Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Life Skills for the Almost 30 - Developing Gravitas

Gravitas - feeling internally aligned / personally coherent, sometimes described as 'being comfortable in one's own skin', particularly in challenging circumstances

Yes, it is not mere myth. There are people out there who seem to have legal authority to occupy the space they take up on earth. If gravitas needed certifying, it’ll be by an organization more selective and elite than Mensa.

I’ve been trying to review my life, just in case I could pinpoint the exact time and place where I have decided to be weird and quirky instead of graceful and sensible. Searched and searched in vain, I have. But the thing about Almost-30 is that you are now of an age where you can finally shed the “innocent and na├»ve” wild card and move on to something that would allow you to become someone of more substance.

Gravitas is hard to come by, precisely because it cannot exist in a vacuum. We cannot gain the skill by attending university or reading tedious tomes of Plutarchian wisdom. Strange enough, a word that brings images of sobriety and stability in my head, is best developed in a dynamic (read: chaotic) environment. I guess if you have been through enough eccentric episodes in life, you pick up enough strategies to keep yourself sane and intact.

I’m just fascinated by the process of developing personal gravitas. When you observe people who do have it, they look so contained and still, where you on the other hand are ready to detonate and spill over any minute now. The first instinct would be to somber up, to turn off the 24/7 comedy channel in your head, to affect seriousness, to avoid situations that could ruin your poise and composure. Yet this way, gravitas would be a mere affectation. What I’m starting to figure out is that, one has to throw oneself into the fray and find a way to get to the other side. Scathed, bleeding, yeah, maybe, but more sure of self and sanity.

If we are only allowed to have one goal for the next ten years – I’d choose mine to be gravitas. I don’t mean to excise the fluffy, eccentric, one-loose-screw-away-from-unstable part of my self to achieve gravity. Instead, maybe gravitas can be progeny to these awkward characteristics rendering it substantial and relevant and real.

Life Skills for the Almost 30 - Praising Babies

At this age, there is a greater probability that a single Almost-30 would be surrounded by other Almost-30 friends who are pregnant or who have given birth to wonderful bundles of joy. Last year, in my own 6 degrees of separation network, there must’ve been at least a dozen friends and acquaintances who were visited by the stork. Happy for them -- and a little envious of them -- I am. I honestly could understand their delight, anticipation and excitement. Then they start posting videos and pictures of sonograms, 2-day old pics, 3-day old pics, 4-day-old pics, (….), first haircut, first solid food tasting, first Lady Gaga song… you get the picture, right? Much as I love babies, I could only empathize for so long with someone I last saw 12 years ago during high school graduation. Then comes the ubiquitous question, “My bebe is so CUTE/GUWAPO/GANDA, noh?”

Well, but of course! All babies are beautiful. I am the first to testify to that. But beauty has different sub-sets, we all know that as well, don’t we? So you, who were raised before the Anti-Corporal Punishment law and were “disciplined” by kneeling on monggo seeds in a bilao for lying to someone, now face a moral dilemma: To lie or not to lie?

What I learned: LIE.

Lie through gritted teeth if you have to. Bite the bullet and say something—anything--- nice. If the baby has a Cabbage Patch Kid nose, comment on the full-fringed eyelashes. If the baby boy is strapped to his crib because his ears are so big he might flap ‘em in his sleep and fly away like Dumbo, tell the parents you have never seen such beautiful, adorable feet in your entire life. If the baby girl has alien E.T. eyes, say she’s so sweet it reminds you of M&M’s. And if you made a double take cos you thought it was the family pet pug lying inside the cot, you declare that you have never seen a more serene baby, and oh, see that, a smile!

But before you crucify me for telling, in what my opinion is, the truth, let us focus on what it would take to lie to a parent point blank. You have to take the question and improvise. You have to look at something unpretty and find a redeeming grace. Don't invent new characteristics and praise a non-existent strong jaw. Just find the strengths and work with that. To ace the skill of praising babies, you have to re-learn how to look at things and see the way we used to: with wonder, with gratitude, with joy.

When we learn to praise babies for the miracle they simply are, what could stop us from recognizing beauty in the ordinary in our everyday lives? Praising babies is merely the intermediate level exercise for the bigger thing: finding magic in the mundane. This skill will save your life in the long run.

And someday, when I have my own babies, and my gene skipped (aherm, aherm) and they are absolutely horrendous looking? If you’re really my friend, you will lie to me too.

An interesting Post Script:

Writing this made me conscious about the probability of having pretty babies. So I did one of those online morph thingies which predicts how your baby will look like. I tried to see how my David will look if I end up with one of these hot guys:
Matt Bomer
 Ian Somerhalder

Ian Meimban

Life Skills for the Almost 30 - Getting Re-acquainted with Books

I was a voracious reader. Then I became a hungry reader. Then a reader. Now I’m a light-snacker when it comes to the literature department. I don’t know what happened. I hate that books cannot bring me the comfort it used to give me --- but nowadays, there just isn’t enough time and, sad to say, not enough memory space in my noggin to focus on a lengthy story. Some of my friends would say, “See? Even the bookworm that you are can’t read anymore.” But dear frigates, I will not go gentle into the good night.

Reading only looks like it’s a luxury, but it might just be more than necessary. Your brain cells are degenerating. Old neural connections you haven’t used since your last Soc Sci exam in college are fading fast. The other day, I found myself just grasping for the word we use to describe frivolous behaviour. It took me a full minute of rummaging through my noodle bag to access the right word --- Levity. Then yesterday, my cousin Gabriel asked me to help him with his Filipino homework about Pamatlig. What the eff are Pamatligs?

As engrossing as the Vampire Diaries and 100 Days are, every Almost-30 must find time to switch off the boob tube and read. It doesn’t matter if it’s on your Ipad or Ipod or your Tab or an actual, tangible book. Find time to read something that stimulates your brain, so that automatically disqualifies the Twilight series. Read books that can revive old neurons and then books to occupy the yet-empty dendrites and axons inside your pretty head. Read and give yourself a fighting chance against Alzheimer’s (it’s a scientific fact). Read and avoid becoming a righteous, one-track mind curmudgeon who insists that’s not the way things are done back in the good old days.

Then, there is the other kind of books I never learned to love. The Balanced Book.

I have to say, that even if I know the basics of accounting, and could apply it fairly well at work, I struggle applying it in my personal life. Old habits, coping mechanisms, childhood traumas, projected and displaced emotions --- these are excuses a lot of us hold on to when we know we are about to blow our budget once again. But sooner or later, it becomes exhausting to always struggle with money. Especially when you know if you were only wiser and less impulsive, you’d be sipping caipirinhas in Brazil by now if you wanted to. That’s why I choose my 29th year as the last year I would ever make myself feel like I’m 14 again and couldn’t afford to buy myself a clue.

Wiser friends have given me the following bits of financial literacy wisdom and are worth sharing:

-         Choose your minimum and maximum standard of living by keeping tabs on what you actually need and what you just want. Maybe you had to tighten your belt one time or lived hand to mouth at one point in your life. Make the best thing you were hoping for during those desperate times your minimum standard. Then tally your current resources and responsibilities (i.e. combined household income, bills, etc.) and allow only up to 10-50% above that level and make that your maximum standard. Excesses go to your Travel Piggy Bank for more meaningful results.
-         Pay yourself first – and it doesn’t mean the new Jim Butcher book or another pair of Toms. A separate savings account inaccessible by debit cards will do nicely.
-         Keep a notebook where you track all your expenses so you’ll know where your money went and could serve as monitoring tool to aid you in prioritization and allocation of resources.

Hopefully, when you’ve hurdled the Almost-30 bump, you’d have the ability to stand on your own two feet and grow gracefully from there on.

Life Skills for the Almost 30 - Accepting Physical Changes All Over Again

Remember when you turned 20 and you thought your life was about to change drastically? Well, how did that go for you? J

Yeah, I know. Nothing magical or life-altering happened to me when I turned the awesome 2-0 too. I think I aced an exam in Psychology, and learned to walk in elevator shoes, but that’s about it. Then 9 years later, I looked back and realized I am NOT the same person I was at 20 years old. The changes are imperceptible at first, but I can feel it in my bones – something has been calibrated.

Now that the big 3-0 is looming over me like a highly combustible Terra Nova dinosaur breathing down my neck, I try to tell myself this would be just like the last “transition” stage. Pretty much anti-climactic. It’s clear that society nowadays no longer want to believe in the traditional stages of life and you can do whatever you want, whatever age you are and wherever the eff you are. But the dormant OC gene in my body has woken up (for a while, at least) to remind me it is best to be prepared than sorry. It’s the same gene that told me to back up all my files on my desktop in case the Millenium bug bites. And most recently, the one responsible for my atonement of sins just in case that loony old Caucasian man actually has a clue about the end of the world this year. I’m sure next year the gene will be on hyperdrive as 12.12.12 draws nearer. But for now, she is quite occupied about January when my body clock finally clocks in 30 years of existence.

To pacify this deviant gene, I have compiled my observations about what survival skills are necessary for the Almost-30 to thrive and prosper. I may hit some things head on. But of course, I am only 29 and could only guarantee so much. If ever I make it to 39, whole of mind and body, I’ll make sure to check in on you for updates. But for now, hypothesize with me.

The New New Skill Set

1. Accepting the changes in your  body --- all over again

15 years ago, unwanted body hair and acne were the bane of our existence. The unruly hormones that brought out all that angst, and the different maniacal coping mechanisms from within us almost spelled disaster. Then suddenly it stopped (visualize a cloud parting for the sun metaphor here) and we were finally free! 5, 6, 7, 8 years go by and your body is a wonderland. You can down 5 Krispy Kremes in 5 minutes. You sleep past 3 am and wake up at 6 and could still make it on time for your gang’s Saturday Morning Coffee round-up ala-Friends. Most importantly, stairs weren’t the enemy.

If you were one of the enlightened few who treated their bodies like a temple (or a Porsche, depending on your religious beliefs), you would have avoided all of the above and ate nothing but tofu and grass, went to the gym or exercised like a nun would do Vespers, and slept the required amount of time for proper recuperation. But let’s get real, our generation had more Ashton Kutchers than there were Dalai Lamas. So by the age of 28, some of us are already slowing down, eyebrows rising in surprise when the last flight of stairs almost killed us, or when the 13 shopping bags of kikay stuff resulted to an equal amount of Salonpas patches for your arms and shoulders the next day. And the lines, girl. Your face is starting to go all Clint Eastwood on you, especially around the eyes.

Then one inauspicious morning, you wake up and realized you have accepted the truth. Your body is aging. You are nearer to the grave than you were 10 years ago. As my boyfriend’s friend aptly remarked, “Hindi na tayo early 20’s.” The first chink in your Batman suit of armour appears. Vincible. No, we say, there is no such word as Vincible. But there you are, proof that nobody is Invincible --- not forever.

So here’s what I suggest: Take a good long look at yourself in the mirror, nod respectfully to your reflection and say, ‘Good times, man. Good times.’ Then brush your teeth, exfoliate, moisturize (make sure it has sunblock in it), eat your cereal ( no sugar) and down your fresh grapefruit juice. Walk, climb, jump or hike if you have to going to work. Anything to get those triglycerides down. Because you refuse, refuse to be 50 before you are 30.

And in a couple years time, I might just try my own suggestions myself. J