Archive for the ‘introspection’ Tag

Now For Something Completely Different

Lately, my posts have been about me, my struggle with anxiety and sleeplessness, my elation over my new house, my continued attempts to be positive and find at least one good thing in every day. Those are good things, mostly. Also, predictable and likely boring.

So today, I’m writing about something different: me. Oh, right. That’s not different at all. What is different is the aspect of me that I’m writing about: writing.

I’ve revealed here before that I’m working on writing and being creative, generally. I even crowed about one of my short stories being selected for publication in an anthology to be released this coming spring. Writing beyond this blog and unrelated to my profession is, to use a hackneyed phrase, a passion of mine – a quiet, unassuming passion, but passion nonetheless.

It’s an area of my creativity that is fraught with complex emotions. As a student, the mechanics of writing, especially sentence structure and composition, were challenging for me. I encountered a lot of harsh criticism that I really didn’t understand – much of it seemed to tell me to do what I had already done, without acknowledging that what I’d written already met the edicts my critic was imposing. I felt stifled and inadequate, though without any clear reason why my writing failed to please.

And then there’s the self-criticism, borne of insecurity and reflecting that formative experience, that’s at least as harsh and confusing as any external commentary. Constantly worrying about whether someone will “get it”, will appreciate the thoughtfulness and creativity I’ve poured into a given piece, has been a significant hindrance to my creative productivity.

Putting something out there for someone else to consume and comment is a risky business. Egos can get bruised, feelings can be crushed, confidence can be scorched. All for the thrill of taking thought from ether, putting it into words in an order and structure unique to its form, and setting it free to become an entity unto itself. Big payoffs and big disappointments abound. Which it will be is a mystery until it happens. Sometimes it’s worth the risk. Other times…not so much.

When I get lost in the conundrum of weighing those risks, I often resort to the safety of retreat. Simply putting the questions – what if, why, when – out of my mind and focusing on the how. What is the next step? If this story or essay or blog post is going to happen, what’s the next thing to be done? That works for most writing problems I encounter. Giving me a finite goal and a short horizon to view usually lets my brain work the problem.

That trick doesn’t seem to be effective on a real block, however. When I’m struggling to plot a story or even come up with a creative idea, “the next thing” is hidden and out of reach. It’s maddening.

I’ve been battling such a block for a while now. At first, I thought it was a combination of work stress and personal disappointment after a fairly ignominious and humbling dating experience. But as I have experienced a lot of emotional highs and great blessings since, prompting a few good blog posts and a lot of easing of stress, the expected lifting of the block hasn’t occurred. I keep starting to write and either I spend hours with nothing but a blinking cursor on a blank page, or scribble frantically and end up with nothing but some disjointed, crumpled handwritten notes to show for it.

So, in an attempt to break the block, I’m combining tactics: naming the demon to sap it’s power, while narrowing the focus to a single step. This blog admitting to the problem is the naming: I have writer’s block.

The single step I’m contemplating to break that block is writing by hand. It’s not a new, revolutionary tactic. It’s been done throughout history, literally. Since humans began recording, we’ve been writing by hand. And yes, technically, even electronic writing is mostly done by human hands on a keyboard (though dictation by voice isn’t “by hand”, it still usually requires a human action to get started). But there’s something alchemical about taking a pen in your hand and moving it across the page in a rhythm of strokes to form words. For my brain, this magical transmogrification of the staticky, noisy thoughts into ordered, coherent thoughts is activated by the physical movement of the pen in my hand in a way that doesn’t happen with my fingers on a keyboard.

Maybe that’s got something to do with the fact that most of my work is done by computer keyboard. Maybe the change from typing to old-fashioned writing shifts my brain to another gear? I don’t know. But I’m not going to question it. I’m just going to do it.

I’ve got a brand new notebook, sized just right to keep with me everywhere, and a pen. I’m going to commit to writing down thoughts and snippets and ideas as they occur, not obsessing over order, chronology, neatness or coherence. I’m just going to write what occurs to me when it occurs to me for an entire month. Then, the following month I’m going to take the time to read through the notes, mark what I think goes together, and decide if it can become a finished work. If so, I’ll also decide when and how long I’ll take to pull it together.

That’s the plan. Let’s see if I can pull it off. But I’m not going to be a stickler about precise dates or number of words to write or topics to cover. I’m going to let my spirit be free in this experiment. Even that’s a stretch for me, the linear-thinking, logically-driven, ordered lawyer. But this isn’t about the lawyer in me. It’s about the creator in me who longs to be legitimately regarded as a writer. To achieve that, I need to write. And to write, I have to kill this block.

Wish me luck.

Random Thoughts

It’s been a while since my last post and I want to keep the streak going. Maybe only through the end of the year, but still going – that was my commitment at the first of the year. So here’s another list. This time it’s just some odd, unrelated observations that came to me randomly. Like shower thoughts, only without the falling water.

⁃ I think there’s something about this time of year, the ending of the calendar year and the changing of seasons, that makes me feel nearly everything more intensely than at any other time of year. Especially anything melancholy or morose. It makes me mindful and wary. I find myself curating my words, self-censoring much more actively. That’s good for not hurting people’s feelings, but not so great for clear, direct, transparent communication. I find that quandary a little frustrating.

⁃ Something I said to a friend just today: “This probably speaks too loudly of my insecurities, but I gotta say it feels really good when I’m working with more experienced outside counsel and they call out things I’ve contributed as either something they didn’t think of or as a better approach than they’d suggested. It’s just always been my experience and my fear that in-house counsel are frequently dismissed as not “real” attorneys and not nearly as skilled as real, outside counsel.” The validation of peers, especially of more experienced practitioners, is a huge motivator. But it’s also a little cringingly embarrassing to know that, even after 20+ years on the job, I still crave that validation.

⁃ I keep kicking around a topic, start drafting a post, even try talking about it in IRL conversations, but get stuck on finding the right words to articulate what I need to say. Without previewing what that topic is, my observation is just this, perhaps obvious, thought: conventional community wisdom, as expressed in pithy adages and online memes, is inherently incomplete, carefully arranged from a particular agenda, and nearly always over-simplified. So having a serious, detailed conversation (or blog post) is difficult and seems to come across as a petulant rant at an embarrassingly surface level. It frustrates me to be unable to communicate a concept free from an emotional tone overlaying my words that undermines the impact of my observations.

⁃ As my family and I prepare to move into the new house I’m buying, a lot of our effort and conversations are focusing on decluttering, so that the fresh start this home represents isn’t dimmed by a load of unneeded stuff. That’s a big ambition and I worry that we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves and that the joy of the new place will be overshadowed by this goal and our relative success or failure achieving it.

⁃ I’m both fascinated by and frustrated with the way municipal planning and execution plays out in my city. Specifically, I know there is a planning phase for development and maintenance construction in all parts of the city. But, experientially, it feels like any planning that happens gets jettisoned the moment the first shovelful of dirt gets turned over and the people living in this city are left to deal with the chaos. I’m so frustrated with the conflicting concurrent construction projects that have every major through-street and intersection in turmoil. Sometimes I wonder if the planners are a bunch of sadists who secretly thrill at the general populace having continual road rage.

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?

Some things

I’ve said a few times over the last several weeks, both on here and in conversation with various friends, that there are some awesome cool things going on in my life lately. I’m grateful to be experiencing it all. Life isn’t perfect and there are good days and bad. But I’m thankful that I average a goodly percentage more good than bad. It’s a privilege and a blessing to experience joy in a world gone haywire. And because it’s a blessing bestowed when sharing your joy, I am gonna relate a few of the awesome things going on right now.

1. Although I said in my post at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t keeping a report card of my progress this year, I did post a few goals that I wanted to advance this year. One of those was to pluck up the courage to ask someone I find attractive out on an IRL date before the end of the year. I am happy and proud to say that I have accomplished this goal and more. She asked me out first, but I have since asked her and we’ve actually been out several times and are looking forward to more. So, if you happen to notice a certain lightness in my step and an enigmatic grin on my face at odd times, you have your explanation. 😎

2. Connection is an incredible, life-giving ‘magic’ that defies my ability to define. But it is undeniable, joyous and freeing when it happens. Finding common ground in habit and experience and philosophy and passions brings such a wonderful feeling of belonging and validation. Being seen and affirmed and encouraged in your identity is one of the most beautiful things one human can do for another.

3. OMG, another one of my absolute favorite lesfic authors followed my blog!! Excuse me while I fan-girl for a hot minute.

