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Lean In, Loser.

September 23, 2013 1 comment

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I took an entire day off of work to host my book club last week (I work from home on small contracts, so no work means no pay). Since the book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, in which the COO of Facebook encourages women to go for gold in their careers, and stop settling for less, this was ironic.

Two things occurred to me while I was stashing shoes under beds and spearing mini bocconcini with toothpicks: There’s no way Sheryl Sandberg could be in a book club, let alone host one. And secondly, the Cyndi Lauper anthem that I grew up with, girls just want to have fun, does not apply all women. So we have our differences.

But I digress. Back to the book.

I was prepared to love Lean In. Feminism just happens to be my thing, don’t let my SAHM status fool you. I’m quick to support anything that advocates more women in power positions and equally represented everywhere (I’m looking at you, government). But before you think I’m just another jaded housewife, jealous of successful women like Sandberg and her ilk, let’s get a few things straight:

1. I am a jaded housewife.

2. I am jealous of successful women like Sandberg and her ilk.

3. I would feel differently about this book if I was twenty-one year-old graduate of Barnard College, and about to start my MBA at Harvard (naturally).

Because unlike Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique, which was more universal in nature, Sandberg’s book is most applicable to women in privileged positions. Take, for example, her advice for women to take risks with their careers, like she did when she left Google to work for the then little known start up, Facebook. Perhaps that’s easier for someone who counts Arianna Huffington and Oprah Winfrey among her friends.

While it’s not Sheryl’s fault that she had the highest grades in her Harvard business class (and felt she had to hide them). Or that Larry Summers, the white house economic advisor, kept jobs open for her, in the hopes she would move back to Washington. Or that she rubbed elbows with (or was patted on the head by) people like Tip O’Neill. This was her experience, and it’s the only place she can write from. But her advice would have a softer and broader landing if her life wasn’t so charmed.

Yes, the woman is brilliant. Yes, she has worked hard for every inch of progress. But for those of us with resume’s that don’t read like a who’s who of Silicon Valley or People magazine, it seems full of unobtainable goals. If there’s one thing women don’t need, it’s yet another brass ring, dangling out of reach.

I love that she wants to improve the world. I agree it would be better with more input by women. She gives great advice about sitting at the table and encourages women to be more assertive. She advises women to ask for raises and recognition when warranted. And most importantly, she encourages women to continue with their careers after having children, even when the cost of childcare seems to override the decision. Ahem. All valid points. All great advice.

Where were you when I needed you, ten years ago?

Her many good points aside, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Sandberg’s shiny house is more like the diamond variety, consisting of Ivy League schools, complete with Gloria Steinem on speed dial. Comparatively, straw and mud huts require constant attention.

I wish I could tell you what my book club thought about Lean In, but I was outside barbecuing salmon when they had the discussion. So really, my book club is like the advice Sandberg dishes out: good in theory, but at the end of the day, we all need to eat. Sometimes, real life gets in the way.

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From Vegas and Beyond With Lindy Hughes

May 16, 2011 4 comments

She endured a midlife crisis and came away from it an author. Lindy Hughes, incredible mother, wife, and ballet teacher turned novelist, is my subject today for Motivational Monday.

Every parent of daughters west of the Rockies has heard of her extraordinary prowess as a ballet teacher. Her South African accent combined with her love for fairies has little girls falling over themselves to get into her class – they are legendary, and each of my three girls were lucky to be her students.

But her rock star status amongst the five year-old set couldn’t insulate her disappointment that so many go through in their forties. She had never planned on getting married and having children, yet had done so and it naturally consumed her life. As Facebook launched and peers around the world caught up with her, she was mystified by her answers to what had become of her: how different they sounded from her grand plans of being a penniless writer.

Completely distraught, she had a very honest conversation with her husband, telling him she wanted to leave, that this life wasn’t intended for her. He asked her what her ideal life would look like.

I would be starving, sleeping on a floor somewhere in Paris, and writing, was her reply.

He pointed out she could do that here, in Vancouver, in their home. Sleep on the floor too if you want, but I’m not going to join you.

She agreed he had a point, there was nothing stopping her from writing except herself.

For the next three months, she wrote a fictional story about a middle-aged South African emigrant mother named Lucy who has an affair with her first love in the midst of a mid-life crisis. The story, she says, literally poured out of her.

Written with self-deprecating humour and just the right amount of poignancy, she self-published her book, It Never Stays in Vegas, through Amazon.

My book club read it, and Lindy gamely attended our meeting. Over wine and dinner, we barraged her with questions about the book, lobbing tougher questions as the wine flowed. She answered all of our questions in a straightforward manner, dealing with criticism as well as compliments. It was our best meeting ever, consumed not only by the book but also grander conversation about life and its challenges.

“Each life is just a story, and we CAN change things. Every day you are writing your own chapter,” she says. Writing her book was cathartic, and put her in a better space. “The world would be a better place if everyone would write their own book.”

She is in the midst of finishing her second book, Tutus, Tiaras and Tassels. This one is non-fiction, and is a collection of essays about lessons learned from the dance studio. Where Lindy is concerned, there is never a dull moment, and I am anxiously awaiting its release. Suffice to say this woman has chutzpah, but I can’t give anything else away.

“We must get over that fear of embarrassing ourselves,” she says, referring to the fact that everyone should live their best life, whatever that means for them. “At the end of the day, it’s just you on your deathbed, so you can’t let anyone else rule your life.”

I salute you Lindy, for making lemonade when life gave you lemons, for your fresh perspectives and your unflinching honesty, but mostly for going after your dream.

Parents Need to Get Their Hands Dirty With Social Media

April 11, 2011 7 comments

When I visit my family each summer, I watch my nieces and nephews text each other furiously. Their fingers are working overtime to host constant communication. I asked if their professors had any trouble with this during lectures, and my niece replied that they all have their phones on silent, but can still easily text without looking at them.

So while a professor may see a sea of attentive faces, quite likely they are deep in thought texting.

Tcchnology has changed the way our children communicate. How you feel about this personally is irrelevant. Texting, skyping, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are only gaining in popularity and children are finding ways of adapting them earlier.

Your mission as a parent, if you choose to accept it, is to become versed in social media before your child has to teach it to you.

There are two reasons for this:  If they are on Facebook or another social networking site, you can (attempt, at any rate) to be on their contact list, or ‘friend’, and therefore watch what they are doing more closely.

Being knowledgeble yourself in social media is to take away another layer of potential misunderstanding between you and your children. You are bridging a gap. If you are using social media effectively, your children are more likely to see you as an ally when they most need one.

Cyber-bullying is a nasty consequence of the proliferation of online communication. It’s easier than ever to be mean behind the cloak of anonymity. The rash of suicides amongst teenagers citing online bullying as the cause is rapidly increasing. As governments and teachers rush to react with preventative policies, teenagers will continue to circulate hurtful lists on their smartphones with a vengeance. They will start nasty Facebook campaigns and they will tweet nasty comments. Cyber-bullying won’t disappear, so arm yourself and your child against it.

Yet I know a lot of parents who know nothing about social media. They view it as a waste of time. They can’t get their head around it. They prefer traditional methods of communication. Knowledge is powerful, and learning this strange new world of interacting and socializing is to learn the language of our children.

Adapting the attitude that social media is child’s play will only keep you out of the conversation.

Move Over Bieber, YouTube Sensation Maria Aragon Is Here

March 1, 2011 4 comments

The internet is humming, and it is playing the same tune as people around the world click on a YouTube video posted recently by a 10-year-old in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Maria Aragon has become a sensation since putting a cover of Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” on the popular internet site on February 16. As of today her video, which shows her playing the piano in a simple white t-shirt and singing, has had over sixteen million hits.

It’s been a busy week and a half for the young Canadian. When Lady Gaga watched Maria’s video, she tweeted about her amazing talents, and since that moment Maria’s life has been turned upside down.

Less than a week after posting the video, Maria was on the radio interview circuit and appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Lady Gaga surprised Maria during one of her radio interviews by coming on the phone line, offering to sing a duet with her at her upcoming concert in Toronto.

Before performing on Ellen, Maria told the comedian that she chose this particular song because of its message. “Just be yourself, because God made you the way you are, and you are no different than anybody else,” she said. Maria performed her slower, acoustic version of the hit song in front of the studio audience and received a standing ovation.

Maria’s entourage has quickly been assembling social media protocol: a website has been created with the URL www.mariaaragonyoutubestar.com, and a Facebook fan page has been launched.

This is what going viral looks like.

According to her website, she will soon be appearing on Good Morning America, which means a plethora of daytime media appearances will follow, as The View, Regis and Kelly and other morning shows clamber for an interview.

Hopefully like any good Canadian, Maria’s support group can stick handle through the barrage of attention and keep her feet solidly on the ground even though her voice is heading for the stars.

My mama told me when I was young
We’re all born superstars
She rolled my hair, put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are”
She said, “‘Cause He made you perfect, babe”
“So hold your head up, girl and you you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say”

Lady Gaga, Born This Way

Getting a Handle on Twitter

January 19, 2011 8 comments
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter confounds me.  Although I’ve never been to a rodeo, I feel like it’s the feisty calf that my cowgirl self can’t lasso.

I have had trouble wrapping my head around this site, and was immediately dismissive of its necessity.  Who cares what Ashton Kutcher is saying about anything?  And pith has never been my strong point, so that 140 character minimum equates to writer’s block for me.

But it’s hung around, and in fact is growing in leaps and bounds, getting harder to ignore.  I had coffee with a Vancouver marketing dynamo, Jennifer Maloney, of Sip Publicity, and she encouraged me to get on Twitter. Her explanation was that Twitter was like one big cocktail party, where you meander around catching snippets of conversation which will occasionally interest you, and some which will not.  Facebook, on the other hand, is more like a barbecue, where you are in the company of those you know personally.

Equating any site on the internet with a cocktail party is music to any SAHM’s ears.  SIGN. ME. UP.

I love the game of cocktail parties, as everyone is ducking and jiving to have an interesting conversation with someone they barely know.   I’ve used the old “I just need to refresh my drink” phrase in efforts to dodge conversations containing the words “projectile vomiting” on more than one occasion.  Conversely I’ve lurked on the outskirts of tight circles discussing shoe sales or juicy tidbits of gossip, straining my ears so hard to hear that I practically fell on top of their cosmopolitans.  Yet my social calendar is devoid of these swanky little numbers.  Could Twitter really fill this crater?

I took a deep breath and created a Twitter handle, although I still had no idea what I should be tweeting about.  The next step was getting a list of followers, because what is the point of tweeting if no one is listening?  I already talk to myself far too much.  Jennifer had recommended looking at lists that interesting people are following.  If you’re interested in yoga, you might follow people who are following Lululemon.  I know, that’s a lot of following for one sentence, but welcome to the Twitter world of tweets.

There are many different people on this social networking site for many different reasons.  Like anything on the internet, watch out for spammers and anyone who tries to tell you how to make quick, easy money, and of course anyone who wants you to take your clothes off.  In fact, it’s really no different from real life; spidey senses should prevail.

As with any worthwhile achievement, the key to Twitter is patience and perseverance.  You are not going gain followers overnight, something that bothered me for a couple of months.   It’s a numbers game, where people generally follow people who have a large number of followers. These people are called influencers, and there is a certain amount of notoriety to be gained from hanging around them.  Exactly in the same way as everyone wants to be associated with the popular kid in school.  We grow, but we never really change.

The Twitter world at first seemed like a strange universe, where people were speaking a language I had never learned, with weird symbols like @, #, RT and DM.  But like skinny jeans, I’m slowly coming around to this fashion fad which seems to be here to stay.

The days of drinking and driving are firmly gone, but drinking and tweeting is encouraged!  Mix yourself a cosmo and join the party.

To Facebook or not to Facebook

December 22, 2010 2 comments
Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

This is a question that can easily divide a room in half at a party amongst people my age: “Are you on Facebook?”  Unlike teenagers and twenty-somethings, my peers are more hesitant to adapt new social networking practices, treading cautiously and making sure no credit card numbers are required before joining.  On the other hand, just like some school aged children, those not using Facebook are quick to sling arrows and insults towards those that are.  Just like all of those insecure bullies on the playground.

In the same way that a gun can be used to protect yourself, or murder someone, Facebook can be put to good, productive use, or it can be abused and exploited.  If you’re careful, Facebook doesn’t need to be the three headed monster lurking in your closet, contrary to what its critics tell me.

I have been on Facebook for a few years now, and am happy to count amongst my random list of friends some of my oldest and dearest childhood buddies.  I don’t exchange messages with them on a regular basis, but am happy that I know how to reach them if I want to share a memory with them, and if I’m ever in their city, I will look them up, since I now know where to find them.

Naysayers tell me they are in touch with all of the friends they want to be, they don’t need an online presence for this purpose.  That’s their prerogative.  But if life wasn’t so busy and these people still lived in my neighborhood, I would still ask Kyla if she could go bike riding after dinner, and ask Trina to come over, see if Jacqui could pick me up on her scooter, or ask Angie to go to a movie.  I would love to be able to do this, but these friends are now scattered across the country and busy with careers and families.  Facebook is as close to a playdate as we can come.

With almost my entire family on the opposite coast of Canada, Facebook is a great way of sharing photos.  We tried Flickr after our family cruise, but I have long since forgotten both the site name (Regan Cruise? Family Cruise? Booze Cruise?) and password.  Facebook is so much easier.  Every now and then I post an album of recent photos, and although I can almost hear a collective groan from the rest of my Facebook friends, it helps my family recognize my children who are growing like weeds when they disembark from the airplane each summer.

As for people who say it is nothing but a pick up place, or a place to connect with old boyfriends, I’m still waiting with bated breath, but no one has tried to pick me up.  There’s always next year, I guess.

Besides all of its obvious uses, Facebook is a huge part of our pop culture.  Ignoring it is like ignoring the World Wide Web.  Whether or not the powers that be at Facebook should install a “dislike” button has sparked a massive online debate – over the top, in my opinion, but fascinating to see how passionate Facebook users are about their network.   Or to see how much time people have on their hands.

Like an overused toy on Christmas that doesn’t see the light of Boxing Day, I go on Facebook sporadically these days, it has lost its shiny luster.  I don’t check my news feed everyday to see who has updated their status.   But I’m happy to be there in case an old friend looks me up, and I’m not above creeping – the Facebook term for looking at your friends profiles and pictures – in my spare time.  The world is becoming a smaller, more intimate place, and that has its benefits.