Inspiration Is Everywhere (If You’re Looking For It)

This week I’ve been in NYC on equal parts work and pleasure. I lived in NYC in my twenties, and so when I come back I try to jam-pack my visit with as many meetings and meals as I can squeeze in. What I love most about the city is its energy and the sense of endless opportunities, and this week I definitely got my fix.

But this week, I got something more. I got unexpected bursts of inspiration, whimsy, and hope in unusual places. See, I’ve been working hard at noticing more. Noticing what’s going on around me, noticing how I’m feeling about it, noticing the beauty in just about everything. It’s part of what I’m learning to do through the life coach training program I’m doing with Martha Beck. I’ve discovered that when I tune in more to each moment and what’s happening around me, life just feels better.

So when I was in NYC this week, I decided to notice. And as it turned out, the city had some messages for me. Literally.

The first message was on the stairs leading up from the subway station on 28th and Broadway. I had just dropped my 6-year-old son off at science camp and was feeling anxious about whether or not he’d do okay. They were going on a field trip after all, and he’s not a NYC city kid. I was thinking about what his day might be like as I walked up the stairs and saw these words written in black paint along the back of one step:

Everything is going to be alright

I had to laugh. Thanks universe, I thought to myself. And somehow, I knew that message was for me.

The next message came the following afternoon. I had a free hour to exercise, so feeling nostalgic, I grabbed my iPod, laced up, and ran to Central Park to do my
old running loop. Amidst a ton of other runners, bikers, roller bladers, tourists in horse-drawn buggies, I ran and thought about the meetings I’d had, the work I wanted to do, the dreams I wanted to accomplish. My mind was racing as I tried to sort through my jumble of thoughts about what I should be doing next, where to focus my energies, how to make the most of the opportunities I was being presented with. That’s when I started noticing messages along the running trail. Written in all caps in chalk every couple of hundred meters or so were the following words:

Become Your Dream

Well, that message couldn’t really have been any clearer. I laughed again as I wondered about who had scribbled all these messages, curious about their motivation and thinking about how many people had read and were internalizing this beautiful message. I finished my run feeling sweaty, exhausted, and exhilerated.

The last message (at least handwritten one) of my trip came two mornings later. I was meeting with an old friend at Union Square to share a bagel and sit in the park to catch up. We had a long talk about the things I’ve been trying to practice in my everyday life – living in the moment, being present, and noticing. And as we walked to the subway station to hug goodbye, we walked over the following message scrawled on the sidewalk:

Be mindful even if your mind is full

It was just what I needed to hear, just the send off I needed as I went back to my friend’s place to pack up my things so I could move on to the next leg of my journey. Because that message confirmed to me what all this noticing has pointed out – when you are living your life in the moment (not fixated on what went wrong last week or what might happen in the future), life can be truly magical. And who doesn’t need a little magic in their life?

How about you? Have you ever gotten a message in an unusual way? How did  you know it was for you and how did you react?

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Strategies for Dealing with Disappointment

Disappointment is tough. I know because I experience it frequently as a writer and speaker always putting myself out there. It’s part of the job for me, and even though I’m pretty good at letting it go and moving on, I still need to consciously get myself through when the disappointing news first comes up.

How about you? Maybe your crush didn’t like you back. Maybe you didn’t get the grade you wanted on your midterm. Or maybe, through no fault of your own, your summer vacation just didn’t go as you planned.

Whatever your circumstance, disappointment is something we all feel from time to time.

* Sometimes we’re disappointed in ourselves: we didn’t get the right grade…we didn’t get into the right college…we didn’t score the winning goal.

* Other times we’re disappointed in others: our best friend shares a trusted secret with someone else…our mom reads our journal…our father doesn’t get off work in time for our graduation ceremony.

* And then there are the times we’re disappointed in the world: things just don’t work out the way we think they should.

And while it’s normal to feel disappointed from time to time, lingering in that feeling can be seriously disempowering, making us feel blue, blah, betrayed and bothered. And when we’re focusing on these negative feelings, it’s all-too-easy to let the emotions behind them seep into other areas of our life.

The good news is, there are some simple tools for handling disappoinment that can nip those feelings in the bud. Here are a few tricks that every smart girl needs to know:

  • Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself: Disappointment is often the result of having unrealistic expecations. And while I would never discourage anyone from dreaming big, remember that goals are something to strive for, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t reach every goal exactly as you planned. Instead, try setting goals to do your best and be true to yourself in your quest for success.
  • Don’t place expectations on others: If you take away one thing from this affirmation, let it be this – the only person whose behavior and actions you can control is yourself. While it’s okay to find someone else’s actions disappointing, don’t give that feeling too much power. Often times, what other people do or don’t do has nothing to do with us…it’s about them.
  • Give yourself a break: Hey…even when our goals are realistic and we’ve done all the hard work to ensure the outcome we want, sometimes life throws a curve ball and things don’t work out as planned. When this happens, why not be nice to yourself and tell yourself the same kind of supportive things you’d tell a friend in a same predicament?
  • Avoid using the word “should”: Have you ever said something like, “this should have happened” or “she should have called me” or “I should have done better”? Then I ask you this…what good does “should” do? Since we can’t change the past, then throwing the word “should” around is really a waste of energy. Why not focus on what might happen differently the next time?
  • Don’t “awfulize”: If you say things like “it’s awful” or “I can’t stand it” or “it’s the end of the world for me!” then what you’re really doing is magnifying your disappointment. Words are powerful things, and what we tell ourselves has a bigger impact on our feelings and emotions than anything else. The truth is, you can stand it. And while you may not like it, the disappointment you’re experiencing is not the end of the world. Try putting things in perspective and see how your emotions change for the better.

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How do you handle disappointment? If you’ve got some tips to share with other smart girls, leave a comment!

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How to Get Real About Your Dream Career

What’s your dream job? A doctor? An actor? A business executive?

Whatever it is, if you’re like most teens, you’re pretty sure that you’ll eventually land a job doing it. In fact, a recent poll by Junior Achievement found that nearly 75% of students answered “definitely” or “pretty sure” when asked if they would ever have their ideal job.

When I was a teen I changed my mind about my dream career at least once a month, and while my parents and sis used to bust on me for being so “wishy washy,” looking back I think it’s kind of cool that I felt the world was wide open. And despite the fact that I was an “average” student and was by no means a super over-achiever, I too felt pretty sure that whatever I ultimately decided to do would eventually happen for me.

To make sure you’re moving in the right direction, here are six things you’ll want to have in your back pocket:

* A Dream: Until you’ve set your sights on something, it’s hard to work towards it. Don’t worry…that doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what you want to do this moment. Dreams can be approached in a big-picture way (like, I want to help people or I want to do something creative, and so on).

* A Plan: Once you have a dream, creating a plan or setting simple goals can be a great first step towards moving forward. Again, plans and goals can be simple and broad (like, I’d like to volunteer with an environmental organization or I want to join the math club). Try writing down your goals or plan in your journal – once your plan is in writing, it somehow becomes more important!

* An Education: No matter the career dream, a good education is key. For some careers, a strong background in math or science is a must-have, while others will require writing and research skills. Even if you don’t see the relevance in what you’re studying in school today (how I felt much of the time in high school!), I guarantee that, with the right attitude, you can take away something that will help to propel you forward. Plus, who knows what educational requirements you’ll need down the road? By working hard now, you’ll make sure that all doors stay open to you!

* Motivation: As teens, there always seems to be somebody pushing us forward, whether it’s our parents pressuring us to make grades or an involved teacher who wants to make sure we reach our full potential. But as we move on to college and beyond, it’s more and more important that the person pushing us forward is ourselves. Being self-motivated to reach our goals and always do our best can have more of an impact on our fate than all the cheerleaders in our lives put together.

* Determination: Sticking to it and never giving up is something that most successful career people have in common. The really cool thing about determination is that once your personal determination gets you through a tough situation or results in a victory, it becomes more and more a part of how you approach challenges and life. The next time you feel the odds are stacked against you, why not discover how a determined attitude affects the outcome?

* A Positive Attitude: We’ve all heard about the “power of positive thinking” a kabillion times, but have you ever experienced it for yourself? The amazing thing about having a positive attitude is that, even if the outcome of a situation isn’t exactly what you had hoped for, maintaining a positive attitude can make sure it still results in something good. If we can take this same energy and apply it to getting the most out of our experiences, our chances of reaching our career dreams get that much better.

For more ideas and inspiration, check out my book In Their Shoes: Extraordinary Women Describe Their Amazing Careers where I profile 50 women to find out what it takes to be successful!

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Call for Teen Girl Delegates for the UN’s International Year of Youth Culmination Celebration!

How would you feel about being a delegate for the United Nation’s International Year of Youth Culmination Celebration in New York City this August? Teen and teen online destination AllyKatzz is offering you the chance.

This August 11th, 192 female delegates ages 11-24 will join together at the UN for the special celebration will which include lots of press, powerful women, celebs, ALLY Award winners, UN youth champion Monique Coleman, and tons of girl power. According to AllyKatzz, it will be “the day when girls from around the world speak up and change the world.”

To throw your hat in the ring to be a delegate, you need to apply by writing an essay sharing your vision on how you hope to accomplish one of the following “Millenium Goals” – end poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and global partnership.

To find out more and apply to be a delegate, visit AllyKatzz here. Applications are due by June 30, 2011. Good luck!!

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What Role is Fear Playing in YOUR Life?

Lately I’ve been paying serious attention to my own personal fear factor – the role that fear plays in my life when it comes to trying to go for and reach my dreams. So I’ve decided to call out my fear (Hey fear…I’m totally onto you) and give it a swift kick in the butt. I’ve also decided to repost this “Smart Girls Know Affirmation” I wrote several years about how to recognize, and conquer, your own fear:

Have you ever been stopped dead in your tracks by fear? I’m not talking about horror flick, haunted house, psycho-on-the-loose fear. I’m talking about the kind of fear that we create all by ourselves and creeps into our psyche without us even knowing it.

There are little fears – the kind that give you butterflies right before jumping off the high dive. Then there are big fears – those that keep us from applying to our dream school because don’t think we could handle the rejection if we don’t get in.

Fear is a powerful thing. Depending on how we respond to it, fear can either drive our life or be just a fleeting distraction.

How big of a role does fear play in your life? How would you answer these questions?

  • Do you ever say “yes” to something you don’t want to do because you don’t want to disappoint another person?
  • Have you ever turned down a potentially awesome opportunity because you didn’t know if it would work out as you hoped?
  • Did you ever not go for something you wanted because you didn’t think your chances of getting it were very good?

If you said “yes” to any of these, then you’ve let fear guide you. And when you do that, it’s kind of like saying “no” to life.

Take the “Conquer Your Fear Challenge”:

Okay. So here’s my challenge to you for the week. For the next seven days, don’t let fear make your choices for you. Here’s what to do:

* The next time you’re in a situation where you have a choice of whether or not to do something – it could be volunteering to read your personal essay out loud at school, taking on an extra shift at work, applying to a college out of state, blowing your allowance on designer jeans – ask yourself this question: “Why do I want to do this?” or “Why don’t I want to do this?”

* If you answer this question with something negative – “I’m getting these designer jeans I can’t afford because if I don’t, people will think I’m not cool,” or “I don’t want to volunteer to read my paper out loud because people will judge me,” or “I don’t want to leave my hometown by going out-of-state to college because it would be too hard” – then you’re letting fear guide you.

If you’re making a choice out of fear, try saying “no” to the fear and “yes” to life! “Who cares if people don’t like my personal style. I don’t want to waste my money on jeans just to look cool” or “I need to put myself out there and see what happens…if I don’t take chances, I’ll never find out what I might be missing out on.”

Take action! Apply to that college…read that essay out loud…say “no” to the fancy jeans. I guarantee that you’ll be happy with the results. There’s nothing more empowering than conquering a fear. And the best part is, it gets easier and easier the more you do it.

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

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Turn Beauty Inside Out Today!

Today is Turn Beauty Inside Out Day, an annual event hosted by Mind on the Media to celebrate healthy media images that promote critical analysis of sexism in media. It was created in 2000 by a group of girls ages 8-16, the Girls Editorial Board of the fabulous New Moon Magazine.

In honor of TBIO, people everywhere are invited to celebrate Inner Beauty–the beauty of conviction, caring and action. Says, Mind on the Media, “Girls and boys (not to speak of women and men) need a definition of beauty that focuses on who we are and what we do, not on how we look.”

Why is it so important to take the time shift our focus on the external to the beauty within? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Eighty percent of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet
  • The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner
  • Females cite the media as the most important source of pressure to be thin
  • Studies show that reading “teen magazines” and having exposure to thin models creates lower self esteem, body dissatisfaction, decreased confidence and potential eating disorder symptoms
  • By age 13, approximately 53% of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies”

So how exactly does one go about celebrating our inner beauty? Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Make a list of at least 10 of your personal values. (Values are those things that determine how you conduct yourself in the world, how you act towards those around you, and how you treat yourself). These might include things like honesty, trust, optimism, reliability, humor, cooperation, knowledge, adventure…and so on.) Know that when you live by these values you will be your best, most authentic self.
  • Describe a cause, social justice issue, or volunteer organization you care about and why.
  • Keep a journal for a day of all the things your physical body enables you to do (walk to school, play a sport, house your brain, protect you, and so on) and thank it for all it does!
  • Make a list of the different, wonderful qualities you bring to your friendships. If you want to take it a step further, spread the the love and write a note to a friend thanking her for being there for you.
  • Take a media vacation for the day (or the week!) to tune out negative media images. To fill the void? Indulge in your hobby, spend time with friends that make you feel good, or work towards a personal goal you’ve been putting on hold.
  • Remember that you have worth and value simply by being you!

What ideas do you have to add to this list?

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What’s YOUR Sleep Debt?

I heard a report on the radio yesterday that said teens are seriously short on sleep. Yes, I realize this isn’t any great newsflash…this was the case when I was a teen, too (lo those many years ago!). But the sleep deficit named in the article – meaning, the amount of hours of sleep the average teen is missing out on per week – actually stunned me. The number? 5-10 hours each week. Which when you multiply it by 52 weeks = a whopping 11-22 DAYS worth of sleep!

Running short on sleep isn’t good for anyone, but for teens, the consequences are even more critical. For example:

  • Even though you’re gathering info at school during the day, you need to sleep for that info to really become part of your knowledge-base
  • Lack of sleep affects your memory
  • Being tired makes it harder for you to listen and concentrate
  • Lack of sleep can cause you to be impatient, inappropriate, or aggressive around your friends and family
  • Lack of sleep weakens your immune system, so you’ll be more prone to getting stick

I’m a big advocate of self-care, and I consider sleep to be a major component of this. In fact, I nap at will and I’m not afraid to say it! I believe in listening to our bodies and I know that if my body is saying it’s behind on sleep there is no way and no how that I’m going to be anything even resembling productive as I tackle my work. I know all too well that when I’m running on fumes, not only will my work suffer, but my ability to parent my son, squeeze in my exercise, and basically show up for life seriously plummets.

And I know that the same is true for teens, especially when you’re experiencing any kind of stress or anxiety about school, friends, family, relationships, or anything else. Skipping out on sleep and being sleep deprived just makes all of this stress worse. Then the stress leads to insomnia. And so the whole vicious cycle continues.

So how can you start taking care of yourself by getting the 9-plus hours of nightly sleep recommended by pediatricians? The NPR story offered a few suggestions for getting yourself to bed more easily, including:

  • Dimming the lights in the house and your room as your bedtime approaches, since light is a “drug that promotes wakefulness”
  • Create a transition ritual between wake time and bedtime, such as taking a warm shower, to help slow your body down
  • Have a set lights out time and stick to it
  • Read or listen to a book no more than 30 minutes if you’re having trouble sleeping once lights out time has passed

And my biggest piece of advice? Know that you’re worth the extra sleep. Know that by going to bed early to give your body a chance to rest and recharge, even when that little voice in your head is reminding you that you’ve got too much to do to possibly consider catching some zzzz’s, you are actually being the best kind of self-interested. And that kind of self-care will pay off in all areas of your life!

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When Young Girls Dress Sexy, Their Self-Esteem Pays the Price

An online journal called Sex Roles has just published a study about the “sexiness factor” in clothes made for pre-teen girls. To conduct their study, the researchers looked at the clothing available online at 15 popular stores in the US, and assessed the clothes on how “sexy” each item was. They defined sexy clothing as: “clothing that revealed or emphasized a sexualized body part, had characteristics associated with sexiness, and/or had sexually suggestive writing.” They also looked at whether or not these clothing items also had “childlike characteristics,” like a child-like fabric (such as polka dots) or a modest cut.

The findings of the study are no huge surprise if you’ve been in a tween clothing store in the past five years. More than 25% of the clothes they looked at had both childlike and sexualizing characteristics. What exactly does that mean? It means that clothes clearly made for young girls are weaving in sexual characteristics, most often emphasizing the look of breasts, or drawing attention to the buttocks. The worst offender? Abercrombie Kids, which had the highest proportion of sexualizing clothing.

The authors of the study had this to say about the results: “Confused parents might be persuaded to buy the leopard-print miniskirt if it’s bright pink. Clearly, sexiness is still visible beneath the bows or tie-dye colors. We propose that dressing girls in this way could contribute to socializing them into the narrow role of the sexually objectified woman.”

So what happens to young girls when they dress “sexy,” want to wear clothes that have “sexualized characteristics,” or live in a society where sexy clothes for tween girls is the norm? Here are just some of the consequences of young girls being sexualized according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA):

  • Self-objectification (which is basically seeing yourself the way you think others see you) can actually make it harder for you to concentrate and focus
  • Self-objectification also undermines confidence, and results in shame, anxiety, and self-disgust
  • Sexualization in young girls is linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression
  • Self-objectification has been directly linked with diminished sexual health among adolescents (decreased condom use, less sexual assertiveness, etc.)
  • Young girls who are oversexualized are more likely to be okay with women being seen as sexual objects and name physical attractiveness as the most important criteria for a woman’s value

And those are just a few. Can you think of more negative consequences?

Listen. I’m all for girls and women wearing clothes that make them feel good, that accentuate their beautiful bodies, and that are comfortable. Grunge, preppy, goth, emo, indie, scene…it’s all good. But when it comes to clothes for young girls that are overtly sexy, that draw sexual attention to their breasts and butts (remember these padded bikini tops from Abercrombie?), that’s where I have a problem. Wearing clothes like this doesn’t just make a fashion statement – it also reinforces the message that girls are sexual objects, both to the world at large and to the young girls clad in the very clothes.

What’s your take? Do you ever find yourself trying to dress sexily because you want to be seen a certain way? Do you believe young girls dressing sexy is a problem?

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The Bully Project Hopes to Spark a Movement

I just heard about a soon-to-be released documentary called The Bully Project thanks to iheartdaily.The film follows five kids and families over the course of a school year, including two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices, the film offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children. Through the power of their stories, the film aims to be a catalyst for change in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children and society as a whole.

The people behind the film are also working to build an alliance of students, parents, school staff, policy makers and engaged citizens to create a positive environment in schools where everyone feels safe and respected, and are planning new projects from city- wide screenings of the The Bully Project in the first weeks of school to a national bullying helpline, and cool ways to connect to social media to spread the movement of inclusiveness.

I can’t wait to see the film and I’ll post updates on screenings as they become available!

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And Here You Thought You Were Just Being Entertained…

Greatest Movie Ever SoldHave you ever watched American Idol and noticed that the judges are always sipping soda from ginormous Coca Cola cups? Or maybe you’ve seen an episode of The Biggest Loser and noticed that the trainers go from talking about cooking healthy to suddenly pitching the virtues of a brand of ziploc bag that allows you to steam your veggies to perfection. In the hit comedy 30 Rock, the characters are over-the-top in their endorsement of Verizon, and in an episode of 90210, Dixon once turned to Annie and said, “Maybe if you stopped drinking so much Dr. Pepper!” to which Annie replies (while holding up a can of Dr. Pepper), “We’re on a road trip! Drinking Dr. Pepper is practically a requirement.”

What I’ve just described is called product placement. It’s the “new” way of advertising since companies are having a harder time getting audiences to notice their products in traditional commercials thanks to TIVO, HULU, On Demand, and the like. And it’s this type of advertising that is explored in the just-released documentary, POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

The film was directed by Morgan Spurlock (the guy behind the film Supersize Me – another must see), who takes us deep into the marketing machine for film and television to show the viewers just how much “selling” goes on behind the scenes of everything we see on screen. The movie makes the case that pretty much everything is for sale when it comes to finding ways to advertise a product.

By the end of the film, Morgan has secured sponsorship from more than a dozen brands, including those you can see tattooed on his body in the movie poster here. In exchange for financially backing the film ($25,000 for a small mention to $1 million for the name sponsor, in this case, POM Wonderful, a pomegranate juice), Morgan promises to promote the products throughout the film. For example, he only wears clothes from sponsor Old Navy, drives the official movie car, a Mini Cooper, and exclusively drinks POM Wonderful.

The result is a funny, eye-opening film which sheds light on how advertisers and marketers try to get at us, the buyer, in any way possible. It’s a great reminder that as viewers, it’s our responsibility to realize that we are constantly being marketed to, courted, and manipulated in advertisers’ attempts to get us to buy their products.

So definitely see this film if it comes to your town…it’s worth the watch and I guarantee, you’ll never look at a movie or TV the same way again! (And that’s a good thing!)

PS… don’t believe me that everything is for sale? The small town of Altoona, PA has sold its naming rights to the film. For the next 60 days, Altoona, PA is now officially “POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, PA”!

PPS…Here’s the trailer for the movie in case you’re interested in learning more (and no, I was not paid to endorse this movie!):

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Trailer from POM Wonderful on Vimeo.

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