In my last post, about the lessons and accomplishments of Maya Angelou’s life, I said she was “a reminder of the power of simply being yourself.”  And while flipping through some back issues of the New York Times this past weekend (part of why I still get a print paper– it’s easier to browse issues you didn’t get to read in real-time), I came across some interesting scientific support for that idea.

The article was titled, “So You’re Not Desirable,” and it discussed the results of a study by University of Texas researchers published in the May 2014 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study looked at what people found most appealing in a potential partner or mate. As might be expected, the study confirmed that when it came to first impressions, people had the same basic ideals in terms of what constituted qualities like physical attractiveness, charisma and potential for success, and rated the same types of individuals high or low in terms of how appealing they seemed as a potential mate. (The study called this “high mate value,” versus “low mate value.”)

However, the researchers also looked at how people rated potential mates on those same qualities (physical attractiveness, vitality, warmth, potential for success, and “even the ability to provide a satisfying romantic relationship”) over time, as people in the study got to know each other. And after three months, the “uniqueness” of any given person trumped those initial “consensus” evaluations in all categories. In other words, the people who were more conventionally attractive physically–those most likely to appear in fashion ads or movies–were rated more appealing initially. But over time, the people who were considered the most attractive were the ones who stood out as unique, authentic individuals. And those results were backed up by a second study that asked 350 heterosexual individuals to evaluate people in their well-known circle of friends and lovers for those same “appealing” characteristics.

We are loved, in other words, not for how close to the ideal we hit, but for those unique imperfections and traits that nobody else in the world has; those things that set us apart from the cookie-cutter, movie-image, Madison-Avenue ideal.

While this is encouraging news for anyone who doesn’t fit the Madison-Avenue ideal, the significance of these results goes far beyond love life encouragement. [click to continue…]

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Maya Angelou, who died this week at the age of 86, was a woman who understood a great many things. She understood what it was to be the victim of violence, racism, and discrimination. She understood what it was to scrape for survival. She understood the fear–and the freedom–of starting out alone on unknown, uncharted paths. She understood the double-edged sword of love and loss, and the immutable laws of life’s costs and trade-offs. The one time I heard her speak in person, she was 72 years old and walking with a cane due to a hip injury. She apologized for her slow gait, noting, wryly, that “old age is not for sissies.”

But Maya Angelou also understood something essential to any person wishing to know the joy of a passion-guided journey or life path: the power and importance of voice. Not just words, although she was a master of those, as well. But voice itself; the outward expression of each person’s inner and most authentic truths, beliefs, knowledge, passions, dreams, desires, and self.

When Angelou was 7 or 8 years old, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Unlike many young girls who are sexually assaulted, she found the courage to speak up about it and testified against the man in court. After he was convicted, he was beaten to death by a mob outraged by the attack. Horrified that her words had led to a man’s death, Angelou literally did not speak for five years after the trial. But she eventually came to terms with the potential consequences of speaking out, and she came to embrace the power of her own, unique, and multifaceted voice.

Why does that matter? Because you can’t find your passion, or passions, without first finding that voice. It’s what tells you that this, and not that, is what’s really you; what you care about most, fear most, wish for most, and feel authentic passion for pursuing, even if the road leading there is long, rough, and lonely. And passion is the fire that fuels the conviction and endurance that turns the seemingly impossible into something both possible and real. [click to continue…]

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An Adventurer Goes West

by Lane Wallace

So, I had two other topics I was going to write a post on today - thoughts about some of the costs of adventure. But I got a piece of news in my in-box last night that’s pushed those topics aside for today.
Bill Dana, a retired NASA aeronautical engineer and test pilot (or research pilot, [...]

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The Value of Being Diverted

by Lane Wallace

I‘m actually writing this on an airplane, en route to New Zealand. So I hope I’m not tempting the gods by writing about how valuable diversions can be. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking a lot about the costs and benefits of being thrown off course, recently.
I’ve written before about the benefits of traveling unmarked or unexpected [...]

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It’s All About Trade-Offs

by Lane Wallace

I have a friend who is constantly saying that life is about compromise. I’ve never felt that “compromise” was the right term, because it implies that we all end up somewhere in the middle. Which, of course, we don’t. There would be no gold medal Olympic athletes (I use this particular example because the winter [...]

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Of Thanks and Boredom

by Lane Wallace

Thanksgiving! One of the few times a year societal pressure actually encourages us to slow down and be in the moment–if only for a moment–and consider all we have to be thankful for. The two go hand in hand, of course–the slowing down/being in the moment, and having thoughts of what you’re thankful for–because it’s [...]

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A Manifesto for Better Journalism

by Lane Wallace

Last weekend, on the way home from giving a presentation/workshop to a hospital foundation in California, I found myself in LAX with a little time to kill and nothing to read on the six hour flight home. I wandered into a newsstand and looked at the magazines on the shelf (it was a Sunday, meaning [...]

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Adventure, Travel, and Vacation

by Lane Wallace

As the travel and vacation season kicks off, a thought or two on the types of travel and its rewards seemed appropriate. So … here goes.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the New York Times ran a piece about the evolution of luxury vacation travel–and how much those privileged travelers are missing out on, by being shielded [...]

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Are Dreams and Passion Bad for Family Life?

by Lane Wallace

My mom (who is living with us at the moment) has been a Rotary Club member since 1987. So we now get “Rotarian” magazine delivered to the house on a regular basis. Normally, I don’t pay much attention. But the cover story of the January issue was titled “Wake Up and Live Your Dreams!” Seemed [...]

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A New Year

by Lane Wallace

Well, this post was supposed to come out in early January, when the title might have been more appropriate. But six weeks later, I am only now beginning to pull my head above water every now and then to notice what year it is.
For those who read my last couple of posts–a quick update: my [...]

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