Conditional Love

Of course love is never earned. It is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.” – Rachel Naomi Remen

I find it particularly curious this idea of conditional love. By conditional love, I mean the idea that I will love you as long as you act according to what I think and feel is right. In the event, that you do or say something that is inconsistent with what I think and feel is right, I will withhold my love in an attempt to get you to act right.

Sheryl Paul writes a wonderful piece distinguishing between unconditional love and approval from which I found the opening quote.

I think sometimes the rationale behind this approach is that if I withhold my love and connection you will be forced to see the error in your ways and come around to doing things my way. You will see that I am right about how people should act and when that happens I will return my love and connection to you.

I see examples of conditional love when it comes to a myriad of issues including: political affiliations, religious beliefs, employment opportunities, college majors and sexual orientation (to name a few).

I think people want their loved ones to live a “safe” life and when they take a path that doesn’t involve the traditional check boxes (go to college, get hetero-married, buy a house, have kids, get a “good job”) it leaves them more vulnerable to challenges. In many cases there are real social consequences to taking the road less traveled.

I’m going to present an example that’s covered a lot in the media and can feel pretty divisive to some people because it cuts across so many people’s values. 

It is also important because when Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth are expelled from the home they are at significantly greater risk for homelessness and suicide.

Example:

A child discloses to their parent (or other family members or friends) that they’re gay. For some parents they see this coming from miles away. For others, this was not even on their radar. Sometimes this leads to a strong emotional reaction. But what sometimes happens after that strong emotional reaction and as a result of that strong emotional reaction, is the expulsion of the child from the family.

This part is devastating and I’m guessing often it is rooted in fear and shame. 

  1. Fear of what people will think
  2. Fear of the social consequences
  3. Fear that your child/family member/friend is going to Hell
  4. Fear that people will think something is wrong with your family or friend
  5. Fear of something you don’t understand
  6. And probably hundreds of other fears that are person and family specific.

This is where unconditional love starts to look conditional.

I would be willing to restore the relationship and reconnect when and if you change the person you are to fit the way I think people should be.

No one wins out here. The family members are disconnected and love is cut off. The fear compounds and grows and the rift widens. Over time loved ones become strangers.

What might be the solution:

Even though it’s hard, keep the connection going on both ends by communicating slowly and kindly.

Try to be compassionate and see the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Ask a lot of questions.

And really listen to the answers and then ask more questions.

Admit your fears.

Own your feelings around what is happening.

Pause as needed to breathe and assess how you’re feeling.

Just, keep talking to the people you love even if it’s hard.

I’ve seen the process of staying connected through the fear and pain and it can lead to continued loving connections.

HUGE SUPER IMPORTANT CAVEAT: If the situation is verbally and/or physically abusive or unsafe in anyway. Get out. Don’t keep talking. Don’t stay connected. No one ever gets to tell you you are less of a person or hurt you in anyway because of who you are. Call this number.

Don’t forget to love yourself unconditionally first.

Love.

“It is love alone that leads to right action. What brings order in the world is to love and let love do what it will” – J. Krishnamurti

Hey Jealousy!

Let me start by saying that I think jealousy and envy are normal human emotions but just like all of our other feelings they say much more about us than they do about the person(s) our jealousy is directed towards.

I understand that part of current social narrative is that there is a finite amount of happiness/success available and if you appear to be too happy/successful you are certainly stealing from what could be my happiness/success and I’m not okay with that.

Yes, life is not fair. Some people are born with significantly more advantages than others and we should do our best to acknowledge our privilege and try to level the playing field but no matter what life will always be unfair and bad things will always happen to good people. This can not be an excuse for not pursuing the life you want.

I was doing some reading for this piece and I found a selection from Psychology Today that highlights what I see as the problems with the current social narrative. I am going to respectfully disagree with some of the points in the article.

Here’s one excerpt:

“But once you recognize envy, it may lose its sting. A friend who is envious can still be a good friend. The solution may be to crow less, applaud your friend more, pay more attention to her or find other topics and arenas where you don’t compete.”

No! I am not going to crow less. It sounds like she is saying you should dull your sparkle so that people don’t get jealous or shrink yourself so people don’t feel like you’re asking for attention.

You don’t have that kind of power over other people’s reactions.

Would you really rather people start conversations with, “Are you capable of being happy for me or should I stop talking?”

How about crow together? Life is hard and we should really celebrate all the little successes of our friends and family. I love when my friends reach their goals or go on wonderful adventures. Sure, I get jealous but then I get motivated.

Now this excerpt:

Ask yourself, “If I could be that other person instead of myself, who would I pick?”

Stop this now. They are lying to us: It is not a competition. 

When jealousy crops up life becomes like a choose your own adventure novel.

You can:

Focus on that person and think “must be nice” or “they don’t know anything about the struggle” or thousands of variations on that statement.

Or

You can acknowledge that you feel jealous and then put your phone down and get about the business of making your life better in some way. Jealousy has the power to be a significant motivator if we channel it correctly. Use that energy to achieve your goals rather than talk about how bad you have it and how good you think they have it (wasted energy and everybody struggles).

Remember the Valued Living Exercise? If you clicked on the link and saw the list of 377 values (and I’ve seen more detailed lists). Imagine, all the possible constellations of values. And imagine how those are all self-defined.

Meaning, that what I define as success and happiness might not fit perfectly for you, even if we value the same things.

BECAUSE WE ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

But, what probably makes me the most jealous are things that align closely with my own values (yet another clue for me to reflect on and gain self awareness).

Maybe, if you’re jealous and it is interfering with your relationship with someone it doesn’t mean you want the life they have. Maybe it means you aren’t really pursuing what could be your own form of an awesome life. And sometimes people don’t even know what would be an awesome life for them (so use your emotional reactions as clues!)

If you want happiness/success you have to go and figure out what that looks like for you. The goal is not to never feel jealousy again but to use our emotions as a clues to figure out how you are honestly feeling about your own life.

“But then there’s you telling me I can
Then there’s you screaming say something
I want the ocean right now
I want the ocean right now
I get so jealous that I can’t even work
There I am in the morning
I don’t like what I see
I don’t know how it’s become such a problem
Keep you up all night if I try to remain calm
How can they ask why I feel so angry
Do you see my problem if I never explain it”

Tegan and Sara, So Jealous

Love.

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Just Say, “I’m Sorry”

Overall, there seems to be a cultural push back against apologizing.

Although, I think that some people (women) apologize too much. In that case it feels like you’re apologizing for your existence. Please stop doing that. You do not need to apologize for your space in the world.

The type of apologizing I’m talking about is when we say or do something that hurts someone’s feelings.

If I snap at my partner or a friend and say or do something hurtful, I think it’s appropriate and necessary to say “I’m sorry” because these relationships are important to me and should be treated as such. And, the sooner I apologize the better. There is no need for ego in our relationships. We’re all muddling around doing the best we can.

Sometimes we hurt people’s feelings without realizing that we did so and when we had no intention to do so. I may make a flippant comment at a social gathering about “trailer trash” and later realize that a person I was sharing company with lives in a trailer or has a family member that lives in a trailer. I’m responsible for my ignorance (and that’s a pretty mean thing to say) and I should say, “I’m sorry.”

In that instance, I may have intended to be funny or I was just making (mean) social commentary. The point is, I never intended to hurt the person but I did and for that I am sorry and I should say so.

In our closest relationships it’s necessary to say we’re sorry on a regular basis. Maybe we forget an anniversary, maybe we forget to pick something up from the store, or maybe we’re just being grouchy. We should take responsibility for our actions. It benefits our health and the health of our relationships. It also demonstrates self-awareness.

Of course, I’m aware that people intentionally hurt each other and then it takes more than an apology to repair the relationship. Sometimes, relationships can’t be repaired.

Saying “I’m sorry” can feel vulnerable and/or bad. I know the feeling of having said or done something and seeing a look of hurt on another person’s face. That feels awful. And, I get that acknowledging that I caused that feeling can also feel horrible. But, apologizing lets the other person know that you think their feelings matter because they do.

I also think people feel prideful when it comes to apologizing. Like, “they should know I didn’t mean it that way”

Or, “I didn’t do anything wrong, I have a right to my opinion”

Yes, you have a right to your opinion but you do not have a right to hurt someone else with that opinion. As we talked about in the Valued Living post. All of us are built differently and because of this, we sometimes hurt each other.

I am certain that there will be a time (or a few times) in the next week where saying “I’m sorry” would be appropriate. Maybe, you could give it a try and see how it feels?

Unlike what certain current political figures may say, I think It takes a lot more courage to say “I’m sorry” than it does to double down on being hurtful.

Love.

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You Are Going To Die.

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, attempted to ascertain the most common regrets her patients had when they looked back on their lives. In her work she discovered that there were five regrets that came up most often for people in their last days. The original article and several interpretations of her work have been floating around for years and I know that I’ve shared them before.

Here is what she discovered are the top five regrets of the dying:

1.) I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me

2.) I wish I did not work so hard

3.) I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

4.) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

5.) I wish I had let myself be happier

Please take a moment and consider the items above.

I’m reminded of several other quotes by people facing their mortality or working with those facing mortality:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

“What is the most appropriate thing to say to a friend who was about to die. He answered: tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Whenever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone.
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

“We run after values that, at death, become zero. At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford. That’s what dying patients teach you.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. – Jim Valvano (thanks Rik)

Let me highlight what is NOT on that list:

1.) I wish I had more stuff

2.) I wish I had newer things

3.) I wish I fewer people to love

4.) I wish I made more money and spent more time at work

5.) I wish I did what everyone told me to do without ever offering up an opinion on what might actually make me happy.

The truth is we are all going to die and we have no idea when that is going to happen. Maybe it’s morbid, maybe it’s because I have experienced a lot of loss in my life, or maybe it’s because I spent some of my own career working with death and dying, but knowing that death is imminent gives me the courage to try my best to live a life that I love with the people that I love.

“Once people’s days truly are numbered, their priorities do seem to shift. According to research done on socioemotional selectivity theory, older people are more present-oriented than younger people, and are more selective in who they spend time with, sticking mostly with family and old, close friends. Other studies have shown them to also be more forgiving, and to care more for others, and less about enhancing themselves.” – The Atlantic, Julie Beck, 2015

I think death forces into perspective a great appreciation for life. Frankly, I don’t think we talk about death or grief enough in this culture.

Okay, now pause and check your pulse and take a breath.

Both of those work out okay?

Good, that means you still have time.

Love.

regrets-of-dying

Image from: http://nhne-pulse.org/regrets-of-the-dying/

I Have High Expectations

I used to think that having expectations in relationships was needy or selfish. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning led to a lot of sadness and heartbreak. I am now certain that setting specific (and high) expectations is essential to healthy relationships and a happy life. I’m the only one that is able to say what I need and deserve in my relationships.

Now, I understand that expectations are tricky.

As Shakespeare rightly puts it, “Expectation is the root of all heartache

But as my beloved Maya Angelou (we talk about her a lot, huh?) stated, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them”

What do these two statements have to do with one another? Let me try and illustrate.

If I’m in an intimate relationship with someone and they don’t treat me with respect but I expect them too (which makes sense, right), I’m going to be upset.

However, how many times I’m upset depends on whether or not I really pay attention to how they treat me. And if I am honest with myself about how they treat me and how it makes me feel. The honesty part is critical.

If I expect you to treat me with respect and you don’t, I owe it to myself to believe that your actions represent how you feel about me.

This reconciliation is really hard for a lot of people (including me). We want to believe that if we were different or we were less needy (or we were prettier, smarter, skinner, etc.) they would treat us better. I don’t believe that to be the case. If someone does not love you just the way you are (flaws and all) do both of you a favor and walk away from the relationship.

You deserve better and the other person deserves whatever it is they are looking for. We must be vigilant about the practice of setting and establishing these expectations on a regular basis.

No one has the right to belittle you, cut you down, or disrespect you. I don’t care what what mistakes you’ve made in your life. It is never acceptable to be ignored, criticized, shamed, mocked, or made to feel bad about yourself for who you are.

The reason these expectations are so important is that the actions of others affect how we think and feel about ourselves. If someone cuts me down and I don’t establish healthier boundaries with that person I start to believe that there is some truth to what that person is saying or doing

“Maybe I don’t deserve to be treated well”

or

“Maybe there is something wrong with me.” 

That’s how we are able to rationalize maintaining these relationships. Again, this is where being honest with yourself is critical. I think some of us rationalize being treated poorly long after our self-worth is affected. And, I know this is especially challenging in family relationships.

Sometimes the other person doesn’t realize that you feel like you are being treated poorly so it might help to say

Hey, it hurts when you say _____

or

Hey it’s not funny when you tease me in front of other people

I know that saying those things takes a lot of courage but if the relationship is important to you it might be worth a try.

Again, the world is shades of grey. This is not to say, I expect all my interactions in my relationships to be perfect. I have bad days and say or do things that are not always consistent with who I want to be. My partner and my friends are allowed to have bad days and act accordingly.  And I surely, don’t expect everyone in the world to treat me with respect, that would be delusional. But, I do reserve the right to limit my inner circle.

My expectation is to being treated with respect on a consistent basis and I get to define what that means for me.

As I read the sentence above, I am sad that I ever thought that expectation was too much.

Love.

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Ronda Rousey: Why You Should Love Her Too

I have wanted to quit writing this blog almost every day in the short time I’ve been posting. Then, I remind myself that I can quit whenever I want. It’s curious how knowing you always have a choice is a form of motivation.

One of my strategies for persevering when I want to quit something important to me is to read stories about people who, despite unbelievable obstacles, did not quit.

I started this practice reading the work of Maya Angelou when I was a teenager. I consumed her words like I was starving for a meal. I still carry her words with me in both typed and handwritten journals.

Recently, Ronda Rousey was added to my hero roster and her words are now included in my journals.

I was introduced to Ms Rousey on an ordinary Saturday afternoon in February. I was sharing time with my brother, my husband, and one of my best friends. My brother mentioned that a UFC fight was happening that night and I immediately scoffed. I had some rather unfavorable preconceived notions of what the UFC was about.

My brother politely shook his head at my ignorance and asked me to watch some videos of the headlining fighter, Ronda Rousey. Immediately, I was sucked in. This woman could really tear it up. I mean, you could blink or check your phone and the fight was over.

We watched her fight that night (UFC 184) and she beat Cat Zingano in 14 seconds. And, this Cat Zingano is no pussy cat.

I needed to know more about this fierce female.

Lucky me, she recently wrote an autobiography My Fight/Your Fight. I read this book cover to cover in less than two days during the work week. Her story is nothing short of incredible.

Listen, she’s an olympic medalist and a world champion. She is currently undefeated in the UFC and will probably retire undefeated. She is the reason women are allowed to fight in the UFC. And I was wrong, UFC is most certainly a sport.

I appreciate her success but I needed to know what underpins her drive.

The next part is why I promoted Ms Rousey to hero status.

Her success is a function of a determination through a number of challenging life experiences:

She struggled with speech as a child and now she is now a successful actress by way of speech therapy and the support of her family at a young age.

Her father completed suicide when she was a young girl and she continues to talk openly and honestly about how his death still impacts her and her family. When talking about her dad she does not shy away from talking about her feelings. Her words give voice and courage to so many people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

She struggled with an eating disorder as a young woman and recently gave a body positive speech about not being a Do Nothing Bitch (DNB) that went viral and then used the popularity of the DNB slogan to sell shirts for charity.

There is so much more to her story but I encourage you to read her book for all the details.

In sum, she could not and would not be stopped by life circumstance. She lived in her car and then a crappy apartment all while training to compete in a sport that did not allow female fighters. At any point she could have said it was too much work with too little reward. But, she did not quit. She persevered for years before receiving public recognition or financial reward.

The take home message: Do what you believe in even if nobody else believes in you. 

I am not trying to compare me sitting at a computer typing out my thoughts with fighting to the near death in an octagon.

But, it is likely as close as I’ll ever get.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from her book: 

“I have lost tournaments. I have lost friendships. I have lost my father. I know that I can deal when things are bad. I can come back when things are at their worst. I’m not afraid of losing all my money or losing my career, because I know I’m capable of living in my car and rising up. Once you’ve conquered the worst things that could happen, there is no need to fear the unknown. You are fearless” – Ronda Rousey

I am loving watching all of the wonderful things happening for her in terms of success. I have no doubt that she will be around for a long while.

Don’t Take My Advice!

“Your values become your destiny.”
Mahatma Gandhi

I have an important question to ask you:

What are your values?

Examples of values: Love, Education, Family, Faith, Wisdom, Power, Finances, Security, Safety, Compassion, Kindness, Health, Fitness, Peace, Hope. Ethics. Experience, Stability, Trust, Harmony, Imagination, Creativity, Wealth, Achievement.

This list of options varies greatly so I encourage you to click on this link and circle your top five.

This should feel like a challenging task.

And then, I encourage you to define what those words mean to you. Because, what Love means to me and what Love means to you are undoubtedly different (as we are different people).

With words like love, courage, and faith, have to put them into context or they don’t make sense. I call that “pulling them down from the rafters”

We do this exercise to have a clearer idea of who we are and what we stand for. 

There are no wrong answers. 

Why are you doing all of this?

Because our values influence how we see the world, how we interact with one another and how we give and take advice.

Here are some examples of values in action:

In terms of power as a value, it does not rank in my top five or even my top ten. Again, there are no right or wrong values, we need CEOs, managers, and directors in the world and power would be an important value for someone in one of those positions. But, if I were asked to apply for a position that would require me to highly value power I would probably say no or not do well in that position.

Now, if you value power, you might tell me to apply for that position because from your perspective and given your values, power is important. This advice would be consistent with your values.

However, because I know that it does not rank highly on my list I know better than to take your advice. Because I’ve done a value assessment, I would also be aware that your values were guiding your suggestions. So, I would politely listen to you but not follow your direction. This does not mean you are wrong and I am right. We just value certain aspects of life differently.

Let me try again.

I love adventure. Some people I share time with love security/safety more than they love adventure. So, when I mention something I’m interested in (like shark diving). They look at me like my hair is on fire. If I did not know that I valued adventure I might take your reaction to mean there is something wrong with me.

Values exist on on a continuum. It is not that I do not value power at all but rather I don’t value it as highly as other things. It’s not to say that just because you don’t want to go shark diving you don’t value adventure.

Some values change over time as your life circumstances change. It’s important to reassess every few years to see what comes up.

The key is to take the time to get to know yourself. We are motivated by our values even if we are not aware that we are. If we don’t have this awareness we can force our values on people close to us and think we’re right in doing so. Or we can let other people guide our lives by following their values.

If you have a clear idea of your values and the goals attached to living consistently with those values you will feel more confident about the choices you make.

I also recommend that you to share this assignment with the person and/or persons you spend the most time with (like your partner and/or best friends). It might help illuminate points of contention in the relationship or why it works so well.

Living consistent with our values is something we’ll keep talking about on SissyBeard but if you want more information, please look into working with a therapist that practices Acceptance and Commitment TherapyThese clinicians focus on valued living.

Love.

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Stop It, With Divorce Shame

There are a lot of nasty rumors about Divorce:

Divorce is the easy way out

Divorce means you didn’t try hard enough

Divorce means you don’t take marriage seriously

Divorce is a failure

NO!

Not true.

Stop saying these things to yourself and to anyone else.

Most people that have been through a divorce will tell you that there is nothing easy about it. And, when I mentioned to a handful of people that I was thinking of writing about divorce, I was met with a resounding “Yes, please!”

People do not get married with the intention of getting divorced. They don’t gather their friends and family in a celebration of love with the hopes that the relationship will end.

Divorce is a devastating process made worse by the social implication that you somehow failed. You did not fail.

You tried and then something (or somethings) happened. Something that only you and your partner know.

This was the clear message conveyed to my by every person I talked to about this topic. Some variation of “only the two people that were married know the intimate details about what happened” so please stop thinking you know what happened, you don’t. And, please stop judging people for making this extremely challenging life decision. The truth is, most people that go through it are so incredibly hard on themselves, they don’t need their support system saying “they’ve failed” or “they took the easy way out.”

Why not instead, try and offer support. Maybe listen without making judgements or offering advice and please keep what they share with you in confidence.

Staying unhappily married is ridiculous. I think most people really try to figure out a way to make it work before coming to the conclusion to end their marriage. As Bryan put it when we talked about this post, “You don’t win a prize for being miserable.” It is not noble to stay unhappily married because it is what you are supposed to do.

Because people think in black and white (when the whole world is shades of grey). This post does not imply people should not try to make their relationships work. Again, I believe most people do try (hard) to make their relationships work.

In terms of religion, I am no theologian but I do know that The Greatest of These is Love cuts across all the major religions. So, instead of thinking you have the right to judge maybe you really only have the right to love?

I’m going to say this a lot through these posts because it’s true: even when we try and do our best the bottom fails out from under us and we have to make decisions we never dreamed we would have to make.

So, if you know someone going through a divorce don’t assume you know why or what is happening. And if you are the one going through the divorce, be nice to yourself, it’s the healthiest way to move forward.

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The Finish Line Is Death, So Slow Down

I think we have cultivated extremely unhealthy hurrying habits. 

We race around from task to task without looking up or around at life around us.

We go about our days like: I need to get this done, then I need to get this done, then I need to get this done, then when all of those things get done, I can rest and enjoy life. The problem with that line of thinking is there is always something that needs get done.

What’s worse, is that we encourage this behavior in each other. We race around making ourselves sick and stressed thinking it’s what we are supposed to be doing.

After all, these things need to get done.

Then, we proudly share with each other all the things we got done and all the things we still have to do! We respond by nodding our heads like,“Don’t I know it!”

Stop it!

You will never catch the carrot so stop chasing it. Really, there is no carrot (did that sound like The Matrix?).

The carrot is a mindset. It’s faulty thinking.

The idea of I’ll rest when _________.

OK, we’ve all reached the when and what happens?

POOF another I’ll rest when ______ comes up.

It goes on and on like that if you let it. It feels like avoidance to me. Like, I got to stay busy to have value and worth as a person. When I see someone in traffic losing their mind (hitting the horn and slamming the steering wheel) because the person in front of them did not burn out and race off when the light turned green. It makes me a bit curious.

Who am I if I stop racing around trying to do things? 

I propose a both/and solution to the race to death.

Let’s try this: I’ll enjoy life AND I’ll work towards __________ (insert your daily tasks and long term goals).

I bet you have at least a few things about your life to appreciate right now. 

Why not try to both enjoy your life and get stuff done at the same time?

How is that possible?

Pause, a lot. Yes, pause.

Just a few moments throughout your day.

Look around.

Notice what’s happening in your world.

“It’s a beautiful day”

“It’s a rainy day”

Smile, it will make you happier.

I live in a beautiful part of the world where we have seasons. I love to look out the window at work and notice the changing colors. I know it sounds flighty or silly but it’s not. It’s serious business intentionally enjoying life.

I think it makes me more productive and appreciative of my life when I take moments out of my day to intentionally notice what is happening around me.

For example, when you feel the need to rush, try and slow down. Take a few deep breaths. Appreciate the sound of the world happening around you. Appreciate your cuddles with your dogs and or/cats. Appreciate your children laughing and smiling. Appreciate all the sights and sounds around you. Have a little dance party in your car or at your desk. Why not, even appreciate the challenges.

I promise, life goes so fast there is no sense in rushing, time will move forward anyway.

What makes me super sad is when people spend their lives chasing the “carrot” and then they realize that they missed all of these precious moments with the people they love.

So please, pause. You will get there and you will get it all done and it will be fine.

Love.

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Image from: http://moiradesignstudio.com/paperprints/stop-the-glorification-of-busy-print