Wisdom from my favorite sociologist and life coach, Martha Beck (from her Compass Points email):
Wisdom from my favorite sociologist and life coach, Martha Beck (from her Compass Points email):
I took the plunge yesterday and went much shorter on the hair. My stylist told me it takes a strong woman to pull off short hair effectively. I like that. I am going to rock the short hair. It is a symbolic way for me to “signal” the changes to my work colleagues, since I will be seeing several on my team next week in Belgium.
I have decided to come out of “hiding” here on the blog as well, since I aim to integrate the work and personal worlds I inhabit, gradually, at a pace that works for me.
About 8 years ago, I was going through another big life transition and was not as attentive or focused at work as I strive to be. I felt burned out and my boss was blithely dumping more work onto an already full plate. I had no sense of boundaries or how to say no. I had not yet learned how to communicate my distress effectively, to ask for help or to push back.
In addition to that, I had moved out of the home where I had been living for a few years with my partner and his children (part-time, as they also spent time with their mother). I had not yet grieved the loss of that life, even though my soul was relieved that I had left.
Perceiving my lack of commitment and energy for a few weeks during my move, my boss asked me what was wrong and suspected there was something outside of work bothering me. In fact there was, and I explained to her (in a vague way) what was going on. Instead of having empathy and giving me some understanding about my need to heal, she put me on a performance improvement plan.
For those who do not know, this is code for “you’d better shape up and get into gear or you will get fired.” The letter she gave to me outlined the ways in which I needed to improve my work within 90 days or I may be terminated. It was a shock to me. I was also bitter about the fact that she seemed to use the personal information I shared with her against me.
Looking back there are many other ways to interpret her actions. But it was the time I began walling off parts of my professional life from my personal life, as much as I could. I had been “hiding” my a.d.d. from her as well, even though I had seen it as an asset to the position, my flexibility in catching whatever was tossed my way, up to a point.
I gathered my energy, went to see an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor at my workplace, and tried to figure out how I was going to make this work. He helped me see that I was suffering from a minor depression and that I needed to take more proactive steps to communicate with my boss on the work overload. He explained that managers at this workplace like it when employees come to them with potential solutions, not just problems.
He helped me figure out more effective ways to communicate, rather than the passive-aggressive (i.e. Minnesotan) tactic I had been using to push back. He also referred me to the book The Chemistry of Joy, by Dr. Henry Emmons, which helped me proactively manage my depression through both Western and Eastern wisdom. Wow, am I ever grateful for his support and help.
I worked my ass off to get out of the PIP. Even though my boss was not yet thrilled with my work, she said I had improved substantially. It was not until the year after that, when we hired a second person to help with the growing workload, that she really appreciated my skills. It was really hard to find someone who knew clinical research and who was also bilingual! We were not just a dime a dozen. She began treating me differently and better, appreciating my unique constellation of skills.
For the past three years I have held (and rocked) the manager position that she left when she opted to go to a different department. I am a better boss because of that experience, even though it was hellish at the time. I want to come “out of hiding” with my struggles because I want others to know you can get through tough times and come out on the other side. It is important to find support, and to realize you are not alone.
You will get through it, and you will develop amazing resilience in the process. Peace and love, readers.
I am a voracious reader. My nightstand is typically piled with books, and I have about 3-4 going at any one time.
There’s at least one fiction book, which is my treat reading before bedtime, and the way I wind down before sleep. I am not so into e-books. I have a Nook, but forget to charge it. I have a love for real pages that I can turn, a visceral and physical experience of a book that I am too old-fashioned to replace.
When I write, I integrate the things I read, the practices I attempt, and the swirling thoughts I notice while meditating or navigating my days. It helps me slow things down enough to consider how it all fits together.
My philosophy teacher used to recommend that we write to remember. When studying, write out concepts and ideas we want to understand or explore.
In biology or chemistry labs, we wrote to capture our protocols, and our results. Writing is a part of science, part of study, part art-form and part formal work.
Reading and writing do not come easily to everyone, and I am grateful that I have always enjoyed both since a young age. Fifteen years ago, toward the end of graduate school I was diagnosed with adult a.d.d. Now it makes sense to me that I can either hyper-focus or be challenged to finish a page without distraction.
I do not have the “h” part of the usual diagnosis (and women often do not manifest that part, or they train themselves out of it to be quiet, compliant little girls from a young age). But clearly the difference in my ability to focus was palpable after treatment and medication.
