Archive for the ‘self improvement’ Tag

Deliberation

It’s been some time since I posted. Lots of reasons for that, but not the least of them is that I’ve been working on being mindful and deliberate and intentional about what I put out into the universe. It seems to me that the old maxim that you get what you manifest has merit. At least, I don’t know of any use case where harm arose from being mindful and deliberate, nor from visualizing and working toward the desired outcome.

While positivity, gratitude, and kindness have long been a part of my self-discovery and self-improvement journey, I have frequently gotten mired in the negative experiences I’ve encountered and sought comfort, support, validation, and ideas for addressing those experiences, both in conversation and in posts on this blog. And I’ll own that several of my blog posts have amounted to not much more than primal screams into the void for the sole purpose of venting the steam.

Those things are bound to happen from time to time, and my taking note of them in myself is not a commentary, challenge, or criticism of myself or anyone else’s human response to negative stimuli. I just note for myself that, as I think more carefully about what to say in this space, weighing the benefits, if any, of those rants and primal screams is perhaps a better use of my energy than indulging them.

Something I’ve noticed in my private, handwritten journaling practice since the beginning of the pandemic is that my need for ‘out loud’ airing of grievances and external validation of my experience has shifted to a lower order of importance. There might be a lot of factors contributing to that, but the first one that comes to mind is that my brain has promoted dealing with the allostatic load of stress and anxiety bearing on my body and soul to a higher priority than dealing with the emotional need for validation and vindication. That’s a completely unscientific and personally-biased supposition. But it certainly makes sense to me.

Although I actively try to avoid comparing myself to the experience of others, I cannot avoid the knowledge of my privilege in having many aspects of life better than what I observe is true for many of the people I know virtually and in real life. That makes me wary of discussing the very real load of stress I experience from the prolonged isolation and the impact of global unrest and the unrelenting hate, stupidity and callous disregard of human dignity that the current federal administration (and many state administrations) permit and inflict daily. But these things make the pages of my private journal frequently. Thumbing back through the pages of my current notebook, I notice that the recordings of down days, and memorials of sadness at the world’s ugliness, and jottings of my irritation and anger at injustices large and small, local and global, are much more frequent than my notations of positive happenings or of the small, personal things that would have taken much more of my focus in other times.

Correlatedly, looking back through my drafts of potential blog posts, all of my attempts to address those everyday personal subjects seem to die on the vine. I get a few paragraphs in and my brain shouts “Really!? THIS is what you want people to read? This is worth talking about right now?” And then I quit. Because it seems wrong to discuss the mundane and disingenuous to point out the shiny bits in life, when so much is broken and tarnished.

All of that to say that because my private musings have siphoned my inner darkness during these outward dark days, I have been trying to be more choosy in what I say here. Not only do I want to avoid adding to the darkness for others, I want to cultivate a space for my heart and mind to explore positivity and to be open to other possibilities that aren’t focused on the sludge in the world and in my brain.

Unfortunately, my efforts so far have succeeded more in stifling and censoring my voice here, rather than encouraging more varied expression. But perhaps that’s the first step; maybe being quiet instead of saying what doesn’t need to be said, or doesn’t need to be said by me, is the first step to having something meaningful to contribute? I don’t know.

But, I do want you all to know that my silence here is not a signal of apathy or indifference to you or the situation in the world. I just want to make this space a place where personal growth, positivity and kindness are centered. So I’m going to keep practicing my granny’s admonition: don’t say anything until you have something to say. I’m applying that rule with this tweak: don’t post unless what you have to say is worth reading.

Stay well, my friends!

Bits and Bobs

Haven’t been by here in a little while. Life is so strange right now – hectic, tedious, frantic, boring, time racing, and time dragging by. The confusion of emotions and odd reality and adjustment to new norms and rebelling against all the wrong in the world makes it seem so futile to write here. Because writing here used to soothe and help sort things out and point me to paths of action. But now, there seems no clear path and the unclear paths are fraught with angst and danger – real or imagined.

