Archive for the ‘emotion’ Tag

Looking Back

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. And this past May 19 was the 20th anniversary of her death. I wrote in a recent post, about the unexpectedly emotional response that I had to finding her jacket at the back of my closet, that my grief had evolved beyond needing that physical reminder of her to recall her fondly and reminisce. That’s true. I don’t need an object to remind me of her presence. But pictures, objects she owned, fragrances she wore, even food she liked to cook and eat, are all powerful touchstones for memory. Yet I’m comforted by the fact that I can call up her memory, image, even her words and the sound of her voice, just by thinking about her.

Memory is a fickle thing. For a while there, I wasn’t able to recall her on demand. It scared me a bit and was the source of significant angst for me. My brain would lock up and then start castigating me for my failure. “What kind of daughter are you that you can’t remember your dead mother’s voice!?” My anxiety’s voice is loud and brutal sometimes. But eventually, after intentional effort to both fix her clearly in my mind and to quiet the grief and fear that causes that memory block, I have restored my recall ability.

I think about my mom a lot. Probably more often than I ever expected. Most of the time it’s casual recollections incidental to mundane daily experiences. A particularly juicy bite of tomato in my salad might make me think of the way she so, so enthusiastically enjoyed tomatoes, often eating them like you would an apple (shudder). Or hearing a fragment of an old country song, especially a Marty Robbins or Patsy Cline tune, will make me smile as I remember her singing them as she moved around the house or drove her car. The simple, un-forced recollections of how she was on a day-to-day basis bring me a lot of joy.

Sure, the big, stand-out memories are there. Like the time she appeared in my 7th grade chemistry classroom like an avenging angel to contest an unfair and incorrect grade on a major assignment that my teacher refused to discuss with me. I remember, even today, that while there was fire in her eyes and vigilance in her body language, she retained an impeccable level of calm, civil, professionalism in her voice. That struck me particularly, as my mother was not above raising her voice to get a point across, at least to her children. So that particular example of civil confrontation and negotiation has stayed with me and has had at least as much influence on my own professional demeanor as the negotiation training I received in law school.

Or there’s the numerous memories of her bedside manner when I was sick or injured as a kid. (I was and am a klutz, so these memories are legion.) My mom was a no-nonsense, almost cold medic. When I was in 4th grade and a neighborhood bully yanked me off my bike with a jump rope and the skin on my neck was severely abraded, my mom’s calm, clinical attention in the face of my hysterical, tearful reaction was instrumental in the fast, infection-free healing that followed. But it wasn’t until I was grown and out on my own that I realized that what I thought of with some hurt as her coldness and callous disregard for my suffering was actually her attempt to control her rage and revulsion so that I would freak out less and calm more quickly. Again, she taught me a lot about crisis management that I never would have learned and fully internalized in my book-based management training.

And, of course, there are the more fraught, some might call them traumatic, memories of her in moments of anger and disappointment. My mother could be hard, loud, strict, demanding. When disciplining me, especially with physical correction, I admit that I experienced moments of fear. That was part of the point, I’m sure. But I also remember being sure of myself because of her consistency, knowing what consequences (good and bad) would follow from what types of actions. I never feared that I didn’t know what she’d do or how she’d react. I could count on a firm consistency, even if it was harsh. But I could also count on fairness. I remember getting punished for telling my older brothers where she had stored cookies she’d baked for a church function, when I had done no such thing. And when my mom discovered the truth she apologized and made sure I, in my nascent and burgeoning sense of justice, understood that she had made a mistake because of false information and that she would be sure to do better verifying the facts in future. In that incident I learned that my mom, whom I held in awe, was fallible, but she was honest, fair and accountable to correct her mistakes. It’s easy to describe in this way with my adult brain, experience and vocabulary. As a five year old, all I knew was that my mom admitted a mistake, said sorry, and was careful to not make the same mistake again. That was huge for me then and remains a cherished lesson today.

Her consistency and follow-through really stand out for me and have contributed in material ways to my professional development. For example, she taught me about contract negotiation in high school. When I first learned to drive a car, she strictly enforced a rule prohibiting any other minors in the car while I was driving alone. So when I wanted the right to go out with my friends, we negotiated a written agreement on the subject, setting up milestones that would earn me the right to have friends in my car. She was a stickler, too, checking progress and providing guidance along the way. But when I achieved all prerequisites, she was just as particular in praising my achievements and giving me the privilege I had earned. That trust and accountability played a huge part in my growth and understanding of responsibility and personal integrity and are part of my management style to this day.

I miss my mom. I’d have loved for her to see the kickass house I now own and enjoy her pride in my professional accomplishments. I’d like for her to see that my maturation into, and acceptance of, my gender identity has been an enormous blessing, a freeing of my spirit that I worried as a teen and young adult would never happen. I’d like to know what she would think about so many things in my life and this world today.

But even though I can never be sure of the exact words she would use in those conversations, I am unshakably confident in three messages she’d make sure I received: “I love you”; “I’m proud of you”; and “You can do anything you put your mind to”. Those were the three most common sentences that she said to me in my youth. I took them for granted a lot as I grew up. But I never doubted their truth, then or now. (“Shut the door”; “In or out, but don’t stand in the doorway”; and “Not so loud” all vie for next most common sentences of my youth, for those who wonder. 😉)

Looking back, there are a lot of things about my upbringing that my inner child might wish to improve – our family’s financial position, the frequency and severity of punishment, my dad’s work schedule, among others. But my current adult self knows that, although it was far from perfect, my upbringing was full of blessings for my current life. My parents’ love for and commitment to the welfare of me and my siblings produced a family life that nurtured and educated and comforted and encouraged us to do and be good, to strive for excellence, to help others and give of ourselves.

If I am so fortunate that my family and friends who survive me look back at their time shared with me and see half the good and positive memories that I experience looking back on my time with my mother, I’d count that as a mark of a successful life.

Deliberation

It’s been some time since I posted. Lots of reasons for that, but not the least of them is that I’ve been working on being mindful and deliberate and intentional about what I put out into the universe. It seems to me that the old maxim that you get what you manifest has merit. At least, I don’t know of any use case where harm arose from being mindful and deliberate, nor from visualizing and working toward the desired outcome.

While positivity, gratitude, and kindness have long been a part of my self-discovery and self-improvement journey, I have frequently gotten mired in the negative experiences I’ve encountered and sought comfort, support, validation, and ideas for addressing those experiences, both in conversation and in posts on this blog. And I’ll own that several of my blog posts have amounted to not much more than primal screams into the void for the sole purpose of venting the steam.

Those things are bound to happen from time to time, and my taking note of them in myself is not a commentary, challenge, or criticism of myself or anyone else’s human response to negative stimuli. I just note for myself that, as I think more carefully about what to say in this space, weighing the benefits, if any, of those rants and primal screams is perhaps a better use of my energy than indulging them.

Something I’ve noticed in my private, handwritten journaling practice since the beginning of the pandemic is that my need for ‘out loud’ airing of grievances and external validation of my experience has shifted to a lower order of importance. There might be a lot of factors contributing to that, but the first one that comes to mind is that my brain has promoted dealing with the allostatic load of stress and anxiety bearing on my body and soul to a higher priority than dealing with the emotional need for validation and vindication. That’s a completely unscientific and personally-biased supposition. But it certainly makes sense to me.

Although I actively try to avoid comparing myself to the experience of others, I cannot avoid the knowledge of my privilege in having many aspects of life better than what I observe is true for many of the people I know virtually and in real life. That makes me wary of discussing the very real load of stress I experience from the prolonged isolation and the impact of global unrest and the unrelenting hate, stupidity and callous disregard of human dignity that the current federal administration (and many state administrations) permit and inflict daily. But these things make the pages of my private journal frequently. Thumbing back through the pages of my current notebook, I notice that the recordings of down days, and memorials of sadness at the world’s ugliness, and jottings of my irritation and anger at injustices large and small, local and global, are much more frequent than my notations of positive happenings or of the small, personal things that would have taken much more of my focus in other times.

Correlatedly, looking back through my drafts of potential blog posts, all of my attempts to address those everyday personal subjects seem to die on the vine. I get a few paragraphs in and my brain shouts “Really!? THIS is what you want people to read? This is worth talking about right now?” And then I quit. Because it seems wrong to discuss the mundane and disingenuous to point out the shiny bits in life, when so much is broken and tarnished.

All of that to say that because my private musings have siphoned my inner darkness during these outward dark days, I have been trying to be more choosy in what I say here. Not only do I want to avoid adding to the darkness for others, I want to cultivate a space for my heart and mind to explore positivity and to be open to other possibilities that aren’t focused on the sludge in the world and in my brain.

Unfortunately, my efforts so far have succeeded more in stifling and censoring my voice here, rather than encouraging more varied expression. But perhaps that’s the first step; maybe being quiet instead of saying what doesn’t need to be said, or doesn’t need to be said by me, is the first step to having something meaningful to contribute? I don’t know.

