Creating the life and livelihood I desire

Thinking about a lot of things the last week or so, and it’s been a good, healthy, creative sort of process. To be clear, I am not especially creative. Where other people may throw splashy colors of paint at the wall and it somehow looks amazing, I use a ruler, draw straight lines, create geographic figures, color neatly inside. Nothing wrong with perfectly aligned squares and triangles filled with blocks of the same color, but it’s not especially arty. Likely this explains why I am an accountant and not an artist.

C is here this week, and it’s been wonderful to see her. She’s experiencing personal issues right now, and as a family we do our best to be supportive and encouraging, to help her get through it whatever ways we can. I’m proud of her taking steps to address these things, in her own ways. I want her to be healthy and happy.

It is also an exciting time in our household. M and I have had many discussions about where we are right now, our plans for the balance of 2017 and into the coming year. Nothing big or fancy on the horizon – a business trip to Texas is probably the biggest blip on our radar, and I am not 100% sure M really wants to go with me. Houston is not a hyper-appealing attraction for him, but we can make it work and have a lot of fun. We will be there together, it will not be dreadfully humid, and the client I am working with there is engaging and thoughtful about good eats and things we may enjoy.

The more I think about marriage – and I have a lot recently for various reasons – the more I realize that there is a lot of work in intimate relationships. Give, take, compromise, play to your strengths are all things I have said recently to others about forging stronger ties with your partner. We’ve got close friends going through a rough patch in their 28 year marriage, far from the first in recent years. It makes me appreciate what M and I have built together. Neither of us are the same person we were 25+ years ago when we met, and working through our own rough patches has left us appreciative for the ways we have changed and adapted and grown together.

This does not mean I do not want to smother him with a pillow to get my way from time to time. That is just the way I roll.

More than that, though, business is booming. My client roster is stable and the work is steady, and I have been regularly getting one-off projects that spike my working hours every week. If I had any worries about making a living after my last full-time job ended, they have been eradicated in the last few months.

Speaking of my former firm, I have been doing some consulting with them on a couple of projects. Melissa had asked me about this in the comments, and yes, they did grudgingly agree to my quoted rates. However, I have been able to do the work they wanted/needed in about a third the time the staff person who had been assigned the work, and I have offered to show him the methods I utilize to get the deliverable prepared. Thus far, they have preferred to outsource the work to me, except when I had to push the schedule back twice due to scheduling conflicts with my other clients. I suppose the new management did not understand that my going off and pursuing my own clients and work meant that I would be busy enough almost immediately to not have time available for them.

I am fortunate to have landed so firmly on my feet, something I am grateful for and do not take for granted.

Am I changing? Most definitely. I am focused on work and building something bigger and better. My life. The life I want to live and including the livelihood I desire.

This has been my whole quest, my whole life. As it should be for everyone.

But what I’m thinking lately … people want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and do not necessarily want to compromise or give up or give in to anyone or anything else or even work that hard for it.

Perhaps I am being hard on those around me right now. Within my own life and world, I understand my close and once closer friends and the bumps in the roads. Sometimes their spouses or significant others’ are unreasonable assholes. Sometimes they are as well. In a couple of cases I know how easy it is to lose ourselves in the parenting role, to the point that we experience almost a grief-like state when our kids grow up and move on and into independent lives. We are so wrapped up in our identity as super mothers that we lose our identities as wives or independent units.

Or maybe we just get tired and want to be lazy when we reach middle age. Only we have to keep working at jobs we hate and are unwilling or unable to find a way out.

Pride is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s related to status or doing something to pay the bills that bores us to tears. M and I have crafted a marriage that works for us. I don’t judge anyone else in their choices of life and lifestyle, but my hope is that we can each find peace and contentment in some facet of our lives.

The danger of pride is it can lead to a sense of entitlement. Or if things are crappy in one area of our lives and it impacts our pride, our sense of self-importance could be twisted and turn us into an entitled asshole. Being humble and kind has its own benefits.

I’m cautious about it. Paranoid even. M worked hard much of our life together and has made things simpler, smoother for me. In our present days, I can indulge my workaholic tendencies, building my business and reputation among clients and community where I toil. I cannot allow myself to become overconfident about anything in my life, and I find it akin to walking a tightrope. If finding balance is a challenge, maintaining balance is possibly even more than that.

Or maybe I’m just new at it. I have always been more secure in my professional pursuits than anything else, and it would be easy to become very big-headed about my own success and importance in the bigger picture.

In my pursuit of better health, I put forth a lot of effort. Maybe I am more accustomed to it now, but it seems like this is what it takes. What I do, how I exercise, how I eat, how I conduct myself in the rest of my life – it has become interwoven in the fabric of the rest of my life now. Still a very long way to go, because I have a whole long life ahead of me that requires that I eat healthier foods, that I exercise, that I work at the intellectual curiosity pursuits that capture my imagination, that I continue to give a shit about those worth caring for and about that cross my path and turning away from those who waste my time. It’s not that I think my time is so very valuable; it’s that I believe everyone’s time is valuable and should not be squandered.

I’m learning, every day I’m learning. Right now it’s how to cut off, let go, dismiss the disagreeable or anyone else who does not “spark joy” to make me think or grow as a human being.

We all have our hopes and dreams, even for those of us who have such small scale, modest hopes and dreams that they seem impossible to separate from regular life. Maybe I do not get to be a fitness model in this lifetime (not an ambition, just an example) or the smartest person in the room. However, I’m happy being this much healthier version of my former self and I will always be glad to be the dumbest person in a room full of highly intelligent people.

And I did that. Selfishly and for myself primarily. I work hard and do the heavy lifting to get this far in my better health quest. I read, I study, I listen to other voices and ideas to expand my own worldview. I have a thriving little business with clients who like and respect me and the imperfect guy who is just about perfect for me. Because I invest the time and the energy to make it happen for me. Not overnight. It’s taken years to get this far. But my effort is paying dividends both big and small.

And that’s mostly on me. I’ve had help. I’ve had coaches and friends to cheer me on when the going got tough or bitch-slap me back to reality when I wanted wallow. But mostly it’s all me.

It feels good to be me, something I am gradually growing accustomed to feeling.

Relationships matter

After a day of couch surfing, crying, feeling sorry for myself, I finally picked myself up and got annoyed enough with something else. So I got started deep cleaning my shower, which led to decluttering the countertop in the master bathroom. And more crying. One of our final interactions we were looking at apartments for friend J and I was fretting over the size of the bathroom – the vanity was single sink, barely any counter. But being a guy and a minimalist guy at that, what the f**k did the countertop or bathroom size matter? It has a toilet, sink, shower – all he needed. Medicine cabinet over the sink was a bonus.

Made me smile.

But after a couple of hours of frenzied deep cleaning all through the house, I feel better. M came home from a day of running and trail sweeping and I got irritated with him for tracking in crap on floors I’d just steam cleaned and wiping his feet on entry rugs I’d just vacuumed. Not his fault, of course, but I’m trying to burn off my funk and feeling cranky because of it. Essentially it was one of those pissy days in our household.

As I wait for a final load of laundry to finish washing to be loaded into the dryer, my alternate thought spin cycle has begun making its rounds in my head.

Work is for the most part going very well. I’m busy enough and engaged enough with the clients stable I’m serving already, but they bring me projects with quick turnaround deadlines and it keeps things especially interesting. I have no real complaints and am enjoying this aspect of my life.

Or I was, until Friday.

As you may recall, my former firm was bought out by a much larger corporate firm and I was given a damn generous severance package. My former bosses are still consulting and working cases that were continuing at the time of separation, and my former boss’ corporation remains a client of mine as we wind things down. It’s a win-win situation, because I do really enjoy working with them. I also remain close to my associates who are still working for Big Corp Firm (BCF) and meet them for lunch or drinks/dinner at least once a month. These people are my friends and the relationships are important to me.

Over the last couple of weeks I have gotten calls from BCF about various issues. I rarely answer the telephone when the regional operations coordinator phones, because as far as I am concerned, they instigated the separation, tried their level best to screw me over before and after said separation, and are therefore completely untrustworthy. Our communications are always going to be on my terms, not theirs. This does not mean I am so unprofessional as to completely ignore their email inquiries or telephone calls; it just means I do not jump when they snap their fingers. Kind of a childish control issue, I admit, but they are not nice people and treated me very poorly.

