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.

Communication and misplaced anger

I strive to be professional in my employment pursuits. I am close to many of my colleagues and very fond of my private clients, which sometimes makes it harder on me to just do the somehow negative tasks in front of me and explain or deal with the occasionally strong emotions of the other players in that slice of the business world.

A self-employment business client is caught up in a shitstorm and has been needing a lot of extra time and support from me this month. It has caused some friction and stress, because my schedule is pretty full during the first quarter of every year anyway, but unless I literally cannot carve out enough time to do the work I am reluctant to say no. Since he is a great client, typically a pleasure to work with, I have rearranged my evening and weekend work schedules and pushed through to get what he needed completed within deadlines.

Unfortunately a good outcome is not forthcoming. And that makes it harder for me to muster genuine positive energy and enthusiasm to continue to push through and do my job. I am a professional, though; I actually push harder and expend more effort in hopes of finding a better solution to resolve the problem.

This morning I gave up my sacred exercise block for a conference call (client is presently buried in snow on the other coast) and in a moment of stress and frustration his temper flared and he snapped at me about the quality of my recent efforts for him. Professionally and intellectually, I understand he is frustrated, unhappy, and under stress with the issues he is facing. The comment was an emotional outburst and not meant to be taken personally. However, words matter. Personally and emotionally – someone says in very plainly that I am doing a “shit-worthless job for them” in the matter at hand, it is nearly impossible for me not to take it personally. I was very much taken aback by his vitriol, particularly as it was not a one-on-one interaction, and while he has since apologized in text (after we hung up I had to run through the shower and get ready for my day job so did not answer the telephone when he called me back), my reply was neutral. I know further discussion is warranted – he lost his cool and said things that felt far more like a personal attack than disappointment or distress with my work product. Unfortunately now is not the time; he has far too much on his plate and it is not a conversation I wish to have by phone.

Sometimes I wonder if I am tough enough to be self-employed and to take the flak that occasionally flies from an executive’s mouth. My emotional response made me glad we were not sitting in the same room, because it is far easier to maintain my composure and rein in my own temper being alone in my office. Once the call ended, though, I had the angry cry and the raging inside my head of how dare he treat me so poorly.

Cooler heads do prevail. I know he knows his show of temper was inappropriate and directed at the wrong person. I also know I will overcome it. But I have learned (the hard way) that to allow this sort of disrespect toward me even once sets a bad precedent for future interactions, so we need to have a calm, grown-up discussion about what he said, how I received it, and why it should not happen again, particularly when it is a meeting with other people. If that conversation does not proceed as I hope, then our professional association will have to end. I know it is a luxury to not having to tolerate being disrespected or abused by someone paying for my services, and I know I am fortunate to be able to cut ties and not be stressed about income and paying bills.

But I hate when my days start like that. Possibly why I would rather be at the gym, presently my happier space. Something to look forward to tonight, even if the tradeoff is being in the club at an unusual, potentially busier time of day. I will make it work. Plus M is cooking tonight, so one less thing to think about.

Training #59 – Legs

Monday morning, training with J. Today was leg day and a new machine-based routine for me with some new stuff. Specifically:

A1. Leg Press (255, 12-15/15-20, 4 sets)
A2. 3 Point Toe Touch Reaches (5-8/side, 3 sets)
B1. Abductor (120, 15 to 20 reps, 3 sets)
B2. Adductor (90, 15 to 20 reps, 3 sets)
B3. Anterior Reach (8-10/side, 3 sets)
C1. Glute Pushdown (Assisted Chin Machine) (80, 12-15/15-20/side, 3 sets)
D1. Seated Hamstring Curl (12-15/15-20 reps, 3 sets)
D2. Alt. Reverse Lunges (Partial) (8-12/side, 3 sets)
E1. Leg Extension (8-12/12-15, 3 sets)
E2. Bodyweight Squat (8-12/12-15, 3 sets)

As usual, I had a lot of fun. It was a chill, almost zen-like session, and part of me is curious about trying it again and seeing how it goes. And how weird is it that I am evolving into the low-maintenance, no problems, very zen client? These gym wonders never seem to cease these days. But the leg workout today was good. The other leg workouts we have are pretty intense in different ways, and this one feels almost laid back in comparison. Or so I say TODAY. Doing them on my own may make these the hardest things ever. If I have learned nothing else I should know better than to suggest something is less than challenging. More than anything, this is primarily machine-based, and that’s very different for me. The weights are heavier, too. I will have a better feel for it after I run through it on my own.

These are upstairs machines. Different brand than downstairs, and they each seem to have little hydraulic things in the seats that can be tricky. It happened to me on the leg press, and I watched J demonstrate the caution required with the leg extension machine. I expect these things will take a fair amount of thought until familiarity is established. Anytime we have new stuff, I’m very intent on learning what body is saying about it. Pain, of course, immediately has my attention. But since a lot of this stuff does cause muscle burn while I am in the moment, it’s the lingering effects when I am sitting or standing writing the recaps that really tend to speak to me about their effectiveness or whether or not I got it right. While we are going through the new stuff, while J is patiently watching and correcting, I am free to really think about what should be working, what feels like its working, and whether or not I am getting the sensation correctly. Maybe I am not feeling anything at all in that moment, but hours late … boy howdy am I feeling those muscles wake up and chatter loudly.

Upstairs leg press just feels different. The angles and legs positioning is different, and the readings on the plates are strange as well. But downstairs I was at 250, this one was 255, and it feels about the same, so I am evolving into a “sturdy” girl. J said that to me this morning, with the disclaimer that he only said that in this context and meant as a very positive affirmation, and it made me laugh. Because I am a sturdy girl. I could probably acquire an eating disorder and still be a sturdy girl.

The 3 point toe touch – balance, balance, balance! I am showing some modest improvement, though, and I am definitely on the right track of getting better. Watching J do these – he makes them look so easy – make me sure they are ridiculously difficult. Keep practicing, I tell myself; someday I too shall be some shadow of his gracefulness doing these things.

Abductor and adductor machines upstairs are eerily similar to the set downstairs. I feel mostly confident about my abilities with these.

More anterior reaches. Kind of falling madly in love with these all over again, because I am mostly getting pretty good at them.

The glute pushdown with the assisted chin machine was brand spanking new to me. I have seen the chin machine before, but I honestly cannot recall ever seeing or noticing anyone actually using it before today. Once I got the hang of the mount/dismount it was fine, just the right blend of seemingly not that challenging and very effective (aka: feeling it this afternoon writing this recap). Rather than kneeling on the pad as it is designed for, I put my foot on the pad and press down and let it rise back up for glute contraction. Once the weight was adjusted correctly it was fine. And believe me I was taking a A LOT of mental notes about how to get on and off that bad boy safely. This is one of those machines it is very easy for me to envision Very Bad Things happening if I fail to pay attention.

The seated hamstring curl machine is an exercise in patience to wiggle your way in and out of it to actually use it. I cannot recall what weight it was set at, so I will have to experiment next time I test drive this workout. Not yet gotten to the point of crazy about this machine, but maybe it grows on you. Like moss. Or mold.

Another old favorite (NOT!) – alternating reverse lunges. Just like the 3 point toe touches above, J makes these look so darn easy. There is another member I see a couple of mornings each week who has these in his rotation, and he too makes it look like no big deal, a graceful, elegant down up, down up, go-go-go! Me, I feel like some big giant herd animal trying to take a bow and preparing to topple sideways any second now. But I can do them. I just do not look as good as others doing them.

Leg extension machine is the one with the tricky seat that must be watched before it jolts forward and bops you in the head. Again, no idea what weight we used, but it was okay. I think it is still new enough that I do not have any strong feelings about it one way or the other.

Ending this list with the bodyweight squat – always nice to finish with something I am fairly confident about. Not speed squats, just move along at a steady pace bodyweight squats.

One of my takeaways from today is regarding communication. For the most part, I think I do okay. But in the deeper, darker corners of my brain there is niggling fear that I might not be clear about my intent or meaning when casually conversing with someone. Or when I am distracted, like trying to focus on learning how to use machine and listen at the same time. The exercise and fitness realm is so new to me, and I go through spurts of trying hard to catch up to and understand what I see going on around me in the gym or read about on other blogs or my casual internet reading. Already I know enough to be very skeptical, and if I want a more in-depth answer to satisfy curiosity, I ask J or ask him to recommend something that more accurately illustrates what I am seeking to learn.

This morning I had another member chat with me while I was warming up. There is typically a class going on when I am in my warm-ups on Mondays, and he asked me how I liked the class. I had to explain I was not really part of the class, that I just came to use the room and the equipment to prepare for my training appointment at 6. He asked me who I trained with, and after I told him he said he’d heard of J and that he was supposed to be good. I corrected him – J is the best trainer – and he said something about wanting to get a former trainer (Marissa) because she was also a life coach and he needed more than just physical training help. Okay then.

A couple of minutes and after he had completed some barefoot sprints back and forth across the room he asked me what my goals were for the gym, and honestly, it stopped me short for a minute, it has been so long since anyone has actually asked me that. I explained about the better health quest, and he asked me if I had lost a lot of weight. Not really, but then I thought … 10% is 10%. So yeah, a satisfactory amount in the last year. He said something about losing 40 lbs. in 40 days, and I thought he was joking, then he said, well maybe 35, and I realized he’s serious about such a feat. Okay then. If I have nothing productive, constructive, or positive to say, I am not going to say anything.

The exchange with him, and then with J as we moved along, made me wonder if I am getting sloppy and clumsy in my communications with others. There are moments when I think I might be making too light of a topic when describing what I think, how I feel, or whatever message I am garbling while trying to get it across.

As an example, J and friend J are pursuing these really hardcore, heavy-duty workouts. These guys are in good shape, and the 2 different workouts they have been doing lately are kicking both their asses. Now, I have been giving friend J a bit of a hard time about it, because frankly he has been having a minor existential crisis that has become an elephant in our communication room. It is and has been good to see him focused and immersed in something other than his own particular brand of misery (that he does not yet want to talk about openly). Rather than point that out to him directly, though, I may tease him about slacking, or coasting, or whining about how hard his current workouts are, because I know that if I coddle him or encourage anyone else to coddle him it will become this monster we may have to shoot to put the rest of us out of our misery. Think men who become babies again when they get a head cold – it’s that sort of dynamic.

But because the workouts the J’s in my life are pursuing require a much higher degree of fitness than I presently possess, I fear that I am making too light of its intensity and level of challenge or not reaching the right balance in communication. Never do I wish trainer J to feel that I am pooh-poohing his professional expertise or abilities in the gym (or friend J either, but he tells me very directly if I am ever being a bitch). Yet sometime in the last couple of weeks we (trainer J and I) were talking about the powerlifting ladies he coaches, and I had expressed some surprise at their workouts. Now, thinking about it further, I get that they must have a well-rounded routine of whole body strengthening and such, yet their focus and interests are so different than mine and the way they pursue their strength-based focus is far from where I dwell in my gym practices and pursuits. And I know this. And I know that it had just never occurred to me they would be so different because I am mostly clueless about how someone can build to the point of being capable of lifting the volume of weight the ladies are capable of lifting. I am still learning about how other people train, and there was a little twitchy tone change in J’s response while we were chatting about it that made me think I said something offensive. The moment passed quickly and I am quite certain I am more bothered by the exchange even now than he was in the moment, but it’s how I learn. If I feel clumsy in my communication on a topic, it becomes part of my overall incentive to try and learn more so I can understand and ask reasonably intelligent questions and expand my understanding. Not just in the exercise realm either; this is my methodology in other aspects of my life as well.

I recognize these communication hiccups may happen as a symptom of my craving to have a straightforward plan to resolve life’s thornier problems. Diet and exercise, if everything mainstream is to be believed, is a simple math equation of operating at a calorie deficit, i.e., calories consumed are less than calories burned means weight loss happens. Only as I have learned, nothing is ever so simple in the diet and exercise realm.

M has been covering 140 miles per week minimum the last few months. He’s lost quite a lot of weight, his legs are pretty much barren of any excess fat, and he tells me frequently he would like to drop maybe another 5 lbs. to ensure he says at his present weight. I watch. I listen. I nod and smile. And I just keep throwing some vegetables in my protein shake and eating whatever I am eating for the day, that may include dairy and carbs. To his credit, M would never want me doing even a small slice of the shit he tries himself with regard to diet, and no way would I ever aspire (or have time for) the amount of running and exercise he pursues daily. M’s test kitchen is his own private Hell for debunking things he reads about. And I am perfectly okay with that.

We do have our differences of opinions, though, and periodically they escalate into our version of a spat. While these eating habit experiments are not always particularly healthy, they seem to mostly work for him or provide valuable insight for sharing experiences with other, less experienced runners in his realm. I am not following him on any of the harder core eating plans, and he does not suggest that I should and has gone so far as to tell me not to do it. However, he has been coming home with muscle spasm irritations and painful back/hip pain that seem to linger for weeks, and the practical side of me sees some cause/effect here. Granted, my training is different, but for my level of fitness, I am working just as hard and in some ways harder, because I am not as fit and trying to learn at the same time. My bias and personal preference for a more conventional eating plan and a more balanced training experience shows in our discussions, and M can be very hard-line about what he has read, what he knows, what he is doing and why. What I end up stressing over and over again is that I am not questioning his expertise or his experience; I am simply trying to understand it from a position of no or very limited context. M gets that, I know. However, I also know that there is so much bullshit in the running circles where he roams that being able to defend your actions is a well-honed reflex the leaks out even with your very supportive non-runner wife. And it’s fine. I am capable of pushing back just as hard when necessary to make myself heard and understood.

With the J’s in my life, I think my intent and interest is pretty clear. I know very well how capable and experienced both are in the nutrition, exercise, weight lifting realms, and my statements or questions are hopefully not ever perceived as direct challenges or insults to their abilities. But I think about it nonetheless. I am not obsessing about it, merely writing it down as an observational topic to ensure I make myself clear in our future and ongoing conversations.

What I have learned through this many years of adultier-adulting is that there rarely is a lone true pathway to achieving life’s objectives, and communication about how we are each progressing on our journeys is important to me. Several of my friends are involved with Crossfit gyms, and I remember asking J about this phenom very early in our training partnership. I remember his answer being so very diplomatic – that it was not necessarily a good place for the inexperienced exerciser to begin and a lot of the success/failure depended on the coaches involved. And I completely understood that. At the time I asked about it was because my friend had really wanted me to try it with her – she’d been going a few months and loved it – but I suspected then as I now know that I need a little lot more hand-holding in my personal learning curve.

But my pal has persevered and is coming up on 18 months of crossfit training and looks amazing. Her confidence has been soaring lately, she feels so much better about herself and her stronger, fitter, sleeker physique. Depression and anxiety and adjustments to medications used to be an ongoing issue for her, and the exercise has helped get her stable. In the last year she and her doc have been steadily cutting back on the medications that controlled her moods and let her live a mainstream normal life. This weekend we were pondering if it is the actual discipline of exercise focus that causes the better mood stabilization and focus or something physiological and chemical impacted by the exercise that makes us feel more whole? Perhaps a combination of both?

I was trying to ask intelligent-sounding questions about what a crossfit workout is like, and she has invited me, again, to try it. And I am declining, again, because I am happy pursuing my List of the day every day. Plus I have real fears of losing my place, my footing, or both and harming myself or others trying something new and out of my typical environment. I am a creature of habit and need that stability to stay on track.

She laughed when I said that, says we get more graceful as we get stronger and more capable. I was thinking she was right, until I started to dismount this new chin machine thing this morning and was so glad J was watching and correcting me before I mucked it up.

Throughout this and other processes I am toiling at in my life, I want to do my best, improve, be better than I was before. Opportunities to learn new skills and experience new things or old things in different ways abound. While I hear negative girl faintly in the background with her poisonous messages, I choose to believe my intent is clear, and those I interact with on an almost daily basis understand I am not by nature a malicious or cruel person who would make sport of the challenges they are deliberately pursuing or be mocking or derisive about their knowledge and expertise. If anything, I want to be front and center of their cheering sections, supporting and encouraging their efforts in any and all ways I possibly can.

I am rarely to never likely to be the smartest person in the room, and because of that I dislike being careless in word choice or its ability to be interpreted inaccurately. And despite this little tinge of doubt about myself and my ability to communicate accurately, I am not unhappy, feeling disturbed or anxious. Mostly I need to write it down, sort it out so it doesn’t sit and fester as a “what if” possibility in my mind.

it’s been a pretty damn great day. Busy, hectic, even kind of crazy with work and private client crises arising. It does not even feel that hot to me outside, which possibly alarms and elates me in equal measure. Alarms because I am typically greatly bothered by the heat, and elates me because I take this as a sign than going to flaming hot pilates on Sundays and Bikram yoga on Friday nights is enhancing my ability to handle heat.

Even with the phone calls about the screening mammogram findings and additional pictures required, I enjoyed today enormously. Because I know most likely it’s nothing to worry about, and until told otherwise I am choosing not to concern myself with it. And in truth, it has turned me into someone who is eager for tomorrow to get back to the gym, to work on shoulders or chest or something. Because I am in good health and I can continue to work on shoulders or chest or something else that includes those areas of body.

I have a really, really good life, kind of sore legs and glutes notwithstanding. I have no need to borrow trouble and worry about something that is not even a problem until at least Thursday, and probably not even then. Until a doctor somewhere is diagnosing me with breast cancer, I have no new health problems, merely the inconvenience of additional tests to reassure ourselves or define the scope of any issues the tests disclose.

This post is late enough that Monday is now concluded for most of us, so happy Tuesday everyone!

How we treat each other

Gym time is thinking time. When I am alone and just doing my List-of-the-day on my own, I tend to process and work out a fair amount of stuff. Like what to title today’s food in pictures post. Or where I am in whatever book I’m reading. Or work-related issues and events. Or just what a pretty color someone else is wearing. Or other random crap thoughts that may come to mind.

This week has been a good and great week, primarily for its uneventful eventfulness. But there were a bunch of little things with a common theme that had me deep in thought this morning while going through my practice.

We all know and understand (I hope, anyway) the terms courtesy, respect, civility, etc. Relationships of all stripes are complicated, but foundational tenants should be mutual respect, courtesy and civility toward one another. In my book it goes beyond relationships as customarily defined and into most or all interpersonal interactions. But let’s start with friendships and other typical human relationships.

I have an old friend that is nearing the end of a long, bitter divorce and financial settlement battle. The H in that relationship had an affair, a one-night stand while he was out of town. To his credit, he confessed immediately upon returning home. The marriage had been in trouble for a number of years, but his tryst, while ill advised, regrettable, and costly, was a bit of an epiphany. H literally woke up the morning after and realized the drunken sexual encounter the other woman was a symptom of his overall unhappiness and dissatisfaction with his life. He did apologize to his wife and informed her he was moving out and would be consulting legal counsel about a divorce.

When we were told about it – by the wife in a hysterical phone rant a few nights later – M was completely and strongly disapproving of this friend’s actions and felt we should immediately discontinue our friendship and cut off all contact with H. I disagreed and tried to remain more neutral. H was stupid and uncharacteristically cruel to do that to his wife, and I said that when I reached out to him. At the same time, I was relieved they were separating, because their marriage seemed toxic and made me miserable to be around them as a couple.

In my own marriage M and I had some pretty strong discussions over my unwillingness to cease contact with H. M felt the mistake compromised his character and his values were no longer in alignment with ours. It became one of those agree to disagree relationships between us, and while I saw H from time to time, M was unhappy about my choices and it remained a point of contention between us for nearly a year.

Friend H lived his life. He got an apartment, worked at his job, spent time with his sons, and stayed alone and rather quiet and separate from old friends. Wife, on the other hand, played the victim card to the hilt, as is her right as the injured spouse. The periodic mean streak she displayed toward H during their marriage became a constant, vicious smear campaign, to the point that her sons refused to have any contact at all with her. H just took it, said he had made a big mistake in cheating and deserved a share of her wrath.

M softened toward him watching the drama unfold. As their middle son is G’s best friend, contact between our families is fairly regular thing and we got earfuls from G’s bestie and his brothers about the animosity between their parents. I am not saying she did not have every reason to be angry and to be hurt, but when the man you are so livid with happens to be the father of the children you love, it is probably best to vent your rage in channels unconnected to your sons.

Sometimes separating the behavior we despise from someone we believe we know and have come to like and to love can be very challenging. M came around and was able to reconcile his disappointment with a very serious error judgment by the guy he has known, liked, and respected for more than 20 years. H is once again a good friend who hangs out with both of us frequently. The divorce is final this month, assuming W does not pitch yet another delaying fit to draw out the agony and increase the legal fees, and H is starting to think about putting a toe back into the dating pool. He seems as ready as anyone to dive back into dating, and he has been meeting with a therapist to talk things out (rather than bleeding it all over publicly where his sons have to deal with it as well) and is running and starting to think about joining a gym. Things are indeed looking up for him.

Similar situation with my kids’ cousin on their dad’s side of the family. This cousin in a few years younger than G, so she is maybe 25 this year. At a very young age (18 or 19) she married her boyfriend and quickly became pregnant with their first child. Then their second child (the kids are 13 months apart). Last October she delivered their third child, becoming pregnant again while separated from her husband, and putting about 2 years between middle and newest. Despite marriage and now 3 children, most of their married life they have been living with her parents. Cousin’s husband does not have a high school diploma – he got his GED at 21 – and cannot seem to hold down a job, talks down to her, is never wrong about anything, is rude to other family members, and is fine with living with  and being supported his in-laws for most of this brief marriage. Fast forward to a couple of different separations, a few domestic violence and drug (pot) charges, and cousin and the 3 children (all under 4) are again living with her parents and child protective services is involved and overseeing their lives. Dad is living elsewhere and is only allowed supervised visitation when her parents are present, and cousin herself is undergoing mandatory, court-ordered parenting classes as well as individual therapy.

What a mess.

Now, both my kids are very polite, respectful people, but they tend to not tolerate misbehavior from other adults all that well. My son has a particular dislike for cousin’s husband, and cousin’s sister is K’s best friend (and she absolutely hates her brother-in-law). So it came as no surprise to me that cousin’s husband was excluded from the save-the-date G and K sent out last week. Cousin, however, was shocked and hurt, so much so that she texted my daughter to ask if their save-the-date was only addressed to C or to C and A (it was addressed to C and A). Cousin was very upset upon learning that, stating that “no one cares about family anymore.”

How I know all about this, C texted me asking for advice on how to handle it, what to say in reply. We discussed it, and C was lamenting about why she’s drawn into this when cousin lives with her parents and surely they had seen the save-the-date in the mailbox, etc. C wants to tell her frankly why her husband was not invited, but fears being the one to tell her the truth about the situation when everyone else seems to gloss over it or not say anything about it. Poor C – she hates this type of family shit.

My advice to C was pretty simple – tell cousin that (1) this is a question that should be posed to G himself, and (2) call her out very directly about that “no one cares about family” comment (yeah, I felt some mommy rage forming because she was painting MY child with a pretty broad, generalized brush).

I also explained to C that her cousin very likely did ask her parents what they thought about the way her save-the-date was addressed, and I strongly believe they said pretty much the same thing I did – that it’s G and K’s big day, they are entitled to invite or not invite anyone they want, and if she has an issue she should be dialing direct. Cousin, not getting the supportive and sympathetic answer she wanted to hear, went to the next resource on the list, her very nice cousin (and sister of the groom) C, who would hopefully have a lot more sympathy to spare.

From there we come to the crux of this how we treat one another matter, in the form of my work-related staff mentoring relationship.

It is not going well. At. All. It is so bad I have basically told her I am completely out of kind-and-gentle methods to work with her and am stripping off the gloves. We are down to bare-knuckle conversations going forward.

I recognize that my anger over a recent incident is fueling this reaction, yet I also recognize that supportive, sympathetic, reasonable, and appealing to her intelligence is getting us nowhere. If anything, she is escalating and getting worse.

What caused this? Well, Wednesday we had our scheduled meeting, discussing the week’s events and how work was going from her perspective. I had heard from a couple of different sources, including the partner overseeing her workload, that she was having a tougher than usual time – there was some snappish interaction with a coworker, some eye-rolling sarcasm with another, and her questioning him (partner) on directions he was providing. What I got from her, she doesn’t really have a problem and cannot understand why everyone feels she is difficult to work with. I provided specific examples from the week, and she tried to argue with me on each. I kept my cool with her and told her our conversations were not about the rest of the staff, but about her and her interactions with them.

Then she got frustrated and says I am in no position to judge because I am not an attorney, I have not gone to law school, not passed the bar. And the final nail in the coffin: I do not contribute to the profitability of the firm.

This is an old argument, one I have dealt with many, many times throughout my career. I simply sat there and looked at her in silence for a long minute while I internally composed myself and did not fire her on the spot. When I finally spoke, I said that may be true, but despite all that, I am still higher up on the org chart than she is, I possess the power to hire and fire, and no matter what she felt personally about my skills, qualifications, and profitability to the firm, my position was empowered by the owners and the position I hold requires her respect. Whatever her personal feelings about me the person, she damn well better respect the position I hold in the firm and keep her personal opinions and attitudes to herself.

She tried to interrupt, and I used my best, sternest, parent-est “be quiet! I’m talking now!” tone and words. I whipped out my fillability spreadsheet, showing her fillability in 2015 and through March 31, 2016 (the holy grail of information in professional services firms), her profitability for the same periods, and how she was close to dead last for the attorneys. Even among the other associates at her level of experience, she was second, and  only a small percentage ahead of the third and a significantly larger percentage behind the first.

That certainly shut her up. Typically this type of stuff is only disclosed when discussing salary adjustments, bonuses, or promotions.

I told her in very specific ways what kind of turn around I needed to see in her attitude and her behavior. I ended with supportive words, because she has been putting forth some effort. But it seems difficult for her to grasp that the special snowflake that is her is not that special in the world of attorneys at large.

That was Wednesday. I went home exhausted, but hopeful that she continued to absorb the message.

Thursday morning I come in feeling quite upbeat and happy after training with J. On my way to the kitchen for coffee I overhear her in the copy room berating the receptionist so severely that the woman was in tears. I immediately stepped in and told receptionist I needed her up front, I’d finish supervising the copy job she was running and very sharply told my problem child to cancel or redirect her job and then stay in her office until I got there to discuss what I had just observed.

I have been reduced to a professional minder, sending my errant charge to her room until I had a moment to cool off and discuss her behavior calmly.

Because really, who does that? Our receptionist is not the brightest bulb but she’s competent and professional and works hard. I don’t care if she’s not an attorney, or all she can do now and may ever do at this firm is be the receptionist. She does a fine job at it, and she should be respected as a person and a member of the team that keeps the firm running.

To say I was completely livid it the understatement of the week.

So first I had to talk to the receptionist and get her calmed down, face fixed before someone higher up the food chain or another staff person came in and saw her crying. I then had to briefly brief the higher ups about what had happened and that I was in the process of doing immediate damage control.

Somewhat to her credit, my errant associate had the good sense to understand that she had overstepped, overreacted, and behaved appallingly. She also knew, vaguely, that she should apologize for her behavior. I had to explain to her that it is beyond unacceptable and unprofessional to act that way, and that I had to be reduced to explaining to her where and why her behavior is unacceptable … there is just so much wrong with this entire situation.

Anyway, I laid down the law about how professional coworkers act. There is not caste system in place in our firm. Being an attorney billing hours does not make her better or more valuable than anyone else.

By the time I was finished with our conversation she looked like she was ready to burst into tears herself. But I do not feel guilty nor do I believe I was too hard on her. If anything, I’m starting to think we (and perhaps the rest of the world) have coddled her too much. My bosses are good and decent people, very caring and very fair and equitable about treatment of staff, giving people the benefit of the doubt for honest mistakes. If they were anything but horrified by her behavior toward our receptionist I would have quit on the spot. Thankfully they were horrified, and if anything they thought I should have reprimanded her more strongly.

And then yesterday was meeting with the partners to discuss staff performance and quarterly bonuses. We send the staff home at 2 and then sit around with beer and snacks and talk billed hours, profitability, etc. I had no snacks or beer – guacamole and salsa is not my thing – but I drank water. Go me!

The partners in this firm are generous people and strive for fairness, yet ensuring they reward exceptional performance to retain the talent we have. Going over the staff performance and individual issues demonstrates they are thoughtful as well as shrewd and intelligent. Despite the staff issues I’d had to deal with – reminding me again why I hate being a supervising manager – I am glad to be in the position I hold within this firm.

Discussing the associates, paralegals, and receptionist as well as their individual case loads was interesting. It was nice to know I am doing well, they are thrilled with the way the firm is running and believe me to be a great fit. Those kinds of things are always nice to hear. But at the same time I was hearing echoes of J, tell me what you don’t like, don’t be agreeable, find a little fault with something I’m doing. Still, it is nice to have efforts acknowledged and appreciated.

All this stuff this week left me lost in thought and processing through my practice this morning. I have always been proud of my kids for having enough self-respect to not want to stand by and watch others they care for and about being disrespected and mistreated. The family dynamic while with their aunt and uncle and grandparents – I get why they are unable to stand up and call cousin’s husband out on his behavior. However, when it is G’s wedding and cousin is complaining to C and suggesting G does not care about family, those are the instances when stating your feelings clearly is acceptable. M has a set of values that infidelity does not fit into, yet he has enough compassion and willingness to listen and decide on a case-by-case basis. A long friendship has been rehabilitated and continues because we are not completely black-and-white, all sins are equal type people.

As for my associate, I honestly cannot foresee what will happen to her. My instincts say she needs a level of professional help we are not equipped to provide, yet we cannot say “go to therapy” as a disciplinary action either. Next week there will be a heart-to-heart laying down guidelines and specific behavioral targets we expect her to meet, my suspicion is one way or the other she will not be with us much longer. Which is sad to me, because I already feel as if I may be failing her. But I am now grown-up enough to understand that I am not equipped or trained to work with someone who does not understand normal social or professional behavior. Her inability to respond to my mentoring technique is not my fault, and truly not my problem to solve. My bosses were terrific about emphatically reinforcing that with me yesterday.

So all this stuff was churning this morning. People will always make mistakes, sometimes big ones that alter the course of our lives. There are those who are bewildered about where they belong in the world and accept less than stellar treatment from another with whom they thought they had a special bond and commitment, enough so to create children. And then of course there are those who seem to be so intellectually brilliant yet emotionally handicapped.

I came to no new conclusions thinking about it this morning, but I feel better having thought about it and written it down here. I have such strong convictions on the topic that I actually fear being overbearing about it. I see TM’s fine hand in my attitudes and how I strive to be fair and balanced in the emotion-packed situations that intersect with my life. Even if I did not generally like everyone I work with does not give me license to treat them from that place of disdain; my personal feelings within the boundaries of the workplace must be kept separate from both of us doing our jobs and interacting professionally. Friends I can choose, family I have to tolerate until I choose not to do so any further.

I never want to lose my ability to be kind and respectful toward others. A reader chastised me on a couple of occasions for letting my self-righteous ego get the better of me when someone else has been rude to me first. Not in those precise words or terms – he’s far more diplomatic in his directness – but that was my takeaway from it. It came to mind today and this morning while thinking about the week’s events, and while I would not go so far as to apologize even indirectly for my behavior in the prior interactions he called me out on, were our paths to cross again I would strive to be the bigger, better person and not sink to that level of churlish behavior.

Far from perfect, I try to be polite and to be kind. I can always do better, and knowing that will keep me honest in my behaviors and interactions with others.

I always hope, anyway.

Marriage somethings

I am happily married and have been for 18 years, with M for nearly 25. I am just realizing that is a really long time! Seems to me we have a pretty normal marriage, but every now and again I get a whiff or an earful of differing opinions. And mostly that’s just fine – if we were all exactly the same life would be boring. This time it was from a coworker, only married a few years and in the first painful steps of separating from her spouse and in the “men cannot be trusted” phase of that process. I cut her lots and lots of slack. Here are a few of the differences I disclosed that surprised her during our conversation.

M and I are very different people. Yep, it’s true. Our hobbies and interests are different. Our backgrounds, upbringing, and childhoods are very different. I am a city-loving girl with all its modern conveniences and he loves the remote country and would kill for a rural residence far from town. And that’s just the beginning, a bare tip of a small iceberg. However, our core value systems are very similar. What seems to make it work for us is willingness and understanding that compromise is necessary, in life and in relationships. Perhaps it is wisdom that comes with maturity and experience. We also love and respect each other, and are willing to do what it takes to put each other first and protect our marriage. Sometimes it’s really hard; perfect balance in the give and take is an illusion. The only perfect balance is that we can discuss it and come to an agreement we can both be mostly happy with.

We do not mind spending time apart pursuing individual interests. Every week M goes off and meets with his cronies for runs or running-related meetings, and as we are in trail running season, one day of the weekends he’s off running in the mountains with his friends. He loves this time of year, when the get togethers are an all day long trek on mountain trails. I live for the weekend days with the house all to myself. Maybe I’m at my desk working or on the couch (after my gym practice, of course) binge watching television or reading or both simultaneously. I go out shopping or meet with one/some of my friends for lunch or to hang out. But the mere idea of being at home all alone or able to just go wherever appeals to me. It is having the freedom to rearrange the furniture or clean out the cabinets without having him underfoot to suggest we go out or worse, want to involve himself in whatever project I have undertaken. Reorganzing the kitchen cabinets is not the sort of thing that creates live-and-death drama, but frankly I prefer to reorganize alone and not have to negotiate drinking glass placement or whether the big bowl we use once a year takes up prime real estate or is relegated to the very highest of high shelves.

We like spending time together, too. Mundane chores like grocery shopping or Costco runs we tend to do together. The only absolute exception is the Roseville farmer’s market – M is on his own in that endeavor. There are far too many tool vendors and people selling used items that we absolutely do not need that capture his bargain-hunting imagination, and I know my boredom and impatience with the scavenger-hunt-like process sucks the joy out of the experience for him. We tend drive to favorite places in the mountains (M’s choice) or on the coast (I love the ocean) to enjoy day trips and vacations. M is also everything aviation crazy, and I give up an entire week in September to sit in the bleachers at the Reno Air Races. It’s mostly a relaxing and enjoyable experience to me, but pretty far from my first choice of fun things to do for an entire week. And Reno is never going to be my dream getaway place.

Domestic choring splits work because we both pitch in and do whatever needs to get done. Because M does not work outside the home anymore, he has responsibility for cleaning and maintaining our pool, the landscaping, any outdoor chores, plus supervising any and all contractors we have at our home that require one of us to be present. He also does most the cooking and a lot of washing and drying of the laundry (folding and hanging generally falls to me). We both clean bathrooms, change beds, vacuum, clean up the kitchen, take out the trash, feed the cats, clean up the random mess of cat puke, etc. For whatever reason I seem to be the car person, in that I am the one who takes all the cars for oil changes, smog checks, maintenance and repairs. It works for us. Our housekeeping style tends to be relaxed, lived-in, and I cannot recall a time ever when either of us has bitched to the other about things not getting done.

Sometimes communicating is difficult, but we both recognize it’s important to keep trying until we succeed. Everyone I know talks about the importance of communicating, especially with your spouse or significant other. Hell, I have had that same conversation with my friends, my kids, strangers on the internet. And I mostly feel as if I am speaking from a position of experience, and just like everyone and everything else, your experience and definition of good communication within a relationship. Probably 95% of the time, M and I have healthy, intelligent conversations and discussions, even about the tougher topics. Then there are the 5% times, far too many to list, when that whole Mars-and-Venus cliche rings true. Whether it’s about the state of the world or something going on with the kids or close friends, sometimes M and I strongly disagree and cannot come to a reasonable conclusion without a massive, knock-down, drag-out fight. And because we are imperfect human beings, we sometimes say hurtful things to each other in anger with deliberate intention masked as heat-of-the-moment anger or frustration. And occasionally we are not sorry for saying those hurtful things. We are a very honest and down-to-earth couple in all our interactions; there are no rainbows and unicorns in my very practical, realistic, loving-yet-not-romantic marriage.

Forgiveness, just like love, must always be genuine. No matter what, I love M and he loves me. Despite the zillions of time each year I want to smother him with a pillow so I can have what I want without having to negotiate down to the very last detail, I love my husband and would have a very hard time without his presence in my life. As I said, sometimes we each say hurtful things, and maybe they needed to be said. But not in anger. Not hurled like a weapon across a great divide of our differences in personality and belief. When that happens, when we shoot for the heart and our aim was true, maybe we are not sorry for saying what we said, but we are remorseful for our timing and reasons behind using the hurtful words. I want only the best things in life for M; I want all his dreams to come true, and I know he feels the same for me. We want to be our better selves to and for each other, and not these monster warriors wielding our differences like a club to beat the other to death in the heat of battle. When one says “I’m sorry” to the other it’s genuine and heartfelt. Forgiveness is something that benefits both of us and our marriage. Being fake, using it to keep the peace is not an option.

As I have said, my affection for M is apparent and we have a good marriage. I think my associate was surprised I am so honest about the downside qualities that come with the relationship territory, but I always refer to M as the imperfect guy who is just about perfect for me. We went through a really rough patch and both had to grow up to grow together, and we still fall down and say and do really dumb things.C and A are getting married in a week, G and K in less than 5 months, so there is a lot of conversation about what makes relationships and marriages healthy and functional. Since I married at 20 the first time and divorced 7 years later, I kind of get that being older (C and A both turn 31 this year, G and K turned 29), more established in independent adulthood is helpful. I want the best for all of them and am not one to offer advice until there is a very specific issue for which I might have practical experience; a good relationship is not really one of those issues unless specifically asked. Life stuff, relationship stuff – I think they are as ready as anyone else for marriage and need no advice or direction or further ideas from me about how to succeed at it. As I say continuously like some sort of broken record, I really do just want them to be happy and successful in their life’s pursuits.

And to know that I love and adore them to the moon and stars and back, of course. It’s a mom thing.

Happy Friday everyone!

Drama addiction

Chatting with a bestie today brought up this thought. She’s a dear, dear friend who has had life-altering bad things happen in the last few years and has perservered and gotten through it. Things have been stable and are truly starting to improve in ways she can feel, including a happy college gradution for one of her children. Yet she texted me this morning:

So now I’m worrying about having a panic attack at graduation indoors surrounded by thousands of ppl. Sigh the way my brain works sometimes.

I replied:

Funny how we become so addicted to chaos and worry our minds create drama to give itself sometime to feed off.

The more I think about this, the more I realize how true. And how sad.

I believe retraining our thinking is a lot like dieting, developing discipline. There was a time when I worried constantly about being adequate. As an employee. As a wife. As a mother. Every time my children would do something I perceived as negative or bad behavior, I was sure it related directly to my ability as a parent. I tortured myself with anxiety. When I divorced their father I was sure of two things: I was irrepairably scarring my children and I would never be asked out again. At 29 I was certain I had failed already as a parent (the kids were 2, 3, and 5 at that point) and doomed to a life of lonely celibacy.

Despite my worries and my fears, my kids adjusted and grew up into fine young adults. Being an invisibly average single parent also did not deter nice, attractive men either, and I dated and had a couple of different relationships before meeting and falling in love with M. What did change with hard work, coaching and encouragement from friends, and professional counseling (most critical thing for me) was my thinking and ability to retrain my thinking. After awhile my reality reshaped itself and chaos became less of a thing in my day-to-day life. My addiction to it and the drama it created – both the real and the imagined – became secondary to living in the moment with its happiness, headaches, joys, and frustrations. With a live-in boyfriend (at that time) and three young, active, busy children, I learned to trust myself and the good things blooming in my life. When genuine problems arose from circumstances (car accident and resulting 3 weeks in the shop for repair) or poor choices (not budgeting, living above our means via credit card spending) I had the skills to cope and the resolve to solve the problems rather than let worry and anxiety rule my days.

While I would love to say I am completely cured of worry and anxiety attacks, I like to be both realistic and honest. I do still worry – about my family, friends, and finances. And about things that matter less directly in my day-to-day life – terrorism, politics, natural disasters. The latter is easy to fix by a few days of detox from my news outlets; the former is something I have to just let go and trust that I will be ready if and when I am needed for family and friends. Finance is always a concern, because I work with money for a living and understand it is a finite resource. Other than living on catfood now (and our fluffbuckets will be miffed if we started horning in on their gig), retirement savings continues and I have to believe it will be adequate when the time comes. We budget and we save every month, and we (mostly) spend according to our plan. It’s an imperfect system, but we are human and our mortgage remains our only debt so we are doing something right.

I remarked yesterday I do not cope well with drama. I especially do not cope well with drama of my own or another person’s creation. I try hard to stay the course that problems can be managed, even if I do not like the way they have to be managed due to constraints likely beyond my control. But I have not had a panic in years and hope to never have another.

But my pragmatism … I occasionally wonder if it makes me appearless compassionate with those who struggle. My friend gets me, and she knows I do not mean that she’s being childish or unreasonable in her worries and her fears. She also knows I’m pretty well grounded, that I understand and am trying to help keep her on a even keel by pointing out the obvious. Others, even here in my own blog or when commenting on other blogs, I have concerns that I come across as smug or as if I believe those who react or handle issues differently to be ridiculous or worse. Most of the time nothing is further from the truth, and if I did feel that way I would be far more likely to just say nothing at all or simply state “I think you’re being ridiculous.” Which is another post about times I am too frank and/or too earnest.

Since we are speaking of drama, though … M is 100% better today. You will all be happy to know I have ceased eying the pillows in our home with nefarious intent toward him.

We broke up!

I have a confession – I had to unfriend M on Facebook.

My account is recent and is primarily to keep up with my kids and their frequent event photos. A lot of times they text pictures to me in the moment, but frequently there is more shared on FB. So I finally broke down and set up a profile, adding my kids, their significant others, my husband, and probably other friends as we move along. I do myself do not post much; I have too many other avenues of communication that I enjoy and prefer to maintain.

Except I have had to un-friend M. Yep, we broke up on FB.

He’s into cars and running groups and political discussions. He and his group of contacts tend to post a lot. It was becoming much too cluttery on topics of minimal for me, especially since I hear about it directly from M every single day.

He understands. He gets that it’s me, not him. But still, it feels like it should bother us more than it does. I guess I am more realistic and grown-up than I want to admit. We are still happily married, and our real-life conversations are far more valuable and interesting than anything either of us have going on online.

Still, it might have been nice if he had actually noticed. Ah well. Life as we have always known it continues.