Image Slider

Apt2B: L.A.'s Local Resource For All Your Home Needs

We'd wait to eat dinner until my dad got home, setting the table and expectantly waiting for my mom to round us all up in the car to pick him up from the train. Our table was giant, a special order to comfortably seat six kids, two parents and handle the wear-and-tear that comes with years of family dinners, dyeing Easter eggs, carving pumpkins, baking cookies, painting and gluing and glittering things on to construction paper, and even occasionally being climbed on by a sleepwalking child.

After he'd washed his face and changed out of his suit, we'd take our reserved seats at the table, my dad at the head, mine two seats to the right, flanked by my little brother and rotating-favorite sister and directly across from the patio door, which had a tiny Gumby and Pokey standing on the frame to test the observational skills of newcomers to our dinner parties. We'd always say grace a few minutes into the meal, some of us out-of-sync in order to be technically correct in thanking the Lord for that which we had already received. Participation in dinner conversation was mandatory at our house, a lively round-the-table report-out of the day that tended to deteriorate into a number of scenarios, commonly starting with a diatribe against "the liberal Left," occasionally devolving into a tearful breakdown by my not-to-be-named, less-talkative sister when put on the spot to offer her opinion, sometimes extending for hours to allow time for an ungrateful child to finish his peas, and infamously involving a few head-to-head battles that could only be resolved by bringing the dictionary, atlas or encyclopedia to the table.

My mom cooked every night, unimpressive to me at the time and which now strikes me as incredible, seeing as I have no children of my own and a frequent nightly habit of frantically texting with my husband about how to feed ourselves, usually culminating in a Thai takeout order.

After dinner, my siblings and I would embark on our bumbling group project of cleaning the kitchen. As group projects go, some pulled more weight than others. (I will admit to pushing a wet rag over the surface of the table for many minutes longer than necessary to avoid being the one having to sweep the floor.) It was a serious job that ended with an inspection by a thankless, detail-oriented man who had no problem rearranging the dishwasher or demanding a re-sweep of a still-dirty floor, seemingly unconcerned by the self-assessed exhausted and overworked children standing before him in defeat.

We'd then disperse to our rooms, Karen and I in the front, Patty and Meghan next door and my brothers to the luxury of their own separate rooms (or to the makeshift basement computer lab, where my brother would take apart, lay in pieces on the carpet, and then successfully put back together our family desktop for no apparent reason other than to prove he could). The hallway that connected our bedrooms was filled with family photos and mementos that remind me of my mom, Catholic figurines and framed artwork that I'd made in third grade. My sisters and I shared a giant, communal bathroom with a double vanity that was always littered with Neutrogena and Chapstick. We unquestioningly respected our agreed-upon shower schedule for survival purposes (a stark contrast to our no-sharing-clothes contract). 

Significant square footage of our house was reserved exclusively for my parents, decorated with our baby pictures but not welcoming of our presence. We were invited into their bedroom or office only when we'd done something wrong, or had a genuine need for a private conversation (which did not include inter-sibling disputes unless they involved blood or fire). The dining and living rooms were invite-only, and it was usually just Karen who made it to the adult table during the parties and get-togethers my parents threw often. My most potent memory of time spent in the living room was the night I got engaged, sitting in there with my sisters and my parents, crying and laughing and drinking too much wine in front of the fireplace, welcoming Wes into the fold.

At our house, Tostitos were a food group, Christmas decorating a sport, and Sunday mass mandatory. The acre of yardage was meticulously maintained on a weekly Saturday morning schedule by my disciplined dad and his crew of free and somewhat unreliable laborers. On lazy weekends and summer days off, my grandma would come over with a coffee cake and we'd have hours-long brunches that lasted until the second pot of coffee ran out.

My parents worked with an architect to design the house to the exact specifications they needed for their large and uncontemporary family (including one design flaw which they learned about twenty years later when we explained how we used the basement stairs into the garage to sneak out past curfew). It was their dream house that they'd saved for years to build so their small children would have the space to grow up, to be the backdrop for all of our childhood experiences and family memories. They built it when I was in second grade, and I remember visiting it one night with my dad right before they finished construction. The base cabinets had just been installed, and he lifted me up to sit inside the cavity where they were putting a wall oven. It's funny to flash forward from that vantage point and moment in time, remembering everything that would happen in that soon-to-be-finished house. The day we moved in, my youngest brother cried and later told everyone that he would be painting his room black and sharing it with my mom.

Every time I walk in the door, I revert back into the 17-year-old who'd last lived there, my stress melting away in the comforting familiarity and sense of security that comes with it. My parents sold the house today, downsizing to a place perfect for spending the warm Chicago months in retirement. It's just a house, and that cheesy saying about home being where the heart is and all that stuff is all true. But I was surprised how sentimental I was at saying goodbye to the place that served our family for decades, and how much I wanted to set down roots and buy my own home with Wes when my parents told us they were selling it.

As my childhood home was renovated and staged for sale, Wes and I did buy our own place. It's taken on a life of its own, becoming the new family gathering spot and the place where we gather to eat Tostitos and drink cheap wine and have brunches that never end. It's a work-in-progress that I've been focused on designing and improving, forgetting that there's much more involved in making it a home than what meets the eye. A few weeks ago, I did a little DIY video tour of our progress on it to post here on this blog, but revisiting that video today, I realized that there's some Catholic paraphernalia, family photos and children's artwork missing that needs to be addressed in the coming months and years in order to give this place the kind of character and personality I grew up with on Garfield Avenue and didn't fully appreciate until today. More to come on that...

Ok, that's all I have. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially if you felt the same when your parents sold the place you grew up.

P.S. If you want to see the video or just hear what my voice sounds like after reading my typing for hours on end in your time following this blog, I've posted it on my downloads page for your viewing pleasure. (If you're on my email list, you can access it via the link at the end of my last newsletter. If you're not on the list and want to see it, you can join here for access.)

P.P.S. I know, a couple of sappy posts in a row. Thanks for staying with me. Something fluffy and fashionable coming soon... and I promise to set up a reader preferences survey as soon as I figure out how to do it, so you can choose which topics you care to receive!

He looked like one of those wax figures at Madame Tussauds, where the cloned bone structure and lifelike features could fool you if not betrayed by a peculiar yellow skin tone. Aside from the slight puffs of air that escaped from his lips, my warm, witty, larger-than-life father-in-law was nothing more than a shell of a human being.

We held vigil at his bedside in hospice in the days leading to the end, watching him wither away, placing our hands on his chest, feeling every single one of his rib bones beneath the thin blanket. I held my husband's hands and his father's limp, lifeless fingers as we timed the pauses between his breaths. Waiting with eerie expectation for the moment he would finally slip away and leave behind the scarred, worn-out body that carried him for 70 years, a lifetime of memories spread over generations of family and friends, and a ghost of a future filled with grandchildren he'd never meet, family trips he'd miss, Thanksgivings and Christmases he wouldn't attend and a retirement spent traveling the world with the love of his life that he'd never enjoy.

We knew the end was coming for months, a steady decline with chemotherapy being the last bleak hope of an upswing that never came. My husband, an only child, left his job in January to go back and forth to North Carolina to be with his dad, knowing that their days together were numbered. Wes had a complicated relationship with his father, made more so as he watched his mother transform into a primary caregiver, shuttling his father to doctor's appointments, carrying him and his wheelchair and his anger, holding and feeding and rescuing and counseling her thankless charge, administering medication to her unwilling patient while losing part of herself in the process. My husband and his mother had watched helplessly for years as the rock of their family lost himself, his mind, his ability to walk, and finally, his will to live. It was messy, marked with daily battles and marred with regrets on all sides. The end was a mix of acute sadness at the loss of the man who once was, and a dull relief to surrender the human being who took his place.

How the value of a life is determined

My father-in-law, the man who once was, can only be described as a character, the kind of man who went through the trials and suffering required to have such strength of soul, clarity of vision, and inspired ambition. He was adored as a true original, a salt-of-the-earth pragmatist and a scrappy, self-made multimillionaire who built several businesses in Los Angeles using his Southern accent as an asset in negotiations with what he referred to as "slicks" (which we interpreted to mean "businessmen in expensive suits"). He used his quick wit, common sense, sound judgement and ability to outwork anyone, anywhere, at any time to his advantage. I could spend paragraphs describing his shrewd ventures and dogged determination to succeed, but in the end, all who knew him described the value of his life in terms of service: to the United States Navy, to his friends, family, employees and customers, and to the son he adopted and raised as his own. In the context of this service, his humility, sense of humor and unusual intelligence set him apart.

He taught me skills I'll use for life - like how to service a car engine and change a light fixture - but the biggest gift he gave me was his practical wisdom, shared in tidbits over the past seven years we’ve known each other.

I wish he'd have stuck around long enough to tell his future grandchildren that it's a gift to be underestimated, because your competitors will never see you coming; that there's no need to rush, because you've got the rest of your life to get where you're going; that becoming successful requires you to do things no one else will, because if it were easy everyone would be doing it. I wish he'd have stayed here a little longer so I could tell him how much he inspired me with his strong sense of self and conviction that everyone is a Jeff Gordon fan even if they don't know it yet; his utter disregard for popular opinion, his deep belief in the power of a dissenting voice, and his passive resistance against waste and abuse in government; his abhorrence of pretentiousness and associated love of Sutter Home Sweet Red; his dichotomous personality, including his penchant for wearing a $15,000 Rolex with Carhartt coveralls, work boots, women's reading glasses, and an ancient cell phone on a lanyard around his neck; his mental shortcuts that Wes and I will forever quote, including referring to all women whose names he could not recall as "Petunia" (as in, "I saw Petunia from the school board in line at the bank") and referring to all persons whose competence may be in question as "Nematodes" (as in, "Let me tell you what that Nematode married to Petunia from the school board did this time"); and his joyous, boisterous bouts of laughter and genuine love of all people (minus the aforementioned slicks and nematodes, of course).

What death tells us about how to live our lives

He passed away on Saturday, after a years-long struggle with an illness that not only ended his life but absorbed what they say is supposed to be the best years of it. Sitting next to his bed in his final days, it struck me how we exit the world in much the same way that we enter it, surrounded by friends and family in waiting, anticipating the brief presence of some higher being that both gives and takes away life, focused on the potential and value of the life in question. In death, we recognize our own mortality and it brings into sharp focus what we should be doing with each day we're given, making us conscious of the fact that we're not guaranteed another one. If there's any silver lining to an early death like that of my father-in-law, it's the salient reminder to those left behind on why we're all here. Whether you believe in God, or Universal Intelligence, or simply feel that there must be something beyond this life, we're all judged in the end not by our worldly accomplishments or what we may pride ourselves on, but by how we've touched and served others. Someone who my father-in-law deeply touched left a beautiful note on his obituary with a quote that I think says it best: 

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" - Clarence the Angel, It's a Wonderful Life.

I think that awful hole is related to the meaning of life. It's a concept that I've been struggling to define for myself recently, after coming to the stark realization that I've allowed years of my time and attention to be absorbed without taking a step back to examine what it's all for, anyway. If evidenced by nothing other than reflections on my father-in-law's life with the people who knew and loved him, the key to a meaningful and fulfilling life is directly related to how you've channeled your talents and abilities to make the world a better place. There's a quote jotted in one of my journals, captured when I was first starting out in my post-college life. It found me today during a hunt through memory boxes for photos of my father-in-law, inviting itself to be added to this post for it's perfect articulation of the criteria for evaluating a life:

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Although the last years of his life were blemished with the heartache, regret and grief that accompany a protracted decline, my father-in-law was a living expression of joy and kindness who left all those who came to him better and happier. (In particular, a 24-year-old girl who will never forget how she was wholeheartedly accepted by him the moment they met, despite her being the daughter of a slick Yankee Catholic lawyer and having a dubious appreciation for Nascar and Southern cuisine.) His legacy lives with those of us left behind, especially in his only son Wes, who has more of his father in him than he knows. My husband and I have our work cut out for us to honor the life of this man, to follow his footsteps in fostering, adopting and loving unconditionally a child in need of a family; to listen to his guidance and use it to build something of importance and significance; and to internalize his wisdom and teach our future children everything they will need to learn from the life of their imperfect, incredible Grandpa Walt. 

How to define the purpose of your life

My father-in-law's final lesson, shared through his death and the gaping hole he left, was the importance of living a purposeful life: to define what makes you unique and what you're naturally good at, to seek ways to use it to help others, and to strive to be the best version of yourself every day. Easier said than done, of course, as it wouldn't be a worthy venture otherwise. There's a little prayer that I say when I feel lost on that purpose, and thought you might find it to be a helpful reflection whether you believe in God, Universal Intelligence or something else bigger than ourselves:

"What would you have me do? Where would you have me go? Who would you have me be?" 

Somewhere deep down, you probably already know the answers to these questions. Because of my father-in-law's example, I'm convinced that figuring out those answers and finding the courage to act on them will lead us to live purposeful, fulfilling lives; to use whatever challenges life throws at us to develop strength of soul, clarity of vision and determined ambition; and to help us to be the best versions of our unique selves to serve the world in our own way.

To my father-in-law, who among everything noted above also made sure to tell me he loved me every chance he had; who started calling me "Annie Oakley" instead of "Darling" after teaching me to shoot targets fashioned out of rival Democrat campaign signs; who raised my incredible husband and gave him a sound work ethic, strong character and a side-splitting sense of humor (and bragged about him behind his back to keep him humble); who married and loved deeply an extraordinary, intelligent and virtuous woman who reciprocated his love until the end, quietly and nobly honoring her marriage vows as they relate to sickness and health, even when it seemed futile and impossibly strenuous to continue; who we'd hoped would grace us with his company, his laughter, his stories and his wisdom for the next 20 to 30 years of our lives: I forgive you for leaving so soon. I'm sorry I didn't call more often, visit more often, and sit through the races with you more often. I love you more than you will ever know. We will miss you forever.

If you've made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you took something away from this post (even if only a newfound love of the name Petunia). I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

One thing that really gets under my dad's skin is wedding toasts. Granted, the man has a lot of pet peeves, but this one is so true. Your typical wedding toast goes something along the lines of this: "Sam and Sally's relationship is so amazing, their love is so rare, she is his perfect match, he falls all over himself to do anything she wants, they are blissful 24/7 and being in their presence depresses me because it reminds me that I'll never find anything that can possibly compare." This brand of wedding toast is based on the premise that no one in the entire room has ever felt love before, assuming that 200+ guests are all just a bunch of miserable old farts who hate their lives and wish they could be like Sam and Sally but they can't so they'll drop a $500 check in the glittery box on their way out in hopes that the next generation might be able to do it better.

To me, the cheesy wedding toast perfectly encapsulates how our culture treats the topic of love. Like it's a special magical golden unicorn that only the truly lucky can find. The reality is that anyone can fall in love and it's not really that special (see 'Teen Mom,' 'Brangelina,' and 'Conscious Uncoupling'). Staying in love, however, is a true skill. Putting two fully functional adults into a scenario where they are perma-roommates with vastly different interpretations when one of them says something such as "we need to clean our home" or "want to watch an awesome movie" or "give me 5 minutes" is really a perfect formula for the kind of head-butting that you can't possibly imagine while enacting the cliché of stuffing overpriced cake into each other's faces and haphazardly kissing it off in a haze of bliss.

This is why we are all so deeply touched when we see a couple of octogenarians slowly shuffling around in the park holding hands. "How have they kept it alive all these years?" we ask ourselves in wonderment, suddenly acutely aware of the text message we sent to our true love about his insulting suggestion of Chinese takeout for dinner when he knows full well that we've written off chicken fried rice for life. We don't assume that they're hot and heavy because they just met at Bingo night at the nursing home, because we understand that the kind of love that overcomes decades worth of trials and tribulations is at once aspirational and achievable.

It's aspirational because we know that it's the real, genuine, and hard-won thing that everyone wants to have at the end of life. I want my old, bald, bag o' bones husband there with me on that park bench in 60 years and I can't even explain why sometimes other than the deep belief that life is better when shared with someone who knows you inside and out and can make you laugh harder than anyone. It's achievable because somewhere deep inside our souls, we know that it is completely within our power to build that kind of marriage despite what the next several decades may present.

Why it's hard to stay in love for the long haul

Have you ever heard the saying that love is a verb, not a noun? It's so true. Although it's easier to think of love as something abstract and out of our control, derived from unique chemistry shared between two people, it's actually much less complicated. In reality, love is a culmination of choices, actions and habits that are sometimes profoundly easy to do, and other times extremely difficult (such as when you are deeply annoyed by the way the dishwasher has been loaded). Those actions and habits inspire the feeling of love, but the feeling in and of itself means nothing when not backed by the choices themselves. It is my firm belief that anyone married more than a few months has learned that there is a very thin line between loving and loathing your spouse, and the deeper you love someone the higher the propensity you have to throw things when angry.

