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atolemdro

100% life from concentrate

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I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live. My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definitions.

- activist/black/cancer thriver/caribbean american/feminist/lesbian/librarian/mother/poet laureate/”warrior” (and moreaudre lorde (via the countless things she served with her eyes).

heritage-01

few things “speak me” as much as this

04/23/14

3 dimensions of art

04/22/14 17 Comments

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here’s a cool take on blackout poetry that blends prose, poetry, and drawing (via nprbooks).  how do you read the resulting poem?

a.) “we learn

as a child

to feel the wind

and exist in consciousness,

lost moments,

our remembering”

or

b.) “we learn

as a child

to feel the wind

and exist in consciousness

remembering our lost moments”

or

c.) something else…

how to have a year that counts

04/13/14

here’s another great piece by umair haque.  it was written for hbr around new year’s, but the advice offered is timeless:

Happy New Year! Here’s your challenge. You—yes, you—right here, right now, have a chance, nothing more, a slim reed of a chance, at a year that counts.

So I’d be willing to bet you’ve been cutting back on the sugar and vowing to get to Inbox Zero. 2014 is the year you will finally floss! And make junior vice president assistant director!

But wait.

Before you get carried away by your Evernote file of Paleo recipes and your elaborate new system of Outlook sub-folders — you have a bigger opportunity here. Being the person you were put here to become.

I believe, first, in a humble, simple truth: that each and every one of us is here to live a life that matters. And we must do so by making each and every moment of each and every day of each and every year that we are privileged to live count.

And while dental hygiene is important, I’d like to postulate four resolutions that will help you create something that matters even more: a year that counts.

Don’t give up on your dreams. If you want your year to count, don’t start with your goals. Don’t start with your plans. Don’t start with your objectives. Start with your dreams. The bigger, the more laughable, the more impossible—the better. We feel as if our lives count when—and only when—we brush against our dreams, with the fingertips of our days. When we feel them; when we know them; when we become them. Our dreams do more than “inspire” us—that insipid word so loved by TED talkers and motivational speakers. Our dreams infuse us. They sing to us of who we may become. They elevate us. For our days to count, we must feel—sometimes painfully, sometimes joyously, never easily—that our better selves are roaring, exploding, thundering to life. And our dreams are the songs that awaken them.

Never, ever give up on your dreams. Not when it’s difficult; and especially not when it’s sensible. Nothing is more senseless than the sensible choice to live a meaningless life.

Don’t be afraid to suffer. There are two reasons for human action, and economists, with their superficial talk of “incentives,” don’t understand either. Fear and love. What are you afraid of? Rejection, poverty, disgrace? Whatever you call it, here is what it is: suffering. But you must never be afraid to suffer. It’s not that suffering makes you “stronger”—for life isn’t merely an exercise in empty stoicism; and, indeed, suffering for it’s own sake is futile. Nor merely must you suffer for the “sake” of what you want—money, power, sex, fame. No: it’s that suffering is so intimately connected with love — with what makes life worth living. Your fears are not imaginary: they will, it is likely, come true. Yes, you will get dumped, axed, insulted. You will fail, stumble, falter. You will hurt, ache, yearn, long, want, despair. But that is precisely the fire in which all the elements of greatness—empathy, grace, tolerance, forgiveness, perseverance—are forged.

It is no accident that the word passion arose from the Latin word for suffering. When we treat suffering as merely pain to be escaped, we sacrifice passion in the process. In a world where so many want to feel passionate about their lives and their work, very few seem willing to suffer. But you can’t have one without the other.

Suffering is the fire that melts the glass of the person you must leave behind. Suffering signals the price of growth; and we can never learn the worth of growth if we are afraid to suffer.

Seek the mystery inside the truth, not the truth inside the mystery. We’re taught to be obedient rationalists—super-nerd-brains running computer programs that optimize the lives other people tell us we should want—instead of, you know, human spirits capable of creating the lives we could live. What gets measured, goes the old adage, gets managed. So analyze, test, explain, iterate! But the universe is not just greater than what we can explain—it is infinitely richer. Can you put love in a spreadsheet? Can you iterate towards friendship? Can you explain happiness?

The truth alone isn’t enough if you want your days to counts. The mystery in the truth is where life begins to count. Why does this person love me? Did I really create that? What inspired me to break the rules and say that? What the hell just happened?!

Uncovering truths alone can help us make sensible choices—but sensible choices don’t propel to lives that matter. That leap is only taken in the instant you venture beyond certainty, beyond reason, beyond logic. And you must make that leap beyond truth every day, if you wish your days to count.

Let you happen. We, we are told, must “make it happen”; if we wish our lives to be precisely so. But that is the social philosophy of a child. Is it true that we must press the lever, if we wish to obtain the rewards we seek? Sure. If we’re lab rats—or smiling, thoughtless automatons. If, instead, we are here to live lives that matter, resonant with purpose, luminous with celebration, here is what is truer: we must let ourselves be, in every instant, who we were meant to become. We must be more than lever-pressers. We must escape our cages. We must let “it” happen. What is “it”? All that which imbues our actions with meaning; without which life is little more than an empty, meaningless performance—good and bad. Love. Yearning. Loss. Grief. Heartbreak. Tragedy. Despair. Triumph. Will. All that and more—we must let happen, if we are to grow. What stands in their way, most often? The world? No. It’s us, ourselves—it is the worst in us, that will not budge, that will not yield, that limits us. That leaves us feeling thwarted; stifled; cheated—because, in truth, we are. We are cheating ourselves of meaning when we do not let life happen—and act as we are merely conditioned to, by the cheap desires programmed into us instead: Achieve! Earn! Spend! Die!

So let you happen—all of you. Free yourself. Want a year that counts? Maybe you have to end a bad relationship so that you can have your heart shattered into a million tiny aching pieces…so it can beat with a fiercer rhythm. Maybe you have to tell your NeanderBoss “no” instead of smiling and nodding like a spineless flunky. Maybe you have to apologize to someone, and look your shortcomings straight in the eye. Or maybe you have to start that company, marry that person, and put down roots — even when the ground beneath you feels like shifting sand. Or maybe you have to strike out and get lost in the unknown to find the opportunity on the other side. Whatever it is, let it happen.

Rumi once said: “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the sky”. What did he mean? Something like this: we truly know what it is to love only when we humble ourselves to what counts. Our days count—and only count—when we may love more than we could before. Think about it: if you loved your partner, job, house, city, country, family, friends, ideas…less and less every day, how would you feel about your life? Like it was empty, futile, senseless: like it hadn’t…counted.

Which instants count? They’re not the ones that fill up our wallets. They’re not the ones where we have a pretty girl (or boy) on our arms. They’re not the ones where we buy, have, possess, barter, win, conquer. They’re the ones in which humble ourselves to the meaninglessness of all that. That’s when we kneel. And come face to face with the sky.

So stop. Stop scurrying. Stop chasing. Stop worrying, envying, hoarding, scheming.

You’re free. (You always were.) And you have a choice–and a chance. At making it all count. Not just this year. But every instant. Every moment. It. Your life. You.

Here’s a great secret: you don’t only live once. You live an uncountable multitude of times; a lifetime in every day. And that’s more than enough for anyone.

And so.

