(Channeling The Who to begin this Post…) Here’s my question for today:  Other than for sociologic discussions, why do we need to isolate, characterize and compare Generations of human beings? It seems to me that we’re already in our ‘corners’ on all kinds of topics, ready to advance with fists up, to argue, fight and defend. Or, we’re ready to cower meekly when others shove us into one-size-fits-all boxes.Why is it that birth generations have become fodder for even more discord? I mean, do we need more?

The Greatest Generation (aka, The Silent Generation). Baby Boom-ers. Generation X, Y and Z (how insulting that Mainstream Minds have so far been unable to create more flattering ‘tags’ for those born after 1965). What purpose do these labels serve? How can they possibly be representative of all people born into certain timespans?

Yesterday I read an editorial by a prolific journalist, commentator and author who writes for the New York Times. His piece was titled, “Will Gen Z Save the World?” Fact: you’ll get no argument from me that our Earth and the people on it need saving. But the implication of the editorial was that everyone else prior to Gen Z has already screwed-up or given up. So now the survival of our planet and its inhabitants rests on the shoulders of those born after 1995. No Pressure, right?

Not to say that 24 or 25 year olds aren’t up to the task; but, what does this say about everyone not in this group? Are they, like the Roman emperor Nero, just blindly playing their fiddles while Rome burns? I don’t know about you, but I’m more aligned with the character Howard Beale, in the movie “Network”. His famous rallying cry  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” is still hailed as a pivotal moment (righteous tirade) in U.S. film (and social) culture evolution. (Especially appropriate, here in the States, right now.)

According to a nationwide Pew survey conducted in 2018 (as noted in the editorial I’m referring to), thousands of American citizens were asked what, if anything, brought meaning to their lives. An overwhelming number of respondents (of all ages, btw) reported feeling besieged by depression, drug and alcohol dependency; a bit fuzzy about meaning and purpose; and struggling with a nationwide moral-compass spinning cartoonishly, out of control.Once again, you’ll hear no disagreement from me about the confusion and chaos, despair and divisiveness coating our hearts and minds like toxic sludge. But – how far back do we go, to arrive at the beginning of how this current situation evolved?

Looking at the way we put people into buckets, we tend to start with The Silent Generation:  stoic, penny-pinching Depression-era survivors who, incidentally, also heroically joined with allies to defeat Hitler. They came home from World War II and celebrated by creating a tsunami of babies:  These Baby Boom-ers were raised in households focused on Exsitential Lessons. Finding some kind of work (e.g., mowing lawns) just to have pocket money was a motivator starting at around age 10. The drive continued, to college or trade schools; making money and busting all kinds of materialistic moves in the world. Their actions may seem a little selfish in hindsight, but such were the expectations.The common belief now seems to be that this group has done little beyond consuming too much and trashing the earth. To add insult to injury, Boom-ers are also showing remarkable longevity.

Pros and cons are debated and on-view ( books, articles and on the Internet) about Boom-ers and subsequent generations, with finger-pointing and labeling in all directions. But the truth is, each generation is unique in the challenges it faces, growing up and then entering the world. No single group of people can or should take all of the blame for our society’s dysfunctions;  nor should “X, Y, or Z” be assumed to be the only groups in possession of the morality, sensibility, intelligence and motivation needed to get-moving on fixes (as the writer of the editorial directly claims the Z-ers are).

Most people feel anxious when confronted with significant, or unwelcome Change. This is especially true now, with so many high-stakes topics to deal with globally, and all at once. But for each generation of human beings so far, there’ve always been challenges to navigate. It seems to me, that humanity has much more to concern itself with in the Now than calling-out past or current generations.

Our world is more complicated and dangerous than it ever has been. This we know. What are the Forces at work, causing us to focus so intently on our differences, rather than on our commonalities? Not one of us can go back and re-write the time or circumstances of our birth. We just have to “Deal”: whatever it takes. Spoken like a True Boom-er, I know; but it’s a lesson I learned from The Silent Generation, and feel it’s pretty much worth passing-on.

It feels like years that I’ve been actively engaged in trying to figure myself out. Not with any lofty ‘enlightenment’ goal, necessarily; just trying to troubleshoot, problem solve, make sense of my choices and their consequences. Even now, I play the ‘what if’ game in my head:  second-guessing the paths I’ve taken and wondering how my life would have been different if…..I also wonder if all of this thinking is part of my overall problem. I feel comfortable blaming Socrates.

This still-revered Greek scholar and philosopher (born roughly 470 BCE – let that sink in for a minute) made the pronouncement, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” His statement was supposedly a very quiet utterance, made under painful and dramatic circumstances – perhaps why the local scribes took note and preserved those words forever.  Socrates was on trial for “impiety (although he was religious, he scorned state-sanctioned gods) and corruption of youth (minds and bodies, supposedly)”. Socrates was convicted and given a choice:  permanent exile, or death. Rather than be cut-off from the people and places that provided the flow of learning and wisdom that were as necessary to him as air to breathe, Socrates chose death (by drinking hemlock). To this day, a wide variety of organizations  still use variations of The Socratic Method:  a special kind of conversation and discussion that stimulates insightful thinking and  deep learning.

