Emotional adulthood

Did you grow up being told “not to hurt others’ feelings?” Many of us were taught that we should not say things to hurt other’s feelings. By extension that meant we are responsible for other people’s feelings.

It was a pretty radical discovery for me last year when I learned in more details how thoughts cause chemical cascades in the brain that result in “vibrations” in the body we call feelings. I encountered this concept from podcasts by Brooke Castillo. While I had studied this concept back when I first learned about cognitive and behavioral therapy in college, I had never fully applied it to my life.

I will use an example, because I think this helps make the concept more accessible. Say someone tells me I’m a smart-ass and nobody really cares about what I write. It’s a waste of time and I should stop doing it. I have a choice about how I respond here.

pain image
Photo credit link

If it this a person I respect, I will probably want to ask some questions and get more feedback. (That’s how I am, researchers want more data and we often get curious.) If my self-esteem is not very strong, perhaps I will take their comment seriously and start criticizing myself: why would I think I have the right to share my thoughts or have a valid point of view?

Since I am fairly confident my opinion is at least as valid as anyone else, and because I write for myself, not for them, my response is likely to be different. I will perhaps speculate on their lack of efficacy and creativity in their life and I will dismiss their opinion. My new favorite way to re-frame this is: it is probably more about them (the reason they said whatever it was) than about me. It is a nice way to gain a little distance from what could have been perceived as a hurtful remark, and realize I still feel confident in my own work and process despite their words.

Granted, when we are actively seeking feedback from a trusted colleague, we sometimes have to be open to things that may not be comfortable to hear. This helps us gain valuable insight that might improve our work. That can be important if we want to hone our craft, or become better managers, or excel in our fields.

When I started taking ownership of my own feelings, and realizing that my thoughts were what created those feelings, it was very liberating. In order to feel different feelings, it is necessary to choose different thoughts. If we are in the habit of thinking certain thoughts, this takes some conscious effort at first, because we are re-structuring those neural pathways in the brain. Some of our old habits may have created deeper “grooves” if we have repeated those habits many times. But they are not fixed, they are flexible, and modifiable.

blue brain
Photo credit: Getty Images

I am so encouraged by the latest research in brain science, that reveals that neuro-plasticity, or the ability to change our own brains is actually more possible than we used to believe. You know the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” that we sometimes employ when we do not want to learn something new.

But in fact, you can teach an “old” human new tricks. It takes practice, and it takes commitment. But fortunately it is possible and it is why we humans, using conscious thought and practice, are so remarkably adaptable to so many situations.

I do not encourage you to say things to people that intentionally try to “hurt” their feelings. I also know that my own fear of speaking my truth has decreased. If others are living in emotional childhood and hold me responsible for their feelings, it is unfortunate for them. And when I have feedback to deliver, I try to speak carefully and from a place of caring and concern. If I catch myself reacting out of anger or my own hurt, then I sometimes have to apologize later for saying something I do not truly mean. (We all have our defense mechanisms.)

But I have found this concept of taking responsibility for my own feelings to be game-changing. We are the creators of our own story, in charge of the narratives we bring to our own lives to make sense of them. Why not choose stories that are brave and courageous rather than casting ourselves as a victim? 

If you have been through trauma or other difficult experiences which make it difficult to assess and influence your own emotional state, or are suffering depression, having the help of a therapist or counselor can be an amazing resource. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had wonderful therapists to help me during difficult struggles in my life. It is their insight and caring that allowed me to develop a more evolved understanding of myself. To me, there is no better investment.

Starting over again

Right now I am going through a period of transition related to my career. I have spent over 10 years in the clinical research field, and have general expertise on clinical research regulations in Latin America (but not as much in the U.S., where most of the jobs exist). I keep thinking I want to leave and change fields. It is a highly bureaucratic area of expertise. There is high demand and there is also high turnover.

My current company has added more layers of bureaucracy in its hiring and contracting processes. They have also made it nearly impossible to contract with small vendors or independent consultants. Right now a translator that did some work with us several months ago still has an outstanding invoice and our payment/vendor team is not working with me to fix the situation. They keep passing the buck to another person/department when I ask for help.

So sometimes I wonder if the major stumbling block for me is the incredible level of internal bureaucracy at my company, or the true work of getting clinical trials off the ground, or perhaps those two “squared” or compounded?

Between hope and despair
Photo credit link: Deviant Art website

People complain that the government sector is not very efficient, that there is a lot of waste in what they do. Perhaps this is true, I do not work in that sector. What I do know is that there is a tremendous amount of waste in corporations. It is painful to see it sometimes, the workarounds we have to use because our systems do not work for real people. We claim to care about innovation, and yet we are the LAST to fix the internal bugs that create massive challenges in getting things done here.

