Confusion

A couple of thoughts have been rattling around in my head for weeks. Both are points of puzzlement, confusion for me. They are somewhat related and arise from different aspects of a single character trait (flaw?) that runs strong within me: impostor syndrome or unworthiness.

First, I’m puzzled about what value, if any, people find in remote gestures or words of support or encouragement. All the “sending hugs” and “you deserve [love/happiness/reward/whatever]” messages from strangers seem so trite and meaningless. Memes, in particular, that seem to be increasingly frequent in my social media feeds, strike me as worse than useless. They seem insincere and hollow, providing weak yet easy and comfortable imitation of genuine care and emotional investment. Their inherent brevity leaves so much scope for misunderstanding, too much room for doubt and skepticism to creep in and cause the meaning to get twisted and underlying intentions to be questioned.

For example, I saw this one earlier today: “Stay positive! The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude. ~ Dennis S. Brown”. Now, I don’t know who that author is or anything about their circumstances or thought processes that lead to this opinion, but there are some fairly obvious flaws in this so-called advice that, for me, not only make the advice functionality inert but also make it actively harmful on a psychological and emotional level.

First, blaming someone for feeling whatever it is they’re feeling, telling them they’re the cause of it, is almost never constructive, healing, or encouraging. Instead, it engenders shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Second, there are myriad reasons why a day can be objectively “bad” that have nothing to do with the attitude of the person experiencing the suck. My great attitude, bubbly good cheer and big smile, or lack thereof, on any given occasion cannot possibly be rationally identified as the cause or catalyst, say, of slipping on the ice, falling and breaking my wrist. I assure you, that would make it a very bad day, no matter how positive I can stay through the throbbing pain.

My point is that these trite but pithy oversimplifications can be eye catching emotional candy, but they can never substitute for the deeply nourishing fare found in deeper contemplation and discourse on the root causes of whatever is being grappled with.

I just struggle to reconcile the shiny, simple messages with lived experiences. Too much sweetness in words from a stranger behind a screen not only makes me suspicious of the motive, but also makes me shrink back from the endearments and placations because “it cannot possibly be meant for me, they don’t even know me!” In my head, the remoteness of the sender and the intensity of the emotion conveyed place that message in a category of kindness or feeling reserved for others. My brain says I don’t deserve that, for whatever reason. So the value of those memes and messages is lost on me.

The second confusing thing, closely related, is why it’s so hard to take a compliment at face value when it’s rendered online, even when it’s about you specifically, not a meme, and given by someone you know IRL. There’s something too easy about it, too slick and pat, when it’s a text or email or online post. I mean, I find IRL compliments hard to take too, but for entirely different reasons. When someone is facing you in the same room, having to see you and be seen by you, the things said tend to be (or at least feel) more real and are easier to evaluate for trustworthiness. Even if you decide you don’t believe it, having the face to face experience of it makes it feel less fake.

Both of these thoughts have been chasing each other around my brain, leaving me confused and wondering. Ultimately, I wonder why we, as a society, are rushing so fast and steadily into a future where we’re isolated from one another, living vicariously through our screens, when that remote interaction makes us feel less secure, less happy, less genuine?

Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way.

Advertisements

Flotsam

It’s been a busy week. When I returned from vacation a week ago, I had a short few hours to empty my suitcase and refill it, ready for a week in conference with my global team. I host this summit every two years and it’s always a wonderful experience. This time was no exception. It was made even better by my not having to plan, organize and execute the agenda. I had delegated that task to my senior leaders and they didn’t disappoint. The agenda was full of engaging activities, intriguing speakers, and plentiful opportunities for getting to know one another. My brain is full of bits and pieces, flotsam, of the week. Here are a few highlights:

  • I experienced my first escape room. I was very uncertain about doing that, as I am very claustrophobic and our team, even broken down into four groups, is large. I didn’t want to get into some confined space and panic and be the reason we failed. But it was fun. I surprised myself by staying calm enough to think through clues and solve nearly half of the puzzles myself. My group worked well together and had a great time, escaping with 12:09 to spare!
  • It was surprisingly nice to be more of a spectator than the driver at this event. I let my leaders be responsible for the agenda and running the meetings, and didn’t even feel the need to jump in and help. They each did a great job with their part of the agenda and were incisive and thoughtful in their remarks and questions. It’s good to see your people blossom.
  • We did a group Emergenetics assessment, evaluating how each person thinks and approaches working with others. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well balanced the team is overall. Normally, any given group or individual has one or two strong thinking preferences, with the other two being minor tendencies. But this team is fairly evenly split among the four styles: Analytical, Structural, Conceptual, and Social. Surprisingly, especially for a group of legal professionals, Social (which should really be called Relational) was slightly bigger than the Conceptual category, though Analytical and Structural were still the highest scoring styles. Our overall balance is reflected in the tight integration and high engagement and productivity of this team. I’m very proud of them and all they’ve accomplished. It’s nice to have data that validates their good working dynamic.
  • Being a participant, rather than the driver, this week left me with more opportunities to get to know more of my team, especially the newer folk from my international groups. We had lots of playful banter and some fun conversations about personal interests. I was surprised to find so many Harry Potter fans among them, along with plenty of car enthusiasts and Marvel lovers. But I was also gratified to find them all to be thoughtful and sensitive in their discussions of more weighty topics. At one point, a conversation that started off playfully debating the comparative qualities of Snape, Umbridge and Dumbledore, led to a respectful, yet lively, discussion of the merits of JK Rowling’s choice to out Dumbledore as gay. One young member of my team in Asia said that they didn’t see how that detail was necessary to expose, how it could possibly advance the story. When I explained that seeing someone, even a fictional character, in the media that we consume who reflects back to you the qualities that make you feel different can make those markers of difference less sharp, less othering, I saw the lightbulb go on in their head. It was fascinating to see them realize that knowing something about a character that makes them relatable on a personal level is as essential to enjoyment for minority/marginalized groups as it is for the privileged/mainstream groups. It felt good to be able to help them make that connection and, hopefully, help shape their thinking a little bit.
  • We had some amazing food experiences this week, too. But out of all of them, I think I enjoyed the relaxed pizza party we had after the escape room the most. Removing all the trappings of elegant dining and just sitting around in a sports bar and talking about everything and nothing, we became even more of a team. No rank, no titles, just a bunch of people getting to be friends. I really enjoyed that.

I hope your week ahead is full of good conversation and plenty of opportunity to get to know folks in your life that bit better. Have a great week, friends.

Bliss

It’s Saturday evening. I’ve enjoyed a quiet, laid-back day of reading, games, resting and chatting. It’s the last day of vacation and I’m as mellow and rested as I’ve been in over a year.

This week was a critical, essential respite from a very stressful stretch of life. Although I didn’t sleep as much as I’d hoped to sleep every day, what sleep I got was restful. Even more nourishing was the stress-free, expectation-free time spent with friends in gentle activity, peaceful relaxation, and honest conversation full of truth, validation, and so much laughter and joy.

We had amazing food experiences. Two epic taco encounters, a spectacular charcuterie adventure, and even a delicious and comforting Southern breakfast escapade. Not to mention several lovely homespun meals that really hit the spot for hunger for both food and fellowship.

Art was enjoyed. Gorgeous mountainside vistas were viewed in awe. Bookstores and their contents were explored and revered. Souvenirs were collected. And peace was discovered in the quiet comfort of a cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains with people of like mind and open heart.

I’m going back to the real world tomorrow. The early flight and subsequent quick-turn to get ready for a business conference next week will, no doubt, dull the sparkle of the shiny-new ease I’ve garnered from this retreat. But it’ll just be surface patina. I think this time away from the angst and pressure and the intentional focus on my own internal restfulness, has helped me reset and win back the relaxation and coping skills I had forgotten. At least that’s my sincere hope.

With this renewed energy and more centered outlook, I hope to have perspective enough to evaluate my job, and the sources of stress I’ve endured for so long, with fresh eyes and a calm spirit. One week’s rest is by no means a cure-all, but I do hope that the relief from the most recent stresses will be enough to make objective observations and smart, self-first decisions.

If not, I will at least still have the experience of this blissful week as a source of joy when things get rough.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start!

Well, at least let the vacation begin!

This Butch is on holiday and I’m sharing it with two great friends. We’re getting a lovely cabin in a beautiful mountain location, complete with hot tub and fire pit, and spending time doing nothing. I’m soooooo ready for this break! Gonna dedicate myself to relaxation.

I’m writing this brief update from my seat on the first plane of my trip, which is currently stuck 50 feet from the gate while the ramp is closed due to lightning. My hope is this will be a short and singular delay to the glorious week of low-key revelry my friends and I are looking forward to.

Also, lest I be remiss and have my Butch Geek card revoked: May The Fourth Be With You. I’m wearing my R2D2 bow tie and Jedi socks and have my R2D2 suitcase in tow for the occasion. I hope you find some enjoyment from this goofy day of word-play.

More Small Things

I’ve about decided that celebrating the small, even tiny, good things is the best way to get back into active positivity. It’s kinda meta: baby steps into baby steps. Or, said another (weird and tortured metaphoric) way: one bite of the elephant in the room at a time.

Since I’m not finding a lot of success in big, ground-eating leaps and bounds, I’ll take the small wins and be happy with them. Here are a few:

  • Tulips galore! I love the color and cheerfulness of spring flowers, especially tulips.
  • Caramel in my coffee…mmm.
  • A friend sent me a care package with some stuff to help me sleep, including chocolate melatonin bits. Didn’t know there was such a thing. But I tried them last night and got nearly 7 hours of sleep! WOOT!
  • I have the office to myself this week, with the boss out of town. I’m enjoying the quiet and looking forward to my own week out of the office next week. By the time I’m back, we’ll have had over two full weeks apart. That’s a welcome breather and a good reset. I hope the reduced stress and increased perspective gives us both what we need to make a lasting change.
  • I saw Avengers: End Game on Friday, playing hooky on a bright spring day to meet a friend. It was a fun time, but I haven’t fully integrated the movie yet. I think I need to see it again to decide how I feel about it.

I hope there are plenty of little things for you to count as blessings this week, friends.

Nice Things

It’s Spring, that fleeting period of bliss when the temps are balmy, the Earth is being renewed in green and bright blossoms, and allergens (at least most of the ones I suffer from) and pests are not yet at their most annoying. There’s more light in each day and hope on the horizon in the form of pending vacation plans and the summer schedule for fun movies.

Someone I shared an elevator with yesterday commented, when asked how he was doing, that he’d be glad when it was Fall. I figured it was allergy-related, but no, he said he just didn’t like Spring. Seeing me flabbergasted by that, he asked what I liked about it.

“Hope”, I said. “Spring has always represented hopefulness and renewal for me. The greening of the Earth, the birth of new creatures and plants, the prelude and build-up to long, warm days and vacation season and visits to old friends and new places. What’s not to love about Spring?”

He didn’t have an answer, just wished me a good day and went on his way.

I still can’t fathom what there is to dislike about Spring. But…to each their own, I guess. For me, I intend to enjoy these few days of temperate bliss, including the heavenly scent of the blossoms in my pear trees, the cheerful songs of the birds returning to the treetops, and the bright colors of tulips and other spring blooms. Yesterday after work, I sat in the (somewhat rusty) glider on my front patio and ate my dinner under a thick bower of fresh pear blossoms and the vault of blue skies before twilight. The robins and wrens and pigeons and cardinals serenaded me and the slight breeze set the spring leaves a flutter. It was a perfect few minutes of peace.

These are all nice things for which I’m thankful and from which I derive great joy. I hope you find plenty, in this season and always, to enjoy and be thankful for.

Conundrum

I’m really freaking tired of the up/down, positive/negative emotional treadmill that’s taken up residence in my brain and psyche lately. It hasn’t even been a full week since the victorious settlement of one of the biggest litigation matters in my professional career and I haven’t even had a chance to celebrate or even fully grasp that it’s no longer a problem I have to deal with. Yet I’m already embroiled in the next (few) crises, battling the next source of negativity.

But I don’t want to fall into the trap of repetitive, unrelenting negativity. So I’m trying to come at this one from an attitude of learning: what can I learn from this, how can I reframe this into some positive, practical good?

Here’s the puzzle:

How do you separate your emotional investment in something from the intellectual and logical, even logistical, considerations of any given issue, especially when faced with the projected emotional experience of the people around you?

Here’s today’s experience that triggered this query:

In the midst of a vent about the way a few people at my company have handled certain issues lately, a person I respect and admire and whose judgment I have always trusted described their decision to change careers and come work at my company in a field and position similar to my own as “abject failure”, going on to express how their parents had lamented their decision to change fields, go to law school, and take a leadership position at a company rather than continue their promising career in an entirely different professional field with the opportunity to “do real work with value for the world “.

I know logically and intellectually that these comments were borne of their frustration and stress, that they were venting and speaking about themself and their experience, relating memories from their past. I also am perfectly clear that their comments were not directed at me, only to me, and that the judgment held in those words was directed at their life, not at mine.

I know all of this.

Yet, at the same time, it’s hard not to apply that same judgment (that being an attorney, especially an in-house lawyer for a company not “doing anything important” for society is failure) to my own career. That judgment stings sharply, especially because I don’t have that second career, that other skill set to return to.

It seems to me a reasonable conclusion that if being an attorney and business executive is a failure for someone with such considerable accomplishments and valuable alternative skills, then it surely is more so for anyone else in the same company in a similar position who is less accomplished and has fewer alternative skills. How could it not be? Only if the less accomplished yet similarly situated person has exhausted their potential – if they were always going to be less, couldn’t expect to achieve anything more or better.

But that’s as big a smack in the face as the assertion that a chosen career and its associated achievements is necessarily a consolation prize, unworthy of pride and celebration.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned, how can this be turned into something positive ?

I don’t have these answers yet. I’m still struggling not to internalize the notion that everything I’ve worked for, all my professional achievements, and me into the bargain, aren’t some pathetic joke, undeserving of the esteem I’ve ascribed to them for nearly two decades. But I have to believe that there is something positive to salvage from the junk heap of professional ego.

