Archive for the ‘personal growth’ Tag

Inglorious Leadership

I’ve written in the past about the hard part of being the boss, the dark side of being ‘in charge’. Making hard decisions for your team, even sacrificing some personal dignity for the greater good of the organization can feel pretty bad and take a toll on your spirit. But there’s another dimension of the dark side of leadership that has been mercifully rare in my career: helping to make hard choices for someone else’s team.

My role often includes unenviable tasks, such as delivering bad news to executives, and bringing a tempering influence to ill-considered proposals. But I do not normally have to be involved in the emotionally-charged decisions other leaders have to make with regard to their employees. I’m thankful that most of those get dealt with by HR, not by me or my Legal team.

But given my tenure of 18+ years, the odds were against my lucky streak lasting and today the streak broke. And because the universe does nothing in my life by half-measures, it broke twice in the same day. First, I got stuck in the middle of a disagreement between two leaders of separate functional organizations over appropriate crisis management communication and had to play peacemaker in order to break the stalemate. Then, one of our senior executives asked me to participate in the process of disciplining a colleague, another senior leader in a different department who is my peer and someone with whom I frequently collaborate.

Neither occurrence was particularly traumatic. Both were handled respectfully and with tact. Still, the tension and angst produced by unexpectedly having to participate in adversarial process within my own organization was intense. In a way, it speaks pretty highly of my colleagues and our company that this was the first occasion when circumstances required this type of intervention by me. Even discounting the first ten years of my career with this company in which I was an individual contributor staff attorney, it is remarkable that in the last eight years in my various leadership roles I have never been called on to address similar tensions.

Yet, despite that positive spin on this rarity, I can’t help acknowledging that the experience was unpleasant and unsettling.

Mediating disagreement is familiar. It’s part and parcel of negotiation and deal-making. But the nuance that makes this different in my mind is that the stand-off occurred between people who are supposed to be on the same side, people with whom I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder battling back the forces set against our company’s interests. Witnessing these same professionals square off with one another struck a clanging, discordant note in my otherwise harmonious working environment. Finding myself in the middle between them, having to work hard to persuade them back to cooperating for the good of the company, forcing me to be a decision-maker where I normally only advise, was wrong on every level. It tested parts of my leadership skill set in ways I never expected.

Then I was called upon to not merely provide constructive feedback about a fellow leader, but to essentially provide testimony that would be used in a decision making process that could potentially end in my colleague’s dismissal. That was a singularly uncomfortable conversation. I found that it tested my ability to balance candor with tact and honesty with empathy. Ultimately, it pitted my commitment to corporate interests against my instinct of loyalty to a friend.

And that’s the dark side of being a leader, of being in a position to counsel and influence. Maintaining your personal integrity – not taking an “easy” way out to avoid discomfort and conflict, not compromising truth for the sake of placidity even if it means someone you like suffers the consequences of their actions – that’s the gritty, indecorous, inglorious aspect of leadership.

I’ve faced it plenty of times with respect to my own employees and my own department. It wasn’t fun, but I understood it to be a necessary part of leading my organization. And in those instances I could bear the discomfort because it was, at its core, constructive and finite. It felt ten times worse today because the issues weren’t with my people and my lack of control over the tension made it hard to feel confident that it was constructive or finite. Instead, it felt like being an accidental witness to a private argument or a tender moment between strangers – wrong and icky.

Thankfully, the warring colleagues called a truce and returned to being collaborators, working the problem instead of pointing fingers. Also on the plus side, the executive evaluating my colleague for discipline committed to giving them an opportunity to improve before termination. It’ll be a lot of work in a short time frame, but it’s a genuine chance to save their job.

So the peacemaking and critiquing has a valuable purpose. My uncomfortable lesson in painful workplace growth was worth it.

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This Post Instead

I have, completely unintentionally, been ‘teasing’ a gender identity-based post for a couple of weeks. Starting with some righteous (maybe self-righteous, I don’t know) indignation over some comments in a friend’s blog, I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. There’s a lot of emotion and complication wrapped up in that concept. Gender, in particular, is fraught for me because I’ve been outside the accepted framework of what gender is for all of my life. But as I’ve spent time inside my head stirring the concepts and thoughts around and around, something occurred to me: I am more than the individual parts of my identity and it does everyone a disservice by focusing on one aspect to the exclusion of the others.

Now, don’t misunderstand: looking closely at one topic is an important investigative technique and allows a writer to explore detail that would otherwise get lost when examined among other topics of equal weight. And I do intend to write that other piece. But this is the one that’s fighting to get out of my head, so I’m writing this post instead.

What is it? What am I writing about if not a piece focused on gender? I’m having a hard time articulating that. As I said, gender is but one of many facets that comprise the whole of a person’s identity. But “who am I” is an existential conundrum that can’t be captured in a blog post. And it doesn’t lend itself to a tidy, memorable essay subject line.

I think that what I want to convey is really a simple, timeless concept that every person has to come to terms with in their lifetime: we each define ourselves.

The cacophony of “it’s not a choice!” being screamed at me through the internet is deafening. Hold on. That’s not what I said and that’s not my message.

I am fully aware that certain aspects of our identities are innate and not the subject of personal choice. There are some things that are in-born. Sometimes those innate characteristics have to be discovered, much as a sculpture within the marble needs to be discovered by the artist. Socialization is a powerful tool to enforce specific mores and values, some of which are at odds with certain specific identity characteristics. So, those of us born with those characteristics that are targeted by those mores often have a hard time discovering our full or true identities, When we do discover them, living them is no more ‘choosing’ an identity than being born is a choice to exist.

However, the ultimate identity comprised of those various individual characteristics (whether they are innate, or the product of life experience or direct choice), is our own definition. We get to define ourselves. Those pieces of who we are that we’re born with are the baseline. They don’t have to define who we become. Just because there are innate factors that were chosen for us by nature or genetics or environment does not mean that that’s all we are, or that we can’t rise above or add to them to become who we wish to be.

That’s a long way around to say that we can choose the best version of ourselves.

I touched on that thought or one near it in a prior post about some things I’d newly learned or learned in a new way. Essentially, I said we have agency to choose how we react, whether to momentary stimuli or to ingrained socialization. Guess I’m reminding myself of that lesson.

Although there are a number of ways I describe myself to others, even to myself, those shorthand labels don’t define me. I’m more than a list of characteristics. I’m more than the labels that I wear. That’s obvious. But the fact remains that labels and descriptions are useful tools to identify ourselves, to guide personal development and enhance discourse. It’s helpful to know that a person identifies in a certain way. It makes conversation easier, makes interacting with others easier, makes it easier to be respectful and makes it easier to avoid offending and being offended.

Bottom line, I guess, is that the parts are not the whole, but knowing what the pieces are helps you to know when the puzzle is finally together.

For now, I think it’s enough for me to know that all of the pieces of me that I know and recognize today, all the pieces I’ve discovered, those I always knew, and those I’m still working on, are a present and valid picture of me. They are as much “me” as the me I’ll be when I’ve added new pieces, whether through intentional work or life experience. And, that I can contemplate the possibility of a “me” different from the one I know today is win enough for now.

Thar’s a lot of philosophy and introspection for a Sunday evening. Thanks for bearing with me. I hope you have a great week, full of certainty and free from existential uncertainty. Be well, my friends.

Enough Already!!

Writing meaningful, substantive things about topics that are close to my heart and mind takes a lot of energy. I have been doing some thinking and some reading and some more thinking. And the post that I want to write, that the topic deserves, is still working through my mental process that is sometimes opaque even to me. But I have confidence that it will come together. 

So, what to post this week? 

