Archive for July, 2011

Vanity Sanity

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

I think I’m beautiful. But maybe I’m not. What’s beautiful to some is not beautiful to others. The very worst thing to do – which I just did – is to say you’re beautiful, because then people will really come down on you. No you’re not! You’re bragging about yourself! I’ll bet you think you’re better than me! Whether or not they say they’re beautiful, good-looking people get a lot more flack than they deserve. They are judged by others as superficial; so “into their looks,” they don’t care about anybody else; narcissistic; “stuck” on themselves; vain; and arrogant.
Unfortunately, in some cases, this is true. But like any prejudice, condemning all on the basis of a few is simply ignorant.
I’ve always deeply appreciated beauty in any form, having been born with artistic/aesthetic sensibilities. As young as six or seven, I can remember how I admired the shining yellow locks and enormous violet eyes of the Goldilocks pictured in one of my favorite storybooks. My image of feminine beauty was likely taking shape even before that age. Always I preferred my blond-haired dolls to the brunette ones (my own hair was disappointingly brown). As regards body size, it was pretty obvious that Nancy Drew, Cinderella, the girls in The Brady Bunch, and the most popular girls in my class at school were not overweight.
Society’s beliefs about who is beautiful are evident even to the very young. At that tender age, we absorb what we see and hear, along with related qualitative judgments. With all the outside influences, it seems impossible not to equate particular varieties of hair color, body size, and skin quality with health, beauty, and ultimately, goodness and success.
Every single one of us struggles with aspects of the physical ideals. We’d like to have a clear, smooth complexion, but are plagued by chronic acne. We’d like our bodies to be thin, toned, or curvaceous, but aren’t willing to change our eating or exercising habits. Our noses are too big, our hair is thinning, and our teeth are crooked. The number or degree of our aberrations from the ideal seem so overwhelming at times, many of us give up trying to address them and simply accept them as part of who we are. Or maybe we are fortunate enough to never feel self-conscious about any of our personal attributes, or lack thereof, in the first place.
The extent to which we care – or don’t care – about our physical appearance is yet another trait, but a character trait instead of a bodily one. If we have concerns about how we look, we’ll put time and effort into modifying what we can. Obviously it follows that those who don’t put stock in physical beauty will be unmotivated to make changes. Caring and not caring about physical appearance are two different attitudes, and one is not necessarily superior to the other.
People who are truly comfortable with who they are – including those who accept themselves whatever they look like – will not criticize or judge someone who possesses more of the features society considers beautiful. It never fails for me that the more critical I am of other people, the unhappier I am with something about myself. Taking a hard look at why I’ve ever held a negative attitude toward someone because they were attractive, I’d have to admit that much of this was simple jealousy on my part.
Therefore, I might as well put my focus in the right place: on me. Sometimes all I can do about the parts of me I don’t like, is change my attitude toward them. Accept them. This also applies to unattractive character traits like jealousy, by the way. In my experience, once I air out the “ugly” and hard-to-accept facets of myself – physical or attitudinal – they begin to lose their power over me. This clears the way for addressing them, perhaps even ridding myself of the troubling ones.
I used to feel very guilty about the fact that after turning 40, I decided to get Botox injections to combat the ever-encroaching wrinkles on my face. My early programming caused me to condemn this practice as vain and unnecessary (even though I did it anyway). After all, shouldn’t I be using that money for something more meaningful or important, like household upkeep or décor, buying my kids better quality clothes, or future college tuition?
It took me a long time to get rid of the martyr mentality and change my view on investing in my appearance. Now I trust myself enough to realize that putting a reasonable amount of money toward things that help me feel good about myself is a form of healthy self-care, not self-absorption.
I treat myself to cute clothes, too, because they make me feel attractive. And by “cute,” I mean form-fitting. Since I’m blessed with the willingness to run over 20 miles per week for exercise, feeling good about my body size is a perk accompanying the bigger rewards of fitness and health. Admittedly, sometimes looking good (and eating more!) are foremost in my mind, but why over-analyze my motivations if the end result is healthy?
Self-care is a privilege for which I’m grateful, not the selfish demonstration of vanity I used to think it was. Beauty often is a by-product of self-care, but so are health and vitality. For me, “it’s all good,” as they say, so I don’t waste time with guilt about it anymore.
If I had a flourishing garden in which I took great pride because it produced a paradise of flowers, would I not invest effort into maintaining it? You bet I would! If I didn’t, I’d lose something I valued, including the pure joy of seeing those blossoms. So it is with me: if I truly appreciate the parts of me that are beautiful, I will do what is needed to maintain and nurture them. And if that means hair-coloring, exercise, Botox, and regular examinations of conscience, so be it! Because I think that beauty, like life itself – is nothing less than a gift intended for our free and limitless delight.

Deepest Wisdom and Truth

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” – Mother Teresa

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recession Depression

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
If you write it, they will come. Perhaps…once you’ve established your list of previously-published works; contacts with successful agents and editors; upper-level degrees in English, Communication, Journalism or the like; impressive multi-page website; frequent participation in networking events; and demonstrated social media slight of hand. It hasn’t taken me long to realize that neither freelance writing, nor indeed self-employment itself, is any Field of Dreams.

Like any beginner entrepreneur, I have found that the simple ability to provide a service or product is far from sufficient to eke a living from it, even if you excel at what you do. Certainly this has never been more evident than now, during these dark days of our country’s economy. As unemployment reaches new peaks and consumer spending new depths, the number of small businesses and sole proprietors has soared, and competition among them is intense.

Cast adrift by down-sizing or defunct employers, millions of once-stable professionals – many of whom are upwards of forty years old – are now left to figure out how to survive without an adequate income or, frequently, the ability to procure medical benefits. Employers with openings naturally choose to fill them with younger applicants who accept lower pay and cost less to enroll in company medical plans. Unable to compete, the now-unemployed, mature professionals have few other options besides self-employment.

One daunting challenge to the unemployed professional reinventing him- or herself as an independent contractor is the new and generally more complex tools required to do business of any kind. Although my children have had the advantage of being raised in the communication technology era, I’m beginning to understand the sentiments of my parents, who don’t even own a computer. Sometimes it seems impossible to compete in business today unless one is wired-in 24/7 with mobile Internet access; conversant with website functionality, Search Engine Optimization, and professional networking websites; as well as equipped with an Iphone, laptop, or Ipad. The list of high-tech and even higher priced devices gets longer every day. Already struggling, how does a newly-launched entrepreneur pay for these ever-evolving business communication tools? Not only that, but I myself have an instinctual resistance towards investing large portions of uncompensated time into figuring out how to use devices that are being further upgraded even as I unload them from their packaging.

Of course, all the current sophisticated communication tools have opened up numerous new possibilities for other entrepreneurs to offer such secondary services that include designing your website, maintaining your computer, teaching you to use social media, taking your picture for your online profile, streamlining your accounting with Quickbooks, or creating a video for your business that you can use in online advertising. The companies offering these services make such a strong case for the necessity of these technological tools (how can I possibly compete with businesses that pop up on search engines before me, for heaven’s sake?), that new entrepreneurs feel they must buy them, as well as the adjunct services that come with them.

It seems to me that much of this technology and the businesses that feed off it, offer little more than expensive distractions to a sole proprietor’s actually beginning to work and earn money. But of course, I had to learn this through costly research of my own. I, too, started out with all the ignorance and naïveté of someone starting her own business for the first time.

Networking is another highly-touted way to grow one’s client base. And since the cost of print advertising is prohibitive to a start-up business – and yes, of course, I tried this anyway and lost hundreds of dollars with little to no benefit – joining networking groups appears to be a sound marketing decision. I’ve tried plenty over the past year or two, experiencing a wide spectrum of atmospheres, levels of commitment, referral requirements, and cost for membership or per event.

The members, for the most part, appear to be friendly, righteous, empathetic, and supportive peers. Abounding with “business coaches,” real estate agents, organic health specialists, and massage therapists, these groups are comprised mainly of other struggling business-people. Not exactly a great pool of potential clients, since they themselves are financial searchers. The entrepreneur making the most profit from networking groups is the person who organizes them. Starting networking groups has become yet another cottage industry that preys on needy business-people looking for clients.

One especially annoying consequence of meeting people at these groups is being the victim of their “follow-up.” Basically, this means that within about one to two days after attending an event where I meet a bunch of new fellow entrepreneurs, someone calls me or emails me to indicate they are interested in consulting with me about their idea for a book, or in some way using the writing and copyediting services I offer to promote their business. But once I am lured into a face-to-face, time-consuming meeting with them, I find out the truth. They have feigned interest in my writing in order to lure me into a selling situation regarding their own product or service!

Even trying to be direct and state to them upfront that I’m not interested in what they offer does not deter them from trying to persuade me to “meet for coffee.” They tell me they just “want to be friends,” as they ask about my family, background, and hobbies with pretend warmth and interest. I have been tricked into more coffee dates and meetings with “friends” than I care to recount. What have we come to, I wonder, when we have to lie and use manipulative ploys to attract clients? I already mentioned that I am naïve, perhaps idealistic as well, but at least I am honest. In my world, it’s preferable to live in a cardboard box than sacrifice my personal integrity…but that is me.

All these experiences I’ve had as a sole proprietor have been instructive, yet discouraging. Like the economic news and forecasts of our country in general, I suppose…  But what other option is there except to keep trying in hopes of a lucky break? One has to learn to turn a blind eye to the defeats, to the slowly or rapidly dwindling bank accounts, to the fact that a major illness could wipe out every bit of money in a heartbeat, to the self-righteous outcries of the “have’s” that we “have not’s” are a bunch of lazy, entitled tax burdens.

Whether my challenges are industry-specific or common to self-employment novices in general, I continue to look for avenues out of and up from my current situation. A lot of this involves blind faith. But faith nonetheless. In the end, whether we’re financially stable or not, this is what will sustain us as we hope for better, not only for ourselves as individuals, but for the our country and the world as a whole.