Friday, June 24, 2016

Being happy in your own skin

Why on earth do people spend crazy amounts of money trying to turn back time? For one thing, anyone with any intelligence knows that it is not possible, secondly I have yet to see facial surgery make anyone look better, in every case that I am aware of they look, at best weird, and usually flat ugly, certainly unnatural - which to my mind is the same as ugly. That is, with the one exception - surgery to correct a birth defect such as a hair lip or an injury. I am talking about people who have face lifts because they are aging; or they don't like the shape of their noses; or they want Angelina lips. And once you do it, you can't revert the damage.

What started this rant? I met a friend recently who I hadn't seen in a long time, and was horrified at how awful she looked. It was like she had one of those face masks on - you know? the gel that is transparent as it dries and pulls your skin tight. Seriously, her face look plastic, and there was no definition around her eyes which were now round instead of almond shaped. One of the attributes I consider to be really beautiful is deep set eyes, eyes with a 'cavern' background. Like Cameron Diaz for instance. This person had deep set eyes before the knife got to her. What she looked like was Ms Potato Head, seriously, unnaturally smooth face with no character, two round holes from which eyes protruded, a nose and a mouth - no definition, no indication that she had lived or ever laughed. She used to be really pretty.

Aging gracefully is beautiful, dignified and natural. Resisting is futile and almost always results in a plastic ugly appearance which cannot be corrected and screams vanity (hence the term plastic surgery? OK I know it comes from the Greek plastikos - to mold). Spending that much money on vanity in this day and age is ludicrous - see Dr Nash's very wise blog here on the subject of saving money. One day that face will still age, but it is doubtful if it will age gracefully once the knife has done its damage, and then, unless you happen to be extremely wealthy, not only will you not be able to afford further damaging surgery, but you may seriously regret that you don't have the cash you foolishly forked out on the previous rounds of facial damage. Those that can afford it tend to continue to do more, and more damage to their faces. Like Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton.

And as for Botox. I don't know what to say - this description says it all - and people pay to have this stuff injected into their face! Small wonder they end up with fixed expressionless features:

There are dozens of celebrities who have ravaged their appearance in an attempt to turn back the clock - mentioned before, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. To my mind they were both incredibly good looking people. Their faces were not only good to look at, but they had character and personality. Not any more. Now they are flat ugly. Everyone knows they are aging, so they are fooling no one, but there is nothing left of the beauty which always remains in a face that is not ravaged by the knife, no personality shines through the plastic. I often wonder what they see when they look in the mirror. I know I would be absolutely horrified if I went through unnecessary surgery, at huge expense, and then saw a face like that in the mirror!

These celebrities definitely destroyed their looks and no doubt will continue to do so. Kenny Rogers was a good looking man, now he is almost scary. Dolly Parton was very pretty, now she looks like plastic and this photo doesn't show the extent of her surgery, she went on to have a lot more and she now looks quite deformed.

no words for Jocelyn Wildenstein

Michael Jackson - probably the most famous for appalling plastic surgery results. No picture needed for that but here is one anyway.

I have always loved Sophia Loren, and this quote from Goodreads resonates with me.

These celebrities did not destroy their looks in a wasted attempt at turning back time, and to my mind they are so much better looking that those who did. I am not saying they did not have work done to their faces, just that if they did, it was very little and does not show. The general belief of the media - those who will put you down in an instant, is that they did not. I think each and every one of them are very good to look at - and I do believe they are better looking now than they were when they were younger. I will definitely not be wasting my hard earned money on destroying my face. I will age as gracefully as I am capable of and accept the natural course. (See this blog).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Who is to blame?

And what does it matter? What we should be focusing on is not who, but why and how. Why did it happen and how can we avoid it happening again.

As long as we blame someone, anyone else, we are not making any effort to correct the problem. Finger pointing doesn't solve anything, it creates even more problems.

