Beth’s Guide to Bringing It and Owning It

mothI don’t know about you, but I always think of the perfect thing to say after the moment has passed and I’d seem like a psycho with a time delay if I said, “Hey, remember that time you said that thing about elephants?” So, it occurred to me about 24 hours after I hit post last week that I talked about turning on your charm, but I never told you how I do it or how you can do it or really anything. Well, fear not because today I’m going to share with you the secrets of bringing it and owning it.

Before I start, a disclaimer. While I was editing this post (yes, I actually edit sometimes), I thought, “Wow, I make it sound super easy.”   But even I fall down at this sometimes. Yesterday I had an event where I had to turn it on and when I left the house I was all hyped up. Then, I drove past the entrance to where I was supposed to go. “No problem. I’ll just turn around.”  I was in downtown Chicago and that is easier said then done. After twenty five minutes of random turning, almost causing major collisions, and trying to look at the GPS on my phone, I finally got there…15 minutes late. The weather was bad, so they started late anyway, but I was rattled. Then the nerves kicked in on top of that and I realized that in a room full of 300+ people, I didn’t know a single soul. I tried, but I don’t think I ever got it back to the level I wanted it. But those 300+ people don’t know me either, so hopefully they didn’t realize I was off my game. In short, using your charm takes practice, which, evidently, I need more of.

To refresh, “it” is that indefinable quality that gets someone noticed. Everyone has it to some degree and, despite what you may think, it can be developed. “Beth, surely you jest! I’m about as charming as a muskrat!” you may be thinking, but it’s true. Plus have you ever seen a muskrat? They are pretty cute. Today’s post requires a little audience participation (I usually hate that, too, but just go with it). Think of a time you felt on top of the world. You wanted to burst into song and twirl around on a mountain top like an escaped mental patient! Someone (probably me) could have sneered  “What the hell is s/he so freakin’ happy about?” and it would have made not one shred of difference in your mood.

No one can be that freakin’ happy all the time. People get sick, bash their car door into yours, eat your chips and don’t replace them (that was probably me, too), etc. But there are moments, both professional and personal, that it would be nice to be able to turn on the charm. By doing that exercise in the previous paragraph you’ve already done part of it- call up those awesome feelings. Sometimes it’s tough to call those feelings back to the surface. In The Charisma Myth (I refer to this book a lot because it’s great), the author gives a fantastic tip to change your mood- make a playlist. I am sure everyone has a song or ten that instantly lifts your mood. If you are like me, the songs border on slightly embarrassing to completely mortifying (I’d tell you my songs, but no one should ever mention LMFAO and John Lee Hooker in the same sentence), but the good thing is that no one has to know about it, but you….or the people you tell on your blog.

The next thing is to add a trigger. A trigger is exactly what it sounds like- a cue that tells your mind that it’s time to call up those feelings. It should be something you will remember easily. Something visual, like a switch going into the on position or a lightbulb going from dark to light. Or it can be something physical, like snapping your fingers or doing finger guns. Anything you want. BUT for a while you’re going to have to consciously do both- trigger and the feelings, because your mind has to get used to associating them together. After a time, you’ll just have to activate your trigger. Every time you feel yourself slipping, activate your trigger again.

Part of your charm is owning it. What does that mean? In the simplest terms possible, owning it is being comfortable with yourself. I don’t mean being defensive (“This is just how I am! Deal with it!”) or apologizing for what you are (“Sorry I’m awesome!”) or seeking validation (“I’m awesome! Right?”). Anyone who tries those paths is trying to convince themselves more then you and comes off as desperate.  Think of it this way- you are either left or right handed (unless you are one of those ambidextrous freaks*). Since it’s not something you can change, you accept it as neither good nor bad. It just is. So, to me, owning it is about embracing everything you are- flaws and all- realizing you are not defined by them. You are perfectly imperfect and without those imperfections, you wouldn’t be who you are.

So go and practice your charm, you hot stack of pancakes!

*hopefully you laughed at that and don’t come after me with both hands


Turning It On

bird3What do I mean by “it”? Well, it’s not what you are thinking, you nasty, nasty thing. My parents read here, for crying out loud! Anyway, I want to say it’s something super cheesy like a glow from within, but I know that like all super powers, “It” can be used for nefarious purposes as well. I guess it would be fair to say that “it” is that indefinable quality that gets you noticed (for good or eeeevil). Some people are better at working with this quality then others, but everyone has it and I’m convinced it can be developed.

