Olympic athletes and entrepreneurs share one critical trait to conquer pressure under fire.

In sports, mental toughness is defined as “the ability to consistently perform in the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”  The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea have been rife with performances by athletes with well honed mental toughness, giving them the competitive edge over athletes with matched or even higher ranking talent.  Two-time U.S. champion figure skater Nathan Chen was the gold medal frontrunner heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, only to crumble under pressure during his Olympic debut, underscoring how critical it is for young athletes to harness mental toughness under extreme pressure.  It was a devastating outcome for Chen, the most talented US men’s figure skater to compete in the sport in recent memory. 

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U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon’s incredible grace under pressure has been widely recognized during this winter’s Olympic Games, especially given the level of criticism he’s received for being the first openly gay American figure skater to ever compete at the Olympics.  His positive attitude, willingness to lead with charisma and humor, and champion performances have catapulted him beyond just physical mastery as an athlete.

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If anyone in the business world ever needed mental toughness at their disposal, it’s an entrepreneur.  Investors and other tech industry insiders all agree that startup success is all about mental preparedness, tenacity, and skillful pitch execution under high stakes circumstances.  Entrepreneurs regularly face cutthroat competitors and critics, and must be able to push their ideas and products past consumers resistance to change.  In his most recent book “Executive Toughness,” Dr. Jason Selk discusses mental toughness and other shared traits between sports and business high performers.  Given the self-driving nature of entrepreneurial work, startup founders must exemplify this critical trait to prevail.  In his Harvard Business Review article “How the Best of the Best Get Better,” sports psychologist and former consultant to Olympic and world champions Dr. Graham Jones says, “Obviously, star athletes must have some innate, natural ability — coordination, physical flexibility, anatomical capacities — just as successful senior executives need to be able to think strategically and relate to people. But the real key to excellence in both sports and business is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in your head. Rather, it is [mindset] mental toughness.”

After living and working in and around Silicon Valley for more than 20 years I’ve seen firsthand the underpinnings of mental toughness, the stamina it takes to succeed here, and the price those people pay to stay at the top.  Through executive coaching I’ve supported top organizational leaders through pivotal growth periods in life and business, leveraging best practices from peak performance psychology, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral design and critical communication skill acquisition.  

Top 5 best practices for augmenting mental toughness:

  1. Notice the subtle shifts in your physiology and thought patterns, and where they drive your emotions, behaviors and decision-making.  Cultivate control over this chain reaction through mindfulness training, and commit to embodying your most unflappable self in high stakes situations.  Use tools like visualization, auditory prompts and self-directing phrases to tap into deep learning through habit formation.
  2. Prepare confidence-boosting engagement and response scripts to the three most challenging interpersonal situations you face.  This is especially helpful for those who aren’t naturally charismatic, because they serve as a guideline for how to best interact with people. Well-developed and practiced interpersonal responses work to center you, bringing you back to a place of familiarity, reducing socially anxious reactions that can interfere with peak performance.
  3. Develop a relentless and optimistic ‘solution focused mindset’. It is so irresistible to ride the wave of emotion that surges when facing a hard problem. Our brains can get railroaded by our emotions, mimicking the addiction response and diminishing our ability to think critically and generate effective options.  Approach all potential solutions one step at a time, giving yourself time to process your emotions first.  Even mapping out a single step completion is progress and an improvement to the current situation. Remember you can’t solve all problems at once, so choose one and stay focused on it until measurable progress is made.
  4. When you set your mind to do something, find a way to get it done, no matter what. While a relentless solution focus is the mental step, behavioral discipline is the action step that makes effective solutions materialize. In this way, discipline delivers success. Make discipline a habit by looking out for triggering temptations and planning accordingly.
  5. Be willing to embrace change.  Mentally tough people are flexible, constantly adapting in order to solve for best possible outcomes.  Fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to one’s progress towards broader goals for fulfillment and happiness. 

A backbone of mental toughness is essential for providing the courage and internal compass that top competitors rely on to steer through the challenges they face. It also emboldens them to take on new opportunities for learning and growth- healthy life habits for effectively navigating stress, conflict and crises.  If you can develop mastery in this, you win!

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Make coming out as gay about you, not them in 3 simple steps

It’s 2017, and you’ve decided it is time to tell some folks the truth about you: you’re gay, you’ve BEEN gay, and you’re tired of hiding it in both big and small ways.  If you’ve been agonizing about exactly how to tell people you’re gay let me say this first: the most important part of this exchange is YOU.  Your needs, your feelings, your future, and your lifestyle.  This conversation can be short and sweet.

  1. Convey your message in simple language so no one gets it twisted:
  • “Hello? It’s me. I was wondering if you knew that I’m gay.  Yes? You suspected already?  Ok great just checking, I thought I’d officially confirm it. M’kay bye!”  (Hang up phone and start belting out lyrics to your favorite power workout song.)

  • “Hello?  It’s me.  I was wondering if you knew that I’m gay. No?  Ok well glad I checked because I am. Hella gay.  Happy to share with you some ways you could support me, if you’re interested.  If not, we can talk about something else now.”

This is an exercise in getting something off your chest for you, about you.  Maybe the person you’ve told has questions about ‘how sure you are’, ‘if this could be a phase’, or feels compelled to wonder out loud if ‘maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet.’  If the person you’ve just told you’re gay responds with doubtful comments and questions you can respond like this:

2.  Convey you do not have doubts about your sexuality. If they have difficulty believing you are in fact, gay, they should work through those feelings on their own. Maybe they need some professional support and/or expertise to become better informed about how sexuality works.

  • “It seems like you’re having a hard time believing that I understand my own feelings and my own sexuality.  What if I were asking you these same questions about your sexuality?  I don’t want to debate my sexuality, just like I’m sure you don’t want to debate yours.”

  • “It sounds like you could use some time to think about what I’ve just told you, based on your comments and questions.  I’ve already thought A LOT about it, and I’m done now.  I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m gay.  There’s nothing else to think about- I’m gay, the end.  When you’ve reached that place too, you’ll feel at peace with it, just like I do.”

3.  Convey you have choices about how you live your life, and the people in it.  Make it clear that while you’d like your personal and professional relationships to remain unaffected by your sexuality, the fact is some people will have a hard time accepting this.  The best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who respect and support your goals and are willing to treat you fairly regardless of your sexuality.  This will be a lifelong endeavor, but worth the effort so that you can live your best, happiest, most fulfilled life.

  • “I understand there will be people who won’t like me because I’m gay.  That’s not really any different than people who might not like you (or anyone for that matter) because of things they can’t change about themselves.  If someone doesn’t like me because I’m gay that’s their problem not mine.”

  • “Maybe it’s not obvious, but I’d rather not have to deal with people treating me unfairly or excluding me from opportunities or even basic rights because I’m gay.  The best thing I can do is pursue personal relationships and professional opportunities that allow me to be myself, grow, and pursue fulfilling goals.  It would be great if you could support me. If not, I understand that’s your choice.  You should understand it’s my choice to build a support group of people who accept me.”

The health toll of having these conversations should not be underestimated.  Many people feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the prospects of sharing news about yourself that may not be well-received.  This is a good time to invest in regular self care activities and connect with people who accept and support you as you are.

Telling people you’re gay need not be a long, complicated, agonizing conversation.  You do not have to allow anyone to make you feel like you’re wrong, unhealthy, or unlovable.  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is your life, and no matter what your sexuality is you can find a way to pursue happiness, love, fulfillment and success.  We can’t control how people feel about sexual diversity, but we can take strides to protect ourselves from feeling negatively judged by limiting the air time we give them, and focus our attention on building a life of positive self acceptance.

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Trump style slurs: you don’t have to get your feelings hurt.

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With the Trump administration ahead of us, many Americans will witness or receive hate-filled comments meant to devalue, belittle and shame anyone who is demographically different.  The major uptick in hate crimes dates back toward the end of 2015, which corresponds with Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.  Since the presidential election results came in, national news and social media sites have already begun documenting a new surge of confrontational hate-mongering behaviors aimed at racial/ethnic/sexual/religious minorities.  Generally speaking, the most important response to hate mongering is to ensure one’s physical safety first and foremost.  This article is not meant to provide guidance on physical or legal protection tactics, but rather outlines the most accurate and effective way to emotionally immunize yourself to this type of ignorance.  You don’t have to get your feelings hurt.  You don’t have to feel the blow of belittlement when ignorant remarks are flung at you.  You don’t have to feel insulted or devalued.  In fact, when someone says or does something racist/misogynistic/etc, it’s an instant opportunity to recognize the disposition and circumstances surrounding the offender.  You will know immediately that this person is experiencing one or more of the following:

  1. People who feel compelled to point out their categorical superiority to others based on race/gender/religion/sexual orientation differences often do so because they feel a deep sense of resentment about not feeling good enough about themselves.  (They will vehemently argue that nothing could be further from the truth, but there is something called the subconscious (part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings) and it is working furiously in overtime to correct low self-worth.)  By actively engaging in a game of “I’m better than these people” (through various verbal or behavioral acts) they can give themselves a short-lived burst of much-needed self confidence.  It quickly dissipates, so they often choose to surround themselves with like-minded people so they can commiserate and boost each other up through mutually insulting group outsiders.
  2. People need to blame and find fault in whole categories of people out of fear: when older regions of the brain dominate a person’s cognitive style, more complex intellectual processing is superseded, limiting more complex comprehension of circumstances surrounding their perceived ‘problems’.  Attempting to solve one’s problems by persecuting a whole group of people in a scapegoat fashion is usually a tell-tale sign of shortsightedness that does not result in lasting solutions.  Failed solutions often leads to increased blaming and anger.  It’s a vicious cycle which some people remain stuck in, and then pass on to others as a narrow worldview.
  3. The bottom line is, people who are effective and successful in pursuing their life goals, feel a sense of personal resourcefulness, and are benefiting from genuinely loving relationships do not need to actively engage in hate-mongering and devaluing/disrespecting whole groups of people.  There is no need to assert oneself as superior at the expense of other’s basic rights, to the contrary, they enjoy embracing a spirit of generosity because they can afford to give and share without feeling threatened.  Being chronically unhappy does not give way to hate-mongering behaviors, but there’s a good chance they are prone to certain habits that perpetuate their own unhappiness.

That said, people who feel compelled to a seek momentary boost of self-importance through hate-mongering in the name of Trump support or otherwise, are likely doing so because they don’t feel adequately important enough in the world, prefer to indulge in overly simplified, fear-based solutions to their problems (or are less intellectually equipped or compelled to grasp more a complex understanding), and see anyone different than themselves as a threat to their well-being and/or way of life.  The last thing you should feel is slighted by someone else’s irrational fears and ignorant solutions to protecting and improving their station in life.  Recognize the pattern as something that has ensnared them, not you.  

Move forward by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of your own life rather than toil in the negativity that someone else is stewing in.  Stay true to your core beliefs and values.  You may feel discouraged and understandably frustrated with the influence of Trump’s hateful rhetoric that has emboldened some people to lash out against America’s longstanding value of inclusion.  The point is, you need not allow those people’s efforts to bring you down and keep you there.

 

Dr. Christina Villarreal’s Focus on Women’s Sexual Health, Empowerment & Wellness

15 years ago, I completed my doctoral dissertation examining cultural and gender influences of sexual risk behavior among Latino women. I’ve enjoyed educating women on how to embrace their sexuality, overcome obstacles to safe sex practices, and empower themselves for a lifetime of sexual wellness. I’ve served as a Relationship Expert on social media websites like GuysAskGirls.com, and written a range of articles on dating and relationships, with media publications and interviews in popular media sites such as techcrunch.  This week I orchestrated what turned out to be an amazing educational workshop for nearly 40 women on Navigating Sex, Relationships, and Dating in San Francisco. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to do this important work. Thank you to all those that participated, there will be more to come!  In the coming weeks I will be recruiting a diverse group of men in various stages of their dating life and relationship experience- from single to married.  These men will form an expert panel for an open Q & A session for an audience of Bay Area women who’d like to better understand why guys do what they do!  I will facilitate an honest and respectful dialogue that will surely be insightful, informative and instrumental in improving dating and relationship experiences for all.

Here are a few candid snapshots from the event on May 27th, 2015, we had a great time!

Hosting my first workshop on Women's Sexual Health and Wellness
Hosting my first educational workshop on Women’s Sexual Health and Wellness

With Rebecca Alvarez of Bodyfeminina- she is a Sexual Wellness Expert and Women's Sexual Health researcher

With Dr. Lina Hannigan, a Clinical Health Psychologist practicing in the Bay Area, SF.
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Be Better Than Everyone, Use SMART Goals In 5 Easy Steps

Making Your Goals PossibleThe method of SMART goals (an acronym for the 5 steps of specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals) is one of the most effective and powerful tools used by high achievers to reach their goals — realistically and consistently. Whether you’re leading a 300-person organization, a trailblazing startup entrepreneur, or an individual who wants to gain traction towards a personal goal, learning how to set and utilize SMART goals can make the difference between failure and achievement. 1. Make your goal focused and well-defined. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal.

  • When setting your goal, make sure you can answer the 6 “W” questions: Who, What, When, Where, Which, and Why. The more specific a goal is, the more you can find ways of reaching your target.  Ask questions such as:
    • Who is involved?
    • What do I want to accomplish?
    • Where will this happen? Identify a location.
    • When will this happen? Establish a time frame.
    • Which requirements and obstacles will be part of the process? Identify them.
    • Why am I setting this goal? Nail down the specific reasons and benefits of accomplishing this goal.
  • Know the difference between a specific goal and a vague goal. For example, there is a difference between saying, “I work too much, and feel drained and bored with my life” and “I miss having fun in my life, and want to invest time each week to seek out fun/recreational opportunities that will allow me to feel restored and happy.” When you set a goal to invest in reshaping your work/life balance, track your performance at work and other important areas of your life as a way of measuring your progress as you build pleasurable experiences back into your schedule. This will help you see the direct benefit of the changes you’ve made, allowing you to see the payoff of shifting your behavior. Other examples of specific and vague goals:
    • Vague: Get in shape for the summer.
    • Specific: Join a crossfit studio and attend 3-4 times a week over the next 3 months.
    • Vague: Own a home.
    • Specific: Put 30% of income into savings account for the next 12 months and talk to a realtor.

2.  Have identified metrics for measuring your progress and outcomes. A goal without a measurable outcome is like a sports competition without a scoreboard. Identify specific markers of success to measure your progress and build momentum towards your goals.

  • Ask questions such as:
    • How often?
    • How much/how many?
    • How will I know when my goal is accomplished?
    • What is at the finish line?
  • Set a daily reminder to track and measure your progress:
    • Keep a journal, put up a whiteboard at the office, use your smartphone to download a tracking app — these are all tangible ways to track your development.
    • Make the goal Attainable
  • Draft realistic goals. Based on the present restrictions such as your schedule, workload, and knowledge, do you believe you can attain the objective you set? If not, then set a different goal, one that is attainable for you in the present.
  • Ask yourself the following questions:
    • Are you prepared to make the commitment to reach your target?
    • Are you willing to dramatically alter or at least tweak aspects your life?
    • Is there a more achievable target you are willing to to work for?

3. Choose goals that are attainable. Is your goal a challenge but still possible to achieve? Goals should be achievable. The best goals require you to stretch a bit to achieve them but they are not impossible to achieve. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. When you list your goals you build your self-image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and seek out experiences that allow you to develop the skills and work ethic that allow you to possess them.

4. Make the goal relevant to your life’s reality. For instance, if joining a certain social organization seems like a good idea, but most of the organization’s activities center around consuming alcohol which is inconsistent with your goal of cutting back your drinking, choose a different organization.  Lack of options/choices is rarely a problem in today’s culture of endless options.  Carefully consider how well your choices are fitting into the big picture of how you want your life to look.

  • Set goals that are realistic. If you are 30 pounds overweight and haven’t trained for a challenging athletic endeavor in 5 years, it’s unrealistic not to mention physically risky to sign up for a triathlon with 6 weeks of training. So set a goal you have a realistic chance of achieving.  Even if someone is motivated and capable of change, their expectation of immediate progress/payoff may be unrealistic, and can lead to a sense of inadequacy and undermine their confidence when moving forward.

5. Ground the goal within a time frame.  SMART goals should be time-bound, meaning they should have a deadline or there should be a date for completion. Setting a deadline reinforces the seriousness of the goal in your mind. It motivates you to take action. When you don’t set a timeline, there is no internal pressure to accomplish the goal, so it gets put in the back burner.  Have a sense of urgency. If you want to raise your credit score to 720, when do you want to raise it by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe (example: Raise credit from 700 to 720 in 12-18 months), then you’ve set your mind into motion to begin working on the goal.  Within your established time frame, ask yourself:

  • What can I do TODAY to reach my goal?
  • What can I do 3 weeks from now to reach my goal?
  • What can I do 3 months from now to reach my goal?

FINAL TIPS:

  • Document or share your milestones with supportive people in your life along the way to your target. Make a point to pair your milestones with healthy rewards.
  • Remember, there will be days when you become discouraged and ‘not in the mood’ to work towards your goal(s).  This is normal, and does NOT mean you are failing yourself, or your plan.  Getting offtrack does not equal failure, and is not a reason to give up or relent to feelings of hopelessness.  Hit the pause button and take a breather.  High achieving, hard working people still need a break sometimes.  But then get your mind and body back on track, and reconnect with the true purpose behind setting your goal in the first place.  Why is it important to you?  What will accomplishing it afford you in the long run?  Then get back in the game.
  • Don’t forget to enlist people, opportunities and a range of resources that can help you achieve your goal.  Most people feel good about tapping into their strengths, skill sets, and networks to help others grow and achieve.  Help them feel good about helping you by not only expressing your gratitude, but by showing them the positive evidence of their support.
  • Use the power of visualization. Make sure to imagine yourself not JUST at the finish line of your goal(s), but visualize yourself achieving the small steps it takes to get there.  Don’t let there be a huge abyss between where you are now and where you want to be in your fantasies.  Yes it can be indulgent and fun to fantasize about ‘the ultimate fantasy’ coming true, but you’ll benefit more from fantasizing about hitting your goal for the week if it’s actually achievable in the here and now.

Millennials tech twist on engagement, weddings and parenthood

While millennials are still getting married at much lower rates than previous generations, some are finally beginning to grow and up, entering the world of marital engagements, wedding planning, and parenthood. True to form, their choices reflect advancements that set them apart from Gen-Xers, who were the first to utilize technology to chronicle their love stories on websites like theknot.com, build wedding registries online, gift personalized CDs with digitally remastered music as wedding favors, show spliced video montages of the bride and groom’s childhood at wedding receptions, and research honeymoons on websites like tripadvisor.com. As a card carrying member of generation X, I can proudly say we thought we were so cutting edge! Our kids were the first to be born with smartphones and tablets in their hands, and we posted their baby pictures on our social media pages and texted them to their grandparents. But time nor technology stands still, and Gen-Y has begun to put their own tech twist on engagements, weddings and baby plans. As someone who works with a high volume of with millennials in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have taken note of the following trends:

Their romantic relationships have an online life of their own. As the saying goes, no one really knows what happens behind closed doors, but in the personal lives of millennials, we can certainly take a look at their online activity to see what they’d like us to believe about their relationship status and history. The internet has become their forum of choice for chronicling romantic highs and lows, functioning as a means to gain public support, air grievances, compete for attention, and display markers of success (not to mention deleting away failures.) From public playlists on Spotify, hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest boards and Facebook’s ‘Relationship Status’ updates, Gen-Y leaves little to the imagination when it comes to sharing their stories of romance.

They crowd source their decisions when it comes to navigating relationships. Millennials are used to solving problems fast, arriving at optimal solutions with the least resistance possible. Millennials have been groomed to work in competency-based teams, and this concept is frequently used for managing their personal lives too. They prefer to avoid conflict, and are more comfortable than previous generations relying on others to help them make decisions. Jeff Snipes, CEO of Ninth House, a provider of online education, including optimizing team effectiveness, says a hierarchical, leader-oriented team was more appropriate for earlier generations: “Traditionally if you worked up the ranks for twenty years and all the employees were local then you could know all the functions of the workplace. Then you could lead by barking orders. But today everything moves too fast and the breadth of competency necessary to do something is too vast.” When faced with life-changing decisions about relationship commitment or endings, Gen-Y seeks the opinions of their team of friends, family and experts to help them navigate and solve problems. When problems are deemed too private to share, websites like popular sites like Whisper and Secret are put to use by millennials as a way to air their private thoughts, share their hidden behaviors and ask for advice completely anonymously, so there is no threat to their carefully constructed online image.

Their engagement stories, weddings and honeymoons reflect their brilliance and investment in personal branding. While previous generations aimed to establish their worth and reputation through self-improvement, author Dan Schawbel of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success points out that Gen-Y has discovered that in the dawn of the internet, admiration and success comes from self-packaging through a carefully concocted personal brand. From the days of Myspace to Tumblr, millennials have grown up managing their self image like celebrity publicists. Gen-Y has turned self-portraits into a way of life- ‘selfies’ have become one of the internet’s top forms of self-expression. Their overall online presence has been a way to uniquely distinguish themselves from everyone else, and they are highly invested in making their relationship milestones ideally memorable as part of their personal brand. Whether they capture and share these milestones via Snapchat’s Our Story, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or personal blogs, millennials are sure to control how the world sees their love stories unfold through brand management. One San Francisco Bay area millennial shared with me she got engaged via FaceTime, since her long-distance boyfriend was living in abroad and couldn’t wait to pop the question. To his credit, her (now fiance) also created an iMovie that he shared with her, depicting him staged in funny scenarios accompanied by a personalized musical score that specially captured their romantic history.

They’re comfortable resisting tradition, understanding that ‘following the rules’ doesn’t necessarily bring ‘happily ever after.’ Author Paul Hudson of Elite Daily, The Voice of Generation Y observes that millennials are far less likely than past generations to buy into the notion that marriage is the gateway to a future of stability and happiness. Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation, describes the strong link between parental divorce and a reluctance to get married. “If your parents split up then most people are more likely to be quite skeptical about the value of marriage,” he explains. “So as there’s rising divorce rates, you can imagine how when the next generation appears, people will be more dubious about marriage.” Bobby Duffy, leading market researcher on generational analysis, says there are also far more financial pressures on millennials than previous generations. They have more educational debt in a less stable economic climate, and face an incredibly buoyant housing market. According to CNNMoney, twenty-somethings are transitioning into adult life at a more gradual pace, opting to cohabitate and co-parent without traditional marriage at a much higher rate than previous generations.

They anticipate their babies’ future in a world where technological identity matters. One website says it all:awesomebabyname.com, a new online tool that allows parents to choose a name for their child based on website domain availability. Yes people, this is happening. I heard it first a few months ago when a pregnant patient of mine found out she was having a girl, the first thing she and her cohabiting boyfriend/expecting father-to-be did was buy website domains and establish email accounts in her name. Of course, now there’s an app for that! “It’s important to give your children a fighting chance of having good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in the 21st century,” says Finnbar Taylor, who created this website together with Karen X. Cheng. “We use search engines all day long to answer our questions and find things, including people. Imagine being called John Smith and trying to get a ranking on Google search. It’s important to give your child a unique name so that people, like potential employers, will be able to find them easily in the future.”

Granted, millennials are still in their 20’s, a time when it’s still developmentally common to be preoccupied with self-image, and an idealized future that looks different than previous generations. The question is, as Gen-Y ages, which of these trends, if any, will change?