Sunday, May 31, 2015

Public Confession Time

Old people scare me. Just wanted to get that out into the universe. I know I'm usually all "love and tolerance" on here, and that's partly why I've felt called to confess. Time to stand at the alter of the internet and admit my shortcomings and ask forgiveness...

Crying babies, difficult kids, unruly teenagers, non-English speaking students, driver's ed students- bring 'em on. I've worked with each of those populations with poise and near infinite patience. But stick me in a room with one old person trying to have a conversation with me, and watch me sweat. Look at my choice of words even, "trying to have a conversation with me." What kind of characterization is that?!? Clearly I have a problem. But I'm working on it. You know, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

The upcoming presidential campaign has really brought my prejudice out in full force. It doesn't matter how much I agree with a certain candidate's politics, if they are near 70, or worse over 70, all I can think is how can we let someone that old run the country?!? I know. I should hang my head in shame. It's almost as bad as judging someone for their gender or race. Almost. I mean, my fear is a little justified, right? Wait, no. Breathing deep. Starting over...

So the Netflix series Grace and Frankie has been good for me.  Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda play single women in their 70's who are both cooler and living life more fully than I was in college. I cannot tell you how mind-boggling that is to me. And if this show is to be believed, there is little difference between my longings and motivations and theirs! Like they are regular people, just in their  70's! And I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of a Netflix show. House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are pretty much like documentaries...

Back in my real-life world, I can see the writing on the wall too. I'm getting older. In fact, as I age, (now 41) my social circles are aging too. Which honestly keeps taking me by surprise. I now have friends in their 50s and 60s (see how progressive I am!) and they seem ok... so I've been trying to open my mind to the possibility that old people are regular people too. People who I do not need to fear... unless they control the nukes. I stand by that worry. Baby steps...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Life lessons learned from writer AJ Jacobs

Next week I'm going to the Global Family Reunion where I'll meet AJ Jacobs. So before he totally seems like a real person to me, I'd like to share what I've learned from the writer AJ Jacobs.

A.J. is a journalist and author of four New York Times bestsellers. All of them fantastic. If you read them you will laugh and learn lots about lots of interesting things. But those aren't things I want to tell you about now. Now I want to be a little more big picture. Share life lessons I've learned from AJ that we could all use.

1. Keep your message consistent, but know your audience

The first time I read an article AJ had written for Esquire, I was a little taken aback. To that point I had only read his books. Books that read like we were in conversation. So I clicked on an Esquire article expecting the same feeling that he was writing to me. Instead, it seemed like he was writing to a man! And a somewhat crass man at that. Even referenced masturbation in the article. So I sat there staring at the screen in confusion for a few seconds, and then it hit me. He was writing to a man. Because Esquire is a magazine for men. But I kept reading. And I shook off my prudish tendencies for a few minutes, and I let myself laugh and even learn a little.  Because at the heart of what he was saying, was still the same heart in all of his other work. His message was the same, he had just written it for a different audience.

Since then I've read and listened to countless pieces he's done on the Global Family Reunion for various and diverse press outlets. And guess what? His message is consistently the same. But the examples he gives, the tone he takes, the stars he name-drops, those change almost every time.

And while I am impressed with his mastery at writing for different audiences, I'm even more impressed that his message always stays the same. He does not change his core to please others. He changes his communication style to reach others. And it works. Did I mention the four best sellers?

Life lesson- Don't change who you are to fit in somewhere, but consider changing how you communicate who you are. Keep your message consistent, but know your audience. 

2. Pick everyone for your team

I've never been in an elementary gym class with AJ, but I imagine the scene this way- when asked to be the team captain, AJ picks every one who has their hand raised until the whole class is one big team.

AJ practices radical inclusiveness. When he is writing on a topic, he interviews someone from just about every side imaginable. He is consistent in representing what he believes, but he is respectful and fair in his treatment of what others believe. He finds common ground in normally contentious topics like religion, and he builds on it. And this approach gives a depth to his projects, and therefore his writing, that is rare. His work is full of fresh perspectives. Most of them not his. Reading about his projects, it seemed he would accept help or advice from seemingly anyone who would give it.

And now I know that to be true. Last summer I emailed him a suggestion for his new project, the Global Family Reunion. Instead of being skeptical of me as a potential stalker fan from Alabama, or vetting me in anyway, he said-great idea- would you like to help? Short time later I'm on the Who We Are tab on the Global Family Reunion website. I joined his team. As have countless other volunteers helping with this effort all around the world in large and small ways. And he cheers for all of us. Which only makes us want to help him more...

Life lesson- Instead of trying to build the best team, build one team. Pick everyone.

Practice Delusional Optimism

AJ thinks big. And then he commits. Throws himself into things. Totally. I've decided that is not a life lesson I want to learn- the throwing oneself into things part I mean. Because he does some crazy stuff for his writing. I'd rather just read about his adventures than throw myself into crazy diets or lifestyles. But I do admire his belief that he can accomplish whatever goal he sets out to accomplish. And I do love the loftiness in his ideas about the world.

In recent press, AJ described what keeps him going as "delusional optimism." And his current vision as an "admittedly quixotic dream." And although I don't remember him using those terms exactly to describe his past projects, the same spirit was present in them as well. That's what made them great. And successful. And that's why people raise their hands to join his team. It's like when people want to drink what the happy drunk is having. You can't listen to AJ and not want to share in his delusions...

Life Lesson: Dwell in possibility. Don't let perfectly reasonable fears stop you from attaining greatness. Practice delusional optimism.