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.

 

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