If You Are Floundering, Read This

Let me begin with gratitude.

Sixty years ago, my mother emigrated to this country from Taiwan. Like you, she’s a proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Were it not for Penn, my mother—who was rich in spirit but nearly penniless--wouldn’t have kept her visa. Were it not for Penn, my mother wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the United States, wouldn’t have met my father, and wouldn’t have given birth to me, right here in Philadelphia.

So, thank you Penn for letting me sneak in here three times: ten years ago to join your faculty, five years before that to earn my PhD, and decades before that when you offered my mother a full scholarship to the School of Design.

Gratitude and responsibility are two sides of the same coin: From those to whom much is given, much is expected.

Like most maxims, this one is true. You’ve each been given so much—you know you have—and with those many blessings…comes the burden of responsibility.
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At my college graduation, my mother wept. I thought at first they were tears of joy. But then she pulled me close, and said with great sadness: “Oh, my little girl. I’m worried for you. So much weight on your shoulders.”

Somehow, through all the pomp and circumstance, my mother understood exactly how I was feeling.

Many of you today are likewise experiencing mixed emotions: appreciation for all you’ve been given and apprehension as you contemplate what is now expected.

After all, your parents have been bragging about you for four straight years. You’re newly minted Ivy League graduates. And yet, with few exceptions, you, the bright and beautiful Class of 2018, have no idea what you’re going to do with the rest of your lives.

Don’t panic! I’m here to tell you that’s perfectly normal.

At your age, I was exactly the same. If someone had told me that I’d become a professor someday, I’d have laughed out loud. I didn’t think I was smart enough. I didn’t think I was intellectual enough. And I knew for sure I wasn’t boring enough!

For a full decade after graduating from college, I wandered through a half-dozen jobs: running a summer school, speechwriting, management consulting, helping manage an Internet startup…I taught math in the public schools. Maybe the only certainty in my mind was that I would eventually settle down far, far away from where I’d grown up.

It wasn’t until I was 32 and pregnant with my second child that I had the clarity to enroll in a doctoral program in psychology—in, yes, a university literally down the street from where I was born. So much for certainty!

When I finished at age 36, I was older than many of my professors. In other words, it took me quite a while to figure out what to do with all the good fortune life had handed me.
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Today, my research specialty is grit and high achievement. I’ve surveyed Green Beret soldiers and finalists in the National Spelling Bee. I’ve interviewed Olympic gold medalists and Emmy-award winning musicians. Basically, I study the sort of people who are supposed to show up behind the podium at graduation.

In every domain I’ve studied, I’ve found that grit is a common denominator of high achievers. What is grit, exactly? Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Instead, grit is working incredibly hard at something for an incredibly long time. But it’s not just perseverance.

Ask world-class performers how they feel about their work, and without taking a breath, they’ll look you in the eye and tell you: “I love what I do.”

Grit is passion and perseverance.

Having earned a degree from the University of Pennsylvania means you already know a lot about perseverance: You’ve worked hard. You’ve overcome setbacks. You’ve finished what you began.

But what about passion? What about loving what you do?

My guess is that many of you know all about determination but are struggling to find direction.

For you, I have three suggestions.

First, understand that the seed of passion is curiosity. Everybody is interested in something, and nobody is interested in everything.  So think for a moment about what drew you to your major, how you chose to spend your time outside of class, where you mind wanders when you have a free moment—these are all clues to your interests.

Second, motivation is at its apex when what you do is not only interesting--it also aligns with your deepest personal values. In my data, passion and a desire to improve the lives of other people go hand in hand. You may not know what you want to be when you grow up, but…you may know about a problem in the world that needs solving.
My final piece of advice is this:  try stuff out. Passions aren’t discovered through mere introspection. Instead, they’re developed through trial and error.

Developing passion is a lot like dating. It can be fun. But also unpredictable and sometimes exhausting.

You start your first job and find you like some parts but can’t stand others. After a few years, you move on, and again, you’re disappointed. Time and again, it seems like you make wrong turns. Slowly and sloppily, you figure things out.

Perhaps I might have found my way a bit sooner had I reflected on my interests and values. But there’s no way it would have happened the way I desperately wanted it to happen, like it does in the movies, in a single instantaneous flash of insight.

Now, with my 25th college reunion in the rear view mirror, I can tell you that I love what I do. Even so, angst is no stranger. I struggle to balance work and family. I take bets on projects that don’t work out. I’m behind the podium at your graduation, and yet I’m still figuring things out.
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Soon after my mom completed her degree here, and married my dad, and gave birth to my brother, and then my sister, and finally me, she started a little business selling hand-painted needlepoint canvases. The idea was my dad’s—he saw my mom’s talent and could imagine Lee’s Needle Art becoming a multi-million dollar international conglomerate.

Told by her own mom that her chief responsibility was “to be a good wife,” my mom dutifully carried out my dad’s directives. She ran that needlepoint business for most of her adult life. It didn’t become an international conglomerate, but she did a fine job of it.

Even still, it was never a passion. It took her a lifetime to figure out that, really, she isn’t an entrepreneur at heart but rather a painter.

Only in the last few years has my mom rediscovered fine art. She’s converted an extra bedroom in her apartment into a studio. She’s painting every chance she gets. She’s finding her own style.

My mom is here today—Mom, Happy Mother’s Day! She’s 83 years old. And if you ask her, she’ll tell you, truthfully, that she’s still figuring things out.
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Graduates, there may be times in the months and years ahead that you feel like you’re floundering.

Knowing how much you’ve been given, you may fear that you’re falling short of everyone’s high expectations.
Take comfort in this: you’re not floundering. Like me, and your own parents, and my mom, and every person I’ve ever studied, you’re figuring things out.

Thank you very much.

Makeup Mismanagement

Ancient Egyptians used copper, lead and malachite to color and define their faces and kohl to line their eyes. Ancient Greeks used crushed mulberries as rouge, oxen hair as fake eyelashes, and clay mixed with red iron as lipstick. During the Middle Ages, Europeans applied carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide as foundation. Indeed, since the beginning of time women have been adorning their faces and bodies to make themselves more beautiful. Over the course of their lifetimes today, most women will spend approximately $13,000 on beauty products and one year and three months applying makeup. The question is why are women doing this and, more importantly, is it worth the time and money? A study sheds light on these questions. Researchers asked test subjects to rate the attractiveness of women with varying degrees of makeup. The results showed that both men and women prefer faces with less makeup – bad news for fans of a “more is more” look. Given that a natural look is preferred by both genders, why do some women apply so much makeup? The study’s lead scientists attribute this to misperception. When test participants were asked what they believe men prefer, they found that women mistakenly assumed men prefer women who wear more makeup. According to the researchers:

These results suggest that women are likely wearing cosmetics to appeal to the mistaken preferences of others.

As the study shows, too much makeup isn’t appealing. It may even be sending the wrong message: that you are trying too hard, have too much time on your hands, or are trying to hide something. Furthermore, it might even be making you look older.

Makeup can only make you look pretty on the outside but it doesn’t help if you’re ugly on the inside. Unless you eat the make-up. ~ Audrey Hepburn

How to Achieve That Inner Glow

Our mothers may have told us not to judge a book by its cover, but research shows we cannot help it. In fact, according to research, the moment we first lay eyes on someone we make snap judgments about who they are. A study from Princeton, entitled “First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face,” found that it takes a tenth of a second to draw conclusions about other people’s attractiveness, trustworthiness and competence:
Before we can finish blinking our eyes, we’ve already decided whether we want to hire, date, hate, or make friends with a person we’re encountering for the first time. These first impressions color the way we interact with other people from that point forward. And all of this happens outside of our awareness, in the unconscious processes of the mind…
Consider how the complexion of a fresh-faced healthy individual compares to that of a lifelong chain smoker or sun worshipper. The health of someone’s skin speaks volumes and contributes to the snap judgments we make about them. It is no surprise that a radiant complexion affects how healthy and attractive someone appears. The good news is that there is a simple way to get that inner glow and it doesn’t require expensive creams or beauty treatments. It is by eating a healthy diet. According to researchers:
 What we eat and not just how much we eat appears to be important for a healthy appearance. The only natural way in which we can make our skin brighter is to eat a more healthy diet high in fruit and vegetables.
They found that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, especially carrots and tomatoes, gives a golden glow that is perceived as more attractive than a suntan. Coco Chanel said:

Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside.

By eating well, you can achieve both.

Do “Perfect” People Annoy You?

For all those who live in fear of making a mistake, take heart. Kevan Lee explains:
“Those who never make mistakes are perceived as less likeable than those who commit the occasional faux pas. Messing up draws people closer to you, makes you more human. Perfection creates distance and an unattractive air of invincibility. Those of us with flaws win out every time.”
This theory labeled the pratfall effect was tested by psychologist Elliot Aronson. In his test, he asked participants to listen to recordings of people answering a quiz. Select recordings included the sound of the person knocking over a cup of coffee. When participants were asked to rate the quizzers on likability, the coffee-spill group came out on top.”  That said, there is nothing charming about someone you don’t hold in high regard spilling coffee on you. For this to operate, the person must already be perceived as competent. The appreciation of imperfection applies to art as well. Ellen Langer, professor of Psychology at Harvard, explains:
“With writing and art, mistakes tend to make the product more interesting. The major difference between a machine-made rug and a handmade one is that the regularity of the machine-made rug makes it uninteresting. Errors give the viewer something to hold onto. When you make a mistake in a painting, if—instead of trying to correct the mistake—you incorporate it into what you are doing and go forward, you are working mindfully. When we ask viewers to choose between this kind of art and ‘flawless’ works, people say they prefer the mindfully created pieces.”
Beauty is in the cracks, the smudge, and the imperfect line. In an age of machine-made products, human touch is more valuable than ever. As with people, minor flaws can make objects more appealing and more unique. There is elegance in imperfection. Making minor mistakes isn’t the worst thing in the world; in fact, it can work in our favor.

Georgie Morley

Georgie Morley, a wellness entrepreneur, spends her time in Nantucket curating a visually perfect, well informed website, and her Chasing Joy Podcast is a fan favorite. Georgie explores living a healthy, vibrant and active life, while managing stress and being creative in the process.

Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Terrible Advice

Graduation speeches, self-help books and well-meaning therapists preach the gospel of “following your passion.” It is predicated on the belief that if you follow your passion, you will be happy, and you will become successful in whatever you do. This is actually terrible advice. Stay with me. Cal Newport, PhD, explores this misguided wisdom is detail in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. He explains that this is problematic because it assumes:

1. People have preexisting passions.

2. If you match this passion to your job, then you’ll enjoy that job.

3. There is the perfect job somewhere out there waiting for you.

Research shows that many people don’t have preexisting passions and moreover, that workplace satisfaction is far more complex and more nuanced than simply matching innate interest with one’s job description. Rather than following your passion, Newport argues that passion is something to cultivate and build. Hard work and mastery are the gateways to passion, not the other way around:

When you hear the stories of people who ended up loving what they do, this same pattern comes up again and again. They start by painstakingly developing rare and valuable skills — which we can call career capital. They then leverage this capital to gain rare and valuable traits in their career. These traits lead to a feeling of passion about their working life…Stop worrying about what the world owes you, it says, and instead, put your head down, and strive to become so good you can’t be ignored. It’s this straightforward goal—not some fairy tale about dropping everything to pursue a dream job—that will lead you toward a working life you love.

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Georgie Morley


Georgie Morley, a wellness entrepreneur, spends her time in Nantucket curating a visually perfect, well informed website, and her Chasing Joy Podcast is a fan favorite. Georgie explores living a healthy, vibrant and active life, while managing stress and being creative in the process.

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