Monday, November 30, 2009
Work and Despair
In a burst of epiphany last night at 10 PM, I think I figured out why we're here in New Home, why we picked up and moved halfway across the country - or at least one of the many reasons we did so.
It all started with Songbird on Thursday night. "I'm worried" she told me. "You're sad. I can see it in your writing. You're cyclical too. Maybe the big "D" word - depressed."
Depressed? Me? Other than the fact that The Ravishing Mrs. TB would confirm that in a heartbeat, and (apparently) I meet most of the criteria for a melancholic major depressive event (8 of the 9 items), I had no idea what she was talking about.
Depressed about what, I wondered.
Enter Uisdean Ruadh last night.
"I think I'm depressed" I said.
"Really? Odd, I hadn't noticed" he replied. "Give me some of the signs."
I went through the list. "You know" he said, "You've had most of those since I first met you 28 years ago."
"You've had this problem for a long time. Trying to live the dreams of others, coast on the enthusiasm of others. Of all the things you've tried, there's one - your harp playing - that has always impressed me the most."
"Yes, because it was the one thing that you did for yourself. No-one else was doing it and you decided to join in. You just picked it up and went with it yourself."
Silence from my end. "You know I don't really care for my career field."
"I've known that since you started in it " was the semi-smug reply.
"Kind of unfortunate, it being a recession/depression and all to figure this out."
"Yes, but tell me: how is your family life? How are you?"
"Not good. Not good at all."
"Then it's not really worth it, is it?
Compounding this sense of a fork in the road was a book that I picked up yesterday called "How to Find the Work You Love by Laurence G. Boldt. Yes, I know I always go bonkers over new books, but it came at the right time for me. Essentially, the book posits the truth that we will never be truly happy until we find the work that reflects who we are - quoting Aristotle, "Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation."
A few so far:
"Spending most of your life doing something you don't enjoy or believe in to buy a little freedom on the weekends seems a terrible bargain indeed."
"The individual who continues in work that he hates, is bored with, or is merely indifferent to, or who resigns himself to being treated like a cog in a machine loses self-respect. His self-confidence evaporates. He beings to feel bitter and resentful or beaten and depressed."
"We are not here to be someone else or just to be with someone else. We're here to be ourselves, to make our unique contributions to the world".
Yes, I know that this is not the end all/be all to my problems - but is it conceivable that, failing to get my attention any other method, God decided to uproot everything to make me focus?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I've had a few unusual ones. The year I was in Ireland for school and one of our fellow students organized a Thanksgiving feast (apparently finding some of the trimmings overseas was a bit of a task). The year we celebrated at Carl's Jr. on our way back from Disneyland (burgers are no substitute for Turkey).
But this one is different indeed. Different because for the first time, a family Thanksgiving is going forward without us - all the family as it turns out, as my in-laws are going to have dinner with my parents at The Ranch.
In a way it is very relaxing - very little to get prepared for. Instead of scrambling around trying to get things ready to leave, I'm lounging in our front room on my laptop, listening to Handel's Messiah, with a sense of almost relief. Syrah the Mighty has been laying behind me looking out the front window, but then abandon me as Na Clann came thundering through, hoping their course lay for the kitchen and snacks, then wandering back sadly as her hopes are not realized.
"Glory to God in the Highest" sings the choir as I write this.
It's sometimes hard to keep perspective on thankfulness, because I so often equate thankfulness with my feeling good and fulfilled. But we truly have so much to be thankful for: I have a job that continues to pay well, even if it's not what I really want to be doing; we have a place to live and food repeatedly on the table; we're all in good health; The Ravishing Mrs. TB is doing well in her business and will get to go to Mexico next year; Na Clann have good schools and have adapted quite well to New Home; we are attending a good church; it appears the house in Old Home will finally close in December; our extended families continue to enjoy good health. In a word or two, our lives have completely changed in the course of 12 months but nothing bad has really happened.
And that in itself is a thankful.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
For some reason, we were back to living in Old Home State but not Old Home - more along the Northern Coast. I was apparently supposed to be on a religious radio show, one that I recognized. I went by driving, consciously remembering not to take a bridge over a river (which was the shorter way) but drove around.
I arrived at the home of the radio host, which apparently was where the show was broadcast from. It was the host and three guests - one of whom was my current manager. I was surprised by this, but apparently he played the harmonium and so was invited.
The radio program went on. My role in it was subdued - I was asked a couple of questions about some general knowledge, and that was it. One of the subjects of the program was a boating association that maintained a series of houses and docks on the river, and how they were in the process of fighting a legal battle. I remembered the river, because over this river was the bridge that I had not wanted to cross.
During the break, we stepped outside (apparently it was a long break) to look at the mountain chain in the distance. The host asked me where my water supply was coming from. I responded that we did have to depend on runoff, that my parents were low enough in altitude for a water column. The host responded "Don't worry - someday, you'll have that too" or something to that effect.
Then back to the radio program, this time with a studio audience that appeared, but had no interest in myself or my boss, who sat overlooking the entire thing. We were sitting on what resembled a giant sleigh, and at one point we were completely packed in by individuals who really didn't seem to notice that we were there.
When the program ended, I decided to walk home. I was walking along suburban streets and came to the bridge of our discussion. It was built across one of the pine clad mountain canyons from Old Home that I am familiar with. There were low lying houses built on pillars connected by bridges, but I was actually on a large platform (brown, for some reason) with a small shed which led to a long green bridge and a green house and platform on the other side. The bridge itself was wooden and green, about 3-4 feet across without rails and fairly long. I started out on the bridge, got maybe 4 feet, then turned around terrified, feeling like I was going to fall off the bridge and went back to the platform - I actually had to pull myself up on the platform because of my fear of falling.
So I decided to walk home. But apparently, walking home constituted walking through a series of essentially closets, out into the homes of others, looking for the door to the outside. In some cases, their houses were located in the houses of others, so I would open a door into another house. I seemed concerned about worrying people as a thief but the few I saw just directed me to the outside.
Finally I made it outside with Syrah the Mighty, who apparently appeared from nowhere, and off we walked to get home. I was carrying a load of figs which I apparently picked up in some one's house. We turned down one street, saw a car, and had to step to the side, dragging Syrah. It was an overgrown lot with a tree in which the figs got stuck. I remember looking at the overripe figs as they hung there, thinking "I don't even like figs".
A couple walked past. It was an middle aged woman in a robe and hair curlers obviously upset, followed by a man who was apparently upset with her and arguing. I remember seeing them in one of the houses I had gone through.
Finally, by wandering of many streets, I made it home. The Ravishing Mrs. TB began to tell me about Na Clann's school day. They apparently got a new music teacher at school - my boss.
I went and asked him why he was teaching music. His response was that his wife had decided that he needed to do something with his musical talent.
And then I woke up.
Monday, November 23, 2009
It feels like I am being stripped away, layer by layer: all the things I used to do and enjoy, all the activities I was involved in, indeed many of the people in my life - gone. He is constantly pushing me back to core issues.
Money? Everything I dreamed off almost 6 years ago when we started The Firm has gone. Indeed, when I was talking with The Ravishing Mrs. TB yesterday her comment was "It's humbling". And it is. We are now, for perhaps the first time in six years, seeing our financial lives clearly for what they are.
Involvement? I went from being on the Worship Team of a small church and involved to becoming a member of a much larger church where, for the moment, I am a face in the crowd. Not that that's bad, and you can always get involved later, but it suddenly feels like my usefulness in God's house has abruptly ended.
Dreams? I don't know that I have any at this point. Everything I did dream about was predicated on being in Old Home, or on scads of money. Now both of those are far off, at least for the present time.
Activities? For having moved, I seem to have even less time, even as I am made aware of the fact that Na Clann need me more than ever. And time not being a fungible commodity, for me to do something, I have to surrender something else.
The most dangerous thing in all of this is that I settle for the idea that this is only temporary, always looking for the way out or the end of the trial: "Okay Lord, I've learned enough. Let's get on with the program." The reality is, when the metal goes on the anvil, it does not come off in its own time but in the smith's time, when the project is finally done.
Lord, keep me on the anvil until I am the project you envisioned.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
"Bondservants, be submissive to those who are your earthly masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God form the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is slave or free." - Ephesians 6: 5-8
"Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is now partiality. "- Colossians 3-22-24
"Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of the consciences toward God one endures grief and suffers wrongly." - 1 Peter 2: 18-20
- and those were the ones I could bring to mind without trying.
So I tried today. I said nothing negative about anyone. When presented with work, I executed it to the best of my ability instead of complaining about the tasks. I made a real effort to constantly be doing something. I tried to not be bitter.
Was there a perceptible change? I'm not sure. How do I feel?
Honestly, I had not anticipated h0w emotionally and mentally challenging it would be to not defend myself, do all that I was asked, and not say anything negative about anyone one or. The result was I worked. And worked. And worked. Which, ironically, is precisely what I am supposed to be doing. It's amazing how difficult it becomes to not defend, to say "yes" and nod and then go about it to the best of your ability rather than walk away and complain later or be negative.
How is it that trying to be more Christlike feels more exhausting?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Message
The original reason I had intended to go there was almost because of a counter-reaction to the recent spate of materials I've been reading concerning success and achievement. The thought ran something like this: "Hmmm. I wonder how Joseph, who obviously had access to any kind of literature about how to succeed, yet even in Potiphar's house and in prison, he did. I wonder if there's anything there for me?"
So I went and looked - but got the answer I did not intended at all. Essentially, the chapter says three things: Joseph trusted God, God blessed Joseph, Joseph was diligent ("whatever they did there (in the prison), it was his doing" - verse 22)- and the intermediate reward in both places was prison.
That's not what I really wanted to get out of it.
So I went and grabbed Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness by Charles Swindoll and went to those two chapters for additional insight. Surely I had missed something?
Nope. Swindoll actually spends most of the chapters dealing with resisting temptation (Joseph and Potiphar's wife) and Joseph's faith in prison, otherwise known as doing the right thing and then being seemingly forgotten for it - and how he refused to be bitter, but trusted God alone.
From Swindoll's book:
"He knows just the right message at just the right time, and all it takes to receive it is a sensitive, obedient, trusting heart. Not one preoccupied with revenge or bitterness or hostility (or having to be dislocate from your life -TB), but a heart that says 'Lord, God, help me now. Right at this moment. Deliver me from my own prison. Help me to see beyond the darkness, to see Your hand. As I am being crushed, remold me. Help me to see You in this abandonment, this rejection" (pp. 53-54).
It's interesting to me that (once again) the focus is about God, seeing Him and glorifying Him, rather than the situation.
Hmm. Maybe there is a message there - as long as I'm willing to accept it as it is rather than try to pour my own meaning into it.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Another Monday of client audits. If you've never done a client audit, they're splendid. They come in two varieties: the "We're here to dig through your systems and approve you" audits and the "We're here to find a problem/justify my salary/add notches to my belt" audits.
The flow, over 12 years, is inevitably the same: a brief presentation, followed by a tour, then hours of endless review of documents, then questions, then more documents, then a brief conversation concerning any deficiencies and promises "to respond within 30 days", and then the cleanup - of course, followed up by all the work that you didn't accomplish during the audit.
The worst part of the day is that post-collapse, when the auditor is gone and you collapse with a sigh around the table, hopefully having fended off any observations, and you realize that the very thing you often hope for - change of the system - will not happen once again because you have done everything to defend and explain the system to avoid an observation. It's as if by doing your job, you are thwarting the doing of your job.
My only consolation is that, having spoken with other auditors, it is the same everywhere. We all fight the same battles.
It's just that it makes the exercise of what one is supposed to do very hard.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The question came to me last night as I was fussing about money and time: what to do, what not to do. In my planning and concerns, is it God that I am taking into account or only myself?
Hudson Taylor, the founder of Inland China Mission, was convicted by the fact that in the mid 1800's 12,000 Chinese citizens died every day without Christ. That number has swelled since that time - does it bother me the way it should?
Is it possible that all that we have been provided now is both a blessing and a curse - a blessing for what has been provided that is needful, a curse in what we have lost by following ourselves rather than His guidance?
How do I ensure that it is God's life Have I been used to being "in charge" so long that I have forgotten how? How do I live like the Israelites of old, looking to the cloud and pillar of fire, rather than to the times and the seasons?
Attitude, goals, heart - this thought affects none of those things except to redirect their guidance to coming from God?
Who am I serving this day - in fact, no just in profession?
Friday, November 13, 2009
I Have Decided
- that I will do instead of beg.
- that I will choose my attitude consciously rather than letting my emotions set it for me.
- that I will seek excellence in every part of my life.
- that I will do those things that I am called to do without thought to money or reward.
- that those things I choose to do I will be the best at.
- that I will mature, not grow old.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
What is Attitude?
Merriamwebster.com: "Attitude: a : a mental position with regard to a fact or state; b : a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state."
I'll be honest - when I got the definition, I just sat and looked at it for a minute. That is not at all what I was expecting as a definition.
Two parts: 1) A mental position or a feeling; 2) a fact or state.
The language implications boggle the mind. Note that the mental position is "with regard" to a fact or state, while the feeling or emotion is "toward" a fact or state. There's a separation there, subtle but present.
Why? I think the reason is that the difference lies in whether the attitude is a mental position or a feeling.
A mental position implies that at least some level of thinking/reasoning has gone into the formation of that attitude (even if it's bad thinking). Feeling is an emotional reaction that more often than not is simply arrived at without thinking/reasoning.
The difference is that emotions can change with one's circumstances, physical state, or even the cast of the sunlight in a particular moment, while mental positions (if correctly done) are not subject to the vicissitudes of such events because they have been founded on a thought or reason which can discount the temporary circumstances because they are focused on the fact or state regardless of temporary interruptions or circumstances.
In that light, how many attitudes have I known - indeed, how many have I personally exhibited - that are based on feelings? How many of these were mistakenly believed to have been built on reason or thinking?
But that of course implies that the attitudes are arrived by thought and reason - can I truly say that I have made that effort in my life? If not, why not?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Heart in It?
The next sound you hear will be that of my head hitting the keyboard at the revelation of a simple truth.
"Yes of course" I say to myself, "that's absolutely true of course. If you're heart is not in something, of course it is not something that you will be passionate about."
But the simplicity of the thought and the statement take my breath away.
When was the last time I truly had my heart in my job - indeed, about anything in my life? I'm ashamed to admit, I cannot truly think of a job I've held where that was the case. And in my life? The list of things is frighteningly small -yet interestingly, they are usually things I end up not doing as much because they're not career oriented.
It's been said that if you identify your passions and do those, the job will follow. I've heard it, but could it possibly be true?
I've been struggling with that comment, all the way home from work, all the way through the evening, and all the way into this morning as I got up. I've been struggling with two things really: 1) When did my attitude begin to slip; and 2) What can I do about?
When did my attitude slip? I don't know if one can either relate it to a single incident or a general malaise. The incidents tended to center around realizations of my true ability to affect change and my place in the structure. The general malaise came, I think, from a general sense of combined fear due to the economy and seemingly constant need to fight rearguard battles and sell the need of what I do.
What can I do about it? This is the even more confusing part. I've tried contemplating just muscling myself over to a different attitude through sheer willpower. That didn't work. I've tried doing inspirational reading to jump start my attitude, which again did not have the intended effect. I've tried to sell myself on the concept of being a thermostat, not a thermometer. Again, my attitude kind of looked at the concept, gave a disinterested sigh, and turned away.
There is something down deep, below all this, that is waiting to be awakened. I can feel it. My frustration is that I have no idea what I can do to wake it up and have it last.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Training and Education
A gem from last weekend that I have been pondering, especially as a fairly large part of my job involves "training". We train for everything - train on documents, train on processes, train on training in some cases.
However, as I considered what we do and why we do it, I was suddenly confronted by the idea that training is a weak concept, especially for any person or company that seeks to be the best.
When I train on something, I am (as Gitomer notes) merely training on how to do something (presumably correctly). It denotes no sense of understanding why I am doing it, the implications for doing it, the history of where it comes from, or often the impact of doing it. It merely is the execution of a task to success. In contrast, education (in its best form) gives many of these things: an understanding of why I am doing it, the implications of doing it, the history of where it comes from (so often there is a history) and the impact of doing it.
The reality is, so often companies and individuals settle for training - the learning equivalent of "the quick buck". "Tell me", they say, "how to do this. We don't need to clutter the minds of everyone with the whys or wherefores (besides, they get easily bored). Just what they need to do and we'll be off." The problem is, this breeds a mediocre mindset, whether individual or corporate.
Because the reality is most individuals at best only want to be trained instead of educated (better yet, entertained rather than trained). Education calls upon us to understand, to contemplate, to engage in original thought to make those concepts our own. But as it often has no immediate payoff but often costs in terms of time or money, most individuals (and the companies that manage them as resources) simply try to do as little as possible.
Companies I cannot change, except to make note of those that value training above education and act accordingly. For my own role at such companies, I can engage in the practice of education instead of training in everything I do.
But most importantly for myself, I can accept the fact that I should always pursue education. Training has its place to be sure, but it is is a poor substitute for education. Education can subsume training, but training seldom subsumes education.
Am I seeking in my own life to be trained - or educated?
Monday, November 09, 2009
No, not a writing time out (I don't think I could - I'd probably go crazy!), but a life time out. One thing that my fabulous weekend at Otis and Buttercup's made me realize was that I am clinging to a great number of activities and lifestyle things because I always have or think that it is something that I want. One thing that amazed - and surprised - me was how when I was relaxed with not a great deal to think about or really do my creativity burst forth. My journal is full of ideas and haikus, introspections and thoughts - all from a 3 day jaunt, but a jaunt where literally I had nothing to do except read, relax, and think.
Can I get that here in New Home? Not at the same level, of course - Na Clann and The Ravishing Mrs. TB are here of course, as well as work and church. But what does not have to be here, which I can put to the side, is the plethora of activities which I seem to need to drive myself to do.
So it's a time out. I'll continue do exercise of course (if I can get to regular exercise, that alone will be a victory). But the time in the evening will be converted into a time of reading, thinking, and writing. In line with my thinking that this in a great number of ways represents a sort of tabula rosa for us, I want to start 2010 fresh out of the gate with a clear and burning vision of what I am to be about. And now, I believe, I have the key to starting that whole process.
A Brief Update
- I had a fabulous time at Otis and Buttercup's, who were extraordinarily gracious hosts.
- It was one of my best non-vacation vacations ever.
- It was a great seminar - so great, in fact, I have been digesting it for four days.
- A lot to think about, a lot to do.
I promise, more to to come.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Excellence, simply put, is something which we have largely lost sight of. It's something that individuals, organizations, and companies proclaim as their end goal, but fail to back up with words and deeds.
How did we lose this quest for excellence? More importantly, how did I lose this quest?
It starts from two roots: one, when we surrender our own personal quest to achieve excellence because it doesn't immediately provide gratification in a way that we often see those around us enjoying; two, when we realize that if we aspire to less than excellence, the ability to move forward is increased.
Excellence is hard. It requires commitment to something often unseen, often unrewarded, and often contrary to a world where efficiency and urgency are rated as far more important. "Excellence is important" one will often hear; "but we need to be practical and get things done."
Excellence requires thought. It requires planning. It requires persistence toward a goal which is often unseen by others. It requires an unyielding dedication to achieve something which is of infinite worth though not of measurable value.
If I practiced excellence in my life, if I limited myself to those actions and activities where I actively sought to achieve excellence, what would my life look like?
When did I learn to settle for mediocre?
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Out Otis and Buttercup's Window
Glistening in the foglight,
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
This represents the possibility of a great sea change in my life: 3 days without work (but getting paid!), with a great friend, listening to a motivational speaker, then having two days of nothing but conversation, coffee, maybe a little outdoor hiking and used book stores, perhaps a beer or two, and the luxury of thinking through and talking out the issues I see in my own life.
I'm excited. I really am. I have high hopes for the results of this weekend.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Otis-land and Efficiency
Even with just a Monday under my belt, I am already feeling the strain of the week. My days have come to be filled (simply) with too much work and too little time. And the work is not added to the special "projects" with which I have been blessed - I am falling into the strange category of having to be both a "working" manager and managing the extra projects to move us towards more efficiency, which seems to guarantee that I am good at neither.
Efficiency. There's a word I've heard a lot of recently, along with the it's sister term interchangeability. It is (apparently) the answer in today's world of economic downturn and instability, a sort of magical "let's make it so" word in which the solution to anything is to time more effectively on the important things (or have the flexibility to allow others to do it). The odd thing is that efficiency presumes well developed processes and no emergencies, which we seem to be sadly lacking in.
And so the trip to Otis-land is all that more eagerly anticipated. As I told him this weekend, it's not so much that I need to "do" things while I there as much as I need to get my head clear about a number issues. As I pointed out to a co-worker, in the course of 11 months I have been employed with a house, been unemployed, been employed in New Home separated from An Teaglach for two months, tried to sell my home, and had to move - it's been a bit of a year!
I keep trying to get my level of motivation up, but the reality is I almost always collapse in a heap at the end of the day, really feeling the urge to do nothing after being pummeled by projects and people all day - and in many ways, projects that do not have a long term impact on the lives of others, let alone my own life. I keep trying to put on my game face, yet continue to keep finding that my game face is not enough to keep me motivated to truly succeed (because I do believe you will only succeed in what you are truly interested in).
Two more days (he said, keeping up the mantra). Two more days...
Monday, November 02, 2009
Pretending to Work
I swore I would be diligent about it. "No worries", I told a co-worker, "I'll just work on things for a couple hours and be ahead." And, sure enough, it sat there in the bag all weekend.
Why do I do this? It seems to stem from two streams within me, one the rather shocking and simple fact that I am not using my time at work as effectively as I should, the other that I feel like I need to compensate with more "work" time.
The reality is this: it's not that I need to spend more time working on work (in fact, I should be spending a little less) but that I need to be more effective when I am at work. I keep confusing activity with action, or as one wag put it, "A rocking chair can move very quickly and exhaust you, but it goes nowhere."
One of the biggest confusions within myself is the role of relationships and work. I work in a position that is highly relationally dependent to be successful. The split I need to make is the difference between building those relationships and using them to keep myself from working on things I don't desire.
First things first: No more bringing work home.
Second things second: How do I change how I work so I don't feel compelled to do this?