We like to be certain about things, don’t we? We like to know. Of course we do. That’s why we’re so certain about our jobs and our relationships. And life. Right? Right.
I’m uncomfortable even typing that. I’m not certain. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. My story is not fully written yet (FYI: I hope it’s an epic dramedy
). You’re probably uncertain. Your story is not fully written yet. And I think that’s great. (If you are certain, I call bullshit.) Let’s talk about work.
I recently went to a leadership talk given by Liz Wiseman
and her surprising, yet welcome theme was this – we’re all winging it at work. She is winging it. You are winging it. I am winging it.
Liz teaches leadership to global executives – Apple, Disney, Nike, Google. She’s listed as one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world and, in her spare time, she wrote three best-selling books
And she thinks we’re all winging it. Scary, right? How can that be when we’re taught to have the answers and are reprimanded when we don’t? How can that be when our intelligence and ability is evaluated based on our knowing how to do things?
So how does winging it fit in? It doesn’t. So we hide it. We hide that we don’t know. What about love?
Just as we’re expected to know in business, we’re expected to know in love. But do we? Can we? I’m not sure. Love is a big part of our unwritten story.
In Helen Fisher’s TEDtalk
about love, she explains that “millions of years ago, we evolved three brain drives: lust, romantic love and attachment.” We know that. We call it monogamy. But we’re also hardwired to “feel deep attachment to a long-term partner while you feel intense romantic love for somebody else, while you feel the sex drive for people unrelated to these other partners.”
Scary, right? I mean we’ve totally bought into monogamy and soul mates and marriage and forever plot. So how does loving multiple people at the same time fit in with soul mates? How does promising monogamy forever – knowing until death do you part – fit in? It doesn’t. So we hide it. We hide that we don’t know. Let’s talk about not knowing.
If we’re all winging it, why are we all hiding it? I don’t know. I suspect we’re afraid of failure and of being alone and that leads us to fake it until we make it a lot. But that’s a big topic for a different article.
In the meantime, let’s just admit that we’re not sure. Let’s talk about it. Openly. Without judgment. Let’s confess at work and at home that we don’t know. And let’s figure out the ending together.
That’s winging it. And winging it makes life challenging and exciting. It’s okay to not know. There is a freedom in not knowing the outcome, but finding out. A freedom in not knowing about forever, but allowing your relationship to grow and fit in different ways. A freedom in fucking up and learning and doing it all again. That’s life. It’s messy and imperfect. And it’s great. That’s our story.
Our inner child. Our joyous little version of ourselves tucked inside our grown-up bodies. Our wee gnomes of delight that, like a pimple, we can pop and the bliss will ooze out of us and save us from the drudgery of paying bills.
Oh, wee one, show yourself and let me be as happy as a child once again!
Or at least, if you Google "inner child," that’s what many (many many many) articles, quotes and people will have us believe. They will say, to experience joy and happiness again, we need to search for our inner child and relive the purity, joy and innocence we felt as children, and they suggest we do so by:
- Skipping into a field of wild flowers with the sun beaming down on us
- Journeying into our deepest memories to uncover our first moment of childhood joy
- Reliving the time we ran into the ocean with our arms outstretched leaping into the waves and laughing
But what they fail to understand is that the pop-psychology concept is not meant for the average person nostalgic for a more carefree time in their lives. It’s used to heal “unresolved childhood experiences and the lingering dysfunctional effects of childhood dysfunction
Not so much to learn to giggle again, people, but rather to get past serious trauma.
So where do these carefree inner child images come from? Why are they part of our collective consciousness? Movies. Advertising. Books. And other fiction. It’s pretend. It’s someone else’s imagination. Someone else’s version of what happy looks like. And they are willing to sell you that image.
But here's the real question: why do we buy it?
Maybe because it's lovely. The image of the inner child currently in circulation is indeed a happy one (never the barfy jerks that kids can be sometimes). And partially because it sounds easy. To be happy all we have to do is relive a happy memory from our childhood, which hits us right in our nostalgic sweet spots. There's no real work involved. There's no reflecting on your present or trying to determine, if you are unhappy, why. It seems to be just about reliving the past, and only the good parts of our past.
Is that what true happiness is? I'm not convinced. So I will end with a letter filled with anger and sarcasm (which, incidentally, makes me happy):Dear counselors-in-training, happiness bloggers and self-help-book-bingers,
I’m sure you mean well, but please fuck off. I don’t need to act like a goddamn five-year-old to be happy. I don’t need my happiness to be infantilized, thank you very much. When I express joy, I am not releasing my inner-fucking-child. I’m just happy. As an adult. In the present. Try it!
I’ve come to terms with our relationship, pharmacy beauty aisle. You lie. I believe(ish). You are a brightly-lit place filled with false hope, and your aspirational products sway my wee ego into shelling out for crap that doesn’t work and sometimes makes things worse (thanks again home perm product. I totally wanted hay for hair. You nailed it!).
I get that I play a pivotal role in our relationship – codependency and all that – but we need to talk. The following products have let me down so many times that I have to call you out. Cuticle cream
I can never get my cuticles to behave. I go to the nail salon and the manicurist deftly pushes my cuticles back with a little wooden stick and my cuticles are all like: “Oh. Back there? Right. Got it. No problem. Everyone, everyone – let’s just go back there.” And they do.
But when I try this at home my cuticles are all like: “What are you doing? You are using one half of a chopstick set, for crying out loud. We don’t respect you. Everyone, everyone – stay put. Stay put everyone. Actually move forward. Cover the whole nail bed. She is not a professional and cannot be trusted.”
Dear cuticles: The cuticle-dissolving cream at the pharmacy scares me, so you win. I will get my nails professionally done, but I’m going to the mean lady who mocks me for flinching when she stabs me. Love Shannon.
Dear cuticle-dissolving cream makers: Please call your product something less scary. How can I be sure it won’t dissolve the rest of my fingers? Think about it. Love Shannon. Eyeliner
It’s time to create an eyeliner for people who have gently used eyelids. Experienced eyelids, if you will. When you’re 20, you glide eyeliner across your smooth eyelid and a smooth line is left behind. Success!
At 41, you try to glide the eyeliner across your gently used eyelid, but there is very little gliding motion. The eyeliner works more like a tiny snowplow intent on pushing your eyelid skin into a ball in the middle of your eyelid and your lashes get mushed up in there and poke out at weird angles. It looks like a tiny ball sack, actually. Nobody wants to see that.
Dear eyeliner developers: Please develop a product that fixes my tiny ball sack issue as soon as possible. Maybe eyeliner stickers? Just an idea. Also, I don’t want to pay more than $12 for this amazing new product. Thanks! Love Shannon Foundation
You know I’m putting it on my face, right? So two things:
- Make foundation human-skin-coloured. I’m not buying four bottles of foundation and mixing them up to get the exact shade for my face. I’m not fucking Monet. I’m pouring some foundation from one bottle into my hands and applying it like moisturizer.
- Make a foundation that doesn’t give me pimples. I don’t want to look moderately good for one night and then pimply and gross for four days. That’s not a good ratio of beauty to not beauty.
Dear foundation makers: Try harder. Love Shannon. Shampoo
Who decided that we want our hair to smell like a beach? I would like to see that research. Did thousands of pharmacy-shopping people say things like “coconut. I only feel my hair is clean when I smell like coconuts. Mixed with Tahitian vanilla or exotic coral, specifically.” Alternately, your hair can smell like candied fruit. Totally up to you.
Dear shampoo producers: Instead of the tropics or a candy store, I would like to smell like success and effortless charm. Maybe use a musk of some sort? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. Love Shannon.
In summary, dear pharmacy beauty aisle, I wish I could break up with you, but you know me too well to fall for that. I’ll come crawling back to sheepishly purchase some lash-lengthening or skin-brightening product. I need the high of the beauty lie, damn you!
‘Tis the season to go to parties. Everyone and their grandmother is hosting some sort of event and most of them will suck. Don’t go to those parties. Only go to the good ones. Duh. Here’s some more gold ... Not going
If someone invites you to an event via email, and you are ignoring the invite because it sounds boring or it’s far or you have to bring an appie, and they harass you for not replying to their email, get huffy and say: “what? Is this 2001? I don’t check my email. Text me for crying out loud." Because so much time has likely passed, you can say you have other plans and they will apologize for being archaic. If someone invites you to an event to your face, and for sure you don’t want to go, say yes and then don’t show up.
Dear people throwing parties and asking people to bring their own food: Please stop. Why would I want to go to your house to eat my food? I have my food here already. See? It makes no sense. Going, but not helping
If you don't want to help at dinner parties, just offer to help. Yell from the living room to the kitchen something like: “you need a hand in there?” No self-respecting dinner host will accept your offer. Shutting up
Never tell people about the gross places your pet licks. For example, I am dictating this article right now while resting naked in bed. My cat just curled up on my chest and started cleaning his paws, which were on my boob and so he started cleaning my boob. He's super helpful that way. This is the kind of story you should not tell other people. It makes them feel uncomfortable.
Dear dog people: please never discuss how your dog eats your dirty underwear. Ever. This grosses me out and I let my cat lick my boob. See? Keep talking
Do you tell a story about a particularly bad piece of advice you've been given. Everyone can relate to this. For example, tell the story of how your slutty aunt gave you the worst relationship advice ever when you were 16: "Shannon, if you ever want to keep a man, you have to take it in the ass." People love this kind of tale. It makes them feel better about their own family issues. Drinking
Yes. Do that. Your suspicions are correct: you are more fun when you drink.Taking photos
Do that within reason. Do photobomb. Do not be a poser
. Getting out
Don’t go around hugging everyone and making plans to see them soon. Just leave. Do the Irish Fade
like a respectable party goer (not to be mistaken with the Harlem Shuffle
, though this would be an awesome exit). If you fear your host will be upset, talk to them beforehand about their abandonment issues. The next day
Send a thank you/I’m sorry text, depending on how the night went. Also, if you peed somewhere weird, go back in time and don’t do that.
Happy partying folks!
Dear person who called seagulls dirty birds,
I overheard you the other day, disgust dripping from your voice as you watched a seagull eat a French fry: “I hate seagulls. They’re dirty birds.”
We have been over-fishing, urbanizing and polluting their habitat for as long as we’ve been around. We discard our fast food on the ground and atop over-flowing garbage bins, leaving it to rot. And we have the balls to call the birds that pick at our litter dirty?
Seagulls aren’t dirty. We are. They’ve simply adapted to the food source readily available to them. They’re actually cleaning up after us (and to their own detriment).
I love seagulls. They are beautiful birds with mournful cries. They remind me of the sea, of boats clanking and of freedom.
On the other hand, people who litter and people who call seagulls dirty birds remind me that we are not taking responsibility for what we’re doing to our own planet.
So, dear person, don’t hate seagulls. Look at the source of the filth – humans! – before you start pointing fingers at the creatures that have to endure us.
I heard a story recently about a couple who married and then divorced six months later. Though they lived together, he bought their new home and she kept her previous home. They played it safe. They weren’t sure, and so they created a safety net that ultimately made the split logistically easy for them.
Their story made me wonder if emotional safety nets are reasonable? And how do we best use them? The purpose of these nets is to create a safe place to land if we fall. Good examples might include:
- Saving enough money to quit your job
- Making sure you understand what you and your partner want out of life before committing for life
- Nurturing relationships with family and friends who will support you when you succeed and when you fail
So, yes, it’s reasonable to create a safety net. They allow us to take chances because we feel safe knowing even if we fall, we have a soft place to land.
But how do we know the difference between a good and a bad safety net? We’re so good at convincing ourselves that we’re making smart decisions, especially when we can back up our choices with a “better safe than sorry” mentality. We sometimes use safety nets like a blanket, wrapping ourselves inside safe and warm, tangled up in our own fear of falling.
And by falling, we mean failing, right? For example, we might stay in a job or relationship that isn’t satisfying because we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t do better. We’re afraid that if we try, we’ll fail.
That’s not a safety net. That’s not even playing it safe. It’s something much more destructive than just being afraid to fail – we are creating an environment that ensures we’ll fail before we even try.
I’m more afraid of being safe than I am sorry, more afraid of not learning from my failures than I am of failing. I have a deep fear that when I’m old, I’ll look back on my life and think: “Meh.”
We’ve all read some Internet version of the top five regrets of the dying
from Bronnie Wares
book. If you haven’t, the moral of this book is to live your life fully, and it hits me right in the gut each time I read it.
So this is the question I ask myself when making a tough decision: “Will I regret it when I’m 92?” And the answer is almost always no. Of course I won’t know if I’m right for another 52 years, but at least it’ll be a good conversation. Or I’ll be dead. Either way I hope there’s wine.
Oh, how we love to get our way, don’t we? We have all these self-imposed personal rules about the right way and the wrong way to get things done. And I’m not talking about the big stuff (murder, working on Wall Street, etc). I’m talking about inconsequential things like how to do dishes, respond to an RSVP, take a photo. Not like that, but like this.
If we have decided that things should be a certain way – and let’s be honest, that way is our way – and those things turn out to be some other way, we pout, stomp our feet, and fight to get our way.
What’s wrong with another way? Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s just not our way.
I have two stories about this.
We’ll call the first one dishes, my dad and who can sigh the loudest.
So there I am doing the dishes at Dad’s place. My father, forever the supervisor, comes over and tells me I’m doing the dishes wrong.
(Side story! Sighing in my family is an art form. For example, the first sigh in the dialogue was rich with history, and meant “oh no, here we go again – what am I doing wrong now?” And he knew it, that’s why his sigh meant “for crying out loud – why do you have to argue with me? Just do the dishes properly.”)
- Me: (Annoyed sigh.) What are you talking about?
- Him: (Sanctimonious sigh.) You should do the glasses first.
- Me: (Smug sigh.) I hate doing the cutlery, so I get it out of the way.
- Him: (Chiding sigh.) But that’s not the right way.
- Me: (Super annoyed sigh.) Who cares? As long as they’re clean, it doesn’t matter.
- Him: (Super chiding sigh.) It does.
- Me: (Whiney sigh.). Why?
- Him: (Super sanctimonious sigh.) Because it’s the right way to do them.
- Me: (Defeated sigh.) I love you, but go away, Dad.
But I digress. We were talking about how my Dad was totally in the wrong, right? He was. But so was I. I could have easily changed my routine, but doing the cutlery first was my rule and I was sticking to it.
Now, let’s call the second story OMG. I’ve turned into my father.
So there I am, 15 years later, in my fourth or fifth year of marriage. I’m away on a business trip. I call home to see how my husband and step-son are doing. My step-son answers the phone and immediately tells me that they haven’t eaten any vegetables since I left and that the house is a mess. My husband gets on the phone and says there were green peppers on the pizza, but that the rest of the story is true. He adds: “It’s nice when you’re not here because we don’t have to follow all of your rules.” I was devastated.
It’s nice when I’m not there? Ouch. But I also felt I deserved it because I did have a lot of rules and I was sanctimonious about them. I thought my way was right. I had turned into my father. I decided right then and there to knock that shit off.
And I have struggled with it ever since. I watch people doing tasks and squirm from the effort to keep my opinion to myself. It is deep within me to point out what people are doing wrong. I grew up being told I was doing things wrong. I grew up surrounded by people who were right, even when they weren’t, and so it’s no surprise that I turned out the same way. But I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want to be so weighted by my own rules that I bury myself under them.
I want to care that the dishes are clean, not how they got that way. I want to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. I want to spend more time caring about the big things, not the little things. And I want the people around me to think it’s nice when I’m around, not when I’m away.
I’ve read a bunch of articles on dating and relationships – from top 10 lists to carefully weighted research papers. The commonly cited reasons for why relationships fail? Lack of trust, reality, communication and commitment.
That feels right. We’ve all experienced those relationship problems first or second-hand.
But long before we’ve even bought into a relationship, we’ve spent time shopping around for the right partner and here’s the problem:
We can be terrible, terrible shoppers.
Our insecurities and baggage lead us into making shitty selections from the shitty section of the shitty partner store. Over and over. And that's why many relationships fail.
Example? You betcha!
For a long time, I was attracted to jealous men because their possessiveness made me feel loved. But I also hated feeling controlled, and I didn’t fully understand the situation, so it never worked out.
But because I was attracted to jealous men, I unknowingly narrowed my choices. Even if I chose the very best one, he was still going to be jealous and …
I was still choosing a shitty guy from the shitty guy section of the shitty partner store.
It’s dangerous when we don’t see the pattern for what it is – a clue to the real problem – because we see the pattern as reality and we condemn ourselves to repeat it. We’re all insecure in some way. We all have baggage. True. But we don’t have to keep repeating the same mistakes.
It took me a while to figure out that I was the only common denominator in my failed relationships, that I was looking for jealous men, and not that all men were jealous. It took me even longer to figure out why I needed men to prove their love for me in this way. But I did. (Fucking YAY that day. Seriously.)
It’s so easy to blame the other person, but …
That won't help. The answers aren't out there. They're inside. We need to look at ourselves. Which is scary, right? Because we have to accept our own flaws.
But if we're at the point where we’re routinely making grand statements like "men/women are all cheaters! There are no good men/women left! Men/women never commit!" then we need to do the work. We need to ask why we keep choosing the same type rather than blindly blaming the other person.
We have to face our insecurities. We have to unpack our baggage. And that sucks. But to paraphrase Edison:
You've not failed. You've just found 10,000 ways that didn't work.
Only when we've done the work will be able to see our choices for what they are – shitty. And then – after a lengthy road to being a better shopper – we can deal with all the other regular relationship issues. : )
According to University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl, small talkers are happier than non-small talkers. But meaningful talkers are the happiest of them all.
Mehl and a team of researchers eavesdropped on people to see if what they talked about could be linked in any way to happiness. Based on 23,000 conversations that were analyzed for “the interplay of personality, conversational style and happiness,” the findings were clear:
“Happy people spend significantly more time talking to others in general, but engage in much less small talk (than dissatisfied people) and have about twice as many meaty conversations.”
Meaty conversations? Yes, please!
We interact with strangers pretty often – at parties, at work, when travelling. People we have to connect with on some level surround us, and that level is often superficial (weather, traffic/travel routes, how busy/tired we are). Snore.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Of every conversation you are part of, you own 50% right off the bat. Talk about what matters to you.
I get pretty deep with people right away (my grandmother always said I was nosy. I like to think I’m curious). At parties, I ask about politics, philosophy, human behaviour or whatever else comes to mind. At work, I ask about what people love about what they do. When travelling, I ask about where people have been and what they’ve learned.
Maybe it’s you?
I asked a small talk expert, my hairdresser, what she thought about it. She said that she actually quit at one point because she couldn’t take the small talk anymore. She just didn’t give a shit about what people were doing for Thanksgiving anymore. She was bored of the boring people. Fair enough. But then five months later, she realized she missed the interesting people and the social connection.
She might be on to something. Mehl’s study showed that “the happy life is social rather than solitary.” So, sure, there are boring people who will small talk you to death. But sift through. There are some interesting folks out there.
And if you haven’t found them yet, maybe try being more interesting yourself to make up for it. Become the happiest, most-meaningful talker in town. And then come visit me. : )
I've been railing against anti-feminism sentiment and action for a long time now. I know most of the hard work has already been done – to the suffrage and bra-burning women I say thank you. But there is still work to do.
- We still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. On average, women make 20% less than men.
- We still don’t have equal education or career opportunities. Women currently hold 5% of Fortune 500 CEO positions and 5.3% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions. (And 95% of Fortune 500 CEO positions are held by Caucasians.)
- We still suffer from sexual harassment and sexual assault on the street, at the office and in our homes. We are still too often blamed for the abuse.
- We still have Miss America for fuck sakes.
And I’m only talking about the western world. These are just some of the things happening in our own backyards. We still have a long way to go.
But I have an easy ask. I've been wondering what one specific change we could all take on that would help elevate respect for women in general. And it came to me: stop calling women girls.
I think it’s something we can all do. It may seem small, maybe even pointless, but it’s not, because women are not girls and to call them girls is belittling.
When you call a man a boy do you mean it as a compliment? Not likely.
So the next time you are about to call a woman a girl, stop and correct yourself. If you just called a woman a girl, take it back. Correct yourself.
That’s it. That’s all I ask.