In my current stage of life I wonder how truly valuable the “examined” life is.  Having just written that, I also acknowledge what a ridiculous and banal affliction this might be considered by the many people struggling with survival in the Here and Now. Just a quick glance at my bookshelves exposes me as someone who has both the time and resources to invest in print and recordings from the Self Help genre.

This wasn’t always the case, however – my shelves being lined with so many options. When I was still a teenager, a dog-eared copy of the book “Be Here Now” (written by Ram Dass in 1971) was circulated among my friends. It’s still in print and popular. At the time, it was the only personal guidance book I’d come across that made sense:  the Present Moment is all there is. Any time at all spent in the Past is pointless:  misspent time and energy.

But why is it still so hard to not  look backwards occasionally? I believe it’s because – despite what Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Abraham and others tell us – the unconscious mind is in fact a treasure trove of information that (for most of us, anyway) is still being processed in our daily lives. What happened Then still impacts our decisions Now. This is one of the reasons why dream therapy is often helpful:  things that get pushed down and away bubble up, regardless.

I do my best to live in the Now. I do practice Mindfulness (for me, that word is just shorthand for Slow the F— Down). But I also reflect on people and events from my past. I give myself permission to disobey the majority of books in my library. In other words, I don’t allow myself to wallow in nostalgia or regret. I do, however, take quick dips into those cool, deep and dark waters of my personal history when it feels right and necessary. (Typically, this is when I catch myself repeating a thought or behavior pattern that didn’t work then, and needs to be jettisoned now.) I’m fussy, though:  others don’t get to bring up my Past (they do so, at their peril!). My learning, from previous mistakes, is my personal responsibility and my personal domain:  it’s a sensitive and tender place that I visit in quiet moments and don’t need to dialogue about. Likewise, I don’t remind others of their past mistakes – large or small – as tempting as it may be at times. There are people out there who are paid to listen and to help, and, plenty of books to read.

As I write this, I only have a few more hours before total insanity takes over the city where I live. Here in California, aside from the excitement of a major earthquake (6.4) and numerous (150 and counting) aftershocks today, it’s also The Fourth of July. This particular holiday has been evolving (in my opinion) into a ‘celebration’ far beyond my childhood memories of sparklers and a few firecrackers smuggled in from our numerous trips south of the border. When I use the word ‘insanity’, that’s exactly what I mean. Firecrackers must feel too tame to most people, because my neighbors are now exploding small bits of dynamite (they used to be called M-80’s, still totally illegal). I’m sure the mega -Whistling Petes can be heard on other planets. And now, in our nation’s capital, we have tanks and other military bravado as part of The Fourth.  It doesn’t feel like Independence Day to me…unless, of course, the reference is to the dystopian Tom Cruise film that’s all about surviving an alien apocalypse.

‘Independence’ is a double-edged sword, and so open-to-interpretation. When I was out and about today (I’m usually a Mole Person on holidays, preferring to avoid crowds and traffic), I had an encounter that sent me into a Reflection about the meaning of ‘independence’ in my own life.  I’d gone in search of a couple of travel items (replacing a ratty luggage-tag and zipper-less ear bud pouch) and was waiting to be called by “The next available sales person”. Whenever waiting in a line, I like to observe and admire people, just going about their daily lives. I’d already noticed the young man (maybe, late 20’s) who called me to his check-out line: handsome, with dark curls framing his delicate features;  I imagined he was also a dancer, or an artist, in his real life. He looked bored, unhappy; captive? While I waited for him to scan my stuff, I made small talk:  “So, do you have a fun 4th of July ‘something’ to look forward to tonight?”

You know that thing that a salesperson does…the way their face reacts when someone takes the time to engage in conversation ? Surprise. Eye contact. She sees me. So cool. But, meeting my eyes he said, “No, I don’t really get into holidays.” I nodded and affirmed that, oddly enough, neither did I. But then this young guy went on:  “I don’t even like my own birthday.” That caught my attention and I said, with what I hoped was a gentle smile, “But, you’re old enough now, surely, that you can celebrate it –or not?” The young man said, “No, I don’t really have a choice. It’s my grandmother; she always has to have a cake and give me presents. I don’t want any of it.” Sometimes random strangers hand you ‘gold’:  they share a tiny glimpse into their lives and their most tender places. I wanted to hear more, but of course, “Next customer” was behind me.

