Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

Monocat @Flickr

Photo Credit: Monocat @Flickr

On the second floor of Steinmetz High School, 6 girls are participating in an art therapy technique called Model Magic.

Each girl is supposed to shape the clay into a feeling they have about themselves. In essence, they are to physically mold their emotions into a physical rendering. When finished, the other participants guess what the girl was trying to sculpt.

Afterwards, each sculptor reveals the intended emotion.

R, a 15-year old 9th grader, has molded several shapes that are randomly fingered and “blobbed” on the clay mat. Descriptors like angry, confused, complicated and frustrated come from around the table.

Finally, she reveals, “I named it: You cannot save me because I do not want to be saved.”

R says she was trying to sculpt destruction.

Gwenn Waldmann, the woman who heads Art Therapy Connection (ATC), says these techniques are used to tackle ideas of self-exploration, self-awareness and identity. Other therapeutic techniques like the Friendship Circles and Hand Murals get participants to draw what makes them happy or how they see themselves. 

Waldmann enthusiastically advocates the use of art therapy in contrast to talk therapy. She believes such emotional scrapbooking provides tangible documentation of one’s emotional currents, triumphs and reflections.

I find this type of “therapeutic journeying” intriguing because self-discovery never truly stops.

ATC provides the tools for (troubled) kids to connect with the disconnectedness of competing and contradictory emotions. A lot of it involves being lost, silent and frustrated.

And, perhaps, that’s why so many twentysomethings have a problem with being lost. Being lost is contradictory because you already know you don’t know all the answers. Yet, it doesn’t stop the competing desire to have some of the answers now.

Beyond the obvious sentiments of being a generation that is accused of over entitlement and arrogance, Gen Ys sometimes treat their journeys to self-awareness like 15 minute El rides. Everything should be quick. Take me to my intended destination – no matter what.

ATC’s 34-week program focuses on getting participants to open up and express themselves. Expression is important. It fosters relevance and creativity. It provides value and (re)establishes our self-worth. Nonetheless, in an environment where it is discouraged it only breeds anger, resentment…even self-loathing.

Are you leading a life of discouragement?

And, I wonder how many twentysomethings are feeling they’re in environments that breed these emotions. The pressure of accomplishing professional (or personal) expectations is overwhelming. Or, dealing with the discouragement of unrealized dreams swirls a maelstrom of emotional chaos.

Waldman tells me that kids (and adults) will either engage in useful or useless behavior. Essentially, we use creativity or destruction to find our way (or lose our way) when dealing with traumas. And, it’s difficult to recognize the traumas. We don’t like being disappointed. The upsets can disengage us as well. Some people have the tools. Others, perhaps, do not.

It’s hard to be your own therapist because what haven’t you already diagnosed yourself with? I’m wondering what kind of (art) therapy will save Gen Y from life’s chaos.

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Jaboney @ Flickr

Photo Credit: Jaboney @ Flickr

If it were up to you – would you really work for a living? That’s a funny phrase. Working for a living. What’s that mean nowadays when so many people are living to work to survive?

Right now, I’m marginally attached to the workforce. I work weird hours (when I want to) and participate in volunteer projects at my leisure. No, I’m not independently wealthy. But, I don’t consider myself to be unemployed. Instead, maybe I’m “semi-retired.” While most of my out of work colleagues won’t feel the same way about unemployment like I do, I feel that semi-retiredness is out of necessity, not out of choice.

Presently, I can spend a lot of my time looking for jobs I truly want.  I’m not beholden to my 45 minute “lunch hour.” I can be flexible with people I want to connect (and network) with. It’s not ideal. I won’t say that some days aren’t especially tough for me. And, when you spend months and years being productive (for someone else), it’s hard to have it come to an abrupt stop or (for you lucky few) have it become cut in half.

There are lots of questions behind how to fill your unemployed hours of the day. I think the simple stigma of unemployment is that you will run out of money. And, since you are not working, it feels you aren’t doing something meaningful, productive and responsible.

You, nonetheless, never run out responsibilities. You have rent, mortgage, kids, spouses, sicknesses, habits to supply and misdeeds to fund – anything, everything. But, even if you had a job, those responsibilities won’t disappear. You still have student debt to pay and groceries to buy. Money only makes handling that stuff easier.

