Archive for the ‘personal growth’ Tag

Creative Piece #1

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

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

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

In the still, cool dark

Sometimes I need to just be

Still and quiet, breathing

Lying down or sitting up

Simply existing in the moment

Sitting calmly in the quiet

Experiencing the cool darkness

Not thinking, not planning

Simply being someone apart

Silence is rare

There are hums and clicks and groans

Sounds normally lost in the noise of life

Simple silence requires effort

Alone in a cool, dark room

Listening to the sound that’s not quite silence

Breathing, existing, knowing without thought

Simply dwelling with myself at rest

Stillness is not the same as peace or rest

But taking refuge in being still brings both

Courageously occupying the void of thought and sound

Being, simply at one

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Seeing the good

Well, my last post was less positive than I had hoped for so early in the year. I had a wild aspiration of doing only positive, up-beat posts this year while keeping up the weekly posting goal. I knew, deep down in the unacknowledged corners of my psyche, that was unrealistic. Let’s face it, everything isn’t always butterflies and unicorns. Too, I am not very successful at posting fake positivity when I’m feeling down or frustrated. So only happy posts was a pipe dream from jump.

But that’s not to say I am giving up on looking for the positives, even on the bad days. Seeing the good, even if it’s only one small thing, when everywhere there is darkness and chaos, is the most important facet to my campaign toward self-improvement. Because, in my most secret, private self, I know that if there is ever a time when the tally board of positives hits absolute zero, that’s when my spirit will truly despair. I have to know, like Samwise Gamgee, that “there’s good in this world” so that I have “something worth fighting for”.

I’m blessed in that I have not yet lived a day – and there have been at least 6 days out of my 49, nearly 50, years in which the darkness was all-encompassing and nearly absolute – which was completely devoid of anything positive. On the days on which I lost each of my parents, for example, I took refuge in the positive, glowing comfort of the love of my brothers and their wives. On the darkest day of all, which I will not describe or force myself to relive, I at least had resources enough to get help to dispel the evil and eventually emerge back into the light. As my anxiety coach has said several times: I “have a 100% success rate so far” of overcoming the demons, the stress, the fear, the evil that threatens my peace. So, if nothing else, I have that.

Luckily, I’m not living through rock-bottom like that right now, and there is much to be thankful for. Although there is stress and drama and sleeplessness still to overcome, I have seen a lot that is good and hopeful.

Here are three good things from the past three days (all of which I posted on FB, too) that make me thankful for the good stuff:

  1. 52,901 words, 120 pages written on my fiction project. And today I worked myself out of the corner into which I’d written myself a week ago. I think I’ll end up with about 145 pages in this first draft. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come on this. I think I’m on target to checking off a major bucket list item before my 50th birthday in a little over a month: completed book (short though it may be). It may never be published or ever read by anyone else, but I will have conquered the self-doubt that has forever told me that I couldn’t do it, couldn’t be a writer, had no skill to say anything worthwhile. Hah! Take that, insecurities!
  2. I had an awesome dinner out with Supper Club friends Saturday night, despite the frigid temps. Gnocchi and grilled chicken with onion soup Normandy was a perfect, warming meal. Nice conversation and a good atmosphere made for a great evening.
  3. The litigation stuff that I’ve been dealing with sucks, but it’s not all bad. On Friday, I had the hugely gratifying experience of receiving and handing over to my CFO a high 6-figure check from a settlement of a matter that I managed to completion. Nice when your work pays off – literally.

Good night, my friends! May the week ahead be full of positives for which you can feel grateful.

Starting Again

Happy New Year, all! At this start of a new month and year, my hope for all of us is for more kindness (to ourselves and others), less stress and anxiety, and more living in every moment.

For myself, I’m not going to over-burden this transition period with resolutions and lofty goals that will inevitably bring pressure and guilt. Rather, I’m just going to acknowledge that this is another beginning, just like every day is, really. And with every beginning comes an opportunity to start anew, with whatever activity or goals I choose to engage.

Like I said a couple of days ago in my Q4 report card post, I’m not sure if using the report card posts as an accountability device is still motivating for me. But I’ve thought quite a bit about what goals to carry into this new year. Last year I worked on (1) weekly blog posts (and making them substantive); (2) nurturing my spirit (especially through being creative); and (3) work-life balance (with a focus on in-person socializing). These three primary goals and ‘stretch goals’ cover the areas of my life where I think there’s most room for improvement.

And personal improvement, being the best me I can be, is the point. Of everything. (For me, at least. You decide for you what the purpose of life is all about.)

So, should I keep at the same goals? Yes. Any adjustments? Yes. Just small refinements, really. And those adjustments are a new start.

First, I want to keep the weekly posting goal, but I want to add an element of creativity. As I discovered over the last year, I thrive best when there is a creative challenge in my life. And although I didn’t have a lot of success with learning silver sand casting, I did do well with writing last year. In addition to blogging here, I worked on creative writing outside of my blog. I have kept these efforts to myself for a number of reasons, but mostly out of fear. And since fear is something to eject from my life, I’m going to try to get beyond that block.

I think it could be cool to combine these elements for a twist to my primary blogging goal. So, in addition to keeping up my weekly posting streak, I want to post at least one creative piece per quarter. I’m going to be as lenient on myself as possible on what counts as creative and I won’t be prescriptive about length or subject matter of these pieces. Creative writing doesn’t have to mean narrative stories nor even fiction; creative essays on non-fiction topics count. The only metric is whether I have the courage to push the “publish” button on at least one original work of creative authorship per quarter.

Second, I’m keeping the spirit-nurturing/creativity goal as-is, but I will count the creative writing posts on the first goal against this goal as well. Double counting seems fair in this instance, given the extra hurdle of having to overcome fear into the bargain.

Finally, I’ll keep the work-life balance/socializing goal. These are some of my biggest struggles. And I did pretty well last year in being intentional about tackling this aspect of myself. I don’t want to stagnate, so adding a twist seems like the right thing to do. But I also don’t want to put so much pressure on myself that I stall or regress.

But, again, fear should not be the decision-maker. So I’m going to add a twist, but I’m giving myself the entire year to accomplish it: go on one real date, in person, with someone whom I find attractive.

Oh, geez. Just writing that makes me cringe and want to delete it and pretend I never wrote it or even thought it. But I won’t. Publishing this post, putting that out in the universe, is as much an accountability device as the report card posts. Now that it’s out there, my personal integrity will require me to follow through.

But since accomplishing that goal requires the consent and participation of another person, I am only concerned with having the courage and taking the initiative to ask someone out on a date. I won’t count it a failure if I get turned down, or if it doesn’t go well if the date does happen. The point is simply to beard the dragon of being vulnerable enough to issue the invitation. Once that challenge is met, the rest (whatever that turns out to be) will follow. The real challenge for me is getting past the fear and inertia to begin at all.

So there you have it: my goals for this year are largely the same as last year – blog weekly, be creative, and socialize in real life. The added challenges of publishing some of my creative writing on this blog and going on at least one real date seem like tall orders. But since I’m turning 50 this year, I’m gifting myself this internal kick-in-the-butt as a gift of tough-love. Ultimately, I know myself enough to know that I won’t do either of those things without a motivator. And fear of public failure is definitely a motivator.

Again, happy new year, my friends! I hope you have an easy, comfortable, relaxed start to this year and that every day greets you with hope and possibilities. Let’s start again today and give ourselves permission to treat every day as a chance to start again as often as needed.

Q4/Full-year Report Card

It’s the end of the fourth quarter already! Wow, what a year! It’s had it’s ups and downs, but it’s been full and interesting.

And now it’s time to check on my progress against the goals for personal growth that I set for myself at the beginning of the year. You can see my prior quarterly report cards here and here and here.

Quick reminder: these goals and my efforts to achieve them are for me, and this report card is an accountability device that helps keep me motivated, not a means of passing judgment or a tool for overly-harsh self-criticism. I try to be fair and gentle with myself when rating my performance.

Last quarter I regained the Honor Roll after a slip in Q2, and re-committed to my original and stretch goals for Q4. So let’s see how I did. I’ll be grading on three main topics (Weekly Posting, Creativity/Nurturing My Spirit, and Work-Life Balance) plus the stretch goals (More Substantive Blog Posts, Writing (replaces the Sand Casting goal of the first half of the year), and More IRL Socializing) on an A through F scale.

Q4 2018 Report Card:

Weekly Posting: A

Substantive Posts: A

I posted every week and they were mostly substantive posts exploring topics that have meaning for my life and my journey of positivity. The fact that I continue to struggle to remain as positive as I want to be is merely indicative of the circumstances of my life (sleep deprivation, high stress, etc.) and should not diminish my grade for this goal. I’m posting, that’s what counts. This is a solid A.

Creativity/Nurturing My Spirit: A

Writing: A

As I said last quarter, I changed the creative activity from sand casting to writing. Whether that’s cheating is debatable. However, that writing is creativity is not. So, in addition to my intentional spirit-nurturing through more frequent contemplation of the sky, and the art project I did to create gifts for my staff (stone-inlaid keychains), I’ve been writing. Although I ultimately gave up on doing it exclusively by hand on paper – my laptop is a much better tool – I’ve made time to pursue it, which is a big achievement for me. I’ve finished one long-ish short-story and am in the middle of what is shaping up to be a novella-length story. I’ve got ideas for more, too. I’ve even done some very preliminary research into writing retreats that might give me some inspiration and better skills to tackle this thing called being an author. Yikes! But whatever comes of it, I’m engaging in the activity and that deserves an A.

Work/Life Balance: A

IRL Socializing: A

I definitely earned an A. Despite work demands being at an all-time high in terms of both volume and stress levels, I’ve again this quarter been good about prioritizing myself over the urgencies that result from others’ failure to plan. Too, I traveled to see a friend just for the pleasure of her company, made an effort to reconnect with several local friends in honor of the holidays, and even did a quick-turnaround trip to visit family for Christmas. I’ve spent more time in social situations this quarter than in most recent years combined! The intentional, purposeful action to visit and socialize despite my inherent reticence is the whole point of this goal. And I nailed it. A.

Overall Grade: A+

I said in Q3 that “I’ll count it a win if I am not completely consumed by deals and litigation deadlines and holiday prep to the point of becoming catatonic. If I can stay on top of the work load, keep up with the few friends I have, and keep writing, all without imploding or exploding, I’ll happily end the year with another set of A’s.” I did all of that and, I think, with a quality that exceeds the “merely”, “just” and other limiting qualifiers stated and implied in that Q3 prediction. I worked hard on these goals all year and in Q4 particularly.

I’m proud to have stuck with the campaign, achieved some really good results on challenging aspects of personal growth, and set myself up for continued achievement in the coming year. Whether I continue to use these report card blogs to monitor and encourage my personal accountability next year is still up in the air. But I’ve developed some mental and emotional muscle memory by being diligent in this process, so I’m not too worried about regressing if I choose to move on to something else. The habit of intentional growth is in place now, and of that I’m proud and grateful.

I hope the holidays have brought you joy and an opportunity to show your love and gratitude to the people in your life. My hope for each of you in the coming year is that you find ways to live well and to love without reservation. Happy New Year, my friends!

A Case for Vulnerability

If you’ve read much of my substantive posts on this blog you’ll already know that vulnerability – specifically risking personal mental/emotional/social/physical safety for the sake of frank, open, transparent disclosure – is a huge struggle for me. While I always try to be honest and authentic, I don’t always have the courage to be as open and vulnerable in IRL discourse as I have been in some of my posts on this blog. Sometimes that’s intentional self-care, protecting myself from known risk. But often it’s habit, reticence borne of fear and practiced over years; an automatic response instead of a consciously reasoned decision.

Still, that habit was formed with a certain amount of logic, as a response to real-world circumstances and events, not merely the irrational response of the primal mind. I’ve experienced a fair bit of trolling, baiting, gaslighting, and other intentionally humiliating behavior in my life. Fear and a reticence to be exposed to that kind of abuse again is a logical, rational, healthy reaction to being called on to make oneself vulnerable. But that reaction, to be most effective, should be actively managed and consciously controlled so that opportunities for growth aren’t missed due to the automatic dismissal caused by fear.

For me, that’s much easier said than done.

However, being a thinker, I have thought a lot about how to make my experience in various circumstances better, more comfortable, more likely to meet my needs and desires than the current situation in any given scenario. In most cases, changing things for the better means a certain amount of (hopefully) short-term disruption, discomfort, and, yes, vulnerability. I don’t like that that’s the case, but it certainly seems to be the truth for my life.

So, what’s a logical, rational, risk-averse, sensitive thinker to do to reconcile the dissonance? For me, it’s just a matter of resigning myself to the necessary evil of risk in order to benefit from it. “Bite the bullet”, “grin and bear it”, and “just do it” are the hackneyed, yet apropos, expressions that spring to mind.