Maybe it is this: even if the career I’ve built and the contributions I’ve made to my company’s success are less glamorous or valuable than some other esteemed career by someone else’s measure, I at least can be proud of what I’ve accomplished because I’ve done it honestly, with integrity and by the work of my own mind and skill; I have exploited no one, mistreated no one, cheated no one, and taken nothing that I did not earn by honest means. If that’s pathetic, abject failure for some, I’m unsure what could possibly measure up to success.

Still, it doesn’t sting any less knowing that my measure of personal success seems weak and valueless to someone who I have respected and admired and whose esteem I have labored to attract. I wonder now if they regard me with as much contempt as they apparently regard my career?

That’s not a super-shiny positive on which to end this post. But at least I’m thinking about it and making an effort to divine a positive meaning from a hurtful encounter. That’s supposedly a “learner’s” mentality and the first step to positivity. So there’s that.

Victory

My last post conveyed my nervousness about the trial my company was preparing for on Tuesday of this week. Although we had done a vast amount of work to prepare our case, martial our evidence, and prepare witnesses, I had a healthy level of concern for our prospects – there are a lot of variables and things outside our control that could cause a loss for even the best prepared case.

Also, as is my way, I was also nervous about my own personal performance and participation in the trial. I was designated to be the corporate representative necessary to the presentation of the case, so I was going to be sitting at counsel’s table in the courtroom. But I was also going to be called as a witness. So, in addition to the hundreds of hours of work I had put into the case, including nearly 20 hours of combined deposition testimony, I was going to have to relive it all and synthesize our data under the scrutiny and pressure of direct and cross examination.

So, I was nervous.

Tuesday dawned and I found my way downtown and, eventually, to the correct federal courtroom without incident. All of our witnesses and both outside counsel and my boss, the General Counsel of my company, showed up on time and fully prepared. After the pre-trial conference, we took our places and proceeded with opening statements and direct examination of our first witness. Keeping our team informed of our progress (since they weren’t permitted to be in the courtroom) during breaks, we ended the day with some work to do based on the rulings and questions that were raised during the day. So, after a 8+ hour day in court, we spent several more hours at the office digging up data to address issues we’d face in court the next day. We also were fielding questions and overtures from the other side toward settlement.

But it didn’t settle before the report time the next day, so we showed up for court again Wednesday morning, ready to go hard. We did go hard and gained back some of the ground we’d seen slip in bench rulings on the prior day. That helped us tip the momentum in our favor. So, just before the end of the lunch break, and – more critical to me personally – just before I was to be called to the witness stand, the other side agreed to settle on my company’s terms.

It was a good result for both me and my company. I’m very pleased with the result and hugely proud of all the work I and my team put in on this case. I’m proud to be able to report a victory.

Nerves

After months of grueling work, high stress and anxiety, sleepless nights and even a few ridiculous panic attacks, tomorrow begins the trial. This case should have been so straight forward and resolved in a matter of days after the circuit court ruling nearly two years ago narrowed the issues to essentially one. It was a contract claim, for frick sake! It shouldn’t have taken this much time, effort, energy and head space. But old, greedy, white dudes with nothing better to do than to make trouble, and here we are.

I’m going to be at the counsel table with our outside counsel. I’m supposed to be observing and an available resource to counsel for contract-specific details. In other words, I’m the living database for our case.

No pressure.

Actually, I’m ok with it. I’ve devoted so much of my time and endured so much stress in this thing that I’d feel cheated not to be on hand to watch it play out. But that doesn’t stop the nerves. I’m sure I’ll be fine as soon as it starts. As with so many things in life, it’s the anticipation that’s the killer.

And on the plus side – I will probably wear one or both of my custom suits during this circus.

Probably won’t hear from me again before it’s all over. All the good vibes, good wishes, crossed fingers, and positive energy you can spare for me is much appreciated.

Everyday Positives

Trying to get back to being more positive. With the pressure of quarter end and prepping for trial and sleep deprivation, I’ve had less luck with that over the last several weeks than I’d like. So, to help myself get back into that habitual mindset, I was thinking of some everyday things that make me happy. Here’s an incomplete list, in random order, of some good things that have made this latest stretch of stressful, anxiety-filled days bearable:

  • The surprise of seeing new leaves on trees that were barren just the night before.
  • Good coffee.
  • The return of birdsong as my morning soundtrack.
  • New stories by authors I admire.
  • Crisp, freshly pressed dress shirts and stylish bow ties.
  • The satisfaction of finishing a short story and submitting it to a call for submissions to a real publisher.
  • The sincere respect and appreciation of professional colleagues whom you also respect and admire.

I hope you find plenty of good things to count as blessings in your own life. And may you have plentiful green growth, sunshine and birdsong to brighten your week. Be well, friends!

%d bloggers like this: