Several times in the last few weeks I have encountered people who believe they are helpless when it comes to effecting change.

Is there anything easier than believing there is nothing you can do? Whether it’s politics, child-rearing or dealing with your difficult family members, throwing up your hands is an easy out.  Like a weird Kubler-Ross cycle I believe I have identified five distinct stages of helplessness I encounter in my work:

  1. distressed hand-wringing,
  2. impotent outrage,
  3. the ever popular What Someone (else) Should Do to Fix This Situation,
  4. depressed resignation,
  5. and, only rarely, the “What can I do?” stage.

Helplessness requires a villain – a person, a system, a political affiliation – something that convinces a person that there are no alternatives, therefore nothing can be done. Somebody or something is keeping you down. Once upon a time we could have blamed “The Man”. The Yippies however, whether you liked their methods or not, used The Man as impetuous for political action. Stage Five behavior in the form of theatrics.

I digress.

This helpless attitude is tough to take as my impulse is to persuade folks that not only can they take action, but it will have an effect. Helpless behavior brings out my inner steam roller. To soften my “Come on troops! Over the wall!” enthusiasm for problem solving,  I try to pause and evaluate what the powerlessness is about. Sometimes people don’t want to be reminded about their abilities and options cuz they are just bitching & moaning, and sometimes the situation really is FUBAR. The trick is to know the difference.

I need to be reminded periodically that not every problem begs a solution. In fact lots of problems are really symptoms begging for a diagnosis. If the goal is treating root causes, a band-aid is insulting. If all you can manage is First-Aid, then a band-aid looks pretty good. I forget sometimes that I’m only triage. When confronted with helplessness, and if I can get ahead of my instincts, I repeat to myself –

‘I am not a hammer and the world is not a nail’.

And that number is $48.

That’s what I threw down today for Origins Starting Over Age Erasing oil free moisturizer with mimosa

It’s a slow process. It creeps up and sneaks. I’m not talking about the wrinkles I’ve accumulated on account of stacking up birthdays, I’m talking about the willingness to spend obscene amounts of money on things like moisturizer.

I am not looking for miracles or considering Botox or a face lift. I have no illusions of ever regaining my formerly dewy skin unless I move to the tropics. What keeps me buying “products”, as the earnest sales staff refer to them, is the hope that I can wear less makeup day-to-day.

I never wore makeup on a daily basis until I took this job in 2004. For years I curled my eyelashes put on some lipstick and I was out the door. A few months in I started putting on a little mascara and eye shadow when I had a meeting and before you know it I am wearing full makeup everyday.

And now I need $48 moisturizer.

I think this is caused by the fact that once you start wearing full makeup your skin sort of gives up. I think it gets addicted to products and requires ever more complex steps in cleansing, exfoliating, toning and moisturizing. And back to the counter you go. It’s a cycle that can support national economies.

Maybe if I had a sabbatical and could go without makeup (or stress) for 6 months, I would stop looking haggard without makeup. Maybe that is wishful thinking now that I on the wrong side of 40. Since that sabbatical is not on the horizon, I am stuck with “hope in a jar”.

At least it smells good.