But, I do want you all to know that my silence here is not a signal of apathy or indifference to you or the situation in the world. I just want to make this space a place where personal growth, positivity and kindness are centered. So I’m going to keep practicing my granny’s admonition: don’t say anything until you have something to say. I’m applying that rule with this tweak: don’t post unless what you have to say is worth reading.

Stay well, my friends!

Tidbits and Rage

I can’t think long and critically enough to research and write something substantive. I’m struggling, like so many of you, with the toll this pandemic and the social distancing and isolation has taken on my cognitive acuity. The isolation is necessary, I know. But still…My concentration is shot, my patience is thin, and I’m not sleeping well. So deep thinking about things other than my job is a big deal.

Yet, I have a desire to keep this blog going and have something to say. While the “something to say” may be of dubious value, I am going to do it anyway. In list form. Sort of stream of consciousness-style. Here are ten random things from my head that I want you to know.

⁃ I wore at least one thing rainbow every single day of June.

⁃ The facts on Snapple lids are an incentive for me to stay hydrated.

⁃ Achievement unlocked: I ordered something off eBay and it took so long to arrive (9 weeks!) that I forgot I ordered it, ordered it again several weeks later from another supplier and received it 3 weeks before the first one. 🙄

⁃ I managed to set myself an achievable chore list for every room in my house and completed all but one task in the time I set for myself. I’m feeling proud about that, especially since the one task undone was a last-minute add that was not essential.

⁃ I have discovered, in the process of cleaning out my old house and getting it ready to sell, two Christmas gifts that I received two and three years ago, respectively, that I completely forgot I owned. It was like Christmas all over again!

⁃ I am hopelessly in love with my motorized tie rack. I purchased it for my new dressing room a couple months ago and installed it a couple weeks ago. It’s so freakin’ cool! And it holds every bow tie I wear regularly. There are five bow ties that didn’t make it onto the rack because I never wear them and they’re going in the next batch of donations.

⁃ I got some schmancy new shoelaces from a horribly niche online seller. I’ve installed one pair and am loving them! Can’t wait to try the other pairs in some other boots. This could be my next sartorial addiction!

⁃ It is ridiculous how guilty I feel when I don’t wear a tie for work, even though I’m working from home. I normally do – I’ve been dressing for the office every day as if nothing has changed. But this week has been so blistering hot that even in my comfortably air conditioned home, my dress shirts have felt stifling. And since all my short sleeved shirts are patterned, I’m hesitant to try pairing bow ties with them. Feels like a Butch Fashion Fail.

⁃ I was asked to advise the Crisis Management Team at my work in regards to various issues attending the re-opening of some of our global offices. In the course of the call I had to physically stop myself…seriously, I put a hand over my own mouth…from verbally slapping our head of physical security as he spouted nonsense that he believed was substantive contribution to the discussion. I exercised restraint, I remained courteous, I corrected numerous misstatements of fact and disabused many urban legends masquerading as science. All without jeopardizing my job. I feel like a bona fide adult professional.

⁃ Lastly, I need you all to know, internalize, and live the following pieces of irrefutable truth: science, not pandering to politics or economics, is what will bring this pandemic under control; wearing masks, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining social distancing and isolation save lives and the inconvenience of masks and remote work and distancing is an abysmally poor excuse for sacrificing those lives; racism and racial violence thrive in an environment of ignorance; police brutality is real and killing people daily – yes, even though you know and love someone who is a cop; black, indigenous, and trans lives matter and are being systematically jeopardized, both intentionally by racist, misogynist, patriarchal systems of power, and by the ignorant, would-be eloquent, language of harm, hate and pseudoscience spewed by privileged people with a public platform who choose to persecute difference, rather than embrace and celebrate it; love is love, love wins; and no one is free until we all are free.

Peace, my friends.

Letting Go

I’ve been slowly working on my old house. I moved into my new one in December and have been doing a slow-rolling move. I’m extremely privileged to have gotten a very favorable financing package that makes this possible. And the slow, deliberate and intentional process of moving only what we want into our new home has been very satisfying. But there are moments when choosing between keep or donate or toss is very difficult.

I took a couple of extra days off bracketing this holiday weekend to do more of the culling and sorting over there. I’m feeling very accomplished at having completed that chore for all my personal places and belongings there. But today, especially, as I emptied the last corner of my old closet, the nostalgia hit very hard and made the chore even more difficult than the dust and tedium.

Filling up the donation bags with the very last of my “girl” clothes was surprisingly wrenching. Though I haven’t worn any of them in a decade, haven’t even purchased an article of clothing designed for “women” in at least that long, it still felt surprisingly odd…risky, even…to let go of that last vestige of my heteronormative presentation. A tiny voice of doubt sounded in my mind as I stuffed that last blouse into the bag: “What if you need to look like a girl for once, how will you do that with no clothes?” It’s just fear talking, I know. But it was there and powerful for a moment. But as soon as I tied off that last bag, I felt the fear release and knew I’d be fine.

Letting go of things is remarkably difficult sometimes, for me at least. The emotional attachment to physical things that makes getting rid of them is so frustrating and absurd. Sometimes it’s comical, like the twinge of guilt when donating a thing that was a gift from a relative and the tiny spark of fear that they’ll ask me where it is the next time they come to my house. Never mind that they’re almost certainly never going to visit or think to ask about some trinket from years ago last Christmas. 🙄

Sometimes it’s a little bit sad, maybe a little bit…lonely isn’t the right word, but close. Today, one of the hardest things to put in the donation bag was a jacket my mom used to wear all the time. I had kept it the first year after she passed as a means of keeping her close. Eventually, the lingering scent of her perfume and my need to touch its soft sleeve to reconnect with her memory faded. Then I kept it out of loyalty and habit, but I no longer needed it’s security to keep her memory near and it got pushed back into the corner of my closet to emerge for the first time today. As I held it, I knew it no longer served a meaningful purpose as a reminder of her. Her memory is in me now and I don’t need her jacket for that. Letting go of that physical thing was hard, but not nearly as hard as I expected. Twenty years after her passing, I’m finally able to hang onto her in my heart without need of her things to ground me. Hopefully someone else will put it to use.

Now that I’ve gone through all my possessions, donating a huge portion of what I’d accumulated over the 17 years living in that house, I have an appreciation for the relief and peace that comes from letting go of what no longer serves me. There’s an obvious parallel lesson for the emotional, psychological self improvement work I’ve been doing for so long. But without getting too far into the woo and feels, it’s enough to feel good about applying that lesson to just the physical possessions.

Letting go of surplus things is a huge relief. I like to believe that I’ve been selective about it, donating only things that are clean, in good repair and having residual value and utility. That feels good and right. So does trashing the things that are broken or soiled and have no value. Again, some obvious applications to the spirit and emotional being, but it’s enough to focus on the benefits of letting go of the tangible rubbish.

Letting go of what I don’t need is good for my brain, heart, and spirit. I highly recommend it to anyone. I hope you find your own way to that conclusion.

Investment

Here’s something I’ve figured out and that I want you to know:

Often it is difficult to tell when someone genuinely cares about you. Other times it’s crystal clear. One thing that makes it easy to tell is investment. When someone is invested in you, your interests, your feelings, it becomes clear and undeniable that they care for you and about you.

Investment, to me, is more than mere affection. It is effort and time. It’s listening and reflecting back what you hear in words and in deeds. It is communicating as well as communing. It’s empathy and enthusiasm and encouragement. It is stomping the brain weasels when the other person can’t make them behave. It’s being vulnerable and letting that person in. It’s being brave and letting that person see parts of you that you’re not proud of having. It’s trusting so they’ll trust you. It’s being a safe and soft place for that person to land

When it matters that you care about someone or that they care about you, being invested in their happiness, their interests, their feelings is the surest way to overcome that internal saboteur’s voice that tells them not to believe, that they’re not worthy of such regard, that they don’t have value.

Being invested in someone, putting in that effort and showing them your investment…that’s one of the rarest, most potent, most beautiful gifts you can give to another person.

Portents

Sometimes there really are coincidences and inexplicable juxtapositioning of separate things in life. Not every seeming pattern is actually a pattern or a sign from the universe, spirits, ancestors, angels or demons that may have the ability to communicate such things.

And sometimes they are.

Lately, over the last several months at least, I have seen an uptick in the frequency with which I have encountered certain phenomena, most especially in the frequency of the feeling of anticipation, of something impending, coming my way.

With most feelings and phenomena, the over- or under-tones they bear can fall anywhere on a spectrum from wildly hopeful and positive to abysmally bleak and dreadful. This feeling of pendency, of possibility and opportunity is mostly hopeful and positive. Occasionally, it acquires an ominous flavor of apprehension, presentiment, augury and foreboding. Other times it’s somewhere in the middle resonance, tasting of expectancy, chance, suspension, and promise. And at still other times the prickly, eerie aura of divination, foreshadowing, premonition and prophesy are most prominent.

But at all times in this recent surge of this anxious foretelling is a strong sense that every instance of it is a genuine portent of things to come.

I struggle mightily with this, as my logical, linear-thinking brain has no framework of scientific analysis in which place this phenomena to satisfactorily explain this possibility. While I am not so arrogant as to believe that I know all that is knowable about analysis and examination, I have ample evidence that my application of these fundamental cognitive tools is usually effective and accurate. So, when faced with the inexplicable, my inquisitive mind fritzes over its thwarted desire to explain the why and how of a thing.

Indeed, in the last 48+ hours I have confronted two very big and significant portents that have had my guts and grey cells tied in knots trying to rationalize the utterly irrational, as well as internalize the surprisingly rational. In particular, my instinct to uncover the logistics of how these things might come to pass has occupied many hours and much of my energy that I would otherwise have spent sleeping or in more productive pursuits.

Working through some of these puzzles with friends, I’m challenged by the repeated advice to let go of the “how”, the “why”, the urge to control logistical outcomes, and simply trust that the universe will bring about what is meant to be. I have been reminded by multiple sources that it is faith, and not logic, that is the ideal tool for dealing with this impending advent. Scraps of scripture learned in my youth concerning the nature of faith…substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen…are on infinite loop playback in my head. And the war between logic and faith, will and willingness, rages in my chest.

I wonder if that isn’t the ultimate, meta portent? What if the pattern of prescient contemplation is not only a tool to prepare for whatever is coming, but is also the substance of the impending revelation. If the universe wants me to see that the logic and reason I treasure and rely on is not a pathway but an obstacle, what better way to show me than by filling my life with phenomena immune to logic and only discoverable by faith?

That’s some epic, angsty, emo, existential crisis-driven fever dream right there.

Maybe I should just stop looking for patterns and methods and answers and explanations. Maybe being “blown about by every wind of change” is the best policy – going with the flow, as it were. But I don’t know how to do that, either.

So what’s left? If logic is unavailing and extracting the how and why of something impedes the advent of the portent, yet passively floating from swell to swell on the ocean of chance is not possible, what’s next? Is it simply doing nothing?

Can anything that results from such a process have lasting value? Will whatever emerges from such inactivity be salubrious, nourishing? Doesn’t the lack of effort to bring about the outcome necessarily diminish it? Does accepting such a windfall call into question my personal standard of ethics and integrity?

All these questions arise from the values with which I was reared, and they are evidence of the challenge to these values that this policy of inaction incites. I don’t have answers. I suspect they cannot be answered this side of the outcome being realized.

Which begs the question: Can I perform this experiment, sticking it out until the end, or will I retreat to the safety of my illusion of control and forego the chance to know the outcome?

Lost and Stuck

A friend on Facebook posts daily Reasons Not To Quit under Miss Hanne’s Academy For Wayward Girls. These little nuggets of wisdom and inspiration have been a steady source of courage and comfort for me for some time. Today’s post “Reasons Not to Quit #1070: What one specific thing are you going to do today to make it a little easier for you not to quit? #reasonsnottoquit” incited a lot of thoughts and feelings that I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.

Boiled down to it’s constituent elements, the particular sludge stew that’s been plaguing my peace lately seems to be equal parts professional burn-out, imposter syndrome, workplace political BS, and lack of inspiration. Stirred together with chronic anxiety and social isolation, and that thick, bubbling, acrid paste of unrelenting discontent begins to set into a cognitive and emotional concrete that is extremely difficult to remove.

So, being prompted by both my own cussed stubbornness not to be a quitter and today’s Reason Not To Quit, I decided to examine the situation. And, because I’m a literal, linear thinker, I resorted to using lists to help with the analysis. I started by listing why I’m struggling, then listed what I’m good at, what I need, and what’s in my way. The final list is supposed to be what would make it better, but so far I have nothing jotted there.

Themes I’ve uncovered in the various lists reduce to: lost and stuck.

Reasons I’m struggling include the feeling that I’m bereft of professional creativity and that I’ve lost the plot and the purpose I’m supposed to fulfill. Yet the top three things I know I need to be happy in my work are intellectual challenge, to contribute meaningfully to something valuable, and clarity of purpose. And things I know I’m really good at include issue spotting, problem solving, and diplomacy. And what’s in my way are things that obscure those levers: fear and insecurity, workplace politics, personal and systemic inertia, lack of imagination/creativity/inspiration.

I don’t think the obvious intersections among these things are accidental. When I am challenged and contributing to a well-defined goal that I believe in, I excel at identifying and strategizing solutions to obstacles and at leading and persuading others to achieve those solutions and the ultimate goal. But when there is no clear goal or its shape and boundaries are obscured by a fog of emotional, organizational and political flack, productivity and engagement tend to grind to a halt and ingenuity fades. When those tools are blunted and the stress is high, the doubts begin to flood in and I get swept into a current of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread (FUDD) that blinds and hobbles an otherwise sharp and incisive brain.

It’s all well and good to know this, to recognize a cause for this rut. It’s a whole ‘nuther thing to know what to do about it. Hence the empty list of “what would make it better”.

I don’t have answers, only more questions. And I’m tired enough that my ability to bootstrap my own path out of the morass is pretty low. I’m feeling very lost and discouraged, uncharacteristically lacking in tools to fix my own problems.

And that admission in print has my heart pounding and my brain screaming for me to delete it, not let anyone see how useless I’ve become. But I’m going to leave it there and risk the derision and embarrassment that will likely result, because it may be the one thing I can do today to break the cycle of anxiety and let me see a crack in the solidified sludge coating my brain.

Assumptions

Wow, sometimes I think I might be prescient. I started writing this last Saturday, following a train of thought that has been nagging at the back of my brain on and off for a while now. A couple of things have happened in the three days since I started writing that seem to confirm all my thoughts on this topic. Weird how the brain works sometimes.

——— o0o ——-

Everyone assumes things, big and small, right and wrong, from time to time. There are some overt assumptions given as a starting point in certain situations that everyone involved agrees to be true. But often when we speak about assumptions it is in the context of blind assumptions, those thoughts that set a baseline, coloring our actions and outlook on a given topic, person or activity, without much basis for that thought or opinion. Those kinds of beliefs can be tricky to navigate and hard to challenge and change, especially when they are about ourselves.

Lately, I have been encountering assumptions that I have about myself in odd, unexpected ways. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing. Being aware of what we think about ourselves helps us examine our path and can help us make good choices (or bad) and take us in new and exciting directions. It can also make us retrench in those beliefs, habits, practices that we find comfortable and true, often regardless of other knock-on effects of keeping those things in tact.

At times, I feel that this constant self-examination, endless striving to improve, to be and remain positive, to challenge every shortcoming, is just another treadmill of “not good enough”. It feels like all this self awareness, personal growth and discovery work is more about destruction than construction. Some days it feels like there’s nothing good enough in me and I’ll have to completely remake my entire being in order to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror (both physical and metaphorical) and be content that the person looking back is acceptable.

This self assumption of inadequacy is insidious. It lurks in places you don’t ever expect to find assumptions. There are plenty of overt, obvious places where it is easily recognizable. These are predictable and annoying, sometimes hard to cut loose, but they don’t have much camouflage and are capable of being tackled head-on. The cynic in me sometimes thinks these are intentional distractions, ruses placed by the subconscious to divert attention from the deeper places where this assumption truly lives, to make it nearly impossible to root out and eradicate. If all our energy is focused on the surface assumptions, then the roots have time to go deep and unchallenged.

A place I’ve recently confronted this assumption – that I am not and will never be good enough – is superficially obvious, but there’s a taproot from the obvious surface to the hidden depths that I didn’t expect. And that unexpectedness makes me question if it’s really an irrational assumption or just the plain truth that I have to accept.

The surface bit is easy: I encounter disapproval/rejection/reprimand and I immediately assume I’m in the wrong or not up to standard, so that treatment must be deserved and I need to change and improve to be worthy of better treatment.

Now, clearly, there are times when everyone falls short and that self-castigating assumption is accurate. Being a mature adult means taking accountability for our mistakes and flaws and committing to do or be better. This is a healthy response to confronting personal shortcomings.

But the deeper bit is harder to articulate. It’s part “I’m working really hard to improve X quality/personal trait yet am not seeing expected results” and part “damn, I thought I’d mastered that one, but I guess not”. I guess what it boils down to is that frequency matters, more so than personal effort. Basically, if criticism is repeated, especially when it comes from different sources, then I gotta think that it’s not my irrational insecurities, but fact.

That’s painful on a lot of levels, but mostly it hurts to know that my inner saboteur was right all along. It’s painful and embarrassing to discover that I was a fool to take comfort in the easy platitudes of well-meaning acquaintances who urged me to believe myself to be good and smart and worthy, when my brain was telling me where I was falling short of all of those standards.

So what do you do when the illusion is revealed and all your comfortable self beliefs are debunked by cold fact?

I suppose the healthiest response is to redirect all that self-improvement energy to a more realistic, achievable goal. When your inadequacy has been proven to be reality, get to work on becoming adequate. Seems fairly straightforward. But so much in life that seems simple is not. Bootstrapping yourself to the finish line from square one is really f’ing hard and exhausting. Especially when the leaden weight of failure is still hanging around your neck.

So the real question is how do you take that leaden noose off your neck?

Let me know when you find out, won’t you?

Gut Churn

I’ve been trying not to be too raw, too vulnerable with my posts, wanting to protect myself and to avoid burning out readers with too much angst. But yesterday was a particularly crappy Monday and I wrote this in the heat of the emotion. After letting it sit overnight, I find it is still valid and not too overwrought with drama, so I’m posting it.

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305 days. That’s how long it is until my 20th work anniversary 17 April 2020). If I stay at this job that long, I will have earned my incentive compensation payout for 2019 (if any) and my milestone anniversary gift card (woohoo!) and will have proven to myself that I could do it. That’s the sum total of incentives I can catalog for staying (apart from my regular paycheck).

For going, I count a lot of things as incentives, not least of which is the salvaging of my self respect. I’m so weary of the stress and, now, the disrespect I receive from so-called peers. I’m utterly spent in terms of grace and charity for those that abuse my team and my good intentions. My sight line to the reason I keep going is more obscured every day. And I honestly don’t know what purpose it serves me or my company to continue as a lame duck “leader” under the direction of another who has been made the whipping boy/scapegoat for all things negative. He can’t shield my team anymore and I’m no longer given my full agency and authority to direct my organization. So what’s the point in remaining?

Except that I don’t yet have another job and that I still cling to the belief that I’m doing some marginal good for my team, I wouldn’t stay. I’d pack up today and walk out without another word.

Or, at least I like to think so.

Reasons

I’ve been having a hard time at work for a while now.  Well over a year, by my loose estimation. The reasons have diversified over that time, but the impact is the same: I’m stressed, not sleeping well, and generally unhappy and demotivated.

Lots of street-corner philosophers and internet meme wisdom would have me believe that (1) nothing and no one is responsible for my happiness or unhappiness, other than myself, and that (2) no one can “make” me feel anything, rather I choose how I feel about and respond to any situation or stimulus.

My gut and brain tell me that’s reductive BS, that, as with so much in life, the truth is a mix and somewhere in the middle.  I might have control over whether I rage and storm and become offended by innocuous and inconsequential things, but there is truth that humans have natural, predictable reactions to certain stimuli and blaming the person who reacts in those expected ways for feeling those things, naming those reactions a ‘choice’ as a derogation of their self-control, is emotional blackmail.  My intellect and rational brain tell me that feeling bad or overwhelmed or anxious or stressed when impacted by bad, overwhelming, anxiety-inducing and stressful stimuli is natural and rational and, in some ways, healthy and that I should not feel shame or guilt or failure because of these feelings.

But my heart, that thing so affected by emotion and anxiety and illogic, takes this so-called wisdom and views my reactions, in the context of my current turmoil, and turns this would-be motivational message into a cudgel to pulverize my already fragile confidence, making me question my own judgment and defeating any momentum for change that the stress and struggle may have produced. Almost as if from an outside vantage point, I see these contradicting forces at work, recognize that the turmoil is happening. But I seem powerless to overcome the internal saboteur, unable to center logic and reason over emotion and insecurity. The sludge rises and coats my reason with fear, miring my volition in inertia.

In an attempt to break the hold of anxiety’s inertia, I resorted to an old stand-by trick that has helped me overcome test anxiety, stage fright, writer’s block, and bouts of impostor syndrome from the time I started school all the way through my last birthday: making lists. By listing issues and risks and possible solutions and available resources and missing pieces and reasons for or against any given situation, I have learned to impose order on chaotic thoughts and calm the inner storm. This has helped me more times than I can count over the course of my life.

When I hit a saturation point a couple of weeks ago, when a particularly rank pile of workplace political horse manure landed on my desk, I decided I had had enough. It was the closest I’ve come in over twenty years to simply walking out of my office and never coming back.  But I’m not a quitter; I have a fundamental moral aversion to quitting before I’ve tried absolutely every possible alternative. And I don’t typically give in to rash impulses. So, instead of screaming “I quit” and walking out, I decided to make a list, two lists, actually: Reasons to Go, and Reasons to Stay, at my job.

On an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of graph paper, I listed the Reasons to Stay on the left-hand side.  There were 8 items on that list after spending an entire afternoon thinking about it and intentionally striving to add everything I could think of that would induce me to stay.  On the right-hand side of the page I listed the Reasons to Go.  It only took 15 minutes to fill the entire length of the page with 22 separate items, some with sub-parts. I bet if I let myself, I could add even more.

Now, in something so weighty and consequential as a decision to quit a high-paying job with professional prestige, sheer numbers of reasons listed in the midst of emotional upheaval shouldn’t be the only deciding factor.  I acknowledge this.  I also acknowledge that these thoughts, generated amidst emotional stress or not, are valid and shouldn’t be discounted simply because they’re items in a list.  The quality and consequence of the reasons matter and should be taken into account, too.

Here are my lists:

Reasons to Stay: Reasons to Go:
Paycheck Savings Enough for Months-Long Job Search
Loyalty No Loyalty in Return
Protect My Staff Can’t Protect if I’m a Lame Duck
I’m Not a Quitter I’m Not a Masochist, Either
Sense of Obligation – Don’t Leave in a Lurch Can’t Carry Obligation for Someone Who Doesn’t Want Me
Hassle to Find New Job I’m Unhappy
Age – Harder to Get New Job Out of Control Stress
Inertia Sleeplessness
  Don’t Feel I’m Adding Value Anymore When My Efforts Are Unappreciated
  I Can Find a Place to Add Value and be Appreciated
  Opportunity to Change Direction – Personal and Professional
  Chance to Re-Set and Re-Order My Life
  Take Time for Hobbies
  Take Time to Travel and See Friends
  Time to Write
  Chance to Work on Personal Growth
  Time to do Home Chores and Projects
  Relief from Pressure, Stress, Anxiety
  Distance from Boss’ Fits of Rage
  Change is Refreshing – New People, Places, Challenges
  Chance to Cultivate Peace and Tranquility in My Life
  I’m Not Irreplaceable – the Company and My Team Will Be Fine Without Me

What I take from the flat comparison of the two lists is that there are more numerous and weighty reasons to leave than to stay.  Assessing for depth, I can’t see that there is any urgency left within me anymore to continue fighting the anxiety, to endure the demoralizing disregard and mistreatment from my colleagues, or to achieve any specific professional objectives, that add up to a reason to stay. But I can see a lot of yearning to be free from the negativity, stress and emotional upheaval that is constantly generated by the people I work with.

Because it’s not the job, it’s the people. If I were to look for a new job (and I have been looking quite a lot), I’d still look for a similar position – I still love being an attorney for a company doing good things. I just don’t want to have to endure the toxicity that currently surrounds me in this company.

One of my frequent commentors on this blog said something recently about me being in a constantly toxic environment and continuing to expect to not be poisoned. That thought has been stinging the inside of my skull ever since I read it. At first, I was a little hurt to think they viewed me as naive and irrational for feeling so keenly the hurts from this job. But the more I think about it, the comment and my situation, the more I come to understand that what I’m feeling is grief over having finally reached the end of my creativity and ingenuity for inventing paths to resolution. I’m grieving over not being able to fix a problem that I didn’t create. I’m grieving a failure not of my making. I’m grieving the end of an era of my professional life that didn’t culminate in triumph, but in apathy.

One of those internet memes of wisdom I’ve seen a lot of lately advises not to hold onto a mistake simply because you spent a long time making it. Similarly, I’ve been advised by the interwebs that I can’t reach for something new if my hands are full of old junk.  While pithy, maybe even trite, and certainly oversimplified, these bits of advice hold a kernel of true wisdom: letting go of past mistakes gives you the opportunity to move on…hopefully to avoid making the same mistakes later.

My boss has been giving me little pep talks lately, taking pains to complement me and apologize for all his temper tantrums and the stress he adds to my life, and making a point of assuring me that the chief agitator causing the bulk of the drama is on a plan that has them retiring in 18 months or less.  He tells me all the time to just hang on for a little over a year and the main source of all our grief will be gone.

That’s so, so tempting.  By that time, I’ll have surpassed the 20-year mark with this company, a nice, round, milestone achievement.  Also by that time, my bonus for this year’s achievements will have been paid (if all the gates are met). And with the horizon free of the Senior Butthead and Top Drama Maker, I could see myself finishing out my career with this company.

But the rational voice still living in my head, however muted and small, still shouts that whomever replaces that jerk may not be any better and, besides, 18 months is a LOOOOOOOONG time in which much stress and turmoil can occur and in which they may change their plans and not retire at all.

So, since the present is all the time any of us has, should I waste my opportunity to take back my happiness on a hope for someone else’s decision to retire or not? Do I have it in me to stay another year and half while that plays out, enduring the continued toxicity and risking panic attacks and remaining unhappy – is the milestone and the potential bonus and the hoped-for relief solid enough of a benefit to make sucking it up worth it?

No answers, yet.  I’ve told myself, and even one friend who I trust, that I’ve already decided that I’m out.  But I don’t have another job, yet, so I’m not making any rash moves.  Will inertia win? I’ll just have to keep thinking and working on my courage to make a change, I guess.

 

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