Hopeful realism

After starting this post during lunch and scanning it quickly just now, I recognize that shock of sudden death is starting to fade and I am in full-on processing mode, albeit the scenic route.

I live a small life. It’s not big, not flashy, not glamorous. But in the ways that are important to me, mine is a big, bodacious, overflowing, bursting kind of life. All good things.

What I value, I prioritize. My relationships – with M, my kids, extended family tribe, friends, clients and business associates – all are important to me and somewhere on my personal hierarchy of values scale. Work is on that scale somewhere as well, and not just for the financial support and stability it provides us. Accounting is not a flashy profession, and the type of work I happen to do is not as lucrative as being on the career track of a national or even a prominent local firm. But it’s infinitely more satisfying to me. The clients I have know me as a person and trust me to tell them the truth, no matter how much they don’t want to hear it. I have also come to care about them as people and experts in their own fields. There is some sort of new classification where the professional respect bleeds over and becomes a personal friendship as well. Having worked in larger corporate firms, it is so unlikely for me to have developed a work-life balance that blurs and blends into something that fulfills my need for mental challenges and stimulation as well as the emotional security of not having to hide myself behind the professional mask many hours each day.

From the work M and I both do, our basic needs are met. We have a nice home, an abundance of food, transportation, health insurance, employment, and money in the bank for our even older and grayer years. We have many wants as well, yet none that burn so hot that we are left feeling deprived and unhappy for its absence.

It’s the bigger losses that we cannot recover or replace that leave us sad and wistful for a different outcome.

I do not feel especially ambitious about travel or vacationing right now. If anything, I am enjoying being at home when I am not working on work-work. There is so much to do around our homestead, between decluttering and maintenance and planning/negotiating future projects. Just a few examples:

  • The dining room set we recently purchased used – $150 for an oak table with 2 leaves and 8 chairs – requires a good scrub and polish to make it our own. Then we need to move it from the dining room, put a newly purchased rug on the floor, and toss out the ugly old one presently residing there to protect the laminate.
  • There is more tree trimming to do, then the growing pile of dead branches need to be loaded in the truck and carted to the dump. But it’s been so hot; such outside tasks are lower on M’s to-do list.
  • Then there is our garage, a weekend job of organizing and decluttering all on its own. Again, the heat is a factor in this project; it’s difficult to get either of us motivated to take care of this crap when it’s 100+ degrees outside and not much cooler in the garage, even with the doors wide open.
  • Installing shelving in our laundry room. Part of this is just making decisions about how much shelving to put in there, purchasing and installing the materials, but it’s been low priority. However, my latest born-again zeal for getting rid of crap and doing a better job with available space has me eyeing this more critically and wanting to make get busy planning to make it happen.
  • Our hallway linen closet needs to be reorganized. This is currently the favorite dumping ground/stash location for anything and everything we’re not sure what to do with.

Left to my own devices much of this would likely already be done, either hired out or boatloads of crap tossed or donated long before this. Unfortunately, being married, staying happily married means some negotiation about how the shit gets done. With the way our lives and work/life balance tends to work, I only have small pockets of time to work at a project before I have to go out for a meeting or be at my computer working or am simply tired and in need of a recharge. Both M and I have health and fitness-related activities that consume their own chunks of time and are highly prioritized for each of us. Hardly matters if the trees are trimmed or crap we want/need to retain is stowed properly if our health is so poor we can barely do much for ourselves.

What often times judgmental me feels is lollygagging on both our parts about projects outside the scope of essential housekeeping or work-work tasks, the reality is our lives are full of commitments and responsibilities we desire to pursue or are part of the continuity of our lives. The projects on our lists will get done, eventually. Or we will relent and throw money at the problem and hire it out, something M is loathe to do if he himself can eventually get it done. In my impatience defense, I only suggest hiring out things he likes doing less than others, or that would take him on his own an extraordinary amount of focused time. Painting the exterior of our home immediately comes to mind. While M could most definitely do it and do it very well, I’m not sure our marriage could survive it. For such a big, time-consuming task, I would much rather there be a licensed contractor overseeing and doing the actual work, because when I reach the point of screaming because it’s not being done right, they are not showing up as promised, or it is taking too long because of the first two factors, a contractor can skulk off and escape my wrath at his own home. M, not so fortunate. I see this as a win-win as well because M, with his perfectionista tendencies, can follow along behind our painting contractor and either point out what he wants changed or touch-up to his heart’s content.

