Wednesday, January 27, 2016

20 Things to Master Before my 40th Birthday: Part 2

This post is continued from last week. There are 20, but I decided to take on the first 10.

6. How to End a Friendship
Sometimes friendships become toxic. I remember the first time I had to end a friendship. I was in college and she was my housemate. We had been friends since my first week on campus. We had traveled to Puerto Rico together. We had partied together and met each other's families. I thought it was a friendship destined to last.

But several factors changed that. For one, I started to realize the damage that bulimia was doing to my body. My roommate was my Bulimia Buddy. I know that sounds sick, but it is very common to have someone support you in that disease, usually a fellow bulimic. We'd cover for one another when we'd disappear after meals, encourage each other to restrict calories, and praise one another for getting rid of the food within 15 minutes of consumption. It was a sick relationship, but I didn't think so at the time.

Secondly, I was uncomfortable with all the lies she asked me to corroborate. I was constantly making up stories for where she was, who she was with, and what she was doing. It made me feel like I was the one deceiving our friends. Being a closet bulimic was a big enough secret to carry. Adding hers wore on me.

Almost all of our friends were mutual. I knew that they would feel like they had to take sides. This made me stick it out longer than I should have. Eventually, I couldn't do it anymore. I thought and thought about a peaceful ending. I didn't want a dramatic fight, or blow out. I wanted us to be mature about it so we could make alternate living arrangements in peace. I decided that since the semester was ending, I would find an apartment, give her a parting gift, and let her know that I would be getting my own place. I don't recall what I bought her, but I added a letter thanking her for the years of friendship, but saying that I felt we were at different places, and it would be best to end it. I remember giving her the gift bag, and telling her to please read the letter as soon as possible. I told her that I had found a small one bedroom I could afford, and was going to move out. She didn't get angry, nor did she seem surprised. We hugged, and that was the last time we spent any considerable amount of time together.

Maybe that was a cowardly way to end it, not telling her what was really bothering me, but I didn't think it mattered. I had no faith that she would change, and it wasn't something I really cared about. I needed to get away from a toxic relationship, and that seemed like the best option at the time. My actions weren't too far off what the article suggests, except that I added a parting gift.

7. How to Stay in Touch
Thank goodness for Facebook and text messaging. Those are my favorite modes of keeping in touch with friends and family. Like many others, I have come to dislike talking on the phone, unless it is to very close friends and family. I used to love being on the phone. It was my favorite past time for years, as my mother can attest to. Even though I always hesitate to answer phone calls, it's nice to hear a familiar voice and an actual laugh as opposed to reading "LOL".

I should try to call my friends and family more often, especially because I know what it's like to wish you could hear someone's voice just one more time. I should take advantage while I can.

8. How Not to Sweat the Small Stuff
I am getting better at this. Losing Warren taught me tons about what's really important. Before that, I worried about all the possible worse case scenarios, doubted myself a lot more, and stressed over things that were beyond my control.

Today, I take a moment to ask myself 3 things:
1) What are the alternatives?
2) Do I want to be involved?
3) Can I survive the outcomes?

Generally, I am able to put my mind at ease because of #3. I have survived 36 years of life throwing curve balls and blessings. I am still standing. I am stronger because of it. The small stuff isn't worth losing happiness or peace over. In the end, the small stuff won't matter as much as I think it will, and often, life has a way of working itself out in ways that are surprising in a good way. Trust in the universe a little more and you'll worry less.

9. How Not to Embarrass Yourself at Karaoke
This is a lost cause. There is no way I won't embarrass myself. If I can't avoid karaoke, then I will participate with those who are worse at it than I am.

10. How to Make New Friends—at Any Age
This is something that I think about a lot when I contemplate moving. I have an AMAZING group of friends whom I love dearly. They are my anchors. They make Des Moines tolerable. If I leave, I don't think I can find another such group. I can call any of my friends and find a listening ear, someone to make me laugh, encouragement, or a partner in crime. That is more valuable than gold. Sure, I can move and try to find friends by taking a class, joining a church, or volunteering, but I believe it's harder as we get older because so many of us have roots already and aren't looking for more friends. We might be friendly with new people we meet, but when was the last time you made a true friend in your thirties and later? You have probably made a lot of acquaintances. But, are those people whom you'd entrust with your child? Would you let them know where you keep your spare house key? If the answer is no, chances are that the person isn't really a friend.

Friendships take time and work, just like any other relationship. When they're solid, they take less effort, but they still require taking time to spend together; being there for them when they need you, even if it's not a convenient time for you; and allowing them to help you when you need it. Having friends like that is worth its weight in gold, at any age.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

20 Things to Master Before my 40th Birthday Part 1

I recently read a few articles that focus on things a woman should do before she turns 40. I'm not sure why 40 is such a magic number, but since that's my next milestone birthday, they caught my attention.

This one in particular stuck out from the others I read because it didn't list frivolous things like, kiss a stranger, and wear sexy underwear. The things it lists, with the exception of #9's How Not to Embarrass Yourself at Karaoke, are things that are useful to anyone, regardless of gender or age. They are signs of maturity and made me reflect on myself. It's a long list so I am only going to tackle 1-5 in this post, and I'll tackle 6-10 in next week's post.

Some of these reflections might be TMI, but if my honesty can be helpful to one reader, it was worth the personal exposure. 

1. How to Delegate
What a relief it is when I delegate! As a mom, I delegate chores to my daughter all the time. But, it's not so easy to apply to work and other life situations. I used to be scared to delegate. Who was I to tell someone else what to do? What was wrong with me that I couldn't do it myself? I would probably do it better anyway. These were all the excuses that fear put in my psyche. They are all B.S. Delegating is not a sigh of bossiness or weakness. It is a necessary part of success. No one reaches success on their own. If you look at some of the most successful people in the world, there are always others who helped them. That help most likely came from delegation. From there, perhaps a partnership was formed as they began working together towards a common goal.

There are times when I take on too much and delegation is necessary for a better outcome. It is akin to asking for help, something I am not good at. However, when I trust myself enough to delegate, I find that I am usually pleased with the results. Often I learn something from how the person chooses to complete the task, and almost always it relieves me of the stress of trying to do everything on my own. Delegation can be a lifesaver, and it is a skill I am still working on in all aspects of my life.

2. How to Comfort Someone
I'll be the first to admit that this is an area in which I am lacking. With the exception of my family and closest friends, I get extremely uncomfortable when someone is upset and the expectation is that I comfort them. I remember running into a woman who had just been let go at one of the companies I worked for. She was coming from HR, which was between me and the ladies room. I had worked a project with her, and sat with her in the cafeteria once or twice and listened to her talk about her boys and their hectic sports schedules. She was about 12 years older than I was. She looked up at me and her face began to crumple. 

I immediately knew what happened. I was the only person in the hallway, and most of our co-workers had left for the day. How could I pretend not to have seen her? We made eye contact. I saw the pain in her eyes. But, I stood there for what felt like too long, although it might have been a few seconds. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I walked up to her and put my hand on her shoulder. When she began to tremble I silently led her to the bathroom. I handed her some toilet paper for her tears. She didn't look up at me as she cried. I stood by her, giving her some space, but rubbing her arm every now and then, wondering if I should say something. I didn't know what to say. Instinct told me not to leave, even though I really wanted to. 

When she calmed down, she looked up at me and half smiled. She made a joke about becoming a full time chauffeur and cheerleader for her boys. I agreed with her and smiled bigger than was probably necessary. A few minutes later she got her composure and I gave her a quick hug. She thanked me. She didn't specify what she was thanking me for, but I imagine it was for not leaving her side. It was a relief when it was all over and she left the room. I hadn't done much, but I was proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and comforting her. My first desire had been to mind my business, but that would have been thoughtless. I never saw that woman again. However, that day serves as a lesson to me about comforting others that I have referred back to many times, especially in those moments when others have comforted me. I learned the value of being there, even if words allude you, or you don't know what to say to make the situation better. Being present is a comfort in itself.

3. How to Have More Fun Having Sex
In respect to my family who read this, I am going to refrain from elaboration on this point, however, if you are nearly 40 and haven't found a way to enjoy sex, I highly recommend you look into that.

4. How to Spot a Good Opportunity
Ashton Kutcher said that opportunity often looks like work. I agree. Despite what television and movies would like you to believe, opportunities of a lifetime rarely fall in your lap. Opportunity comes from placing yourself in the right situations, and then having the courage to turn the situation into an opportunity. In order for opportunities to be realized you have to work on several factors. For starters, you have to make yourself memorable. When you build and promote your personal brand, you make it easier for people to think of you when opportunities arise. 
  • Be reliable: Be on time and do what you say you are going to do, when you say you will do it.
  • Do more than expected: You'll often get more than expected, and it leaves a great impression on others
  • Greet everyone with a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile: Sincerity and interest in others goes a long way.
  • Remember people's names: Make it a point to recall who you meet. 
  • Offer sincere compliments: Who doesn't like a compliment? As long as it's sincere.
  • Volunteer to do what others don't want to do, or are too afraid to try: Even if you fail, you leave an impression that you tried what others would not. That goes a long way. 
  • Pretend you aren't afraid of failure until you really aren't: Fear is the number one reason people stop themselves from achieving their greatest potential. Don't be that person!
These are all things I have done as I moved through life. They opened doors for me that led to opportunities for education, travel, and career advancements. All of that takes conscious effort and work, but the rewards can be more than you imagined when those opportunities begin presenting themselves.

5. How to Make Conversation at Parties
I'm not a party person unless it involves family and friends. I'd much rather use that time to be in my pajamas with a book and some coffee. However, remember that personal brand I mention in #4? It gets built in public, not at home. I force myself to go to networking events, gatherings of different types of groups, etc. I have met some of the most interesting people, and in the end am usually happy that I resisted the urge to stay home.

Having pre-determined topics to talk about usually helps me. I like asking people if they have hobbies. That usually gets them excited to talk, or if they do not, they return the question and I usually say what hobbies I would like to have. That gives me the opportunity to ask them what they would like to try. That almost always leads to a longer conversation, and learning cool things about people. It also helps me recall names, adding to #4.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

First Baby I Ever Loved

I fell in love with a baby some time in 1984. That's the year my little brother was born. It didn't happen instantly, wasn't love at first sight. In fact, for the first few months of his life, I think I hated him. There is a family rumor (more like a tall tale if you ask me) that I dumped him outside in the middle of January because he wouldn't stop crying and disturbing me. I plead the fifth on that. But, I do remember staring at him in amazement that he was my brother. I had been an only child for five years and didn't think my situation would ever change. As his colic worsened, I also remember wishing it hadn't.

In all seriousness, one of my first memories of my brother is feeding him a bottle when he was just a few days old, looking down at his tiny fingers and thinking that I needed to protect this fragile being from all the bullies in life. I felt a profound feeling of protectiveness and authority over him, a responsibility like nothing I had ever felt.

Kisses for a little person I would always protect
As he's aged I haven't lost those feelings entirely, but it's definitely relaxed more. For starters, he's physically bigger than me so he can fight off the bullies on his own. Secondly, he has become a father and is in charge of other young lives. He is a great dad and I don't say that because I'm biased. He is a hands-on dad. He puts his kids before himself, has a firm hand and high expectations, yet a soft heart that dispenses love and affection for them. He wasn't hesitant to change diapers or bathe my nephew and niece as newborns. He stood by his wife's side as she pushed them out, and stepped up again when she left for military training, becoming a single dad while she pursued her dream to serve her country.

Luis, his son and wife the summer before his daughter was born
Like all siblings, we fought, we teased, we made each other cry. But in the end, I know he has my back and I have his. As the middle child he probably felt lost or neglected, but as my first sibling, he always had a special place in my heart. 

When I left home for college, I worried about him. He would call me all the time, to the point that my parents started forbidding him to call more than once a week because he was racking up the long distance bill. He'd call and whisper and I knew he was calling on the sly, thinking my parents wouldn't find out that he missed me too much to wait for his once a week phone call.
Middle child, always the silly one

He came to visit me at Iowa State and I was super excited to show him and his friends what college was like, hoping to inspire them to follow in my footsteps. When he moved to Iowa I was relieved that he was out of our neighborhood. So many young Latino men did not make it out of there alive. I was constantly scared that he'd catch a stray bullet for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or get mixed up with a bad crowd and end up in deep trouble that he couldn't get out of. He moved in with me, then later with Warren and lived it up as part of a bachelor pad where he was the youngest, and became everyone's little brother.

All these years later he has made a home in Des Moines, and I have been fortunate enough to be there with him as he grew into a man, husband, uncle and father. It's hard to believe that the little baby I thought to be the cutest baby in the world now has kids who are cuter than he was. Lucky for me, I get to share stories with them of how their dad was the family baby cry, and remind him in front of them that no matter my height, I'm still the big sister.

Great uncle, dad, brother, and husband
Happy Birthday Luis. I love you and have (mostly) enjoyed sharing life and DNA with you. I wish you many decades of happiness and love.

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