How to help a friend

Dear Daughter,

You know, there are a lot of really good people in this world. We mostly hear about the bad ones—and there are a lot of them as well—but don’t let anyone tell you that there is more bad than good in this world. Because I truly believe that it’s just the opposite.

In the weeks following the birth of the baby, so many of my friends and family members stepped outside of their comfort zones to lend a helping hand. They made us dinners, cleaned the house, and offered to help me with anything I needed. We even had to tell people to stop making us food because we had too much! I was overwhelmed by their generosity, and even felt a little guilty for it. It’s not like I was sick. I’d had a baby, which is a tremendous gift in and of itself. I was blessed enough to have a new child, let alone people begging to feed and serve me!

For some reason, all of my life, loved ones have gone out of their way to help me with things. I’m not sure why; it’s not like I’ve been dealt a rough hand. I think there are just a lot of giving people in my life, people who delight in helping others. And during the times that I did need help, I humbly accepted it.

It’s recently dawned on me, however, that I haven’t returned the favor as often as I should have. I don’t help my family members as much as they help me, and I don’t reach out to my friends in the way that they reach out to me. All of this time I’ve been receiving, receiving, receiving (always gratefully, but still…) and I’ve done very little giving, giving, giving. I like helping people by listening to them and giving advice but I’m not so good at the real-life, practical, everyday stuff. Sadly, it usually doesn’t even occur to me to do such a thing.

Daughter, I encourage you to open your eyes to the needs of the people in your life. Pay close attention to what might be lacking in their current situation, and figure out a way in which you can fill that gap. Help them with their schoolwork. Give them your dessert at lunch. Teach them how to play a sport. When you’re older, offer to cook for them, or watch their kids for a few hours so they can get some rest. Be acutely keen to their needs and offer to help. Don’t wait to be asked for help, because they’ll never ask. Just stick your neck out there and do whatever it is they need. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

Love,
Mom

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More adventures with Jan and Marsha (which is actually Marcia)

So I totally wrote the word “Marsha” about 50 times in yesterday’s post, only to find out later that the Brady Bunch character’s name is really spelled “Marcia.” I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t check on that before writing the post. That’s like Proofreading 101! And I call myself an editor…

Oh well, you live, you learn.

Anyway, I came across this video clip of a classic Jan vs. Marcia moment and thought it perfectly summed up what I wrote about yesterday, with some good advice from Mr. and Mrs. Brady at the end.

How to be a Jan amongst Marshas

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday a reader of this blog asked me for advice on how not to feel inferior when one of your friends seems to have it all. This is something that a lot of young women struggle with, so I decided to dedicate a full post to it.

It’s what I like to call The Marsha Effect. There’s an old TV show called The Brady Bunch, which was about a family of six kids (three boys, three girls). The middle girl was named Jan and her older sister was Marsha. Jan was the smart, clumsy, kind of nerdy one who wore glasses and had a plain appearance. Marsha, on the other hand, was beautiful, popular, charismatic, and seemed to do no wrong in the eyes of her parents or anyone. Jan was almost always jealous of Marsha, and one of the popular sayings from the show is when Jan would stomp her foot and say, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

These moments in the show were comical but are a hard-hitting reality for many women. We all have a “Marsha” in our life, the one for whom everything works out, the one that everyone loves and focuses their attention on. And we want to be happy for the Marshas. After all, it’s not like they don’t deserve the throne of greatness. It’s just that, in their greatness, we feel inferior, like there’s nothing we can do to rise up to her level. Next to her, we feel overlooked, ignored, not special enough to be noticed.

Such feelings of inferiority can cause a downward spiral of insecurity, which can lead to other dangerous things like depression, bitterness and maybe even the desire to sabotage the Marsha in your life.

I don’t have a secret potion on how to handle such a situation. But here are some ways to stand out as a “Jan” amongst Marshas:

1) Don’t ever, ever try to be someone you’re not. This is very important. You may find yourself wishing you were like Marsha but you’re not. You’re you, and you’re awesome. Don’t try to change your appearance or personality simply for the sake of getting Marsha-like attention. People will catch on to the fact that you’re a phony, and you’ll be alienated even more because of it.

2) Focus on your strengths. There was one thing Jan had that Marsha didn’t: intelligence. And in Jan’s strongest moments, she used her smarts to stand out, to get the credit that she deserved. Similarly, you have a gift that no one else does. Whether it’s your singing voice or artistic ability or your humor… figure out what it is, work on perfecting it, and when you feel inferior, remember you have this amazing gift that makes you unique.

