Somewhere Over the Chrysler Building

A trip to New York City last weekend helped me get my groove back. There was something about the fresh, freezing air there, something in the way the purposeful people walked and talked, something about the open-until-6am-bars and bright lights that helped to renew a part of me that tends to go missing in the middle of February in Illinois. I left Chicago with a bad migraine and pounds of work-related stress, and returned feeling well-rested, well-fed and perfectly pleasant. Somewhere between New York’s Midtown neighborhood and Chicago’s Midway  Airport, I found me again!

While there, everything seemed to happen the way things should. Every bad occurrence (surviving 3 freezing cold hours in a failed attempt to see a live taping of Regis and Kelly) seemed to be balanced out by a good one (getting the inside scoop on Gossip Girl filming from the bartender at our hotel). My boyfriend and I met people selling sidewalk paintings that seemed beautiful enough for MoMA. We explored the city’s history, learning that we were just 2 of the 46 million travelers that would visit  The Big Apple in 2011. We subway-ed to Jewish delis and strolled through Times Square. We prowled the streets of Fashion Week.  We gazed at Ground Zero and remembered to be grateful. We did things that regular New Yorkers do every day, probably without a second thought.

Marvelous moments are so easy to find when you are far away from what you recognize.

Having traveled to the city several times, I always like to say that New York is my happy place. But here’s the truth: I didn’t have to go to New York to get happy.  Actually, it could have been a good friend’s house, or a walk downtown, or a trip to the local Godiva shop. Whether it’s over the rainbow or across the state line, travel has proven to be my great teacher. In leaving my comfort zone, I can learn about others and hear their stories. I step away from the life that I know to visit a place outside of me. Part of going away is experiencing the excitement of somewhere new (Manhattan margaritas taste better!), but the best part of going away is becoming aware of something new.

Sometimes, leaving makes you appreciate where you come from. Sometimes, time spent away from family and friends can shine light on their incredible importance in your life. Sometimes, experiencing something other than home can give home its value. And sometimes, life just feels better when you allow yourself to see it from another point of view.

www.yoursmartheart.com

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For Auld Lang Syne (For the Sake of Old Times)

Well, I’m (slightly?) delayed in getting my “Happy New Year” blog posted.  This shouldn’t surprise me or anyone else; delayed action is my own personal frenemy, something that also plagues my rising in the morning, my completing work at work, my putting the bills in the mail before the due date, and my getting into bed at night.  This past year, as the seasons changed from Winter to Spring and so on, I promised myself that by 2010’s end, I would find a way to move away from delay. And yet, here I am, posting a Happy New Year blog on January 28th

Every New Year, we resolve to be better. We ask ourselves to hurry up with the things we should have accomplished the year before. We make lists of ways to look, feel, and act – lists that assure this year to be the one we get it all figured out.  And if you’re me, you vow to rid yourself of that procrastination temptation in favor of filling up the gas tank before that ugly yellow light turns on. This is what the New Year is all about. Yes?

Maybe not. Ironically, one quick Google search lets you know that Auld Lang Syne loosely translates to “Times Gone By,” or “Long, Long Ago.”  Hence, the song we traditionally sing on New Year’s Eve to mark a new beginning, actually pays homage to the past.  It mentions nothing of running toward tomorrow, but of appreciating the people, places and experiences that have shaped our lives, and made us who we are. This fact literally fluttered through my mind while on a mini-vaca over the last week of December, and remained with me until the 31st.

And so, this year, when the clock struck midnight, and I had the choice to begin 2011 with action or delay, I chose delay. And before you accuse me of abandoning my resolution before the new year had even begun (!), let me explain what I mean. Maybe this year, I can commit to pausing to enjoy. Maybe we all can. What does it look like? Finding contentment in the simple things, because they are so rare. Finding gratification in the people who bless us, because we know that each year makes staying in touch more difficult. Finding joy in the minor things we accomplish, because accomplishing anything is something.  Finding happiness. And then giving it away to someone who is having trouble finding it.

Remaining in the moment, and procrastinating tomorrow until, well, tomorrow.

Just for old time’s sake.  

www.yoursmartheart.com

I Won’t Grow Up, I Won’t Grow Up

Ahh, to be young. We are, still.

Aren’t we?

According to many, we sure do act like it. We Gen-Ys or Millennials have been quietly coined the “Peter Pan Generation” because of our almost universal aptness to perform traditional “rite of passage” events later in life, taking more time to finish school, working for less money for a longer time, even opting to live at home later than we (or our parents) might have planned.  This, for many, begs the question, will we ever grow up? And we are not the only ones wondering.  New York Times Magazine devoted a 10-page spread to this topic in its August 2010 issue, and tried to answer this pressing question: “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” The article dabbled in the term “emerging adulthood,” and wondered if delaying traditional coming-of-age milestones offered opportunities for further self-discovery, or if it actually fostered self-indulgence.  Won’t we ever move on, move out, move up? Hence, Peter Pan.

 This where it gets confusing. If I am not mistaken, Peter Pan’s yearning to remain in childhood had more to do with his fear of growth than with his love of being young, right? This is quite the opposite with most of us twenty-something’s.

Instead, could it be that we are fixated on doing everything right the first time around? More than three times the size of the generation that preceded, we are an age group  having been pressured to find the best jobs in the midst of history’s most devastating recession. We want to get married, but not divorced, smart but not while accruing debt, happy but not too comfortable, and on and on. Perhaps out of respect for those who provided us with tools to grow, perhaps as a promise to our generational legacy, perhaps as an homage to our childhood selves, we want to step out into the grown-up world feeling at least somewhat confident, happy and at peace. We aren’t afraid of what the future holds; we are intent on making our future everything we dreamed it would be.

So while the “experts” call us Peter Pan, we can smile. Because despite the above-mentioned efforts, the truth is, we will make mistakes. We might not get everything we had planned for, and when that happens, we’ll know where to go.

Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

www.yoursmartheart.com

Things Disguised As Me

 

Questions. We asked too many of them when we were little. Our parents asked too many of them when we were in college. And now, they stand as annoying reminders that sometimes, we just don’t have all the answers.

Life as a 20-something is full of questions. Many of them trivial: “Does this cosmopolitan match my shoes?”

Many of them are more complex. We thrive most when we believe we have the right answers. If we choose “A” and actually make it to “B,” then we are a success. If we choose “A” and “B” never shows up, we are wrong. Is this really how life works now? Is everything so finite and factual that there is only one real, right choice? Alert: scribbling outside the lines has now become a major faux pas.

This got me to thinking: Second-guessing is our human addiction. When we were younger, it was about questioning our role in a group, or wondering if we were doing enough to get ahead and make it to adulthood. And although our increase in age is supposed to bring us an increase in security, the gnawing feeling of needing an answer never really leaves us.

Only now, we worry about how quickly we can accomplish everything in comparison to others our same age. College? Check. More schooling? Check. Flourishing friendships? Check. Glamorous job? Check. On and on until we have enough checks to make us feel like we are thriving, to make us certain we have as much success as our friends, siblings, or the person we haven’t seen since high school but still secretly wish we could emulate . Like it or not, the world is full of comparison, status and standards. Many of us cannot help but think… how do I measure up? How do I know when I have found the right answer?

The truth? We don’t. To question who we are is to improve who we end up becoming.  But to pressure ourselves into thinking we should control all, or know all or be all – these are lies disguised as ourselves.

In the end, maybe we secretly don’t want “A” to take us to “B.” Maybe the off-road adventure is the part we were meant to experience. Maybe the mistakes are what make us better. Maybe trying to be right is what leads us to be wrong in the first place.

Maybe we live for the things we are certain we know. But maybe we resolve to keep living for the things we’ll never know at all.

www.yoursmartheart.com

Reflect My Truth

 

Last weekend I was blessed enough to spend quality time with a family member who is more like a friend.  Moments of time pass by too quickly when we are together, and though we are far apart in distance and in age, we manage to conserve our common ground, and always find it when we reunite. Spending time like this with people we love tends to bring out the best in both ourselves and our lives. It is almost as if the world demands more of us when we are surrounded by the people we most respect.

Relationships like this one are rare, and I know that I am lucky to say that in my own life I have a few people who bring me to this higher level. Call it consciousness, awareness, understanding or knowledge; regardless, it is something we should strive for more regularly. 

This weekend and in the coming summer months, I challenge myself and my peers to be honest in our assessment of the world in which we live.  I don’t mean the traditional “think globally” mantra, although that is important, too. I am speaking more of the personal world we strive to create for ourselves. How can we honor our reflections – those thoughts that only our hearts (and the people who know our hearts) recognize? What ideas really make us tick? What progress can we promise to create? How can we listen more clearly to the inner voice that promotes peace and tranquility?

Just as a mirror reflects my physical image, so my thoughts reflect my truth. Perhaps this means choosing to be with and around people who support this higher thinking.

Like the triple flash of a camera, our lives can sometimes be blips of semi-truths. We can tend to walk unbalanced, and lose our sense of strength. When this happens, we must resolve to resort back to those people who demand the most of us. They are the perfections in our reflections.

www.yoursmartheart.com

“Learning to be Brave…

 

     …in my beautiful mistakes.” – P!nk

I never judge a book by its cover.

Yeah, right.

We, as human beings, love judging books by their covers, and we do so every day. I go to Borders and browse the flashy ones first. I go to the airport gift shop and peruse the magazines with the juiciest gossip. I pick the prettiest cupcake at the bakery, and sometimes Starbucks just feels better than its home-brewed (less-expensive) competition!  

