Monday, December 27, 2010

Think Outside the Box: A Team Effort

I'm a huge fan of TED talks and I encourage everyone to check them out ( As I was browsing through some of these talks, I found one that really opened my eyes to a topic that I never felt like I could relate to... until very recently. The fact of the matter is, women have to deal with a lot more shit than most men are willing to acknowledge and as a sociology professor of mine so eloquently said, "We live in a man's world".

Why Bring This Up?

Throughout my time in college, I've absorbed a lot of information on the issue of justice and equality for women and it's been quite an interesting journey. Now I've always been a huge proponent of diversity, not only in the workforce, but in all aspects of the world. Let me just say that people often confuse "diversity" with the ratio of black people to white people, which is quite an ignorant misconception because the definition of diversity is "showing a great deal of variety" which includes every race, ethnicity, gender, religion... etc. That being said, diversity is necessary for us to progress in every facet of this world because we each have something different and unique to bring to the table. The more we connect with everyone, learning and teaching one another, the more we can accomplish as a world... the better chance we have of curing diseases, creating new technologies, ending violence and murder... etc. When we work together the possibilities really are endless! Our rides are interconnected and every time we make it a better ride for others, our own ride gets better as a direct result.

My Eye Openers

1) For quite some time I've been involved with an office which promotes the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities in my field. It's been an amazing time that has opened my eyes to so many things and some wonderful people. However, I have always had one internal struggle for as long as I've worked there. This is the fact that I (as well as all the other males who work in the office) really don't have a hand in the "women" aspect of the job. With the exception of a few individuals, this is accepted and sometimes even encouraged. The men are not exactly dying to get involved and the women are happy doing what they do. Now I do understand that in order to promote such a thing, everyone wants to find someone that they can relate to: minorities want to talk to minorities and women want to hear from women. I'm not saying that the men should be in charge of all the programs directed towards women, I'm not saying that even I should be in charge of anything... what I'm trying to say is that it's a team effort... just like everything else in this world. Why can't we work with each other side by side? I want to hear about your struggles so that I can help prevent them from happening to you and to others. I certainly know that I'm not perfect and if I'm doing something to perpetuate a problem, I want to fix that! I want to be a part of the change and I think most men do too. If men are part of a problem or issue... why not help us to stop being a problem and start being a solution? This was the beginning of my yearning to learn more and be a bigger part of this issue.

2) One semester I took two classes that happened to discuss some things relating to all of this. One of the classes had a professor who's only goal is really "to challenge you and to get you to think"... and he most definitely does. In one unsuspecting class, he brought up a topic which quite honestly outraged a huge amount of the over 700 people in attendance but he brought up some great points and I can only hope that everyone else learned what I did. He started talking about his wife and her period... now what did you think when you just read that?... Did say to yourself anything along the lines of gross.... disgusting... inappropriate... then he would LOVE to talk to you face to face... these were the people he was talking to in the class. He started to ask the class why they reacted that way? Why can't we talk about it like any other bodily function? Why is it any different than sweating?... because that's a natural bodily function too. After much debate between the students and the professor, he stated his opinion. He said "maybe it's because we live in a man's world and after so many years, men have made women feel some sort of way about it... like they have to hide it." This really made me think about how women and men are connected in this world, about how everything we say and do with those around us really influences others. It made me think about my childhood and the things boys say to girls... and the things boys say about girls. It made me think about why an ambitious man is just called ambitious but an ambitious woman is often called a bitch. It really made me think about how important and precious women are to our society, and how important it is for men to recognize that, because too often they don't. Maybe I thought way too hard about it, but I certainly think we do "live in a man's world" and I think that men need to work with women to change that, because this is everybody's world.

