I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Can Totally Do That

I came to my career almost by accident, and while I really do love what I do, every once in a while I entertain the idea of doing something entirely different. Radically different. It's like I have ADD when it comes to jobs. I often hear of people doing various jobs and I think to myself, "Hey, I could totally do that. But how does one actually BECOME an embryologist/therapist/personal assistant/visual merchandiser/test kitchen recipe tester?" My immediate next thought is, "Who on earth grows up thinking, I know! I really want to be an embryologist/therapist/personal assistant/visual merchandiser/test kitchen recipe tester!" The thought after that is, "I wonder if those people all fell into those jobs, too. Hmmm..." and then I start to think about what that job might actually involve and if I'd like it or not. Chances are the jobs I get excited about have a 'dirty' side, the side which isn't seen by the people who think those jobs seem awesome.  Certainly that's true of my own profession - as a chef it's true we get access to amazing food, experiences, and people - but we work stupid hours for very little money and we work in a war zone of sharp things, hot things and seriously crazy people.

Even knowing that, I will still find myself thinking about changing careers and the myriad jobs I might like to have. In recent weeks I've found myself wanting to be an online columnist (oh wait a minute...), a retail worker in a kitchenware shop, manager of a high-end confectionary store, executive assistant to someone awesome, event manager, customer service call centre person...you get the idea. I just hear or see something which seems interesting and BOOM, I'm off in job fantasy land. Book seller, owner of a Bed and Breakfast, beauty therapist, book reviewer...you name it, I've probably considered it.

I also have a tendency to meet people who have had a number of careers - or just a number of jobs - which have taken them all sorts of interesting places (literally and figuratively.) I find those people really interesting and I tend to equate that with the work lives they've led. Of course, I've had a number of interesting jobs myself (someday I'll blog about being "the girl in the hole,"...) but almost all of them have been in two industries (either admin or hospitality.) So quite often my job fantasies have nothing at all to do with either of those industries.

Since I have a life plan which includes "the business after the business," I really enjoy this little bit of mental gymnastics - it's quite fun, really, to wonder about what it is I might do next. While I've got a brain bursting at the seams with business ideas (the quality of some which is probably questionable), NONE of my fantasy jobs involve being a business owner. Perhaps that's interesting in and of itself - that the fantasy land is one with no responsibilty or risk, but the reality land is one which is filled with responsibility and risk. I wonder if my dreaming about those jobs is just a case of, "the grass is always greener," and it's actually ridiculous to think that I'd be happy as I am if I were, say, a lawyer (well, I'd certainly be richer...).



Now there's an idea....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Love and Birthdays

I recently did something which was out of character for me. I let a very good friend's birthday go by without doing anything about it other than a phone call. Didn't send a card, buy a gift, organise for cupcakes to be delivered - nothing at all. This is unusual because I am a huge fan of birthdays, no matter what age you are - birthdays are "the festival of YOU" and therefore are worthy of marking in some way.  I'm also a fan of creative gift giving, in so much as I love to spend ages finding the exact right thing for someone. Something not necessarily expensive, but something which serves as a reminder to them that they are loved, that I thought about them, and something unexpected which makes them smile on the inside as well as the outside. To not have done any of that for him was well outside of my normal behaviour.  I ended up spending quite a while mentally beating myself up about the fact that I didn't do anything about this birthday (in retrospect, my time would have been better spent finding a good present...).

I ended up chatting to a different friend about my angst over this - and she too admitted that she used to be a gift giver, a festival of you celebrator, and just one of those friends who makes you feel fabulously awesome when it's your big day. Notice I say, "used to be," because she also admitted that she no longer engages in any of that because the lack of return began to get too painful for her.

We started to talk about the nature of giving - about how it really is meant to be about the giving and not the receiving, how it feels good to give, about how much joy we get out of the process of giving..you get the idea. I would really like to believe that I'm one of those people who is happy just to give and never expects to get in return, and in some ways I *am* like that, but not in the case of birthdays. If the person is unable (for whatever reason) to give in return - then yes, I love the giving and I'm happy to give with no return expected. But if the person IS able to give in return, well, I can't help but think that they should be doing the returning, too.  I should define "giving" not necessarily as a gift in return. I suppose I mean they should 'give' either in terms of effort made, acknowledgement of my effort, or even plain old heartfelt gratitude for what they got. In short, make a big deal over the fact that I made a big deal for you.

In thinking about this, I started to question why I care if they give back to me or not. Surely it shouldn't matter, should it? Here's the conclusion I came to - the giving, for me anyway, is about the giving but it's also very much about the unsaid message which comes with the giving. When there is nothing returned, I interpret that as an indication of their level of care, and so if it doesn't match mine (again, not monetarily) it ends up feeling like a rejection of sorts.

In other words, if I'm making an effort to find the right card, send you the cupcakes, find the right gift, write you a heartfelt note - what I'm really doing is telling you that you are loved, and that I care about you enough to make all this effort and I damn well hope you feel the same. It's not about the gift or the card or the organising per se, it's about the emotion and love behind those things. Long term readers of this blog will be familiar with a good example of this - the birthday cake fiascoes of the last few years. To me, DH's epic birthday cake fails were like he was saying, "I don't give enough of a shit about you to get this done properly." Anyone who knows DH and I in real life knows that we are (still) madly in love and made for each other and he loves me heaps - so it's a little ridiculous to get that interpretation from a shitty birthday cake. Yes, the giving in itself is wonderful and I enjoy it...but I also expect some sort of validation of those emotions that came along with the gift.

There are of course a few very big flaws in this sort of thinking, namely the assumptions that the other person a) attaches the same values to birthdays in general, b) attaches the same emotions to the birthday celebrating effort, and c) actually understands the enormity of the unspoken message in the gift/effort they got in the first place. The fact is, DH shows me every single day that he loves me more than I probably deserve to be loved...and yet, I still take it to heart when I make a big deal over him, but he doesn't make a big deal over me (note: I've since gotten him better trained...). 

This brings me back to the question of why I let a friend's birthday pass without making a big deal of it (and no, I've not fully forgiven myself for it. I'm slow, what can I say?). The simple answer is just self preservation. At the moment I'm feeling less than stellar - emotionally speaking- and frankly I could not take what I thought might be rejection. If his reaction was anything other than hugely grateful, if he did not appreciate the effort, if he didn't go out of his way to tell me how fabulous I was and how much he loved it (whatever "it" might have been) ... I'd have been a mess. I would have beat myself up about the effort being wasted, that I should have known better, that the relationship is unbalanced, and so on. In other words a heap of self talk which would serve no purpose other than making me feel even crappier than I already do about this situation. I just couldn't do it. My friend ended up with just a (loving and enthusiastic) birthday phone call, and I ended up feeling shit about my lack of effort. I'm not even sure he noticed my lack of effort in the first place, because after all birthdays are MY thing, not his - but that's neither here nor there as it's me who is left with 10 rounds of mental boxing.

As I invest more in learning about myself, I'm learning just how many interesting ... quirks... I've got. Not least of which is the capacity to love hugely, but also the need to BE loved in the same huge way, and the need to see/hear/feel evidence of that love. I'm yet to work out if the latter is a blessing or a curse, but at least I know this year I should end up with a reasonable birthday cake... because DH loves me enough to know not to piss me off with another shitty one (or possibly, he loves himself enough to not tolerate my carrying on about it!).

Love and birthdays. Who knew they were so fraught? 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Say The Right Thing

I took my pre-teen daughters shopping today. We had to stock up on summer clothes for them, so it was a shopping expedition they were really looking forward to. Funnily enough we haven't had to do this very often in their lives, because when they were small (and even in recent times) they've had the good fortune of inheriting a heap of stuff from their older cousins. Since older girl cousins are of course the MOST awesome people on the whole planet, their taste in clothes is also apparently awesome, and their hand me downs are something to fight over rather than scorn. Heaps of hand me downs coupled with trips to the US where I buy out half of Old Navy means we've not really had very many shopping adventures together thus far.

Today, armed with some money (always a good idea), a list of what we needed, and a determination that I was NOT going to get rail roaded into buying cheap crap, we headed off for the local shopping monolith. One of the chores on the list was to buy jeans for DD2, who (other than when she was a toddler, and even then I can't really recall it happening) has never owned or worn jeans. She decided it was time to buy a pair and so that was really our biggest challenge, particularly since she is of the "if it's not yoga pants, it's not comfortable" style of fashionista.

I decided that if I left her to it, we'd never get anywhere - so I left her in a cubicle with a bunch of stuff she'd picked, and then I ran around the store picking out jeans and flinging them over the door at her, with a mumbled, "All jeans are cut different, just try these ones!" She eventually found a pair which she really liked - and she walked out of the dressing room to get a second (and third) opinion from me and her sister. They looked really good, or at least DD1 and I thought so. DD2 then made a comment which made me rapidly suck in my breath. "I like them too! They're totally comfortable and I like that they are a little stretchy so they make my thighs look smaller."

My DD's are 11 years old. 11 years old is a ridiculous age to be thinking about buying pants which make your thighs look smaller. In that singular moment, I felt a little piece of my heart break for my beautiful daughter, that she would even need to consider something like that when looking in a mirror.

However, let's face facts here, shall we? She is the child of two overweight parents. She is very tall for her age, and she definitely has a softer body type - genetically speaking, I'm pretty sure there are no lithe bodies anywhere in our collective family trees, so it's really not a big surprise that she is who she is. She is also the child of someone who has had a very public, very obvious battle with weight, and she needs look no further than photos of her childhood to see evidence of that, where her Mum looks like the great shrinking - and then the great growing, then shrinking again - woman. She is also a product of the modern age, and of social media - where body types, commentary on bodies, and a general pre-occupation with weight, size, appearance and diet are part of the social norm. On the one hand, her comment totally threw me for a loop. On the other, it really wasn't surprising at all and if I'm honest with myself, what is surprising is that it's taken this long for something like this to be said.

They don't give you a mothering handbook for these moments - and even if they did, who says you would have it on you right when they make a comment like that? In those few seconds I really had to have an internal debate with myself about what my next comment might be. I could take the "Oh Mum, of COURSE you would say that!" route of, "What are you talking about, you're beautiful!" I could take the ignore-it-completely route, the sarcasm route, the brutal honesty route. I knew that whatever came out of my mouth next had the twin abilities to either hurt or help and I was going to make damn sure I said the right thing.

Let's be even more honest here - I've endured a lifetime of poor self-worth, poor body image, and a Mum who very lovingly told me in the same breath that I was beautiful, but that I would look so much prettier "if only I lost a little weight" so people could see my face better. So to say I am a bit sensitive about this topic would be the understatement of the year. 

I've got no idea if I said the right thing at all, I really don't. I just did the best I could with the resources I had at the time, and a fierce desire to not make this into a big thing.  I was cognizant of the fact that making it into a big deal would in fact make it INTO a big deal, and I didn't want that to happen but nor did I want to ignore it totally.

So here's what I said - "Firstly, those jeans are totally cute and I think they really suit your body shape. Not all styles of jeans look good on everyone's shape, but those ones look really good on you. You look totes adorbs!* Secondly, it's not like you have anything other than the right size thighs to begin with. So, are we buying them?"

(I wouldn't normally use a pre-teen expression like "totes adorbs" but I was trying to relate here, okay?)

I went the route of acknowledging it, but making no big thing of it. This afternoon I've found myself really debating if I should sit her (and her sister) down to have a big ol' talk about body image. I don't think I'll bother, actually. What pre-teen listens to her mother anyway? So I'm just going to keep doing what I am doing - which is acknowledge her comments, remind her that she is loved, that she has so much to be proud of, and that the world is full of people in all shapes and sizes. I'll continue to encourage her to get exercise, feed her good quality food, and be supportive when she finds clothes which are flattering (and honest when she finds clothes which are not.) She tried on some stuff today which didn't suit her at all, to which my comment was, "I don't think it suits you as well as (the blue one did) (the more structured one did) (that last one did). I think your body type looks better in...." The advantage of having a sibling the exact age but an entirely different body type also helps - because now DD2 might pick up something and say, "This is super cute but I know that this kind of thing doesn't suit me (or "just isn't my thing"), maybe DD1 might like it." 

Frankly, as a female, half the battle is finding the structure, fabric and style of clothes which suit you in the first place.  In my case, my height and proportions mean I always look ridiculous in layered, flowing clothes, in anything too orange or yellow, and wrap-around anything is no friend of mine. I also give anything with a band right below the boobs a big miss, because I prefer to avoid looking like I am wearing a circus tent. A big lesson today really was about working out what suits as much as working out what feels good. 

We ended up having a glorious, giggly, fun afternoon together. We wandered in and out of various shops, bought plenty of necessary stuff but a few 'treat' items as well - and just had a really great time together. Neither my daughters nor I will ever be the supermodels on the runways of Paris or Milan ... but I'm pretty sure none of us wish to be, either. For now, I'm still celebrating the big win of getting my girl into a pair of (flattering, comfortable, affordable) jeans - and you know what? Her butt looks GREAT in them (and yes, she asked ...and yes, both DD1 and told her the truth about it.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Just Be Awesome

How much time do you spend working ON yourself? I'm talking about the time you spend devoting to any activity which nurtures yourself, which helps you get through the trials and tribulations of life, which feeds your soul (creative or otherwise). This could be anything at all - going to the gym, attending a Reiki seminar, going to a therapist, meditating, eating expensive cheese...whatever.

In thinking about the time you spend working on yourself, would you say that the time you're devoting is a LUXURY or an ESSENTIAL BASIC NEED? Something you make the time for just because it's important to you, or something you make the time for because you believe it is linked to your very survival (emotional or otherwise)?

For a long time I believed (and still do to some degree believe) that working on onself was an activity reserved for those who could afford the time and money to spend on this sort of stuff. I mean, how awesome that you can go to seminars and howl at the moon while the rest of us real people are working because we need the money and wiping our kid's nose for 15 hours a day. I'm pretty sure homeless people do not spend time meditating, that people in third world countries who are starving do not attend workshops about healing the mind through massage, that people suffering in chronic pain might not make it to the personal trainer twice a week, that even your average every day man going to work to provide for his family probably doesn't spend a heap of time visualising and reading The Secret. I might be wrong, maybe all these people do these things - but overall, I used to think that spending time on spirituality (in whatever form), self discovery, and dealing with your own "stuff" was an entirely indulgent past time. I mean - honestly - why the hell are you sitting inside listening to someone tell you about manifesting your goals instead of getting your ass into motion and actually MAKING STUFF HAPPEN through sheer effort and hard work?

Why are you meditating on your goals when you could be actually out there making your goals happen? Why are you at the gym when you could be out walking for free? Why are you attending silent retreats instead of just feeling like shit and then moving on? I just never really understood how people found the time and the money for this sort of stuff. Just get ON with it, people. Enough with the talking and the seminars and the bloody self-help books!

But then, of course - life happened to me. In various ways, not all of them good and certainly not all of them rainbows and jelly beans and sunshine. Sometimes, people die. And business gets tough. And your kids irritate you. And you have friends dealing with sad things which make you sad. And your brother goes from being a brother to being an asshole. And you start to feel a little overwhelmed by all the stuff you have happening, not all of it bad. You know - LIFE... just happens sometimes. And so - I discovered that going to the gym was my one-way ticket out of the looney bin - as long as I was 'indulging' in getting exercise, my mood was much better. I suddenly learned that the LESS time one spends on feeding their soul, the MORE one starts to feel as though they have fallen into a black hole. I learned that at least some part of working on oneself is in fact an essential basic need. I believe life is much more about thriving than it is just about mere surviving, and in order to do that I need to "indulge" in a bit of self-care once in a while. Maybe even more often than just once in a while. And maybe it's just a wee bit judgemental of me to think that all the seminars and the books and the meditating is a waste of time.

So ... I've tempered my opinion on this somewhat. I still think that there are too many people out there searching for the spritual holy grail, people who are hoping the next seminar or course or guru will leave them happy, more fulfilled, more relaxed, more accepting of the lot they've been given in life. I still think that it's very, very easy to spend time and money in searching for the root cause of your misery, your lack of success, your...whatever it is you are unhappy with. I also think it's very easy to use that search as an excuse for not getting out there and just getting stuff DONE. It's well and good to blame almost anything - your childhood, your parents, your lack of self control, your messed up psyche, your ex-boyfriends, your fifth grade teacher, your humiliating haircut the night before prom - for your unhappiness. It's MUCH harder to look within, step out of your head and then actually DO the hard yards of healing and the hard yards of WORK which might lead to success and happiness. I recently re-read the book,"Eat, Pray, Love" and in reading it the second time, what really struck me was this: she travelled the world looking for solace, sprituality, and balance. All the travelling, eating, connecting with gurus, meditating, and having wild sex in Bali didn't actually do it for her. She had to experience the pain, live with the pain, hate herself a bit, be royally pissed off a bit...and just keep putting one foot in front of the other until eventually her life got better.

Her year of living abroad, looking for all this stuff? Indulgent luxury of the highest order. But even that didn't really solve a damn thing, did it? She just had to WORK on it.

These days I'm willing to concede that nurturing ourselves, even to a small degree, is an essential part of thriving (which let me assure you is WAY more fun than simply surviving.) At the same time, it's a little too easy to get lost in the nurturing, a little too easy to get caught up in the searching, and a little too easy to play the blame game. Looking after ourselves isn't just a luxury, but nor is it a good excuse for not just living our lives out loud, unapologetically and with great joy and hard work.

By all means, look after yourself. Just don't make it the reason why you're not out there actually being awesome.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Underwear Is Essential

This week another cake company attempted to irritate me, and they ended up regretting it. The short version is, we had an agreement about the use of some equipment - and in the 10th hour (not quite the 11th but close enough), they changed the rules of the agreement. If there's something I really hate, it's when you have an understanding of something and then the other party decides to changes the rules. You know, just because they think they can mess with you - they mistakenly believe they hold all the power in the relationship. Call me crazy but I thought 'mutual agreement' means both parties are getting something out of it, not that one is getting the goods and the other is getting a lifetime of debt (unless of course this IS the agreement you've come to, in which case I think it's time you thought about getting out of business entirely.) 

This other company's rule changing left me in a really uncomfortable position - and if there's yet another thing I hate, it's that feeling of being beholden. Potentially I could have been left with my ass hanging out in the wind and that, my friends, is not how I do business (I much prefer my ass be covered.) I took some swift and decisive actions, and then politely but firmly told the other company to go fuck themselves. Oh, wait. I think I actually said, "Thanks so much for your kind and generous offer, but we've secured the services of another company." Which, for those who know me well, is equal to, "Kiss my arse, you morons. You attempt at messing with me just blew up in your face spectacularly."

The end result was a good one for me, a bad one for them (which  is pretty much how I prefer things overall...) but the interesting thing is how it's cemented for me a basic business idea - that I don't want to associate with, provide services to, align myself with, or otherwise get anywhere near companies which behave in unethical or unscrupulous ways. Maybe this is a failing of mine, where other businesss owners might say, "Screw them, play the game and make the money." Nope. Uh-uh. Not me. Not going to do it. It just irritates me to no end. Of course, my version of business probably has it's pitfalls as well. I'm honest to a fault, I overly communicate, and I basically put it all out there. I'm practically incapable of lying about anything, and I nearly always offer more information than is strictly required. There is just none of this game playing bullshit with me, and even if I tried I'd probably suck at it (a bit like networking, isn't it? I'm no good at the bullshitting stuff.)

That being said, as a very wise Biz Guy once told me, "It's YOUR business. You run it YOUR way," and my way means there is none of this messing about business. Not in the 10th hour, the 11th hour, or in ANY hour.

If it means I'm potentially losing business because I won't 'play with the big boys,' ...well, so be it. I'd rather have my ass covered by a pair of cheap Target underwear than not covered at all.