Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Need to Worry

I must have checked my hair three times before I left my house this morning. I am not sure what my issue is. In my head I think to myself, “when people look at you they are going to focus on your face and hair – if you can make your hair look nice then you won’t have to worry about what people may be thinking about you.”

When I stopped and thought about it I realized it’s really silly. Think about it, most people are probably preoccupied with how they look/appear to really spend time thinking about me. Case and point, a couple of weeks ago I went to work without a belt. In all the hoopla of the morning I forgot to put a belt on and when I arrived at work I realized my blunder. I quickly closed my door and assessed the situation – will my pants fall down? No. Do I look bad? No. Can you tell I am not wearing a belt? Yes. Hrmmm – do I have a problem here? As I began to apologize to people throughout the day I was told that no one would have realized if I hadn’t mentioned it.

But, something interesting happened. Just as people finished saying they didn’t even notice about my belt they began to tell me about what they felt was off about them: mismatched socks, bad hair, un-ironed pants, broken glasses, botched make-up, etc. Did I notice any of these “blunders”? No.

I began to ask myself, “do people really spend much time thinking about me?”

So, my quest began. My boss probably doesn’t think about me as long as I do my job. My friends will always be there to support me and hang out, but they probably don’t spend much time thinking about me unless I give them a reason to. Loved ones probably think about me more than I realize, but most of the time they probably assume I am doing okay unless I indicate otherwise. Even the family pet probably doesn’t stop think about me as long as I continue to feed them and take them out to “do their business.”

We’ve all heard it before “we are often our toughest critics.” I was beginning to give up on searching for times when other people really worry about how you conduct your life when I heard a car honking behind me. The driver pulled up beside me, waved their arms around in the air, and sped up ahead of me on the road. What had I done? I wasn’t exactly sure what I did to upset this driver, but one thing was certain – I felt noticed!

When we drive on the road we often pick and prod everyone. We get upset when people drive slow, change lanes at the wrong time, when they don’t engage the intersection, when they don’t signal, or when they signal for no reason at all. We honk, we yell, we wave our arms, and we wonder where other drivers got their licenses.

On the road – we are always critiquing other drivers. It’s our cathartic release. We can never guess what will set someone else off, but, in a weird way, at least we are being acknowledged. So, the next time someone honks and waves at you - embrace their acknowledgement - smile and wave right back.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coffee Culture

On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and with it came the birth of coffee in North America.

In Canada, coffee, and its consumption, is a culture all its own. When we wake up - we have a coffee. When we head to work – we’ll grab a coffee. At work – we’re definitely having coffee. If we go somewhere after work – grab a coffee! After dinner (I’m so full) – I’ll have a coffee.

I can only imagine what all this looks like to an outsider. So, when I came across a polite English woman (whom we’ll call Mary) I took it upon myself to ask her. “I tried coffee once,” she replied, “Tim Hortons. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” I was taken back by her response. Tim Hortons, the pride of Canadian coffee, is disliked? Mary went on to say that coffee appeared to be some sort of security blanket – we always have one with us. In England, coffee isn’t the same.

So of course I chime in, “Oh I forgot! In England it’s all about tea time!” I quickly found out, such is not the case and without realizing it I was being very stereotypical. Mary explained that while she has fond memories of Tea Time with her Grandparents as a child – not everyone partakes in Tea Time. Mary went on to say, if she could find England’s equal to coffee it would have to be none other than its distant cousin beer.

Beer is the social drink of choice in England. In Canada, or more specifically the suburbs of Southern Ontario, we are bombarded with a small selection of restaurant chains. But, in England every neighbourhood has their own unique pub that people frequently visit. It isn’t uncommon to see all your friends at the local Public House having a pint with dinner.

This caused me to think about why coffee hasn’t taken over in England like it has in Canada. First of all, there is not really any extra land for developers to build drive-thrus for people to grab their coffee. Secondly, chains don’t exist like they do in Canada and if you wanted to open a coffee shop you would have to do so on your own accord (this can become quite costly very quickly). Finally, Mary explained to me that in England people usually drink coffee every so often as a sit down drink with a friend.

I can’t imagine a world without travel mugs, coffee cups or drive-thru windows. Coffee is an intrinsic part of Canadian culture and I can understand why it must seem very strange to new Canadians.

I keep thinking of the commercial where the husband is rushing to pack winter jackets and warm clothes in a bag before heading to the airport. Along the way he stops to grab a coffee – “what are you thinking?” I say to myself, “aren’t you late?” We realize near the end of the commercial that he was rushing to pick up his wife and two children who are coming to Canada for the first time. He walks up to his wife and before he can hug her, or give her a warm jacket, he says, “welcome to Canada” and hands her a coffee. Coffee, and its consumption, is a way of life in Canada.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In a Rush

When you absolutely need to get somewhere in a short period of time our brains go into overdrive. We begin to make decisions at a rapid pace: should I take the highway or the main road, should I race to beat that light, or can I squeeze in here? When the pressure is on, the answer we turn to most often is, “YES, YES, YES!”

How do we compensate for time? We take short cuts. We drive a little faster, change lanes more often, and honk our horns. We do things that inform other drivers on the road we are in a rush. But, does taking short cuts really work? Let’s create a series of events to check and see if “rushing” really does get us ahead.

It’s Tuesday morning, a very important day in some circles, and “oh my goodness” I’ve slept in. After the initial moment of absolute panic you begin to prioritize the things you need to do.

Forget brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast, or having a cup of coffee. You’re in such a daze when you wake up that all you care about is the hair on top of your head. Also, thanks to the “Powers that Be” you were able to press your clothes and lay them out the previous night – that came in handy.

Before you know it, you’re running out of your house. Your heart is pounding, beads of sweat are pouring down your face, and your report is sitting on the kitchen counter. You pull out of your drive way, if you’re fortunate enough to own a motor vehicle, and pop a piece of gum into your mouth – “take that!” bad breath.

You’re on the road asking yourself, “why is everyone driving so slow!?” You begin the process of swerving in and out of traffic to try and get ahead. You’re driving 80 in a 60 zone and 100 in a 80 zone – 20 km above the speed limit never hurt anybody, right? WHY ARE ALL THE LIGHTS RED! On the days you’re hoping, wishing, NEEDING green lights you seem to hit every single red on your trip. Someone, Somewhere, is laughing at you…

Finally, you make it to work. You look at the clock – an hour late – not too shabby. You plop down at your desk only to realize you forgot your report, you look like hell, and your heart is beating faster than the Lead in River Dance – was it worth it?

When we are in a rush we cut corners, but what do we really achieve? Does rushing really get us ahead?

There are going to be times in life where we are going to ask ourselves, “should I be rushing?” Sometimes you answer “yes” and other times you will say “no”, but what’s the harm in taking your time?

Lets replay our sleeping-in scenario and see what differences would occur. You wake up, “OH CRAP!” I slept in. You go to the bathroom and do your morning “clean up.” Your clothes are ready for you, but coffee might be out of the question – you’re going to have to drink from the office pot. You grab your report and head out the door. Pulling out of the driveway you remember the voice of your first driving instructor and decide to drive to work as if it was any other day.

This is where I would like to make a specific point. On the days you are not late for work – do you ever notice the people who are? You can see them whizzing in and out of traffic and you think to yourself, “they’re crazy.” Do you ever notice that even though they are driving faster than you, you always seem to be right behind them at each stoplight? What if driving faster really doesn’t mean getting to your destination faster? What if it meant you got to each light faster, but still had to wait. What if driving at the suggested speed meant getting to your destination in the same time? (Just a thought)

So, you get to the office and maybe instead of being an hour late you’re actually an hour and a half late. What’s the big deal? You look good, smell good, you’re relaxed, and more importantly you can handle the presentation you have to make about the report you brought with you today. You aren’t one of those people who are habitually late – you can legitimately be late every once in a while. (Life is good)

Now, I have used the example of sleeping in for work, but if you stop to think about it we can transfer our “rushing” theorem into a number of facets in our lives. We stress and we stress – for what, an extra minute here or thirty minutes there? When the mind is in a state of panic we overload our frontal lobe and our ability to make good decisions falter. Life is in perpetual motion forward and our actions shape each moment. Do things on your own time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What to Wear

I have never been the kind of person who worries about the clothes he wears. I mean, I understand the basics - no socks with sandals and how to match colours, but beyond those minor details I don’t really bother with clothes. I am the guy who wears his lucky plaid sweat pants and green Jamaica “No Problem Mon” t-shirt. I am the guy who owns three pairs of jeans and rotates accordingly. I am the guy who still has clothes from five years ago because technically they are still wearable. Shopping happens for me once a year – Christmas.

But, how do people become clothing savvy? Is it an innate skill born within us? Or, can it be acquired? If so, how? Is there a crash course we can take to catch up on the latest fashion trends? Is doing that even possible? I would argue that fashion trends evolve faster than electronics. That reason alone is why I decided to stay away from getting involved with haute couture.

But, something strange is happening. My fashion awareness is starting to gradually change. Maybe it’s because I am no longer a student in University, but rather a fully functioning adult member of society. All I know is that my feelings about clothes are starting to alter. Buying nice clothes… feels… well… nice. My eyes are finally adjusting to the mirror. I wake up each day and consciously think, “what should I wear today?” It’s really strange.

How do people go about maintaining their “freshness”? Does their style begin with a bigger wardrobe? Doesn’t that directly translate into spending more money? As much as I want to look nice I also need to be realistic and maintain a budget. I can’t go from shopping for clothes once a year to changing my wardrobe every three months.

When it comes to clothes is it quantity or quality? Or, is there something I am missing being a male? I mean, I have looked at quite a few feminine closets and, to put it simply, they usually out number what I own ten to one.

Or, is actually buying a new piece of clothing, regardless of whether or not you “need” it, part of the thrill? I like to buy books and sometimes I buy books faster than I can read them. Does that bother me? No. I can only imagine it’s the same for clothes. I can understand why sales are so important and where people go all Saturday when an outlet store has a “clearance”.

But, can a balance exist? Is there ever a point where a wardrobe is complete? Or, am I a na├»ve shopper thinking there will be a point where I won’t need new clothes? All I know is that this new awareness has opened my eyes to something else - my closet needs to be organized.