A Gift of Laughter – Remembering Robin Williams

At the time of writing, a conclusive report has not been released. Out of respect for Robin’s family, this post will focus on the joy he brought to the world. May they find peace in their time of grieving. No one in the world needs to feel that they are alone, so take note of the resources at the bottom of this page or reach out to me on the contact page. You are not alone. 

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

If you are a Millennial, you likely have a favorite Robin Williams movie. You grew up with him voicing the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin, you learned about divorce and love in Mrs. Doubtfire, and you likely came to love his comedic and dramatic talents. The shock of hearing of his passing was quite unsettling as Twitter alerted me to the trending topic. As our society has developed technologically, it is as if the entire Twitter-mind became aware of the loss and has been looking for ways to process this information  among each of the end users. As fast as Robin’s mental gears seemed to turn, we might only now be catching up.

For the struggles that he faced, Robin remains an extraordinary example of humanity from his charity work, visiting the troops, and just bringing more laughter into the world with his craft. When interviewed by James Lipton on “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” Robin’s response to the question of heaven was that he hoped there would be laughter. Indeed, in so many ways, Robin brought sparks of heaven down to earth with each comedic bit, each character, and story, all working towards an amazing representation of the human condition. How can we here ever hope to show our gratitude for his work and all the laughter?

We are all granted certain talents and gifts. Some people discover their skills early, and some work their whole lives trying to grow and improve. Many comedians wish they could have had his timing and acuity. I enjoy bringing a smile and a laugh to others, but my abilities are better suited to the structured and planned, such as writing. Yet, if we all contribute what we are able, perhaps it will be the first step in repaying all the laughs and gifts that Robin and so many gave before.  We can honor Robin’s memory by trying to make a better world. If one individual can have such an impact on us all, how much more can we accomplish working together on that same goal.

Taking a moment for Robin’s family, we should all send thoughts and prayers as well. Knowing the sadness and loss from a parent’s passing, it is a time for his children to address their feelings as they feel appropriate. It can be disconcerting as we see our parents age and pass away, but we Millennials are seeing more of it as the years progress. Speaking from experience, make time to honor your feelings. It is a very personal journey for anyone who experiences loss, and don’t be afraid to feel or to reach out and ask for help.  Our deepest sympathies to Robin’s wife, children, family, and friends with our hope that the happiness he brought into the world will be a comfort as they grieve.

Finally, if you know someone who is dealing with depression, even if you find yourself depressed, there is no shame in reaching out to someone. Even laughter can hide a lot of pain, but sometimes we need other coping methods to truly work through our emotions or other personal needs. If you or someone you know is in need, visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

No one in the world needs to feel alone, and as long as I’m here, you can reach out to me on my contact page. Please share these contact details with anyone who may need them. You are not alone. 

Graduates, Commence!

Graduation Cap

The tassel is worth the hassle!

On campuses across the country, people celebrate the month of May like no other. Years of effort find reward with a bit of pomp and circumstance as students and families ponder the words of wisdom shared from every lectern. The life lessons imparted by each speaker are as varied as the individuals sharing them; their goal: to prepare students for the life beyond the learning institution.

In preparing some thoughts to share with the class of 2014, I recalled my various graduations and commencements. My toolkit grew over those educational years from basic literacy to advanced equations, small observations to scientific procedures, and inner awareness to shaping external narratives. As I’ve written about grit, my tenacity certainly helped in my achievements, but I owe my many teachers a debt for fueling my love of learning.

To the graduates of 2014, no matter how far you may go in life, never stop the search for knowledge. The persistent pursuit of knowledge gives us a platform for improvement in our lives as well as a deeper understanding of the world around us. When you reach a peak along your path of experience, remember that it is one mountain in a range, and that fulfillment and success do not come from resting on laurels. Human understanding can only advance when people continue to ask questions. With this in mind, I will paraphrase what others have told me: “Trust the person in search of the truth, be wary of the one who claims to have found it.” Nurture a love of learning and discovery in all ways and it will serve you throughout your lifetime. This lesson was given to me by the many teachers on my journey, and I must share it as you newly minted graduates venture on your way.

There is no greater threat to discovery and understanding than certainty. -J.C.

As many graduates turning tassels today are in the Millennial cohort, I thought I’d share another recent item for discussion. I caught a rebroadcast of an Intelligence2(read as Intelligence Squared) debate on the statement: “Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance.” The structure of the debate puts two teams of two on opposing points of the statement and by comparing before and after votes, the team who garners the greatest growth in support wins the debate. I’ll let you listen to the debate or read a transcript if you want to know what happened, but I’ll share a perspective on the premise of the debate.

Those supporting the (rather pessimistic) view of Gen Y’s hardships were not Millennials themselves, but they did state  valid points on the struggles we must face. However, if you have learned anything in your lifetime, whatever your generation, I hope you know that taking someone else’s word for your own success is shooting yourself in the foot. Yes, there are issues that we must face to elevate all of our generation, and society at large, but declarations before results can lead to “egg on face” (I’m looking at you, Thomas Dewey). This connects back to the search for knowledge and understanding. If you recognize the issues that need to be addressed, then you can begin testing or implementing changes to bring about positive results. It doesn’t take an advanced mathematics degree to know how many infinite possibilities exist with the variables in society, but it does take optimism (with a dose of realism) to figure out the next steps forward.

So to you my Gen Y colleagues, I tip my hat to your accomplishments in education. Seek knowledge as though it were the air for your lungs, and stay positive in the face of life’s challenges. These skills will help you go far as you commence to spread around the world.

Carpe Diem!

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Want to share your graduation story or favorite advice? Do you believe Millennials are doomed or destined for success? Listen to the debate and share your thoughts with the Gen Y crowd.

If I Had A…

Hello again dear readers. Quite a few things have happened since the last installment, and we’ll see about addressing them all.

Ever hear the piece “O Fortuna?” You probably have even if you don’t recognize the title. Here is a link for a good version with English translation subtitles:

What’s my point? This piece of music is a widely regarded classic as it is performed often, but it also relates the nature of fortune (O Fortuna), and how events of the last few months have included some highs and lows. Life is, after all,  not a cakewalk every single moment. We persevere with determination and find a way through.

Our world said goodbye to some titans for humanity in these passing months. Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger were both members of a Hero Generation with a civic mindfulness according to Howe and Strauss in their book The Fourth Turning. As Millennials, we too are part of a Hero Generation as our grandparents may have faced crisis in World War II, we must prepare to face the new challenges of fiscal responsibility, unprecedented human connection and communication, and the issues that prevent any person from achieving their best potential.

In considering this post, I’ve also been working on assignments related to a course on leadership. The successes of Mandela and Seeger were due in part to their talents as leaders, but also in their ability to empower their followers. The Millennial generation has some skepticism when dealing with leadership that commands authority, but will likely follow those who “walk their talk.” Leaders like Mandela and Seeger didn’t sit around and say, “If I had __________, I could really do something great.” They looked at their circumstances and tried to use the abilities they already possessed to bring about positive results.

Growth happens over time and new skills are added, but don’t discount what you currently possess in your journey to the future. Sometimes, just knowing that you need to move forward is the most important part.

Here is a link to a live recording of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer.” He even comments about the different versions of the song that have appeared over the years and how they all blend together. A lesson for Millennials to share with the world.

JFK Remembered

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

The 1960s were tumultuous, not unlike the world that Millennials and current generations inhabit. The loss of America’s 35th President, John F. Kennedy, remains a mark on our country 50 years to the day of his death. As Millennials faced a defining moment in 2001, many of our parents can recall with a clarity undimmed by the passage of time where they were as the news spread across the world.  In a way, Kennedy embraced ideals that Millennials hold close, and as we remember his legacy today, let us pay respect where respect is due.

Kennedy was a tech guru of his day. We may have better TVs and cameras today, but mastering a new medium like television proved to be one important tool in achieving success. We should note that his family connections and influence did play a helping role in later success, but Kennedy’s mastery of message and  appearance was unsurpassed, if seldom matched. We only need to look at those in the spotlights today to see  what a mismanaged image can cause.

Kennedy’s focus on discussion and communication most likely helped him achieve the presidency when addressing the concerns of people who would not vote for him; this was especially effective as he related his religious beliefs, but showed his dedication to serve all Americans regardless of religious beliefs. Many Millennials understand that there will be different perspectives and opinions, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find some common ground.

Millennials have seen some profound changes since the 1980s, and Kennedy was no stranger to major events like the Great Depression and multiple wars. He learned from these challenging times and found a way to persevere, a quality which Millennials will need to overcome our own challenges. Kennedy’s adaptability is a message for a generations as it will be our path to success. Without pushing for things currently beyond our reach, how could we have achieved the profound advances we have today? We must understand our past to assess our future, and we must always strive beyond our  current means of understanding.

Today we solemnly remember a man who served. He had successes and flaws as all people do, but his contribution and his passing have given him a seat in the American pantheon. Like the word’s said of President Lincoln’s last breath, John F. Kennedy,  “belongs to the ages now.” As we move to the year 2020, we will mark anniversaries and losses of great leaders from the 1960s, but their passing will not be in vain if we can live their messages. Gen Y inherited the optimism and the challenges of our predecessors, and we must continue the journey.

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Share your perspective on Kennedy’s legacy. How can Millennials learn from him to help the world around us? Comment here and keep the story going.

Success – At the College Level

College Textbooks

College isn’t just “Book Smarts”

To my Millennial brethren engaged in the pursuit of higher education, I wish you well. It is a noble thing to advance your mind and abilities, but many pitfalls may appear on your journey. The secret to success comes from to preparing yourself, and trying to make good decisions and take productive actions when plans don’t go as planned.

As a new TA serving in my MA program, I see the faces of my peers (Gen Y), but I also see people who don’t have the level of experience that I have. I do not wish any of my writing to sound condescending, I just wanted to point out that I have some years on these students. It’s easy for those who are further along to look at those just starting and have a superior view, but I treat this assignment to be a TA as one to guide these students as I was fortunate to have good teachers in my own life.

One of the troubling trends that I see, and one that I’ve discussed with other friends in the teaching field, is that for all the work teachers do, there isn’t a high degree of learning happening. Students entering college have likely grown up with countless standardized tests, and their main skill sets are geared to filling in the proper bubble. I’ve taken many of the same tests, but my teachers and my family taught that it was important to know why an answer was the right one on the test, not just which answer would earn another point. If students had to perform in ways of showing mastery of concepts rather than mastering the tests, our educational strength might not seem so hindered.

The teaching to the test mentality has created a situation I refer to as FOF (Fear of Failure). An example of FOF comes from a recent assignment that many students had trouble starting. An assignment of two pages, double spaced, was to be written on the statement that an image chosen by a student would reach a “mythic” level. From the questions I fielded, the students were trying to understand how to get a good grade on the assignment (which I can understand).  When I assured them that they had all the tools they needed,  I believe a few were still unsure. Whether they doubted their abilities, or they weren’t sure how to get a good grade like on a standardized test, I think it shows a need to further develop critical thinking. In explaining the assignment further, I tried to explain that by offering a critique, they would need to find evidence to support their claims. If you can find enough legitimate evidence, you can usually make a compelling case (just make sure to cite your sources).

I realize that my assessment may not possess the full scope, and I acknowledge that the intelligence levels of my students are not in question nor at issue. Learning, I believe, relies heavily not only on the word of those who came before us, but on the self-made mistakes when we roll up our sleeves trying to get at the issue that we seek to understand. I know that I would not appreciate my own achievements if I had not slogged through the education process, but I hope my peers can dive in, knowing that even a wrong answer can lead them on the path to the right one.

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Tell your experiences. Were you a standardized learner? Do you believe we must make mistakes to improve our own knowledge? Share your response here and keep the conversation going.

Millennial On The Go

Hey there faithful followers!

It’s been an interesting time as I started classes and my work as a teaching assistant. Aside from reading, I’m going to be doing more social media projects as part of my assignments. It’s nice when interests intersect with your work.

With that in mind, I’m putting the question to other Millennials: What programs do you use to blog/socialize/keep up with life?

I’m testing out the WordPress app now. A detailed review to follow soon.

A Dream Deferred?

MLK at Wash. DC

Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Fifty years have passed since the historic oration given by King in the summer of 1963. In the years of torment that embroiled the childhoods’ of many Boomers (and the first Gen X-ers), a voice of peace spoke to the masses gathered in Washington DC on that hot August day.

As  a child of 1 Boomer and 1 Quiet, I was raised with a focus on seeing people for who they were, not the characteristics that defined them. This could have had as much to do with my diverse urban environment as my parents and teachers consistently guiding me to value people as people, and not lose myself to quick judgments. Stereotypes may have been helpful when determining snap judgments for survival like food and predators in early times, but in society today it remains an issue rooted in much of the conflicts we face.

We cannot blame stereotypes for all of society’s issues. When lack of knowledge leads to fear and fear leads to hate, no one receives the dream that King envisioned and that so many have struggled to make real. Racism still holds an insidious grip on the hearts of many in this world. It could be much less pronounced, often seen as “inappropriate,” but it still seeks to divide people. It may not be possible to eliminate all snap judgments (again, our brains saving energy and taking shortcuts rather than thinking), but people around the world need to see a shared community that takes the lead over smaller divisive issues. If we see ourselves as part of the community, even disagreements and tough feelings can be addressed effectively.

In preparing this post, I read Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” and thought about the progress that has been made over 50 years. Hughes wrote the poem more than 12 years before the historic march, but the imagery is deeply prescient for today’s society. The poem questions what happens to a deferred dream, and over the years I believe there have been moments to match each description. We have entered the crust stage as people try to sugarcoat the issues of racism claiming to be in a “post-racial” world. The issue is still there, only our treatment has changed. The same could be said of the equally insidious problem of poverty in this country when so many work and can’t reach financial equilibrium because the system won’t allow it.

Millennials may focus much on the inner self, but when it comes to the suffering of others, we don’t think it appropriate to sit by and do nothing. To be frank, we feel it’s the right of every individual to achieve the level of personal development that the individual wishes, and things like racism and poverty aren’t helping that process. As trials and legislation flash through the 24 hour news cycle, we must try to see the issues from all perspectives and find ways of balancing justice and amending the habits and the hurts of our past.

In order to make King’s dream a reality, we need to see ourselves as the people of the dream. We must embrace our neighbors, respect all people as they are, and live as part of a larger community. No great accomplishment or terrible wrong was ever achieved by a sole agent. If we are to remove hate and discrimination, raise families with a means of self subsistence, and make peace happen, it will be because we said “NO!” to division and “YES!” to working in unity for a better future.

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A question to my fellow Millennials: How do you see King’s dream being made a reality? What things are preventing that reality, and what can we do to overcome them?

Where’s My 3am Friend?

Digital Alarm Clock

It’s 3 am. Do you need a friend?

It’s 3 am.

And for some reason you are awake.

Now unless you are shuffling between your bathroom and your bed or wrapping up a night shift on the job, this is somewhat of an inconvenient time to be awake for many people. Our society is focused on daytime systems, and those with insomnia or major problems in the wee hours have a hard time with it.

That is, unless you have someone to depend on at 3 in the morning. Those folks are what I like to refer to as 3 am friends. I’ve been fortunate to never need a kidney or bone marrow, but these folks whether blood relation or not, would probably step up to the plate because they value our friendship, and they are just good people.

Millennials don’t seem to have a lack of friends as our social media apps describe us, but we may be feeling the effects of fluid friendships all too well. I use the term “fluid friendships” because I happened to have many friends as I went through school. I would not have characterized myself as popular; I define popularity by the number of people that seek to be your friend. I had friendships based on my ability to work within different circles and connect positively; I had to make an effort and got friendship as the reward. These friendships may not have had the depth of other friendships I’ve maintained, but I had a wide circle of people who would include me as a friendly person. As other Millennials have experienced the same situation, what will happen when we need someone at 3 am?

Taking a page from our predecessors, we should cultivate friendships throughout our lifetimes. Boomers and X-ers had to do social networking before social networks, and the connections people share over small things helped to build a community of support when larger needs arose. You could call this a survival strategy, or you could call it a common goal, but here are some tips to assist in building and maintaining those rare 3 am friendships:

1. Connecting has more to do with real connections than internet connections. Take time to acknowledge your friends with phone calls, cards,  or gatherings. Social media isolates people, and the fun times are usually when you are hanging out together.

2. Learn to live in the now. Some friendships pick up right where they left off and others seem stuck in the past. Don’t hold onto past issues if a person seems ready to address things and move forward. Life feels much better when we have less emotional baggage to carry.

3. Be prepared for the unknown. Most times I reach out to folks, I can get through without too much issue or delay. For the times that someone is unreachable or plans change unexpectedly, take it in stride and plan for the future. Friendships should and can endure interruptions, and it’s up to all the people involved to make an effort. This is especially true when something comes up or a person is very busy; a little common courtesy in communicating will strengthen the friendship and help everyone stay on the same page.

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Millennials are changing the world with our ability to forge relationships, but it takes time and effort to maintain these relationships. If you find yourself without many or any 3 am friends, it might be good to work on this in case you ever find yourself in need. By trying to empathize, communicate, share, and reciprocate, we can become that 3 am friend for others and in turn draw more people around us. It doesn’t mean we sacrifice our personal time or space, we increase these things to cover the people in our hearts. If everyone opens their friend circle a little bigger, it may help everyone who needs someone in this world.

Share your thoughts on friendship and Millennials. Tell your stories of the best thing a friend has done for you or maybe you did for someone else.

How I Wonder What You Are

Night Sky

Night sky in Upstate NY

Last weekend offered a chance to get away from it all and travel upstate. From the balcony of my room, I could see a huge swath of stars across the sky. As the night grew darker, the Milky Way stretched across the mountains. I took this shaky image by holding the shutter and increasing the exposure length. If you look carefully, you can see the galaxy spread further out into the night.

I was always a fan of science as a kid, but looking at the night sky would move me to a more philosophical frame of mind. I knew that stars were not just “fireflies” as Timón would say, but “big balls of gas burning billions of miles away” as Pumbaa suggested. While the scientific knowledge satisfied my logic brain, I began to think of deeper questions of existence.

The questions that cross my mind these days are still philosophical, but have moved from inward consideration to the outward. Gen Y is thought to be extremely self-centered, but I believe that’s just a misperception of a classic introvert trait. Yes, as we move/d through our adolescent years, we spend/spent a good deal of time worrying about ourselves, our appearance, our standing, but so have the generations that preceded us. We develop and learn that there are things beyond our microcosm, and Millennials are still progressing on that path.

The discord during the years that shaped our generation has made many of us examine all information presented to us. Learning from the problems of the past has led to a desire to collaborate, especially when everyone works together effectively. To say we are self-absorbed may not be inaccurate, but in helping others, we learn how to help ourselves. The deep question that I ponder aside from our legacy will be what defines us and “what can we give to future generations?”

I may not have known the words at the time, but I understood on a deeper level the need to connect with others. Teamwork is in my DNA, though solo projects can be just as pleasant. The quality that most unites people is empathy. I may not know each perspective of people I meet, but by listening to them, I can empathize and understand their views. Empathy leads to understanding and understanding leads to success for all people.

Millennials won’t take information for granted and will try to form their own opinions. We work out our own thoughts whether it’s what to wear or those deep philosophical questions we consider when looking at the stars. Take time to quiet your mind and consider these thoughts, and perhaps your contribution will present itself.

Is empathy our strongest tool/legacy? Share your thoughts.

Still the Bread? – Generation Y Sandwich

Sandwich

The next sandwich generation.

Don’t fret, faithful readers, this week’s post was only moved to Friday.  I wanted to address an issue that many in Gen Y may know, but few may have ways of effectively addressing. Our parents are aging and requiring help, and we are quickly moving from the bread to the center of the generation sandwich.

This topic was sparked by my recent discussion with my Godfather. Since the passing of his parents, he has assumed “Bread” status in referring to his caregiver responsibilities and his own caregiver needs. At the moment, he is healthy and staying busy in his retirement, but many Boomers are declining and their Gen X and Gen Y kids are moving into caregiver roles. Considering that the world had not seen a generation the size of the Boomers, (until Gen Y) there will be an increased demand for resources and knowledge as Boomers continue to age, and in many cases, require some level of care.

As Millennials start having families, our coveted bread position is going to our children. Longer lifespans through medical advances have meant many Millennials are not blind to care needs and end of life decisions. We’ve seen our great-grandparents and grandparents decline as our parents had to balance those needs with raising us. Many institutions and nursing homes have grown over the decades as parents needed ways of supporting the next generation while giving their own parents a higher level of care. This is a financially taxing proposition and current trends have seen a rise in multi-generational homes, but level of care is still an issue. The following is more of a logistical guide, but future posts will discuss the medical issues as well.

Some areas to understand and consider:

If your parents are still living, healthy, and independent, (whether you live with them or separately) make sure that you can talk about future needs and concerns. These conversations should not be as awkward as when our parents may have tried to tell us about the birds and bees, but speak with purpose and compassion so your parents understand your concerns for their future. This is also a great time to consider long-term care insurance before they need it and before premiums grow too expensive.

Whether your parents are in good health or starting to decline make sure to have:

1. A current Last Will and Testament. It is a far too common for older people to have an outdated will (executor predeceased) or to not have one at all. Setting this up when you have your full faculties will help make sure your wishes in the event of your death, and possibly limit headaches and drama for your family.

2. Power of Attorney – Rules and regulations may vary by location, but care needs and decisions are generally reserved for the person with “POA.” In the event that there are differing opinions, a trusted person with POA can uphold your wishes and represent your legal interests if you no longer have the ability to do so.

3. A living will and DNR (If applicable to personal views) – It is vital that while you think about life after your passing that you not neglect care decisions in the event of failing health. Depending on your personal beliefs and practices, living wills and “Do Not Resuscitate” notices may alleviate undue suffering. I’ve personally seen the result of missing these documents and known people who suffered before eventually passing.

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For a generation that is characterized as being “me, me, me,” Millennials will soon step into a role that requires a great deal of selfless action. As with any generation, there will be struggles to make things work, but don’t discount us yet. Seeing the problems of the world as we grew has made many in Gen Y attuned to the common good. We’ll make an effort to support work/life balance, and perhaps find a way to care for our children and for those who brought us to the world.