I believe that people who try to blame and shame others whether rightfully or wrongfully, feel inadequate themselves. They have not learnt that it is perfectly OK to make mistakes, so long as we learn from them. In the false belief that it will somehow make them look better, they attempt to make others look bad.

This article lists five reasons why some people blame others rather than take responsibility for their own actions, or accepting that mistakes happen and take action to avoid the same mistakes in the future, irrespective of who is to blame.
  • Loss of control
  • Controlling you
  • They learn it from their parents
  • Refusing to admit that they are responsible
  • Unable to accept what happened

These five reasons boil down to two major personality flaws, in my opinion, and can be categorized much more succinctly as, they are either:

  1. A control freak - something I cannot abide, guaranteed above all others to push me away.
  2. Irresponsible - a refusal to accept responsibility - this I consider cowardly.

I used to work in a bank, way back in a previous life (well, that is what it feels like now) it was a long time ago, and I know even banks have changed. But back then there was a whole lot of pass blame down the line - and with absolutely no intention of finding the root cause and fixing it.

I wrote about my current profession in this blog entry, QA is an area where we lay ourselves open to a lot of finger pointing, fortunately I have been lucky enough to have worked for companies that understand that humans make mistakes, and the important thing is that we learn from those mistakes in order to avoid repeating them.

This is an interesting article on the subject. And I quote:
"When something goes wrong, our deep need to explain what caused the problem to occur is triggered. A way of finding cause is to blame someone. This is a surprisingly common approach in organizations where a 'blame culture' assumes someone is at fault for every problem and issue. As a result, people are quick to judge others and equally quick to avoid or deny responsibility. What is easily missed is that most problems are caused by the context or system and not by people. Few go to work thinking 'I'll fail today'. Few also are lazy or incompetent."

It isn't only in the workplace that we see this blame culture, it can be seen at home, among family members, particularly in large families. Sadly the behavior that is carried into the workplace is probably learnt at home, where parents do not reward honesty but punish whoever gets landed with the blame. If owning your mistakes and misdemeanors were somehow rewarded, even though the action still carried some form or lesson, rather than punishment, perhaps we could break this cycle and produce more mature responsible adults.

Of course stakes are higher in the workplace, with the possibility of promotions, salary increases and sometimes bonuses tied to success or failure. However, there is the crux of the problem. Human mistakes should not be seen as failure, they should be seen first and foremost as an opportunity to learn, to back fill gaps in processes exposed by the mistake and surely being seen to take responsibility should count for something? To be fair, it definitely does carry a positive aura in my current place of work. Obviously you don't set out to make mistakes in order to be able to prove you can take responsibility for them, but to take responsibility for your actions, good or bad, is seen to be a personality strength. I certainly agree with that.

Friday, June 17, 2016


As I have said before, I am not religious, and that is in part due to having grown up a Catholic, but one with enough intelligence to question what I was taught and expected to believe without question. Of course, I do blame the nuns as that is where my religious instruction started and ended. Even at the tender age of 7, I could not believe some of the incredibly ridiculous teachings. And I just knew for certain that they were telling lies when they said my mother would burn in hell because she did not go to mass every Sunday.

Having grown up a Catholic, I feel I probably have a leg to stand on when I question some of the more ridiculous things I was expected to believe. All you have to do is read the bible from start to finish and you will get remission from punishment for sins - that is, early parole from purgatory? I mean seriously? That is what we were taught by the nuns, who clearly had not read the manual.

There are rules governing indulgences - of which there are two types, partial and plenary. Partial needs no explanation.

Remissions were counted in days, weeks, years, yet we were also taught that time has no meaning in purgatory; after all if you are there then you are dead and time is a living concept. But there was no conversion scale for this 'time' off, no 1 year indulgence = [n] units of purgatory.

