Monday, April 28, 2014

A pirate girl looks at 40

When I was young, up to and even in my early 30s, 40 seemed far, far away. I could never have imagined, not in a million years, what my life would look like as I reach my 40th birthday. In my estimation, by 40 I'd be a big shot, changing the world in grand, ambitious ways. I didn't really have a plan for myself, other than being very important in some highly recognizable way that made the world better for my having been in it. 

So here I am, reflecting on my mistakes and lessons learned as I reach this milepost which, now that I'm here, doesn't seem so momentous anymore. It almost feels like hanging too much importance on a single step in the process, like the new phenomenon of celebrating 8th grade "graduation" or worse, kindergarten graduation...i mean, really? And yet, it seems as good a time as any to debrief with myself (and evidently anyone who reads my blog) on what 40 really signifies.

If you've ever heard the Pirate vs Ninja personality assessment, or the iteration Pirate - Ninja - Cowboy, I am clearly a pirate: throwing it all out there, wearing my heart on my sleeve, too honest to be a sneaky ninja, too ambitious to relax and enjoy the ride like a cowboy. It's ultimately being a pirate girl that has shaped my life so far and landed me here, ironically near the ocean, with a list of miserable failures and joyous accomplishments 

Here's what this pirate girl has learned at 40. I wonder what I'll have learned in another 40 years?
  • Everybody has big ideas. The coolest people are the ones that do something about them.
  • Even your best ideas are terribly flawed. You should let other people help you improve them.
  • My mom is (almost) always right. 
  • Happiness is not tied to how much you weigh.
  • Fitting into my skinny jeans still makes me happy.
  • Nothing makes me happier than hearing my kids laughing. 
  • 80s pop culture was the best. 
  • Power corrupts absolutely. Think about that when you get a little power.
  • There are bullies and mean girls at every age. Ignore them. Their desire to hurt isn't about you.
  • If you can't ignore them, talk about them. It's easier to ignore them with friends to distract you. 
  • We undervalue water. We shouldn't be taking it for granted.
  • At the end of the day, the most limited resource we have is time.
  • Always tell the truth. Especially when it's hard.
  • If someone asks you to lie, still tell the truth. And get away from that person.
  • Some people want to believe the lies. Distance yourself from those people, too. 
  • There are a lot of really smart, kind, loving people in the world, but they aren't well-organized, so they're sometimes hard to find. 
  • Find work that is fulfilling. You don't have to love it; even the best jobs have bad days and downsides. Find something that when you wake up on Monday morning, doesn't make you dread heading into work.
  • There will always be Mondays when you dread going into work.
  • Don't settle.
  • The most important decision you make in life is who you choose to spend it with. 
  • Be gentle with others. They have volumes of stories you know nothing about.
  • Don't assume. 
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • People change all of the time, but you can't change them.
  • Dance as often as you can. You can't be sad if you're dancing. 
  • Be silly.
  • Take risks. The worst that can happen is usually not all that bad, actually.
  • Approach every situation with love.
  • You don't get a second chance at everything. 
  • Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone.
  • By the time you're old enough to eat anything you want whenever you want, you're wise enough to know that you shouldn't.
  • There's nothing like having a long talk with my sister. 
  • There's nothing like having a long talk with my daughter.
  • Even though I don't want them to know it, sometimes my kids are smarter than me. 
  • Go outside more.
  • Play more games.
My sister and I are born on the same day, a year first, best birthday present. Enjoy your last year in your 30s, sissy...I'll see you on the other side of the hill ;)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

All this useless beauty

I've been forming a realization lately, which either means that I'm gaining some form of enlightenment or I'm getting old (or's probably not an either/or situation). I've been realizing that the Internet has become a source of frustration and disappointment.

Don't get me wrong, there are many reasons I love the Internet, even beyond funny cats. I can connect with people all over the world. I can save time and money doing research, planning, shopping and working. I can find information about just about ANYTHING that I want to know.

It's this last one that is actually pushing me over the edge. While I can find information on anything I want to know, it's often the case that that I get more information than I NEED to know. Finding what I want, when I need it, is priceless. Finding 1000x as much as I need and having to weed through it, or often getting distracted by it, costs me whatever time and money it might be saving me.

Worse, for every Upworthy-esque story I might read, there are just as many troll comments or Kardashian-bashing references. People say all kinds of mean things online, mostly to people they don't actually know, without thought to what the impact of their words are...or worse, with intent to hurt. The Internet is an amazing place and one that can suck the light out of you.

A few weeks ago, I got a song title stuck in my mind: All this useless beauty. It's a song by Elvis Costello. I read somewhere that he wrote it after watching people's reaction to art in a gallery, but it wasn't the song that got is that one lyric, the title: all this useless beauty.

I live in an ridiculously beautiful place now and it often amazes me how many people who have lived here for a long time stop seeing and appreciating how beautiful it is. I can round a corner on the freeway in the morning and see the waves crashing against the sand, palm trees framing the Santa Barbara shoreline and I literally stop breathing for a second and sometimes some interjection escapes my lips, unintended. It is that beautiful.

All this useless beauty.

What good is this amazingly beautiful place if people don't appreciate it and protect it? What use is beauty if it doesn't inspire us to do good?

I'm starting to feel the same way about the Internet. There is beauty in the Internet, in what it can do to make the world better. There is connection and emotion and yes, even love. And yet, there is so much ugliness and hate and pain and despair and injustice that it has begun to eat away at me. It can paralyze me and it can distract me from the things that bring me joy and inspiration.

I can only make the world better if I can focus on the beauty. Because for me, it's not useless. It inspires action. It inspires hope. It spurs me on when I'm feeling discouraged. It reminds me that life is beautiful. The Internet has become a place where it's harder and harder to find the beauty, masked over and over again by the ugly. It's not the Internet's fault; the Internet is not the bully. People are. People who hurt and use this tool, this forum, this technology, to spread negativity and banality. The Internet has become the focus of that song lyric for me: all this useless beauty.

I'm going to do something about it. I'm going to step away from the things that distract me and focus on what inspires me. I'm focusing my energy on appreciating and protecting the beauty of the Internet and I'm letting it inspire me to do good. I have a plan, so stay tuned. The Internet doesn't have to be useless beauty.


Monday, April 14, 2014

What I want to do when I grow up

Yesterday we packed up the kids and headed down to LA for the LA Times Festival of Books. It was a wonderful day and there were many highlights, but for me, the best part of the festival was the interview of Daniel Handler by Ransom Riggs. Early in the interview, Ransom asked Daniel (who I'm trying hard not to refer to as Lemony Snicket), if he always knew he wanted to be a writer. After a joke or two, Daniel responded yes, he couldn't remember a time when he didn't want to be a writer.

It got me thinking about whether there was anything that I always knew I wanted to be. Ironically, as we herded our 6 kiddos around USC's campus surrounded by books, I had to admit that I didn't always want to be a mom ;) If you would have asked me when I was 6 or 7 what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you I wanted to be a marine biologist. Around 9 or 10, I had changed my answer to a teacher or a lawyer. In high school, I was voted Most Musical and was awarded a music scholarship to college. As an undergraduate at Michigan State, I changed my major 4 times, finally settling on Speech Pathology, which required me to immediately go to graduate school. When I started my master's program at Penn State, I realized I really didn't want to be a researcher for the rest of my life, and I didn't want to be a clinician I changed my major in grad school and got my Master's degree in education.

Since then, I've been a teacher, a training manager, an instructional designer, a project manager, a sales professional, an entrepreneur, a game designer and now a product manager. Along the way, I was also a college professor and authored a book. And, a surprise to everyone who knew me when I was young, I also have 6 amazing kiddos who I am helping to raise.

Maybe I'll never be able to answer that question of what I want to do when I grow up. Maybe that's just part of who I am, curious and open to new opportunities. I know that I want to leave the world a better place than I found it and that I want to spend my days passionate about what I do. Maybe that passion in me isn't fueled by one career, but the challenges presented by a varied and unknown path of diverse accomplishments.

If I had to answer that same question from Ransom Riggs, I think I'd answer it this way:

There's never been a time when I didn't love to learn. I love the challenge of trying something new and not giving up until I succeed. I always knew that I'd find a way to fill my days trying to make the world a better place. At different times, that has looked like different things. As the world changes, so must I if I want to keep trying to make it better.

That's what I want to do when I grow up.