There is a story that I thought was just an urban legend, but through my hard-hitting investigation (a google search), I found out was actually true. In 1955, Robert Stein and Ed Feingersh set out to interview and photograph Marilyn Monroe. The men were kind of surprised to find that the three of them could wander around Manhattan without being hounded by her fans. I’ll let Mr. Stein pick up the story:

Back up on the street, Marilyn looked around with a teasing smile. “Do you want to see her ?” she asked, then took off the coat, fluffed up her hair, and arched her back in a pose. In an instant she was engulfed, and it took several shoving, scary minutes to rewrap her and push clear of the growing crowd.

The two Marilyns kept fading in and out. At the costume fitting she arrived as the Star, commanding a swarm of tailors, seamstresses, and hangers-on until the Other abruptly emerged and burst into tears of frustration over some detail of the garment. Eddie’s camera got it all, showing her rising tension against a visual jangle of wire hangers in the background.

Of course, Marilyn Monroe is an extreme example (of pretty much everything). But let me give you another example. When I was 19, I had my wallet stolen. If you’ve ever had your wallet stolen you know that it’s a massive pain in the ass. Not so much because of the money lost, but because of all the things you have to replace. So I got to spend Saturday morning at the DMV with my mom. Yeah, a barrel of laughs for everyone involved. I was in such a bad mood that had I suddenly sprouted the ability to shoot lasers out my eyes, no one within my vicinity would have been surprised. I’m pretty sure the people who work at this particular DMV are either unentertaining animatronic characters or died around 1973 and their corpses are just going through the motions out of habit. If there were a zombie uprising, people in this DMV would just think there was a lot of staff on hand.

Finally, they called me and some guy to get our pictures taken and also said we should line up on the left side of this little wall. I didn’t give two flying craps where he told us to line up and stood on the right side. While we are waiting around for the 900 year old DMV worker to reanimate his corpse or whatever the hell we were waiting for (did I fail to mention there were exactly ZERO people in line in front of us?), the other person, who had lined up correctly, kept shooting me quizzical looks. I gave him one back that said, “WHAT??? Loser.” I was 19 and pissed, cut me some slack. But the craziest thing was that the guy gave a nervous laugh and said, “Oh, your left. Hahaha,” and got in line behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my mom chuckling. On the way home she said to me, “I don’t know how you do it, but there is something about you that can convince someone that they are wrong and you are right when the opposite is true. You didn’t even say anything to that guy and he thought he was in the wrong place.” I was 19 and pissed and believe my response was, “Okay, and?” As I got older, I’ve tried only to use my powers for good.

But the point is still the same in both situations, there was some kind of shift in the messages our internal broadcast systems were sending out. In the book, “The Charisma Myth”, Olivia Fox Cabane says that it’s a common misconception that charismatic people are that way 24/7. They aren’t and it can be learned. She goes on to say that the secret to charisma is found in three words: power, presence, and warmth. When we first meet someone, we assess these three qualities non-verbally and they don’t even have to be in balance- I wasn’t exactly exuding warmth that day at the DMV. Basically, we assume if someone is exuding confidence, that they have a very good reason for it.

But taking that a step further, there is a component to that confidence that is almost dismissive of others. It’s like you are so confident in yourself that you need no validation and nothing anyone can say or do could ever shake your self-confidence. You make no apologies for being awesome. This is really where that warmth is needed, though. Otherwise, you can delve into arrogance.

Joan 4Diving into pop culture again, I’m going to invoke the patron saint of curvy girls with attitude problems, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s newest partner, Joan Holloway (I do not acknowledge her unfortunate marriage Dr. Rapey).  Joan owns it and puts it out there. She doesn’t care if you don’t like it, because she knows that if you don’t that someone will and she’s doesn’t need your approval anyway. If you’ve ever seen Christina Hendricks interviewed, she seems quiet and a little bit awkward at times. She said once (paraphrasing), “I don’t know why people like Joan. She’s awful!” BUT, when she is Joan, she can turn it on with that internal shift.

Some people might be thinking, “But, Beth, I am unattractive with a horrible personality. Can this help an ugo like me?” First off, you are not an ugo. Second, charismatic people are perceived as more attractive. There is something so attractive about people who feel comfortable in their skin and really own everything about themselves. Those are the people you see and think, “I know he/she isn’t traditionally good looking, but there is just something about them…”

One thing that helped me quite a bit learning how to turn it on, was the unfortunately named book, “Psycho Cybernetics” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz (because of it’s name, people think it has something to do with Scientology, but it doesn’t, there’s no products or anything to buy other then the book). Dr. Maltz was a cosmetic surgeon and he noticed that after reconstructive surgery, some people would still feel like crap about themselves despite looking loads better. He found that people had these negative pictures about themselves that they were living into- like I’m an ugo with a horrible personality.  If they changed their inner dialog, focused on their successes instead of their failures, visualized themselves successful and acted on those feelings, their self-image changed and they were ultimately more confident. It’s more then positive thinking or self-talk, because you’re putting those positive feelings into action instead of just repeating words in your mind.

