Archives for Work Life
Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life. But the book taught me as much about myself as others. Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life. And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others." I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me. And while I've been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.
My last post, about the effects of wearing cosmetics on people’s perceptions of women's competence, raises some compelling issues, discussed in the comments, in which one woman takes me to task for an article she says is “disheartening to say the least.” She continues, “Why must a woman conform to society’s fascist beauty standards to be deemed acceptable? Articles like these contribute to all the artificial beauty and body images projected towards girls and women in every day media.” I don’t entirely disagree with this view. I’ve written many times in the past about the messages women get, about body image in particular. (Check out Am I Fat? Who the Hell Knows, for one.) Do I feel the same way about cosmetics? Certainly I object to any suggestion that cosmetics should help us hew to some sort of standard definition of beauty, and I don't believe cosmetics should be a condition of employment. But cosmetics don't change us, they just jazz us up a little. And I admit, I’ve always thought women were kind of lucky to have the option of wearing cosmetics, particularly on those mornings after a night of too much fun. I’m definitely not the kind of woman who can’t leave the house without “putting on my face,” but I also admit to preferring my appearance with a light glazing of makeup. I’ve been thinking about this research and what it means for women. Yes, in some ways it it is a little disheartening. But in another way, having this knowledge provides women with what could be a useful piece of information.
I love me some What Not To Wear —or any makeover show, for that matter. I get a kick out of watching Stacy and Clinton take frumpy dumpies and zazz them up into snazzy sassies. I don’t always agree with the styling (what is this obsession with flat irons?), but usually, the afters are lots better than the befores. Women on these show who start out resistant to the makeover process often argue that what’s important is what’s inside, that appearances are superficial, and that people should respect them no matter how limp their hair or saggy-baggy their clothes. I agree, in theory, but that’s not the world we live in. It’s not even the world animals live in—appearance counts for them, too. The peacock’s tail isn’t exactly practical, but the ladies love it. Lots of research has shown that natural beauty is an advantage in life, and natural beauty would be considered a biological phenotype. You’re born that way (or not). But recent research looks at whether the “extended phenotype” has any benefits. In the nonhuman kingdom, extended phenotype would be “the spider’s web, the hermit crab’s shell, the bowerbird’s bower and the beaver’s dam,” the researchers write. In the human world—at least in America—the extended phenotype includes cosmetics. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently we try because it seems women wearing makeup are perceived as more competent.
A friend is fretting about her 22-year-old son, who is living at home and, she fears, not getting it together. This is a family with plenty of dough. The boy is well-educated and has been well cared for, despite some dysfunctional family fun, which few of us escape in this world. My friend complains that he’s lazy and over-entitled. He hasn’t been knocking himself out to find a job, and he’s drinking too much. What’s a mother to do? she asked me, wondering if research might hold some answers. Is tough love the answer? Is this a predictable developmental stage? Were we all like that at 22? When did we finally grow up? I've been hearing lots about boomerang kids, who are of an age to be independent but can't seem to get out there and do it. Of course, the lousy economy and unemployment rate don't help and can't be downplayed. But is there something more? Don’t you wish I were about to give you the answers? I’m not and can’t. But here’s some food for thought.
Several years ago, I got into an online squabble with a friend who was in grad school, getting her MSW for a future career as a counselor. The whole thing unfolded in the comments section of my blog and concluded (along with the friendship) when she spluttered that I am “…WEAK! And I MOCK weak people!” Wow, I thought. Your future clients are in for a treat. This incident came to mind when a Twitter buddy sent me a note wondering if any research had been done into “potential damage done by therapists who tweet/blog judgmental, hurtful views, jokes...?” This person, a retired counselor, first noted a former mentee doing it. “I talked to her about it and she thanked me, stopped it.” But that young counselor was the exception. When my friend noticed a couple of others doing the same, “I gently pointed out to both of them the problems both career wise and client wise with some of their postings (fat put down jokes, sharing very personal info about their own issues, sarcastic misuse of words like crazy and psycho etc) Both ignored me; one posted to mind my own business. “All of this was done with their full names and locations and accessible to any of their clients with a quick google search,” my friend said. “I know how hard it is for most clients to trust and how vulnerable they are to being judged,” she continued. “I can just image how crushing it would be for a desperate, suicidal client to read something demeaning/too revealing written by the person they expect to be compassionate, stable and on their side.” The Internet strikes again.
“The Internet has ruined everything,” my husband likes to grumble. In some ways, he’s right. The Internet has laid waste to newspapers and threatens traditional publishing in all forms. It sucked the money out of the music industry. It's killing off traditional bookstores--even the superstores that killed off the small independents. New technology has opened up forms of expression to people who had been blocked by gatekeepers, but at the same time threatens to drag down the quality of that expression overall, because of the lack of those same gatekeepers. (If you saw some of the press releases I receive for self-published books, you would understand what I mean.) News operations struggle with the ever-increasing speed of the news cycle, trying to balance getting news out fast and getting it right. What I wonder now is what the speed of technology is doing to creativity. And because we are taught to “write what you know,” I will write about writing. Specifically blogging.
The more I read and think about New Year's Resolutions, the less I think they accomplish a dingdang thing. I've made a lot of resolutions that have led me absolutely nowhere. Mostly, they make me feel bad because I tend not to follow-up. Oh sure, I'll get back on my eating/exercise program as soon as the holiday minefield of homemade pound cake and mint M&Ms is behind us, but that's more about returning to...
A friend learning her way around her new iPad wonders if learning really is different as we get older. And what’s the deal with that? The short answer is yes, our ability to learn does change as we age. We get slower. We have diminished capacity in our working memory as we age. That is, you can’t throw too much stuff at us at once. As a rule, it takes older people longer to learn things than it does young people. And older people might never get as good at new stuff as younger people can, no matter how long they study. Hm, yeah, that’s no fun. I read that in an article discussing evolutionary theory, which also gave me this cheering thought, about allocation of psychological resources: In childhood, the primary allocation is directed toward growth; during adulthood, the predominant allocation is toward maintenance and recovery (resilience). In old age, more and more resources are directed toward regulation or management of loss. The older you get, the more of a bummer evolutionary theory can be. So let us skip, instead, over to educational psychology, and an article titled “Age-related differences in the relation between motivation to learn and transfer of training in adult continuing education.” This article argues, through a literature review and a re-crunching of statistics, that motivation is key to learning, and that older adults are just as motivated to learn as younger ones.
Much has been made in recent years of research indicating that willpower is an exhaustible resource. This research suggests that if we exercise self control for a few hours to resist Facebook and do our work, for example, we will have a hard time resisting that oh-really-I-shouldn’t brownie sundae. There’s a whole book based on this research: Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is by one of the leaders in this research, Roy Baumeister. (With science writer John Tierney, because believe me, not all psychologists can write.) But here’s an interesting article in an open source journal pointing out how research on willpower has mostly been done on youngsters.
You know how some women are afraid that if they toot their own horns, people won’t like them? Silly, right? Actually, no, it’s not. Research finds that this is, in fact, the case. I recently wrote an article about self-promotion for GradPSYCH, an American Psychological Association publication, and what I learned was one big ol’ bummer. Women face a double-bind. If they don’t promote themselves, they risk not getting ahead. But if women do promote themselves, they turn people off because self-promotion violates a stereotype. They are perceived as immodest.