Archive for the ‘personal growth’ Tag

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…

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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.

On Strategic Retreat

I was reared on the belief that quitting is a grievous sin. It compounds selfishness with laziness and imposes your burden, your duty, on someone else. Quitting is the easy way out and earns you nothing.

This absolutist view had a very powerful affect on my formative mind. It embedded itself in my personality and formed a part of my core ethos. In many tangible ways, I have benefited from this belief becoming a trait. Without this conviction, coupled with some courage and a goodly amount of sheer stubbornness, I would not have achieved the level of advancement and respect that I currently enjoy in my career. Nor would I have had the will to undertake this years-long campaign of self discovery and personal growth. Not quitting and consciously, intentionally, habitually opposing any urge to quit, has served me very well.

But even good habits can be injurious when taken too far.

A lesson that has taken far too long to sink into my brain is that there is a time for everything, including a time to quit. When a habit or practice or project or activity… or even a relationship…becomes unhealthy or harmful or unproductive or counter-productive, logic and reason would say it’s time to end that thing. Putting energy and resources toward such a failing endeavor is wasteful and causes more harm than good.

Yet quitting still seems wrong.

Continuing to the end, finishing the course, making sure the job is done, staying true to your word…these are the things I was taught to tell myself to avoid quitting. They’re noble sentiments that reveal a character to be admired. They also have the effect of making failure easier to accept than quitting. Because if you stick it out to the end, give it all you’ve got and still fail, you have preserved your honor and can hold your head up in spite of the outcome. But there’s no honor in quitting, no valor in retreat.

That’s what I was taught and what I’ve always believed.

Yet I was also taught to think and use good sense. And what kind of sense does it make to continue an endeavor that you know will fall or that is harmful to you in some way? What real valor is there in blind, unyielding labor, what honor in futility? Doesn’t even military theory teach the value of tactical retreat, of picking your battles, of living to fight another day?

Perhaps the change in nomenclature will help. A trusted teacher once told me that reframing a problem with language that is palatable to both mind and spirit can overcome obstacles that logic and brute strength cannot. So…retreat, not quitting.

If I retreat from whatever is in front of me and take an alternate path, I do not necessarily have to go backwards. I can go in any other direction and still advance. It might take longer and the original destination may be out of sight for a time, or the destination may change altogether, but there is still movement toward the goal.

That is palatable and I can accept the logic as not merely palliative nonsense. It is not comfortable and not as ingrained as the drive to never quit, but I can appreciate it’s worth.

This has been a long time coming. I’ve had to intentionally cultivate this skill while suppressing my natural tendency toward stubborn determination. It started small, delegating tasks at work to junior attorneys to free time for more advanced projects suited to my more mature skills.

What made that hard was that the tasks I needed to delegate were things I enjoyed and was really good at doing. Handing them off felt like quitting my job to do something I barely understood how to do. That seemed foolish and unworthy. But it was necessary. It was retreat from the familiar in order to take on the unknown and gain immeasurable ground in the process.

It has been the same every time I’ve done it since. Whether it’s taking on a new challenge at work, letting go of unproductive personal habits, finding new paths to self improvement, acknowledging failure to learn and achieve success, or simply letting go of uncertainty and embracing the risk of loss while reaching for the gain, it all requires the same thing: strategic retreat. I know in my heart that term is a euphemism for quitting. But because the layer of meaning on top of it has the virtue of truth, it’s a type of quitting that my spirit is willing to accept.

So, what have I quit recently? A few things, but I didn’t quit any of them without having a clear alternate path each time:

  • I gave bullet journaling a full 90 day shot, daily recording the significant occurrences in my day and often adding a fun anecdote or inspirational quote. But I just don’t see the value in it. It feels forced and takes time away from actually doing those significant occurrences. And I haven’t felt the need to review my entries even once. Instead, I’m doubling down on my commitment to this blog. We’re safely over the halfway mark of the year and I’ve been true to my weekly posting goal. I find value and meaning in this and knowing that I have readers who still read keeps me going. So I quit bullet journaling and will instead work harder here.
  • Keeping with the theme of giving up useless things, I quit three separate standing meetings at work and have no regrets. That’s 90 minutes per week that I have back to do things that actually matter. Since none of them were my meetings, organized by me, I feel no compulsion to replace them with anything specific. I’m just using my time more effectively and that’s good for both me and my company. How freeing it is to simply not attend!
  • Although I’ve been dressing in “masculine” clothing for many years and haven’t worn a skirt or dress in nearly two decades, I still tried to maintain some semblance of female normativity in my appearance. Whether it’s wearing pastel colors to soften the cut of my shirt and bow tie, or adding rings and bracelets or even earrings to signal “yes I’m a girl” to the anxious public confused by my style, I made an effort because I have always feared ridicule and derision. It’s incredibly exhausting always worrying about whether other people will “get” you or if they’ll laugh you out of town. So, gradually and with a lot of effort and the support of family and friends, I have begun to let go of the need for public approval of my appearance and identity. I’m learning to redirect the energy I put into worry and fear into confidence and self-worth. I’m letting myself like who I am and how I look, and learning to not feel guilty for it.

These may not seem like strategic retreats or even real accomplishments to anyone but me. That’s alright. I know the value these changes have to my spirit and the labor that has gone into achieving them. That’s all that really matters – that I know.

So my hope for you, friends, is that you give yourselves permission to strategically retreat from things that aren’t working, free from guilt and self loathing, so that your new direction can bring you to your goal.

Beginning Again

Well, I made it through the second quarter and didn’t strangle any sales guys, so that counts as a big positive. Also, I have started July off on a good foot by doing chores with a good attitude and without grumbling (though no one but me would have heard). Finally, I’m up and going at normal time for a work day, even though my boss bid me to take today and tomorrow ahead of the holiday break easy and work from home, doing only essential tasks because I deserve a break. I will do so, but sticking to routine helps me avoid temptation to turn “work from home” into an unrecorded day off.

All of this and the train of thought that leads me to record it all form another start on my goals of positivity and personal growth. I’ve learned that progress in such things, for me, is actually a series of efforts rather than one long pull to the goal line. I’m not sure why that is. But I’m not unhappy about it. Growth still happens and it’s mostly conscious and intentional. That I seem to need to start out toward the same goal a lot doesn’t diminish the progress I make each time. And because I do start again, rather than give it up, is a meta-win. Not quitting is as important to me as starting in the first place.

So, I’m beginning again. Focusing on the good things, consciously avoiding negativity, and trying to bring substance into my writing. This quarter, when I take stock at the end, I want to have the ability to judge myself as having accomplished all of my primary goals and improved performance on the stretch goals I set for myself last week. But more importantly, I want to be able to say that I’ve stayed the course from this new beginning and head into the next beginning with momentum.

Have a great week, my friends, and may you have many successes on your own new beginnings.

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.

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. 

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