I consulted my financial adviser a few weeks ago to figure out a plan for leaving this job, and he suggested getting some recruiters to work on my behalf in finding something new. If I wanted to stay in clinical research, that might be more feasible. But since I want to leave the whole business behind, that seems harder to do. If any of y’all have experience with that, please weigh in, will you?

I really do not mind starting over in some ways. I have done it already a couple of times in my career. I know that fear of the short-term consequences is a part of my reluctance more than a true assessment about what is best for the future. So there is the hope of better things, and also frustration that comes about with not being able to enact the changes I want in this current space.

Then there is a blissful surrender I feel when I consider that I will no longer be propping up a system which is broken and dysfunctional. I feel great relief when I consider that possibility. It almost seems like a an act of service when I look at it that way.

Now, the process of narrowing down what I will do next. I am still getting there, thinking about whether there is a side hustle I can start up in the process before making the break from the full-time job. Starting over in a new field will not be a true start from scratch, since I now have experience in the world that I can apply to the new venture. It will involve re-invention and a creative approach. That is the exciting part. It will involve taking some actions outside my comfort zone. I know I can do that, and I will do it.

Ready.

 

Activism needs introverts

If you have not seen the Ted Talk by Sarah Corbett bearing the title above, and you are interested in the topic, please watch it. Slowing down and thinking deeply is one way we make social change. I encourage you to view the video and/or view the transcript. I suspect many of you out there, as writers, reader and thinkers (that is what we bloggers do best, right?) may also be introverts.

As someone who is deeply concerned with the future of our planet, and many of the challenges facing us in the world today, I struggle sometimes with how to get involved.  Back when I used to do more political activities and campaign organizing, I realized these activities had tendency to burn me out. So I have been considering other ways I can engage people in social change. Sarah Corbett’s video is a beautiful affirmation that there are ways to become involved in a quieter way, and her story is powerful.

Introverts can make great leaders, when channeling their efforts in a way that fuels them. If you see yourself as a leader, but also know that you require a certain amount of solitude and down-time to recharge your batteries, I also recommend Susan Cain’s work. Her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was game-changing for me. I saw myself in her work and realized that I was not the only introvert trying to fulfill my potential in an extrovert world.

Solitude can be a crucial ingredient to creativity. Having time for “deep work” and reflection are critical to choosing activities that are most productive and strategic. Our workplaces, schools and world is not really set up for introverts to thrive. Group work is encouraged in schools and required in the workplace. Offices is with “open” plans are designed to spur interaction a cafe-like atmosphere.

I had to fight to defend my office cube last year to be sure I could get a quiet corner to work when the clinical research floor went to an open plan. I spend 40-60% of my time in meetings (mostly teleconferences since my team is international). But when I need to focus on a particular project, I appreciate at least having some walls to keep out noise and block out peripheral distractions. I also work at home 1-2 days a week when I am not traveling, so that helps me manage my introvert energy. Also: I do not have to wear grown-up clothes on those days! 🙂

What about you? Are there strategies you use to go out into the world and get the work done you need to accomplish, while also honoring your introvert needs? For me, I am always sure to plan a lot of down time to recharge after I have had to travel or lead meetings. I would love to hear from you on this topic if you care to comment below.

 

Compulsive blogging

Now that I have committed to posting daily since the beginning of October, I realize that I always make time for this activity, no matter what. I start to wonder if that is a little compulsive.

It is nearly 300 days since I started meditating daily, and I recognize the benefit to my life of that consistent habit. Is writing the same thing? Or does it have a down side, a dark side? I suppose any good thing can have its down side it taken to an extreme.

During the holidays when I had a little less access to wi-fi, I pulled out my handwritten journal a bit more. That is a good thing. Electronic media are a nice luxury, for sure. But my brain processes differently when hand-writing is a necessity.

Laptop with watch

I felt a little withdrawal when I was unable to write, a little melancholy. I realized that writing gives me joy, and this blog community I have discovered has become a little more part of my routine than I expected. That said, I adapt to the change in routine that holidays typically bring.

I wrote haiku, did a photo-blog piece instead of a longer journal-like piece and I did more personal reflection instead than public blog posts. Changing it up can be good, despite those habits we cultivate getting modified a bit during the holidays.

I realized that, in prioritizing this blog, I put aside some tasks that I was “supposed” to do this weekend for work. In fact, I chose not to work on them because I prioritized what was important to myself rather than my employer. This is probably related to my tendency as a Questioner, more easily moved by inner expectations rather than outer expectations.

