From nervously glad to horrifically sad in less than 12 hours

Yesterday one of my closest friends texted to tell me he was likely to be undergoing a surgical procedure to correct a brain injury. This has been an ongoing issue for several months, so it was big news that he was finally getting scheduled and ready for it. While happy and excited about it, I am equally terrified of the potential side effects, complications, unexpected consequences. I seem to have no healthy outlet to express that anxiety – after all, it was almost 9 when he texted to tell me and I could not go back to the gym for a third workout. So overnight I was plagued with nightmares and poor sleep and woke up with a blinding headache that pushed me to push back my exercise until after work. Not the end of the world, and I know I will be calmer about this whole process once I have more information, including specific date and time range for the procedure.

Open my email this morning and first thing I read is from one of my private clients – his 13 year old son has taken his own life. I do not have a way to react to that; in the moment of reading the words, having my mind process the meaning of the words, I find catching my breath impossible. Such situations, expressing sorrow is so very inadequate. Nothing I can do, nothing anyone can do. Something I understand all too well, life changes in a blink.

Both events have triggered strong emotions within me, and I find myself flailing around in search of safe harbor. POSITIVE safe harbor. Last thing I want or need is to be seeking out chocolate and soda and things that will make me ultimately feel worse. I ended up skipping out on my practice this morning because of aforementioned blinding headache and tentatively bailing on a Wednesday night thing of practice with a tribe member and friend. But I may change my mind as the day progresses. Or I may go to yoga with one of my friends here in the office.

Choices, healthier choices, are obvious and available to me. I could go to the gym tonight in my crappy mood and mini band walk and do enough lunges and squats to burn myself out and kick-start the endorphin production. I could blog here and at my health and fitness site more. I could turn even infinitely more selfish and ignore the long list of to-do projects at home and read more. Or I could even get more assertive about clearing out that list of to-do projects.

Before all this, I had a post brewing about K and her career stuff. We have become close, K and I, and she confides and bounces ideas with me all the time. I love that. As much as she is enjoying her present job, she has now been there more than 1.5 years and has yet to have the performance review/salary adjustment that was promised year when here hiring supervisor left and she took on that role and responsibility. First it was to be at the beginning of 2017, but it’s now been 3 months and not a word has been said. The job has expanded considerably and has far more responsibility, yet her present supervisor and his boss really have no clear idea of all she does. While compiling that list and preparing to ask for a meeting, she had been doing research for other available opportunities and essentially hit the motherlode.

While not actually serious in her search, she did apply for a couple of other jobs that are similar to her present role and a good match for her experience. For one she was asked for compensation guidelines, and I said to offer a range that was at least 10% more than what she is presently making. The range presented started at $10K more than her present salary and he immediately invited her for an interview. Score! Except she’s not sure she wants to commute to their offices (across town from where they live and through downtown) and she is not 100% sure about the job. But it would be good experience to interview and learn about another industry. Then there is a second job for one of the larger and better employers here in town, applied for on Sunday, contacted for an information pre-screening interview by phone yesterday (passed with flying colors) and now going for the first face-to-face interview today. This job starts at $15K more per year than she is making now, has a better insurance/benefit package, and is less than 10 minutes from home (versus her 30 minute commute now). These are very happy events.

For me as well, while not looking I also acquired another new self-employment client. It is a small job, probably less than 10 hours per month, but potential for more work exists in the future as they grow. It’s interesting project work, though, so in truth I might have gone for a lower hourly rate just to get the work. Thankfully he didn’t even blink at my hourly rates, which is partly due to the glowing referral from an existing client. I am delighted with that.

I recognize how little room I have for complaint in my life. M remains the imperfect guy who is just about the perfect partner for me. I have jobs I truly enjoy and the husband with enough going on in his own life to allow me a lot of room and freedom to pursue my jobs and healthy lifestyle that benefits both of us. Both my kids are living independent lives and blazing their own paths through adulthood.

For every old friend I have had abandon our long friendship in light of my lifestyle changes I seem to have acquired one or more new ones that are more like-minded, encouraging, supportive. Relationships are like living organisms that are left to grown and change organically as time passes. As I have come to understand more fully and continue to learn to management my expectations, I am far happier and more secure in the progression of my days. So when the truly bad days do hit – like today – I am not flailing around grasping at anything that will somehow comfort or make the awful fade even a little bit. Not precisely sure what I am going to do, but I have an associate standing outside my doorway prodding me to join them for a healthy lunch and walk around the block.

As far as choices for coping go, that’s a good place to start.

 

Closing doors, opening windows, emptying spaces

Last night I received a nice email from a former friend. It was an apology for things that have disrupted and eventually ended our long friendship. I read it last night, again this morning, and am now organizing my thoughts here before composing my reply.

I had the pleasure and privilege of lunching with trainer J and new tribe friend C yesterday. While J and I have had many, many free-roaming and far-reaching conversations over the months of working together, this was my first real opportunity to have an extended conversation and get to know C. I am not kidding when I say her charm, kindness, and wisdom have turned me into a huge fan-girl. Funny that a 3-hour lunch with people of such a varied age range – J is 28, I am 55, and C is 67 – could be so lively and entertaining.

One of the things C stressed as topics arose throughout our lunch, life is all about our choices and the ripple effect of the consequences. I wholeheartedly agree, even as I am not always so assured or as confident in my own, particularly when it comes to relationships.

This old friend made her own choices about our long 50+ year friendship and through the years has said many hurtful, stupid things. To be fair, I am quite certain we both have, because we are both very human. Looking back on the final series of events in my mind, I recognize that the choice to cease all communication and to terminate our friendship was more mine than hers and was my defense from what I viewed as relentless and ridiculous personal attacks.

I have zero regrets about that decision. At the time, it was among the hardest things I have done in recent years, yet it was important for my own emotional health and growth.

Now she has apologized for her words and her behaviors, and I believe the apology to be genuine and her regret for the cruel words and harsh judgments between us is real. She expressed the desire to close this chapter, reconnect and renew our long friendship. I now that is what I find myself mulling over today.

Forgive her? Of course; it would have been far more harmful to me to withhold that or to remain hurt and angry. Throughout the time since our friendship ended we have crossed paths at least half dozen times. While it was awkward at best to outright frosty hostile the rest of the time, I do not think or speak poorly of her. We had a falling out, but I wish her every happiness and success. The shortcomings in each of our personalities are well known to all who know both of us, and I have bent over backwards in my pleas that mutual friends not take sides in this dispute. There are so many things about her that overcome the qualities of her personality that I dislike and I seek to enhance the positives I found within her. For my own peace of mind, it is always better to focus and remember that she was my friend for most of my life and through some of the best and worst of events any person should have to endure.

That said, I am not sure our shared values are now enough to overcome the empty spaces that continue to exist. Many of my closest friends will refer to me as a Pollyanna or my generation’s rendition of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. I take no offense at such characterizations; I really want to be someone who sees the good in people and merely be aware of the extent of the less desirable aspects. I have had enough issues overcoming my own negative girl; I did not then and certainly do not now need the embodiment of her message in someone in the friendship realm of my life.

With the conversation with C and trainer J ringing in my ears and both their thoughts on choices, I recognize that the woman I am today is an enhanced model of the one who struggled mightily to let go of a harmful friendship. I am not immune to the weight of the years, shared memories and experiences. I will never cease begin grateful for her support and encouragement during some really impossibly painful periods in my life, nor will I ever stop caring for and about her and her welfare. In the fair and balanced backward view, I have to acknowledge that her methods and her thinking, her overall negative outward voice are in contrast with the person I am and what I truly value in those in my realm. As my confidence and my own sense of self have evolved, I recognize that I do have choices in who I invite to be part of my life and how we spend our time. I am not so dreadful that I have no choices in the matter, that I should be grateful for anyone who is capable of tolerating being around me.

I cringe inwardly realizing how much of my adult life has been spent feeling inadequate and inferior to others in my personal life. Sometimes even in my choice of employment, I have undervalued myself and my contributions and sought acceptance and validation from peers and superiors, a few of whom had questionable values or quality of character.

After thinking about this off and on throughout this day, I recognize that my old friend and I will always be connected, that I value our shared history. However, as adults, at the places we are in our lives now, trying to rekindle the closeness we once enjoyed is not a task I want to pursue. Trust once broken is hard to rebuild, and while there is no specific instance that could be labeled betrayal, sometimes the harshness of our judgments and that ways we hurt those we profess to care so deeply alienates affection to an irreparable state. When our paths cross, I will be courteous and genuine in my interest in her life and times. But I have little desire to pursue anything that involves direct sharing of my successes and disappointments or leaving myself vulnerable to the impact of her thoughts and judgments. Where once I was completely transparent and unguarded in sharing my thoughts and feelings, I have finally matured a bit and learned to be more guarded with sharing my personal treasures with those who have wounded me with carelessness or casual cruelty.

In the perfect world people are not careless or cruel to others, yet I know I myself have been guilty of both on occasion. I have been stricken with regret when I realized my error, and I deserved the consequences of those actions. But I learned, and I try very hard to not let my temper or impatience or insecurity overwhelm my values and code of good personhood. Being human, though, means the only thing I am perfect at is my own imperfect actions.

But as I remind myself, life is long and there are many more opportunities to make good and better choices.

For today, I will acknowledge the apology and graciously accept it. As for the rest, I have no idea what may happen between us and what the future may hold. I will retain an open mind on the topic, yet with a very guarded heart.

Advisor, mentor, teacher, trainer, coach

“Hope is a funny thing when you think about it. It’s something you always have. You just have to believe you do.”
Laura Miller, For All You Have Left

This is one of my favorite weeks – it’s a 3-day work week and I have no appointments on the calendar. It means I could wear yoga pants to the office without guilt if I had that sort of wild and crazy hair. There are only a couple of other staff in the office today, and Wednesday I am likely here alone and will be closing early. These are the weeks at my employed job I really do like.

Although I have nothing scheduled on my calendar, my phone, email, and text are still very active. For the majority of the firm’s clients I am an advisory resource on navigating the reimbursement process for the regulatory and statutory required clean-up at their sites. From that, for a small handful I have evolved into a trusted business and finance advisor as well, helping them with everything from evaluating accounting software and understanding the terms and conditions of loan financing proposals to assisting them recruit and train office and accounting staff. Through the years it has turned into a weird dichotomy of services I provide the clients … and bill them accordingly.

Then there is my booming self-employment business. For a few of these clients I have been doing the monthly accounting and preparation for taxes for several years, but many of them are new acquisitions in the last several months. Accounting, payroll, other administrative services as needed – it surprises me how frequently I have discussed recruiting and training with absolute strangers, yet this has very quickly become a marketable niche service for me. It surprises me because I do not think of myself as an expert at anything and a truly flawed teacher or trainer. Most of my career I have dreaded hiring new, inexperienced staff, because I take their missteps almost personally, as if it is my failure to impart the knowledge they require for success. It is well outside my comfort zone for me to try and teach someone how to do tasks I do on autopilot much of the time. Yet here I am, being paid to sit in on interviews and then sit down with and train someone in how to do their jobs.

Yet again, next week I will be in a client’s office teaching a new employee how to apply what he knows about accounting to the ways this particular client firm wants things done. In my experience the work flow of paper differs from firm to firm, but the actual debits and credits are always the same. Getting someone new to understand that their fresh and brilliant ideas on getting stuff done are fantastic, but learn the fundamentals of how the business does business before bringing those bright ideas to the table for consideration or change. In those moments I feel like a capitalist dream-killer.

I am surrounded by young up-and-comers, and I love their energy and ambition. I love that they see a pathway from here to there … wherever the unique “there” is for each. I can never recall being that way myself, never dreaming of a bigger role, more responsibility, an office, a bigger office, greater salary and bonus potential. My goals always seemed more modest:  to be happy in my job, comfortable in my work environment, to work well with others, to be able to conceal my frustration and impatience with dumb people I think should be smarter. Somehow that led me through a series of jobs and firms and learning about me and what works, what doesn’t, and why. From that I have what feels like blindly walked up an invisible ladder leading to better pay and benefits, bonuses, different working conditions, an office of my own, and a career path that is meaningful and rewarding to me. It’s not what I observed or thought “success” meant when I was working for a national accounting firm, but then again, I never thought I would be an accountant, either.

The people I learned from on the way from there to here were not necessarily traditional role models. Some were people I worked with, who managed in ways that made me sure I never, ever wanted to be a supervisor or manager if it meant turning into a micro-managing control freak. There were mean girls and bullying bosses that had me regularly crying in the ladies room and dreading getting up and going to work. But for every one of those people, there were a lot of genuine, caring, empathetic coworkers who were there get me through the workdays and taught me a lot about my own resilience and mental and emotional toughness.

I have always wanted to be good at the things I choose to undertake, or at least put forth my best effort. Somehow or anther it has propelled me from quiet background where I feel I belong to leadership positions where I am the one influencing others in their career choices and work-related habits and behaviors. I have most definitely not evolved as a micro-managing control freak, but I find myself frequently wishing my mentoring skills were not plagued with a lot of self-doubt and agonizing over the big and small details.

It’s Monday, so training with J. We had a nice discussion about diet and food – which is a tough topic for anyone to approach with candor and sensitivity. He was giving me some advice on handling some of the other outside voices about diet and exercise – which I very much appreciate, because I’m not always diplomatic or tactful with pushy people – and made a comment on my looking to him as an expert. It gave me a moment of pause, because I do not actually look at anyone as an expert at anything. I believe there are lots and lots of folks with greater experience and knowledge in specific subject areas, and the really good ones are also teachers who can share and impart that in ways I can accept, understand, and learn. To think of him as an expert is perilous to me, because that word creates an unreasonable and unsustainable standard of near perfection. Mistakes will be made – his, mine, a combination of both of us – and in my mind experts in their fields do not make mistakes.

If anything, I think those who have been my mentors or taught or trained me had a gift for inspiring hope as well as imparting knowledge and teaching me new skills. The thought in my mind is they would not waste their time trying to teach me something if they did not have at least some belief in my ability to learn. When my own self-esteem and insecurity issues are in full voice and volume, having someone cutting through the bullshit and giving me a safe exit is always welcome.

Next week I will be going to a client’s offices and sitting down with a war vet who has lost a leg, yet still stood with the same proud military bearing in our interview and conducted himself with both pride and humility. This is his first job after retraining into accounting, and I can sense his anxiety and apprehension about it. I have great confidence in his ability to learn and adapt, and my hope for being able to guide him into a safe, successful new career pathway overrides my fear of being an inadequate training manager.

I am discovering that for me, hope is an antithesis of fear. My thoughts of late have been plagued with darkness and images I wish I could permanently erase, but they are pushed further and further into the background with happier or more urgent events in my life right now. While my primary goal of improving my overall health involves going to the gym and eating right, part of me contemplates the possibilities for moving weights to and fro and my capability for doing more, going farther in this realm. Before, even thinking about lifting weights caused this paralyzing fear all through me, imagining my humiliation upon failure or worse. Now it is more an intriguing puzzle to the how to do so correctly, the actual amount of weight lifted or moved will be determined later. Same with food – I am less fearful about continuing poor choices and more hopeful about finding reasonable balance. And work … oh work. For so long I was alarmed about what I would do if when the firm fails. Now I am hopeful that I can see my job through to when that happens, that my self-employment clients do not grow to the point of eliminating my hours/role in the firm before I feel completely ready to take that step.

Today, I feel less fearful than another day. I have amazing advisors, mentors, teachers, trainers, coaches in my midst, and they inspire by simply by example of simply being themselves. My wish is to emulate what they are to me in what I am and present to others. Today, I believe I can do this and do it well. Let’s all hope it holds through next week.

 

Family

Every now and again I am asked to speak to another family about the loss of their child. To be a compassionate ear. As someone who has been through that type of heartbreak, I simply cannot say no. I figure it is a small way for me to pay it forward, a drop in the bucket toward the outpouring of kindness and compassion I have received through the years.

About a month ago I got a request from a bereavement counselor I have worked with in the past for these situations, and I readily agreed to accept whatever form of contact the grieving family felt comfortable reaching out to me. While I am absolutely no substitute for professional therapy in any situation, I am a good listener and can fairly accurately describe how those parents feel. Losing a child is the most difficult and painful experience of my entire life, and I have had some traumatic experiences to select from for comparison purposes.

On Wednesday night/Thursday morning I got a middle of the night txt from this mother whose 4 year old son had died in a bathtub accident. It was no one’s fault – he slipped getting out of the tub and hit his head against the side. She was awake at 3 in the morning, sobbing uncontrollably in her grief, feeling her heart break yet again. Not just from the loss of her child, but also the resulting separation from her husband after their loss. Finding their way back to each other is so difficult, and she had no one to turn to or to talk with.

I texted her as soon as I woke up and read the message. I waited for her to call or to text and received no reply. I checked my phone every free moment the last 36 hours, hoping she would reach out to me again.

Until this afternoon, when I received a phone call from her husband.

He found her last night after a series of texts throughout the day and then a blurry/slurry voice mail message. She had carefully hoarded a supply of sleeping pills and taken them all with a good quantity of Glen Livet, then secured a plastic bag over her head to sufforcate herself once she passed out.

I am devastated. I did not know this woman at all. Except for the few texts reaching out for help, we never communicated. I texted in reply as soon as I could, and then waited for her to reply or to phone. It’s hard to know what the right course of action is in these types of situations, and I did what I thought was best.

But she is/was a real person, another mother completely destroyed and heart broken by the loss of her only child. I get that, and I am trying so hard not to judge her final choice. What I know about her and the circumstances of her life is completely encapsulated into a couple of conversations with other people and some very brief texts. I am simply a passing stranger who truly wanted to be there and to help.

I was too late. And I will live with that knowledge. Maybe someday I will forget about the very spare contact we had, where our lives intersected, but I seriously doubt I will ever forget how poorly it makes me feel.

Tonight is family dinner night, and we have much to discuss and cause to celebrate. After a month and 14 (and counting) interviews, K has received her first offer and is currenly undergoing a thorough background check. While nothing is completely, 100% firm right now, she feels infinitely better having that in hand. In the meantime, while she waits for the investigation to conclude, she is continuing to interview (2 more set up next week). C’s birthday is in December, and we are hoping to be celebrating together in Disneyland. M and I have hotel rooms lined up for all of us, plus our plane reservations are made. G and K are not sure yet, with the new job and school finals being that week for both, but we are hopeful. A and C cannot put in for time-off until mid-September, but since it is before the Christmas holiday it is likely to work out fine.

It will be wonderful to be together, at our favorite Chinese restaurant, to share a meal, talk, laugh, catch up.

I will hug them all extra tight when we say goodbye, make sure I tell them (as I always do) how much I love them. I will blink away any excess tears left from this moment and this woman I did not have opportunity to know.

Life is fragile and it can be irrevocably altered in a blink. Today, I am unbearably ungrateful for the reminder.