But, as I’ve said many times in this space, I don’t want to give in to fear. Capitulating makes my spirit rebel and my gut churn. So, I’m going to write something, anything, to prove to myself that I can overcome anxiety and fear and frustration and boredom and do some little thing to feel better. In addition to these two paragraphs, I can do a list. Here’s a list of some things that have passed through my mind recently or happened recently or that are just cool things that break the monotony of awful in the world.

1. It’s definitely summer time here on the Great Plains. My yard, my neighborhood, my city are all green and the birds have returned to the trees. Today is an exceptionally beautiful day. I took a conference call from my deck this morning and loved the sunshine, clear skies and cool breeze. Makes working from home all the more appealing.

2. I went to my work office yesterday for the first time since the first week of March. Had to meet with our new CEO and participate in his site visit. It was an odd, anxious experience being back there. I liked seeing a lot of the people I have been missing. And I was proud and pleased to be a part of the occasion. But the cavalier attitude of many folks outside of official meetings, where distancing was enforced, toward mask wearing and distance boundaries really made me nervous. But I successfully avoided contact and kept my distance, did my work and made it home without incident. So glad to be back in my home office!

3. Now that it’s warm weather, we’re getting the minor exterior repairs done on my new house and will get fresh paint and deck stain this summer. Also nearing the end of the rolling, iterative culling/moving process. Soon we’ll be out of the old house and have it sold. I’m really looking forward to that being done.

4. While I was in the office yesterday, my company hosted a listening session conducted by five of our black leaders from across various functions. They each spoke eloquently of their experience with racism and racial violence throughout their careers. I was impressed at the depth and sensitivity with which they each handled the questions and topics they covered, while speaking fully and unfiltered on many uncomfortable truths. I was glad to see four, strong, black women and one, strong, black man speak passionately of their triumphs as well as their heartaches. And I was proud that my company gave them that platform to speak their truth without interruption and without the encroachment of other, more privileged voices diverting attention from them.

5. I continue to struggle with sleep and a huge and mounting pile of sleep debt. But in the last 5 nights I’ve managed 3 where I got about 6 hours of sleep. That’s something of a record for me of late. I’m grateful for that rest and for the nights when my brain slows down enough for sleep to happen at a reasonable hour, regardless of its duration. I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of an upward trend and that I can pay down some of that sleep debt a little faster. 🤞

Be well, my friends! I hope you have sunny days and cool breezes and plenty for which to offer thanks.

Letting Go

I’ve been slowly working on my old house. I moved into my new one in December and have been doing a slow-rolling move. I’m extremely privileged to have gotten a very favorable financing package that makes this possible. And the slow, deliberate and intentional process of moving only what we want into our new home has been very satisfying. But there are moments when choosing between keep or donate or toss is very difficult.

I took a couple of extra days off bracketing this holiday weekend to do more of the culling and sorting over there. I’m feeling very accomplished at having completed that chore for all my personal places and belongings there. But today, especially, as I emptied the last corner of my old closet, the nostalgia hit very hard and made the chore even more difficult than the dust and tedium.

Filling up the donation bags with the very last of my “girl” clothes was surprisingly wrenching. Though I haven’t worn any of them in a decade, haven’t even purchased an article of clothing designed for “women” in at least that long, it still felt surprisingly odd…risky, even…to let go of that last vestige of my heteronormative presentation. A tiny voice of doubt sounded in my mind as I stuffed that last blouse into the bag: “What if you need to look like a girl for once, how will you do that with no clothes?” It’s just fear talking, I know. But it was there and powerful for a moment. But as soon as I tied off that last bag, I felt the fear release and knew I’d be fine.

Letting go of things is remarkably difficult sometimes, for me at least. The emotional attachment to physical things that makes getting rid of them is so frustrating and absurd. Sometimes it’s comical, like the twinge of guilt when donating a thing that was a gift from a relative and the tiny spark of fear that they’ll ask me where it is the next time they come to my house. Never mind that they’re almost certainly never going to visit or think to ask about some trinket from years ago last Christmas. 🙄

Sometimes it’s a little bit sad, maybe a little bit…lonely isn’t the right word, but close. Today, one of the hardest things to put in the donation bag was a jacket my mom used to wear all the time. I had kept it the first year after she passed as a means of keeping her close. Eventually, the lingering scent of her perfume and my need to touch its soft sleeve to reconnect with her memory faded. Then I kept it out of loyalty and habit, but I no longer needed it’s security to keep her memory near and it got pushed back into the corner of my closet to emerge for the first time today. As I held it, I knew it no longer served a meaningful purpose as a reminder of her. Her memory is in me now and I don’t need her jacket for that. Letting go of that physical thing was hard, but not nearly as hard as I expected. Twenty years after her passing, I’m finally able to hang onto her in my heart without need of her things to ground me. Hopefully someone else will put it to use.

Now that I’ve gone through all my possessions, donating a huge portion of what I’d accumulated over the 17 years living in that house, I have an appreciation for the relief and peace that comes from letting go of what no longer serves me. There’s an obvious parallel lesson for the emotional, psychological self improvement work I’ve been doing for so long. But without getting too far into the woo and feels, it’s enough to feel good about applying that lesson to just the physical possessions.

Letting go of surplus things is a huge relief. I like to believe that I’ve been selective about it, donating only things that are clean, in good repair and having residual value and utility. That feels good and right. So does trashing the things that are broken or soiled and have no value. Again, some obvious applications to the spirit and emotional being, but it’s enough to focus on the benefits of letting go of the tangible rubbish.

Letting go of what I don’t need is good for my brain, heart, and spirit. I highly recommend it to anyone. I hope you find your own way to that conclusion.

Portents

Sometimes there really are coincidences and inexplicable juxtapositioning of separate things in life. Not every seeming pattern is actually a pattern or a sign from the universe, spirits, ancestors, angels or demons that may have the ability to communicate such things.

And sometimes they are.

Lately, over the last several months at least, I have seen an uptick in the frequency with which I have encountered certain phenomena, most especially in the frequency of the feeling of anticipation, of something impending, coming my way.

With most feelings and phenomena, the over- or under-tones they bear can fall anywhere on a spectrum from wildly hopeful and positive to abysmally bleak and dreadful. This feeling of pendency, of possibility and opportunity is mostly hopeful and positive. Occasionally, it acquires an ominous flavor of apprehension, presentiment, augury and foreboding. Other times it’s somewhere in the middle resonance, tasting of expectancy, chance, suspension, and promise. And at still other times the prickly, eerie aura of divination, foreshadowing, premonition and prophesy are most prominent.

But at all times in this recent surge of this anxious foretelling is a strong sense that every instance of it is a genuine portent of things to come.

I struggle mightily with this, as my logical, linear-thinking brain has no framework of scientific analysis in which place this phenomena to satisfactorily explain this possibility. While I am not so arrogant as to believe that I know all that is knowable about analysis and examination, I have ample evidence that my application of these fundamental cognitive tools is usually effective and accurate. So, when faced with the inexplicable, my inquisitive mind fritzes over its thwarted desire to explain the why and how of a thing.

Indeed, in the last 48+ hours I have confronted two very big and significant portents that have had my guts and grey cells tied in knots trying to rationalize the utterly irrational, as well as internalize the surprisingly rational. In particular, my instinct to uncover the logistics of how these things might come to pass has occupied many hours and much of my energy that I would otherwise have spent sleeping or in more productive pursuits.

Working through some of these puzzles with friends, I’m challenged by the repeated advice to let go of the “how”, the “why”, the urge to control logistical outcomes, and simply trust that the universe will bring about what is meant to be. I have been reminded by multiple sources that it is faith, and not logic, that is the ideal tool for dealing with this impending advent. Scraps of scripture learned in my youth concerning the nature of faith…substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen…are on infinite loop playback in my head. And the war between logic and faith, will and willingness, rages in my chest.

I wonder if that isn’t the ultimate, meta portent? What if the pattern of prescient contemplation is not only a tool to prepare for whatever is coming, but is also the substance of the impending revelation. If the universe wants me to see that the logic and reason I treasure and rely on is not a pathway but an obstacle, what better way to show me than by filling my life with phenomena immune to logic and only discoverable by faith?

That’s some epic, angsty, emo, existential crisis-driven fever dream right there.

Maybe I should just stop looking for patterns and methods and answers and explanations. Maybe being “blown about by every wind of change” is the best policy – going with the flow, as it were. But I don’t know how to do that, either.

So what’s left? If logic is unavailing and extracting the how and why of something impedes the advent of the portent, yet passively floating from swell to swell on the ocean of chance is not possible, what’s next? Is it simply doing nothing?

Can anything that results from such a process have lasting value? Will whatever emerges from such inactivity be salubrious, nourishing? Doesn’t the lack of effort to bring about the outcome necessarily diminish it? Does accepting such a windfall call into question my personal standard of ethics and integrity?

All these questions arise from the values with which I was reared, and they are evidence of the challenge to these values that this policy of inaction incites. I don’t have answers. I suspect they cannot be answered this side of the outcome being realized.

Which begs the question: Can I perform this experiment, sticking it out until the end, or will I retreat to the safety of my illusion of control and forego the chance to know the outcome?

Assumptions

Wow, sometimes I think I might be prescient. I started writing this last Saturday, following a train of thought that has been nagging at the back of my brain on and off for a while now. A couple of things have happened in the three days since I started writing that seem to confirm all my thoughts on this topic. Weird how the brain works sometimes.

——— o0o ——-

Everyone assumes things, big and small, right and wrong, from time to time. There are some overt assumptions given as a starting point in certain situations that everyone involved agrees to be true. But often when we speak about assumptions it is in the context of blind assumptions, those thoughts that set a baseline, coloring our actions and outlook on a given topic, person or activity, without much basis for that thought or opinion. Those kinds of beliefs can be tricky to navigate and hard to challenge and change, especially when they are about ourselves.

Lately, I have been encountering assumptions that I have about myself in odd, unexpected ways. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing. Being aware of what we think about ourselves helps us examine our path and can help us make good choices (or bad) and take us in new and exciting directions. It can also make us retrench in those beliefs, habits, practices that we find comfortable and true, often regardless of other knock-on effects of keeping those things in tact.

At times, I feel that this constant self-examination, endless striving to improve, to be and remain positive, to challenge every shortcoming, is just another treadmill of “not good enough”. It feels like all this self awareness, personal growth and discovery work is more about destruction than construction. Some days it feels like there’s nothing good enough in me and I’ll have to completely remake my entire being in order to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror (both physical and metaphorical) and be content that the person looking back is acceptable.

This self assumption of inadequacy is insidious. It lurks in places you don’t ever expect to find assumptions. There are plenty of overt, obvious places where it is easily recognizable. These are predictable and annoying, sometimes hard to cut loose, but they don’t have much camouflage and are capable of being tackled head-on. The cynic in me sometimes thinks these are intentional distractions, ruses placed by the subconscious to divert attention from the deeper places where this assumption truly lives, to make it nearly impossible to root out and eradicate. If all our energy is focused on the surface assumptions, then the roots have time to go deep and unchallenged.

A place I’ve recently confronted this assumption – that I am not and will never be good enough – is superficially obvious, but there’s a taproot from the obvious surface to the hidden depths that I didn’t expect. And that unexpectedness makes me question if it’s really an irrational assumption or just the plain truth that I have to accept.

The surface bit is easy: I encounter disapproval/rejection/reprimand and I immediately assume I’m in the wrong or not up to standard, so that treatment must be deserved and I need to change and improve to be worthy of better treatment.

Now, clearly, there are times when everyone falls short and that self-castigating assumption is accurate. Being a mature adult means taking accountability for our mistakes and flaws and committing to do or be better. This is a healthy response to confronting personal shortcomings.

But the deeper bit is harder to articulate. It’s part “I’m working really hard to improve X quality/personal trait yet am not seeing expected results” and part “damn, I thought I’d mastered that one, but I guess not”. I guess what it boils down to is that frequency matters, more so than personal effort. Basically, if criticism is repeated, especially when it comes from different sources, then I gotta think that it’s not my irrational insecurities, but fact.

That’s painful on a lot of levels, but mostly it hurts to know that my inner saboteur was right all along. It’s painful and embarrassing to discover that I was a fool to take comfort in the easy platitudes of well-meaning acquaintances who urged me to believe myself to be good and smart and worthy, when my brain was telling me where I was falling short of all of those standards.

So what do you do when the illusion is revealed and all your comfortable self beliefs are debunked by cold fact?

I suppose the healthiest response is to redirect all that self-improvement energy to a more realistic, achievable goal. When your inadequacy has been proven to be reality, get to work on becoming adequate. Seems fairly straightforward. But so much in life that seems simple is not. Bootstrapping yourself to the finish line from square one is really f’ing hard and exhausting. Especially when the leaden weight of failure is still hanging around your neck.

So the real question is how do you take that leaden noose off your neck?

Let me know when you find out, won’t you?

Contemplations

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

— oOo —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Choosing Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resignation

No, I haven’t quit my job…yet. But I realized today that I am resigned to the fact that it’s time to move on. The other day, in the heat of my anger, frustration, and sense of betrayal, I had told myself “f- it, I’m out”. But I don’t think it truly registered with me what that finality really means.

Today, after more piles of workplace horse manure landed on my desk daily all week, I woke from far too little sleep with a mixed feeling of dread and determination and an urgent need to talk to a friend who could understand. I reached out to the person who used to have my job and who, thankfully is a good friend. She agreed to meet me for coffee this afternoon and talk it through.

I’ve never been one to “coffee and kvetch” before, but I have to admit that having the support and empathy of a friend without judgment has been a huge relief. An added bonus is her distance from the source of the drama. Her wise advice was welcome, but much more so was her quiet attention and non-judgmental acceptance while lamented my woes.

After talking through all the angles and comparing and contrasting my present situation with the circumstances that lead to her leaving the company years ago, I have a much clearer view of the state of things. And I know that I am not in so dire a position that I need to make an immediate change. That’s a relief in itself.

But what gives me the most comfort is the realization that I can make the choice, all by myself and in my own time, without burdening myself with unnecessary guilt.

My friend helped me see that the workplace politics that are going on right now really have nothing to do with me. The hurtful things being said, the unfair criticisms, the unprofessional and abusive behavior, all of it arises from the hateful, irrational and self-serving mind of one person who does not have the company’s interests in mind and whose personal integrity is eroded to nothing. She helped me acknowledge that rational, reasoning people will see through the scapegoating and won’t buy into the character assassination. In other words, it’s a bunch of BS and I should feel no compunction against walking away when the time is right.

Intellectually, I knew that all along. But there is something powerfully persuasive about hearing the truth from an outside source with personal experience of the same situation. Knowing that my friend, a super-smart, highly accomplished attorney with seemingly every professional, social and personal advantage, still suffered from, and then overcame, the same unfair situation and is now flourishing with seemingly no professional blow-back, gives me hope for my own recovery.

Reasons Be Damned

Last post, I talked about reasons to stay/go at my job. By sheer numbers, Go won hands-down. But I was still working through the logic, trying to figure out whether it was salvageable. Then, later that week, I had a terrifyingly open discussion with my boss in which I admitted to being extremely unhappy and unable to identify what purpose and value I have to the company anymore. He again advised that the chief source of our mutual misery will be leaving in under two years and I should stick it out.

Since that conversation, I’ve been doing my best with the dreck I’m dealing with. I keep looking back at that list in my last post and trying to beef up the Stay side, attempting to persuade myself that giving up on nearly 20 years of work and professional investment isn’t failure. I have dug as deep as I know how, and I keep coming up empty.

And in the face of the blatantly unfair and wrong directive I received last night, which completely disregards my leadership, undermines my authority, and eviscerates my agency,…for the second time at this job…I can think of no good reason to stay and endure the continued abuse and poisonous politics.

Reasons be damned. I’m out.

I even applied for a job I saw on LinkedIn today. I won’t just walk out, leaving my team unsupported and work undone. But I’ve made the choice inside my head and committed to myself that I won’t put up with it any more.

Now I just have to find the least disruptive path to a new start. Oh, and tell my family…and my boss…and my team.

Ugh, this sucks.

Reasons

I’ve been having a hard time at work for a while now.  Well over a year, by my loose estimation. The reasons have diversified over that time, but the impact is the same: I’m stressed, not sleeping well, and generally unhappy and demotivated.

Lots of street-corner philosophers and internet meme wisdom would have me believe that (1) nothing and no one is responsible for my happiness or unhappiness, other than myself, and that (2) no one can “make” me feel anything, rather I choose how I feel about and respond to any situation or stimulus.

My gut and brain tell me that’s reductive BS, that, as with so much in life, the truth is a mix and somewhere in the middle.  I might have control over whether I rage and storm and become offended by innocuous and inconsequential things, but there is truth that humans have natural, predictable reactions to certain stimuli and blaming the person who reacts in those expected ways for feeling those things, naming those reactions a ‘choice’ as a derogation of their self-control, is emotional blackmail.  My intellect and rational brain tell me that feeling bad or overwhelmed or anxious or stressed when impacted by bad, overwhelming, anxiety-inducing and stressful stimuli is natural and rational and, in some ways, healthy and that I should not feel shame or guilt or failure because of these feelings.

But my heart, that thing so affected by emotion and anxiety and illogic, takes this so-called wisdom and views my reactions, in the context of my current turmoil, and turns this would-be motivational message into a cudgel to pulverize my already fragile confidence, making me question my own judgment and defeating any momentum for change that the stress and struggle may have produced. Almost as if from an outside vantage point, I see these contradicting forces at work, recognize that the turmoil is happening. But I seem powerless to overcome the internal saboteur, unable to center logic and reason over emotion and insecurity. The sludge rises and coats my reason with fear, miring my volition in inertia.

In an attempt to break the hold of anxiety’s inertia, I resorted to an old stand-by trick that has helped me overcome test anxiety, stage fright, writer’s block, and bouts of impostor syndrome from the time I started school all the way through my last birthday: making lists. By listing issues and risks and possible solutions and available resources and missing pieces and reasons for or against any given situation, I have learned to impose order on chaotic thoughts and calm the inner storm. This has helped me more times than I can count over the course of my life.

When I hit a saturation point a couple of weeks ago, when a particularly rank pile of workplace political horse manure landed on my desk, I decided I had had enough. It was the closest I’ve come in over twenty years to simply walking out of my office and never coming back.  But I’m not a quitter; I have a fundamental moral aversion to quitting before I’ve tried absolutely every possible alternative. And I don’t typically give in to rash impulses. So, instead of screaming “I quit” and walking out, I decided to make a list, two lists, actually: Reasons to Go, and Reasons to Stay, at my job.

On an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of graph paper, I listed the Reasons to Stay on the left-hand side.  There were 8 items on that list after spending an entire afternoon thinking about it and intentionally striving to add everything I could think of that would induce me to stay.  On the right-hand side of the page I listed the Reasons to Go.  It only took 15 minutes to fill the entire length of the page with 22 separate items, some with sub-parts. I bet if I let myself, I could add even more.

Now, in something so weighty and consequential as a decision to quit a high-paying job with professional prestige, sheer numbers of reasons listed in the midst of emotional upheaval shouldn’t be the only deciding factor.  I acknowledge this.  I also acknowledge that these thoughts, generated amidst emotional stress or not, are valid and shouldn’t be discounted simply because they’re items in a list.  The quality and consequence of the reasons matter and should be taken into account, too.

Here are my lists:

Reasons to Stay: Reasons to Go:
Paycheck Savings Enough for Months-Long Job Search
Loyalty No Loyalty in Return
Protect My Staff Can’t Protect if I’m a Lame Duck
I’m Not a Quitter I’m Not a Masochist, Either
Sense of Obligation – Don’t Leave in a Lurch Can’t Carry Obligation for Someone Who Doesn’t Want Me
Hassle to Find New Job I’m Unhappy
Age – Harder to Get New Job Out of Control Stress
Inertia Sleeplessness
  Don’t Feel I’m Adding Value Anymore When My Efforts Are Unappreciated
  I Can Find a Place to Add Value and be Appreciated
  Opportunity to Change Direction – Personal and Professional
  Chance to Re-Set and Re-Order My Life
  Take Time for Hobbies
  Take Time to Travel and See Friends
  Time to Write
  Chance to Work on Personal Growth
  Time to do Home Chores and Projects
  Relief from Pressure, Stress, Anxiety
  Distance from Boss’ Fits of Rage
  Change is Refreshing – New People, Places, Challenges
  Chance to Cultivate Peace and Tranquility in My Life
  I’m Not Irreplaceable – the Company and My Team Will Be Fine Without Me

What I take from the flat comparison of the two lists is that there are more numerous and weighty reasons to leave than to stay.  Assessing for depth, I can’t see that there is any urgency left within me anymore to continue fighting the anxiety, to endure the demoralizing disregard and mistreatment from my colleagues, or to achieve any specific professional objectives, that add up to a reason to stay. But I can see a lot of yearning to be free from the negativity, stress and emotional upheaval that is constantly generated by the people I work with.

Because it’s not the job, it’s the people. If I were to look for a new job (and I have been looking quite a lot), I’d still look for a similar position – I still love being an attorney for a company doing good things. I just don’t want to have to endure the toxicity that currently surrounds me in this company.

One of my frequent commentors on this blog said something recently about me being in a constantly toxic environment and continuing to expect to not be poisoned. That thought has been stinging the inside of my skull ever since I read it. At first, I was a little hurt to think they viewed me as naive and irrational for feeling so keenly the hurts from this job. But the more I think about it, the comment and my situation, the more I come to understand that what I’m feeling is grief over having finally reached the end of my creativity and ingenuity for inventing paths to resolution. I’m grieving over not being able to fix a problem that I didn’t create. I’m grieving a failure not of my making. I’m grieving the end of an era of my professional life that didn’t culminate in triumph, but in apathy.

One of those internet memes of wisdom I’ve seen a lot of lately advises not to hold onto a mistake simply because you spent a long time making it. Similarly, I’ve been advised by the interwebs that I can’t reach for something new if my hands are full of old junk.  While pithy, maybe even trite, and certainly oversimplified, these bits of advice hold a kernel of true wisdom: letting go of past mistakes gives you the opportunity to move on…hopefully to avoid making the same mistakes later.

My boss has been giving me little pep talks lately, taking pains to complement me and apologize for all his temper tantrums and the stress he adds to my life, and making a point of assuring me that the chief agitator causing the bulk of the drama is on a plan that has them retiring in 18 months or less.  He tells me all the time to just hang on for a little over a year and the main source of all our grief will be gone.

That’s so, so tempting.  By that time, I’ll have surpassed the 20-year mark with this company, a nice, round, milestone achievement.  Also by that time, my bonus for this year’s achievements will have been paid (if all the gates are met). And with the horizon free of the Senior Butthead and Top Drama Maker, I could see myself finishing out my career with this company.

But the rational voice still living in my head, however muted and small, still shouts that whomever replaces that jerk may not be any better and, besides, 18 months is a LOOOOOOOONG time in which much stress and turmoil can occur and in which they may change their plans and not retire at all.

So, since the present is all the time any of us has, should I waste my opportunity to take back my happiness on a hope for someone else’s decision to retire or not? Do I have it in me to stay another year and half while that plays out, enduring the continued toxicity and risking panic attacks and remaining unhappy – is the milestone and the potential bonus and the hoped-for relief solid enough of a benefit to make sucking it up worth it?

No answers, yet.  I’ve told myself, and even one friend who I trust, that I’ve already decided that I’m out.  But I don’t have another job, yet, so I’m not making any rash moves.  Will inertia win? I’ll just have to keep thinking and working on my courage to make a change, I guess.

 

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