Let Go

When I look back on my life, I begin to see what was probably obvious to everyone else: I’ve been a control freak. In college, I tried so hard to find new friends that I effectively scared them away from me. Instead of letting things happen organically, I tried to force it.

As more of a tomboy, I sought out the friendship of boys. And as anyone could guess, that often led to trouble during my college years. I found myself on accidental dates. Or worse: the time I asked an acquaintance out for coffee.

I really wanted a friend and he was someone I admired. I knew he had no romantic interest in me. I just wanted to talk and maybe become friends. He didn’t reply to the message I sent. That’s the last time I remember interacting with him.

There were so many times I did this to myself. I worried and clutched tight when I really needed to let go. Letting go is one of those things that sounds so simple yet always leads to a struggle. It could be key to happiness for so many people, myself included.

If I could just let go of my grip, some of the bad things would blow away. And that would leave my hands open to receive the good things life has to offer. This is the great lesson at this time in my life.

I switched to a new job. It’s not perfect for me, but I really can’t complain. The atmosphere is tenfold better, which was enough for me to accept a pay cut. Except I actually ended up with a raise instead.

Everything seems to be lining up, except one tiny detail: it’s temporary. It could end if funding doesn’t allow them to renew my contract. And as a recovering control freak, that is downright terrifying. (Perhaps this is when I am forced to recover? Can a control freak be forced to do anything she doesn’t want to?)

Maybe life’s trying to help me with this self-improvement project. This job could be exactly what I need in ways I could never have guessed. Worrying isn’t going to help my situation. So I’m trying to just sit back and enjoy the ride, wherever it may lead.

It’s time to let go of the worry, anxiety, and anger. It’s time to start fresh with open, empty palms. That way, when opportunity sweeps in, I’ll be ready to catch it.

Cheers to letting go.

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Photo credit: another.point.in.time via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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Real Life Villains

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Photo credit: JD Hancock via Foter.com / CC BY

You really don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Wrap your mind around that sentence.

I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster ride. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the past five months have been the most challenging work situation I’ve ever had. I’m not going to go into specifics, nor would anyone really care to hear them. Let’s just keep it simple and say that I found myself in a job that is ill-suited to my skill set and personality. On top of that, I have an antagonist mixed into the situation. I can’t just quit (financial reasons) and finding another job has also been a challenge.

I’ve been trying to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. Turns out, trying to see things my adversary’s way was helpful, but not nearly as helpful as an outsider’s fresh look on things.

There’s a nice piece of advice for fiction writers that has always helped me with my stories. It is this: Everyone is the hero of their own story. For writers, this means that your villain should not be evil for the sake of being evil. He or she won’t see themselves as the villain, even while committing evil acts. In fact, he or she may feel justified by what they do.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. This phrase can also be used in the real world. Think of your biggest adversary. From your perspective, they are bad people who only wish to make your life more difficult or to stand as an obstacle to your goals and dreams. It’s easy to paint them as awful human beings.

My adversary’s actions often made me an emotional mess. I was angry, frustrated, sad, and hopeless. And then suddenly, I saw the circumstances beyond us both. I saw what this adversary was going through. This wasn’t a walk in the park for either of us. And when I have better focus on the whole of it, I realize that my adversary has it worse.

Now, I’m full of pity instead of anger. It was like a switch went off and my anger was replaced with compassion.

It’s so hard to see beyond ourselves in the heat of emotion. When you’re caught up in the storm, it’s hard to know whether you’re in a hurricane or a tornado. So zoom out. And you might find that your tornado is nothing compared to that giant hurricane along someone else’s shore. This is all easier said than done. I was cemented in place by my own negativity. It took me five months to finally see beyond myself in this storm.

A friend let me in on some information that changed my perspective entirely. It doesn’t fix my immediate problems. But I feel strong. Less weathered. I feel like the lucky one in this.

When emotions spin out of control, it’s easy to burn the bridge without considering the real consequences. So don’t use your adversary as an excuse to act out. Don’t let yourself become the villain. Take a step back. Realize that you can be the hero. But just because you’re the hero doesn’t mean that they are the villain. Even when they might act it out well.

All of us have been the villain at some point or another. Once you realize that, you can move beyond it. You can have better perspective. And perhaps you can be merciful to those who have wronged you. Even if they don’t deserve it.

In the end, it’s a wonderful twist of fate that we don’t get exactly what we deserve. Grace is a mysterious gift. And we could all use more of it in our lives.

Now that I know what I know, I find myself more merciful than vengeful. Life is a crazy ride indeed.

 

The Fire of Failure

Fire. Fire destroys and burns all that it touches. Everything is changed by its caress. There is nothing more than ash when it’s finished. It is the destroyer of all things. Yet it can leave you with a great sense of renewal. It clears the junk away so something new can take root or rest there.

