On being … when to?

By Ingrid Sapona

Wimbledon 2019 wrapped up this weekend. I don’t really follow tennis, and I didn’t watch any of the tournament. But, it’s hard to avoid hearing about it while it’s going on. This year, one of the biggest stories about the tournament happened before I was even aware it had started. I’m talking about 15-year-old Cori Gauff’s first round win over Venus Williams.

The news reports focused mainly on the young Gauff, which is as it should be, as it was her moment in the sun. She certainly sounds like an impressive, poised young woman. It was heartwarming to hear that after the match when she shook hands with Venus, Gauff thanked her for everything she’s done for the sport. Apparently, Gauff idolized the Williams sisters growing up and said they were the reason she wanted to pick up a tennis racket. Imagine going up against an idol the very first time you’re at Wimbledon…

When I heard the story of the young phenom beating the 37-year-old I immediately wondered what Venus’ reaction was. It didn’t surprise me to hear that she was gracious. Apparently, when they shook hands, Venus congratulated Gauff and encouraged her to “keep going” and she wished her good luck. But it wasn’t what she said that I was thinking about.

I was wondering how Venus felt and whether – in the days after the tournament ends – this particularly newsworthy loss might weigh heavier than others. I wondered whether – or how – it might impact a decision she must face at some time: whether to retire from singles competition. Given her health issues, I imagine she’s been thinking about it for quite awhile. (She’s been public about the fact that she has Sjörgen’s syndrome, which is a horrible sounding autoimmune disease.) And, I’m sure she understands that even for those without health issues, it’s rare to remain competitive as a singles player as you near your 40s.

In the business world, the issue of when it’s time for someone to leave is often couched in a discussion of “succession planning”. That has a nice, noble ring to it, doesn’t it? But, I always wonder whether the person whose successor is being contemplated views it so objectively. If you still feel perfectly capable and enjoy your work, such talk must be hard. Now imagine that you’re facing replacement by a 15 year-old. I know, given that Venus started her Wimbledon career at the ripe old age of 17, perhaps it’s less shocking to her than to a businessperson. But still, I can’t imagine how it feels to be replaced by someone who is not even old enough to drive!

Part of why I found myself dwelling on it is that the issue of when (or whether) to retire is something that comes up a lot these days in my social circle. For many, their decision seems to hinge on economics. In other words, whether they can afford to retire with the lifestyle they’d like. In this regard, some probably envy Venus because that’s not an issue for her. But even when money isn’t an issue, perhaps ego is. I can’t imagine it’s easy for a professional athlete to walk away from their career because they stop winning. (Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if aging fuels professional athletes’ competitive nature even more because maybe they feel they have to prove that they’ve still got it.)

I’ve also been thinking about the cascade of other decisions that follow on as we get older. For example, there’ll be the question of whether to downsize or move into a place that’s more physically accessible. (Ah, those pesky stairs…) Then, at some point there’s the issue of when to give up driving, or when to give up owning a boat or cottage.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not writing about this because I’m down or depressed about facing such eventualities. I’m merely pondering them because I’m a planner by nature and Venus’s inevitable retirement has gotten me thinking about – to borrow a sports metaphor – what a winning approach to making life decisions might look like. My father’s approach was to not leap to action. Instead, he insisted on crossing bridges when you come to them. While that makes good sense, it can be easy to deny that you’re at a bridge. Indeed, I think we’ve all seen situations where people have postponed difficult decisions to their detriment.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with based on a strategy I imagine Venus might apply as she faces the end of her tennis career. I think that rather than focus on what’s ending (a 20+ year professional career), she’ll be focusing on making good decisions about the next phase of her life. I think such a positive approach is key. Of course, it remains to be seen whether I’ll be able to apply this strategy when it comes to some of these decisions as they come up in my life. But, I’ll certainly try to.

What about you? What decisions are you facing in the not too distant future? Any insights you can share about how you might approach such decisions?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … deserving?

By Ingrid Sapona

We had a particularly cold and wet spring. In general, I try not to get too fussed about the weather. After all, my livelihood doesn’t depend on it or anything. But I must admit that I did notice my mood was elevated last weekend when we had two warm, sunny days in a row.

On Monday morning I was chatting with a woman about how lovely the weekend was. I was surprised when she said, “Well, we deserve it after the spring we had.” While I couldn’t disagree that the spring was nothing to write home about, I didn’t really agree with her assessment about us deserving good weather. I realize she probably was just making conversation, but her comment got me thinking about my basic discomfort with using the word “deserve”.

I’ve written about other words I’m uncomfortable using. “Absolutely” is a good example. I find it jarring every time I hear it, even though I realize some folks use it simply to show their assent. I can’t use it that way – I’m far too literal to do so. I just don’t think there are that many absolutes in life. (Heck – in my most literal moments, I’d even object to one of the two items in the punchline about death and taxes being the only absolutes in life!)

Wondering if perhaps I’m misconstruing what “deserve” means, I decided to look it up. The dictionary definition was pretty much what I thought. According to Merriam-webster.com, deserve is variously defined as “to be worthy of” and “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital…”

The idea of merit and worthiness are at the heart of my struggle. I’ve always felt that to merit something you have to do something. Notwithstanding the day-to-day struggles, I don’t think that existing (or surviving a wet spring) earns you any favours or graces. In my mind, such a comment is a sign of an entitlement mentality, which I find offensive.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about using that word, but I do. Sometimes I wonder if my view comes from some deep-seated Christian guilt, or maybe it’s a self-esteem issue. I don’t know… But, whatever the reason, it’s a feeling I’ve had as long as I can remember whenever someone blithely claims they deserve something. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I think it’s ok to use the word. For example, if I’ve done something well and someone else praises me because they think I deserve the recognition – that’s ok. But for the most part, I don’t see deserving as something one should self-assess.

Realizing my view is pretty narrow, I turned again to the dictionary definition. When I read the definition, I realized I didn’t know what “requital” means. Apparently, a requital is something given in return or as compensation. With that in mind, I guess there’s a bit of room for self-assessment of being deserving. For example, if I’ve worked hard for awhile at something, I might feel deserving of taking a break – as compensation.

I know – this probably sounds like wordplay to many of you. In a way, I suppose it is. But if we’re willing to admit that weather impacts our mood, why is it any less important to think about how we react to words?

Anyway – now you all know that “deserve” is a word that gives me pause. What about you? Are you as literal as me about the concept of being deserving? Or maybe there are other words that trigger reactions in you. What are they and why do you suppose you feel as you do about them?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … unlimited

By Ingrid Sapona 

The other day a show on the Ontario public broadcaster (TVO) caught my eye. It’s called Employable Me. One of the series co-producers describes it as “a documentary series featuring job seekers who are determined to prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable.” https://www.ami.ca/category/2411/season 

Turns out, the series is incredibly inspiring and an excellent contribution to the Hope Project I mentioned starting in a January On being…. It also helped me see what a narrow lens I’ve seen the work world through. More on that in a minute…

Each episode features two job seekers. We first meet each job seeker as they walk into an office and sit down across the desk from an off-camera interviewer. With most of them, from the moment you first see them, you can tell there’s something different about them. For some, their physical problem is obvious (for example, they’re wheelchair bound), but with others it isn’t until they begin to talk about their condition that you realize how they’re different.

The next scene shows them in their home environment and we meet their families. The families are remarkably open about the challenges their son, daughter, brother, or sister faces as they venture out into the work world. They’re supportive and guardedly hopeful.

We then tag along as the job seekers meet with a range of professionals who assess their physical and thinking skills, capabilities, and interests. The assessments are fascinating – not the standard personality tests (like Myers-Briggs) that many of us have taken in a workplace setting. Because these individuals have lived with their physical or neurological problems their whole life, they know full well what their limitations are. These professionals help show them (and the viewer) the flip side – the workplace strengths and abilities they have as a result of coping with their limitations. So, for example, these job seekers’ ability to figure out work-arounds shows great problem-solving skills. As well, in a work environment, someone’s obsessive behavior can be seen as a heightened ability to pay attention to detail.

But of all the skills and traits, the most impressive quality each job seeker exhibited was tremendous self-awareness. For example, one gregarious young man who was born with many complex medical issues that he still struggles with, interviewed for a job at a senior’s residence. He teased and joked with the seniors during an art class. You could tell he and the residents enjoyed it and the position would be a great fit. But, he ended up turning down the job because he realized he’d have difficulty handling it when a resident dies. Another woman with Tourette’s knew that because of the energy demanded by her ticks, for her the physical demands of an 8-hour shift is the equivalent of a 16-hour shift. So, in her interview with the company that ended up hiring her, she specifically asked if they could accommodate her on a five or six-hour shift.

After figuring out how their strengths and skill might apply in a work environment, the next part was to me the hardest: finding potential employers to match the candidates with. It’s fine to conclude that a blind young man who enjoys sports and who holds a record in the 100-metre dash should consider a career in athletics. But, to my un-trained – and uncreative mind – that sounded pie-in-the-sky. I couldn’t imagine what kind of job that idea could translate to.

Well, they sent him off to a private boxing gym that was looking for a “member ambassador” that would encourage and motivate members. Hmm… I could see that – this guy has such a positive outlook and the fact that he doesn’t let blindness stop him from competing is motivating. But then, when the gym wanted to see how he did sparring with one of those huge, hanging punching bags – I thought they were kidding. How could they expect this blind guy to learn to spar? Well, the blind guy didn’t seem to think it was odd – he relished the chance to learn it.

The series really opened my eyes about a lot of things. For example, though I’m coming to this revelation too late to benefit much by it in my own career, it’s given me much better appreciation for career counsellors and Human Resource folks. Until this show, I never really saw them as specializing in seeing people’s capabilities and in helping folks achieve their potential. What a gift those professionals are.

The series also makes it very clear that physical disabilities aren’t necessarily career limiters. Indeed, those who have learned to cope with disabilities often have more empathy and are leaders capable of motivating others to achieve their potential. In short, the series has given me great hope as I realize that people are capable of coping with all sorts of challenges.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... proud

By Ingrid Sapona

Some On being … columns feel like they write themselves. This one isn’t one of those.
Today’s column has been a struggle mainly because I’ve been debating about whether it’s too personal to write about. (I know that probably sounds odd, as most columns are pretty personal.) Maybe I should just admit that my struggle with today’s column is because it lays bare something I’ve been judgmental about for a long time. (Funny, I thought – OK, hoped – that admitting that would help the words tumble magically onto the page. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.…)

Anyway – the topic for today’s column came to me when I was at my sister R’s retirement party two weekends ago. R is retiring after 30+ years on the faculty of a U.S. university. The past 12 (or more?) years she’s been associate dean for academic affairs in one of the University’s colleges.

OK – so let me get the embarrassing part out of the way. Though I love and respect both my sisters immensely, I’ve always felt frustrated by what I see as R’s lack of ambition. I know what you’re thinking: you don’t get to be associate dean by accident. But honestly, in a way, she did. She didn’t seek the job out. She was asked/invited to apply for it and then she got it. So, you can see why I’ve always felt she kind of fell into it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think she deserved the position. She did. She is incredibly competent and organized. In the latter years of her tenure as associate dean, an increasing part of the work involved resolving complaints against faculty and students. Such issues involved working with diverse teams and crafting fair solutions – two of her particular specialties. And yet, to my way of thinking, if she were ambitious, she’d have proactively sought out such a position or tried to move on to a dean’s position after a few years. I know, pretty judgmental of me…

At her retirement party, the faculty and staff of the college presented her with a beautiful wood box filled with cards printed with thoughtful comments and reflections her colleagues wrote about her. After the party, I was reading the comments and I was moved by all the tributes. But one comment in particular struck me like a bolt of lightning. The comment was to the effect that R never approached things with an agenda. That rang true to me, as I figured no ambition = no agenda.

But the comment didn’t end there. R’s colleague went on to say that because R had no agenda, she always approached things with the best interests of the students and faculty at heart and with the aim of doing what’s right. That was the lightning bolt part. Indeed, it’s precisely because R didn’t have an agenda and ambition for herself and her career, that she was always able to steer toward being fair, finding consensus, and doing what she could to help others.

That last part also made me realize something about R that I’d never focused on before: of us three sisters, she has always been the most people-focused. In other words, her ambition was about forging bonds with others. Indeed, by going about her career in her way and on her own terms (rather than based on her little sister’s terms), she not only fulfill her desire to connect with others, she made a big difference in so many peoples’ lives. Who could ask for anything more from one’s career or life?

As it happens, last night I attended a women’s networking event sponsored by a big law firm. The event and panel of speakers centered around the launch of a book called The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women: Leadership Lessons from The Judy Project, edited by Colleen Moorehead. As you might imagine, the topic of women’s relationship with ambition was front and centre in the discussion. The first thing that stood out to me was the acknowledgement that even successful women find talking about ambition uncomfortable. Boy did I need to hear that, given my wrestling with whether to write about ambition today.

Ms. Moorehead, who hosted the event, kicked off the discussion by explaining that one of the messages that came through from the stories the women execs shared for the book is that women have redefined ambition. Rather than defining ambition based on the model that’s centered on greed and self-promotion, for women ambition tends to be broader and more inclusive. Moorehead calls it a “collective ambition” that manifests itself in ambition for one’s company or one’s team. Man-oh-man, that definition describes R’s version of ambition to a tee.

Before leaving the event, I went up to Ms. Moorehead to tell her how much I enjoyed the event and that I’m looking forward to reading the book. I also told her about the guilt I felt about having misjudged my sister as lacking ambition when, in fact, she’s always had an inclusive ambition. Colleen smiled and nodded.

As I turned to leave, she said, “Just be proud of your sister.” I turned back to look at her and assured her I am very proud of both my sisters and lucky to have them as role models.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … spoiled, really?

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I don’t live under a rock, though, so I do know that a few Sundays ago fans were eagerly awaiting the premiere episode of the final season. But, other than the fact that the show is very violent and that there are dragons, I don’t know much more about it. As for the Avengers movie premiere that same weekend, the only thing I was curious about was who they’d cast in the roles of John Steed and Mrs. Peel. I couldn’t imagine anyone as dashing as Patrick Macnee or as sexy as Diana Rigg. Boy was I surprised when I heard the new movie’s about Marvel cartoon superheroes! (Surely I’m not the only person who thinks of a bowler hat and straight black cane when they hear of the Avengers.)

In the days after these (apparently) long-awaited premiers, there was almost as much talk about “spoiler alerts” as there was about what folks actually thought of the shows. I found the whole spoiler alert stuff over the top. Folks who complain about others spoiling things for them are self-centered whiners. If you didn’t get a chance to see the movie or the show as soon as it came out, that means something else in your real life took precedent. That’s life, folks. Besides, the shows aren’t like a total solar eclipse that only comes around to your area once or twice in your lifetime. Once a show or movie’s been released, you can catch it nearly on demand.

I think the burden of avoiding hearing about what happens is on the person who wants to remain in the dark. Of course, that would mean they might have to unplug from social media for a few days. Oh no! They might also have to avoid the coffee room at work if co-workers are in there, in case they decide to discuss it. It’s true, they may even have to avoid some traditional newscasts because the mandatory end-of-show banter might give something away. But relax … in a day or two the anchors will be chatting about some other non-news “news”.

I don’t see how knowing particular details – or even the ending – of a story really spoils it. Knowing that the ship goes down certainly didn’t spoil The Titanic for the millions of folks who went to see it. That’s because enjoying movies, shows, and stories isn’t just about knowing what happens or even the plot twists that get you to the ending. Besides, knowing what to expect can free you to pay attention in a different way. (The viewer who spotted the Starbucks coffee cup in that scene in Game of Thrones, for example, certainly wasn’t as focused on the plot or even the action of the scene.)

I think people who worry that their enjoyment will be spoiled if they learn anything about the plot or ending are missing the point. They don’t realize that in movies, shows and life, it’s the journey that provides the thrills, chills, intrigue, and satisfaction.

I imagine you’re probably thinking it’s a bit odd that the whole spoiler alert “phenomenon” bothered me enough to write a column about it. I’ve been thinking about that too. What bothers me is the amount of time and social energy that’s spent on things like superhero movies and fantasy dramas. In the meanwhile, folks are ignoring the very real, very terrible things going on in the real world.

Well, here’s a spoiler alert for you: while everyone’s busy escaping into fantasy worlds, folks aren’t paying enough attention to things here on planet earth. Indeed, the way things are going politically – and climactically – unless more of us start taking notice and action, I worry the ending may come sooner than we believe is possible and none of us are going to enjoy the journey.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a dose of consciousness raising

By Ingrid Sapona

Though I’ve never been particularly interested in fashion, I was intrigued by an article by an assistant professor of fashion design, ethics, and sustainability who teaches in the school of fashion at a Canadian university. The professor’s main point was that “fashion lovers need to reflect on how their consumption has an undeniably negative impact on both planet and people.”

The author talked about the slavery-like conditions of the millions of third-world workers, the majority of whom are women. She also talked about environmental degradation and pollution caused by the fashion industry, as well as the fact that more than 70% of the 53 million tonnes of fibre produced each year by the industry ends up in landfill or bonfires. One of the surprising statistics she mentioned is that the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% in 15 years. She also talked about “fast” fashion, which she defined as clothing that’s disposed of in less than one year.

The professor believes business as usual is no longer an option for the fashion industry. She set out some steps we can take that she thinks will make a difference. Besides paying attention to where one’s clothes are made and supporting ethical producers, she urges curbing overconsumption. She encourages consumers to join a campaign started in 2016 by Livia Firth (actor Colin Firths’ wife) called: #30wearscampaign. The idea behind the campaign is to ask yourself – before you buy an item of clothing – whether you’ll wear it at least 30 times. If yes, then buy it. But, if you don’t think you would, don’t buy it.

Neither the article nor the link to a story about the #30wearscampaign explained the significance of the number 30. So, I assume it’s relatively arbitrary. But, I think it’s a pretty reasonable number to get people to stop treating clothing as disposable. Clearly, with things worn every day (like socks and underwear) 30 is low. But, if you’re talking about a top you might wear every couple weeks to work, wearing it 30 times means you’d wear it for more than a year. So, even if 30 is arbitrary, you have to admit it seems a reasonable goal.  

I’m glad I took the time to read the article. It left me thinking about both my relationship to clothing and clothing’s impact on our environment in general. More importantly, it gave me parameters for measuring my own behavior vis-à-vis clothing and the environment. And, it got me thinking about other areas of consumption that I might gloss over but shouldn’t. Indeed, shortly after, a different area of consumption came into my focus.

My main client right now is in the electricity sector and I spend a lot of time at their office. When the dishwasher in their kitchen broke recently, they got a new one. A stick-on label on the front provided some sort of efficiency number. The fact there was such a label leads you to believe it’s a high-efficiency model.

People in that office are in the habit of running the dishwasher every day. Someone usually starts it right after lunch because people like to take home clean lunch containers for the next day. The first time they ran the new machine they chose the “turbo” cycle, thinking it would be quicker than the normal or heavy-duty options. It’s an understatement to say everyone was surprised when it became clear that the 3:00 showing on what looked like a digital clock in need of programming was actually the cycle duration.

When the cycle was done, we consulted the manual that came with the dishwasher. That’s when we learned that the “turbo” cycle (which does, indeed, run for 3 hours) uses less water than the other cycles. While that was interesting information, given that the company’s focus is electricity, everyone wanted to know how the different cycles compare in terms of energy use. Sadly, the manual didn’t provide that information.

Clearly, the dishwasher’s manufacturer – or perhaps the organization that grants the efficiency labels for such appliances – considers water use paramount. And you know, maybe as between water and energy use for dishwashers, that should be one’s primary concern. Though I feel a bit better knowing I only run my dishwasher only when it’s full, my motivation’s been because I figure it’s probably a big consumer of electricity. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never considered the issue of the amount of water a cycle takes. 

Though the connection between an article about fast fashion and efficiency ratings on dishwashers may not seem connected at first blush, to me they’re very much related. They both made me think about tracking my consumption based on some actual measure, rather than in the abstract. In short, they provided a dose of consciousness raising about my consumption, which never hurts, I think.

What about you? Do you give much thought to the different things you consume? Would applying some measuring standard help you change your consumption behaviour? Should we be doing more of that??

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … over it

By Ingrid Sapona

After writing about not having a favourite restaurant, a friend forwarded a travel article featuring 10 Toronto restaurants. She’s retired but used to come to Toronto on business and she used to like being up on the Toronto restaurant scene.

When I had a look at the list, I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t heard of most of them. There was one I’ve been to and another one I’d at least heard of. The one I’ve been too has been around for years but I think it’s a dud. I wrote her back, confessing I’d never heard of most of them. I also told her about my surprise at the one on the list that I’d NEVER recommend. As I told her, if that restaurant made it on a “must try” list, I consider the list questionable.

Later that afternoon she forwarded me a NY Times opinion piece. It was titled: “The Best Restaurant if You’re Over 50”. It was by Frank Bruni, a former NY Times restaurant critic who’s now “over 50”. It was an interesting piece. One of his comments got me thinking. He said, “What you want from restaurants, it turns out, is a proxy for what you want from love and from life.” He went on to explain what he sought from restaurants at different times in his life. In his mid-30s he wanted things that made him feel special. In his mid-40s he wanted things that made him feel sophisticated. Now, in his mid-50s, he wants things like martinis – in other words, things that he’s certain about and is certain about what they do for him.

Bruni also talked about what he’s learned from restaurant owners with respect to what older diners want. Apparently, restaurateurs have found that older diners are more likely to be “regulars”. Bruni chalks this up to becoming more creatures of habit as we get older. I think he may be right about that.

Though I used pay attention to which restaurants were hot (even if my budget didn’t allow me to try that many of them) – I’m just not that interested in what’s new anymore. Now, I value a restaurant’s proximity, hygge, and friendliness over unusual flavours and exotic ingredients. Bruni’s piece got me thinking about other areas – besides dining out – where my “appetite” has changed. Sailing and live entertainment – theatre and concerts – are the two best examples.

Though I’ve always been a fair weather sailor on my own boat, for years I enjoyed racing on others’ boats. Part of the appeal was the chance to get out on bigger, better equipped boats. Part of it was also the rush of adrenaline knowing that we’d race no matter how heavy the winds or how high the swells.

But, at some point, I noticed that the job of yanking in a huge, wind-filled sail as fast as possible so that we might move a tenth of a knot faster started to feel more like work than fun. That’s when I decided I’d had enough racing. Now, my idea of a terrific afternoon is being on the lake with just enough breeze to move the boat merrily along and then returning to shore for an après sail barbecue.

As for live entertainment, while my tastes haven’t changed that much, what I’m willing to do to partake has changed quite dramatically. I used to be willing to stand in line for hours to get tickets for concerts and shows. If a theatre had rush seats, I was always game to take a chance and wait in line in hopes of getting in. Or, if a concert had lawn seats or an area that was general admission, friends and I thought nothing of getting to the venue hours before show time to secure a good spot. Part of it was the thrill of getting a good deal on a show I wanted to see but couldn’t afford to pay a premium for. Part of it was also the social aspect of being part of the crowd of fans for that particular show.

Last time I waited hours for a show was in 2011. It was a concert by Aretha Franklin at the Toronto Jazz Festival. I went with a dear friend and his wife. They’re really into music and I’m sure they’d have paid top dollar to hear Aretha, but that wasn’t an option because it was a free concert. To ensure a good spot, my friend got there early in the afternoon and his wife and I joined him in line after work. We ended up waiting more than three hours and then had to stand for the whole concert.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m glad I saw the Queen of Soul before she passed away. But, waiting in line that day I promised myself I’d not do that again. I just don’t have the patience for it any more. Hell, I won’t even put up with overly complicated ticket ordering processes. (For example, for some film festivals you have to first buy a voucher and then you later exchange the voucher for a ticket once the screenings are announced. Can you say pain in the a--?) For me, that kind of thing pretty much takes the joy out of even wanting to see a show.

I think the best way to sum up how I feel is that I’m over it. The thrill of the hard to get – or the hard to get into – no longer tugs at me. Instead, I relish hassle-free pursuits and pleasures. What about you? Have your “appetites” changed over the years?

 © 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … a favourite?

By Ingrid Sapona

Some friends from out-of-town recently visited. In advance of their trip, we exchanged emails about going out for dinner. They asked me to pick a restaurant. I suggested a couple places I thought they might be interested in trying. Turns out they had been to them and didn’t seem that interested in going back to either.

I honestly didn’t care one way or the other, so I said whatever they had in mind would be fine. They insisted that wasn’t the point – they wanted to take me out to dinner wherever I wanted. I said that was a gracious offer, but I still wanted their input because choosing a place can be hard. They then said, “Let’s just go to your favourite restaurant!” Sweet idea, I know – but, as I told them, I don’t have a favourite restaurant. I don’t think they believed me.

The truth is, I always feel uncomfortable when asked about my favourites because I don’t have a favourite anything. I know it sounds odd, but it’s true. That’s not to say I don’t like – or even love – things. There are plenty of things I have no problem saying I really like. But, I’ve never been able to choose favourites. What I don’t know is whether that makes me odd. Does everyone have a favourite this or that?

Here’s one that comes up a lot, for example: favourite movie. I don’t have one. I think my family would say that my favourite movie is White Christmas – and I do love that it. But, I also love It’s a Wonderful Life. I could never choose one over the other, which I’d have to do to declare one of them my favourite. Another one that comes up fairly often in casual conversation is favourite food. Nuts and cheese certainly are at the top of my list, but I can’t honestly say I favour one over the other.

So, when the subject of favourites comes up, rather than go into a long song and dance about not having favourites, my normal response is to re-frame the question. For example, I often provide a short list – say three to five “favourites”. Or I may re-frame it as things I’d really miss – or wouldn’t want to live without (cheese and nuts are prime examples of that). Another re-frame I’ve used is places or things I’d recommend without hesitation. That one’s helpful for things like recipes I like, or places I’ve visited.

While I’ve never run across anyone who’s objected to my reframed answers, I’m always aware that those responses – while true – are really my way of skirting the issue of not being able to choose a favourite. What does that say about me? I don’t know…

I’ve considered it from a number of different angles: Does it reflect some deep-seated fear of commitment? (After all, the idea of choosing one to the exclusion of others is really what commitment’s all about.) Does it mean that I’m so repressed that I don’t enjoy things as much as others? Am I afraid to choose a favourite because I’d be heartbroken if I were never able to see, eat, partake, or experience the thrill of that favourite whatever again?

Is it this complicated for everyone? I’m guessing not, given how easily some people talk about their favourite (fill in the blank). What about you? Can you easily reel off your favourites? If so, what’s your secret?

About that dinner with my friends from out-of-town… On the day they were coming up, I still hadn’t made a decision. So, when I ran into someone from my condo, I blurted out, “Do you have a favourite restaurant in this neighborhood?” (I know absolutely nothing about how culinarily discerning he might be, but what the hell.) He cocked his head and thought for a minute and said, “Yeah – there are a couple places we like”. He named two places, and I chose one. It ended up being terrific – very good food and reasonable (for Toronto). Indeed, given that it’s a place I’d definitely go back to and a place I’d recommend without hesitation, it’s about as close as I come to a favourite.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona