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When Polite Becomes a Problem

Dear Lochie,

I’ve spoken about Manners before, about what kind of behavior I expect from you and what kind of boy I want you to be, but I feel the need to tell you that there will be times when getting caught up in manners or “being polite” can hold you back, disappoint you or even put you in awkward or unsafe situations and, at those times, I give you full permission to courteously put your well being above your social graces. There is such a thing as being too nice. Bosses will pile work on you. People will take advantage of you. You’ll stay in relationships too long or miss opportunities waiting for someone to give you the go ahead. Though remembering you’re part of a bigger human picture and acting accordingly is key (the world is not all about you), you must also be aware that no one will look out for you better than yourself. You are your own champion, protector and catalyst. It’s up to you to take care of you. In the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the villain talks at length about how frequently people put themselves in danger rather than risk being impolite. He questions why people don’t trust their instincts and allow their fear of offending to outweigh any other concerns. Statistically I’m sure women do this more than men as we’re predisposed to be perceived as “nice” and more readily inclined to be “pleasers”, but you should be aware this kind of situation could also happen to you. I often wonder how many people are victims of crimes when they were just trying to be nice? How many people put themselves in uncomfortable situations rather than chance insulting someone? How many of us put up with things we hate just to appear agreeable? Look, nice is wonderful, it’s a lovely, hopeful way to behave, but be mindful it has a flip side that can allow people to take advantage of you and that goes from everything from violent crimes to crappy hotel rooms.

marsheating.socialtract.com

marsheating.socialtract.com

Felonies aside, I want you to be aware of the possibly negative results when you put “nice” and “polite” above all. Having and using courtesy is something I’ll always encourage but your well being takes precedence over other people’s “feelings”. It’s not impolite to respect yourself enough to speak up for what you need. It’s not rude to put your safety and well being first. The difference between being nice and being taken advantage of is measured by how you feel. Do you feel good about yourself, respected and well liked, or do you feel put upon, overlooked and marginalized? Paying the check for your friends is nice. Being expected to do it every time is insulting. If you’re confident in your worth you won’t allow yourself to be undersold.

I recently tried out a new acupuncturist. She was a Chinese national and didn’t speak much English but, unlike with customer service operators, I was ok with that. Plus, she took my insurance so I was willing to give her a go. As she read my intake form I started to get the impression she was in over her head. I have a pretty rare disease even for someone with a medical degree and English as a first language but, I didn’t want to discredit or undermine what could be her vast array of skills, so I waited while she read. After a short while she seemed to realize I was still there so she strapped a blood pressure cuff to me as she continued reading. Now, I’ve had my blood pressure taken a lot, both at my doctor’s office and at home, so I’m extremely familiar with the procedure. I know how it feels, how much time it takes, how tight it gets. This machine however was taking an extraordinarily long time and only continued to get tighter. As the pressure went from uncomfortable to painful I kept thinking it was going to stop. That it would hit the sweet spot, register and loosen up. It was hurting me but I didn’t want to say anything. I suppose I didn’t want to bother her. As it moved from painful to alarming, my desire to be perceived favorably was superseded by my unequivocal need to get the horrible thing off. The scene played out a little like this:

bpa.co.uk

bpa.co.uk

Tight, grimace.

Tighter, look at her for guidance.

Tighter, (to self) Suck it up. Suck it up. It’s almost over.

Tighter, “Ow, ow, ow!”

Tighter, (actively ripping the cuff off my arm) “OW! OW!”

When I finally got the Velcro undone I found a whole chunk of skin had been pulled through the metal loop of the cuff. It was just sticking out as if it was extra waiting to be cut off. I actually had to physically extricate my arm from the cuff by manually pushing my now obviously bruised skin back through the loop. It was horrible and I was furious, but instead of getting up and storming out like I wanted, saying something like “This isn’t going to work. Sorry.” (I hardly wanted someone sticking pins into me who couldn’t use a blood pressure cuff), I just sat there sore and sad.

I may as well have left because 10 minutes later when she asked “How do you know you’re actually sick? Because a doctor told you so…” with a skepticism that implied I might somehow be working with western medicine to create an imaginary issue, I ended up walking out anyway. It was too much. I had tried to be polite, but I couldn’t take it and my need to protect usurped my need to ingratiate.

blogs.telegraph.co.uk

blogs.telegraph.co.uk

I’ve had to advocate for myself more than most because as a sick person you quickly find if you aren’t looking out for your best interest few will. Too many things of too high an importance can fall through the cracks if you aren’t paying attention. Over the past five years I’ve learned to ask the questions, get the second opinion, double check the concerns and I’ve found that nothing is insignificant. Even the most minutia of details, like people who seem unsure when they’re about to draw my blood, matter and I’m not embarrassed to ask for someone else. I’ve become adamant about finding “‘the absolute best person for putting in a central line” because I’ve had too many hideous experiences to go through another one unnecessarily. Not everyone in the medical community is created equal and as my mother always says, “They didn’t all graduate top of their class”. If you don’t ask you’re just as likely to have a grossly swollen arm than a comfortable port. I realize people need to train on someone. I’ve just been around the block too many times to let it be me.

This is a view from a room at a top boutique hotel in NYC.  You don't have to say yes to this room. It's ok to ask for something different.

This is a view from a room at a top boutique hotel in NYC. You don’t have to say yes to this room. It’s ok to ask for something different.

As parents we’re great advocates for our children. If they aren’t getting enough time on the soccer field or we feel they’re being passed over for opportunities in school, we’re in there trying to sort it out, but if a similar oversight happens to us, all too often we’ll suck it up rather than risk being perceived as jerks or, heaven forbid, high maintenance. You must understand, it’s not high maintenance to know what you want and ask for it, it’s proactive, and more people should do it unapologetically. Speaking up for yourself does not equal rude. When I was younger I remember traumatizing my friends by letting waiters know something wasn’t right. They were always “soooo embarrassed” but I saw no issue with expressing myself. There’s complaining for the sake of complaining, sending meals back and generally just being churlish and snotty and then there’s replacing your recommended wine because you hate it or sending back a margarita because the bartender rimmed it in celery salt like a Bloody Mary. It’s perfectly reasonable to have things sorted out. It makes a tremendous difference to your enjoyment and I’m confident it’s completely acceptable behavior provided you handle the situation with class and civility. Putting up with something subpar just to avoid making waves doesn’t make you polite it makes you wussy. You may as well get what you want. Just be sure to acknowledge the effort in both tip and attitude.

doormat1

I kicked myself recently for not taking my own advice. Your Dad and I went to restaurant and our meals were so unpleasant we could barely get them down. If I’d made that chicken at home it would have been tossed but, aside from letting our waiter know we were disappointed, we continued to pick at our meals and ended up leaving the annoyed. It’s incredibly irritating to pay a fortune for dinner just to go home and eat cereal. The restaurant offered us a free dessert for our “troubles” but we didn’t take them up on it. It wasn’t about getting something we didn’t want for free, it was about getting what we wanted correct and we should have dealt with that. Ultimately, we just wrote off the restaurant and that’s unfortunate. We always liked it there and I’m sure they would have preferred making us new dinners over losing long term customers, but now we’ll never know.

It’s too easy to be taken advantage of these days. You can’t just assume the right thing will happen. Often, you have to insist on it. Sadly we live in a time where you also have to protect yourself more. Where your manners take a backseat to your safety. Your Dad and I sell a lot of stuff on Craigslist but with the recent situation of the husband and father who was killed when he took two men for a test drive of the truck he was selling on Kijiji, you can’t just assume people have good intentions anymore. In certain situations being distrustful and coming off cold is preferable to allowing friendly or trusting behavior get you in trouble. This isn’t to say you should walk around being an a*#hole and calling it protection, just that awareness is key.

stepstothesky.com

stepstothesky.com

Look, being a nice person is wonderful. People should think you’re nice. You should be nice. I’m not saying don’t take the time to help old people across the street or go through life distrustful of everyone, only looking out for “number one”, I’m simply reminding you to use common sense and good judgement, aware of the world you live in and it’s possibilities. Be courteous and respectful, making sure your sense of self worth doesn’t become a sense of entitlement, but don’t forget the only way you’ll ever really get what you want is if you’re ok asking for it. Sometimes the right thing to do, is the right thing for you.

The goal is to be polite, not a patsy.

I love you.

xo your mom

tumblr.com

tumblr.com

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Throwing in the Towel

Dear Loch,

How long do you wait before you throw in the towel? How dearly do you hold onto a dream before you accept it’s over and move onto something new? Is there a difference between making the “safe” choice and giving up?

Whether you want a spot on a team, acceptance at a specific University, the love of a particular person or tangible success at a chosen career, these questions will come up again and again. When you’re young it’s easier to move on, to shake it off and find a new dream, challenge or person when your first choice doesn’t work out. One of the beauties of youth is that the stakes are lower and more options are available as you discover who you are, but as you age, these questions become heavier because they refer to a finite and more important collection of things – the direction of your life, your career,  your spouse.  Not making the volleyball team, for example, will be replaced by rethinking how you’ll make a living, and though it’s possible you’ll succeed at everything you put your mind to, never having to deal with disappointment, it’s unlikely. There’s a chance you could choose a stable, clear cut career where hard work equals success but every day those jobs become less and less likely. Even doctors are struggling to make ends meet today. Realistically, I believe there’s a much stronger chance you’ll follow your heart into a career that speaks to you but has less than guaranteed results.

lumbertonpolitics.blogspot.com

lumbertonpolitics.blogspot.com

As your mother I want you to be happy. I hope you follow your dreams and do what it is you want to do. I’m a firm believer in “do what you love and the money will follow” and “choose the career you want and it won’t feel like work” but I’m also a current student in the school of hard knocks and I know first hand how discouraging it feels to live on the periphery of your dreams, to be so close that you can look through the window at the buffet but be starving outside. Your father and I have a wonderful life but it’s not the one we imagine and every day we struggle to rise above the disappointment to hold on until our persistence and hard work finally pays off.

acelebrationofwomen.org

acelebrationofwomen.org

Your Dad is better at this than me. His optimistic attitude serves him well in the world of the arts. As you know, when we met we were both actors. I was part of a successful show moving from NYC to LA and he was a reoccurring role on Star Trek about to be cast as a lead in an ABC pilot. Our dreams were within our grasp. Our time was coming. When I was fired from my show and your Dad’s pilot wasn’t picked up we were disappointed but not discouraged. We understood the business. We were young, talented, hungry. We’d been down before. We’d be up again. There were opportunities ahead and every job brought us one step closer to our goals. When your Dad was cast as the lead in a CBS show just before our wedding it felt right, as if everything had lead up to this. Our life and our choices were finally falling into place. We enjoyed our honeymoon that much more knowing Sean had a full time gig when we got back. When we returned to LA to find his role had been recast by a celebrity it was a big blow to our projected bank account but also to my faith that everything would work out. Just like that we were back to square one and over the next six months I became very discouraged. I was married now. I was 30. I had certain expectations that came with those titles that didn’t match up with my reality. I didn’t want to be a bartender married to a cater waiter. It no longer felt exciting to be a struggling actress. My dream of making a career doing what I loved was drowned out by the noise of my own disappointment. I felt unhappy all the time. I became jealous (and bitter) of other’s opportunities and luck. I had no experience with failure and here I was at the beginning of new decade, the decidedly adult part of my life, unable to look at myself in the mirror without seeing a loser.

bestlifeministries.com

bestlifeministries.com

Your Dad on the other hand was able to let everything slide off his back. He never questioned his career. He was so confident that everything would work out that my uncertainty stood out in contrast. I realized if I was no longer sure of my inevitable success I was in the wrong line of work. Almost every sign in an artistic career points to “you’re not going to make it” and if you start buying into that, it’s the beginning of the end. I was no longer happy. I’d lost track of who I was. I didn’t recognize myself amidst my insecurity. I could have hung on but it wasn’t worth it. I needed a new dream.

Letting go of the idea of being an actress was like saying goodbye to the person I thought I’d be and opening my life to the person I might be. It was heartbreaking but not nearly as painful and difficult as I thought. I missed being happy I wanted to find it again. My biggest problem was I had no idea what to do. My life had been mapped out for years and suddenly I was sailing without direction. It was simultaneously frightening and freeing.

Not knowing what you’re going to do with your life is scary at any age but changing course as a full fledged adult is particularly unnerving. How do you choose wisely without being swayed by your desired lifestyle, your current bills or growing list of dependents? What if you choose poorly and have to start again AGAIN? How do you stack up against your friends? Your contemporaries? How do you not feel embarrassingly left behind? For a while I was able to hid my lack of plan in my pregnancy and early days with you. The value of a stay-at-home mom was legitimate enough to start rebuilding my self worth and temporarily negate the question of what I was doing with my life.

wittytitlehere.com

wittytitlehere.com

When I found my way into writing my life opened up. I finally understood what it meant to work with joy. I felt value in myself I hadn’t in years. I was able to use my skills again, my brain. I found I could write for hours without feeling the least bit burdened. Being an actress was wonderful but with hindsight I saw what I really loved was entertaining people, making them laugh, and I could do that as a writer without the same burdens I felt as an actress. It turned out I was better suited to my fallback career. I like being attractive but resented it as a job requirement. I’m committed to hours of hard work but like a flexible schedule. I want to be a present hands-on mom and I have a tendency to let people know exactly what I’m thinking – a detriment to a young actress but real worth to a writer. The take away being: had I not “failed” at my original plan I never would have discovered the thing that made me happier. That Plan B is ok, provided you aren’t choosing it out of fear.

Now, I threw in the towel and got a whole new life, your Dad refused to do the same yet still found his way to a new passion. Having no desire to give up acting, he realized he also was no longer happy simply trying to afford to keep up his dream. He had a family now and wanted to be a part of his life not just a visitor too busy to enjoy it. At a crossroads he took a leap of faith and opened a production company. Just as my bottom line was to entertain, his was to create, and he realized he needed to make his own opportunities rather than continue to passively wait for them to come along. Instead of abandoning his dream in search of another, he added to it. Which career takes off only time will tell.

kendrickshop.com

kendrickshop.com

Lochlan, I believe your future, and the future of your peers, will be a less traditional route than the past. I think they’ll be less, “I’m going to be a lawyer” and more roundabout discoveries. I believe many of you will forge your own course and find yourself in careers and fields that have yet to be created, and in many ways, I believe your father and my irregular journeys may be of service to you as you navigate those uncertain waters. It won’t be easy but your Dad and I are firm believers that it’s ultimately a mistake to make the “safe” choice. Don’t choose the “sure thing” you don’t care about over the risky thing that would fulfill your dreams. I want you to be responsible, to protect yourself and your family but never feel you have to walk some predetermined path in order to be a success. You must do what fulfills you. You must follow your heart in all things. If you’re no longer happy or want or need things you can’t achieve on your current path, adjust, but never give up because holding on seems too hard. I changed courses and found something I love. Your father held tight to his dream but added to it. Either way we’re better people and parents for liking what we do.

mysignatureblog.com

mysignatureblog.com

The hardest part of an uncertain career is dealing with the disappointment of the wait. The pain of which is only counterbalanced by the happiness you surround yourself with. In our case: family, love, friends and you. If you work to secure all the important things when the rest comes it’ll be gravy. (Gravy your Dad and I are dying for like dried up turkeys, but gravy all the same.) The point is, create a happy life and success – financial or otherwise – will only add to it. Your father and I know plenty of “successful” people who are nowhere near as happy as us and we don’t want that for you, no matter how nice their houses might be. Follow your dreams without fear. Only by being true to yourself can you find real happiness without which success, in itself, is irrelevant.

I can only hope when you’re old enough to read this, our family’s prosperity will render the above advice prolific and inspiring…

Be happy. Make others happy. Carve your own path. Success will eventually follow. I’m counting on it.

Love you forever.

xo Mommy

dale-carnegie-quotes