Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Grass Isn't Always Greener

Comparing yourself to other people is a pointless ritual that does nothing but lower your self-esteem and create invaluable criticisms. People (women) do it all the time. We convince ourselves that so-and-so has a better car, house, husband, job, etc. and begin the ridiculous routine of second-guessing our own existence. Haven't we learned, finally, that the grass isn't always greener on the other side?

What we don't realize when we subject ourselves to these comparisons is that most of the time the comparison is not apples-to-apples. The surest way to ruin your self-esteem is to try to keep up with the Joneses when the Joneses are, in reality, unhappily trying to keep up with someone else. To whose level are people aspiring and why?

We don't know what goes on behind closed doors. We usually don't even have an inkling of what is going on in other people's lives. Sure, the Joneses have a new car and a new boat and well-dressed kids. But, maybe they are on the verge of bankruptcy and are buried under a mound of debt. I certainly don't aspire to be like the Joneses if it means they can't even afford all the toys they have.

Jane Doe might seem like the epitome of calm in the midst of utter chaos. Women marvel at Jane's ability to handle stress so well and wonder why they can't be more like her. Why can't I just let things roll of my back so easily and not sweat the small stuff? What we don't know is that Jane's calmness probably doesn't come from her innate ability to handle stress. Jane might hide vodka bottles in the linen closet or need medication take the edge off. Nobody is perfect.

Some people like to drop names, wear labels or constantly tell us how smart their kids are.  While these people can be annoying on so many levels, they deserve some pity, too.  I am convinced that they must be trying to fill a gaping hole in their lives they may not even know exists.  Why else would they try so hard to convince us that they are better, wealthier or smarter than everyone else?  What is really missing in their lives? 

That's why I don't care if someone else drives a fancy car, has a house with more square footage or takes exotic vacations.  I don't care someone else's kid read his first book in preschool or could speak three languages before his 5th birthday.  I'm not impressed by the continual barrage of greatness because too many people are trying to fill gaping holes.

If you are feeling less than stellar because you are surrounded by people who appear to "have it all," think again.  The grass isn't always greener. Sometimes you just have to take a closer look.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are You Brave?

If someone asked you the question, "Are you brave?"  what would your answer be?

I used to think I wasn't brave.  I'm not the type to sign up for bungee-jumping off large cliffs or skydiving out of  airplanes, but bravery doesn't always consist of endeavors that push my physical limits.  Being brave sometimes involves the mental challenge of just getting out of my comfort zone.  Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama and the popular ezine, The Prosperous Writer, writes in her ezine about the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers.  Number 15 just happened to be bravery.

After reading Christina's take on bravery, I reminded myself that I am brave. Crossing a huge threshold of comfort to start and continue this blog requires courage.  Submitting essays to local, regional and national publications requires guts. My fear of rejection and ridicule is paralyzing but I continue anyway.  Why?  Because every other writer I know has the same paralyzing fears.

Christina says, "You have to be brave in your writing to say what you mean, not what you think others want to hear" and "It takes some serious chutzpah to present your work to industry gatekeepers like agents and editors."  If a successful author like Christina says it takes bravery and chutzpah, well, then, I guess my timidity has merit.  I also hear from every writer I follow that at one time or another (or even continually for some) they felt fear.  I can't read a book or a blog by a respected writer without discovering how they pushed through that fear.  When I realized that I didn't corner the market on "anxious new writer," I started writing.

I am still nervous when I hit the submit button.  What if the editor didn't get my analogy?  What if she thinks I'm too vain?  Did I follow a narrative arc or add enough dialogue?  The questions go on and on and on.  But, whenever a question about my ability pops into my head I recall past accomplishments in which I was called upon to be brave.  I remind myself that I have already tackled fear.  And won.  Like the time I backpacked through Europe by myself.  Or, the time I interviewed for a new job and negotiated a salary almost three times what I was currently making.  Or, becoming a mother.  If being a mother doesn't require bravery, what does?

So, I keep writing and I keep submitting. The only way to become a published writer is to write.  The only way to get better is to keep practicing.  The only way to combat fear is to read ezines, like Christina's, to learn about the industry and other writers' experiences.  To belong to writers' forums to develop a camaraderie and gain insight from like-minded people.  I learn.  And I learn some more.  And with each learning process the fear becomes less like Mt. Everest and more like a sand dune.  It still exists, but it's slightly more manageable.

If you think you aren't brave, think again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning By Osmosis

I'm not the most patient person when it comes to teaching my kids things like how to brush their teeth properly, tie a shoe or ride a bike.  I know it takes time to learn how to do these things the right way, but my patience level wanes with every  "but it's tooooo haaarrrdddd" or "I caaaaan't dooooo iiiitttttt."  I'm aware that my kids are capable of tying the shoe and riding the bike.  Convincing them of their capabilities is another matter altogether.

But, what I find fascinating is that when it comes to learning about schoolwork such as reading or counting or rhyming or adding, Christopher is learning by osmosis.  He seems to absorb the information we talk about at the dinner table with his older brother, Nicholas, regarding his homework and somehow, magically, Christopher understands it.  He begins to repeat it.  And he learns it with minimal instruction or prodding by mom and dad.  Wow.  Who knew it would be so easy the second time around?

Christopher likes to read.  He wants to learn how.  We pick up beginner books and he sounds out the letters to form the words.  We shop at the grocery store and he says to me, "Mom, this says Taco" as he points to a box of taco shells.  He draws pictures for his brother and signs it "To Nicholas rot (wrote) bi (by) Christopher."  He doesn't ask me how to spell a word, he just tries to sound it out on his own.  I marvel at Christopher's ability and secretly let out a huge sigh that he doesn't fight me at every turn like his brother who wouldn't read a book before he started Kindergarten if I lined it with $100 bills.  I tried to get Nicholas to sound out words and learn a few easily identifiable ones like "the" and "and." He balked.  No interest.  Dug in his heels.  Funny thing is, Nicholas is an above-average reader now so even though he appeared to not want to learn to read, he really didn't want to learn to read from me.  He likes to do things on his own terms.  His reading took off like a rocket in Kindergarten when he learned the ins and outs from his adorable teacher.  And, his 1st grade teacher tells me she can hardly keep up with his reading progression.  Obstinance duly noted.

Christopher on the other hand is learning much more at an earlier age.  He is learning how to read.  He is learning how to tell time.  He is learning how to count coins.  I'm not saying he correctly identifies coins all the time or can tell me when it's quarter past the hour, but the information is seeping into him one of Nicholas's homework lesson at a time.  Because Nicholas is learning all of this in school, Christopher gets the added benefit of learning it too - and that makes my job a whole lot easier.

I have also learned a few new things along the way.  Like, it doesn't matter if a word is spelled wrong it only matters that the correct sounds are present.  It doesn't matter if the words in a book are memorized, that is part of the learning-to-read process.  And, if an addition or subtraction result is wrong, a simple, "try that one again" is all that's needed.  Christopher gets another added benefit of a mommy who isn't as worried about precision as she was the first time around.  Sorry, Nicholas.  Is it any wonder that firstborns always try to be so perfect?

Now, if I can just get Christopher to ride his bike without training wheels...


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