Quite Continental Charm School: Day 14 – Know Your Worth

11/03/2013 § 5 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

QC Charm School: Know Your Worth

Harry Winston’s rough stone expert Daniel Frey examines a 426-carat diamond called “The Unnamed,” in 1956.  At the time, the stone was the ninth largest on record and at a price of $8.4 million dollars, the largest diamond sale to date.  The stone eventually went on to become the Niarchos Diamond.  You can read about the stone and Harry Winston’s plans to cut and sell the diamond here.  Photograph by Ralph Morse for Life Magazine.

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others
until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”
-Malcolm X

Day 14: Know Your Worth
Recently, in the context of witty cocktail banter and getting-to-know-yous, I was asked to name my biggest failure. While the answer that bounded forth – not being born an heiress – was technically true (apologies to Mom and Dad), the question stayed with me in the days after and I noticed that I was searching my soul for a deeper answer. As I sorted through all of my shoulda, coulda, wouldas, I realized that my biggest shortcoming was not a test I failed or a school I didn’t get into or a bad investment choice. Rather, in my heart of hearts, what I considered to be my biggest failure was something I had repeatedly done to myself within the context of my interpersonal relationships.

For some people, it seems practically second nature for them to identify their needs and then ask for them to be fulfilled. They ask their managers for a raise because they deserve more pay for their contributions at work. They ask their partners for better communication. They ask their friends for help through a difficult time. These are people I tend to envy because historically, it’s proven difficult at times for me to identify, let alone voice, the things I need.

This lead to spending a considerable amount of time in relationships, both personal and professional, where I wasn’t receiving what I needed, but I was hesitant to speak up. But why? Why did I accept something that was unacceptable, when I knew deep down that I needed more? Why did I always try to love – or work – myself through the subpar environment, hoping that fate would finally deal me a more favorable card? And while the relationships I speak of in this context were all very different, each with different circumstances and players, and occurred at different stages of my life, I don’t think that it was simply a random result of bad luck. While I can’t explain to you why others treated me the way they did, I definitely believe one of the reasons I kept sticking around has to do with what I thought I deserved.

Self-worth can be a tricky thing to monitor. It’s not like there’s an index that you can check every morning to see how it happens to be fluctuating or a bank account you can easily transfer funds into when you’re a bit low. Instead, I find my thoughts about my own value are most frequently triggered by negative experiences or conditions, and it is my response (or lack thereof) that has a direct impact on my internal barometer.  Taking ownership of my self-worth, instead of appraising myself in relation to how others treat me, has been a remarkably empowering process.

Today, I want us to work on valuing ourselves. Everyone deserves all the happiness and love and friendship and success that their hearts can hold and that you shouldn’t accept anything less.  No matter what you might have experienced in the past, you are worth someone’s very best today. But also remember that this probably won’t happen if you just sit there and wish for it. So when that internal voice points out that your needs aren’t being met in a personal (or professional) relationship, you owe it to yourself to honor that feeling and to clearly ask for what you need, as difficult as that may be. Speak plainly and calmly and choose a time to broach the subject when you feel your audience is receptive. Avoid blaming; instead, talk about how you feel now and how you would like to feel in the future.

There is a very good chance that your partner/father/coworker/friend has no idea what you’re missing, and would do whatever they could to make sure you received it – but if you don’t give them that chance to meet you halfway, they very likely won’t. I’m definitely guilty of this. I can’t tell you why in the past I thought that my partners should intuit what I wanted and needed out of a relationship, but I can tell you that when they didn’t read my mind (surprise, surprise) I would get frustrated, and that frustration would silently fester until it ripened into resentment — a stealthy silent killer of intimacy.

Consequently, you’ve got to be patient, but honest. Granted, it takes time to change behavior, but if after you’ve clearly communicated your needs you find the other party unwilling – or perhaps unable – to rise to the occasion, you have to admit that to yourself and remember that you deserve exactly as much success, love and support as you need.  Just because you aren’t currently being fulfilled, doesn’t mean it’s your fault or what you deserve.  There is someone somewhere who will happily provide exactly what you want and need, and you’ve got to value yourself enough to make yourself available. Deciding to stick around, unsatisfied, means that you are closing yourself off from finding that happiness and I’m definitely hard pressed to think of anything less charming than that.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 12 – Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

22/02/2013 § 3 Comments

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
QC Charm School: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
Sophia Loren in Italy, 1961.
Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest speaker Jen McCabe is the writer, blogger and marketing genius extraordinaire behind Honey Kennedy, one of my absolute favorite places on the internet — I liken it to falling down a lovely rabbit hole of vintage-infused pretty, with tons to explore and love.  Aside from getting the lowdown on what’s going on in the Pacific Northwest and being introduced to some truly unique and gifted artists and designers hailing from the Portland area, Jen’s constantly discovers some of the most beautiful imagery and fashion collections I’ve ever seen — and did I mention that she’s completely lovely?  I am very happy to include Jen in this year’s Charm School.  If you are not yet familiar with Jen or Honey Kennedy, it is my pleasure to introduce you.

Without any further ado, Jen’s tip for a charmed life.

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Day 12: Make the Ordinary Extraordinary
To me, leading a charmed life doesn’t mean that everything is handed to you in a perfect package. I think life requires effort and thoughtfulness in order to make it truly charmed. I’ve lived life in a variety of income brackets through the years and I’ve always managed to find a way to feel like I’m treating myself to a bit of luxury. I’m glad that my husband and I have more security now, but a lot of my daily rituals haven’t changed much from when I would have to decide between bus fare and groceries. Even during times when I was barely scraping by, it was important to me to try to have rituals that made me feel like I was pampering myself and that mundane routines could be turned into something special. Here are a few simple things that I like to do to make my days more cheerful and charmed.

Put a little cardamom in your morning coffee.
I also enjoy maple syrup, cinnamon, honey, or nutmeg. It’s just something to look forward to that gets you out of bed in the morning. Or whatever your beverage of choice! Lemon or basil or cucumber in your water is always good, too. Lavender or earl grey in your hot chocolate, special imported honey in your tea, a little soda water in your juice, etc. Add your own fancy twist to a morning ritual.

Buy yourself some flowers.
Whether they are roses from a nice flower shop or hot pink grocery store carnations (LOVE—and they last such a long time!), flowers make your home a nicer place to be. The color and shapes of the petals are such an inspiring visual break. Taking a trip to buy yourself some flowers is always something wonderful to look forward to if it is once a month or every couple of weeks. I like to split a bouquet up in order to have pretty petals in each room. Waking up to a a bright bloom or two on your nightstand can make a hard day ahead seem a little less daunting.

Give yourself home beauty treatments.
Paying some mind to your fingers, toes and visage is lovely way to pamper yourself. It’s a fun respite on your own or with friends. Years ago, my friend Alice and I had both been laid off from our jobs one month. We lived in the same building and after rough days of job hunting we would rent movies from the library and try different natural beauty treatments on our faces while we studied Hollywood classics. We put banana peel pulp and oatmeal on our faces and made an apple cider vinegar tea infusion toner concoction that I still make today. So fun! Also, when I paint my nails I like to give my hands and toes the full treatment with coconut oil or shea butter cuticle massage.

Have an afternoon break—even while at work.
Whether you work from home or in a shop, restaurant or office, I think it’s important to have something you do for yourself midday. I feel like just taking the time to make a nice cup of my favorite tea and eating a square of dark chocolate does me a world of good. When working in office jobs or retail jobs in the past I would bring boxes of tea to work (I was notorious for having an entire beverage shelf with teapots and coffee presses) or sometimes I like to get out and run to a nearby cafe. Just close your eyes for a minute and just think about the tea you’re drinking. Everything else seems to dissipate—at least for that moment. Then get back to work feeling at least a little refreshed and more centered.

Light a scented candle.
I love to light a favorite fragrant candle before I crack open a book or magazine, slip into a hot bath or start a new writing project. Lighting a candle always seems to make me feel more focused and breathing in the lovely scent makes me feel charged and in the moment. I love Diptyque candles, but for me they are just an occasional splurge. Some other brands I enjoy are Voluspa, Tatine, Catbird and the Paddywax Library Collection. Truth be told, in leaner times I have been known to put a few drops of essential oil in a small pan of water and stick it on top of an old steam radiator in my house or apartment or simmer it on the stove before resting it on a trivet close by. Just make sure to watch it carefully while it’s on the stove!

by Jen McCabe, of Honey Kennedy

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The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Reading List || The Atlantic: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter

27/06/2012 § 2 Comments

Image via The Atlantic.

By now, you’ve probably heard a bit about the controversy over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic, in which she discusses the familiar difficulties surrounding the achievement of a successful work-life balance for high-performing, elite females.  Currently a professor at Princeton University and most recently the Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, I have been familiar with Slaughter for some time (mainly due to my work in political risk and the fact that I actually work quite closely with the gentleman that held the Directorship at Policy Planning before she did — so there’s a bit of a weird work/life crossover in this post).

Slaughter believes initial steps towards women truly “having it all” are a few key practical adjustments to working arrangements and — perhaps even more difficult — changing the way that women feel about working.  The latter, a realization that came sharply into focus when she decided to leave the public sector and DC, to return to her professorship and family in New Jersey:

“A rude epiphany hit me soon after I got there. When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible. I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book. But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).

The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped.  All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

Slaughter’s op-ed is a long read, but I urge you to read it.  As a single, professional woman without any children, ostensibly busy “concentrating on my career,” it gave me reason to examine my current priorities and wonder what I would do when (if?) the time comes for me to incorporate motherhood into my life, about the assumptions I operate under (Nanny? Of course), how much I might actually be willing to reorient my life and why I felt a kind of knee-jerk resistance to doing so.  I definitely doubt that anyone — men and women, alike — can read this op-ed without being affected.  Understandably, since being published on The Atlantic’s site last Wednesday night, it has gone on to be the most viewed article in the history of the magazine.

For further discussion, Slaughter’s op-ed has also inspired a number of passionate responses (e.g., Jodi Kantor’s piece in The New York Times, Rebecca Traister’s piece at Salon.com, Katherine Rosman’s piece on The Juggle for WSJ.com), and Slaughter will be doing a live Q&A with readers on The Atlantic’s site on Friday 29 June at 11am ET, which you can find here.

Also on the list:
The Wall Street Journal:  Lauren Mechling remembers a few “unprincessy” heroines (Ramona Quimby! Harriet the Spy!) in honor of Pixar’s first girl lead, the fiery haired archer princess Merida in Brave.

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Spector on the “singular, unmistakable worlds” of Wes Anderson.

WWD: Mini menswear crush!  A first look at Brooks Brothers’ costumes for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

The Financial Times: Monocle’s editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé on how (not) to apply for an internship.  Best line: “My favourite letters are the ones that say there’s a willingness “to fetch coffee, work late and even empty the bins.”  Fantastic! The global economy is now safe thanks to your commitment to gingerly rolling up your sleeves and doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 27 — No Contest

28/02/2012 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Winner of first place high diving award Vicki Manolo Draves with second place winner Patty Elsener at the 1948 Olympics in London.  Taken by Ed Clark for Life Magazine.

Day 27: No Contest
When I saw the picture above, of Vicki Manolo Draves and Patty Elsener at the 1948 Olympics, winners of the first and second places in the high dive, I was inspired to write about something that is related — but not specifically limited — to the sporting world.  In fact, my chosen subject has the ability to permeate our entire lives, pretty much from birth, if left to its own devices.  What am I talking about?  Competition.

On the whole, competition can be a rather tricky thing.  It can positively motivate us to improve, but if allowed to run wild, it also has the ability to poison personal relationships, cause stress and lead to unhappiness.  This double-edged sword needs to be dealt with gingerly.  Please also note a distinction between ambition and competition: ambition means you want bigger and better things, competition means you want bigger and better things than that other guy over there (and maybe even at his expense).

First, identify it.  What are you competing for?  Wanting to be the fastest runner in your jogging group or top of the class is altogether different from a generalized feeling of competitiveness with your coworker, friend or partner for no distinct reason.  Generalized competitiveness is the one you have to watch most closely, because if you aren’t competing for a specific outcome, item or position, then why are you competing in the first place?  What is the prize that you are hoping to gain?  Take a step back and think hard about this.  Is all you really want schadenfreude?

Second, can you be supportive?  I don’t necessarily believe that all competition is negative.  Rather, healthy competition can definitely motivate improved personal performance and achievement, such as sibling valedictorians and husband and wife collaborative teams.  But if you find yourself unable to support your fellow “competitor” like Vicki and Patty appear to be doing above, your may need to admit your competitiveness might stem from feelings of insecurity or jealousy.

Third, call yourself out.  Be brave enough to admit to yourself that your ego is a bit out of control, or that you are envious.  Write it down in a journal and ruminate on why this has gotten your goat.  Better yet, if you are close to the person who is inspiring these feelings, admit to them how you are feeling.  The best way to combat unhealthy feelings of competitiveness is to come clean, either privately or publicly, so that you can begin to deal with what is hiding underneath them.

This can be tricky for me at times.  As an oldest child, I have a natural inclination to be the best and the first.  When the whole world seems to be focused on what I lack, it’s easy to turn that same lens upon myself and identify those who seem to have “it all” as my main competitors: she’s smarter, he’s richer, they’re married, he has an amazing job, etc.  But I’ve come to recognize that in the long run, a tendency to compete will only serve to hurt me — and what is there to win, anyway?  Absolutely nothing.

Let’s do our best to change it together, shall we?  For life is not to be “won” but rather, to be relished.  Let’s endeavor to be thankful for what we’ve got, and to support each other on our path to bigger and better things.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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