The point pounded home to me again and again, all this stuff means less than a hill of beans where grief is concerned.

This heartache is fresh, raw, and hurts dreadfully. Yet, even down here and squirming in the trenches of the freshness of pain, I know it will pass, heal over, scab and then scar. Life does go on, no matter how awful it seems in these moments.

I am not now nor will I ever be one to compare pain or wounds with other people. We feel what we feel in the ways that we feel it, and we are each unique beings. Talking about pain or happiness or other emotions is comparing apples and oranges, and I nether win nor lose any coveted prizes for hurting more or less that someone else experiencing loss. Loss hurts. Grief sucks. And life continues as if nothing of any significance happened in the world at large.

Such is my reflection of the smallness of my life. Someone significant in my world died, and I am learning to navigate this new normal. It has not turned me more cynical, dark, desperate, or depressed me into paralysis. I take it as a reminder that life is precious, our expiration dates unknown, because the future is not promised. All those cliches and platitudes designed and deployed to try and make us feel better about a fact of life we cannot change are true and yet they do not make me feel much better.

Mine is a hopeful reality. I love and lost a dear friend, and it hurts me deeply. He was among the first folks I would always want to share good news, on speed dial when I was troubled. Our email correspondence is epic, and like me, he seems to have saved every one ever exchanged. It’s precious to me, and even the mundane, day-to-day reporting leaves me feeling a little lost as to how I adjust to a world without my best friend in it.

Thing is, I will adjust and life continues. I still smile and laugh and extract full measures of joy in my days. And how quickly, how easy it still is for me to forget he’s gone, and when the thought flitters through my mind of how I will frame the funny moment or tiny victory, I feel the ice pick in my heart as I remember he’s not here to share with anymore. And all over again, it hurts and grief sucks.

The life I have built for myself, the world where I personally dwell is a beautiful and amazing place. It was before he passed and remains because of the zillions of memories  created. And going forward, I still see a lot of beauty, life, brilliance, humor, and love.

It’s a fresh, new, raw wound, one that may take a lot more time and resources to heal than I can presently predict or imagine. But I think mine is a long view, mixed with a dash of something akin to faith that we will meet again. For now I am living my life, feeling my pain, enjoying my joys. Hopeful realism at its finest.

OMG – Losing my shit with my bosses

The attorneys are all out today, doing CPE or something like it. It’s me and the rest of the non-JD staff. We all went out to lunch – on the firm – and have had a lovely day just cleaning up around here, purging files, clearing the deck in preparation for the takeover.

A couple of the bosses came back this afternoon and made beeline for my office. There was a communication issue with something they are planning and the feedback received from the staff today about the merger was very negative and hard for them to hear. I get it – I have been getting buckets of it tossed my direction all week as well. Always my conversations with staff have been considered off the record communications; they are blowing off steam and bitching about life and times as an attorney. I get it. We all get it. But for some reason today the honest dismay over the merger – they took it personally and got their boxers in a bunch with something akin to hurt feelings.

I regret to say voices were raised and doors were slammed – for once I was not the guilty party on the door slamming, a personal behavior at home that has taken me decades to break.

But they do not get to yell at me when they are mad, frustrated, or anything else about a situation I have zero control over and not sharing what is typically considered other employees confiding in me privately. I encourage them to take their concerns and feelings to the bosses, and sometimes – like today – they take the advice to heart and pour out their feelings. I think – I know – the week is getting to all of us. They yelled at me, I yelled back. Everyone in the office was cowering like children when parents and other family members get into a knock-down, drag-out verbal altercation.

I am not proud of my knee-jerk reaction; I am much better than this and my professional self should have better control of my temper. Where a week ago none of the critical comments would have mattered enough to take personally, today it was like betrayal of the first order, blown completely out of proportion.

It took a good 45 minutes for me to cool off enough to wonder what I should do about it. I shredded old files in my office and finally acknowledged that while they are being childish, I sank to that level and let them get to me. BUT, as their office doors were both still firmly shut, there was nothing for me to do except work.

Partners 3 and 4 came in while I was debating my next course of action. They stopped briefly to ask me how long I would be in the office and very nicely asked me to stay and talk with the 4 of them. Of course. I figured the worst that would happen is that I got fired today and burned a professional reference. It was upsetting to imagine, but entirely possible.

So 20 minutes later the 5 of us are sitting in the conference room like so many times before. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to apologize, and if I was, could I fake it well enough to at least appear contrite? Nope, unlikely. So I didn’t say anything.

They spoke about the impact the merger is having on the staff, how they “probably” handled it poorly, and that the acquiring corporation being here this week was harder than they foresaw on everyone. Ya think? Part of the issue with these guys is that they are emotionally tone deaf when it comes to their employees. They think everyone thinks and feels and acts pretty much like they do, except it’s not true. I am living, breathing proof of that, and one of my functions within the firm is to be the sounding board and steering wheel for the morale and spirits of the staff. The news was hard for me – I characterize it like the ego-bruising heartbreak of a relationship ending when you still have strong feelings for the other party and do not want and are not ready for it to end – and I have been struggling with being able to listen to the staff as firm management and sort out my own feelings as their employee peer. It’s rendered me less effective in this role this week. Then I have the Hellbeast waltzing through what is still my territory and messing with my peeps almost immediately after finding out this change is going forward? So. Not. Cool. As M said to me, “territorial much?” to which I was completely unrepentant in my emphatic “oh FUCK YES!” reply.

I value relationships. I value my associates and the camaraderie and trust we have built over the past couple of years. I  prize that my bosses are men with whom I can speak directly and completely candidly without fear of retaliation or worse. I have never had anything like that in a corporate structure, and I dislike not trusting my peers or management. It does not make for a happy workplace wondering what direction I’ll be facing when the backstabbing happens.

So yeah, emotions are running high all over the place. I think we will all recover and regain our footing, but we need the stability of normal, business as usual for the next couple of weeks. There needs to be some time to adjust and get our footing with the change before the suits are in our midst and glad-handing us like professional politicians. They agreed.

And maybe some informal conversation and communications about what the future holds. Yesterday was the first new normal last of our present firm days and everyone was busy with various things related to the merger. Today the office was mostly empty and what they heard from the staff was to be expected.

Blaming me for not telling them what I was hearing was wrong. I received appropriate, unsolicited apologies. Accepted, let’s move on.

This is what I will miss about my great little firm experience. Business is business, family is family, but people get angry and lose their shit, sometimes inappropriately, but always understandably. Unless things are getting thrown across the room (my predecessor once had a tantrum where he pushed an entire desktop of work onto the floor in someone’s office becasue they had not gotten their paperwork in for a second straight month – the horror!), all is generally forgiven. People are people, and with the ruling body open to admitting their own mistakes and forgiving others when stuff happens, the workplace is a much healthier, secure place.

So I walked out tonight with same sort of grief over all that I am losing while at the same time feeling more comforted that I am not the only one who grieves. While this is an amazing opportunity for the partners, they are well aware that they are breaking up a really good firm filled with very loyal, dedicated people. It’s not personal; it is just business. But because we are loyal and dedicated employees, it is impossible for us to not take it somewhat personally. Intellectually we all understand it. Emotionally we are all still shell-shocked and saddened. The people we are, though – our emotions are on the clock to get sorted out and resolved before this change it fully implemented. Any expectation that we will be over our sad in a week is unrealistic.

The bosses all get it now. It only took a brawl with their “work wife” to slam the point home.

I do not look forward to the interactions with the Hellbeast the lie ahead, but I have big enough big girl pants to handle myself with a professional demeanor. She and I – we will never have the trust I share with my present partners; I cannot ever let my guard down enough to honestly express any of my emotions. And I genuinely suck at robotic impassivity.

Despite a rocky week, I will miss my firm in its present management and dynamic. I realize there are only 15 work days left for my job in this firm and work environment and it makes me sad. Best I can hope for is to rise above the rest of the corporate bullshit to savor each and every one of them.

Work-zilla has taken over the blog. Apologies in advance for reporting my day-to-day trauma drama.

Follow-up mammogram update

I had my follow-up mammogram yesterday, after which I was shuffled off to have ultrasounds done. While disappointed the second mammogram was not so definitive that no further testing was required until this time next year, better safe than sorry.

And unfortunately the ultrasound has resulted in the need for needle biopsies, which I assume will be sometime next week. The scheduling office was closed by the time I finally got out of there at 5:30, so if I do not get a phone call this morning I will call them myself. I have several other things I need to schedule next week and this is a big giant black hole that I need to get nailed down before I can get fully back to business.

I am a little sore this morning. While the technicians and the doctor were very nice and careful and caring, it is apparently not that easy to make a mammogram and an ultrasound a really easy-peasy, comfortable experience. While a lot of my friends say the technicians talk about the density of their breast tissue, I was told the area they wanted to examine more closely is just a little deeper, more challenging to gain clear imaging, and they apologized repeatedly for the discomfort. Fortunately for them I am a generally agreeable sort, and their efforts are for my benefit, so what could I possibly say? Please do not take a more careful look at the areas that have you concerned? My skin also must be prone to bruising, because I have some black and blue marks and soreness today. Oh well; it is not terminal and will fade in a day or 2. Besides, I was up late last night on a work spree and made a strategic decision to move gym/practice to later this evening. Sleeping until 6 a.m. was a glorious luxury.

So many people I know or have known have gone through breast cancer treatment; it is impossible not to be concerned about what could be happening within my own body. However, I am not overly concerned or worried about it. If anything, I feel mostly terribly inconvenienced by the timing of it all right now. My son is getting married in 6 weeks and there are things I need to be doing to prepare for the social aspects of that as well as the wedding itself. We are going on vacation the week after the wedding. I am slammed with work-work. I can and will make time for my own health, but I am impatient to get it on the calendar so I can continue with all the other shit I have to manage and handle. Kaiser does not care about my schedule or convenience. Probably this is true in the non-Kaiser medical offices and facilities as well, but I’m presently in the big corporate medicine system so they are receiving the bulk of my irritation right now.

I do have a plan of action should this turn into something more serious, and therefore I am for whatever reason far less bothered by the waiting game. To me, the testing and diagnostics is short-term thinking. Should it come to pass I have a diagnosis that requires actual treatment, I will move into long-term planning and action. Typically I am the one clamoring to get it over with, to know one way or the other, but as I have marched forward in time I have become much more patient dealing with these things. Writing the posts about it, talking to other friends about it, killing time at the mall yesterday while waiting for my appointment time – that was about the extent I actually thought about the tests. To me, right this minute, thinking about having to schedule an appointment for the biopsies is the biggest anxiety I have about the whole process. My bigger fear is that I will go to sleep on this need for an appointment and Kaiser will call me with some time that works perfectly for them but puts my entire week into a new level of chaos.

The actual biopsy-ing process is no fun; I have been down this road once before. But the results? The big “what if” in the room? I am not worried and have no anxiety about it now; it could be cancer, but statistically it seems more likely that it is not. At my core I am a more practical, pragmatic soul, and the statistics are in my favor. If I fall into the smaller, less fortunate percentage pool this time, I have already developed a pretty detailed outline of how I will manage, what I will do, depending upon treatment prescribed. Having that neutralizes the my anxiety and tempers my impatience to get this shit done.

And I am talking about it this much because I have close friends who are chronic to the point of unhealthy worriers. Yet I know no matter how reassuring I am that there is nothing to worry about right now, they are worried. They are obsessing and having to restrain themselves from asking me about it daily or every time we interact. It is a quirk of their personalities and mental health make-up that I cannot control or even moderately impact, but perhaps reading it here in black and white will have some sort of calming effect. At this point I know there is nothing to worry about; the tests are simply that, tests.   Results are when this shit gets real and cause for concern may be justified.

