Getting ugly

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Barbara Kingsolver entitled “#MeToo isn’t enough. Now women need to get ugly

It was a thought-provoking piece and I am still mulling it over today, in light of world news, and in light of experiences I have had in my life and career.

“Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal.”

She explains how we are so embedded within the patriarchy that sometimes it is difficult to perceive it. I have heard patriarchy likened to being a fish in water, but not knowing what “water” is – it is the stuff we swim around in every day. We do not know what it is because we have never been without it for any length of time. Patriarchy is like water: it envelopes our lives in such a way that it becomes our reality.

But fortunately humans are not fish. And our breathing is not dependent on the existence of the patriarchy, though it may seem like our livelihoods indeed depend on it for many.

I realize part of my aversion to corporate life these days reflects partly an exhaustion with a patriarchal system that does not value work based on merit. It privileges the contributions of one gender over another. It does not value people and their multiplicity of contributions, the range of what they could bring to the table when given an opportunity.

I am fortunate to work in a company that places a high value on employees as people, and usually lives up to that tenet of our mission. But looking at a wall of inductees to its highest scientific honor society, counting the ~70 people’s faces and realizing that just 10% of them our women, I sigh and wonder.

There are so many barriers to women attempting to enter realms of work like science, engineering, politics, higher management. Some of these barriers are internal: we lack  confidence or we are not sure we have the competence to enter. We erect higher standards for ourselves than men have to try these positions, and worry more about making mistakes.

The socialization of women and girls has evolved a bit in the 4+ decades since I was born. The availability of sports teams and competitive opportunities has allowed more of us to challenge ourselves and take leadership in new areas. And yet when we lack critical mass, we must work much harder to build professional alliances and networks.

getting ugly

The “old boys club” is very much a reality in many of the corporate environments where we work. My own experience has shown me that men who mentor and sponsor us at work can be professional and appropriate in their behavior. But patriarchy functions subtly here as well.

My boss treats me a bit like a daughter figure – I can tell he is proud of me and my achievements. He wants me to “brag” more and to make sure others know about my accomplishments.  He allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from my experiences. But he has also been protective of me in a way that may be different from how he has treated his male proteges. Whether that is an aspect of personality or of systemic bias, it is impossible to really separate out. We swim in patriarchy so clear vision is obscured.

This morning I will return to a project group of mostly men (25% women) to work on a design project for technology that needs an upgrade. I found myself wanting to share more of my creativity yesterday during the “ideation” phase of our human-centered design process. But I found myself holding back. I was not sure why. The group is unfamiliar to me, and that is a barrier sometimes.

It does no good to blame the patriarchy when we struggle to get our ideas out, when there are also internal barriers as well. But it does help to understand the context of why women are less confident putting themselves out there. Kingsolver notes: “It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real…” 

Exactly. This type of rape culture makes working “outside our comfort zone” a regular and daily occurrence. Is it any wonder that taking risks in business or engineering feels so dangerous? While many of us learn to live and even thrive in these environments, we also realize women are disproportionately attacked and thus we remain on guard for more of waking hours.

I am contemplating the the notion of getting ugly as Kingsolver recommends. I definitely think we need to dispense with making ourselves pretty and “acceptable” and comfortable for men. It simply does not serve anyone, ourselves or the wider world, to neglect the gifts and talents of half the world’s population.

Men have been ugly to women privately in ways that are now becoming public. And it has caused some seismic shifts in the way women realize how non-personal and cultural all of that behavior has been. I agree that we must never tolerate this behavior, and if that makes me ugly, I am fine with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am mastering sleep

To continue along a theme I started yesterday on the power of internal thoughts and dialogue on your feelings and behavior, I decided to go into another personal example.

Some of you know that I have struggled in the past with getting enough sleep. But in the last couple of years I have truly started to understand the difference that getting good, consistent sleep makes for me. It allows me to be less distracted, more engaged, less triggered in terms of emotional volatility.

Good sleep allows me to be more creative, more flexible in my thinking, and more generous in spirit. It helps me keep my weight stable and gives me more consistent energy. Sleep allows me to make better decisions and to pause before responding to stimuli. It “cleans up” the toxic stuff that builds up during the day.

But for years I struggled with periodic insomnia. Notice how I define that in the past tense? In truth, I still struggle sometimes. But I was considering the difference in telling myself “I suffer from insomnia” and changing that thought too: “I am learning to master sleep.”

Sleep

It may seem like a subtle difference. But when I consider the feeling that results from “I suffer from…” it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel defeated. When I instead practice the thought, “I am mastering sleep” I start to feel hopeful, as though I am making progress. It means I have not yet figured it out, but that I am getting there. Actually, that is what is true for me.

Back when I started tracking all this stuff with the Wellbeing Finder about a year and a half ago, I really struggled. Knowing that getting better, more consistent sleep was the goal, I could see what factors led to better sleep. So I experimented with different things, like powering the devices down at least an hour before bed. I was shifting my drinking and eating patterns too. I quit alcohol and cut way back on sugar and flour.

It turned out some of those factors were much more relevant than I thought in getting a good night’s sleep. Now that I am used to receiving better quality and quantity of sleep, I am a total convert! But I need to realize this is a skill that can be mastered. Even though I suffered from insomnia in the past, I am gaining mastery over good sleep.

If you are mastering sleep, do consider what language you use as you learn to embrace this beautiful and restorative habit. Imagine if you used kinder language to describe the process of change, and describe the issues as relevant to the past but not the present. Perhaps that will help you, as it has for me, to let go of the need to be perfect. Mastery is an ongoing process but so very worthwhile.

“I Choose To” vs “I Have To”

Almost everything you do in a typical day is optional. Except breathing, that one is required. Even eating is optional. Humans have survived during millennia in periods when they have not had enough to eat, and had to spend multiple days (sometimes weeks, months) fasting. Not that I am advocating this, but if you wanted to skip a meal now and then, you could choose to do so without dire consequences, unless you have a medical condition.

Going to work is not optional, you might be saying right now. You “have to” pay your bills and you “have to” earn money to buy food, gas and all the associated necessities that allow us to live our lives. You probably have people depending on you, and this can add to the feeling of “I must” go to work.

There is a subtle change in energy when we realize that we choose to go to work every day, because there are consequences if we do not, versus “having” to go to work, as though we are slaves. We choose work and earn income because it gives us choices in our lives, and allows us to do things we want to do. True, maybe we do not all do work that feeds our souls, and we may deal with some annoyances or people that drain us.

When you accept that there are not really many things you HAVE TO do, you may realize that much of your internal dialogue is actually a lie. This dialogue with yourself causes anxiety, and it does not serve you. It was kind of eye-opening when I realized this for myself. I realized I was whining and complaining about my job and feeling sorry for myself about it.

It was probably while reading a book called The Four-Day Win by Martha Beck  about identifying thoughts that we have (or had) before we find ourselves eating too much or eating food that is unhealthy. When we get really mindful about those impulses we may find ourselves trying to avoid thoughts that are painful, like “I have to go to this event” or “I don’t want to make this phone call.”

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Those of us who have struggled with emotional overeating in the past have used food to distract ourselves from some emotion or procrastinate some thing we do not really want to face. We live out of integrity with ourselves because we have a mental dialogue that is a lie (“I have to” rather than “I choose to”) and we find it difficult to face reality and our own emotions.

Sometimes we feel lonely or disconnected, and it is harder for us to admit this and reach out to a friend for companionship than it is to eat a cookie and milk. Perhaps that was the pattern we learned as children when we felt sad, or what our parents might have done to cheer us up. As a temporary measure, maybe the ice cream made you “feel better” – the hit of dopamine and sugar in the brain certainly had an immediate effect. The longer-term impact of the insulin released in the body did not give us healthy results, however.

We may not have learned to process our feelings completely, if we were consoled or soothed with food rather than taught that are feelings are valid, and it is okay to feel them instead of eating them. We may not have understood that our thoughts influence our feelings, and so by exploring what thoughts led to those emotions, we could question those thoughts to see if they are really true.

Do I really “have to” go to that family event? Or do I choose to go to the event because I love these people and want to show my support for them? Do I “have to” write all those holiday cards to a huge list of people? Or do I choose to write some holiday cards because I would like to stay in touch with loved ones?

Though it is a subtle change in language, changing these internal messages to ourselves helps free us from a victim mentality. It empowers us to realize that we have the ability to choose. Sure, maybe some people will not like it if we skip an event. But we are not responsible for others’ feelings, only our own.

My favorite meditation mantra which helps me live in my integrity while avoiding the lie that “I have to much to do” (which is one of my ego’s favorites) is:

“I have time for everything I need to do today.” 

It is true. All I must do today is breathe. Everything else is optional, and a choice I make. Realizing this truth sets me free in so many ways. I hope it does for you too.

 

 

 

 

Paradise found

I woke up with the song “Remember Me” in my head from the movie Coco. If you have not seen it yet, please do. It is a sweet movie.

I wondered what it was my brain wanted to remember. And since it is January in Minnesota, the most logical choice is summer vacation.

We get something we call “cabin fever” right about this time, a little restlessness with being inside so much of the time. It got up to 42 degrees F yesterday which is actually quite warm for us, so I did fit in a little run outside in the fresh air and to get some sunshine. While I take my vitamin D religiously in the winter, since are all deficient at this latitude, there is really no substitute for real sunshine.

Paradise, Michigan
Photo taken from Paradise, Michigan – July 201

I thought back to the lovely motorcycle trip last summer around Lake Superior, and checked my phone for pictures. Ah, sweet memories. One night when we had made it to Paradise, Michigan, we stopped at our campsite, realized it had rained a bit that day and the campground was soggy. So we opted for a hotel that night, a place with laundry facilities. Hot showers and a real bed were awesome, and the view from the hotel was amazing.

This is why you often hear the advice: buy experiences, not things. When you spend money on a vacation, not only do you get to enjoy a lovely time away, you get the benefit of anticipating and planning the trip. Then you also get the experience of fond memories on the trip, and stories you can tell after the trip with your loved ones.

Granted, vacations can be expensive. But they do not have to be when planned in advance. My hubby reserved campsites for 8 out of our 10 nights on this trip, and then 2 B&B’s/hotels so that was quite affordable. When traveling on a motorcycle you have to plan alternatives in case of rain, so we did forfeit the campsites twice and opted for hotels. But still, a lovely and memorable trip around Lake Superior with good memories was a bargain for the cost.

Those of you who are indoors and tired of the cold and snow: try thinking about where you may want to spend some summer vacation time. It gets your creative juices going and if you plan now, you may be able to put aside some savings to make it happen.

Ah, Paradise!

 

Re-learning to Play

Work is hard and play is easy, right?

Well… when you are young that is certainly true. Or if you are a cat or a dog. They pretty much have play and napping down pat. They have mastered it, and I probably ought to pay attention to these furry, wise teachers a bit more.

As an adult, I have not always valued PLAY enough. Brene Brown refers to her discovery of play when she was looking for the keys to living a wholehearted life. She was explaining to a friend this discovery and described it this way: “these people seem to fool around a lot” and she did not even know how to describe it.

Caught in a culture of always doing, striving, working, she could not even identify what these wholehearted people were doing, but it was PLAY.  It was engaging in something for the pure fun of it, for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Huh? Do people get to do that?!?

kids at play
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It turns out that it is quite healthy to do that, and those of us who have forgotten the art of play may want to spend some time joyfully re-educating ourselves. It is not just for kids! And it can involve some snuggle time with your honey, but that’s not a requirement.

For me, the best part of play, when I really do lose myself in it, is that I come back to my “grown up life” refreshed and relaxed. Vacation can be a great place to play and try new things just for the fun of it. I have a harder time getting into play mode during the work week, I admit. But I am willing to learn. Hey, if the science tells us it’s healthy, I am ON BOARD!

Occasionally, when I am on a really fun project or I am designing a workshop with my “partner in crime” at my job, work can actually feel like play. I love that. Some part of me strives toward that in terms of longer term career aspirations. I will get there. It is all about intention.

As we head toward the weekend, I am considering how hubby and I can get some play time. He has worked long hours this week after the snowfall and I know he will need extra rest. But I am using my creativity to brainstorm a few options. I am sure he will have some ideas as well.

How will you play this weekend? How will you take joy in this act of living and celebrate it in a way that is fun? Do you feel less guilt about it knowing it is part of living and healthy and fulfilling life to play?

 

There is no “better” you

I have been noticing a lot of flyers this year in fitness centers and around bulletin boards that invite people to “become a better you.” I really dislike this slogan. Let me tell you why.

You are just fine the way you are. Right now. No exceptions. You are worthy of love, compassion and forgiveness. Just because you are human. In this moment, and always.

Are you perfect? No. Are you human? Yes. You are an imperfect human being in the process of growing and becoming, as are we all. And that is a beautiful thing.

Are there some things you wish to change about yourself? Probably. Most of us want to lose weight, make more money, become more patient, perhaps become better partners or spouses. And this is fine. But this does not mean we become “better” as people. If we cannot accept that we are fine, and worthy of love and compassion, in this moment and always, it will be much harder to grow and change.

What bothers me about this “better” you is that it implies the you RIGHT NOW is not enough. But that is never true. You are enough. You are doing your best and that is always enough. You are worthy. Always.

You will not become “better” if you lose weight. Perhaps your health will be better, and you will have less discomfort in your body and more vitality if you lose weight. Those are all worthy goals, and by all means strive for those goals if they are important to you. But you must accept yourself and who you are in this very moment to allow transformation to occur.

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Does that sound paradoxical? I thought so at first when I encountered this idea. If I’m not striving and trying and working toward it, how can I be “better” at it? Certainly skills take practice, and many of us learned that working hard is the answer, or the way to riches, or even the way to God.

When you have goals that are important to you, absolutely you should work for them. Put the time in every day if you can. But realize that there is no “better” version of you that awaits. You may feel better about your skills, and you may accomplish great things. Wonderful! Congratulations!

But the YOU remains the same, lovable and worthy. Flawed and imperfect. And marvelously human, adaptable and growing all the time. If you accept all parts of yourself, the good and the bad, you begin to feel such compassion for yourself and others as well. 

No person is better than another. We are all just doing our best, even if it seems like not everyone is trying. We actually are doing the best that we know. Try this belief on for a bit. When I really came to know this as true, it gave me so much peace. And ironically, parts of me began to change as I embraced this acceptance.

You are the BEST YOU right now. And that is enough. Let go of the struggle to become better. Work on acceptance of who you are. See how this changes your energy and your life.

 

Costumes

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a post in advance, then “scheduled” it so I could read it in the morning, edit and publish. Apparently WordPress ate the 700 word post. Oops. I have no idea how that happened. But spending a lot of time trying to recover a lost document is a waste. It’s best just to get started on the next one without a lot of drama or delay.

This morning I will meet with a VP for our Corporate Science and Technology division at work, my director’s boss. He has been a career mentor for me, and my director has encouraged me to meet with him once a quarter as I figure out my next move.

I am typically anxious about what to wear to such meetings.

Wonder woman
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My work “costume” has been evolving a lot in the past year or two. I already wrote about “grown up clothes” in a previous post. I had always read that you should dress for the  position to which you aspire, or at least a level up, not necessarily the position you have. In corporate leadership functions at my company, that typically means for women dresses and heels.

As someone more comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, that was a transition for me. But I embraced my feminine side and realized that dresses are actually more comfortable than pants most of the time. A friend of mine likes to say they as comfy as pajamas but people actually think you look nice! She’s right about that, except during Minnesota winter, when they just seem stupid when your legs and feet are cold for the sake of fashion.

Work clothing can be a kind of “armor” we put on in the morning, to convey a sense of authority or power. As long as we feel comfortable with what we wear, and it does not “clash” with our sense of ourselves, I think it can enhance our confidence. Fake it until you become it, as Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk. A few wonder woman poses before a big event will not hurt either. Your body language may speak even more highly than your clothing, so it is worth being mindful of how comfortable you feel and what you project.

Clem in chaps - Canada
My hubby in chaps during our trip July 2017. This was taken in Canada.

I realize that what I project at work does not really capture authentically who I am, and I am trying to figure out if I can bridge that gap. My husband bought me riding chaps last year before our summer motorcycle trip around Lake Superior. A friend teased me about it because he thought of chaps as a sex fetish thing. But hubby likes to say “dress for the slide, not the ride.” I know that my work colleagues would probably be shocked to see me dressed in jeans, chaps, and a black motorcycle jacket. It definitely does not alight with my work costume or the image I have sought to project at work.

At the same time, the motorcycle gear “costume” expresses my desire for freedom and for being engaged with the world in a different way. In a very practical sense, it is safety gear. And it is also represents a different part of my identity that is not something I feel comfortable bringing to work.

As I write this, I also know that the mask I wear as part of my work costume is getting a little old and tired as well. Having to feign enthusiasm for a job that is “over and done” for me in a fundamental way takes a lot of energy. It is not something I can do for much longer.

I believe that when we bring our whole, authentic selves to work we excel and produce our best work. Maybe there is room for that in my corporation, and maybe not. It is worth speaking up about my real feelings and thoughts to see if this is met with acceptance or with rejection. Either way, I will know whether I might find some other place in the organization or whether I need to move on.

Costume change, please!