Yesterday was my last day working at LexBlog. Although of my own choosing, the parting was nonetheless bittersweet (fortunately more sweet than bitter). But, I left because of, you know, reasons, and I certainly take full accountability for my own shortcomings in that equation as well. I requested a graceful exit and I am very appreciative that LexBlog, specifically CEO Kevin O’Keefe and President Kevin McKeown (aka “The Kevins”), honored and supported that request. So, I don’t want to spend my time and blog-space focusing on what did or didn’t happen and why it didn’t work out.
It can be challenging to leave a company, with no other job in hand, and keep relations friendly. It’s a little like breaking up and promising to still be friends. It’s theoretically possible and it does happen, but more often than not, it’s a bit more of a unicorn hunt in the making. But, hey, who doesn’t love a good unicorn hunt, and sometimes it is the trying that is as important as anything.
I have been reading a lot lately on the correlation between gratitude and happiness and have therefore been trying to spend a little more of my energy on being thankful versus being negative.
So, with all that in mind, I offer here a few of the things for which I’m grateful to LexBlog…
- This blog: Although the blog existed before I came to LexBlog, I had written exactly 0 posts prior to starting here. It was through the encouragement of Kevin O’Keefe that I was inspired to try my hand at blogging. To my surprise and delight, I found it was an outlet for expressing myself in writing that I didn’t realize just how much I would enjoy.
- Walking Meetings: Kevin McKeown and I had many a 1×1 walking from LexBlog’s office to downtown Seattle. Sometimes we talked business, more often we just chatted and occasionally we stopped to window gaze at shop displays.
- Pranks: As Kevin McKeown and I were walking down the street in one of the aforementioned meetings, my bus pulled up as we arrived at the stop and I decided to hop on. After I got on the bus, Kevin jumped on and told everyone on the bus that it was my first time ever riding a bus and then promptly jumped off as the bus pulled away. And, I’ll mention just one other instance where the Kevins got into a Twitter debate over whether martians would think dogs ruled over humans…
- Our Clients: I have formed some very close and hopefully long-lasting relationships with many of our clients. I have been touched beyond words at the support and encouragement I have received when I shared news of my departure. I hesitate to name names here for fear, like the Oscars, I would forget someone who deserved to be acknowledged, but for those of you who I’ve spoken with lately, I think you know who you are.
- Cat Videos: For whatever reason, sharing funny cat videos seems to be a “thing” here at LexBlog and I can’t count how many times a well-timed cat video seemed to be exactly what I needed at that moment. (Cat in shark costume is a current favorite…)
- My Colleagues: LexBlog knows how to pick ’em. Seriously. I’m not sure I have worked in another company where there is zero in-fighting behind the scenes and such a general sense of comradery. (Maybe it’s all the cat videos??) Y’all are great and it wasn’t easy to go because of that.
In fact, given all the good there has been, it hasn’t been easy to go, period. But just like that really great, really nice guy who you know in your heart isn’t the one, sometimes you still have to break up. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for LexBlog from the sidelines and will only be happy to see the company’s future success. As I walked out the door, I proudly put on my rose colored glasses, erased the bad memories, clung tight to the good ones and was grateful for the time I spent there.
I was on my way to my weekly Weight Watchers meeting leaving three women behind me on the elevator. As the doors closed, I very distinctly and clearly heard one of them say *cough*huge*cough*. This was not one of those situations where maybe someone said something that was misconstrued. There was no mistaking that the comment was referring to me.
At first, I was kind of confused. Huge? Am I huge? I know that I am overweight. (I was on my way to a Weight Watchers meeting after all…) In fact, I know specifically exactly how overweight I am and how much weight I need to lose. It’s not a pretty number, but I have to say I never think of myself as “huge.” The term is relative so I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion. I also asked myself if me and my size had done something to encourage the remark. The elevator was not full, I had gotten on first and wasn’t blocking the door. It’s not like the ride was slowed down on account of my huge-ness. I certainly wasn’t doing anything undignified that we huge people ought not to be (like the often awkward looking 40-plus-year old carrying too much stuff desperate run-shuffling to catch the bus I do every other day – I might actually make fun of myself if I saw me doing that). I guess I was wearing a bright pink Lands End jacket that would probably make Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries cringe, but was that actually a reason to be snarky? Maybe I didn’t get the memo that we huge people aren’t supposed to wear pink in public.
From there, I couldn’t help thinking that those women were just plain mean. Working women mean girls. In my fantasy re-enactment of the event, I turn around just in time to stop the elevator door with my hand and defiantly say something witty and cutting like, “Did you just call me huge? At least I can actually do something about my weight. You’re going to be bitches forever…” and definitely swirl away in my fabulous berry-pink-jacket-ness and leave them shocked with the doors closing on their dropped jaws. In reality, I doubt they even realized I heard them and I was left to simply wonder what would make someone say something so mean.
I also told myself I shouldn’t care or be bothered by the comment. I was literally on my way to a meeting where I would be accepted for who I am as a person and at the same time encouraged to take steps to improve myself and my weight. It’s not like calling me weight-related names in any way motivates me to get un-huge. In fact, generally the opposite is true. If they had caught me on a day when I was already full up on my own negative self-talk, the remark might have made me cry, or added to the mountain of helplessness and self-loathing I sometimes succumb to regarding my weight. Fortunately, I was in a good mental space that day and had even shown a loss on the scale (ha-ha, mean girls, I’m 2 lbs less huge than you thought I was), so I quickly moved on with my day and my life.
But it did get me thinking. I don’t know if we truly realize the power that small words and gestures can have on other people. I’m sure those women have no idea that days later I am still turning what they said over in my mind and that it affected me enough to take it to the blogosphere. I also reminded myself that I have had some pretty positive experiences with random strangers, too.That same day when I was making my evening run/lurch/shlep towards the bus, a couple of guys got the bus driver’s attention and had him hold the bus for me. A few weeks ago someone in my office building who has seen me out training for my half marathon told me that seeing me run had inspired her to get active too.
I guess the trick is to tip the balance in favor of the positive. Because, if I’m honest, it’s not as if I’ve never been some variation of a mean girl myself. We all say inappropriate things at one time or another. Sometimes we do it to be funny, or to fit in, or we simply did not think through the implications of our words. Instead of imagining some fantastical revenge plot against those nameless women, or getting up on a moralistic high horse and pretending I’m better than them because I happened to be on the receiving end of their comment this time around, I am going to suggest a different response. Next time I hear (or make…) an inappropriate remark, I am going to find a way to put a little positive energy out in the universe in it’s place and I invite you to join me. Compliment the next person you see who’s wearing fabulous shoes. Hold the door open for a stranger. Be an inspiration to others by your actions.
Time is finite. I understand this intellectually. Yet I still went into my Lenten discipline of getting up at 5am every morning (weekends too) believing that this practice would give me MORE TIME. I held onto this delusion for a few weeks even though I pretty much immediately learned that getting up that early requires going to bed much earlier as well. And I can attest from those nights when I stayed up too late, that the quantity of time you gain is seriously compromised by the sleep-dreprived hazy quality of the time you get as a result. There are 24 hours in a day. You can slice and dice them any way you want, but you can’t make more of them. That’s the deal.
But, hey, if I am getting out of bed at 5am every morning, when I wasn’t before, I must be doing something with that slice of time, right? Without
much any forethought, I sort of assumed I would do deeply meaningful and spiritual things at that hour. What have I actually been doing? Uh, well, I started reading my work emails earlier. I started going in to work earlier too. I have been making far more of my breakfasts at home, so I guess I’m slightly healthier than when I went to the deli for breakfast every other day. This morning I watched Maid in Manhattan, which I enjoyed immensely (and maybe even cried a little when JLo’s character told Ralph Fiennes’ character that he never would have noticed her if he knew she was a maid), but that is hardly a meaningful or spiritual endeavor.
Okay, so much for the spiritual angle. Maybe I have at least become suddenly amazingly more productive at work. Not so much. I still have barely looked at my iPad since I started this practice – and reading blogs and sharing articles on Twitter is actually part of my job. If you go in earlier, you also burn out sooner at the end of day. Turns out there are just so many hours of professional productivity available as well. I think it’s fair to say that anyone I work with has noticed zero difference in my work output since I changed my sleeping habits. And looking at your inbox earlier in the morning only means you start getting stressed out about everything that’s in it sooner. It doesn’t change the number of emails you get.
