The Edge of My Comfort Zone

edgeMy husband finds it extremely puzzling that I enjoy the occasional Lifetime movie. His reasoning is good enough. He thinks I am intelligent, but those movies… not so much. And while I’m appreciative of the reason for his puzzlement, it does not change the way I feel about them.
 
Right around the time I got the ax from my previous place of employment, a movie came out about a woman named Tess who, much like me, had been unexpectedly handed her walking papers. However, this is where the similarities between my life and Tess’s life end. 
 
Reeling from the new reality in which she now finds herself, Tess takes off for a career conference in the hopes of making new connections and netting herself a new gig. Now, the conference, mind you, happens to be taking place in a breathtaking tropical locale. (Of course it does. This IS a Lifetime movie after all)
 
Though, it is at this point that the movie takes an unexpected turn. I know. The mind reels that ANY Lifetime movie plot has the capability to surprise anyone… but this one does. You see, Tess does not find a new job nor does she ever really figure out what it is she wants to be doing. But she does meet a man (obviously) who challenges and ultimately changes her way of thinking. 
 
“Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone.” The handsome stranger says after observing her for little more than a day. Watching her come apart over the notion that she has no job and nothing promising on the horizon, he encourages her to take a leap of faith into the great, big unknown. 
 
I won’t tell you how it ends in case you want to see it for yourself, but suffice it to say, I’ve been holding on to that line… “Life begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone” because these days, I believe it to be true. When I first moved to the big city of Columbus, I worked as a freelancer / consultant for over a year before landing a “permanent” job. 
 
Although I met some great people and did some challenging, new work — I had my mind made up that my “life” wouldn’t officially begin until someone invited me into the fold… officially. I worked that entire first year, making the most income that, up until that point, I had ever made. But it wasn’t good enough. I wanted the whole nine yards: full medical / dental coverage, life insurance, disability, vacation, 401k, stock options… you get the idea. Nothing short of that was ever going to make me feel “comfortable.”
 
It did happen. I was eventually offered a permanent job and I slept a little better at night. Knowing where I would be going day after day, week after week and (hopefully) year after year, was extremely comforting to me. I finally had a nice, warm security blanket to wrap myself up in. Or so I thought. I do find it ironic, however, that the circumstance I once deemed to be so completely “secure,” was actually anything but. I waltzed, (quite nonchalantly) through the door on a Wednesday morning, Starbucks in hand, and wound up leaving via escort… carrying all my belongings in a pathetic cardboard box. My point being this: No matter how secure you think you are… You just never know. 
 
Looking back on it now, I realize that I mainly wanted to be employed for the sake of being employed and I never actually got around to asking myself what it was that I really wanted or needed to do with my strengths and abilities. Some of you may not believe this, but I am actually glad that it happened the way that it did because until I was shown the door, I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to walk out of it on my own. I would have wallowed in my comfort zone and I’m convinced I would have wound up staying too long were I actually ever given the choice. 
 
Admittedly, I am a wee bit “uncomfortable” right now in a contract position rather than a “permanent” one… But I guess (according to the handsome stranger in last month’s Lifetime movie) I should be on the lookout since “life” apparently begins at the edge of one’s comfort zone. 

 

Walking Papers

heelsOne week ago I was unceremoniously dismissed from my job. It was done without pageantry or fuss. I was asked to surrender my security badge and handed a white envelope with my name printed on it. The envelope was said to contain, quote: “All of the answers to any questions you might have with regard to what comes next.”

I was then escorted from the building (the same building, mind you) that I had entered hours before with the same security badge I’d just handed over. And as though on cue, like a scene from a movie, it literally started raining on me as I walked across the parking lot. Suffice it to say, that day is not likely to be ranked on the “Best Days of My Life” list.

I’ve been home now for seven days and have thus far stayed busy doing the things that one does when one has been shoved out to sea and set adrift on the churning waters of What Now. So far, I have not been clinging to inspirational quotes, or religiously reciting mantras to help me remain positive. No, instead I’ve been taking it as it comes. And here are a few of the things that I’ve observed.

