Archive for the ‘work’ Tag

Random Thoughts

It’s been a while since my last post and I want to keep the streak going. Maybe only through the end of the year, but still going – that was my commitment at the first of the year. So here’s another list. This time it’s just some odd, unrelated observations that came to me randomly. Like shower thoughts, only without the falling water.

⁃ I think there’s something about this time of year, the ending of the calendar year and the changing of seasons, that makes me feel nearly everything more intensely than at any other time of year. Especially anything melancholy or morose. It makes me mindful and wary. I find myself curating my words, self-censoring much more actively. That’s good for not hurting people’s feelings, but not so great for clear, direct, transparent communication. I find that quandary a little frustrating.

⁃ Something I said to a friend just today: “This probably speaks too loudly of my insecurities, but I gotta say it feels really good when I’m working with more experienced outside counsel and they call out things I’ve contributed as either something they didn’t think of or as a better approach than they’d suggested. It’s just always been my experience and my fear that in-house counsel are frequently dismissed as not “real” attorneys and not nearly as skilled as real, outside counsel.” The validation of peers, especially of more experienced practitioners, is a huge motivator. But it’s also a little cringingly embarrassing to know that, even after 20+ years on the job, I still crave that validation.

⁃ I keep kicking around a topic, start drafting a post, even try talking about it in IRL conversations, but get stuck on finding the right words to articulate what I need to say. Without previewing what that topic is, my observation is just this, perhaps obvious, thought: conventional community wisdom, as expressed in pithy adages and online memes, is inherently incomplete, carefully arranged from a particular agenda, and nearly always over-simplified. So having a serious, detailed conversation (or blog post) is difficult and seems to come across as a petulant rant at an embarrassingly surface level. It frustrates me to be unable to communicate a concept free from an emotional tone overlaying my words that undermines the impact of my observations.

⁃ As my family and I prepare to move into the new house I’m buying, a lot of our effort and conversations are focusing on decluttering, so that the fresh start this home represents isn’t dimmed by a load of unneeded stuff. That’s a big ambition and I worry that we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves and that the joy of the new place will be overshadowed by this goal and our relative success or failure achieving it.

⁃ I’m both fascinated by and frustrated with the way municipal planning and execution plays out in my city. Specifically, I know there is a planning phase for development and maintenance construction in all parts of the city. But, experientially, it feels like any planning that happens gets jettisoned the moment the first shovelful of dirt gets turned over and the people living in this city are left to deal with the chaos. I’m so frustrated with the conflicting concurrent construction projects that have every major through-street and intersection in turmoil. Sometimes I wonder if the planners are a bunch of sadists who secretly thrill at the general populace having continual road rage.

More Great Than Awful

So much of life is a mixed bag of great and awful. If we’re lucky, they balance, break-even. If we’re really lucky, the great outweighs the awful, at least at a micro, day-to-day level. I am fortunate that there is a lot more great than awful in my life and the magnitude of awful has been fairly muted of late.

I try consciously to remind myself of that and to celebrate the great, however small they appear, so as to temper the impact of the awful. I’m not always successful. Sometimes the collective weight of the tiny awfuls adds up and weighs down my spirit. But counting the great, saying them out loud even, can sometimes lighten the load.

For instance, I’m suffering the first head cold of the season and had to stay home from the office yesterday because I was running a fever and didn’t want to spread anything to my coworkers. It’s a particularly inconvenient time for this awful, mucous-y disruption to my work flow. But there are some great things happening too.

  • I’m in the process of buying a new house. It’s a gorgeous, move in-ready upgrade to the house I’ve had for 16 years. I got a great deal – used my negotiating skills and have a great realtor. We’re in the last stages before closing and I’m really excited about the prospect of this new phase of life.
  • There’s a new project at work that has me feeling re-engaged and excited to use my lawyer muscles. Doing deeply substantive lawyering, rather than business management, makes me happy.
  • I’m enjoying the cooler fall weather and looking forward to the freeze that will relieve the burning and itching in my eyes.
  • My SIL brought me my favorite soup for dinner last night to make my cold feel better.
  • Soon the holiday movie season will start and there will be good things to watch again.

So, all in all, a fairly good tilt toward the great and away from the awful. For that I’m grateful.

Lost and Stuck

A friend on Facebook posts daily Reasons Not To Quit under Miss Hanne’s Academy For Wayward Girls. These little nuggets of wisdom and inspiration have been a steady source of courage and comfort for me for some time. Today’s post “Reasons Not to Quit #1070: What one specific thing are you going to do today to make it a little easier for you not to quit? #reasonsnottoquit” incited a lot of thoughts and feelings that I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.

Boiled down to it’s constituent elements, the particular sludge stew that’s been plaguing my peace lately seems to be equal parts professional burn-out, imposter syndrome, workplace political BS, and lack of inspiration. Stirred together with chronic anxiety and social isolation, and that thick, bubbling, acrid paste of unrelenting discontent begins to set into a cognitive and emotional concrete that is extremely difficult to remove.

So, being prompted by both my own cussed stubbornness not to be a quitter and today’s Reason Not To Quit, I decided to examine the situation. And, because I’m a literal, linear thinker, I resorted to using lists to help with the analysis. I started by listing why I’m struggling, then listed what I’m good at, what I need, and what’s in my way. The final list is supposed to be what would make it better, but so far I have nothing jotted there.

Themes I’ve uncovered in the various lists reduce to: lost and stuck.

Reasons I’m struggling include the feeling that I’m bereft of professional creativity and that I’ve lost the plot and the purpose I’m supposed to fulfill. Yet the top three things I know I need to be happy in my work are intellectual challenge, to contribute meaningfully to something valuable, and clarity of purpose. And things I know I’m really good at include issue spotting, problem solving, and diplomacy. And what’s in my way are things that obscure those levers: fear and insecurity, workplace politics, personal and systemic inertia, lack of imagination/creativity/inspiration.

I don’t think the obvious intersections among these things are accidental. When I am challenged and contributing to a well-defined goal that I believe in, I excel at identifying and strategizing solutions to obstacles and at leading and persuading others to achieve those solutions and the ultimate goal. But when there is no clear goal or its shape and boundaries are obscured by a fog of emotional, organizational and political flack, productivity and engagement tend to grind to a halt and ingenuity fades. When those tools are blunted and the stress is high, the doubts begin to flood in and I get swept into a current of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread (FUDD) that blinds and hobbles an otherwise sharp and incisive brain.

It’s all well and good to know this, to recognize a cause for this rut. It’s a whole ‘nuther thing to know what to do about it. Hence the empty list of “what would make it better”.

I don’t have answers, only more questions. And I’m tired enough that my ability to bootstrap my own path out of the morass is pretty low. I’m feeling very lost and discouraged, uncharacteristically lacking in tools to fix my own problems.

And that admission in print has my heart pounding and my brain screaming for me to delete it, not let anyone see how useless I’ve become. But I’m going to leave it there and risk the derision and embarrassment that will likely result, because it may be the one thing I can do today to break the cycle of anxiety and let me see a crack in the solidified sludge coating my brain.

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.

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.

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