"Triple dead-heat" by Unknown - Gooreen collection. Licensed under "Triple dead-heat" by Unknown - Gooreen Triple  Triple Dead Heat, Gooreen collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Licensed under “Triple dead-heat” by Unknown – Gooreen collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

In my last blog, I quoted researcher Brené Brown, from her book, “Daring Greatly,” on the subject of the scarcity many people feel about not having enough money, and not being good enough, perfect enough, smart enough, or successful enough. Connected to this, she says, is a fear of being ordinary, “never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

American storyteller and radio personality Garrison Keeler, always reminds us that in his imaginary hometown of Lake Wobegon, “All the children are above average.”

He’s not the only one to open our eyes to our cultural reluctance to accept the ordinary.  Enter what’s wrong with ordinary in your search engine and you’ll find many references to this topic, such as this one from a blog called pinetribe: “In the back of our minds, we all strive for the extraordinary. We live in a culture which doesn’t celebrate the ordinary, everyday victories.”

I once had a boss, who didn’t have time to write an evaluation of my first year on a new job. Instead, she asked to meet and talk about my performance.  She opened with, “You were average. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?” She laughed while she said it, so I knew it was a joke.  “Eeww,” I thought. Joke or not, I never want to be average.

The problem with not wanting to be ordinary is that, “We engage too much in comparison, and we desire to be considered special in comparison to others.”

What happens when we compare ourselves to others? We can always find someone who does something better than we do. This brings us to the topic of self-compassion, which, compared to self-esteem, doesn’t involve comparing ourselves to other people and feeling like a winner or loser.

Kristin Neff is an author and researcher on the subject of self-compassion. She gives a TED Talk in which she describes self-compassion as treating ourselves with the same kindness we might treat a friend. For example, if I make what I consider a stupid mistake, I might say to myself, “What an idiot,” but I would never say that to a friend. Self-compassion means accepting our humanity, i.e., accepting that each of us is imperfect and not beating ourselves up about it.

When we have self-compassion, we don’t have to search for someone who does something worse than we do, puff ourselves up so we can maintain a sense of superiority, or — when we find evidence of our imperfections — produce more of the stress hormone cortisol to ward off threats to our egos.

You can find advice urging you to appreciate the ordinary and urging you to aim for extraordinary. I like this quote from novelist Peter Hoeg in support of the former. “We all try to camouflage the monotony, But it takes a lot of energy. To insist on being special all the time. When we’re so much like one another anyway. Our triumphs are the same. Our pain. Try for a moment to feel what relief there is in the ordinary.”




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How much is enough?

How much of anything is too little, how much is enough, and how much is too much?  It sounds like a question out of the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” But I’m not talking about the temperature of bears’ oatmeal or the size of their chairs.

Two writers, one a research professor and one a global activist, argue that the perception of scarcity goes beyond environmental issues, such as lack of water to sustain crops, or life-and-death concerns such as the absence of adequate nourishment. They say that the perception of “scarcity” is a state of mind which affects every aspect of contemporary life in our culture.

Dr. Brené Brown, research professor, therapist, and author of “Daring Greatly,” has heard enough stories from students and clients to know that we often define ourselves in terms of what we lack. One way she asks clients to tell their stories is to fill in the blanks to complete this sentence:  Never____________enough. Typical responses include: “Never good enough, never perfect enough, never thin enough, never powerful enough, never successful enough, never smart enough, never certain enough, never safe enough, never extraordinary enough.”

In fact, many of us let the “never enough” belief control our lives from dawn to dusk.  Brown quotes global activist Lynne Twist, author of “The Soul of Money,” as saying that scarcity is “the great lie…” Many people wake up telling themselves “I didn’t get enough sleep,” followed by “I don’t have enough time… Before we even sit up in bed…we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something…This mind set of scarcity lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice…”

So how do we gauge when we have enough? Within most countries, it’s  easy to realize, objectively, that some groups of people have too much and others too little. It’s more difficult for us to view our own situations without prejudice, and consider when we have enough and when enough is enough.

Dr. Brown reminds us that our culture of comparison drives our beliefs that we lack something — or many things — that we must have. Why? Because someone else has them.  Advertisers, many television shows and movies encourage this culture by featuring beautiful people, who have too much and live thrilling and extraordinary lives. The effect of seeing them is to make us feel certain our lives are lacking in money, fame, excitement, fun, and attention.

Dr. Brown shares tips to combat fears that we are lacking something important, including:  1) “Pay attention to ordinary moments, because these are what cause us joy; and 2) Be grateful for what we have.”

She suggests that another way to avoid the psychological scarcity trap is to tell ourselves, “I am enough.” This only works if we believe it.  These days, more often than not, I do. Yet another good thing that comes with age.

These topics will continue in the next few blogs.




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Want to become popular? Try plastic surgery

sharpei for blog1

He doesn’t mind wrinkles. (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Last night, I dreamed that in one 48- hour period, I had acquired enough new creases in my face to add ten years to my appearance. Fortunately, when I awoke and ran to the mirror, I could only spot the old wrinkles; no new ones had appeared. Still, there are 24 hours remaining before I can be sure my dream was only a nightmare.

I know where the dream originated. It’s my fault. I have been obsessing over wrinkles lately.  I do this because I still feel young, which makes it  hard not to pay attention to visible signs that I might not be.

It turns out that much younger women — and men — share my obsession with their faces even though it will be years before a wrinkle ever appears on them.  According to a New Yorker article, “About Face,” (March 23, 2015) many Korean women are beautiful, and nature is only partly responsible; plastic surgery does the rest.  Says writer Patricia Marx, in the “Beverly Hills of Seoul,” you can find “four and five hundred clinics within a square mile.” She quotes one college student who says, ‘When you’re nineteen, all the girls get plastic surgery, so if you don’t do it, after a few years, your friends will all look better…’

Apparently, this isn’t an attempt to be different, be the first among your peers to do something wildly extravagant, or to stand out, as we might think of it in this country; instead, it is a way to fit into the group. Ugh. It doesn’t matter which culture you’re in, there have to be other ways besides cosmetic surgery to manifest attractiveness. As one friend said, “There’s nothing like a warm, genuine smile to light up a person’s face and make her beautiful.”

Why are so many Korean women intent on this?  When the women come in for a consultation, their surgeons ask the same question.  Possible boxes to check on new-patient surveys include preparing for a job interview or wedding, feeling better about oneself, or bowing to the urgings of others. Respondents have the option of filling in the blank, “Which entertainer do you most want to resemble?”

This morning, my husband and I were talking about Bruce Jenner aka Caitlyn Jenner. I know nothing about sex changes, so perhaps all those new female hormones cursing through his body will make him much happier and comfortable with himself, but will Caitlyn’s new body and face erase all of Bruce’s former hangups and insecurities? I doubt it.  Isn’t it still true that “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”* We all suffer from “the grass is greener on your side of the fence than it is on my side” syndrome, known in Buddhism as dukkha, or dissatisfaction. If only I… [you fill in the desired change here], my life would be better.

So if I had fewer wrinkles would I be younger? Would my day-to-day life change in any real way? Nope.  So there’s no point in obsessing.  Unless, at the end of the next 24 hours my dream comes true. Then I might have to consider Korea.

*a quote attributed to writer Neal Gaiman.




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Can you love yourself too much? Ask Narcissus.

"Be Your Own Goddess art bus (1967 VW Kombi) IMG 0136" by User Montrose Patriot on en.wikipedia -

Be Your Own Goddess art bus (1967 VW Kombi) “IMG 0136″ by User Montrose Patriot on en.wikipedia –                     (photo suggests that narcissism is not new to present-day  culture)

Remember Narcissus? In Greek mythology, he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, and died when he found he couldn’t grasp it.

In the course of looking for trends in naming children (my last blog), I came upon the book “The Narcissism Epidemic, Living in the Age of Entitlement.”  Contemporary narcissists, according to the psychologist authors, are everywhere, from the operating rooms of plastic surgeons, to birthday parties that involve chauffeuring seven-year-olds to spa makeovers.

In case you were wondering, you can now hire fake paparazzi to follow you around and take your picture.

Below are some of the reasons the authors argue that our culture is becoming “all-about-me,” and less about community.

*More and more women  — and men — are undergoing cosmetic surgeries so they can “look better than others or look younger…The number of plastic surgeons has tripled since the mid-1970’s while the number of physicians has doubled.” Apparently you need Botox treatments before you can upload your image to and have it rated by strangers.

*Many more opportunities exist for personalized products, such as tee shirts emblazoned with your own photo, Elmo CD’s in which Elmo sings your name, and M&M’s with your photo and name printed on each candy. Yesterday I saw bottles of Coke in the grocery store labeled with different first names.

*Personal You Tube videos are ubiquitous, many produced with the hopes of achieving fame. Example: By 2007, “264,244 people had viewed a video of someone singing the phone book”…and by 2008, “210,353 had watched a video with the…title, ‘My Love Secrets to Seduce Me.'”

Based on survey responses, college age students seem to understand that they are narcissistic and believe this is important for their future success. However, the authors shared studies of students and employers, which showed that school achievement and work success normally belong to those who focus on others as much as they do on themselves. Lawyers specializing in divorce work should spend time with narcissists, since the latter rarely keep up long-term relationships.

What’s the antidote to a culture obsessed with fame and wealth? The writers have much advice for parents, teachers, TV programmers and advertisers, too much to repeat here.  They also reported on one group of researchers that identified “humility, self-compassion, and mindfulness” as ways to combat the “noisy ego,” (another way to describe narcissism), but warned that many would brush these off as old-fashioned.

For those of us who are more observers of this culture than participants, we can always change the mantra of the sixties — “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” — to Turn off (the TV), Tune in (to others) and Drop in (to our communities and the life taking place around us).

Regrettably, narcissism isn’t only a quality of youth. The older I get the more I think I’d like a chin lift, nose job and tummy tuck.




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“What’s in a Name?”

My full name in four kinds of Persian and Arabic script

My full name in four kinds of Persian and Arabic script

“What’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare’s Romeo.

What prompted my research into this question was a story I heard from a Buddhist minister. When he became ordained, the first Buddhist name he chose combined two Japanese words, one meaning the teachings of the Buddha and the other the sea. It was a name he hoped would inspire him in his work. What a surprise when he shared the name with his wife and she burst out laughing. In her native Samoan tongue one of the Japanese words meant sewage. He chose a different name.

But what about the rest of us who were given our names? If you were picking a name for yourself today, would you keep the one you have or would you change it?

Names come with all kinds of expectations, good and bad.

Historically, certain names have been considered desirable in our culture and other names undesirable. For many years, parents stuck to traditional names. William, for example, was in the top ten in 1890, 1940 and 2007.  Elizabeth also lasted through these hundred plus years. Which is not to say that there aren’t still traditionalists among us. In 2012, only 27% of parents chose a name not found in the top 1,000 for that year.

In the last ten years the most popular names list has already changed. Only Emma, a top girls’ name in 2004 made it to the 2014 list.  For boys, Aiden remained constant.

These days, unusual names are in vogue. Fruits, vegetables, flowers and seasons are big with the Hollywood set: Apple, Fuchsia, and Poppy Honey. Then there are Blue, Pax, Peaches Honeyblossom, Bear Blaze and Summer.

In a class of its own is Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Conley. He says he like his name. Whatever the length or popularity of our name, there’s a link between liking or disliking it and our self-esteem.

Children of wealthy parents who have unusual names are better able to escape name-related problems than poorer children.

Kids with names associated with parents’ low-socioeconomic status… “do worse in school and are less likely to be recommended for gifted [classes] and more likely to be classified as learning disabled.”

*In a poll of teachers from the United Kingdom, “More than one-in-three of the teachers surveyed “expect” children with certain names to cause more trouble than others.”

Another case of name discrimination occurred when a group of employers was given a collection of resumes with names sounding like they belonged to Caucasians and those that sounded like the job applicant was African American. Those in the former group had a 50% higher callback rate than the latter.

After looking at the research, I’m content to have ordinary first and middle names. I’m especially glad I wasn’t named after a fruit, flower, vegetable or season. Too risky to chance getting labeled Pineapple, Bleeding Heart, Radish or Fall.


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What does the internet say about you?

It turns out you don’t need to take a nude photo and post it on Facebook to earn a bad reputation.  You just need a presence on the internet.

I discovered this when I was looking for the phone number of an acquaintance, couldn’t find it in my local phone directory, and went on-line to continue the search.

Just because a search engine leads you to an innocent sounding link, such as “Click here. Have we got a ton of phone numbers for you,” doesn’t mean you’ll find what you’re seeking. The first clue that you’re going to waste a lot of time, and have to pay for the effort is, “Your search is 100% confidential. This person will never know what you’re up to.”

On my first try I reached a site that assured me I would find a phone number, but failed to mention that I would also be privileged to have access to the acquaintance’s marriage and/or divorce records, arrest records, traffic offenses, felonies within the county, state and country, and the same information about the rest of her family. All this for only a ten-minute wait followed by a request for $9.98.

On another site I found her address, the square footage and condition of her home, but no phone number.

Now I look back fondly to the days when my husband complained every time a phone book the size of a bus landed on our doorstep.  “They ought to put this information on-line,” he said.  Now that they have, I long for one of those hefty tomes of yesteryear.

Finally, I scrapped the phone number search, because I was curious as to what the internet said about me. Here’s what I learned from one site: I’m in my forties, have two arrest records, and once worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  All this was news to me. (read about the time Facebook told me I was at Bill Gates’ home.) I alerted my husband to come witness our miraculous return to near youth.  This time the site aged me by two decades and left him in his forties.

I also found five pages of my quotes in a random selection of newspaper and TV pieces from my years as a school district spokeswoman, and ages old insulting reader comments in response.

At this point, I can’t see any reason not to publish nude photos on Facebook.



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Collective memories and avoiding regrets

Psychologists say it’s important to stay connected to friends as we age. Recently, I figured out a good reason why.

kristi et al

Me with friends I made starting in kindergarten

I reconnected with friends I knew starting in kindergarten. We spent three days at a cabin in the woods reminiscing about our collective pasts. Often, to our dismay, each of us told entirely different stories about the same events.

When we separated, I continued to think about past experiences. Like streaming video, much of my life played back to me, experiences I’d filed away and left stored in my mental file cabinet, too busy to think about. When I realized how many opportunities had been given to me, I felt overwhelmed and then joyful. My life to this point hadn’t been nearly as dull as I’d thought.

This takes me to a topic that people think about at the end of their lives, namely, their regrets. None of us wants to leave this earth lamenting our lives. But is it possible we’re missing many details when we reflect on our pasts while we’re alone? Do we need to pull a group of friends together to help us remember?

The most well-known report on the things people regret near the end of their lives comes from a book by an Australian nurse named Bronnie Ware, who interviewed her patients in hospice care during the last twelve months of their lives. The list of regrets she captured from listening to their stories included making choices based on others’ wishes and not being true to themselves, losing touch with friends, and not giving themselves permission to be happier.

I don’t believe it’s possible to live without any regrets. Part of being human is wishing for what we don’t have. Knowing what most people who came before us wished they had done differently might inspire us to make some changes now, while there’s still time.

Even if we can’t change the past, something we can change now are the stories we tell ourselves about it. And maybe we shouldn’t rely only on our own stories. How much did those in the hospice care study really remember when they told themselves they’d missed out on something important or made terrible mistakes? I suspect that squeezed into their daily routines were many more kindnesses, challenges met, moments of connecting with others, happy times, and personal victories than they had recounted to themselves when they looked back. And maybe those close to them would have told a different story about them if they hadn’t waited until the memorial service to share them.



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