  1. The middle of the afternoon on a Thursday is an excellent time to visit the grocery store.
  2. Answering the email you sent earlier this morning is not the only thing on the head hunter’s To Do list.
  3. The true horror of daytime television WILL force you to update that resume.
  4. Eventually you realize you’ve begun tailoring your job search around afternoon reruns of Roseanne and King of Queens.
  5. It is a scientific fact that going to the grocery store will, indeed, cause the head hunter to call you.
  6. The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front is more beautiful than you knew.
  7. The afternoon sun peeking through the leaves of the big tree out front illuminates the thick layer of dust that has accumulated — on everything.
  8. Life doesn’t stop just because you lost your job.
  9. You realize that the thing you loved most about your job was that it was “secure.”
  10. Security is a relative term.

While I was sitting in the conference room, looking out the windows as they told me my position had been “eliminated due to restructuring,” I thought I’d be more upset than I am. In my mind I flashed forward to this time at home, this time right here and now as I type this — and I thought I’d be marinating in self-pity. But I’m not.

Maybe it’s because I’ve got a contract gig on the horizon. Maybe it’s because of the support of my husband. Maybe it’s my age. But I do seem to understand, on a deeper level than before, that there is no such thing as “permanent” or “secure” in a world where the only constant is change. All we have is the here and now.

And right now, that’s enough.

Airing of Grievances

FestivusSo here we are again. It is that special time of year to gather with those we hold dear. A time to look back—another year older and hopefully wiser—and take stock. Yes once again, Festivus is upon us and we pause to reflect on the people near us and inform them of all of the ways they have disappointed us in the past year.

That’s right. You read correctly. Let the annual Airing of Grievances commence. I realize that some may think ill of me for keeping track of all of the ways I’ve been wronged in the previous 365 days… but honestly it is thanks to a cool app on my phone that I was able to keep track. Thank you technology!

It is simply called Grievance and it is a thing of beauty for those who enjoy fostering and nurturing a healthy grudge. All year long I can open it and enter said wrong-doings and then, on THIS day, December 23, Grievance lets me see the year in review. So in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share with you the Top 10 types of grievances I filed in 2013.

  1. Line Holder-Uppers. You know… People in line at the pharmacy, the post office, the retail checkout, Subway, or the grocery store… having scripts or postage or coupon codes explained to them in great detail by the store associate.
  2. The Media. For being SO obsessed with being the FIRST to break a story, that the information being disseminated is purely and entirely false.
  3. People who paint their ring fingers a different color… Because… why?
  4. Stick Figure Families. And the suburbanites who insist upon putting them in the lower left corner of the back window on their ginormous, consumptive SUV’s.
  5. Daylight Savings Time. For screwing with my sleep patterns and making me gruff, tired and totally intellectually annihilated for 2 whole weeks following the change.
  6.  The Starbucks Barista. For screwing up my order. ANY Starbucks Barista for screwing up my order… Ever. Because anything equivalent to caffeinated gold should be flawless. Every. Single. Time.
  7. My Doctor. For insisting upon insisting that I arrive 15 minutes ahead of my scheduled appointment time for supposed “paperwork” even though it’s already been filled out — but who isn’t even there yet himself.
  8. The Aflac Lady. For being a pusher by coming to my office to sell me additional insurance coverage and attempting to put the fear of God into me by casually tossing about words and phrases like “accidental death” and “dismemberment” and “unforeseen illness” or “unexpected tragic events”.
  9. The insurance company. For trying to use my migraines as a “preexisting condition” so as not pay my claims simply because I MENTION that I take medication for migraine when asked by ANY doctor what type of medications I am currently on.
  10. Fashion. For elevating “skinny jeans” to the level of MUST WEAR apparel so much so that boot cut is nearly impossible to find.

Happy Festivus everyone! I hope you’ve had a great one and please feel free to air your own grievances in the comments section to keep this blessed tradition alive!

Thou Shalt Edit Thyself

red_pen

Thanks to our culture’s rampant use of social media to immediately convey our every thought, word, deed and bodily function, I am learning a new skill! I am learning the art of “editing” myself and what I post online. Be they posts, pictures or opinions in the forms of status updates or comments… I am developing some restraint.

