Speaking Up Now When I Should Have Then

This post has been sitting in draft mode for quite some time.  There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one was that I was having trouble deciding what I really was hoping to achieve by putting it out there.  Then, every time I thought I was ready to start, I would see a powerful and thoughtful post put out by others and I would think that I was just riding the coat tails of others.  Jumping on the band wagon, so to speak.

This is my contribution to the #metoo conversation and the toxicity that is often present in the workplace.

You will quickly realize it`s not an account of how I experienced what many, many, many others have in the workplace (at least nothing that is at the level that others have experienced),  but rather, how I played a role in allowing it, rather than be a victim of it.

That is incredibly tough to write and quite honestly, the reason why I didn’t feel worthy of weighing in on the subject.

Having mulled this over for months and months, I am not going to hash out the details – I don`t feel the need to use this post as a confessional to list out the specifics of my situation.  In fact, they would only detract from the bigger issue.  I am also not making excuses, but rather explaining why I did what I did. And also why I realized how wrong it was and how much it ultimately hurt me and others.

To start, I have to explain that I grew up not trusting women.  Much of my experiences through family and school lead me to believe that girls and women were ultimately in competition with each other and that helping them out meant you were only hurting yourself.

I was one of those kids who was quiet enough and didn`t react easily, so adults often  forgot or didn`t worry about me being around – I absorbed everything.  What I learned from the women in my family was that there are two types of women: girly, silly and useless or hard, serious and successful.  Ultimately you needed to fit in (read: act like a man) and not be associated with `flightly` female behaviour.  The women closest to me in my family rarely supported each other, never said what they really felt, and judged each other harshly on every aspect of their lives.  This became a cornerstone for all my future friendships with girls.

I did have girl friends, but they were always tinged with a worry about what they really thought of me (because surely they are saying something different behind my back) and waiting for some level of betrayal.  I was also highly judgemental of what I considered flakiness. When many of these friendships waned or broke off, I saw it as proof that I couldn`t rely on them.

I also had a lot of friends who were guys.  These, I felt were less complicated because I did not expect them to provide me what girl friends would, in both the good and bad sense.  There was certainly less drama, so easier on a day-to-day basis.  However, there was also less connection and support.

By the time I started working full-time, this was solidly entrenched in how I interacted with people – my lack of willingness to be vulnerable and share, along with a sharp sense of humour meant that I tended to get along better with my male colleagues than my female ones.  At this point in my life, I did not feel entirely comfortable with this, but it had worked for me up until then.

In my pre-HR days, I was working in a group that was predominantly male and just as it was when I was a kid, I was “quiet enough and didn`t react“ so the men I associated with often forgot that I was around and made comments about women, both general and specific, that they wouldn`t have said around others.  I was accepted as “one of the guys“ and enjoyed the privileges that this entailed.

I soon realized that men sometimes said things that they would never say to these women`s face and judged them harshly, but it was worse – it wasn`t pettiness or hurt, it was just mean and toxic.

I would like to write that I lost it on them when they made these comments or jokes, that I called them on the bullshit they were spouting and walked away.  I really would like to write that.  But the truth is that I often chuckled at the jokes, shook my head at the comments (but didn`t say anything), and sometimes just walked away, but with the excuse that I had to do something.

In essence, I developed a coping mechanism of hiding in plain sight.  Somehow I felt that as long as I was sitting with them, I would not be a target, but the trade-off for this was that I couldn`t say anything that would bring attention to me.   I was absolutely conflicted about being a women and listening to how others were speaking about women.  To top it off, I now had a daughter and saw all of this through a completely new perspective.

Let`s be clear here, I was not a victim, I was part of the problem. Hard stop.

I let it happen unchallenged because I thought “at least it wasn`t me“.  (And that`s the messed up part – it probably was me at times when I wasn`t there).  I was more concerned about the impacts to my social and work situation than I was about defending that of others.  I rationalized it by saying that they would have said those things whether I was there or not and that if I made a fuss, I would then become one of those women who couldn`t take a joke.

Around this time, I realized that I did not want my daughter to grow up seeing women the way I did – that I wanted that part of her life to be more balanced.  I worked hard at modelling something that did not come naturally to me and in the end, it is she who actually broke down the barriers for me and helped me to see what was always there.  She has been part of a strong female community that celebrates rather than tears down each other. This has been life changing for me.

Getting to where I am now has taken a lot of work and shifting for me.  Part of that was leaving that work environment and finding myself in a new place where it was predominantly women (talk about culture shock!)  It was building new work and friend relationships with women unlike me or those I grew up with.  It was learning from my daughter and experiencing the powerful effect of women supporting women.

I have had to learn to trust, be vulnerable, defend others and be defended.  During this, I have been let down a few times, but I have also been lifted up, even when I didn`t think it was deserved.  I now belong to some great communities.

So back to what the purpose of sharing this could be…what I decided was that I wanted to put out there what women don`t like to talk about – the role that some women played in hurting or, as with my case, not helping each other.

I have hesitated putting this out there because of how it reflects on me and makes me look bad and then it hit me…THAT, that right there, is what I have been trying so hard to stop doing.

This is not just about me.  It`s about speaking up now, when I should have then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Avoidance

There is an aspect of every job that we don’t like, some task or responsibility that we always push off because it seems pointless or worse, causes us stress. In the case of those stress-inducing items, there is a really good chance that is something you should do because, if handled properly, then it will improve things.

One thing I notice with people leaders is they tend put the difficult conversations on the side of the desk.  They are messy, unpredictable, and require time and energy (if you are going to do it right).

Let’s be clear, no one likes holding difficult conversations.  No one.  Some people may do better at it, some may understand the value of them more, and others may just have so little emotional connection to the people they are speaking to that they can just get to it.

I put myself firmly on Team Conflict Avoidance, which means that while difficult conversations may not come easy, it is actually the physical and mental impact that these have on me could make eligible for team captain. I know…and I am in HR.

On a personal note, I have dubbed the past 12 months as the “Year that has aged me horribly”.  Conflict – check, difficult conversations – check, emotional and physical toll – check, check.

And things just keep steamrolling…

Following a 2-week trip to Europe, which was a reprieve, I arrived home and things seem to be settling in.  In fact, I was just commenting to my husband that last November, the peak of our challenges, seems so far away…

And then this week that peace started to crumble a bit and today I ended up having an unplanned, ill-timed, yet long overdue difficult conversation with my son that has left me absolutely gutted.   It is a conversation that should have happened months ago, but I procrastinated.  And if I am being completely honest, it is a variation on conversations that I should have been having for quite some time.

It is terrible feeling to realize that avoiding conflict has only delayed the inevitable and maybe even made it more complex.  Almost as terrible a feeling as putting yourself out there for judgement as a person and, it would seem more easily targeted, as a parent.

So tonight, as I sit here with my wounds still raw, with my body revolting against the level of stress and my mind numb – the underlying feeling I have is that I let my son down and not because of what I had to tell him, but because I only got to telling him now.

It is with this in mind that I will be able to sit across the desk (or screen) from a people leader and insist, nay demand, that they have that conversation they have been putting off.  If necessary, I will show them my war wounds to prove my point.

Thinking about the future in reverse

It is no secret that I struggle for inspiration to write.  Or is motivation?  Maybe opportunity?  My head is full and I am overflowing with observations, but for some reason it doesn`t make it to my hands.

Is it possible to have carpal tunnel that blocks thoughts from the brain to fingers?  I am certain there is. I have it.

So here I find myself on a train for a work trip and I am ready to write.  It seems that all I needed was to get out of my space and be alone among others to get the itch to write.  I was totally born in the wrong era – I need a typewriter and a permanent seat on a train.

So I am sitting here, watching the scenery that has already passed by in my rear-facing seat, reflecting on how you can move forward when you are stuck facing backward.

There are quite a few food dishes that I swore I hated as a kid.  I grew up hating them, whether it was the taste, the smell or the texture.  Then I became an adult and had someone other than my mom cook these dishes and I was amazed to discover I really enjoyed them.  My mom made solid meals, far be it from me to complain about being fed, but they just never lived up to their potential.  Please don`t tell her.

And then there are quite a few books that I swore I hated.  I loathed discussing them in high school – felt they were the obligatory Pablum we were supposed to read.  Then I became an adult and realized that there was a reason to read these books and that maybe with fewer distractions (ahumph…boys) and more actual discussions, I would have liked them more back then. Except The Stone Angel, that remains on par with canned peas.

One of these books is The Great Gatsby.  This is one that people like or hate.  I like it.  I like pretty much everything about it, and the ending in particular always stays with me:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.“

It is the idea that as much as we think we want to move forward, and make attempts to stride into the future,  we are always drawn back to our past – something that both defines who we are and that we feel compelled to try to re-write.

This is both an individual and collective compulsion.  As individuals we get older, we have new experiences, we have goals, we reach milestones, and then we hit a loop that brings us back to some part of our past that forces us to realize that as much as we thought we had moved forward, it wasn`t quite as far as we thought.  Two steps forward, one step back.

As organizations, we live to re-define what we have already done, but as we run forward, it is hard not to feel like you have seen that tree before….and that rock, I am sure we passed that rock already…wait a minute, we have DEFINITELY passed that blue house.  And we are asked to trust that this new path, while familiar, is new and better.  It will lead us to new paths, smoother path…it will be uncomfortable and yet, this feels so familiar. Organizational déja-vu.

When change becomes the usual state, then is it really change?  Or is it like walking into a mirrored room and seeing one thing reflected in multiple surfaces, leading us to believe we are seeing a number of different things.

One of the most dreaded war cries of long-term employees is: `that won`t work, we have tried it before`.   We have all heard it.  Hell, I am certain we have all said it.  (Admit it, you did).  And it`s true.  We have tried it before, and it didn`t work, but to quote Fitzgerald, “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther“ and hope that this is the time that it will work, that this time we will crest the wave and move closer to the green light.

My expectations for 2018 (and why last year can suck eggs)

I recently said that 2017 could end any day now because I was done with it.  As if on January 1st everything would re-set and we would be starting fresh.  That would be nice, but the reality is far from that.

Last year was one of the most difficult years both professionally and personally.  And to ensure that I could be confident with that claim – it went out with a bang.  Or at least my car did…while my son was driving it.  Anyone want a 2008 Honda Civic, needs some work. What about a 17-year old boy, also needs some work.

Screw you 2017.

And so the new year started and things became even more challenging.  I don’t want this post to sound like a pity party, I am keenly aware that others are struggling with harder circumstances than mine, but allow me to take a minute to acknowledge the recent death of a really great guy, my father-in-law.  Although he had been ill since the summer, we expected more time than we had with him and he died quickly and peacefully early in the new year.

I am not sure what I expected of the start of 2018, but that was not it.  Nor was it the curve balls that my son feels compelled to throw at us on a daily basis.  And it certainly was not the feelings of being completely overwhelmed and exhausted that required me to take off more time than I am comfortable with taking.  It left me feeling disappointed with my ability to deal with things and with life in general at this moment.

Disappointment.

That seems to be a constant refrain in my brain…disappointment with how things are going, how people are reacting or not reacting, how I am coping or not coping, and pretty much any outcome that is not in line with my expectations.

Over the holidays I read a book that was referred to my husband called Unfu*ck Yourself by Gary John Bishop and while it was a quick and repetitive read, there were a few points that really stuck with me.  One of these is about disappointment, which it essentially defines as the gap between expectations and reality.  The bigger the gap, the greater the disappointment.

The simplicity of this explanation smacked me right between the eyes.  If I am constantly expecting things to be something that I am acutely aware that they will not be…I am ultimately setting myself up for a letdown.

And I am not alone, I started to see how many people do this to themselves (and others)…like say my mother with Christmas.  No matter how much she plans and expects that this is the year we will be that family in the idyllic Christmas dinner scene in a magazine or Christmas special, the reality always falls spectacularly short.  And thus the annual traditional of maternal disappointment is upheld.

Of course I can relate this to work…you knew I would.  Employees expecting significant recognition or higher than usual bonuses for doing their job and the ultimate letdown, when all they get is a bi-weekly pay…for doing their job.  Managers who hire that spitfire who will push the boundaries, challenge the norms, and lead the team to greatness are disappointed when the person turns out to be a disruptive pain in the ass that no one wants to work with and is putting the business at risk.

My challenges lay more within the personal domain.  I need to recalibrate my expectations…not lower them…just make them more realistic.  Of course, the idea would be that as things progress, your expectations can evolve and ultimately get to where you would like them to be.  However, this isn’t going to happen without awareness and work.

I am a hopeful person, but also a practical one, so I am often looking for the best outcome, but not overly surprised (and ultimately disappointed) when it doesn’t happen.  Forget work-life, this is the real imbalance that I struggle with.

So what does all of this mean? It means that I am going into situations asking myself, what are my expectations of what will happen?  And what do I realistically think will happen?  Now how far apart are these?  And I am adjusting my expectations as required, but still hoping for the best.

So from the ashes of 2017,  I am emerging with a better sense of what needs to happen, more realistic expectations and less disappointment.

And hope.  Always hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The simple act (and gift) of offering help

I know, it’s been 4 months.

Give me a break, if you can wait 11 years between Avatar movies, then surely 4 months isn’t that big of a deal.  Unless you have no intention of seeing Avatar 2…but why wouldn’t you?  You saw all of the Harry Potter movies, and the Star Wars movies (even when it was obvious that they were hi-tech pablum) and you probably watched all of the Twilights (admit it)…and all of those required waiting for unreasonable and contrived delays.

Why should my blog be any different?

When we last left our heroine, I was waxing poetic about cleaning the laundry in my head and implying that there was mountains of it.  Fast forward 4 months…the laundry piles are still there, but there has been progress made in sorting them.

Here’s the interesting thing, much like the real laundry I do, I realized that many of  these piles are not mine.  However, unlike real laundry…I can’t deal with other people’s stuff.

2017 has probably been one of the most challenging years I have faced on many fronts:  professionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and whatever-ly.  Part of that is dealing with my own issues, but another significant part has been dealing with supporting others with theirs.

I have done a pretty good job of keeping my blog focused on myself, my work, or other non-personal things.  Every once in a while I will write about my family in a peripheral way, partly because they did not ask to be part of this and mainly because they are not aware it exists.  However, today I am going to break that rule in a respectful way.

My husband has been a paramedic for over 20 years.  That means over 20 years of repeated exposure to tragic and traumatic situations.  That means over 20 years of working through shifts, bodily fluids (other people’s), exhaustion (his own), anxiety, stress, anger, and frustration.  These are not independent situations that are resolved, documented, filed and forgotten.  These are cumulative, haunting, and heartbreaking experiences that do not stay at work…they follow you home, they live under your skin and in your brain.  They taint how you see people, how you speak to people, how you respond to situations, how you cope…and taking a couple of days off or calling your Employee Assistance Program is not going to make it go away.

There is defintely a price to pay for doing this type of job and when it comes collecting, you better believe that they are carrying a baseball bat.

That is my husband’s pile of laundry that I cannot do it for him.  I see it, I can help him work though it, I can support him when he needs to face it or walk away, I can hold him when he gets overwhelmed, and I can remind him that no matter what…he is not that pile of laundry. But that’s really it.

I have never wanted so much in my life to be able to do laundry – to take care of this for him, but I can’t and dealing with this has been cumulative, haunting, and heartbreaking.  It follows you to work, it lives under your skin and in your brain.  It taints how you see people, how you speak to people, how you respond to situations, how you cope…and taking a couple of days off or calling your Employee Assistance Program will not make it go away.

Post-traumatic stress is insidious and the impact on the individual, as well as their family, can be significant. Fortunately, in many cases it is reversible… with help.

The tricky thing with help is that you generally have to ask for it and that’s not always easy to do.  However, sometimes someone steps in and unexpectedly offers help – they make it that much easier to step forward and accept.  And that is where we are now…accepting help and beginning to turn things around.  Breaking that pile of laundry into smaller batches and washing by hand when necessary.  We have reached a point where we can see that the idea of being healthy isn’t as impossible as it felt as recent as 6-months ago.

I have struggled about whether or not I should write about this because I felt it wasn’t my story to share and because it is so personal.  However, I have come to realize that I have a supporting role in this story and it is for that reason that I am sharing…as for the personal part, yes it is, but that is all the more reason to share it.

I recently exchanged tweets with the wonderful @MJCarty who, in response to my vague comments about 2017 being a challenging year, offered me his help.  He had no idea what the issues were or what I would ask of him, but he offered nonetheless.  So I decided to take him up on it.

Given everything that is going on, you probably guessed that I would ask him for words of wisdom to help me get back to blogging.  Because yes, at a time like this – blogging is an obvious priority.   Well, actually for me it is.  I mentioned how writing has been very cathartic for me (it purges the sarcasm,  which is for everyone’s good), how I missed it, but that I felt like my voice was frozen.  He honoured me with his support and encouragement and gave me what will probably be one of the best Christmas gifts I could get this year.

So here I am starting again to put words down to help myself and at the same time, I am putting this out to the universe to see what comes back and what I can offer.

 

Dealing with the laundry in your head

I used to write because I liked trying to sort out what I was thinking – I have always been much more successful at expressing myself in writing than in speaking.  As someone who needs to reflect a bit, digest and then make sure I`m clear – writing is the perfect format.  There`s an opportunity to sit back and see what you have “said“, backspace, delete, edit, copy/paste, and add in missing words.  Then I can re-read and make sure before I hit send or post.

Of course, this process is more about “big thoughts“, persuasive arguments or explanations.  When it comes to one-liners and smart-ass comments…I don`t seem to have any issue in just saying it or hitting send without a second thought. It`s the reason why it might take me days to write a post, but 2 seconds to respond to a comment.

I know.  I gave up trying to figure out, so don`t bother.

So, back to writing.  A quick glance through the archives of this blog will reveal that I spend absolutely no time on researching (other than looking for the perfect image to capture my point).  Any attempts in this area will not doubt result in a badly written assignment paper from school.  There are far better writers out there who I leave that level of writing.  I rely on them to challenge my thinking and steer me in new directions.

I write about what`s in my head, which on a good day is a solid mix of HR-related shenanigans, personal reflection, and tales of raising teenagers.  Some have suggested a dash of philosophy, but I think that`s a stretch.

Without those sources of inspiration, I really don`t have much to say.  Or at least I don`t feel as though I do.  And when those sources become off-limits, by choice, then I`m really at a loss.

My husband recently asked me why I don`t blog anymore.  A few months back I would have said, I don`t know.  But now I do.  I told him what I have shared here – I write what`s in my head, but that means having to sort through the laundry in my head, which I haven`t wanted to do.  And no, I was under no illusion that if I ignored things that they would go away; I just didn`t want to deal with it….dealing is messy, and unpleasant, and unpredictable.

Classic avoidance.

But, you know what happens when you ignore the piles of laundry.  They start to take over the room and you run out things to wear.  So I have found myself with figuratively nothing to wear, or better said, no more excuses for not dealing with my shit.  I just need to start tackling this one pile at a time.

So I expect that as I go through this mental exercise, I will likely find some interesting things to share…or maybe some loose change, my lip balm that went missing, and that elusive black sock that has left its mate a widow.

I know all of this is absolutely fascinating reading and in no way, shape or form related to HR.  So I apologize to anyone who thought I was either going to talk about my “dirty laundry“ or cleverly relate it to something in HR.

Oh sure, I could relate it to how managers avoid dealing with their employee behavioural issues, because the work is getting done and well…dealing is messy, and unpleasant, and unpredictable.

But I`m not going there today.

I have some laundry to do first and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The price of saying yes

I have a history of backing out of things.  I would like to think that most of these decisions were sound and that there was a reason that I decided to not pursue whatever course of action I was on.

There was a time when I would have reflectively said it must of been fate or meant to be, because otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Well of course I wouldn’t…I would be somewhere else reflecting on a completely other decision that I didn’t take.  You see, when there are choices to be made – you are always picking one over the other, so you could argue that you could always wonder “what-if”.

It’s all very Inception-like.

So yes…history of backing out of things…missed application deadlines, cancelled interviews, emails of introduction not sent…you name it.  If there was any type of increased  uncertainty factor associated with the decision, I likely chose the safe option.

Clearly this has served me well insofar as survival and employability goes, as I am still alive and have a job.  However, I did reach a point in my life where I decided that I was tired of wondering how things might have gone if I had done the hard thing.  And I vowed to say yes to every opportunity that came along.

Oddly enough it was much easier than I thought.  I started saying yes and then figuring out how to do whatever it was I had agreed to.  Fake it until you make it, they said.  It was a lot easier than you would think to fake it.  It still is.

And so I went on.  Saying yes – getting projects, getting interviews, changing jobs, changing employers, joining groups, learning new skills, meeting new people…all because I started saying yes.

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At the organization where I work there are 10 values that are widely shared and referenced, but the one that stands out (and is coincidentally relevant to this blog post) is “Think yes first”.

You would think that this value was just for me – that those words practically glowed on the posters when I read them.  That music played in the background.  That my life’s purpose was suddenly clear to me in a way that would make one of Oprah’s “ah-ha” moments pale in comparison.

And yet, it was the opposite.  I had this really unpleasant taste in the back of my throat that made me realize that I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into whether I should say yes, but only that I needed to say yes.

In the beginning, I had to do this.  I had to get beyond the inertia that was threatening to overtake me and just get moving.  However, I realized that once I got going, I didn’t spend very much time thinking about whether the next offer was the best one for me or whether I had the time, energy or interest.

And an unintended consequence of saying yes first is that people expect you to say yes. In fact, the expectation was so strong that many people actually misquoted the value when pointing out “I thought you were suppose to Say yes first“.

I can assure that in those moments, I am not thinking yes first.  Perhaps a few other two word combinations, but none are them are very affirmative.

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So now that a few years have gone by and I am a more experienced person from all that saying yes, I am starting to shift gears again.  I am no longer driven to accept every opportunity that is presented to me, I don’t have the same need to prove I can do it to others, and quite honestly, it some times boils down to I just don’t want to.

So is this a lack of motivation? Low engagement? Laziness?  I don’t think so.  I prefer to see it as maturity, awareness, and above all the realization that you can’t fucking do everything.

Saying no may be harder to do, but saying yes all the time is only easy in the moment, then it just becomes exhausting.

I still don’t believe that it’s fate that guides the choices that I make and I know that I will wonder about the choices that I didn’t take; however, I know that I am now in a better position to consider whether I should say yes to any future opportunities rather than assume that I have to.