Where does authenticity come from?

October 11, 2009

Unfortunately, for many of us, true authenticity can only come from finding ourselves in desperate situations.  I am speaking from personal experience here.

I recently spoke to a room full of newly unemployed people, folks who had never really known that kind of desperation before.  At the end, the first question was,

“Do you have to reach that point of feeling like you have very little left to lose, before you can begin to acknowledge and appreciate your own uniqueness?”

My only answer was, “I did.”  Before that point, I still believed I had all the answers.  I still believed in the traditional American dream and felt like it was working for me to some extent.  In other words, I was still willing to ignore my deepest personal need to become my best self, because I had some sort of marriage and job and that felt safe.  Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken!

But when that all crumbles before your eyes, when everything you thought you knew about yourself and your future is no longer true, desperation CAN lead to inspiration.

The same can be said about marriage.  If you have a mediocre marriage that meets a few of your needs and you feel safe, you may stay in it, because the alternatives look grim.  But when that marriage ends, you are forced to become much more creative when thinking about your future.  You realize now anything could happen, and that can be refreshing and terrifying at the same time.

But if you are willing to take the necessary risks and take the time to invest in finding a better future for yourself, help is available.  If you are certain you don’t want to go back to the same old, same old or your life feels like it has turned into a 9-to-5 way of dying, you are now ready to change for the better.

You may be ready to find the courage inside to explore what you were put on this earth to do!

Remember: do-overs are indeed possible before it’s all over!

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This is what my bones kept saying…

October 4, 2009

“Change your mind and then change your life!”

But I would not listen for the longest time…

You wouldn’t believe the days and months I spent sitting alone contemplating my fate, after the life-changing surprise of losing my job and career at age 49.

This was my second big wake-up call for midlife change, second only to my divorce three years earlier.  But I refused to listen for the longest time.  I had a million excuses, excellent reasons why I should not listen to my bones, my brain, and my heart.

But I did get the message eventually.  Slowly I decided it might be worth listening inside and following my unconscious wisdom.

And the more I listened, the better my life became.

What a powerful lesson!  The wisdom is there if you care to partake.


Do we “deserve” everything that happens to us?

September 11, 2009

I received another rejection notice from MORE MAGAZINE yesterday.  I pitched them a story about how others have dealt with their midlife difficulties and learned and grown from them.

I go back and forth in my relationship with the mainstream media.  Mostly I’ve decided that it is just too dysfunctional to bother with.  They seem to insist on covering only celebrities, how to lose weight, how to perfect your makeup, and other types of earth shattering news.  They insist on maintaining a pathologically optimistic attitude, never admitting that life is really tough sometimes, and how do we deal with that?

It reminds me of a conversation I overheard yesterday between two elders who both agreed that we should just wait a few more years before we change health care, because we don’t quite have it right yet.

I could not contain myself.  I burst in with, “While we tinker with the system, thousands of Americans are  dying for the lack of health care.  I know you both have Medicare, but the rest of us are completely screwed if we lose our job!”

It seems most Americans have a colossal case of:

My life is fine, so screw you!

I also used to feel so self-satisfied and complacent.  I had my little job and my life and thought anyone  who ran into trouble,  simply wasn’t playing by the proper rules.  Then I lost my job and could not find another no matter what.

No more health insurance, no more money and eventually no more home!  If I had had my bike accident (Traumatic Brain Injury) while I was uninsured, I definitely would have lost my house!  And I wouldn’t have been able to work because of my brain injury.

HELLO!  Completely unpredictable things happen to each of us all the time!  It’s nobody’s fault when you get cancer or have a terrible accident, and these things do happen to everybody, regardless of whether we  “deserve” them.

Perhaps it has to do with the unforgiving nature of some brands of Christianity.  You know, the old belief that if bad things happen to you, you are probably being punished for your sins.  I ran into this often in the rehab hospital where I did my counseling internship.  Especially the elderly would sit and wonder out loud, “What did I do to deserve this?”

News flash!  We all get sick, get injured, and we will all have to die, no matter how good or bad we have been in our life.  It sure would be nice if we accepted these facts and then decided to offer proper health care to our fellow Americans.  I feel certain that the richest country in the world can afford universal health care, if we ALL decide WE are worth it.


What’s GOOD about a life crisis?

September 9, 2009

leap_of_faith blog size“Only those who risk going too far, can possibly find out how far one can go.”  -T.S. Eliot

We all know what’s bad about a crisis. We are usually taken by surprise by a major change we didn’t see coming, one that is really tough to adjust to.

I can’t say I didn’t see my divorce coming,  I just wouldn’t accept it. Then one day my husband and I decided together that it was simply what  needed to happen, for each of us to find happiness in the long run.

But when I lost my job, I was taken completely by surprise!  At that time, no one could have convinced me that this was a good thing!   It was one of the worst times in my entire life.  I struggled mightily with myself and my fate.

But today, I see how I needed for these misfortunes to occur, for me to wake up and begin to live my life with more integrity.

So what’s GOOD about a life crisis? It quickly knocks us out of our comfort zone, and then demands more from us. When more is demanded, more is given.

If I hadn’t lost my job, I never would have started my dating service for those 40+.   I never would have had the experience of starting my own business, struggled with those circumstances and I probably wouldn’t have met my lovely new husband. Then I wouldn’t have moved, gotten the money from my old house, and used that to start seeing a career counselor who slowly talked me into doing exactly what I had always wanted to do.

We never know what one small change in our lives might lead to.  Sometimes we just need to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Life crises can force our hand, pushing us into a whole new world of risk and benefit. We may feel forced to take risks we would never have considered before, and in this way, learn much more about ourselves and our full potential.


New Research on Women’s Friendships and Longevity

May 25, 2009

It has been my lifelong experience that while friendships with women have always been one of my highest priorities and essential to me on so many different levels, my female friends generally have not valued our time together as highly if their relationships with men or family intrude, as reported near the end of this article.

Here’s some food for thought on that subject:

UCLA STUDY ON FRIENDSHIP AMONG WOMEN
By Gale Berkowitz

A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are.   By the way,   they may do even more.

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women.

It’s a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research—most of it on men—upside down.   “Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible,” explains Laura Cousino Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University and one of the study’s authors. “It’s an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.”

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just “fight or flight.” “In fact,” says Dr. Klein, “it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in a woman, it buffers the “fight or flight” response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead.

When she actually engages in this tending or befriending,  studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men”, says Dr. Klein, “because testosterone, which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen”, she adds, “seems to enhance it.”

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic “aha!” moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. “There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in to clean the lab, have coffee, and bond”, says Dr. Klein.  “When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.”

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake:  The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the “tend and befriend” notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. “There’s no doubt,” says Dr. Klein, “that friends are helping us live.”

In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidantes was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight!

And that’s not all! When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of one of the largest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate.

Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That’s a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships.

“Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women,” explains Dr. Josselson. “We push them right to the back burner. That’s really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they’re with other women. It’s a very healing experience.”


A new take on the traditional singles scene

May 20, 2009

WindjammerThrill-seeking singles who find themselves bored by the typical movie, dinner dates have found a more exciting way to meet people — adventure dating.

A cottage industry is emerging to meet the needs of adventurous singles who want to meet others in mid-adventure, see them in their true light, and completely out of their comfort zone.

On Sundays in the summer, River Runners of Buena Vista, Colorado invites singles to come run the rapids together, play beach volleyball, cook out or soak in the nearby hot springs after a group river adventure.

Adventure dating brings singles outdoors and into contact with other adventurous types and provides excellent opportunities to see the “real” person on a first date.

For those a tiny bit less adventurous but with more time and money to spend, some cruise lines offer singles cruises.   Here’s an article that tells more about your options there.  And here’s a Singles Guide to Cruising.

My husband took a week-long Windjammer singles’ cruise a few years before we met and had a marvelous time!  Of course it helped that it was mostly single women and him!  He visited a nude beach and quickly learned that the residents there weren’t going to speak to him until he took his own clothes off.   Then they were plenty friendly!!!

Come to think of it, I got to know many of my friends and boyfriends in my early twenties, by first going on road trips or camping trips with them.  It’s a more natural way to get to know others slowly, while life is coming at you!


“How to love a 50-year-old man”

April 21, 2009

healthy-interdependence-for-blogis  an interesting Google search that got somebody to this website, but it left me wondering how loving a 50-year-old man is any different than loving anyone else.

So how DO we love another with enough closeness and distance and acceptance of our differences?  The first question is WHY we love any one else.  Is it only because they fulfill some of our needs?

Or because we find new and interesting parts of ourselves by hanging out with them?  Or simply because we feel good being around them.

When I first met Mike over four years ago now, we both immediately felt seen and appreciated in ways neither one of us had ever experienced before.  We also felt understood without much explaining necessary.  The best way I can describe it is that we created a unique energy field between us when we were together.

There was absolutely no question that we  completed each other in some very essential and yet indescribable ways, like we had been searching our whole lives and yet never really expected to find such a safe place to be in the same space with another human being.

How do we love each other?  By caring enough to notice everything about how each of us are feeling moment to moment.  By being sensitive to when we really need to be alone with ourselves, and when we need to be together to experience true connectedness.  By telling the other when we’ve had a bad day and crave extra attention and love.  By taking full responsibility for ourselves and our actions towards each other.

I now know more than ever that mature love is defined by being more concerned about the health and comfort of the one you love than yourself, but in a healthy way.  It’s called healthy interdependence instead of co-dependence.  I believe it is the highest level of human connectedness, feeling strong and loving enough within yourself to have something to offer others.

It’s probably best to think of learning to truly love yourself as your basic training ground for learning how to love others well.  How do you know when you are loved?  How do you feel about yourself right now?