Archive for May, 2019|Monthly archive page

Naming the Demon

I’m pretty sure I’ve written at least once before about believing that naming the demons, claiming the fear out loud, so to speak, can take away its power and give courage enough to rise above that fear. I do believe that. I try to practice that, especially in my professional life with my team, trying to make a safe space for them to do the same. But when it comes to my personal growth and self discovery and improvement, that naming requires significant vulnerability, particularly when the naming is in print for all and sundry to read…and ridicule.

While I have come a fair clip from the overly-cautious, fearful and shy person I was in the beginning of this journey, I still keep a good bit to myself and still guard my IRL persona carefully. I have a career and position that demands I bear a great burden of responsibility, so public behavior (including on social media) is something I’m very careful about.

Yet, I don’t want that burden to become a convenient excuse to hide from truth and let fear win.

So I’m going to try to strike a balance with this post, naming fears without context or explanation for the most part, saving some measure of privacy and dignity while putting into the universe my plea for peace. Here are some of the demons plaguing my heart and mind:

  • Isolation
  • Emotional upheaval and anxiety
  • Longing for, and also fearing, change
  • Terror of never being enough
  • Dread of always being judged to be too much
  • Shame at being fearful and insecure
  • Inertia that prevents logical, rational thought and action that might alleviate some of this dread
  • Utter lack of creativity and innovation in devising solutions to these problems
  • Disgust at my ineffectiveness in my own life
  • Self loathing over how pathetic this list is

Ugh. That’s a lot of sludge to expose to the world. And I don’t have any comfortable, warm & fuzzy platitudes to salve the negativity. But I cling to the conviction that as long as I’m working on it, putting genuine effort into trying to overcome and to improve, and by calling out the darkness into the light, there is a chance that it will get better.

I have to believe that. I hope you do, too.

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.

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.

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