Category Archives: The Day Job

Freedom, and Other Hazards of Modern Life

Today, I finished up my two weeks’ notice at the job I’ve held for almost nine years.  I’ve always wondered about people who do and don’t work out their notice at jobs.  I’ve known people who just said flip it and left after one day.  Others didn’t give notice at all.

I worked my last day like any other Friday–actually, I was a bit more diligent than usual.  I made sure all my email was tidied up.  I followed up on issues I had been working on and made sure my replacements had all the reference documents they would need for a smooth transition.  I said my goodbyes dutifully to both coworkers and customers, getting personal emails and cell numbers where appropriate.  i cleaned out my desk and made sure to place all personal items in the canvas grocery bag I’d brought. I turned in my badge to the supervisor on duty.

When 5 o’clock arrived, however, I was struck with a sort of Stockholm syndrome.  My feet dragged as i walked toward the reception area.  I was actually afraid to walk out the front door.  That feeling of euphoria I expected never materialized.

I drove home in silence, a mood of intense quiet filling every corner of the car until the windows practically rattled with it.  i felt my hands shaking and, almost instinctively, my mind turned to safer ground.  I began to review the slights of the day–the supervisor who never bothered to tell me she’d be on vacation my last day, thus denying me closure of an actual goodbye. The teammate who groused at me for sending “too many emails” to help her cope with my unruly account when I was gone.

It felt better.  It felt safer.  I understood bitching about work.  I understood frustration and resentment.  No matter how uncomfortable these things can be, they are a lot more familiar than this all-encompassing sense of now what? that was settling upon me in my nascent post-employment haze.

I got my first “real” job in college, and I’ve been working ever since.  Despite all my efforts to fight it, I have been unable to avoid identifying with my job, defining myself by the work I do, basing my self-worth on how much I earn and what prestige I can garner from the status of my position.  Every bit of introspection, every spiritual book read, every billable hour of therapy I’ve endured could not keep me from falling into this oldest of traps.

I am my job.

And for the next few weeks, at least, I am effectively unemployed.

This begs the question, of course, “Who the fuck am I now?”

Who am I without a job to go to?  Who am I without a job to bitch about?  Who am I without the bars around me?

For all my posturing about wisdom and spirituality, I have willingly put myself in a cage for the majority of my adult life.  Bitching and moaning all the way, I embedded myself into the very jobs that were killing me.  I became the jobs that raised my blood pressure to potentially stroke-inducing levels.  I became the jobs that increased my stress levels and pummeled my self-esteem and shattered my ability to trust my own instincts.  I became the jobs that, for all intents and purposes, were the work equivalent of an abusive spouse.

And now I look into the blinding glare of freedom, and I’m paralyzed by it.  There is a lot to do.  We have to pack up eight years of life in the next four weeks to prepare for our move cross country to Phoenix.  I have to sign up for Obamacare and make sure I have enough medication to get me through the transition time.

But those things won’t take eight hours a day, plus two fifteen minute breaks and a one hour lunch.  Those things won’t clock my time in and out, sending me nasty little reminders when I’m five minutes late in the morning or three minutes early coming back from lunch.

For the next five or six weeks, I am essentially a free agent.  Unemployed.  A ghost.

I have to resist the urge to start shoving things into the empty space. I am drawn to clutter, comforted by it, addicted to it.  All this empty time and space is too frightening, too open and vulnerable to attack from self-doubt and backward thinking.

When I told people I was leaving my company, almost every single one of them asked me the same question, “What are you going to to?”

What, indeed?

I asked Kathryn that same question, and do you know what she told me?

“You are going to putter.  You are going to be. You are going to break free of the brainwashing that tells you your only value comes from the job you hold and the work you do.  Because if you don’t, it won’t matter what kind of job you get when you get to Arizona.  And if you do, it won’t matter what kind of job you get when you get to Arizona.”

So, dear souls, tonight I greet you as a caged bird no longer behind bars, held so long in captivity she’s almost forgotten that she can fly.  But soon enough, I’m going to remember what those wings are for, and it’s gonna be an amazing flight.

Wish me luck–

Good night, dear souls.

Deb

Background Music: Beethoven: Sonata for Violin and Piano No.2 in A major – Shoji Sayaka, Gianluca Cascioli

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Good Night, Dear Souls – August 29, 2014

PennyMoon

If you read my earlier post, you know I’ve been in “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mode.  Not a space I enjoy inhabiting, but that’s where I am.

In times of high stress and difficulty, self-care is more important than ever.  Taking a well-earned nap, spending time with loved ones, getting in that workout that reinvigorates you – these are crucial to surviving the onslaught of modern life.

Too many of us get into a grind mentality when things get stressful.  We put on our good little Pilgrim caps and tell ourselves to push through, hang tough, and fight until the bitter end.  And if a brutal New England winter is threatening to starve your entire settlement, then yes, this is a great mind-set.

But when your challenge is a job that throws more and more paperwork at you, or a house whose clutter has almost TARDIS-like qualities, a different strategy might better suit your needs.

Sometimes you just have to say no.  Sometimes you have to stand firm and cry enough. It doesn’t make you less of a person to draw strong, sensible boundaries against the forces that threaten to take over your time, your energy, and your life.  Nobody gets an extra cookie in Heaven for workaholism.

So, take this long weekend, if you’re lucky enough to have one, and give it to yourself.  Wrap it up in a bow, and let yourself enjoy it.