3) Smile more and practice good posture. It seems silly but these simple physical gestures, which actually are not very simple at times, exude oodles of self-confidence. It’s hard not to notice someone with a warm smile and a tall posture.

4) Give, give, give. Instead of dwelling on your own inferiority all the time, turn your eyes outward and see where you can help others. Use your aforementioned strengths to serve those who truly are inferior in our society, or simply to help a friend who is hurting. Taking the focus off of yourself (and off Marsha) and shifting it to others will serve as a reminder that this world is bigger than you, than Marsha, than all the people who worship the ground Marsha walks on. You can make a contribution to that big world, and doing so is far more rewarding than being the most popular girl in the room.

We all have a little Marsha in us. We just have to find it.

But being a Jan is pretty cool, too.

Love,
Mom

Why social media is not your personal journal

Dear Daughter,

You’re too young right now to use social media, and who knows what that medium will even look like in a few years, when you are old enough to use it. I have a feeling, however, that our everyday lives will be made even more public as the years go on, and if that’s the case, I have some words of caution.

What you say and do online is a snapshot of who you are. It may not be the most fair snapshot, but it does tell people a lot about you. I have some friends on Facebook whom I don’t know very well in real life, and yet it’s strange how much I know about them: what their interests are, what their family is like, where they’re going on their next vacation, etc.

But mainly, I can tell what kind of attitude they have. Writing little observations about your day reveals a lot about how you look at life, and most people view life either positively or negatively. There’s little gray area.

It’s one thing to gripe about the weather, traffic or when your favorite sports team lets you down. But many people go a step further than that, using sites like Facebook and Twitter to complain about their job, their family, their spouse… They view social media as if it’s the old-school journal, venting about everything that ticks them off and assuming that, because it was written behind a computer screen, it’s okay. But it’s not okay. Because people see those posts and can be hurt by them. Plus, the person writing the complaints is only tarnishing their own reputation. Most people don’t read those posts and sympathize with that person; instead they make a character judgment about them. We tend to think the chronic complainers are sad, bitter curmudgeons.

Believe me, you don’t want to be known as a curmudgeon.

There is no line between the Real World and the Internet World these days. It’s all one big jumbled mess, and what happens in one world can greatly affect what happens in the other. Which means you need to take the high road in both. Don’t write anything online that you wouldn’t say directly to a person’s face, and don’t complain just for the sake of complaining. Social media was not intended for that purpose. There are some things you simply need to keep to yourself. If you have to vent, do so in a private format, not for all the world to see.

Before posting anything online, ask yourself two questions: 1) “Will this hurt someone else?” and 2) “Will this hurt my reputation?” If the answer to either question is yes, then step away from the computer. Be smart, and be dedicated to using social media only for good. (Or at least for a little harmless entertainment. Like sharing this hilarious video.)

Love,
Mom

Do actions speak louder than words?

Dear Daughter,

As expected, I received quite a bit of feedback on my last letter to you, about how girls shouldn’t swear. (Most of the feedback was given on my Facebook page rather than on the blog post itself.) Lots of people agreed with me but some didn’t, and that’s fine. I expected that because really it’s all a matter of opinion.

One person, though, said something in his comment that perplexed me. He said, “Actions make a person, not words.” Hmm… I get his point but I’m not sure I agree with it 100 percent. What you choose to say or not say is an action in itself. Also, you could do the nicest things for people, but if you say horrible things about them behind their back, then the nice actions have less value, and you end up looking like a two-faced person who can’t be trusted.

Similarly, your actions need to back up your words. J could tell me he loves me all he wants, but if he never does anything to show his love, then after awhile I’ll stop believing him. (This isn’t a problem, by the way. J is definitely an Acts of Service guy.)

It is true that “actions speak louder than words,” as the expression goes, but that doesn’t mean actions are the end-all be-all and words have no value. It doesn’t mean that, as long as your actions are good, you can say whatever you want, whenever you want. Especially because your words are a more tangible expression of who you are. Not everyone will notice your actions right away, but they will hear your words, and what you say will make an immediate impression on them, good or bad.

My point is, you need to be aware that your actions and your speech must line up with one another. One does not define you more than the other. They both need to back each other up. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. And if your actions portray you as a certain type of person, then your speech needs to reflect that as well. It’s not at all easy, but it is important, in order to maintain integrity and respect.

Love,
Mom

When to stop dwelling on your problems

Dear Daughter,

There’s a great country song by Rodney Atkins that says, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going, don’t slow down. If you’re scared, don’t show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.”

I think this is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Basically he’s saying, when you’re in the midst of a trial, don’t wallow in misery. Don’t let yourself get caught up in it; instead just stay strong and forge through. In another part of the song he says, “Keep on moving, face that fire, walk right through it.”

You will go through many trials in life, Daughter. It’s inevitable. I hope and pray that your trials will be minor, but they might not be. Major or minor, however, you have a choice on how to handle them. You can either let them consume you or let them refine you. I advise the latter.

That’s not to say that you can’t go through a grieving process. Rodney Atkins isn’t telling us to deny our problems but rather to face them and then do something about them. If someone you love dies, for example, it’s both natural and necessary for you to take some time to grieve, to be sad and angry and whatever other emotion comes upon you. But after a while, you do need to get on with your life. You’ll never stop missing that person, but you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t learn to live without him or her.

My example pales in comparison to death, but one time I went through a devastating breakup. The jerk I was with for months (which isn’t very long but felt like it to me) just up and left me, without a word. It broke my heart into pieces and I couldn’t go a minute without thinking about it. My poor sister was the recipient of many tear-filled phone calls, when I would go on and on about how horrible I felt and how awful he was and how… how could he do such a thing to me?? Finally, your aunt being the wise, straight-shooter she is, said, “You need to forget about him. What he did was wrong, yes, but that’s just further clarification that he’s not right for you. He’s the wrong guy, Julie. You know that now. So forget about him.”

Her words shocked me at first. Up until then she had been just a patient listener. But she’d had enough. And she wanted me to have enough too. I’d had my time to be sad. Now was the time to move on. And so I did.

When you do healthily progress from such an experience, you become a little bit stronger. You sport a thicker skin that will better handle the next hardship. The next time around, you know that you’ll survive because you’ve lived through it before. You’ll know that good days will come again, and they’ll come even sooner when you choose to stand tall and keep moving forward.

Love,
Mom

Why we always want the next best thing

Dear Daughter,

I don’t know if it’s human nature or just American nature, but it seems that, when it comes to material possessions, we’re never satisfied. We could have the nicest, most luxurious items in the world, and yet we’ll always be on the search for something even better.

This became very real to me just last night. For about a year now, I’ve been wanting a Kindle, or some other type of e-reader. It’s funny because, being a die-hard fan of pen and paper, for a long time I was against e-readers. But eventually I came to appreciate their value and once I did, I really wanted one for myself. So finally I got one, just yesterday. It’s the least expensive Kindle on the market, but still, I was ecstatic to come home to it.

Until I saw the commercial.

While in the midst of downloading books onto my new toy, a TV commercial played about the new Kindle Fire, which is a bright, flashy, touch-screeny masterpiece of awesomeness. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want in an e-reader. I looked down at the Kindle in my hand. Suddenly its gray screen and plastic buttons seemed dull, archaic. A voice whined in my head: Man, why couldn’t I have spent just a few more bucks for the Fire?

I finally owned the one thing I’ve been wanting for so long, and still it wasn’t good enough.

This is a common way of thinking, especially nowadays when everything gets an upgrade every six months. We’re constantly made to believe we should have the newest, coolest version of whatever product we own. We’re always striving to keep up with the Joneses, to keep throwing our money at these things simply so we can say we have the biggest, best and brightest. Because somehow that determines our worth. It makes us look smart, hip, better than everyone else. Only, in reality, it makes us fools. Because it won’t be long before we’re panicking about having the next biggest, best and brightest thing. And the cycle continues.

Daughter, it would behoove you to come to terms at a young age with the fact that these kinds of material items will never satisfy you, so you might as well appreciate what you do have. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a Kindle or iPad or whatever the “it” product is for your generation. Those things in and of themselves are good, useful resources that will likely enrich your life in some way. But they should not determine your self-worth, and you should not get wrapped up in the rat race of consumerism.

Whenever you have those moments when everything you own seems to be the second-rate version, try to change your perspective. Look at the many blessings you have in your life, like your family or friends, your passions or talents. Even look at the material items you do own and appreciate how fortunate you are to have them, while so many others in the world have nothing.

Be better than everyone else not by having the hottest product on the market, but by seeing the futility in having the hottest product on the market. Escape from the bondage of marketing and consumerism, and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Love,
Mom

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