Becoming independent – earning the right to Do What You Want To Do —  is considered an ‘adult’ rite of passage. Growing older and wiser is assumed to be the pinnacle of this ‘freedom’. But I’ve learned, over the years that – young or older – it’s actually difficult, or at least tricky, to act on self-interests while keeping yourself in-reach of others. Unless you choose to embrace a Hermit lifestyle (ok with me, I get it! ), there are instances where ‘independent’ can also feel like a lonely existence. Ironically, getting stuck in unfulfilling relationships or situations can also feel lonely. Maybe even more so.

I’m in a space now where I have more independence and freedom than I’ve ever enjoyed in my adult life. My “roots” are my small family, but they themselves are a fluid bunch. Many people around me, in fact, seem to be in the midst of personal changes that are both internal and external (changing jobs, partners, living spaces, lifestyles). Independence of mind, body and spirit is clearly a driver these days. Being able to say, “No birthday, and no cake!” without offending others seems like a small thing, but that’s where it begins. Being able to say “No”, instead of “Yes”, if you’re not feeling it, is not always an easy thing. But without those little assertions of Self in small, or big, impactful moments, others can’t possibly know where we stand, or what we stand for.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to create a positive first impression.” I’m sure that many, if not most of my Readers have experienced symptoms of anxiety prior to a high-stakes first meeting:  an interview; the first day on the job; a first meeting with any individual or group of people that – momentarily, anyway – hold important keys to our happiness. It’s a very human thing, to want to project the appearance of whatever the desired qualifications are. As long as the Image is not that far from Reality, all is well (depending upon the competition, of course!)

As women, sometimes we get a little carried away with the Image part. In fairness to myself and my Sisters, the scrutiny on us in many (most?) professions or industries is more intense – regardless of what the majority atmosphere (gender/s) may be. We’re not only aware of, but self-conscious about how we’re perceived by others. It’s important that those perceptions (and reactions from others) be in keeping with our professional goals, and also with how we see ourselves.

Unlike men, women (I’m speaking in the binary sense, here) are almost always in the process of balancing their sex with the demands and expectations of the job. How we wear our hair; how we use make-up to enhance our faces; how we dress and accessorize. More than a few times I was told by female mentors, “Never wear your hair down in a meeting!” (Who knew that long hair could be a professional saboteur?)  Any style or adornment that transmitted even a whiff of ‘sexy’ was considered either a transactional killer, or, it communicated the wrong kind of signal (I’m decorative, not functional; here to play, not to work). This balancing Act can be flat-out exhausting; but there’s evidence all around us that the Act is still expected, if not an explicitly stated requirement in many organizations.

One of the most image-conscious  jobs I had while climbing the professional ladder was working in a Communications Unit in a large Southern-California city. The director of the unit was a woman, “Carol”. This woman was always perfectly coiffed (hair bleached a dazzling platinum blonde, styled in a chin-length bob); her makeup was a perfect So-Cal tan, year-round; her suits (always a skirt and jacket) conservative. Carol always wore high heels, and always wore hot pink lipstick with matching pink nail color. I was the Editor of the Communications Unit and only saw Carol as she hustled to and from meetings, or when she wanted to meet over copy. Our conversations were cordial, but professional.

One day, however, we happened to be in the womens’ lounge at the same time. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but – being a writer at that point in my career, pretty much behind the scenes for most of the work day – it surely didn’t compare to Carol’s bright red suit and silk chemise. Feeling feisty, as she was touching up her make-up in the mirror, I commented on her appearance. Something left-handed and safe, like, “You’re always so put-together!” Carol turned to me, smiled indulgently, and simply said, “I’m so tired; I just don’t know how much longer I can do this.” Then she turned back to the mirror to blot her lipstick. She grabbed her huge handbag and exited the lounge. I was dying to know what she meant, but I had to wait until several days later – when I had some copy to give her – to casually bring up our previous conversation. (I framed it as, “Just wondering if you’re ok…?”) To summarize, Carol told me that, basically, her work image was all ‘show’, and not at all who she was “at home”. Image, she said, is Reality:  the reality being, How You Want to Be Perceived, not Who You Really Are.  Silly me, I thought smugly: my only ‘reality’ is who I am inside, regardless of what I’m wearing! Carol may as well have patted my head like the ‘innocent’ bumpkin she obviously thought I was. “You’ll see,” she said. And of course, I did see.

Recently I overheard a young female colleague (who works in male-dominated Finance) talking with another young woman about her image and how she deployed it in her work setting. No particular emphasis on clothing, accessories or make-up; no pressure to present aesthetic perfection. What she did, however, was telegraph her femaleness and sexuality by ‘batting her eyelashes’ (yes, she actually said this) and lowering her voice during a meeting with the male CFO, her immediate boss. I quickly realized that I needed to walk out of earshot, before my feminist hackles became obvious. But another colleague of mine, an older woman, had heard the same comment and was clearly fuming. I watched her walk toward the two younger women, pretty certain that I knew what was about to happen. Not feeling like sticking-around, I just whispered to myself, “You’ll see.”

