Sunday, November 30, 2014

11 Things People Over 50 Wish They'd Done Differently At 25

Call it life experience or the school of hard knocks, by 50 we all have the hindsight to know which decisions were good ones and which decisions were, well, a result of youthful naïveté. But whether you're a firm believer in "everything happens for a reason" or you wish the brains at Google would develop a time machine, you've probably learned a thing or two from your failures.
We asked our Huff/Post50 Facebook fans what they wish they'd known at 25 that they know now. Here's what they said every 20-something ought to know about life.
1. Speak up more. 
As the saying goes, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. You are your one and only true advocate, so never be afraid to stand up for yourself and speak your mind, because regret's a b****.
2. Know when to walk away. 
hand reaching for hand
Many readers voiced that walking away, while it may be a difficult decision, is sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself. And the quicker you can come to this realization, the more you can save yourself from making up for lost time.
3. Save more money.
Retirement is no joke, as you'll learn by 50. As you stare at the bleak reality of your 401K, you might find yourself counting every nickel and dime you wasted on frivolous expenses. So pack your lunch, find street parking (or take the bus) and remember that a penny saved is a penny earned, as cheesy as it sounds.
4. Re-think a college major. 
oyster hand
A few readers mentioned how they wish they'd re-considered their choice of college major, or even thought twice before dropping out.
5. Travel more.
You're only young once. So before you get tied down by responsibilities of a mortgage, a spouse and kids, it's a good idea to explore the world and all it has to offer (as long as it doesn't break the bank!). Consider working abroad. Visit the city you dream about all day. Just go somewhere that will make you look up and around rather than down at your smartphone.
6. Incur less debt. 
cutting credit card
Don't buy things you don't need and think long and hard before getting a credit card. No matter what they tell you, it's not free money, and no matter how high the limit, you shouldn't go blow it all on designer duds and a fancy vacation. Debt sucks in any form. Instead, focus on building a solid credit history and credit score so you can finally nab a killer interest rate when you go sign a mortgage.
7. Wear more sunscreen.
Basking in the rays may pay off in the short run with a glistening tan, but in the long run it leads to age spots, wrinkling and sagging of the skin. So grab the SPF year-round, reach for self-tanner or just embrace your skin tone for what it is.
8. Think carefully before marriage. 
cake topper
Several readers voiced they would have waited to get married. One reader said she would have waited until at least 30. While there's no hard and fast rule everyone can apply, it's sound advice at any age -- to think carefully before you wed.
9. Slow down.
Too many of us waste precious moments because we're too busy connected to our digital devices or on social media or worrying about the next career move. Life is short. Savor it. We think reader Trisha C Mokoshsq put it perfectly: "I would not have been so driven to be successful and work 80 hours a week to make partner all those years. I would have lingered. I would have defined myself by more than what I did for a living."
10. Get a better education. 
college degree
As the saying goes, nobody can take your accomplishments away from you. Education is one of those accomplishments. Many readers wished they would have either gone to or stuck to college. Whether it's to land you the career of your dreams, or to meet people from different walks of life or to learn to see things a little differently, education is always a good choice, whatever form it takes.
11. Consider health issues.
By 25 you might have noticed your metabolism slowing down. But looking after yourself as you age is about more than just quitting your pizza-a-day diet for vanity. It's about creating habits (and breaking bad ones) that will lead to a long life in which you're healthy enough to do everything you want to do. So quit smoking or cut back on the alcohol. As many of you said, little changes can lead to big benefits in the long run. LOOKING OUT AT SUNSET

Is small print in online contracts enforceable

Terms and conditions with glasses

With some internet companies' terms and conditions being longer than Shakespeare's Hamlet, could it be that "unfair" clauses in agreements are not even worth the paper they are printed on?
Terms of service online have been in the news in recent years.
In 2012 Facebook's photo-sharing site Instagram updated its privacy policy giving it the right to sell users' photos to advertisers without notification.
Three days later, after a public backlash, the policy was dropped, citing "not communicating clearly".
A month later the number of people using the site was believed to have dropped by nearly 50%.
Yet companies continue to test the boundaries of what consumers are willing to accept.
"Apple reserves the right at any time to modify this agreement and to impose new or additional terms," the iTunes terms of service says.
But most people probably will not have read that when signing up to iTunes.