Some trees, like giant redwoods (or sequoia trees), need fire to spread their seeds. Their cones are tightly closed by resin. Fire melts the resin so the cones can open to release the seeds. They need fire to multiply.

I’m in a period of raging fire. It’s burning much of the good with the bad. I’m hoping for something better to come from it, but even my hope seems burned away. I’m not sure where my life is headed or what exactly is happening. But there’s smoke. I’m covered in it. Will fire renew me as well? I’d like to burn away and start fresh. Somehow, I ended up on a heap of trash instead of a hill.

The hardest part about failure is that no one wants to acknowledge it. Every single person has or will fail. Yet failure is considered taboo. And that’s too bad. Through disaster we become improved versions of what we had been before.

So let’s talk about this. I’ll start by taking my own advice. I confess. I failed. In fact, I’m still living in this failure every day, five days a week. I accepted the wrong job. I was given misleading information about the job duties for this position. That was my boss’ fault. But it was also mine.

I let myself hear what he wanted me to hear. I didn’t listen to my intuition or read between the lines to get what he was really saying. I didn’t follow through with my original “no.” Subconsciously (and maybe on a quiet conscious level), I knew this was not the right job. But I ignored it. Although I still refuse to take one hundred percent of the blame, I’m not the hapless victim either.

Just typing that hurts. I hate to admit that luck didn’t put me here. I am to blame. Admitting that to myself is hard. But there it is for the world to see.

I failed.

And I did a good job of it.

Everyone always says that each mistake is a lesson and I feel like I’ve learned from this. I need to trust myself. I’m stronger than I give myself credit for. And I need to stand up for my beliefs and opinions, because no one else will.

No one else is as invested in my future as I am. That’s just human nature. We’re all looking out for ourselves since many people don’t have a communal attitude towards us, especially in the workplace.

Still, the stubborn side of me cries out that I’ve learned all that I can from this mistake. Can we just end this now? I’ve had enough already. But there must be something more for me to learn. Or maybe my stubborn nature is hindering me from truly grasping the lesson. There’s got to be a reason I’m still fighting this.

When I head out into the world every day, I imagine fire raging inside me and destroying everything so I can start fresh. I just have to decide what to fill myself up with. That’s actually a scary thought.

Anger still festers and it never seems to go away permanently. Frustration and sadness linger. So I try to focus on the good. When contentment and hope get together, there’s no room for the rest of that junk.

So here I am. Still standing. Burning it all away.

From the smoke and ash, I will rise fresh and new.

But not until this fire is finished raging.

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Working for the Weekend

Perhaps it’s just my age. Maybe I feel a little jaded from the bad luck I’ve had trying to build a career. Either way, I see things much clearer than I once did. There’s a very twisted mentality towards work here in America.

There are some in society who believe that you aren’t working if you aren’t bleeding. They believe that we must work ourselves in a hole with no breaks, no crying, no distractions, and most importantly, no enjoyment (This is work after all).

I know work is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean it should consume our lives. And it’s okay to laugh and enjoy it. I’ve worked for too many companies where laughter is forbidden. But studies prove that this “crack the whip” mentality at work is ineffective compared to the simplicity of letting employees take a break or have some enjoyment in their work.

Check out this study about taking regular breaks at work. Or for less jargon, read this article from The New York Times that references it. This study says that people who take regular breaks are actually more efficient in their work. Without breaks, we become stressed out and less effective while we work.

There are also countless articles like this one that talk about the small amount of vacation days that Americans actually use. We end up sick, stressed, and overworked despite the vacation time that we are given. Don’t even get me started on how far behind we are in the amount of vacation days Americans are given compared to other developed countries.

August was such a crazy time at my job. My boss has been on a three-month leave, so I’m doing half of her job in addition to my full-time job during our busiest time of year. Unfortunately, the lady doing the other half of my boss’ job has the “crack the whip” mentality. There were others that agreed with her, so I was outvoted in taking any sort of break.

We were paid to eat lunch, so we were expected to cram our food and get back to it immediately. I would rather have clocked out and been allowed to catch my breath for just a few minutes. And those legal 15 minute breaks that are supposed to be included in your workday here in America? I haven’t worked a job yet that included them (in my 15 years in the workforce). It isn’t about to start now.

At the end of the terrible storm that was August, we had more corrections than I’ve ever had to deal with. So many mistakes were made. Most of those mistakes could have been prevented if we weren’t so overworked and frantic. Most were simply a matter of paying attention, but we were too tired to catch it. We spent a significant amount of overtime dealing with these mistakes in the aftermath. It cost us our sanity and our employer the overtime.