My father was a French professor and total Francophile. It wasn’t that he thought so highly of the French as individuals; his personality type just gravitated toward French culture’s well-known celebration of its own opinions and beliefs about the human condition. From my perspective (parental influence and my own travel experiences), the French have the most wonderful way of “nailing” a situation with an economy of words; or, silence and a raised eyebrow;  or, silence and the classic Gaelic Shrug (while the lower lip turns slightly out, and down). Even miniscule changes in a French person’s body language can convey that the topic (whatever it is) is probably unworthy of serious consideration.

The Eyebrow speaks volumes.

 “J’Accuse!” (first proclaimed and penned by French author Émile Zolà, author and journalist in 1898), translates as ‘I Accuse You’, or, more colloquially, This Whole Situation is Your Fault. Over many years, “J’Accuse!” has become an enduring trope in movies, television program dramas and sitcoms, and even animated ‘adult’ cartoons. In whatever context, the exclamation’s usually shouted with an attempt at a French accent, and accompanied by a dramatically-pointed finger in the face of the wrongdoer. “J’Accuse!” came into my mind today, after a couple of major ‘This is Your Fault!’’ moments in the media (print and recorded conversations) that feel, as I mentally compiled other recent moments, like indications of a developing Tsunami of Blaming and Shaming in Western culture.

In the United States, we’re in the throes of our 2020 presidential election process. During a recent debate of hopeful candidates, verbal fireworks erupted when one accused the other of making “hurtful” (racial bias-related) comments. The verbal blast (shaming) went on for some minutes, while the accused hung his head and looked contrite. Regardless of whose side might be considered more correct or sympathetic, the spectacle was deliberate in its assignment of blame, and its effort to demolish an opponent’s credibility and worth as a potential Leader of the Free World. This “J’Accuse!” moment clearly came from a place of pain, for which there was no immediate balm. Blame, with a large dollop of Shame on the side; called-out in public, and reverberating around the world.

Just a few hours later, scanning the latest print headlines, I came across an editorial claiming to be written “on behalf of Millennials”, by a self-identified 30-something person. The title of her piece was,  “The Baby Boomers Stole My Future!” The editorial began with a presentation of  trends and statistics related to significant life choices being made by Millennials. But it continued in its speculation that those choices were, and are, the direct result of Millennials feeling impacted (impaired, thwarted, highjacked) by the decisions of those born between 1945 and 1964 (so-called Boomers). It was a scathing rebuke (“J’Accuse!”) of the collective (as she viewed it) greed, selfishness, disregard, and ignorance of the Children of The Greatest Generation. According to the editorial, but for the Boomer generation, the vast majority of “dysfunctional” Millennials wouldn’t be so nihilistic about their futures, so anti-social (about jobs, marriages and babies) in their commitments, or living like gypsies (or in their parents’ basements). Regardless of whether or not these accusations are accurate (read the autobiographical book “Sea Stories”, by Ret. Admiral William McRaven, for a polar opposite view of Millennials), the editorial stands – recorded for posterity — in its potency of Blame and Shame.

Most of us have felt, at some point in our lives (maybe even repeatedly), hindered by people and circumstances beyond our control. We may have been born into unloving families or raised in the midst of violence, addiction, or severe mental incapacity. One of the most poignant and angst-ridden Blues songs (all about pain)  I’ve ever heard is Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”. As the songwriter says, “I’ve been down since I began to crawl; If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  Sometimes simple survival in the Arena of Life can feel like a miracle in itself. Lies, betrayals, abuse & neglect, bullying, persecution, or just idiotic decisions on the part of someone else may have stunted our growth, diminished our sense of self-worth, stymied our ambitions, or kept us locked in a prison of despair.

Is there any value in assigning Blame for what others may have done to us? Is there something worthwhile to be gained through Blaming and Shaming people who’ve harmed us? Is there an expiry date for either, or both? After a while, even those with the most legitimate-seeming complaints may feel like scolds, whiners, weaklings – being told to Just Get Over It – compounding the hurt. An injured person who blames and shames usually wants acknowledgement (no guarantees there!), and often seeks some kind of justice or reparation (maybe, maybe not). Some injuries can be tended-to, even “fixed” in some way; but most can never be undone except through the decision to Forgive.

I lived my own life, for many years, in the clutches of the need to Blame:  primarily, family members whose impactful behaviors ran the gamut from thoughtless and hurtful, to truly vile. I eventually realized that Blame (and its partner Shame) is like a dead-end street: you’re not going anywhere unless you turn around and re-trace your steps, back to yourself, and choose a different path.

Just a little bit into Summer, and I’m reflecting on one of the really nice things about having more flexibility in my current stage of life:  being able to travel whenever I choose. If I haven’t already booked a trip, then I’m in the process of planning one. I find that I need something on the horizon that I know is going to give me what only travel can. I won’t go so far as to say it’s an ‘addiction’ for me, but I do know that if I don’t get to explore other countries and cultures on a regular basis I become bored and cranky.

I was in my early teens when my parents (French teachers) took me and my younger brother on our first international trip:  England, France, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. Full-disclosure:  as a kid, I hated it. As a parent, I think there’re a couple of (very) narrow windows during which travel with children is either ‘tolerable’, or, can actually be a meaningful experience for them. Teenagers are always risky (read:  moody), as my parents found out ( I never got enough sleep during that trip, and they paid the price.) There was a similar trip when I was 16, then another at 19 (the last year I traveled with them). This one spanned over two months and 18 countries: intense and life-changing. I’m pretty sure that this last trip did something to my brain, turning me into a Traveler. Here’s how it played out…

We were in Athens, in late July (yes, super-hot). Our modest hotel was in the main part of the city (convenient, but noisy and with no A/C). We’d been traveling non-stop for two full months and nerves were frayed – make that shredded (living out of a suitcase, coordinating and negotiating with one another, and simple physical exhaustion). Our itinerary’s next stop was Grafrath, Germany (near Munich), to visit family friends, then on to Paris to meet with more friends. I realized that I just couldn’t take another two weeks in the Family Configuration. (As I noted in a previous Post, “The Fountain in Kyoto”, traveling and remaining at peace with your companions is an ‘art’). I made a (desperate-sounding, I’m sure) phone call to the agent we’d used and was able to change my ticket, flying out of Athens in two days and back to California.

The flight from Greece back to the States was blissful:  the plane was a 777 with lots of empty seats, so I was able to get those arm-rests up and stretch out my 5’10” frame. The crew was due for a furlough, they announced amiably, and were upbeat and “Whatever!” with food, wine and cocktails. It was one of those flights of ‘yesterday’ (that I haven’t experienced much since):  people wandering freely between first-class and economy, talking and drinking with one another.

When we landed in San Francisco (after a 3 a.m. Customs stop in Seattle), the weather was typical for the summer:  cold and foggy. As I gathered my belongings to exit the plane, I began to feel it:  Where am I? No, it wasn’t the jet-lag crazies, it was something deeper. As I stood still in SF’s International Terminal, people pushing past in both directions, I probably looked a little dazed. I was nut-brown, arms and legs bare, in a long, thin gauzy dress, with my favorite Greek sandals on my feet. I was suddenly freezing and tore into my bag for a wrap. Now sweater-ed, I tried to get my bearings in a once-familiar airport. But the entire scene felt foreign to me. Disorienting. Kind of a culture-shock in reverse. Even the English language sounded weird to my ears.

Becoming so used to unfamiliar sights and sounds; adapting to multiple currencies, social customs, time zones and climates; I suddenly felt out of my ‘element’ in my own country. I didn’t feel the relief, at first, of being back home in the U.S. – just separation from the experiences that I realized had changed who I was. This is why I travel. It’s so much more than the excitement of visiting new places. Travel is an amazing portal that I step through – for however long my trip is – and come back through, feeling different; knowing that new and important ‘pieces’ have been added to Who I Am, and Who I Am Becoming. Next stop:  Morocco , 28 September, 2019.

Yesterday morning I had a conversation with a colleague who has her own consulting business. We were discussing the difference between ‘coaching’ (as you might do, following an employee’s performance review), and ‘mentoring’ (which is more personally-supportive). Mentoring requires more of a relationship with the person that wants and needs help; coaching doesn’t. Even though the mentor may have ‘more’ of something (attributes) than the mentee, perhaps in terms of wisdom and experience, the relationship is definitely mutually- beneficial. Bottom line, as my colleague and I shared a laugh, a Mentor is like the old saying about a ‘wife’:  everybody needs one. A mentor gets to know you on a deeper level: understanding your goals and guiding you in your growth. Regardless of our stage in life, few of us would say that if the perfect mentor appeared, we’d say “Nah, I’m good!”

As I stepped out of the building where we’d been meeting, I ran into a young woman I’d met and spoken to just a little on another occasion, about her entry into graduate school, and – hopefully – her launch of a career. To use an expression that I’ve yet to replace (but won’t here, because it’s so very accurate), at our first encounter, she’d “picked my brain” about her personal concerns and professional options. It was a casual conversation-turned-deep that passed its expiry after about 30 minutes (I needed to be somewhere else). Yesterday, when I saw her again, I was a little relieved that she was talking to another young woman (both in their early 30’s I’d say). Nevertheless, as I waved ‘hello’ to “Eliza”, she drew me in and introduced me to “Amanda”. Both women were totally charming (in the way that boisterous little chicks can be, toward an old hen who just might decide to peck them to death). I tried to edge away after a polite amount of chat, but that was when Eliza remarked to Amanda how helpful I’d been as her mentor. (Wait, what?). Not going to escape just yet, I thought. So I pivoted slightly, turning back and responding to this gracious compliment.

As talking between the three of us went on, I took a quick mental side-trip (leaving the slight feeling of impatience behind) and just observed how well these two young women “clicked”:  they were both feeling over-whelmed with options, more than a little fear of the Great Unknown (neither had settled into relationships or careers), and a lot of excitement and optimism about their futures. While I listened to them, interjecting just a few comments when asked, I had a helpful – to me, personally – revelation:  when I’m around people in my own age-range, the conversations are remarkably the same, but then again different, in a super-sweet way.

At a certain point in time, if you’ve lived your life with enough awareness and attention, your mistakes and achievements create that ‘diamond’ we all want to be as we mature. Even if you’ve made a ton of mistakes in your life, if you’ve allowed those lessons to hone your brilliance, there’s a moment that you realize you are a diamond. Then, a really cool thing happens:  you stop aging. No; I know that sounds kooky, but here’s what I mean (and I know it’s true, because friends have told me they’ve had the same experience). First, a disclaimer:  you don’t really (can’t ever) stop the aging process, but you feel so complete in the knowledge of Who You Are that, even as you grow older on the outside, your Inner Being stays the same age you were when this transformation happened. If you’re younger, you might hear an older person say, “In my mind, I’m still 35”. They’re not crazy in this; they’re not stuck in the past – that’s how it really feels. And that’s how you approach new adventures and challenges…even while your old sports injuries are giving you grief !

What allows this amazing thing to happen? It’s up to each individual’s personal progress when it happens, but the way it happens is by Just Living Life fully, in the best way you know how. Even when Life feels like an unbearable weight; a struggle of confusion and heartbreak, you are making progress toward the transformation. How can you speed this whole thing up? By being as authentic as you can be, with yourself and with others. This means loving yourself “warts and all”; allowing others to experience the real person you are; not the one playing some kind of role you think is expected of you, or a role someone else has adopted.

Do you remember the 2009 film “Avatar”? If you didn’t see it, it might be tricky to understand the next few sentences here. There’s a scene where the lead character (Jake Sully) realizes that when he’s in Human/Na’vi hybrid mode (his mind enters the body of his Avatar), he has a key power that the human ‘Jake’ doesn’t have (besides being around 14 feet tall and bright blue, with a magic tail). Sully, as an Avatar, tells a fellow Na’Vi, “I See You”. The Na’Vi have the ability to meld with one another in a way that the human-Sully realizes and envies. It’s a loving, supportive and nourishing connection that the very independent human Jake reacts to (when his mind leaves the Avatar) like he has an emotional case of “the bends”. The film’s a total metaphor for the human experience in a lot of ways.

You might be living multiple roles in your daily life, and in your quiet moments wonder who your authentic self really is, aside from the roles you play and the tasks you perform. It’s not something anyone else can figure out or do for you. If you’re not there yet, you might feel frustration and impatience. Take comfort in the fact that there are mentors ‘out there’:  people who’ve gone through it and can help. Your mentor might be one of your friends, or someone you work with. Maybe you haven’t met them yet. But when you feel them say, I See You, it’s a moment on your path that you’ll never forget. Isn’t being truly “seen” what we all want, what we all need, to fully become who we’re meant to be? I’m grateful to have had this reminder yesterday.

It’s natural  to search for meaning, some sort of anchor or True North in all of existence, following the untimely death of someone in your family or friendship circle. It can feel like you’ve fallen off of a cliff:  arms and legs cartwheeling, trying to grab hold of something, anything, to slow down the momentum of this new reality.

Trying to comfort someone who’s grieving is almost as difficult,  as I recently experienced with a friend. Words are just words. Cards and flowers are meant to express love and care, but can feel like absurd gestures when offered to a widow who was expecting another 30 years with her husband. Loss can feel like such a solitary thing, especially in Western culture. We tend to perceive the grief process as something that can never truly be felt, never fully experienced, by anyone but the closest person left behind. In my friend’s home, wooden blinds tightly covered her windows; she seldom went outside; and visitors, even friends, felt like intruders (as she later told me). As I thought about what I could, or should do as her friend – if anything – I recalled a travel experience that comforted me in its dramatic contrast.

I was in Egypt, walking with my companions through a square in Cairo, at around 10 o’clock at night. There were so many people out and about: a chaos of jostling bodies packed so closely that it almost felt intentional; a kind of slow, seductive dance that a thousand or so people were engaged in; enjoying the relative cool of the evening. One of my friends was Egyptian – totally used to this scene — who held tightly to my hand, pulling me along in the crowd as we pushed toward our destination (a coffee bar). The lights in the square were pale gold orbs on top of tall, futuristic-looking poles:  not bright enough to fully illuminate our walk, but some help in the growing dark. The lights washed the faces in the crowd in sepia tones. It was an odd, dreamy, slow-motion party filled with animated conversation in Arabic or Farsi (and probably other languages as well).

The coffee bar we were headed to was in a swank hotel on the Nile River. It felt like everyone in the square was headed there also. As we made our progress, I heard a loud, high-pitched scream: more of a wail, now that I think back on it. Knowing what can happen in large cities at night, I instantly assumed there’d been some kind of violence. I felt a little panicky. But my Egyptian friend didn’t react to the first, nor a second scream; he just kept pulling me along at the same pace. The crowd didn’t seem agitated either. I kept looking behind me, expecting some awful visual. Peoples’ bodies behind us were parting to allow what I thought might be law enforcement through.

All in black, some faces covered and some clearly visible, murky shapes of women were forging through the nighttime crowd, 2or 3 abreast. They were shrieking and crying, raising their arms above their heads. Their cries were painfully loud and visceral. The emotion vibrated in my body and made tears well in my eyes. It felt overwhelming. My friend gave a quick tug on my hand, indicating  that we should stop walking and step aside to let the women by. It seemed that at least 100 women passed us, all sobbing in the most heartfelt way. Next, a group of men came from behind the women, holding what looked like a stretcher on their shoulders. I was completely transfixed: there was a human body on the stretcher (wrapped in white cloth), and this crowd of men and women appeared to be part of a funeral procession. At 10 o’clock at night. In a crowded public square. In the middle of a sea of strangers.The grief of the mourners was not only on display, but a full-on public expression of emotional pain. The interest of the onlookers around us intensified; they began shouting out what seemed like commiseration and chanted prayers. Some tried to touch the body on the stretcher as it passed.

At the coffee bar my friends were nonchalant about what’d just happened. But I wanted and needed to talk about it; to be eased-into the idea that this was actually a very natural way for people to cope with death. As unsettling as it was, the group-catharsis I’d been a part of was also mesmerizing. I know that other cultures have similar rituals, but this one, in particular, was the most primal I’d ever witnessed: a mixture of deep sadness, surrender, release and relief. The relief came in being comforted by so many others who were physically, emotionally and spiritually ‘present’ for the mourners.

When my widowed friend finally emerged from her seclusion I spoke in a flood of words: what I’d been thinking and feeling about her, and her loss. She seemed appreciative, but reluctant to talk. When she did, for just a moment, the tears came, along with the look of “What am I going to do now??” Just as quickly, however, she changed the conversation. It made my stomach hurt, to be honest. There was still so much sadness.

Everyone processes loss differently. Sometimes just surviving the day, by carrying-on with routines, is the only option. But, might being able to let loose — to scream  and howl one’s pain to the skies – as in the crowded Cairo square, with so many people engaging with you in your despair – be a healthier way of coping, than suffering in quiet solitude? How many emotions do we feel we must endure in silence because they’re too fearsome and powerful to let loose? Why are we so reluctant to let others know the depth of our sadness, while it consumes us completely? There was community, that night in the square:   a joining of people’s hearts, in the midst of unfathomable sorrow. There’s a message in that, I believe – for all who feel alone in sadness and despair – and for those of us who stand as close as we dare, wondering what to do.

If I wasn’t on social media just a little bit, I’m sure I’d have no idea of what “FOMO” is. Having said that, the “Fear of Missing Out” is actually a topic of study that’s slowly been extending beyond the impact that social media has on our well-being. According to fairly current (2018) psychological research conducted among a large sample of first-year college students, conflicting feelings about ‘what I want to do’ vs. ‘what I have to do’, are clearly issues for younger people. In my profession, I’m taking all of this in with great interest.

The findings of the 2018 study (you can find it in “Psychology Today” archives) were what you might imagine:  college students felt ambivalence and boredom in their studies, and fantasized about the more exciting lives they heard, saw, and read about. This is where social media comes in, creating or adding-to a sense of dissatisfaction and ‘The Grass Sure Looks Greener Over There’ mentality. But the weird part of the study results was this:  the sample group overwhelmingly reported feeling symptoms of “FOMO” (anxiety, being a ‘biggie’)  even during activities that were extremely pleasurable. “This is great – but, should it be even better?”

Digging deeper into this mental and emotional phenomenon (which scientists consider very real, potentially damaging, and more common in Western culture), theories about ‘loss-aversion’ and ‘hyper-competitiveness’ as drivers behind the Fear of Missing Out make it a much more relevant area of study. Consequences of FOMO just might be more destructive than we thought. The good news, according to research that’s been gathering momentum since around 2015, is that FOMO dissipates as people grow older. As time goes by, life becomes much fuller, and mental space is prime real estate. The Fear of Missing Out evolves into The Fear of Mental Overload.

In my own progress from child to adult, I never experienced FOMO. This wasn’t because there wasn’t social media ‘back in the day’, but because of the atmosphere in my household. I tend to believe that the way we’re raising our children has much to do with how we approach balance in our lives:  the Have to Do’s, versus the Want to Do’s. As a little kid, if I so much as looked bored or uttered what sounded like discontent, I’d be sent outside to pull weeds. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time finding ways to entertain myself, if my neighborhood pals weren’t around.

When I graduated from high school at age 17, I found a part time job at the community college where I’d just enrolled. I moved out of my parents’ home (they threw a fit, but I was almost 18) and found a studio apartment close to the college. Between my job and my classes, ‘adult’ life had kicked-in one hundred percent. Moving into adulthood was like crossing a very wide, fast- moving creek (I’m a back-packer, so this ‘visual’ works for me). I looked for rocks to step on; careful of the mossy ones (always dangerously slick); planting my steps carefully; focusing on my feet and continuously moving (standing still makes balance harder). I actually “fell” quite a few times over the years: twisted ankles, skinned knees and soggy boots. But I believe that the ‘struggle’ was key:  I never really had time to Fear. I was either focused on the small steps I needed to take, and in the process of taking them, or, in an exhausted heap after a hard day. Self-reliance and independence are crucial pieces of the ‘becoming an adult’ puzzle, but they’re also the ballast – the weight – the “gravitas” that allows us to retain our identity and individuality as we grow older and even wiser.

When I finally felt ready to have a child I was 38 years old. (Which sounds almost young to me now, given recent statistics.) The experience of having ‘just one’ was plenty satisfying to me. I also knew in my bones that going into ‘production’ at 38 was not part of my Life Path. Turns out, the one child I had was challenge enough, especially in the 18-21 years.

My family was thrilled when I chose to get pregnant, and openly disappointed when I announced I was “one and done”. They understood how important my career still was to me (I wasn’t anywhere near the apex), but they lectured (guilted) me about the perils of having an ‘only child’. From my vantage point, multiple children in a household didn’t necessarily make for an ideal atmosphere. There was the ongoing lesson about ‘sharing’; and the one that got repeated during long road trips (trying to stakeout your exclusive personal space in the backseat of a station wagon, with two siblings and a dog) that usually meant  a lot of yelling from adults and children. Having one child felt do-able to me.

As my son grew older and his friendships expanded, my instincts felt confirmed. More than once he made comments about how ‘easy’ his life was, compared to his friends’ families (more kids in the household). Whatever the opportunity or resource (including love and attention) was, my son saw it as a ‘plus’- to not have any competition. I believed then, and still do, that for a woman who chooses to have only one child, there are advantages. There’s also a little more effort required to make sure your ‘only’ gets dosed with essential social skills. (We used summer camp, travel with cousins, and lots sleepovers). But the point of this story isn’t about raising  a well-adjusted only-child, if that’s the choice made. It’s about how you get to that choice. It’s about Cooperation, Compromise and Consensus, and how willing we are to engage in them.

When I was a young woman in a management role, the above 3 C’s (as I learned to call them) were drilled into my brain by my mentors. Through formal training and a lot of trial-and-error, I became a master (mistress?) team-builder and negotiator. In fact, this was my forté for the majority of my career. Over time, however, a quote from a friend and colleague who was a mental health professional (therapist) began to loop in my brain. Observing me in my office one day, in a state of complete exhaustion, she said, “Never work harder than your client.” The proverbial ‘light’ went on in my head: this was exactly what I’d been doing. In my earnest desire to get my team to see the personal /organizational value in cooperation, compromise and consensus, I’d dicounted the fact that human beings are not sled-dogs. Some enjoy pulling together; some will do it, grudgingly; and some want and need to craft their own roles, and define their own degree of commitment.

My son’s now approaching 30 and we often talk about how millennials are thoughtfully considering key life choices. “People aren’t having kids so much anymore – they’re getting dogs; it’s just easier “, he says. That actually makes a little bit of sense to me, but I need time to adjust to the idea of grand-dogs vs. grand-kids. More to the point is this question: are careers, relationships, marriage, babies, and mortgages coming to represent the antithesis of a value-add ? Is the thinking now, that Cooperation, Compromise and Consensus are activities that only unimaginative, Non-Woke people engage in?

From an older, wiser perspective, the answer is, Yes, and No. Careers, marriages, babies and mortgages often feel fulfilling and constricting, at the same time. Too much focus on what other people want can also jeopardize inner peace and happiness. There’s no single formula for a happy life, and, all choices involve some kind of trade-off, whether or not “the ask” is immediately apparent. The key, I think, is to pursue what’s heartfelt, and to keep growing (regardless of your age at the moment!), trying not to hurt anyone along the way.

When it feels good and correct to cooperate and compromise in a situation, I believe that this is a solid prompt to make adjustments to your own Non-Negotiables. When reaching agreement on a super-important topic, especially with a person you care for, consensus can make your inner light glow brighter, like an All is Well neon heart. The process is circular (read: ‘never-ending’) however, and has to be re-visited and repeated as people and circumstances change.