Cruising through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook feeds, scrolling over photos of drooling babies, kids kicking soccer balls, hands formed in the shape of a heart hovering above bare baby bumps, a meme about the Obamacare website fail, mud or paint-covered friends posing at the finish line of the latest gimmicky 5K, endless selfies or acquaintances jetting off to exotic locales… I am thankful that my thoughts don’t come pouring instantly forth from my fingertips. If they did, I would be in serious trouble.

If they DID… Well, let’s just say that things could get ugly, fast. I’ll offer up a few “for examples” to help illustrate my point. A sort of “Top Ten List” if you will. Bear in mind, these are ONLY hypotheticals. I am in NO WAY admitting to actually thinking these things or letting them slip over casual dinner conversation with my husband… They’re just a few what-if scenarios.

  1. That is one ugly baby.
  2. Please post MORE drunken pictures of yourself.
  3. That is NOT a good look for you.
  4. Wow! Look how amazing you look now!! You were a total ________________ in high school. (I’ll let you fill in THAT blank yourselves, it’s more fun).
  5. Seriously? Another one? Have some more kids. Now that I think about it, the Duggars DO need some competition, after all.
  6. I see that you are headed to the Caribbean AGAIN… With another “new friend.” I guess that means the boob job’s all paid for then?
  7. How can YOU GUYS afford THAT house?
  8. But really, how do you HONESTLY feel about the 2nd Amendment, Obamacare or Miley Cyrus? I really, REALLY wanna know because I can’t tell from the rest of your posts.
  9. At exactly what point in your life did you forget how to spell or use the English language at all for that matter?
  10. I didn’t know that you were constipated. But now that I know… Well, that just changes everything!

Make no mistake, I don’t believe that I am exempt from annoying people by the things that I post. In fact, a friend once told me outright that they had “hidden” me from their news feed on Facebook because I posted too many pictures of my cat. And I totally respect them for their honesty. I really do.

We just don’t happen to be friends anymore.

Attention: Measured By the Pound

In my lifetime thus far, I have worn my hair short and I have worn my hair long. It has been light, dark, curly, wavy, straight, razored, bobbed and layered. I have been a cowgirl, a granola and a professional. I have dressed trendy when I could afford it, sporty or provocatively when I felt like it, and something I like to call “Shabby-Midwestern-Chic” for much of the remainder.

Throughout all of these different looks, phases or whatever you wish to call them, I have never noticed a difference in the amount of positive attention I have received. But in all of my years, I have noticed that one thing, ONE, single, solitary thing seems to make a difference no matter what I have on or how I choose to wear my hair. I am talking—as can be inferred from the title—about my weight.

I feel it fair to mention that I have never really struggled with my weight in the way that some people do. For my entire life (save for a brief period between 2007 and 2009) I have never been classified as “overweight” on the medical charts. I have always been a healthy, normal weight. As a child, I could eat whatever I wanted and it never mattered. Then, like a lot of women, once I entered my late 20’s I needed to start watching it a little more closely as the scale crept ever upward after too many pizza binges. But still I managed to keep it in check.

Then one day, tired of flying a little too close to the sun on the wings of pepperoni — I decided to make some radical changes to my diet and exercise routine, resulting in a 30 pound weight loss and a rock-hard, 95-pound body. To some friends and family, I was a little “too skinny,” and technically underweight but none of that mattered to me because I felt great. For the first time ever, I completely loved my body.

However, curious things began to happen as the pounds melted away. Stranger than needing to shop for smaller sizes and having my jewelry resized was the way I was being treated by others… particularly members of the opposite sex. Suddenly I had gone from being someone who received compliments or glances once in awhile to receiving them wherever I went. And in a word, it was: intoxicating. So intoxicating in fact, that it’s a wonder I ever let the lbs. climb back into my truck. Looks, stares and some additional suitors all became part of my reality for… a time.