Well, the answer is disappointing. I’ve been wracking my brain for two days on that question. And every time I start to think, my mind is filled with a persistent, nearly impenetrable, buzz of white noise. All thought is drowned in it, leaving me feeling dumb.

Looking around me, trying to find something to comment on, the only thought that occurs to me is: enough already! 

I’m frustrated at the writers block. I’m frustrated with slow progress on some projects at work. Im frustrated with a creative dry spell that has me puzzled and unable to finish a new art endeavor that I’m working on. And I’m frustrated with the weather. 

That last one is absurd, I know. No one controls weather, so it’s futile to be frustrated. Still, it’s the middle of April and there’s snow on the ground again. All last week it was beautiful, starting to get warm, starting to get green, birds returning, flowers coming up…it was all a tease! As soon as the weekend rolled around, the temperature plummeted and it rained then snowed. Again. I’m so over winter it’s not even funny. Enough! 

Here’s a picture of my backyard yesterday afternoon:


But I’m not going to let the frustration ruin my outlook on life, nor my happiness. 

Time for a new goal. This week I’m challenging myself to focus on the good things, the things I can do something about, and the things that have meaning. For every grumbling, frustrated, negative thought, I’m going to actively look for at least two good, positive, or happy things to refocus my energy and reframe my mind. 

If you’re having the same problem, I hope you’ll find a way to reframe your outlook. Happiness is too valuable to squander in frustration. 

First Quarter Check-Up

At the end of last year, I set a goal to post something to this blog at least once a week. At the same time, I’ve been working on a couple other personal goals that I haven’t published yet. Working on myself is something that doesn’t come naturally and I sometimes need to set milestones to keep up the motivation. So I’m borrowing a device I’ve seen it n a couple of other blogs: a self report card. 

Since I set these goals for myself, and the self-improvement I hope to achieve is for myself, I intend to rate myself fairly, but allow myself leeway or the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the close calls. You see, publishing a report card and posting about my human failings is all a means to an end: spurring myself to be a better version of myself each day. And the way I figure it, if the world witnesses my less than optimal performance as a person, I should at least get the benefit of the world as witness to my improvement. Of course, the risk is that they’ll, instead, see me fail at improving. In any event, the value is in the attempt. 
For this report card I’m rating achievement against three goals:

  1. Post something at least once a week 
  2. Do something creative, or at least something that nurtures my spirit 
  3. Strike a better balance between work and my private life 

Although I actually started working on all these things last year, I’m only rating myself from the beginning of the year. Conventional wisdom has it that the most effective goals are bound in time and objectively measurable. By measuring from the beginning of the year, I stop myself from dwelling on things too far in the past, essentially starting from a clean slate. And by focusing on specific actions (even if there isn’t an obvious numeric dimension to be counted), I give myself the best chance of making incremental progress. That should help keep me motivated. 

So here’s my report card for the first quarter of 2018:

Weekly Posting: A

There are one or two close calls, but I’ve essentially posted at least one article a week since the beginning of the year. While there is at least one that’s little more than a place holder to avoid a miss, I’ve been intentional and thoughtful about writing, which are habits I really want to cultivate in myself. This is a win. 

Being Creative/Nurturing the Spirit: A

This one is a double win. I’ve been looking up at the sky and intentionally taking advantage of any sunshine that happens in my vicinity. For example, when I was in San Diego in January, I took at least 10 minutes to sit in the sun every day. It was heaven. And every day that the sky is clear, wherever I am, spending a few minutes to watch the sky, whether to see birds soaring or contemplate interesting cloud formations, I physically feel my spirit lift. 

On top of that, I have completed a short, three-week course in silver sand casting through the local community college. My sister-in-law and I took it together. We had a good time doing something fun together. And we’ve learned the basic techniques that we can use to try it at home. But, honestly, the class wasn’t very successful. The instructor was unprepared and disorganized and there were way too many people in the class. But I did it and have a determination to practice it until I get at least one successful casting. This sparks my creativity and I’m excited to feel that again. 

Work/Life Balance: A

I work hard. My job is often challenging and sometimes requires long hours. And, truth be told, I enjoy the challenge and the recognition when I succeed. But I also know that my job isn’t everything. I’ve felt rather isolated for quite a while, because most of my non-work interactions have been remote, through social media and texts. But I’m working on it. 
Since January I’ve had more in-person social interactions than nearly all of last year. Between separate visits with three friends I first met online, monthly supper club dinners with some art friends, and a few game nights with a couple of friends I met through a continuing legal education seminar a couple years ago, I feel I’ve done pretty well with in-person socializing. And I’ve even had some really pleasant conversations with some new acquaintances entirely unrelated to any of my other social circles. All without puking or becoming completely withdrawn for days on end. I count this as a big success. 

So I’ve got straight A’s for the first quarter. Look at me, hitting the honor roll 30+ years after graduating from high school. That’s awesome.  

I can do better. Actually going out with someone for a purely social occasion, for instance. I can also try to deepen the substance and thoughtfulness of my blog posts. And following up with practice on the silver casting class is a must. We’ll see how I do next quarter. 

I hope you all are finding satisfaction in your own personal growth. Keep at it, my friends. 

Monday-ish Monday Positives

This is a very Monday-ish Monday. It’s a dark, gloomy, rainy, cold day. Started with a 6am conference call full of sales guys asking for exceptions to process because they left doing their job too late for Q1 close – ugh. One of our internal risk guys raised a false alarm on a contract because he was working from old information, and now my team gets to spend half a day fielding panicked calls and filling out forms to say there was never anything wrong – joy.  And I’m still spending way too much of my time managing outside counsel requests for information on litigation matters that should never have occurred if our customer (in one) or partner (in the other) had acted reasonably and with the integrity you’d expect from even a random teenager – fun times. 

Needless to say, I’m a little on the grumbly side today. 

But, I’m determined not to let the Mondays ruin my positivity streak. Here are a couple good things, even if they are weaker than I’d care to acknowledge right now:

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing. Even though I’ve hit my weekly posting target all of this year, so far, it’s still not the regular, ingrained habit I’d like it to be. So I’m going to try bullet journaling. After reading quite a bit about the technique, I think it’ll kickstart a habit of writing that is distinct from my writing here. My theory is that if I have a habit of recording my thoughts in a couple of different media, the mental ‘muscle memory’ should fuel the habit of creative writing that I want to develop. We’ll see. If nothing else, I’ll have a fun time doodling in a new notebook. 😅
  2. I’m struggling with my taxes this year and don’t know why. I’ve been doing them online for eons without issue. I haven’t changed anything about my life or finances that would affect how I file. So I’m at a loss. However, instead of panicking, I used my reasoning brain and did what adults do and made an appointment with a tax preparer. I feel very grown-up with this decision (which is good, considering my age) and proud of myself for not stressing out over it. 
  3. I have successfully made it through half of Monday without strangling any sales reps. I count that as a win! 😉

I hope you have a great Monday and week, and find a few good things to balance all the annoyances you encounter along the way. 

Lightbulb Moments

 Today’s list-y post (because I’m slammed at work but determined to post something to my neglected blog before this year ends) is slightly different. Instead of a few quick things I want you to know, I’m sharing a few things that I guess I’ve just fully realized. They’re things I think I’ve known or have taken for granted, but am now conscious of and actively trying to assimilate into my waking experience. You could say the lightbulb has finally lit in my brain on a couple things. 
1. Life’s not fair. So, so obvious. Yet my fairness bone, that deeply ingrained impulse to equity and fair play, still screams at me and ignites a flame of indignation in my chest when unfair, unjust things happen. Fairness is very real in my mind and soul. So the lightbulb moment here is not that life’s not fair, but that fairness isn’t a requirement for life to go on. I’m working on finding ways to stay true to the belief that fair, just, and equitable treatment is possible and something to strive for, while accepting that injustice and just plain crappy things happen and we have to do what we can to cope with that reality. 

