Drive Part 2

The holiday season always makes me a bit more reflective.  Maybe it’s because a new year is upon us and I think that most of us would agree that 2016 has been one big (your choice of expletive language).  But even amongst those moments of disbelief that so many things could go wrong in one year, there were also sparks of utter joy.  My general approach to life is to try to see the good.  The more cynical individuals will argue that it might rob me of a certain depth to not wallow in that pity.  Sorry, but being smart and miserable are not one and the same.  I would argue that you’re missing out too.  Life can be one long dinner party with excellent conversation if you choose to be a good guest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every single blessing I have.  But that’s not to say that Andrew and I don’t work hard for every single thing we have.  There I said it, I work.  That word is probably the only word I have trouble saying with any semblance of confidence when trying to define where I stand in this world.  It was much easier when I was working towards a degree.  It was even simple when I was weeks away from defending a 200-page document that encompassed much of what I cared about for a few years.  But then, you reach a point when you can no longer define yourself so easily within a society that values certain markers of success.

A few weeks ago I heard Andrew tell our son C not to worry too much about “stuff” and to think more about who he is because that’s something that no one can take away from him.  Those words hit me hard because of the simple truth in it.  Is that what we all are building ourselves for?  It’s true, no one can take away my years of education and doctoral degree.  I know, that those “things” don’t go away even if you haven’t found a place for yourself with the credentials you’ve earned.  As a feminist I should be even more critical since I can see through everything that devalues what I do each and every day and the care I give someone else.  Like my mother said, maybe T was meant to grow up with me for a few years.  The bond I have with my son that I’ve forged by being there for him, day in and day out, is also not something that you can rob from me by placing me inside a box, or perhaps more appropriately, within the home.

I think this struggle with ourselves is just how driven, competitive women are built.  It is part of our muscle and sinew to want to be better, the best, to always want more.  The trouble is that sometimes these inner workings can make you a shadow of a person.  Empty people are not present because they’re already 10 years ahead of themselves.  Sometimes it it much healthier to practice some self-acceptance and to offer ourselves the kindness we try to offer others.  Thinking that “it is written” is not defeatist or lazy.  In some ways it allows you to take things in stride.

I know that there are so many women who are working through defining where they want to sit amongst this brave new world that allows us to have whatever we want.  Some of us have made choices but somehow placing the career ahead of so many other possibilities is sometimes seen to be more noble than being “good” in other, smaller, ways.  Smaller, not small.  Being a good mother is the hardest job I’ve ever done and trust me, I once worked in a restaurant hauling dishes up flights of stairs.  I am no princess.  The truth of the matter is that family members may believe that there are a million and one things that you should be doing.  Others worry that “women like you” will be destitute in the case of a divorce.  To these people I respectfully, and with the utmost care tell them to take their need to judge everyone out on some adult coloring books.  Also, newsflash is that many of us would probably marry again, or maybe, just maybe get back to our careers?

At the end of the day, if I know that I’m still trying to find my place in the world, I’m good with that.  Try is the operative word.  Believe it or not, most of us still wake up each morning hustling to reach larger goals.  And to the backseat drivers offering their pert opinions and concern, kindly get out of my car.

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Iconoclast

Remember when you were young and thought “when I grow up I will finally get to do whatever I want?”  We said it again and again, to get through awkward phases and strict curfews.  But you soon learn that being mature often means that you do things that you don’t particularly want to do because it makes other people happy.  But that’s fine, the rest of the time you set the agenda and you stay the course.

For the longest time I had a pixie cut.  When I was a child it was because Burma is a tropical country and it’s hot.  Then I moved to Canada and my mom wanted it to be neat and tidy.  In my adolescence it was because I swam.  During high school I just liked visiting the hairdresser and did not have the patience to grow it out.  Andrew teases me that my short hair kept him from being attracted to me initially.  I don’t doubt that there’s some truth to this because teenagers can be such tools, myself included.  I recall how everything meant something back then because we cared so much.  So in my youth there weren’t many actresses whom I could look up to or try to emulate.  Most of them were blond, hell in my school being blond meant that you were automatically pretty.  That is why I adored Winona Ryder and wanted to be exactly like her, minus the questionable taste in men.  She did date Matt Damon though before she started stealing lipsticks.  Sure she had her issues but she is talented and her bone structure is sublime.

