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When a Shortcut Means Shortchanging Yourself

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There in the corner of my childhood kitchen in New Jersey sat a small, nondescript plywood shelf virtually stuffed with oddly shaped purple boxes. The boxes contained a magical potion called the Cookie Diet, and when I was growing up in New Jersey we sold a ton of them.

Do you remember this? A "delicious chocolate-chip cookie for breakfast, one for lunch and a healthy dinner," or something like that. People went insane. I can have my cookies and lose weight too? Unbelievable!

But we always struggled with our weight in the family, because food = love. Nevertheless we tried.

In its purest form ("induction") the Atkins plan will also make you lose weight. But it is absolutely disgusting. You're supposed to be able to eat "whatever you want" from a menu of delicious food. The problem is, your body wasn't made to live on a dozen eggs a day plus oil, cheese and cream, platefuls of steak and chicken and liver spread. Sure, you lose weight. But the last time I tried it, my cholesterol shot up to 450, because all I wanted to eat was hard salami.

If there is a shortcut to be found, be sure that my family has tried it.

We were big fans of all the gadgets they sold on TV, to make every aspect of life easier. You know which ones I mean—“As Seen On TV” in the mall: 

  • Flat blue plastic things with long extensions, for folding laundry quickly.
  • The oven that makes an entire chicken on the stovetop, no mess, no fuss.
  • Wallets that hold all thirty of your credit cards, ID cards, loyalty cards, and folded-up slips of paper with your reminders in them.
  • The chemical that makes any fabric super clean.
  • A wipey that gets your car as shiny as it was the day you bought it.

Goodness gracious, shortcuts.

My Zayde, may he rest in peace, was famous for two things: kosher liver knishes (you had to taste them to believe) and the first kosher TV dinners in Toronto, so that the women could go to work and—you guessed it—serve a shortcut to a "real, homemade" dinner.

As a child, my IQ tested high and so I skipped a grade. Nice shortcut.

One time I had a teacher whose borderline creepy behavior was enough to send my mother into the principal's office and my father to the school board. They moved me up a grade rather than deal with him. That is called a "workaround."

I went to a college that accepted transfer credit based on life experience, got some of my master's credits online, and did my dissertation on soap operas because that was the only primary material I could get my hands on while raising two kids.

Shortcuts, shortcuts, shortcuts.

I remember shopping for designer clothes on the clearance rack, every Sunday with my mom. You can have designer clothes but not pay designer prices. How smart! 

Shortcuts are essentially "life hacks." They are so popular nowadays it seems almost a cardinal sin to question them. But we shortchange ourselves when we jump from rung to rung like animals.

There was a book I had as a child. I can't remember the name of it now. The main characters were a little girl and a little boy who lived in a forest. They get their hands on a ball of string with magical properties—the more you pull it the older you get.

Of course the children were curious. They tugged at it a little and then couldn't stop themselves, wanting to know what would come next in life. So impatient. Why wait?

Suddenly they are old people.

Somehow they wish they'd never found the magic.

We live in the Age of Technology now (or is it the Age of Anxiety?) and perhaps a desire to slow down and think things through is mostly impossible.

But I wonder if we would be happier. 

What if we really read a book and just enjoyed it? Really took it in, instead of scanning dozens of feeds a day for more, more, more information? What if we made our own food, as in cooking? What if we actually sewed? What if we just stopped trying to be so "smart?"

I saw a dad with his son the other day, just kicking a soccer ball back and forth. The father was really interacting with the kid. He was talking to him, happily and seemingly in no rush. No cellphone anywhere.

My mind flew back to all the piano lessons, dance recitals, theater rehearsals, gym beam practices and other activities of my childhood. In their zeal to cram every possible developmental activity into my life, in the shortest possible time, my parents deprived me of the only thing I ever really wanted: Time with them. Attention.

What I saw on that soccer field was that thing. I cried a lot that day, the kind of tears that other people will never understand. Not everything in life can be bought, sold, condensed, hacked, traded, automated, and served up like a McDonald's Happy Meal. 

Some things have to be slow in order to be real. In order to be lived.

Life is so very precious, and short.

Living it is better than a bad shortcut.

Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own, and the content of this post is not intended to represent any federal agency or the government as a whole.

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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