Archive | February, 2011

Comparing yourself to others stunts your growth

19 Feb

photo: Kingston Images

There’s this saying: When you compare your insides to other people’s outsides, you lose every time.

Who loves to do that? Pick me! Pick me!

The problem is comparison leaves you struggling to stay afloat in a sea you never wanted to dive into in the first place. Instead of learning to swim, you keep hugging the side of the floaty or sinking like lead.

While I’m excellent at faking confidence when needed, lying beneath the surface lurks a tiny inferiority complex. Deep in my mind, people are smarter than me, funnier than me, more creative than me . . . more interesting than me. Mostly I’m bad at admitting this. That’s why blogging was so scary in the beginning.

Hello, honesty, it’s crowded in here. Can we go somewhere we can be alone?

Facebook is easy for snipets of wit. If I were on Twitter, concisely twitty I’d be.

But blogs are personal. You have to be authentic or you’re boring. And even then, you might still be boring (anyone still awake?).

Since introspection is my frenemy, perhaps you can learn something from my inadequacies qualifications:

Your idea of adventure is cooking with vanilla bean. You see a few photo albums on Facebook of your friend’s trip to India/Eygpt/Peru/Bali. Then you read a few blog posts about sailing/mountain climbing/backpacking, and suddenly your fancy dessert or spontaneous jaunt through the woods doesn’t seem so adventurous. You start to feel ordinary. Less seizing, more day.

It’s easy to get intimidated by people who seem to have adventure in their back pocket. One of my husband’s oldest friends climbs mountains and takes breathtaking photos of the world (and less glamorously, our wedding). Aaron’s cousin travels the globe to interview pirates and scribes. My childhood friend traveled frequently in his 20’s and lived abroad. I thought of him today while I listened to a news story about Tunisia because he’s been there too. He was one of the first people I thought of when I needed a travel mate to Spain. On that trip he told me a crazy story about climbing an icy mountain in Italy, flirting with life and death.

I remember in exaggeration so the ice might be imaginary. And the near death part. But my reaction I remember clearly: I never want to do something like that. Danger is not my middle name. But then again, neither is caution.

I love Spain and seeing new places, but I’ve learned I’m meant for small pockets of world travel at a time. My friend, who later ventured to Turkey to study its political geography, always had his passport up-to-date. Now he’s a stay-at-home dad who blogs about PhD parenthood. He has different kinds of adventures now. Perhaps less predictable ones.

This timely moment of happiness arrived in my inbox this morning:

“Happiness is in the taste, and not in the things themselves; we are happy from possessing what we like, not from possessing what others like.” —La Rochefoucauld

Ask yourself whether you actually want to climb/sail the world or if just feel like it’ll make you more interesting at parties. I’m definitely in the latter category. Climbers and globe trekkers are pursuing what they love. We don’t all love the same things. It’s okay.

Happy people are boring? Penelope Trunk has a test you can use to decide if your life is interesting or happy. She believes you value one over the other. She has given up on happiness and everything she writes is interesting so perhaps that makes the case.  When we’re happy, do we avoid potentially interesting experiences as to not risk our happiness? Or do we sacrifice happiness for interesting experiences?  Some might argue there’s a vapid nature to being concerned so much with happiness. I will argue that the pursuit of happiness makes me interesting. Okay, maybe not. But it does make Gretchen Rubin a ton of money. She has a #1 bestseller, after all. I read her blog regularly but it did take me some time to get past the constant self-promotion. I realize this is the point of most blogs. Except mine. My lack of accomplishments is your gain!

Penelope and Gretchen are complete opposites but they are both excellent at growth. Precisely because they know who they are, and they know who they aren’t. They don’t compare. Penelope wants to be interested; Gretchen wants to be happy. I am the greedy person who wants both.

Gretchen often points out that things that are fun for one person are not for someone else. She loves organizing closets while that makes me want to drive nails in my forearm. Or sit on the couch and eat the internet.

Both women are honest: they admit their faults and embrace their strengths. Penelope is sometimes shocking while Gretchen is more subtle but I can relate to both of them in different ways. And they value being nice. Cynicism and criticism don’t inspire. They do.

Interesting projects are worth the work. When I was a yearbook adviser, there were times I wanted to pull my hair out, fire all my students, and stop running a 300+ page publication. Editing copy, tweaking designs, ensuring that each book’s voice remained intact from the typography and graphics to the story ideas and secondary coverage:  those details make you crazy. But the difference between good and great is all details. So each year when I saw my staff surpass the previous year’s book in vision and execution, I knew it was worth it. To see my kids surprise themselves (and everyone else): labor of love.

Then when I moved to Florida and started to worry about not having a job and planning a family, I amped up my research and reading on freelance writer as a potential new job. I love to write but I hate to promote myself. Therefore, freelance writing would require hours and hours of doing things I hate so that I can get writing gigs on mostly boring topics. Because the jobs that are the easiest to get and the most lucrative are the ones no one wants. Technology manuals, anyone? I’d rather organize my closet!

So after a few months of comparing myself to the branding freelance masters of the internet, I realized something important. I don’t want to be them. What they do won’t make me happy. I like teaching and despite its frustrations, it’s a much more interesting and rewarding career than the isolation (or forced promotion) of the freelance writing marketplace. I’m going to stick with education until the day I get a magical opportunity to write about things I’m interested in. Like I do on this blog. So until then, I guess I’m giving the milk away for free.

I think this blog is about transition

5 Feb

I’ve made significant progress fighting anxiety in this new month. I sleep better (though still not enough) and I celebrate more. Instead of begrudging potentially losing my income, Aaron and I started to budget for it. What I learned from my January of self-pity is that transition hurts. And I think that’s what this blog is about.  How to recognize it, how to handle it, and how to move forward. Step one was to give myself permission to be sad. It took me until January 28 to finish writing my last post because I developed an “I can’t  deal with this right now” kind of headache with each attempted revision. When I finally wrote the not-making-fun-of-myself part of the entry, I started to cry. It hurt and I needed to feel it.

What a relief the rest of the weekend was. As Gretchen Rubin clarified for me, I became happier because I admitted I wasn’t happy.  The whole time Aaron was trying to cheer me up, I just wanted permission to be sad.

A child psychologist I saw on TV recently explained how to apply that same technique in dealing with a toddler tantrum. Simply acknowledging what the child is upset about can inherently calm him or her down. You don’t have to give in, just acknowledge.

I realized I’ve just compared myself to a creature that kicks and screams when it doesn’t get what it wants. But when we’re feeling hopeless, we’re all id. It’s not that much of a stretch.

I moved to Florida based on little to no research. I looked at home values a bit but most of my inquiry was into potential teaching positions in the local schools. I trusted my husband’s judgment on everything else since he had lived here temporarily while working on his master’s. I was a move-out-of-state virgin while Aaron was a pro. He may have attended college in his hometown but he followed that up with moving out of the country (Peace Corps), then to Colorado and Louisiana, then back to Virginia to meet me.

While I moved to different cities (okay, some were towns) in my home state, I never got enough continental wanderlust to jump ship for more than a vacation. A huge motivation behind this was to avoid changing everything at the DMV. Which moving-box-we-stuffed-in-a-closet holds my car title, again? Ugh.

Here’s the research I should’ve done, but neglected because I was planning my wedding, packing, and moving. And taking time to reflect on my crafting deficiencies. And without further self-centered linkage, here’s a bunch of statistics.

The median price of South Florida homes in December was $203,700, a decline of $11,000 from 2009. The market in Broward County, if you believe recent projections, won’t hit complete bottom until 2012. Fort Lauderdale values are still on the decline (-13.6% in 2011), which is worse than Phoenix (-12.8%) but better than Detroit (-15.1%). Topping the deflating market is Naples, FL, just around the peninsula from us, at -18.9 percent. This means buying a house on a tight budget might just be possible for this potentially one income family.

In contrast, $219,546 was the average price of homes in my former city of Richmond, VA. That sounds better until you consider that of the available properties on the market, the number of foreclosures almost matches the number of available houses.

Fannie Mae claims the median income for Broward County (2010-11) is $60,200. This was $13,000 lower than Richmond.

Virginians are fatter than Floridians but just barely (25.5 percent vs. 25.1 percent). We live across the street from Italians who coal fire everything on the menu. We just joined a new gym.

Other than the weather, South Florida’s biggest attraction is its diversity: everyone from everywhere moves to South Florida. Ten percent of all American Jews live here. Some have immigrated from Latin American countries, Arab nations, Russia, and even Israel. Unlike the rest of the Baptist-heavy South, Catholics comprise the majority of churchgoing Floridians. 16.7 percent of our population is Latino. That same percentage of the state’s people are internationally born. I know there’s a lot a fuss about immigration (some merited) but I teach many of these students: don’t fear them; learn from them.

Every 8th period, Columbian-born English learner “Juan” strides down the hallway sporting a faux-hawk and a smile and we repeat this exchange.

Me: [greeting him with a grin] “Juan!”

Juan: “Hey Teach-er!”

(He can’t pronounce my last name “Mullins,” since the sounds don’t make sense in Spanish.)

Juan is bright. He wants to learn. The light in his eyes when he does understand a concept hits me right in my gut. This is a kid who volunteered to read Ayn Rand out loud in class: he stumbled through some of the words and  his slow pace might have made some impatient classmates shuffle uncomfortably in their seats, but he finished that paragraph. I get self-conscious speaking my broken Spanish to him and he tells me not to worry, his English “no good, teach-er.”

He doesn’t have the luxury of choice I do.

He writes his essays in Spanglish and his eyes come alive when the topic allows him to write about his home village: the familiar, the comfortable, the known.

He’s in transition too.

Only he’s walking around with both hands tied behind his back.

And what am I so afraid of?

Sometimes being brave is easier when you have to.

Think about your major transitions. Please share in the comments how you adjusted and/or the lessons you learned. My ego desire to learn thanks you.