Monday, May 31, 2010

A True Community

I understand Facebook’s place, but I have never been a huge fan of it. I do believe in online communities as a start which is why I write my blog and send these emails because, eventually, I will find a way to connect many of you more personally.

The reason I don’t have a deep love for online communities by themselves without “live” connecting is because, to me, they are not true communities.  They are ways to connect until you have time to really connect.  For me, connecting is talking to someone on the phone or, better yet, seeing them in person.  There is really nothing to take the place of the intonation in someone’s voice or the expressions on their face as they are telling you a story.

Today, I realized why I feel so strongly about this issue.

I was involved in a centennial celebration for my old home town.  Part of the celebration was by way of a parade.  There were boy scouts, girl scouts, elementary, middle, and high school students (and their teachers).  There were ex-mayors, the current mayor, and a congress woman, not to mention parade participants of every shape and form (including my dog).  All in all, the parade was sweet because it wasn’t about being rich or successful, it was about being part of a community.

I was born and raised in this town and so was my mother.  My children attended the schools there as well.  As I walked the parade route, I saw friends from every decade of my life.

As I left the parade, I walked the same route that I walked from the time I was in second grade until high school (from the school to my old house).

Now, you might think that I grew up in the midwest somewhere in a small town.  I didn’t.  This town is a suburb of San Francisco, but it felt like Main Street, USA.

The reason I don’t love Facebook is because I can’t see my community.  The connection that you make with people in real life can’t exist online.  Online connections can supplement the relationship, but the true relationship is sharing ups and downs in person with those that you love.

I am grateful beyond belief that I had the opportunity to live in the same place for most of my life and for at least the first 20 years of my children’s lives.  Long ago when my childhood seemed chaotic and confusing, the community I grew up in offered me safety and stability.  Friends, teachers, and other families were always there for me and I knew I could depend on them.  I know that is not always the norm, and for that, I will always be incredibly thankful.

It reminds me that there is no substitute for a “real” community, one with friends and family that form the support that everyone needs to go through life.  Online communities and networks can help, but you just can’t have 500 close friends.

What I was reminded of today is that we can never be too busy to connect with our family, friends, and our community.  This bonding process necessitates time and effort to keep the relationships alive and well, but they are the most important things we have.  There is no way that money or job status or any other “thing” can ever take the place of a true community.

The close knit relationships that we create and maintain over the years are truly the foundation for a healthy life.  I was reminded of that today when I walked back to my car passing “my old house” from “my old school" and I remembered all the people that loved me and were so kind to me.  So many of them are still part of my community today and I am eternally grateful for that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Selective Memories

Last night , I attended a lecture given by Professor Jennifer Aaker from the Stanford School of Business called “Happiness is Miserable”.  Now, I know that sounds terrible, but it wasn’t a depressing topic.

She talked about how we really don’t know many times what makes us happy and what we THINK makes us happy is different than what ACTUALLY makes us happy.

Professor Aaker used Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, as an example. She showed all her family pictures of everyone having a great time, but she also showed us pictures of her family standing in line, getting sick, and being just plain tired.  The truth is Disneyland is not always the happiest place on Earth, but most people would hesitate to remember anything but that from their visit.

The irony is that many times we remember those good old days and try to make our present compete with the memories of what we recall as those very happy times.

But, it’s selective.  Much of it is our perception of the past and how happy we were.  

Six years ago, my older son started high school at the same high school that I attended.  I remember going back to the school and reminiscing about the wonderful times I had had there.  It made me nostalgic for the “good old days”.  But, as the years went on and now that my younger son is about to graduate, I can say that there were a lot of times in my high school years that weren’t that terrific.  In fact, I graduated one semester early because I had had enough and I was ready to move on. 

It’s so tempting when you are going through difficult or even boring times to selectively remember things, but it’s not really fair to our “present” days.  They are competing with a fantasy.  It’s hard for the present to battle with memories of days that had no down side.

As I go out to the football field this Friday and watch my son graduate, I think I will feel a sense of relief knowing that I had the chance to return to high school and, eventually, put it back into reality.

High school was an exciting time, but it was also stressful and scary and I am not sure I would ever want to relive it.  Actually, what I have learned is that I am really “happy” to be right where I am and even with the responsibilities and challenges of being a “grown-up”, I have a much better understanding of who I am, what I want, and where I am going.

Now that I think about it, that makes me pretty happy.


Friday, May 21, 2010


There are those that say that settling is the same as compromise.  I do not believe that.  For me, compromise is when you give up a little because the eventual goal is worthwhile and what you have given up is not worth fighting over because you know the final outcome is too important to lose.

I have never felt that compromising was based on fear.  Compromise feels like an informed decision to me.  I once heard a professor who teaches Negotiating at Stanford Business School say that you should never go into a negotiation without a "plan B" with which you are perfectly comfortable.  If you do, you will negotiate out of fear.

That is what settling is for me.  Settling for anything in life is choosing something because you are petrified of the alternative.  It is a decision based on fear of what will happen if you don't settle.  I think settling is what you do when you are afraid that you are not good enough for the real thing, whatever that may be.  Of course, there are times whether it be economic necessity or other dire circumstances where you truly have no choice, but I am not talking about those times.

When my sons were each in first grade they had the absolute gift of having the same first grade teacher that I had.  She was one of the most amazing teachers that I had ever had and I was fortunate enough to have her return to teach my children.  She had the students put on a Holiday program of the Nutcracker.  Mind you, they were only in first grade, but she had them singing in harmony and memorizing very sophisticated lines.  I asked her, "Aren't they kind of young for this?  Can they really handle such an advanced program at this age? Won't they be disappointed if they can't do it?"  She told me that you always set the bar high and she had yet to see a child that didn't meet the bar or exceed it.  She was right.  Not only did the children put on the most incredible program, they were in awe of themselves.  They were so proud of what they had accomplished.

I guess that's how I think about settling.  If you are afraid to disappoint yourself or others or if you are just "afraid" of whatever it is, you settle.  Sometimes, you just feel like you aren't good enough for what you really want and you should be happy with settling.

I think that's the time to really look at what you are so afraid of and why.  I actually can't think of a time in my life where settling turned out to be a positive experience.  What I do remember are the times that I didn't settle and those were the moments or the experiences that differentiated "existing" and "living" for me.

I guess it's all a choice that each of us has to make day in and day out.

I can still hear the words of the teacher who set the bar for me and my sons and I can tell you, they really were words to live by.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jonathon Young Welcomes Us To Midlife

Thank you to an Oxygen member who passed this on to me.  It's a wonderful article that looks at all the possibilities that we have in front of us in midlife.  It is interesting to ask yourself if you relate more to the explorer, the artist, or the sage.

Jonathon Young is a psychologist who became the founding curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives.

Jonathon Young Welcomes Us To Midlife
by Kimberly NIchols   April 29, 2010

Renowned explorer of personal mythology Joseph Campbell once said, “Feel the fear and do it anyway” when referring to a person who is entering a new avenue of their life’s journey. Dr. Jonathon Young, one of Campbell’s protégé’s and founding curator of the Joseph Campbell archives.

Dr. Young encourages women entering their wise years to stop, take stock, and embrace one of the most enriching times of their lives.

I spoke with him recently about the mythical role aging plays and why we should pay attention to those roles rather than eschewing them for perpetual attempts at stopping the clock of time.

What mythical attributes were historically associated with midlife that were positive?

We are leaders at midlife. In ritual language, this is the time of the shaman or chieftain. We hit our stride. It is the part of the journey when we make our major contributions. We may not dress in ceremonial robes, but the ritual significance of life experience shapes our roles and relationships. Authority deepens as we use what we have learned. There is the possibility of wisdom, usually coming from surviving ordeals. 

When did the mid-life stigma occur and why?

It has been a gradual process. As the industrial revolution moved labor from farms and household workshops to factories, the contributions of elders became less valued. Also, through improvements in medicine, the number of people over forty increased radically. Older people used to be rare, so their thoughts were sought out more often. Recently, as media became more visual, youthful appearance gained value. Of course, young performers speak the words of older writers. This creates an illusion of depth coming from a smooth face. In real life, the valuable reflections are more likely to come from those with life experience.

In our valley, we have a large plastic surgery industry. What advice do you have for women in regards to physical aging who utilize plastic surgery as frequently and nonchalantly as they pick out a lipstick?

Looking good is marvelous. A facelift may help how we feel about ourselves, but exercise is more dependable. Working out to stay trim and keep energy up has great psychological benefits. Still, the more important adjustments are internal. Those who are earnest seekers discover inner beauty can increase while the face gains character. Claiming the treasures within isn’t necessarily automatic. Personal development involves commitment.

What are some of the archetypes associated with middle age and older in myth that celebrate the aging?

Three come to mind, the explorer, the artist, and the sage.

The Explorer is a longing to see new territories. This agenda may emerge once some of life’s basic challenges are met. There may be a desire to travel, or investigate new ideas, or expand self-knowledge. Some are drawn to adventures that push their physical limits. Others go on pilgrimages or take inner journeys.

The Artist is a rededication to creative expression. For many there is a return to a craft long neglected while career and family took over. Others who never thought of themselves as artistic, take up creative projects and find the imagination a rewarding dimension to expand. Whether the goal is mainly for personal satisfaction or sharing with an audience, the efforts tend to be deeply fulfilling.

The Sage is applied wisdom. This energy marks the natural teacher who finds opportunities to mentor others. The teaching may have been a long career or may emerge later in the journey. The desire to pass along guidance is a thing of beauty and the Sage finds great satisfaction is helping others find their way.

You talk a lot about Acceptance as a vital key to the transformative process in aging – what advice do you have for those seeking it?

There is a great trade-off in midlife. We lose some energy and attractiveness, but gain self-knowledge and wisdom. As we get less nimble physically, our levels of fulfillment can rise, because we know what works for us. Making a list of what we like about ourselves and our lives is a good starting place.

What prescription of healing and inner work options would you prescribe to a woman looking for her own authenticity and acceptance?

Radical self-acceptance requires some tenacity. It insists that past choices were made were for good reasons. Perhaps we gave too much, but it was at least partly because it fulfilled some of our own needs. There is a time for challenging ourselves, but, by midlife, we can simply decide we are good enough now and don’t need to keep endlessly improving ourselves.

I can only imagine what it was like working with Joseph Campbell. What would you say you learned the most from the experience?

Campbell showed how a life story unfolds on its own. We are each in a journey that has a dynamic to be claimed. We can decide how we will play the cards we have been dealt, but we don’t choose all the elements of the quest.

Talk about eccentricity a little bit and what it does for the soul?

As we shift away from living in the eyes of others, we see all sorts of odd qualities to appreciate. In youth there is a natural desire to be like others. By midlife, our idiosyncrasies can show us what is personally fulfilling. Authenticity tends to emerge. It is partly a triumph of integrity. It is partly exhaustion. We simply don’t have the energy to do things the way others think is best. We listen to our own quirky drummers and have more fun, even doing chores.

Tell us how aging is an important part of the true character of life and learning process.

The search for meaning is a long story. Fulfillment is not a single thing. There is an accumulation of layers of significance. Beauty is in the wholeness of a life. We can start to see that even the tragedies have added to the wonder of the story. The satisfactions are worthy of the price. There is a quality of radiance about everyday life that can build up over a lifetime. Finally, we claim our lives with all their flaws. Each of us is in a fine adventure. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Words That Let You Know What's in Your Heart

When I was in high school, I used to meet with a woman who tutored me for the SATs.  She tried to make it fun which wasn't easy, but she did have us do one exercise that I always loved.

She asked us to come up with two words each week that really meant something to us.  It sounded crazy and way too esoteric, but it turned out to be fun and actually taught me a lot about myself.

I remember the words that really grabbed me.

One was "conundrum".  The dictionary definition is "a paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma".

But, I just loved the sound of it.  It made a puzzle or difficult problem sound like an adventure.  

The other word was "ineffable".  The exact definition is "incapable of being expressed; indescribable".

I loved this word.  It's the way I always wanted life to be, so full of passion that you just couldn't describe it in words.

Well, lately, not that I am studying for the SAT, I came across two words that I am adding to my word collection.

The first, "catalysis", suggests change and the definition is "an action between two or more persons or forces, initiated by an agent that itself remains unaffected by the action."  How cool is that? When you put two people together with common interests and they work to create something amazing.  You know that you have helped create the event or the result, but it's done from afar and you leave the actors alone.

That is, of course, my eventual dream for the Oxygen Network, putting women together to create their dreams, whatever they may be.

The next word is "firebrand".  It means "a person who is passionate about a particular cause, typically inciting change and taking radical action".

Who wouldn't want to be a firebrand?  You may be causing conflict, but maybe you are also making a difference and changing lives.

So, next time you are listening in on someone's conversation or you read something totally thought provoking, ask yourself what are some of my favorite words and why?  It just might clue you into your future dreams or who you really are.

Or, maybe, you will just have fun.


Friday, May 07, 2010

What Cards Never Say on Mother's Day

Some food for thought on your Mother's day weekend...

Happy Mother's Day.


From the Wall Street Journal
May 7, 2010
All these years later, women who choose to raise children are still struggling for respect.

Mother. This time of year, traditional images of her come to the fore: Giver of life. Homework helper. Life saver. Hem adjuster. Maker of peanut-butter sandwiches. All true, all real, all important. Even so, I was surprised—and even fearful— when my 16-year-old, college-bound daughter, Emily, told me that what she really wants in life is to (eventually) marry and have a bunch of kids.
I'm afraid for her because, four decades into feminism's push for a woman's rights, our culture's view of motherhood (which arguably is the quintessential act of femininity) has yet to budge from once-a-year Hallmark sentiment to anything resembling real respect. We wave our banners for "choice," which may give a woman who works outside the home an element of admiration, but what if my daughter doesn't want to? God help her if she, in exercising that choice, decides to stay at home with her children.
I say this because women I've talked to as this Mother's Day approaches sound like broken records from previous eras. The ones who are at home raising children say they are regularly asked if they are bored, what they do all day, and why they don't "work." One mother admits she's considered pretending to be her daughter's nanny in hope this would earn her some respect on the playground. Another remembers telling people that she has five children, only to hear a woman respond: "Oh, horror!"
Working outside the home gives only partial immunity to such treatment. Moms who do complain of punitive treatment for staying home to tend to their sick children. They get condemning looks when they leave work to attend their child's talent show. Apparently, several decades into the Mommy Wars, we're still battling for respect even amongst ourselves.
Author and theologian G.K. Chesterton saw the trouble coming as far back as 1929, when he asked how society got the idea "that bringing forth and rearing and ruling the living beings of the future is a servile task suited to a silly person." Escape from judgment isn't easy. We've morphed from being the kind of devoted mothers to whom men like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington attributed their every success, to pouring our hearts out on (bad) mommy blogs, anonymously "confessing" our maternal "sins" of bending or even breaking under the pressure of being bread baker, bread winner or both. The question being: Is this progress, or regress?
Technology may now let us monitor our child's movements to the end of the globe, but in other ways we remain in the dark ages of the modern era. Many of us haven't figured out how to mother and be fulfilled "as a person," or how to mother and survive financially without losing our minds.
So, if mothering while working outside the home is a guilt-producing juggling act, and working inside it is a job for the nonambitious half-wit, why would any of us want our daughters to have children? We may have come a long way, baby. But just ask a mom who is caught in the fray— we aren't there yet.
Even so, the illusion that motherhood and fulfillment are mutually exclusive does not negate the fact that mothering is at core good work. Where would J.R.R. Tolkien have been without a mother who pointed out that one should say "a great green dragon" rather than "a green great dragon?"
Would Mother Theresa have become "God's pencil," writing His love on the hearts of thousands of sick and dying people, if her mother had not daily demonstrated what giving to the poor looked like, or had been less devoted to her daughter's spiritual training? Would Martin Luther King Jr., if his mother had not taught him to stand up and recite scripture to her, have developed the courage and charisma to orate, "I have a dream?"
I doubt it. So while I hope that my daughter has every choice in life, I also hope that she has the chance to be a mother. And perhaps my task now is to make sure that when she is, no one can make her feel ashamed or diminished by making that choice. I hope to teach her that baking Barbie cakes and reading "Harold and the Purple Crayon" and sitting on her child's bed listening to stories about his day even though her back feels like someone went at her with a two-by-four—are, inconsequential as they seem at first blush, the very warp and woof of a mother's life.
But, how exactly do I convey to her that whether or not a mother's seemingly inconsequential, menial tasks 'fulfill' her, nurturing children is innately good and just might surprise her fulfill-o-meter? How can I help her resist the need for affirmation from a culture that will probably never give it to her—and to embrace motherhood not as a second-class citizen, but with the kind of femininity that is paradoxically as strong as nails, as soft as a kiss?
I'm not sure. But someday, when the thumbscrews of mothering start to tighten on her, one thing I will do is remind her that despite her momentary exhaustion or discouragement, mothering remains a profoundly worthwhile undertaking, one that Chesterton calls nothing less extraordinary than "the mystery of the making of men."
Ms. Henry blogs about faith and mothering at

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why My "To Do" List is Like a Starfish & The Big Rock Theory

I am organized. There is no doubt about it. There is almost no project that I can't break apart into efficient little pieces and then accomplish it. Great. I get it done. Here is the thing, though, my To Do list is like one of those starfish where one part is cut off and it grows back (technically speaking, regenerates).

Every time I cross something off my list, the damn thing grows another appendage.

I was one of those good little girls. I did not play until I got my work done. No sir, no fun for me until I did what I NEEDED to do.

Well, this is not working as well for me in mid-life as it might have when I was younger.

I am finding that I need to force myself to do something fun that is not on my To Do list or I don't get to "my time", that is, something that really gives me joy.

I read an article that asked the question, "what MUST I do"? I thought about that. What if I just did what I "must" do today and left it at that?

I realized there are only a few things that I "must" do today.

If I look at it that way, I just might have time to do something that brings me actual joy, not just "satisfaction" in checking something off my To Do list.

In the end, we all know that the To Do list never ends. Maybe I need to stop pretending it does and make peace with the idea of having a little fun before I have finished "all my chores".

To all of you who just go out and play without even looking at your To Do list, my apologies for repeating what you already know and my compliments to you.

For the rest of you, here is another way of looking at it. As I was talking to a good friend about these thoughts, she said, "do you know about the Big Rock Theory"?   I didn't, so she sent it to me.  Here it is for your reading pleasure.



In "First Things First," Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The seminar presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

The group replied, "Yes."

He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

This time, the group replied, "Probably not."

The speaker then added some sand and asked, "Is the jar full?"

"No!" shouted the group.

Finally, the speaker filled the jar to the brim with water and asked the group the point of this illustration.

Someone replied that no matter how busy you get, you could always fit more things into your life if "you really work at it."

"Very good answer, and while it is true, it's not the one I was looking for." countered the speaker. "The point is that if you don't put your big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

As you start your new venture, think of the "big rocks" in your life as the things you can do to make this a healthier and happier world for yourself and others. 

When making decisions during the moments, days and months of the year ahead, ask yourself: "Is this a big rock?"

Say "yes" to your "big rocks" first. Don't feel you need to explain each "no" when the smaller gravel and sand try to fill your time. "No" can be a complete sentence! If the sand and gravel are still around after you have placed all of your big rocks, with a little jiggling, they will find a place all on their own.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The First 30 Days of Change

The First 30 Days website is a great resource.  If you haven't ever been to this site, it's definitely worth a look.  You can sign up for 30 days of emails with change advice for just about any type of change in your life.  It's sort of a gentle, slow way to get advice on almost anything.

The blog is also informative and sends you information on a wide spectrum of change related topics.  Here is a helpful article by the founder of First 30 Days, Ariane de Bonvoisin. As a parent, I found the first part of the article particularly enlightening.


The First 30 Days of Change

by Ariane de Bonvoisin

One of the reasons change can seem so painful is that it is something most of us have never been taught how to handle in an effective manner. Our parents generally do everything they can to protect us from change. Many parenting skills revolve around keeping things the same, the same house, the same school, the same food. We start making assumptions very early on in life that stability equates with things not changing and that safety, love and security is about no change in our lives. We become accustomed to the idea that certainty equals normalcy, what’s good, what’s right, and what we should be striving for. Then, when we independently enter the world in our teens, we learn life is all about change. So when something changes, we immediately jump to the conclusion that something is wrong. And in actuality, something is very right, because life is happening and life is change. Change is the law of life.

Part of the pain associated with change is due to our physical wiring. There’s a part of the brain, the reptilian part, which does not like change. It’s all about protecting, and safety and keeping things as they are. It’s one of the reasons I call my book The First 30 Days, because it takes between 21 and 28 days for this part of the brain to get comfortable with either a new situation, a new habit, a new way of thinking, or a new belief.

Life also has a tendency to make us grow and evolve, and thus change. Another thing that makes change hard, having interviewed thousands of people, is that all change is about loss, even the good changes. We are not good at letting go of anything. We are very good at adding and getting and holding on to and having more, and more and more. But change is always an indication that there is something that needs to be let go of and needs to be grieved.

Much of the difficulty we have dealing with change is that we are also out of immediate control of what will happen. Change oftentimes is inviting us to let go and allow life to proceed. But there are some things about change that we can control to our benefit, such as our story of why the change occurred, our attitude toward the change, our language slant describing the change, who we surround ourselves with during periods of change, and the tenor of our own thoughts.

Change is a lot about allowing life to lead you. At some point people who are going to change gracefully, need to get centered and say, "I accept this situation. I’m letting go of the resistance to what happened. It’s what reality is. This happened." Then the doors start opening and that’s when the answers to solve the dilemma start to show up. The interesting thing is the more you try to stay in control, the more control eludes you. The more you try to get love and approval from someone, or a job interview, the more it goes away from you. The more nonchalant you are, and take the attitude that it doesn’t really matter, suddenly the solutions come to you.

The benefits of change are encapsulated in one concept called the "change guarantee". The change guarantee very simply states that from any change, something good will come. When you start a change with that in mind, your mind, being the most creative powerful instrument that you have, starts creating the good that will come from it. You look for the good as opposed to looking for the bad that has now come in the most immediate future. You never know what is going to change. If you can go from the premise that something good will come, even if I cannot see it now, and that is my rock solid belief, that is what will become manifest.