So waiting a reasonable amount of time for Kaiser scheduling to call me about an appointment is my biggest issue right now, and my concern is that because there are multiple (at least 3) required will make it more difficult for me to get something that works best for me and my schedule. Because of my present workload I am a bit more control-freakish about knowing how long it will take and available appointment times.

But oh well. I will figure it out when I am on the phone with the scheduling department.

Thanks to all of you for the good thoughts and energy in this regard. While I wish it were over for another year, there is another hurdle ahead, and I will, of course, keep you updated on what is going on with this situation. Likely nothing, which will be a nice post to write.

Happy Friday everyone!

 

Fall down, get up – lather, rinse, repeat

The title of this post was not originally intended to be a metaphor for the process of going through the day-to-day business of living, but more a discussion of my literally falling down, getting back up, and then falling down AGAIN and having to get back up. Seriously, my bathroom floor was cleaned yesterday (thanks M!) and if it were not tile (cold, hard, uncomfortable to the bum) I might have just stayed there awhile and taken a nap before work.

After quite a lot (for me) of time without banging myself about, I seem to be trying to make up for lost time. First tumble I got tangled up in a flip-flop getting out of the shower. Second tumble 30 seconds later was a slip on the bare floor. Oh well. These things happen to me. There was much swearing involved, and had M been home probably a stream of heated words directed at him about the way he arranged the rugs in my/our master bathroom. He typically does the floor care in our household, but for some reason he placed the freshly laundered rugs in such a way that tripping and then slipping became prime opportunities. Fortunately I have a lot more temper restraint when it comes to having to text my irritation.

First world problems, I know. The only real injury is again to my pride and my ego; bum muscles escaped unscathed.

But as I was driving to the office and my first appointment of the day – my performance review with the bosses – I was pondering a text exchange last night from a friend who posited that “life slowly returns to normal” after a really awful month with more family emergencies than any family should have to bear in a year, or several years, much less the span of a couple of weeks. What is normal? Is that a standard we should chase? Or are we constantly reinventing and moving the bar up, down, all around in pursuit of the comfort of the routine and the predictable?

There are moments when I feel like I have a “new” normal every day of the week, because the fluidity and change that comes with each new day is just part of life. Maybe not to the degree my friend and her family experienced in the last 30 days, but still. How well we can or do adapt and roll with those punches may be indicative of how comfortable we can or do become with the skills we have developed and the habits adopted through the years. As I have written many times before, our lives can change in a blink and how well we are able to cope with the outcome of those changes is woven into our personal histories. Through the years I have noticed how differently M and I respond to a crisis or perceived threat – we are a study in contrasts right down to the way our worry manifests. That could be contributor to why we are well-matched as a couple; our crisis management skills complementary.

Which is my scenic route to my work-related issue of the day: performance appraisals. I hate writing them, hate receiving them even more. This firm is self-evaluations, review by immediate supervisor and partners, then preparation and delivery of actual performance evaluation. I have noted communication in this firm is pretty exceptional, that when issues arise they tend to be addressed and positive and corrective feedback is a continuous cycle and relatively informal. Until it’s not, and then you become a coaching client for someone in the firm.

But I am apparently not in need of a behavior or performance mentor this year. Overall, a unanimously positive review and performance bonus award. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the feedback received. The improvement box is tiny and contains nothing surprising and nothing that has not come up in prior discussions or from discordant frictioning within the office. I am apparently a little too direct for some of the sensitive souls (our former associate) and others wish my in-the-office presence were more full-time than part-time. Small cakes issues, neither of which require a lot of (or any) behavior changes on my part. By the natural direct comparison with my predecessor, I won over the entire staff without trying very hard. However, I am by nature fairly laid-back in management style and it is not difficult for me to present as approachable and responsive to concerns. But as one of the partners put it, I am almost too nice nearly all the time, and it does make a stronger contrasting impression when I have to morph into a policy preparer and enforcer.This was not a criticism or even an corrective action item, more an observation. He brought it up because I may not have recognized the impact on the staff … that and they are not used to a kinder, gentler, professional approach to their concerns and ideas for changes to office policies and practices.