The question isn’t if you’re going to die. It’s whether you’re going to live.

related: how to create your reasonthe great collision | how to live “meaningfully well”

homemade planes, protheses & optimus prime

04/03/14 1 Comment

Sun Jifa moves a brick as he works to build his new house in Yong Ji county, Jilin province, September 25, 2012. Chinese farmer Sun, who lost his forearms in a dynamite fishing accident 32 years ago, could not afford to buy prosthesis. He spent two years guiding his two nephews to build him prosthesis from scrap metal, plastic and rubber. Over the years, Sun and his nephews have built about 300 prosthetic limbs for people in need, charging 3000 RMB ($476) each. Picture taken September 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Sheng Li)

Sun Jifa moves a brick as he works to build his new house in Yong Ji county, Jilin province, September 25, 2012. Chinese farmer Sun, who lost his forearms in a dynamite fishing accident 32 years ago, could not afford to buy prosthesis. He spent two years guiding his two nephews to build him prosthesis from scrap metal, plastic and rubber. Over the years, Sun and his nephews have built about 300 prosthetic limbs for people in need, charging 3000 RMB ($476) each. Picture taken September 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Sheng Li)

the submarines, planes, and other self-made creations depicted below came from inventors of different ages, genders & motivations.  some were successful.  others failed (repeatedly).  all however are great examples of hope and resourcefulness in action.

click on the pics below for detailed captions & closer looks.  via reuters by way of yahoo news.

related: 20 unusual homes from around the world

the relationship between anxiety and performance

03/25/14

written by scott stossel; adapted from his book my age of anxiety for hbr:

I choked.

It was just a middle-school tennis match against a manifestly worse player, but I became overwhelmed with anxiety. Before we’d started, the most important thing was to win. But during the match, I just wanted to get off the court fast. Burping uncontrollably, afraid of throwing up, I hit balls out. I hit them into the net. I double-faulted. And I lost 6-1, 6-0. After shaking hands and running off the court, I felt immediate relief. My distended stomach settled. My anxiety relented. And then self-loathing took over. This was a challenge match for a lower-ladder JV position. The stakes were low, but to me they felt existentially high. I’d lost to the overweight and oleaginous Paul (not his real name), and the result was there on the score sheet, and on the ladder hanging on the locker room wall, for all to see.

This sort of thing—purposely losing matches to escape intolerable anxiety—happened dozens of times throughout my school sports career. My coaches were baffled. How could I look so skillful in practice, they wondered, and yet so rarely win a significant match?

Choking when you’re expected to perform—whether you’re squaring off in tennis or vying for resources or key accounts or a desirable role at work—is actually surprisingly common. It happens with some regularity to probably around one-fifth of the population. Since this response is at least partly hardwired (more on that later), it’s not something you tend to outgrow as you mature and gain perspective. Thirty years after that match with Paul, I still struggle with it. A lot.

Who chokes, and why?

People who choke can be peak performers in some settings, trembling mice in others. The list of elite athletes who have choked spectacularly is extensive. Greg Norman, the Australian golfer, became completely unglued at the 1996 Masters, nervously frittering away a seemingly insurmountable lead over the final few holes. Jana Novotná, the Czech tennis star, was five points away from winning Wimbledon in 1993 when she disintegrated under pressure and blew a huge lead over Steffi Graf. And then there’s Roberto Duran, who famously lost his world welterweight championship to Sugar Ray Leonard. With sixteen seconds left in the eighth round—and millions of dollars on the line—Duran turned to the referee, raised his hands in surrender, and pleaded, “No más, no más [No more, no more].” Until that moment, Duran appeared to be invincible. Since then, he’s been widely considered one of the greatest quitters and cowards in sports history.

That may sound harsh, but just about the worst epithet one can sling at an athlete—worse, in some ways, than ”cheater”—is “choker.” To choke is to wilt under pressure, to fail to perform at the moment of greatest importance. A technical definition, as laid out by Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago cognitive psychologist who specializes in the topic, is “worse performance than expected given what a performer is capable of doing and what this performer has done in the past.”

In any performance arena, from sports to the military to the workplace, choking is produced by anxiety and, ipso facto, viewed as an absence of fortitude, a sign of weakness.

Of course, it’s not that simple.

Research shows a strong correlation between your genetically conferred physiology and how likely you are to crack under stress. For instance, a person’s allotment of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates stress responses, among other things, is relatively fixed from birth, more a function of heredity than of learning. People high in NPY tend to be unusually psychologically resilient and resistant to breaking down in high-pressure situations.

But that said, there’s also an element of “nurture” at work here. Psychological resilience is a trait that can be taught; the Pentagon is spending millions trying to figure out how to do that better. It’s possible that those who thrive under pressure have learned to be resilient—that their high levels of NPY are the product of their training or their upbringing.

According to the explicit monitoring theory of choking, derived from recent findings in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, performance falters when you concentrate too much attention on it. This runs counter to all the standard bromides about how the quality of your performance is tied to the intensity of your focus. But what seems to matter is the type of focus you have. As Beilock puts it, actively worrying about screwing up makes you more likely to screw up.

To achieve optimal performance—what some psychologists call flow—parts of your brain should be on automatic pilot, not actively thinking about (or “explicitly monitoring”) what you are doing. Beilock has found that she can dramatically improve athletes’ performance, at least in experiments, by getting them to focus on something other than the mechanics of their stroke or swing. Having them recite a poem or sing a song in their heads, distracting their conscious attention from the physical task, can rapidly improve performance. Chronic chokers—especially those who are clinically anxious—are too distracted from the task at hand by a relentless interior monologue of self-doubt: Am I doing this right? Do I look stupid? What if I make a fool of myself? Can people see me trembling? Can they hear my voice quavering? Am I going to lose my job?

When you look at brain scans of athletes pre- or midchoke, says sports psychologist Bradley Hatfield, you see a neural “traffic jam” of worry and self-monitoring. Brain scans of nonchokers, however—the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world, who exude grace under pressure—reveal neural activity that is “efficient and streamlined,” using only those parts of the brain relevant to strong performance.

Does that mean those of us whose bodies are set to quiver in response to the mildest perturbances are doomed to choke any time the pressure is on? Not necessarily. Because when you begin to untangle the relationship between anxiety and performance, it turns out to be very complex. It’s possible to be simultaneously anxious and effective.

Take, for example, Bill Russell, a Hall of Fame basketball player who won eleven championships with the Boston Celtics (the most by anyone in any major American sport, ever). He was selected to the NBA All-Star team twelve times and was voted the league’s most valuable player five times. He is generally acknowledged to be the greatest defender and all-around winner of his era, if not of all time. No one would question Russell’s toughness or his championship qualities or his courage. And yet, according to one tabulation, he vomited from anxiety before 1,128 of his games between 1956 and 1969. His teammate John Havlicek told the writer George Plimpton in 1968, “It’s a welcome sound, too, because it means he’s keyed up for the game and around the locker room we grin and say, ‘Man, we’re going to be all right tonight.’”

Like someone with an anxiety disorder, Russell had to contend with nerves that wreaked havoc with his stomach. But a crucial difference between Russell and the typical anxiety patient (aside, of course, from Russell’s preternatural athleticism) was the positive correlation between his anxiety and his performance. When Russell stopped throwing up for a stretch at the end of the 1963 season, he suffered through one of the worst slumps of his career. For him, a nervous stomach correlated with effective, even enhanced, performance.

How much anxiety is too much?

At some level, it’s normal—adaptive even—to be anxious in our postindustrial era of pervasive uncertainty, where social and economic structures are undergoing continuous disruption and professional roles are constantly changing. According to Charles Darwin (who himself suffered from crippling agoraphobia), species that “fear rightly” increase their chances of survival. We anxious people are less likely to remove ourselves from the gene pool by, say, becoming fighter pilots.

An influential study conducted a hundred years ago by two Harvard psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, demonstrated that moderate levels of anxiety improve performance in humans and animals: too much anxiety, obviously, impairs performance, but so does too little. Their findings have been experimentally demonstrated in both animals and humans many times since then.

“Without anxiety, little would be accomplished,” David Barlow, founder of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University, has written. “The performance of athletes, entertainers, executives, artisans, and students would suffer; creativity would diminish; crops might not be planted. And we would all achieve that idyllic state long sought after in our fast-paced society of whiling away our lives under a shade tree. This would be as deadly for the species as nuclear war.”

So how do you find the right balance? How do you get yourself into the performance zone where anxiety is beneficial? That’s a really tough question. For me, years of medication and intensive therapy have (sometimes, somewhat) taken the physical edge off my nerves so I could focus on trying to do well, not on removing myself from the center of attention as quickly as possible. For those who choke during presentations to board members or pitches to clients, for example, but probably aren’t what you’d call clinically anxious, the best approach may be one akin to what Beilock has athletes do in her experiments: redirecting your mind, in the moment, to something other than how you’re comporting yourself, so you can allow the skills and knowhow you’ve worked so hard to acquire to automatically kick into gear and carry you through. Your focus should not be on worrying about outcomes or consequences or on how you’re being perceived but simply on the task at hand. Prepare thoroughly (but not too obsessively) in advance; then stay in the moment. If you’re feeling anxious, breathe from your diaphragm in order to keep your sympathetic nervous system from revving up too much. And remember that it can be good to be keyed up: the right amount of nervousness will enhance your performance.

related: stress: the roots of resilience | turning stress into an asset

Everyday, think as you wake up, “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

the dalai lama with a great way to start your day.

related: the joy of an endlessly changing horizon

think this as you wake up

03/13/14 3 Comments

long-lost twins

03/07/14

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the owl looks almost as amused by this as i am (via HornRimmedRefugee).  for more pareidolia, click here & here.

carrie mae weems

03/05/14 2 Comments

"a single's waltz in time" (2003)

“a single’s waltz in time” (2003)

Art is the one place we all turn to for solace. We turn to it constantly, whether you are listening to music, or pop in a film; you want to escape reality, and if you thinking deeply, you want to engage in art in a complex way. Art allows us to navigate the more complicated parts of our lives in a way that is more palpable. We don’t go to the movies just to see a movie; we go for the experience. I’m very interested in the experience. Art has saved my life on a regular basis. I wanted to offer that experience to children, to enlist them, to show them the possibilities that are in the arts, to persuade them to pursue it for both their own personal salvation and for changing the way we are understood.

- mother, artist, macarthur fellow carrie mae weems.  she has an installation at the guggenheim until may 14th.  if you can’t make it to nyc in time, you can check out some of her work in the gallery below.  pics via her website & a recent nytimes feature (click both links to learn more about her story).

the psychological origins of waiting (… and waiting, and waiting) to work

03/02/14 2 Comments

leadwritten by megan mcardle. adapted from her book the up side of down for the atlantic:

Like most writers, I am an inveterate procrastinator. In the course of writing this one article, I have checked my e-mail approximately 3,000 times, made and discarded multiple grocery lists, conducted a lengthy Twitter battle over whether the gold standard is actually the worst economic policy ever proposed, written Facebook messages to schoolmates I haven’t seen in at least a decade, invented a delicious new recipe for chocolate berry protein smoothies, and googled my own name several times to make sure that I have at least once written something that someone would actually want to read.

Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard. One book editor I talked to fondly reminisced about the first book she was assigned to work on, back in the late 1990s. It had gone under contract in 1972.

I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”

Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. (There are exceptions, but they often also seem to be exceptions to the general writerly habit of putting off writing as long as possible.) At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.

This teaches a very bad, very false lesson: that success in work mostly depends on natural talent. Unfortunately, when you are a professional writer, you are competing with all the other kids who were at the top of their English classes. Your stuff may not—indeed, probably won’t—be the best anymore.

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.

The Fear of Turning In Nothing

Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible. But I’ve watched a surprising number of young journalists wreck, or nearly wreck, their careers by simply failing to hand in articles. These are all college graduates who can write in complete sentences, so it is not that they are lazy incompetents. Rather, they seem to be paralyzed by the prospect of writing something that isn’t very good.