Anyway, the questions they have been asking have been very routine, stuff we went over several times before I left. I’m not impatient with them, but I find it tedious when someone who is supposed to be intelligent and in charge of a business group asks me the same questions in different ways over the course of a week. I learned during the Friday meeting with the partners that the problem is not so much a misunderstanding so much as it is a conflict with a couple of very fussy clients.

The partners asked me if I would consider a limited consulting engagement with BCF for these few specific clients with very particular issues and a much healthier respect for me and how I dealt with them. Just to get things transitioned completely. Had BCF treated me more professionally, I would do so up to a specific number of hours each month without charge. But I know their coordinator knows there is a huge amount of distrust and resentment toward them, because I have stated it in those precise words with very specific reasons for my feelings.

But relationships matter. My relationship with my former bosses/present clients are important to me, as is my reputation among the BCF, even if they think I’m scarcely more than a clerk for not having a law degree. Refusing this limited engagement with BCF will ultimately hurt my former bosses, because they do reap a share of the revenue from these ongoing cases until they are settled once and for all. Everyone also knows that the request coming from them is impossible for me to refuse.

Even if I dislike my choices in the matter or the people I will have to work with on the grind of getting the relationship repair work done, it’s business. I am probably more upset about being put into this position, because completely hiding behind my mask of professionalism will be almost impossible in this situation. But they need me, and the greater good for people who do matter to me means making the best of the situation. I cannot even charge them a premium because of the circumstances to make myself feel better about it.

The bright side is that I’ll get to be back amongst my peeps a few times each month, and I have missed seeing and interacting with them on a routine basis. It is also a limited scope thing, something that will likely only last through the end of the year. Biggest bonus is they need me, not vice versa. My irritation with them for their big corporate practices is greatly tempered knowing that they are under enough pressure to address the concerns of a client that they had to try and recruit me back to help them smooth things over.

Framed that way, I feel very vindicated. Perhaps I will even come to enjoy the time spent with the vipers of BCF. I doubt it, but I have to retain a facade of optimism about the relationship and situation.

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.

Fear, anxiety, friendship

One of my very best friends is in the process of long-term recuperation and rehabilitation from a very serious illness. His return to health has been an arduous journey and is not over yet, but he has been improving and all our hopes are for a full and complete recovery. Along with that, though, we are really hoping he will be capable of flying home within the next month.

Not going to lie – it’s been extraordinarily difficult for him to go from strong, active, and vibrant to this point of weakness, much less active because of his health, and having to fight to recover in all sorts of ways that are unfathomable and unimaginable to me. As far as mood, it’s been an almost textbook cycle of anger, depression, resolve, and wanting so badly and trying so hard to get back to baseline normal. Physical recovery and moodiness aside, there is a cognitive relearning curve in many areas that has been occurring concurrently.

He is family. M and I would no more turn our backs on him than fly to the moon by flapping our arms. Does not make it all rainbows and unicorns to cope with and to watch despite our care and commitment.

I preface it this way for a couple of reasons. It seems the closer we come to his return, the more unraveled he seems to be becoming. Thing is, I don’t care what he looks like – how skinny, how hairless, how much muscle he has lost. I don’t care about his memory loss and what he has had to struggle and battle to recover. I don’t care if he wallows in self-pity and must try to climb out every single day. I don’t care about any of that at all. I want him to be healthy, be all he can be, and his recovery is just short of miraculous in how far he has come in 9 months. Being him home and nearby where we can help and hang-out and communicate in more efficient and effective ways that the geographical distance presently allows is our ultimate goal. The rest we can cope with and fix. In a lot of ways he sees it, but depression, anxiety, and fear make him unpredictable in how he may react.

My Pollyanna-ness gets on his nerves; I know it and try to temper it. However, we tend to communicate primarily via email and online chat, occasional Facetime, text, phone call. I have ongoing concern but am not hovering and wringing my hands over him. Don’t want to see or read my sunnier outlook? It’s fine to delay or even delete my communications. It’s also fine to tell me to shut the f**k up. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and as I said, he’s family; he can say that to me without penalty or long-term hurt feelings on my part.