That’s exactly what I did earlier this week and – spoiler alert – it worked out fairly well. I admit I’m surprised at the outcome, which isn’t a great commentary on the state of my faith in this “just do it” philosophy, or in the generosity and compassion of the people I work with. But I’m counting it a win, anyway.

Here’s what happened:

As I’ve said a lot over the last few months, I’m struggling with stress- and anxiety-induced sleep deprivation. It’s been particularly bad over the last week, impacting my focus and precision at work. Wednesday was an especially rough day, with a ton of project work that required me to be ‘on’ and participate actively in substantive debates on the merits of our case, concentrate for prolonged periods of time and analyze lots of data and synthesize cogent legal arguments from that analysis – all on less than 4 hours sleep.

It was brutal. I yawned my head off, was slow speaking to particularly complex ideas, and generally felt slow-witted and sluggish all morning. By 2:30 in the afternoon I was running on fumes and about as stressed as I’ve been in ages. Making it through the afternoon without collapsing and without committing homicide was all I could hope for.

Then, about 6:30, my boss stopped into my office to chat on his way home for the evening. What I expected to be a momentary check-in, a “good job, have a great evening ” kind of thing, turned into a deeply supportive, substantive conversation in which my boss acknowledged not only that he recognized the burden and stress I’ve been bearing, but also that he’s been contributing to it by his venting to me his frustrations and his sudden changes in direction with the strategy on some of our matters that adds a lot of work for me.

Given his genuine contrition and sincerity, I chose to respond in kind, though it cost me a lot of vulnerability. I confessed to a high level of anxiety and the fear that I would let him and the company down because my ability to cope with the effects of the anxiety and stress is beginning to falter. I also shared with him that I am taking the matter seriously and have sought help to get the anxiety under control so that I can sleep again, including my unsuccessful attempt at counseling and my so-far successful engagement with an anti-anxiety coaching group.

His response was overwhelmingly supportive. He praised my efforts with the coaching group, calling it both smart and brave. Then he turned practical, saying that we needed to take action to fix it. He offered some good suggestions for things he and the company can do to relieve some of the stress that’s beyond the ordinary pressure that just comes with my role. We settled on getting me some administrative/process-oriented help – a gatekeeper, he called it – to give me some relief from so many operational and sales personnel having direct access to me and my brain.

And when I expressed what is, perhaps, my greatest fear of asking for help (no longer having value for the company because someone else has to do some of my work), he was quick to reassure that not only would he not feel that way about me, but that he has plenty of substantive, high-value lawyering work for me to do once some of the stressful, lower-value procedural work is handed off to someone else. He then committed to do whatever is necessary to get me that help, including lobbying with the CEO and board for the necessary exception to add headcount and finding the budget to pay for it.

It’s not a silver-bullet solution to my sleep problem and it will take time to implement. But just hearing him admit to, and apologize for, the extraordinary stress and offer to help fix it was a huge relief. It validates what I’ve been experiencing and lets me know that I’m not crazy for feeling as I do.

And all it took was the courage to be vulnerable about an aspect of my professional identity that I’ve always held internally out of fear it would be derided or exploited: fear of being useless. It’s good to know my contribution is seen and my value as an employee is secure. It’s also nice to think that soon I’ll get some relief and have new and different responsibilities with opportunities to add value in new ways. That’s a really great thing.

Happy holidays, friends! I hope you all receive validation, support and opportunities to shine in your every endeavor.

Lessons in Self-Talk

I’ve written a fair bit on this blog about my efforts at personal growth and self discovery. Some of what I’ve covered deals with the insecurities with which I still struggle, despite all of the hard, intentional work I’ve done to be the best version of myself. I call the source of those insecurities my internal critic, because it’s my own voice that’s raging at me.

That internal critic isn’t easy to slay. It rears its poisonous head and spews the most shocking invective into my tender, impressionable psyche when I’m at my most vulnerable. Stress, sleep deprivation, nervousness, performing in unfamiliar circumstances, exercising new skills — these are some of the things that leave me exposed to the inner jerk’s most insidious evil. And when I’m in that state, I have very little ability to overcome, silence, and escape that internal saboteur.

