Pathway of Light

Just snapped this pic of the sunset from the window out the back of my office building. I love sunsets and love getting to see them, even when stuck in the office. This one, with that long ray of light shooting straight at you, is especially cool. That ray looks like a pathway straight into the clouds, a roadway to heaven. 

I hope you’re finding something uplifting in your day, even if it’s as fleeting as the sunset. 

I didn’t sign up to be a traffic cop

Well, with this post, I fulfill my #NaNoWriMo slash #NaBloPoMo goal of posting once a week in November. I even squeezed in a couple of bonus posts. So I’m happy with my achievement, even if it wasn’t 30 straight days of posts. 

Recently I talked about having had a really good day after doing some deeply hard-core executive lawyering. That’s happened quite a few times and I’ve tried to celebrate those wins so as not to lose sight of the good, substantive work I do. That’s important, because it seems far too many of my work days lately consist of frustratingly wasteful, non-substantive busy work. And way too much gate-guarding/re-directing of tasks and obligations away from my team. I feel like I’m mostly a traffic cop, hence the title of this post. 

That’s not what I want to be and not how I want to spend my time. But it’s a necessary evil, if I’m to protect my scarce resources from inefficient and productivity-eroding time-sinks. That is part of my job as the boss. But it seems such a low-value activity and a very expensive waste of time and talent. 

So, instead of whining about it, I’m trying to think of strategies to resolve the symptoms and, hopefully, the root cause. It’s challenging, because no problem is one-sided and lots of people and variables come into play. The priorities I have for my team, which make these inefficiencies so problematic, aren’t the same priorities that other teams have. Indeed, these inefficiencies are tools or methods that other teams are using to pursue their competing priorities. 

A good example is when the sales teams try to end-run the approval process and ask my legal team to draft contracts in absence of approvals “to save time”. My team is put into the position of having to create complex, nuanced contracts on the basis of little or no specific information about the deal, while also having to play approval-police to be sure the contract doesn’t get signed before all the business approvals are given. That parallel processing always includes more calls/emails/special handling, with the associated increased time to get work product out, than we ever need when we get a fully approved contract request before drafting. So I spend time talking to sales reps and sales managers to identify needs and clarify requests and push back against the stupid and unreasonable, while my team struggles to provide top quality service amidst the chaos. 

That’s what I mean by inefficiencies making me a traffic cop. 

I haven’t answered all (any) of the questions about how to remedy this condition. But I have been working on it. With the help of cross-functional leaders I’ve raised awareness and received some short-term relief for my team on parts of the issue. And just yesterday I proposed a refinement to the contracting process to the sales leadership team that could resolve the lion’s share of the frustration for both sales and legal. It will require commitment on both sides and a significant behavior modification for the sales teams. But it also could mean removing more than 80% of the procedural friction from the process and increase sales (and the pace of sales) into the bargain. 

It’s a project for next year and I have high hopes. It’s not the substantive legal and executive work I enjoy most, but it’s good work and could bring a lot of tangible and intangible benefits to my team and my company. If the price is my being a traffic cop…where’s my whistle?

Finding the positive in the unpleasant is a win and one very good thing. I hope you’re finding something positive to celebrate today. 

The Case for Self Care

Self care is a concept that makes sense intellectually. If you take care of yourself, you’re in a better position to care for others. But for me, emotionally, I struggle with the sense of selfishness that always comes with putting myself first. It feels exactly opposite to my entire upbringing. 

But I can appreciate that everyone needs a rest, a break now and then. So here are three ways I’m indulging in some self care:

  1. I’m taking the week off. I’ve been working a lot. I always have worked long hours, but in the last few weeks I’ve been under a lot of stress with a lot of executive-level decisions. So I have told myself that I’ll be sharper, better equipped to keep up that level of work if I take a break. Plus, I promised myself last year that I’d use my PTO this year. I lost two weeks last year, and I don’t want to do that this year. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m down to one week and still hopeful to use most of it. 
  2. Also, I have given up on social media. With the exception of a few #lookingup Tweets to post a few cool sunrise/sunset pics, I haven’t opened Facebook or looked at my Twitter timeline in a week. The relief from the constant barrage of anger, unkindness, and hate that saturates media feeds, I have been calmer and less anxious. The trade-off is a deeper sense of isolation. I’m still trying to find an IRL community, friends with shared experiences and interests. That’s harder to do than you’d expect. But even so, the lessening of the angst is worth the isolation. Sorry if you’ve posted in my timeline- try PM via Messenger or text me directly. For now, I’m giving FB and Twitter a miss. 
  3. Finally, I’m finding time for quiet time alone. Minutes to hours where the screens are off and there’s no one talking to me are precious. It isn’t that I don’t want people near me or to talk to me. But I have to be “on” all the time, both at work and home, when people are there. I’m expected to make decisions and give direction and contribute to the conversation. That’s part of the job and part of being a family. But it’s part of what makes me stressed out, too. For whatever reason, noise, especially voices, build up a pressure inside my nerves, make me want to run and hide. So I’m trying to find time, at least a few minutes every day, to sit quietly alone and let my jangling nerves rest. 

I hope you’re finding ways to treat yourself well. Peace and light to you all. 

Glimmer of Positivity 

Because my last few posts, like my life and general reality, have been decidedly on the grim side, I have determined that I will be positive and hopeful in this post. And, harking back to the method I used earlier this year, I’m going to allow myself to define positivity expansively. (For example, I think it’s entirely positive that I have successfully avoided strangling a most annoying salesperson for over a month!) Even the small victories over gloom and defeat are to be celebrated, because any victory fuels the fire that will consume this era of hate. 

And so…a list of some good, positive things:

  1. I have done, and done well, some seriously deep and meaningful executive lawyering over the last few weeks. From dealing with emergent conflicts, to guiding senior executives in strategic decisions, to managing multiple outside law firms on concurrent litigation matters, my skill as a legal professional and a business leader has been tested and met every challenge. I’m proud of my contribution to my company’s success and proud of my team’s achievements. 
  2. I got an early start on holiday gifts for my team this year. I try to give hand-made gifts that are fun, or useful, or meaningful. I’m happy with my choice this year and glad I started early. 
  3. My skill at diplomatically delegating, whether to members of my own team or to other departments, is increasing. I have struggled with the feeling of failure at having to say no to some things. But I’ve learned that exhausting myself not only compromises me as a resource and leader, but it withholds growth opportunities from others. It’s still a challenge, but I’m doing better and my team and my company are benefitting. 
  4. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The sky is always a source of joy and energy for me. I like its infinite variety and find peace in the loveliness and simplicity of a sunrise. A collage of a sunrise from earlier this week (with the super moon!) is attached below for your enjoyment. 
  5. It may get cold enough to freeze here in the next few days and my eyes and nose are rejoicing the possibility. Can’t wait. Not only will it finally feel like it should for the holidays, but my allergies will abate until Spring and that’s a very good thing. 

Mangled Lyrics 

I have always had a challenge with “ear worms”, songs that get stuck in your head and repeat incessantly. As a kid, I shared the joy of them with everyone by singing them loudly until I exhausted whatever malicious energy feeds them. But as an adult I have to be conscious of the fact that that extremely annoying habit might induce aggression or get me committed as insane. 

So I learned a long time ago that I can usually kill an ear worm by replacing it with a go-to song that my brain finds comforting and non-invasive. I let that song play in my head, a little louder than the other, and let its rhythm overtake the other. Something about that process flips the off switch and I can generally get on with my day or relax enough to sleep. 

I say this usually works, because sometimes it doesn’t. When I’m particularly stressed, for example, and the insidious song is somehow connected by my brain to the stressor, even that trick is unreliable. 

And now, to accompany the extreme stress and anxiety I’m experiencing from the elections, comes the fresh hell of ear worms of mangled lyrics that tie the songs and stress even closer together. 

No peace within, no peace without. Joy. 

For a week now (at least since the election), I’ve had a soundtrack of alternating song snippets punctuating my every waking moment. First up is my brain’s twisted version of the refrain from “Everything is Awesome” by Tegan & Sara from the LEGO Movie, only its “Everything is Awful” over and over again. Followed closely by a version of Fun’s “All Alright”, in which my brain supplies slightly modified and completely accurate lyrics of “It’s not alright, no it’s not alright, it’s such a mess inside of my head and I’m not alright. No it’s not alright, no it’s not alright, I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest and I’m not alright.”

So that’s fun. 

I can’t decide if my brain is trying to help me or kill me. Maybe it’s an affirmation of my feelings, a biochemical validation that’s supposed to help me through until I am alright? Or maybe it’s just one more layer of stress and awfulness designed to make my head explode. I don’t know. 

But my go-to, ear worm-killing, comfort song* isn’t helping. And the peaceful moments alone that I desperately need to still the screeching static in my head are infiltrated with these ceaseless songs.   

I need a new trick to turn off the unwanted music.   

*I can’t say what it is or its power will fade, like Samson and his locks of hair…or something. 

The Tally

Sometimes I can’t talk about what’s hurting me, but I can write. 

—–

For two days I’ve been battling to control my emotions. Tears come without warning at the slightest provocation. And a heavy, burning, acrid lump of shame and fear is stuck in my throat preventing me from gaining any calm or comfort by talking through the awfulness. 

Ambush emotions suck. Hard. And the shame and stress of having them come while I’m at work is doubly awful. Being busy will stem the flow for a time. But focusing on work or on anything outside of my head is a daunting task. I’ve been trying, but I’m failing more than succeeding. 

One of the emotionally fraught conversations I had with coworkers today (in which I was mostly silent and tearful) centered on the breathtaking variety of people who will be negatively affected by this new regime. We decided that really only one demographic isn’t immediately and directly harmed by it: straight, white, male, Christians. All others are less than, second-class, and targets for every kind of discrimination and hate. People of color, people of size, people who are LGBTQI, people with physical or mental or emotional challenges, people of any faith other than Christian and people of no faith, and all women are less safe today than we were on Tuesday (to the extent some of these groups were safe at all).

That led to us discussing in how many dimensions each of us is viewed as less than, as undesirable, as unworthy and unwanted. It was a grim discussion and it was repeated with a different set of people later, spontaneously. Because everyone is conscious of the danger that this ungoverned hate represents. And because talking seems to be the only way some have to cope…or not cope but try to commiserate. 

I know its not healthy or helpful to pursue these dark thoughts. But it’s difficult to avoid them when it’s still so raw. It’s akin to the obsessive prodding of a sore tooth, or the scratching of a scab: it hurts and is not productive, but it keeps you conscious of the injury and is, in a way, comforting to feel something even if it’s pain. 

So here’s my tally of factors of un-safety: 8.  I’m a fat, Hispanic, gay, gender non-conforming, woman with mobility issues and unpopular opinions, who holds a position of corporate power over men. 

These are among the most prominent defining characteristics of who I am. They are important to me. And, under this administration of horrors, they number the ways in which I am wrong, misfit, rejected, and reviled. 

I’m sure that tally will increase over the course of the next four years. Because there’s no chance that any of these factors will diminish, but every chance that these hate mongers will find new reasons to hate the hated even more. 

This is the Hard Part

So this is where it gets hard being the boss. For the most part, I have a productive, highly respected, engaged and contented staff. Even though there are a few rough interpersonal communication spots among some of the team on occasion, engagement scores are high and productivity is meeting or beating every KPI metric. Yet there’s that one bad apple who screws up the curve.  

Despite nearly two years of coaching and counseling, even rewarding good behaviors despite the risk of reinforcing the bad, this one person refuses to meet the very basic expectations for their role. They are clear, measurable, achievable, and reasonable expectations for their experience level and role, basic competencies that every person in this role is expected to master. Yet this person defiantly has refused to do the basic things required. Even their local HR is exhausted with this person’s insubordination.  

But I’m not allowed to terminate their employment.  

This is the hard part. Acquiescing to the directive from higher up, being the good team player, subrogating my managerial prerogative for “the greater good of the organization”. Dealing with the continuing problem and swallowing any indignation about it is part and parcel of being the executive leader of this team. Or so I’m lead to believe. And I can deal with it for now. But it’s still hard.   

I’m concerned about the effect that this person continuing with the team will have on other members of the organization. By this person appearing to get away with repeated failure to meet expectations, I’m afraid the rest of the team will be demotivated. Also, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that being rendered powerless in this respect is demotivating for me. And, not for nothing, this person won’t learn or grow if there is no practical consequences for their failure.   

What’s hard, also, is that I was made to hire this person against my wishes for similar “greater good” reasons. So I feel like this is a double punch to the gut: to be proven right about a bad decision and then prevented from getting rid of the problem. Yet, because I’m a good corporate soldier and an excellent team player, I’ll endure. For now. 

But I make no promises that I won’t be insufferably, jubilantly smug and say “I told you so” a bunch of times when I do finally get to fire this festering blister of recalcitrant disrespect. I can wait for that, I guess. 

The Importance of Being Seen

Oh lookit, a bonus post already in this limited #NaNoWriMo effort. Wish I could say it’s a joyful one. 
——

I’ve had a rough couple of days at work. I received some feedback that I find very upsetting and have felt rather let down and discouraged by it. After a private pity party and a little whinge in a journal, I’ve spent some time trying to dissect exactly what’s hurting me about it. I actively seek out feedback, frequently ask how I can improve. Personal and professional growth is important to me. So why this feeling of being utterly crushed by this particular feedback?

I think the core of it is that I’ve already spent a lot of time and energy and emotion on this very thing and believe I’ve improved a lot, eliminating the biggest part of this perceived flaw. Yet…it’s apparently not good enough. 

Criticism is hard for all of us, I think. But I find it especially difficult to take onboard as constructive feedback in situations where I feel my efforts in the area at issue have been ignored or overlooked. That’s where I’m at right now…feeling invisible, not seen, un-acknowledged. Or at least my work on a particularly challenging aspect of personal growth feels dismissed and ignored by people I respect and admire. 

I’m familiar with the concept of “being seen” in the context of personal identity. Telling someone “I see you” is a sacred act of validation, an invaluable gift to those whose identity has been erased, ignored, vilified, criminalized. Being seen has weight and meaning far surpassing the surface affect of recognition. Especially for those in marginalized identities, being seen can mean the difference between a life of freedom and a life of struggling to exist. 

But the concept applies equally well to situations beyond identity politics. Being seen and heard is a fundamental need in all types of relationships and interactions. When we feel acknowledged, validated, valued, our relationships and interactions thrive. When we feel invisible, ignored, erased, they fail. That is a binary I do acknowledge. 

In an age when employee engagement and talent retention are actual corporate priorities and not just buzz-words, I can’t help but think that acknowledging someone’s response to coaching, validating their efforts and progress, is critical to those goals. I’m not interested in flattery or asking to be praised and petted. I merely think that if criticism is acknowledged and responded to with genuine effort to improve, heaping on further criticism without any acknowledgement of those efforts is dispiriting and demoralizing. It’s the difference between fine-tuning with judicious editing, and bludgeoning with a hammer. 

That all sounds like a load of self pity and whining. An adult professional should be able to receive criticism without crying about it. 

Yes. 

But at some point, even responsible adults get a gut full of being picked-on. And when the criticism comes without any direction or guidance on what to change or what constitutes success, the unacknowledged efforts seem futile and will eventually stop. That is the very definition of disengagement. 

So, yeah, that’s a grim way to end the day. Perhaps the gloom and chill outside my window has seeped into my thoughts and leaked out into this blog. Sorry. 

I hope you’re feeling seen and valid and valued today and every day. 

Troubling Thought

Here’s the first of my #NaNoWriMo posts…

Last month, I attended a CLE seminar on diversity in the legal profession. During a panel discussion with five representatives of various marginalized demographics, a question asked the panelists to tell of a time when they experienced trouble in their job because of their minority’s identity. Several of the women of color described being assumed to be secretaries, prostitutes, or mothers of their clients by judges and court personnel. The discussion turned to their coping strategies and what things they did to avoid those assumptions. All of the women on the panel, including the gay white woman, talked about making great efforts to present a professional appearance, especially having a good hairstyle and always wearing a suit jacket to court and meetings. These were acknowledged by the panel as the most direct measures to avoid negative assumptions by people who “naturally” rely on prevailing stereotypes about women’s roles. 
Then a self-acknowledged straight white man who spent 20+ years in the US armed forces, commented that his experience in uniform taught him that “dressing the part” was often the best way to achieve a goal and earn the respect of those involved. 

I was stunned by the level of agreement this remark drew from the audience. 

Perhaps I look at the thing with undue prejudice, given that presentation, gender identity, authenticity, and validation are all closely, inextricably linked in my head. But even so, I cannot help but think that telling people who are marginalized in large part by their appearance that the only way for them to succeed or advance is to assimilate the appearance of those who marginalize them, is dangerous and damaging. 

“Fake it ’til you make it “, “dress the part”, “grin and bear it”, “pay your dues”, and lots of other pithy, glib, over-simplified adages all tell the same story: you’re not (yet) enough and you’ll only ever be enough if you become (or appear to be) something else. 

In a room full of lawyers voluntarily learning about the vital role diversity plays in making our profession, our justice system, our society, and our world better for us and future generations, I judge that man’s comment, and the sentiment and connotations it carries, to be wholly unworthy, erasing whole swaths of identities, and undoing any positive messages that the seminar did impart to the non-marginalized attendees. 

But what other advice could he have given that would be more helpful? 

If looking mainstream provides the relief necessary to get you to a position that allows a more authentic presentation, how is that a bad thing? Conforming for safety, personal and professional security, or as a step among a progression…isn’t this the definition of maturity, of growth? Is it possible to balance authenticity and conformity?

Lots of questions and few answers. 

What do you think?

Back to Blogging 

So…hello again. It’s been a really long time since I posted. Sorry about that. Life, you know. Been slowly going insane with work and life and all the horribleness going on in the world. With one thing and another, I haven’t had the heart to blog.  

But I miss it a lot. And NaNoWriMo is upon us. A friend on Twitter encouraged me, Obi Wan-style, to start again, perhaps commit to a set number of posts. It’s a good idea. I know I haven’t the energy to post every day. But I can do at least one per week. And if I muster the energy to do more than that, then bonus. 

So, I’m committing to post at least once a week in November. No clue what I’ll write about. I have some half-started posts, so maybe it won’t be that hard. It probably will be, though. Either way, I’ll at least be back to writing a little. Watch this space. The first one comes tomorrow. 

If you’re doing #NaNoWriMo, best of luck. If you’re reading this blog still, despite my laxness, thanks & wish me luck!

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