Had we been given the breaks we should have been given (both legally and ethically), much of this could have been avoided. I wouldn’t have had to dedicate my entire month to work. I came home, showered, and was too tired to do anything, even the things I enjoy. I went to bed early every night because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Every morning, I would cringe and sigh as I lay in bed. My life had been consumed by work without my permission.

Now, I’m not against working hard and I’m not saying we should all be lazy. But if you work hard, you should be allowed to play hard. Better balance in our workplace could help both employees and employers. If everyone wins, why do we resist?

I know a LOT of Americans who deny themselves breaks and buy into this mentality. They are shamed otherwise. They’re told that breaks are a sign of laziness. To work hard is to never stop. They are told that hard-workers don’t need breaks. That we can do it all. The way our society has painted “hard work” is slave labor. It’s wrong. I don’t know why we are so keen to destroy ourselves or let someone else destroy us. I’d rather thrive.

Working hard doesn’t mean all those things that “Corporate America” has burned into our brains. We can work smarter instead of longer. And smarter means we all win. Breaks are not evil. Laughter is acceptable at work. We can work AND enjoy it. That will make us better, not worse employees.

My millennial generation has watched companies promise great things to their employees (like pensions, improved wages, etc) and not follow-through. I distrust my employer and the government. Neither will follow-through. The government isn’t going to take care of me in retirement. And when I reach a certain age, my employer may eagerly trade me in for a newer (i.e. younger and cheaper) model. It has happened to people I know.

This whole situation has showed me the bright side of entrepreneurship. I feel braver now. And though starting my own business is a scary concept (my husband and I are still rolling this idea around), it’s starting to seem more inviting. I don’t want to reach retirement just in time to die. I want to have a high quality of life. And I hope work can be a part of that. Too many people have worn out their health from employers who demand that they work as slaves. Instead of enjoying their retirement, they are sick and frail by the time they get there. I’d rather have less money and more health.

Take a well-earned break today. And make a better tomorrow for yourself. One that you deserve.

It would help all of us if we stopped working for the weekend and starting enjoying all aspects of our lives, work included.

Happy Labor Day!

Clarity and Chance

Photo credit: garrettc / Foter / CC BY-NC

Clarity. Sometimes when you really want something bad enough you have to be willing to take a chance to get it. And sometimes that chance seems illogical. I’ve been wanting to switch jobs and cities for longer than I’d like to admit. And recently, I’ve had the opportunity to interview for a new position in the city I’d like to live in. There were several catches to it, though. Schedule, longer commute on certain days, etc. But despite that, I was ready to dive in.

There were a lot of good reasons to accept a job offer there. I felt like I would get along with my boss and I liked the culture at this company. Signs pointed to yes. The office manager even told me I was the top candidate. It seemed like I had the position, albeit unofficially.

But the call-back after the interview made me nervous. Now there was a second candidate they were considering. It was very confusing. I just knew that the call-back would be a job offer, not another stage in the process. All of this has been an emotional roller coaster. So much so that my stomach bothered me.

I began to doubt. And on top of these doubts, there were circumstances at work where I would leave my coworkers stranded and without help for a significant amount of time by leaving now. Guilt weighed on me.

Everyone told me that I had to do what was best for me. And most of the people I confided in seemed to think that leaving was what was best for me. And for a while, so did I.

I have had a lot of crummy jobs. I’ve been bruised and beaten (metaphorically) by previous employers. I was giving too much of myself to them and in reality, they didn’t care about me. Since then, I’ve grown stronger and more assertive. And up until now, I’ve always taken any job offered to me.

I worried about this job not being the right job in the right time. In the end, I turned down the position. It was bittersweet. My stomach is no longer bothering me, but I can’t deny the disappointment. I’m still hoping for something to change. And I’m doing my best to bring the change out. Perhaps by listening to my instincts, I will find the best fit in the best time.

I don’t truly know if that job was the right job. But I know the timing was off and I feel like it was best to walk away.

It took a lot of careful consideration. For the past few years, I’ve felt that my life has been on hold. I need a new start in a new place. My husband and I want to buy a house, but we don’t want to stay in the city we live in. So buying a house must wait. Career-wise, I’m not making the best money. In fact I’m underpaid for what I do. Thus, other financial goals (and even the thought of kids) must wait. The list goes on and on.

The chance to move on to something new was very tempting. But last time I was overly hasty without considering the consequences of my choice, I ended up trapped in a job that stole my health, sanity, and eventually topped my list of the worst job I’ve ever had. It was awful and I hope I never have to go through anything like that again. Something in my gut told me to run very early on in that job. I could have backed out. But I didn’t listen to my gut. And I paid dearly for it.

For now, I’ll still keep on fighting for change. I think the best change comes with clarity and taking a chance. I’ve taken a chance in walking away from this opportunity, but that leaves me open for something that could be better or better timed. We shall see.

The best decision isn’t always the easiest decision.

Photo credit: garrettc / Foter / CC BY-NC

My Better Half

There’s a saying that your significant other is your better half. I know it’s meant to be a compliment to them, but I’m beginning to realize that it’s really an insult to both of us. I’ve been downgraded by society since I got married. Somehow, I went from being a full, independent person to being viewed as half of a person.

Together, we are not two halves. We are two FULL people now unified by our commitment to each other. I refuse to accept that marriage has downgraded me to half a person.

But not everyone agrees. I lost a lot of friends when I got married. Suddenly, my single friends didn’t think we could hang out or relate. I didn’t change; my marital status did. I’m half a person to them (and now a stranger).

I also feel like I’ve been thrown away by others close to me. They think it doesn’t matter if I don’t have a career, because my husband will take care of me. But I didn’t waste thousands of dollars and four years in college just to throw away any aspiration of having my own career.

Even in the closest relationships, it’s important for both people to have some measure of independence and individual goals. Otherwise you end up co-dependent, which doesn’t allow for a healthy relationship.

I used to think feminists were just crazy ladies imagining inequality, but as I’ve gotten older, I see what they see. After all, I’m living in the gender gap. I’ve been thrown away, even by people who may not have meant to throw me away. Even by people who care about me. They care, but they don’t think I have what it takes to get by in the world on my own.

The better half of me has been disregarded. My better half consists of my skills, talents, drive, etc. Instead of being recognized for the better parts of me, I’m seen as only a woman. No one to take note of.

I practice target archery. Though I’m not the only female archer in my area, there tend to be more men than women. On one of our casual shoots, there was a guy I’d never met before. And I was the only female there.

Before we got started, he told me not to giggle during the shoot. It was a tasteless, sexist joke, but I smiled at him and brushed it off. Then he brought it up again mid-shoot. I still managed to shrug it off again, but afterwards it really bothered me.

He had no intention of taking me serious as an archer, despite the fact that I out-shot my husband at that shoot. This man saw me as some giggling schoolgirl instead of another competitor. I didn’t come there to giggle. I came there to shoot. Just like him and every other archer there. Why should I be considered the fool?

Think of how ridiculous he would sound if he said that to one of the guys. They wouldn’t have tolerated it. And honestly, I shouldn’t have either. I’m tired of being treated as a naive, foolish girl when I am a grown, capable woman. Yes, I compete with the men, because it’s about my skill level, not my gender.

This needs to stop. All these labels need to stop. A person cannot be fully described by one word. They are so much more than that. I am not just a female. He’s not just a gay man. She’s not just a mother. The list goes on.

We are so much more than the label forced upon us.

And that is what the world is truly afraid of.

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Photo credit: jjay69 / Source / CC BY-NC-SA

It’s Okay to Love Art

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I’ve always excelled in school and book work. I didn’t particularly love math, but at least I didn’t loathe it. I was curious about the world and how it worked.

Biology and environmental science drew me in. But I found that although I had the aptitude to excel in the scientific classroom, I really didn’t care to know why the sky is blue. I just loved the fact that it grows darker and lighter depending on where you look. It’s a privilege to see how it explodes into beautiful colors in the right conditions. Real scientific, huh?

I can excel and flourish in science and math, but I really just want to observe life and create. I’m curious to why things happen the way they do, but I hate the step-by-step scientific process to figure it out.

When I’m really honest with myself, I realize that I’ve never actually been good at the scientific process. I get bored doing things in an exact, precise way that never changes or is challenged.

What I love is the human condition. We are capable of such wonderful beauty. And at the same time, we can be so terrible that the acts we commit are unspeakable. We are conflicted. We are not one thing, but many and all at once. It’s our greatest feat to be so varied and yet sometimes so predictable in nature. It’s a mystery, even as we think we have it all figured out.

Just because you’re artistic doesn’t mean you can’t excel in science and math. But equally, just because you excel in science and math doesn’t mean you can’t create. I am many things, all rolled into one. Varied and yet predictable. We all are.

Considering how long I’ve identified myself with science, this is actually kind of ground-breaking for me. I now have permission to be what I’ve always been afraid to be: creative. I’ve let the world beat it out of me. Everyone says you can’t make a living by being artistic or creative. You must be able to do well at math and develop analytical skills. Don’t try to think outside the box; just follow the rules like everyone else. Don’t rock the boat.

But innovation comes from these things.

I’ve been so convinced that I can’t make a career out of creativity that I’ve been successful in not making a career out of my analytical skills. I’m frustrated in my career because I’m not being true to who I am. They say follow your passion and the money will also follow. I’m finally starting to understand what that means. I haven’t been making a career because I’ve been trying to force myself to fit into a field I don’t belong in.

It’s time to break free. It’s time to be me. Free. Creative. Artistic. Me.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

Photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND