A Hard Pill To Swallow

When I was younger, I regularly looked after my neighbor’s cat.  The cat had hyperthyroidism, so she was prescribed oral medication to take before each meal.  My neighbor warned me the cat didn’t like taking her pills, but said she’d feel much worse if she was off her meds.  The feeble feline was fairly frail as a result of her overactive thyroid, so I figured she couldn’t put up much of a fight even if she tried.  But when I went to grab that pussy like my name was Donald Trump, the cat channeled the spirit of the late Meowhammad Ali.  She thrashed, clawed, bit me, and even hid the tablets under her tongue to cough up after I walked away.  I had her best interest in mind, but she could only infer from my approach that I wanted to hurt her.

I could have followed the path of least resistance by deciding to stop trying to give her the pills.  Avoiding the situation altogether was the easiest, most painless solution for me, but ultimately it would have been a very selfish one that led to an even less undesirable outcome for both of us.  Our interactions would have been harmonious on the surface, but the cat inevitably would’ve gotten sicker and before long, there would be no more cat for me to look after.  I started thinking creatively about how I could make med adherence more mutually beneficial.  Each pill was about the size of her favorite salmon-flavored pellets, so I began feeding her a few treats with the pill mixed in before I put out her food bowl.  When I tried this method, the pills softened in her mouth first so that they were easier to swallow and tasted more pleasant.  Our new system served us both because she started getting stronger and I walked away without a scratch.

While this is a literal example of delivering a hard pill to swallow, we’ve all likely had to do this in the figurative sense.  Any relationship with depth carries the potential for having to relay bad news, express a difference of opinion, or have an otherwise awkward conversation—including the one about ending the relationship.  It’s especially uncomfortable to have hard conversations with people we care about, as we risk becoming the target of resentment for causing them pain.  We don’t want the burden of hurting someone on our shoulders, so we convince ourselves we don’t need to address these situations to avoid facing our own egos.  (What’s a matter; cat got your tongue?)  The downside of skipping a dose is that even though figurative pills can be hard to swallow, they’re delivered with the intent to mend the health of a relationship.  If we don’t deliver them to preserve a superficial facade, the relationship will suffer more profoundly long-term.

On the other hand, if we hide the pill in a sea of salmon pellets, our recipient may get full before they swallow it.  When we’re too sweet with our approach, the importance of our message dissolves into its sugar coating.  It is critical to be direct and authentic in our delivery so that there is no doubt that the recipient absorbed the pill.

When I’m delivering a hard pill to swallow, it’s helpful for me to consider how the other person wishes to receive it.  Rather than thinking about how I’m in the mood to deliver the message or even how I would want it delivered to me in a reversed scenario, I do my best to read the individual and take his or her perspective.  I focus my efforts on articulating my thoughts in the manner that person will be most receptive to hearing.  It’s not about manipulating someone by telling them what we think they want to hear; it’s about having the capacity to show empathy and the willingness to be vulnerable with someone whose wellbeing we value.  If we force feed someone information the way we feel like saying it, they may respond combatively or defensively, which only reinforces their opposition.  But if we avoid the truth or equivocate, we’re not communicating with their best interest in mind, either.  Treating others as we want to be treated is a good rule of thumb with respect to common human decency, but there’s something to be said for treating others as they want to be treated, too.

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Sorry in Advance

For two years, I’ve worked closely with one of my colleagues.  We typically don’t go more than a few days without connecting over the phone, via email, or in-person.  Because we’re in constant communication, we’ve established efficient workflow processes to which we contribute equally and collaboratively.  Despite our mutual respect and genuine connection, she still initiates every interaction with the same opening line:

“I’m so sorry to bother you.”

Initially, I thought I must have accidentally given her the impression that by simply doing her job, she was a nuisance.  But as I began taking note of her interactions with others, I realized she apologized to everyone…for just about anything.  This got me thinking about the power of apologies, particularly in the workplace.  In general, I feel a strong moral obligation to apologize when I have done something wrong or hurtful.  Furthermore, I see an organizational leader who exercises humility by taking culpability for missteps as more likely to achieve greater innovation and support from one’s peers than one who is unapologetically pig-headed.  Having said that, there is no benefit to saying sorry reflexively.

I thought of an analogy on apologies.  An anology, if you will.  Imagine you just started dating someone special.  During the honeymoon phase, you hold hands with this person, you hold doors for this person, and above all, you hold farts in with this person.  The first time your special someone farts in front of you, it will inevitably catch your attention and evoke a reaction.  (And if the reaction isn’t laughter, then I’m probably enjoying writing this a lot more than you’re enjoying reading it.)  Regardless of your response, the deed itself is noteworthy.  Now imagine you’ve been married for 35 years.  At this point, your spouse has passed so much gas in front of you that it’s completely negligible.  You are desensitized at best, and rolling your eyes at worst.  Think of an apology like a fart.  Save it for when it is necessary and appropriate.  And most importantly, when the timing strikes…you better make sure it doesn’t stink.

From my professional experience, albeit limited, I have found that people often say “sorry” as opposed to “thank you” when they receive constructive criticism.  Instead of interpreting critique as a reprimand for inadequate performance, consider reframing it as an opportunity to learn and grow from someone who has a fresh perspective.  If the feedback brings attention to a mistake you made, assess what the consequences of the blunder were before deciding whether you should ask for forgiveness.  For example, if your boss catches a grammatical error in a memo you wrote, instead of saying, “Sorry for the typo”, you might say, “Thanks for your attention to detail. I will proofread more carefully in the future.”  If your boss has to remind you about an impending deadline, instead of saying, “Sorry, I forgot about that”, you might say, “Thanks for being patient.  I will put a recurring appointment in my calendar so  it won’t be your responsibility to remind me about that deadline anymore.”  When the error is inconsequential, it’s more meaningful to acknowledge it by setting a plan to prevent it from happening thereafter than simply saying you’re sorry.  People who demonstrate perceptiveness and receptivity to feedback come across more mature and competent than ones who simply show remorse.

Another instance I see sorry used in the workplace is as a disclaimer.  These are the “sorry, but…” sentences.  Not only does the qualifier come across insincere, but it also raises a red flag that you’re about to say something your recipient likely won’t be open to hearing.  As a result, your credibility diminishes and the person you’re talking to will likely tune out.  It creates an unnecessary and disadvantageous dynamic of power.  If your message is thoughtful and relevant, there’s no need to preface it with “sorry” because that implicitly gives the other person permission to reject it.  I have also seen “sorry, but…” as an opener for a message to a colleague who hasn’t followed-through on his/her responsibilities.  No one wants to come across as a nag, so we pepper our notes with apologies to show that we’re not trying to be pushy and that we are empathetic to our coworkers’ busy schedules.  Be that as it may, meeting deadlines is non-negotiable in a professional setting and there’s nothing unreasonable about holding colleagues accountable for the job they’re paid to do.  Apologizing for either your ideas or your requests comes across passive and helpless.  Thanking people for their time and attention or simply saying “excuse me” if you have an interjection comes across assertive, but totally respectful.

CliffsNotes on the Do’s and Don’ts of Apologizing in the Workplace:

Don’t apologize for having ideas or sticking to your convictions.

Don’t apologize for asking people to do their jobs.

Don’t apologize for inconsequential mistakes that would be better acknowledged by developing a plan to prevent the mistake in the future.

Do thank people for their feedback, patience, time, attention, etc.

Do apologize when you are sincerely sorry for what you have done.

Do be prepared to say why you are sorry.

 

RE: Puppy Pic OTD

For those of you who have read A Message from the Heart, consider this the prequel:

On December 30, 2013, my father had a left ventricular assist device implanted in his chest.  An LVAD is a battery-operated mechanical pump that functions as portable life-support for folks in end-stage congestive heart failure.  When the heart becomes too weak to work on its own, the LVAD manually pumps blood from the heart to the body via an external battery pack that connects to a port passing through the individual’s abdominal wall.  The intervention is often used as a “bridge procedure” for heart transplant candidates who have exhausted their treatment options and anticipate long wait times on the transplant list.  This extraordinary device saves lives by not only allowing candidates to live long enough to receive a match, but also to wait for their transplant from the comfort of their homes rather than the confines of the ICU.

While the LVAD was miraculous in many ways, my family understood that it came with a laundry list of risks, and it was merely the first step in my father’s journey to receiving a heart transplant.  Prior to receiving clearance to have the bridge procedure done, he had been in the ICU for thirteen weeks and his condition was rapidly deteriorating.  He had coded more than once when his doctors tried to perform far less invasive procedures, so his doctors weren’t confident he could tolerate a 6-hour open heart surgery.  Even if he survived the operation, his risk of life-threatening complications such as stroke, GI bleeds, and thromboembolism became greater the longer he had the LVAD.  His health would obviously be far more stable with the LVAD than without while waiting for a transplant, but his projected wait time on the transplant list was up to four years, so we still weren’t sure if the device would buy us the time he needed.  Moreover, while we were hopeful about his quality of life improving enough to go home, we realized there were many unique considerations that went into making accommodations for him once he left the hospital.  We would need to buy a back-up generator for our home in case we lost power so his batteries wouldn’t die.  We would need to have his clothes altered to thread his tubes through his shirt so he could conceal his heavy batteries in his back pockets.  We would need to buy a special showerhead, washcloths, and buckets so that he could learn to wash himself without getting his batteries wet.  We focused on the wonderful prospect of my father receiving the gift of life, but couldn’t deny feeling overwhelmed that no amount of planning could prepare us for the uncertainty of the road ahead.

The night before the operation, I sat with my father at the foot of his hospital bed.  Although he was hooked up to over a dozen IVs and could hardly sit up, I remember him pointing to a bridge outside his window and telling me how grateful he was to have such a beautiful view of the New York City skyline from his room.  He always managed to find small joys in his day.  Despite spending so many months in the hospital that he began referring to it as his “NYC office” to his colleagues, I don’t think he ever actually identified as a patient.  He tried so hard not to look sick in front of me, which always made me feel guilty because I knew it drained him of the little energy he had.  But on this night, I saw his irrepressible spirit soften for the first time.  He propped himself up in bed to shred passwords to his confidential work files.  He wrote down where his assets were located and compiled a list of people for my mom to contact “just in case”.  It was hard to believe that this was the same man who used to toss my chubby little seven-year-old body a thousand feet in the air at the lake where we used to swim together, even after the thousandth time I begged him for just one more turn.  This was the same man who, when I was eleven, lifted up two teenage boys by the backs of their shirts at the mall when they tried to steal my Bath and Body Works shopping bag full of bubblegum scented body glitter.  The same man who, when I was 23, taught me that in times of conflict, strength in character will always prevail over physical strength.  Though I was disheartened knowing there wasn’t anything I could do to change my father’s circumstances, I knew I could give him strength by reminding him why he was fighting.

There are three things my father loves more than anything in the world: his family, his job, and puppies.  Knowing that the first thing he would do if he made it through surgery would be to check his iPad to respond to work emails, I made a deal with him that night.  If he promised to survive his operation, I promised to email him a picture of a cute puppy first thing in the morning every single day between his LVAD and his heart transplant.  That way, no matter how weak he felt on any given day, no matter how frustrated he was that his quality of life was restricted, and no matter how anxious he was that the next time he raced to the hospital would be for a stroke rather than a transplant, he would have at least one reason to smile waiting for him when he woke up.  In a situation where I had so little control over the future and couldn’t be by his side each step of his recovery, this would be my way of showing him that no matter the circumstances, he was the first person I thought of when I opened my eyes each morning.

On December 30, 2013, my father followed through on his promise, and I followed through on mine.  So by the time he received his new heart on December 4, 2014, I had spent nearly a year making a routine of hitting the snooze button on my alarm, rolling over to grab my phone, and queuing up his “Puppy Pic OTD” email.  It had become such a habit that I decided not to stop after his transplant.  Now, exactly 900 days (and 900 puppies) since his LVAD surgery, I have not missed a morning.  Though my puppy pictures are a minor and admittedly insignificant gesture that have no implication on his health, they continue to serve as a reminder that his family will always help him find strength when the going gets “ruff”.