Very few of us are going to be like Joan and Marilyn (and we all know Marilyn is really a Joan*), but we can all use our powers for good and let our warmth and presence shine through. And, who knows, maybe you’ll cause a commotion on the subway…or a zombie uprising at the DMV.

Have a great week!

*if you get that you watch too much Mad Men and we should be best friends.

These Are A Few of My Least Favorite Things

Red-Winged BlackbirdLast semester, instead of taking roll by calling out our names, my teacher, Ray, would have a different question for us each day. Just things like, “What was your favorite tv show while growing up?” or “What is your favorite movie?” Normally, I’m like this big giggly Minnie Mouse, but the day Ray asked us, “What is your biggest pet peeve?” it was a whole other ball game. Apparently, having a list of about 5 gabillion pet peeves and getting riled up while you expound on them is perceived as abnormal? The funniest part was another very bubbly girl also had a list of 5 gabillion pet peeves and also got super annoyed talking about them. So, I think the lesson is clear – she and I should be best friends. What? Did you think I was going to say beware of giggly girls and their seething rage? Hm…(adds you to pet peeve list).

So since it’s doing some kind of snow/rain/ice/brimstone thing outside and I’m stuck inside watching people slide off the interstate on-ramp (you are never board when you live next to the interstate), I thought we could wander through the very vast volume that is my pet peeve list.

Probably 98% of the annoying things in my life happen at the grocery store and Costco. People just go freaking nuts when they cross into the parking lots of these places and it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Driving and parking laws? FOR THE WEAK! There’s no posted speed limit, so that must mean it’s completely fine to drive 40 mph. That big arrow painted on the ground indicating which way cars are supposed to drive? Pfft. Whatever. No match for a Navigator (that is going to park in the compact only space). Crosswalks? Never heard of ’em. And it’s totally cool when you just aim your cart towards the cart return, give it a good shove from 60 feet out and hope for the best. Yeah, my car shouldn’t have been parked 6 spaces away from the cart corral if I didn’t want to get dinged.

Photo I took at the Costo parking lot

Why do people think it’s okay to leave their cart in the middle of the aisle or, even better, just stand there with their cart? No, that’s okay. We’ll all just stand here and wait for the earth to revolve around you. PULL OVER! Closely related are the people who walk up to look at the same thing you are looking at, but instead of standing next to you, decide they are transparent and stand directly in front of you. I DO NOT HAVE XRAY VISION! MOVE!

Even though it’s not completely related to shopping, I’d like to say to all the loud cell phone talkers: if you are going to talk loud enough for me to hear you 4 aisles over, then please make your conversation interesting. I don’t want to hear about your kids dance recital or gross details about their illness, or your takeout order. Make it juicy! And, no, I’m not following you to hear more. Okay, I am. But pretend you don’t notice.

Oh, and let me be clear, I don’t want your store credit card. When I say, “No, thank you,” it’s not a dare. It doesn’t mean, “Please, try and talk me into it by not shutting up about it for the rest of the time it takes to ring up my crap.” I don’t care if you are offering 600% off and a puppy with every purchase. I don’t want it.

Despite what it sounds like above, I am pathologically polite. Seriously, it’s like a sickness. I used to thank the toll takers on the expressway until I was like what the hell am I thanking them for? The first time I didn’t thank one, I thought the politeness police (a bunch of moms with wooden spoons) were going to get me. So maybe my politeness bar is high or maybe I just run into jerks, but impolite people with no manners make my teeth grind. Is it really that hard to hold the door open for an extra 3 seconds so it doesn’t slam in someone’s face? Or when someone does hold the door open to acknowledge it in some way? What happened to the courtesy wave when you let someone merge in traffic? One time I let someone merge and they did the wave, then looked away when I waved back. So he waved again…and he looked away when I waved again. This happened two more times! It was like living a Seinfeld episode.  But hey, you can’t be mad at someone who just wants to thank you.

This last one used to drive me up the wall when I had a job and will probably do it next time I get a job, but I also have a relative who used to do this, too. If I send you an e-mail, I’m also sending you the message that I don’t want to speak to you. So don’t answer my e-mail with a phone call. Also, don’t send me an e-mail saying, “Hey, did you get my voicemail?” approximately 32 seconds after leaving that voicemail. I will get back to you (maybe)!

Wishing you sanity in the grocery store and an awesome week!