Yes, we can be quite critical. This criticism far surpasses our consumer selves, and often seeps into our judgment of people. The tallest individuals are respectable, the really loud ones are insecure, the quiet ones are sweet and on and on. Then we move from criticism of people we see on the street, to celebrities we’ll never meet. We watch glitzy award shows and find ourselves snickering about how so-and-so has really lost her fashion sense.  We are glued to The Bachelor while secretly reveling in the cattyness of it all. Remarkably, I can’t count how many times I have heard a friend or colleague say, “I love watching Jersey Shore… it makes me feel so normal!” And while I can’t really argue with that last one, there comes a point where we have to get real about what IS true, and what we really wish was true. This is not so much about stereotyping, but more about our first impressions – our reactions to people who we don’t know, a way to accept or dismiss people without ever really having to understand them.

By the time  we hit our twenties, we had better get over these pre-judgments, because the “real” world has no room for them.  We eventually come to realize that the short people are equally respectable, that the loud ones just like to talk, that the quiet ones can be mean, too. So, somehow, we let go (or pretend to let go) of these usually ignorant, sometimes amusing judgments. 

But here’s the funny thing: we never get over judging ourselves, which is perhaps why the judging of others can be so validating. Usually, I am my biggest critic. This seems to be the norm, especially for 20-somethings, and even more especially for women. This rang true last week, when I was forced to quit something for the first time in my life. Even though I had something better lined up, something that I could be proud of, something that would make me happier in the long run, the daunting feeling of failure still felt like it might fill me with regret. I reasoned that this time, maybe I just couldn’t cut it.

Sound Familiar? For you, it might not be quitting a job. Maybe it’s failing a test, ending a relationship or friendship, blowing an interview, missing a flight, creating a mess,  saying too much, getting mad,  gaining weight, forgetting something important, regretting something big. Maybe it’s the fact that judging yourself is just plain easier than forgiving yourself the oversight.

This, then, begs the question: can we choose to give ourselves the same slack we have grown to offer others?

Writer Ellen Goodman once noted that we often spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.

www.yoursmartheart.com

Our Favorite Pastime

hide_and_seek

 Hide and seek. A game we loved to play as children. I can still hear the contagious laughter and electrifying shrieks we belted when we spotted the one we were looking for. Even if the yard was small, and we knew where our friend was hidden because he or she hid there every single time, we reveled in the fun of it. The satisfaction of pointing and saying “found ya!” was enough to keep us playing. Over and over again, until Mom reminded us that it was dark and our dinner was getting cold. We promised her just one more game, and then complied.

A little bit older, and it was ghost in the graveyard. Adding a little fright to the game made it more “mature.” The little kids were too young to join, and we felt elated as we counted with a smile, “One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock…” and on and on until we culminated with midnight. I can still remember the rush when we yelled, in unison, “I will not see a ghost tonight!” Here, we played the same game late into the summer’s clammy evening until we grew tired and decided to bid our goodnights. And the next day around dusk, we entertained our favorite pastime again.

Now our version of hiding and seeking is real life. We move in and out of awareness, back and forth with decisions, to and fro with confidence. We grasp for our sea legs, stand our ground firmly, then lose balance and get up again. We explore our surroundings. We seek knowledge. We search for answers.

The right answers.

And sometimes, when we are really lucky, we find the ones we’re looking for.  And the game just never gets old.

www.yoursmartheart.com

A Blog About A Bar

drink_pic

Connectivity is key. Just look around. Everyone, everywhere is making calls, writing emails, meeting for lunch or stopping for coffee. We are magnetically stuck to our iphones, and totally in love with texting. And the connection doesn’t stop there.  Have you ever noticed how much we 20-somethings love the bar scene? If you stroll down Lincoln Avenue downtown Chicago tonight, you can bet your year’s salary (wonderful as it may be) that each block of bar- infested property will be filled, loud and friendly. And while you walk along, you might stumble in yourself. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that we now work five days a week and sometimes find ourselves literally counting down the minutes until 5 o’clock on Friday when suddenly, our sour moods turn to gold.

We can become so tied up in our jobs, our money, our stress, ourselves, that we sometimes forget the support we have. Even at the end of the day, when it feels like we have nothing left to lose, we still have the company we keep.  Can we let go of the electronic communication and stop by for a chat? Can we send a card instead of the usual email? If nothing else, can we please, oh pretty please, just meet up for a martini?! Can we let go of ME, ME, ME and in turn find a happy MEdium? Who do we become when we have others on our side? What is our quality of life when we share our souls with others? The answers are simple here; we can’t do life alone, and we shouldn’t forget it.

 So, if we do choose to meet up at that Lincoln Avenue bar or some other one this weekend, let’s just feel happy to connect. Problems at the doorstep, worries at the door.

 In the end, we know we want connectivity, but we find that difficult to define and then tricky to put into action. What is it?

 It is the clinking of glasses that swear a better work week. The cheers-ing of life to celebrate friendship. The choosing of jukebox songs to remember our past. The regaling of stories that preserve our youth. The connecting of friends to assure us our strength. The conversing – in person – because we just don’t do it often enough. These are the best things in life. Bar None.

www.yoursmartheart.com

Shake It

Today I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. While walking out the door early this morning, I realized that I felt uneasy. I didn’t know what my day had in store; I couldn’t quite plan a detailed agenda from start to finish. Shockingly, in new jobs, they usually don’t let you do that. Feelings like this beg one question:

How badly do we crave control? While most of us might admit to feeling a little bit less on edge when our lives are structured and “in our power,” we would all probably confidently articulate that we can usually go with the flow. We can roll with the punches; we are okay with unexpected change. But are we, really?

It is no secret that our twenties could quite possibly remain among the most uncertain times of our lives. People who are younger than us have ages 1-18 covered. School, summer, school, summer, until there is no more summer, but always, seemingly, more school. The once life-altering challenges of our younger years suddenly seem trivial and unimportant. Our elders have graduated, chosen their careers, created their families and built their homes, looking back at our generation with pride, guilt, empathy or envy. Unbeknownst to us, this group has a different set of challenges, equipped with feelings and hardships we have yet to realize.  And we 20-somethings… here we sit, when all we want to do is stand. Stand sure and confident that our next move will be the right one. That our path is the one we were supposed to lead. That our journey will end up the way we had always hoped or planned.

Whether it is a job, a man, an apartment or a life, we are forced to make choices. These choices are usually ones that bridge us from where we once were to where we will be. This is right around the time we like to cringe. We ask ourselves how we can ever really be sure of our decisions.

 Someone stupid started a rumor claiming that when we have control, we are better, stronger human beings. Preparedness means happiness, and then luck strikes. But we must resolve to be smarter than that. While it is imperative to diligently try, everyday, to make good judgment and work hard toward an attractive outcome, might we be able to let go of the lie that this is the only way to ever succeed?

If we count the number of great things that have occurred in our lives, we realize that most of them have absolutely nothing to do with luck, nor are they the result of how prepared we felt. They did not occur because we could predict the future, and many times they were not even the product of how hard we worked. Sometimes things happened because they were supposed to. They occurred because at the time, they were what we needed to grow stronger. Our decisions have shaped us – good and bad. We are now unlearning our mistakes and preserving the lessons we have experienced. We must let go of our obsession with control, because control never was – and never will be – obsessed with us.

When we do this, we realize that they are the things of Heaven, the lessons that we learn through shakin’ it up. They are the snapshots we can always come back to. And all at once, like a Polaroid picture, it all becomes quite clear.

www.yoursmartheart.com

And So It Goes

Have you ever watched a television show or movie in which a time lapse occurs? One minute, it is spring time, and the very next it’s fall again, the trees browning with the crispness of fifty degrees; the air permeating noses with fire, pumpkin spice and the noticeable absence of seasonal allergies. I used to watch those movies and think how neat it would be, to fast forward like that. To hurry past the cold to get to the warmth and vice-versa. However, in my early twenties I find myself likening my own life to those speedy scenes.

But our years are no longer broken down by school vacations or family-fueled activities. Even in college and during the few months following, the graduation parties, job searches and possible grad school applications were enough to distract us from the new world we had – perhaps unpreparedly – stepped into. Time goes quickly, even against our will, and it is unreturnable. Our strong yearning to move forward swiftly and steadily has suddenly turned quite tepid. We might find this same dilemma mirrored in our friends, colleagues and partners.

I believe that, partially, this has something to do with the fact that life can be a teeter-totter of yes and no. Slow and fast. More and then less. We are constantly wobbling on the beam of balance, and that’s OKAY! However, when we do find ourselves confused at a crossroads, can we implement a perspective change? Would it be possible to accept the unknown? Can we take chances and listen more intently to the voices we trust? Are we able to step into courage and away from defeat? If anticipation is our high, then unreadiness has to be our low. Can we change this system in our own lives to create a stronger balance?

As the season of hustle and bustle begins, we must challenge each other to look around and see. Because one minute we have the moment. One minute we have the person. One minute we have the idea. One minute we have the time.

And the next, we don’t.

If we can succeed in altering our perspective nowwe could possibly savor these days and moments. We could be excited for the next big job, event,  or vacation, but we could also breathe in our current surroundings and appreciate time.  And so it goes. Slipping through our fingers all the time.

http://www.yoursmartheart.com