Back-up plans

Yesterday was a relatively low-key Friday, and in various ways, humbling for me. This is what happens when old friends stay overnight and other friends remind me of days gone by when I was a very different and evolving person.

Tripped over a stick last night in the back yard and fell flat. Nothing new, but I must have been tempting fate or worse because I had just been thinking earlier that it has actually been awhile since I have had a clumsy moment. Then I remembered falling off the instability ball on Monday and decided maybe that does not count, because it’s an instability ball. They are, by design, meant to roll around and from under the unsuspecting person naively sitting on it and not paying attention. Lesson learned. But our friends, who were the first friends of M’s he ever introduced me to, have long memories of other times we have been together and I have taken a tumble. Walking on mountain trails is not me in my natural environment; of course I’m going to slip and fall, repeatedly, regularly, almost predictably. The days it does not happen should be celebrated and marked as significant days in history.

Good times nonetheless.

Friend J sent me a note today about yesterday’s post. When we met, I was a word processing supervisor at a Big 8 (then) accounting firm. The thing about professional services firms, particularly those that were that big and pretty prestigious for starting a career, they are particularly crappy to their administrative staff. It was a work culture thing, as if the firm was trying to continually prove the axiom that shit rolls downhill on the org chart. Even the greenest staff member tended to treat us like furniture, and it was a characteristic I took issue with then, even as a young supervisor with 3 direct reports.

In those days I was newly divorced and finding some stability in single parenthood with child support coming in routinely each month after nearly a year of nothing from my former spouse. Between my parents, my kids’ dad, and the roommate sharing my apartment with her 2 young children at that time, the overtime was a huge blessing. And there was a lot of it, primarily due to the huge deliverable and proposal efforts and coordinating large numbers of staffers to get things done and out the door. A couple of nights per week, many, many weekends I spent in that office typing or proofreading or preparing figures for these massive documents.

One night we were 14 hours away from a large proposal being due. We had had staff from other offices in house working on things and the pressure was rising from all sides. Our workflow depended upon a single source of priorities, and all week I had been wrangling with everyone over what was most important and to NOT go directly to my staff with inquiries or changes or anything else. Put it in pile, talk to me if there were special needs. And repeatedly, the out of town staffers would come into our fishbowl while I was called away to deal with another crisis or involved in something else right there in front of them. It was 8:30 at night, we were in for an all-nighter, and I finally just snapped after one of my crew burst into tears because someone else had brought back a document that needed to be done “immediately” while I was on the phone with staff in another office.

I had had it. I told my crew to stop working, take a break, take their dinners to the kitchen and eat them there. They were only too happy to do so. This was our first real break all day.

Once they were safely out of the room and out of earshot, I marched down to the partner’s office where the proposal effort was headquartered. I announced to the partner and everyone else in the room that if they wanted their document done, by me and my crew, they had better stay out of our office for the balance of the evening. The table with our workbox would be outside our door and no one would be allowed into our office, period. The alternative is that I would send them home after they finished eating their dinner and they could get there multi-volume proposal done themselves. I continued that I am a single parent and would really prefer to be at home putting my kids to bed for the first time all week than putting up with the prima donna bullshit we were getting bombarded with from all sides.

I was so done, and there was silence and shocked, blank faces all around me.

Friend J was part of that effort and present when I made my little announcement. Under normal circumstances, even under enormous pressure, I am typically courteous and professional. Then as now I view my role as one of support and to make my clients work lives simpler. Until I am pushed too far, and the signs are there, and I am not shy when appropriate about saying I need help or that I need someone to back off if they want me to complete whatever I am doing for them. Keep it up beyond that point, the not so nice, far less pleasant side of me comes roaring out.

Needless to say, the partner was completely freaked out and followed me back to the empty fishbowl to ask me what was wrong, what could he do to make this right, and please do not leave. I gave him the cliff notes of what had been going on all night, and partner appointed friend J to be the liaison between us and everyone else on the proposal effort. Poor friend J – he had been on the job barely 4 months and this was his first big, multi-million dollar contract effort. But he sucked it up and pretended he was not terrified that he might offend us and be solely responsible for our mutiny. He saw me at my worst that night and admired my professional suicide tendencies. We have been friends ever since.

He reminded me of that earlier today. And it got me thinking – would that younger, less experienced in life me really have pushed the power struggle with a firm partner in walking out? I probably would have, yes. But while I would have told my staff to go home, I am not sure I had the right weight and authority to make them actually do it.

It’s situations like that, where I let things go too long and react from a place of emotion rather than intellect that makes me second guess myself. I will become exasperated with the “I want it to be easy!” type comments and then wonder if I was too harsh. Way back when, I was not too harsh. I had made reasonable requests for accommodation in the pressure-filled environment, and the out-of-town staff, their own admin pools probably not structured in the same way as ours, continued to try and steamroll me and my crew. Per friend J, it was the right call then and the right call today.

Trainer J and I had a brief text exchange about the post yesterday, and I had remarked that I would be a disaster in his job, that I would lose my tact and diplomacy far too soon. If my present gigs falter, I continued, I have my sites set on a barista as my next career. Or a smoothie prep chef at Jamba Juice. Just me and my silly thoughts and ideas from a light-hearted interaction.

But yesterday did get me thinking about back-up plans and the “what if” aspects of life. M is one of those people who thinks about every potential negative outcome and has a plan to cope and get through it. Me, not so much. In fact, I would go so far to say there are times when my lack of planning and motivation have caused me to think I might not want to survive whatever potential disaster may befall me.

Within my head, there has been (definitely past tense) a pervasive feeling of my personal net worth not being very much. While I know M, my kids, and my friends would miss me if I were suddenly vaporized from their lives, in the past it has not been enough to elevate my self esteem that much. I am not so damaged or badly off that I want something to befall me so much as I am not sure how hard I might fight to overcome if it actually did.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, she was 82. By then she had been having menstrual type bleeding for more than 2 years, long after menopause had passed. When she mentioned it to me, I had urged her to see a doctor, because at that time she suspected the blood was in her urine. Either way, at her advanced age, it was not normal and something she should discuss with her physician.

Nope, didn’t do it. Same with my sister – found a lump in her breast and waited for 8 months and to let it grow to the size of a walnut to bring it up with her gynecologist. A double mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and reconstruction over the course of 18 months and the cancer was all through the bone in her back. Stage 4. She lasted another 15 months before passing away at age 47.

I honestly don’t know why my systems have responded so well to the exercise and the diet modifications, but I am far more grateful than curious. It seems like every day I speak to others who exercise and eat even less fat/sugar/salt than I do on my best days and most stringent, strict control who still have an A1c well over 7 and are taking medication to control their sugar. Maybe its genetics or some other factor that differentiates us. Or perhaps I am finally just very lucky.

Compared to M, who only sees a physician when he absolutely must, I am almost a hypochondriac. However, I am in my doc’s office just about every week for a B12 shot, so I have opportunities to ask questions if I have any about my own body and overall health. After consulting him about my knee issue and being somewhat reassured by the probable causes and treatments, I am less concerned about it and it has been toughening up and not giving me much grief.

Today there was another member in the club wearing a walking cast/boot thing on her foot. Other times I have seen another guy wheeling himself into the club to workout. I wonder how I would react in similar circumstances. While I have uber-trainer J who would be all “we can work around that” with cheerful enthusiasm, perhaps I am more comforted than horrified by the thought now.

So perhaps my contemplation and back-up plans are signs that my ability and desire to survive in the event of disaster as well? Perhaps. My mind does not tend to think in terms of what type of Very Bad Things may befall me or anyone else. I spend most of my time, when it comes to Very Bad things, not thinking about them. That tends to be far preferable to my nervous system.

Maybe it’s okay to think about tomorrow for me, for what I dare to hope and dream of for myself. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after that. Maybe having a back-up plan is a positive sign of evolving hope, even to the point of making plans and having ideas about what to do if my present employment gigs suddenly falter.

I think smoothie prep chef could be an outstanding addition to my resume.

 

 

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