2. No one likes a whiner. Yet everyone expects you to listen to their whining. It’s a corollary to #1 above. (So much in life comes back to that lesson, I’m discovering.) But the secret is that you get to choose whether to let them make their problem your problem. Will you be a sounding board and sympathetic ear, smile (if appropriate) and just let them vent before sending them on their way? Or will you be a “sin-eater”, the sacrificial soul who takes on the burden of the confessor and strives to solve the difficulties of those who complain? Lightbulb: you have the agency to choose either role at any time. 

3. Guilt is a very poor guidance counselor. Many cultures have what I think of as a guilt ethic, an emotional engine that drives progress or obedience or any number of aspirational outcomes through inculcated guilt disassociated with wrongdoing. Indeed, the key to this ‘tool’ is evoking a sense of guilt about thoughts, actions, decisions that are good or right or appropriate for the do-er, but viewed as either selfish or harsh or less-than-optimally compassionate. The idea being that doing the “right” thing never has negative consequences for anyone outside of yourself. In this context, guilt is a lie. My lightbulb moment in this arena is this: negative reinforcement, tough-love, proportionate consequences, and hard-knock lessons are real and have a place in life, and this reality is not inconsistent with, nor mutually exclusive to, altruism, selflessness, or virtue. Neither is self-care a sin for which guilt is appropriate. You can be both helpful and say no. You can choose to to let the consequences of others’ poor choices, the sting of the small failure, happen so that the big, crushing failure won’t happen later on. None of that makes you a monster. 

Best wishes for the end of this hard year and sincere hopes that the new year brings all good things to you and yours. Thanks for reading. 

Listy Post

So I’m averaging once every other week instead of weekly posts since I set my goal. Bleh. I despise not living up to the standard I set for myself. It seriously irritates me.

But instead of dwelling on what I haven’t achieved, I’m choosing to reframe it as a step in the right direction: at least I’m posting semi-regularly. Yay for positivity!

To keep the momentum going, here’s a short list of the recent positives in my life:

  • I survived my conference and on-the-spot feedback was unanimously positive. I’m now working on putting everything into practice, both personally and within my team. That’s always the challenge: turn the mountain-top experience into daily practice. So far (a week out), so good. 
  • One motivational exercise we did during the conference was to identify a list of people we personally admire and the qualities they typify that we admire and wish to emulate. This list of qualities defines our personal standards of integrity. I have posted my list in my office as a daily reminder to live up to my personal standards. These are my personal standards of integrity and I will strive, today and every day, to be: authentic, honest, faithful, intelligent, a leader, kind, loving, selfless, generous, hospitable, compassionate, determined, hard-working, brave, courageous, teachable, resilient, friendly, open, and welcoming. 
  • It was a beautiful long holiday weekend here. I spent some quality time with my immediate family, rested a lot, and watched some odd movies. It was a nice break from a very stressful stretch of work. 
  • Had The oddly satisfying experience of having my windshield replaced by a mobile service in the parking lot of my work. I’m always fascinated by machines and technology. It was cool to see the lift the tech used to place the new windshield in the right spot. And, yes, I’m aware of how geeky that statement is. It’s just cool to see the right tools used in the right way to get a job done efficiently and well. 

So what are some positive things in your recent life?  I hope you’re able to focus on those and let the irritants pass you by. 

Maturity?

I just had a mini epiphany looking in the bathroom mirror as I washed my hands. See, I’ve let my hair grow too long without a cut and it’s been really humid with all the rain, so my hair has more volume than normal. So, between the extra curly, swirly, voluminosity and the weird side-part, flat-over style necessary due to its length, my hair looks like an ’80’s televangelist’s do, a-la Pat Robertson. Catching sight of this, and noticing how grey it’s getting, made me think of the IRL evangelist (not tele-) that led my church growing up. He had hair like this, too. And I’m sort of the same shape now as he was the last time I saw him. And, like him, I’m not likely to be welcomed back to that church…unless I hide or renounce who I am. 