So maybe it is less a compulsion than a strong desire and discipline to shape this writer in me. I can demonstrate to myself that this commitment is not just a fleeting one, but a more fundamental part of how I intend to live.

How do you want to live? Are there things you dream about doing that keep entering your consciousness? Are there nudges you keep getting to try things that make you a little anxious but also excited? What if you committed 15-30 minutes each day to getting those things done? How would your life change?

 

 

Greetings from up north

It is a holiday weekend so I am taking a little hiatus from writing, but I am enjoying the clean, fresh air of the north woods in Bemidji. I also wanted to share a few photos of one of the places my husband and I think of as “home” (where his mother lives).View of the water from Shannon LaneIt is nice to get away from the Twin Cities sometimes, and I always find that I sleep so well here in the fresh air of the north woods. We had a fire in the fireplace last night and it feels so cozy here, despite the cold outside.

Wood stacks dryingMy husband really enjoys cutting and splitting wood so his Mom is prepared for winter, so there are many stacks drying and getting ready for use in the deep cold months that are ahead.

Home with wood stacks

As I consider all of the things I am grateful for this holiday, I realize what a lovely privilege it is to be able to get away from the city at times. Even though I love living in and around a city, with its activity and options, getting away can be a real treat as well.

 

Hope you are able to enjoy some quality time away from the stores and in a cozy place this weekend. A retreat from the madness of every day life is a wonderful thing, and I shall not take it for granted.

Dock in November

 

Oh Suzy-Q

If you drive through Mason City, Iowa there is a tiny little “greasy spoon” diner called Suzy-Q Cafe. It seats only 8 people inside around a main counter, and an owner who knows the locals by name. Outside there are a few tables for the summer season, when there is more foot traffic near the shops and mall to bring people in.

SuzyQ 1
Photo taken by my husband Nov 23, 2017

My husband and I were trying to find a small non-chain cafe to stop for some brunch so we could find some decent bacon and eggs (ham for him) and we had a difficult time in some of the towns, which had only Subway, Taco Johns and McDonald’s.  Even though I occasionally spring for a happy meal when I have a hankering for a few fries, I generally avoid fast food restaurants.

The owner of the restaurant had stepped out for a few moments to run and errand, and his helper had graciously offered us the breakfast or lunch choices (it was around 10a.m.). The helper, good intentions and all, had a little trouble with the bacon, however. In a few minutes when the owner returned seeing the burned bacon, he started from scratch and made us the classic breakfast with bacon (or ham), eggs, hash browns and toast. They both apologized profusely about the delay, and we were not in a hurry so to us it was no big deal.

We talked a bit about how sad it is that most towns are not able to sustain little diners like this. The owner told us about how he wanted to price his meals reasonably, but not being able to get volume discounts on the food, like the big chains, it is difficult to do that. We talked about the fact that when big highways get build to bypass small towns, it often results in the small towns losing out on possible local business from people like us, who have no incentive to stop.

SuzyQ 2
Photo captured by my husband Nov 23, 2017

Several other diners appeared to be people he knew and/or neighbors of his. As one of his diners came in they began talking about the recent city council race in which he is running for a seat on the council. Last election cycle he had put his name on the ballot to see if name recognition would be a factor, but did not run a campaign. This year, it turned out he decided to campaign “for real” and try to get the word out among neighbors and friends, and to get them registered to vote. Since there were at least 3 people vying for each office, and none received a majority, they will have a runoff election on December 5th.

I know nothing about his politics and I did not even get his name. However, when I did a quick search of city council races in Mason City, Iowa I found an article in the Globe Gazette that cited voter turnout as being the highest in 20 years. Granted there were issues like a “River Renaissance” investment on the ballot, so that surely influenced turnout.

To me this is what our political system needs: people like this small business owner, who talk with people every day about their concerns and issues. Whatever the party, and some city council elections do not even list party affiliation (I have not looked into this, since I am not voting).

What if more people like this became a part of our political landscape? I think it would alter our democracy for the better. Granted, running for the highest office in the land without so much a stint on a city council is not something I believe is fruitful. But when you start with grassroots democracy, I think people can win. Public service is an honorable responsibility. More honorable people need to consider getting involved.

 

Turkey Day haiku

Driving and driving

To see family and eat

Gluttony and thanks.

Actually that sounds pretty cynical. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it is all about gratitude rather than spending money on gifts, and the unfortunate commercialization of a religious holiday. It transcends religions, families of origin, and all the nonsense things people feel they *have* to do for Christmas in the United States. It has a special place in my heart.

So consider that first one from the darker side of my personality and here is a better one.

Gratitude for all.

So many blessings right here.

Do not forget this.

turkey day.JPG
Photo credit from Wikipedia