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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Self-Knowledge and the Enchanted Road Trip in Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

When Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) was first released, there were a few problems due the number of scenes featuring sex and smoking marijuana, both of which obscured the fact that this is, at its heart, a road trip movie. The road trip is, for two teen-age friends, a coming of age experience, while it is, for the older woman who befriends them, a kind of dying wish. In both cases, it’s an end of innocence for all involved, and as such, the movie plunges the viewer into the heart of a kind of innocence of experience that triggers deep emotions.


 In just a few words, the plot involves the final summer before college when two best friends, Julio and Tenoch, spend time with an older woman, Luisa, who is the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, while their girlfriends are out of town. Triggered by the news that her breast cancer is in an inoperable late stage and that her husband has cheated on her, Luisa agrees to travel with Julio and Tenoch across rural Mexico to the mythical (which turns out to be real) beach town of Boca del Cielo.


 What they experience along the way transforms them in many ways: stories told about their experiences, narratives that shape their perception, the narratives built into the places they visit (sites of terrible accidents, political contexts and events, economic migrations) and in the traditions they observe and experience (the traditional Mexican food, the beautiful Mexican coast, the desert, the winding roads through the mountains). With the voice-over and a documentary hand-held camera style of filming, the people seem uniquely rich and textured, engenders both nostalgia and a sense of the sublime.    

Story:

On the surface, this is a road trip movie featuring two male teenagers and a female acquaintance, who decide, on a whim, to drive from Mexico City to the Pacific coast. Also, on the surface, it’s about the way that Mexicans live, starting with privilege and entitlement (a politician and his family, with elaborate weddings and memberships at an exclusive country club), then traveling into the twists and turns of the road as it bends through mountains, deserts, coasts, pueblos.

The stories, misunderstandings, sexual tensions, and appetites enveloped into the history of the places they travel through, and the food, drink, hotels, sand, surf, churches, albarrotes (small family-owned stores), restaurants, cantinas, which give it an indelible imprint of Mexico, not only of its appearance, but more importantly, the heart and soul of the people. The plot is relatively simple: Julio and Tenoch are trying to find the best way to make it through the summer while their girlfriends are traveling in Europe before they change their lives and start studying at the university. Julio and Tenoch are innocent creatures of pure appetite: they eat, they drink.

They happen to meet Luisa, the wife of Julio’s cousin, Jano. They banter a bit about places they’ve been.  Tenoch and Julio invent a beach place, “Boca del Cielo” and claim it’s the most beautiful beach in the world and that they’re planning to visit it. That seems to be the end of it, until the next day when Luisa calls them and asks if they’re still planning to go.  In their eagerness to say “yes,” they do not inquire why she is interested. They do not know (although the viewer does), that Luisa’s husband, Jano, called and confessed he was unfaithful to her. They also do not know that she was just informed that she has Stage 4 cancer. 

We as viewers know that she is in a hyper-real state of being, intensely aware of life and every precious moment of it. Because the viewer has inside knowledge, the road trip is fascinating, and the squabbles, misunderstandings, and intemperance are all framed in a larger panorama of life, death, coming-of-age, and endings. And, even as Julio and Tenoch open-heartedly try to sample all possible carnal indulgences, we know that they do so because when this road trip is over, they will have matured and will no longer have the same adolescent mindset. We also know that when this road trip is over, Luisa will be facing the very end, and so this “last hurrah” is even more poignant.  Like most road trip movies, traveling way from the stifling, congested, corrupt city represents a move toward nature and freedom. It also means a journey another state of mind or state of being.

The road trip itself is a punctuated narrative: Julio and Tenoch share stories and then question each other about their sexual exploits; the towns they pass bring up memories and historical facts, which are narrated to us by the omniscient voice-over narrator, and finally, the mise-en-scene is stunning inasmuch as the Mexican landscape and small pueblo-scapes become a character in an of themselves.  As they drive, they share stories about themselves and discuss their sexual transgressions. Julio and Tenoch try to outdo each other, confessing that they’ve slept with each other’s girlfriends, and Julio even claims to have had sex with Tenoch’s mother, but it’s not clear if this is even true. That night, Tenoch, upset with Julio, leaves his room and passes Julia.  Julia, tearful, has just spoken with her husband, Jano, and explained why she left him. She seduces Tenoch, and they have sex. The sexual rivalries trigger heated arguments, and Luisa threatens to leave. 

The main action of the film has to do with the road trip to the Boca del Cielo (which turns out to actually exist), and the intense experiences along the way, which include camping on the beach, the ocean, and a final scene of seduction in which Luisa dances with both, then stimulates both Julio and Tenoch at the same time.  This is a turning point; and the line that Julio and Tenoch crossed with each other is something they do not want to face. Luisa stayed at the ocean to continue exploring beaches and coves, while Julio and Tenoch return, uneventfully, to Mexico City. After they return, they do not see each other for more than a year, and when they do, it is the last time. They have changed; the events of the road trip matured them, perhaps even frightened them as they faced an abyss they feared. Tenoch tells Julio that Luisa died a few months after they left her at the beach; she lived her final days to the fullest.

The true story has to do with how the viewer gains insight into the shaping of identity and the depth and richness of the characters who, even though they may seem to be involved in rather simplistic activities, are participating in traditions and beliefs that date back to even pre-Hispanic times. Mexican independence, clashes, civil war, conflicts, along with the traditions of church, traditional dances, town patron saint festival days, weddings, funerals, and traditions of food and drink interweave. The technique is very realistic; the viewer feels the dust on the road, hears the music, almost perceives the smells and tastes. By the end, we see Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa as complex, multi-dimensional individuals. There is a deep sense of nostalgia and the week-long trip has the feeling of a dream or a life-changing memory.

Notable techniques:

Voiceover Narration:  The voice-over tells the back-story and also tells the overall significance and meaning of the actions, many of which may seem trivial, but turn out to be formative and as such, deeply moving. For example, as they pass by a village around a curve, and see two wooden crosses, the voice explains that if Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa  had passed by here several years before, they would have seen a woman weeping hysterically at the death of her two children.

Documentary-style handheld camera:
  The point of view of the camera and the movement give the film a documentary feel, and emphasize realism. The handheld camera creates a sense of authenticity.  The angles are often at eye level and shot from, for example, the back seat of a car, which generates immediacy and intimacy.

Themes:
Innocence vs. Experience: While Julio and Tenoch consider themselves experienced, inasmuch as they do everything possible to satisfy their appetites. Nevertheless, the progress of the film shows them to be very innocent in terms of the world, of who they are, and the relationship between confusing and conflicting desires and what it means to be human and alive.

Sexuality:  Julio and Tenoch are sexual beings, and in their youth, they have healthy appetites. In fact, much of their time seems to be dedicated to the quest of satisfaction. For example, Julio and Tenoch have access to the country club on Mondays, when it is closed to patrons.  In one memorable scene, they swim in the pool and then, jump out, lie on the diving boards and stimulate themselves as they discuss different girls they know. 

Coming of Age:  The road trip leads to deeper self-knowledge and encounters with darker truths about themselves that made them reflect on their own sense of identity, and also their overall place in their society.  After Boca del Cielo, it was no longer possible to live in adolescent bliss where the chief concern is the satisfaction of appetites and living completely in the moment.

Love: 
There is a tremendous difference between love and sex, and for that matter, there is a huge difference between fraternal love and carnal love; when the two intersect, confusion occurs.

Loyalty:   Julio and Tenoch are loyal friends, and are very close, tight friends, but the road trip breaks their friendship apart. They find that their bonds were rather fragile, after all. But, on a deeper level, they are loyal to what it means to be Mexican; the family values, the ties to traditions (Pre-Conquest as well as Colonial), and ties to the Mexican volcanoes, desert, mountains, and beaches.

Characters:

Julio: Friend of Tenoch whose parents were relatively wealthy, which gave him privilege but not as much as Tenoch. He lives in Mexico City during a time of tremendous political unrest, and the rural population is involved in uprisings.  Julio, however, is relatively uninterested in politics or the economy. As an adolescent male, Julio is most concerned with satisfying his appetites and joking around with his best friend.

Tenoch: Son of a prominent and very wealthy politician. His life is of privilege, to which he is largely oblivious except for being aware that he has to behave properly in public (which inspires him to rebel). He attends the weddings and other politically-motivated spectacles of his father, and he interacts with his extended family without ever understanding or becoming conscious of the fact that there is dramatic income and social inequality even in his own family.

Luisa:  Luisa is of Spanish descent, and she speaks with a Spanish / Castillian accent. This sets her apart and gives her the impression that she is of high social status. The reality is that she has a very low level of education, due to the loss of her parents at a young age, and her relatively impoverished childhood.  Thus, she has a sense of inferiority, as well as an ongoing sense of loss and grief, not only for the loss of her parents, but also her first love, who died in a motorcycle accident. She married Jano, the cousin of a high-ranking politician, but it is not a happy union, and he is constantly correcting her and elevating himself over her.  She finds out in the same day that she has incurable cancer and that her husband has been cheating on her.  The shock is enough to inspire her to go on a very impromptu road trip with two immature yet sweet and well-meaning teenagers.

Character Analysis:

 

Julio: 
The son of middle class parents, his father disappeared when he was young, and his mother works hard to raise him.  His sister is politically active and leftist, meaning that she is part of a tradition that upheld the rights of the indigenous and rebelled against the often authoritarian rule of the elites, whose influence traces back to the Spanish conquest and privileging of those of Spanish or European descent. He is more or less oblivious to politics, but the road trip and the people, places, and political memory start to awaken him.

Curious:  At first, Julio is remarkably unaware and seemingly indifferent to the world around him. However, he is curious about Luisa, and as he starts to understand her life and her background, he starts to think about many of the political issues that his parents have talked about during his childhood, and that his sister, an activist, is involved in. 

Idealistic:  Julio  has no political leanings, but as time goes on in the movie, he awakens to the demonstrations and protests against social inequality and the dire poverty of the working classes. The omniscient narrator explains what is happening behind the scenes, and what has happened politically, so that the viewer sees just how Julio has almost no choice but to become very idealistic as he matures.

Proud:  He knows that his friends, who are wealthy and from politically connected families, look down on him for being of middle class origins. He feels some resentment toward it, but more than anything he seeks to make his own way in the world, and is relatively free to do so, as opposed to Tenoch, whose family is pressuring him to study economics.

Tenoch: 
Tenoch is the son of a Harvard-educated economist and the Secretary of State.  Tenoch is short for “Tenochtitlán,” an Aztec city, and was inspired by his father’s sudden burst of nationalism.  Tenoch’s father is corrupt, which is a fact generally accepted by both Julio and Tenoch.  The omniscient narrator voice-over explains that Tenoch’s father will not be the “tall hog at the trough” forever; in the next election, his party will be voted out.

Rebellious:  Tenoch’s father wants him to study economics.  Tenoch wants to study literature and become a writer.   The pressure put on him by his father makes Tenoch rebellious.

Insatiable: Part of Tenoch’s frustration makes him channel his frustration into his appetite for adventure, sex, and drugs. At times he seems insatiable for those, but later we realize that his insatiability is really for living life, and for feeling the depth of intense experiences.  It is here that we see his artistic, writerly spirit.

Entitled:  Tenoch’s father’s position has resulted in a life of privilege and wealth.  Even though he rebels against his father, and is not in agreement with the lifestyle, he is the beneficiary of entitlement, and takes very much for granted the ability to have access to country clubs, travel, expensive equipment.  However, the trip starts to change him.




Luisa:  

Luisa’s parents were killed in a car accident when she was ten, and she was raised by an aunt who was an adherent of Generalissimo Franco in Spain.  She wanted to travel, have a career, and study, but she had to stay at home and take care of her aunt in her last years. When her aunt passed way, Luisa studied to become a dental technician. She married Jano, who often mocks here and cheats on her.

Insecure:  Due to her unrealized dreams and the mistreatment of her husband, Luisa is very insecure and quiet.  But, knowing her cancer is late-stage and her husband will never change, Luisa takes risks and embraces life.

Adventurous:  At the end, Luisa embraces life and everything that it symbolizes: nature, ocean, self-acceptance, and sexuality.  She wants to do everything possible to experience life, not intellectually or at a distance, but by means of physical contact.  Thus she seduces and is seduced by both Julio and Tenoch.

Romantic: The director’s hand-held camera shots, many shot from the periphery, give the viewer a voyeuristic feeling, and, combined with the narration of the omnicient voice-over we start seeing Luisa as a romantic; not only in her feelings, but also in the philosophical, Kantian sense of the term, inasmuch as she bases her beliefs and her behavior on her individual perceptions and experiences. Thus, to gain knowledge about life, one must experience it.  And, she does.

Philosophical:  When the three finally do find a place called Boca del Cielo, Luisa runs into the ocean and lets the foam and spray flow over her. Life is to be lived in the present, she says. She dances in the surf, and the cries out to Julio and Tenoch: “Life is like sea-foam -- so give yourself away to the sea!”

Review Questions:


1.    In Mexico City, Julio and Tenoch battle the daily frustrations of traffic jams, accidents, and protests. They also see dirty, poorly designed infrastructure, and examples of human misery, even as they have a chance to spend time in oases such as the country club and expensive homes (paid for through corruption).  What are some of the elements in the film that criticize Mexico’s politicians and ruling elites?

2.    Julio and Tenoch’s friendship dissolves after the road trip, but Cuaron (the director) does not explicitly say why. There are several friendship eroding moments.  What are the implications of each of the following?  Julio and Tenoch have had affairs with one another’s girlfriends; they are from antagonistic social classes; they embrace and kiss each other while Luisa is stimulating them in a sexual encounter.

3.    Why and how is this movie much more than a simple coming-of-age road trip movie? With the hand-held camera, the innovative mise-en-scene with  unusual angles and shots, and the omniscient narrator voiceover, the film is able to establish a sense of authenticity, and also to connect past and present. The repeating motifs of the beach, of water, and of the landscape give one a sense of the beauty and majesty of Mexico, with its rich culture and historical heritage.  Please describe two or three scenes that illustrate how the film is much deeper than a typical coming-of-age film.

4.     How does the director suggest that nostalgia and grief are an essential part of the Mexican identity? Describe the scenes that represent accidents or political tragedies in the past, and also various family histories, such as that of Luisa and that of Chuy’s family.

References

Acevedo-Muñoz, E. R. (2004). Sex, Class, and Mexico in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también. Film & History (03603695), 34(1), 39–48.

Amaya, H., & Blair, L. S. (2007). Bridges between the Divide: The Female Body in Y tu mamá también and Machuca. Studies in Hispanic Cinemas, 4(1), 47–62

Quintanilla, F. Q. (2014). La Llorona como esfinge subversiva en Y tu mamá también (2002) de Alfonso Cuarón. Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana, 43(1), 132–146. 

“Y Tu Mamá También” Is a Sexual Grenade from Mexico. (2002). Rolling Stone, (893), 138

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Great Beach and Holiday Reading: Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman Is a Fun Read, with Intriguing Philosophical and Socio-Cultural Elements

Podcast: http://zenzebra.net/podcasts/murata-convenience-store-nash.mp3

Convenience Store Woman (Konbini ningen) by Japanese author Sayaka Murata was originally published in 2016.  It’s the story of a rather shy 18-year-old woman, Keiko Furukura, who lands a job at the newly opening Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart, a convenience store in the heart of the business district of Tokyo.  18 years later, Miss Furukura is still working at the same Smile Mart, to the dismay of her sister, Mami, and other family members. They are mystified why Keiko does not want to advance past a part-time job at a convenience store in order to have a real career. Or, at the very least, they think that Keiko should at least be married and try to have a child. They know, but do not understand why, Keiko has never even been on a date.

The Smile Mart is its own clockwork utopia where the needs of customers are anticipated with the help of the day’s weather forecast, special product promotions, the time of year, and other external factors. Similar to the way in which a traveler in Japan’s airports will be greeted by deep bows by the flight crew precisely at the moment of boarding, the Smile Mart follows a set of instructions and guidelines and requires its employees to complete rigorous training. Such details as the type of smile to hold, and the tone of voice to use to cheerfully shout out greetings and sales promotions are included in the training, as well as the specifications regarding the uniform and way to wear one’s hair. The Smile Mart itself is a constantly revolving kaleidoscope of colors, shapes, smells, sounds, lights, and products, all of which create a full and satisfying world for Keiko, who knows her role and how to contribute to maintaining its mechanical perfection.

Susan Smith Nash reading Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman. Great beach reading -- fun, with intriguing philosophical and socio-cultural elements. 
For the strangely affect-less Keiko, whose essential nature is to not have an essence at all, the Smile Mart provides her substance for the emptiness of her identity, and a series of gestures, inflections, and phrases for her inner silence. Over the years, Keiko has changed; she has metamorphosed, not in conjunction with any sort of inner enlightenment but by means of closely observing and mimicking the clothes, behaviors, words, and expressions of those around her. She skillfully selects and blends words so that they give the appearance of spontaneity and authenticity, but her coworkers are not completely convinced, and in fact, keep a bit of distance from her.  They seem to sense that Keiko is literally a construct of the convenience store; not only does she shape her outward manifestation to blend in and play a useful role, she consumes food and water from the Smile Mart, making her literally a creation of the store. 

The Smile Mart is Pygmalion; Keiko its Galatea in this post-industrial world of constant reification processes, of daily restocking and recreation within the microcosm of the Smile Mart. Because Keiko’s actions are self-directed, however, this automaton has achieved self-awareness. Identity and beingness are self-directed constructs. The constant contact with the ever-changing inventories, light, and dynamics of the Smile Mart constitute the kind of “crossover” (or mixing of genes) that one sees in Japanese mecha (robot) anime.  Keiko seems almost to be a the sentient parallel of a mecha / robot.


While Keiko is completely content in her world, she does not enjoy the constant badgering of Mami, her sister, to conform to the social norms for women. So, when the very odd 40-something deadbeat Shiraha is hired on as a part-time worker, Keiko is primed to be receptive in a way she was not before. At first, she finds Shiraha to be utterly repugnant for his slacker attitude and constant ridiculing of employees for being slaves to the system. Shiraha is ultimately fired because his reason for applying for work at the Smile Mart – to catch a wife – resulted in his stalking and harassing female customers.

And, it is at this point that the book takes a very bizarre turn. Keiko stumbles upon the fact that Shiraha is homeless; hopelessly behind in the rent and unwelcome at his family’s home. Instead of turning away, she invites Shiraha to go home and co-occupy her apartment.  Shiraha rather unkindly comments that he could never be attracted to her, to which Keiko expresses relief.  She considered Shiraha a useful pet; she feeds him, and in turn, he protects her from social criticism.

This made me think of Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat (1905), in which the cat speaks in aristocratic tones, making itself superior to humans.  I would be curious to know if Murata uses the same sort of high-register, formal diction for Shiraha.

Murata’s ironies are delightful.  Instead of being concerned for the actual welfare of the individuals, Keiko’s co-workers and family members are delighted that she is, at least, following social norms, even if her husband is a deadbeat and she is forced to work doubly hard to support him. Shiraha cheerfully and openly explains his goal is to be a parasite, and as such, he will do Keiko a favor by causing her to elicit pity and compassion.

Convenience Store Woman becomes at this point a rather powerful commentary on the role of women in society, and the ultimate lack of self-determination. Shiraha begins to guide Keiko in his own self-serving (and societally condoned) direction, grooming her to take a full-time “regular” job so that she can better support him. But, post-industrial society and its perfectly regulated Smile Marts (and other microcosms) are ultimately safer and happier places. When Keiko finds herself in an understaffed Smile Mart, she steps in, in an instant reanimated and energized. Her identity is restored. She is happy.


Some critics have pointed out the rather Gothic elements of Convenience Store Woman. They are there, but it’s definitely not a full-fledged Gothic novel with dark secrets and bizarre spells and/or a cult of personality. In my opinion, the Gothic elements simply have to do with the rather bizarre hold that Shiraha has over Keiko, and his attempts to harness her to go and work to support him.

The richness of the details that author Sayata Murata provides in the convenience store, not only in the arrangement of products and the sales processes, but also in the dynamics between managers and workers, are such a familiar staple of our world that we immediately identify it as the post-industrial community.  In many ways, the Smile Mart and its employees are an extended family, with its members focused on protecting and providing for one’s physical and emotional needs.

On a personal note, I think that Convenience Store Woman should be required reading for all 7-11, OXXO, and QuikTrip employees.  I would love to see the transformation, especially if they follow the protocols and customer care concepts found in Murata's novel :).

--- Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.


Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Transitioning Smoothly Through Career Transitions: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:  https://www.drbontempi-coaching.com/

How can people handle these transitions more smoothly?

Photo by Jacub Gomez

Work Through the Emotions
There are several things that can help a person handle major career transitions and cause these changes to go more smoothly. However, the success of the transition will be contingent upon several things including the ability to ask for help, handle stress, acquire new skills, try new things, and challenge negative thought patterns. People change careers for various reasons, but if they did not make the choice to leave their job, the first reaction to a job loss or major transition is often fear, grief/loss, or anger. Thus, for the person facing such changes, it is important to allow yourself time to work through the emotions, while also doing some serious reflecting. Although it never seems like it at the time, losing a job can be a blessing as it can allow us the opportunity to seek a career that is much more rewarding. It is worth taking an inventory of your skills, education, passions, and goals, and brainstorm new possibilities. Seeking the assistance of a career transition coach or counselor may be very helpful during this time.

Build a New Support Team 
Another common phenomenon associated with major career transitions is a sudden awareness that many of the friends you thought you had are suddenly nowhere to be seen. If this occurs, then it’s time to make new friends and form a new support team. It will be important to surround yourself with people who are encouraging and uplifting, who will provide helpful feedback, be willing to brainstorm new career paths or job seeking strategies, suggest options for acquiring new skills, and assist in networking.

The Importance of Networking
Finding a new job or changing careers can take time, and many of the available jobs that are available are not advertised. Thus, let others know that you are actively seeking a new job, and are open to branching out in new directions, applying your skills and interests in new ways. Like it or not, sexism, racism, and ageism are alive and well in the world today, so finding a new job can sometimes be difficult and take a longer time. Thus, tenacity and networking will be key to one’s successful transition, especially if you are a minority, female, or over the age of 45. As you are networking, be sure to do your homework and research organizations whose values align with yours. This will make it easier to find a better fit.

Flexibility
If you are seeking a new job you will want to be as flexible as possible. This might include working extended hours or some weekends, working from home, traveling for work (if this is an option), or even relocating. There are often regional differences in job availability, depending on one's field.

Develop a Career Plan

Quote from Mary Oliver’s, “The Summer Day”

If you are facing a career transition—either by choice or as the result of downsizing, experiencing an illness, or being laid off, it’s important to consider your options. Don't limit yourself to chasing the ghosts of your old career. You will want to consider developing a career plan, which involves investing time in self reflecting, and self-assessing concerning your strengths, passions, values, and ideal work environment.

Acquire New Skills
As you are developing your Career Plan it is a good idea to do a little research concerning the skills that other employers are seeking. Thinking about some of your education, previously held positions, skills and competencies, what possible jobs might you currently qualify for? Are there any companies that are a better fit with your values than others? You may want to begin by looking through some of the job openings in the fields you are considering, research some of the companies you would consider working for, and the expected skills, levels of experience, and competencies for each. Next, compare these with your own. Is there a gap between what companies are looking for and what you possess? You may find that it is necessary to acquire some new skills or even earn another degree.

Some people may consider returning to school and either learning a new field, or gaining additional education that complements their previous education and experiences. In many cases, simply learning new skills can make you more marketable, and earning a formal degree may not be necessary. There are many online courses that teach computer skills. Linkedin is now connected to Lynda.com, but other options include certificate programs such as those offered in Coursera or edX. If you don’t want to pay for a certificate you also have the option of auditing many courses offered through Coursera and edX. Teachable.com and Skill Share are other options, or you may even be able to find helpful instruction through Youtube. Additional options include continuing education courses through universities or local VoTech schools. Or, maybe this career change will be the impetus for starting your own business. You may have a skill that is well suited for consulting, allowing you to open up your own business, work from your home office or travel to areas of interest.

Be Patient
On the way to your destiny it will be important to practice patience and grit. There will be times of testing and waiting, and at times it may feel that the universe it "testing" you to determine just how badly you want this new career. Sometimes things won't be happening as fast as you would like them to be, and when this happens, it is important not to get discouraged--dig in deep and show grit! Baby steps may be necessary at first, but each step you make towards your goals adds up and before long you will be able to look back and see just how much progress you have made. Remember to be flexible as you navigate your way to your new career and don't give up!

What can corporations do to help people through career transitions?

Photo by rawpixel.com

Depending on the financial situation of the company, one thing that employers can do if they are laying off workers is to consider offering employees the option of staying on, but taking a pay cut. If this is not an option, then employers should do all they can to help employees become marketable. Assisting people with the development of Career Plans, offering exit training including resume writing, teaching stress management strategies, and possibly training new skills before exiting the company. Organizations can also suggest that employees consider volunteering to train each other skills in their areas of expertise. Another service companies may provide is connecting employees with head hunters, who can assist employees find new employment.

Organizations who are willing to do these things only help employees as they are seeking new employment, but it will also reduce the feeling of betrayal that so many employees experience after being laid off. Individuals who have committed years of their life to a company only to find themselves abruptly laid off feel hurt, betrayed, scared, and resentful. If a company can give employees as much assistance as possible before kicking them out into the world of unemployment, it will not only help the employee but also the reputation of the company.

Can you recommend a few books to read?

Photo by Pixabay

“Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life”
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

“Finding Your Own North Star”
Martha Beck, Ph.D.

“Steering by Starlight”
Martha Beck, Ph.D.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Career Transitions: Equipping for the Future, Identity Loss, and Avoiding Trends: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.


We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:  https://www.drbontempi-coaching.com/

As people seek to equip themselves for the future, what should they consider when they make decisions? Especially if they are experiencing a transition in jobs?

Photo by rawpixel.com

Self-Investment
The best thing a person can do when they are forced to make a career change is to take the time to invest in themselves. This includes their mental and physical health, continued education, networking, skills training, and the help of a Career Transition Coach. Nobody can accurately predict the future, but in the face of a career change, simply updating a resume is not enough. You need to rely on new and better ways of networking, especially in a downturned economy, highly competitive field, or if you are over 40. Take the time to learn skills that will allow you to compete with tech savvy competitors, but also use this opportunity to make an inventory of your skills and passions. What do you enjoy doing?  What are you good at? What do you stand for? What areas are you interested in improving? Where do you want to be in your career 5, 10 or 20 years from now?

Sometimes a job loss is a blessing in disguise as it might be the “push” you needed to send you into a career that is a better fit. One that taps into your passions and energizes you, causing you to feel enthusiastic as you face each work day, rather than dread as you go to work each morning.

Take an inventory of your skills, education, and experiences, but also your passions and interests. Most organizations are not just looking for a good resume. Instead, they are seeking someone who is passionate about their work, demonstrates creative problem solving, is a good personality fit with other employees, shows commitment, and can make a positive contribution to the organization.

There is stress along the way as people deal with the transitions that come with quickly changing job responsibilities or workplaces.  How might this affect one’s sense of identity and the way they fit in with society? 


Photo by Johannes Plenio

Changes in the workplace come in many shapes and sizes. These may be as small as adding new job responsibilities requiring additional learning and training. Some are much larger and including job transitions. Although some of these changes may be the result of personal choice as people seek higher pay or jobs more are aligned to their passions and interests. Other times transitions were not out of choice and the result of company layoffs, injury, or illness.Transitions made out of choice are in general, much easier to deal with than those that were not.

As we enter into a new workplace, the organizational culture is almost guaranteed to be different from that of the one we just left. This requires adjusting to the new organizational culture, styles of leadership, and workplace dynamics. With each level of demand comes increased need for adaptation. Thus, adaptability and stress management techniques will come front and center.

When it comes to our careers, sometimes our sense of self identity is so caught up in what we do or how much we earn, that when that shifts, we lose our sense of self. When such changes come, we often find ourselves chasing what we used to do or trying to ride out the storm, thinking things will eventually go back to how they used to be after the storm passes. The old way was comfortable and easy, and so we resist any changes. Yet, by resisting change we risk chasing the ghosts of the past and barely “surviving” the storm, rather than simply packing up and getting out of the storm’s path.

If we insist on “riding the storm out” we resist leaving until it either gets so uncomfortable that we can no longer bear it, or we are forced out. Economic down turns have forced many people out of once thriving and lucrative careers, and technology threatens to replace the jobs of others. When we realize we simply cannot return to the career, job, or the level of ability we had before, we are forced to reinvent ourselves. However, this is not easy, and especially if we have built a lifetime pursuing dreams or building a career. It’s much easier to reinvent one’s self when one perceives they had choices in doing so, but if a job was lost due to a changing economy, illness or disability, then things get much more complicated.

Sometimes people allow their careers to define them without even realizing it. But when faced with a sudden loss of job or status, a sudden identity crisis quickly ensues. This new reality can be extremely shattering to one’s sense of self, as people realize that their careers, titles, or salaries were their source of acceptance. This is a hard lesson to learn because a sense of self-worth based on external things such as career, income, or title are all conditional forms of acceptance and approval. Thus, when these things are absent, approval also disappears. It is at this point that some of the hardest lessons in life are learned. The high paying executive, surgeon, or professional athlete who was once at the top of their game soon discovers that their “friends” are nowhere to be seen when they have fallen from the top. However, these adversities allow us to discover who we really are and what we are made of. While some people evolve, others shrink back and never recover.

Thus, in order to promote a smooth career transition, take the time to invest in yourself, gaining new skills if necessary, researching your options, analyzing your skills, competencies and passions, and creating a career plan. Understand that experiencing a range of emotions including fear, rejection, and uncertainty is normal, and consider seeking the help of a Career Transition Coach to help you during this process.

What happens if a person simply tries to follow what seems to be the hottest career path right now?


Photo by Johannes Rapprich

Chasing the Wrong Goals
This can get a person into trouble for several reasons. Chances are if an individual is seeking a career just because it is “hot” then they are focusing on pay. And, although nobody will deny that it is desirable to earn more money than less, pursuing extrinsic goals in the long run will not only decrease motivation but also psychological well-being. Not to mention, trends are constantly changing, and when everyone jumps on the “trend” wagon, supply and demand takes a toll, resulting in an over-abundance of skilled workers. When there are more available skilled workers than jobs, employers take advantage of this and demand higher levels of education and experience, while offering lower pay. A third risk is that in simply following a trend, one is not really following their true passions and again, risks losing one’s identity and sense of joy and motivation.

However, perhaps a bigger issue is the impact of goal pursuits on motivation and well-being. Not all goals are created equal, and extrinsic goals (those based on materialistic gains such as salary, status, and power) tend to undermine both motivation and psychological well-being because they interfere with the fulfillment of psychological needs. As human beings, we all have innate psychological needs. When these needs are met, it promotes and sustains more self-determined forms of motivation, but also increases psychological well-being. However, when our psychological needs are thwarted, our motivation wanes, and our well-being is undermined. If a person places priority on pursuing extrinsic goals the psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are often sacrificed in the process. Long hours spent at the office often results in neglecting time with one’s spouse, children, or developing and maintaining close and caring relationships with others. Failed relationships undermine perceptions of competence, but also take a toll on one’s happiness and well-being. In addition, when people prioritize extrinsic goals they tend to gauge their success by comparing themselves with others. The problem with this is that you will always have the opportunity to find someone who is more successful, earns more money, or has more power than you do. The third need, autonomy, refers to the need for volition or choice. Marketers and the media have become very effective at convincing people that “success” and acceptance is found by owning material objects. This focus on materialism has been coined the “dark side of the American Dream,” by psychologists and researchers.

Changing Trends


Photo by Luke Barkhuizen

Thus, following what seems to be the “hottest career” can backfire for several reasons. Trends change, and what is “hot” one day is “not” the next due to changing needs of society, politics, the economy, and advancing technology. Pursuing the “hottest career” is usually the result of seeking a career that offers a guarantee of a high paying job. The problem with placing too much emphasis on high salaried jobs is that it leads to focusing on extrinsic goals rather than intrinsic ones. Researchers have repeatedly shown that placing emphasis on extrinsic goals results in reduced levels of motivation over time, but also undermines psychological well-being. Furthermore, pursuing a career just because it has been deemed “hot” also increases the likelihood of chasing a career that you may not be well suited for. Over time, pursuing a field that doesn’t take advantage of your skills, interests, and passions, will result in burnout and/or reduced competence. It is much smarter to pursue a field that you really enjoy because you will find you have more energy and motivation to continue learning and investing the necessary time and energy to succeed. Select a career field that matches your skill levels, interests, and passions, and one that has a steady demand.

Sense of Identity


Photo by Valentin Antonucci

As mentioned earlier,  people often form their sense of identity, in part, through their careers. This is especially true for men, and therefore, a job loss can be earth shattering experience, rattling one to the core, as they struggle to retain a sense of self-worth and maintain a sense of identity. Thus, chasing a career based on the latest projected trends, risks pursuing careers that are not in alignment with one’s passions, skills, and interests, resulting in a further loss of self-identity.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Changing Face of Jobs and the Workforce: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

We are very proud to offer another very valuable interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi.  This is one of a series, which you can find this website  For more information, please visit:  https://www.drbontempi-coaching.com/

What have you observed about job changes and job transitions in today's world?

The saying, “the only thing we can count on is change,” seems to hold very true to the application of today’s job market. There are several trends I think we have all noticed, ranging from industry closures, changing demographics, and the ways in which businesses are conducted (more and more are changing to an online environment).


Industry Changes
 In spite of claims of a strong economy, several industries are still struggling to pick up the pieces of the economic downturn. In addition, over the past decade technology has had a major impact on many industries. The “retail apocalypse” can be seen as many department stores and smaller boutiques have failed to compete with the convenience of online shopping. Higher Education has also taken a hard hit over the past 6 years or so. Several colleges closed their doors permanently, and others continue to struggle due to budget cuts and lower enrollments. As the cost of tuition continues to increase more people question the benefits of earning a college degree if it means graduating with a heavy student loan. Other colleges are attempting to keep up by expanding their online programs, but as Mega Universities such as Grand Canyon, Western Governors, SNHU and Liberty increase their degree options, smaller colleges can’t keep up. The oil and gas industry is also struggling to regain its footing and many geologists, landmen, and others in the industry are still seeking work after experiencing mass layoffs, company closures and bankruptcies.

Changing Demographics
Other changes I see include increasingly multicultural and multigenerational workplaces. For perhaps the first time in history, we are seeing sometimes five generations represented in the workplace. Each generation comes with unique strengths and challenges for corporations. For example, Baby Boomers are starting to retire and so we are beginning to see an exodus as many have been forced into early retirement, others are facing health challenges, and some are staying in the workforce. One of the challenges of a multigenerational workplace is recruitment and retention. For example, compared to earlier generations who expected to work for the same company for a lifetime, this option is most likely not going to be an option in today’s industry. And, because Millennials and many of the Gen Xers are place higher value on flexibility and autonomy in the workplace, not only will lifetime jobs not be available, they may not be appealing to many people in younger generations. Therefore, it may be more difficult to recruit and retain these generations if the workplace doesn’t offer flexibility or opportunities for growth. Many corporations are clinging to the outdated factory model, with cubicle workspaces and hours of operation from 8-5. This simply doesn’t work in a technologically advanced society where more people place value in a work/life balance, prefer flexibility and opportunities to work from home.

Technology
Other changes I see include technological advancements which not only change required skills, but also the ways in which people work and communicate with one another. Cloud based technology, AI, rapidly changing software programs, and internet based businesses are just a few of the ways in which technology is influencing workplace changes.

What makes today different for people in the workforce than even 5 or 10 years ago?

This seems to be somewhat of a follow up to the first question, but in terms of general social trends, the demand for digital skills has increased considerably over the past 10 years, but the workforce is also becomingly increasingly diverse in culture, level of education, race/ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual preference and identification, and ability. For example, this is the first time we have seen up to five generations in the workplace. Traditionalists (i.e., those born before 1946) are not as likely to be in the workplace but may be the CEO’s running the company. Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) are usually in upper management or CEO positions, or exiting the workplace as many are eyeing retirement. Gen X (1965-1976), Millennials (1977-1997) and Gen Z (born after 1997) may all be represented in a workplace. People form their values based on experiences, and because each generation, as well as every individual, has witnessed different things, you see different values emerge. Those who experienced the Great Depression craved stability, and these values were passed down in part, to Baby Boomers who often had the same career for a lifetime. War, economic crashes, technological advances, immigration and migration, etc. all impact people at both a generational and individual level. Although you don’t want to make stereotypes towards any generation, some general differences in communication preferences, work values, or familiarity with technology may emerge.

Thus, the challenges for managers and leaders will be many, including communicating with people from various generations and cultural backgrounds, but also recruiting, motivating and retaining employees. Companies will need to consider the increasing desire for autonomy and flexibility that began with Gen X and has continued with Gen Y workers. Other perks such as having workplace daycare, company gyms, the option of working from home, or even bringing emotional support pets to work are emerging trends. We are also seeing an expanding role of AI which will ultimately replace many jobs.


How can this job / career market have an effect on an individual?

Growth and Cutbacks
From my perspective the career market can impact people on several different levels, depending on one’s field, the organizational culture, and benefits offered to an individual. In terms of the career market, some fields such as IT and healthcare are growing. Aging Baby Boomers are driving up the need for healthcare workers, so you see many opportunities for home health workers, nurses, and PA’s. Other areas such as the oil and gas industry are trying to make a comeback but are fighting a political battle as attitudes about fossil fuels are changing. Thus, while there are plenty of opportunities in some fields, others continue to be very competitive.


Other ways in which the job market may impact an individual is the volatility seen in certain fields. For example, both higher education and the oil and gas industry are still feeling the ripple effect of economic down turns. Layoffs, forced retirements, fewer opportunities with higher competition, lower salaries, increasing demands for experience, education, and tech skills, and an increase in short term opportunities are common. Fewer universities, for example, are offering to pay for travel expenses or relocation. In states that are experiencing major cuts in funding, higher education is projected to experience more cutbacks, layoffs, and closures.  All of these things undermine a sense of autonomy and competence, reducing motivation and well-being.

A volatile economy often results in a reluctance to fully commit to an organization, low morale, and higher levels of stress. Employees may be “straddling the fence” so to speak, with one foot in their workplace and the other in the job market as they actively seek better employment opportunities. As a result, this makes it harder for employers to recruit and retain employees. This costs an organization money in the long run, as high employee turnover forces a corporation to invest more money in advertising and training new employees. In addition, organizations often get a bad reputation for having high turnover or failing to invest in their employees, adding to the difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees.

Increasing Diversity
Changing demographics are increasing diversity in the workplace. This means that those organizations that do not celebrate diversity and promote inclusion will see higher attrition, lower performance, and problems recruiting and retaining employees. If an individual feels discriminated against due to their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion, or ability, they are much less likely to apply for a job with that particular company, or remain in workplace that is seen as hostile. And, although there are laws in place that make discrimination and sexual harassment illegal, they tend to thrive in workplace today, often disguised as subtle racism or sexism, limited opportunities for growth and advancement, or workplace bullying.

Changing times mean changing needs, therefore individuals tend to be seeking different benefits from a job today than a generation or two ago. For example, while Traditionalists and Baby Boomers sought jobs that offered lifetime stability, different values are often witnessed in younger generations.  Companies who cannot keep up with the demands of younger generations will struggle to recruit or retain employees. For example, companies offering the flexibility of working from home are going to be increasingly appealing to many people, especially those who value flexibility, make long commutes to and from work, have children at home, face health issues, or feel more productive when they are at home away from the distractions of the workplace. Over time, factors such as a long commute, or the cost of daycare can prove to be deal breakers for many individuals. A cost-benefits analysis may reveal that costs associated with either commuting or paying for daycare may make the job much less appealing. Thus, employers who provide more flexibility are likely to also see increases in employee morale, motivation and commitment to the organization. Because more jobs allow for working from home in an online environment, companies who provide opportunities to network through webinars, email, facetime, training, etc. will foster competence and satisfy the need for relatedness. However, as more people continue working remotely, many companies are failing to build social relationships in the workplace, which can lead to a sense of isolation and disconnection.

For more information please visit the following website: Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.






Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Transforming Stress, Unexpected Change and Uncertainty into New Opportunities: Interview with Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.

The ever-increasing pace of change, combined with new displacing and disruptive technologies that involve digitalization, robotics, widescale automation and more, is requiring everyone to rethink how they live their lives and how they earn a living. In all cases, individuals may feel under pressure, out of control, and fearful.

Welcome to an interview with Dr. Elaine Bontempi, who talks to us today about transforming a stressful situation into one that builds confidence and open doors.  She talks about the psychological and physical costs of doing nothing, and the benefits of developing a plan and a new philosophy. 

1.  What is your name and your background?

Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D.
My name is Elaine Bontempi and I have the following background. My website is here: https://www.drbontempi-coaching.com/

Ph.D.: Educational Psychology
Focus: The role of culture in motivation & learning

M.Ed.: Educational Psychology
Focus: The role of culture in motivation & learning

M.A.: Human Relations
Focus: Multicultural Counseling

B.A.: Health Psychology
Minor in Sociology (Contemporary Social Issues)

•    Over 15 years of experience teaching graduate & undergraduate courses in Psychology, Human Motivation in Learning, Human Motivation in Work & Leadership, Human Learning, Cultural Diversity, Leadership, Contemporary Social Problems, Social Psychology, & Ethics

•    Over 10 years of experience designing, implementing & evaluating educational outreach and training programs for non-profits, Dept. of Education, government institutions and businesses

•    Academic & Life Coaching

2.  What are your areas of expertise, and how did you get interested in them?

My areas of expertise are in Psychology, but in particular, Motivation, Health, & Well-Being.

Specifically:
•    Motivation & psychological well being
•    The role of goals and psychological well-being (not all goals are created equally, and although society really pushes some goals, the pursuit and attainment of certain types of goals actually undermines well-being).
•    Motivation in the workplace
•    At risk teens
•    Eating disorders
•    Overcoming anxiety without medication
•    Stress management
•    Coping with aging and/or terminally ill parents
•    Grief & loss
•    Spirituality and well being

How did I become interested in these topics? I would say that I have always been interested in what makes people tick, so to speak, as well as health, and general well-being. Growing up as an athlete, you learn the importance of goal setting, self-regulation, and motivation. However, these are limited tools because as we grow older, we encounter challenges and life transitions, and many of these are quite uncomfortable as we are stretched outside of our comfort zones. Of course many of these transitions are inevitable and are part of the maturation process. However, even anticipated mile markers can act as barriers to our growth and self-actualization if we lack a healthy mindset, coping skills, and self-regulatory strategies

3.  How do people manage change today? What are some of the negative ways that people cope with change? What are better ways?



Photo by Humphrey Muleba from Pexels

The ways in which people handle stress vary considerably from one person to the next. Each person has a unique set of experiences, coping mechanisms, abilities, and values that all contribute to how one handles stress. In addition to individual differences there are some general group differences that can be seen as well, as a result of cultural norms and gender socialization. 

Some of the negative ways that people cope with change and stress include smoking, drug use/abuse, alcohol use/abuse, compulsive spending, over or under eating, eating unhealthy "comfort" and junk foods, excessive use of sugar and caffeine, sleeping too much or too little, sexual promiscuity, overworking, lashing out at others, and violence.

However, there are definitely healthier ways of handling stress. The first step is identifying the sources of stress in your life, as well as your attributional style. Do you have a tendency to place the blame for your stress on others, do you feel that you have no control over your circumstances, or do you recognize that although you may not be able to control events, you can control your reactions?

There are different approaches to changing the stressful situation--you can either avoid the stressor, or sometimes you can alter the stressor. For example, you can often times avoid a stressor by simply learning how to say "no." Often times, we feel compelled to say "yes" to everything in order to please others, or to avoid looking incompetent or lazy. It is imperative that you learn to recognize your limits and say no to things that will result in too much stress.

If you are unable to avoid a stressor, you may choose to alter the situation. An example of altering the situation might include expressing your feeling in a different manner. For example, rather than bottling up emotions and letting them fester and brew, find a friend or counselor that you can talk to. Or, it may mean changing how you express your emotions, or even regulating your time so that you are less likely to feel stressed out from having too much responsibility and not enough time to accomplish the things you have committed to.

You can also learn to adapt by using healthy stress management techniques, and/or accept the stressor.  Adapting to the situation often means learning how to use emotional regulation strategies for healthier coping, which often times involves changing your interpretation of the event that you perceive as being stressful. Is the stressor really that important or are you putting too much emphasis on something that really, in the long run, doesn't mean much? The old saying, "learn how to pick your battles" may apply here.

 Sometimes you simply have to accept things that you cannot change but find work arounds. Focus on the things you CAN change rather than getting upset about things you cannot control. For example, if you are responsible for the caregiving of a sick child or aging parent, you probably won't be able to change or avoid the stressor. However, you can change your reaction. You will need to accept that your child or parent is ill and needs help, and re-arrange your schedule in order to meet these demands. If you are still responsible for other obligations then it may be necessary to adapt to the stressor by seeking outside help to assist in caregiving, recognize that you as a caregiver, also need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, learn to manage time more efficiently, and never overlook the importance of self-care.

Some of the healthier ways in which people handle stress include:
•    social support networks including family and friends
•    support groups, spirituality and prayer/meditation
•    learning the art of forgiveness
•    spending time in nature
•    getting regular exercise (cardiovascular exercise in particular)
•    eating properly and getting plenty of sleep
•    applying biofeedback
•    practicing yoga
•    spending time with pets
•    writing in your journal
•    working outside in the garden
•    painting/sculpting/drawing
•    dancing
•    playing a musical instrument
•    scheduling time for self-care such as massage/Reiki/ acupuncture
•    practicing mindfulness
•    learning time management
•    accepting there are things you cannot control
•    embracing a positive attitude
•    avoiding too much caffeine
•    avoiding abuse of alcohol, drugs or nicotine
•    seeking counseling, etc.

Certain counseling techniques such as cognitive evaluative therapy might be helpful in thought stopping behaviors and replacing negative thinking with positive thoughts. Behavioral therapy can also helpful in reinforcing positive behaviors and extinguishing negative ones. Exercise can play a very important role in improving anxiety and depression. Especially something as simple as walking daily. Exercise increases the production and release of serotonin and dopamine, both neurotransmitters play an important role in maintaining a healthy and positive mood.

3.  What are some of the major stressors in our world today and how do they change over one's lifespan?


Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

We are facing many stressors in the world today. It seems like our world is shifting so rapidly that people are struggling to keep up with the transitions, and as a result sometimes it seems that the world has gone mad. Climate changes that are causing major shifts in weather patterns, mass immigration and migration, racism, economic uncertainty resulting in layoffs, downsizing, closures and job loss, global migration, political polarization, mass shootings, etc. are just a few of the global stressors.  We are also seeing alarming trends concerning the use of social media and depression/anxiety/suicide. A sociological phenomenon known as “upward social comparison” is wreaking havoc on peoples’ self-worth and self-esteem, as they are comparing themselves to the lives of others represented through reality television and social media. Even though these profiles are considerably altered through selective use of highly edited photos, and the “highlight” reels of one’s life, people are often left feeling deflated and dissatisfied with their own lives when comparing them to the self-marketed profiles of others in Facebook and other social media platforms.

Other stressors are small, daily things such as dealing with traffic and long commutes, office politics, paying bills, screaming children, juggling obligations between work, family, and/or school, etc. These types of stressors don't tend to score big on the "life stressors" chart, but major transitions in life, even if they are perceived as positive, can take a larger toll and undermine well-being.

Major transitions in life include events such as graduation, marriage, birth of a child, changes in career (new job or loss of job), relocation, divorce, empty nest, changes in health, loss of a loved one, natural disasters, war, unhealthy relationships, aging parents, etc. Studies have repeatedly shown that as people grow older, their health declines more rapidly if they do not have a social support system. This is a growing problem as people are living longer, but often more isolated lives. Adult children are often scattered across the globe as job opportunities take them away from the same town as their parents. This is especially common in individualistic cultures such as the United States and western European cultures, that place value on independence and competition rather than on community and harmonious interdependence.  Nursing homes and assisted living centers in the US are filled with aging, forgotten parents.

4.  What are some of the stresses related to taking care with aging parents or relatives?

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

 Taking care of aging parents or relatives can be a particularly stressful job, as it can leaves one feeling physically and emotionally drained. As parents get older, their physical limitations decrease, thus their need for support increases. Their needs are multi-pronged and may include financial costs associated with healthcare and nutrition, mobility needs (ie, a parent may go from using a cane to a walker, to a wheelchair, and ultimately being bedridden), etc. As their needs increase, the demands placed on the caregiver also rise. Seeing a parent who was once vital and independent regress to a state of dependence can be difficult to watch, and it tends to cause a shifting in the dynamics of the relationship as roles are reversed.

This can seriously tax the physical and emotional reserves of anyone caring for an elderly parent, but when personality changes associated with aging and dementia are also present, it can especially stressful. It may also be particularly stressful on the caregiver if they are trying to juggle their own responsibilities of work, family/relationships, health, etc. In most cases it leaves the person responsible for caregiving feeling emotionally and physically drained, thus one of the most important things for any caregiver to remember is the importance of self-care. If the caregiver overlooks this it can quickly erode both the physical and emotional health of the caregiver. Thus, relying on some of the above mentioned strategies for stress management are imperative. Getting proper nutrition, plenty of sleep and exercise, spending time in prayer/meditation, having a strong support system of one’s own, and learning how to say “no” to increasing demands by sharing the responsibility with other family members or hiring help are very important.

5.  What are support networks?  What happens when people lose their support networks?


PHOTO CREDITS Photo by Tristan Le from Pexels

Support networks refer to the psychological and physical support provided by a social network. Social networks can include close friends and family members, tribal members, social activity/group such as a book club, community support groups, or even a religious community. Social support networks can provide a variety of resources ranging from emotional support, financial assistance, prayer, or help with daily tasks. Those who have high quality or quantity social networks tend to show decreased depression, anxiety, loneliness, drug/alcohol use, and a lower risk of mortality in comparison to those who have low quantity or quality of relationships.

Poor social support has been also linked to cardiovascular disease, lowered immune system, and altered brain function. Although there are individual and group differences, women often have closer support networks due to the differences in how men and women are socialized. While gender roles are changing, women are still more likely to be socialized as nurturers and caregivers, and playing support roles rather than placing emphasis on competition and independence. As a result, women’s health tends to benefit as they grow older as they are much more likely to have a social network for support. Men tend to rely on spouses and children, but if neither are around as they grow older, they are much more vulnerable to the ill effects of having a limited support network.


Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Argentina: Overcoming Debt Challenges and Rebuilding with Infrastructure and Innovation

Of all the countries in the world, perhaps no country more embodies “debt trap” and then “default on sovereign debt” than Argentina. Argentina’s national banks defaulted on their first loan only a few years after independence from Spain in the 1820s when the Minister of Finance obtained loans to pay off war debts. The loans were considered usurious, and the ensuing crisis resulted in a 33 percent devaluation in 1827, and then 68 percent in 1829 (Argentina Country Risk Report, 2019). Unfortunately, these were not to be the only loans that quickly became unmanageable due to high interest rate and impossible terms, and which deeply damaged the Argentine economy.

Later, however, the time from 1850 to 1930 was very prosperous for Argentina, which, thanks to its prosperous agricultural sector, and the infusions of investment capital into infrastructure (railways) and industries. At one point, Argentina was the seventh largest economy in the world, and its inhabitants were the 10th wealthiest.  In addition, the country benefited from being perceived as a safe haven for money and resources fleeing war-torn and newly communist countries in the world.

However, there was a slowdown in the 1930s, inspiring in 1943 a coup d’etat by Juan Perón, whose goal was the empowerment of the poor and working class. Argentina was not invited to the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank because Argentina had not yet joined the Allies in World War II. In fact, Perón was against joining the group and considered the effort "imperialistic.” Perón was overthrown in a rival coup in 1945. In 1946, he was narrowly elected President. His government was accused of repression.

Argentina finally officially joined the International Monetary Fund in 1956. In the meantime, the Argentine government continued its idealistic utopian socialist transformation through modernization approach which so typified the first half of the century in rebuilding nations. There was an emphasis on large infrastructure projects and in state-owned industries that employed many thousands of people in the administration of the nationally owned utilities and social services.  The ensuing deficits led to a need for liquidity, and then the first waves of large loans. Waves of economic problems were accompanied by protests and activism, resulting in repressive governments.


Source: Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provinces_of_Argentina

Economic Decline: In such a situation, economic growth was difficult if not impossible. Between 1975 and 1990 real gross domestic product feel by almost 20 percent, which had a very negative effect on the entire country, but most pronouncedly on manufacturing, which entered into continuous decline in the 1970s. The government attempted to level the playing field by creating a wall of tariffs and by instituting protectionist policies. Instead of incubating the domestic companies, the result was a lack of investment, a loss of competitiveness, and finally a loss of markets.  Argentina, which was once known for the high quality of its manufactured goods, began to shutter factories as they could no longer stay open, even when heavily subsidized.

Almost every decade has been marked by a dramatic economic crisis, often marked by devaluation, hyperinflation, a default in national debt, with corresponding erosion of credit-worthiness.
As of September 2019, Argentina's external debt stood at around $101 billion (The Times, 2019). The currency has been devalued again, resulting in an exchange rate of $US 1 to 56 Argentine pesos, from 25 to one US dollar a little over a year before.

 
What is it like to try to have a business in Argentina during times of devaluation of the currency? What is the impact on the supply chain? 


Argentina has a history of high external debt, and it has been borrowing for infrastructure projects and also to service existing debt.  According to many analysts, Argentina "is almost certain to default on its $100 billion of debt again" (Aldrick, Sept 3, 2019, The Times). South America's second largest economy has been in trouble financially many times since it joined the IMF in 1956.

Specifically, Argentina has been bailed out an astonishing 22 times since 1958 and has defaulted on its  loans nine times since independence in 1816. Slow or reduced payments to investors have been “de rigor” since the 1960s until even September 2019 when the maturity on short-term government loans was extended without negotiation (Sanders 2019).

President Macri's initial strategy involved having Argentina reenter global markets, pay off "vulture funds," and ask the IMF to audit funds (with the idea of more loans).  He also tried to balance the budget by increasing the amount paid to the government for services (utilities, etc.), and to restrict the flow of capital out of the country. The resulting devaluations made Mr. Macri extremely unpopular, and his loss in the primary elections further weakened confidence in a challenged economy.  The goal in early September 2019 was to refinance the debt. However, the country remains deeply divided between Macri's reformist party and the socialist / populist party (Kirchner, etc.) which has been accused of corruption and mismanagement (Argentina Country Risk Report, 2019).

What happens when the IMF requires the country to service its debt?  Usually there is an austerity plan with the goal of a balanced budget (prioritizing paying off debt). However, IMF austerity plans in Argentina have an unhappy history.  What has happened in Argentina is a devaluation of the peso, lack of buying power, poverty, lack of capital investment, and labor insecurity.  The country falls to an even lower level of productivity, due to uncompetitive products, falling productive capacity, obsolete and inefficient factories, lower level of human capital (due to lower social and education services (Mariza, 2019)), falling levels of confidence, and widespread financial institutional instability. But, faced with few options, the country tends to accept "loans of last resort" in order to service debt and avoid wholesale seizure of assets (Koch & Perreault, 2019).

Infrastructure Leveraged for Economic Growth:  Investing in infrastructure and marketing support for innovative products offers an alternative.  First, productivity must improve in the short run. There are a few ways to do so, which include conducting bid rounds in order to develop mineral and petroleum resources.

While it can be argued that the country often receives insufficient proceeds for licensing multinational companies to develop mines and oil fields, this is often the best approach in the short run. Indeed, this is an approach that Argentina has used, with success.  They have attracted investment in the Vaca Muerta shales, and five separate provinces are currently seeking investment in order to develop their oil and gas. In a recent international oil and gas congress (AAPG's International Conference and Exposition), executives from ExxonMobil, Equinor, Shell, and others were unified in their message that they were increasing their investment in Argentina and would continue to do so if the government could assure positive conditions. They also suggested maintaining Argentina's policy of maintaining a posted minimum price of $75 per barrel of oil, which de-risks the investment a great deal.

Second, boosting agricultural production in order to increase exports and facilitate import substitution is a possible strategy. However, years of neglect in the infrastructure have made transportation, processing, and warehousing difficult (Berlinski, 2019). Supply chain coordination is lacking, and so the fail-safes and protections that could be implemented to help de-risk the enterprise and protect against extreme weather, harsh conditions, and the need to store and hedge, are not possible.

A third strategy has to do with creating a global platform for Argentine innovation. The "Silicon Pampas" can develop new products to license, including such innovations as new systems for intelligent oil and gas operations. In fact, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales (YPF) has created a spin-off company, YPF Tecnología (https://y-tec.com.ar/Paginas/home.aspx), which invests in start-up and mid-development products. New technology and innovations include innovative pumps, control systems, smart operations systems, and more. Intellectual property has been protected by means of patents. In addition to technologies used in drilling, completing and producing oil and gas, Y-TEC has developed alternative energy solutions, new process for processing and purifying contaminated water, and new approaches for developing monitoring systems using satellite and remote sensing for better management of the arid, fragile environment where many of Argentina’s oil and minerals are found.

The strategy is not without its own difficulties. Devaluation and inflation, along with protectionist policies regarding imports (extremely high duties) make it difficult to import the raw materials and equipment needed for the startups, and it becomes necessary to obtain painfully complicated licenses and exceptions.

Loans for Infrastructure:  Many of Argentina's loans have been for infrastructure, and in fact the so-called "vulture loans" (ones where the loaning entity refused to renegotiate or restructure, thus requiring Argentina to repay the entire principle and interest, often at a high rate of interest), have been for infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, there has been a long history of problems with loans for infrastructure projects; first, the interest rates can be very high, and second, there can be cost over-runs and excesses; third, additional affiliated fees, permits, and licenses can slow development.  The World Bank currently has a number of infrastructure projects in Argentina on the books:

Selected Examples of 
World Bank Projects and 
Operations for Argentina   
                                                                 Total Cost           World Bank Commitment   Approved
Northwestern Road Development
Corridor Project                                       $US 311.00 million      US$ 300.00 million    2017

Metropolitan Buenos Aires Urban
Transformation                                        $US 125.00 million      $US 100.00 million    2019

Salado Integrated River Basin
 Management Support Project                 $US 375.00 million     $US 300.00 million    2017

Argentina Renewable Energy
for Rural Areas Project                             $US 240.09 million    $US 200.00 million    2015

Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Sustainable
Development Project (Sewers in BA)        $US 1000.00 million    $US 840.00 million    2009

Urban Transport in Metropolitan Areas     $US 187.60 million    $US 150.00 million    2009

Argentina First Inclusive Growth
Programmatic
Development Policy Financing                 $US 500.00 million    $US 500.00 million    2018
           
(The World Bank, 2019. http://projects.worldbank.org/)           

Challenges:  It is very difficult to keep politics out of economic development, and so some of the investments may be more politically expedient than truly productive in terms of economic development.

An often failed strategy has been privatization of the long-condemned as inefficient, state-run monopolies (utilities, etc.).  However, while privatization did have the effect of reducing the country's overhead, many of the state-run monopolies eventually can run the risk of becoming de facto private monopolies (or oligopolies).

Laws designed to protect workers are sometimes circumvented because they carry with them high taxes and severe penalties for letting a person from their job. As a result, an underground labor market has begun to supplant the formal labor supply. Much work is done off the books and consists of short-term employment. Not only do the employees not receive the benefits of a regular employee, they have no assurance of regular employment, and the pay tends to be much lower.

Conclusion
Recovery Plan: A recovery plan can leverage infrastructure projects and combine them with innovation (new technologies and communication), supply chain improvements, and productive linkages with local and international markets.

Now that there are certain sectors of the population that are facing food insecurity, and there are serious issues of hunger, an economic recovery plan will need to incorporate provision of nutrition and basic health coverage for the vulnerable (children and elderly), as well as nutritious meals for the workers.

A recovery plan should include the following items:
1.  Improved infrastructure, beginning with roads and sustainable electricity.
2.  Coordination between production (agriculture and extractive) and needed infrastructure.
3.  Targeted innovation and new technology developing in conjunction with infrastructure and production (agriculture, smart operations, mining, oil and gas, medicine, tourism, pharmaceuticals, marketing).
4.  Collaboration and partnering with global marketing networks for developing short-term and long-term markets for products and services.
5.  Private-Public Partnerships to help develop infrastructure, but in a way that protects workers and markets, and generates local employment (avoid importing all the workers, etc.).
6.  Restabilization of the financial sector, in order to attract investment as a "safe haven" investment, which may need development of cryptocurrencies.
7.  Innovation in supply chain operations, and the use of blockchain for assuring integrity, source, supply.
8.  Leverage the geographical position of the Tierra del Fuego, etc. to develop high-tech surveillance, monitoring, and strategic operations, in conjunction with allies.

Once the key elements of a recovery plan have been identified, steps can be taken to build out a critical path and a workflow. Using as many new techniques from supply chain management and risk management can be quite helpful.  In addition, it is useful to develop probabilistic models that can help one simulate the outcomes of different scenarios and then develop plans. 

References
£83 billion towering debt pile crippling Argentina’s economy. (2019, August 31). Daily Mail, p. 105. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=138348395&site=ehost-live

Argentina Country Risk Report. (2019). Argentina Country Risk Report (pp. 1–59). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.dbproxy.tamut.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=137086139&site=eds-live

Berlinski, N. (March 19, 2019). Roads to prosperity. Fixing Argentina's crooked architecture. Prosper: Notes on the Future of Development from CSIS. https://csisprosper.com/2019/03/19/roads-to-prosperity-fixing-argentinas-crooked-infrastructure/

Country Reports - Argentina. (2019). Argentina Country Monitor (pp. 1–59). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.dbproxy.tamut.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=133895584&site=eds-live

Koch, N., & Perreault, T. (2019). Resource nationalism. Progress in Human Geography, 43(4), 611–631. https://doi-org.dbproxy.tamut.edu/10.1177/0309132518781497

Mariza, Nazla. (August 19, 2019). The future of low-skilled manufacturing labor in Industry 4.0. Prosper: Notes on the Future of Development from CSIS. https://csisprosper.com/2019/08/19/the-future-of-low-skilled-manufacturing-labor-in-industry-4-0/

Mexico Infrastructure Report. (2019). Mexico Infrastructure Report, (3), 1–60. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.dbproxy.tamut.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=137341628&site=eds-live

Sanders, P. (2019). Argentina Seeks to Extend Debt Maturities as Reserves Tumble. Bloomberg.Com, N.PAG. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bsh&AN=138321238&site=ehost-live

The World Bank (2019) World Bank project. The World Bank, 2019. http://projects.worldbank.org/)

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