 

If you have a puppy you would like to be featured as his “Puppy Pic OTD”,
please email me at kayla.mantegazza@gmail.com!

Defining Moments

Defining moments are events that influence the way we interact with the world around us.  These experiences give context to the landscapes of our lives by shaping the prospective paths we travel.  Though we try to map out directions that lead down perfectly paved roads, defining moments are the inevitable detours we face along the journey.  Sometimes they cause us to lose our bearings, and other times they guide us to bridges and tunnels that connect to beautiful uncharted territory.  Though bumps in the road influence the lay of the land, ultimately we are the navigators who dictate where we go, how we get there, and who to bring along for the ride.  Simply put: defining moments put us at a crossroads where we are challenged to choose our course.  The decisions we make at those crossroads don’t merely build character; they reveal character.  These are important lessons I’ve learned from defining moments in my life:

1.
My best friend and I were riding the school bus home in sixth grade.  We had gotten a test back that day and I was playfully teasing her about how smart I was because I received a higher grade.  She was a good sport about it and shrugged off my comments by lightheartedly boasting about how many extracurricular activities she did and how she still found time to study.  Not to be outdone, I immediately snapped back to remind her how many clubs and teams in which I participated and that I didn’t use them as an excuse for my grades.  In an instant, I had managed to turn a tongue-in-cheek conversation into the Sesame Street equivalent of a dick-measuring contest…and all before we reached the first stop on our route!  She replied calmly in a firm tone I had never heard her use before. “There are other ways to show you’re smart, Kayla…like knowing when to stop.”  Then she moved to the seat in front of me, leaving me to sit by myself and reflect upon what she said.  I called her to apologize as soon as I got home, and thankfully this valuable lesson didn’t come at the expense of our friendship.

Moral of the story:
A smart person cares about the spelling and definitions of words, but a wise person cares about the impact and consequences of words.

2.
I had been elected student council President by my peers annually ever since elementary school.  By the time my sophomore year of high school came around, I was comfortable representing my class and since I hadn’t done anything particularly offensive during my terms, I didn’t feel a beseeching urge to convince anyone to re-elect me.   I coasted through campaign season with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.  It’s not that I didn’t want to be President anymore; I just didn’t want to have to keep working for it.  My opponent that year was not only extremely bright, motivated, and qualified, but she was also among the most likeable, sincere, considerate girls in our school.  Moreover, she brought a fresh perspective and eagerness to prove herself that my campaign devastatingly lacked.  She was Catwoman…and I was Garfield.   Needless to say, democracy prevailed and the better candidate won.  While losing the election was a blow to my ego, instead of being defeated by defeat, I took it as an opportunity to learn that the world doesn’t owe anyone anything.  If we want something, we must work hard to earn it.  Moreover, even if we earned something today, it’s not promised tomorrow.  In our careers, friendships, and marriages, we must never settle or get too comfortable.  Greatness isn’t achieved by those who passively wait for it to come to them, and nobody gets an award just for participating.

Moral of the story:
Wanting something does not make you entitled to having it.

3.
My final defining moment wasn’t an epiphany as much as it was a transformative phase that taught me many lessons worth taking to heart, so to speak.  In 2013, my father was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and needed a heart transplant to survive.  In addition to the complex regulations that restrict transplant candidates from even being waitlisted, there’s a vast shortage of viable donors with hearts to give.  With statistics showing 22 people dying every single day waiting for organ transplants, my family did our best to remain hopeful that my father wouldn’t become a statistic.  After a year of waiting, he miraculously received a match.  Meanwhile in a paradoxical turn of events, shortly after my father’s heart was fixed, my heart was broken by someone I loved.  When it first occurred, I had to retrain myself to operate without my best friend by my side, as he had been an integral part of my existence for many years.  This was especially challenging amidst the fragility and uncertainty of my father’s condition because the reassurance of having any constant variable in my life would have been comforting at that time.  Moreover, I felt guilty burdening my parents with my sadness since my father’s recovery was far more critical than my non-life threatening problems.  I found myself at a crossroads where I was faced with two options:  I could be miserable about what I had lost, or thankful for what I had gained.  And when I framed it in that light, I realized no one was important enough to make me lose perspective that the first man to carry a key to my heart was back in my life; my father.

Moral of the story:
Hearts are not a dime a dozen, so take care when someone gives you theirs—figuratively or literally.

Gym Shorts: Volume 2

A disorderly collection of passing thoughts, insights, and short stories inspired by true events at my gym.

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Wearing a push-up bra on the treadmill is like putting Shaquille O’Neal on the foul line; no matter how hard they try to pull themselves together, the situation will likely result in choking.

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Every gym has a member who notoriously doesn’t wear enough deodorant.  If you don’t know who it is at your gym, then I’ll let you in on a secret…it may be time for you to apply some more Secret.

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Headphones are to gyms as wedding rings are to dating websites.  Even if you all pay to be there, you probably shouldn’t talk to the people wearing them.

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They say, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym.”  But I’m like, “Then where will I make my midnight snacks?”

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Gotta run!

A Lesson from 2015

Imagine yourself standing in an open field on a warm, sunny day.  Off in the distance, a candle is lit.  Though you know it’s out there, the light it produces is unremarkable in contrast to the radiance of the sun.  You’re sure you could find more candles in the field, but you don’t take time to look for them, nor do you experience the palpable warmth of the flames they yield because you are immersed in daylight.

Now imagine standing in that field on a cold, dark night.  A single candle glows in the distance.  Though it’s a small source of light, it vividly pierces the pervasive darkness.  As you look around, you notice many candles have ignited around you.  Each candle shines with clarity and intensity, allowing you to easily distinguish their sources while collectively feeling their warmth.  Distance doesn’t seem to make a difference either, as even the candles placed considerably outside your reach help to break apart the shadows.  Eventually, you realize that even though darkness is still present, enough light surrounds you to guide you back to your path.  As you move forward, you have a newfound appreciation that if you don’t take time to fan the flames of those candles, you may eventually lose your way again.

In 2015, I learned that sometimes we need to endure periods of darkness to remind us to take stock of the powerful sources of light in our lives.  To my family and friends:

You are the candles that help me find my bearings when I’m alone in a dark field.

You are the fog lights that elucidate the limitless potential that exists on the far side of a storm so that I can keep driving forward.

You are the cigarette lighters that feed my addiction to personal growth so that I may become a better friend, sister, daughter, and partner to each of you.

You are the dazzling, irreplaceable diamonds that money could never buy.

You are the bolts of lightning that electrify my spirit with side-splitting laughter.

You are the LED bulbs that make me look good after I say something unflattering.

You are the green traffic signals that give me permission to unapologetically be myself.

You are the stars in my sky that remind me that from anywhere in the world, I can always depend on you to shine brightly in the dark.

There are no metaphors or analogies to adequately express my gratitude for the light you each bring to my life.  Thank you for being who you are; no one holds a candle to you.

No One Wins the Blame Game

I used to believe that having an argument was the first sign of an unhealthy relationship.  I perceived a disagreement as a symptom of incompatibility, and I equated an absence of fighting with the absence of conflicting opinions.  I now have a better understanding that any meaningful relationship stems from honest and direct communication, which may realistically spark challenging conversations that produce friction.  Perhaps a more reliable indicator of a healthy relationship isn’t how often two people fight, but how they fight.  Now, it’s not my place to pass judgment about the content of another couple’s spat or dismiss their communication style as long as it works for them.  Like I always say; there’s an ass for every seat.  That being said, I’ve established a few simple ground rules to follow whenever I feel a brawl brewing with a buddy.

Avoid using “always” or “never” statements.

Always/Never statements are seldom 100% accurate.  Making broad, exaggerated accusations are more likely to evoke defensive reactions from others than they are to stir up thoughtful introspection.  For example, saying “You never clean the bathroom,” creates an opening to deviate from solving your problem to debate whether the person who finished the roll of toilet paper ought to replace it, or if it’s the duty (no pun intended) of the next person who uses the bathroom.  At best, trivial technicalities like those are indirect contributors to the underlying issue, and since they don’t support you reaching a resolution, they’re rarely worth discussing.  The goal shouldn’t be bashing your partner or proving that they’re wrong; the goal should be establishing common ground to prevent an isolated incident from becoming a recurring crisis.

Start your sentences with “I” rather than “you”.

Starting a statement with “you” can sound critical amidst an argument, and making allegations about a person’s behavior can leave the other person feeling attacked.  When you start a sentence with “I”, you give yourself an opportunity to explain your interpretation of the situation.  In turn, the other party has the opportunity to listen and offer an explanation of their intent so that you can identify if a disagreement exists, or if there was simply a misunderstanding.  Instead of stooping to name calling or insulting someone’s character, take ownership of your beliefs by using phrases such as, “I sense that…”, “I’m trying to…”, “This is how I feel when…”, etc.  Doing so gives the other person insight into your side of the story without making them feel condemned so that they’re more likely to respond with empathy, or at least try to be objective about the situation.

 Identify what you’d like to get out of the confrontation before you start it.

Why are you upset?  What would make you feel better?  Know the answers to those questions before addressing the other person, and don’t bring up any topics that don’t aim to achieve reconciliation.  Picking insignificant fights to antagonize the other person will only escalate a small battle into a full blown war.  Though a snide, irrelevant jab may feel good in the heat of an argument, it will ultimately direct the conversation further from a desirable outcome for either of you.

Remember: if the person you’re fighting with is important to you, you probably don’t want to hurt them.  If the person you’re fighting with is not important to you, then don’t waste your breath confronting them at all.

And I’m always right, so if you disagree with me, then you’re just a stubborn idiot.

…See what I did there?

Gym Shorts: Volume 1

A disorderly collection of passing thoughts, insights, and short stories inspired by true events at my gym.

Treadmill etiquette ought to be treated no differently than urinal etiquette.

  • At minimum, leave one vacant machine as a courtesy buffer between yourself and the nearest person
  • Keep your eyes forward
  • No small talk
  • For the welfare and protection of yourself and your cohorts, under no circumstances is offering a handshake appropriate

Finding out the gorgeous man by the squat rack thinks you’re cute:
Like waking up on Christmas morning

Finding out the gorgeous man by the squat rack thinks you’re cute…when you’re in a relationship:
Like waking up on Christmas morning and reminding myself I’m Jewish

Finding out twenty-three minutes into a painfully one-sided conversation with the gorgeous man by the squat rack that the shallowest brooks babble loudest:
Like telling my entire first grade class Santa isn’t real

When a skinny woman fears weight training because she doesn’t want to get “too big”, it’s like an overweight woman fearing weight loss because she doesn’t want to get “too skinny.”  Neither extreme is healthy, but it’s equally as challenging to achieve a physique on either end of the spectrum.  Getting swole takes as much discipline, consistency, and determination as getting slim.

Gotta run!

From the Desk of: The One That Got Away

Dear “The Other Woman”:

I apologize; I’m not sure how to address you.  I know your real name now, but we’ve never been formally introduced.  I really know you by your code name in his phone, since evidently he’s so ashamed of you that he meticulously kept you hidden from his friends and family.  In the interest of time, I’ll just refer to you as the Other Woman.  Since we won’t have the pleasure of meeting, I thought I’d take this opportunity to clear up some outstanding business between us.

  1. I don’t hate you.

I can’t say I like you, but I promise I don’t hate you.  I wouldn’t even go as far as to say I dislike you.  Honestly, you mean nothing to me.  Don’t take it personally, but my time and energy is precious, and I simply can’t be bothered by your existence.  For all intents and purposes, I “nothing” you.

  1. I don’t blame you.

It’s not your fault my relationship with him ended.  I know an honorable man would have respected me enough not to carry out such an elaborate, devious affair like the one he had with you.  It’s not your problem he lacked the conscience or foresight to consider the consequences of his impulsiveness, and you’re not responsible for him being too selfish to appreciate how much I gave him.  I don’t blame you for the fact that I trusted him too much to think to look through his phone any of the 1,524 days I called him mine.  Don’t worry, I definitely don’t feel like you stole him away from me.  In fact, he’s only yours now because I made the decision to give him to you.  I know you might not be able to relate, but I value myself too much to merely be an option in the eyes of someone I considered a priority.  You can call me selfish, but I just didn’t want to share my man.

  1. I think you’re beautiful.

I’ve seen a few pictures of you, and damn girl!  You’re cute.  That being said, I don’t feel compelled to compare myself to you.  I mean, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams are beautiful too, but I doubt Beyoncé loses a wink of sleep over them.

  1. This isn’t a forewarning.

I’m not trying to convince you that he’ll do to you what he did to me.  In fact, being with someone who was content to be the side chick is exactly the type of woman he deserves.  Ironically enough, the purpose of me contacting you is to let you know that I don’t intend to contact you.  So if in the future you’re looking for any more of my discarded, second-hand consignments…now YOU’LL have to find another woman.

Xoxo,

“The One That Got Away”

FREE CANDY

The human brain is hardwired to detect meaningful patterns amongst seemingly disconnected sequences of events.  Our interpretation of those patterns influences the way we perceive and interact with our surroundings.  On one hand, the associations we form act as shortcuts that allow us to perform tasks more efficiently.  On the other hand, sometimes we can be too hasty in spotting a connection, which causes us to make sweeping generalizations or assumptions about people in a prejudiced and discriminatory way.  I’ve been guilty of passing judgment in situations where I might not have the full story, and if jumping to conclusions were cardio, I know plenty of jealous girlfriends you’d think were training to become decathletes.  In an effort to become less judgmental, lately I’ve been spending time reflecting upon unconscious patterns and biases I’ve formed that limit my scope of the world around me.

Whenever I set out to change one of my habits, I typically start to notice when other people exhibit the behavior as well.  For example, the other day I was sitting next to a woman who was scrolling through Facebook on her phone.  She scoffed at a picture someone posted of a salad and muttered, “Well from the looks of her, that’s not all she’s been eating.”  Now don’t get it twisted; I’m not opposed to roasting a narcissist who can’t make a friggin’ ice cube tray without documenting every step like they just won The Next Food Network Star, but this woman’s comment made me stop to think about how quickly she made an assumption about her friend’s eating habits based on her appearance.

Before I explain why I was troubled by her comment, I have a quick question for any readers who feel so inclined to make snide remarks about overweight people at the salad bar, the gym, or any other health-conscious environment: Do you also go to the pediatrician’s office to mock sick children?  Because that’s about how constructive and encouraging your statements are to someone who’s actively taking steps to improve their condition.  I also think it’s worth noting that there’s no way to look at a person and immediately be able to say why they’re overweight…or even what their health status is, for that matter.  Rather than defaulting to a generalization that associates all overweight people with being gluttonous, I used what I witnessed as an opportunity to consider some alternatives:

  • Does this person potentially eat well and exercise regularly, but have a food allergy, metabolic disorder, or chronic pain that makes weight management especially challenging?
  • Is it possible that the individual recently suffered a traumatic personal loss that’s caused their exercise regimen to take a back seat while they address their mental wellbeing?
  • Despite still being overweight, could this person have already lost a significant amount of weight, lowered their risk for chronic disease, and established a plan to shed the final pounds?
  • Could this person be taking any steroids or medications to treat a serious illness that have side effects of weight gain? If so, is it possible they’re just grateful to be waking up in the skin they’re in, cellulite and all?
  • Does the person live in an urban food desert without access to an affordable supermarket, forcing them to buy groceries at a convenience store or gas station without healthy options?
  • And lastly, is it possible that the person is genuinely just a slob who lacks the foresight, willpower, or conscientiousness to make more responsible personal choices?

My objective isn’t to ask people to second guess their intuition.  For instance, if you see a windowless van with a hand-written “FREE CANDY” sign parked across the street from an elementary school, go ahead and contact local authorities before you climb into the trunk expecting a basket of banana Laffy Taffy.  My objective is to bring more awareness to patterns, associations, and preconceived notions we carry in hopes that we can let go of the unfair ones and treat people we encounter with more compassion.  And in the meantime…maybe keep your salad pictures to yourself.