All these thoughts flashed quickly through my brain and I had a realization that shouldn’t surprise me, but does: youth and immaturity aren’t the same thing, just as age and maturity aren’t the same thing; the one doesn’t guarantee the other in either instance. But it’s only maturity that reveals how greatly lacking in compassion, empathy and insight the judgements of our youth sometimes were. 
In this case, thinking of my old minister, I now realize I made some very harsh, inflexible and compassionless judgements in my mind when he fell from grace. In my 20-year-old mind, convinced that I understood adult responsibility and even what love requires, his choice to divorce his wife, leave his sons, and move away with his younger, more svelt secretary, was inexcusable. In my moral certainty, nothing could justify his radical departure from everything I had learned, chiefly from him in his church, was the way Christians behaved. I was certain that there could be no circumstances that would adequately explain what appeared to be a betrayal of trust on every level. 
The truth of their marriage and his departure will never be fully known to anyone but them, and it really is irrelevant to the point I’m trying to get to. 
The lesson that slapped me in the face after I saw his face in my reflection is that (1) we don’t and can’t know the burden that any other person carries at any given moment; and (2) sometimes even that person doesn’t understand everything about themselves; so (3) don’t presume to know what someone ‘deserves’ for a decision or action taken in private. 
The classic lesson: judge not, lest ye be judged. 
But the reason it was an epiphany, despite that exact proverb being ingrained into my upbringing, is simple…and a bit sad. I’m now the one whose circumstances set me apart from what I previously believed was the only right way. I’m the one, now, who is seemingly rejecting all the wisdom of my faith and family for a personal truth none of them can fully understand. And I feel the gulf that so-called choice (living my truth) puts between us very sharply. 
Look, I get that there’s a meaningful distinction between acknowledging one’s true nature and choosing to live authentically in the world, and the choices a couple make when a relationship ends. Living the truth of your nature, and thereby confusing and offending some, is as far removed from the acknowledgment of the end of a relationship and its attendant hurts and sadness, as the night is from day. Adjacent, yet irrevocably separate. Similar, yet worlds apart. 
Nevertheless, the lesson holds. 
Even though that preacher, whom I was raised to revere and obey, acted in every way against what he himself taught me and our congregation is right and good, I didn’t then, nor do I now know all of the burden he and his family bore together. Yet, wrongdoing is such, irrespective of the subjective conditions of a given situation or the judgement of outsiders. 
In the same way, the justice and righteousness of living your truth, regardless of opposition from those you respect and admire, is just as much a moral absolute. The confusion, dismay, disbelief and derision of those who cannot understand the burden of living a falsehood does not change the truth of who you are. 
So what I learned in that flash of insight is that judgement is not something to take lightly, nor an office one should presume to hold over others. The moral judgement of so-called sin is for the creator or the universe in their or its time. The judgement of crime is for those who govern and those appointed to adjudicate. But the judgement of life and it’s authentic truth is for those who live it. And those that see and practice this discretion are happier and make the world better for those who live in it. 
A little personal growth spree while washing my hands. Who knew that could happen!?

Happy Monday!

I know: ugh.  But bear with me a second.  I know you probably just read that title with a snarky ring in your internal voice—nobody likes a Monday, right? Truthfully, I don’t usually like or dislike any given Monday, just the events that happen during their 24-hour borders.  But I just had a train of thought that took me down the Happy Monday path, an epiphany of sorts. It fits right in with my renewed commitment to positivity, too. And despite any mawkishness or tendency to sentiment this post may contain, I think the fundamental point is applicable to just about anyone.  I hope that you’ll stick with me through this chain of thoughts and apply it to your life and find something to be happy about on this Monday, too.

— — — — —

Long periods of waiting and hoping…that’s what my life has consisted of for as long as I have been aware enough to examine my life.  Waiting to know. Waiting to feel. Waiting to see a beginning or an end.  Hoping for completion. Hoping and longing for success. Hoping and dreaming of happiness, of contented, replete, satisfied arrival.

I suppose that’s what everyone wants, on some level and in some context or other.

For me, my ideas of what would meet the demands of these dreams started off quite simple, nothing unachievably grandiose. And though the context has shifted a bit over time, my dreams and deepest desires have remained simple.  Ultimately, as trite and corny as it may seem to say so, everything I’ve ever waited, hoped, dreamed, longed for boils down to this one base human need: love.

As a child and youth, I longed to be a joy and source of pride for my parents and family, to be well-thought-of by teachers, to be popular among my peers.  I wanted to succeed at school and in activities, to look well turned-out, to sound smart and confident, all so that I could gain the approval, acceptance, validation of those whom I esteemed.  But really, isn’t that the same as wanting to be loved by everyone in my life?

In later years, as an adult new to the adult world, my focus shifted much more to achievement and professional success.  Yet even here, I wanted professors, employers and peers to admire and approve of me, as much as my work product.  I wanted to be loved as a person, as well as admired as a professional.

When, after years of hard work and achieving some success and independence my focus turned inward, I longed for clarity, transparency, authenticity of self. And I hoped and dreamed of love from without, as well as from within. I wanted to love myself–my true self–and I wanted to be loved for my true self by someone who could see that me.

Love.  That’s my deepest need and the consistent goal of my life. What’s more, I have it.

I am blessed to have the love of a wonderful woman who does see me. She looks at me with love and admiration, despite my many flaws, and sees me on a level wholly separate from my physical appearance.  This gift is indescribably precious.  ‘Thankful’ hardly captures the up-welling gratitude that fills me when I think of how blessed I am in having her as my life’s partner.

It’s Monday.  Always a challenge to shift gears from weekend fun back to work-day mind-set. Also, with news of business challenges on the horizon and the clamor of the quarter-end push beginning to rise, today has already hit a peak of stress and ‘ugh-it’s-Monday’-ishness. But as I sit for a quiet moment taking a bite to eat at my desk, my gaze turns to the bright blue sky full of fluffy white clouds outside my office window and I smile, thinking how wonderful it would be to share this simple meal and lovely view with my lovely Lulu.  Then it hit me—what a miracle it is that she is “my” Lulu and that she loves me and sees me and accepts me.  I am one very lucky butch. And that makes this Monday very happy indeed.

I hope you see the simple lesson here:  see the miracles that make the mundane bearable and, most of all, be thankful for what’s truly valuable. You are loved.  Love yourself and be joyful .

Enjoy your Monday!

Talking Tough

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  Much of my introspection and, honestly, dissatisfaction with my personal growth of late, comes down to some notion of strength or toughness…and my perceived lack thereof.

Focusing on self-selected attributes that butches and other masculine-identified people use to help define their identity, “strong” and “tough” occur most often in these conversations.  I even did a mini-survey of my butch and masculine-identified Tweeps and IRL friends recently to see if “strength” played a role in their personal identity. Though not a scientific poll, I was not surprised to see that all respondents agreed that it did play a role in their identity.  And setting aside gender and gender stereotypes for a moment, I have noticed that nearly all people I know on a level close enough to make the inquiry, regardless of gender or other demographic differentiators, have said that strength plays a role in their notion of themselves.

I wonder why that is? Is it the stigma of ‘weakness’ or privilege of ‘strength’? Or does the ideal of strength, in itself, have appeal and value beyond the normative social biases?

What is “strength”, anyway? We’ve romanticized, idealized, and genderized this concept in our society to the point that I’m not sure there is a viable definition today. Of course, the definition depends on the particular quality of strength we’re talking about: physical, emotional, mental, political, ideological, etc. They each have unique characteristics that differentiate them.  But at some point, all the primary attributes converge and form the essential nature of “strength”, regardless of type.

For me, strength embodies three main characteristics: (i) the ability to bear a load; (ii) resilience to recover from that burden; and (iii) resignation to the call for strength, or a will to be that load-bearing, resilient force.

For all my life, I’ve had the latter, a will to be strong.  In part, it’s because it is valued by my family and by society. But also it’s because I have an independent desire to be needed, essential to certain people in my life.  I do fairly well at the first aspect, as well:  bearing load.  For me, these two go hand-in-hand.  The will to be strong and the ability to take up the burden feed one another.  Physically, my frame and musculature are made for load-bearing.  Mentally, I’ve been trained to think and reason and lead and solve problems. Emotionally, I’ve been conditioned to empathy and faith, which practically beg for burdens to bear.  And ideologically, I tend to a certain degree of conviction, perseverance and stubbornness, which breed a tenacity that I associate with moral and mental strength.

But resiliency is my challenge.  Although my body heals itself fairly well and a good night’s sleep can work wonders on my mind and mood, I still struggle with the tension between empathy, conviction and internal sense of obligation or ownership of a burden on the one hand, and the price or toll of bearing it, on the other.  You see, while I feel the call and know my ability to be strong for myself and others, I have not mastered the ability to separate the burden from myself.  This leads to an unfortunately high frequency of tension headaches, nightmares, gut trouble and tears.  All are signs, in my skewed world view, of a flaw in my strength, of a terrible lack of resilience.  And in my Southern/Puerto Rican/Christian/Military/Midwestern inculcated psyche, that flaw equates to failure.

So back to the initial question: why do we value strength so much that it is one of the most frequently cited attributes used to define our ideal selves?

While every person is different and must answer for themselves, for me it comes down to a feeling of success when I’m strong and failure when I’m weak.  Right, wrong or indifferent, this is the fundamental answer for me.  It’s the reason I’ve been thinking so much about it lately, too.

As you have seen in so many of my past posts, I’ve embarked on a journey of self-discovery, enlightenment and improvement.  Positivity is a big part of this effort, as well as authenticity. I’ve discovered and accepted and begun to refine my true self and best nature.  I’ve found a partner to share the journey. And I’ve begun the life-long work of living openly, fully and authentically.  These are huge strides and I’m proud of myself and my progress so far.

Yet…I still feel the cloud of disappointment wash over me every time the tears flow after a hard, stressful day, or in the midst of a heavy, meaningful discussion with Lulu, or at an unexpected sign of love and support from someone I’m close to.  These tears and the emotional fragility that spawns them scream “weakness” at me, resonating with a certainty of my inadequate resilience, insufficient elasticity and brittle emotion.  Too, when faced with a lack of ready resources to undertake a burden for a friend or loved one (whether it’s a lack of time or money or ability), my mind rings with accusations of unpreparedness, which equals lack of resilience and failure.  On an intellectual level, I realize that this is, to a degree, irrational.  Not every problem is mine to bear and not every instance of weariness is failure.  But on a psychological and emotional level, it stings sharply to feel that I’ve let down myself and others in any matter simply because I was tired (physically, or otherwise) or at my limit in some way.

Because, in my head, bearing the burden and being resilient are equally critical components inside of and that maintain the bubble of will to be strong, so that “strong” is a function of all three in balance.  When one is out of balance, the bubble bursts and all the strength drains away.

Never mind the melodrama in that analogy. It is nevertheless a fairly accurate picture of how “strong” works in my life.  And when it is at its lowest ebb, my hold on everything that makes me who I am is at its weakest, too.  That’s why I value strength as a defining characteristic of my identity: it unites the traits I find closest to my heart and allows them to function in practical ways; when I am strong, I can be the best possible me.

So, keep this in mind when someone close to you gifts you with the opportunity for you to rely on their strength—don’t dismiss it. You may be helping someone hold onto what makes them the most perfect them they can be.

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