Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lessons from a Bride

So you’ve found someone you want to marry. Maybe you’re engaged, or maybe you’re not even talking about it but you’re smiling at each other and thinking about it. I got married six months ago, and I couldn’t be happier. I highly recommend marriage, generally. But there are some things you should know about getting married.

Now, I don’t expect you to believe most, or even any, of this right now, because you’re in love and you two are special and you’re going to do things differently; the right way. Listen: that’s what everyone thinks. Few people accomplish that. Fewer than you’d think, probably, because not many people are going to admit they planned on doing it differently, the right way, but didn’t succeed.

But that’s why you have me! I was going to have a no stress, totally laid back wedding. I was going to be the Ideal Bride-to-Be with no hang-ups on meaningless drivel. We were going to have a simple, inexpensive wedding that people would remember forever as a great time.

I think we succeeded in the last part - I’m told our wedding was a blast. I had a pretty good time myself, which I see as a success. But it turned out to be way more stressful getting to that day than I anticipated. And I’m going to tell you why I think that was. You won’t believe me, probably, or won’t take any of this to heart and that’s ok. I’m documenting my experience. Come back and tell me about yours so we can figure out exactly how to go about this getting married thing the Right Way.

1) the debt you think will be manageable isn’t really worth it.

We told ourselves, we’re saving money, we just need the cash now so put it on the card and we’ll pay it off later. We said, we just have to get through the next few months and then we’ll pay the whole thing off in full. We assured ourselves we have a strong financial situation overall, a little credit card debt isn’t going to kill us.

And that last part, I still think/tell myself, is true. But really, I wish we hadn’t racked up all that debt. I don’t wish that we hadn’t treated ourselves to nights out as often as we did, because we needed those for psychological well being. Instead, I wish that when it came down to making choices about our wedding, we’d drawn a firmer line across what we could and could not afford.

We even did a good job – our wedding cost about half what the average American wedding costs, and plenty of it was paid in cash. But the fact is we spent so much of our cash on the wedding, we needed credit to afford the fun stuff we needed to do to relax.

2) Some fights aren’t yours to fight.

This one could really be one of the things I’ve learned so far from being married. But its both. The fact is, nothing, not even your wedding, is all about you. It’s all about lots of complicated people and things and, when it has nothing to do with you, you need to recognize that and leave it alone.

There is a difference, however, between leaving something alone and ignoring it. By all means, address it. But in limited terms. Offer your support and understanding, for example, but don’t hoist your own battle flag.

3) You always feel better in the long run when you keep your cool than when you flip your shit.

In the same vein, keep this in mind when planning your wedding: you and everyone you love are about to immerse themselves in this venture, but the stress of doing so has nothing to do with picking colors or food or dresses, like you’d think it would. Everyone who plays a part in a wedding comes to the table with baggage that has nothing to do with you or your husband to be. The day isn’t just about the two of you, it’s about all the baggage your two groups of friends and families have about you, and the institution of marriage, and their own lives.

You goal, really, is to find a way to get all that baggage sorted and put away as neatly as possible so you can get through the motions that say you’re married. Because remember, if it has nothing to do with you, it’s not your fight to fight. You’re just trying to throw a fun party. Hanging up on people, yelling, and giving your friends and family the cold shoulder sound satisfying, but they won’t help you reach your ultimate goal.

Besides, after all of this you go on your honeymoon, where it really is all about the two of you. That vacation has more to do with what marriage really means than any other part of the whole process.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The future will be pretty much the same as the now

If there is one thing I've learned from my favorite subject, history, it's that things are basically the same as they always were. Of course, our lives are very very different from the lives of our ancestors all around the world, and there is a lot that differentiates me from people raised in other cultures. But we're all basically the same: just getting through the day, doing the work that needs to be done to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, loving and fighting and procreating.

I don't think that's depressing, I think its comforting. I've talked before how its nice to know that there isn't anything all that special or different about me and my situation - the same stories have played themselves out all around the world over and over again.

And now I'm going to bring this huge concept down to a practical level because there is something that all of the educators I interview for a magazine I write for say that drives me a little crazy.

They say that they are training students for jobs that they can't even imagine; that they have no idea what the future will look like when their students graduate and head into the workforce.

On a simple level this is true. We didn't use to need wind farm technicians or need as many computer engineers, computer scientists, and software developers. But those jobs still require basic skills that kids need to learn.

They will need to know how to communicate effectively, and honestly, both in print and speaking outloud.

They will need know how to place nice with others and work effectively on a team. Everyone needs to know how to stand up for themselves, defend the vulnerable, and work toward the common good as well as for their own fulfillment and gain.

CW will attest to my belief that everyone needs to be able to think critically.

They will need to be flexible and constantly thirsty for knowledge if we want them to adapt to changing job markets and not be hobbled as the economy changes.

And perhaps most importantly, they will to be open to new ideas and eager to try new things - if we cant prepare them for what's ahead, we can prepare them to deal with whatever they run into.

These are what people will need to succeed in the knowledge-based, service oriented economy we will have in the future.

Blogs that inject glamour into my day

Some of you may have heard about my quest to be more grown up. This is the worst kind of goal: unclear and totally unquantifiable. For me, it has something to do with dressing up for work, wearing make up, doing my hair in something other than a messy bun, and cooking more often. Because I don’t have any specific metrics for this goal, it’s unfair to beat myself up for not reaching them, though I must say I’ve been lacking in basically all categories. Except maybe for the dressing up for work part, since AS gave me her old purse and picked out some new shoes for me to wear, both of which have generally classed up my look.

The point of all this is to say that another way I feel more grown up is by diversifying the blogs that I follow.

First is style rookie, which can make me feel like a total slouch since it the author is a highly respected voice in the fashion industry right now, is totally down to earth and funky (as well as I can tell from reading her blog) and she’s in high school. Yeah, how can you be THIS pulled together and confident in high school?? Reading her blog, seeing her styles, you can’t help but be curious and interested in the world of high fashion – especially in how she talks about her outfits creating mood and a feeling. Basically, she’s awesome.

Second is my newest addition to my google reader: Cupcakes and Cashmere. I don’t particularly like either of those things, but guys: this blog is awesome. She is so glamorous, living in California, wearing funky clothes, putting on smoky eye makeup like a pro (she has a tutorial, you guys, and it made me, who basically sticks to light brown eyeshadow and mascara, want to try it. I have no idea what liquid eyeliner even is.) The cool thing about the blog is that she talks about decorating her house, the clothes she’s wearing, the food she’s making, and the places she’s visiting. Guys, that’s what I want to write about!

Anyway, reading these two today really injected some much needed style and class into my morning, and I hope they do the same for you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Learning is more important than a neatly constructed career

It's very difficult to figure out what you want to do with your life. People, including me, say "I have so many interests that I can’t narrow them down", but that is a cop out. Probably the honest answer is that we're afraid to figure out what we want in our lives.

I picked writing early on in life. I wanted to be an author or some kind of journalist; to have my own column maybe. I’ve realized, however, that these are intensely competitive jobs that I don’t want to devote that much time and energy to. Which makes me think I’m just not a passionate person.

But then I think I’m just not passionate about that particular career. I could be passionate about something else. That means it’s something different than what I always thought.

I picked marketing next, specifically web marketing and social media – new cool stuff that is interesting and exciting and always changing. My dad is a salesman and I was always told I could do just what he does fabulously. An easy choice.

But then I realized marketers’ goals is to sell people stuff that they don’t necessarily need. I don’t want to be partially responsible for cluttering people’s minds and homes. And after a while, reading about the latest technology that will interrupt you on your phone got boring to me too. I don’t want to invade people’s privacy, I want to make the organizations in power more accountable to the people.

Which leads me to think right now that what I really want is to go into politics – which is another something that I always kind of wanted to do. I wanted to be the Secretary of State, that’s why I majored in international studies. There is a lot about politics that terrifies me, but, the further away I get from the stress of the wedding, the more I think it’s dumb that it terrifies me. That I could handle Politics just fine. Look at all the idiots who are doing it right now.

But it makes me scared to commit to politics or education or both because I don’t see a track that I could follow. It’s also scary because I’ve always thought about getting into politics or education, so what makes them any different than writing? What makes me think I could succeed or enjoy or be passionate about them?

The fact is you don't know until you try. It doesn’t matter if there’s a track laid out. I committed to writing and that didn’t work. I can always keep writing, and I can always come back to it. I should try web marketing just for kicks and see if that’s more fun than it looks.

What terrifies me the most is waking up 20 years from now and not know what happened to my life. Does that happen to everyone? Can we avoid it? I feel like telling myself to look for small ways to help is a cop out. That I can do better than that. Is that because I’m part of Gen Y, and we were told from birth we could be the president, so anything less feels unsatisfactory?

But you can only see a common thread through someone’s career in retrospect, unless they knew what they wanted to do from the very beginning. Which is a pretty boring way to go through life, in my opinion. It's more interesting and fulfilling to try new things, always do your best, and keep learning all along no matter what.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When to stop writing lists

I read something the other day about a blogger being frustrated that no one gave him/her a map of what to do when you're a grownup. The blogger said added a parenthetical: (like all Gen Yers) and that resonated with me so much.

I was complaining to myself today at lunch about why no one tells me things relevant to social situations I find myself in. Like how to behave one someone does this. Or what it means when someone says this. Or what people do in this situation.

Sometimes, I think I have Asperger's or some Autism-spectrum issue because I so often feel like I'm barely keeping up with what's going on around me. This makes me feel like a loser who can't get her life together and makes way too many mistakes to ever be successful.

I've read a fair amount on Asperger's and Autism out of general interest, but my personal diagnosis comes from two places:

- that my mom has said she thinks my dad has Asperger's and there's a hereditary element to it, and
- what I read from Penelope Trunk's blog.

Not very good sources, admittedly.

Penelope has Asperger's and talks a lot about developing, testing, and following rules for social encounters. She talks a lot about many other things she does to cope with this disease that aren't relevant to me, but that always sticks. All the time, I want to write down all the different rules that exist for me to follow in a given day so I remember it all and have it all pulled together.

But then I think about what that blogger said and wonder if plenty of Gen Yers have this same issue: a hard time navigating the world. Just about my entire life was mapped our and prescribed to me in syllabis, course catalogs, and progress reports. I was a Girl Scout, where you completed a list of specific steps and got a badge. I played tennis, where you showed up at certain times, did certain things, and had a specific rank on the team which dictated which matches you played.

Today, I write list after list after list of things I own, things I need, tasks to accomplish, food to buy, nutrients to consume every day, exercises to preform. I fantasize about creating a giant master list with all the steps I need to take and all the rules I need to follow in a day so I can have one day that's totally pulled together and I'm completely in control and getting everything done smoothly, gracefully, and efficiently.

But it's not lists that are the solution. Even if I mapped out tomorrow down to the minute, all I would do is react the same way I used to react to a semester's worth of reading assignments: do a little bit as I go, wait to the last minute and then do it all at once.

And maybe (probably) this isn't a problem unique to Gen Y. Older generations often had just as, or even more, prescribed lives than we did. Maybe Gen Y's uniqueness comes from how hyper-aware and well trained in the art of reflection we are.

So what is the solution?

Maybe it's accepting that everyone goes through their days feeling a little bit out of control, not accomplishing everything that they want and making mistakes, and that is simply the way people live and it's ok.

Maybe it's also understanding that what I interpret as people having everything pulled together is really people doing a good job behaving gracefully even when they feel that little bit lost that everyone feels.

If I can't control every minute of my life with lists, at least I can control how I act, react, and behave as I muddle through. More specific instructions and guidelines aren't the answer - letting going, to a certain degree, of intense and continuous assessment of every task I'm working on is probably closer to the answer.