Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Celebrating is Positive

No, not the ‘let’s get drunk & screw’ kind of celebration. I leave that to the frat boys. Nope, I’m all about small, everyday, random gestures of support. Neat little nuggets of “yay!” that tell someone that you see them, appreciate them, and value them for who they are. And, of course, genuine, overt, public acknowledgment of achievements are awesome.

“Praise publicly, correct privately” is a maxim that’s been drilled into my head by parents, teachers, preachers, managers and mentors all my life. And I’m a believer in the positive benefits of this practice. People respond, rise to the challenge of expectation, when praise earned flows freely.

But shaming and humiliation have never been effective tools for motivating or managing my behavior or compliance. In fact, embarrassing me in front of my friends or colleagues is the quickest way to get me to shut down the reasoning part of my brain, dig in my heels, and be “as ornery as a left footed mule” (thanks, Gran!).

Thus, I view appreciation as one of the most positive things in life.

Today I had the chance to participate in a lovely and moving awards ceremony for a colleague, celebrating his nearly 3 decades of leadership and contribution to my company. Then, tonight I celebrated another work friend’s retirement, before hosting all my direct reports in a dinner celebrating their many and significant 2012 achievements.

So many warm fuzzies, I’m beside myself! I love seeing good people rewarded.

Advertisements

Positively Pissed-Off

I’m about to do something I never do: break my word. I committed to myself on Sunday to spend this week being, thinking, acting positively. This post breaks my streak…sort of. (I’ll try to show at the end how even this rant is a positive thing, for me.) Also, be warned: I’m feeling all the feelings just now, so this post may not be as polished & well edited as it could be.

I’ve been watching something amazing happen across various social media over the last several days. What started off as a Tweet by an understandably upset traveler, has bloomed into a full-on media roll. I’m talking about Butch On Tap‘s Tweets and blog posts, and now Huffington Post feature article, on why Butch Hates the TSA.

At first, after getting past the empathetic flashbacks of my own similar experiences, my sense of solidarity soared at how Butch was able to rally and give voice to the problem with an altogether positive, constructive tone and attitude. But then I read the comments on the Huff Post piece this morning, and some of the Twitter buzz about them, and am still shaking with the outrage. When I last looked at the HuffPo page,there were 317 separate comments. I was sickened by the end of the second page and stopped reading them.

Full of victim blaming* by self-proclaimed members of the LGBTQI so-called “community”**, the consensus of commenters seems to be that Butch invites such public humiliation by her very nature.

Gee, thanks guys, your support and solidarity is so overwhelming! [Yes, for those who didn’t tumble to it, that last sentence was dripping with scorn and sarcasm.]

So, let me make sure I get this right: because Butch lives authentically, dressing and acting true to herself and her gender identity, she is to blame for the ignorance,insensitivity and dismissiveness of those she encounters in the world?

Nice.

News flash: butch women, effeminate men, androgynous persons of all ilk, and anyone who is even moderately gender non-conforming*** already know about our nonconformity. We know that our appearance and mannerims can be challenging. Look, we get it. We acknowledge the hegemonic, mainstream gender norm exists and that we’re swimming against it. Butch girls expect to get the occasional “Sir”. SO NOT THE POINT OF THE “WHY I HATE THE TSA” POST!!!

Not trying to speak for Butch about the intent of her article, but for me, a similarly situated reader, the point was about the dismissiveness, the insensitivity and hurtful ignorance of the TSA agent and the engineered false “norm” of a gender binary-based system.

The issue isn’t even exclusively about gender or presentation. Accidents happen and can happen to anyone, regardless of appearance, age, economic status, or any other differentiator. But this wasn’t an accident. This was humiliation wrought by lazy insensitivity and systemic ignorance. A reaction piece by a former TSA worker yesterday nailed it: there are so many easy ways to to avoid the soul-crushing embarrassment of the traveling public than basically blurting out a demand to know what someone has between their legs!