4. Gifts aren’t everything, not even the main thing. But when it’s something the giver heard you describe as an aspiration, not as a request for anything, just something that would be a joy in your life, and they gift you that, that’s a great thing. It means they see and hear you, not just with their eyes and ears, but with their mind, their energy. Those are moments and gifts to cherish, no matter how small they may seem.

5. Finally getting my shot at playing D&D! And not just any old game, an online game of a bunch of cool queer people from a bunch of different places around the world. I know nothing and am pantsing it with minimal research, but the group knows I’m a noob and graciously welcomed me anyway. So excited! Been trying to get a chance to learn and play since I was 12. Can’t wait for the fun to begin!

6. Bonus: Recently I’ve had occasion to note how good it feels to be happy for, and to rejoice with, friends for whom great things are happening. The speed at which warmth and happiness can spread when good things go right for good people is astonishing. A promising job interview here, a realized transition there, a new home for that one over there, the start of a professional practice for that friend on the other side, and the giddy elation of a new relationship for still another over yonder. What a bounty of goodness surrounds us, even when there is darkness in the world.

My friends, I hope this new month and new season is full of joy and positivity for you all. May the fun little things and the inspiring big things lift your spirit. Enjoy the turn of the season and the colors and smells and unique hallmarks of the season in your corner of the world. Keep warm and dry and happy.

Contemplations

I wrote this a couple days ago, after a particularly rough bout of ambush emotions. I’ve let it sit and after some sleep and a re-read, I have decided it’s not entirely cringe-worthy and over-emotional, so I’m publishing it. But be warned: it isn’t the most logical or inspired thing I’ve ever posted.

— oOo —

There are times when I regard my brain as a foreign entity, as if it weren’t really a part of me, as if “me” is separate and distinct from my brain. I guess that’s the essence of the mind/brain debate. Does consciousness exist apart from cognition? Does the biological organ of the brain exist separately from the consciousness? Is consciousness the soul? These are unknowable facts, in my estimation. But what I do know as fact, as lived experience, is that my brain occasionally begins to work in ways that I do not recognize nor understand, leaving me feeling as if it exists separately from who I understand myself to be.

That’s often frustrating and sometimes scary. I cringe putting that admission in writing because I’m conscious of the fact that many will think me crazy, deranged, defective for thinking my brain and my self are severable in any way. But that’s the best way I know how to describe the experience of recognizing a thought pattern playing out in my brain and simultaneously feeling as if I’m separate, observing that pattern progress from outside of it because I feel no connection to that thought’s genesis and feel powerless to terminate it.

Lately, I’ve been actively thinking about a bunch of different concepts that intersect in my life in ways both predictable and surprising. There’s no way for me to encapsulate all of these thoughts in a blog post and no one, even me, would want to slog through it if I could. But a few of the connections and intersecting concepts are intriguing and might benefit from a public airing just to get them out of my head for a minute.

None of this is neat or tidy. None of it is resolved…maybe not even resolvable. It’s all a part of the messy, complicated, sometimes painful process of personal growth. My answers, to the extent any are forthcoming, are likely to be different from your answers on the same concepts and intersections. So, treat this as the thought experiment that it is and try not to get too caught up in problem-solving; rather, enjoy the journey of mere contemplation.

Three of the big concepts that have visited my cranial foreign office recently:

1.Apathy. Specifically, I have wrestled with how damaging apathy or indifference can be to interpersonal relationships, comparing (perhaps unfairly) the type and quality of that damage to that suffered from active abuse or intentional conduct of another ilk. Contrasting these impacts might be reasonable in some circumstances, but not in others. A big hurdle to taming this intellectual puzzle are the complicating factors, such as the nature of the relationship being examined, the relative power among the people in that relationship, any dimensions of privilege and marginalization that the participants occupy, and the personal characteristics of the people relevant to this relationship dynamic. That’s a ton of variables to control for in calculating the outcome of an analysis of the level of impact a participant experiences from the apathy or indifference of the other participants in the relevant relationship.

2.Authenticity. What role does validation of outside observers play in a person’s ability to live authentically in any given identity or presentation? If no one else within my inner circle of relationships (friends, family, colleagues, community) validates the identity or aspect of identity that I embody, am I likely to succeed in living that truth? Is this more complex than mere peer pressure? Is It more layered and nuanced than simply getting a nod or pat on the back as assurance that we’re “doing it right“? Does the community at large within the relevant demographic being evaluated as authentic feel the impact of an individual member’s failure to authentically embody that identity as a result of not being validated in that identity? What about if lack of authenticity is a result of something else?

3.Effort. This one is even more nebulous and hard to describe. My thoughts have been full of questions about effort, trying to quantify “enough” and “too much”, trying to ascribe qualitative value to types of effort, and trying to illuminate the points at which type and quantity and quality collide. This is all in relation to the questions on apathy and authenticity.

The ultimate culmination of all this thinking and puzzling and challenging and ideating isn’t clear. Is my brain trying to work out some therapeutic dosage of effort that promotes healthy authenticity and combats apathy, like some kind of emotional-political wonder drug? Or is this foreign entity trying to define the discrete boundaries of the emotional geographies of each of these concepts, charting the points at which borders combine? Or perhaps this is all just a lot of mental distraction to keep me from moving beyond the constraints and conditioned responses that my upbringing instilled?

I have no certain answers. But one thing that is certain is that my brain is not idle.

Creeping Sludge

A writer I admire, who’s published works and blogs I enjoy very much, recently posted a raw, vulnerable post to her blog about the toll that human interaction at a big event has taken on her introverted spirit. She has explained that she posts these thoughts that leave her exposed to others’ scrutiny in an effort to fight the stigma about mental health challenges and coping mechanisms.

I admire this bravery. There are many, including me, who shrink from being vulnerable to the examination and judgment of strangers and friends alike. But without the brave who expose the germs of anxiety and doubt and dread and depression to the light, the light has no chance to bleach away the stain of stigma, shame, and negativity that grows in the dark like fungus.

My own battles with this creeping sludge, more acute in the last year or so, have met with mixed success. I have chronicled most of this here, with mostly indirect references to the enemy. I’ve concentrated on my work to be and remain positive, to find the one good thing in every day that holds back a bit of the sludge, to be authentic and real. I’ve even acknowledged my failures and down days, named some demons to destroy their power. I’ve had many tall peaks of success and a few deep valleys of almost no success at intentional positivity. But overall, I believe the tally is still on the plus side, in the green and not the red.

Yet today is one of those that falls to the valley floor and adds a tick to the debit column. And, inspired by that author’s bravery, I’m going to fight this stain on my peace by exposing it to the cleansing light of transparency and vulnerability. Without the safety of hidden shame, this sludge will have no power to control my spirit.

What makes this particular encounter with the sludge so bad is that it has no apparent source, no catalyst or rationale. I was placidly content, feeling good about myself and my deeds one second and then the next I was literally gasping for breath in the wake of an unexplainable rogue wave of intense and sharply negative emotions full of criticism and self-loathing. Ambushed by my own brain, torn to tatters by my inner saboteur in a matter of seconds. And, truly, without warning or trigger. It’s baffling and infuriating.

Coinciding this morning with a particularly pronounced flare-up of the tremor in my hands that I’ve endured since second grade, this bout of emotional fatigue is acutely irritating. I’ve fumbled or dropped nearly everything I’ve touched since my eyes opened from far too few hours of restless sleep. Even had to change my shirt before I could leave the house because it fell victim to flying tea from a fit of shakes. This makes me feel dull and clumsy and useless – validating the hurtful things my brain insists on shouting at me.

I don’t know what brought all this on. It’s ridiculous. Intellectually, I know I’m not stupid and utterly useless, not a failed experiment of near-human biology, not a pathetic waste of space, not an imposition on the truly worthy occupants of this world. I know all of these hurtful, hateful, wrong things are the lies my anxiety tells me to perpetuate itself. I KNOW it’s a bunch of lies. I. KNOW. IT.

Yet, knowing and believing aren’t the same thing when the storm is raging.

This is the battle. Negotiating peace between the thinking, rational brain and the anxious, lying sludge is tricky. And it’s not a one-time event. Sometimes, like today, it’s a repetitive, iterative process of cajoling and pleading balanced with teeth-grinding, iron-willed cussedness (as my gran used to call my stubbornness). But calling it out into the light helps.

So, if you encounter a wild-eyed, bedraggled Butch in a possibly coffee splattered shirt and rumpled bow tie, muttering dark maledictions under their breath, maybe cut ‘em some grace and give ‘em some space. Everyone has an off day now and then and could benefit from the charitable kindness of their scruffy grumpiness being overlooked and not commented on.

Depth of Meaning

I’m at a leadership conference for my company this week. This is the third consecutive year of this effort to refresh the tactics and energy of our leaders in the second half of the year. It started three years ago as a desperate attempt to salvage the year’s numbers by rallying leaders to brainstorm short cuts to the processes in order to make getting deals over the line easier. Over the time since, the event has become a pep rally, of sorts. Lots of presentations on the various parts of the business and highlighting wins and extraordinary efforts. In short, it’s an expensive caucus of expensive resources to strategize making our revenue targets.

We’re here, ostensibly, to get important information about our corporate strategies and to focus our various efforts to support those missions. But because it happens in the middle of the year, immediately ahead of the busiest and most challenging part of the year, over a few over-scheduled days, I have a relatively low opinion of the value and effectiveness of the event.

This is exacerbated by the proliferation of glib, attenuated analogies, metaphors, and parables that seem to be proffered by every speaker. It’s as if these over-simplified stories and the moral they project, the folk wisdom they preach, are intended to substitute for the specific, detailed, practical information, tactics and tools necessary to achieving the stated goals.

Our COO kicked this off in his opening remarks with a long, rambling account of the Amundsen Polar Expedition in the early part of the 20th century. He covered the epic achievement of this expedition, highlighting how Amundsen was able to mount the campaign, fund it (by tricks and deception and audacity), take it to the field, reach the pole and return with his entire team in tact. Contrast that with the other team who all died on the way back after reaching the pole second.

Let me say first that I absolutely recognize the lessons that can be distilled from epic stories, huge achievements, sagas of Herculean efforts. There are many important reasons that we remember these stories hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years afterward. One of those reasons is that the story of overcoming hurdles bear lessons that we can apply to more mundane (by comparison) challenges.

Let me also acknowledge that there are practical and important limits to the analogies we draw between these epic sagas and the everyday challenges of only tangential similarity. When the connection between the story and the present-day situation becomes attenuated, the message fidelity fails. For example, in the arctic expedition story, the Nationality of the leader was used to explain the choice of tools (dog sleds, skis) for the successful mission versus those (ponies, dog sleds, mechanized sledges, and men on foot) for the unsuccessful one. To these “cultural differences” was attributed the difference between literal life and death. This dire lesson (don’t let cultural bias cause your team to perish on an ice shelf) was then equated to helping sales teams overcome obstacles to selling software.

I have real difficulty seeing a meaningful connection in this case. Because the pop wisdom of “if it worked for [X Folk Hero] to achieve [Y Epic Win], then it will certainly work for us in this non-epic business goal” is not wisdom at all. The lack of depth in this reasoning robs these equivalencies of all meaning, in my opinion.

Maybe I’m just being too critical. Maybe I’m too far gone in motivation to be excited by the easy platitudes found in this re-hashing of morality tales and business-speak buzzwords. But I crave depth and detail and substance. They are the difference between talking about it (whatever it is) and achieving it.

On Choosing Me

Today was yet another rough day in a string of hard days at work. Between the continual stress of the quarter-end rush, the ongoing unpleasant workplace politics, and some extremely unhappy executive duties involving peer investigation and delivering hard news to the big boss, it was a very Monday-ish Tuesday.

Then, things got worse at the end of the work day when I received some really harsh criticism of myself and my team. If it had been fair, objective and constructive, I would have taken it in stride and worked hard to show swift, lasting improvement. Indeed, for that portion of the feedback that was objective, I have already begun to do exactly that. But the majority of what I received was truly a personal attack calculated to gain political points and unfairly disadvantage my organization for the commenter’s gain.

As I struggled with my attitude and wrestled with my thoughts on how to respond, I texted with a friend. Their wise counsel and objective, yet unstinting, support helped put a few things into focus, letting me get past the worst of my dark thoughts and turn my brainpower onto the puzzle of what my next steps should be. Though I don’t yet have a solid answer, I have gained a few insights.

First, I struggle with the building desire to simply walk out; it grows stronger with every blow to my sense of justice. While I’ve already been planning to take my leave, in a professional and orderly manner, stuff like this makes me just want to run. But I have an acute and visceral aversion to quitting, so I’m miserable at the thought that I’m failing in this way.

However, my friend helped me see that there is a material difference between “leaving an impossible situation” and quitting. They pointed out that when someone abuses your loyalty by using it to hold you hostage while not showing any genuine loyalty in return, your own frame of mind becomes your jailer. Though my heart and soul rebel from any implication of capitulation, there has to come a point where enough is enough, an acceptance that you’ve done all you can. It’s difficult to pinpoint that milestone. And my insight on that turning point is blurred by my fear that my team will suffer in my absence.

Which brings me to my second realization: I have value, too, and honoring that is neither selfish nor unfeeling as regards others that may be impacted by my choosing myself. This is a hard one for me, and requires a lot of mental and emotional energy to internalize and sustain this belief. So ingrained into my psyche are the lessons of my youth, in which selflessness was elevated to the pinnacle of nobility and worthiness, that even at my age I cringe at being thought selfish and self-serving. But there is value in preserving one’s dignity, salvaging self respect, and refusing to be trampled for the sake of those without compunction or conscience. If nothing else, removing myself from the line of fire preserves my ability to choose another battle.

But more than this, choosing my own sanity and dignity and emotional safety sends the message to both my tormentors and my team that I know my value and worth. Drawing that line and not letting them destroy that value is as loud and important an act of political resistance as their attempted character assassination on myself and my team. Sending that message can empower my people to do the same. Still…it’s hard and I have to keep telling myself this. I keep telling myself because repetition engenders belief.

Finally, perhaps the biggest immediate benefit from my friend’s wisdom and support is that the frank discussion drew me out of a dark spiral of negative thoughts and got me thinking strategically. Because of that diversion, I was able to enjoy a pleasant evening in conversation with another friend, being silly and talking about everything else but my dreadful day. It was a great way to end a rough day.

I’m no closer to a decision on when to resign, and I’ve no firm strategy for responding to the unfair criticism. But with the vital support of a caring, long-term friend and the ease and relief brought by the lighthearted chat with a new friend, I’m in a much better frame of mind. Tomorrow is soon enough to begin the hard stuff. For tonight, I wish you all good rest and the blessings of good friends, old and new.

On the lighter side

I’ve been venting a lot lately. It has been necessary and life-preserving. But I don’t want to always be negative; positivity and self improvement remain my goals.

So, in the spirit of reframing the negative and finding silver linings, here’s a short list of the glimmerings out of the muck from this week.

  1. Starting with the least-shiny of the linings…maybe pewter instead of silver: The workplace politics has found an uneasy level for a while, and I and my team aren’t in the crosshairs for now. Hopefully the worst is over. There will be more upheaval in a couple weeks, but at least it will likely be short-lived and mostly in someone else’s organization. That’s not the brightest or happiest outlook, but it’s not entirely dark and depressing, either. Taking what little good I can from all of the bad.
  2. In that same spirit – of finding something good in the barrel of muck – I was glad to get to contribute to a project today that has the potential to bring about good change. My boss asked me to collaborate with him on a strategy and innovation project. It was one of those think-tank type of logic problems. The board and CEO chose a current-fad business method/pop-sci kind of book and gave the executive leadership the assignment to devise an actionable, yet big-bet/blue-sky idea to spark growth or market transformation. Using the concepts in the book that combine freeing the mind from current paradigm restrictions with the facets of current-form success (i.e. the things we do best today), we were supposed to strategize a way for our established company to provide new solutions to solve customer pain points. Essentially, we needed to suggest ways to reinvent or transform our current strengths to adapt to novel problems or to provide new approaches to existing problems. It was all logic, thinking, head-work with cooperative discussion and brainstorming with my boss. It felt really good to use my brain in a non-emotional, non-political, non-reactionary problem-solving effort. And I came up with some really good observations, insights and ideas. I’m proud of myself and of my work today.
  3. Finally, I is (apparently) International Selfie Day and several of the groups and lists I belong to on Facebook were full of fun, interesting, cute and clever pictures of an amazing variety of queer people celebrating their uniqueness and individual beauty. I was so uplifted to see so many folks overcome their shyness and insecurities to post pictures of themselves in clothing and settings and situations that made them feel good and confident and accepted. Not everyone is a glamorous beauty queen or a handsome star or a gorgeous specimen of humanity. But each picture I saw showed courage and confidence and a love of self that makes me glad to be a part of this community.

Happy Summer Solstice and a good Friday night to all. I hope your weekend is full of sunshine and ease and time enough to enjoy the little things that make life worthwhile.

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