Archive for the ‘NaNoWriMo’ Tag

I didn’t sign up to be a traffic cop

Well, with this post, I fulfill my #NaNoWriMo slash #NaBloPoMo goal of posting once a week in November. I even squeezed in a couple of bonus posts. So I’m happy with my achievement, even if it wasn’t 30 straight days of posts. 

Recently I talked about having had a really good day after doing some deeply hard-core executive lawyering. That’s happened quite a few times and I’ve tried to celebrate those wins so as not to lose sight of the good, substantive work I do. That’s important, because it seems far too many of my work days lately consist of frustratingly wasteful, non-substantive busy work. And way too much gate-guarding/re-directing of tasks and obligations away from my team. I feel like I’m mostly a traffic cop, hence the title of this post. 

That’s not what I want to be and not how I want to spend my time. But it’s a necessary evil, if I’m to protect my scarce resources from inefficient and productivity-eroding time-sinks. That is part of my job as the boss. But it seems such a low-value activity and a very expensive waste of time and talent. 

So, instead of whining about it, I’m trying to think of strategies to resolve the symptoms and, hopefully, the root cause. It’s challenging, because no problem is one-sided and lots of people and variables come into play. The priorities I have for my team, which make these inefficiencies so problematic, aren’t the same priorities that other teams have. Indeed, these inefficiencies are tools or methods that other teams are using to pursue their competing priorities. 

A good example is when the sales teams try to end-run the approval process and ask my legal team to draft contracts in absence of approvals “to save time”. My team is put into the position of having to create complex, nuanced contracts on the basis of little or no specific information about the deal, while also having to play approval-police to be sure the contract doesn’t get signed before all the business approvals are given. That parallel processing always includes more calls/emails/special handling, with the associated increased time to get work product out, than we ever need when we get a fully approved contract request before drafting. So I spend time talking to sales reps and sales managers to identify needs and clarify requests and push back against the stupid and unreasonable, while my team struggles to provide top quality service amidst the chaos. 

That’s what I mean by inefficiencies making me a traffic cop. 

I haven’t answered all (any) of the questions about how to remedy this condition. But I have been working on it. With the help of cross-functional leaders I’ve raised awareness and received some short-term relief for my team on parts of the issue. And just yesterday I proposed a refinement to the contracting process to the sales leadership team that could resolve the lion’s share of the frustration for both sales and legal. It will require commitment on both sides and a significant behavior modification for the sales teams. But it also could mean removing more than 80% of the procedural friction from the process and increase sales (and the pace of sales) into the bargain. 

It’s a project for next year and I have high hopes. It’s not the substantive legal and executive work I enjoy most, but it’s good work and could bring a lot of tangible and intangible benefits to my team and my company. If the price is my being a traffic cop…where’s my whistle?

Finding the positive in the unpleasant is a win and one very good thing. I hope you’re finding something positive to celebrate today. 

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Mangled Lyrics 

I have always had a challenge with “ear worms”, songs that get stuck in your head and repeat incessantly. As a kid, I shared the joy of them with everyone by singing them loudly until I exhausted whatever malicious energy feeds them. But as an adult I have to be conscious of the fact that that extremely annoying habit might induce aggression or get me committed as insane. 

So I learned a long time ago that I can usually kill an ear worm by replacing it with a go-to song that my brain finds comforting and non-invasive. I let that song play in my head, a little louder than the other, and let its rhythm overtake the other. Something about that process flips the off switch and I can generally get on with my day or relax enough to sleep. 

I say this usually works, because sometimes it doesn’t. When I’m particularly stressed, for example, and the insidious song is somehow connected by my brain to the stressor, even that trick is unreliable. 

And now, to accompany the extreme stress and anxiety I’m experiencing from the elections, comes the fresh hell of ear worms of mangled lyrics that tie the songs and stress even closer together. 

No peace within, no peace without. Joy. 

For a week now (at least since the election), I’ve had a soundtrack of alternating song snippets punctuating my every waking moment. First up is my brain’s twisted version of the refrain from “Everything is Awesome” by Tegan & Sara from the LEGO Movie, only its “Everything is Awful” over and over again. Followed closely by a version of Fun’s “All Alright”, in which my brain supplies slightly modified and completely accurate lyrics of “It’s not alright, no it’s not alright, it’s such a mess inside of my head and I’m not alright. No it’s not alright, no it’s not alright, I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest and I’m not alright.”

So that’s fun. 

I can’t decide if my brain is trying to help me or kill me. Maybe it’s an affirmation of my feelings, a biochemical validation that’s supposed to help me through until I am alright? Or maybe it’s just one more layer of stress and awfulness designed to make my head explode. I don’t know. 

But my go-to, ear worm-killing, comfort song* isn’t helping. And the peaceful moments alone that I desperately need to still the screeching static in my head are infiltrated with these ceaseless songs.   

I need a new trick to turn off the unwanted music.   

*I can’t say what it is or its power will fade, like Samson and his locks of hair…or something. 

The Tally

Sometimes I can’t talk about what’s hurting me, but I can write. 

—–

For two days I’ve been battling to control my emotions. Tears come without warning at the slightest provocation. And a heavy, burning, acrid lump of shame and fear is stuck in my throat preventing me from gaining any calm or comfort by talking through the awfulness. 

Ambush emotions suck. Hard. And the shame and stress of having them come while I’m at work is doubly awful. Being busy will stem the flow for a time. But focusing on work or on anything outside of my head is a daunting task. I’ve been trying, but I’m failing more than succeeding. 

One of the emotionally fraught conversations I had with coworkers today (in which I was mostly silent and tearful) centered on the breathtaking variety of people who will be negatively affected by this new regime. We decided that really only one demographic isn’t immediately and directly harmed by it: straight, white, male, Christians. All others are less than, second-class, and targets for every kind of discrimination and hate. People of color, people of size, people who are LGBTQI, people with physical or mental or emotional challenges, people of any faith other than Christian and people of no faith, and all women are less safe today than we were on Tuesday (to the extent some of these groups were safe at all).

That led to us discussing in how many dimensions each of us is viewed as less than, as undesirable, as unworthy and unwanted. It was a grim discussion and it was repeated with a different set of people later, spontaneously. Because everyone is conscious of the danger that this ungoverned hate represents. And because talking seems to be the only way some have to cope…or not cope but try to commiserate. 

I know its not healthy or helpful to pursue these dark thoughts. But it’s difficult to avoid them when it’s still so raw. It’s akin to the obsessive prodding of a sore tooth, or the scratching of a scab: it hurts and is not productive, but it keeps you conscious of the injury and is, in a way, comforting to feel something even if it’s pain. 

So here’s my tally of factors of un-safety: 8.  I’m a fat, Hispanic, gay, gender non-conforming, woman with mobility issues and unpopular opinions, who holds a position of corporate power over men. 

These are among the most prominent defining characteristics of who I am. They are important to me. And, under this administration of horrors, they number the ways in which I am wrong, misfit, rejected, and reviled. 

I’m sure that tally will increase over the course of the next four years. Because there’s no chance that any of these factors will diminish, but every chance that these hate mongers will find new reasons to hate the hated even more. 

Troubling Thought

Here’s the first of my #NaNoWriMo posts…

Last month, I attended a CLE seminar on diversity in the legal profession. During a panel discussion with five representatives of various marginalized demographics, a question asked the panelists to tell of a time when they experienced trouble in their job because of their minority’s identity. Several of the women of color described being assumed to be secretaries, prostitutes, or mothers of their clients by judges and court personnel. The discussion turned to their coping strategies and what things they did to avoid those assumptions. All of the women on the panel, including the gay white woman, talked about making great efforts to present a professional appearance, especially having a good hairstyle and always wearing a suit jacket to court and meetings. These were acknowledged by the panel as the most direct measures to avoid negative assumptions by people who “naturally” rely on prevailing stereotypes about women’s roles. 
Then a self-acknowledged straight white man who spent 20+ years in the US armed forces, commented that his experience in uniform taught him that “dressing the part” was often the best way to achieve a goal and earn the respect of those involved. 

I was stunned by the level of agreement this remark drew from the audience. 

Perhaps I look at the thing with undue prejudice, given that presentation, gender identity, authenticity, and validation are all closely, inextricably linked in my head. But even so, I cannot help but think that telling people who are marginalized in large part by their appearance that the only way for them to succeed or advance is to assimilate the appearance of those who marginalize them, is dangerous and damaging. 

“Fake it ’til you make it “, “dress the part”, “grin and bear it”, “pay your dues”, and lots of other pithy, glib, over-simplified adages all tell the same story: you’re not (yet) enough and you’ll only ever be enough if you become (or appear to be) something else. 

In a room full of lawyers voluntarily learning about the vital role diversity plays in making our profession, our justice system, our society, and our world better for us and future generations, I judge that man’s comment, and the sentiment and connotations it carries, to be wholly unworthy, erasing whole swaths of identities, and undoing any positive messages that the seminar did impart to the non-marginalized attendees. 

But what other advice could he have given that would be more helpful? 

If looking mainstream provides the relief necessary to get you to a position that allows a more authentic presentation, how is that a bad thing? Conforming for safety, personal and professional security, or as a step among a progression…isn’t this the definition of maturity, of growth? Is it possible to balance authenticity and conformity?

Lots of questions and few answers. 

What do you think?

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