But our affection and respect is mutual. I know this, and I know his situation and circumstances are unusual. I make huge allowances and give him a whole lot of leeway.

The last few weeks, though, have been trying. With my work-related situation, he has been a most supportive rock and sounding board for me. It is part of what makes him special to me, that he is so stable and sensible much of the time. Outside of me and my issues, though, he’s been a pain in the ass. He’s been alternatively empty shell bright and fluffy to surly and snarling in general conversation. Frankly, I generally prefer the surly and snarling; I can work with that by snarling back. The bright and fluffy? I may as well be chatting with the cardboard cutout of him about the f**king weather.

Over the weekend he sounded in good spirits, but almost too good. Flying is painful for him, makes his brain literally hurt from the pressure. Knowing he was boarding a plane causes anxiety and fear, which he of course does not want to flat out admit, even though it’s the big giant dancing pink elephant in the room. I get it; I didn’t push. I also restrained myself from asking yesterday how the flight went, instead asking him about a Jordan Peterson video series on biblical stories, wondering if he knew it was available and/or started listening. He barked back that he wanted to “put a bullet in his brain to make the pain stop and I wanted to know what he’s listening to?” That’s actually fine – pain talking; I am also grown-up enough of a big girl and can take it. I didn’t reply right away, knowing his head is hurting and not wanting to make the situation worse. Told M that flight had not gone that well, and figured I would write an email instead. Before I got an opportunity, though, got another text that stated “Don’t fucking email or communicate with me any further. Done for now.”

Ouch. Rational Pollyanna in me understands this is pain talking, but it smarted. I resolved to honor his wishes, and when his head stops aching and he wants to talk, I am not going anywhere and we can and will hash it out. Family is family; we say shit we mean in the moment and regret later. Unfortunately. And if this is the worst way we treat one another (and it pretty much is), we are surely not that bad.

So there’s that.

Then this morning while I am at the gym, M gets a phone message from a hospital in Berlin regarding friend J. M had been outside feeding/playing with the cats and getting Cheepers situated in his cage when the call came in, so he came back to a voice mail asking us to call. M texted me and I immediately ceased what I was doing and practically ran out of the club. By the time I got home, M had returned the call and was told it was a next-of-kin notification that friend J was safe, being treated, and his doctor had been contacted. Unfortunately, there was no consent to share information about his condition, but it was policy to notify us.

Under the best of circumstances, this would freak anyone out. Family member in a hospital in another country – fear, anxiety, worry are all normal emotions. Unfortunately for me, this brings flashbacks to the dreaded school phone call regarding my daughter, perfectly healthy 12-year-old, falling ill at school on a Thursday and being told less than 24 hours later that she is brain dead and not going to wake up ever again. My emotional reactions are overreactive and warranted. The fear – oh my, deer in the headlights has nothing on me in this situation.

While we are frantically calling his regular physician to try and find out what’s happening, friend J calls himself when he learned we had been contacted to explain that had happened and reassure us that he is fine. Simple accident – woman fell into him, he fell over and banged his head on a doorjamb. Because of his ongoing recuperation and head injury, his coworkers insisted he be seen by emergency doctors. He was to be released soon and is fine.

I listened. He sounded normal, angry with the staff, assured me that it’s nothing serious. I listened, said okay, handed M the phone and went to throw up. Fear and anxiety released.

In the moments between the hospital conversation and him calling, our last interaction played and replayed in my head. Would his harsh, angry, frustrated-with-his-life words be the last thing he said to me? Is this what 25+ years dissolves into?

It was several moments of awful, hollow feelings. So many years, so many good times, great memories replaced with his last couple of messages on his part and retreated silence on mine.

No clear answers. I don’t want to be angry with him, yet I am. I don’t want him shitting all over me because he’s having a hard time, but I’m allowing it right now. It seems we still have time to sort out the sibling crap in our relationship. But for a few minutes this morning, I had the dreadful certainty that I was going to be living with my regret for all I coulda/shoulda/woulda said.

I do not want to ever live with regret. But my emotions are as highly reactive and hair-trigger ready to fire as they ever get, with this week’s final days on the job and dealing with this today.

I am going to let this sit awhile. I am not going to reach out directly, because my feelings are pretty raw. What I would likely say right now – you’re a selfish, self-centered jerk engaged in an ongoing pity party and I hate you right now – is mostly unproductive.

And now I’m really, Really angry, the kind of angry that comes from a big giant scare and the relief that it was a false alarm. Since he also reads this blog from time to time: I’m really angry and it’s all your fault, you ass. Doesn’t mean I won’t get over it, forgive and forget. Eventually. But interactions with me could be HELL between now and then.

But right now, friend J, I hope you stub your toe or get an irritating hangnail.

The Sally Field conundrum

Remember back in 1985 and Sally Field’s “you like me!” acceptance speech? Every time I or anyone else uses that phrasing, I think about that speech. I do not watch award shows, but I do tend to read about them after the fact. And now that nearly every pop culture moment is available online somewhere, it’s not hard to replay it over and over again.

We are in the midst of a minor  hiring spree at my full-time job. My responsibilities have grown and expanded in my 18 months with the firm, and the firm itself has nearly doubled in size. These are very good developments, and even good changes and growth can be a challenge to adjust and manage. Trying to design my own role, to keep the some of the lesser responsibilities I enjoy and balance those with the higher skills and experience management role I have grown into is proving much more difficult than I anticipated. Bosses – all 4 of them – have wish lists of the type of role I play within the firm, and not all of the tasks are going to make the cut, because I am just one person with the same working hours as anyone else. On top of that, I am the most vocal proponent of work-life balance, and in an office full of ambitious type A lawyers, I could almost begin to feel like a slacker with my 4 day work week. Almost.

I have a young receptionist that I like very much. He is attending college as well as working full-time, but he is quite intelligent and hard-working and has sharp focus and attention to detail. While I would like to promote him into another role where he assists me on higher-level and greater detail data entry type of work, he lacks some of the experience I could acquire if I sought out a particular accounting assistant skill set. The best thing about my present receptionist, though, is he is eager to learn, asks intelligent questions, takes notes, and learns from mistakes. He gets bonus points for majoring in business and turning his attention and studies toward accounting, so at least he grasps the basic debit and credit concepts. On top of that, he thinks I’m just the bees knees as far as bosses go and actually really likes me. While those are definite points in his favor, more than that he is delighted to learn from me and quickly grasped that when it comes to results, I almost don’t care how he does it as long as the final product is verifiably correct.

So we sat down yesterday to talk about the administrative jobs he does now, that I want/need to delegate to someone else, and what sort of job description we should write for the person we will hire. And it is a “we” project, because there are aspects I will be depending upon him to train the newest staff admin. By the conclusion of our working lunch we had come up with a new job description for the new receptionist I will hire and the promotional position he will be moving into and new hourly rate he will be earning beginning June 1. Now all we need to do is find the right employee to fill this job.

That I have a positive working relationship with bosses, coworkers, direct reports is very important to me; we must work so closely together it would have some measure of impact on my mental state to have to interact with a negative vibe day after day. That said, I work with professional folks who conduct themselves accordingly; even if they hate one another the focus is primarily on the work and getting it done. But we’re human, and stuff leaks out, tempers flare. I have too much respect for work/life balance to want to have to be in any sort of toxic workplace.

The way things have been evolving or devolving with long-term friendships the last couple of years have been hard for me. I am someone who values relationships and honest communication, yet at the same time, I do not nag or belabor a point of disagreement. I respect other people’s sovereignty and ability to make their own choices, even if I strongly disagree. Others are not quite as benign in their interactions, and I have been pushed and what feels like ridiculed for my own changing lifestyle choices, unfortunately to the point of having to distance myself from friend I/we genuinely enjoyed.

Last night during a text exchange another friend told me that I take life far too seriously and that I need to lighten up. Frankly, it landed as a cutting blow with a very sharp and precise scalpel. In truth, I am kind of a serious person and always have been. I have my impulsive moments, but I have regretted them so routinely after the fact that it has taught me to be more restrained and to be much less impulsive, be more thoughtful before acting. Same situation with spontaneity – I am a planner and being spontaneous tends to cause anxiety and discomfort.