My Story Revisited

“Arc en Ciel” (Rainbow) by Louis Icart

Yeah, it’s come to this- a “Best Of…” post. I’m supposed to be building a website (did I ever mention how much I intensely dislike building websites?) that is due Monday morning at 8 AM. But rest assured, I will be back next week with something funny-ish. Until then, enjoy this post from last September about how I came to be a graphic design student. -Beth

I’ve been having a hard time staying motivated lately, so I thought I’d revisit why I became a graphic design student in the first place. It’s a little sad, but it doesn’t stay that way and there are laughs. I promise.

Years ago, I fell into a job I didn’t really like, but thought it was okay “for now.” The woman who hired me hated it, too, and dreamed of being a wedding planner. You would think that would have been a red flag, but I needed a job. She would always tell me, “Beth, go to school. Do something with your photography or anything that you love. You are young enough that you can change your life.” I always said when I was ready, the universe would shoot me out into the world to make my own way.

Time went on and “for now” turned into many, many years and we had that conversation over and over. She and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on A LOT of things and we didn’t always get along, but I always wanted to be like her.  She would smile and chat with every person she met. Seriously, we would walk down the hall at work and she’d start chatting with someone coming the other direction. The person would walk away and I’d ask, “Who was that?” She’d say, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before.” I am horrible at small-talk and shy with new people, so this was amazing to me. I am still in awe of people like that.

What she thought was a sinus infection that wouldn’t clear up ended up being cancer. The prognosis was pretty good, but she did have to leave work because of the chemo treatments. She’d come visit us at the office and was always her usual upbeat self, so there was never a question that she would come out perfectly healthy.

Meanwhile,  I was working from home the week of the big blizzard in February 2011. Since I would roll out of bed at 7:55 to boot up my computer, I was taking a shower on my lunch break and singing along with the Ray LaMontagne song, “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” (you knew there was going to be some Ray in here, didn’t you?). I got to the line that says, “All the friends you knew in school/They used to be so cool/Now they just bore you/Look at ’em now, already pullin’ the plow/So quick to take to grain like an old mule.” I just stopped. Even though I had heard that song 3 billion times before, this time that line struck something very deep.  I thought that since I had my photography that I was in a different boat then my coworkers, who all hated what we were doing. But in that moment I realized I was no different, no better. I was the old mule in the song. I was the one who fell into a situation I loathed and made no effort to better. Right then I knew I had to finally do something to change course.

So, I started looking for classes I could start in the summer since spring semester was already underway. I went through a ton of options. One of them was the paralegal program, which in retrospect is hilarious to me. When I got to graphic design, I read through everything about the program and, for some reason, I started to cry. My husband looked at me very puzzled and asked why I was crying. I said I didn’t know and started to crack up laughing, which made it sound like I was violently sobbing. This just made me laugh more and my poor husband had no idea what the hell was going on. But something inside felt like it clicked into place. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a graphic  designer did. I just hoped I’d be able to use my photography.

On the day of the Japanese tsunami I couldn’t turn away from watching all the horror on TV and kept thinking how unfair life can be and that we never know when our number will be up. The phone rang and it was my mom (through a weird series of events we ended up working at the same company in the same department). She told me that the woman who had hired me had lost her battle with cancer.

Less then two weeks later, our boss told the entire department we had a mandatory be-in-the-office day. He was pretty liberal with letting us work from home, the one perk of the job. We all knew what it meant. The signs had been there for months. We were all being let go. I kept thinking about the woman who hired me and how I always said to her, when I was ready, the universe would shoot me out into the world to make my own way. So, I guess I was ready.

Just because the universe thought I was ready, didn’t mean I felt ready. Those first two weeks of school were the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I literally felt physical resistance in my body, right at my solar plexus area. I would sit in my car after class and try to not cry so I could drive home and not look like a mess when I got there. It didn’t help that it was drawing and I was a horrible drawer. Finally, I realized that I could either suck it up and make the best of it or I could quit and go work at the same place most of my former coworkers had got jobs (that they already seemed to not like). I didn’t have to think about it further. I knew the woman who hired me would not want me to quit school. She died still an employee at a company she didn’t like, doing a job she hated. I know she wouldn’t want that for me or for anyone.

Now on the first day of each semester, I listen to, “Beg, Steal or Borrow” to remind myself of why I am doing this. After that I usually skip over to, “Old Before Your Time” and tear up when Ray and I sing, “I refused then, like I do now/To let anybody tie me down, I lost a few good friends along the way.”   All I can do to honor her memory is pay it forward and be a good example for others who may be in a similar  situation. Granted we are poor as hell now, but we get by and my life is so much better. I am thankful every day for all my new friends and new experiences that I never would have had, had everything else not come before. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days, but I know the path I am on ultimately leads to greater things.

Sometimes I wonder if she questioned if her life made a difference. I hope that where ever she is now, she knows that it did.