Redefining Success: Taking Care of You

Guy Kawasaki, American venture capitalist and ...

Guy Kawasaki, American venture capitalist and one of the original Apple Computer employees responsible for marketing of the Macintosh in 1984. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read a Huffington Post article this morning, written by Guy Kawasaki, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak at last year’s BlogHer Conference in Chicago, reviewing The Third Metric: Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, written by Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post. The article really, really spoke to me, as a woman, as a college graduate, and as a mother.

Now, I rarely write a post in reaction to another post, which is an advertisement for a Google+ Hangout that has already taken place. It’s just not my style. But this piece sort of stopped me in my tracks. Let’s Stop the Glorification of Busy, published on March 23, 2014 (where have I been?) seemed to be speaking to me directly.

Functioning in a culture that worships hard work (and hard play), I’ve been having an increasingly difficult internal struggle about what does (and what should) make me happy.

I’ve reached a point in my children’s young lives that they can occupy themselves for short spans of time. They take care of their own needs (to a degree, of course), and I’m left with some time to take care of my own. Except I haven’t done that really adeptly in quite some time.

My family is what one would affectionately call ‘old school’. You’d sooner catch them rubbing their fingers raw, washing pots in the sink (yes, the sink) with a dishrag, or scrubbing floors on their hands and knees, before you’d spy them on a patio, drinking a mimosa, reading a book.

This is positive in a way (valuing hard work), and very negative in another (devaluing personal time, space, interests, and recreational activities). According to my family (and probably many of yours), every waking moment should be productive.

I’ve had to explain to my family, on several occasions, why I didn’t accomplish one task whilst another task was being completed (i.e. cleaning up the living room while the laundry was going), and the rationale is always simple: I was tired. I needed to rest.

“Well, that’s why things don’t get done!” they respond, with the wisdom of a thousand sages.

I recently brought someone in to help me clean the house, which plagued me with guilt from the first phone call to the moment they packed up their feather dusters and left. I thought it would unburden me from a great weight, except bringing them into my house only seems to have added more. I have yet to confirm a next appointment.

These are a few reasons Kawasaki’s post, discussing Huffington’s book, stuck with me. I don’t have permission to relax or enjoy myself as an adult, as a parent. I never have.

One part that really invaded my consciousness was a tip from Huffington on Redefining Success. It reads:

There’s no prize for working the most hours per week or making the most money. At the end of our lives, we’re all about the same amount of dust, so the question is how much joy you’ve brought into people’s lives and how much have you made the world a better place.

How true is this? At what point have you heard that loving couple of sixty years, on Today, talking about how well he or she loaded the dishwasher, how much laundry they were able to fold over a weekend, or how timely their oil changes were? How about how many cases of toilet paper they were able to score with double coupons? In the grand scheme of things, none of this matters.

In families stricken with illnesses or other untoward circumstances, there is almost never any mention of the menial tasks with which we’re all saddled.

And when I look back on my childrens’ lives thus far, I don’t think all the boxes of macaroni and cheese I’ve cooked or counters I’ve straightened have made any of us better people. Sure, there’s a lesson in there somewhere about hard work, discipline, and consistency, but these simply are not the experiences we will remember when looking back on our lives, or the lives and contributions of others. I have to remind myself of this almost daily.

All ten of the tips mentioned in the article – activities from walking away from the phone, tablet, or computer for a few hours, to simply taking care of and nurturing one’s self – are simple self-care necessities that we’ve collectively forgotten. And, ironically, all the activities we seem to value the least in terms of accomplishment are the very activities that contribute to our success as human beings.

My husband and I have been considering taking a few classes in the creative arts, but we’re burdened with the guilt of the everyday, and the expenses in both time and money. We’ve wavered, we’ve waffled, and because of that, we’ve yet to commit.

Will we excuse ourselves temporarily from the rat race to allow ourselves these indulgences? We’ll see.

What I have come to know, though, is there is more to life than work and sleep, and though I am well aware of what it takes to make a household or business run successfully, if we’re the conductors, the engines, we need preventative maintenance as well.

It’s time to stop feeling guilty and nurturing ourselves, for our own enduring health and happiness.

There’s a reason the old adage ‘Take time to smell the roses’ stays relevant year after year. If we don’t, we’ll miss out, much like we miss out on our kids’ childhoods when we’re hidden behind piles of laundry.

Do something good for you today, regardless of what it is, how it looks, or how others feel about it. I will, too.

After all, we deserve it. We really do.

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The ‘R’ is Silent: Public Speakin’ in Roe Dyelin’

In the company of Bank of America Building and...

Providence (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

As you may have seen, I’m thrilled to be included in this year’s Listen to Your Mother Show in Providence. After recovering from the initial shock of speaking my written words in front of a packed (you’re coming, right?) auditorium, or being digitally inscribed on a YouTube video for all eternity, I found I had a much larger problem.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I speak, I sound like Peter Griffin.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Surely, Steph, you must be mistaken! You sound like Lois Griffin, right?

No. No, I can assure you I don’t. I sound like Peter Griffin. English is actually my second language. Roe Dyelin’ is my first. Now, if you’ve not the pleasure of ever having heard a Rhode Island accent, think Boston, but with a little less ‘eah’. The way we hold our precious, precious faces is just a little less taut than our cohorts to the north. We’re more ‘aaah’. Kiss your R’s goodbye. Think cah (car). Yahd (yard). Pahkin’ lot. Wahl Maht. You get it.

About a month after my husband and I met, we began discussing first impressions. I commented, endearingly, of course, about his big, bald head hovering over the steering wheel of his small car, and he dove right in about my accent.

“Whoa – my accent?” I stopped him. “Is it bad?” I asked, terrified.

“I don’t even hear it anymore,” he said, which, I admit, was a good save, but triggered my inner Hannah Horvath.

“Wait – what?! What do you mean, you don’t even hear it anymore? What did you think when you heard it before? When did you stop hearing it? What was your impression of me? What about now? Now?? Is it better? Can I make it better? Can I fix it? Is it better NOW?”

And my husband, my husband’s got a nonaccent. You could drop him into any state in this great union and no one would bat an eyelash. ‘Where is he from,’ you wonder. America. He’s from America. 123 Main Street, Anytown, USA. That bastard.

The sum total of that conversation turned out to be, “When I first heard your accent, I surmised that you may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after a few moments of compelling conversation, I realized that you’re actually extraordinarily intelligent, ravishing, and downright irresistible.”

There’s something decidedly unsexy about New England accents, something that simply could never stand up to a British purr, or even a Southern drawl, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that I, unfortunately, possess. I can tell you where to get the best lobstah ravioli, though.

The deaf tone with which I’ve approached my life since that point, however, has been both blessing and a curse.

The setting of the last position I held before becoming a mother was very casual. I worked with individuals living in a long-term treatment facility. I saw them in their jammies, they saw me in mine. I wished them goodnights and good mornings. We struggled together over our first cups of coffee. It was homey. Sure, there were therapeutic and professional activities taking place, but I wasn’t normally or regularly lecturing for a group of esteemed colleagues.

After I became pregnant (again and again and again), I found there were few people with whom to converse over three feet tall. As a result, my elocution suffered further, and my little darlings themselves have now developed Juniyah Roe Dyelin’ accents. Adorable.

At our rehearsal last evening, I heard the word enunciate twice. Those nine little letters haunted me all the way home, sliding coyly into my right ear, then snaking their way out the left. I labored over its syllables, hearing each pound painfully against my skull. Eee. NUN. CEE. Ate.

The tremendous irony of this show for me is that the majority of readers are not native Rhode Islanders. I would never trade the diversity of this state, however. It is one of the qualities I adore most about living here. Trouble is, I had always been Peter Griffin telling jokes in a room full of Griffins.

When everyone sounded alike, no one stood out.

As a result, I sought the other native Rhode Islanders rather quickly, like life preservers on a stormy sea, and held on for dear life, their rubbery exteriors comforting me like the softest silk.

I spent the rest of last evening enunciating, pronouncing all the syllables in the words to be read, stretching out my mouth to make all the soundsI proudly declared to my husband this morning, over tea, (that accentless bastard) that I am trying to “EEE- nun – CEE – ATE!”

“Well, don’t overdo it,” he replied.

 

So, right now just may be the time to admit: I am a stereotype, a caricature, a cartoon. I am Eliza Dolittle. I am Danny Zucco. I am Peter Griffin.

But, goddammit, I’m loveable.

If you need me, I’ll be over at The Drunken Clam, practicing.

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The Smartest Kids in the World: The Smartest Book on Education You Can Read

9781451654424It takes no expert to prove the education system in the United States is broken. Our children consistently graduate high school lacking the skills to keep America competitive in the world market. We’ve slipped in education, respect, and overall mission as a country. Author Amanda Ripley set off on an unprecedented journey to find out why.

Using an aggregate of data, the experiences of high school exchange students, and observation of some of the top-rated countries in the world, the answers became painfully visible.

The book followed three high school students throughout their journeys in top academically-performing countries, Tom, from Pennsylvania to Poland, Kim, from Oklahoma, who traveled to Finland, and Eric from Minnesota, who studied in South Korea.

The differences between the education system in any one of these countries and the US was stark. Most glaring was the countries’ insistence on academic rigor and resilience, rather than placating students and/or parents. Much less emphasis was placed on students’ self-esteem, because it essentially did not translate to increased success as a student or a member of society.

Poland, which overcame significant adversity to become one of the world’s education superpowers, offers a model that neither coddles students nor gives up on them. Finland chooses, educates, and pays its teachers equivalent to highly prestigious careers in the US, and South Korea’s almost unfailing (and anxiety-producing) culture (right or wrong) keeps the focus on education.

This book essentially blows all of our preconceptions about education and success in America out of the water, and almost mocks our emphasis on sports and technology, as neither have been found to positively contribute to learning. In standardized tests administered across the globe, the United States consistently underperforms.

The hypotheses that income, race, or spending per child are positive correlates to learning was proven false, as well as the idea that private education in America is superior to a public one.

Additionally, individuals who choose, or are funneled into, education programs in college are rarely academic top performers. Couple that with America’s dogged insistence on sports and extracurricular activities, and the fact that America’s teachers are woefully underpaid, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for disaster.

This book is eye-opening and should be spark for discussion in any school district. At the very least, this book should be used as a stick of dynamite at the base of this country’s most stolid bureaucracies. For our childrens’ sake.

I will leave you with a quote from  the book that referred to a high school in a western state that had just performed worse than students in 23 countries in math, yet was rated ‘A’ by its home state :

The parents at that school may never know about these results, but the students will find out, one way or another. If not as freshmen in college, when they are placed in remedial math or struggle to follow a basic physics lecture, then in the workforce, when they misinterpret a graph at the bank where they work or miscalculate a drug dosage at a hospital nursing station. This revelation – that they lack tools that have become essential in the modern economy – will in all likelihood arrive privately, a kind of sinking shame that they cannot entirely explain. They may experience it as a personal failing, though I hope they don’t.

I hope they experience it as an outrage instead. Maybe, unlike generations before them, these young Americans will decide that their own children, like children in Finland, deserve to be taught by the best-educated, best-trained professionals in the world. They might realize that if Korean kids can learn to fail and try again before leaving high school, so can their kids. Perhaps they will conclude that Poland is not the only place where change is possible.

 

This book is a must-read for anyone with ties to the education system in America, and that’s all of us. Pick up your copy (or e-copy) at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

Learn more about Amanda Ripley and The Smartest Kids in the World at her website and follow her on Twitter.

Please click here to watch a trailer of the book featuring the three exchange students whose journeys were chronicled in the book.

 

Want to win a copy? I am giving away three copies! Please enter using the Giveaway tab by March 31, 2014 at 12:00am ET at the Momma Be Thy Name Facebook page. Entry requires leaving a comment discussing the biggest weakness you see in the US education system. Feel free to leave that comment now! Visit the page for two extra entries!

 

I was provided a copy of The Smartest Kids in the World by Simon & Schuster in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed herein are my own. Please contact me at mommabethyname@gmail.com for further information or questions.

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The Smartest Kids in the World: The Smartest Book on Education

Mommies Drop Crumbs, Too

My parents never apologized much. Maybe it was the generation, or the world being a slightly different existential place, but when I was a child, adults seemed to me so distant, so far away that they cast very long shadows.

It was hard to imagine caregivers and adults were actually human. They rarely showed emotion, and they were always right. You didn’t ask why, and you didn’t talk back. It was the rule.

I wouldn’t label it all a lack of tenderness, because tenderness was certainly there when I needed it, but perhaps more of a deficiency in relatability, an absence of the touchy-feely, newfangled, 1990’s Full House brand of family communication. A little bit of that may have softened the rough edges.

I grew up with a pair of parents who were superegos with legs. If you remember your high school psychology, you’ll remember that the superego is the more zealous of the triad. Big Brother, if you will. The superego is essentially that voice in your head that points out you’re five minutes late, that you left some toothpaste on the counter, and that the dishes are still in the sink.

Thus, I grew up overly aware of every mistake, every perceived failing. I needed to be right all the time as well. Or ‘doing right’, at least. It was exhausting. And I was rarely either. Conversely, and because they never shared or showed theirs, it was hard to imagine they ever made mistakes.

I was rarely regaled with cautionary tales of their youth, of decisions good or bad. There were many ‘you should’s and ‘you need to’s, but there was little explanation why. The answer was always some permutation of ‘Because I said so’. I was basically on my own, afloat a homemade raft, in the Sea of Life. As a result, I learned a lot of things ‘the hard way’.

As I grew into an adult, I came to know better, the light began to permeate those dark corners. That shiny veneer that so often protects adult caregivers began to buckle around the edges, exposing weathered pieces of the flawed human beings they actually were. I began to see them as actual persons, and who they were beyond the label of ‘parents’. And as I learned more, I sought advice from anyone I could, about friends, about school, about life. I branched out to enhance my worldly education.

I’m not sure whether my upbringing was a result of any particular movement, or a societal shift, or some intergenerational miscommunication, but “Because that’s the way it is” just never did it for me. I needed more. I needed background. I always needed to know why. I wanted to feel like an equal to some degree, another person with whom to share the condition called life, someone worthy of talking to, but, as a child, I was just that – a child. I was a kid, eating at the kids’ table, sent to play outside while the adults talked. I knew my place.

When I had my children, I made a point not to hide that side of me, that fallible, human side. It was my hope that showing them who I was, as a whole person – flaws, stupid mistakes and all – would help them grow into whole people themselves, capable to assessing and negotiating situations on their own. I believed this would make them stronger, and not have to learn as much ‘the hard way’.

When I make a mistake in front of or related to my children, I always apologize. I explain why whatever happened did. I promise not to do it again to the extent that I am able, or explain why things need to be the way they are, even though they don’t like it. So they know I’m there, in body, mind, and heart. The offense can be as simple as my forgetting their juice on the counter, or making a decision not to go somewhere I promised we would. I talk to them. And, in turn, they talk to me.

I want them to feel and understand the consequences of less-than-stellar decision-making, and that I am accountable for my own behavior. I want them to see that Mom can’t be perfect all the time, and they don’t need to be, either.

I want them to see that there’s no man behind the curtain, that there’s no need for a curtain at all. I want to show them I’m simply a woman, a woman blessed with the awesome responsibility of raising three children, a woman who, at thirty-five, is still making mistakes.

 

This afternoon, I sat in the living room, at the end of the couch, eating an apple, while demanding the twins bring their sippy cups back to the kitchen. Because ‘we don’t eat in the living room’.

And then I dropped my apple on the floor.

And they helped me clean it up and bring it back to the kitchen.

Because mommies drop crumbs, too.

They do.

 

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