Is there any point to this exercise other than a chronic lack of sleep? (As an aside, I do think it’s cosmically funny that Daylight Savings happened in the middle of Lent this year, ensuring I didn’t get *too* used to getting up at 5am before I had to get up yet an hour earlier.) I am re-learning again for the millionth time that magic doesn’t happen just because you temporarily change one thing in your life. Especially when you do it practically on a whim. Sometimes I think the reason I observe Lent each year is to keep reminding myself of how naive I am about the nature of personal transformation.
I am learning to appreciate that it is the choices you make about how you spend your time that matter, not the amount of time you have, even if I haven’t always been making those better choices.
I have had one “stand out” moment in my early awakenings. A few weekends ago, Brian and I went to Alderbrook Resort on the Hood Canal. I really was not looking forward to getting up at 5am on a Sunday when I was supposed to be getting away to relax. I thought about invoking the Sunday-Lent exemption, but since I observe my sacrifices on Sundays too, I reluctantly picked up the phone, requested a wake-up call and hoped they would forget. They didn’t and so I rose before the sun was up and went into the sitting area in our room. I was able to find a small light that I could turn on without waking Brian and I sat near the window reading. It was quiet and peaceful and although there was no jaw dropping sunrise, I was present to see the dawn break. Nothing dramatic happened, but for that short and precious time, the jangling chaos that so often invades my life was held at bay, and that was a true gift.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. ~Khalil Gibran
I screw up. A lot. If I had a dollar for every missed opportunity, misstep, or flat out failure in my life, I would have a lot of dollars and I would be writing this post from my beach house in the tropics… I have weight issues, I had a failed marriage, and I’ve had plenty of professional failures too. I even failed my driver’s license test as a teenager. Three times. And for me, one mistake often leads to ten others. Which is a sign that I don’t even make mistakes the right way; because the best mistake-makers learn from their mistakes, right?
There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All mistakes are blessings given to us to learn from. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
It would be really easy to pack up my bags and go home (writing this post is making the dark space under my covers particularly appealing right now). But one of the things I seem to actually have going for me is a deep reservoir of resilience.
Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill
Yes, I failed my driver’s license test three times, but I took the test four times and did ultimately pass. I had a marriage that ended in divorce, but I had the courage to marry again and I have now been happily married for over 13 years. I completed a boot camp that I had no business being in because I simply just kept showing up. Sometimes I think it’s not that I am so resilient, but rather that I am too stubborn and determined to know when to quit.
Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb
Many years ago, earlier in my career, I was in line for a big promotion at work. It was practically a done deal. So much so that my boss asked me not talk about it. So what did I do? I went to lunch the next day with a colleague and confessed it all in deepest confidence. What did she do? She went right to my bosses office after lunch to tell her about our discussion. Needless to say, I did not get that promotion. It was so tempting to quit. I dreamed about quitting. In fact, I polished up my resume and started looking. However, for some reason, I didn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave. I would love to say I learned some huge life lesson from it all, but mostly I learned to live with my disappointment.
For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’m going to be honest here. Failure sucks. As great as it is for developing your character (I have enough character already, thanks), it is no fun. I have no regrets about my life and you couldn’t pay me any amount of dollars to go backwards in time. However, if it were possible to go through life and become self-actualized, non-egotistical, and fully functional-in-society without having to go through the school of hard knocks, I would be the first to sign up. Of course, it’s not possible. I am who I am today because of my failures. It’s what keeps us all from being complete asshats. No one is perfect, no one escapes making mistakes. That’s the deal.
You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ~Walt Disney
So, how do I cope with the inevitable failures in my life? Sometimes I write blog posts about them. This would hardly be the first post that is as much for me as it is about me. I have a great support system. One time, after coming home from a particularly tough day at work, my husband cheered me up by calculating how much money we could get if we cashed in both our 401k’s to move to Hawaii, complete with internet search results on affordable condos in Waikiki. I laugh with friends, or cry by myself – or vice versa. In a pinch, a minute or two on the site Cats In Sinks generally cheers me up. I plan trips. (When going through a box in the back of my closet the other day, I found a large stack of state visitor bureau catalogs that I used to order when I was feeling blue before the days of the internet.) I keep on keeping on, just like everyone else.
“You dropped something.” I looked down, and not seeing anything, looked back at the person who made the comment. “You dropped your smile.” I immediately replied to his comment with the lost smile, the moment passed, and I moved on with what I was doing.
The church Brian and I joined, First Church (http://firstchurchseattle.org/), serves a hot breakfast to 250-300 hungry people every Sunday morning. We signed up to help and for the past few months have been volunteering one Sunday a month. Although I live and work in an urban setting, and encounter homeless men and women on a daily basis, there has not been much in the way of engagement in those encounters. I put on my “city face” and walk with purpose past those in need without pause.
The first time we were to volunteer, I will confess that I was anxious and nervous. Would the people be scary? Should I worry about my safety? I’m not proud of these sentiments, but I was ignorant, and at least I was willing to show up anyway. Since we would be on our feet for two hours, serving food, and clearing tables, I dressed down in old jeans and sneakers. We were told to show up at the front entrance of the fellowship hall to be let in, and to further demonstrate my lack of experience, I wondered if we might be confused with those seeking a hot meal. Well, I should not have even bothered with that concern, as I quickly discovered that the chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is deep and wide and hardly denoted by the clothes we wear. I suspect we all could have been wearing identical track suits and the differences would still have been obvious. I think there is something intrinsic in the way we carry ourselves when we know where our next meal will come from and where we will sleep at night, just as there is when we don’t.
My worries and expectations were turned upside down in the first moments we were there. The guests were gracious and thankful, and it was rewarding to be of service. If I had known how much I would have gotten out of the experience, I would have overcome my fears long ago. To be real, it’s not all fairy tales and unicorns. There are issues and challenges with working with those who are down on their luck, but my concerns were way overblown and the rewards much greater than expected.
It was my experience with the gentleman who encouraged me to smile that made me realize this experience is not a one-way street. When he prompted me to smile, he pulled me out of my head and my single-minded focus on the task at hand. He reminded me that smiling is important. In that moment, he helped me. I had hoped that serving at these shared breakfasts would be rewarding, but I had not realized that I myself would receive the service of those I thought I was serving. On the surface, it was a simple comment, but somehow he knew that at that moment I needed someone to ask me to smile.
These days, it’s not very fashionable to be a feminist and I had to think for a minute whether I even wanted to associate myself with that particular term. However, I have been reading Caitlin Moran’s, How to be a Woman, and I must say I agree with her sentiments on reclaiming it:
“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”
I suppose the challenge is that the term has been re-framed over the years to be synonymous with hating men and all things feminine. I can’t speak for the rest of the ladies out there, but I can say for myself that I want both the right to vote, to be treated as an equal, and to be able to claim out loud that I love watching Dancing with the Stars. If calling myself a feminist means I can’t like watching movies starring the likes of Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Drew Barrymore, and Sandra Bullock, then I’m not so sure I like that label.
Then again, if you look at my life, I am doing a pretty fair imitation of being a feminist. I chose to keep my name when I got married, I chose not to have children, I have a good career and have had a higher income than my husband since we met. We share the household chores. (Okay, ‘share’ is perhaps a bit strong – he does most of them…) And no one made me give up my “girl” card in order to do any of those things. I do love watching Dancing with the Stars (when are they going to give Tristan MacManus a real partner, anyway?) and I own more chick-flicks than I care to admit, not to mention all the rom-coms I watch on Netflix.
Although noted feminist Gloria Steinem told us, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” I don’t think anything in that comment says that women can’t choose to enjoy the company of men. Steinem herself chose to get married at the age of 66. I think she just meant we get to decide for ourselves if we want to share our lives with someone else, and that our worth is not tied up in the worth of whomever we choose to share it with.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, too. If I were forced to choose between having the right to vote and watching silly romantic comedies, there is no contest. I hardly want to go backwards in terms of the rights women in this country now enjoy. And in some respects I think it may be a sign of just how far we’ve come that many of us take them so much for granted. I just don’t want my intellect and my capabilities to be confused with my emotional sensibilities.
When I was little, my mother used to read me a bedtime story every night. She tried to provide me with a mix of gender-varied toys (I had both dolls and matchbox cars), but every night I asked for the same story to be read, Cinderella. She worried about how this might affect my sense of self-worth (would I think I needed Prince Charming to come save me in order to be happy?), but she indulged my requests night after night. In spite of that early fantasy-based influence, I think I turned out okay. I have always thought of myself as pretty independent and self-driven. What I remember from the story, and the Disney movie, was not some anti-feminist sub-plot, but rather that Cinderella made friends with all the animals, that she had a fairy godmother who granted her wishes, and that she got to wear a beautiful dress and those crazy glass slippers. The prince was really just a bonus in the grand scheme of things.
Yeah, I like a good romantic story. I also like heated theological debates that challenge my Christian beliefs. And I like a strong martini at the end of a hard week of work. I like to run half-marathons. I like using my brain on a daily basis at my job. I like holding hands with my husband when we go for walks. I am a complex person, just like everyone else, and none of us has to be all one thing in order to be another. So, yes, we feminists can still like romantic comedies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just put a Julia Roberts movie in my instant queue…
One of my Team in Training teammates, Emmie Vance, wrote a wonderful post on her blog, Pain Comes in Many Forms, about the hit your pride takes when you don’t live up to your own commitments.
I wasn’t putting in the hard work of consistent training that a marathon requires, the very core lesson and triumph of my previous races. So at some point, I had to admit the inevitable: I will not be running a full marathon in San Diego. This hurts my pride. I should be better at this, should have done things differently with my priorities when it came to making time to run.
This got me to thinking about my own dance with personal disappointment. I strive to find that balance between self-confidence and humility, but truth be told I am often far more comfortable beating myself up over failed expectations. I have counseled many others to “take the frying pan out of their hand,” but, of course, that advice is far easier to dispense than to follow. I think most of us know intellectually that punishing ourselves for not being our best selves does not actually serve any productive purpose. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the kind of person who is emotionally divorced from the outcome of their efforts either. I do a good job because I care about doing well – so, conversely, it hurts when I don’t do so well. (Brian commented to me this morning that he is always surprised how much I turn on myself in these situations instead of considering maybe it’s not actually all about me and my shortcomings. Not blame myself for things outside my control? Novel concept…)
Why do I keep hitting myself in the head with a hammer?
Because it feels so good when I stop.
I guess it all comes back to finding balance. Holding yourself accountable, with compassion. I also find that I often get myself into situations doomed for failure because I have lost my focus. I am so busy flailing around that I’m not actually doing anything meaningful. I have learned that when I start dropping balls left and right, it’s time to start setting some of those balls down. It’s time to exercise that all important word, “no.” Usually, I can get myself back to center when I start eliminating the excess noise in my life.
It reminds me of a situation Brian and I had kayaking a few years ago. We were on our sit-on-top kayaks, paddling around near his parents home. It was February, but the weather was typical Pacific Northwest – cool and overcast, and the water was calm. For no particular reason, my center of balance got off kilter and suddenly I was in the drink. The Puget Sound runs about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round and it’s not a place you want to spend any significant amount of time or you risk hypothermia. I was wearing a wet suit, but that bought me time more than protection. I had practiced getting back in the kayak from the water, so I knew I could do it. First attempt, I got my torso up on the kayak and propelled myself right over the other side. Second attempt, I pulled the kayak over my head. Third attempt was no more successful. At this point I realized that I was doing more flailing than making any real progress. I forced myself to stay in the water, take a couple of breaths and think for a moment about what I needed to do. Brian advised that I get my torso on top of the kayak in one motion, stop, and then get into a seated position in a second motion. Because I had taken that moment to pause, I was able to take in his advice and successfully got back onto my kayak in my next attempt.
I think we forget that sometimes we need more than a few attempts to get back on course, and that it’s okay to “stop and drop” before we start rolling. It may take twenty tries to get it right and maybe it is the trying that it is important. Or perhaps no amount of attempts will work. (What do they say in business? If you haven’t failed, you must not be trying hard enough.) In any case, taking a moment to take stock, clear your mind, and make thoughtful choices is never going to be bad advice. The trick, I guess, is figuring out how to give yourself permission to take that moment. It occurs to me that, ironically, maybe even that takes a few tries, so I should probably give myself a break for not being perfect at that either.
For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin