The Sally Field conundrum

Remember back in 1985 and Sally Field’s “you like me!” acceptance speech? Every time I or anyone else uses that phrasing, I think about that speech. I do not watch award shows, but I do tend to read about them after the fact. And now that nearly every pop culture moment is available online somewhere, it’s not hard to replay it over and over again.

We are in the midst of a minor  hiring spree at my full-time job. My responsibilities have grown and expanded in my 18 months with the firm, and the firm itself has nearly doubled in size. These are very good developments, and even good changes and growth can be a challenge to adjust and manage. Trying to design my own role, to keep the some of the lesser responsibilities I enjoy and balance those with the higher skills and experience management role I have grown into is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. Bosses – all 4 of them – have wish lists of the type of role I play within the firm, and not all of the tasks are going to make the cut, because I am just one person with the same working hours as anyone else. On top of that, I am the most vocal proponent of work-life balance, and in an office full of ambitious type A lawyers, I could almost begin to feel like a slacker with my 4 day work week. Almost.

I have a young receptionist that I like very much. He is attending college as well as working full-time, but he is quite intelligent and hard-working and has sharp focus and attention to detail. While I would like to promote him into another role where he assists me on higher-level and greater detail data entry type of work, he lacks some of the experience I could acquire if I sought out a particular accounting assistant skill set. The best thing about my present receptionist, though, is he is eager to learn, asks intelligent questions, takes notes, and learns from mistakes. He gets bonus points for majoring in business and turning his attention and studies toward accounting, so at least he grasps the basic debit and credit concepts. On top of that, he thinks I’m just the bees knees as far as bosses go and actually really likes me. While those are definite points in his favor, more than that he is delighted to learn from me and quickly grasped that when it comes to results, I almost don’t care how he does it as long as the final product is verifiably correct.

So we sat down yesterday to talk about the administrative jobs he does now, that I want/need to delegate to someone else, and what sort of job description we should write for the person we will hire. And it is a “we” project, because there are aspects I will be depending upon him to train the newest staff admin. By the conclusion of our working lunch we had come up with a new job description for the new receptionist I will hire and the promotional position he will be moving into and new hourly rate he will be earning beginning June 1. Now all we need to do is find the right employee to fill this job.

That I have a positive working relationship with bosses, coworkers, direct reports is very important to me; we must work so closely together it would have some measure of impact on my mental state to have to interact with a negative vibe day after day. That said, I work with professional folks who conduct themselves accordingly; even if they hate one another the focus is primarily on the work and getting it done. But we’re human, and stuff leaks out, tempers flare. I have too much respect for work/life balance to want to have to be in any sort of toxic workplace.

The way things have been evolving or devolving with long-term friendships the last couple of years have been hard for me. I am someone who values relationships and honest communication, yet at the same time, I do not nag or belabor a point of disagreement. I respect other people’s sovereignty and ability to make their own choices, even if I strongly disagree. Others are not quite as benign in their interactions, and I have been pushed and what feels like ridiculed for my own changing lifestyle choices, unfortunately to the point of having to distance myself from friend I/we genuinely enjoyed.

Last night during a text exchange another friend told me that I take life far too seriously and that I need to lighten up. Frankly, it landed as a cutting blow with a very sharp and precise scalpel. In truth, I am kind of a serious person and always have been. I have my impulsive moments, but I have regretted them so routinely after the fact that it has taught me to be more restrained and to be much less impulsive, be more thoughtful before acting. Same situation with spontaneity – I am a planner and being spontaneous tends to cause anxiety and discomfort.

It has long been a point of deep insecurity that these qualities make me an extraordinarily boring person with no sense of humor.

My more confident self now understands that is not precisely true, but being hyper-responsible is not really as exciting or fun to be around as a high-energy, no boundaries, fearless sort of soul. If there were not more serious, practical, responsible folk in the world, how could we appreciate those that are impulsive, spontaneous, and seemingly so much more fun to be around?

One of my dearest friends is my polar opposite in personality, in that he is a complete extrovert and thrives on social interaction and being around people. He is the guy who can talk to anyone about anything for an extended length of time and come away feeling energized by the interaction. He is a big personality sort of guy, yet he’s also very thoughtful, responsible, and more conservative in values. He might be someone who is gregarious and makes acquaintances faster than the average person gains weight eating without restraint, yet because of the generosity and expansiveness of his social need he is also far more accepting and understanding of differences in we more introverted sorts.

I think my Sally Field conundrum is that friendships I have retained and maintained for many years are now falling away because my life and lifestyle are changing. We are all getting older, our parents are getting frailer or are gone, our children are grown and leading independent lives of their own. M and I – we planned for this time period with eager anticipation and are enjoying these empty nest years at least as much as we did the child-rearing years. Our priorities – taking care of ourselves – are very different than they were even 10 years ago. For so many of my friends, their lives and desires are not so well considered; they had not given a lot of thought beyond what it meant to be a mother or a daughter. For many, their has been shift from working and caring for their children to working and caring for an aging parent and/or grandchildren. What they see as selfishness on my part – exercise, full-time job, self-employment business, working on our home – I see as a natural shift in my priorities.

I am also starting to understand they may like me less now because my life is far more about me and M as a couple and what we can do to enhance our life together. There are a few happy marriages and committed relationships, but far more long marriages are ending and affairs emerging or ongoing middle aged singles when they wish to be part of a couple. And truly, it is easier to bash and bully a genuinely happy friend in serious pursuit of her own uniquely personal objectives than try harder to fix your own problems.

Understanding is one thing, acceptance quite another, but anymore, I am about there, even if it is with sorrow and resignation. These friends are people I have known a very long time, some most of my life. I got through my divorce, hands-on mother years, the death of my child, the troubles with M with their help and support. I have been there for them through their own marriages and relationships faltering and failing, through the trauma of troubled children and drugs, the deaths of parents. We have celebrated graduations and weddings and births, mourned deaths and the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. It just seems so strange to me that we could get through all that and find ourselves at odds over something like healthier lifestyle choices.

Inside, I have to believe they still like and love me in reciprocal ways I feel the same types of affection for them. But our lives are different now and continuing to evolve and to change, and perhaps some distance and separation will bring more clarity about what is real and what is important when it comes to friendships.

At the same time, I know change is just part of life. I am more philosophical about it, less insecure and tense about being non-friendship material. I have met some lovely women (and men) through the gym and other groups I have casually participated in with regard to diet and nutrition. It is refreshing and invigorating to meet new folks, to be exposed to different perspectives and experiences. At my base I am kind of shy, and it seems to take some effort on my part to put myself out there and truly engage with others in any sort of meaningful way. Not so long ago I was so deeply insecure I felt certain everyone had a negative view of me and had this irrational urge to take steps – any steps – to alter that viewpoint. What a waste of energy to even consider or care about, and I shake my head at my own silliness. Nowadays, I always hope that people I like and enjoy like me in return.

Because I am kind of a serious person; I like relationships to be respectful, positive, and harmonious. And I am not going to apologize or ever again feel regretful about this aspect of my personality.

 

Blogging – from there to here

Last year I wrote and posted here frequently, nearly every day, sometimes more than once per day. These days, it seems like a Very Big Deal if I get something written and published once a month. One difference – I was blogging A LOT about my better health and exercise journey. Since that part of my life into it’s own blog, much of my blogging energy goes there, with training recaps and anything and everything related to diet, exercise, better health. In case you’re curious, find me talking extensively about my better health quest at makingprogressgettingfitter.blog,

When it comes to this blog and blogging in general, I feel sort of one-dimensional and made from cardboard. On more fatigue-laden days, I feel like recycled cardboard and completely lacking in color and details. Because my life is busy, work is demanding, and my hobbies and interests are primarily health and fitness related, it is often a challenge to muster the energy to write about other things.

Attitude adjustment is in order. Inventory and assessment of my time management as well. Because honestly, my little life and corner of the universe has a lot more color and range than I am presently allowing credit. Not because I am in a bad or negative headspace, more because I am letting life run at whooosh pacing and everything goes by at blurred speeds.

Not a lot big events in progress in my world this year. After 2016 and both kids getting married and C and A moving across the country, it has been a relatively placid period. K is in moving on in her career – accepted a generous offer from another firm only to have her dream job come calling and in the final stages of negotiation for an even more generous salary and benefits package. C and A are doing well in Florida, getting settled and enjoying their annual Disney passes. G is working hard and contemplating the next steps in completing his education.

Busy times for all of us.

M and I are working our summer project of decluttering and reorganizing our stuff. We are still working on the rented storage space, getting rid of stuff we have held on to for far too long, labeling and organizing what he/we feel cannot be separated from us just yet. From there it is our garage – an absolute necessity if M’s dream of a work bench and work space next to where I park my car is ever to come to fruition. There is much crap to be culled and shelving to be relocated to either the storage unit or the small storage building (the little house) in our back yard. The little house is our final frontier, the repository for all the crap treasures we tend to both become irrational about. For me, I cannot fathom why we need to retain the volume of easily identifiable shit stuff M feels is going to be useful someday, and for his part, M cannot understand my craving to live in a house with empty drawers and mostly empty rooms.

And believe it or not, despite the doom-and-gloom tone of my describing this process, our current decluttering effort is a big step forward for us. The truckloads of stuff hauled off to the dump, put in the trash, or donated is testament that this project is long overdue.

Funny, but I was actually considering shutting the blog down, because I seem to find myself incapable of stringing a few sentences together with any regularity. The minute I think that, though, I get this feeling of dread and anxiety that says I am not yet ready to relinquish my personal address in blogville.

Because I’ve said it before – this remains my safe space. I can talk about things here that I rarely to never bring up in the outside world. Or that I need to process in written form so I can behave appropriately in real life. Or work, always a favorite. Or just to talk about whatever so my family and friends do not start avoiding me because I talk too much.

Honestly, from the start of my blogging journey to now, the course has been unexpected. I never thought I would write as much as I have in the past few years, until I blink and realize that a few weeks have passed since I last published here. Maybe that’s a good thing, that nothing so significant has happened that I’ve felt inclined to jot it all down. Yet I know that’s not really true. Life has been busy, but for every hour of busy there are pockets of minutes spent vegging scanning headlines or letting my racing thoughts hypnotize me into paralysis.

I have missed writing here. It seems odd that I fail to recognize just how much until I sit down and just let ‘er rip with downloading my thoughts. In my drafts folder, 90 posts languish. Some will be recovered, updated, published eventually, but the majority are a few short lines or paragraphs demonstrating my distraction and need to process. Always I think I will return to this and publish it soon, but rarely does that happen. Mind and circumstances are different when I log back in, and another draft is begun or an actual post gets written and published. The former fragment sits, eventually forgotten.

Today I am resolving to be better about this, to carve out some me time for blogging, just because. I do have a lot to say, and in the immortal words of Nike’s marketing department, Just. Do. It.

I will. And I will engage my type A- personality and strive to be more consistent about it.

Happy Friday and weekend everyone. I have missed you.

 

Baggage

April has been exhausting. Work is busy, hectic, crazy. Personal life is busy as well. But this is normal. This is typical. But it’s the stuff in storage that is steering me in a funk-like state that is bordering depression.

When my mom died a few years ago, I could not shed her house and all the stuff she stuffed into it quickly enough. But in every life there is a large bunch of personal family stuff that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. There was a pile of old photos and albums and miscellaneous items.

All that has been in storage. Except now it’s not. It’s been mostly dealt with – donated or thrown away. My photos, photos of my kids, a few of my sister and nephews I kept, the rest are of folks I don’t know or my sister – boxes and boxes of albums documenting my sister’s life – and since I no longer have relationships with either of them, I made the self-protective decision to throw what seems zillions of photos away.

There are a few mementos I kept – a couple of favorite drinking glasses from when I was a kid, a remaining serving dish from my parents’ original set – but the other stuff I was so paralyzed over in the months after my mother died was surprisingly easy to released to their next home. For the new owners of those items, it will not have the same stigma or history of negative, angry emotions attached.

And for the first time, I feel truly free.

Yet, for everything attached to my family of origin, there is a faint strain of guilt as well. The terrifying rage and anger I still feel has been mostly diffused – growing up, physically distancing yourself to match the emotional safeguards in place – tends to do that for us. Self-protection is not to be underestimated.

Hard as I try to be a good community member where I dwell, I am very conscious of where I have failed, either by choice or circumstance, or some combination of both. Part of my mind are broken enough to make normal then and normal now coexist peacefully as polar opposites. The closed-off part of me where feelings don’t work classically normal is like walking with a limp after serious injury and best case scenario of healing, and recognizing that in and of itself is a huge step forward.

Being open about my history is not an easy thing, but now, my family of origin is gone and I have been untethered from all that influence and the angry, reflexive negativity attached and now with the disposal of the last boxes of stuff that remind me of all my real (or perceived and told to me) shortcomings,

This range of emotions I feel – it’s not anything I would wish upon anyone else. It is rooted in a kind of dark, abusive, confusing place that breeds self-loathing and negativity  that touches and taints any and all attempts to lead a normal life. I am good at compartmentalizing; I am even better at avoiding unpleasant feelings and emotions. As time has passed, as the professional help to improve and overcome took hold, I have gotten better about managing my affairs and at faking it until making it with the general day-to-day business of living.

I will feel better tomorrow, Monday, whenever M goes to the dump and empties the truck  load of crap that we have finally gotten around to discarding. Maybe sleep patterns will return to normal. Maybe I will return to the place where my peace resides.

I take no real pleasure in the feelings I feel in this moment, because they are too close to the bad, hateful shit that churns up with thinking about any of it. Shedding the last of the mementos releases me to continue my life in whatever healthier, happier, peaceful ways I can find.

Cutting the final links in a weighty chain is … enriching. Building on that is the better path.

My silly life

I’m not sure anyone’s life is truly silly, but sometimes I come here to write about something profound and all too often – I got nothing. Which is probably just as well; my version of profound could be more wool-gathering, navel gazing on the price of avocados … and I don’t even eat the darn things (it’s an M must-have food).

Of late here, I have been massively overwhelmed with stuff. Work stuff. Family and friend stuff. Health stuff. Random idiotic social media stuff. Me and my usual first-world problem stuff. For the most part, the overwhelming load has been serious and worthwhile – serious illness and surgery, potential job changes, health reports (all good!), and just the volume of work-work and with a side of too much having to talk to people whether I want to or not. I do not do well in chaos; I am a planner and at my core, I need structure and organization to be my best and to stay in my happy place. Chaos is what creeps in while I’m not looking, when I am distracted with all the other worthwhile stuff happening all at once. And please, please do not take that as complaint. I am part of a family, a community that makes me feel whole, human, and living up to my best potential, and I would rather have a lot of things going on with people I love and adore who wish to share and receive feedback and thoughts than not. It has just been perfect storm of everyone having things going on all at once and the work-work skies opening up and flooding my schedule.

Sleep remains the great equalizer. If I am getting adequate quantities of good quality sleep, I can handle most anything with aplomb. I know things are getting truly out of hand when I am getting 6 or 7 or 8 hours of sleep and still waking up feeling tired and as if another 6 or 7 or 8 hours sleep would be beneficial. As I tell M, it truly is not the quantity of sleep hours for me so much as the quality of the hours I get. Usually I conk out and am out for however many hours straight, wake up as if reset has been hit, I am refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of a new day. The last few weeks, I gradually fade and then mind stays awake and thinking and processing rather than resting. Does not leave me at my best come morning.

The past week, I have made more conscious effort to get to bed on time and to be more mindful about going and staying asleep. Did it work? Not really, and I resorted to sleeping aids a couple of nights to help kick-start the process. But today, I can report that I feel more like my usual self and ready to address the imbalance in my schedule and life.

I think there are too many things that sound so fun and so cool and so exciting. I know that work has been crazy and I have been neglecting my “yes, but …” function. Instead, I nod, smile, give an enthusiastic “no problem!” response, only to deflate massively when I remember that this is item number 10,012 on my to-do for tomorrow. Not good. For the most part, I have clients who trust me to manage their affairs in a timely manner so they are not being penalized for tardiness. Part of that is training on my part, asking them about this, that, the other thing on the timeline and ensuring I have everything with enough time to get it done. Every year, tax season and filing deadlines throws everyone into a last-minute tizzy, and last week was culmination of all that.

