Out of hiding

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Yup, it’s me.

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.

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This is WAY shorter than I have worn my hair in about 2 decades.

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.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Abundance

This morning I was trying to find the charger for my smart phone, and I had a small ’bout of de-clutter urgency. I get these now and then (though my husband may say not nearly often enough). So I was going through a few stacks of items, trying to figure out what room I inadvertently must have set down the cord.

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A book caught my eye from the pile on my nightstand that I had pulled out from my big bookshelf recently, by Sarah Ban Breathnach entitled Simple Abundance, and it had been a going-away present from a group of coworkers back in 2000. I had decided to quit working for a bank after two years as a project coordinator, and was heading back to school. My intention to work in the social service field, or for a nonprofit. (I did not realize yet that life had something different in store for me).

Inside the front cover, they had all written very lovely things, and it brought tears to my eyes to remember them. Some of my favorites:

“Good luck with everything! Follow what you believe in. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to work with you – you are a special person.”

“Best of luck in all your future endeavors. You are a wonderful, kind person and deserve all the happiness you find.”

“Good luck with your plans to return to school and enter the social service field. You will make a big contribution wherever you go.”

I share these not to brag about what a great person I am (though I do claim that I can work with almost anyone, and I tend to get along with people in every workplace). I share this because I worked with that team for only 2 years when I first moved to Minnesota. I had gotten a temp job placement for a bank in Downtown Minneapolis, only a 20 minute walk from our little garden-level apartment.

The job itself was actually pretty boring to me and largely administrative, but after I had been there for a couple of months, I received an offer for a permanent position. Since I wanted health care benefits and I liked the idea of some stability while I was figuring out what to do next, I accepted the position. In the meantime I had applied to grad school because it was fairly clear to me that bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology was not really enough to get me a “science” job.

Also, it can be hard to make friends in Minnesota! School has always been an easier way for me to meet people with whom I have things in common than the workplace. Even though I had family in Bemidji, I did not really know anyone in the Twin Cities. My spouse at the time had moved with me to the Twin Cities shortly after my grandmother had heart surgery. It seemed a good time for me to be closer to family after 6 years away (4 years at Swarthmore for  college and 2 years in the Bay Area of California). My parents lived in Wisconsin and grandma lived in northern MN, so we split the distance.

After living in San Francisco for two years, we decided we could not afford to keep up with the lifestyles of our mostly engineer and I.T. geek friends: they liked to go out a lot and we were going into debt trying to keep up. Rents were high and we did not have the kinds of jobs that could compete with the high cost of living there.

After arriving with maxed out credit cards and no jobs, we had to figure out what was next. We did not know what type of work we would find, but temp jobs in offices had always been plentiful in the 90’s, so I had little doubt I could find SOMETHING. When you’re in your early 20’s and a recent college graduate, I believe it does not matter that much what you do. Just get some work, learn some skills on the job and figure it out along the way. It helps if you know what you LIKE to do, and if you know that, by all means: do that!

But if there are a lot of things you like to do, and your biggest priority is not having to move back in with your parents because you prefer your independence, just find SOMETHING not too awful, and work hard at it. Develop a reputation for being reliable and getting things done. Pay attention to those internal signals you get when you need to move on, and those moments of joy which help you find a better path for you. If you have kind coworkers and a healthy work environment, life will really be okay, even if you have not yet figured out your larger story or mission.

Reading those kind words from the gift book from 18 years ago, I realize that I have always made friends wherever I go. I am kind, and I am approachable and things just tend to work out for me. There have been difficult times, and tough choices, but I realize this is the meaning of simple abundance: what you have in this moment is enough. When you have people around you that you love, and that love you, you will always have enough. Recognizing the great abundance around you and within you is your treasure.