It has long been a point of deep insecurity that these qualities make me an extraordinarily boring person with no sense of humor.

My more confident self now understands that is not precisely true, but being hyper-responsible is not really as exciting or fun to be around as a high-energy, no boundaries, fearless sort of soul. If there were not more serious, practical, responsible folk in the world, how could we appreciate those that are impulsive, spontaneous, and seemingly so much more fun to be around?

One of my dearest friends is my polar opposite in personality, in that he is a complete extrovert and thrives on social interaction and being around people. He is the guy who can talk to anyone about anything for an extended length of time and come away feeling energized by the interaction. He is a big personality sort of guy, yet he’s also very thoughtful, responsible, and more conservative in values. He might be someone who is gregarious and makes acquaintances faster than the average person gains weight eating without restraint, yet because of the generosity and expansiveness of his social need he is also far more accepting and understanding of differences in we more introverted sorts.

I think my Sally Field conundrum is that friendships I have retained and maintained for many years are now falling away because my life and lifestyle are changing. We are all getting older, our parents are getting frailer or are gone, our children are grown and leading independent lives of their own. M and I – we planned for this time period with eager anticipation and are enjoying these empty nest years at least as much as we did the child-rearing years. Our priorities – taking care of ourselves – are very different than they were even 10 years ago. For so many of my friends, their lives and desires are not so well considered; they had not given a lot of thought beyond what it meant to be a mother or a daughter. For many, their has been shift from working and caring for their children to working and caring for an aging parent and/or grandchildren. What they see as selfishness on my part – exercise, full-time job, self-employment business, working on our home – I see as a natural shift in my priorities.

I am also starting to understand they may like me less now because my life is far more about me and M as a couple and what we can do to enhance our life together. There are a few happy marriages and committed relationships, but far more long marriages are ending and affairs emerging or ongoing middle aged singles when they wish to be part of a couple. And truly, it is easier to bash and bully a genuinely happy friend in serious pursuit of her own uniquely personal objectives than try harder to fix your own problems.

Understanding is one thing, acceptance quite another, but anymore, I am about there, even if it is with sorrow and resignation. These friends are people I have known a very long time, some most of my life. I got through my divorce, hands-on mother years, the death of my child, the troubles with M with their help and support. I have been there for them through their own marriages and relationships faltering and failing, through the trauma of troubled children and drugs, the deaths of parents. We have celebrated graduations and weddings and births, mourned deaths and the diagnosis and treatment of serious illness. It just seems so strange to me that we could get through all that and find ourselves at odds over something like healthier lifestyle choices.

Inside, I have to believe they still like and love me in reciprocal ways I feel the same types of affection for them. But our lives are different now and continuing to evolve and to change, and perhaps some distance and separation will bring more clarity about what is real and what is important when it comes to friendships.

At the same time, I know change is just part of life. I am more philosophical about it, less insecure and tense about being non-friendship material. I have met some lovely women (and men) through the gym and other groups I have casually participated in with regard to diet and nutrition. It is refreshing and invigorating to meet new folks, to be exposed to different perspectives and experiences. At my base I am kind of shy, and it seems to take some effort on my part to put myself out there and truly engage with others in any sort of meaningful way. Not so long ago I was so deeply insecure I felt certain everyone had a negative view of me and had this irrational urge to take steps – any steps – to alter that viewpoint. What a waste of energy to even consider or care about, and I shake my head at my own silliness. Nowadays, I always hope that people I like and enjoy like me in return.

Because I am kind of a serious person; I like relationships to be respectful, positive, and harmonious. And I am not going to apologize or ever again feel regretful about this aspect of my personality.

 

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.

The discipline of predictability

For the second day in a row, I woke up/got up late for my morning gym practice. Yesterday was okay and even practical. This morning was just another episode of shaving sleep and paying for it by not dragging myself out of bed with the alarm.

On the surface and for most everyone this is not a big deal. So I am late to the gym a couple of days out of 365 and perhaps have to either cut my practice short or do a briefer, quicker List. The normal person rationalization of why this is not the end of the world as I know it is understandable and possibly even warranted; I have used it myself countless times with other people and even with myself in similar situations. However, it’s a dangerous and slippery slope, one I know all too well. While substance abuse and alcohol addiction are far more serious conditions, my adherence to routine is critical to my ongoing success in getting regular, consistent doses of exercise. My regular routine is not something I take lightly, and even 2 days of not heeding my alarm and getting myself up and out the door is cause for concern, even if it is only an eyebrow raise and resolve to get to bed on time and not allow myself the luxury of shutting off my alarm and not immediately getting out of bed.

The last 2 days have also brought forth other deviations from the norm as well. Once upon a time and not all that long ago, deviations from The Schedule would have sent me into a dizzy tizzy panic and set a wrong tone for the practice and the balance of my day. I am pleased with myself for just rolling out of bed and having a back-up plan, knowing that today’s List was 6 exercises long and could be comfortably completed in an hour with the 10-15 minute warmup prep. While mildly fretting about being late, my backup to the backup plan would be to ruthlessly cut post-workout dawdle time after and run through the shower and workday prep if needed. Today it helped knowing the List of the day was the glute-focused 6 exercises and that and warmup could be comfortably completed in 75 minutes. Comfortable to breathe a small sigh of relief that my personal sky was not falling.

Except for the second time in these 2 mildly challenging days, I was thwarted by other members who are blissfully ignorant of my schedule and Lists and pursuing their own exercise/fitness agendas. Yesterday it was a couple of small things – the benches I am familiar with and feel comfortable using were both occupied, so I returned to my little room space and used the bench in there. Then, while working my final 2 blocks on the cable machines, I had another member wanting to use the straight bar I had carefully collected and hoarded for my final exercise. Rather than giving up my bar upon request, I said I would do my sets and then relinquish it, maybe 5 minutes? He was agreeable to the compromise and I simply switched the order of the last block. Problem resolved, I did not go away from the encounter feeling like an unreasonable, spoiled, entitlement Princess.

Shortly after relinquishing that and returning to the rope for my new final tricep exercise, I have another guy wander over to use the other side of the cable machine and he had extreme (to my nose) personal hygiene challenges. Held my breath to finish my set and then abandoned my cable post for the sanctuary of my little room and a substitute bench tricep exercise. Yep, waving my full-on Princess flag yesterday and not apologizing for it, either.

This morning, there was a couple using the squat machine (first block on today’s List) and another guy using the Freemotion machine (second block), so I retreated to the other side and got to work on block 3. This involved going back and forth between the assisted chin-up/dip machine (only using it on the legs) and the adductor machine. Another member had apparently been using the same 2 machines, because she glared at me while I was using the adductor machine and used some other shoulder-focused machine nearby. When I returned to the chin-up/dip unit, she plopped down on the adductor machine. Used it, rested, texted, used it again, texted more … and on and on and on. So I finished all 4 of my sets on the chin-up/dip machine and then gave up on the adductor and returned to the now vacant squat and Freemotion machine. I went through the sets of the List, even if I did not do it in the precise order dictated by the List.

I really do not understand her attitude and hostility; maybe she needed coffee? If she wanted either of the machines I happened to be using all she needed do was ask, not glare at me in passive/aggressive malevolence. I am among the nicer, more simply intimidated in the gym, and at worst I would have tried to work out a reasonable compromise, but just as likely I would have fallen over trying to get out of her way.

Again, I am pretty pleased with myself for not falling off the edge and into a complete and total spin cycle of gym crazy. But it bothers me that people cannot ask or explain politely what they want or need with regards to equipment.

But oh well. Other than disorganizing my List for today, no lasting or lingering harm done.

It’s curious to me how rigid I have to be to get this far on my exercise track. I console myself that if changing habits is really hard, getting myself up and off the couch is worse in the difficulty range.

Just lately, I am feeling some degree of backlash for my choices. Yes, I spend more time than the average bear at the gym or the yoga studio; it is a choice for a healthier me. It is a choice I made without completely understanding the implications and consequences, yet I have zero regrets about it. How could I possibly regret it? My diabetes is under control without the use of medication. I am stronger, fitter, perhaps the best shape of my life thus far, and I have barely dipped a toe into the health and fitness pool. Mentally as well, my confidence has increased and my positive outlook expanded as well. But being less available to listen and sympathize and being the rah-rah cheerleader for various friends is not an unreasonable trade-off in my opinion.

That said, the last month was challenging in this regard. Because I get up so early and work the way I work, my time is somewhat limited and constrained. Even M, who lives with me and has watched and applauded me in my better health efforts has lately taken to subtle sabotage. With the change in seasons and a recent injury, M has not been on the same early morning running schedule. Consequently, he stays up much later, which is fine, but when I have to sleep earlier to ensure I get enough sleep, M is awake and pursuing his own hobbies, which he wants to share or to show me on his iPad. When I need to be going to sleep to get up at 3:45 to 4 a.m. to get to the gym on time.

We had a conversation about it this morning while I was getting ready for work, and M have come to an agreement to ensure I get enough sleep and to the gym in a timely manner. He gets it. He’s been right here with me and had not really realized how the impact of our adjustment in schedule. It’s sort of insidious and creeps up into our lives without either of us really recognizing that it is occurring until I am tired and frustrated and having a meltdown because of it.

A couple of my friends are having a really tough time in their lives and in need of friends and support. I do my best to return phone calls and texts in a timely manner, to be a good and supportive friend. However, I am the first to admit my life is different now, my availability is not as it once was. When their resentment and frustration leaks out into our interactions, I have grown up a little in that I feel me taking care of me is the best thing I can do for anyone else in my realm.

Until this last year, I would say my predictability resulted from the habit of a lifetime. I have wanted to be a good person, to be perceived as a good person. I value kindness and compassion toward other people, and those are qualities I have tried very hard to cultivate and grow in my own methods of dealing with others. For the most part, I am a pretty good person. I try very hard to take care of those I care for and about, often to my own detriment. I suppose after so many years of my being a go-to person for many of my friends, my stepping back and being more judicious in protecting my time and availability is a change of pace.

The balance can be awkward and challenging, particularly for those resistant to change. In the last month I have had some candid and frank conversations with a few people about the way my life is progressing and the conscious choices I am making. It’s partly why I am headed back to TM’s office, to reconcile my choices with the hardening attitude I have had to take toward others.

I am okay with being this level of selfish. I am okay with how hard-hearted and “changed” I appear. Heck, I’d be very good if there was an intervention on the topic rather than some veiled and not-so-veiled statements that I am self-absorbed and narcissistic in my pursuits. The statements have been hurtful, and my own self-confidence still unstable enough to make me wonder if I am doing the right things at the expense of other aspects of my life.

But I don’t think so. I am still kind. I am working on balance in all things, including the types of relationships I have with other people. My husband, my family, my tribe either understand the shift in my priorities or we have an honest conversation about it. The rest of those who dwell in my realm, I want them to continue to matter to me. I do not need them to be 110% behind me, rah-rah cheering me on and out of bed every morning, but I do need them to no sabotage my efforts and to understand that taking care of me makes me a better, stronger, more capable, more supportive friend.

Despite what it may sound like here on the blog, I am not terribly preachy in real life. I suggest to friends troubled by depression or anxiety or worry that they get some physical exercise. But since I myself am just now feeling respected for the work I have done in the gym by a select group of friends who pursue crossfit or other trendy exercise programs, I understand how difficult it is to get off the couch and get started.

It has occurred to me more than once that this pattern of behavior is repeated throughout several of my close friendships. If the problem occurs and I am the common denominator, the problem quite probably begins and perhaps ends with me.

Considering that, I am also likely the driving force behind my current conflicts with these various friends. I own that. My behaviors and my habits from childhood until now are well documented and ingrained. There has been little discipline involved in that level of predictability. Changing the habits of a lifetime is hard, and not everyone is willing to step up and do what I am striving and trying so very hard to do right now. I own that, too.

At the end of this level of navel-gazing and introspective mucking around in the mud and the muck that is my messy way of thinking and processing, I own that I have courage and willingness to try to be better and improve my overall health and quality of life.

No amount of frictioning with family and friends or sleep shaving or gym crazy or fear and intimidation of interacting with other members is going to take that away from me.