“Exactly!” said Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, when I floated this theory by her. One of the best-known experts in the psychology of motivation, Dweck has spent her career studying failure, and how people react to it. As you might expect, failure isn’t all that popular an activity. And yet, as she discovered through her research, not everyone reacts to it by breaking out in hives. While many of the people she studied hated tasks that they didn’t do well, some people thrived under the challenge. They positively relished things they weren’t very good at—for precisely the reason that they should have: when they were failing, they were learning.

Dweck puzzled over what it was that made these people so different from their peers. It hit her one day as she was sitting in her office (then at Columbia), chewing over the results of the latest experiment with one of her graduate students: the people who dislike challenges think that talent is a fixed thing that you’re either born with or not. The people who relish them think that it’s something you can nourish by doing stuff you’re not good at.

“There was this eureka moment,” says Dweck. She now identifies the former group as people with a “fixed mind-set,” while the latter group has a “growth mind-set.” Whether you are more fixed or more of a grower helps determine how you react to anything that tests your intellectual abilities. For growth people, challenges are an opportunity to deepen their talents, but for “fixed” people, they are just a dipstick that measures how high your ability level is. Finding out that you’re not as good as you thought is not an opportunity to improve; it’s a signal that you should maybe look into a less demanding career, like mopping floors.

This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you “really” are is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable.

If they’re forced into a challenge they don’t feel prepared for, they may even engage in what psychologists call “self-handicapping”: deliberately doing things that will hamper their performance in order to give themselves an excuse for not doing well. Self-handicapping can be fairly spectacular: in one study, men deliberately chose performance-inhibitingdrugs when facing a task they didn’t expect to do well on. “Instead of studying,” writes the psychologist Edward Hirt, “a student goes to a movie the night before an exam. If he performs poorly, he can attribute his failure to a lack of studying rather than to a lack of ability or intelligence. On the other hand, if he does well on the exam, he may conclude that he has exceptional ability, because he was able to perform well without studying.”

Writers who don’t produce copy—or leave it so long that they couldn’t possibly produce something good—are giving themselves the perfect excuse for not succeeding.

“Work finally begins,” says Alain de Botton, “when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” For people with an extremely fixed mind-set, that tipping point quite often never happens. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes.

“The kids who race ahead in the readers without much supervision get praised for being smart,” says Dweck. “What are they learning? They’re learning that being smart is not about overcoming tough challenges. It’s about finding work easy. When they get to college or graduate school and it starts being hard, they don’t necessarily know how to deal with that.”

Embracing Hard Work

Our educational system is almost designed to foster a fixed mind-set. Think about how a typical English class works: You read a “great work” by a famous author, discussing what the messages are, and how the author uses language, structure, and imagery to convey them. You memorize particularly pithy quotes to be regurgitated on the exam, and perhaps later on second dates. Students are rarely encouraged to peek at early drafts of those works. All they see is the final product, lovingly polished by both writer and editor to a very high shine. When the teacher asks “What is the author saying here?” no one ever suggests that the answer might be “He didn’t quite know” or “That sentence was part of a key scene in an earlier draft, and he forgot to take it out in revision.”

Or consider a science survey class. It consists almost entirely of the theories that turned out to be right—not the folks who believed in the mythical “N-rays,” declared that human beings had forty-eight chromosomes, or saw imaginary canals on Mars. When we do read about falsified scientific theories of the past—Lamarckian evolution, phrenology, reproduction by “spontaneous generation”—the people who believed in them frequently come across as ludicrous yokels, even though many of them were distinguished scientists who made real contributions to their fields.

“You never see the mistakes, or the struggle,” says Dweck. No wonder students get the idea that being a good writer is defined by not writing bad stuff.

Unfortunately, in your own work, you are confronted with every clunky paragraph, every labored metaphor and unending story that refuses to come to a point. “The reason we struggle with”insecurity,” says Pastor Steven Furtick, “is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

About six years ago, commentators started noticing a strange pattern of behavior among the young millennials who were pouring out of college. Eventually, the writer Ron Alsop would dub them the Trophy Kids. Despite the sound of it, this has nothing to do with “trophy wives.” Rather, it has to do with the way these kids were raised. This new generation was brought up to believe that there should be no winners and no losers, no scrubs or MVPs. Everyone, no matter how ineptly they perform, gets a trophy.

As these kids have moved into the workforce, managers complain that new graduates expect the workplace to replicate the cosy, well-structured environment of school. They demand concrete, well-described tasks and constant feedback, as if they were still trying to figure out what was going to be on the exam. “It’s very hard to give them negative feedback without crushing their egos,” one employer told Bruce Tulgan, the author of Not Everyone Gets a Trophy. “They walk in thinking they know more than they know.”

When I started asking around about this phenomenon, I was a bit skeptical. After all, us old geezers have been grousing about those young whippersnappers for centuries. But whenever I brought the subject up, I got a torrent of complaints, including from people who  have been managing new hires for decades. They were able to compare them with previous classes, not just with some mental image of how great we all were at their age. And they insisted that something really has changed—something that’s not limited to the super-coddled children of the elite.

“I’ll hire someone who’s twenty-seven, and he’s fine,” says Todd, who manages a car rental operation in the Midwest. “But if I hire someone who’s twenty-three or twenty-four, they need everything spelled out for them, they want me to hover over their shoulder. It’s like somewhere in those three or four years, someone flipped a switch.” They are probably harder working and more conscientious than my generation.  But many seem intensely uncomfortable with the comparatively unstructured world of work.  No wonder so many elite students go into finance and consulting—jobs that surround them with other elite grads, with well-structured reviews and advancement.

Today’s new graduates may be better credentialed than previous generations, and are often very hardworking, but only when given very explicit direction. And they seem to demand constant praise. Is it any wonder, with so many adults hovering so closely over every aspect of their lives? Frantic parents of a certain socioeconomic level now give their kids the kind of intensive early grooming that used to be reserved for princelings or little Dalai Lamas.

All this “help” can be actively harmful. These days, I’m told, private schools in New York are (quietly, tactfully) trying to combat a minor epidemic of expensive tutors who do the kids’ work for them, something that would have been nearly unthinkable when I went through the system 20 years ago.  Our parents were in league with the teachers, not us. But these days, fewer seem willing to risk letting young Silas or Gertrude fail out of the Ivy League.

Thanks to decades of expansion, there are still enough spaces for basically every student who wants to go to college. But there’s a catch: Most of those new spaces were created at less selective schools. Two-thirds of Americans now attend a college that, for all intents and purposes, admits anyone who applies. Spots at the elite schools—the top 10 percent—have barely kept up with population growth. Meanwhile demand for those slots has grown much faster, because as the economy has gotten more competitive, parents are looking for a guarantee that their children will be successful. A degree from an elite school is the closest thing they can think of.

So we get Whiffle Parenting: constant supervision to ensure that a kid can’t knock themselves off the ladder that is thought to lead, almost automatically, through a selective college and into the good life.  It’s an entirely rational reaction to an educational system in which the stakes are always rising, and any small misstep can knock you out of the race. But is this really good parenting? A golden credential is no guarantee of success, and in the process of trying to secure one for their kids, parents are depriving them of what they really need: the ability to learn from their mistakes, to be knocked down and to pick themselves up—the ability, in other words, to fail gracefully. That is probably the most important lesson our kids will learn at school, and instead many are being taught the opposite.

pharrell williams “lost queen”

with his new album g i r l, pharrell follows the lively tone set by his oscar-nominated single “happy”.  the project isn’t perfect (corny and forced in spots).  however, it’s sprinkled with enough refreshing sounds/songs to make it worth a listen. one of those moments for me is “lost queen”, which takes you on two different vibes with a literal trip to the beach in between.  check it out, and if so inclined, stream the full album here via itunes radio.

02/26/14

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