Tag: Work

Embracing Vulnerability (Especially When You’re Bad At It)

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.” 
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

The past few months have been challenging on the work front, but in an unusual way: most of what has challenged me has been a result of success and advancement more than setback. This is not a bad problem to have! I’m gratified by the opportunities I’m getting, while simultaneously intimidated or by many aspects of them at the same time.

Almost every day week I am confronted with a challenge or issue that I have never faced before. On the one hand, this is extremely good for me and my career as it compels growth. I enjoy the opportunity to shape my work and take ownership of certain issues that I want to improve or contribute to. On the other hand, it’s also been difficult navigating uncharted territory 100% of the time. I fret inordinately about making mistakes and being out of my depth–even if these worries are usually unfounded when I take a step back and look rationally at my situation.

This past month, after a particularly bad and long lasting bout of anxiety in the face of yet more unexpected challenges, I decided to try and do something that is very difficult for me: be more vulnerable.

Opening up. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve been thinking lately on how I’ve confused honesty with vulnerability. Honesty is not difficult for me; I’m notoriously lacking in poker face and tend to operate on a policy of complete transparency. This applies to my professional life as well as my personal. I have neither the skill nor patience for personal politics and would ten times rather attack problems full on than sidle up to them sideways. I also don’t tend to hide my opinions or emotions (even when I wish I could). However, honesty is not vulnerability. The former implies providing something to me, the latter requires receiving, and often also involves an element of risk. I took a few risks this month and tried to communicate more openly with key people about how I’m coping (or not) with certain circumstances and ambitions. In some cases I’ve tried to be humble and ask for help or guidance, in others I’ve pitched new ideas or projects. While I haven’t always gotten the answers I’ve wanted, these conversations have helped reduce uncertainty or confusion.

Being out of my comfort zone. I’ve had to make some tough decisions in areas which were new for me. Whether it’s balancing bigger budgets or running different kinds of projects or dealing with new-to-me people management situations, I’ve had to make judgement calls which have higher stakes. And I’m going to have to manage the consequences of these decisions, both good and bad, and only some of which I can anticipate. Which leads me to….

Learning to be uncomfortable. There is a world of difference between things that are bad for you or toxic, and things that are simply temporarily difficult or unpleasant. After a few years dealing with the genuinely toxic in a few areas of my life, I am still learning to differentiate between the two. Discomfort isn’t fatal–it’s probably a larger part of the human condition than thrilling joy–and learning to navigate periods of discomfort and difficulty is a skill that I need to hone. I am am trying to learn how to be more at peace with my own inexperience and fears–to acknowledge them and deal with them while not allowing them to cripple me. This is very new emotional space for me and not very good at existing in it yet, but I’m trying.

Let’s chat about vulnerability in the comments. What does that look like in your life and how have you leaned into it–or fled from it, as I tend to do?

What’s Your Burnout Flavor?

“I never thought the system was equitable. I knew it was winnable for only a small few. I just believed I could continue to optimize myself to become one of them. And it’s taken me years to understand the true ramifications of that mindset.”
– Anne Helen Peterson 

Yes, I’m still thinking about that piece on millennial burnout from a couple of links posts ago, and the many, many think pieces I’ve read following up on it or responding to it since.

Ironic, I know, since I just wrote a post myself not too long ago about deciding that the hustle was still worth the amount of effort it takes. I still believe it is. But it took a conversation on the (fabulous) NPR podcast It’s Been a Minute to really articulate the feeling of burnout that I seem to personally experience. The author Anne Helen Peterson sat down with host Sam Sanders to talk about her own misconceptions of what burnout actually is, as opposed to how we tend to think about it. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey–or more specifically it’s a treadmill run where you don’t actually get anywhere.

“You reach the point of collapse…and then you keep going.”