There was, and probably still is, a long list of acts that earned this time off. But what we were not told was that before we could actually qualify for the benefits, we had to have fulfilled three conditions: Have been to confession and confessed all of our previous sins. Previous sins are the only sins you can earn indulgences for - something else we were not told - we thought we could earn credits and plan future sins to be chalked up against those credits - not so. Anyway, confession as I said, then receive communion, and pray for the Pope's intentions, in other words, pray that he got whatever it was he was praying for, a thin line there with some of our past Popes. Naturally you also have to be truly sorry for all those confessed sins, and be absolutely determined to never, ever commit them again. That immediately voids the idea of amassing credits. Also, another rule was that you could only earn one plenary indulgence per day; there was no limit to the number of partial indulgences you could earn, but no matter how many partial indulgences you got - they never equaled a plenary indulgence. I guess they were each applied to a separate sin, leaving you still exposed to the rest of the punishment allotted to that particular sin.

If that was not enough - you have to have intention to earn the indulgence - sort of like premeditation applies to a crime. If you do these various acts, in the requisite state of grace, totally by accident, you get nothing. There is no equivalent to manslaughter in the world of indulgences.

Among the acts that qualified you for this remission were carrying holy pictures around with you, that is little cards with pictures of saints and Jesus and other holy people. When I was a child just about everyone had a prayer book, and just about everyone went to Mass on Sunday and brought along their prayer book, which was usually stuffed with these holy pictures. If you were unfortunate enough to drop your prayer book, the cards were scattered among the pews and it took a lot of people to help you gather them back up, and probably the rest of the mass to insert them back into your prayer book - given that mass entailed a constant variation of standing, sitting, kneeling and standing again, this task should in itself have merited some indulgences.

Wearing crosses or holy medals around your neck also carried indulgences, but only if they had previously been blessed by a priest - and of course, if the pope had blessed them you were really getting some credits.

Scapulars - now there is something worth explaining.

Rules for wearing a Scapular
A small scapular must consist of two wool squares of cloth, connected by two strings (of any material), so that one segment rests on your chest and the other on your back. If you would like, you can wear more than one scapular at a time, so long as each scapular is complete. Once you have your scapular it is important to have it blessed by a priest and if necessary to become invested with the confraternity associated with it (a further blessing that can be granted by an authorized priest). Once you have your scapular blessed it must be worn at all times in order to share in the indulgences and privileges of the particular scapular. Should you remove the scapular for any period of time you are no longer eligible for its associated blessings, however, as soon as you resume wearing the scapular you are reinvested in its indulgences.  Should your scapular wear out, you may replace it with an unblessed scapular, as the indulgences are invested in the devotion of the wearer, not the object.
It sounds a bit like a cloaking device. And, what is more bizarre, a scapular was like a small pocket, and if you put a relic inside that really increased your odds. What is a relic you ask?
  • a part of a deceased holy person's body or belongings kept as an object of reverence.
That is right, old bits of rag someone claims came of some holy person's clothing, or worse, a tooth or bit of bone from their decaying body.

Going to confession carried an indulgence which seemed counter intuitive, if you have to go to confession in order to be in a state of grace sufficient that you earn the indulgence, does that mean you must go to confession twice in succession? You see, that is another thing the nuns didn't tell us. We thought going to confession and saying the requisite number of prayers afterwards, left us free and clear of the sins confessed, apparently it did not.  It gave us forgiveness NOT remission, we were still liable for the punishment. That is where indulgences came in, the remission was how you reduced the punishment debt.

Then the church dropped the idea of indulgences, so all those people who had carefully whittled away at their time in purgatory (we were taught that no one except the Pope completely escaped purgatory as we were all basically bad), saw that hard work wasted and the minor pain they were promised after death, prior to enjoying the wonders of heaven, was all back in the account. For some, those who lived long enough, the credit was returned when the church changed its holy mind and indulgences again came back into favor, however they were not nearly so easy to achieve. And it is not clear if the reinstatement also reinstated those indulgences that had been voided by the abolition. If so, what a nice surprise for those who had already passed away and were struggling through their purgatory - sudden early parole!