It doesn’t necessarily make anything any better. Yet, people sometimes insist on narrowly placing meaning on the activities they do for 8 hours a day in an office. But, meaningfulness is not merely created in a cube or a vacuum or a job or a work title.

It’s more alive than that. It’s 3-dimensional and fluid. It requires 3 million bits of ideas and all of them breathe from the life you live. So, the time you spend being productive while not working demonstrates just as much (if not more) about meaningfulness than the time you spend being productive on the job (for someone else).

As a semi-retiree, I like to think that my professional “pauses” are my respites. Whether I needed them or not. Whether I wanted them or not. I can’t do much about the state of the economy and the job losses except complain. And, I don’t get paid to complain. But, I do get paid to be productive regardless of the financial value or if I’m employed.

Therefore, I’ll continue my volunteer work, my job searching and my networking.  I’ll continue being semi-retired. I’ll continue doing the things that get me in tune with others.  Being unemployed doesn’t mean you become disconnected from being productive. And, it doesn’t mean you are being irresponsible or losing meaning.

It means I can continue being thankful. I can continue to do all those other things that fill up the hours of my day. I can remain feeling meaningful and valuable. I can continue being connected and feeling worthwhile.

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Edward B @ Flickr

Photo Credit: Edward B @ Flickr

Humor can get you into trouble. Especially when you are making fun of yourself. Even when you think you are trying to make someone else more comfortable.

It’s 1998. I’m in my freshman year of college. 

There’s loads of pearl necklaces, girls wearing pink and green track suits (the school colors) and cheering our mascot – the vixen.  In spring semester, it was common practice to play ring games to celebrate marriage engagements. 

Students could indulge in a fake “sorority” system that took on an even more exclusive tone because girls had to be specifically chosen. Unlike real Greek sorority systems (that at least let anyone pledge) you had to be chosen to pledge in the first place.

The number of non-white women who enrolled freshman year was considered to be the largest group ever. A whopping 10…out of a class of (maybe) 200.

I’m not sure if this is still done, but upon enrollment, girls had to choose curfew options. Option A meant you could have guests (usually, this means men) visit you whenever you wanted on the weekends – provided they didn’t sleep in your room. Options B and C varied between never having a guy in your room at all or having your guest leave by 8 pm (or something like that).

I chose Option A. Not because I’m boy crazy, but I didn’t see myself telling potential visitors they had to leave by a certain time. When you see your dorm mates having their brothers, boyfriends and anybody else with a penis (or not) in their room, having a curfew just seems whacky.

After half a semester, I became pals with a few of the (Black) guys from a neighboring college.  One Friday night, they paid me a visit and spent time hanging out  in my dorm room. However, my guests didn’t attend school down the street – they had a 2 hour drive to get back to campus.

And, since we weren’t that friendly, my friends had to return to their own dorm rooms.

All this, at the late, late hour of 11 pm. As we were saying our goodbyes, one of my (white) neighbors came walking down the hallway.

She stared. And, I don’t mean she stared because she thought my friends were cute. And, I doubt she was staring because she’d never seen the male sex. This was obvious glaring – at least 5 full minutes. It made me uncomfortable. At least, that’s what I remember the most.

I smile, laughing a bit, and say, “Hey, [insert weird girl’s name here] don’t mind the Black folks in the hallway.”

Her reaction was like that of someone coming out of a trance. She made a huge gulp and replied, “I’m not staring,” and returned to her room. Weird, again. The night is over. My friends leave.

I go to bed.

Side Note: I much rather be called out for being a jerk and making a bad joke then someone mislabeling it and calling me a racist. Excluding the event if the joke is racist – then, you are a racist jerk. Personally, I think her next reaction is little over the top.

I get called down for a “meeting” with the Dean of Students (like I’m in trouble with the principal). Weird Girl reported me for making a racist statement towards her. The Dean of Students even told me it went into my “file.” I was instructed not to confront her. Otherwise, I’d be labeled as “hostile.”

Oh geez.

What really surprised me is that I knew Weird Girl. Well, I knew her in the way that she was comfortable enough to puke in my dorm room. She was comfortable enough to let me nurse her through Freshman Party binge drinking. We weren’t BFF, but I thought we were OK.

At least OK enough to have a normal, adult conversation. OK enough to at least be open to discussion. But, perhaps I was being naive about where I was planning to spend the next 4 years of my life. Progressiveness is not a guarantee when you go to college.  Perhaps, all those life changing conversations about sensitive topics happen on other campuses and not this one. And sometimes, people aren’t interested in having conversations at all.

To make matters worse, Weird Girl was telling anybody who’d listen that I was a horrible, racist person and no one should talk to me.  If you let her tell it, I was hanging dead white children across my door and proclaiming the speeches of Minister Farrakhan. Like that’s going to help anybody. Personally, I think she got a kick out of calling someone who was Black a racist. Obviously, she wasn’t doing anything to help change my hi-falutin “racist” ways. Just trying to alienate me from others. 

That only makes me question her “motives” further.

What makes Weird Girl truly earn her moniker? She insisted on talking to me. Very nicely. Chatty, genteel conversation. If you think someone is a raging, fanatical racist, do you really try to make nice talk with them?

Frankly, I can’t imagine why she just didn’t say something to me earlier. “Hey, what you said last night, I thought it was mean,” or “Hey, that wasn’t cool.”  At least I could’ve apologized. I always thought if you had to take issues up to higher heads, it’s because you think you’ve exhausted all your options.

Or, you think you are going to endure physical harm.

Or, it’s an emergency. Something like that.

But, if some jerk says something you don’t like, you move on and know they’re a jerk.  

What was she trying to “prove” anyway? That I was racist or that she wasn’t? It still boggles my mind. Despite the year being 2009, some people are (still) uncomfortable dealing with race. Even though the events I described transpired over 10 years ago, I imagine Weird Girl still feels she is justified in “outing” my racism and racist behavior.

Perhaps, from a cultural perspective, I made her uncomfortable. But, I didn’t have a problem with that. She did. And if someone is making you uncomfortable, you should try to figure out why. And, if it is truly offensive, take it as an opportunity to learn. 

So, Weird Girl had every right to “report” me. But I don’t think she learned anything meaningful from it. I did. But, in a not so glamorous and very uncomfortable way. 

People behave in a number of ways when someone that’s different from them makes them feel uncomfortable. They can be irrational. They can be mean. Or, they can be confrontational. You have to be careful.  You have to be more discerning. Learn from it. Hopefully, you’ll become more insightful.

Even when you believe you are right or justified (or being funny) – you still have to censor yourself.

Two things I learned:

  • Some people don’t get the joke
  • Other times, your joke just isn’t funny.

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snowy-dayChicago is looking mighty ugly around this time of year. Trekking Michigan Avenue is akin to mountaineering the Alps. But, it’s fun. I’m probably the only person who actually laughs at herself when falling on the slippery sidewalks (I never hurt myself though, all that snow acts as a nice cushion, if I’m lucky).

So, you don’t want to go out. Weather is frightfully dreary. What can you do? Some folks take this time to catch up on languishing projects or clean. That’s fine. Productivity, nevertheless, has lots more to do with what you are learning as well as what you end up accomplishing. What things can you be learning to do while stuck inside, waiting for the snow to melt?


This does not include memorizing what microwave time SpaghettiOs will heat optimally. Gen Y’s are already gaga for the Food Network, so why not put all that knowledge Alton Brown has given to good use?

Preparing a meal that you and others can enjoy (and involves the use of a stove) will not only make you more productive, it teaches you to master the art of layering skills. When you conquer concepts like sauteing, boiling and baking, you can feel free to move on to the more complicated maneuvers. 


Knitting, sewing, creating Lego buildings and building model trucks – anything that requires the use of your hands. Being able to come up with good ideas in your mind alone is not enough to keep your creative brain sharp.  Being crafty demands that you know what you want to create, figure out what needs to be done and see an actual product come to fruition.


Back away. Put the Wii nunchuk down slowly. Dig up your old Scrabble game. Get busy. Video games do offer a brain exercise (and now, physical exercise) that benefits the beleaguered 3 pound mass in your head.  But, what’s wrong with the competition and face-to-face social interaction that comes with a board game?

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10,000 HoursDear Readers,

Welcome to the next segment of the “You’re Not Successful, You’re Just Lucky Series.” If this is your first time here – Welcome. I’m glad you stopped by. This post will (quickly) explore the second chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s Book, Outliers. Let’s get started, shall we?

Gladwell opens the chapter discussing the life of William (Bill) Joy, founder and chief techno-architect of Sun Microsystems. He chronicles Joy’s life as high school whiz to his journey to the University of Michigan. There, the school kept the first ever computer center (open 24 hours). Upon discovering this, Joy spent an inordinate amount of his undergraduate career devoted to obsessively computer programming. In doing so, he became something like the new Messiah of the Tech world.

Throughout the chapter, Gladwell cites examples of musicians (even Mozart), expert chess players, and computer programmers as individuals who did not reach their full peak until they were practicing their craft for quite some time.  The chapter discusses the professional journeys of people like The Beatles and Bill Gates – Gladlwell, in turn, puts their successes in this context:

“The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again of the expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

10,000 hours – what does that mean for the rest of us, Mr. Gladwell? Actually, he tells us – a long damn time. He even asserts that so called child prodigies like Mozart didn’t reach their artistic peak until they had practiced for over several years. That is obvious. However, this number – 10,000 – is applied to everyone. According to Gladwell,

“To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fischer got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him 9 years.) And what’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number for greatness.”

10 years? Are you kidding? I can’t imagine what I’d have to be so bad at from the start that it would take me 10 whole years to perfect. The “greatness” factor is defined as becoming expert at anything whether you are a basketball player, master criminal or prima ballerina.

I’m trying to think of my life in 10 year increments.

Think of your life in ten year increments.

What have you been doing for the last 10 years? And, if you can muddle through the memories of SATs, college papers, pub crawls, crappy summer jobs, and hanging out with friends, what’s your answer? What have you been doing for 10,000 hours that makes you an expert?

You may come up with this answer: nothing. I can’t believe this. I’m only in the second chapter about a book examining success and it makes me want to jump off the tallest building.

At least, that’s what I thought at first.

That doesn’t leave a lot hope for twenty-somethings. If we’re oh-so-lucky enough to figure out what we want to do by age 13 – we’d have it expertly “in the bag” ten years later? Or, in the other case, we make it to age 20, but haven’t managed to figure out our life (after all, just getting through junior high and high school was difficult enough) – we’d have to dig around until we are 30 to get our skills in expert gear?

Cue the screaming chorus.

Then, I recruited my super cool (and more mathematically inclined) boyfriend to help make sense of Gladwell’s assertion in number terms. For us Joe and Jane Gen Y-ers, we have a lot invested in becoming successful, happy and knowledgeable. We are the most educated generation to date (but, that statistic may wane in a few years). We aren’t as in a hurry to figure out our lives, so the task of devoting 10,000 hours (read: 10 years) to becoming a world class expert in anything is daunting.

So, let’s see what alternatives we have. We have plenty of time to figure out alternatives, after all, it’s 10 years.

You and I work (or maybe you don’t “work”, but let’s play along) an average of 5 days a week 365 days a year. This 5 day workweek is taken from your normal 7 day week (hey, not everyone works 24/7, 0k?)

So, our equation starts out like this:

365 (days a year) X 5 (work days)
7 (total number of days in a week)

But wait! You have a life, don’t you? Let’s factor in those personal and vacation days your employer gives you. So, for the sake of argument, you have the average of 2 weeks vacation. But, let’s also keep holidays and sick days in mind. So, that’s another 2 weeks bundled in there. Let’s assume that on those vacation days, sick days and holidays – you aren’t devoting your time to becoming an expert (the weekends, too).  This totals twenty days of doing nothing (like what you were doing before reading this post, perhaps?)

Now our equation looks like this:

365  X 5  – 10 (vacation days) – 10 (sick days, holidays)

Our answer is roughly 240. That means we get a total of 240 days out the year to devote to becoming an expert at our jobs or whatever. We can take that number and multiply it by the hours a day you work at becoming an expert. The number can be either 8 or 7.5.

I’m going to be nice and assume you are really devoted to honing your skills – we’ll use the 8-hour scale first.

240 X 8 = 1920

Sounds like we might be getting somewhere. That’s a lot of time, 1920 hours. How do they figure into the 10,000 hour rule?

10000 /1920 = 5.2

That number doesn’t like like a ten. In fact, it’s roughly half of ten. According to my calculation, that equals a little over 5 years. For you lazier sort who just had to have that .5 increment of time to yourself, here’s the other equation:

240 X 7.5 = 1800            10000/1800 = 5.5

Well, the 7.5 hour workers have a little catching up to do, but not much.

Think of your life in five year increments instead of ten. It’s a lot more palatable to see your talents and accomplishments spaced out in a shorter bit of time. Five years can be college with some time off in between – what did you get out those particular five years? Five years can be the amount of time you spent in a particular industry – what was happening? Maybe, five years ago is when you started your blog.

So, it doesn’t take 10 years to become good at something, perhaps just 5 (according to my calculations). Maybe even less, if you devote yourself to something beyond the regular workweek. Gladwell makes an intriguing, but obvious point, it takes time to become really good at something (duh again, Gladwell!).

Yet, perhaps 10 years borders on overkill. And, while practice is wonderful, implying that it will take 10 years to become a world class expert doesn’t do much for the time-starved Gen-Yer. We have a lot of the world (and life) to discover and don’t necessarily want to devote ten years to becoming good at only one thing.



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3-fairy-godmothers1Have magical powers.

Fairy godmothers are interesting creatures. They make stuff happen that was probably going to happen anyway. So, how is it that they are truly magical beings?

Well, fairy godmothers tend to operate in the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy quite a bit. They fly in (or poof out of thin air) and proclaim that something will or won’t happen.  Our heroine is blessed or doomed to endure a certain fate.  Regardless of her talent, beauty or instinct – magic powers trump all of that. Simply said, magical powers are your ability to make stuff happen.

Even the bad stuff.

But that’s OK, because fairy godmothers tend to fix the bad stuff anyway, after all they have magical powers.

Grant wishes.

Fairy godmothers have that knack for making the heroine’s dreams come true. Or, give her a great talent or trait that’s meant to benefit her in some way. Usually, such wish granting happens in the very beginning when the heroine has just been born or later on when she least expects it. 

Fairy godmothers are funny that way – always working in the background in one way or another. When granting your own wishes, take inventory of what you are really wanting. Even though your own wish granting will take a lot more effort to fulfill, what things are you doing “in the background” to make the wish come true?

And, unlike having a real fairy godmother, it is a lot less fun to be given something  instantly. Or, be given something in a manner in which you have no control or input. Fairy godmothers don’t frivolously grant wishes because they can. So, don’t frivolously pursue things you don’t really want.

Wishes aren’t truly fulfilled unless someone wants it badly enough in the first place – so, be careful about what kind of wishes you grant for yourself.

Have a wand.

A fairy godmother is never without her wand. The wand is her source of power. Nothing happens if she doesn’t have it. What’s your power source? What can you access right now that will instantly give you a boost in your “magical” powers”? 

The wand, simply, is your self-confidence. It acts as your internal reservoir of “Kick Ass-ity.” And without it, you can do nothing – whether or not you have magical powers. It’s important to build up your wand’s strength and maintain it. It’s much better to be someone who can do than be someone who can do and thinks she cannot.

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graceCrazy Monday is over and the next day has arrived. 

We go on autopilot hoping to cruise seamlessly to Hump Day, float through Thursday and prepare for the impending weekend brought on by Friday.

Sunday evening blues spill into Monday morning, by the time we get do get to Tuesday, we only hope to survive until 5 pm (or 6, or 7).

The oft-ignored Tuesday leaves a lot to be desired for those plugging away in their office cubicles.

I propose paying more attention to your Tuesdays – after all, it’s the day that’s full of grace.

Be a little gentler with that difficult co-worker, more patient with a project time line and do a favor for someone without expecting anything in return.

Keeping grace can get you through the minutes that transpire into the hours of the day. Grace is the willingness to be peaceful and accepting the difficulties of life as ungrudgingly as you accept the rewards.

Having grace can cause you to take a little more time to recognize someone else’s good work or accomplishments. Holding someone in good graces is the difference between bestowing a compliment and hurling an insult.

It shines a light on someone else’s bad day.

You can be a saving grace.

Increasing your own reserve of grace helps further your investment in the good of mankind.

And that is a graceful gesture, indeed.

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