I also liked the movie Reality Bites.  This film contributed to my fascination with love triangles for such a long time.  In real-life though these types of situations rarely produce good results.  People get hurt, aren’t particularly brave and more often than not you either settle or feel guilty.  I also liked the concept of working hard to make your dreams come true after college.  But again, I was suspicious of how it was portrayed.  Sure sure, it’s romantic to have fun with your friends and not sell out but damn, that life looked really hard and they kind of looked dirty.  Granted it was the early 90s, maybe now they’d all be wearing suspenders or something.  I didn’t actually want anything to do with this “cool” version either.

But the very best thing that this movie offers my generation is to heed us to take our time.  When everyone is telling you to just grow up already, remember to also enjoy yourself and keep sight of the prize.  Live and learn because you will get there.  Robert Pattinson once said in an interview that as soon as he started being known for his messy hair, he got a haircut.  Not all of us were meant to take the guided tour.

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Later

One Christmas my father gave me the book 7 habits of highly effective people.  At the time I was thirteen and like most thirteen year olds who are slightly bratty, I thought that it was the worst gift ever.  Isn’t the opposite of effective, defective?  What am I, a blender?  Reflecting on it now I think that my Pops had it right.  There is nothing better than knowing how to be more strategic because let me tell you, making it is not all about skill.  It’s about being smart with your time.

I am the queen of procrastination but not in the usual way.  I commit once I’m in the midst of the project but I will always find ways to delay the start.  I will catch up on gossip, I will read travel books about Paris, I will shop for Christmas gifts.  In recognition of this, I don’t allow any of this monkey business till I’ve put in some work, till I’ve earned my break.  I just tell myself to “start somewhere.”  So if you’re in a similar bind, here are some ways to end the cycle of postponing the beginning.  It’s time to show up.

One.  Make lists.

Every single day I start with a list of objectives.  Some are banal like “cancel phone plan,” some are fun like “go to Whole Foods,” and others are more serious like “submit paper.”  God, I even have a line for checking email, but that’s okay, because it’s so satisfying to cross something off that piece of paper.  Even if you don’t get it all done today, that’s okay, the intent was there and tomorrow you just make another list.  Eventually you will get sick of seeing the same task every single day and you will finish it, trust.

Two.  Discipline.

When my son goes to bed each night, all I want to do is work on my fashion blog, watch Gossip Girl or read a book.  Nope, I don’t allow myself to even turn on Tumblr till I’ve made his lunch, filled out the school forms, and emptied the dishwasher.  You know why?  It’s because all of those things are mandatory and there is no negotiation.  So why not finish your duty before fully enjoying your pleasure.  Blair and Chuck can wait.

Three.  Dig deep.

The one sport I excelled in was swimming.  Perhaps as an only child it appealed to my need for independence.  Even in a relay, you contribute your lap, but you are alone in the silence of the water.  It’s breathtaking.  But you know those last four laps or the last four miles in a marathon when all you want to do is have a cupcake, that is when you draw from within.  You dig even if you think there is nothing left.  If there is one thing I’ve noticed about highly successful people it’s that they don’t even define it as digging deep.  It’s just a part of their drive and motivation and to them this practice is like breathing.  You don’t want to fold the laundry?  Do it anyways.  You don’t want to write today?  Do it anyways.

Four.  Play the long game.

I am a firm believer in perspective, that it will all make sense one day.  When we first came to Canada my parents gave me 10 cents everyday to put in a little margarine container.  It was my most prized possession.  Each day that you strive to be better, to learn and to improve is another coin in the bank.  Ever so often when your reality isn’t fully what you’ve imagined, just think of that investment of your time, heart and effort.  It is something that can never be taken from you.  There are few things more valuable than a positive attitude and gumption.  Be your own PR person and re-frame.  You always get what you need.

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B-word

I once told my grandmother that I rarely scream but can always find the words that will truly hurt.  It’s a flaw I’m trying to fix, trust me.  When I make that snide comment is when I want to push the reset button.  I want to get back to the factory setting where the cynicism is less blatant and patience is more present.  But reality bites and here we are.  I’m just trying to be better.

As I grow older though, the less I want to apologize.  Of course I feel guilty when the conscience kicks in.  I don’t have the right to hurt people’s feelings.  It’s immature and inconsiderate but the snark is part of who I am.  As Carrie Bradshaw would say, there is the time when you don’t shut the fuck up (context: season 6, she gives Berger constructive criticism about the scrunchy).  The ability to speak up is useful when standing up for what you believe in and is part of being comfortable in your own skin.  When you don’t suffer fools.  I’ll just learn when to keep it to myself and to know the distinction between wit and negativity.  Afterall, it is not my job to enlighten the whole room, I’ll leave that to Gwyneth Paltrow.

I find there are so many words that are used to define assertive women who are not afraid to tell it like it is when the occasion calls for it.  Hint: it starts with a B and rhymes with witch.  Obviously there are negative connotations associated with it like being a nag, bossy and unladylike.  There are also ways to own it like being capable, decisive and goal-oriented.  How many B words describe men who behave in a similar way?  Bold, brash, beautiful, brave even when they are deserving of the description of bully.  Perhaps it’s because they don’t make excuses and their socially constructed gender gives them more leeway to go after what they want.

Earlier this year Hillary Clinton mused on her experience with youth and gender: “and it’s always surprising to me how many young women think they have to be perfect,” Clinton said. “I rarely meet a young man who doesn’t think he already is.”

Hell, if appearing to be perfect and leveraging my abilities and intelligence allows me to win, I’m all in.  Is that what it takes?  No apologies.

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The chase

When Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for Best Actor he said that his hero is five years away.  And he’s right, you should always be chasing and not be complacent.  My husband and I try to put this outlook into practice.  We are always looking forward.

Now, this strategy exists in our plans for a year in Paris, it’s present in our current monthly budget that will add to our savings for a mortgage, it’s there on the steps we take for our careers.  We put aside pleasure now to have something bigger and better later.  Delayed gratification so that the rewards are bigger.  Granted we’ve had a lot of practice.  Andrew left his corporate job to pursue a graduate education.  People believed that he was indulgent and that it was risky but he did it anyways.  And now, he’s living his life on his own terms and very happy.  In the end it’s always worth it.  The funny part is that the doubters are usually there to offer congratulations at the end when things are good.  Too bad about all that middle part.  But this is when you are gracious and accept their sentiments.

At the core of this is simply one of the sound bytes that you heard from your mother, teacher or guidance counselor.  Set goals and take intentional steps to reach them.  That’s not to say that there is a set path that if you diverge from will result in disaster.  No, there are always different ways to go and it’s very much a process.  One must be resilient and keep at it but there is no distinct end point or time-limit.  Trust, when you finally obtain it you will always want more.

We set similar objectives for our marriage and personal life.  We’ve discussed our 25th wedding anniversary throughout our marriage and have very specific plans.  Having aspirations such as these also means that we’re trying to stay married for at least 25 years.  We are not going to host a lavish dinner party.  Been there, done that with the wedding.  We want the celebration to be about us, not for other people.  That’s why a month in Provence in a chateau is everything we want.  We want that time to reflect on what we share, to be with each other and to be with the people we love most.  I want to break bread and be content.  We’ve also discussed our gifts.  I’m going to purchase a Rolex for him and he’ll buy a Chanel purse for me.  Then Andrew noticed that around our 25th anniversary is when C will be heading off to university.  He realized financially that would be a pain.  So we looked at each other and at the same moment said “what about the 30th for the gifts?”  We may be dreamers but we are also pragmatic.

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Misfit

There are moments when you’re searching for employment that are downright depressing.  It’s like looking at the wasteland of all your half-finished schemes and things you could have done differently.  In my case, I feel overqualified for some of the opportunities and the things that I actually want to do I don’t have the experience for.

We all know the importance of hustling, that there will be sacrifices and fatigue so severe you want a short reprieve.  That if you really want to go after your dreams, you sometimes have to start in the mailroom.  I understand all of this but I just think all the years we spent on gaining an education should count for something.  Because I chose the path of a graduate education, that event planning position that I would pay to have now probably is not feasible.  I’ve always wanted to be a party planner, I was just afraid that it was not “legitimate” enough and what a shame.  I should have started in the mailroom in my early twenties right out of undergrad.  Hindsight is 20/20.

What a waste to regret anything though.  You’re allowed one day to mope and that’s it because after that you’re just wallowing.  Growing up means that you look at what you are trained to do and frame it for a position that you would be proud of and love.  I understand the value of going after what you want but some dreams are not meant to come true and that’s alright.  Not all of us can be rock stars.

I just thought that I would have it together by now.  In a year or two I know that things will be clearer and beginnings are what you have to muddle through.  Growing up with Sex and the City I imagined myself a certain way in my mid-thirties.  I still have time, it’s all about being strategic right?  Every girl plays the game of deciding which character they are.  Most people would say that I’m Charlotte.  It’s true, I’m proper, traditional in many ways and cringe at some aspects of subversive culture.  But I always admired Carrie’s vulnerability.  Her flaws made her so much more relatable.  She was not always the greatest friend, partner or even person but you still loved her.  I’d say most of us have aspects of all four characters: Miranda’s drive, Samantha’s bravery, Carrie’s confidence and Charlotte’s heart.  I know that the show Girls is written with a similar goal to empower women, but perhaps with more of an edge.  Goodness gracious Ms. Dunham you are smart.  Both are valuable, but Carrie and co. are so much more aspirational.  I love you Lena but I would choose their careers and wardrobes over that version of reality any day.  Life’s a mess but I don’t really need to see it in technicolour all the time. tumblr_nbg3wjo0Zr1taiftro1_500

Entitlement

“For the first time in my life there is no logical next step and it’s fucking amazing.”  That was supposed to be the first sentence of this blog post.  I had meant to finish it weeks ago but never got around to it.  Perspectives shift when you’re actually in the middle of it.  I guess that’s why they call it lived experience.  Along with the “fucking amazing” there is a more grounded sense of unease, but it’s not fear.  It’s not like the feeling before the drop on a roller coaster, it’s more like you’re a kid on the first day of school.  Nothing is worn, the pencils are fresh and there is the potential for something new.  I’m not just standing on a conveyor belt.  I’m actually thinking about what it is I want.

The last time I did this was when I was failing miserably at a science undergrad and basically felt like a big fat loser.  I use the word “fat” because it was when I was the heaviest.  I’m an emotional eater so I also seem to gain a few pounds when things aren’t at its finest.  What was worse though was losing my confidence and questioning my level of intelligence.  This was precisely the turning point when I needed to put on the boots and sludge through something I hated or work towards a goal I loved.  Both paths required the Wellies and hate to say it but some shit to walk through.  So I chose for it to be meaningful and close to my heart, even if that meant not having a B.Sc but god forbid a B.A and feeling the weight of my parents’ disappointment for close to a year.  In a family with a long line of physicians a Bachelor of Arts degree probably seems like I majored in basket weaving.  For me personally, it was far more valuable than knowing the table of elements and quantitative formulas.  It provided me with critical thinking skills and a political frame.  It woke me right up.

I’m at a similar crossroad now since I’m close to finishing my doctoral degree.  Graduate school is a process, a negotiation and it’s far from linear.  It requires you be resilient, to work hard and be open to always improve.  These are lessons and skills that are easily translated into various fields, the issue is that I don’t quite know what that “field” currently will be or what that “job” will look like.  There are ideas, concepts and dreams that just need to coalesce into something more solid and less abstract.  One of my major faults has been to follow along with societal and familial expectations.  Always having been such a “good” girl I’ve never wanted to disappoint.  Thankfully as you age Shakespeare’s words about “to thine own self be true” becomes more of a life mantra than a high school English essay.  At the end of the day you are only accountable to yourself so what sort of things do you devote your time to?  Making yourself miserable for the pay cheque no longer cuts it.  As much as I am thankful for all of the opportunities that grad school has offered, I’m also ready to leave.  I believe a workplace and a career should surround you with inspiration, should ignite your passion, and it should not be a chore.  Am I asking for too much?  Every few months the New York Times or Slate will publish an article about my “generation.”  We as the Sesame Street cohort has apparently been told all our lives that we’re “special” so we have unrealistic expectations about our present and future, that we are too entitled.  In my humble opinion, there is nothing wrong with working at it till you get it right.  Till you are good and satisfied.

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