Eating habits

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot long ago, a friend and I were discussing where to go for dinner. We were still in a getting-acquainted phase, so we hadn’t gotten familiar with each other’s eating habits yet. In the course of the conversation, he gave me a wry grin and said:

I’m not a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat like one.

While that gave me a chuckle and helped us pick a restaurant, I liked the phrase so much that I tucked it away to chew on it later. I’ve been picking little morsels from its bones ever since.

Lately, the phrase has me thinking about labels. Vegetarian. Omnivore. Picky eater. Heck, you can take it way beyond food. Think of any label you’ve casually slapped on a person. Musician. Artist. Businesswoman. Foodie. Scholar. Curmudgeon.

What do they all have in common?

Although they may help paint a picture, they’re also confining. Usually we hear one of those labels and jump to conclusions–good or bad.

If I told you my friend is a meat-eater, a red-blooded, American dude whose favorite cheat food is hot wings, you’d probably never guess that he packs his lunch box with veggies and superfoods and sneaks flaxseed into his kids’ oatmeal, or that he might trip you so he can make it to the salad bar first.

If I told you I have a friend who is a musician, you might assume she has an artsy free spirit and miss that she has a head for details and numbers like you wouldn’t believe.

We have to be just as careful when we assign labels as when we hear them ourselves. There’s so much more to a person than the meaning–or assumed meaning–carried in a single category. Using a label to define someone confines our understanding of that person.

I’m a meat-eater, but I’ll usually choose a black bean cake or a lentil stew over a steak. One of my favorite solo meals consists of sautéed zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Eggplant parm? Sign me up.

You see, I’m not a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat like one.

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Generationally speaking

young and oldI follow a blogger who writes about her challenges and opportunities as a 20-something in the workplace. Even though I’m not in her demographic (unless you count my 40-something as two of her 20-somethings), I generally find raw truth in her commentary.

When one of her posts popped up in my feed the other day, I noticed something.

Like me, she had taken  an unintended break from blogging.

Like me, she has made major life changes in the past year.

Like me, she has taken a new job in a completely new industry.

Like me, she is discovering the truly important elements of a career.

Sure, she’s half my age and sees life through a lens unclouded by experience and tradition. She’s fighting for recognition and I’ve got a long resume. She has future and I have history.

But you know what? We’re not all that different. In fact, deep down inside, we’re pretty much the same.

We want to make a difference.

We want to love what we do and where and with whom we do it.

We want people to judge us by our abilities and accomplishments, not our age, background, or gender.

What we really want is to be relevant.

So even though her writing centers on generation gaps (I’ll see her Gen Y and raise it my Gen X), reading her commentary constantly reminds me that the only real generation gap is in our minds. People are people. Let’s stop making judgments based on the folds of our skin (I refuse to call those things around my eyes wrinkles) and focus on the folds of our brains and the chambers of our hearts. Age is irrelevant.

Thanks, Kayla.

**Want to read her blog? Here’s the recent post that had me vigorously nodding my head in agreement: 5 Reasons Why…

And if you just delete the word “older,” you’ll find a guide to interpersonal relations, regardless of gender, HERE.

Next time

IMG_0305A local radio station is giving away a vacation package to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, complete with concert tickets and backstage passes to see Michael Buble. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” they say.

Friends and family look at the pictures I share of travels near and far with my kids. “What a great experience! That was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” they say.

Once in a lifetime.

I’ve begun to hate that phrase.

Granted, the stars will never again align in a way that conjures up exactly the same experience. From that standpoint, pretty much everything happens only once in a lifetime.

But if you’re talking about a trip to Paris or special passes to a performance or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, I see no reason those things must be constrained to only one time in someone’s existence. Sure, it might take some planning, saving, creativity, and ingenuity to make things happen, and they might not happen often. But what doesn’t take some ambition? Some deliberate action?

The phrase once in a lifetime has gotten stuck in my craw. It leaves me thinking that people have resigned themselves to whatever their circumstances and that they have (or take) no power to change them. Anything momentous that happens has been bestowed upon them by Kismet, and they have no control over whether it happens again. That makes me really sad.

I’m hungry. I’m always hungry for more. When I experience something I love, I start thinking about how I can make it happen again. And when I do it again, how can I make it better? What will I do next time?

Next time.

I’m always thinking of next time.

When I take my kids somewhere, what I really hope to do is whet their appetites for more. For crying out loud, they’re still in middle school. If all the things we’ve done are truly only once in a lifetime, what’s left? I’d like to think instead that they’ll be intrigued, eager to learn more, curious enough to go back and do it their way, rather than my way. I’d like to think I’m just opening a door to next time.

There are truly experiences that happen just once in a lifetime, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t as many of them as we think. We have power over our lives. Whether we experience something once in a lifetime or there’s a next time is our choice.

I prefer to deal in next times.

I have a dream

mlk memorialToday is the day my country celebrates the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people don’t agree with the public holiday. They say others have done work just as important. They cite shortcomings in his personal life. They say the government just wants to take another day off. Pick an argument; someone has made it.

Forget all that. Please.

I challenge you to look past the man and look at the work he did. Consider what he stood for, and that he wasn’t afraid to stand up for it. No one–NO ONE–should be judged by superficial attributes. We have to look at the things that really matter:

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.–MLK, 28 Aug 1963 (emphasis added)

I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want for my kids. I’d kind of like it for myself, too.

In my high school history classes, the school year was almost over by the time we got to the 1960s. Anything after WWII got crammed into the few remaining weeks when no one could see anything but summer vacation anyway. It wasn’t until later in my life that I even read much about the Civil Rights Movement (sad that we had to have a movement to promote equal treatment), let alone the text of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech.

It is truly profound.

Many people know the most famous bits, the parts that start with “I have a dream that…” Equally as impactful are sentiments like these:

–When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

–This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

–In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

–We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

–We cannot walk alone.

If you’ve never read the entire text, today is the perfect day to do it. Even if you know it by heart, today is a great day to revisit it. And then live it.

We’re all in this together.

Wanderlust

Not long ago, I realized something pretty important about myself. If home is where the heart is, then my home is on the road. I’ve felt that way as long as I can remember, but I’ve never been able to categorize it so succintly. I just knew that I was always ready to go. In fact, my ex used to tease me by saying that the perfect gift for me would have been an airline ticket. It didn’t matter where, as long as I got to go.

Even though I always find myself in the throes of planning my next trip, I didn’t think much about my wanderlust itself. During a recent conversation with a colleague, however, I had an epiphany. Many, maybe even most, people feel as if their real selves are the ones who sleep in their own beds and run errands and go to work and make dinner. For them, returning from a trip means getting back to “real” life. Traveling often means leaving their “real” selves at home while they explore, so it makes sense that eventually they’re ready to get back to being real.

Here’s the epiphany: I’m not that girl. The real me comes alive when I’m on the road. When I come home again, I feel as if I have to pack her away. She gets antsy going about her daily routine, biding her time until she embarks on her next journey. Coming home from a trip, with rare exception, feels more like the end of the line or a resumption of duty than returning to myself.

Now that I understand this about myself, I can work with it. It no longer has to be an unseen drag on my line as I cast about; I can work with it, shape it, accommodate it. More importantly, the better I know myself, the better I can relate to others. Understanding our differences is just as important as understanding our similarities.

Uncharted territory

Derek Sivers, you inspire me. You reminded me today to keep moving out the boundaries in order to make my world bigger, to expand my comfort zone. I read your post, Push, Push, Push, and I thought about all the things I’ve done lately to expand my horizons. It was a short session.

Yes, I dove through mud and scaled walls and leapt over fire last weekend in the Warrior Dash. But I’ve done it before.

Yes, I rode 190 miles on a bicycle over hill and dale through Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research. But I’ve done that before, too.

Those are all the recent highlights I can conjure, and they don’t amount to much because they no longer represent uncharted territory to me. After all, the whole point of pushing is to overcome the fear, to master the feat:

I love that when we push push push, we expand our comfort zone. Things that used to feel intimidating now are as comfortable as home. –Derek Sivers

The consequence of not pushing the boundaries, big or small, is not that my world stays the same. Actually, without continuing to push outward, the weight of the unexplored begins to pile up, and my world starts to collapse upon itself. It begins to shrink until I find myself confined in a tiny box.

Thankfully, that state is never permanent. ANYone can expand her world at ANY time. One of my grandmothers bought a computer and taught herself to use it when she was in her 70s. The other grandmother elected to undergo hip surgery and painful rehabilitation at age 98. An uncle elected to undergo a DNA test at age 65 and found his family, flying to meet them a continent and a language away.

Pushing limits doesn’t have to be grandiose. Granted, for someone who has a pretty small comfort zone, stretching it will look a lot different than it will for someone who regularly hurdles large obstacles, but continuing to expand the territory is all that really matters. Read a book that challenges your beliefs. Try a dish that would never make it to your table at home. Take a class. Learn a new skill. Make a new friend. Conquer a fear.

Over time, I believe that pushing your limits doesn’t get you out of your comfort zone. It actually expands it.

It’s time to get out of my rut.

P.S. PLEASE read Derek’s post. It’s one of his best. Here’s a bit of it to whet your appetite:

Push, push, push. Expanding your comfort zone.

2012-08-13

I’m 40 meters underwater. It’s getting cold and dark. It’s only the third dive in my life, but I’m taking the advanced training course, and the Caribbean teacher was a little reckless, dashing ahead, leaving me alone.

The next day I’m in a government office, answering an interview, raising my right hand, becoming a citizen of Dominica.

I’m in a Muslim Indian family’s house in Staten Island, washing my feet, with the Imam waiting for my conversion ceremony. Next week they will be my family in-law. The Muslim wedding will make her extended family happy. I’ve memorized the syllables I need to say. “Ash hadu alla ilaha illallah. Ash hadu anna muhammadar rasulullah.” READ THE REST HERE.

Fanning the flame

When I wrote Beyond your ZIP code a week or so ago, I thought my passion for international youth exchange had been rekindled. Boy, was I wrong.

Last Saturday I took part in the International Youth Exchange Expo that started this discussion. I represented one of four local companies in an effort to show kids and their parents the connection between exchange and career paths. I was supposed to tell people about all the international opportunities a company like mine has to offer, right here in this sleepy little community.

Well, once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. But instead of covering the employment community’s need for people with international experience, I talked about how exchange changes a person’s worldview in general. It makes people better problem solvers, because they have tackled something that once seemed impossible, in a language that wasn’t their own. It makes people better listeners and more respectful of others’ opinions, because they’ve had to look at the simplest of issues from a different cultural perspective. They’ve had to make sense out of what doesn’t seem to make sense. They’ve had to see things through different eyes. They’ve learned to appreciate the differences and learn from them, even adopting some for themselves.

I went on and on and on.

I saw lots of smiles and nods as I spoke, but I think the parents appreciated what I had to say more than the kids did. That’s okay, because if it helps convince them to send their babies off into the wild, wild world to see what it’s like, then I did a good thing.

No, my passion for youth exchange wasn’t rekindled when I wrote the ZIP code post. That was just the spark that got me going again. After Saturday, NOW the flame is really raging.

Let me know if you want to talk about it. I’ve got a lot to say.