Archive for November, 2013

An open letter to … those slightly older friends

Dear slightly older friends,

I want you to know, you rock.

Your stories rock. Your passion and excitement and knowledge all rock. And your advice rocks. Even if I don’t directly ask for it, thank you for it, or even really listen to it at the time, it helps. It’s the most valuable advice I ever could receive.

With your four or five extra years, you’re one little age group older than me. The difference is just enough that we never could have gone to school together, but now that we’re in our twenties and early thirties, we’ve got the same interests.

You’re one of those amazing, slightly older friends to me. And it’s exactly that kind of friend I’m most thankful for at this point in my life.

I’m quick to say age matters because it shapes perspective. I usually think the best friends or boyfriend/girlfriend/partners are those who are close to you in age, and therefore most likely to share your perspective on life and your journey through it.

But I recently realized slightly older friends like you have a perspective of your own that’s as valuable as gold. Not even Cash-for-Gold store scrap gold, but the real deal. Your perspective says I’ve been there. I understand. I overcame that problem, and it wasn’t that long ago. But I did it. And you can, too.

When us in the younger group are at sticky points in our careers or turning points in our relationships, you older friends who have completed a career move and dealt with a few more dating scenarios are there to help.

Friends like you are sure to have a life plan of your own – or two, or three – so when I’m wondering “What comes next,” you’re there with just the insight I crave. You know me, and the challenges inherent in the next few years of my life, well enough to either push me confidently toward my goals, or remind me of what else I should accomplish before going full-steam ahead.

Older friends don’t know everything, and the good ones don’t pretend to. But as the cream of the crop of slightly older friends, you’re quick to share your experiences, from your boldest blunders, embarrassments and failures to your proudest successes and accomplishments. If it could possibly be of help to us, you tell us about it. And that’s why you’re the best.

Thanks for all you do and all you are.

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The eternal optimist — world’s next superhero?

“Optimism can save the world,” was written in a photo atop a story I once read about rich guys buying newspapers and hopefully making them profitable again.

I’m an optimist, so I immediately liked the quote and started forming Superman dreams of saving the world – not just my little corner of it, but the entire world.

OK, I’m kidding with that Superman stuff. I should at least dream as Wonder Woman.

But in all seriousness, I liked the power inherent in the assertion that one feeling, one pattern of thoughts, one idea can save the world. We’re not even talking changing the world, here, we’re talking saving it. This ain’t practice. It’s game time.

If there’s any one word or idea that can save the planet, I’ve got to think it’s optimism.

But before I lose any realists or pessimists who might still be reading, I’ll insert a necessary bit of skepticism here.

How can an idea save anything, let alone the world? Ideas are just thoughts with business cards and fancy titles. They’re powerless to do anything more than take up space in our minds, on the printed page or in the abyss of the Internet. They’re not the next superhero who will save the world, they’re … well … just an idea.

I concede you that point, you realists, you. Ideas alone can’t save the world, no matter how powerful they seem. But action can. And optimism is a whole lot better at inspiring positive action than pessimism, despair, doubt, and all other manner of negative thoughts.

It’s simply a two-step process, instead of a direct cause and effect.

Optimism can motivate people to save the world. Or, put another way: Optimism can (motivate people to) save the world.

It’s the same thing, really. And even after this bit of deconstruction, I still believe it.

Call it what you will – optimism, belief, faith, courage, confidence or simply the power of positive thinking – this idea can lead to amazing improvements. All it needs is people to make it happen.

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Dear kids, I envy your sincerity

By our twenties, we’ve long lost any little-kid cuteness we ever had.

Our dimples, our footie pajamas, our toothless smiles, our accidentally repeated swear words – all as gone as free pizza in a dorm lounge.

But there are times I’d like to get that cuteness back, even if only in one way – writing style.

Little kids write some of the most hilarious things, without even trying to be funny. (Seriously, I bet comedians are jealous.) Little kids also write some of the most heartfelt messages, likely without even knowing their significance or emotional weight.

Just read these two types of letters from little tykes and you’ll see what I mean.

Thank-you notes from elementary students to their career day speakers give great laughs:

“Thank you for speaking to our class, standing up to alot of people and dealing with all that pressure.” (Ha. What pressure? Your class has like 25 students, and career day isn’t scary. It just isn’t)

“Thank you for telling us about your job and being honest. Every job gets boring!” (So true, kid. So true.)

On the other hand, “Dear Soldier” letters from young scout troop members show the emotional side of kids’ writing.

Only kids can write things like the messages in the book “Dear Soldier: Heartfelt Letters from America’s Children,” messages that say things like, “Try not to get hurt, ok?” or “Whoever gets this letter, please don’t die.”

Well, anyone can write those words, but only kids can write them without seeming condescending, or worse, morbidly sarcastic.

Only kids can ask the questions that are really on their minds about military life to complete strangers receiving their letters. Queries like “What’s the food like?” “How do you shower?” or “Do you ever get to listen to music?” seem too silly to be true coming from anyone older than about 12.

It must be something about a child’s perspective – or lack of a broader perspective past themselves, their routine, their school and family and friends. Kids don’t stop and think “It might be kinda weird if I ask this soldier guy how he takes a shower.” They just write the dang question. And they surely make a soldier laugh.

But when a twenty-something writer like myself sits down around Veterans Day to pen a “Dear Soldier” letter, well, let’s just say it didn’t get past “Dear Soldier.”

I started having all these doubts and they stop me from finding the right words. That’s why I wish, even with my college education and a few years of professional writing under my belt, for the ability to write like a child. At times, all I want is sincerity, and the humor or sadness it brings. But all I can get is insecurity, and resulting in indecisiveness and hesitation.

With their elementary word choice, large and sloppy handwriting, random capitalization and childish tone, the kid writers of the world convey with their messages with compelling honesty. Whether it’s a message thanking a career day speaker for admitting their job sucks at times, or a letter thanking a soldier, sailor or Marine for sacrificial service, kids get to the heart of the message, the sincerity. And sincerity in our words is something we all should strive for – no matter our age.

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‘When I grow up’ Twenty-somethings edition

“When I grow up …”

Is that a phrase we’ll ever stop saying?

It’s the ultimate dreamer’s introduction to a grand picture of life at a later time when factors like age and money no longer hold us back and we finally get to do something amazing.

When I grow up, I want to be … “A balloon lady.”

Oh man.

That literally was how I answered the question the first time it was posed to me. Somewhere in my elementary school memorabilia, I have a hand-drawn, life-size outline of my body colored into a kid-sized version of a balloon lady to prove it.

To my defense, I was in kindergarten. The “balloon lady” is more imaginative than literal, and the body outline is colored as only a 5-year-old can. Also to my defense, I didn’t want to work at a card and party store blowing up balloons with helium and turning them into animals for very long. (I don’t even like animals, so I must have quickly realized it wouldn’t be a good fit for me).

I had a brief stint of wanting to be a teacher when I grew up. I think. I can’t even really say for sure, because although I think I said “I want to be a teacher!” a few times, I also think all I really meant is “I love my teacher!” She was Mrs. Johnson, a young, blonde with a name just as common as mine who made learning fun.

I spent all my teenage years wanting to be a journalist “when I grow up,” which makes it odd that I now am a journalist, but I don’t necessarily feel grown up. I’m told that’s how it goes, and that’s how it will continue to go throughout our lives.

“When I grow up” is a magical time we’ll never truly reach, and maybe that’s a good thing. It means we’re always setting goals, always striving for some moment in the future when we’ll outdo ourselves, top our best accomplishments and feel ever so alive.

But the unreachability of the “when I grow up” moment does make the whole statement a bit surreal. And I find it odd that I really don’t know how to answer the growing up question at this point in my life.

As a 5-year-old I could come up with a silly answer, and as an ambitious teenager, I had a quick and sure response that was more like an ultimatum, the driving force in my life – become a journalist, or else! But now, as a twenty-something reporter who’s reached my first “when I grow up” goal and settled into life as that person, I’m stumped.

What do I want to be when I “grow up” from my twenty-something self into who I’ll be in my 30s and beyond?

It’s a question worth asking.

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