Thinking about all these things this morning, I am taking steps to reclaim the balance in my time management, which is really all this current stressure is all about. Specifically:

  • Make a list of all presently outstanding work-related project, prioritize, and plan time for the upcoming week.
  • Update my weekend to-do list and finish clearing it.
  • Inventory the pantry and freezer, grocery shop and restock.
  • Reset alarm reminder for getting to bed and being asleep.
  • Pencil in some “me” time for reading and reconsider implementing some cardio exercise to accompany it (whole other blog post).

My need for a fairly structured timeframe for getting shit done is not for everyone, but it tends to work best for me. Because I have both a full-time job and a self-employment business running simultaneously plus a husband and family/friends I enjoy, this is truly the only way I keep my life and projects working and on track. Somehow I have either gotten lazy about my to-do lists or overwhelmed and busy and letting things fall through the cracks until they become an immediate crisis that must be dealt with.

Already, I feel better about things. Already, I feel like a load has lifted and things again look happier. Already, I have a lot more optimism about my ability to get shit done. Balance is possibly possible. But for me it takes a little advance planning and makes the effort less burdensome.

My silly life? Yes, probably. But it’s the only one I have and I need to make the best and the most of my days.

 

In with new, out with something else

It seems I am about to get a different car yet again.

First and foremost, M and I are not frugalistas; we have zillions of ways to waste money and probably do so routinely without giving it a second thought. However, we are also very responsible with money. Big things like savings for retirement, HSA-funding, future spending goals (home and car maintenance and repairs, vacations, birthdays and other gifting events, kitchen remodel, replacement car, etc.), secondary emergency fund investment account all get funded before we start spending each month.

That said, from a purely financial point of view, it makes no sense to sell my 2013 Rav4 and purchase a brand new 2017 Camray. We take care of our cars, and my Rav has less than 35,000 miles on the odometer after 3.5 years in our household and looks pristine. It’s serviced per manufacturer’s schedule and would likely be fine for another 10 to 15 years at the rate it gets driven. Plus, I LOVE that car.

Unfortunately, it has no trunk. The windows are tinted and it is not a simple glance to see whatever I might have in my car (usually nothing but my reusable shopping bags and the plastic box I keep them corralled in when full), but every week I drive and meet with clients and have both personal and business financial documents in my possession. Recently I walked up on a guy trying to break into my car while my work box of files was in the back. I have no idea if he was actually planning to try and steal my car (it has an alarm) or if he was after its contents, but it freaked me out to the point that I now carry my box around with me to meet with other clients.

So there is that.

Add to this that M also drives and AWD SUV, a 2008 Highlander, and it is the go car for us. The Rav commutes to the office, goes to the gym, toodles around town when I go to client offices, but the rest of the time, it’s at home in the garage. M and I are going anywhere, he prefers to take the Highlander.

The Rav has again become “too nice” to take out for a spin on the weekend.

This happened with the first Rav we had, a 2007. I owned it for 4.5 years and sold it with just over 40,000 miles on the odometer because M and I became paranoid about something happening to it. M far more so, but it was infectious. I wanted something older may with a few scratches in the paint to make me feel better.

A 4Runner and a Honda Civic later, and we arrive at the present Rav4. For awhile it was the go car, then we sold M’s older (silver) CRV in favor of a newer (blue) CRV, and in it’s plushy-ness became the go car. Then the Highlander became available, and as it had belonged to my former boss, I knew its entire history and knew it had been well maintained and kept in good repair. So the blue CRV was set aside in favor of it and went off to its next owner. M loves that hulking Highlander beast, so he is set for awhile. But our time with my present Rav4 is about concluded.

Entirely possible the Camray will remain “too nice” to take anywhere, but I doubt it. This would be the ride we choose for coastal adventures where we do not go boonie-crashing down gravel fire roads just because they’re there. And it has a trunk, so I can stash my crap out of sight. I would be really upset if my car was broken into and my gym bag stolen, but I’d be frantic if I lost client documents.

In my life, I have learned that sometimes purchases make no sense on paper or financially. This is another of those occasions. However, as in all things personal finance, it is personal. Yet my inner budget professor is scratching her head trying to make sense of this decision. To her I can only say, the emotional impact of finding some strange man standing next to your car with the slimjim is not to be underestimated. My own sense of personal safety is very well developed, probably overly so, and while this will not advance us financially in any way, shape, or form, it will also not set us back in dangerous ways. So I work another 5 or 6 months before leaving the paid work force, but for me, for us, it makes emotional sense.

On another matter, I have been sorting through photographs from my mom’s house. I’ve taken dozens out of frames and sorted them into me and my kid and my sister and her family. I don’t keep in touch with my nephew, no idea how to reach him, and will keep the pictures in envelopes until I get some motivation to find him.

There is one picture of my oldest daughter, her last school picture. I have dozen of the same photograph, but mom had a wallet framed and kept it in her bedroom. I cannot remove it from the frame and have no reason to keep yet another copy. I am not sentimental; I do not need the framed photo to remember my daughter or my mother. So after 2 weeks of vacillating and trying to decide what to do, I stuck it into the trash and threw it out.

I’m not sentimental at all, yet my stomach aches and I feel out of breath (in the bad ways) thinking about disposing of it this way. It’s not my daughter or my mother. It is simply a duplicate of something I already have and don’t actually need. As for my mom, our relationship was more toxic waste than warmly fuzzy. Thinking about her does not make me happy or sentimental or misty with nostalgia. Frankly, think about mom makes me furiously, irrationally angry, feelings and emotions I would really rather purge from my system and my life.

Even now, 21 years later, I mourn the loss of my child, miss her every single day, and shed a few tears throwing away this single copy of her final school picture, even if I have a framed copy in my family room and dozens of other copies carefully preserved in storage boxes. At the same time, it is one more step in the wall that separates me from my toxic family of origin and the truer horrors of my life.

Life is not fair, and rarely does it balance evenly. But for every bad thing in my history, there is something better, richer, more rewarding.

This week, there will be something new and different, a tool that makes my life easier and work better and strengthens my sense of safety. Out with something else that at once breaks and heals my heart simultaneously.

 

Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.

Pause, reset, trust

I had a meeting scheduled with my bosses yesterday to discuss our recruiting efforts. After what happened on Friday with two hand-picked candidates asked us to meet with (and turned out to be kind of awful people), I was bewildered and confused by the process. Their reaction when I tried to discuss it muddied the waters further as well as left me feeling completely disrespected and on the path to demoralized.

Sunday the scheduled meeting was moved into the afternoon and a management meeting scheduled instead – which is just me and the partners, versus the 5 of us, 2 supervisors, 3 seniors.

The situation was unfortunate, because it made me wonder who these men were and what had happened to the cooperative, creative bosses I had earlier in the week. While I am not a shareholder in this firm, I am typically included and consulted with regard to management of the firm. To be shut out and shut down so completely is awful; had they physically reached out and slapped me I would not have been more shocked and surprised.

And as if they had physically assaulted me, it gave me enough pause to stop and really consider my options and alternatives if this is the way things are going to be moving forward.

My ways of processing things is partly analysis of the situation, it’s possible reasonable (and unreasonable) explanations, and figure out what must happen to make restore peace in my fiefdom that is my day job. While I really love the staff and the role itself, if I wanted to work in a compartmentalized corporate conglomerate where I am a mere cog in the big giant wheel I would have chosen another type of firm. If it took 18 months for the partners’ Dr. Jeckyll to transform in Mr. Hyde, experience tells me the time span between future transformations will evolve into a briefer and briefer pattern.

After leaving my prior employee-based position, I swore not to put myself into another position where I am cleaning up the messes resulting from lack of communication and poor decision making. If I am in a role where I am supposed to be managing something to manage firm resources and personnel, I need to either be part of the solution or my job becomes a cancer that takes over my life.

This weekend, I decided we would resolve this issue or I would be turning in my notice. Sounds extreme, I know, but in truth I have a thriving part-time self-employment business and am routinely having to turn away referrals from existing clients because I don’t have time to take on a lot more new work. While making money is really nice – I am a capitalist at heart and do appreciate my opportunities to make lots of bucks – it is not worth sacrificing my self-respect or feeling undervalued and unappreciated. That said, I am not someone with an over-inflated ego; I so nor believe myself indispensable and beyond reproach for my skills and work habits. I am well aware that everyone is replaceable and there are literally dozens of equally to more qualified candidates out there. But whether those other candidates bring the same level of care and compassion to the work, I have no idea. I do think my empathy coupled with practicality, skill set, and willingness to be fair and balanced in dealing with people – maybe it’s less common.

M and I had discussed this extensively over the weekend, and I had a few in-depth conversations with other friends who are in similar lines of work. I needed a gut-check to ensure I was not massively overreacting. But at the end of the conversations, I would probably still be inclined to walk away if this was the new world order at my firm. Love the people, actually really like and respect the partners as well, but I cannot and will not work with my role and priorities being altered without any discussion or notice.

With this all settled for me, I went into the meeting with a clear head and an open mind. I had my hopes – an explanation at the very least – and was not completely disappointed by the outcome.

There was a genuine apology for their brush off. There was opportunity for me to vent my feelings – primarily anger, disappointment, and betrayal. I felt set-up, walking in blind with a couple of candidates they already knew or were at least familiar enough with to invite to meet with us. No debrief? No advance warning? Or was it the candidate set-up with extended hopes and expectations?

Uncomfortable silence around the table when I laid it out for them in black and white, and I was dimly reminded of reprimanding my kids in their youth. Unanimous agreement all around the process had been botched and that the candidates were unlikely to be a good fit with the type of firm they have created and the professional atmosphere they want to foster.

The why of it all still eludes me, other than the concern of adding more female professional staff looms large in their minds. I point out that yours truly is female and a manager, even if I am not an attorney and even if my male bosses dis me from time to time. However, I agree that another female hires would be beneficial. Alas, finding the most qualified female for the jobs we are seeking to fill has been a challenge as well. In addition to that, our willingness and ability to accommodate the time and schedule requests of the lady lawyers we have extended offers to have been rejected. Not our fault.

But before we dug too deeply into the actual recruiting part of our meeting, I wanted to wrap-up the communication aspect of our discussion.

Bosses agreed they botched this introduction and also agreed it might have been partly an unconscious and on purpose choice to test our mettle. Nope, I did not like that, at all, and we were very nearly back to square one.

Of the 4, all have been married and divorced at some point, although all are presently single right now. I am older by more than a decade and have been with M for more than a quarter century and know quite a bit about trust, betraying trust, and what it takes to rebuild once broken. Just in case you’re curious – it was not infidelity on either side, so much as my child victimization and M sharing it with our counselor without my permission or even telling me first. That lack of communication nearly ended our marriage, and it took a long time and therapy to recover and rebuild.

While their behavior is small-ball in comparison, it is serious enough that I did figure out my options and whether resignation was a viable one. I do not threaten ever, and I did not give them a “my way or the highway” ultimatum speech. What I did say – I am a professional in my own right and in my own field, and I am always straightforward and honest with them about my thoughts, ideas, opinions. This is their firm; they can run it however they see fit. However, if my role in it is as they have described and up to this incident acted like it was what they wanted, the game playing and mettle-testing must cease. Immediately. Tell me it is none of my business. Decide to alter my job description and explain to me that they are implementing changes to my duties and role. But do not treat me like an unknown quantity they cannot or will not trust enough to use her best judgement. Because despite what they thought they were doing or what they intended, this is the ultimate outcome of their misstep.

They are smart men; they got the message loud and clear. There is no double-secret probation, no hoops they must jump through to make it up to me. But my expectation of being treated like a professional was crystal clear.

After a rough day with all that yesterday, it was good to have some space from them and focus on my self-employment workload today.

Life is long and relationships of all stripes complicate everything. But we will sort it out, work it out. Our first big fight; time will tell how it shapes our future.