It gives companies the right to change anything agreed to in the initial agreement and by continuing to use the service, users agree without giving specific consent.
"We see it in Microsoft, Netflix, Apple," says Jimm Stout, of the site Terms of Service; Didn't Read (ToS;DR).
"They don't have to tell you, they may tell you but they may not. Just continuing to use the service is complying with that contract," he adds.
ToS;DR has been set-up to "fix the biggest lie on the internet," where people tick a box to say they have read things they have signed up for.
But it could be that, in Europe at least, these sort of clauses may not hold much weight if they ever went to court.

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Would it be possible for a company to enforce a condition they had introduced without letting people know?
"It isn't possible as such, not under European law," says Professor Julia Hoernle, an internet law specialist at Queen Mary, University of London.
She tells BBC Radio 4's Law In Action: "The first point is that in a long-term relationship such as a social network, the service provider has to be able to, at some stage, change terms as they engage in technical innovation, they offer new services, they want to collect different data or the prices change.
"There has to be some mechanism whereby they can change the terms.
"But it's quite clear they have to give notice to the consumer and give the consumer a choice to cancel the contract because they don't find these terms acceptable any more."
Longer than Hamlet
Many companies carry this sort of clause in their terms of service, and it is believed to be valid in the US legal system.

Apple's terms

But if it is illegal under European law, why are companies which operate here trying to retain the right to do whatever they wish?
"Customers don't read the terms of service so [companies] get away with it," says Prof Hoernle.
"The consumer might win but the consumer has the heavy burden of taking the cost of litigation. It takes a brave person to take on a service company on the internet," she adds.
It is perhaps not surprising consumers do not read every terms of service agreement they sign up to.
Shakespeare's longest play, Hamlet, is around 30,000 words long.
Paypal's terms of service agreement contains approximately 50,000 words.
Apple iTunes' conditions come in at a mere 14,500 words, just under the length of Macbeth.
"If you were to read all the policies that you agreed to online, you would have to take 76 work days just to finish reading through the policies you agreed to," says Mr Stout.
Apple was unavailable for comment.
'No restrictions'

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the courts now take into account that if there are unfair clauses hidden away in terms of service”
Prof HörnleQueen Mary, University of London
They certainly cannot be accused of not being thorough. But is this not just a way for companies to make sure people don't read them?
Prof Hoernle says: "The law does not impose any restrictions on length of terms and services. It puts quite a heavy burden on the user to read the terms of service."
In 2010 retailer Gamestation chose to change its online agreement to something a little bit more risqué.
"You agree to grant us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul," it read.
It was published on 1 April.

"People don't read these things. People don't know what they're agreeing to," he adds.
"Of course it was an April Fool's Day joke but they proved a big point," says Mr Stout.
The saving grace could be that companies are less likely to be able to enforce rules that are not "fair" if the person using the site is not made aware of them specifically.
"There are controls on what we call unfair terms," says Prof Hoernle.
She says: "Clearly the courts now take into account that if there are unfair clauses hidden away in terms of service, it's more likely to be [deemed] unfair.
"The user has to be made aware of the terms of service and if there are any unusual or surprising terms of service, they have to be pointed out specifically to the consumer."
If this is the case, it seems like there are nearly as many rules on terms and conditions as there are in terms and conditions themselves.

A Point of View: Does anybody ever 'think the unthinkable'?

Margaret Thatcher

I have a vivid memory of the moment when I realised it wouldn't be long before Margaret Thatcher's radical experiment hit the buffers.
It must have been sometime in the late 1980s. The venue was one of the free market think tanks that were so prominent in those far-off years. The topic of discussion was how we should be ready to transgress the boundaries of what was considered politically possible. Nearly all of those present were at one on the need to challenge existing assumptions. What we needed to do, they insisted, was "think the unthinkable" and extend the reach of market forces into public services and throughout society.
For me this earnest consensus was not without an element of comedy. Free market ideas had been in power in Britain since Thatcher became prime minister in 1979. They were the ruling ideas of the age, and from my point of view already becoming rather stale. In the early 70s, when I first became interested in Hayek and other free market thinkers, challenging the post-war political consensus may have required a certain contrariness.
By the late 70s, when Britain had come close to bankruptcy and been bailed out by the IMF, there were many signs that the country was heading for a shift of regime in which it would be transformed irreversibly. But an abrupt change of this kind seems unimaginable to most people until it actually happens, and in much of politics, the media and academia Thatcher's policies came as a bolt from the blue.

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By the late 80s, what had been heresy had been enthroned as orthodoxy. In these circumstances, the suggestion that one could become a fearless free-thinker by repeating, in louder and more extreme tones, what those in power were constantly saying was entertainingly farcical. At the same time it illuminated how political ideas actually work in practice. As a general rule, "thinking the unthinkable" means accentuating and exaggerating, preferably to the point of absurdity, beliefs that are currently fashionable. Over the past three decades, this has meant, to my mind, applying the ruling free market ideology with little regard for history, circumstances or common sense.
One may agree or disagree with Thatcher's policies, but throughout most of her time in power she was more pragmatic than is often imagined, and rarely did anything just because it was required by an idea or theory.
It was only when the ideologues in the free market think tanks persuaded her of the virtues of the poll tax that she allowed doctrinaire thinking to guide her, and that was the beginning of her downfall. The irony is that the ideas that ended her career in government nearly a quarter of a century ago have shaped politics ever since. Capitalism has lurched into a crisis from which it still has not recovered. Yet the worn-out ideology of free markets sets the framework within which our current generation of leaders continues to think and act.
Poll tax riot, 1990The poll tax riots of 1990
Today nothing is safe from the juggernaut of market forces. If British Telecom could be successfully privatised, why not the prison service, national forensic service and probation service? Why not hand over the provision of blood plasma, or the search and rescue operations that have long been provided by the RAF and the Royal Navy, to private companies? No sell-off has been so obviously ill-conceived that it couldn't be implemented. All of these privatisations have in fact occurred, under a variety of governments, or are currently in the works.
It wasn't just in domestic policies that a new orthodoxy held sway. Few people, even in the anti-communist 1980s, thought the fall of the Soviet Union was a realistic possibility, but as soon as the collapse had taken place, it was seen as inevitable.
Russia would join the West, we were assured, in adopting democracy and embracing the free market. Anyone with a smattering of the history of that country could know in advance that this wasn't going to happen. There were no traditions of democratic government, much of the economy was a military-industrial rustbelt and capitalism was identified with crime and immorality.
Western governments that promoted socially disruptive policies of economic "shock therapy" made the transition from communism more difficult than it need have been, but there was no way in which Russia could escape its singular and tragic history.
However, these were the days when history was deemed to be irrelevant. Not everyone swallowed the American pundit Francis Fukuyama's theory that history had ended. When Thatcher was told of it, she is supposed to have responded, "The beginning of nonsense!"
But the idea that humanity had entered a new era was widely influential. When I suggested in late 1989 that history was continuing, just as it had always done, a common response was, "You mean we're all doomed?" Amusingly, many people seemed to believe there could be no future for humanity if things simply carried on in their usual muddled fashion.

Social media told to simplify terms and conditions

Social media

Social networking firms including Facebook and Twitter are being told to make it clearer to members how they collect and use their data.
A report by the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee says the firms' terms and conditions are far too long and complex.
The MPs say users may not be aware of how their details can be used by websites and apps.
Any reasonable person would struggle with long privacy policies, they add.
The committee says reading such documents has been likened to "engaging with Shakespeare".
And it says that the rules have been designed for use in US courtrooms and to protect organisations in the event of legal action rather than to convey information.
The Chairman of the Committee, Andrew Miller MP, pointed to an experiment where Facebook had manipulated users' emotions by varying the stories they saw in their newsfeeds.
He said this "highlighted serious concerns about the extent to which ticking the 'terms and conditions' box can be said to constitute informed consent when it comes to the varied ways data is now being used by many websites and apps".
T&Cs updates
The report calls on the government to set standards which organisations can sign up to, promising to explain how they use personal data in clear, concise and simple terms.
Social media
Facebook recently unveiled updated terms and conditions policiesthat it claims are simpler and easier to read. It says it has "listened to people who have asked us to better explain how we get and use information".
Meanwhile Twitter has clarified its use of data in a blogpost, which explains that it collects data on the apps which users have on their phones in order to "deliver tailored content that you might be interested in".
This includes promoted tweets from advertisers. Twitter goes on to explain how users can turn off this form of data collection.
Relationship of trust
The Science Committee's report also says there is a problem with apps which request information which they do not obviously need, so as to provide their service.
It says companies should have a greater responsibility to explain why they need to collect information.
FacebookFacebook was criticised for carrying out experiments on its members despite having data privacy rules
The government does not escape criticism in the report.
The Committee cites the NHS Care data programme, which was delayed after concerns about patient privacy.
This is described as an example of where the relationship of trust between data collector and customer failed to develop.
The report says the government must learn lessons and assess the impact on privacy of policies that collect, retain or process personal data.

Are kids getting more virtuous?

The news media likes to characterize today’s young people as risk averse,narcissisticapp-dependent, over-scheduled, entitled and “pornified.” Among the culprits are too much praise, not enough challenge, helicopter parents, cellphones and of course, the Internet.
But by many measures, young people are actually showing virtues their elders lacked. They have brought delinquency, truancy, promiscuity, alcohol abuse and suicide down to levels unseen in many cases since the 1950s. Rather than coming up with ever more old-fogey complaints, we should be celebrating young people’s good judgment and self-control — and extolling their parents and teachers.
Here are some of the most impressive developments.
You’ve probably heard that crime is down. But most of the remarkable facts about crime and delinquency among young people have not been trumpeted enough in a country just 20 years removed from fears that it was facing a generation of young “super-predators.” In fact, arrests for serious violent offenses by juveniles have dropped about 60 percent from 1994 to 2011. Juvenile arrests have receded faster in the past 10 years than adult arrests. Property crime by youth also has sunk to its lowest point in 30 years.
Of course, we read, quite correctly, that rates of rape on college campuses and in the military are high, and that victims are treated poorly. But rape and other sex crimes among youth have been decreasing. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the number of sexual assaults against 12- to 17-year-olds has declined by more than half since the mid-1990s. The number of youth arrests for sex offenses also has dropped. It may be hard to believe, but three nationwide and statewide victim surveys havecorroborated these decreases.
School shootings, too, have scarred the nation’s psyche and left a sense that schools are dangerous. But school safety has been improving dramatically. Violent victimization of teenagers at school has dropped 60 percent from 1992 to 2012, according to Justice Department data. School homicides, which rarely number more than a couple of dozen per year, have been lower in the 2000s than they were in the 1990s.
We hear about the bullying epidemic in painful accounts of youth taking their own lives after dealing with peer harassment. But peer victimization, harassment and bullying — despite their ubiquity — have been abating in almost all of the surveys. Suicide, too, is less common. Among 10- to 24- year-olds, the rate declined from 9.24 to 7.21 suicides per 100,000 people from 1991 to 2009.
Every generation of parents is alarmed by the sexual behavior of the young. But the accusations are more misplaced now than ever. Not only is the rate of teenage pregnancy down to record lows in the United States, but the percentage of ninth-graders who say they have had sexual intercourse has declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013. The percentage of high schoolers who say they have had four or more sexual partners also has declined.
Young people are showing a lot more self-control when it comes tosubstances as well. Binge drinking by 12th-graders is lower than at any time since surveys were started in 1976. The number of teenagers who have been drunk in the past year is at a record low and the drop for eighth-graders is particularly remarkable. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, half as many high school students said they had driven a car after drinking alcohol in 2011 compared with 1991.
Kids also are much less likely to run away and they’re much more conscientious about finishing school. Compared with 1995, 56 percent fewer youth were running away in 2012. And dropout rates among those ages 16 to 24 are at their lowest, down from 17 percent in 1968 to 6.6 percent in 2013.
Why these improvements? Social scientists are mostly guessing. For example, over the past generation we have unleashed many new prevention and intervention programs for parents, families and children that use more effective strategies. We also have given psychiatric medication to many children and their parents. Although controversial, such drugs reduce aggression, depression and hyperactivity — which all contribute to conflict and risk-taking. Then there is the Internet, electronic games and related technology that have combined to relieve boredom, one of the chief drivers of adolescent mischief. Cellphones keep kids in touch with their parents and their friends, making it easier to summon help or get advice when they’re in trouble. Moreover, maybe risk-taking has migrated, like everything else, to the electronic world, but in that world the connection between risk and harm is more remote than it was in the face-to-face past.
These improvements do not mean that everything is rosy. The levels of many problems among young people are still too high by most standards. And one can easily find other indicators that have worsened for this generation, such as obesity.
But every parenting manual says it is important to highlight progress to encourage improvement. What’s so wrong with a little praise and gratitude for a remarkable generation? We may look back on today’s youth as relatively virtuous, as the ones who turned the tide on impulsivity and indulgence.

Another reason to avoid reading the comments

If you are reading this article on the Internet, stop afterward and think about it. Then scroll to the bottom and read the commentary. If there isn’t any, try a Web site that allows comments, preferably one that is very political. Then recheck your views.
Some news organizations have responded by heavily curating comments. One Twitter campaigner, @AvoidComments, periodically reminds readers to ignore anonymous posters: “You wouldn’t listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don’t read the comments.” But none of that can prevent waves of insulting commentary from periodically washing over other parts of the Internet, infiltrating Facebook or overwhelming Twitter.Chances are your thinking will have changed, especially if you have read a series of insulting, negative or mocking remarks — as so often you will. Once upon a time, it seemed as if the Internet would be a place of civilized and open debate; now, unedited forums often deteriorate to insult exchanges. Like it or not, this matters: Multiple experiments have shown that perceptions of an article, its writer or its subject can be profoundly shaped by anonymous online commentary, especially if it is harsh. Onegroup of researchers found that rude comments “not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.” A digital analyst at Atlantic Media also discovered that people who read negative comments were more likely to judge that an article was of low quality and, regardless of the content, to doubt the truth of what it stated.
If all of this commentary were spontaneous, then this would simply be an interesting psychological phenomenon. But it is not. A friend who worked for a public relations company in Europe tells of companies that hire people to post, anonymously, positive words on behalf of their clients and negative words about rivals. Political parties of various kinds, in various countries, are rumored to do the same.
States have grown interested in joining the fray as well. Last year, Russian journalists infiltrated an organization in St. Petersburg that pays people topost at least 100 comments a day; an investigation earlier this year found that a well-connected businessman was paying Russian trolls to manage 10 Twitter accounts apiece with up to 2,000 followers. In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Guardian of London admitted it was having trouble moderating what it called an “orchestrated campaign.” “Goodbye ‘Eddie,’ ” tweeted the Estonian president a few months ago, as he blocked yet another Twitter troll.
The Russian trolls have been well-documented. But others may be preparing to join them. An Iranian educational group, Tavaana, has lately found its Facebook page blocked thanks to what it suspects was the activity of Iranian trolls. Famously, the Chinese government monitors the Internet inside China, using hundreds of thousands of paid bloggers. It can’t be long before they work out how to do the same in English, or Korean, or other languages as well.
For democracies, this is a serious challenge. Online commentary subtly shapes what voters think and feel, even if it just raises the level of irritation, or gives readers the impression that certain views are “controversial,” or makes them wonder what the “mainstream” version of events is concealing. For the most part, the Russian trolls aren’t supplying classic propaganda, designed to trumpet the glories of Soviet agriculture. Instead, as journalistsPeter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss have written in a paper analyzing the new tactics of disinformation, their purpose is rather “to sow confusion via conspiracy theories and proliferate falsehoods.” In a world where traditional journalism is weak and information is plentiful, that isn’t very difficult to do.
But no Western government wants to “censor” the Internet, either, and objections will always be raised if government money is even spent studying this phenomenon. Perhaps, as Weiss and Pomerantsev have also argued, we therefore need civic organizations or charities that can identify deliberately false messages and bring them to public attention. Perhaps schools, as they once taught students about newspapers, now need to teach a new sort of etiquette: how to recognize an Internet troll, how to distinguish truth from state-sponsored fiction.
Sooner or later, we may also be forced to end Internet anonymity or to at least ensure that every online persona is linked back to a real person: Anyone who writes online should be as responsible for his words as if he were speaking them aloud. I know there are arguments in favor of anonymity, but too many people now abuse the privilege. Human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, should belong to real human beings and not to anonymous trolls.

Why is Reginald Latson being denied the help he needs

Two obstacles stand in the way of getting Reginald Latson, autistic and with an IQ of 69, out of the solitary confinement in which he’s been held for most of the past year and into the treatment facility that he needs.
The first is Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who says he is an involuntary obstacle, sympathetic to Latson’s plight but with hands tied, at least for now, because of a pending assault charge against Latson.

Olsen grudgingly acknowledges that Latson has been diagnosed with autism but contends that the 23-year-old’s problems in the criminal justice system do not arise from his disability. “He is a person with autism that also has this hate, this racial hate and this hate for law enforcement,” Olsen said.
That charge is being brought by the second, deliberate obstacle to transferring Latson from prison to treatment: Stafford County prosecutor Eric Olsen, Virginia’s answer to Inspector Javert. Latson’s intellectual disability, Olsen has argued in court, is “an aspect of convenience. When his advocates want him to be retarded, he is.”
Latson’s four-year odyssey began as he sat on the grass outside the local library, waiting for it to open. He was a young black man, wearing a hoodie, and the ensuing call to police suggested — without evidence — that he had a gun.
This event launched a seemingly never-ending cycle of toxic interactions between Latson, known as Neli, and law enforcement. Read through Latson’s court file, and you glean the story of a sweet, eager-to-please young man who nonetheless has moments — disturbing moments — of anger and violence.
“Neli’s judgment, problem-solving skills, adaptive behavior, and interests are those of a young child,” neuropsychologist Lauren Kenworthy wrote in 2011, after Latson had assaulted and severely injured the police officer. “In autism, extreme fight/flight reactions are not uncommon. It appears that in this instance, Neli’s first response was to attempt to flee. He was aggressive only after his attempt to leave the presence of the law enforcement officer failed and the officer physically restrained his movement.”
To get a sense of Olsen’s vindictive perspective, he considered the jury’s recommended sentence of 10 1/years “appropriate.” The judge disagreed.He reduced the sentence to a few additional months beyond the time Latson had already served — much of it in solitary confinement because he is too impaired to be in the general prison population — and then sent Latson to a residential treatment program. He did so well that he was transferred to a group home, which is where trouble resumed.
When Latson became agitated after a visit with his mother, staff unfamiliar with his routines called police. Latson asked the officer to shoot him and tried to grab his gun. Instead of treating this like the mental health crisis it was, Frederick County, where the episode took place, filed felony charges. Olsen seized on the episode as a probation violation and moved to revoke Latson’s probation.
Transferred back to the Stafford County jail against the judge’s recommendation, Latson had another run-in with authorities. Taken off his anti-psychotic medications and suicidal, he hit an officer as he was being moved from solitary into a “crisis cell” with no bed and a hole in the floor for a toilet.
For Olsen, this was not a mental health crisis or a matter for internal jail discipline — it was an opportunity for yet another criminal charge, set for trial in January. Meanwhile, Latson is being held in a cell, alone, with no television or radio.
Which is where McAuliffe comes in. Latson’s lawyers want him to be transferred to a locked treatment facility in Florida, a placement that Virginia mental health officials have recommended and for which they have secured federal funding.
But the governor’s office, while acknowledging “this . . . difficult situation” and “troubling matter,” says he has no power to act with the assault charge pending. Under the state Constitution, the governor’s pardon power arises only “after conviction.”
Action doesn’t need to wait until January. The best outcome would be for Olsen to drop the charge. Latson would then be transferred — on probation — as ordered by the judge to the secured treatment program in Florida. Second best would be a quick guilty plea — if Latson’s lawyers were confident it would result in treatment, and not continued, counterproductive incarceration. This would ensure public safety and be in keeping with the state’s moral and legal responsibilities to all its citizens, including the most vulnerable.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How My Wake-Up Call Helped Me Discover My Inner GPS

A collapse from exhaustion, a broken cheekbone and a gash over her eye. I had my own wake-up call in May 2013. At the time, it was one of the most frightening and painful experiences of my life; but now looking back, I consider it to be an amazing blessing that changed everything.

Upon graduating from college, I started working at a job that was both enriching and challenging. I was determined to be the best, to climb the ladder, to succeed. About once a year, I would have psoriasis outbreaks, a devastating skin condition that would cover my body. It always struck me in the hot New York summers. Instead of spending my time outside with my friends, I would hide my scarred body inside my cool air-conditioned apartment, filled with shame and sadness. Worse than the physical pain was the emotional pain: the plans I had to cancel, the agony that I felt when I looked in the mirror, and the embarrassment I felt when I had to go out in public.

Religiously, I applied the cream from my doctors twice a day, feeling my skin become cracked and anguished. It faded a little bit at a time but never disappeared. I successfully suppressed my pain and internalized it, pushing ahead at all costs. I worked more hours, pushed myself to a frightening level of perfectionism, developed an unhealthy relationship with food and alcohol and isolated myself from anything other than my determined path forward. I lasted another year on that routine.

It all came to a head one day when my body, mind and soul essentially took the wheel from me and put themselves in charge. I woke up at 4:00 a.m., unable to sleep and filled with anxiety. I headed out on my stressful commute and by the time I arrived at my client an hour later, I was wound tighter than I could have imagined. My personal pain and anxiety was playing on a never-ceasing tape in my mind: words of self-denigration, mental images of every mistake I had made, feelings of desperation that seemed determined to linger forever. As the tape played on through the morning, I would periodically excuse myself from the team room to hide in the restroom, crying silently and frantically trying to convince myself that I was fine.

I was at my desk when I watched it happen, almost as an out of body experience, a triple whammy. First, the health crisis: a brutal attack of psoriasis that came back to cover me from head to toe, making it impossible for me to look at myself in the mirror without sobbing. It was far worse than I had ever seen it before. Second, a mental crisis: the realization that my definition of career success, to which I was deeply attached, was not right for me. Finally, a spiritual crisis: it dawned upon me that I was actually utterly unhappy in the life that I had created for myself in New York City. This was the hardest to swallow, because it was a life that I had dreamed of for years and had created with the determination of pushing a boulder up a hill.

And just to make it really clear that something was definitely not right with me, two days later I had a terrifying panic attack while driving a car around New York's financial district, at which point I thought I might spontaneously die from the combination of fear, stress and unhappiness.

After all of these events, I found myself paralyzed. I was lying on my bedroom floor when I quietly asked for help. Something called for me to turn inward. I started to meditate and was immediately presented with what felt like every feeling I had suppressed over the past few years, every emotion that I had pushed aside, and every need that I had neglected. I knew then that the only thing to do was to surrender to it, and as I did, I found a place of the deepest inner calm within me. There, I realized that I had neglected my true self, that the life I had created was not the right one for me, and that my very soul was crying out for a new way of being. That was my final wall to fall; I surrendered completely.

Six weeks later, I was unpacking my belongings in a new apartment in San Francisco, committed to changing the way that I lived. I wanted to address my deep need to get in touch with my inner self and then to build a life that reflected that in every area from my career to my relationships to my health. Every day since then has been a part of this wonderful adventure, as I have worked to more closely align myself with my body, mind and spirit -- an ever-evolving journey that I hope continues for a very long time.
For those out there who might feel lost, confused or afraid right now, I want you to know that tuning in to your inner self can help to guide you forward in your journey. My suffering was the catalyst for a change that has improved my life in every possible way. It was a little notification (one that I successfully ignored for many years) that helped to wake me up. I hope to carry this attitude forward with me when different pain inevitably strikes in the future.

Stories about pain and suffering can be very frightening to share. I was initially afraid to share this story, but I have discovered that every person who shares their story is participating in improving our collective consciousness. It's a strange paradox that we are afraid of pain; it is one of the few things that we share as a common currency with every other person on the planet. Every person has known suffering, but when we are suffering, we feel very alone. We all have the choice to share our stories of pain with each other and give ourselves permission to notice what it teaches us and how it changes us.

I believe that it is my personal responsibility to help create a world where everyone is empowered to shape their own journeys, to ask themselves what matters to them, and to use their innate gifts to make the world a better place. If we each learn to live our own lives grounded in the wisdom of our inner self, we will be able to make miracles happen on a daily basis.

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