Archive for the ‘work’ Tag

Random Bits

Been a week or so since I checked in. Thought I’d give a little update on some random things to keep the posting streak alive.

  1. I went to a charity event Friday night with some friends. The luxury cars and planes on display were cool. The food…not so much. But the hip taco place my friends and I hit up after was well worth it. I got to wear my suit and feel awesome in it, have a great time with cool people, and eat amazing guacamole and street tacos. That’s a Friday night that did not suck! 😎
  2. I’ve been having some deeply satisfying philosophical discussions with a variety of good friends lately. As is the way with philosophy, no hard answers have been achieved. It’s in the journey of the discussion where the value lies. What I appreciate most is the quality of the time and emotional labor my friends are investing in me and our relationships.
  3. Some of that deep thought has been spent on my job search. Still plotting my escape. It’s just going more slowly than I’d like. Certainly slower than the resurgence of the stress load. But, as I posted on my FB the other day, I’ve learned my lesson on speaking freely when invited: they don’t really mean that. So, heads down, coping smile in place, soldiering on. Anyone know where a hard working, smart and experienced commercial transactions attorney can find work where she’s appreciated?
  4. I live in a pretty comfortable small city, fairly clean and accommodating. But even here there seems to be a faction of people who can’t mind their own business and who feel a compulsion to police the use of public restroom facilities. I’m growing weary of having to clear the hurdle of old biddies who want to challenge my right to pee in the women’s room, especially when it’s a pressing need. Geez, yes! I know my bow tie is an unusual accessory choice for a woman, but it’s not a reason to make me nearly wet myself preventing me from getting to a toilet!
  5. Because I wanna be positive and end this list on a good note: I am riding the wave of good vibes picked up when spending the long Labor Day weekend with good friends. They hosted me in their home, nourished my body and spirit with tasty food and fellowship, laughing freely and connecting deeply. I’m so blessed to have such good people in my life!

Friends, I hope the balance of good and annoying experiences in your life are tipping decidedly towards the good, positive side and that you find at least one good thing to celebrate today.

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Thinking All the Thoughts

I’m in the DC area enjoying the long holiday weekend with some dear friends. They’ve been kind enough to put me up in their guest room and introduce me to their friends. We’ve had a great time relaxing, eating great food, having epic, soul-nourishing conversations, dissecting motivations and non-verbal signals in life events, and campaigning for the liberation of Princess Zelda. It’s a chill, wonderful reprise of our cabin time in the Blue Ridge Mountains this past spring. For me, it’s more practice at treating myself well and refusing to let my job consume my existence.

Speaking of my job, I’m still working on an exit strategy. While I’ve had some success at maintaining a more liberated, hands-off, own-your-own-problems attitude since returning from my amazing Alaska Cruise Adventure, there is still a great deal of stress, strain, and workplace political drama that is tarnishing the gloss of this job’s appeal. Honestly, I’m over it and want to be free of the burden if has become. But the reality is that my personal integrity, sense of professionalism, and plain human decency won’t let me just walk out. Also, like most of us, I need an income.

All of this, relaxing, being free and fed-up at the same time, is coalescing into a need for action. It’s still dim, shadowy, inchoate at the moment. But the urge to act is there and growing more intense day by day.

Add to that the radical, un-examined and wild thoughts brought about by being completely free of responsibility (for the holiday weekend) and reading fiction designed to inspire spontaneity, even reckless abandon, and you have a powerful recipe for over-thinking. Book themes like “I survived a major disaster and now want to “truly” live my life to the fullest, so I quit my high-paying job in the city and moved back to my rural home town to run an eco-friendly small business”, and “I have worked too long on the corporate treadmill and yearn to quit and explore my creativity in my own studio” now have a curiously strong pull and seem eminently rational.

I am not a rash risk-taker, not in my professional life and not in my personal life. And when something, an event or decision, involves both job and home life, I tend to be doubly cautious. Yet I acknowledge that such caution can hinder growth and be an obstacle to joy and accomplishment.

So the question becomes how do I decide when is the right time to make a move, and which move do I make?

Yeah, I’m thinking all the thoughts. Don’t know where they’ll lead, especially after I’m once again back in the real world away from the lure of vacation-induced inhibition. But I feel certain that change is coming. What change and how quickly, is still unknown. For now, I’m gonna stay open and positive.

