Looking Back at Barbra Streisand and Me

On the occasion of the release of Barbra Streisand’s latest album, Release Me, I discovered that she and I have a lot in common:

She’s had #1 albums in five consecutive decades. I’ve had 1st dates in five consecutive decades. That might be more difficult than singing.

She married James Brolin. I had a crush on him when he played Dr. Steven Kiley in the TV show, Marcus Welby. I wonder if that means I noticed him first.

She played a young Jewish girl who, against religious tradition, dresses like a man in order to study at the yeshiva. I was a young Catholic girl who always wondered why her religious tradition prevented women from becoming priests. I wear a lot of black today.

Both of us are funny girls not ingénues. Neither one of us would have been able to keep Robert Redford.

When she was born a star was born. I was born at 3:30 AM. Stars were out. Unless it was overcast.

I’m assuming that we both need people. Doesn’t everybody?

Congrats Barbra for the continuing success in your career of choice. And while I wish you another decade of singing and reaching the top of the charts, I hope to stay away from first dates.  Imagine my husband hopes I do too!

FOMO: Affliction or Lust for Life?

I am one of the Older Persons in the room. We are surrounded by Youthful Twentysomethings for a panel discussion on their latest obsession — FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.

FOMO is quite different from FONBATR, the Fear of Never Being Able to Retire, which is an affliction many of the 50-plus-year-olds attending this ideas festival/policy-wonk conference are experiencing. But I digress.

Technology has brought FOMO upon the under-25 generation, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues in her book Alone Together: “Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere.” John Grohol, PsyD, puts it plainly it in his blog PsychCentral: FOMO is “the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what we’re currently doing.”

I have joined these youngsters at this panel because I’m curious about how this generation lives, thinks and dreams. I also believe that one of the best ways to stay relevant as I grow older, which I want to do, is to build intergenerational bridges.

The twenty-something panelists describe a FOMO lifestyle to the audience. Party surfing versus hanging out with one crowd for an evening. College and high school students gorging on after-school activities. Career-hopping and hopping and hopping. The more choices available, the more FOMO.

As they share, my mind strays to my own personal version of FOMO, which drives me to distraction, or at least to not knowing what to do now, next or never. Should I write a blog post before I pin a picture on Pinterest? Submit an essay to a publication? Catch up on the latest marketing trend so I can teach it later? Follow the presidential campaign, search for agents or go to the gym?

Just as I’m ready to move mentally from FOMO to FOMU (Fear of Messing Up), a young female breaks into my consciousness:

“Do people your age suffer from FOMO?” she asks the older audience members.

My hand shoots up, pumping as if I were in a classroom of 5-year-olds: Me, me, call on me!

Before I can start talking, a booming male voice offers: “That would be FOHMO — Fear of Having Missed Out.”

“Wait a minute!” I respond. “I still have FOMO, the original kind. There’s plenty left for me to experience. I haven’t missed out on life. I’ve had FOMO all my life. I was the kid who never came in from playing outside because I didn’t want to miss anything,” I tell the group.

I don’t tell them that my youthful FOMO often led to near-accidents outside my back door because I refused to leave the party, game of hide and seek or Foursquare match even if I really had to go to the bathroom. What if I missed a really great girlfriend secret, thrill-ride skating behind someone’s bicycle or a sighting of my latest crush? Biology be damned, I’d always wait until it was almost too late.

“Perhaps,” I suggest, “the FOMO in our youth has led to the creation of bucket lists in our middle age.”

“I don’t like bucket lists,” another like-aged woman says. “They sound so negative.” And I have to agree with her. Bucket. Dirty plastic. Dented and rusted metal. “Kicked the bucket” equals dead. “Bucket list” suggests decline. I may be on the declining side of life, but so far the ride down has been pretty exhilarating, and I plan on keeping that outlook.

Sure, there are things I want to do before I die, but if I don’t get to them, it won’t bother me. I’ll be dead. On my deathbed (I hope I’ll be in a castle in Europe or a treehouse in Tahiti ) I doubt I’ll be worrying that I missed traveling to all seven continents because Antarctica was just too cold and slipping through penguin poop to get to the penguins discouraged me. Nor can I imagine that I’ll bemoan the fact that I wasn’t on TV à la Katie or Oprah, because I’m sure I’ll be able to see that I had some influence on people around me, and isn’t that the essence of being Oprah or Katie?

Crossing things off lists can be depressing, too. Done that, and now what? What happens when the bucket list gets down to one or two things to go? Am I over when the list is crumpled and thrown in the bucket? Bucket lists. Who needs them? Not me.

Goals, desires, passions — that’s what I need and have. Write. Build and maintain relationships. Share. Learn. Love. Each of these items can be expanded and detailed. With a bucket list, if I’m successful, I’m left with an empty list and a full bucket. But by stating broader goals I’m left with an expansive, never-ending opportunity to do, to experience, to live. Uh-oh, I think I’ve just described my life in terms of an ultimate FOMO. Oh well, better than FOMTB — Fear of Missing the Bucket.

Originally seen on the Huffington Post

womensvoicesforchange.org

 

 

 

 

Say Maybe to No Before Yes

Habits comfort and constrict. Reading at night before you go to sleep signals to your body and mind that the day is at an end and dreams are up ahead. Planning your day puts you in control of the hours, or at least makes you feel that way. Saying yes all the time puts me in a bind. I know that no is a good word. It’s just that it sounds so negative I find it difficult to say.

The power of saying no without feeling the guilt of letting someone down or hurting someone’s feelings is a power I’ve just started wielding. Trying to wield, is a more accurate statement. I haven’t gone all power hungry and “Just Say No” tyrant on the world. I’m just saying no a little bit more.

I’ve said no in the past. But I’ve never stopped with “no, thank you.” No, I must add a reason­–I already have plans with so-and–so, or an excuse­­–can’t make that date, or apology–I’m so sorry I just don’t have room in my schedule. I do the same thing when I receive a compliment.

“Your necklace is beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you, it’s my mother’s aunt’s hand-me-down, wasn’t even sure if I liked it when I got it.”

 

“I like your dress.”

“Nordstrom on sale, double points too. I’m sure they have more at the Michigan Avenue store.”

 

“Your story was enjoyable.”

“Well, you know, gee, I just keep getting in these crazy situations.”

My mother always told me to just say, “thank you,” and move on when someone says something nice about you. Instead, I say, “thank you,” and run on and on and on.

The real problem with just saying no might be related to my habit of initially responding with a yes to any question, offer or idea. This then leads me to behave like an appellate court, and reverse my lower court decision, replacing a yea with a nay. And like any good court, I must issue an opinion documenting the whys, wherefores and whatevers of my decision.

Aha! Perhaps the next step in becoming comfortable with the no word is to learn how to say, “Let me think about it,” or “maybe”, or “sounds wonderful however.”  If I’m not justifying a change of mind maybe I won’t feel the need to justify at all.  Maybe, just maybe.

FOMO: Orbiting, Exploring, or A Waste of Time?

The former Chief Guru of Hallmark, Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, gave presentations with notcards, not power point.  A picture and a number adorned each card, which  was attached to a clothesline with an old-fashioned wooden clothes pin.  The audience controlled his talks on creativity and innovation by calling out a number and Gordon would pick the card off the line and tell the story behind it.

“You are in control,” Gordon started each lecture. “I’ll talk until all the cards are gone or someone shouts, ‘Stop.’  It’s up to you.” Of course, the lectures usually went the allotted time, not because no one wanted to be the one to stop Gordon’s stories, but because no one wanted to miss out on what might be the best example of how to be creative and innovative in their jobs and lives. The Fear of Missing (FOMO) out drove the young innovators to listen and learn.

