of those jobs required different skills and presented an entirely new environment to navigate. When I was choosing a major, I only imagined one of those jobs, the one it turned out I enjoyed the least. Most people don't realize that performing research is a lot of tedious and careful detail work punctuated by the occasional big a-ha moment (if you're lucky). On the other hand, serving as a scientific adviser played to my big picture focus and gave me continual learning opportunities.

Talking to your instructors in school will rarely give you this kind of insight, because most of them have spent their careers solely in academia. They won't be much help to you in deciding on a career unless you want to do research and teach.

3. Flexibility is the key to air power. We say this a lot in the Air Force, because it's true, even though we're trapped in a huge bureaucracy. This is another reason why dreaming is so important.

Here's where my father was both right and wrong. I love science. When I was a teacher, I always got the highest ratings in the department for enthusiasm. The problem with all my jobs wasn't the science, it was everything else. There's more to being a scientist than just science. In fact, that's true of any job.

Nicolas Lore, in his book The Pathfinder, points out most people spend more time figuring out what car to drive than what they want to do with their lives. What you need to do is determine what you really require (not just love), and then pinpoint the job that satisfies your requirements. After working through all the exercises in the book, I realized the perfect career for me is to be...a writer.

One of the joys of life is exploring. I have no regrets about the winding path I've taken to find the perfect career. It's been fun. The thing I really wish my father had told me was not to fret too much about my choices, career or otherwise. A career is like building a house. You need a solid foundation, but you should be prepared for significant additions and remodels over the course of a lifetime. That's what gives it character. The career that doesn't grow with you probably isn't one worth having.

Jennifer Gresham is a 1994 graduate of the Air Force Academy. She earned her PhD in biochemistry from the University of Maryland and recently entered the Air Force Reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel. She published a book of poetry entitled Diary of a Cell, which won the 2004 Steel Toe Books poetry prize. She now writes about personal and professional fulfillment at her blog Everyday Bright.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Help Out the Helpers

"I've got it, thanks." "You don't have to worry about it." "I'll be fine."

These are some of the most common things we say to those who offer to help us at times we don't feel we need the help. I imagine that half the time people do need help but don't like to admit it. The other half of the time, they utter these phrases because they honestly don't really NEED any help with whatever the problem or situation may be.

I'm writing this post to advocate what may seem like an unusual position; half of the time you don't need any help with something, accept it when it's offered anyway.

When people offer to help you, whether it be with the dishes after a dinner at your home, or with getting through a difficult romantic break up, what they really want to do in most cases is two things. First, they want to feel useful. Second, and more importantly, they want to the give demonstrative support to you in some way. My take is that when we say, "No thanks," we are depriving our friends of the ability to know that they have meant something to us in our times of need, small and large.

Just as when you are in trouble you feel better, more loved, more appreciated when someone is there to help you through something, people who see someone in trouble feel like they are more fully loving someone when they are able to help. Everyone has their problems, again little ones as well as big. And sometimes helping someone with one of theirs also helps us through one of ours. The very atmosphere created when someone is lending a hand to someone else has healing properties for many.

Don't give away the store. Protect your privacy. And if you want to be alone, by all means by so. But when your daily difficulties, or tremendous pains are obvious to others, it can be a very trying thing to your friends when they watch you go through something and feel unable to help at all. So, if you honestly don't think you could use any help with something once it is offered, meet people halfway. Give them something smaller they can do.

--Even if you can get your door open with the packages you are holding, let them open it anyway.

--When a guest wants to help you set up or clean up a meal, give them some of the smaller tasks that won't interfere with how you run your home. Let them set out the plates, or wipe off the table. Maybe sweep the kitchen.

--If you are feeling very down about something, ask those that want to help you somehow to send you some quotations, or a book, or something along those lines which is designed to encourage people in your position. Non-intrusive but active way for others to get involved. (And believe me this is kind of a big one. People who like to help often seem to be people who love to look for quotations, articles, and books for their friends.)

You get the idea. Don't let an out of place sense of rugged individualism get in the way of helping others feel useful around you. The same goes for being afraid of burdening someone else with extra work. The vast majority of people who offer to help out with something actually want to do so. You don't have to do everything alone. People are there for you. But if you constantly give the impression you don't ever want or need anybody's help, they are likely to back away eventually. And then where will you be?

And who knows? You may find the little tasks you assign to the willing actually end up making your life easier, or making you feel better after all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mix Tapes, Memories, and Making It Happen

Last week I was conducting one of my periodic cleaning and purging sessions. That's where I go through all of my stuff, and get rid of things that have just been laying around a for a while. During this archeological expedition, I found one of my old mix tapes. Yes an actual cassette.

I have held on to some things for sentimental reasons over the years, but this cassette wasn't one of them. It's not the oldest mix tape in my life or anything. It just happened to be in with a box of other electronic stuff that I have had with me through the years. I probably dumped it in there during a move or something, and never took it out.

This tape is from around the time of my first summer job. Right after I graduated from high school. Because the car I drove didn't play CDs, I had recorded songs from several of my CDs onto the cassette, so I could listen to my own music as I drove to work. (Or other places of the era.)

I popped the cassette into my current player in my bedroom and listened to it for a while. Like I said, I own ALL of the same songs on CD. But there was something about listening to the slightly scratchy cassette recordings, with all of their audio idiosyncrasies. It just...sounds different.

But this isn't a post about sound quality in different media. The only pertinent information here is that although I was listening to the same songs I can listen to on CD, there is enough of a difference on the cassette recordings that it awakened certain types of memories that just listening to the song on the CD or on the radio don't awaken as much. In this case, the atmosphere around going to my first summer job, since that is when I would most often pop in this mix tape.

Frankly, I hated that job. Hot, dirty work. Terrible, inept co-workers. You've been there, I'm certain. Yet having that job did give me a certain feeling of freedom. I was to start college soon, and several different aspects of my life were opening up for the first time. And the job at least took place in a beautiful wooded area. There were moments when I had that job that I felt like I was really on my way to somewhere. (Usually on the drives to and from, but occasionally while I was actually on the job.)

It's that feeling of potential, of slight adventure, of a different kind of freedom and of the safe unknown that listening to that cassette brought to the surface again the other night in a way that the CDs themselves probably could not.

The reason, in my opinion, that this happened, is not the nature of the music, or even the nature of the cassette itself. But I listened to that particular tape so often during a time in my life when I opened myself up to that sense of promise and excitement that my subconscious associated that feeling with listening to that tape. So when, all these years later I popped it in again, it was like some of that feeling was brought to the surface.

I have enjoyed wonder and excitement since that first job. Maybe not as much as some, but it has happened. But the point is, don't reserve those feelings for the milestone times in your life.(Starting college. Starting a new job. The first days of a new romance.) Make sure you open yourself up to such feelings of potential all the time, and remain in awe of everything, where ever you find yourself. A very tall order, I readily admit. But if you can do it, you will always be able to look to that spirit of adventure within you when you need a push or a pick me up. You won't need a mix tape, or a movie, or a perfume to remind you of  "what I was like back then. I was so young and stupid."

You may have been young, but you weren't stupid if your biggest crime was thinking anything was possible. That life lie ahead of you. It still does. It takes a hell of a lot of work, and maybe you didn't realize that in the past. But you do now. So go; roll up your sleeves and get ready to sweat, get in your car, blast your old mix tape, and take off down the road of your life.

"Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is." ---Albert Einstein

Monday, August 2, 2010

Techie Issues

Given that I am strictly a WYSIWYG type of writer and blogger, I am experiencing some technical difficulties lately as I begin to allow so guest posters onto Too XYZ. Format shifts, the entire blog being altered based on one post...that sort of thing. It is all very confusing, and it may take some time for me to sort if all out. (Any advice would be appreciated.) Until then please remain patient, and an equilibrium will be reached again before long.


The Mets, Shelter Dogs, and Orphaned Possibilities, By Brianne Villano

The struggle to break free from societal norms is a great one. As a child, you are brought up in such a way that the rules of the house you are raised in become law. You’re taught what to believe, what to study, how to act, what to want; the list is endless.

But what if you had the opportunity to shatter previously assumed notions of what your life is supposed to be like? My friend Ty plays a part in that equation by using his blog as a platform to discuss ways in which he uses his own personalized skill set to break away from what’s perceived as ”normal,” so I have decided to share something that’s close to my heart for my “Auguest” post on Ty’s blog, TooXYZ.

I’m a Mets fan. Ok, that’s not what I wanted to share, but it’s all a part of the set-up so bear with me.

By stating that I’m a Mets fan I’m letting you know that I am loyal to people not because they may be the top players in their field, but because of their love of the game and the potential they have. “Potential” has many meanings but the one I focus on is unfulfilled possibility.

Mets games are like giant family reunions: everyone is glad to see you and the event is just a catalyst for the interpersonal interaction. The best part about the games are not the sport itself (some sports fans may disagree with me), but the communication and feelings that arise during the course of the game.

I’m also a Mom to a shelter dog. Shelter dogs exude unfulfilled possibilities. They are filled with anxiety and fear and often have behavioral issues that stem back to their own infancy, but if you’ve ever looked into the eyes of that dog, you can see the beautiful soul that lives inside and yearns to break free.

These animals may never have been shown affection or love. They may not know what it feels like to belong to another living creature. The unfulfilled possibility that exists in a shelter dog to become part of your life and part of your family, however, is very real. That small possibility, that spark that can turn their life of potential energy into one of kinetic energy, is what it’s all about for me.

Now onto the main event. I do not want to have children. Let me rephrase that to be clear. I do not want to give birth to children. There is unfulfilled possibility in each and every orphaned child in our country and abroad and each one of them deserves a catalyst.

I don’t pretend to lead the perfect life (not that such a generic thing exists), nor do I pretend to be a savior for people and animals deemed “broken.”

I do, however, know that I would always show them an open mind, an open heart, and open arms so that they may someday realize their potential and turn around to pay it forward.

As a scientist, you might think I’d want to preserve my DNA in a future generation and carry on my family’s line. Instead, I think the line of thinking that I’d like to instill in future generations is more important than the DNA behind it.

In reality, I believe the planet is just a tad overpopulated and if we would institute recycling in its most basic, yet complex, form, we would all benefit from the connections we could forge to one another and the message we could send to future generations.

Is that too TooXYZ? Am I an anomaly? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Brianne Villano writes and publishes Living Out Loud. She can be followed on Twitter @Brianne Villano.