The corporate vortex

We all want a satisfying and rewarding job, and taking pride in our career is only natural. For so many it’s who we are. But have we gone too far in our quest to succeed in the workplace? At what point do we cross the line of balance between work and family and what are we losing in the process?

When traveling in Europe a few years ago I was surprised when businesses, including stores, literally closed for 21/2 hours each day so that families could be together for the midday meal – what a wonderful practice! For that matter I recall it was difficult to find coffee or tea ‘to go’. The expectation was that you sit down and enjoy your beverage instead of gulping it down on the run, so it was served in a glass cup or mug. How civilized is that!

North American society has developed this 24/7 mentality that sees our personal lives being encroached upon more and more by work related duties, and mandates are endless because no sooner do you complete a project than a new one is assigned. The more you give, the more they expect. Lap tops, Ipads, Blackberry’s and cell phones have only added to the burden by keeping us ‘connected’ to the workplace 7 days a week, 365 days per year, so you’d better love your job….. because you can’t escape it.

There are those who revel in their jobs. They live and breathe the corporate culture, and they identify themselves first and foremost by their ‘career persona’. Men tend to fall into this category more than women. Women identify themselves as wives, partners, and mothers first because the home front is typically their domain. The career is second, or even third, but as women gain ground in the workforce priorities are shifting, even for them, and often not by choice. Many prefer the challenge of working outside the home and that’s great if it works in their personal lives, but too often they are having to give more than they want simply to stay employed.

Demands of the job are taking over not only our personal lives but our personal goals. Employers want us to complete a 75 hour mandate in a 40 hour work week and if we dare to complain of overwork, we are quickly reminded that there’s any number of people out there happy to have our job, so we sacrifice home and family to keep the job, because we need the money.

And if that isn’t enough, employers also want us to perform community service, in their name, and on our time. (What happened to charity begins at home?)

Too often I’ve witnessed the career driven individual who gave their life to their career only to find themselves downsized or eliminated when their purpose has been served, and nothing is more devastating to them – their personal purpose is gone, along with their confidence. “But don’t take it personally…it’s a business decision”  the employer tells them. “We’re just moving in a different direction with the business and your skillset is no longer relevant.”  This is the stuff breakdowns are made of and I shake my head at the complete lack of corporate conscience.

Let’s learn from our European neighbours. What if we took time every day to be with our loved ones, without any corporate devices? Enjoy a meal with friends or family, read a good book. If we are motivated to do charitable work then do it for ourselves, not to improve your employers corporate profile.

People are working longer and harder in jobs that are less personally satisfying. A job well done used to be rewarded and appreciated. Now it’s expected in half the time and appreciation is not forthcoming because you’re just doing what you’re paid for. I can remember when employees wanted to play on the company baseball team, and colleagues would go out for a drink after work on a Friday night. They were happy, and it reflected in their performance on the job because happy employees do better work. Now people have been so squeezed of their energy and joy in the workplace they are reluctant to socialize with colleagues at all. Even company Christmas parties have lost their attendance because employees are tired and undervalued so they don’t want to spend any more time in the workplace than they have to.

At the end of the day we all have to do what is necessary to support ourselves and if you’re truly happy in your workplace, lucky you…because you are not the norm. Just look around. Most are overworked, stressed and unhappy. If you can make the changes to balance your work and family life do it, because no one is impressed with an obituary that reads “Here lies John Doe, who dedicated his life to the corporate cause (which, by the way, is also what killed him). He leaves behind a family who barely saw him.”

The obituary will be followed by a job posting for his now vacant role, because business is business.

Overworked

Keeping the positive attitude as you age….

….is more important than ever… but so hard to do! Ailments and injury are unpredictable, fast, and all too frequent.

Last summer I was chatting with my daughter on the back porch. I happened to lean forward to pick up a nail file,,,a nail file…and that was it. I hurt something in my back that put me out of commission for weeks.

Later, the next fall, I caught a cold (ok, who doesn’t in the fall?)  One day, I happened to cough and in doing so pulled a muscle in my lower back,,,from a simple cough! The strain to my back was substantial, painful enough to warrant physio therapy and major pain killers, the kind that make you sick to your stomach, but I decided the pain was worse than the vomiting so I took the pills. It was almost 11 months before my back was fully healed from this one.

I was putting away a casserole dish 2 days ago, in a lower cupboard. I’ve done this a million times,,,, in fact, I had to access this same awkward cupboard 3 days ago to prepare the casserole, so you’d think I’d be used to it, but no. I knelt to place the dish on the lower shelf at the very back and in doing so wrenched my right knee such that I could barely move for the next several days. My knee joint was stiff and swollen, and I had to lurch about the house like a big clumsy Frankenstein.

What has happened to my body? I can recall my parents sporting injuries, back, knees, shoulders,,,but that was my parents, and they were ancient! Weren’t they?

When I was a young girl I was always very determined to remain physically active, always. In fact, my sister and I both did, largely because our mother, God bless her, was hugely inactive. She maintained that physical activity was masculine and completely unsuitable to females. I’m sure there’s some psychological throw back to her own upbringing but we’ve never quite figured it out. Suffice it to say, we always strived to remain fit, if for no other reason than to remain able to enjoy our ‘golden years’, cause let’s face it, the years leading up to that are just a lot of hard work, so we earn our ‘golden years’. It would be cruel for nature to rob us of this time!

So, I walk, religiously, ridiculously, every single day, and always have. When diagnosed with arthritis a number of years ago, I worked with a physio therapist and Yoga instructor to create a daily routine to keep my joints limber. I do everything I should to maintain flexibility and good health, but it appears genetics, lifestyle and destiny supersede our efforts because as fast as we deal with issues, nature and aging take another angle, throwing a wrench into the spokes. Even when we do have a period of good health, we don’t ‘look’ the same. The sands of time have shifted and what once nicely filled out a sweater now sadly sags like an unwanted pile.

As we age it seems we encounter more negative aspects of life when, shouldn’t we be reaping the benefits of a life well lived? A life hard earned? The physical aspects aside, we struggle with declining agility, memory loss, death of peers,,,,c’mon, thow us a bone already!

But no bone is forthcoming.

Because this is the cycle of life, and life is not meant to be easy. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth the effort.  It takes great fortitude and self- discipline to stay positive in light of ‘aging’, among all the other challenges encountered in our lives. Look for the bright light (not the death light, not yet) the ‘light’ of hope that all is not for naught.

So, I‘ve determined that my efforts to remain flexible aren’t futile, after all. I will continue to do what I have to, to stay fit, and if destiny intervenes, so be it. (don’t mess with me God, cause I still have the ability to bitch and NO ONE can take that away from me, not even you) I shouldn’t be hard to spot. I’ll be the feisty old lady bitching at the side of the road, with a limp!

feisty old lady

Productivity

Aside from the obvious differences, men and women ‘see’ things quite differently. What is priority to one, matters little to the other. For example:

I wake at 7:00am, make my way downstairs and prepare breakfast. I eat my fruit, drink my coffee and and eventually take fruit and coffee up to my wonderful husband. He is sitting up in bed watching the news and is most appreciative of the ‘delivery service’.

I sort some laundry and make my way downstairs with the wash then I tidy up the kitchen and head down to the freezer to defrost something for dinner. Upon seeing no further breakfast is forthcoming, my husband eventually gets up and comes down to make some toast.

I head upstairs where I get dressed and make the now empty bed as I plan out my day. My husband has come back upstairs, gets dressed and moves to his chaise lounge chair, located just outside the bedroom, to read the paper.

I prepare my grocery list and head out for my walk to the grocery store, list in hand. Two hours later my grocery cart piled high with staples, I call my darling husband to pick me up. It takes a few moments for him to answer because he dozed off reading the paper.

Upon returning I put away the groceries and empty the garbage cans in the kitchen and washrooms. As I see my husband heading upstairs, library book in hand, I remind him that we are having company for dinner this evening and suggest he help me prepare the house. He disappears into the garage  and when I next check in on him I see he’s washing the car. (Ok, not necessarily a priority for my dinner party but work is work) He eventually comes in satisfied that he’s done his part and asks, ‘what’s for lunch?’

I make us both a quick sandwich, finish cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms and prepare to mop the kitchen floor, stopping to change the laundry on my way. My husband has now moved to the bedroom so he can watch tv under a blanket – he has a chill.

After the floors are dry I put everything back into the kitchen and run the vacuum through the other rooms, tidying up as I do. Then I hastily set the table. Noting from the local weather forecast that the clear and mild weather isn’t to last until tomorrow I determine this is likely the best time to put out our holiday lights so I head into the garage and spend the next 21/2 hours sorting Christmas lights and stringing them onto our bushes. My husband comes down to make a cup of coffee, steps outside briefly to declare the lights I hung adequate, stops to admire the shiny car, then returns to his chaise, coffee and ipad in hand.

I come inside, having completed my outdoor work, fold my 2nd load of laundry and head upstairs to put things away. It’s late afternoon now and my chores for the day are mostly done so I jump into a shower mentally planning the strategy for my dinner menu. I remind my partner in passing that he still needs to set up the bar and he nods. By the time I get out of the shower my sweetheart has moved back to the bed to watch tv but now the noise of my hair dryer overpowers the sound so he decides this is a good time to go downstairs after all .

Clean and dressed I eventually come down to the kitchen to prepare dinner for our guests only to find the love of my life hovered over the kitchen sink madly scrubbing, and golf balls are drying on towels all over the counter. I note the time and suggest perhaps he finish up this vital task another day, after all it’s almost December so it’s unlikely he’ll need those balls for at least the next 4  months. I remind him also that we have dinner guests arriving in 2 hours and that we really should be getting ready. Oblivious to my sense of urgency, my sweetheart grudgingly packs up his golf balls, putting them and his cleaning supplies on a side counter (so all can see his efforts?) and heads upstairs to shower.

In between chopping, peeling and cooking, I update my banking, paying a few bills, etc. My husband finally comes down showered and dressed, and declares it’s after 5:00 and it’s  been a long day – time for a cocktail.  He sets up the bar in preparation for guests, repositions his bucket of balls so that they’re front and center, and settles into his chair to await our guests while watching the Golf channel.

Our dinner guests arrive and we enjoy a lovely evening. They comment on a delicious meal, lovely table, and even note how pretty the Christmas lights look as they leave. As we tidy up the dishes and head up to bed I notice my husband is unusually quiet. The evening was a success so puzzled, I inquire as to his pensive mood to which he replies, “All that work, the preparation, the toil, and they didn’t even notice how clean my golf balls were!”

***Disclaimer – no husbands were hurt in the making of this blog***

Man cleaning

Gratitude

I was recently in a conversation with friends and the subject of gratitude came up, specifically how there seems to be such a shortage of it today. We are a busy people, all of us, and there’s no shortage of energy expressing all that is wrong in our lives. If only we could expend such energy (gratitude) on what is right in our lives.

Distraction plays a big role here. Time is short and we are much in demand, and it seems it is the negatives in life that catch our attention, i.e. they are the priority, consuming our minds and ultimately weighing us down. We are reminded of everything we don’t have versus everything we do, and too often we take all that is right in our lives for granted, even the bad things, because they too have purpose.

Maybe it’s a symptom of age. I don’t recall myself reflecting daily and giving thanks for all that was good in my life when I was young. In my arrogance I simply assumed it was my right that life was good – I expected life to be good and easy and abundant, and when it wasn’t I blamed everything from God, to destiny, to luck, bad luck. Age and experience have made me a little more conscious of appreciating not only all that is good in my life, but also all that wasn’t. It wasn’t always that way.

When something goes very right it’s easy to celebrate but when something goes wrong how often do we step back and think, “ok, why did this happen, and how can I make it of benefit to me?” We don’t. But we should  because everything happens for a reason and the reason is never to punish us but rather to learn.

I lost my job a few years ago. The circumstances were unpleasant and I didn’t feel I deserved the way I was treated, and in my naive emotional state I honestly thought justice would prevail and I would be exonerated, at the very least supported but the corporate world doesn’t always seek justice. Too often they hide under the guise of ‘a business decision’ or ‘restructuring’ or ‘you’ve simply served your purpose and we’re done with you’. In this case it was more a matter of taking the easy way out and minimizing any public fallout. Releasing me was quicker and less ‘visual’ that dealing with the bigger problem. I went through all the stages, shock, disappointment, anger at the betrayal,,,,,, but not for long, and that surprised me….more even, than the act itself.

In trying to justify the situation in my mind, I had to ask myself if it would’ve been better had it never happened and the answer really shocked me. NO. No, it would not have been better. I realized then that I had been working in a toxic environment and it was slowly killing me. I didn’t see it but friends and family did and they would subtly comment but I wasn’t listening, so fate took the wheel. Or maybe it was destiny or God or I don’t know who (personally I think it was God, but that’s my belief). All I know is that I was forcibly removed from an environment that was hurting my psyche….and it was a good thing because….eventually I was grateful.  I was of the age and position to retire, so I did. That doesn’t make the injustice hurt any less but it did make me reflective. I came to realize that one way or another I had to get out of that environment, and I wasn’t doing it myself, so God, intervened,,,,for my own good.

That experience made me really appreciate everything in my life. I’m in a better place. I spend time with my family, my friends, and I no longer lament the things that supposedly went wrong because from something so very wrong came something so very good, and I found myself feeling something  in this situation I hadn’t imagined ….gratitude. Gratitude isn’t always just about the good things in life, although we should always be thankful for those anyway because they’re just a gift. It’s about evaluating everything in life, measuring its’ worth, appreciating the lesson, and taking stock.

Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for the people in my life, what I have, and where I am. I will never understand the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of some things, but I will trust that they occur the way they do for good reason, and I will always be grateful  for the outcome. Take nothing for granted. Focus on the good, work with the bad, but don’t give it excess energy because it’ll just drain you. Take from ‘the bad’ the lesson and find the positive spin in it because there is always one….look at my story.  Things happen. Life is good.

Gratitude

Ego

We all know the egocentric, at least one, surely! That individual who struts like their ‘stuff’ is invaluable to mankind, and their opinion, on anything, is as good as Gods’ word. They do not appear to lack confidence. In fact, they hold themselves a cut above the rest of humanity because they are, after all, ‘special’. On one hand you have to feel a little sorry for them because it must be exhausting to keep up the façade of superiority; on the other you can’t help but admire their sheer gall.

I suppose it’s easy for someone famous to fall into the trap. After enough adoring fans tell you you’re fabulous, you start to believe it and before you know it you’ve catapulted yourself to super stardom and can do no wrong. How often do you see music concerts where the front rows boast any number of screaming women, sobbing, grabbing at anything they can to obtain that coveted souvenir?

I attended such a concert once for Il Divo; four middle aged, handsome men with beautiful voices, singing in harmony. Somehow we had managed to get floor seats, front and centre – we were so close you could almost touch them. It should’ve been a wonderful experience, but it wasn’t. Screaming fans making fools of themselves aside, (I had expected this) I was startled by the behaviour of the performers themselves. Being so close to the stage gave us a good sightline of their faces and I noticed they kept making eye contact with women in the audience, winking as they reached their arms out suggestively to everyone and no one. One in particular kept flexing his eyebrows provocatively at random fans, gazing into our eyes.

Every now and then they’d toss a scarf or towel from around their necks into the audience and smile smugly as women scrambled onto the floor like ants to get them. Ok, am I the only one that thinks this is excessive? I’m probably as big a fan of some performers as anybody and while I admire their talent I don’t need their attitude. In fact I find it insulting when they resort to such practices.

Lose the ego pal. Remember you’re only as good as your fans ‘see you’, and this fan (me) walked away disappointed because my love and adoration for your special talent was only superseded by your own love and adoration for yourself and that’s one cold bucket of ice in the face! I came to hear good music. Don’t resort to suggestive maneuvers and don’t throw your laundry at me. Oh, and you might want to have that eyebrow spasm thing looked at by a good surgeon.

Maybe that’s one price to be paid for fame. It can’t be easy for some to keep their ego in check with fans degrading themselves just to gain their attention. If devotees could keep their ‘accolades’ to a realistic level maybe those famous personalities would be a little more humble (and likeable).

Now big egos aren’t limited to those with fame. You see them every day, everywhere; in the workplace, at school, and without a ‘special talent’ you have to wonder what they base their superiority on. Even the performers I described above; take away their beautiful voices and they’re just, well,,,us!

I think we are all fabulous and we all have talent – maybe not the kind you can market for fame and profit, but an asset; something unique to you that is notable, and while I urge everyone to remain confident in their abilities, don’t lose sight of reality (your limitations), i.e., don’t let it change who you are. There’s a fine line between confidence and conceit – don’t cross it, because the weight of carrying a big ego is exhausting to maintain and comes with a high price to your ‘fan’ base.

Ego.png

Never underestimate the strength of a woman

Throughout the ages women have born the title of ‘the weaker sex’. In fact, I wonder if they were ever justified in owning this descriptive. The physical make up of a woman is typically smaller and less muscular than that of a man, making it possible for them to be physically dominated, but does that mean they are weaker? And that women were automatically cast into submissive roles – how’d that come about?

Taking control of society by brute force was simple for men who flexed their muscle, but how would they have survived in a society ruled exclusively by brain and no brawn? Gone are the days (and thank goodness!) when women were viewed as delicate flowers, brainless, helpless, and in need of protection from a big strong male, because over the years women figured out that if they wanted to raise their profile and independence they needed to flex muscle of a different kind, so they learned how to use the strongest organ in the body; the one that can rule muscle – the brain.

Effective use of thought and strategy gave women the ability to influence their male counterparts, subtly, so the men didn’t even see it. (many still don’t) That’s not to say they had complete control but it certainly gave them a voice in a male dominated world; a voice they otherwise didn’t have.

As I moved through my adult years I experienced and witnessed numerous situations that tested the strength of men and women, mentally and physically, and it changed the way I had been raised to view women. We are most definitely anything but delicate! In fact, I’d venture to say that as we age, women get stronger, probably as a result of the hardships we’d experienced. Men, by contrast, appear to get weaker with age, and not just physically. Maybe that too is a direct result of their life experiences. The difference is how these experiences have manifested themselves in our psyche.

I know of a woman my age, who raised three children, and just as she and her husband planned on retiring to enjoy the fruits of their labour, her sibling died suddenly leaving three young children without parents. One child has special needs and will require supervision and assistance for life. Well past the age to raise a young family, she couldn’t turn her back on these innocent young orphans and took them in, raising a young family all over again. The toll on her husband was visible, despite his acceptance of the situation. She on the other hand, took charge, mustering up the energy of a woman half her age, and gave these children a good home and family. This didn’t come without issues. The challenges of integrating two families, dealing with grief, loss, and resentment, not to mention the financial burden would bring many to their knees, but she did it, and no sooner is she done with raising her second family, than she has to now look after her aging, tired husband and this too she manages, because she can.

I come from a long line of strong women. My mother was a powerhouse and my family and friends have confirmed that I too, apparently, am a force to be reckoned with. I have to admit that for a long time I resented this…and  truth told, I was somewhat embarrassed. I didn’t want to be viewed as a ‘tough’ woman. This reputation made me feel hard and unfeminine. (and I am a girly-girl) Fortunately as I aged I came to realize that what some perceived as tough I saw as strong. The experiences of my life made me stronger, more resilient, and dare I say it….. competent!  And isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, learn from our experiences and put those teachings to good use? If I’m ‘hard’ or ‘tough’ it’s because life handed me situations that required me to either cope or crumble. I chose to cope. (and since when is competency a crime?)

I suppose at the end of the day we all have a choice in determining how we are to be portrayed, and I do not want to be seen as the ‘damsel in distress’; in need of her knight to save her. I’m capable, confident and able to cope…..and proud of it! And if my knight (or my children) ever need a powerhouse in their moment of weakness (because we ALL have them), I hope they know I can handle it.

I am woman….hear me roar!

strong woman.jpg

The family dynamic

Family is both a blessing and a curse. Those who have family often wish they don’t, and those who have no known family relations wish they do.

I met a woman a number of years ago, she was slightly past middle age and her 3 children were all grown. She once confided to me that her first born, a boy, distanced himself from her as a child. Much as she tried to create a bond between mother and son, she couldn’t seem to penetrate the wall he had built between them. There was no confrontation, no issues to cause a rift. The boy simply had no connection to his family, and no regrets about it. This didn’t stop with her, in fact, the child seemed to lack any interest in the whole family, mother, father, and 2 younger siblings.

She said as soon as he was of age he left home never looking back. He has since moved to another country, married, and has 2 children of his own yet still lacks interest in his original family. His younger 2 siblings seem ‘normal’, close to each other and the parents. I was startled by her lack of emotion when she spoke of this estranged son and she quickly explained that over the years and despite all efforts to forge a relationship with him, she and her husband finally had to accept that he wanted no part of the family that had been so much a part of his early life. She didn’t understand it, but had no choice. He was lost to her.

In another scenario, there is a family with 6 children, 3 boys, 3 girls, all adults now, and one of the eldest sons has estranged himself from family. Again, there was no animosity, no confrontation or episodes to facilitate his departure, he simply had no interest. It’s almost as though he would’ve preferred to be an only child. All 6 siblings live within a short drive of each other and all get along. They gather for each holiday and acknowledge each others milestones, all except this one brother. He acknowledges nothing, declines all invitations – he wants no part of ‘family’.

A female friend has one sister. Over 25 years ago they had a disagreement over family assets (doesn’t it always come back to money?) and a life long grudge was formed. Both sisters have married and have families of their own but have had no contact since. They live in the same city but their children have never met their own cousins. How fair is it to deny your children their family? And who are you to make that choice for them? How healthy is it to foster anger and resentment, not to mention forcing your bitterness and venom on the next generation? Who wins here?

What is it that makes one turn away from family?  Now granted, you can’t ‘pick’ your family, so you may not have much in common. In fact, you may not even like your family much, but there is a blood connection that cannot be denied…. or maybe it can. It just seems so sad.

My family is not large, I have 2 older siblings (a sister and a brother) and we do not live nearby but we maintain contact. Throughout our adult years life took us in different directions. We had families, careers and friends that were not a part of each others lives, and we could go long periods without seeing each other, but we never lost the ‘family’ connection. Special occasions brought us together as did the hard times, family loss, and hardship. Being together wasn’t always easy. We didn’t always see eye to eye. In fact, we often disagreed on life choices made but we respected each others right to make their own choices, and we supported them because they are family.

Friends can often become family. There appears to be much in common with them, they offer support when needed, and pass no judgement. There is no familial obligation either way so severing the ties when/if the friendship takes a bad turn is easier but rare, because friendships are made by choice, not by birth, so we work a little harder to keep them. It’s too easy to take family for granted.

Family can be hugely influential in your life (if you allow it) or they can be distant and disinterested. Just how influential is up to you. Personally, I’ve always maintained the people in our lives are there for a reason; every encounter offers a new opportunity to learn something, and life is all about learning and growing.

I can’t say I’m a fan of every relative I have, and I may not agree with how they live, what they say or do, or how they view me, but I appreciate that they are in my life and make the effort to have an impact on me. Those walking this path with me, my family and my friends, are a gift and I, for one, am grateful for every lesson.

Family dynamic.jpg

Self-esteem

I was chatting with a friend earlier today about how hard it is for us to graciously accept compliments. When handed comments like “Gee your hair looks nice today” or “that colour sweater is great on you”, we almost always follow up with a detrimental response like “really?, I need to get my roots done” or “This sweater would look better on me if I lost 10 pounds”.

Women, much more so than men, are severely judgmental of themselves, especially physical appearance, and this constant need to better ourselves is ingrained from a very young age. It’s called self-esteem, or rather it’s a lack of it.

There’s a song from the nineteen seventies called, At Seventeen, sung by Janis Ian, that summarizes the sad reality of a young woman’s self-image. She alludes to happiness being only for the pretty girls; those less endowed with beauty are left to fantasize – they are, in her own words, the ‘Ugly Duckling’. The truth is most young women see themselves as the ugly duckling, even some of the pretty ones, because they don’t feel pretty.

As children we suffer the taunts of other children, and sadly, often the harsh criticisms of parents and elders who have no concept of the effects of their words. Our teenage years are the critical, formative years where our self-esteem is most developed and most tested. This is when all criticisms are taken with extreme sensitivity, i.e. the knife cuts deeper and leaves more lasting scars during these years. Some withdraw into themselves, avoiding social situations, some are fortunate enough to endure mingling with peers without feeling inadequate. Many suffer in silence, wishing they could feel the confidence the other kids do, watching them with admiration and hiding behind their loneliness.

It’s no surprise that advertising plays a key role in self-image. Young women look at models as the goal of what the perfect woman should look like; bone thin, pale faced, and pissed off (why do these run way models always look like they’ve been sucking a lemon? You make thousands of dollars for a 2 hour photo shoot and you can’t crack a smile?)

When you shop for any clothing that fits the current trends, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that fits someone who weighs more than 100 pounds, which probably eliminates 95% of the population.  These models we see, these scrawny, emaciated ‘perfect people’ are not without flaws. Every blemish and wrinkle has been dutifully camouflaged thanks to lighting, cosmetics, and camera touch ups. And that beautiful young couple without an ounce of fat on their bodies, scarfing down a burger and fries in the commercial……you can bet within seconds of the camera shutting off they’re in the nearest bathroom inducing vomiting before they should, God forbid, gain an ounce. Advertising creates images of physical perfection that cannot be sustained in a healthy balanced society.

I remember the song, At Seventeen, and like most girls, I saw myself as the Ugly Duckling, because I was far from perfect, but we don’t talk about it, girls. We just work to improve ourselves….. for a lifetime.

We dye our hair, pierce our ears, apply our make-up, wax our legs, pluck our facial hair, affix false eye lashes, and cram our ‘healthy’ bodies into all sorts of apparatus that promises to mold our blub into a thing of beauty, but at the end of the day we didn’t need to, because beauty really is in the eye of the beholder – we just need to reign the beholders expectations…. back into reality, and that starts with our own self-image.

Love your look, flaws and all. Look at others with generosity; a well delivered compliment costs nothing and goes a long way in building anothers self-esteem. And start young; build up our children. Let them know from a young age that they are smart and beautiful and valued for all their attributes. And be vocal about the sincerity of advertising – the perfect male/female doesn’t exist. (And if they did, who’d want them? Living with perfection is a lot of pressure, not to mention the maintenance!)

Throw out Snow Whites magic mirror, toss the scale out the window, and focus on loving yourself, just as you are, because when you love yourself, you look good, and when you look good….you feel great!

You’re beautiful. Pass it on.

beauty

 

The Farmers Daughter

Hans and Frieda Baumgardt were farmers and worked hard to eke out a meager living. For too many years Hans waited and hoped for a son to help with the farm but alas none came. Their only child, a daughter, Matilda, had very poor vision so she was unable to help with the farm chores.

Hans and Frieda determined that their best option was to find a suitable husband for Matilda; one who could help with the farm and care for their daughter. Now Matilda was an attractive girl so finding an interested match should not have been difficult.

They searched the local villages for potential suitors but word of Matildas’ visual impairment had spread and while many a man would welcome inheriting a farm, none was prepared for the life of toil sure to accompany this one. Farming was a hard living. The crops had been poor for many years and with Hans and Frieda aging the work was sure to fall on the next generation. A wife unable to work side by side in the fields would be a liability for certain, so there were no takers of Matildas’ hand. Over the years many young men passed through the small farm house but none could be convinced to marry Matilda.

One day, in the midst of a storm, a traveling salesman came upon the farm house seeking shelter. Realizing the salesman likely had no knowledge of the local people Frieda saw this as an opportunity to market her daughter. While Hans showed the young man the fields, Frieda and her daughter prepared a sumptuous meal to entice him. Matilda took great care dressing and looked quite fetching in her Sunday best but Frieda, cautious of how word traveled, wanted to ensure the young man saw no fault with Matilda, so she devised a plan to trick him. Frieda placed a sewing needle on the floor far across the room and said to Matilda, “after dinner I want you to point over there and mention that you see a needle on the floor. Then the young man will surely see that your eyes are clear.”

Armed with this plan they sat down to dinner with their young guest. Just after the dishes had been cleared and when there was a lull in the conversation, Matilda said, “oh mother, I see that you dropped one of your sewing needles on the floor” and she pointed clear across the room. The young man stood and walked over to the corner, stooping to pick up the needle, clearly startled that she could see something so small from so far away.

Now the salesman wasn’t as naïve as the farmers believed. He had, in passing through the village, heard the rumours about the farmers’ daughter and her poor eyes, but this proved it was just rumour. The girl appeared to have exceptional vision. How else could she have spotted the small needle from across the room? Feeling suddenly more opportunistic the salesman returned to the dinner table, anxious to engage in conversation with the farmer regarding his daughter, and the farm.

Freida, delighted at the obvious success of their trick, set about getting dessert on the table.  She laid out a platter of sweets and thought to accompany them with sweet wine – after all, this was a celebration, no? But wine was expensive and in short supply and she wanted to make sure the deal was sealed before imbibing. Deciding to take no chances she put a big pitcher of fresh milk on the table and no sooner had she sat down than Matilda jumped up and flung her arm across the pitcher, knocking it to the floor, as she screamed “get off the table you damn cat!”

Realizing he had been tricked the young man immediately left the farmhouse grateful that he uncovered the deception before he’d committed himself. Hans and Frieda were heartbroken at the lost opportunity and duly shamed by their attempted deception.

There is a lesson to be learned from this. The salesman hoped to shamelessly capitalize on a situation to enhance his own financial well being….and the Baumgardts’ thought to use trickery to secure their daughters, and their farms financial future. At the end of the day there is only one true lesson, one moral to be gained. Never serve milk when you can have wine.

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Movin’ on

We all go through periods of difficulty in our lives but I truly believe we are never given more than we can handle. Why then, is it so difficult to move on from some situations? Maybe the initial wound is too deep, the scars permanently embedded in our psyche, so you simply move in another direction to escape, temporarily. And often there was no opportunity for resolution, an injustice has been dealt, with you as the casualty, and like it or not, life goes on with little regard as to how you are affected. Whatever the slight, it has brought you to your knees; unpleasant memories replay in your active mind and interrupt your dreams. Why can’t we move on? Why is recovery so elusive when all we want is peace from the memories that haunt us?

Loss of a loved one, a relationship, or loss of a career, echo with a deathly finality and no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t move past it. It’s like the old record that keeps skipping in the same part of the song.

I recently encountered a woman who helped me to put things into perspective. Her name is Eileen and she works in a hair salon. Eileen emigrated from a small town in South Wales with her high school sweet heart a number of years ago. They married, had a child, and life, to all appearances seemed good. It was after 11 years of marriage Eileen discovers her husband is homosexual. He always knew this but was afraid to breach convention so he ‘played along’ with the marriage and led a secret life on the side.

Having grown up in a very sheltered home Eileen is shocked with this news and leaves to set him free so she can build a new life with her daughter. But he doesn’t ‘come out’. He doesn’t want to, and he’s angry that she has forced his hand, so he makes life difficult for her. After a costly and ugly battle Eileen, deeply wounded, finally settles into life on her own. She has loved and lost but she but she focuses on her daughter and her job, and with family and friends a world away, she also has her loneliness.

Eventually she meets and falls in love with Alex, a recovering addict. He has his issues but he’s a kind man working to improve his life and hers. He is on the road to being drug free thanks to an effective rehab program and a supporting partner, and he is optimistic of their future. They have 21/2 years together before he dies suddenly from an accidental overdose. Again Eileen is alone and heartbroken so she returns to her daughter, her job, her old life, and the loneliness. Many would crumble here, but not Eileen.

She is determined to live again, to love again, and after 3 years she meets Martin, a divorced father of 2 boys. He isn’t Alex, and she’s no longer the naïve young girl, but she is happy in his company. He is kind and considerate, and he fills the void, and for Eileen that seems to be enough. She recounts these details of her life while attending to my hair and I’m blown away with her honesty. There is no shame or anger in her voice, no regret, but I detect a note of sadness and a weariness that belies her young age. She’s not looking for sympathy or help; she’s just telling it like it is. This is her life and she has accepted it, with all the pain.

Now what strikes me about this story is how Eileen managed to move on each time life dealt her a blow. I know of any number of people who have never recovered from their first loss, never mind endure subsequent losses, but Eileen amazed me with her ability to see the glass half full. “Life is for the living’, she said, matter of factly, “and as long as I’m alive I plan to look for happiness because it may not find me on its’ own.”  Her attitude is so positive, so inspiring. So why can’t we apply her strategy to our life issues? Heaven knows we all have them!

Not all of our losses or hurts are like Eileen’s, about romantic relationships, but the effect is the same; devastating, and for Eileen, clearly this life lesson was around relationships and loss. Whatever the setback we encounter, it hurts our hearts and haunts our minds, and many issues cannot be resolved to our satisfaction because we are at the mercy of another’s handling of the situation, which is likely why we are unable to move on. And because the matter has been taken out of our hands we have no choice but to deal with it in the most constructive way we can.  Beaten and defeated, this is where many give up.

So! I take a lesson from the pages of Eileens’ life. (she was brought into my life for a reason) I look at my struggles and weigh them against all that is good in my life. Now I admit that isn’t always enough to bring me the escape from old hurts but I have come to accept that whatever happens in my life is meant to happen, good or bad, and while I may never ‘get over it’, I will, as they say, be stronger for it. (don’t you just hate these old clichés?)

Recovery is a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength, and who’s to say what ‘normal’ is? Maybe we just need to find what it is in our lives that makes us happy, truly happy, and let that dominate (or over- power) our negative experiences. For me, for now, it’s the only path to peace. Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Find it.

Life is good.

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