I recently thought about the FOMO influence on my own life. How many of my choices have been driven by the need to see what’s happening behind door number 1, and 2, and 3? Answer: a lot. FOMO’s been identified as a quarter-century affliction but this mid-century modern woman has been afflicted for years. And I like it. Or at least I’m used to it.  More on this topic later, I need to check something out.

 

 

“Some day your mouth is going to get you in trouble,” my mother would say.  This wasn’t such a difficult prediction given the number of times I brought home a report card from elementary school with a check mark next to the words: “does not exercise self-control.” That was Catholic school code for “doesn’t know when to stop talking.”

The nuns were just agreeing with what a school psychologist had told my parents earlier. “Julie’s mouth and brain don’t operate at the same speed.” This led to talking without filtering, speed talking, and non-stop talking.  And to check marks and verbal gaffes. Gaffes that could have been avoided if I had just known my audience

Understanding whom you are talking to is the key to effective communication. Talking without understanding often leads to unintended consequences.

If I had known my manager at one of my first jobs, for example, I would not have confronted him after he reprimanded me like a drill sergeant in front of a row of administrative assistants.

I understood that he was upset. I understood that there was a check mark next to my name for “did not meet deadline.” But if I had understood his management style, I would have known that ignoring his outburst versus asking him to not talk to me like that was the key to keeping one’s job.

If I had understood the makeup of a typical comedy club audience I would have never entered the contest to find Jay Leno’s sidekick when he took over the Tonight Show in 1992.  I headed to my hometown, Dayton, Ohio to perform a two-minute stand up routine.  Mind you, I wasn’t a stand-up. I had studied and performed improvisation sketch comedy. I gave 20-minute talks as a business humorist. I was just a marketing consultant looking for a creative outlet.

I whittled down my material, donned my red power suit, and froze when I entered the club. I was not like this hometown audience. This audience did not work in corporate cubicles or talk corporate speak.

This audience laughed till they cried and ordered another beer throughout the stand-up routine before mine – which was filled with tales of working for the man, men behaving badly, and scatological asides.

This audience did not smile when I performed. Thankfully, they didn’t laugh me off the stage. Thankfully, I still had my day job.

Just two weeks ago I accompanied Husband to the Principality of Liechtenstein for official diplomatic business. Husband is the Honorary Consul of Liechtenstein to the Midwest, and I his unofficial chief of staff.  Our program included meeting the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, which I was excited about, until it came to packing.  What do you wear when meeting a prince?

On the first day of our visit, a young diplomatic officer met our group at breakfast and accompanied us to the Prince’s castle for Liechtenstein’s National Day ceremonies. The young diplomat sat next to me on the bus and I asked him how to spell his first name.

“U-l-r-i-c-h,” he replied and then asked about my family and work back in the States.

“I’m a former advertising executive,” I said. “Currently I teach on the university level and I’m a freelance writer/blogger.”

“What do you write in your blog?”

“I write personal essays and cultural commentary for women of a certain age who are reinventing themselves. Going through transitions.”

“I imagine there is much to write.”

We talked easily about my writing, my teaching, and my impressions of Liechtenstein.

If I had known my audience I would never have told Ulrich that the title of my last blog post was:  What to Wear When Meeting a Prince”

‘Well, I can imagine that might be difficult to determine,” Ulrich, the diplomat said.

“It is. I’ve never met a prince before. I don’t know anyone who had met a prince before. I want to be appropriate”

I proceeded to give him a synopsis of the endless options listed in my blog:

Formal or semi-formal, long or short, pants or skirt, cocktail, business or business casual, and so on. I did not share my quandary about whether or not to wear pantyhose.

“Later this week I’ll be posting about what I wore when I meet the prince.”

“I will read your blog. Perhaps you will write and tell your friends that you have already met a prince,” Ulrich said, and smiled, and bowed with his head.

And I remembered that when he introduced himself at breakfast I thought he called himself Something Something Liechtenstein, but I thought that can’t be right and let it go and focused on the pronunciation of his first name. Ulrich.

“You. You’re a prince. Of course, you said Ulrich Liechtenstein. Are you a cousin? Oh, I am so embarrassed. Have I hurt Husband’s appointment?” I stammered along until I just had to ask: “Well – what do you think – how am I dressed to meet a prince?”

“Quite fine,” Ulrich, the Prince said.

“You’ll learn your lesson one day,” my mother would say. The best connections are made when you know your audience. Whether it is one person or a group. However, some of the best consequences happen serendipitously when you are just truly yourself.

The LRD

Seems the pictures of my LRD (Little Red Dress) did not show up in the post “What I Wore When I Met The Prince” – so for all of you who have asked to see it, here it is.  Look to the RIGHT!

 

Aiming to Run and Roar Again

I watched my brother and 22-year-old niece complete the Chicago Triathalon last weekend and thought to myself. “Run. Run. Run.  I used to run.” Not jog, but run. For three, five, sometimes six miles at a time. Four to five times a week. With CeCe. With Julia. With others I don’t remember. Or by myself.

I ran along the lakefront, in the morning. I would emerge from the Lincoln Park Zoo eastern gates – gates that said closed until 7 A.M, but any and all runners knew that they were open by 6 for a shortcut to the lakefront. Past Adelor, the African lion who recently passed away. He sat on his rocky post through any type of weather and often yawned or roared at the passing of a pair of New Balance, Nike, or Saucony running shoes.

On the other side of the gates the sun would be peeking up from the watery horizon. Sometimes yellow. Sometimes red. Best times, a pinkish glow.

“Where else in the world can you do this?” I would say to my running partner, or self. Run through a free zoo, in a park, and see the sun rise above the water. Not New York. Not Paris. Not Los Angeles. Not London. Only Chicago.

Those runs made me feel smug about living in Chicago. Made me feel alive. Alive enough that I would roar to Adelor as I made my way home, “Good morning King of the Jungle. I’m going to have a great day.”

After years of inconsistent exercise due to injuries and excuses, I am working my way back to the run, which is now a jog and fewer miles than before. Even if there is no king of the jungle to mark my steps.  I’m working my way back to waking up with Chicago on the lakefront. Lion and running and sunrise, oh my!

(Picture credit: Chicago Sun Times files)

What Happened When I Met The Prince?


“Seriously? You met a prince and it’s all about what you wore?” my sister wrote, referring to my most recent post.

“Yes, but if you read the post prior to the unveiling of the LRD  you would understand why,” I wanted to respond.

Recap: Last week I met Prince Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein. Husband is Honorary Consul General of Liechtenstein for Chicago/Midwest. When I learned about the princely introduction I thought to myself (and aloud), “What does one wear when meeting a prince?” I figured that out and here’s what happened.

As we approached the castle I realized I didn’t know what to call the Prince. Your Excellency? Your Highness? Prince? Sir? Before I could ask Husband, who was several paces behind me, or the Ambassador, who was moving our little group along, we were ushered upstairs to a receiving room. I’m not sure that’s what the room is really called but since that is where we were received that’s what I’ll call it.

Prince Alois met us at the doorway and the Ambassador prepared to introduce each of the four Honorary Consuls and the two HC Spouses in attendance. Husband motioned for me to go ahead of him.

“I don’t want to go first.”

“Please, go ahead.”

“No, you speak the language and I don’t know what to call him.”

The Ambassador introduces Husband and he says something in German that makes the Prince smile and shake Husband’s hand a little longer and harder. I see a friendship blooming in front of me.

“And this is Julie Danis,” the Ambassador says, and indicates that I’m with Husband.

And so the Prince shakes my hand with a great smile and says something engaging–in German.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I only speak English. He’s the German guy in our house. It is a pleasure to meet you, thank you so much.” And I move on, quickly, realizing I had no idea what to call him so I just avoided the greeting all together, much like I do if I can’t remember someone’s name and don’t want to be found out.

“Shall we do the photographs first,” the Prince suggested. We moved to another room/hallway/photo op location. The official court photographer (I’m assuming) positioned us around the Prince and took a gazillion pictures.

“Don’t squeeze my upper arm,” I say to Husband.

“What?”

“Smile.”

After the picture session the Prince steps to face the half-moon of Honorary Consuls and Spouses.  The Ambassador explains where we are from and what we have seen and done in Liechtenstein for the last several days. A server passes beverages and light canapés.  It’s only 4:50pm and a glass of wine sounds like a fine idea.

I wouldn’t say I was star struck, but I felt speechless and the need to talk at the same time. Like the time I met President Clinton and was at a loss for words until I couldn’t stop myself from telling him: “We share the same birthday along with one of the Wright Brothers. I’m not sure which one but I think It’s Orville.” (It is.)

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked about the format of this meet and greet. Clearly my obsession with what to pack/wear had pushed all other thoughts of protocol out of my mind. Against my late mother’s better judgment (she always said my mouth would get me in trouble) I leaned over and whispered to the Ambassador, “Would it be appropriate if I asked the Prince a question?”

How couldn’t I ask a question? I’m the “why, why, why” girl, according to Husband. Always wanting to know why he’s done, said, or thought something. That’s a hazard of being a consumer insight professional. I need to know the why behind the what.  And truth be known, I had been thinking of what I might ask, if he opportunity presented itself.

“I think that would be fine, okay,” the Ambassador responded.

At the next lull in the back and forth I interjected, “Sir, Prince (I still didn’t know what to call him), if I may, if you can…we’ve had a wonderful program full of meetings with different departments and offices and the university…and I’m wondering, if there’s one thing you would want us to take back to our different regions, one message about Liechtenstein, what would that be?”

Phew. That was the longest, rambling question ever. Why didn’t I just ask the question I really wanted to ask, the one I often asked consumers and clients: “What keeps you up at night?” Because I was afraid it might be misconstrued as personal, and therefore definitely inappropriate.

“Hmm,” the Prince started.

“Feel free to have two or more,” I offered, not wanting to constrain him.

I wish I could quote his answer, but I can’t. I believe his message is this: Liechtenstein’s economy is feeling the effect of being reliant on exports to the EU. The country is small but mighty in entrepreneurship, education, high-tech manufacturing and self-reliance. Increasing awareness and interaction between the United States and Liechtenstein is what Honorary Consuls can do.

Our group agreed that we could carry the Prince’s message back to the United States. We all thanked him for his time and energy. In the end it was a perfect visit, except for one small thing, which I’m sure he would have never noticed or remembered.  I just wished I had said: “Your Serene Highness, I think I can do that.” Because that’s how you address a prince.

What I Wore When Meeting The Prince

I met the Prince. Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein. I met him in his family’s schloss (castle) that sits atop a cliff above the capital city of Vaduz, on a steamy afternoon. Husband took the above picture as the gate to the castle’s inner garden was closing on our visit.

You can see what I decided to wear after endless decisions.

A LRD (Little Red Dress), silk (possibly duoppioni) with a standup pleated collar reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth I – but not that big and not completely surrounding my neck.

Black cloth pumps with embroidered flowers and a wooden heel, 2.5 inches tall. A compromise between kitten and stiletto. Remarkably comfortable to stand in, which I knew I would be doing for about 45-60 minutes. It was more like 90, and included walking on gravel and across Medieval pavers.

Accessories included: an antique gold charm bracelet with one heart shaped, garnet charm. Gold hoop earrings with red stones. Red leather clutch, perfect match for the dress.

And I wore pantyhose, sheer pantyhose, out of respect for the Prince and his family who have reigned over the Principality of Liechtenstein forever. Really. Forever. The country celebrated its 300th year this past August 15th, National Day.

Wearing pantyhose was the right thing to do. But it was very, very hot and the castle is not air-conditioned, at least in the man made manner of which I am accustomed in my concrete and brick prairie hometown, because it sits in the Alps where Mother Nature provides the air conditioning.  But even Alpine Mother Nature couldn’t cool the receiving room to a temperature that made pantyhose comfortable, or a jacket and tie for that matter.

I wore pantyhose for the approximate two hours it took for me to dress to meet the Prince, to greet and meet the Prince, and to return to a state of relative deshabile post the Princely meeting activity. It was worth it. My mother would have been proud and I felt appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein is the princely looking gentleman in the middle, wearing a red tie. The local newspaper, Volksblatt, did not print the picture of the Honorary Consuls and their spouses meeting the prince, so you’ll just have to believe me that I did. My LRD and I did appear in another photo from a gathering immediately following the princely reception, which I’ve included in the above screen shot.

(Volksblatt Fotos: IKR)

 

 

What To Wear When Meeting A Prince?

One week from now I will meet a prince. A real prince. Royalty from another country. In his castle that was built in the 14th century. On top of a hill, nestled in the Alps. This is beginning to feel like The Princess Diaries except I’m not distantly related to the Prince or in any way heir to the throne. I’m just lucky, I guess.

A little over a year ago, Husband was appointed Honorary Consul General of the Principality of Liechtenstein to the Midwest. Crazy, right? How did someone who is 100% descended from Irish immigrant grandparents become HCGL/M? In short, he speaks their language and he kept in touch with someone he met over 20 years ago working on a legal case.

There’s more to that story but this story is not about that story, which is about…what to wear when meeting a prince? The decisions are endless in my obsession: formal or semi-formal, long or short, pants or skirt, cocktail subdued or sparkly, business or business casual,  colorful or neutral, closed-toe or sandal, kitten heel or stiletto, pearls (definitely, I think), bangles or brooch, studs or dangle, small – medium – large bag? What about my legs? Princess Kate’s style book reads panty hose for official events, but she’s a princess, I’m just a guest.

The whole affair runs from 4:30 to 5:30, ruling out formal, semi-formal and cocktail. Although, I assure you I’ll have a cocktail when this is all over, no matter what I’m wearing. Since I’m meeting the Prince at a reception, not a picnic, I’m crossing off casual from my options too. So I’m left with business or business casual and therein lies the dilemma. My business wardrobe really hasn’t been refreshed since I was laid off five years ago. Since advertising was my business, this wardrobe wasn’t too business anyway, leaving me with dated business casual outfits and a couple of things to wear when teaching graduate students.

Can we agree that business casual is the worst dress code ever invented? I can’t imagine that the Europeans do it like we do it in the USA–khaki’s and golf shirts for men and every which way for women. Towards the end of my corporate career I wore a lot of black pants/skirts with a white tee/blouse, plus some accessory so I didn’t totally look like I worked at TGIFs. I so hope I don’t need to dress business casual to meet the Prince.

I shared my worry about what to wear in an email to the assistant to the Ambassador. Her response, “I’ve ever only seen you impeccably dressed so I have no worries there.” Thanks for the compliment but can you  sift through my closet now for the appropriate, impeccable dress?

Maybe this is the time for the LBD. Yes! With a little kitten heel pump, because I can’t stand around in stilettos longer than a minute before my mother’s feet, that have become my feet, start screaming, and I think toes should be covered when meeting royalty for the first time. Pearls interlaced with a black ribbon around the neck. Studs. Small bag, similar to what  I would carry to a wedding. I don’t need to take much to visit a castle, after all.

Wait. Did I just write wedding? Yes. This is like attending an afternoon wedding. I would counsel against wearing an LBD to a wedding, afternoon or anytime. And it’s the summer. Is black too severe for the afternoon? What about my legs?

“No worries” the assistant wrote. Yes, worries, I feel.  What to wear to meet a prince? I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

 

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