For me personally, it was a painful process to learn this in my own marriage. I'm convinced our first year was a challenge because I was benchmarking my relationship with Wes against an impossible cultural standard, and it took time to learn that the golden unicorn of a picture-perfect marriage like Sam and Sally's wedding toast didn't actually exist. In fact, I'm pretty sure anyone who claims to have a perfect relationship is just married to a bad communicator who deeply detests them. (Sorry.)

What you can do to keep the love alive

They say no marriage is alike, but based on my research (ahem, late night Googling…) there are some common truths to making the love last that are well within our reach. A lot of it is good old fashioned, somewhat antifeminist Mom advice. Most of it is basically just reminding yourself to stop being crazy. (Which we all are, by the way.) All of it is about how the quality of our relationship is 100% within our control, despite what we would rather believe.

If you're interested in the best-of-the-best of what the interwebs and my mom's friends have to offer on making love last, please join my email list for access to a bonus post on 8 tried and true tactics for making love last. It covers the basic rules of happy marriages and some delightful anecdotes that you may or may not find entertaining, but will likely make you feel less alone in the world when you inevitably find yourself seething in your car over something you logically understand is utterly stupid but emotionally CAN.NOT.DEAL. (We've all been there.)

Ok, that's all I've got. It was a little risky to write this, mostly because I kept having this nagging little thought in the back of my mind that maybe those marriages of sunshine and rainbows we see all over social media are actually the real deal and it's really just Wes and me who can't get our act together. But according to surveys of my mom and her gaggle of girlfriends, and most of my married friends and colleagues who answer my probing personal questions, they're not real and our struggles are the same.

Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts on this post in the comments!

P.S. If you liked this post, you'd probably like this one on what nobody tells you about marriage, and this one with instructions for living a good life.

P.P.S. Yes, I am still asking for your email address. Just like when people don't really want to be my friend in real life, they eventually break at my merciless persistence. If you've been reading this blog for awhile and reluctant to sign up, it's only a matter of time so you might as well just cough it up now. (I promise you won't regret it.*)

(*You can always unsubscribe if you do.)

Last week, a group of low income students visited my consulting firm to participate in a day-long business skills program. I hadn't met the other volunteer coaches before, and was impressed by a junior staff member who kicked off the program by addressing the room with the poise and perfectly tailored outfit of a seasoned partner.

As the day progressed, that same consultant was called to present to the group again - and it was only then that I was surprised to learn that she wasn't a colleague, but one of the students who had come for the coaching! She told the group about her challenged family background, her struggle to balance supporting herself on a low wage job and attend classes part-time at a community college, and how one organization opened doors for her that she hadn't thought possible. 

The organization was Dress for Success, a nonprofit you may have heard about before. They hooked her up with a suit (complete with heels and a bag) and two weeks of professional outfits that enabled her to land not only an interview and ultimately a position that lined up with her professional interests, but the confidence to show up at that job every day looking the part.

It's easy to forget the impact that our appearance has on those around us, and I'm grateful to that sharp young woman for reminding me and inspiring this post.

"How you do anything is how you do everything" - a wise person, who was not wise enough to copyright this statement

Have you ever heard that quote before? It's one that I think perfectly articulates why "dressing for success" matters in the workplace. There are some fundamental behaviors and characteristics that translate into success for any job, in the history of all jobs. These are the things that your parents were attempting to instill in you when they made you brush your teeth, go to church, do yard work and practice the piano - activities that require conscientiousness, discipline, and attention to detail. These 'success factors' are simply habits that we develop in our personal lives, and they tend to dictate how we approach literally everything we do - including our work.

Whether you like it or not, others tend to determine whether you've got those successful habits locked down by evaluating your outward appearance. The image you choose to portray expresses a little bit about who you are, what you care about and pay attention to, and how you approach life - in essence, how you approach everything.

If you're disciplined, conscientious and detail-oriented, you likely have a good routine down for taking care of yourself and your well-being and regularly invest time and resources into how you present yourself to the world. This translates into a healthy, rested person who's taken time to do her hair and makeup, invested in quality clothing that fits well, and feels good about herself and her abilities to do other things, too.

If you work a full-time job, approximately 70% of your decisions about how you choose to present yourself are for work. Paradoxically, it's the area where many of us struggle for a few reasons:

  • Dress codes can be hard to interpret, especially for women: even if your company claims to embrace a specific dress code (business formal, business casual, creative, etc.), it's important to figure out how to interpret that particular dress code in the way that works for your company's culture and for your personal style.
  • Closets and bathrooms usually present an overwhelming amount of choices that we are not prepared to make at 6 o'clock in the morning: rummaging through dresses, trying to remember if we picked up our favorite pants at the dry cleaners, and staring at our bedhead in the bathroom mirror without a plan for wrangling it into submission eats up valuable time and leads us to be late and look harried.
  • Work days tend to be treated as something to suffer through, rather than embrace and enjoy: hitting the snooze button on your alarm five times, dreading the day, and allowing yourself to indulge in a negative mindset about how much is on your plate, how frustrating your co-workers are, or what you'd rather be doing saps energy, lowers self-esteem and demotivates you from doing the necessary things to be successful.

Even if you've got some work to do on your own personal habits, it's easy to overcome the daily conundrum of getting ready for work with a little bit of thought and planning. Understanding your dress code, organizing your closet and bathroom to support a streamlined morning routine, and re-thinking your workday as a gift rather than insufferable torture are the basic steps to showing up at work every day looking, feeling and performing at your absolute best.

My 80% travel requirement for work has helped me to refine the art of getting ready, and doing it as efficiently as possible. It has required me to learn how to quickly assess and understand the culture and dress codes of my various clients, plan (and pack) my outfits ahead of time, and find ways to get excited about my work and show up as my best self even on days when it's easy to feel stressed, exhausted and negative. Although there are still days when I forget my own rules and struggle to get out the door, refining a system has truly helped me to build a work wardrobe - and a daily routine - that truly works for me.

You may have already mastered the art of getting ready for work, so if that is the case I salute you and hope you'll leave some of your habit-building and time-saving tips in the comments. If you're one of the many of us still struggling in this area, I've put together a short guide (really, more of a bonus post) to dressing for success that includes:
  • How to interpret your company's dress code - and the key pieces you need to dress for it
  • How to organize your closet and bathroom to get you out the door faster every morning
  • How to establish a successful mindset every morning to perform at your best

If you're interested in my 7 Step Guide to Dressing for Success, join my email list for access!

P.S. Current members of my Rolodex, I so appreciate you! You can access this guide at the same link, or just sit tight and I'll be sending it out to all of you with my next email update.

P.P.S. You may have noticed that I've started a little campaign to collect all your emails. This is because I secretly want to drop off all social media one day and need to be able to reach you from my cave.

P.P.P.S. Can I just say that Dress for Success, the actual organization, is amazing? I think we should all figure out how to give a little bit of our cool, overflowing closets to help them help others. And at the same time absolve ourselves of guilt over poor past purchasing decisions.

Ok, end of post scripts... would love to hear your thoughts on some of the challenges you've had (or seen others struggle with) when it comes to this topic!

Before diving in to this post, I'd like to acknowledge that the American media and general public are currently in the throes of the Comey testimony and the timing of this topic is not a coincidence. If you're anything like me, you've probably had a building sense of exhaustion at the news cycle and may share my growing outrage that we've allowed the attention of our entire nation to be directed to tweetable stories, at the cost of enabling (and maybe even encouraging) glaring leadership failures. Such as collectively freaking out about allegations of Russian hackers interfering in our election, meanwhile allowing the leader of one of our most critical federal agencies with access to the most highly classified information to intentionally feed salacious information to the media before and after the most contentious election in recent history. (Remember how he decided to go ahead and tell everyone that he found some more Hillary emails just days before voting? And we're focused on Siberian teenagers with virus-ridden desktop computers from the '90s.)

That said, this post has been forming in my mind for months about how our media has officially parted ways from the hallmarks of journalism that have served the American public throughout the course of our history - and none of us are recognizing the problem, thinking for ourselves, or doing anything about it. (In short, this post is basically a sales pitch to bring critical thinking skills back in style.)

A friendly reminder on the role of the news media

My favorite professor in college was a former Washington Post journalist who was "old school" in every sense of the phrase but most notably in his strict adherence to the fundamentals of the science of reporting. His class was twice a week at 9 o'clock in the morning, the crack of dawn for a 20-year-old who lived on the opposite side of campus. 

He required each of us to come to every class with a compilation of five grammatical, spelling, reporting or AP Style mistakes from national publications with the current date. This meant that I spent every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. poring through the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Wall Street Journal with a fine toothed comb. All 15 students came to class each morning with a neat package of that day's failings of the journalism industry and left that semester with a habitual, spasmodic ability to spot errors (to the detriment of our future spouses and direct reports... see meme below).

We also came to abhor and judge reporters who broke the fundamental public trust of the trade by editorializing, inserting their own opinions, using unnamed sources, or failing to investigate alternate viewpoints to offer a balanced and fact-based story. Our professor taught us that words matter, because they incite thoughts, beliefs and actions - and a reporter's job was to present the facts in a way that enabled the reader to think critically about the story and come to his or her own opinion.

Fairness and accuracy are the foundations of ethical journalism, meaning that stories must be written with facts and balanced perspectives. Journalists are ethically bound to honor their duty to the public by reporting the truth, acting independently, providing transparency, and omitting their own biases to put the principles that guide their work first.

Why the role of the news media as a public servant is gone

That same professor is the reason that I never took a job in journalism, despite my love of writing and annoying yet uncontrollable penchant for striking up conversations with strangers. On the last day of class, he stood before us and pronounced that newspapers were dead. "Media is changing rapidly," he explained, "and transforming how information will be collected, reported and shared in the future." He made us promise to protect the fundamentals we learned in his class regardless of what our work would look like in the future. (Instead, I opted out and went down the road of corporate communications which has conveniently enabled me to pontificate on this subject from the point-of-view of a detached outsider.)

As my wise professor predicted, journalism has been transformed by social media to a point where it's almost unrecognizable. Real-time updates are shared online before there could possibly be time to check the facts. Anonymous phone calls and Facebook posts have become cited sources. Dubious and shabbily reported stories go viral on Twitter and YouTube. And the American public eats it all up without stopping to think about what it is they're hearing and subsequently believing. The majority of our news industry has transformed from one that used to encourage opinions and healthy debate, into one that discourages any perspective that represents a diversion from the court of public opinion. 

I think the shift in how money is made when it comes to sharing information has got to be one of the primary drivers of the decline in trustworthy reporting: newspapers used to sell information to audiences, and today media outlets sell audiences to companies. The problem with this shift is that facts and balanced perspectives don't win likes, shares, comments and follows on social media. Organizations that develop and distribute "news" are incentivized to do things that grow their audience, meaning that driving user engagement takes the place of adhering to the fundamental ethics of journalism. It no longer matters if the information is true, but if it is popular.

How this is dangerous for all of us 

We all know what catching our attention looks like. Our feeble human brains are wired for survival, meaning that we enthusiastically tune in to shocking information that either a. threatens our lives (e.g., natural disasters, terrorism, the great debate on eggs and heart attacks, etc.); b. threatens our identities (e.g., opinions on education, family and relationship norms, politics, whether or not there is life on Mars, etc.); c. feeds our voyeuristic urge to watch disasters happen to others (e.g., the Bachelorette, 15-car-pileups on the highway, coverage of Kim Kardashian's attack in Paris, etc.); or d. is purely entertaining. 

So here we are in a time where popular opinion has replaced truth, retweeting puppy videos and consuming snippets of Comey's testimony that relate to Russian hackers electing the president and blabbing about our poorly structured thoughts on the matter to all of our equally uninformed yet strongly opinionated friends and colleagues. (I think you get the idea.) Amidst all this chaos and distraction, there is still a government collecting our taxes and waging wars and making decisions on our behalf that affect our country, our lives, our children's lives and we don't have any reliable insight into what is actually happening nor do we really seem all that interested anyway.  

What you can do to be better informed

So what to do about this in the event you've made it this far in the post and haven't been distracted by a gif of a cat hanging from a ceiling fan? I suggest you shrug your shoulders, sigh, and turn on House of Cards to temporarily placate your utter despair at your powerlessness. Just kidding, of course. I've been trying to answer this question myself for a while, and decided to do a few things to better educate myself and take a more proactive approach to staying informed. The most important of which has been cutting out any publication that violates the fundamental principles and ethics I learned in my college journalism classes (looking at you and your "anonymous sources," CNN) and reading all information with a critical lens.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind that can help you to identify better and more trustworthy information sources…

#1 Actively consume information with a lens of balance, asking yourself two key questions while you're listening or reading:

  • Can I tell what the reporter personally thinks about this story or situation?
  • Can I understand at least one other point of view in this story?  

If I can't answer "no" to the first bullet, and "yes" to the second, I tend to disregard as unbalanced and poorly reported.

#2 Apply doubt to everything you hear, listening for the facts

This is the good old "prove it" tactic that you already use on a daily basis when people are trying to sell you on something. A healthy dose of doubt never hurt anyone and in fact probably helped you to invest in better anti-aging creams and index funds. Might as well apply the same principles to what you allow to take hold in your mind, right?

#3 Consider the source

A time tested tactic that should never have gone out of style. Trustworthy sources of information are independent, meaning that there is nothing influencing the information other than the desire to present the facts in a balanced way. When newspapers first came online, they offered subscriptions to access content in order to enable them to remain independent. This tactic was criticized, but it's allowed the ones that stuck to their guns to continue to hold themselves to the highest standards. This model relies on viewers to value independence, and be willing to pay for it to be better educated. Which is something I'm realizing is well worth the cost.

Ok, that's the end of my rant. I'm a believer that if you complain about something, you take on responsibility for helping to fix it, so I hope that this tirade did something for you. If you took something away from this, or have thoughts on the topic, please leave me a comment, shoot me an email, or share this post.
One thing I love to do with my girlfriends is invite myself over to their homes to overhaul their closets, give them unsolicited style tips, and put together outfits for them using things they already own. It's sort of like "happy hour and shopping on a Friday night" but backwards and costs a lot less. It typically involves a couple bottles of wine, lots of emphatic tossing of things on the ground, and rounds of forced try-ons and posed pictures to file away for future reference. It tends to be a ruthless process with A LOT of items ending up in the 'toss' pile and some third-degree questioning about why certain things needs to be saved or why others are never worn. It's also extremely rewarding in that it yields many new outfits that had been sitting there all along, results in a short shopping list of items that are truly needed to round out what's left in the closet, and feeds my insatiable need to be in charge at all times. (Just kidding, of course.)

After going through this process with many of my friends, I've learned that we all struggle with the same things when it comes to getting dressed every morning. Over time, I've realized that there are five common mistakes most people make with their wardrobes and I wanted to share them here along with some thoughts on solutions in case you run into these pitfalls, too.
#1 They spend too much on trendy, occasion-specific items rather than investing in basic, everyday staples

We all fall into this trap, but avoiding it and instead committing to allocate your money towards the items you'll truly get the most cost per wear is a surefire way to develop better style. When my friend Gill and I went through literally every item in her closet, it amazed me that she had several extremely expensive designer cocktail dresses that were literally collecting dust in her closet yet didn't own black jeans, high quality cotton tee shirts, silk blouses, or a great tailored blazer. To survive this closet of many gaps, she wore Lululemon leggings everywhere.

Without a collection of great basics that work well together, getting dressed every day is difficult and requires more effort and thought. Before spending money on a new dress for a special occasion, think about what basics your wardrobe is lacking and whether that money might be better spent on something that will get more mileage like a great tote or a pair of tuxedo pants that fit you perfectly.
#2 They overlook really amazing items because they're not sure how to style them

Leather skirts, cage heels, and trendy items like bell sleeves are great because they have the power to spice up an otherwise basic outfit. I have many friends who buy these things but don't wear them because they're not sure how to incorporate them into an outfit. One of the best styling tricks I've learned is to pick one item as the focus and balance it by choosing opposing items that are different textures, shapes and colors. For example, a leather skirt is an edgy, tough fabric that needs to be balanced with a softer texture like cashmere or cotton and dressed down with flats to make it appropriate for day. A shirt with 70s style bell sleeves needs to be balanced with simple classics like distressed jeans and basic pumps.
#3 They don't make the time to plan outfits in advance
Whenever I fall into a rut with my closet, I intentionally carve out a couple of hours on a weekend to go through it item-by-item and put together outfits, try them on and take photos so I'll remember the combinations. It gets my creative juices flowing and gives me a great reference file of outfits to pull. Every night before I go to bed, I pick out my entire outfit (starting with the shoes) based on the weather and what I have to do the next day. It guarantees that my outfit will look put-together and helps me get out the door faster. Advance planning is the only reason why I can put together a stylish outfit in one minute.

#4 They fail to assess gaps in their wardrobe before going shopping

This is the root cause of pitfall #1 above, and it the most difficult habit to break when it comes to developing style. In a culture of instant gratification, it's so much easier to think that your wardrobe woes can be cured with a trip to a store to buy new things rather than recognize that you have work to do in evaluating what you already own, how your wardrobe works for you, and your purchasing decisions.

The absolute best thing you can do to develop great style is to buy less and spend more strategically on items that will truly fill a gap in your wardrobe. Prior to my "No New Things" challenge, I was a victim of 'bargain' impulse purchases that didn't serve what I really needed. Now that I'm older and wiser, I've realized that it's actually cheaper to make investment purchases. After spending a lot of time planning and assessing my wardrobe gaps for a year, I've spent in the ballpark of $2,500 on just 7 pieces: a couple of high quality flats  that I'll use for the next 5 years, a few timeless dresses that can be styled for countless occasions, an amazing oversize woven tote bag that can go anywhere, and a timeless trench coat that fits me perfectly and can be worn with literally everything.

That might sound like a lot of money to some of you, but I'm convinced it's far less than what I would have spent if I didn't have a plan. How many times have you spent under $100 on a 'bargain' dress, or pair of shoes, or a bag or jacket that you didn't really love and just took up space in your closet until you eventually donated them? Wouldn't it have been worth it to omit those purchases and save that money for a few thoughtfully selected pieces that will really serve your lifestyle for years to come?


#5 They lose focus on what works for them, their shape and their lifestyle

Getting brutally honest with yourself about what works for your body and your lifestyle is a challenge, but will help you have better style. Cap sleeves, the color yellow, empire waists, and strapless styles are examples of items you will never (or extremely rarely) see me wear because they just don’t work for my broad shoulders, pale skin, or boyish shape. Learning to avoid wholesale the things that don't work for me and selecting items that highlight my assets has been a game changer. It's also been a game changer to really look at my lifestyle across a 365 day span and consider the percentage of time I spend in various settings such as work, lounging at home, on dates with my husband, out with friends, or at parties and fancy events. Making sure that my wardrobe reflects that lifestyle has helped me to refine my everyday style and focus where I build my wardrobe. For me personally, this means spending more on versatile items that I can wear to the office or dress both up and down, and deciding to buy cashmere sweatpants that work for both reading in my living room and for the times my husband successfully drags me out to a neighborhood bar on a Friday night.

In addition to these common mistakes, I also tend to find common gaps in my friends wardrobe or missing staples that would help to create dozens of new outfits. And I think this is a problem that can be hard to diagnose without an outside perspective. Many of you have also emailed or left comments in the past asking for thoughts on the basic, foundational items that everyone should own.

Although I'd love to be your online personal stylist and Skype-edit your closet, I figured it would be easier to just create a checklist of spring + summer wardrobe staples to help you take inventory of your own wardrobe, guide your purchasing decisions, and develop better personal style. If you're interested in my wardrobe staples checklist, please join my email list for access to a free copy!
P.S. This post is dedicated to my friend (and beauty vlogger) Pam Sanchez and the 300 flow-y tops I forced her to donate. May they rest in peace.

If you've never failed at anything in your entire life, this post is not for you. And for the record, I assume you must live in a bubble and be incredibly boring and we would never be friends because perfect and interesting are mutually exclusive concepts in my world.

That's not to say that I think I'm a failure. There are some things that I do pretty well: corny puns, rearranging furniture, finding grammar mistakes in newspapers. My dog literally thinks I'm the most amazing person on Earth. But there are thousands of things that I do terribly: anything that requires hand-eye coordination, selecting gifts, remembering to RSVP, carrying a tune, cooking chicken breast. Among others that I could spend hours listing here.

I've been thinking a lot lately about shortcomings and failure, and reflecting on the lengths I personally (and we collectively as a culture) go to correct or avoid them. From a very young age, we're taught what's expected, and over time we unconsciously begin to do two things:
  1. Strive to overcome shortcomings
  2. Avoid failing at all costs

There's something inherently wrong with both of these tendencies. An innate drive to change ourselves to meet some false vision of perfection leads us away from who we truly are as human beings, and what we're really meant to do for the world with our unique talents. A fear of failure holds us back from experiences and lessons that are necessary to learn, grow and expand our value to others.

Rather than making us collectively better human beings, striving for 'perfection' and fearing failure causes us to become versions of ourselves based on false standards that might not be quite right for who we are as people. My girl Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: "When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else, you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being."

How often have you heard the tale of the straight A student who followed the path of achievement until they morphed into a miserable investment banker yearning to own a food truck? Or the one about the young woman who forgets to relish the amazing, independent life she's built because of an intense loneliness driven by a false life timeline that dictates expiration dates for brides and mothers?

The pressure to achieve other people's vision of perfection can be overwhelming, and the fear of failure can paralyze us. It doesn't matter what you do, where you live, who your partner or friends are, or what your version of perfection and failure looks like. We all experience this and have to get past it in order to be better people and more value to the world.
Why Falling Short and Failing Is Good For You

A reader (hi, Cindy!) recently helped me think about this from a fresh perspective. After reading one of my posts, she emailed me to say that she was unsubscribing because she was offended by what I wrote. I was stunned. After exchanging a few emails with Cindy to better understand her perspective, I realized how badly I failed: in her explanation, Cindy told me that she loved to read this blog and often printed the posts to reread. Like many people, she'd grown weary of the negativity in American politics and exhausted by the constant commentary. Finding that tone on a blog she'd grown to trust to provide a positive and productive perspective was incredibly disappointing.

For me, realizing that I made at least one reader feel marginalized and negatively impacted their day was a much-needed wakeup call. I'd forgotten something I learned from one of my longtime favorite authors E.B. White, who famously said that the purpose of writing is "to lift people up, not lower them down."

Failing in this example taught me that I had an opportunity to better serve my readers and needed to be more thoughtful about the purpose and intent of my messages. The lesson Cindy helped teach me that day also made me consider where I needed to be more thoughtful about the value I was delivering in other roles in my life, including as a sister, daughter, wife, friend, colleague, manager and consultant. 

Beauty, prestige, popularity, money, and power are some examples of how our culture defines perfection and success. If you struggle to resist those powerful cultural forces, you're not alone. In fact, I think we'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't have that same struggle. I personally believe the fear and insecurities driven by those false ideals are the reason why we as individuals become stagnant, and why our society is collectively anxious, exhausted, lonely and obsessed with efficiency, productivity and instant gratification.

The good news? There's a cure! And it's easy, but requires that you actively recognize and resist those external influences, and take steps to consciously focus on what truly matters to free yourself up to fall short, fail and feel fine about it (otherwise known as "growing"). To get you started, here's a list of life truths that I find particularly inspiring when I start to get sucked into the comparison trap:
#1 You are the only person on Earth who truly understands who you are, and who you are becoming

People love to tell you what you should or should not do, how you're holding yourself back, what you should value or what should or should not be important to you. They probably have good intentions and presume to know you, but are really just projecting their own standards onto you. Learn to ignore them, and stay focused on what you truly value and know to be right.

#2 Prestige or money should never be your motivation for anything

Instead, understand who you serve and the value you provide in your efforts and define your success around that concept. Failure, at its essence, is when you do not serve others in the way you've intended, or do not provide value to others in what you're doing. Prestige, money and other rewards may come if you are exceptionally good a delivering value or serving others but it cannot alone motivate you to become successful. Focus instead on the things you are doing every day and how those things are helping the world.

#3 If you're not failing regularly, you're not growing

It's that whole 'a ship is safe in the harbor, but built to go out to sea' cliché, I know, but it's true. Playing it comfortable and safe got nobody anywhere. If you think back on your life and career, I bet it's the times that were the hardest where you were forced to take stock of yourself and your life that helped you to grow and made you who you are today.

#4 Make balance a priority in your life

I don't know why this is, but we tend to brag about how busy we are, how little sleep we get, how crazed our lives are, how early we got to the office or how late we stayed. This is inherently ridiculous, and I've started to realize that when I do this, it's coming from some internal drive to prove my work ethic or importance or some other quality that I feel the world uses to measure my value. Instead of bragging about busy-ness, seek to simplify and put the things that matter most in life at the top of your priority list. Remember that how you choose to spend your time is how you will spend your life.
#7 Criticism from people that matter is necessary to improve

It gives you insight into the value you provide or are expected to provide to the person expecting it, and enables you to shift, change and grow to increase your impact and value to the world. The hard part is defining the people that matter (see #1 above). For me, my close friends and family and the people that are inherently affected by the work that I do - my clients, the junior staff on my projects, my colleagues, my readers - matter. As do all of the people I've encountered in life who have inspired me, challenged me, invested in my and helped me along the way.
#6 Allow yourself to change your mind

This is so important today, more than ever. Our media is rapidly changing, moving away from trusted sources of balanced truth to conglomerate engines that put ratings and viewership over their duty to the public. We form baseless opinions based on what we hear others express, rather than thinking critically about what we're hearing and seeking alternate perspectives. Then, we associate those opinions as part of our identity and defend them even when presented with conflicting information. Replace the need to be right with the desire to understand, and be open to change.

#7 Anything truly wonderful and worthwhile takes time

This is a hard one to accept in a world where you can have virtually anything you want shipped to your home within a matter of minutes or hours literally without lifting a finger. Having an incredible marriage, a meaningful and fulfilling career, a healthy body, a home you love, a higher purpose to your life are great things to aspire to, but cannot be achieved without significant effort. There's no such thing as finding the perfect man, or job, or diet, or short sale. The value you realize in any of these endeavors is directly related to the willingness you have to do the tedious, unglamorous, and often self-sacrificing work involved. It's taken me a very long time to recognize this, but I've realized that the primary reason I value the most wonderful elements of my life is the sacrifice and effort that it took to obtain them in the first place.
#8 Actively fighting off negativity is the only thing that can make you happy
Although I talk about the power of positivity a lot on this blog, I've been very susceptible to negativity during certain times of my life. It was easy for me to blame external factors at the time, but the reality is that I allowed myself to become lazy in my thinking and enabled cynicism to take over. It saps joy, diminishes your motivation, blocks your ability to be grateful and blinds you to the amazing blessings in your life. Choosing to be happy is actually a thing.

In summary, I'll leave you with my all-time favorite quote that helps to keep me centered, resist external influences, and focus on the things that truly matter to me (and if you've been reading for a while, you'll remember this from a past post): 

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting." - E.E. Cummings

Thank you so much for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post - please let me know in the comments.