Posts Tagged advice

One wish for a better world

I wish people weren’t so hypocritical. And I wish it most when it comes to our families.

There are times that bring families together. Births, birthdays, religious ceremonies, coming-of-age occasions, graduations, weddings, retirements, deaths. Aside from the obvious downer at the end, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Then there are things that tear families apart: insults, grudges, slights, distance, time, selfishness, laziness. I don’t know which is worst.

But families remain central to our lives, even as we progress through our twenties. Even as more time passes from the days when we lived with all of our immediate family, those relatives are a rock and steadying factor. Even as time progresses and some of us start our own families or come closer to doing so, those who raised us remain central.

Yet we let our families slip down our priorities list all too often, taking for granted that they’ll always be there for us. I’m guilty, that’s for sure. In fact, my family’s dependable presence and unconditional love are things I take comfort in assuming will be there forever, even when I’m not showing the most kindness, caring or consideration, even when I’m being selfish and putting my own thoughts, needs, wants and interests before those of the people who matter to me the most. Even when my selfishness takes so much precedence that I lose sight of the priorities I place on people, loyalty and dependability. Family is still there.

And when is this sad selfishness most apparent but at the time of a loved one’s death. Inevitably, there will be a lot of family time around a death, and this can be good and bad. Good because family can offer comfort that only those who truly understand you can provide. Bad because family time around a stressful and sad occasion can lead to old tensions flaring and new battle lines being drawn.

Also inevitable are the realizations. They’ll be different for each of us. Often they involve time. We’ll realize we should have spent more time with our families — the ones we were born into and the ones we choose. That’s what old people always say on those work/life balance surveys, anyway: they regret working so much and not spending enough time with their families. But why do we have to let this become a regret before we try to do something about it?

Time, I guess. It’s such a limiting factor that we blame it for our inability to balance our lives and put into order the things that are or aren’t important. Time is why we don’t see our families enough, but time isn’t the culprit. We are.

So if we value our families, let’s start showing it. If we love spending time with our families, let’s start doing it. Don’t wait for the next joyous occasion or tragic one. Don’t wait even for the next weekend. Keep the people who matter in your life central to it and do it now. Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, Y is for You

You’re the only you you’ve got.
You’re the only you there is.
You’re worth it.
You matter.
You’re loved.
You’re valued.
You’re cared for.
You can do it.
You can do it all night long.
You’re sweet.
You’re unique.
“You only get one shot to not miss your chance to blow.”
You are the reason.
You might be someone’s answer.
You never know.
You have the answers.
You’re able to find them.
You determine your future.
You are powerful.
You are strong.
You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
You are who you are.
You know who you are.
You remember.
“You is kind; you is smart; you is important.”
You are never defined by one thing alone.
You are not what happens to you.
You’re a winner.
You’re a fighter.
You can always make it better.
You rock.
You’re funny.
You make me smile.
You’re enough.
You’re you. And that’s all you’ll ever need.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, X is for: Stop being cliche

You know what’s full of clichés? The letter X.

X marks the spot. Solve for X. Find the X factor. Xylophone, because nothing else starts with the darn letter. eXtreme, because, you know, that sounds like it starts with this end-of-the-alphabet annoyance. X-rated. X-files. Ex-girlfriend. X it out and start over.

If only we could start our twenty-something lives over and X out clichés, these overused ways of acting, speaking or thinking that make us stereotypical, predictable, tired, bland – further from our true selves every time we fall into one of them.

If we could have avoided clichés, maybe there would be no negative images of lazy, entitled Millennials, tapping away on our iPhones in Starbucks while planning a three-month trip to Europe instead of getting a job.

If the world around us could be free of clichés, maybe so many of us who struggle with any aspect of ourselves – be it our body image, our sexual identity, our faith, our career aspirations, our family background, our mental stability – wouldn’t have to feel so wrong, unsure or lost. If only, if only.

There’s no way to avoid clichés entirely, and some say there’s a reason they become so commonplace and overused: because they naturally apply to a lot of us. Fair enough.

So let’s not aim for perfection, here, because that, in itself, could be seen as cliché. Let’s just recommit to being ourselves, original and as unique as can be. It’s not up to me to offer any advice on how to do that.

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Now open: Intro to caring for twenty-somethings

There could be a post-college class for twenty-somethings called Intro to Caring. Those of us who occasionally become self-absorbed, or who lack the confidence that we can adequately care for others as well as ourselves, our work responsibilities and our home lives – all at once certainly would benefit. Heck, I’d say we all could benefit from it. And luckily, it’s available if we’re listening. In a sillier world, it’d be a real class, and it’d be something like this:

Intro to Caring (CAR 101): Introduction to Caring for People and Property

Required for anyone who wants to have a car or a bike, house or apartment, bank account, furniture, decorations, clothing, dishes, a plant, a pet and/or a child.

Learn from a variety of sources sharing the best techniques in care for homes, vehicles, fabric, décor, wood, tile and other household materials, finances, personal health (physical and mental), houseplants, grass, trees, bushes, flowers and common garden plants, dogs, cats, turtles and fish, infants, toddlers, children, tweens, teens and budding college students. This course will cover basic maintenance all the way to advanced and precise care for all of the above living and non-living things.

Gain insight from experts about the best routines to provide proper care for all of the people and things under your purview in the most efficient, empathetic, cost-effective and appropriate ways possible. Offers plenty of opportunities for learning by doing and real-world experimentation. Take this course before living on your own, if possible, or at least before buying property (unless you’re playing Monopoly). Be sure to take this course before having a child, especially if maintaining plant life or a pet has proven challenging. Refresher courses are available in various specialties including household maintenance, indoor and outdoor plants, pet care and child care.

Pre-requisites: Birth, pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college (graduation from college preferred but not required)

Instructors: Your parents, grandparents, bosses and slightly older friends, with guest lectures by your favorite aunt, two of your funny uncles, that professor you never wanted to listen to but who was always right, your significant others (of the past and present, but unfortunately not the future) and your middle-school home economics teacher.

Cost: Full commitment to learning to best care for yourself as well as the people, places and things around you. Because that’s what it’s all about. And this is a course called life.

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T is for Time: Why family reunions fly by

Shucking corn in the shade beside a lake. Shooting hoops on a patch of concrete at a campground. Pelting my cousins with plenty of water balloons. Body surfing in a wave pool or tubing behind a waverunner.

I have fond summer memories of family reunions that seemed to last forever. We’d drive to somewhere in Indiana or Wisconsin or Ohio and my Illinois-based family would all convene in a big gathering of at least 25 people. There’d be group photos that inevitably turn embarrassing a few years later, games with unusual prizes only a grandmother can give, big meals with all the good ingredients (like pepper-jack cheese) that you don’t always buy at home, and spare moments of sneaky camaraderie with the cousins.

Reunions seemed never-ending and that was a good thing, even to a child’s impatient, instant-gratification-seeking sense of time.

Reunions now seem like they’re over in a flash, and that doesn’t strike me as a good thing, even to a twenty-something’s supposedly more thoughtful, rational mind. But it does make sense. It plays into one of the main warnings I hear about growing up: the older you get, the faster the time flies by. I never knew that theory would strike in the context of a semi-annual family gathering.

And then it did. It seemed as though I had only just arrived in DeKalb for our get-together at a picnic shelter in the city’s largest park, when it was time to pack up the extra jars of pickles and tupperwares of chopped tomatoes and head back home. The speed of it all made me a slight bit sad as I drove away from Illinios’ unofficial corn capital after saying a series of surprisingly speedy family goodbyes.

The days of walking around the reunion site with my cousins, prank-calling each other’s friends or making s’mores for dessert around a campfire seem to be over. They’ve been replaced with days of scrambling at the last minute to chop too many tomatoes and find that old red reunion polo with my name embroidered on it. They’ve been replaced with days of enjoying a break by hearing the stories of my aunts and uncles, but realizing all too soon that it’s back to my story, for better or for worse.

I never thought family reunions would be something to change with age, but boy do they ever. I never thought family time would pass any faster, but boy does it fly. And that doesn’t teach me anything, except that I need to listen.

Those warnings about the accelerating passage of time are all too real, and not even the love of family can change it. So stick around when family time comes close to ending. Tell one last story. Listen to two more. You might forget them in an instant. You might still feel like the time blazed by way too fast. You might still reminisce and sorta want to be a kid again. But you’ll be be better off for it.

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Older and wiser? True, but it takes work

Now that it’s swimsuit season, I find myself thinking back to a piece of “news” I heard on the trashy TV playing in the locker room at the gym, back when there was still Super-bowl Sunday snow on the ground.

This “news” really should have been ordinary by now, but somehow, it wasn’t.

There was a plus-size model in the Swimsuit Edition of “Sports Illustrated” this year.

It’s too bad this happened for the first time in 2015, that plus-size models are just beginning to become mainstream in a nation where the average woman wears a size 12, at least according to my memory of a news report I heard a few months ago.

But more saddening than the news itself was the reaction of a 65ish woman, who heard the plus-size swimsuit model story and then lamented how models create such an unattainable image for the rest of us.

This woman seemed genuinely disappointed that she’d never have a body like a model’s, genuinely torn up about the prospect of having to compare herself to that ideal.

I’d say she’s in her 60s, maybe closer to 70, and that’s how she had to start her day one winter morning – feeling wholly inadequate.

I thought that feeling was something we’d get over. I thought comparing ourselves to others – be it based on the shape of our stomachs, the size of our salaries, the grades on our report cards, the titles on our business cards or any other factor – was something we’d grow out of.

I’m feeling pretty adult these days at 27 and I haven’t grown out of my own bad habit of comparing myself to others at times, so I don’t know when I thought this would happen. But I was holding out hope that it would. Magically. Without any real effort. The way nothing in this world ever actually happens.

And that was my downfall, I guess. I assumed age would instantly solve problems, when age really does nothing but convey the passage of time. Time can heal all wounds, but only if we apply the ointment. Time can make us wiser, but only if we use it to educate ourselves and expand our perspectives.

In this case, time can help us stop second-guessing ourselves … if we work on building confidence from within. Time can help us be happy with our own lives instead of measuring them against someone else’s … if we celebrate our own successes without making others feel inferior.

Time can help us, but only if we help ourselves

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Q is for Quelf … and that’s all I have to say

Q is for Quelf. I played Quelf once during a game night with a group of friends. I’ve been to game nights a few times, but I they’re really not my favorite. So that’s all I have to say. About Quelf, at least.

Knowing when you have nothing to say is a skill. A lot of people don’t have it.

You can see this clearly just by visiting Facebook. People in the suburbs of Chicago will comment on police violence in New York City or on pilot mental health policies in Germany or on a “religious freedom” law in Indiana. They’ll post instantaneous reactions, give them life online without so much as a second thought. I’m generalizing here, but I know you’ve seen it.

Before social media took over, I used to run into this problem with my siblings – I’d spout off without thinking and accidentally offend one of them, causing an argument. I’m still guilty of this with my dad sometimes. Whenever I stupidly contradict him without having a solid opinion, or whenever I question his views without being well-read enough to have formed my own, I regret it. I feel like I’ve spoken out of turn, and I can’t take it back.

That’s why I’ve been trying to build the skill of knowing when I have nothing to say. My job helps. I cover liquor laws and pension policies and road projects and endless other things I don’t really have a stake in because I don’t live in the city I write about. So while I spend my days calling others in power and average Joes and Janes to see what they think, I’ve learned my opinion doesn’t really matter. This doesn’t mean I feel insignificant, I’ve just realized it’s best to stay quiet on matters that don’t immediately pertain to my life.

There are exceptions, of course. I see nothing wrong with expressing my views on topics I’ve covered out of personal interest – the gender pay gap, the social issue of the heroin problem in the suburbs, the Naperville Marathon. And I think it’s great if people speak up when they’re passionate and knowledgeable about anything – be it global warming, safe road biking practices, equal rights, the stock market or the Chicago Bulls.

Because when people are passionate and knowledgeable, that means they have something to say. But when they’re uninformed, thoughtless and rushed, chances are, their words won’t be of value.

My mom always has loved a line she helped me come up with for an internship application essay, something about the “power and integrity of words.” I’ve always loved the line too. Because words do have power and they do have integrity. But only when you actually have something to say.

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