A perfect storm of those conditions formed this week. It was the culmination of weeks of hard, frenetic, hugely significant executive lawyering, in preparation for depositions in a litigation matter for my company, all while battling my first real experience with insomnia. I’ve been working 11-15+ hour days for weeks on end on the shaky, unsustainable foundation of an average of 5 hours or less sleep per night. And everything I’ve been doing at work has required intensely critical thinking and application of new and old legal skills to meet the challenge of this unfamiliar litigation activity. So my defenses were kind of low by the time I showed up for my 30(b)(6) deposition – where I was testifying on behalf of my company, rather than in my individual capacity – yesterday.

I expected, and had prepared for, a very challenging experience. Litigation isn’t a joke and the stakes in this matter are high for both parties. I fully expected to be pressed hard and to have to be on top of my game. But even as prepared as I was, I had underestimated how hard it would really be.  Here was my raw, unedited reaction that I posted to a different platform last night:

So here I am, just getting home after my third consecutive 15+ hour day this week (4th consecutive 11+ hour work day) more than 10 of which were spent giving sworn testimony in a deposition conducted by a class-A asshat of the most egregious kind. I’m mentally, physically, emotionally, and intellectually exhausted. I know I did an incredible job in this depo – another day of undeniable Butch Boss Badasserry. Still my traitorous brain only lets me see the one momentary slip when, after over 9 hours of grueling questioning and countless repetition of futile questions, I lost my composure and was forced to go off the record and leave the room before I dissolved into tears of angry frustration on camera and in front of that jackass. Suddenly weeks of work and two long days of testimony are reduced to: “yeah, but he made you cry” by my overly critical brain. Damn.

So, yeah. The internal critic got me hard and sharp. That whole reductive reasoning trick is dirty and underhanded and has a really devastating bite to it. All the true, positive, celebratory thoughts get rendered ineffectual in a single blow: it doesn’t matter that I knew more than anyone in the room, including the other side’s attorneys and my own counsel, about this case and had a smart, cogent, legally significant answer for every question and didn’t fall into any of the verbal traps the deposing attorney lay in front of me, it only matters that he was able to break my composure and made me cry.

But, thankfully, a wonderful friend, who also happens to be a rock star Butch lawyer, too, reminded me of something important: the nature of depositions, the rules that apply to their conduct, create an environmental pressure-cooker that often results in the witness being reduced to tears and I did well, in spite of the tears. In other words, I need to give myself a break.

Not only is that timely, supportive reminder a deeply kind gift at a critical point, it has the virtue of truth. After a few hours of sleep and a short work day this morning, I was able to put a bit of distance between my wounded pride and the critic’s barbs. That let me have room to think about the overall problem of the internal voice. Here’s what it comes down to, for me:

Self talk is a dangerous thing.  Like a blade, it can be both a tool and a weapon, and both functions can have both beneficial and damaging effects. Balancing the utility of such a volatile thing is a critical skill that requires constant attention to detail. When one aspect gets the better of the other, whether weapon or tool, damage results; too much of either yields an internal voice with a skewed world view< The imbalanced voice will be either irrationally confident and blind to flaws, or overweeningly negative, drowning out all accomplishment and confidence. Without the confident self-discipline to manage the internal critic, spiraling negativity takes over.  But falling too much in love with your own voice, logic, skill, position on any issue – self delusion of even mild degree – and you get a big head and lose sight of your biggest opportunities for growth.

Ultimately, it comes down to mental discipline, being kind, yet firm, with myself, taking care to feed my mind the right mix of messages that can build healthy confidence while starving the internal critic so that it can’t have strength enough to sabotage the positive with unwarranted negativity.  Simple enough to say, Exceedingly difficult to maintain.

It certainly would help if I could sleep more…

Anti-Positives (not Negatives) For Those Days When Sunny Positivity Just Can’t Cut It

As you know, I’m on a mission to center positivity, gratitude and kindness in my life. I want to be the best version of me that I can be, every day. But because I am human and imperfect, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes finding the silver lining, the “one good thing” in a day utterly full of crappy, negative experiences and energy is simply too much. Some days I just can’t fake it ‘til I make it.

On those days, honoring the darkness, letting the emotional, political, mental sludge breathe and have its moment in the middle is all I can do. And, if I’m both lucky and careful, that momentary dominance will satisfy the perverseness of the universe and let me pin that day to the past, moving forward into positivity once again. It’s brutal and not at all pretty to live through, but once on the other side, relief at having given the darkness that moment makes the light a little more bright and a little more bearable.

So that’s the silver lining, the good out of the bad.

But what gets you to that place is acknowledging the pain points, the dreck that’s built up and is clamoring to get out. Catharsis, I guess. But not necessarily just a good ol’ fashioned, wracking, sobbing cry. Sometimes it calls for naming the enemies, a litany of the poisons steeping in the blood, to extinguish their power and potency. Only after being called to the fore can some of these venoms be neutralized – the power of light to bleach the stain of the dark.

To that end, I’m braving my fears of vulnerability and derision to call out some of the poisons currently plaguing my peace:

Imposter Syndrome

Being a Pathetic Loser

Loneliness and the Fear it is Forever

Inadequacy in Every Dimension

Fixating on the Unobtainable

Reliving Humiliating Moments of the Past

Beating Myself Up for Giving in to Anger

Fear of Change

Wow. That’s a lot of mental and emotional poison.

I wrote all of that over a month ago, after nearly a month of lost sleep and continual stress. I set it aside to breathe, thinking that it was too raw and left me too exposed to actually publish. I thought I just needed to get it out of my head and it would be enough. But it hasn’t stopped.

So last night, Wednesday October 24th, while I was, again, not sleeping and after my eyes called it quits on reading anymore as an escape from the poisonous thoughts, I lay still and let the poison wash over me. I decided all the fighting I’d been doing to avoid it had been futile, so maybe giving it its freedom would bring some relief. Again, maybe if I honor the darkness it’ll let me go?

So I spent the entire night reliving the most cringeworthy, painful, humiliating moments of my life, watching each scene and acknowledging it’s continued sting. It felt like walking through a thrift store, cruising the aisles full of dusty, dented, useless junk that somehow still holds a degree of fascination, picking up items and replacing them on the shelves. It was a miserable experience, yet I managed to get to the end of the aisle without shedding a tear. Despite feeling the oppressive weight of humiliation and shame that each memory carried, I looked at each one and then set it aside without further judgment or sorrow.

No profound conclusions resulted and no existential clarity emerged. I did notice a pattern in the moments that rose to the surface and it’s still percolating through my brain trying to resolve into a clear shape that I can put a name to. But there’s been no epiphany.

Still, I think it helped, in some perverse way, to let my brain purge the dreck. I’m not certain that I won’t have to confront those moments again another time, but I feel that surviving that ordeal is a triumph. Even though it cost me a day of vacation time (I was in no shape to go to work today) and a day-long headache that’s still pounding, in addition to the night-long anguish, I’m calling it a win. It’s not a bright, shiny, joyous win, but a win nevertheless.

And because any positive out of all this oily, oozing darkness should be celebrated, I’m taking my courage in both hands and am publishing this very personal realness, despite feeling naked in the spotlight by doing so.

Q3 Check-up

It’s that time again, the end of the third quarter, and time to check on my progress against goals for personal growth that I set for myself at the beginning of the year. You can see my first and second quarter report cards here and here.

Quick reminder: these goals and my efforts to achieve them are for me, and this report card is an accountability device that helps keep me motivated. I try to be fair and gentle with myself when rating my performance.

Last quarter I passed, but slipped off the honor roll and re-committed to my original and stretch goals for Q3. So let’s see how I did in Q3. I’ll be grading on three main topics (Weekly Posting, Creativity/Nurturing My Spirit, and Work-Life Balance) plus the stretch goals (More Substantive Blog Posts, Practice New Sand Casting Skill, and More IRL Socializing) on an A through F scale.

Q3 2018 Report Card:

Weekly Posting: A

Substantive Posts: A

I’m calling this an A. Even though I just missed the 7-day deadline twice, once by mere minutes, I still posted every week. They were mostly substantive and, though some weren’t the resoundingly positive missives I strive for, they had meaning and message for me. Also, an online friend and follower of my blog paid me the huge compliment of telling me that my consistent posting has inspired her to return to more regular posting herself. Huge ego boost to know that something I do is inspiration for someone else. So this is a solid A on both counts.

Creativity/Nurturing My Spirit: A

Practice Sand Casting: F, but started new writing project, so A because creativity

Ok, this is a bit of a cheat. I’m giving myself an A on the goal because I’ve been doing a lot of sky-gazing and quiet contemplation as self care, which absolutely nourishes my spirit. But I’m also giving myself an A on the stretch goal, because I’m changing the stretch goal to something less specific. Cheating, I know, but also preserving my motivation to try.

Truth is, I have had no time to get into the sand casting. I want to do it, but the significant investment of time required to set up and prep for a pour is just beyond me right now. And my SIL doesn’t have any more time for it than I do right now.

However, I am acutely aware of a deep need to creatively express myself. So I have broken through an inhibition I’ve harbored against creative writing and begun a project just for myself. I’m doing it entirely by hand with pen and paper. I don’t have any present plans to publish or even let anyone read it. But I have this story in my head and a need to get it onto paper. That’s creativity and spirit-nurturing action. So it counts and I’m giving myself an A for it.

Work/Life Balance: A

IRL Socializing: A

I’m grading easy on this one. Since I have consistently participated and have not consciously avoided socializing this quarter, I’m giving myself an A. Work has been crazy, but I’ve been intentional about setting boundaries and choosing to prioritize myself over the urgencies that result from others’ failure to plan.

Also, I again went on a trip for the sole purpose of visiting a friend, even taking the initiative in asking to meet up. The epic adventure did a lot to lift my spirit and deepen our friendship. So, even though I still haven’t made any new friends and have no prospects of doing so in the near future, I’ll give myself an A on both because I have made real effort despite the lack of results.

So, overall, I’d say I’m back on the Honor Roll with straight A’s, but there’s definite room for improvement. I won’t change the goals or stretch goals for Q4 – there’s just too much going on in the run to the end of year to make it worth changing things up. Let’s see if I can just maintain the momentum. I’ll count it a win if I am not completely consumed by deals and litigation deadlines and holiday prep to the point of becoming catatonic. If I can stay on top of the work load, keep up with the few friends I have, and keep writing, all without imploding or exploding, I’ll happily end the year with another set of A’s.

I hope the turn of the seasons is treating you well and that you have satisfying challenges to take you through the rest of the year. Be well, my friends.

Long Weekend Spectacular

Oh, my! I just had the best holiday weekend I’ve had in recent memory. And though I’m facing a particularly stressful few weeks at work, beginning tomorrow, I’m happy, replete with relaxation and fun memories.

Here are some highlights, all of which count high on the “good thing” index:

1. Hours of meaningful conversation with a good friend. We’ve known each other for several years and share similar identities and some life experiences and I never cease to be amazed by her positivity and friendly kindness. This weekend allowed us to catch up on some big life events happening for her and share some moments of real connection that I’ve desperately needed of late.

2. New acquaintances. New friends include a delightful family and the most adorable couple, all friends of my friend. We had lovely meals and incredible conversations with each of them, covering a spectrum of topics that included faith, acceptance, identity, gender, and everything in between. Laughing with these new friends was pure joy and I’m so glad I had that opportunity.

3. Food adventures galore! My friend has a lot of experience living outside of the US, so has an appreciation for a broad array of cuisines. Mediterranean and Persian top the list and I’ve enjoyed trying shawarma, falafel, kubideh, knafeh (a creamy confection topped with something like crispy shredded wheat), and something I believe is called shouiebieh (a sweet, filled pancake-like pastry). We also had amazing, authentic Italian food, and a superb charcuterie board at an amazing art museum. But perhaps the most out-there food experience and the one I enjoyed the most for the fun, relaxed atmosphere, was at the most amazing coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Not only did I get a huge caffeine buzz from something called pembertino, a drink consisting of a Mexican Coke mixed with cold espresso and vanilla – sublime – but I also had gourmet toast with amazing hand-crafted cream cheese with a Hungarian red pepper spread, and another with pimento cheese spread unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. All of that amazing goodness was served with the warmest smiles from some of the friendliest baristas I’ve ever encountered.

4. Life-affirming and identity-validating attention from a community of people that welcomed me immediately and treated me so well it was hard to leave. The experience was beyond my vocabulary to describe, but warm, caring, fun, frivolous, deep, meaningful, compassionate, and flattering to the point of embarrassment at times, feature prominently among the words I’d use if I tried to recreate what I felt. And despite my deep and immediate embarrassment, I cannot deny that the singular and most flattering experience of being called a silver fox by a beautiful femme who was, innocently, trying (successfully) to make me blush, was an instant ego-boost.

5. A reconnection with faith. Although I was skeptical, I agreed to be open-minded and went with my friend to church on Sunday. It was a non-sectarian denomination I’d never heard of before, but was assured was bible-based and inclusive. Their message and mission, as stated on their website, was encouraging and I’ve been wanting to get back to faith for a long time. The sermon, together with the warm welcome and the obvious love that the preacher and congregation had for God and for each other, went a long way toward helping me find the courage to explore that part of my heart again. I’m not going to put any pressure or expectations on myself about this. But I’m going to think about what I heard this Sunday and keep an open mind about doing more work in this area.

6. Bonus: Table top games & Chewbacca and the Droids I Was Looking For! I love games so much and we played a couple that I’d never tried before. And, wonder of wonders, I actually won a couple!! Woot! And, also, plus! We went to this amazing exhibit of Star Wars costumes at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Incredible experience! Costumes from most of the movies and many of the most interesting characters, including R2D2, C3PO, BB-8 and Chewbacca, my faves!

It’s back to work tomorrow and I’ll no-doubt be under the gun almost immediately. But this last few days was a bucket-load of blessing that has recharged my spirit so much that I’m confident I can float through the rest of the week on the emotional energy…and caffeine…that this holiday weekend provided.

Humility or Insecurity?

A thought occurred to me today as I was thinking about my job, my role as a leader, and my professional aspirations. It seems to me that there is sometimes very little difference, to the observer, between humility and insecurity and I wonder if demonstrating either trait is ever truly beneficial to career advancement?

Probably not a question I’m ever likely to definitively resolve for myself or anyone else. But it’s something I ponder. Not out of fear, really, but genuine curiosity. Because I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that I’m always going to have a certain level of doubt or insecurity about myself. The instinct to question if I’m good enough, doing the best I’m capable of, smart enough, etc. is deeply ingrained in my psyche. Those questions have served to propel me into greater effort, igniting my senses of competition and duty, spurring me strive in academic, personal and professional endeavors. They also can be detractors, internal critics that erode confidence and self worth, inhibiting courage.

Like so many things in life, taken to either extreme, this instinct to question myself can be harmful, a weapon against self growth. But, given its proper place, monitored and employed carefully, it can be beneficial, a useful tool for self improvement and advancement.

That’s how I distinguish between humility and insecurity for myself: humility is constructive, insecurity is destructive.

I’ve tried very hard to build my professional skill and expertise, to achieve professional success and earn the respect and confidence of my colleagues and clients. I’m proud to say that I’ve done that and enjoy the results of that achievement and respect in the form of a trusted leadership role in my organization. Although I have consciously worked to inhibit arrogance along the way, it is not always easy to detect when confidence and pride in accomplishments slips into conceit. I hope that my recounting in this blog of my thoughts and the accolades I’ve received don’t spill into that category. But I do know that, despite having achieved much in my career, I still get a giddy kick out of unexpected compliments on my skill and work product.

That happened twice today and it’s a pretty great feeling having my colleagues’ trust and confidence confirmed. The instance I’ll share arises from something small and ordinary, but it illustrates my point, I think.

My boss is out of town on a well-deserved vacation, and one of the senior leaders who usually relies on my boss to provide review and approval of certain public releases was frantic at not being able to reach him. The issue is not one I normally address and providing a response would take me out of my comfort zone a bit. But there was no call for me to interrupt my boss’s vacation for this – I’d just have to carefully examine the task, review applicable statutes and case law, and apply good judgment. After all, that’s the core of an attorney’s job, right? Nevertheless, I felt compelled (out of both humility and insecurity) to warn him that this isn’t my area of expertise and practice, and give him the chance to ask outside counsel or consider waiting for my boss to return. He said waiting wasn’t an option and that he had confidence in my judgment. So, I took on the task, even though I was a little nervous.

When I was able to provide the necessary answers and approval in a short turnaround time, with a high degree of confidence in the accuracy and appropriateness of my conclusion, I thought the guy might actually cry in relief. When he thanked me for my help he said it was a great relief to know that my boss had such a reliable “right hand” to keep the business going while he’s away.

That was a big ego boost and a compliment I’ll keep in my pocket for those days when the doubts turn toxic and loud.

Have a great rest of your week and I hope you find reason to celebrate your own victory over insecurity.

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