Quick Check-in

Nothing profound or exciting to report. Seems like these still, hot days at the end of summer are barren of creative content for me. But they’re not empty of busy work and responsibility at my job, which is keeping me hopping.

Yet, I have written a couple of stories and am reading a couple of books in between work and sleep and keeping up with friends. Sleep is holding steady at “better, but not great”, which is still a vast improvement over “next to none” that I was experiencing.

And this morning I had the joyous luxury of lying in bed in the still darkness for a half hour listening to the gentle rain on the leaves of my full-canopied pear trees. It was a great way to awaken.

A bit bittersweet, too. We’re losing one of those glorious trees. It was damaged in a big storm last year and is slowly splitting itself in three parts, threatening both my roof and the house next door. The arborist comes today (or he might reschedule because of the rain) to remove it safely. I’m going to miss her. She’s a gorgeous, gnarled old thing, but has bloomed beautifully every year for the 17 years I’ve lived in this house.

Good bye, old friend. You will be sorely missed.

Depth of Meaning

I’m at a leadership conference for my company this week. This is the third consecutive year of this effort to refresh the tactics and energy of our leaders in the second half of the year. It started three years ago as a desperate attempt to salvage the year’s numbers by rallying leaders to brainstorm short cuts to the processes in order to make getting deals over the line easier. Over the time since, the event has become a pep rally, of sorts. Lots of presentations on the various parts of the business and highlighting wins and extraordinary efforts. In short, it’s an expensive caucus of expensive resources to strategize making our revenue targets.

We’re here, ostensibly, to get important information about our corporate strategies and to focus our various efforts to support those missions. But because it happens in the middle of the year, immediately ahead of the busiest and most challenging part of the year, over a few over-scheduled days, I have a relatively low opinion of the value and effectiveness of the event.

This is exacerbated by the proliferation of glib, attenuated analogies, metaphors, and parables that seem to be proffered by every speaker. It’s as if these over-simplified stories and the moral they project, the folk wisdom they preach, are intended to substitute for the specific, detailed, practical information, tactics and tools necessary to achieving the stated goals.

Our COO kicked this off in his opening remarks with a long, rambling account of the Amundsen Polar Expedition in the early part of the 20th century. He covered the epic achievement of this expedition, highlighting how Amundsen was able to mount the campaign, fund it (by tricks and deception and audacity), take it to the field, reach the pole and return with his entire team in tact. Contrast that with the other team who all died on the way back after reaching the pole second.

Let me say first that I absolutely recognize the lessons that can be distilled from epic stories, huge achievements, sagas of Herculean efforts. There are many important reasons that we remember these stories hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years afterward. One of those reasons is that the story of overcoming hurdles bear lessons that we can apply to more mundane (by comparison) challenges.

Let me also acknowledge that there are practical and important limits to the analogies we draw between these epic sagas and the everyday challenges of only tangential similarity. When the connection between the story and the present-day situation becomes attenuated, the message fidelity fails. For example, in the arctic expedition story, the Nationality of the leader was used to explain the choice of tools (dog sleds, skis) for the successful mission versus those (ponies, dog sleds, mechanized sledges, and men on foot) for the unsuccessful one. To these “cultural differences” was attributed the difference between literal life and death. This dire lesson (don’t let cultural bias cause your team to perish on an ice shelf) was then equated to helping sales teams overcome obstacles to selling software.

I have real difficulty seeing a meaningful connection in this case. Because the pop wisdom of “if it worked for [X Folk Hero] to achieve [Y Epic Win], then it will certainly work for us in this non-epic business goal” is not wisdom at all. The lack of depth in this reasoning robs these equivalencies of all meaning, in my opinion.

Maybe I’m just being too critical. Maybe I’m too far gone in motivation to be excited by the easy platitudes found in this re-hashing of morality tales and business-speak buzzwords. But I crave depth and detail and substance. They are the difference between talking about it (whatever it is) and achieving it.

Cautiously Hopeful, or Hopelessly Optimistic?

I’ve been trying to retain that relaxed, balanced, low-stress feeling I had during my vacation. I’ve been working hard to simply respond to the question asked or to the portion that is rightfully my responsibility, without taking on the jobs of others and without feeling guilty for not owning the problem. For the most part, I have been successful.

Yesterday, I had a big meeting that I knew would be fraught with emotion and anxiety for my whole team. The COO of my company was set to meet with my entire global team to respond to their concerns and reactions to comments of his that my team felt unfairly targeted them and blamed them for the challenges the sales organization has had closing some deals. He was also going to speak to the upswing we’re seeing in disrespectful behavior and unreasonable workflow demands from the sales organization, especially since the COO’s disappointing public comments. Morale has suffered since his comments three weeks ago, and I asked him to engage with us in a dialogue and help strategize a way forward.

We had our meeting. The COO was direct and kind, engaged and attentive. My team were receptive and listened and spoke respectfully and directly. And he did apologize for his poor choice of words and the hurtful impact they had on my team. Overall it was a positive experience and I’ve received mostly positive feedback from the rank and file employees. While I don’t expect that a single, 90-minute call will magically heal all wounds and solve all problems, it feels as if the tone is turning back to positive and constructive, from negative and morose.

We left the meeting with a few areas of focus to collaborate with the sales organization and with a firm invitation to re-engage with the COO if the need arises.

Today I had a brief re-cap with my senior leaders to gather their thoughts and any feedback from their teams. The sense seems to be that we had a little time to vent our collective spleen and have a whinge and received a sincere apology, but that we are going to have to soldier on in the face of uncertain horizon for achieving change. They did all acknowledge that the effort and engagement at the senior executive level has been a good step toward soothing the insult my team felt. But there’s a clear feeling of wait-and-see if any real improvement happens in the practical aspects of process discipline/improvement and sales rep behavior, while remaining mildly hopeful that the action plans discussed yesterday might bring relief.

I’m struggling to decide if their cautiously optimistic response is a good foundation for my hopeful optimism, or if I’m fooling myself into seeing more than what’s really there because I’m still riding a wave of mellowness after my epic vacation.

I never want to delude myself. But I also don’t want to sacrifice this new, lower-stress approach to work and go back to carrying the burden of everyone else’s problems. Yet, since the concern is the health and engagement of my team in the face of high stress, high demand, and high incidence of mistreatment, this is my burden to bear. At least it is to the point of seeking redress for them from the right leaders. But those who own the processes that are broken and those who are acting disrespectfully must carry the burden of implementing change. And since that’s not in my control, we’re all uncertain how and when that change will happen.

So am I being stupid to be hopeful and allowing time and distance for things to work without my direct, hands-on management? Am I shirking my responsibility? Or is this what all that conventional wisdom about ‘setting a direction and letting the team steer the ship’ is all about?

Honestly, I’m leaning toward the latter. I’ve done my bit by hearing and acknowledging their issues, raising it in frank discussion with senior executives, arranging for the dialogue, and agreeing on next steps. I feel like now the operational teams, mine and sales’, need to carry the ball from here. I’ve coached and trained and have confidence in my team. Letting go and giving them the freedom to implement is as much a vote of confidence as it is good management. So I shouldn’t feel guilty about the guide-and-release approach or for my lack of stress and anxiety from having let go of that burden.

Right?

Ufda, Temptation!

Man, I’m telling you, that first full week back from vacation is tough! The last few hours of the workday on Friday, in which I’m currently mired, are the hardest. My brain seriously wants to shift back to holiday-mode. There’s this weird tension between it wanting to shut down altogether and wanting to be all contemplative and deep about topics wholly unrelated to the job I’m supposed to be doing.

I had a really satisfying text conversation during my lunch break that covered some weighty thoughts on gender. Might turn that into a post one day. But that open exploration of a topic near my heart was gateway drug to afternoon distraction, because now my brain is saying that it’s play time, not work time. My mind is busy flitting from topic to topic and outlining stories I want to write, leaving little energy for such trivialities as executive duties and contract interpretation.

On top of tempting intellectual puzzles, there is the fact that it’s August 2nd and only in the mid-70s outside. Even though it’s overcast, the gorgeous temps are calling for me to go sit outside somewhere green and read a book or just listen to the birds and the breeze in the trees. I wouldn’t even mind if it rained a little. I just don’t want to be sitting in an office behind a desk dealing with dreary legalities.

But I’m not giving in. I’m going to be a good corporate attorney and boss, set an example of discipline, and buckle down. There’s a contract to review, a policy exception to deal with, and a conference call next week to prepare for. I can do these things. I will do these things today. I will give them my best effort. And then I will leave, enjoy my weekend, and give no further thought to job and office until Monday morning.

This is me being a professional adult and setting goals and boundaries. See? I can be both a badass boss and a person with a life, all at once. I’m gonna prove it to myself.

Operation : When in Doubt, Write it Out – in full swing and working it’s magic.

Working on Making it Permanent

So, I’m back to the real world from vacation. It was a blissful reprieve and a truly wonderful experience.

This vacation was lengthy and expensive. It took over a year of planning and saving, some hefty cajoling of one of my brothers, and an unprecedented amount of preparation and working ahead at my job in order to be absent for two consecutive weeks without doing any work. But, oh my, was it worth it!

Foremost among the riches of this vacation is the quality time spent with my siblings. I believe this trip is the longest that my brothers, their wives and I have spent together in over a decade. It was a relaxed, congenial time full of comfortable conversations and silences, fun activities, and restful breaks. And it was free of tension and drama and negativity. It was the best of all worlds and I’m grateful we had that time together.

Also a big part of the benefits of the experience are the memories and mementos of our epic adventure. I so, so enjoyed every part of the cruise. Exciting new experiences, great food, majestic scenery, and so much fun! The excursions were great.

We went to a gold mine in Juneau, where I braved my fear of small places and being under ground and ventured all the way to the first bend of the main shaft – several hundred feet into the mountain! That’s a huge thing for me. I did turn back when the shaft took a turn and I lost sight of the daylight. I couldn’t brave it out beyond that point. But I got to wear a real miner’s helmet, see some awesome 100+ year old equipment, hear a cool story about miners’ lives in the 1800’s, and view some great historical structures. I even got to pan for gold! I think I ended up with about $0.80 worth of flakes and a million bucks worth of fun!

Then there was the glass blowing excursion in Skagway. That was huge fun! The Jewel Gardens park is gorgeous and has what the guide called “Jurassic-sized” everything growing there. The little tearoom on site serves food using vegetables fresh from their fields. And the working glass hot shop is a beautiful addition to that lovely place. My family lucked out and were the only ones booked on our particular excursion there that day. Three of us got a private glass blowing session with a wonderful, talented and friendly blower named Alex. He helped each of us make a customized globe ornament as a souvenir of our experience. I just received mine in the mail yesterday and am so excited it turned out so beautiful!

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, though, was a day when we didn’t get off the ship. Our day’s transit through Glacier Bay was amazing! The sight and beauty of that place was awe inspiring. I’m so thankful that I got to experience that glorious place!

There were many more little things that made the trip so wonderful. Little moments of joy (the fleeting glimpse of a baby humpback whale breaching off the stern and showing its fluke as it dove) and quiet moments of togetherness (sitting on the Lido Deck breezeway teaching my brothers to wire-wrap gemstones for incorporating into jewelry) made my experience all the richer.

In fact, I got so much more than the beautiful memories and lovely mementos from this vacation. In the process of letting myself enjoy my time away, I seem to have remembered how to sleep. I think I have slept longer and more restfully in the last three weeks than I have in over a year. And I haven’t missed out on anything because of it – the sleep has come when it’s supposed to and I haven’t had to choose between a rest and anything else (like an activity or a chat with a friend) since my vacation began. I’m so glad!

And, also, plus – my relaxed, no-f*’s-given attitude has persisted into my post-vacation approach to life and my workplace. The light-touch, advise-and-release method of crisis management that I described in my last post is holding up to repetition. I have, so far, been successful in keeping myself from taking on the burdens rightfully belonging to others, without shirking my own duties. This more balanced, rationalized, right-sized sense of responsibility is so much more sustainable and easier to bear.

Oh, I know what you’re gonna say! “It’s only Tuesday of your first full week back, so maybe go easy on the glowing new-me reports?”

Agreed. Time will tell if this post-vacation glow lasts. It won’t last forever, I know. But with concentrated intention, maybe I can make it last until the next vacation. Even if that one isn’t the epic, bucket-list-level experience of this Alaska Cruise Adventure vacation, perhaps the more mundane variety of break from the work-a-day world will combine with the residual afterglow of this extraordinary experience and become more permanently etched into my psyche. Who knows?

What I do know now is that I feel better after this vacation and I’m working on making that a permanent state of affairs.

Back in the Saddle

Ok, this is gonna be a quick one. I’ll try to do a more substantive, curated trip report on my epic Alaska Cruise Adventure soon. Right now, here’s what I need y’all to know:

  • I not only survived, I positively OWNED vacation with ZERO work content. I looked at no emails and I firmly body-checked the two sneak attacks by text message to my personal cell – punting them directly to my boss! (How’s that for mixed sports metaphors!?)
  • My bucket-list-level vacation was everything and more than I’d hoped it would be. Travel was easy (apart from the mandatory public groping by TSA), weather was nice, scenery was majestic, excursions were fun and memorable, and family time was fun and refreshing. (A very few of the many, many pics I took, below.)
  • I returned to my office today to find well over 350 emails accumulated, despite my thorough preparation of all my clients and stakeholders for my absence. The very first one was a hair-on-fire call for help fixing someone’s mess. I stiff-armed that right back at them with a minimum of guidance and a goodly amount of “suck it up, buttercup”-type tough love. I really like this feeling of freedom I get from not wearing other people’s problems for them – could get addicting!
  • To avoid the risk of tempting the universe to chastise me by being too smug and glow-y in my post-PTO euphoria, I will admit that I have yet another stye on my left eyelid. It is sore and irritated. It started last night when I mentally began preparing for reentry to the real world. I do not find this coincidental; rather, I firmly believe the two are causally linked. Perhaps I should test my theory by going back on vacation. 😉

I hope you have all enjoyed your summer since my last post. And, hopefully, the rest will be filled with (not too hot) sun and fun. ☀️😎

Aimless Drivel

I guess I jinxed myself by calling out the inadvertent posting pattern of Tue/Fri in my last post. Because I clearly missed posting yesterday. Ugh.

Yesterday was a genuine s@$&t show of a work day that sucked all my energy and taxed every nerve. By the time I got home from work I had no reserves left for writing. At least not writing blog posts for an audience.

I did get to spend some quality text time chatting with a new friend. Their attention and banter and gentle humor took my mind off my troubles. I count that a great blessing, having the freedom and security to talk about things that matter, but are so distanced from the sources of stress in your lives that the conversation is just for the pleasure of conversing. Not having to solve each other’s problems, not being burdened with the weight of responsibility and just being able to discover little facts about each other that add detail to the mental picture you’re each building of the other – these are the kinds of conversations that make making friends fun.

Today was the first day of a five-day weekend for me. My company observes Independence Day tomorrow and Friday as company holidays. But my boss and his EA staged an ‘intervention’ Tuesday in the doorway of my office, declaring that I was too stressed and spent plenty of hours doing work that shouldn’t have landed on me and that I needed to take the extra day off for my own good. My boss was insistent, even though I pointed out that I have extended PTO scheduled to begin a week from today. He just said “good, this will be practice for your time away”. I’m not entirely certain if he meant practice for me to relax, or practice for my clients and employees to get on without me. Both, probably.

So I was lazy today. Read an ebook in the cool and quiet of my empty house, napped and then went to a movie before meeting my family to run errands and have dinner. It was a good day.

The rest of my pre-vacation vacation time should be just as chill. Reading, writing, laundry, packing for the real vacation, and at least one dinner out with friends should consume the time nicely. Might even brave the heat and go watch fireworks tomorrow night. Then only two days of work before two weeks of freedom!!

I’m looking forward to the vacation. Family and I are going on an Alaska cruise. It’s beyond exciting. I can’t wait to fill up my cloud storage with pics of wildlife, landscapes and family silliness. I’m a tiny bit nervous about the boat – never been on a cruise ship. It should be the experience of a lifetime.

Well, that’s all the aimless drivel I have to share. At least I’ve saved my weekly posting streak, if not the recent posting pattern. I’m worried that there won’t be connectivity on the cruise and I’ll miss my weekly post while I’m away. Dunno why that matters to me so much, but it does. I guess because I set the goal and have been successful in meeting it for so long, it seems a shame to let it break. Ah well, for this reason? Worth it.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the holiday, if you’re celebrating. If you’re not celebrating, I hope the proliferation of noise and smoke doesn’t disturb your summer evening. 😎

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.

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