3) My most recent eye opener is the TED talk that I mentioned earlier. Tony Porter (the speaker) talks about his life growing up in the projects and what he calls "The Man Box". The man box is a box that contains all the standards that society has for men. He says that men are so worried about staying in this man box, that women suffer because of it. Now this video REALLY made me think about my childhood because as he talks about being a kid, I can remember very similar experiences as a child. My childhood was interesting in this manner because I always felt like me and the boys I knew really respected women. We took pride in protecting women and if we heard about another guy disrespecting a girl, we would get in his face about it and even threaten him. We took so much pride in that. We thought we were the good guys... and that this was how we were supposed to act. But on the flip-side, we acted exactly the way Tony describes in the video. We talked about girls as if they were objects, we thought other guys were cooler if they were with the "hot" girl, or if they hooked up with girls (sexually in one way or another) and not only that, if you didn't hook up with girls, then you were stupid, you were a loser, or you were "gay". We said some pretty terrible things and I know without a doubt that my friends and I were all just scared to be anything different than society's standard "man". What's even crazier about this is that I certainly didn't step outside this mindset until I came to college... not until I was around 18 years old! I lived the majority of my life stuck inside this man-box and I'm someone who was raised by a single mother so my father was almost never around. How could I be so influenced without even having a male father figure? I think that's one way to illustrate how strongly influenced our society of males is influenced by these standards. It's this type of mindset that allows us to live in a man's world... that allows things like rape, violence, and social injustice to exist... why it took so long to grant women so many rights... and why it's up to men and women equally to be a part of the solution.

So this is my call to men to think outside the box, be yourself, and don't be afraid of that. Don't feel like you have to be the typical "man" that society defines because you're oppressing yourself internally, and in turn, you end up perpetuating problems without even recognizing it. This is also my call to women to recognize that this is a team effort and that we all have to be a part of the solution equally. If men are a part of the problem, teach us how not to be. Show us how to help you and how to stop these issues in their path. Let's work together and make it a better ride for everyone!

Here's the video that motivated me to write the blog post:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What is Happiness Worth?

Happiness is something that I find myself talking about over and over again on a daily basis. I find myself pushing it into almost every conversation that I have with just about every single person that I talk to and I feel this fierce urgency to throw that word into peoples faces and bang my hand on whatever table I'm sitting at because happiness simply isn't valued anymore... it's barely even an afterthought. Now I'm not saying that you're not allowed to be unhappy because I understand that everybody has their low points. We all have a struggle at some point in our lives because this ride can't have its peaks without having a few valleys. And believe me, I know that the valleys in this ride can be some of the most unbearably painful moments of our lives. However, I'm not talking about the unavoidable unhappiness that comes with the obstacles that life sometimes throws at us. What I'm talking about is the sheer fact that too many people are making choices everyday that lead to a perpetual life of dissatisfaction and completely avoidable unhappiness. It's like we've all decided to take this ride we call life, and we've collectively decided not to enjoy it. Instead, we get distracted by other rides and amusements, or we focus on the lows of the rides instead of the highs, or we just want the ride to be straight and unchanging because that's the easiest way for us to deal with it. Nobody wants to close their eyes, throw their hands in the air, and scream with excitement anymore. This is my effort to change that because this is a damn good ride!

My Background on th
is Issue

This topic is near and dear to my heart because very recently, I had an eye opening experience that changed my life forever. While I was studying at Penn State, I started to miss classes, I started to avoid my friends, I started to avoid conversations with anyone, and I started to stay in my bed for hours and hours because I felt hopeless. I felt so unhappy with myself and everything in my life that I decided I was giving up. I hated my classes, I had no relationship with my father, I had bitterness towards my mother, I felt as though the relationship with my girlfriend was unhealthy, and I couldn't think of a single good memory from my childhood. I would lay in bed and it would feel as though I was stuck in cement, like it was actually physically impossible for me to move. After avoiding pretty much all human contact for several weeks, I forced myself into work one day and an amazingly strong and insightful woman that I work with recognized immediately that I was not myself. She directed me to a crisis counselor to meet with and I was then diagnosed with depression and instructed to meet with a counselor at least once a week. After several sessions I realized that everything that I was unhappy with had simple fixes. They weren't easy... but they were simple. I just had to start making decisions with my own happiness in mind. I stopped worrying about what other people thought about me, I stopped caring about whether or not I was considered "successful" by today's standards and I just cared about the choices that I made to ensure my own happiness. I finally realized at the age of 21 that my own happiness was entirely dependent on the choices that I made... and my life has never been the same.