I appreciate that this is not unique to my generation, but I am a firm believer that every generation has a unique combination of circumstances and variables that make them culturally distinct enough to trace broad trends. Peterson doesn’t make any points I haven’t thought of or written about before, but she articulated the mental load of some of the circumstances of millennial:

  • Graduating in a recession, with fewer entry level jobs available, and fewer jobs overall which will set us up for what have become the traditional routes to retirement
  • Lots of us are getting more stability ten years on…meaning we’re getting to traditional adulthood phases of lives and careers a decade later than most of us anticipated
  • The change of digital pace. My freshman year, Facebook was brand new and now it’s destroying Western democracy (or so it feels)
  • The way we self perpetuate burnout circumstances by not enforcing boundaries or insisting that others in our communities enforce their own boundaries either (answering emails late at night, women doing the “second shift” without thinking about it, always been online and accessible, etc.)
  • The feeling that if we aren’t being successful–making enough money, out of debt, in a fulfilling job, generally living our bliss–that the fault is someone ours and ours alone. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hard work, but I also know that there are things such as systemic realities that can significantly affect how much pay off you see, no matter how hard the work.

“Burnout is of a substantively different category than “exhaustion,” although it’s related. Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.”

This, I realized reading the piece, is how I experience burnout. I have lived in the space for a long time–not in all aspects of my life, but enough to make an impact. Whether it was struggling in a toxic job, working the hours necessary to make it as a full-time freelancer, or just the slog of budgeting aggressively to pay down debt, there have been points where I have felt like all I wanted to do was sleep for a year. But of course, that is not an option. For any of us! Life goes on, whether or not you have the energy to deal with it.

In my case, it’s a privilege problem in some ways, to be sure. My struggles are not the same as a woman in poverty, a single provider, in an abusive household, or any of the thousands of other circumstances much tougher women survive every single day. There are class elements of this, gender elements of this, privilege elements and racial elements. There is no such thing as a universal experience. But the sheer amount of statistical evidence that this feeling of burnout is a genuine phenomenon and a widespread thing are frankly too much to ignore.

“Errand paralysis.”

The description of errand paralysis really struck me because it was the individual symptom I fall prey to most easily.

You know that feeling you get when you look at your list of To Dos and honestly are unable to make yourself do even small tasks that should not overwhelm you, but do? I feel like I live in this mental space.

Peterson herself exclaims, “That term sounds ridiculous; that’s such a bourgeois problem…but I think that everyone has a to do list in their head, right, in their head, written out–whatever. And there’s a bottom half of that to do list–and everyone’s is different–but what happens is that that bottom half keeps not getting done and it weighs on you in a way that you internalize.”

I have found myself putting off incredibly basic chores that do not, on the surface, phase me in the slightest but that in the moment feel insurmountably hard. I have also been incredibly harsh on myself for this inability to get small tasks done. It’s a hamster wheel of anxiety and it has absolutely contributed to the darker periods of my overall mental state.

When the treadmill keeps going but the dopamine runs out.”

I also shared this previously, but the description above from Hank Green on burnout also resonated. As I said, the beautiful and difficult trouble with life is that it goes on. It doesn’t stop. And while I believe firmly that hard work is a component of success, I and others in my generation sometimes struggle to explain this general, pervasive feeling of demoralization. I believe this is why irony is our generational language in comedy, trolling is an unfortunate generational pastime, and we invented the shrug emoji. As the Peterson article delves into, we’re working hard: there is an abundance of evidence to back this up. But it feels (or is) for diminishing returns when compared to our parents or grandparents. The treadmill keeps going.

I don’t have any solutions to this, and obviously I’m still working out the reality of stress, money, ambition, career, and opportunity in my own life. But having this expanded framework of burnout has helped put a lot of past experience into perspective for me in a new way. I can now see when I was operating with nothing but fumes in the tank and what the long term toll of that was on my body and brain. I can see how choosing different habits, lifestyle options, or priorities has helped actually put some gas back into that depleted tank. I’m no longer burned out as I once was, but I know that the possibility is much closer than I would wish and one or two bad turns could put me back there again.

Have you burned out? How did it look and feel to you personally? What, if anything, has helped or are you still on the treadmill? 

Four Burners

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.” 
― Bram Stoker, Dracula

Pull up a chair, kittens, and let’s chat about how you prioritize your time and emotional resources. This has been on my mind lately as I’ve taken on new work, observed friends go through highs and low, cheered triumphs, and commiserated during setbacks.

Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton had a discussion on their podcast, The High Low, which touched on the notion of “having it all,” as being antiquated or inadequate to the various tradeoffs women (and indeed everyone) make in navigating modern life. A part of the conversation stuck with me in which they referenced a piece by author David Sedaris which, paraphrased, goes along the lines of: “A person has four hobs: work, family, friends, and health, and you can only have two or three of them going at any one point before things start boiling over.” It’s called the Four Burners theory and I have not been able to stop thinking about it for days now.

I think it’s made such an impression on me because it strikes me as generally accurate, but it also was a handy way to summarize a lot of my own thinking and struggles. In fact, looking back over recent years, I can see exactly which hobs I’ve had cooking and at what heat levels. I can tell when I’ve tried to have too many going at once and I can also tell which ones I’ve switched off.

I’ve called 2018 my Year of Health because I’ve made dedicated time and space in it to improve my wellbeing. It’s been a roaring success in many ways, which I’m sure I’ll get to writing about as 2019 looms, but I have switched off other areas of my life to provide the time and attention that I needed to get healthier. Some aspects of my friends and family relationships have changed as a result–I am less social than I used to be and treasure a smaller number of close friendships more rather than trying to constantly make new ones.

My work burner has been on full throttle for a couple of years now…because it’s had to be. London is not a place in which you have the luxury of getting complacent and as I’ve made certain choices around freelancing and contracting, I have had to stay hustling. Other passion projects have taken a back seat as I’ve needed to establish and reestablish myself over and over again, other priorities have had to give way in order for my work (and bill-paying) ambitions to be realized. I’ve had some amazing jobs and opportunities as a result…but might I have done something different? Or would I have needed to focus on my health the way I have if a few toxic scenarios hadn’t bled from my work life into my personal and wreaked havoc with my wellbeing?

The trouble with this metaphor is that I think it’s fundamentally correct–at least for me–in that it honestly deals with humans beings as somewhat limited creatures. I want to turn other burners on, but know I might have to switch others off first. Which do you pick?

I don’t have the answers, but I am thinking about this a lot at the moment.

Which burners do you have “on” at the moment? Which have you switched off, recently or in the past, and why?

Taking Time

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 
― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

I am bad about this to the point of commentary from my colleagues who point out when I have not taken a holiday, especially in periods of high stress and hectic projects and encourage me to book my next holiday. It’s a very strange, but very nice thing to be encouraged by bosses to take time off regularly–it’s antithetical to the American work culture (according to Forbesless than a quarter of Americans take all of their available vacation, and I KNOW I am personally one of them).

Time off is built into British work life and I’ve had the experience of bosses policing my requests–not because I was asking for too much time off, but because they thought I wasn’t asking for enough. It is assumed that regularly scheduled holidays, even a three day weekend every couple of months or so, keeps workers more balanced and productive. I have been amazed to observe how holiday time is respected. On one occasion, early in my British working life, I checked my work phone for emails on a day off, saw that an urgent request had come through and immediately responded. The recipient thanked me and then scolded me for breaking my holiday to provide him with something he himself had stated was important, and forbade me from responding to anything else until I was back in the office. This was astounding and confusing to me!

I’m a big believer in time off. But I’m also a badly inconsistent practitioner.

Over the past year I’ve been working on a contract that’s been deeply interesting and rewarding. The work is challenging, the people are nice, the location is great, and there’s a lot to do (which is something my hyper personality requires). But it’s also been a hectic year with constant surprises and challenges, with a stream of unexpected projects and short deadlines. Because I was running a small team, I genuinely was afraid that if I took time off, I’d be responsible for balls dropping or delays, or…oh I don’t know. I had a vague sense of dread about being out of office that I couldn’t shake.

At a certain level this is fundamentally egotistical. The world spins on without you, and it’s important to be reminded of this fact.

Paradoxically, my feelings were also mixed with a sense of Imposter Syndrome because…the world spins on without you. Because I was managing a big contract and wanted so badly to do a good job, I think a part of me was strangely afraid that people would cope without me in a crisis, and what would that mean? Also, please note, fundamentally egotistical.