But that wasn’t even the half of it! People were KINDER. They smiled more and when I walked into a store of any kind I was asked immediately if I needed assistance. It wouldn’t be until much later that I even noticed the additional attention. But eventually it registered. And do you want to know WHEN it registered? It grew clearer and clearer, little by little, as the pounds found their way back onto my frame. I know this to be true as I experienced another (more milder) yo-yo in recent years. Pounds melted away again and I received more positive feedback from total strangers.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never treated poorly when I was heavier. I simply grew invisible. Which is interesting when you consider the sheer physics of it! I mean, I BECAME larger. I took up MORE space. But the more space I took up, the less people noticed or acknowledged my existence. Now some of you may say that it was/is a matter of confidence. The better you feel, the more you get noticed. And that might be true.

Except that I spoke to a male co-worker once who had experienced the exact same thing. I asked him this question about self-esteem being linked to weight and body image and thus generating positive or negative attention, and he believed that they had no link. “I feel like the exact same person” he said. “I have the same amount of confidence no matter my size… People just look beyond me when I’m heavier.” Fascinating. I thought. Simply fascinating. He’s a GUY and it’s happening to HIM too!

I wonder if I am guilty of the same behavior toward others that I’ve encounter out in the world? Whether we want to acknowledge this or not… I am officially calling it out! We are a society that is ruled by beauty and any or all of the perceived trappings thereof. It’s a shame, I know, for the outside to hold so much power over the inside — that truly unique part of us which is of far greater value. And yet I’m certain that it’s a part of our motivation at times. Whether that’s good or bad? Well, only you can weigh the importance of that.

You Look Richer / Prettier / Happier / More Interesting on Facebook

Wealthy Woman Served Champagne in Bubble BathWhile at a concert the other night I saw a balding, middle-aged man wearing a white t-shirt that simply read: “You look richer on Facebook.” My first instinct was to internally ridicule the man for wearing such a dumb shirt and elbow Lee who was sitting right next to me. Which I DID do… I know, I can be rather catty and shallow at times. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true the statement on this guy’s shirt actually was.

We really do put our best digital foot forward when it comes to social media. ALL social media… This isn’t exclusive to Facebook. It extends to Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. etc. Why do we do this? Because we can. And thanks to the Orwellian world in which we now live, it has NEVER been easier. Most of us, I believe, use the platform of social media to carefully craft the image of ourselves that we wish to project to the outside world. Am I wrong?

The “Class Reunion” used to be the vehicle by which we attempted to show off our “best” selves for one night. We’d diet, buy a new figure-flattering outfit and color our hair. We’d fluff up our job titles and descriptions. Brush up on our awareness of current events or the latest juicy bits of gossip. And season our conversations with snippets from the family highlight reel. But now we need not limit our narcissistic indulgences to once every five or ten years.

Now we are out there 24/7, baby! And in tandem with the convenience of the “24/7 All Me, All the Time” channel comes the convenience of “hiding” behind glowing screens day and night. Sorting, cropping and color-correcting our photos until they show nothing but our best sides. Our darkest secrets now cloaked in our ability to choose whether or not to click that “Share” button. C’mon. Admit that you do it.

OK… I’ll go first with the confessions… As far as “negative” things go, I might post that I am getting a migraine or slammed with a sinus infection but that is all fairly innocuous “above the neck” stuff, if you will. Not to mention, there is some cyber sympathy that comes with that sort of suffering minus the need for embarrassment. But no one, I repeat NO ONE puts the crappy, nitty-gritty stuff of life that really goes on out there for the world to see.

For instance, we don’t mention the fight we had with our spouse or kids the day before. You know the one that ended with the slamming of doors and muttering of expletives? There is nary a word about the gas station burrito we gobbled in haste that later kept us up all night, chained to the bathroom fixtures, experiencing the sorts of digestive horrors nightmares are made of. We’re mums on the “mysterious rash” some new medication is giving us. And there isn’t a peep about what you suspect the weirdo next door may or may NOT be doing with a chainsaw in his garage at 3 a.m.

I mean, sure, there are always going to be a few of “those” people who are willing to hang ALL of their dirty laundry out there… Lamenting the choices they’ve made in life… Or the number of times they’ve been rejected, how much they hate their friends or social life, feel lonely or have suffered financial ruin. I, for one, stand in curious awe of these individuals. One can only assume that these perverse pixel people are sadists, masochists or hypochondriacs in search of some commiseration, pity or affirmation.