The Problems

1) Happiness has lost its value.

I've come to realize that everyone on this earth has values, and we prioritize these values every single day. Sometimes we do it consciously and sometimes we do it subconsciously but it is always done and it's unbelievably evident in all the choices that we make. What I've learned to be true of the vast majority of people in the United States is the fact that happiness is listed as a low priority in all of our lives. It's moved down the list of values and now sits behind a college degree, money, a big house, a fast car, health insurance, and even societies' expectations. We put all of these things before our own happiness and it's actually outrageously scary to me. I first noticed this in high school but didn't realize how serious the situation was until I got my first internship through college. I would ask everyone that I worked with "Do you like what you do?"... and not once during that entire summer did I ever get an enthusiastic or positive response. Not only that, but everyone always complained about their lives. They complained about their marriage, or their salary, or about how they hated their jobs... I mean literally everything. It even became a networking tool for me to use. Since it was so difficult for me to find a positive topic to relate to with others, I would simply find something to complain about. Once I started complaining, I would hit it off with everyone because their lives revolved around unhappiness. I continued to ask this question at career fairs and at my two internships that followed in the coming years until I finally met a few individuals who gave me the right answer: "No I don't like it... I love it." What I realized at that moment was... I didn't even have to ask... I knew what the answer was just by the way they talked about their everyday lives, how they held themselves, and how they always had a smile on their faces. These are the people I now search for in this world, most especially in my closest friends, and when looking for a job offer... and if this says anything about those people... I've never had an interview where I didn't have an offer extended to me. The fact of the matter is that these types people are few and far between because we just don't have happiness high on the priority list anymore and this needs to change.

Here's an interesting experiment that might help to illustrate how we value things:
What are your big rocks?

2) We confuse happiness with other things.

As I've started to talk to more and more people in this world about what makes them truly happy, I realized that the vast majority of us are simply confused. We often confuse comfort with happiness, and our society only fuels this confusion. At the start of our lives, we have these dreams of what we want to do, who we want to be like, how we want to live... etc. As our lives go on, we realize that sometimes things just aren't as they seem. More often than not, we are convinced somewhere along the way that our dreams are simply not practical and/or not possible. This is where it starts. Then we begin to settle for less. We settle for a job we don't like, a relationship that we're not happy with, friends who don't actually care about us... and the worst part is that we actually convince ourselves that we're happy with this! We tell ourselves "Well, that's life... that's just the way things are..." and we let ourselves settle with comfort instead of being truly happy. We think that simply having a job and having a relationship is good enough, even when these things are actually tearing us up inside day-by-day. Then we have these little tricks to keep us going on. We say things to ourselves like "it could be worse" or "so many people in this world have it worse than I do." Many times this is true, but once again we are confusing ourselves. There is a difference between gratitude, appreciation and happiness. We should all appreciate what we have and be thankful that we do have it better than most, and more often than not, things could be worse. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try and be genuinely happy in your life. That doesn't mean you should give up on enjoying this ride. What I've come to learn is that this ride is too short for us to live unhappily. If any of you have been to a funeral, you know what I mean. Let's enjoy it while it lasts, because it just doesn't last long.

3) We get lazy and we stop trying... we give up.

Once we're comfortable (and still not happy)... we just don't want things to change... because of the simple fact that we're comfortable. So this is where we stop trying because why bother? Why bother trying for a dream that may not come true? Why would I look for another job if I already have one? Why would I end my relationship if it would crush the other person? Why bother trying to be happy when so many other people have it worse than I do? I'll tell you why... because you're not happy! You deserve to be happy... everyone does! You have the ability to change this whenever you want by the choices and decisions that you make every single day. It's never too late to be happy. I've found that so many people have been unhappy for so long, that they don't even remember what happiness feels like. They have forgotten that feeling that most of us have when we're young. That feeling that we have the ability to do whatever we want in this world... that anything is possible. I have news for you... you still have the ability to be whoever you want to be!... to do whatever you want to do! I'm not saying that it's going to be handed over to you on a silver platter. We have to work for it... but it's not impossible! Sometimes we have to do some of the hardest things in the world to take that first step towards our own happiness... but as The Fray so eloquently put it... "Sometimes the hard thing and the right thing are the same." You're worth it! Don't give up on your own happiness!

Here's a great quote from one of my favorite shows that I feel is very relevant:

Some Steps We Can Take

1) Figure out if you're truly happy.

Take a step outside of yourself for just a minute and think... think about what you do everyday... think about how often you get really excited to get your hands on a project, task or activity. I mean when was the last time that you woke up and rushed to take a shower, get dressed and run out the door to do something... but you didn't rush because you were late... you rushed because you couldn't wait for the day to start! You couldn't wait to do what you had planned for that day. Think about how often you laugh... how often you smile... When was the last time you felt genuinely happy? When was the last time you felt like nothing could hold you back? When was the last time you felt like the world was at your fingertips and you could do anything? If it wasn't recently... then when was it? Can you even remember?... Maybe something isn't right but that's okay because at least you can recognize it, and that's step number one.

2) Fill your life with those that have found true happiness.

The main reason that I think this is so important is because too many of us don't even realize the power of true happiness until we get a taste of it. We are convinced that our comfort is our happiness until we are touched by those around us that are truly happy. These are the people that are enjoying the ride and showing us that anything is possible. What's so amazing is that their happiness is so infectious that you start to enjoy the ride just by being around them! I recently met a group of women who have quite honestly changed my life because I had never met anyone so in tune with themselves and their own happiness. On the coldest, rainy days filled with hard classes and intense exams, these girls could always find a way to put a smile on their faces. They could always find something to laugh about and they'd make you laugh all the same. I was even reminded of this every time that I went to the bathroom in their apartment because on the bathroom mirror, there was always a post-it note that said "Smile... you are SO loved!" The energy in their apartment was almost tangible with the joy that they provided. I am incredibly thankful and happy to have them in my life and I hope that you all fill your lives with people like this. It truly is a life changing experience.

3) Start Making the Choices.

Once you recognize the potential of happiness, then it's time to start making the choices that you need to make in order to be happy. For many of us, this is the hardest part. I have a close friend who recently graduated and I was so proud of her because, while everyone else that I knew was looking for any job that they can find and taking any salary that they were offered, she played it cool. She knew that in order to be happy, she simply needed some time off. This is not the norm in our field but five years of schooling had really drained her and she knew that jumping right into the workforce would not make her happy at all. Since she was confident in her capabilities, she knew that with her background and experience, she could really get a job whenever she wants to. So she graduated, headed home to California, and has been relaxing in the sun for several months now. From what I can tell, this is exactly what she needed and now she is ready to find her perfect job... and I know without a doubt she'll get it. These are the types of choices we all need to make. We need to stop settling for what society expects of us and do what makes us happy. Once we start making these choices, the ride becomes so much more enjoyable. What's so amazing and powerful about this is that more often than not, everything else will fall into place once you find true happiness. If you ask some of the richest people in the world why they're so successful, most of them answer with "because I simply love what I do". Donald Trump, Steve Jobbs, Bill Gates, and so many others. They are amazing at what they do because they do what they love... they do what makes them happy... and the money falls right into place.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this and if you take anything away from this at all, I hope it's the simple fact that you deserve to be happy... because you're worth it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Inspiration

A few years ago I was watching a documentary that ended with a pretty profound quote that has always stuck with me. I found myself repeating it time and time again not only to myself, but to those around me as well. I started to realize that it's so easy for all of us to get caught up in the everyday things that consume our lives these days such as school, work, money, bills... etc. We often forget that these things are temporary and that very few things in life are permanent. We all have more important things in our lives that last forever. Really, in the end, all we have is our family, our friends, and those around us. Most of us forget how important we are to one another and I'm not claiming to be any sort of exception but just remember that those relationships are what will hold forever. Like any other ride, life has its ups and downs, but there will be a handful of individuals in this world who will be by your side through it all. So smile at those around you, love one another, and enjoy the ride together.

Here is the quote that inspired me. You can stop viewing at 2 minutes... the rest is just applause.