At least you could no longer buy indulgences. Back in the 15th century quite a few Bishops and Cardinals (the holy guy, not the bird nor any of the sports teams of that name) were selling indulgences to wealthy (but clearly stupid) people.

To be fair, this practice was not church approved, though I seem to remember that donating to the church did carry some indulgences.

And, while nothing to do with indulgences, I have one big question still hanging over me. Limbo. Another big reason why I turned my back on the catholic church. How on earth can a new born baby be blamed for the sins of Adam and Eve - OK, lets assume Adam and Eve really existed, and all the stuff about apples and snakes was true; no one, most especially spiteful, vindictive women dressed in black robes with giant rosary beads around their necks, could convince me that a tiny newborn baby is to be held responsible for those spectacular sins; and should that baby die before it has been baptized, a ceremony that officially cleanses the baby of that sin, then they will go to Limbo, sort of like the baby care version of Purgatory, but they never get out, and there are no adults there to take care of them! That bothered the hell out of me.

Then limbo gets abolished in April 2007. What happened to all of those babies? Here is what the church says, washing its hands of responsibility once again:
"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation. There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them)."
I am sorry, that is just not good enough for me. Of course we do have the loophole - baptism of desire - which, we were taught, can be inflicted on a baby by proxy. Yet another reason to question the entire system.

But, on a lighter note, the Vatican has brought indulgences into the modern world of social media - you can now earn indulgences on twitter according to this article in the Guardian.  Naturally, here again, there are rules:
"That includes following Twitter," said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis' Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. "But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Constructive Criticism

It is often difficult to take criticism, even when it is constructive, but if you are not prepared to be open minded I suggest you hesitate before asking a friend for advice. A true friend will give you an honest response and it might not be what you want to hear. However, if you genuinely want to improve, whether it is for your personal growth, personal happiness or professional advancement, it would be a good idea to take a deep breath and listen objectively.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

When I first came to the US I was an emotional wreck - for reasons I won't go into here but are detailed in my book. Needless to say, alone in a strange country after all of that, I was very lonely and ready to start a new life. I quickly made friends but there was no one special in my life and that bothered me. Then a very good friend told me that I needed to learn to love myself and be happy in my own company before I could possibly expect the same from someone else. Very sound advice which I had the good sense to take and not be offended.

Not only did I learn to enjoy being alone, to enjoy my own company, I also learned that constructive criticism is a true gift and it should be accepted gracefully as such, even if it is not welcome nor pleasant to hear. It is also not easy to give, bearing in mind the uncertain nature of the response. (I did eventually find my soul mate, after I stopped "shopping for groceries while hungry").

Now, many years later, every mentoring session I have at work, I have to remind myself of how valuable that advice was and how my life changed as a result. Plus, I had applied to our mentoring program in order to benefit from the experience of my mentor who I might add, is not only extremely knowledgeable but also very willing and able to share that knowledge. But I still find it difficult to expose myself, to actually invite criticism. I have to remember my own advice applies here too - do not enter in to a mentoring program if you are not prepared to listen to constructive criticism and more importantly, learn from it.

Having found myself a first class mentor, now I have got to remember that lesson I learned such a
long time ago, and on top of that I have to figure out how to actually use a mentor. After our first session I felt a bit like a dog chasing cars and finally catching one - now what?

