Want to see me get naked? You have to promise not to like it.

I like to do all my writing naked. Here I am rolling around on a fluffy white rug reflecting on the ins and outs of gratitude, empathy, independent thinking, and the plight of humanity.

Not. I do not write naked. And this is not me. Surprise! You’re the feature of this piece and you’re the one who’s getting naked. (By the way, those striped holiday leggings look, ahem, fantastic on you.) Now please stand up and glide your tush to the mirror. In front of you, you see–shocker, gasp–your own reflection. 

Pause. Are you blushing? Do you turn away? Where is your focus? On your nether-bits? Your dimples? The crows feet around your eyes? Your chest? Your abs? Your biceps? Your breasts?

I submit; this headline is divisive. Divisive. I like that term. It’s a term we media addicts sip these days, a tactic usurped as our own delicious brew of modern savvy.

But let’s get back to the point of this piece. 

What if in this mirror you see your soul? Not just your magnetic twinkling eyes, but all of you. Would you turn away then? Would you be too distracted by your imperfections to notice? Would you lean so far inward that your vision blurs? Or would you step back so that you could see yourself wholly and holy?

What if in that mirror all you saw was a Frankenstein conglomerate of Facebook posts, Instagram shots, so-called news articles and stereotypes about the type of person you are supposed to be with nothing to connect the dots in the space between? 

Tada. Now here I am. Your subconscious. I’m looking at you under the microscopic lens of Devourer of Souls and Seeker of Truth. Let’s dive into the void, into those mangy little details. No, not into your calf implants Jonny Drama, but into that part of your brain that stores memory. I grab a lotto memory ball from your medial temporal lobe and here I see you sucking down cups of electric-charged, double-shot espresso lattes day after day, week after week, and year after year so that you can endure long days for people who forge gratitude in every two-faced “Thanks” at the bottom of their emails.  

You know what I am talking about; don’t you? The tornado in a teacup that somehow keeps ruling your life? The truncated “Thanks” we drop at the bottom of each demand email as though the reader will experience gratitude rather than indignation. 

Let’s pull out another memory. Here you are sick, burned-out from all those days of carrying a burden alone. You confide in your confidant, the boss or teammate that you have been dutifully dedicating your time to. You receive an email that says,

“I’m sorry to hear you are sick. Do you think you can still get meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things item to me?”

You wonder, what is empathy? You look it up. Wiki says,Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feelings with the heart of another.[1]” You realize you’ve heard and seen people using this phrase–”I’m sorry to hear”– too often to one another. Each time you hear it, you realize it means absolutely nothing and that it is a transitional, transactional phrase. In fact, actual nothing would be better, more truthful. 

You pivot.“It’s the intent that counts,” you tell yourself. “Language doesn’t matter. At least he or she said something to acknowledge my words.”

Ha! You look at yourself again. Who are you? Are you stock phrases? Are you a drone? Are you so focused on managing the illusion, the bare minimum of humanness, that you’ve stopped caring?

Your intuition appears. “Something isn’t right,” it tells you. You realize that the concept of “intent” is the justification every failed communicator uses when he or she doesn’t see the rational link between approach and outcome. You resolve never to use the phrase “I’m sorry to hear that … ” unless it is followed up with authentic empathy.

You take a breath. You pull another ball from the memory lotto. Here you are plugging away, day after day. No one sees you. Head down, you do what you’ve been asked. Head up, you’re at the whiteboard. You’re alive. You’re invigorated. You’re motivated. But you are alone. And this aloneness turns to isolation, to loneliness. You muster the courage to mention this emotion to the overseer of your work. 

“Oh, it’s lonely leader syndrome,” they say to you, as you plug on day after sunny hopeful day.  

Your loneliness elongates. Your intuition knocks on the door to your soul, “what does isolation have to do with leadership?”  You think, sure, in some rare instances it might, but it’s more likely that loneliness has become arbitrarily assigned to leadership to stroke your ego, to ensure that you remain productive, to minimize the fact that emotionally you have been abandoned or you have abandoned yourself … all in the name of what? And for who?

You twirl. For a moment, you see the twinkle of yourself. You’re a child again. Free. Curious. Allowed to make mistakes. Allowed to connect. To love whomever you please without it being wrong. Or unprofessional. Or inappropriate.

You twirl again. The breeze is cold. You’re an adult now. Your reputation is on the line. Your fragile system of self-preservation is on the line.

You police your thoughts so that you can press on. You are an adult. You have mouths to feed. But, the question becomes, can you do it authentically? See link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2015/11/10/the-true-qualities-of-authentic-leaders/#6c6059ce320a

Yes, you tell yourself, you can, but only if you don’t use the word “but” in sentences because people only want to hear you agree with them. You should use “and” so not to offend egos. See link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2016/12/08/6-tricks-to-mastering-conflict/#155ed96f72fa 

If you don’t, you won’t win the game. 

Whose game?

Now you are exhausted. “Stop the glass-half-empty mentality,” you say to your bleeding soul. “See a shrink.” But your beautiful restless mind cajoles. “For what? So a doc can prescribe you medication for using your eyes and ears together with your mind and heart?”

See link: http://www.medicaldaily.com/antidepressants-arent-taken-depressed-majority-users-have-no-disorder-327940 See link: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/opinion/sunday/medicating-womens-feelings.html?_r=0&referer=https://duckduckgo.com/

And then you snap out of it. You know it’s not all bleak. And you submit, as you often do: “There are many possible ways to solve a problem.”

And you smile. You smile because you want to smile. Because smiling is true to your nature.

And you agree. You agree that we don’t understand the problems we are trying to solve. Because we are too afraid to be naked to even our own thoughts. Because we read. We see. We regurgitate what other’s have said. But our own ideas, our own thoughts–we don’t allow ourselves the space or the freedom to form them. We are too afraid of what people will think. It would be like walking into a plastic surgeon’s office and asking, “what part of my body could use improvement?” We would see too many red lines. 

But the surgeon is not them. You are the surgeon. 

Can you distinguish colonizing blood cells from rogue cancer?

img_4627

Without the labels, they look strikingly similar; don’t they? 

Are you the illness mimicking and diluting problems the way all the big banks did with subprime mortgages? See link: http://www.economist.com/news/schoolsbrief/21584534-effects-financial-crisis-are-still-being-felt-five-years-article

They were so self-serving that it hit the world like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. See link: http://www.progressive.org/hiroshima.html

It’s the space between that counts. 

***

My dream is that we will allow our children the freedom to see themselves as they are and not through the lens of the circus funhouse mirrors we force down our own throats. 

My dream is that we remember that our most important work is self-reflection. Followed by action. Followed by more self-reflection. 

Our children are watching.


If you appreciate my writing and would like for me to continue, please share this post. 

Tara Makhmali is a confident, over-assertive, worthy, worthless, lazy, overambitious, un-leaning, too-far-leaning business woman with self-esteem issues. She is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister. She has a bachelors degree in English from the University of Massachusetts and a certification in project management. On occasion, she plays guitar and classical piano instead of doing laundry. Her debut fiction novel, MISSWIRED, is available for purchase on Amazon

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The Illusion of Success: the Story of Rocky, the Ambitious High-Achiever Who Became a Button-Presser

Rocky is a highly curious person who wants to be exceptional. He has a question many people have. How can I be extraordinary? 

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I want to be the best version of me I can be. I wantsuccess.

First things first, Rocky studies hard and is admitted into a notable college.

Four years later, he graduates with a degree in liberal arts. He is recruited by a reputable company. They have high revenues, distinguished clientele, and accomplished staff.

The recruiter says, “we would like to offer you the role of Senior Associate of Button Pressing Operations. Despite the title, it is an important position. All of our products and services depend on it.”

“Hmmm,” Rocky  says. “Pressing buttons, or button-pressing operations, however you define it, doesn’t seem true to my nature, my strengths and abilities. I am more of a creative person. I would prefer a more strategic role.”

“You finished school recently,” she says. “At your age, you should explore. What you need is to surround yourself with accomplished people. Your boss is accomplished. He is Chief Director of Global Button Pressing Operations. You will learn so much from him.”

She continues, “we believe you will have a wonderful career here. With hard work and discipline, we will make you a success. Have I mentioned the handsome pay?”

Rocky is handsome. His grooming supplies and education loans have left him with a hefty debt. Time is of the essence.

Reputable Company + Important Job + Accomplished Boss + High Salary + Hard Work = Success. Right?  His stomach churns.

With no time left to think, he slides his fingers through his silky hair and responds, “why, yes, I am handsome, thank you. I accept your offer. After all, successful people are important people. I want to be successful; therefore, if I am important, then I will also be successful.”

“Terrific!” the recruiter responds, agreeing with Rocky’s logic.

Rocky spends 4 years pressing buttons. He thinks, if I work quickly and for many hours each day, I will most certainly grow to be the best button-presser in the world! I will pay off my debts. My boss will think I am phenomenal. He is accomplished. I will follow in his footsteps and earn a fancier, more important title. People will like me. I will be a great success. I will be extraordinary. 

And people do like Rocky. In fact, he makes many new like-minded friends along the way, although, suspiciously, he never hears from the recruiter again.

Together with his colleagues, he “works hard and plays hard.” He presses buttons for long hours each day. He guzzles coffee, eats glutinous meals, enjoys a nonstop fountain of scotch, wine, and fine beers, and what’s left of his precious time is spent watching mundane television shows and betting on sports games.

It feels good to be part of a team. It feels good to be needed. It feels good to bond. The team’s mantra is, “we’re in the bunker together!”

But Rocky’s gut feeling is slowly turning into a gut problem. He visits the doctor.

Doc says, “your stomach is growing a hole in it. I’m prescribing you meds.”

Rocky says, “will they work?”

Doc smiles, “they should lessen the symptoms.”

Rocky assumes, it’s all part of growing older. This is normal, right? Doesn’t everyone’s health deteriorate with age?  

“Thank you,” he says, and he takes the meds.

The next day, he plans to hop back into work as usual. But the meds make him dizzy. He can barely get out of bed.

He takes a deep breath. It feels good, so he takes a few more. And a few more after that.

Suddenly he thinks, wait a minute, why is life a bunker? Are we soldiers in war? I am a button-presser. That shouldn’t be our mantra. Maybe I need a vacation.

He can’t remember the last time he had a vacation. He books a trip and off he goes!

It’s beautiful there. Walking along the beach, he looks up at the sky. The sun warms his cheeks. The ocean glimmers.

“Eureka!” He smiles. “I have an idea!”

Eagerly the next week, he returns to work. “I have an idea!” he exclaims. “It will revolutionize button-pressing forever. No human shall have to waste his life pushing buttons this way! Just imagine the joy we will bring!”

His boss laughs. “Nice idea,” he says, “but it’s not realistic. Looks like you got a little too much sun.”

Rocky is confused. He hangs his head. His stomach burns. He thinks, what am I doing here?

He confides in his friends. “What should I do? Where did I go wrong?”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” they say. “That’s just the way things are, the way they’ve always been. We all have dreams about who we will grow up to be when we are young, and then reality settles in. Don’t give up button-pressing. You’re not a quitter. Button-pressing is your life. Button-pressing is who you are. Who are you if not a button-presser? What will you do without handsome pay? How will you survive? What will we do without you? We need you in the bunker!”

Overwhelmed, Rocky takes a deep breath. It feels good, so he takes another, and another, and another until he’s almost euphoric, like nothing can break his spirit.

A thought pops into his head. A question, a series of questions. Who am I? Do I suck? What do I want?  

And as if from some deep arsenal of knowledge growing from within him, the answers emerge.

Oh Rocky, isn’t it obvious? You know what you want. You want to unleash your creativity, and instead, here you are pressing buttons. You are uninteresting, bored and you work a job that goes against your gut. You drink too much. You eat too much, and frankly, your handsomeness is going down the drain.

I’m sorry to tell you, my friend, that your cohort is united in suffering. They believe they are in a bunker. Because they are in a bunker. Because life is a bunker to them. They point to your weaknesses and call them strengths. They demote your strengths to weaknesses. Don’t you deserve happiness? Don’t they?

Handsome pay, brand names, accomplished people.  It all sound great, but who is controlling your destiny? This is the checklist for someone else’s vision, the formula for someone else’s success! Don’t you owe it to yourself to define your own framework for happiness, for success? 

Rocky, you are magnificent. You are ambitious. You are creative. You went to a notable school. What are you doing sitting here, pressing buttons, numbing your mind and your gut until there is a huge hole in it?

Listen Rocky, no one is immune from making mistakes. No one is immune from career paralysis. No one can define success for you. You must think for yourself. Believe in who you are. Believe in who you want to be. Acknowledge your nature. Your desires. Your abilities. Give your instincts a chance to guide you. Give your abilities a chance to flourish.  It’s time to take a risk. It’s time to break free.

The next morning, Rocky is afraid. His stomach still churns, but he decides it’s time to set out on a new journey. He doesn’t care about what accomplished people think. Okay, he does care. In fact, he cares a ton. But what he cares about more is what’s true. He cares about the approach. He cares about defining his own vision, his own strategy, his own path, his own framework for happiness, his own success, his own pathway to extraordinary.

And it turns out that once Rocky believes and invests in himself, so do his friends, and so do accomplished people. They give him a cowboy hat and a set of moleskin notebooks, and send him on his way. But not before throwing him a proper goodbye party.

So, let’s all raise our glasses to Rocky, and to life’s most satisfying moments. Those moments, when you, the individual, choose a pursuit worthy of your time, and give it everything you have. Not for the fame! Not for the money! Certainly not because someone said so! But because it brings true meaning to your life, AND NOT THE ILLUSION OF MEANING.

Rocky tips his hat and thanks his friends.

The End.

By: Tara Makhmali

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4. Harvard Business Review, Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain by Christina Congleton, Britta K. Hölzel, Sara W. Lazar

5. When Believing Hurts

Read this and other posts at www.CommonSmarts.com