Archive for December, 2012

Trust: A Christmas gift from you to you

For Christmas or at any other time, the best gift you can give yourself when you’re in your twenties is to trust yourself.

It’s one of those simple-sounding mental tricks that’s actually pretty difficult to do. But like most nearly impossible feats, trusting yourself is so worth it.

There will be days when no one else will trust you. Whether they overtly mention their lack of trust (highly unlikely) or hint at it but let it simmer unsaid (almost always the case – the good ol’ 99 percent of the time), they won’t have faith in you all the same.

This isn’t a malicious style of distrust people usually reserve for those who have screwed them over in the past. It’s a benign lack-of-trust most people default to when dealing with someone new whose skills and tendencies are unknown.

You may be attempting a new task, assignment or project at work, trying to prove yourself to bosses and even co-workers who aren’t sure you can do it.

You probably still have to prove your trustworthiness to your parents – not that they check for you at curfew anymore and not that you care too much about what they think. But until your life is put together enough for their standards, whatever those are, they may not fully trust you.

Even in cases when there is no one else to trust or not to trust you, you’ve got to trust yourself.

You may be trying to branch out in your personal life – joining a new dodgeball team on which you know no one, or starting to volunteer with a new organization that seems too bogged down with rules and regulations. You may be navigating a new El line alone at night, moving out without a roommate, or moving in with a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner for the first time.

In all these cases, the story’s the same, the best thing you can do is trust yourself.

This realization came to me one day while on the treadmill, pounding out five miles in advance of an 8K run. I was stressed about an error I made at work that I’d have to sort out the next day and unsure how my idea of moving to a new apartment in the city would work out after plans with my first possible roommate fell through.

Basically, I was being the stressed, worrywart, least fun version of myself because I didn’t trust myself to handle all the shit I had to deal with and all the complicated situations that weren’t going my way.

“I choose to trust myself,” I thought, somewhere between mile 1 and 2. That trust lifted my mood without lightening my workload and gave me the strength I needed to power through my run.

The next day, another does of that same trust in myself helped me clear up the mistake at work in less than two hours and begin to feel better about everything else on my to-do list.

Trust can be pretty magical like that. Especially when it’s a gift from you to you.

So take a deep breath and say to yourself, heck, even say it out loud: “I choose to trust myself.”

It’s a choice only you can make. It’s the best Christmas gift you can receive. And it’s worth every ounce of mindpower it takes.

Merry Christmas, twenty-something nation.


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The end of the world and the secret to happiness

Those of us alive in 2012 are a lucky bunch. We get to live through the end of the world.

If we believe the Mayans, it’s only a few days away.

For something as momentous as the (supposed) end of the world, I have surprisingly little to say.

Must be because I don’t actually believe everyone’s existence is going to simultaneously cease on Dec. 21, which now is referred to as Friday.

But just hours after I post this, I will be camping out at an undisclosed location in Naperville, trying to get what my editors call “one really good answer” to the question “If you believed the world was going to end, what would you want to do?”

For a bit of inspiration, I watched this video that phrases the question better, more simply: “What do YOU want to do before the world ends?”

Great responses like “Eat one more hot dog,” “Be abducted by aliens,” or “Make my mom and daughter proud,” got me thinking and hoping I could get intriguing answers as well.

Maybe someone will say they want to fly, like the magical kind of flying humans would do if we had wings. Maybe someone will want to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. An athletic person could want to run an ultramarathon across the Grand Canyon, or a creative one could want to sell out the United Center and sing before a captivated crowd.

What do YOU want to do before the world ends? The question touches on desires we might normally suppress because they’re unrealistic or unattainable. But why not wish for the impossible when faced with such an unrealistic idea as the impending end of the world? Why not dream and wish and fantasize and see where your mind takes you?

So what do I want to do before the end of the world?

Slalom water ski in downtown Pittsburgh? Write a novel? Play pickup basketball with Kirk Hinrich and assorted other Chicago Bulls?

Sure, but I’ve got an even better idea, one that’s even more fantastic, extraordinary and unlikely.

Before the world ends, I want to discover the secret to happiness. But I won’t stop there. I also want to write it down … just in case a new form of life, or even the same old group of humans, wakes up on Saturday.

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A trip through time via the Christmas ornament box

After more than twenty years of practice, putting ornaments up on the tree has become a quick and Christmas music-infused experience. There’s no need for indecisiveness about what to put where, just the festive family time decorating always brings.

I know which ornament always goes on first (my pink, round “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament, of course). I know which ones I want to separate for my mini apartment tree (an orange Illini glass ball, a tiny ring of silver bells with a red ribbon, a silver “M” for Marie, and a few other favorites). And I know which embarrassing ones are staying in the box and safely out of sight.

Some preschool creations, like the simple two-sided greeting cards decorated with glitter glu that my siblings and I call “To-Froms” are just too childish and low-quality to make it anywhere near the tree. Everyone’s got a set of these, “boxwarmers,” I’ll call them, and there’s no shame in keeping a stash of such ornaments that stay in storage year-round.

I didn’t realize it until this year, but boxwarmers are the reason it’s so fun to help someone else put up their tree. You get to see all their handmade creations from phases of life when they didn’t know which colors clash horribly or how to operate scissors, markers or glue.

Want to truly get to know someone, their family and the different hobbies they cycled through in their youth? Just take a look in their Christmas ornament box, or gaze a while at their decorated tree. Better yet, lend a hand with the decorating process and you might even sneak a few of their boxwarmers or rejects onto the tree.

Going through my ornaments, you can discover my Grandpa enjoys woodworking; I played clarinet all through elementary and high school; I’m no good with a paintbrush; my family has been to Disney World too many times; I’ve loved the Bulls since those ironed bead-on-pegboard crafts were trendy; and I was a manager one year when I got cut from the high school basketball team (that ornament is definitely a boxwarmer … heck, I should just pitch it already …)

Anyway, I’d never put up anyone’s ornaments but my own until recently when I helped my boyfriend decorate his tree. In the process, I discovered his ornaments divulge just as much about him and his past as mine do about me.

I discovered he’s been a Sox fan since his Pony baseball years, when he chose the fake Comiskey Park photo background instead of Wrigley Field; he had a poker phase; his family knew about his wrestling fan phase; his soccer-playing days didn’t last long; and, as you can tell, it’s always been all about sports. The classic, colorful glass balls are his reject ornaments, but he’ll put up a few of them to fill gaps.

As fun as that was, my process of drawing inferences from Christmas decorations ends there. The tree-topper debate of star vs angel means nothing to me. And I see no real symbolism in whether someone chooses a real or fake tree (although it has been fun to see live tree stands pop up on vacant Chicago lots, or in the outdoor dining areas of sidewalk cafes shut down for the winter).

It’s just those boxwarmers I find intriguing. We’ve all got ‘em, so why not embrace our pre-style, low-motor-skill selves and display a few of them this year?

Happy decorating!

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In a world where you can be anything, what’s a twenty-something to do?

A woman who emails me frequently at work ends her notes with a signature containing this quote:

“In a world where you can be anything, be yourself.”

Be yourself. What a noble idea.

If conventional wisdom stands correct, we spend our teens “finding ourselves,” so it seems only reasonable that by our twenties, we could move on to actually being ourselves. If only what’s reasonable could be easy, too.

I’ve found it takes quite a bit of trial and error to be yourself, especially if your ideas or appearance cause you to stand out.

There are definitely times I stand out from the female half of the twenty-something bar crowd, and many would say it’s not in a good way.

I might be wearing jeans and an old concert T-shirt. My hair might be down or up but either way, it won’t have taken me more than 10 minutes to do. I’ll almost always be wearing my Adidas Sambas. And I’ll never be wearing makeup.

I’ve been called “casual,” which is probably just a nice way of saying I look like I didn’t try.

If that’s why I stand out, I’ll take it. “Casual” is my style; keeping it low-key is just me being me. And at this point, I don’t see what’s bad about standing out for being myself.

Unfortunately, I only realized this after a couple months in college of actually “trying” before going out. Of wearing makeup to class every day (or at least every day I’d wake up on time) and putting a lot of thought and effort into my wardrobe, even for sketchy frat parties.

It took a while to realize that just wasn’t me. I hadn’t crossed some imaginary line on my trip down to Champaign-Urbana where I had switched from a sporty but somewhat stylish high school newspaper kid, athlete and band geek to a stiletto-wearing glam type who actually enjoys the primping, polishing, curling and eyeshadowing it takes to look fabulous.

I hadn’t given in to all the images of what women are supposed to look like, just like I’ve never given any stock to the outdated gender roles that confine both women and men into stereotypical duties based on nothing but biology.

I look back on those few made-up months as a trial and error phase. I tried the makeup thing, the “tying” and dressing up before going out thing, but it was all an error.

And one night, while eating cheesy breadsticks in the late-night cafeteria with one of my best friends, it hit me: I’m trying too hard, I thought. I’m trying too hard to look like what I think I’m supposed to look like. Dress and act how I imagined a college girl would. But I’m still the same me I was a few months ago. And that me, the real me, doesn’t bother with makeup and uncomfortable shoes.

I still don’t. And there are still times I stand out because of it.

But now, if someone notices I’m different because I didn’t put any extra effort into my appearance before going to the corner pub, the Wrigleyville bars, or even the dancey places in River North, they’re actually giving me a compliment. Being different in that way is exactly what I’m going for.

There are tons of ways to stand out. Keeping it casual appearance-wise and disregarding everything a woman is traditionally supposed to be are a couple of mine. They may not be yours, and I’m not saying they should be.

All I’m saying is it’s best to be true to yourself, even if it causes you to stand out in ways others may view negatively. Or better yet, be yourself – especially if it causes you to stand out.

The people you’ll meet while being yourself are the ones you really want to know. Not the ones you think you should know in your twenties, or the ones you always pictured yourself knowing, but the friends who actually fit with who you are.

I know this one’s easier said than done, and I know from experience it takes some trials and lots of errors to figure it out.

But it goes like this: Be yourself and you’ll stand out for all the right reasons.

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