Before the diagnosis I had suffered from 2-3 periods of depression in my life, precipitated by burnout and anxiety. I had always struggled to pay attention during my “boring” classes, and often escaped into my imagination. Teachers knew I was smart, but they often said I was not working up to my potential. I finished salutatorian of my high school class, so clearly a lot of students may not have been working up to their potential…
What I find these days is that life is more about establishing the right rhythm for my days and weeks, rather than pursuing the elusive “balance” many strive for.
Filling days with to-do lists and activities may help us feel productive and in control of our lives. But resting, pausing and re-evaluating need to be a part of our lives too. An a.d.d.-oid brain is typically in motion constantly. I describe my thought processes as cascades, and they are very fluid and dynamic.
Normal people can typically compartmentalize their thoughts, like putting them in boxes, categorizing and organizing them. The a.d.d. brain tends not to work that way, instead flowing from thought to thought, in associative “play”. We create new categories, with different boundaries. Our brains leap outside boxes like playful puppies or kittens.
For years I spent time hiding my a.d.d., at the advice of well-meaning professionals that explained to me that employers would not necessarily understand, and may penalize me for it professionally. In every job I needed to “prove myself” with consistency for quite some time before advancing, very hard for the a.d.d.-oid mind that gets bored once it knows the routine. The first time I was able to hire administrative support to help with the details while I could focus on big picture work, I finally started realizing my potential.
My current position as an operational manager for an international team requires me to be quick thinking and to balance many factors in making decisions. I get to help my employees with career development (which I love) and coach them to develop their skills, especially when it comes to influence management in a large corporation with a matrix reporting structure.
I turned a weakness into a “superpower” of sorts, at least the way I am choosing to author my life and my story. I do not see it as a disability. I see it as a way of seeing around corners, flexibly solving problems, and bringing creativity to many teams.
As long as I find the right rhythm in my days, get time for rest, play and taking very good care of myself physically, I thrive. When I neglect myself, or slack off on good self-care routines, like getting enough sleep, healthy food, affection, love, and exercise, I suffer.
What I want to say to those suffering from depression, anxiety, a.d.d. or any other type of diagnosis: it does not have to define you or your life. You will need to learn to manage it, that is true. But it will give you unique insight, skills and resilience when you learn to manage it. You will benefit from more compassion for those who struggle. And if you learn to love yourself, and the unique way that your brain and body work, you can fully use your gifts.
Find your rhythm, find what makes sense for you. Find others that support your strengths and help you cultivate them. You deserve that. And it is possible.
Have a great week, friends.
I have started writing at different times of the day, to reflect the “rhythm” of my week as it ebbs and flows. I am trying to purge out the stuff that just needs to leave my head, and also make sense of changes in my consciousness I know that consistency is important, and that daily creative spark helps me to get energy for the rest of my day.
I am procrastinating on my coaching homework and deciding to put it off a bit more, so I am writing my blog instead.
Uh, why *am* I avoiding my coaching homework? I will use this space to examine the reasons. One of the assignments is to rewrite my career dream in a 1-year and a 5-year formats. But what is getting in the way of this is that I interviewed for a job at my current company last week that really excites me.
It is hard to write my 1-year dream in a way that is independent of my excitement for that role. I guess that’s okay. A year seems ultra-long when I consider my current role. But it seems like it could go by in a flash if I am doing something with full engagement and attention. But can I bring full engagement to it? Would I give up my blog for it? No, for sure not.
It is a fairly high profile role (Senior Program Manager) with visibility to the top executives and the CEO, but I think I could make some impact there. We could actually re-invent the way clinical data are used in health care. Whew! That could be amazing, right?
Of course, I still have a lot of unanswered questions, so I emailed them to the hiring manager as a follow up. I’m not sure if they will make me an offer, but I suspect I am their top candidate, given what HR has shared with me about their search.
Another BIG part of me was fantasizing about quitting this corporate thing in August and figure out how to make it on my own, doing consulting and writing, and perhaps coaching. I wanted to take a break from this “treadmill” to get some time and space to really pursue my writing goals in earnest.
The money thing crops up. By August, I am aiming to have 6 months of living expenses saved up for any kind of foolish job-quitting my soul beckons me to do. My hubby would prefer we use that money toward a down payment on a house, or maybe some land on the north shore of Lake Superior. That appeals to me too.
If I stay, I will have to work a lot harder this summer and fall. New jobs takes investment, focus and attention. I am not afraid to work hard. In talking with a good friend of mine yesterday about the job, she observed that she has not seen me so excited or energized about an opportunity in a while.