However, it is their right and freedom to do so. Personally, I would rather hide my shame. I prefer (as I suspect most people are likewise doing) to disguise the less-than-stellar-stuff-of-life in the fanciful façade of a funny picture or clever observation… My life… According to me… made up of millions of pixels… arranged precisely the way that I want YOU to see them.

The House Always Wins

BXP52482“I mean, really… I don’t understand how people develop gambling addictions.” I said simultaneously pulling the lever on a noisy, flashing slot machine and taking a sip of my free cocktail inside the casino of the MGM Grand. “Seriously, who would want to throw their hard-earned money away on a game where the deck is stacked so strongly against them?”

“It makes only good sense to me to play a little with some money that you don’t mind losing, have a little fun while doing it… and if you happen to win… all the better… and if you lose, oh well. It was expected.” I continued to chatter on while mindlessly pushing the minimum bet button on another machine. “It’s all about having fun without losing control, ya know?”

Thus, Lee and I continued on this way, sipping rum and tequila, hopping from machine to machine, casino to casino placing minimum bets and watching our money go up and down. We won some, we lost some. Playing conservatively was fun because we got to continue gambling and enjoying free adult beverages without feeling like complete degenerates on the verge of losing the house, the car, the boat or the very shirts off our backs.

Energized from the free-flowing booze, neon lights and Billboard Hot 100 music pumping overhead, we carried on, never giving a single thought to the 21 straight hours we’d been awake. I was feeling pretty good, enjoying the Vegas vibe and feeling rather prideful that I apparently had the keen ability to “gamble” without falling prey to its fabled, seductive qualities.

And then I saw it.

There in the distance—like a shimmering oasis in the desert—standing high above the other slots and table games was THE machine. The Sex and The City slot with its fluid pink neon and sparkling diamond marquee called to me. “Ooo!” I shrieked “I HAVE to play that machine. It’s fate!” (I was obviously not yet aware that these machines were ALL OVER Vegas. I saw it as a sign that I’d spotted it at all and thought it MUST be the only one.)

I slid into the luxurious, leather seat and pushed a fresh 10 dollar bill into the slot. The minimum bet was a quarter… which I tried and had no luck. So I increased my bet to 50 cents—increasing my odds either way. Still I had no luck. So I took a big chance by betting a full dollar and Ding! Ding! Ding! I hit some sort of “win” because the numbers in my balance kept flying up, up and up right along with my excitement and adrenaline. Mr. Big was talking sweet to me now!

Before I knew it I had turned that $10 into $85. Now I realize that’s a small win for all you real life gamblers out there, but it’s a BIG Win for this Vegas virgin. For it was then that a peculiar thing began to happen. A massive struggle started to take place in my brain. The ”sensible” part of me thought: “You just turned $10 into $85 dollars by sitting on your @$$ and pushing a button!! CASH OUT, CASH OUT, CASH OUT and take the money! You made a PROFIT tonight. See the cashier, gather your winnings and put it in your wallet now! You’re AHEAD!!”

But the “other” part of me… the part that was dizzy from adrenaline and blinded by the blinking lights and Mr. Big’s sweet nothings in my ear thought things like: “But what if you kept going and made MORE? What if you’re sitting here and on some sort of hot streak! Keep going! Imagine if that $85 were $400!?!”

I allowed myself to free fall blissfully and carelessly into the world of What-If. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little more. And I pushed the button again. And I lost a little more. It was at this point that I set a limit for myself. Fifty dollars. I would NOT allow myself to dip below $50. Fifty dollars was still a nice profit considering.

Until I GOT to fifty dollars. And I didn’t want to stop. $50 wasn’t good enough anymore. I once had $85. I HAD to get back to $85. I COULD get there again. All I needed was a little more luck. So I pushed on and kept playing and kept losing. I dipped below my own “red line” and now there was no going back. A ritual had begun to develop in the ORDER in which I placed my bets. I felt a little queasy when my balance fell to $20.

“I can get it back! I can get it back!” One side of my brain started chanting as I frantically continued pushing the buttons. “You HAD $85 at one time you miserable loser! GET OUT NOW!”  the other side shouted back. And then I knew. This was exactly how “IT” happened. “It” being the reason why otherwise sensible people quote: “Throw their hard-earned money away on games where the deck is stacked so strongly against them.” The house is SUPPOSED to win. This whole grown-up playground here in the middle of an otherwise giant, vacant sandbox is DESIGNED to win.

Throughout the remainder of my Vegas vacation I would learn to love blackjack —  winning some and losing some. I would toss around phrases like “Bad Mojo” and “Good Juju” as though I had used them all my life. I would play swim-up blackjack at the pool with a bunch of rowdy kids from LA… later drying off my chips from a winning turn at a table that had “good vibes” and spend much of my wedding night parked on a stool in New York, New York playing video blackjack.

In case you’re wondering… I eventually walked away from the Sex and The City slot with $45 that first night… a bit more wary of the allure of friendly wagering and with a bit of an adjusted attitude and a healthier appreciation toward the seductive qualities of that twinkling oasis in the desert… And I absolutely cannot wait to board the next nonstop flight back out there.

Matrimonial Insanity

bride in a straight jacketThere’s a reason the groom is not to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on the day of their wedding. And it isn’t what you’d think. I discovered this truth about two weeks ago when I myself took that storied stroll from the back of the chapel toward my (now) husband.

Lee and I decided a year ago to get married in Vegas. We didn’t want to make a huge fuss, spend a lot of money and find ourselves tangled in the tricky threads typically associated with tying the knot. But mostly, we just thought it sounded like a lot of fun. Which it most certainly was, however, we learned that some matrimonial stress is bound to find you no matter how far you and your betrothed decide to run.

It WILL sniff you out… in the middle of the desert… surrounded by bright flashing lights, eager blackjack dealers, endless cocktails, thumping music, Elvis impersonators and a cacophony of clanging slot machines. And it isn’t a matter of IF prenuptial stress finds you — it is merely a matter of WHEN.

Weddings ARE stressful. No matter how simple you may try to make them. The concern over family members’ opinions, ideas and traditions will weigh on you (if you invited them). Intrusive thoughts of forgetting or “misplacing” the rings, the marriage license or the cash for the minister’s fee will pop up at the most inopportune times. Fear of the right music NOT being played on cue, having a bad hair day or waking up to discover a rogue pimple on your face the morning of The Big Day will haunt your dreams.

Thus it is not uncommon for a blushing bride to scare the $#!* out of an anticipatory-if-not-already-anxious groom from time to time before the impending nuptials can occur. Which leads me to my initial observation: There is a reason the groom is not to see the bride before she walks down the aisle on the day of their wedding.

What, you may ask, is the “actual and unexpected” reason behind this time-honored wedding tradition? People THINK it is bad luck. But the real reason the groom should not see the bride before she walks down the aisle… is to prevent him from RUNNING.

Let me clarify. This man—already slightly nervous himself in the face of this major life change he is about to make—would head straight for the hills were he to see his beautiful beloved for the actual train wreck she has become by the time the day arrives. She has worried and fretted and planned for THIS moment since the first time someone read Cinderella to her as a child.

And now it is here. And there is NO WAY—in Las Vegas or elsewhere—that she is gonna gamble on the fact that her Prince Charming just might hop on the back of his trusty steed, riding off into the sunset because of a teensy, weensy case of  momentary insanity.

Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

Our Barbies, Ourselves

Barbie125thCareerRetroWe’ve come a long way, baby. Or should I say Barbie has come a long way from the ill-proportioned, frighteningly well-endowed, bleach-blond beach bimbo she once was to her latest occupation: Engineer. You go girl!! You show the world that you can be ANYTHING you want to be! Plastic can be molded in a million different ways and clothes can be sewn to suit any proportions these days—real or imaginary. I, for one, find it refreshing to see that Barbie is made of stern enough stuff to conquer yet another male-dominated field.

I’ve long had a theory about Barbies and the girls who play with them. That being that who we are (or aspire to be)… was probably foreshadowed in our Barbie play. The notion grew out of a simple conversation I was having one day with two of my female co-workers. Somehow the topic of Barbie came up and all of us confirmed that we’d had at least one of them growing up. Naturally, the conversation turned to what we liked to do with our Barbies when we played with them…

JOANNA
I proudly admitted to the fact that all my Barbie wanted to do was HAVE FUN! She partied, she LOVED working on her tan and swimming in her pool (which was actually just our kitchen sink magically converted into a sparkling oasis in which Barbie could dive and swim… naked). MY Barbie would not be confined to the pre-determined dwellings crafted for her by Matel.

The Barbie mansion could not hold her. The Barbie RV was too cramped and not NEARLY luxurious enough… and so I constantly commandeered entire rooms in our house and created elaborate living spaces for her to inhabit. Thankfully my mother put up with this. I do seem to remember my poor dad trying to get to his office in our basement and having to ever-so-gingerly tip-toe around all the precariously placed pink and orange inflatable furniture.

My Barbie also did not do any work. Don’t ask me how she had any money… but she managed. She had A LOT of boyfriends. Perhaps they sponsored her. If she DID work, it was in a fashion boutique where she spent most of the time trying on the clothes instead of helping customers. In fact, looking back on it now, my Barbie was a little bitchy, somewhat lazy, completely self-absorbed and truth be told, probably a bit of a tramp.

AMANDA
One of my co-workers—let’s call her Amanda (names have been changed to protect the innocent)—had a much different interaction with her Barbie. Amanda’s Barbie was what I would call a little Worker Bee. Amanda dressed her in gray business suits and sent her to work in an office. All Amanda’s Barbie did was work. Amanda even cut up Barbie-sized squares of paper that she would feed into a miniature typewriter!! And all I could think of while she was telling me this was: She thought THIS was fun!?!?! How in the #@$% could this be fun??? But it was what Amanda liked to do with her Barbie.

When I inquired about possible boyfriends for her Barbie (I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Ken) she said that she didn’t have any Ken dolls. But she WOULD occasionally borrow her brother’s G.I. Joe doll and Joe, as if on a covert mission, would quote: “infiltrate the Barbie mansion.” Nice. It’s good to know that even Worker Bees like Amanda like to have fun. Even if it IS on the down-low, after a long, hard day at the office.

LISA
The other co-worker, let’s call her Lisa, technically HAD a Barbie to play with. But she didn’t really LIKE her Barbie all that much. Rather she tortured her Barbie from time to time. She would cut off all her hair, strip off all of her clothes, grab her by her teensy plastic foot and swing her around and around the room until she went flying into the wall.

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The most fascinating part of this colorful dialogue was the concept of our “Barbie play” amazingly hinting at the kind of women we’d each grown up to be. Thus my theory was born: What little girls do with their Barbies can offer a fairly accurate glimpse into the personalities of the women-in-waiting.

Now, I am NOT admitting to being a grown-up “bitchy, lazy, self-absorbed tramp”… though some may beg to differ. But I definitely DO like to have FUN above anything else. To me, work is a necessary evil and a means to much more important aspirations like partying, vacationing, shopping and working on my tan.

Some people, like Amanda, LIVE to work. And Amanda, to this day, remains one of the most devoted, hard-working employees I know. She put herself through school while working full time, earning not one but two degrees and has climbed the ladder in her organization. Most importantly, she is completely happy and fulfilled as that person.

Though I’ve lost track of Lisa over the years, when I knew her she was a dedicated athlete constantly railing against typical female stereotypes. She believed that women can do ANYTHING that men can do and to indicate otherwise got under her skin like nothing else. She valued fairness and equality in all walks of life and her work and leisure remained consistent with those beliefs. I doubt that she’s changed.

So perhaps it is a stretch, my theory. But I believe I’m on to something. If only I could find a generous benefactor to grant me the financial resources for the necessary research. I could quit my job and travel the globe interviewing women everywhere to obtain their stories. Naturally, this endeavor would require me to do quite a bit of socializing and patronizing lavish resorts along the way. I’d then publish my findings, resulting in a best-selling book, thus allowing me to fully retire before the age of 40… making way for nothing but F-U-N.