I guess part of the process of having a mentor is learning how best to utilize such a valuable asset - and of course, making positive use of the feedback; a.k.a constructive criticism. To this end I did quite a bit of research. I found this article particularly useful. It lists six steps for "Taking constructive criticism like a champ" under the following headings:
  • Stop Your First Reaction
  • Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback
  • Listen for Understanding
  • Say Thank You
  • Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback
  • Request Time to Follow Up
And, if it is still necessary, here is an article from The Guardian, listing six reasons why criticism is a good thing.
  • Criticism is a form of communication
  • Feedback helps make your product stronger 
  • It forces you the think about how you work
  • The right kind of criticism can give you an advantage
  • Use positive language, elicit a solution
  • Don't take it personally
All very good advice for accepting the feedback you need, and will get, from a mentor. However, you will only get the help you ask for therefore, in order to be sure that you steer the mentorship in the right direction, be sure that you have a clear idea of what you want. This article gives some very good tips.
  • Regularly schedule meetings with your mentor and make it part of your standard workflow
  • Go into your conversation with some ideas you'd like to discuss, but don't be afraid to stray off course
  • The best mentor relationships are reciprocal

Saturday, June 11, 2016

This blog is not for you is for me.

Naturally I am happy if you read my blog, and even happier if you enjoy it and ecstatic if you get something out of it, but ultimately, I write for me. Not only do I enjoy writing, I find it therapeutic. It is my way of counting to 10. By that I mean when I want to calm down and avoid screaming at someone or something, I sit down and write about it. I google the problem. Frequently google explains it to me in a way that allows me to put things into perspective; writing about it calms me down.

I am not easily angered, but when I am, I tend to internalize and I don't believe that is healthy. Writing, and possibly even more so, researching the issue that annoyed me, helps me to rationalize and get a better perspective.

According to this article, I am improving my health and prolonging my life expectancy by writing:

"The way we feel — especially when we feel hurt or angry — can cause negative effects on the body because of the neurological and neurochemical connections between mind and body. If we experience internalized anger, our nervous and hormone systems react, creating neurotransmitter chemicals that can result in harmful side effects. Those can lead to compromised health as well as compromised personal and professional relationships."
Anger will make people say cruel, hurtful and frequently stupid things which they probably don't mean and should definitely keep to themselves if they do. And while that may prevent the damage caused by internalizing, it can have an equally bad effect on your health, but most definitely will damage your relationships, not to mention hurt people. Saying 'I'm sorry' is all very well but you can't unsay, or unhear what was said.

Another article I found repeats this warning quoting Dr Chris Aiken
"Repressed anger — where you express it indirectly or go to great lengths to control it, is associated with heart disease"
It is interesting to discover how many articles turn up in a google search, recommending writing as a way to deal with anger or other emotional turmoil.

Not everything I write is written in anger, nor because I am emotionally fraught. Sometimes I write because some incident triggers a memory and that evolves into a blog entry. Like this one. Sometimes I observe or hear something that I just have to share; with whom doesn't matter - just anyone or no one. Quite often I just have random thoughts that I need to blow like dandelion seeds into the world, usually not really caring if they get carried away to oblivion on the wind, or land in fertile soil to grow into weeds to start all over all. I just need to blow them out there.

I do appreciate it when someone takes the time to comment, like, retweet, follow, + or share. But whether it is a day that my blog gets only one hit, or one of those days when it gets > 3,000 doesn't really matter a whole lot; in the same way, when I published my book I did no marketing and still don't; I get very excited when someone buys it, and pleasantly surprised if they take the trouble to write a review on Amazon (good or bad) but I didn't write it with any expectations of actually selling it. I write my blog for similar reasons that I wrote the book, because it helps me to gain perspective and along the way it educates me. If it does the same for anyone who happens to read it, that is a bonus. My book was to help me work through all the baggage churned up during therapy. Now I can't stop writing because it is so beneficial.

So, while you are most welcome to read, share, follow me and comment, and if you gain something along the way even better, but my intention is not to make money or sell books, it is ultimately to improve my emotional well being - which in turn does improve my physical well being; and in that I have succeeded.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

What motivates you?

Ever notice that someone will ask you a question to which you don't have an immediate answer, mainly because you never really thought about it before, but once the question is posed and you start thinking about it, the answer is obvious.

Take for instance I was recently asked what are my motivators and demotivators. I didn't have an answer, although I knew on a subconscious level, I had never verbalized it. It is surprisingly difficult to take an abstract thought and put it into words.

Let's start with my demotivators:

  • Lack of communication
  • Micromanagement 
  • Lack of appreciation
  • Dishonesty
  • Inequity
  • Lack of trust

Definition of motivators from The Business Dictionary:
Internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to be continually interested and committed to a job, role or subject, or to make an effort to attain a goal Motivation results from the interaction of both conscious and unconscious factors such as the intensity of desire or need, incentive or reward value of the goal, and expectations of the individual and of his or her peers. These factors are the reasons one has for behaving a certain way.

Motivators - it seems obvious to me that motivators would be the opposite to demotivators, but while a sense of humor is motivating, lack thereof does not demotivate me, though it does make me feel sad - for anyone who doesn't have a sense of humor:
  • Sense of humor
  • Macro Management
  • Communication
  • Honesty
  • Appreciation
  • Optimism

You will notice, I have not mentioned remuneration. I consider that to be very low on the list. Naturally I want to be paid, and I want to be paid a fair wage, but I will be far more motivated by sincere appreciation, than by payment.

All of these motivators / demotivators are equally relevant in my personal as well as my working life. Micro manager is just another description for control freak, and while I have no issue with being asked to do something, I have a major problem with being ordered to and I thoroughly dislike being taught " suck eggs" (incidentally, something my grandmother actually taught me how to do).

There is nothing wrong with someone giving you instruction from a depth of experience and in order to be helpful, but if it is with the sole purpose of criticism and control, then I have a major problem.

Dishonesty is a major demotivator, and will kill any relationship, in personal and professional life. For instance, if a colleague takes credit for something they did not actually do, or did with considerable help from someone they do not give credit to, they could progress on foot of this achievement. This not only takes appreciation and possible promotion and remuneration that someone else earned, but also they could move into a position where they are unable to perform - thus damaging the entire department or organization, not just to the general well being of the team.

I think with honesty, a sense of humor, communication and equity any relationship, whether personal or professional, will have a very good chance of thriving and being successful and rewarding.

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.
Displaying appreciation starts with speech, we are all (I sincerely hope) taught to say please and thank you, and to understand what that means. It is frequently taken for granted when someone says 'thank you', but when they fail to say it there is generally a very strong negative reaction.  Take, for instance my pet peeve, when you stop to let another driver merge into traffic. If they wave an indication of appreciation don't you feel satisfied? but if they do not acknowledge your act of courtesy, I bet you feel less than satisfied - possibly you will think twice before doing so again. The same applies to most cases. A lack of a simple thank you is likely to demotivate you from putting in that extra effort next time.

As always, writing about something clears my head and here is my final list of motivators, qualities that are important to me, the order is not necessarily important, as the situation at the time dictates the importance:
  • Equity
  • Macro Management - not a control freak
  • Honesty
  • Appreciation
  • Sense of humor
  • Communication
  • Optimism - look for the silver lining
While writing this, I had an amazing example of exactly what I was trying to put my finger on. While collaborating with a colleague, located on another continent, he mentioned that he had discovered my book. It is difficult to express how I felt when he said the following - covering just about every one of my points above in one short conversation, how often do we think something like this but never think to express it?

I also stumbled upon the fact that you have written a book
so I went to amazon... and looked inside
read... 3-4 pages which I was allowed to read 
I really liked it... 
I am going to read the entire book... 
You are an inspiration
just the 3-4 pages that I read made my day
I now cant wait to read the entire book
I have 5 year old daughter.... and we have a routine every day to tell her a story about a real person.... and we talk about everyone who has inspired us.....
Any guesses... who was that person yesterday?
It was you :)
I told her how you started your education again when you were 40 and achieved success
While we work on other stuff together... let me tell you I feel lucky to say that I am working with you 

Perhaps what motivates me most is the thought that I could be an inspiration to someone else.

From the Motivation Grid because this I truly believe.