My massage therapist said the same thing, and she had a quote for me that popped into her head when I told her about my response to the interview: “Great things are done when man and mountain meet.” William Blake.
My friend asked me “what would hold you back from taking the job” and my response was: having to wear grown-up clothes and go to the office every day. What this means is that my introvert self would have less alone-time during the standard work day. I have gotten spoiled working from home (when I am not traveling) a couple of days a week.
But other than that? Maybe the fear that my current role has provided a comfort level (3 years in this manager role, 11 years in the department), and I know I will be living in the “discomfort zone” for a while. But that may be the growth edge that I seek.
When things are too calm in my life, I tend to make trouble. But maybe this is the kind of trouble that I need to invite in, because “wildly improbable goals” have a strangely motivating effect on me.
I have a sense of vague uneasiness this week, and I know it is probably related to anticipating my Dad’s upcoming surgery and an interview I have this Thursday.
It is a minor hernia surgery so everything should be fine, but last time Dad went to the hospital for surgery, he ended up in ICU for a few days unexpectedly. So I will happy to hear from my Mom after he returns home tonight or tomorrow. I am pretty sure that is the main reason for this vague feeling of uneasiness.
This Thursday I will be interviewing for a Senior Program Manager position that I applied for last month. It is a 5.5 hour set of meetings with 7 different people, as usual for my company a pretty grueling process. At least I will get to meet the whole team, and I will have the opportunity to assess if I am a fit for the role.
A part of me finds the opportunity exciting, and another part of me is almost disappointed to have the interview because I was looking for an “excuse” to leave the company in August for a break. My tolerance for corporate politics is wearing thin and I am having trouble distinguishing whether this is due to my particular position in the organization right now, or more of a general phenomenon.
I do know that we sometimes believe “the grass is greener” in another location and then we go and find that we have a new set of challenges to face. I am considering the ways in which I can honor my truth and step up to a new scenario with courage and commitment, if it is the next right step.
As I evaluate the new possibilities I will use my body and my emotions as an important “metric” of whether this particular path is a fit. For me it is about the people, the project and the environment overall, and whether that combination feels motivating (maybe a little scary, that’s okay) and compelling.
Some of the uneasiness might stem from my own perception that this is a step “up the ladder” and I do not necessarily care that much for advancement in that sense. I am going for better alignment rather than traditional advancement this time around. Not that those things are necessarily in opposition, and I must remind myself of this. I realize that part of me fears success as much as failure. Increased visibility is not always my goal, even though this may be what allows me to grow into the next version of myself.
Time to meditate, journal and plan for my week. Hope y’all enjoy the marvelously warmer temps of Spring (those in my neck of the woods). Hasta luego, amigas/os!
In the last couple of weeks, I have had the desire to cut my hair much shorter. This weekend it started to feel unbearable to have the burden of long hair. And yesterday I did it – I went to the salon and asked them to chop off 4-5 inches, so my hair is only about an inch below the ears. While it is not a super dramatic change, it makes me feel lighter and I think it looks a little sassy.
As it turns out, I was invited for an informational interview on Thursday (today) for one of the positions I recently applied for – it was the one that made me excited but also a little scared because it is a big challenge, and requires the creation of new process and pilots.
I guess my cover letter submission was a successful one, since the hiring manager opted to set something up right away. I realize in some ways it is a “stretch” job for me, but I know I can learn what I need in order to demonstrate I’m capable.
I am filled with excitement but also a little dread. Interviews are a little nerve-wracking for me. But I will focus on being myself and asking good questions. Having completed a hiring process in my department recently, I realize that what I look for are people who are open-minded, willing to learn and have positive energy. Experience is important, but attitude is more important. Knowledge is important, but contacts and networks are also important.
There is a sort of “meta” skill when it comes to interviewing for a job in which there will be a lot of latitude for creation. You must know yourself well, be comfortable with ambiguity, cope well with set-backs, and realize that you may try certain things and fail. You need to recover well when that happens, and not beat yourself up. All jobs that do not have a predetermined procedure, where something new will be created, or some big systems-thinking project will be designed, require flexibility. I have definitely learned that throughout my career.
My sassy new haircut feels like an asset going into this interview process. It takes a bit of courage to make such a leap, chop off a bunch of hair that’s been growing out for some time. But it lightened my mood and my spirit, and that’s how I plan to approach the interview.
Wish me luck!!
Right now I am preparing to work on a few cover letters for some jobs I already applied for at my current company. The application process does not actually require them, but I believe that it is probably best to explain what interests me about these positions, and why I see myself as the best fit for them.
I am re-listening to Liz Gilbert’s wonderful book, Big Magic. She has a chapter on avoiding the trap of perfectionism, and making sure we complete our work. I love this book so much, and if you ever suffer during your creative moments, it is a must-read. I love her way of describing the beautiful gift of creative practice, this wonderful ability we humans have to engage with our gifts.
In the past, I have sometimes not completed things like job applications, a sort of failure ahead of time, convinced the result would not be good enough. Really what I was responding to was my inner “chicken,” the voice of fear that nearly all of us have (but some have overcome it more effectively) that avoids risk and seeks reward. There is no shame in realizing we have this voice. Risk aversion is a developmental necessity to keep us safe from threats, but sadly, we over-generalize it at some point in our lives.
The only way to overcome it is to practice acting despite our fears, realizing that everything we produce will have some imperfection, and yet putting it out there anyway. It helps if we can constrain the time we work on it, or give ourselves deadlines “ahead of time” so that if final polishing is necessary, we allow adequate time. But sometimes that is not practical, or there are enough other things clamoring for our attention, that if we waited for the ideal, we would never get there.
So I will keep this relatively short, and allow some time to write these cover letter while it is early and I still have optimal morning focus. Two of them will be relatively easy to write: I am very interested in those positions and one excites me greatly even though it is a stretch. The other two may be a little more tricky, since they are more “exploratory’ in nature, and I want to learn more about the positions, and am not necessarily sold on them.
What is it that you are putting off because you do not think it will be “good enough?”
I will end with a quote from Liz Gilbert in Big Magic (p 177):
“You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.”
Happy Tuesday, peeps. It is dark as I’m writing, and I am getting through the DST transition, even though it is not typically my best week of the year. At least I am being kind to myself and others. That goes a long way.
In only 24 days I will head to Arizona for a weekend event with two favorite authors, Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert. In honor of that event, I downloaded the audible version of Finding Your North Star, by Martha Beck to give it a re-listen. Years ago I read the book (many times, and annotated it) and then later gave it to a friend who was in a place of transition.
Martha’s wisdom is amazing, and since I am in another place of transition in my life, the audio provides just the right level of humor and perspective to help guide me in this next journey. I am working with a coach from the Handel Group, and that homework has been helpful as well.
Martha makes a distinction between the “essential self” and the “social self” in terms of helping us know our core interests and desires. I remember at that time it was a huge discovery for me, the fact that we have these different parts of ourselves that work together in our lives. When we ignore the essential self (aka our soul) in favor of doing only what the social self wants (more ego-driven, people-pleasing), we end up unhappy and unfulfilled.
On the other hand, when we use the faculties of the social self, like pushing ourselves sometimes when we are in a difficult place, in order to achieve the dreams of our essential self, we can create the lives we want. I think there are actually a lot of “selves” that exist within us, and Handel method refers to them as “character traits” that we can identify and then evolve.
A couple of weeks ago, I identified a trait I will refer to as “Mary the Martyr” as a voice talking in my head. She’s the one who tells me I should be grateful for what I have, that it’s greedy to want more. She’s the one who sacrifices for everyone and does not value her own wants and needs. I thought I had rooted her out of my life years ago, but she made an appearance when I worked on the dreaming exercise. Effectively she blocked my dreaming process for a bit.
Her voice sounds a bit like family members (parents perhaps) and she was pretty certain about what she was telling me. It was funny when I actually named her, and began to recognize how she asserts her influence in many areas of my life. There are certain qualities I like about her: generosity toward her loved ones, a desire to protect the people she cares about, and a sense of independence. She never wants a hand-out and believes she should work hard, but she also has difficulty receiving.
When navigating toward our North Stars, our true purpose in life, it can be difficult when these familial or societally-programmed voices start interfering with the journey. But in recognizing those as not our essential selves, but rather the social selves we evolved to keep us “in a tribe” then we are able to see whether these serve us. It can be a little painful to wake up to this realization, and know that we have been putting dreams on hold.
Sometimes we must find different tribes that support our new journeys. But this is possible, and we must create this support for ourselves. It can take the form of authors on our shelves or people we admire. We do not even need to know all of these “virtual” supporters in person. The web makes this process much easier than it used to be. But the internet sometimes induces other problems, like the tendency for comparison, which is not always healthy.
In any case, navigating toward our North Stars is a scary and exhilarating process. It makes sense to get as much support as we can muster. There is a Hero’s Journey part of the process, and while we may be okay with slaying a few dragons by ourselves, having a posse can make the journey a lot more fun and interesting.