Last September Jeff and I spent a week in Greece and it was one of the most relaxing and restorative breaks I’ve ever taken in my life. It may be a silly thing to say about a fairly standard holiday, but it felt like a profound experience at the time. I needed it badly, felt great after I got back, and the sense of refreshment stayed with me a long time. When I was back in London I was emotional balanced, better at my work, and much better equipped to handle the flow of projects. We were in our 30s and this was the first holiday Jeff and I had ever taken that didn’t involve family or friends of some kind. There was no agenda, no purpose to the trip except to press pause on life for a moment and the positive effect of doing so was intense.

And then, like an idiot, I waited nearly a year to take significant time off again. It showed. I was getting anxious and overwhelmed by things that would not have phased me in a more rested state. I had to expend more energy to focus and concentrate than I needed to. My anxiety was ratcheting up.
“I think…I need a holiday,” I mentioned tentatively to a coworker during a coffee break.
“YES, YOU ARE LONG OVERDUE,” was her disconcertingly swift and loud response.

Et voila. I booked two weeks off and we went to Prague for one of them. Ironically Jeff was summoned back to work this week due to some crises but we’re now looking at what mini breaks we can take through the rest of the year to get in the travel that we have been reminded we desperately need and thoroughly enjoy. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the surprisingly great summer weather, wandering through my favorite neighborhoods, and indulging in some vintage scouting. I’ve still be checking my work phone more than I should, but I’ve

There will always be a crisis you don’t expect, there will always be an unanticipated hiccup that your coworkers will need to deal with. They will. And your work will still be waiting for you when you get back. The world spins on, after all.

 

Weekend Links

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” 
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

What another week of news, and once again I can’t keep up–but we’ll do our best to recap along the way. We are past the Fourth of July and therefore officially into summer. I have switched to my “summer” sunglasses (aviators), purchased a linen shirt (which I duly report back on in my next shopping update), and all my drinks are iced. Consider me ready for the season.

I’ve put together a list of (mostly) poppy and fun links for your reading pleasure and I’m going to try and get a few additional posts together because I am officially on holiday! Jeff and I are going off to explore a new city neither one of us have been too, and I am going to do my best to try and unplug from work. Historically, I am TERRIBLE at this. (It doesn’t help that there’s an awful lot going on, a new contract to move into, and annual budget season to contend with…and shut up, C., you’re not helping yourself!)

Filing this under things I didn’t realize weren’t already federal crimes.

Anyone got a few cool million to spare?

Crissle returns to Drunk History!

Our country is broken.

Broken.

I accept this to be true.

Oprah for queen. Oprah for everything.

Noted and worthy beauty blog Temptalia breaks down the recent launch of the latest “big” brand and one, for a change, I have no interest in at all.

Good riddance, it’s a miracle he lasted as long as he did with that much scandal and bad behavior just…out there.

Jog on, indeed!

No duh.

I love writing on writing.

Long live the battle queens of the internet.

This piece from Slate hit me so hard this week that it actually took a full day to process. This passage deserves a block quote:

I am sad, above all, because the damage being done now no longer feels like it can be stemmed—let alone reversed—with a single election. This will last decades. The downturns my generation has already weathered—the 2008 crisis that hinged on obscure derivatives traded by a privileged few, robbing wealth from millions—were only the beginning. Education is now a luxury. Pensions barely exist. Health care is under threat. Retirement is, to those my age, a cruel joke. We’ve been waiting. For recovery, for relief, for some semblance of an American dream we can access.

It is clear, now, that there was nothing to wait for. In the time we’ve been waiting, the rich have only gotten richer and angrier and whiter, but it will never be enough for them. The good-faith ideological battle some thought right and left were waging turned out to be no such thing: Modern conservativism was never about small government. Or personal liberty—for women and people of color, anyway. It wasn’t about fiscal responsibility: The GOP passed a tax plan that has blown up our national debt, which is projected to reach 78 percent of America’s GDP by the end of this year, the highest it’s been since 1950. And Republicans are still not happy. They will pretend that this crisis they created will require “sacrifices,” gutting services poor Americans desperately need, like health care. The poor and disadvantaged will die.

Meanwhile, those in power will celebrate how much they deserve their wealth and how little anyone else deserves.

Finally, there are still children separated from their parents. You can donate to RAICES, KIND, and the ACLU to help.

A Few Acts of Self Care

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” 
― David Mamet, Boston Marriage

The universe has been particularly kind to me lately, kittens, and I’m still enjoying one of the longest running streaks of solid mental health and overall life balance I’ve had in years. However, due to one of my team members being on holiday, plus suddenly getting involved with an unexpected event planning job, plus some additional projects at work, PLUS the fact that we have a short work week this week thanks to the bank holiday…well, things are good, but there has been an uptick in stress.

Because I’m on deadlines for big projects that I genuinely love working on, I don’t want to get knocked off my game due to something within my own grasp like self care. So here’s a short and by no means complete list of ways I’m keeping myself sane during a busy spring:

Self-medication with friend chicken encouraged.

Schedule some long phone calls with friends. Katarina and I make time for a decent hour on the phone once a week and it’s always a highlight for me. We range from girl talk, to work, to writing, to politics, to love lives, and normally at least half of it involves inside jokes that have lasted nearly two decades now. X and I don’t get to talk as much but keep up an almost constant text conversation to make up for it. It’s medicine for the soul.

Take a walk. Now that it’s light out later in the evening, I’m trying to walk home from work most evenings. It’s about a three mile jaunt and it’s amazing how much it’s been helping step away from a work mindset at the end of the day. Spool up a podcast or an audiobook, and get your cardio in!

Spend some time by yourself in a non-standard location. Go out for a meal with only yourself at a new restaurant, wander through a new area of your city or neighborhood. On that walk home I mentioned, I’ve been trying to vary up my route as much as possible and I’ve discovered some hidden gems in my area of the city as a result. It’s refreshing to go exploring.

Clean something. We had our annual apartment inspection by the landlord this past week and used it as an excuse to do some deep cleaning, a bit more thorough than our weekend tidy ups. It’s cathartic to feel like your space is in order…even if the feeling is temporary and fleeting because cleaning is a Sisyphean ordeal.

Find a small way to save a bit of money and enjoy the sense of responsibility and control it gives you. I changed my route to my normal workspace in a way that combines walking and a single bus trip, the fare of which is lower than the Underground during morning rush hour. Since I’m walking home most days, my weekly travel expenses have gone down–it’s not revolutionary, but it’s nice anyway.

Do a bit of healthy food prep and chop up some vegetables that you can use later in the week for snacking or cooking. It will make it easier to make healthy choices when you’re in a munching mood, or when you need to throw together a meal.

Read, physical print if at all possible. I live my life online, for work and for a lot of my free time. Switching up a screen for an actual page really helps me enjoy reading better and allow myself to stay focused on a single piece rather than jumping from piece to piece the way that online reading can encourage.

Take a break! I am the worst at remembering this, but a 10-minute break to make a cup of tea or stroll around the block can help me completely reset my brain.

How do you keep yourself level when your To Do list gets a bit nuts?

Weekend Links

“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.
― David Bowie, Changes

It’s been quiet around this parts, pumpkins, because work has gotten insane again. All of my routines are messed up right now, my organization and health are completely out of whack and the house is a mess. Jeff is in no better shape as we are in the thick of accounting busy season and the man is working absolutely painful hours at the moment. A+ adulting happening here in the Small Dog residence, let me tell you! However, the sun is out today and I’m determined to repair damages with several loads of laundry, a deep clean of the bathrooms, and a general prep for the coming week.

It’s not all stress and poor self care, though! We’ve actually carved out some fun time over the past two weeks that has been much needed. I loved Black Panther and wanted at least another half hour of Winston Duke’s character cracking jokes and telling Martin Freeman to stop talking. In other news, teenagers will save us from ourselves, and maybe society isn’t falling into wreck and ruin!

Here are your links and tell me how your are spending your weekend. Plus, if you have any self organizational tips that I may benefit from, share them in the comments!

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The only cure for misinformation is education.

I love Fashion Weeks across the globe, but this piece from The Cut asks an important question about the (predominantly) women not on the catwalks.

This cow took its life into its own hooves.

The intensity of the conspiracy theorists active in the world today genuinely terrifies me. Some people are actual garbage.

The FT reports that American arms manufacturers bet wrong.

There is a lot of writing about there about the crisis of modern masculinity (some of it really smart, some of it really bad) but this editorial in the wake of the Parkland shooting is still pretty affecting.

Ugh, I need to stop falling in love with brands. They inevitably sink into mess!