The grind will still be there on Tuesday.  And hopefully, you’ll be in a better position to face it.

Good night, dear souls.  Sweet dreams to you all.

Deb

Almost forgot–music to dream by – Nocturne In Eb Major, Op. 9, No. 2 by Frederic Chopin

Good Night, Dear Souls – August 27, 2014

PennyMoon

Posting for Deb tonight.  Oh, how crazy things get when she forgets to breathe!  Today was one of those days I like to call…challenging.  With each difficulty encountered, she allowed herself to get pulled further into the chaos.

That girl!  If she’d just breathe, if she’d just quiet her mind, she’d hear me.  And what would I tell my girl when she is embroiled in a knot of chaos?

I would have told her it’s okay.  I would have told her she didn’t have to prove anything.  I would have pulled her into my arms, metaphorically, and reminded her that all she needs to do is shift her focus slightly to make everything better.

I won’t lie–I’m rather a fan of the human brain.  I think it is a nifty mish-mash of evolution and sheer random brilliance.  But seriously, when the world is wobbling around you, the brain is not your friend.  Your brain is a genius of creation, a story-teller extraordinaire that will never let facts get in the way of telling a great story full of drama and passion and treachery.

The human brain, however, will not always work with you to keep your cool in a tough situation.  In a tough situation, your best bet are still your lungs.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

If I can give you any advise, my dear ones, it would be this.  In times of stress, send your brain out for donuts.  Let your lungs get you back on an even footing.  Then let your brain tell a better story.

Now, drink some warm milk, snuggle up to your honey or your teddy bear, and let the sweet dreams commence.  

Love to you all–

Deb’s Inner Wise Self (IWS)

Good Night, Dear Souls – August 18, 2014

PennyMoon

Today I got lost.  Literally, not metaphorically.  In a town the size of a thumbprint, I managed to drive in circles for about 20 minutes on my lunch hour.  I blame new road construction, a lack of signage, and the fact that all farmland looks exactly alike to me.

Now, I won’t focus on the fact that my boss and coworkers laughed at me (not with me) when I told them what happen.  Instead, I will look for the metaphor in this experience.

First of all, today was an UberMonday.  Every person I encountered had a crazy, difficult, frustrating day.  Most of us experienced multiple, consecutive failures in communication, equipment, and patience.  I’m not blaming my lunch-time wandering on that, but I’m suggesting there may have been a connection of some sort.

So back to me getting lost.  My sense of navigation is insanely bipolar-in the city, it takes me just a couple of days to get completely acclimated.  My brain systematically evolves a mental map of streets, landmarks, and street names which I continuously update.

In rural areas, however, I am hopeless.  I have lived in this area for over a decade, and I’m still at risk for becoming utterly lost every time I leave the city limits and venture forth among my Bovine- and Equine-American brethren.  There are several reasons I can devise for this:

1. The lack of discernible landmarks.  In the city, you will pass a post office, or a restaurant, or a bridge, or a church, or something that will stick in your brain and help you “bookmark” the terrain.  Out amongst the farms, you get pretty much–rolling hillsides, farmhouses, rolling hillsides, cows, rolling hillsides, the occasional silo, barns, and yes, more rolling hillsides.  Oh, and depending on where you live, you can also intersperse that landscape with fields of corn, wheat, or soy.

2. The lack of businesses.  In the city, if I really get turned around, I’m usually no more than a few blocks away from service station or fast food joint where I can stop the car, stretch my legs, get my bearings, use the bathroom (utterly crucial), and perhaps ask for directions.  In the country, you got farmhouses, barns, and fields. I never know when the next store is going to show up, so the road just seems to stretch on forever, terrifying in its non-commercial-ness.

And herein is where I find the metaphor.  I like the city because, in its own way, the city is safe.  There are known landmarks and plenty of people to turn to if I need help or directions.

But the country is different.  I’m pretty much on my own out there, and that is kind of scary.  No net.  No guidebook.

At some point in my insane travels today, I said to myself, “You aren’t going to change this.  You aren’t going to make civilization magically appear just by cursing up a blue streak.  So maybe you should just relax, enjoy the scenery, and let things happen as they happen.”

Minutes later, I found my way back to the main highway, just outside of Fort Knox.  I was back at the office in five minutes.

So, maybe I should just relax.  Maybe I should just enjoy the scenery.

What about you?  Are you hanging on to maps and boundaries and the familiar?  Or are you just okay with getting lost once in a while?

Either way, the view is awesome.

Love to you–Deb

Good Night, Dear Souls – August 17, 2014

PennyMoon

Hello, dear ones.  It’s another Sunday night.  Right about now, I’d normally be clenching in on myself, stressing on the advent of another Monday morning.  I know it’s what most of us do.  We dread the beginning of a new work or school week, often starting hours before the alarm goes off.

I’m trying an experiment, though, which I hope will reduce my stress and suffering.  it’s Sunday night, and instead of worrying about work in the morning, I’m listening to classical music.  I’m sitting in my home, enjoying my family.  And when my mind turns to the endless grocery list of things I have to do at the office tomorrow, I just just breathe and say to myself, “Tomorrow.”

Tomorrow doesn’t exist.  Not yet, really, except in our minds.  Too many of us give this imaginary tomorrow way more power and influence than it needs or should have.  I know I always have.  I practice conversations in my head in advance.  I imagine every possible scenario (one often more horrific than the last) when I know I have to confront someone or something I’m avoiding.

And why?  

Because as humans, we are all born storytellers.  I don’t care how hard you insist you are not “literary,” trust me, you are a story-teller.  Your medium may not be pen and paper (or WordPress), but you are a story-teller.

It’s in our blood.  It’s in our DNA.  We can’t help it.

Tomorrow is Monday.  Monday sucks.  I hate Mondays.  I hate my life.

There–story told.  Beginning, middle, and end.  And for what?  What possible good can telling this story do?

We all tell a story, so why not tell a better one?

Tomorrow is Monday.  Monday follows Sunday, which is today.  Let’s focus on Sunday, which is where I am. Oooh, leftover pizza!  Yum!

See?  Much better story.

Have a great night, sweet dreams, and enjoy the leftover pizza.

Deb

Finding Meaning in the Work You Do

Last night the universe sent me this awesome gift in the form of the energetic and slightly wacky Karen L. McCrocklin, coach, Hay House Radio personality, and Happy Lesbian. You know how Famous People™ are always giving away free stuff on FaceBook and Twitter, and you never win anything? Well, guess who won a free coaching session with Karen? Moi, merci beaucoup! So last night, I spent about 45 minutes on the phone, discussing goals and plans and all things big and small. And when I hung up, I was pumped and full of enthusiasm for my upcoming projects.

And that is when my beloved wife, Ms. “She Who Sees the Truth and Ain’t Afraid to Speak It,” served me up a big old scoop of reality check.

You see, one of my dreams is help people find joy in the workplace, no matter where they work. I’ve had enough jobs, corporate and otherwise, to know that the majority of people out there are just suffering through their days. Regardless of industry or ranking, it seems that most workers tend to fall into two major categories: those who see their jobs as a temporary stop on the way to getting what they really want (weekend, vacation, promotion, retirement) and those who have just given up on getting what they really want altogether.

There is a third category (small, but real) of people who are working the jobs of their dreams. They are fully engaged, aware of the opportunity and challenge of doing good work, and see their jobs as relevant and fulfilling. They may have rough patches when they feel like they are drudging along, but for the most part they are happy and satisfied with their work.

I want to help people come to that place, where they are fully engaged and aware of the amazing opportunities for growth and creative expression possible in whatever work they do. So I’m gushing on and on about the Awesome Phone Call of Awesomeness with Karen McCrocklin, and about my plans and goals and how I’m going to move forward in pursuing my dreams.

And Fey looks at me real serious-like and asks, “So when you gonna work these miracles on yourself?”

Ouch. Not her exact words, but the meaning was there. And she was absolutely right.

You see, I have a shocking confession to make. All this “creating the best life possible” and “how to find your true life’s work” stuff I’m writing about? Yeah, it’s all a front.

You see, while ostensibly I appear to be helping others, the secret truth is I’m trying to figure this out for myself! I read a lot of personal development books, listen to Hay House Radio, and basically invest a lot of time and energy into trying to improve my life.

But I’m not quite there yet. As my writing takes off, both fiction and non-fiction, and my dreams of the future become more clearly defined, I often find that spending 40 hours a week doing The Day Job™ becomes more and more difficult. It’s not that I cannot find any value in what I do. To the contrary, I am aware that I play a crucial part in saving lives. As a senior account rep for a major medical-surgical supplier, when I do my job right, heart patients and burn victims and premature babies get the care they need because their doctors and nurses have the equipment to do their jobs. That is pretty damned important work, in my humble opinion.

But when your mind is full of ideas and you have an urge to express and implement those ideas creatively, working in an office can be…tedious. On my less than optimistic days, it feels like my entire job consists of typing numbers and letters into little boxes, hitting save, and sending those lists of numbers and letters to invisible people who then Do Mysterious Things with them. I know that, several degrees of separation later, my work eventually translates into life-saving treatment. But those degrees of separation can be vast and difficult to see past at times.

The Problem Ain’t the Job, Ya’ll

It’s easy when you are working in a job that doesn’t fully align with your goals and ambitions to blame your unhappiness on the job itself. After all, they’re the ones who make you go in at some god-awful hour in the middle of the night (8 am??? Who decided that was civilized, asks the Night Person?). They’re the ones who make you arrange your schedule around their business needs, even when you have other things you need/want/would prefer to do with your time. They’re the ones who fail to recognize your Immense Worth and don’t compensate you nearly well enough for the incredible value you provide.

But here’s the rub—some of the most successful people in the world maintain rigorous schedules, balance work and life needs, and struggle to get the proper compensation for their work. And they still love their jobs.

For example:

Schedule

  • Fred Rogers (PBS’s Mr. Rogers) took a nap every day in the late afternoon, woke up every morning at five-thirty to read and study and write and pray, and went to bed at nine-thirty at night to sleep eight hours without interruption.
  • John Grisham said of his early writing rituals: “I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”

Balancing Work/Life Needs

  • An article called 12 Things Successful People Do Differently on the wildly popular blog, Marc and Angel Hack Life, states: “When you let your work life (or social life, family life, etc.) consume you, and all your energy is focused in that area, it’s extremely easy to lose your balance. While drive and focus are important, if you’re going to get things done right, and be truly successful, you need to balance the various dimensions of your life. Completely neglecting one dimension for another only leads to long-term frustration and stress.”
  • Nigel Marsh, in his talk at TEDxSidney, says “Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Moreover, I think, it can transform society.”

Getting the Proper Compensation for Work

  • A 2012 survey by the group W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) found that “58% of the nearly 1,000 artists interviewed (including visual and performing artists) received no compensation at all for exhibiting or presenting their work at nonprofits in New York.”
  • Freelancers (the Holy Grail for so many would-be writers, artists, etc.) also struggle to receive compensation for their work, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Difference is You

So what’s the difference between the crowd of unhappy, unengaged worker drones out there, and those who rise above the stress and tedium to have meaningful, fulfilling careers?

That’s the answer I’m trying to find with this series of blog posts. How do we increase our awareness, shift our perception, and improve our attitudes about the work we do? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 128 million jobs in America in May 2011, with about 6 million of those jobs considered “Management.” That leaves a whopping 122 million of us in non-managerial jobs. That’s a powerful energetic force out there, and most of us are suffering.

What if we could transform ourselves and our work lives? What if the bus drivers and waiters and office workers and construction workers out there could, en masse, simply start loving their jobs?

How would that change the world? How would that change humanity, if so many people in one place were happy, engaged, and doing fulfilling work for the majority of their time?

It’s kind of a big challenge, isn’t it? And as my loving wife put it last night, “How lucky are you that you work in a job that gives you the opportunity to study the pursuit of happiness on the job?”

And suddenly, the heavens opened and the choir of angels began to sing—well, you know the drill. It was that Eureka! moment I’d been waiting for.

Last night, my full-time profession stopped being The Day Job™ and became The Research Lab™.

Today, I went to The Research Lab™ engaged, enthusiastic, and ready to work. The job hadn’t changed at all, but my view of it had. It was no longer something I did to earn a wage while I crammed my hopes and dreams into the evening hours. No, it had transformed into a part of my work, an opportunity to learn and understand what makes people tick, how people deal with stress, and what tricks those people who are happy have up their sleeves! And I help sick people as well.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this thing.

The Quinoa Experiment

Ah, the office pot luck! Not since junior high school have I been so keenly aware of how absolutely well I do not fit into mainstream society! As a pescetarian who can’t eat 95% of cheese and dairy products out there, I’m rather problematic for the typical potluck buffet. Generally I wind up eating chips and dip (if my coworkers remember not to add shredded cheddar or mozzarella), dinner rolls, and desserts.

Deciding what to bring is not that easy, either. Desserts tend to work best, but a girl gets tired of eating nothing but desserts for lunch on potluck days. Same with chips, sodas, crackers, and plates. (Okay, I don’t eat plates, but they are a good thing to bring if you’re broke and don’t really cook all that well.)

The other day my team at The Day Job™ held a potluck for a coworker whose wife just had a baby. Normally, I would have brought some cookies or chips. But a coworker had given me a zucchini from her neighbor’s garden that I was trying to use up. (Seriously, this thing was like a Junior Louisville Slugger. I’ve made three meals from it, and it’s still hanging on.) I also had a package of quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wha”) I’d been wanting to use in the cupboard. I’d tasted quinoa at some of the higher-end Louisville restaurants and I loved its earthy flavor and unusual texture (better than couscous by far, but not quite as hippy-granola as brown rice.)

Now, for those of you who are not familiar with quinoa, here’s a little write up from the University of Wisconsin-Extension site:

Quinoa or quinua (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This crop (pronounced KEEN-WAH), has been called “vegetable caviar” or Inca rice, and has been eaten continuously for 5,000 years by people who live on the mountain plateaus and in the valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Quinua means “mother grain” in the Inca language. This crop was a staple food of the Inca people and remains an important food crop for their descendants, the Quechua and Aymara peoples who live in rural regions.

The grain contains more protein than corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, and wheat, and more fiber than barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, and wheat. It’s also lower in carbohydrates than pretty much anything besides buckwheat and oats, putting in a very good place on the glycemic index.

So, as I said, Zucchini-zilla needed attending to, and I had that quinoa burning a hole in my pantry. I found this pretty awesome recipe that looked easy enough for even a cook at my level to make, and got to work. The whole thing cost me about $1.50 to make, so it was no big financial risk. When I was done, it tasted pretty darned good to me. I got Fey to try it, and she added some spice and salt (I always tend to undersalt…), and it tasted even darned better! When it passed the Mundane Palate Test (aka, Fey’s Mom thought it quite tasty), I made the decision that this would be my contribution to the office potluck.

As I drew nearer the office the morning of the potluck, though, my decision to bring quinoa to the table began weighing on me. After all, this is the Heartland. They don’t really cotton to strange food here (unless it’s local strange food). By the time I hit my desk, I was already preparing the hard sell—explanations of the grain’s odd appearance, a recitation of the health benefits, sworn affidavits ensuring the flavor and general non-toxicity of all ingredients.

And then it hit me—why was I apologizing for my contribution? Nobody ever apologized for the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, which can cause a diabetic coma from sheer proximity. In a heartbeat, a plot was hatched. The plot quickly became a plan, which rapidly evolved into…

The Quinoa Experiment

Instead of a pre-emptive public relations strike on behalf of my potluck dish, I did the unthinkable. I merely placed the container of quinoa among the other potluck submissions, without comment or explanation. I then returned to my desk, which had a very good view of the buffet area, and proceeded to observe the reactions. Not to sound too Jane Goodall here, but it was truly a fascinating experiment, watching adults encounter a food completely different from anything they’d ever seen. Here are few notes I jotted down (why skip the opportunity for a fun blog post?)

8:05 am: Placed quinoa in buffet setting.

8:53 am: By now, almost all coworkers have surveyed food. No questions yet on the quinoa.

9:00 am: Personal survey of buffet area reveals quinoa untouched by coworkers. Placed small amount of quinoa on my plate so that coworkers could see it was nontoxic, then arranged the fork purposefully to see if it was disturbed.

9:10 am: Observed coworker (female) hovering over area where quinoa is placed. There is some hesitation before coworker reaches over quinoa to scoop cheese dip onto her plate. Quinoa remains untouched.

9:15 am: Observed two coworkers (male) at quinoa site. Coworkers are engaged in conversation, with meaningful glances in the direction of the quinoa. Both regard the dish, with occasional bouts of uncomfortable laughter, but neither touches the dish. Younger male coworker leaves with two donuts and a plate of fruit. Older male coworker takes nothing. Quinoa as yet untouched by coworkers.

9:24 am: At last! A female coworker inquires about the quinoa. Confirms she has discussed the dish with other workers prior to asking me, but still does not partake. Gives assurances she will “try some at least.”

It took almost an hour and a half before anyone even asked about the strange-looking food on the counter. It was almost the end of the day before any coworkers tried it. Two female coworkers each had “one spoonful” to try. One hated it, and the other thought it was “interesting, but not my thing.” But at least they tried it.

The Lesson Learned

So what lesson can we bring from this little social experiment? That people in offices don’t want healthy dishes at their damned potlucks? Well, yeah, that’s a no-brainer. But an even deeper observation can be made into the nature of people and their resistance to change.

Most of us are so deep within our comfort zones that we not only resist change—we barely even register its existence! We go through our lives (all of us, to some extent) by rote—eating the same foods, having the same conversations, experiencing the same annoyances, cheering the same teams—for so long that we don’t even realize we are doing it. We become so entrenched in our habits that we are unable to even see something outside our comfort zone.

When applied to finding your life work, this tunnel vision is toxic. It limits not only your options, but your ability to become aware that options exist. It’s what Steve Pavlina calls learned helplessness:

That voice tells you that settling into a job where you sell widgets the rest of your life just won’t cut it. That voice frowns at you when you catch a glance of your oversized belly in the mirror or get winded going up a flight of stairs. It beams disappointment when it sees what’s become of your family. It tells you that the reason you have trouble motivating yourself is that you aren’t doing what you really ought to be doing with your life… because you’re afraid. And if you refuse to listen, it will always be there, nagging you about your mediocre results until you die, full of regrets for what might have been.

So how do you respond to this ornery voice that won’t shut up? What do you do when confronted by that gut feeling that something just isn’t right in your life? What’s your favorite way to silence it? Maybe drown it out by watching TV, listening to the radio, working long hours at an unfulfilling job, or consuming alcohol and caffeine and sugar.

But whenever you do this, you lower your level of consciousness. You sink closer towards an instinctive animal and move away from becoming a fully conscious human being. You react to life instead of proactively going after your goals. You fall into a state of learned helplessness, where you begin to believe that your goals are no longer possible or practical for you. You become more and more like a mouse, even trying to convince yourself that life as a mouse might not be so bad after all, since everyone around you seems to be OK with it. You surround yourself with your fellow mice, and on the rare occasions that you encounter a fully conscious human being, it scares the hell out of you to remember how much of your own courage has been lost.

When we were kids, we were insanely brave. We tried things no rational adult would even consider, and somehow, we survived. And when we were kids, the world was ginormous—filled with adventure and possibility and joy. Sure, we found things we hated (algebra, lima beans, etc.), but we found even more things that were just plain freaking awesome (wheelies, punk rock music, Pop Rocks).

Now, we’re afraid to try a stupid grain?

Getting Beyond the Grain

I’m not saying your whole life is going to change if you eat quinoa. But seriously—think about the things you do, and what you’re willing to try. When was the last time you just went for it and tried something weird? When was the last time you truly went beyond your comfort zone? By rigidly sticking to what you know, you block entrance for all those wonderful things you don’t know about (but really would be happy to know if you did!)

If you really want to push through the ordinary into an extraordinary life, you need to be willing to go past your comfort zone. Here are a few easy tips to get you started on the road away from your Comfort Zone.

  • Try a new flavor of ice cream (I tried Grits & Sorghum ice cream tonight. It was actually quite delicious.)
  • Listen to music from an artist you’ve never heard of before (Spotify and Pandora are great places to start).
  • Learn a new language.
  • Take an online course in a subject you know nothing about (like Physics or Electrical Engineering).

These are cheap (or free) ways to stretch the borders of your comfort zone. By expanding your comfort zone, you expand your world—and your opportunities for thriving within it!

Fighting the “Resistance Existence”

More often than I want to admit, I’ve found myself in the awkward position of having someone ask me for advice, when they obviously are in no space to even consider change. The friend who knows she needs to leave her abusive boyfriend, the one who sees the writing on the wall at her job but is too paralyzed to start putting her resume together, even the person who is too afraid to go to the doctor to find out what that odd growth on her elbow might be…. One time or another, they’ve all wound up on my doorstep, terrified, begging for guidance, but stubbornly resisting any suggestion I give them to help improve their situation.

We’ve all been in this place before. I spent my entire 20s in this space—land-locked in a pit of indecision, doubt, and utter terror at even the smallest amount of change. Intellectually, people living a “Resistance Existence” know they need to make a change. Some can even get plans together, knock out a course of action, and even buy a pair of awesome sneakers to make the distance they’ve got to travel more comfortable and stylish.

But that’s as far as it goes.

When the gun fires, they’re left standing at the gate in their expensive Nikes, unable to even take the first step to improve their life.

What is it about change that is so terrifying to some of us we would rather stay in a bad situation than take that risk, even when it’s obviously a positive change?

Warning: Danger, Will Robinson!

Jake O’Callahan, blogger at SlowChange, offered these five reasons we are so afraid of change.

  1. Fear of Failure: This is pretty obvious. Nobody wants to try and fail. But when you are caught in resistance, this fear can keep you from trying even the simplest or most positive changes.
  2. Fear of Pain, Discomfort, and Effort: Making changes such as starting a new career or getting into shape can be intimidating. Your fear of future physical, emotional, or psychological pain and discomfort may be such that the known discomfort of your current situation seems mild in comparison.
  3. Fear of Success: This is a big one for me, and a particularly insidious demon to face when manifesting change. In the dark world of resistance, success makes you a target. Expectations loom larger than life, and the fall back to failure seems much less deadly if you fall from your boring present rather than from a grand and glorious future.
  4. Fear of Criticism: The truth is, except in the rarest of cases, most of us are much more harshly critical of ourselves than we are of others. So naturally, we think that others will be equally critical of us if we risk putting ourselves out there. Fear of criticism and low self-esteem are a crushing combo when it comes to new ventures.
  5. Fear of the New: “Better the devil I know than the devil I don’t know.” It’s a stupid saying, but so many of us live our lives in this space. Yeah, we know our job sucks, but what if I try and get myself into an even worse situation? Sure, I’m bored in this curriculum, but if I change majors I might really hate what I have to do. And let’s not even talk about the new computer system—why can’t we go back to the old system?

Are You a Closeted (or Not-So-Closeted) Resister?

It’s easy to look at the list above and see these traits in others. But it’s harder to see them in yourself. Most of us who are in a situation we want to (but can’t) change tend to believe we are doing everything we can to improve our lives. But maybe we’re not doing as much as we think. If you are looking for change, but aren’t making any headway, ask yourself these questions.

Am I embracing my excuses?

When I was still living back home, I knew that my life would never get better if I stayed in Louisiana. Not that I have anything against my home state, but it was too conservative and too comfortable there for me to ever fully explore my true experience of life. But whenever anyone would suggest I’d move out of state to a new atmosphere, I always had an excuse. I don’t have enough job experience to compete in a big city. I have never lived on my own. My finances are a wreck—how would I stay afloat, even if I could find a job?

But the biggest excuse I made for staying in a place that was slowly killing my spirit came in the form of two adorable little boys. My nephews, Paxton and Cameron, were about three and one when I finally made the decision to leave Louisiana. Now, being the bon vivant auntie I was, the thought of leaving those two little monsters just broke my heart. I adored them, and I knew that my siblings were going to continue to have children. I wanted to be in their lives, and for about three years, they were the only things keeping me tied to home.

But at some point, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that even this was only an excuse I was using to avoid facing my fear. As much as I loved my nephews, and as much as I wanted to be a part of their lives, the deeper part of me knew that I’d be no role model for them unless I lived my life authentically.

What excuses are you clinging to in order to justify avoiding change? A relative, a paycheck, a childhood disappointment? If this excuse wasn’t there—if no one depended on you, if money was no object, if your childhood angst was a mere figment–would you still be making the choices you’re making now?

Am I ignoring the facts?

One of the easiest ways to resist change is to accept the past (or your perception of the past) as unchangeable truth. A great example of this from my life was taxes. Because of an odd quirk of my childhood, I had to start filing tax returns quite early (I was still in high school). My mother, bless her, was responsible for getting all of this done.

Five tax returns + one single parent = TAX TRAUMA!

I have very clear memories of tax time, spending hours helping get check stubs in order, dealing with tempers and missing documents, the haste and stress and tempers. It all seemed pretty awful to me at the time.

When I finally got out on my own, I brought that experience of tax preparation with me. For years after my eighteenth birthday, I mimicked the patterns of my childhood, turning the first two weeks of April into a merry fortnight of stress and angst.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized my situation had changed. I had changed. When I got past the story I was telling myself and let go of the outdated “facts” that no longer served me, I was able to look realistically at my situation. I was able to see the tools at my disposal, the relative simplicity of my return, even my ability to remain calm in the face of the deadline.

Today, tax time is nothing for me. I go online, use Turbo Tax, file, and move on with life. I barely even think about it. That would never have been possible had I clung to my old image of tax time and ignored the evolving factual evidence.

So what outdated information are you clinging to? A time when someone treated you well, although they are no longer doing so? An investment that once performed well, but now is costing you time and money? Can you break out of nostalgia and entropy long enough to look at things with fresh eyes?

Am I propping up the villain?

A friend of mine is convinced everyone hates her. She is too poor, too fat, too unattractive, and the world hates people like her. Another friend of mine hates every supervisor that comes her way—no matter what their management style, they are always corrupt, incompetent, and untrustworthy. For a long time, when I was younger, I believed that every popular person I knew wanted nothing more than my complete social destruction. Regardless of the actual facts, we build these people into monsters before our eyes, removing any subtlety and substance until they are human Godzillas, smashing our dreams like Tokyo under their feet.

It’s easy to look at these attitudes from the outside and see them for the absurdity they are, but there are so many subtle ways we use vilification of “The Other” to justify remaining at a standstill. Do any of these statements sound familiar?

  • Oh, please, why bother even applying? They never hire supervisors from the floor. Besides, they’ve already got the job filled before it’s even posted. You need to be part of the clique to get promoted around here.
  • There is no way I’ll ever get that part. He’s trying out for it, and he’s the director’s favorite.
  • It’s just not fair—the little guy can never get ahead. Even if I did get that extra training, Management just looks down on us guys on the line.
  • My vote doesn’t count. The (fill in the blank with whatever political party you think is destroying democracy) are in control; you know they’re going to block anything that would give (fill in with opposing political party) a victory.
  • College is a rich man’s game. Even if I did get that scholarship, they’d all look down on me. I’d have to work twice as hard for half as much, and they’d never respect me.

One of the best ways to keep yourself down is to give power to those villains (real or imaginary) you feel are intent on “keeping you down.” Whether it’s a church, your family, the wealthy, the poor, the government, popular people—whoever you’ve decided has more power than you—it’s easy to use them as excuses for not taking action when it’s called for. But they’re not the problem; we’re just giving them that power.

Resisting Resistance

So what can we do to break through the resistance to change that keeps us from even imagining an improved circumstance? I know I’ve sung the praises of positivity here before, but it is one of the single best ways to give yourself the courage and inspiration to move forward. The next time you feel yourself resisting a positive change in your life, try one of these tricks.

  • Let go of forever. Agree to make a change for a short period of time. Nothing is permanent anyway, so why stress about change being forever? If, for instance, you want to try exercising more, make a deal with yourself that for one month you will exercise regularly. Commit to that one month, with an option for renegotiation at the end of that period. By doing so, you take some of the pressure of “forever” off you so that you can concentrate on the benefits of your actions.
  • Tell a better story. Scientists insist that most of what we experience is simply our brains interpreting the stimuli we receive through our senses. What is an interpretation other than a story? Everything you do, everything you see, is your brain’s story of reality. If you want a better life, tell a better story. Tell a story where you manage to ignore the snide remark and continue with your studies. Tell a story where you prepare mightily and sail through the interview like a pro. Tell yourself this story, believe it, and act in accordance. Be the story you’re telling by acting the part, doing the work, and taking the risks. You might be amazed at how differently things turn out.
  • Laugh. When the world seems so serious and everything is just too hard to handle, watch a funny movie. Hang out with friends who improve your mood. Play with your dog or cat or the neighbor’s ferret, and enjoy their spontaneity. Taking life too seriously makes everything harder. It’s easy to become mired in the mud if you keep the weight of the world on your shoulders.

If we want to take control of our lives and shape our own destiny, we have to get past the victim mentality and give ourselves permission to change. Once you free your mind, you’ll be able to go within and discover who you truly are and what you truly want.

Creating the Future: A Change of Perspective

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog lately. While a huge part of me is inclined to leave it as is—a chaotic, unfocused reflection of my own daily experiences, another part of me wants Ten Thousand Soapboxes to be more than a glorified personal journal. The blogosphere has afforded us an unprecedented forum, giving previously unheard voices a chance to speak their wisdom (and foolishness) into the darkness…and be heard.

The difference between a good blog and a great blog can be summarized in one word, “value.” What value is this blog offering to my readers? What value am I receiving from the production of these posts? In order to find value, one has to first discover need—what is missing, what is broken, that must be filled if our lives are going to get better?

The Missing Factor

I’ve taken a bit of time for recollection and soul-searching on this topic. There are so many topics I love, so many passions that drive me and make my world a brighter and more interesting place.

But there is one topic which affects every other aspect of my life, a topic so huge and overriding that it cuts to the core of my essence.

That topic is work.

When I say work, I am not merely referring to the 9-to-5 job most of us do Monday-Friday, although that is a huge part of it. Our Day Jobs™ affect so much of what we do, how we do it, how we see ourselves, and how we interact with others. Our Day Jobs™ influence our health, our attitudes, our relationships, our finances, even our perspective on politics, society, and religion.

But there is more to work than The Day Job™.

Every one of us—each of us with a pulse and a brain—has wondered why we are here, what is our purpose? The more existential among us have wondered if there is any purpose at all? Is there any meaning to our lives besides production and consumption?

Work, true work, can be defined as “what we are here to do.” Why were your mind and your soul and your talents and your passions joined together and placed in a carbon-based body with opposable thumbs and the ability to communicate? Were you just born to eat and sleep and waste time until you die?

Or were you born for greater things?

The History of Work

To figure out the future of work, we need to look at the past. Working for profit is a relatively new thing. For the bulk of human existence, work has been simply a by-product of the need for survival. Humans were inclined to survive, and to do that they needed food, shelter, community—the basics. Since these things didn’t just randomly offer themselves up, our ancestors learned to work. We hunted, we farmed, we built shelters, we sewed clothing for protection against the elements. Inventive as our ancestors were, they came up with “fixes” to improve their odds of survival.

  • Weapons to improve hunting.
  • Tools to improve farming.
  • Buildings to improve shelter against danger—both from the elements and from enemies, human and animal.

And with these fixes, our human ancestors found themselves with more time to think, more opportunity to grow and explore, to make better weapons, stronger tools, more impressive buildings.

We also learned to make art. We learned to enjoy pleasures and anticipate rewards.

When basic survival needs were met, we found we enjoyed the benefits of working. We liked the perks—comfortable homes, abundant food, music, art, colorful clothes, and the opportunity for peaceful interaction with others like ourselves.

Where It Went Wrong

Most of us have held a job at one point or more in our adult life. The majority of us did it for financial reasons—as a means to an end. But there’s more to it than just financial security. Anthropologist Michael Maccoby offered this insight in his 2010 editorial for The Washington Post:

Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.

So many of us focus on the “coinage” part, though, that we downplay our need to make sense, to discipline our talents, and to relate to the human community. In a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable, this doesn’t cause too much trouble.

But we do not live in a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable. We live in a world where, to our horror, we are struggling to make ends meet—despite “doing everything right,” at least according to the current rules of the game.

We go to school. We learn a trade. We create a resume, get a job, do our work, and don’t make trouble. We create value for our employers. We trade services for wages.

And yet, our lives don’t get better.

Our hearts don’t get stronger, our relationships don’t get more meaningful, our bodies don’t get more energized.

We simply get worn out.

The Future of Work

With the future of traditional work getting dimmer and dimmer, a lot of us in the workforce are realizing a change needs to come. And that change is not going to come from our bosses or HR or the government. The change is going to have to come from us. We, as individuals and as a society, are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and figure out why we’re working, how we’re working, and how we’re going to move towards the future (rather than dying out like the dinosaurs).

Net guru Seth Godin, in his Time article, “The Last Days of the Cubicle“, put it fairly succinctly.

The job of the future will have very little to do with processing words or numbers (the Internet can do that now). Nor will we need many people to act as placeholders, errand runners or receptionists. Instead, there’s going to be a huge focus on finding the essential people and outsourcing the rest.

My Moment of Essential

A while back, I wrote a series of blog posts called Joy in the Workplace, in which I explored ways to make the experience of doing your job more meaningful and joyful. Over the course of the next few months, I would like to dig deeper into that theme.

It’s not enough to get a job anymore. We must look inside, find our strengths, find our joys and passions, and find our value as human beings. Then we need to look without, and find areas where those strengths, joys, passions, and values are needed.

There are many areas to choose from.

  • According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, “16.4 million children in the United States, 22.0 percent of all children, lived in poverty in 2010. More than six million of these children were under six years old. Of the 16.4 million poor children, nearly half, 7.4 million, lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line (i.e., $11,157 for a family of four).”
  • A 2005 United Nations Report estimated there are approximately 100 million homeless people on the planet.
  • Like to read? 14% (about 1 in 7) of U.S. adults don’t know how.
  • In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infection diseases around the world.
  • Approximately 57.7 million Americans—1 in 4—experience serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
  • The Daily Green reports that “according to the National Academy of Sciences, on average there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds, and the (Exxon) Valdez spill doesn’t even make the list of the top 30 all-time largest.”

And this list doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Where to Now?

So it’s obvious there is no lack of work to be done in the world. There’s so much work, in fact, that no one should be jobless.

And yet, we are jobless. 12.7 million of us are jobless in America alone.

We’re all looking to Washington, whether from the red side or the blue, asking “Where are the jobs?”

I ask you—where are the jobs? We’ve established there’s work to be done, so why are we waiting on the government to tell us what to do? When did we, as human beings, need permission from authority figures to do the work that needed to be done? When did we need permission to fix things, solve problems, make improvements?

No, we are born to fix things. It’s in our blood, our DNA, our brain structure. We’ve just forgotten how. More importantly, we’ve forgotten we’re supposed to know how.

What I would like to do over the course of the next few months is explore this idea more fully.

  • How to assess our talents
  • How to find areas of need
  • How to fill those areas of need while earning a fair compensation
  • How to bring the best of us to our work, creating value as well as personal satisfaction

I will not lie to you—I am struggling like the rest of you. I am looking in the mirror of my worklife and asking, “Am I a dinosaur?” That being said, I won’t go down without a fight. It may take a while, but I fully intend to figure this out.

I hope you will join me on this journey. If you have any suggestions for topics to be covered in this series, I would be happy to hear from you.

Like the sap of a tree

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By the time Friday comes around, it feels like I’ve had a tap attached to my spine (like a maple tree).  All the life essence is slowly drained by the stresses and frustrations of The Day Job until I feel depleted and weak.

The more I delve into the world of writing (and getting paid for writing), the harder it is to keep myself motivated at The Day Job.  I do important work, and I’m very good at what I do.  But there are days, weeks even, when I wish I could just head out in a random direction and live off my wits for a while.

The good news is that these impulses aren’t very strong, nor do they stay for very long.  But they remind me, profoundly, that life is not what you do for a living, nor is it where you live and what you have.

Life is the sap of a tree, and you only have so much of it this time around.

So, what are you going to do?  Let life drain you dry for its own profit, or use your own life-blood in the way you want?