No one should have to endure public humiliation and the scorn of the already-agitated, tired, bored crowd of strangers in a security screening line when there are easy, non-intrusive, non-embarrassing means to the same end. But because the TSA permits (some would argue, encourages) blinkered, robotic, unthinking behavior in its agents, those who struggle every day to be seen and valued for who they are get trampled and further marginalized. That’s repugnant to my sense of justice.

But, as promised, I can see a glimmer of positivity in this very visceral reaction. I view this reaction, more specifically, my conscious choice to speak publicly about it and despite my positivity vow, as personal growth. I’ve lived all my life futilely trying to keep small not take up too much space, not appear to be the huge ogre I’m assumed to be based on my size and appearance. But I’ve had enough, today at least, of choking down my own outrage. I’m rocking the boat because I and everyone like me deserves to be treated with basic consideration, be recognized as humans with inherent worth.

I’m pissed off, but its a good kind of pissed.

* Don’t misunderstand that phrase. I don’t know if Butch Jaxon views herself as a victim in any sense, and I am not painting her as one. It’s a verbal short-cut to describe the behavior observed in the comments.

** I say ‘so- called community’, because in my view there is little communing, almost no commonality seeking, happening by people who preface their viewpoint with “I’m gay, too, but” and continue with a diatribe about how the person suffering brought it on themselves.

*** I despise the expression “non-conforming”. As if there’s a right way to exist and you’re doing it wrong. But, again, my otherwise wide and deep vocabulary fails me in trying to accurately describe how I and others like me fit into the spectrum.

Positively Skilled

Day three and I’m still on the positive band wagon. I even passed the positivity forward to one of my admin assistants today, when she was on the verge of taking a machete to a salesman in frustration. She and I had a little Karate Kid moment (wax on, wax off) and looked for the bright side together. (Yes, I am that big of an 80’s movie geek.) She felt better, the sales guy still has his…erm…parts, and all is right with the world. But that’s not even my “positivity” thing for today; it just shows that I’m working the “looking for the silver lining” thing.

Instead, what I wanted to share was about another mini-epiphany I had today. I was in the middle of about seventeen separate contract negotiations when a product developer dropped into my office in a panic and needing my help. As I was trying to assist, I caught myself thinking: “I’m a lawyer, not a software engineer, why’d he come to me?” Before I could suss it out, he moved on and someone else, another pro from an entirely unrelated functional area, took his place.

It occurred to me then that I’ve got skills! People come to me for advice and assistance because I’m smart, hard working and I know what I’m doing. How reaffirming is that!?

Thinking it over, I’ve known this for a while. I am sought after by people from cross-functional teams and executives from my company. I’ve even had customers tell their account managers to consult with me, by name, when issues arise after contract and they want an internal ruling.

My conclusion is, as I’ve recently been reminded in a pleasantly public way, that I’m really good at my job and people value my opinion. So, my positives for today are: leadership, partnership and dedication.

Positively Dressed

Ok, so yesterday I committed to focus on the positive this week. After listing more than five things that I like about myself, I went to bed last night determined to face Monday with a smile and a positive attitude. For the most part, I succeeded, despite a very trying 13-hour day full of meetings, calls and crises. I’m tired, but happy with my effort and feeling good about making it through the entire week on a positive note.

One thing I promised I’d be positive about was my body, a source of consternation for me, to say the least. I am TOTALLY counting feeling good about how I look in my clothes as being body-positive. Never mind that it sounds more clothes-positive than body-positive, per se; I’m taking what I can get from an over-taxed brain.

So, this was my look today and I felt really good in it all day: deep purple, point-collared Geoffrey Bean men’s dress shirt, charcoal grey suit vest, black jeans and black leather square-toed harness boots.

Since I work in a fairly casual environment, I was definitely more dressed up than most people I work with. But it made me feel great to be dressed comfortably in clothes that fit fairly well and looked nice. Despite the unmistakably masculine nature of my attire, others thought I looked nice, too. It’s amazing how productive you can be when you feel comfortable about how you look.

Here are some pics of today’s look.  ImageImage

Tomorrow, I’ll try a repeat of today’s attitude plus some. Stay tuned!

Self Censoring to Foster Positivity

So I spent yesterday being a media-consuming slug. In my opinion, it was a perfect Saturday: quiet, high-speed Internet connection, Twitter, blogs & websites, and Criminal Minds & CSI: NY on DVR.

In my ’round-the-Internet-in-8 hours world tour, I found myself encountering several themes over and over. First, a lot of bloggers seem to be talking about positivity. One blog essay, with a companion article on a news website, focused on the fact that women are socialized to never say they’re pretty, at least not without many qualifications. In response, the authors exhorted readers to acknowledge their own attractiveness.

Similarly, a few blogs spoke about how women tend to only ever share things they like about themselves couched in apologies or balanced against a list of negative traits. We seem to feel guilty that they have ‘bragged’ if they don’t also share something that takes away from the shine of the good things they’ve pointed out.

Finally, I think I read over a dozen blog posts that, in one way or another, touched on the need to own your own destiny. Some talked about ‘putting it out in the universe’, focusing on how positivity returns positivity. Others mentioned willing your own wins and visualizing yourself into success. Still others talked about the power of investing energy in positive self-reinforcement, being your own cheerleader.

Now, being the literal-minded, logic-oriented skeptic that I am, I’ve never really relied on vibes or wishes as a strategy. But I have always understood that old adages, home-spun wisdom is often founded in a kernel of truth and often have repeatable results.

Putting all this together and pulling out the best of the lot, I conclude that thinking positively about yourself and fixing the vision of your own success in your mind yields the best chance for achieving it.

So, in a continuing effort to improve my outlook on life, I’ve decided to make an experiment. For the next week, I will choose to be positive, not just about things external to me, but also about myself, my thoughts, my personality, my traits and mannerisms, and yes, about my body. This will be a challenge, as I’m all too aware of how I sometimes don’t measure up. But I’m determined to make a go of it.

I’m starting big, too. For today’s effort, I’m going to try something I saw on LGinDC’s blog last spring (when it was called the Can I Help You, Sir? blog): list five things I like about myself without exceptions or qualifications. The premise is that even though we all have long, exhaustive (and exhausting) lists of things we don’t like and want to change about ourselves, we should nevertheless be able to come up with a list of at least five things that we like about ourselves and can list without an asterisk, parenthetical or other equivocation. And, parenthetically, how sad is it that this is such an effort?

So, here’s my list (and it’s more than five!):

– I am a loyal, faithful, fierce friend
– I love deeply and with my whole being
– My mind is clear, sharp and full of thoughts
– I smile easily and my laugh is unrestrained
– I see good first and look for it in everyone I meet
– My eyes are interesting: green with golden flecks and shift from green to grey with my mood/state of health
– I have wit and a huge vocabulary

Lemme see yours…list, in the comments.

Dissonance

My Saturday started far too early today. I had high hopes when I collapsed into my bed last night that I’d sleep deeply and long enough to overcome the exhaustion I’ve suffered this week (see earlier post “So tired…”). But my treacherous body had other ideas, waking me before 7am and refusing to return to sleep.

So I decided to use my time wisely (ha!) and immediately dove into the online worlds of blogs and Twitter. As with my journey of self discovery, my experience with both forms of social media is fairly new. But, being the tech nerd that I am, I’ve quickly come to love them both. Twitter, especially, is intriguing because you get to partake (actively or passively) in such a wealth of diverse conversation. I’ve never been good at mingling and small talk, so Twitter’s open discourse, and the distance and anonymity of the virtual world, are both welcome crutches for the socially inept.

But, it was during one of those refreshing (yet terrifying) conversations this morning that I experienced a tiny epiphany. I think part of my struggle in coming to the Big Decision I’ve previously alluded to is that there appears to be no support in my in-person, in-real-life (“IRL”) relationships for this discovery (or its results). The only support, encouragement, validation I’ve experienced so far, has come from total strangers on Twitter and through comment exchanges on various blogs.

Right or wrong, my brain is wired to value IRL relationships over the virtual, view them as more genuine, more valid than the online discourse. Virtual friends are transient, ephemeral, so the discussion must necessarily be casual, throw-away, not something to be relied on as solid guidance. “After all”, my subconscious tells me, “you don’t really know them, nor they you, so how can that conversation be real?”

The problem is that for a number of reasons that I can’t fully articulate (partly to protect anonymity, and partly because the explanation is too personal even for this blog) I can’t have these same discussions with the people I know and love in real life. So, there’s a dissonance between my new virtual connections and my long-time IRL relationships. The things I say and feelings I can express here, in the comments of various blogs, and 140 characters at a time on Twitter, war with who I am with my friends and family on a day-to-day basis.

This morning’s Twitter chat was so wonderful, for all that it was short and with someone I’ve ‘known’ for less than two weeks. This person, upon seeing my pathetic lament for my lack of a supportive family, reached out with a virtual hug and kind words of welcome and inclusion without judgment. What a rare and beautiful gift! (Thank you @StaySassyJM! You made my day!)

But just having that open, honest chat makes me feel so guilty. Shouldn’t I be able to say to my family, who love me, and my best friend, who has been there through the worst moments in my life, all the things I can say to these strangers on-line? Why can I reveal my truest feelings in a blog post, but not over coffee with my brother? Why do Twitter and blog contacts get to know these things about me, but my best mate hasn’t heard them from my own lips?

The dissonance is grating. Even though these online confessions are genuine, authentic, my lack of IRL transparency makes me feel like a fraud.

I don’t yet know how to change that.

Annoyed

I was tweeting about this earlier and wanted to explore it just a bit. I’ve been in management training this week. Now, I admit that being unable to keep up with my regular work load, on top of having to listen to the touchy–feely consultant-speak all week, predisposes me to crankiness. Add to that the bone tiredness I talked about in yesterday’s post, and I’m a little on the prickly side. I acknowledge this. So perhaps my story today is slightly colored by this pre-existing grumpiness.

Still, I was hella annoyed during class today.

A dozen professionals from different organizations within my company, all trying to lift up managerial skill. We’re all veterans of the company and experienced pros. So you’d think we could all sit through the seminars, participate appropriately and do everything we can to get to the end as quickly as we can.

But no, there’s always one who has to stink up the works. Today’s gem is a self-satisfied, middle-aged middle manager. He has been increasingly talkative all week, but today was an order of magnitude worse. Dude would NOT shut up! And no one else could say or do anything that was correct to him. He was right about everything and everyone else needed to benefit from his expertise. Healthy debate is great, but this guy argued just to hear the sound of his own voice.

I’m not proud that by 3pm I had given up all pretense of civility and just let the snark flow. I wasn’t alone. Still, his annoying existence isn’t an excuse for my rudeness. I know this. I’m disappointed that I fell to his level. Yet, I’m still tweaked about the whole thing.

What I’m struggling to parse out is why. It’s normal to be pissed off when someone is rude. But you get over it after grinding your teeth for a minute and move on. That’s my normal pattern. In this case, though, hours have passed and his condescending, sneering voice is still in my head.

What bugs me the most is that he’s succeeded after the fact in what he was unable to do during class: silence my response. In class, I refused to let him stifle me; even if mine wasn’t the last word, I always made my point despite his obstructionism. But now, his arrogant and ignorant assertions are rattling around inside my head, where I can’t refute or silence them with informed disagreement. Ugh, it’s frustrating! Even worse is that I know that only I can let someone get under my skin–no one can ‘make’ me feel a certain way. So, not only has he poisoned my peace of mind, he’s co-opted my own inner voice to do it. Geez!

Ah well, I’ll get over it, eventually. It just irks me that a jerk can get inside my head and affect my mood, even though he’s not even in my presence. Grrr!

So tired…

Bone tired. That state of exhaustion that goes beyond physical limits and reaches into your mind, turning you from a reasonably intelligent adult into an unthinking, irrational, cranky mess. That’s where I am this week.

Why do I push myself to this point? I honestly can’t answer that. It seems to happen without my willing it. But I know that’s not the case.

What I find interesting is the way this cycle of exhaustion seems to intersect with other emotional and physical events in my life. I always expect that when I’m at my most excited, happiest, most motivated, all that energy will sustain me and I won’t be tired. In my head, tired is for when I’m down or angry; low spirits = low energy.

Although these broad generalizations bear out, to a degree, it is also true that my high-energy, up-beat moods also tend to coincide with an unrealistic optimism. My internal “I’m awesome!” always seems to be paired with an irrational “I can go for hours without a break and produce high-quality work product on no fuel!” sort of enthusiasm. Crazy! (I hope not literally, cuz that would suck.)

I think it’s because these high-energy times are generally inspired by being entrusted with a project or goal that has consequences for someone else. I want to do my very best so that the trust bestowed is never disappointed. One of my most constant fears (for lack of a better term) is that I will let down the people who rely on me. If I’m late or unprepared for a meeting, I’ll have wasted important peoples’ time. If I don’t exceed expectations, I’ll have confirmed that I’m not good enough, smart enough, mature enough, not enough full stop. If I don’t deliver more than what’s promised, I’m skating or slacking.

I’ve always been my harshest critic and the most unforgiving task master. I realize this about myself. Yet, I don’t seem to be able to rein it in when I’m approaching a boundary. I always feel that I should push through and do a bit more before I quit.

Because, at the root of it, quitting (or, more precisely, being perceived as a quitter) is my greatest fear. And that is precisely the right term in this case. I fear being a quitter. There is so much disgust and loathing wrapped up in that term. I’ve been strongly, harshly socialized my entire life to believe that quitting is about the worst thing you can turn out to be, short of a violent criminal.

Quitters are wasters of time, resources. Quitters squander opportunities unavailable to more deserving people. Quitters lack all the best qualities a human can possess. Quitters are unworthy of respect, care, attention, love.

Those are the messages my Midwestern, Protestant, conservative, republican upbringing and education instilled in me. Every teacher, preacher, coach, doctor, mentor, employer I had growing up and, yes, my parents, contributed to this belief. My personal history is full to the brim with time spent pushing to the finish line in order not to be a quitter.

There’s nothing wrong with this, in moderation. Tempered with an awareness that having limits to one’s abilities and tolerances is normal and acceptable, a ‘never give up’ attitude can be healthy and produce great things. But, it’s that last part about limits being ok that I don’t think I’ve fully internalized.

Because when you feel that you are everything that isn’t ‘normal’, life lessons like that get distorted by your lens of inadequacy. If the line for normal people is here, you think you have to push two steps beyond that to just be viewed as having hit the mark. That just feeds the cycle of crazy and you end up on this treadmill of ever-escalating self demand. Demanding more of yourself, you then end up bone tired.

And when you’re bone tired, you write rambling, incoherent blog posts that seem to have no purpose.

Please pardon my crazy, I need to put her to bed in hopes she will wake up less crazy and more coherent tomorrow…

Labels, labels everywhere

Literally everywhere. Signs, labels, brands on everything we see. They serve an obvious and valuable purpose in helping us define the boundaries, compartments of our world, and communicate effectively with one another. Like trademarks (specialized labels themselves), labels help us gauge quality, identify source (of origin/manufacture), and reduce complex items or concepts to their essential components. They also help us distinguish between individual examples of any given thing (Coke vs. Pepsi; abrasive vs. astringent; Spring leaf vs. Autumn leaf; chunky vs. smooth peanut butter, etc.).

Not so obvious are the labels attached to people. Some are easy to guess (Black, Caucasian, adult, child, etc.), but ‘self-evident’ categories of people are more misleading and misunderstood than is commonly thought (male, female, straight, queer, professional, amateur, healthy, unhealthy, able, disabled, etc.).

Still, we use labels to describe ourselves and the others around us. The results are largely mixed; a label aptly applied may be refreshing to one, insulting to another. The only sure label (if there is such a thing) is the label one selects for oneself. But even that is ever-changing and often fluid or context-specific. Too often, labels are equated with the entirety of one’s identity. But labels are tools to describe a thing (or person), not the thing or identity itself.

So, if labels are needed, yet dynamic, how can they be relied upon as a tool for self expression? First, no system is perfect and therefore must be regarded with a healthy skepticism and used cautiously. Second, communication is always hard work and never as effective when relying on a short-cut as when employing complete expression. But, even if there is no perfect label, and no proverbial standard lexicon, labels still form a conceptual vocabulary for communicating identity. This essential language is the gateway to achieving understanding among people from every walk of life. By repetition, constant experimentation and communication with the intent to inform, educate, humanity continually adds to this language of identity and discovery.

All over the blogosphere, however, the debate rages over what labels are good, right, acceptable to apply to ourselves and each other, and whether they are needed or wanted in the first place. In the context of identity, self determination and authenticity, labels can be particularly incendiary and divisive.

In any given demographic, there will be those who, feel they typify one or more defining characteristics of their chosen group. When this belief in one’s own status as an archetype is over-emphasized, too often the result is the policing of use of labels associated with that identity by others who similarly identify. Conflict over who is/isn’t entitled to employ a particular label can result in fragmentation of the subculture associated with the label at issue. It’s a fascinating dynamic and I hope to continue my informal study of it throughout my lifetime.

Wow! that’s a lot of words on a topic I’m not really qualified to discuss. But a guest post today on the Butch Wonders blog really got me thinking about all of this. You should check it out.

Here are a few of the labels I apply to myself or are applied to me daily. What are some of your chosen/imposed labels?

Chosen: woman, attorney, sister, aunt, masculine, decisive, independent, smart, plain, strong, large, leader, deliberate, opinionated

Imposed: fat, introvert, nerd, trans*, weird

What price, peace?

Is peace (or anything) worth an ‘at all costs’ approach? I’m specifically talking about personal and interpersonal peace, rather than resolution of the Middle East Conflict-type peace. Harmony and calm in the home, extended family, workplace, book club, PTA, etc., how much is it worth?

How much of your own opinions, personal expression should be suppressed for this peace? How much of another’s opinion should you allow to be imposed on you? How much of yourself should be sacrificed to the sacred gods of “getting along” and “keeping cool”?

What price, peace?

I’m actually pretty good at suppressing my own thoughts and desires. I’ve had a lot of practice. When you are as conspicuous as I have been all my life, you learn quickly to keep quiet and make yourself as small as possible, so as not to cause trouble. Because that’s how opinions of awkward, ugly, fat, gender nonconforming girls are viewed, as “causing trouble”. Weird girls with opinions are trouble makers, rabble rousers. They don’t engage in spirited, fair debate. They bellow and rant.

But, as with so much in my life lately, I’m rethinking this policy. How much harm am I causing, or at least enabling, by not speaking up when I have a voice?

I’m talking specifically about personal things. Professionally, I’ve always been outspoken and unafraid to challenge anything I felt needed it. But in my personal life…not so much.

There’s no quick answer to any of these questions. This issue doesn’t stand alone. The consequences are intertwined with those of other decisions. The risk is related to other choices yet to be made. But still, I feel there is room for both continued deliberation and near-term action. Taking it slowly, is the adage, I think.

Although I’m not ready yet to challenge all the misconceptions my family have about myself, my identity, I can certainly challenge overt statements of bias, discrimination and intolerance I hear from them. I’ve already started. Over the holidays, I had occasion to object to a “that’s so gay” jab my nephew threw out during a family gathering. Although I was nervous and didn’t fundamentally change his or anyone else’s views on gender or sexual identity, I think the point was received.

Starting small and at home may seem a very safe and easy path to resisting hate, but for me it’s an essential first step in a larger process. If I can’t cultivate a bare minimum of tolerance among those who profess to love me unconditionally, how will I face the larger world when the illusions are stripped away?

This shouldn’t be this hard.

%d bloggers like this: