Archive for February, 2019|Monthly archive page

4 Good Things

I am determined to rise above the sludge and reframe negativity, reducing its role in my mood and outlook. Because of this determination, I am challenging myself to find 4 good things to tell you about. (Why 4? Why not?) That shouldn’t be the heavy chore that it is at the moment. But I’m a little stuck in a loop of frustrating and stressful work days and very nearly sleepless nights. Combined, these are making me feel harassed, numb and dumb. Time for a reframe:

  1. There are over 12 inches of snow on the ground, making everything look charming and pretty, like an iced cake. Additionally, there is bright sunshine, making said snowy charm also sparkly and blinding. Even though temps are frigid, the aesthetics of this wintry landscape are on point.
  2. I completed a very large, complex and tedious legal risk analysis and data assessment today. And I didn’t even complain once about what a drag it was to research all the stats on 16 countries and analyze risk factors, corruption scores, and judicial reliability. Also I beat my self-imposed delivery deadline by three days. I feel pretty good about all of that.
  3. My boss and my team are taking me out to lunch tomorrow to celebrate my 50th birthday. I’m flattered they felt it important enough to mark the occasion. And I’m told there will be creme brûlée!
  4. I’ve put in and been approved for vacation time for a couple of trips I have planned for this summer. I might even plan a long weekend to go visit a friend next month. It’s looking likely that I might actually get to use all of my PTO this year – a first for my entire career, especially my 18 years with this company.

There you have it. Four reasonably positive, mildly happy things in my life right now, despite a seemingly constant load of stress and sleep deprivation. Pretty snow & sunshine, job satisfaction, birthday treats, and trips to look forward to are all great anti-venom for the creeping sludge.

Friends, keep reminding yourself, as I do, that even the dark days have sparks of light that shine brighter because of the gloom. So what are your sparks this week?

Finite Incantatum

Well…not quite as magical as Harry & Hermione & Ron and all that. But pretty dang magical to me. And I’m happy to call it done.

I finished the first draft of my first novel!!

Again, I may never publish it, but I set a goal and achieved it. I completed writing a novel before my 50th birthday. I successfully moved an idea from glimmer of thought to fully realized story all by myself. It went from nothing to something through my intellectual and emotional labor.

To me, that’s an achievement, and I’m proud of it and of me.

It’s not hugely long, but still qualifies as novel-length. It needs editing and revision, but it’s a complete story with all the elements of the fiction genre to which it belongs and all the sections of the story arc are there.

So I’m slotting this into the ‘win’ column. And a win is a very good thing.

Bleed It Out

In an earlier post, January I think, I talked about seeing the good, even on bad days.

“Seeing the good, even if it’s only one small thing, when everywhere there is darkness and chaos, is the most important facet to my campaign toward self-improvement. Because, in my most secret, private self, I know that if there is ever a time when the tally board of positives hits absolute zero, that’s when my spirit will truly despair. I have to know, like Samwise Gamgee, that “there’s good in this world” so that I have “something worth fighting for”.”

Sometimes seeing the good takes work, digging in your heels against the disappointment and sludge and refusing to capitulate to the urge to catastrophize what’s happening and give up on finding the silver lining.

Other times, seeing the good requires acknowledging the hard stuff, stiffening your neck and fighting the darkness with a little of its own medicine. As I said to a Facebook friend last night,

“Sometimes you just need some hard-driving music and truth in lyric form to shake the demons from the tree.”

Sometimes you just have to “Bleed It Out” (credit: Linkin Park) to make room for the less jagged, mind-consuming stuff.

I’ve been having a hard time with negativity lately, feeling a little overwhelmed with the quantity of stressful, sad, rage-inducing crud going on in my world. Though I keep working at reframing the negative and keep trying to find things to be thankful for daily, the last little while has been fairly rough. But I’m not a quitter and I’m determined to kick this slump.

So yesterday I decided that drastic measures, in the form of some angry/emo music, were called for. I was mildly irritated to find that my music library is slightly deficient in metal and rage-rock. But I was able to scrape together 11 songs into a playlist that is sufficiently dark and indignant to play at obnoxiously loud volume in my headphones that it drowns out the clamor of the stress, anxiety and insecurity my inner critic has been shouting at me lately.

It’s beginning to work, too. I had it on repeat most of the day while I slogged through tedious research and data gathering. It helped focus my mind on being productive, rather than being obsessed with the negative things. I’m happy with that as a positive outcome of my struggle.

Here’s my list. What additional tracks would you suggest?

Creative Piece #1

One of the goals I set for this year, keying off of the primary objectives I carried through from last year, was to publish on this blog at least one creative writing piece per quarter. It’s part of the Nurturing My Spirit/Creativity objective. I believe that feeding my creative spirit helps make me a better version of me.

But sharing the outcome of creative activity requires risking vulnerability – what if everyone hates it, what if it’s no good and so bad that everyone laughs? Those are real fears. But I can’t let fear win. Taking the risk and sharing, knowing that someone (even people whose opinions matter) might laugh or worse, is the price of progress and growth.

So, here’s me taking the risk. This is a raw, unedited piece that came to me last night as I lay, not sleeping – again – in my cool, dark bedroom, trying to still my mind and rest. It has no meter or rhyme and barely qualifies as creative. But it is the work of my mind and I’m counting it toward this quarter’s goal.

In the still, cool dark

Sometimes I need to just be

Still and quiet, breathing

Lying down or sitting up

Simply existing in the moment

Sitting calmly in the quiet

Experiencing the cool darkness

Not thinking, not planning

Simply being someone apart

Silence is rare

There are hums and clicks and groans

Sounds normally lost in the noise of life

Simple silence requires effort

Alone in a cool, dark room

Listening to the sound that’s not quite silence

Breathing, existing, knowing without thought

Simply dwelling with myself at rest

Stillness is not the same as peace or rest

But taking refuge in being still brings both

Courageously occupying the void of thought and sound

Being, simply at one

3 Things

Just random thoughts to keep the streak alive.

  1. It is amazing what perspective relative comparison provides. Yesterday there was sunshine and temps rose to 25F. Last week we had three straight days of below zero and the rest in single digits. Compared with last week we’re having a heatwave! That’s something to be thankful for, I guess.
  2. Today I spent 5 hours in a room full of software engineers and architects, product managers and IT systems engineers. The goal of the workshop was to design changes to a governance process dealing with legal risks and regulatory compliance associated with use of third party content in the development of my company’s software products. I’m constantly fascinated by the complexity that engineers seem to feel morally compelled to introduce into straightforward problems, only to turn and point their fingers at the lawyers to explain why they do it. Never mind that this particular lawyer consistently urges simplicity and transparency, and never mind that they’d save themselves boatloads of time and heartache if they listened to their lawyer. Nope. Gotta build six layers of contingency management in for CYA and to cover mysteriously undefined risk of “audit repercussions”. <eye roll> Yet it’s lawyers who make everything harder than it has to be. Again, <eye roll>. Whatever.
  3. I’m closing in on completing the first draft of my first book-length writing project. 60K words, 128 pages written so far. I’m struggling with the ending – it’s just not quite right yet. But I think it’s close. I’m considering starting to edit/re-write as a means to solidify the story so the end organically materializes. Since I probably won’t ever seek to publish, it’s not essential that it be extra-shiny. But I want to be able to say I completed it. Ultimately, I want to feel like I have a complete, fully actualized story by the end of next month. Goal set.

Learning from Disappointment

Everyone gets disappointed from time to time. Sometimes it’s mild, like when you have your tastebuds all set for the remembered flavor of some particular favorite treat (such as apricot filled croissants), only to find them sold out for the day. Bummer, but you move on without true damage. Sometimes it’s so significant that it almost doesn’t count as disappointment anymore; rather it’s basically trauma.

But then there’s the middle ground, where the bulk of everything in life happens. Disappointment is no different. There’s this bulk quantity of circumstances that fall between those two extremes, the disappointment that has lasting meaning in your life. These are the ones that change your outlook on things, that make you change behavior and sometimes aspects of your personality.

Teaching moments, they’re sometimes called. Lessons that last…if you’re willing to learn. And that doesn’t have to be bitter or hard or sad. Being wiser and better equipped to deal with the same or similar circumstances in the future can still be a positive outcome.

Yet, the positive outcome doesn’t change the fact of your disappointment. The disappointment still stings. It’s initial bitterness is no less sharp before any mellowing that assimilation of the lesson may provide. This is particularly true when the disappointment comes from people close to your heart, when it’s their actions or words that deliver the blow to your hope or steal the joy from your soul.

Lessons from hopes dashed by changed circumstances or from the ugliness of the anonymous world in general can be hard and painful, sure. But there’s a special flavor of heartache when someone you love, respect and rely on (whether that love is familial, friendly, or romantic) does or says something that cuts you, disappoints your understanding of them and your shared bond, or tramples your beliefs.

I’m struggling with a string of coincidental disappointments, all from people close to me and whom I have respected and continue to respect. Working on separating my hurt feelings from the circumstances so that I can glean the lessons I believe are just under that tangled surface is proving to be very difficult. Not least because a part of me fears that the lessons will include some from of:

  1. Your original beliefs were stupid so your disappointment is deserved.
  2. Your hurt feelings are misplaced because you didn’t deserve a different experience.
  3. What you’re really disappointed about is that you didn’t do/say/act that way yourself because you are too [insert derisive descriptor of choice here].

You see, the nature of these particular disappointments feed straight into the middle of the deepest areas of insecurity lurking in my brain where the traitorous internal critic holds court: a friend who has ghosted me, a rejection from someone I hoped to get close with, a leader’s disparate treatment to the detriment of my team, and a demonstration by a respected elder that racism and misogyny live too close to me for comfort.

All these things fuel my internal critic’s loudest voice: you’re not worthy.

So untangling the lessons is a more complicated challenge than usual. I’m trying to be as objective as I can, making allowances for context I could be missing or the always-likely struggle of the other person of which I am unaware. Yet the line between making allowances and making excuses that enable the poor behavior is often too fine to detect.

So right now, the only lessons I have been able to bring into focus are: everyone has flaws, so don’t lose sight of the good despite those foibles; and just because you’re not worthy of those specific things, don’t give up on other possibilities. I’m still picking at the tangle, hopeful that one day I’ll have clarity enough to see more of the silver lining in all of it. Until then, just gotta keep trying to keep going.

List…again

I’m having a bit of a writing challenge and can’t think of a substantive, let alone creative, topic to write about. Also, honestly… I’m having a bit of a hard time with negativity and motivation lately, too. But I am committed to keeping my posting streak alive. So I’m calling on the old stand-by: a list of a few positives to refocus away from the negatives. Here are a few good things:

1. It’s snowing. The light, airy kind of snow that looks pretty and doesn’t make too much of a mess. I like it.

2. My custom suits are finally finished and I picked them up yesterday. They feel amazing. Having something made to fit both my body and my identity is exhilarating. I can’t wait for an event to wear them!

3. Some of the tools/methods of dealing with anxiety that I learned in my coaching group have been helpful in recognizing my anxiety and in helping to tamp it down. I’m not always…or even mostly…successful at that, but it’s a start.

4. I succeeded in completely disconnecting from my job for an entire week — no emails, no phone calls, not even checking my calendar. While the week off was not nearly the restful restorative that I and everyone else had hoped it would be, I am at least proud of accomplishing the disconnect.

5. One of my internal clients, the head of our global sales organization, gave me a really nice bow tie as a thank you gift for my help over the very rough year last year. The gesture was a welcome show of support, not just for my work, but also an identity-affirming acknowledgement of who I am.

I’m clinging to the conviction that this focus on the positive and effort to reframe negatives to positives actually has practical benefits. It’s hard to remain convinced when the black sludge in my head seems more abundant than the light, but I’m not willing to give up on the program just yet. My hope for you is that the pros always outnumber the cons and that there is always a portal, even just a pinhole, for the light to shine in. Be well, friends.

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