I feel as if I am tough enough when needed, but being a hard-ass in the office is completely not my style. Our discussions lead me to believe it is a fine balance, particularly with the administrative staff. While it is not much of an issue in this environment, I am a fierce advocate for administrative classifications when it comes to being respected for the tasks they perform that keep the office running and the work process flowing. That said, I am also well aware of who has the expertise to bill the hours and is most profitable for the firm. Just because I demand our non-professional staff be respected for the jobs they do within the firm does not mean they are a direct equal of the attorney classifications, so no, I am not going insist that even the least experienced of attorneys on staff take a turn cleaning up the kitchen each week or making lunch runs when a case is on fire and everyone is buried. There is a hierarchy and we each have our place in it, and yes, making money, being profitable is a primary objective for our business. Not the only objective, but a high-priority, critical objective nonetheless.

Because I have to deliver our receptionist’s performance review this afternoon, I am thinking about the observation and perception of me. I am not exactly obsessing about it, but I am thinking about it. Really hard. Receptionist’s recent pouting attitude has me giving more weight to this quality of my leadership; perhaps I am perceived as too much of a soft target? Do I need to be tougher, stricter, more of draconian manager?

Nope, I need not go there or pursue that trajectory. They hired me for the professional attitude and aptitude I bring to the firm; if they wanted another dictator running their office there are plenty of them out there, a few I know personally looking for jobs.

This review was not me falling down and having to get back up. This review is me standing up straighter, taller, because I am actually quite excellent at my professional pursuits and it was clearly acknowledged this morning. And really … is there such a thing as too nice? I do not let staff walk all over or take advantage of me, but I do welcome input and discussion of available options and opportunities to change processes for the better. Perhaps the contrast with my predecessor and his micro-managing style makes me appear to be nicer than I actually am in reality.

I am stepping off my hamster wheel about this and getting back to work. I am fine, and all is well in my professional world. My ability to overthink everything remains unchallenged.

Standing up for myself

Last Friday I wrote about the stranger who tried to correct my form while I was going through my practice (The peanut gallery speaks). Well, today our paths crossed while I was replenishing my supply of allergy meds in a nearby town.

If he had not again spoken to me first, I would have never taken any particular notice of him. To my mind people look different outside the gym, in street clothes and not all sweaty from their workouts. It happens to me frequently whenever I pass someone who looks familiar in neighborhood establishments and typically takes me a moment to figure out where I know them from.

Anyway, he got in line behind me and greeted me with a smile and a hearty “hi.” I smiled and replied automatically, thinking he must be someone from the building the houses my firm’s offices. Our dialog went something like this (he is in italics):

I feel like I should apologize for what I said to you on Friday morning, but I was only trying to help you and keep you from hurting yourself. 

(Lightbulb moment for me – it’s THAT guy. Internal scowl commences.)

I appreciate the regret and the apology, but ….

(Insert long pause here while I internally debate whether or not to continue with my train of thought. F**k it, I decide and continue with the unedited version of what I truly think and feel about this whole situation.)

The way you approached me and said what you did makes it completely clear that our interaction was all about you and your ego; I was merely a prop to be utilized in some self-serving quest. I would like you to never approach or talk to me again if our paths intersect inside or outside the gym.

Hey that’s not fair or very nice; I was only trying to be kind and help you out ….

Please stop talking to me. You have nothing to say to me that I wish to hear.

And with that I moved to another line to wait for my turn to pay for my drugs and get back to my life.

Was I was rude? Maybe. Fresh off pep-talks from M, from J, from zillions of other friends, I said exactly what I thought, politely and firmly. I did not raise my voice. I did not make a scene. I did not even swear. I just stated what I felt with no qualifiers and no attempts to make him feel better about his behavior.

And I am okay with that. I stood up for myself and reclaimed back a little of the ground I lost over this incident.

Go me!

Life coaching

One of the side benefits of working out in the morning is writing blog posts in my head. While the soundtrack in my brain is playing “shoulders back, chest up, abs/glutes/upper body tight, don’t shrug, don’t shrug, don’t shrug” as well as counting reps, some other section is mulling over various other things in my life and composing posts. The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and emotions, presenting a wealth of blog fodder to process and work through. Family stuff (good), friend stuff (good and bad), work stuff (necessary, therefore mostly neutral); you know, life stuff. Sometimes it makes me hugely prolific in number of and verbose in writing my posts. Rambling and random are always components in this realm, but if you’ve been reading me for any length of time you are intimately familiar with that already. I feel the impulse to apologize, but I am restraining myself.

At last year’s Christmas party, our friend J was here with his squeeze of the month. She was an absolute doll, very sweet and eager to make a good impression on her newly crowned beloved’s closest faraway friends. We were chatting during the party and she said, very earnestly and with the big-eyed stare to match, that I was so good and so kind and so wise I should think about becoming a life coach.

Friend J was mid-swallow and for a second I was sure he was going to spray both of us with wine out his nose in surprised laughter. I gave him The Look and he swallowed it and turned away to hide his expression and to try and stifle his laughter. To his squeeze, I thanked her for her kindness and stated that I am not really capable of being kind and supportive on demand and for pay, nor am I wise enough to learn the skills necessary to connect those dots for that particular profession. Then I quickly changed the subject.

Every now and again I think about that conversation and smile. She is a sweet person and had she known me better, I believe she would have changed her opinion about me and my suitability for a career change.

Truth is I would be a disaster as a life coach.

I am actually a pretty open – ask me directly and I am more likely than not to tell you what I think or how I feel. Being unable to be real because someone is paying me by the hour to be their chief cheerleader and emotional supporter would be bad. Very bad. It is also entirely possible I have a poor understanding of what a life coach is actually supposed to do for someone, but it sounds distasteful to me. Like being a dental anything or a therapist of any stripe; I am ill-suited for the caring professions.

What brings this up today … I (well, technically M and I both) was unceremoniously dumped by a long-time friend and I am struggling a couple of other long friendships. I want to be a stand-up girl for all my friends, to be loving and caring and compassionate, but my patience and capacity for kind tenderness has its limits and at some point I begin wondering if I actually have a heart. I get that is unfair to me, because yes, I have empathy and compassion. What I lack, besides an endless well of patience, is a sense of social propriety that suggests I simply take one for the team friendship to keep the peace. Unfortunately I am not made that way.

Friend KJ is an emotional woman – she loves hard and is a passionate in her defense of her visions of truth, justice, and the American way. Before her marriage began to derail we had regular spirited conversations about all aspects of our lives and times. Unfortunately in the last 6 months (conservatively) those regular conversations have been escalating in bitterness toward her estranged spouse and present circumstances from the separation and pending divorce.

I understand she feels rejected, fat, unhappy, boring, depressed. Despite the urgings of her sons, daughters-in-laws, close friends, even her elderly parents, she has steadfastly refused professional help or therapy for these issues. She engages someone, attends a couple of appointments, then quits that person for various reasons. I gave her the benefit of the doubt on the first few therapists who were consulted briefly before termination. But after at least four “bad fit” situations, I start to question whether the problem is more with her and her expectations of or desire for help and support. Her denials are swift and uncompromising – they did not understand her issues and she could not work with them; they were women-haters and felt she should suck-up to H and give in to his demands; they were not supportive and on her side. I gave up asking about or suggesting therapy.

I thought perhaps exercise and working on her overall outlook. My reasoning – feel fat, try to drop some weight. Seems simple enough in theory, and believe me I know how difficult that is to accomplish in reality. While I tend to be an exercise loner – I prefer to go to the gym and practice on my own if I am not training with trainer J – I did offer to join her for walks or fitness classes or yoga. Her response: it’s too warm/cold/raining outside for walks and she needs to lose some weight before returning to the gym or going to a yoga studio. Pointing out that I am far from buff bunny status and I go to the gym (now) and yoga (then) regularly either fell upon deaf ears or was met with thoughtless and almost comical replies (i.e., no one looks at YOU, it doesn’t matter what YOU wear, YOUR wedding rings make you invisible (even though I never wear my rings to the gym or to yoga)). Big sigh from me and we are again moving on.

What about dieting, making changes there? I am a picky eater and hate to cook, but I would be willing to be accountability partners for new recipes, counting carbs and calories, even trying a sensible diet plan if that seems appropriate. No, she was too depressed to want to diet right now; she needs her comfort food.

Insert long-suffering sigh, followed by metaphorical throwing up of hands and greatly reduced availability for conversation. When she pressed and asked me why I was abandoning her, I was candid about my frustration that she would not work with a therapist, she was not interested trying in lifestyle changes to improve her mood and appearance, yet she expected me and any/all of her friends to be there with unconditional support and positive reinforcement of her pity party? Her rebuttals were emotional and rude – I am hard-hearted, unfeeling, unfair. I am happily married and have no idea how difficult it is to be divorcing and fat, unattractive, and 50-something. Only a very small portion of those assessments are true.

Is life really still this complicated in middle age? I remember having these discussions in high school and even in college/young adulthood, but we are both long past that time of our lives. Did I grow up and into a curmudgeon while others around me have bigger issues beyond my capability to perceive? It’s frustrating, and it seems to continually happen to me with female friends as their relationships fail. Maybe the common denominator in my (lately) mostly dysfunctional friendships is me?

I have watched her grow more bitter, contemptuous, and unhappy as the weeks and months passed, and truly I have tried my best to help. Depression is the consumer of joy and life, and I do not know how to deal with depression in its ongoing, untreated state. I wish I had better answers. I have tried to listen with compassion, be supportive, offer suggestions, help. When everything I throw out there is summarily shot down or described as inaccurate or that I simply do not understand, I can return to my own world feeling stupid or accept that I am powerless to help her help herself. And once I reach that point of acceptance, I am extraordinarily reluctant to step back into the fray. Continuing to listen, trying to offer new or even recycled ideas has been internally declared a waste of my time.

And it makes me feel kind of terrible. But at the same time, she does not want assistance or even a sympathetic ear. She wants a landfill for all her toxic emotional garbage. Sadly for me she is not the only woman I know in this state of emotional disarray.

This situation makes me hard on me; it turns my thinking into a cannibalistic parasite the chews through my hard-won self-esteem and turns on my insecurity about my level of good person-hood. My bestie suffers from depression and anxiety, and we have a pact to take turns with brain-melting crises so as to not overload the support system. I know others with problems – everyone has some level of issue and struggle – and they do not trigger my anxiety or insecurity in the same way.

So the problem cannot only be me, right?

What this all has to do with life coaching? I have no idea what people hiring life coaches are like or why they believe they need that sort of consultancy. At first I thought it might be like personal training, that the life coach is there to teach skills missing in the client’s experience portfolio and once added and practiced regularly would yield definable results. Maybe it is something more ethereal that cannot be pinpointed with mere words, it must have feelings and desires and emotions added to make it successful. Which could be why my first instinct it to laugh at the idea of me as anyone’s life coach. I tend to deal in hard facts and figures, tested and mapped consequences to my actions and ideas.

I am not so naive to believe it is possible to be 100% happy 100% of the time, and my idea of happy-happy-joy-joy is unique to me. I can be a tireless support of your best efforts to achieve your dreams, even if they are not dreams I actually can get fully behind and support. There was a time when my daughter thought she wanted to be an actress. While I privately thought it was a poor fit for her personality type, I love her dearly and at that time I wanted her to have a realistic picture of what it would take to achieve the degree of success she imagined. A summer of volunteering at local community theater and interactions with professional actors was enough to make her abandon that as a career pursuit yet keep working in theater as a hobby.

I want everyone to be happy and content with their lives, yet to accept the role of personal responsibility in achieving a contented state. Being in love is a wonderful thing, but both parties being realistic about who you are and what you want from life is probably at least as important to make a romantic partnership work. I suppose my sympathy and support when relationships end comes with a hard edge of unwelcome realism. I’m working on it. Maybe the difference between me and a life coach is they have personalities and training in ways of motivating clients to accept the practical realities of life.

I may need to adopt some new friends with better attitudes toward their issues. Or somehow get a better handle on my own.