Category Archives: work

fired… up

On February 19, 2013, for the first time in my life, I was fired from my job.

Actually, I was asked to resign and refused.  It doesn’t seem to matter, though, since my former employer is telling everyone that I resigned. I refused to resign because I had poured too much heart and soul into my job, and I refused to be labeled a quitter.  I was not quitting.   I was refusing to go out quietly, as they wished.  If they wanted me gone, they’d have to fire me.  So they did.

In truth, that morning in my boss’ office was the culmination of months of increasing and evolving dissatisfaction and disillusionment on my part, and discomfort on theirs.  I was a politically-appointed municipal employee for a very small town, and the mayor and council that had hired me was very different from the one under which I was serving my second term.  Indeed, when I was first appointed, I felt excited and energized to be part of something special — a newly-elected administration determined to end the corruption for which the town had long been known and institute progressive measures to reinvigorate the town’s economy, attract stronger locally-owned businesses, and improve the quality of life for all residents. But, as tends to happen in politics, the do-gooders on the council were quickly burned out, roundly criticized for trying to change the status quo, and, for the most part, quite literally run out of town.  As the mayor’s two-year term drew to a close, only three members of the seven-member council still lived in the town.  The others, including the mayor, had quietly moved away.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have left then — in September 2011 — but I chose to stay on, dedicated to the goals of that earlier council and dedicated to my colleagues, for whom I had immeasurable respect and appreciation and many of whom looked to me for leadership that was lacking elsewhere.  I chose to believe that the incoming mayor, one of the original council that hired me, would stay true to the course set by the previous council and the values it embodied.  I was wrong.

Over the next 18 months, I watched the tone of government in the town change.  I saw things that were all-too-familiar to me after so many years in politics — backroom deals, offline conversations, hidden conflicts of interest.  I listened as various council members lectured me on how to do my job, and flagrantly disregarded the ethics training I’d provided them.

I guess I knew that it was over for all real purposes the day the mayor admonished me to “set [my] integrity aside for just a moment” and then consider an issue without it.  Such a request was anathema to my ideas of public service and professionalism, and I told him so bluntly.  That was likely the first nail in my employment coffin.  But there were others — many others.  Times when I told various councilmembers their actions were in violation of the town’s ethical code or even, occasionally, state law.  They ignored me.  I was isolated as a “square” who really wasn’t in sync with the laid-back nature of the town.  I was fine with that characterization, since by “laid back” they seemed to mean seedy and underhanded.

Finally, on February 18th, the Monday of a long weekend, I learned (via social media, no less) that the mayor had once again overstepped his bounds, and this time in such a way that was likely to land me, and possibly the town, on the wrong side of a lawsuit.  I saw very clearly that I would be made the scapegoat in such a situation.  I texted my boss to ask if she was aware of the developments, and she acknowledged that she was.  I paused only a moment, long enough to tell James what I intended to do, and then I fired off an email to the entire council, again stating that the mayor was overstepping the limits of his authority.  I received a reply shortly from my boss, berating me for the email and demanding that I present myself in her office first thing in the morning.

I knew how the morning would go, although James was skeptical that they would react so impulsively.  When I called him a few hours later to deliver the news, however, his first response was “Hallelujah! That place is toxic, they don’t appreciate you, and I’ve wanted you out of there for ages!”  This, despite the fact that only hours earlier we’d placed a house under contract.  A house for which we would likely no longer qualify for a mortgage….

My mom was visiting with us that week, and her reaction was the same as James’ — enormous relief mixed with righteous indignation that they would actually fire me for demanding high standards of public service from our elected officials.  My daughters cheered for me, and my friends offered overwhelming assistance in locating another job.  Clandestine emails poured in from colleagues and former colleagues in that town, filled with disgust and anger that I’d been fired, and sadness that we’d no longer be working together.

What should have been one of the worst days of my life never even broke the Top 10.

I slept well that first night, better, in fact, than I had in many months.  Within days, I had been approved for unemployment insurance, secured new healthcare coverage, and begun filling my calendar with informational interviews and job application deadlines.  Friends who had offered help followed through; I learned of some opportunities before they were even posted, and managed a 90-minute lunch with the local District Attorney, thanks to the only remaining councilmember I trusted.  The comfort, support, and generosity of friends and near strangers was almost overwhelming.  I quite literally had no time to feel sorry for myself.

But what of the house?  Well, Fate stepped in as she often does in my life and worked a miracle.  Our loan was saved and the closing date set.  We would not lose the house just because of my employment situation.  I could barely believe our good fortune.  In fact, I’m still kind of holding my breath.

And there’s more:  A week or so before I lost my job, a former councilmember from the council that had first appointed me contacted me, wondering if I was still doing interior design work.  She and her husband had just purchased a big, beautiful home in a different city, and it needed a lot of personalizing.  I let her know that I was only taking small projects on the weekend, and we commiserated over the disappointment that we couldn’t work together on her house.  So, after I was fired, I let her know, and voila!  Instant design job!  We spent three hours together late last week, laying out the project and the long list of items with which she needs help.  Simply finishing her house could well take most of my current spare time. And the fact that I get to spend that time with a woman I truly like and admire is even better.

And still more: the writer’s block that had settled like a permanent fog over my brain as soon as the book editor said the words “Book Proposal” and my name in the same sentence back in January has finally lifted and I am filled with ideas to write about again. I think I could finish the book in a couple of weeks if I only had the time to do nothing but write.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess in which direction my career will next careen.  I have not the slightest idea from whence my next regular paycheck will come, but — amazingly — I’m honestly not worried about it.  Something deep inside me keeps telling me to have faith and it will all be okay.  And, somehow, that is enough right now.

I can already fathom that at some point in the not-so-distant future, I will reflect upon that cold day in February as an enormous blessing.  A turning point.  A fresh start.  Perhaps I will even cease to call it my firing… and instead begin referring to it as my release. Because I’m beginning to think that’s actually what it was…

butterfly

Blogger’s Note:  As some of you know, I currently live in Boulder, CO.  To be clear, I was not employed by the City or County of Boulder, but by a neighboring municipality.

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Filed under happy endings, perfect little miracles, work

the release valve

I encountered a small problem at work recently that left me stumped.  The nutshell version is that I needed an accurate map of our town, showing town borders, property lines, street names, and address numbers, and only those things.  Without this map, a massive project that I’ve been working on for months could end up unraveling at a pivotal point.

Given that I work in town administration, you might think that obtaining such a map would be fairly easy.  But, no.  This is a very small town with very limited resources and we had no such map.  We had other maps, lots and lots of other maps, but not a map like this.  I was beginning to quietly panic. I had to have this map, and I had to have it by next Tuesday.

And then I was reminded that when we are kind to people, it usually comes back to us tenfold.

A colleague of mine, whom I’ll call “Todd,” arrived in the office a bit ago, with a big smile on his face.  “Hey, T,” he called out, “I have something for you!”  Now, there are only 7 of us working here (ten, actually, if you include my colleague’s adorable 3-month-old baby boy who comes to work with her every day and the 2 dogs that serve as “canine ambassadors” to members of the community who stop by).  Most of us crowded into the break room to see what had our normally recalcitrant Todd sounding so buoyant.

With a flourish, Todd handed me a large, rolled up paper.  I looked at him, with his shit-eating grin on his face, and frantically opened the bundle as if I were about to discover the Superstar Barbie I’d begged for at age 8.  And there it was.  In all it’s glory.

My simple, perfect map.

Me:  “How….?  Where…..?”

Todd:  “Will and I sat down yesterday and played with the software and figured it out.  I knew you needed it.  It took us a couple of hours, and it’s not been fully-proofed, but I feel pretty sure it’ll be accurate.  I went to Kinko’s this morning and got it enlarged for you.”

I honestly did not know what to say.  Todd is currently cramming to get things done so he can take off for a much-deserved vacation.  He absolutely did not have the time to do this for me.  And Will isn’t even employed by the town anymore.  I’d noticed that he was in the office yesterday, but hadn’t thought anything of it.  After thanking Todd profusely, I had to retreat to my office because I honestly thought I might cry.

Right now I am shouldering more stress and fear and moments of panic than I have in almost 20 years.  There are financial pressures that are weighing heavily on me, employment concerns that come with the territory when you work in a political job, and middle school looming for my overly-sensitive eldest daughter.  Add to that an ex-boyfriend who has showed up with no apparent intention other than to wreak further emotional havoc on my life, and you can probably understand that I’m feeling pretty lost and lonely and overwhelmed and unsupported right now.  It happens.  It’s life.  But it still sucks.

But it is also in those moments when we most realize our value to the people around us, the ways that we are connected and care for and about each other.  I drove to work this morning, reminding myself that I have friends I can turn to.  Annie will listen to me cry.  K.C. will give me or loan me any money I’d ever need.  Katrina will keep me company so I’m not lonely and panicked.  I don’t have to shoulder everything alone, always.  I don’t have to be a strong, together, poised woman every. single. minute.  I am allowed to be weak, and scared, and uncertain sometimes.  We all are.  None of us are superheroes.  Sometimes we have to ask for help, for friendship, for support.

I hadn’t asked Todd for his help, but he gave it anyway, and I know why.  Back in January, at a drunken going-away party for another colleague, Todd confided in me that he is in love with a woman 2,000 miles away and he is, frankly, heartsick over her.  Since then, I have listened when I didn’t have the time, and inquired how he’s doing when I could tell he needed to talk, and encouraged and supported their tentative steps to creating a relationship against the odds.  They are small things, to be sure, but when you’re in that space, is there anything better than knowing that someone cares, just a little bit?

That’s why he made me my map, I am sure of it.  To let me know that he appreciates me, too.

Sometimes a small, random act of kindness like that serves as a release valve for the pressure you’re feeling.  Locked in the crucible of a stressful situation, it’s easy to feel that something has to give — and fast — or you’re going to quietly explode.  But then a friend comes along and offers a hug or a favor or a word of encouragement and it’s just enough to release some of that force that’s pressing in on you.  And life goes on.  And somehow we muddle through.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go give Todd a big hug before he leaves on his vacation.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, relationships, single mom, work

you can’t get it if you don’t ask for it

Many, many years ago, I stumbled across an article entitled “Glenna’s Goal Book.”  It was in the pre-Internet era, but I’m sure if it were circulating now, it would go viral. I was in a very difficult place in my life and actively searching for guidance and support.  When I read the article, it felt as if someone were speaking directly to me.

Here it is:

In 1977 I was a single mother with three young daughters, a house payment, a car payment, and a need to rekindle some dreams.  One evening  I attended a seminar and heard a man speak on the I x V = R Principle (Imagination mixed with Vividness becomes Reality).  The speaker pointed out that the mind thinks in pictures, not in words.  And as we vividly picture in our mind what we desire, it will become a reality.

This concept struck a chord of creativity in my heart.  I knew the Biblical truth that the Lord gives us “the desires of our heart” (Psalms 37:4) and that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).  I was determined to take my written prayer list and turn it into pictures.  I began cutting up old magazines and gather pictures that depicted the “desires of my heart.”  I arranged them in an expensive photo album and waited expectantly.  I was very specific with my pictures.  They included:

1.  A good-looking man.
2.  A woman in a wedding gown and a man in a tuxedo.
3.  Bouquets of flowers (I’m a romantic).
4.  Beautiful diamond jewelry (I rationalized that God loved David and Solomon and they were two of the richest men who ever lived).
5. An island in the sparkling Caribbean.
6.  A lovely home.
7.  New furniture.
8.  A woman who had recently become the vice-president of a large corporation.  (I was working for a company that had no female officers.  I wanted to be the first vice-president in that company.)

About eight weeks later, I was driving down a California freeway, minding my own business at 10:30 in the morning.  Suddenly a gorgeous red and white Cadillac passed me.  I looked at the car because it was a beautiful care.  And the driver looked at me and smiled, and I smiled back because I always smile.  Now I was deep trouble.  Have you ever done that?  I tried to pretend that I hadn’t looked.  “Who me?  I didn’t look at you!”  He followed me for the next 15 miles.  Scared me to death!  I drove a few miles, he drove a few miles.  I parked, he parked…. and eventually I married him!

On the first day after our first date, Jim sent me a dozen roses.  Then I found out that he had a hobby.  His hobby was collecting diamonds.  Big ones!  And he was looking for somebody to decorate.  I volunteered!  We dated for about two years and every Monday morning I received a long-stemmed red rose and a love note from him.

About three months before we were getting married, Jim said to me, “I have found the perfect place to go on our honeymoon.  We will go to St. John’s island down in the Caribbean.”  I laughingly said, “I never would have thought of that!”

I did not confess the truth about my picture book until Jim and I had been married for almost a year.  It was then that we were moving into our gorgeous new home and furnishing it with the elegant furniture that I had pictured.  (Jim turned out to be the West Coast wholesale distributor for one of the finest Eastern furniture manufacturers.)

By the way, the wedding was in Laguna Beach, CA, and included the gown and tuxedo as realities.  Eight months after I created my dream book, I became the Vice-President of Human Resources in the company where I worked.

In some sense this sounds like a fairy tale, but it is absolutely true.  Jim and I have made many “picture books” since we have been married.  God has filled our lives with the demonstration of these powerful principles of faith at work.

Decide what it is that you want in every area of your life.  Imagine it vividly.  Then act on your desires by actually constructing your personal goal book.  Convert your dreams to into concrete realities through this simple exercise.  There are no impossible dreams.  And remember, God has promised to give his children the desires of of their hearts.

I did just as Glenna directed.  I gathered together a huge stack of old magazines, grabbed a pair of scissors, and began to assemble my own goal book.  My goal book included pages on my career (which was in its infancy), my love life, my hoped-for future family life, my future home, and my ideal wardrobe (I was VERY poor at that point, and clothes were like diamonds for me then).  For the first few months, I looked at it frequently, gently running my fingers across the pictures and imagining that they were real, genuine, mine.  Then I put it away and mostly forgot about it, until earlier this week, when I was going through some old boxes of keepsakes and memories and there, at the bottom, was the daisy-embellished photo album:  my goal book.

I hesitated to open it.  There is something very painful in coming face to face with unrealized dreams.  But open it I did, and I was astounded.  As I turned page after page, I got chill after chill, for there, before me on those yellowed photo album pages, were images that could have been taken from my own life, rather than random magazines and newspapers.  I had constructed this goal book sometime in 1994 or 1995, prior to finishing graduate school or  meeting my husband.  But nearly every single aspect of my goal book had been achieved within the a few short years of its creation.

Much has been made of the power of visualization.  We humans are hungry for a surefire plan that leads to the realization of all of our deepest hopes and desires.  The Secret and The Law of Attraction each sold millions recently, but long before that, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Werner Erhard’s “est” seminars offered up guidance on how to use our minds to influence our realities. Indeed, even Glenna Salsbury, author of the piece above, went on to become a successful motivational speaker.

Now, I’m generally of the mindset that where there’s a lot of smoke, there must be some fire, and this applies to even fringe beliefs or practices.   If they’ve been around a long time, in one form or another, and haven’t been completely discarded, then I tend to think that there is a little kernel of truth wrapped up inside whatever the contemporary packaging of the day is.  And lately, this concept of visualization has been a recurring theme in my life.

I recently spent a day with a friend with whom I share similar spiritual philosophies.  I frequently turn to her for guidance when I’m stuck.  After telling her where I was in my life, she told me stories of people she knew (including herself) who had declared their deepest needs or most precious desires publicly to a close group of caring friends and found their declarations answered in short order.

The story of one woman, in particular, stuck with me.  For some time, her life had been filled with frustration and pain and loneliness.  She finally grew weary of it, and one night she stood up and declared, in front of her friends, what she needed in her life (in her case, it was a “good man.”)  Her friends applauded and vouched their support. Within two months, she was dating said “good man,” and was so stunned by her good fortune that she was scared to believe it.  Ultimately, she must have overcome her fear, because they are now married.

I have done quite a bit of reading about the power of asking the universe, or God, or whatever force you believe in, for help in achieving your goals, whatever they may be.  And a constant — and I do mean constant — thread running through various spiritual and secular approaches is that you must ask for the help, and you must be clear in your intention.  In fact, it seems that the clearer you are (as in the example of Glenna’s goal book), the better the universal forces will be able to line up your heart’s desires.

This being the case, I’m kind of surprised that the woman from the example above was able to find her happiness with a request as vague as “a good man,” but perhaps she truly was at a place where that one, broad definition was all she needed.  Or maybe, in her private moments, she provided more detail as to what “good” meant for her, what it looked like, how it would feel.  Either way, the point is that she felt her prayer or declaration had been answered, and isn’t that really the important part?

I have numerous examples from my own life when I have, in moments of desperation or empowerment, declared my needs to the universe and found them granted in such an obvious and clear fashion that I am left stunned by own relative powerlessness.  In my experience, the more specific my requests, the more quickly they are delivered in a manner in which I recognize them.   However, sometimes, when I’m really not sure what will work for me, I offer a vague prayer along with the trust that some being I can’t see will know better than I what it is that I need.  This was true a year after my separation, when the part-time jobs I had were no longer going to be able to sustain me financially.  I calmly sent out word that I needed a job.  A good one.  Fast.  Within a month, I had applied for two good jobs (the job market was shockingly bad), and got one of them.

So much of my life is really very rich and blessed, that sometimes I feel terribly guilty for not being satisfied with what I already have.  But then I remind myself that we are not in control of our own heart; it wants what it wants without reference to or permission from our brain.  And so I forgive myself for my wanting and try to figure out how to get that for which my heart is clamoring.  I am not yet at a place where I could comfortably and confidently declare to my friends my heart’s desire, although I can feel and appreciate the power in that, and so have set it as a personal goal.   In the meantime, I will work on a new goal book, and meditate or pray — vividly and with specificity — on my desires, and see what appears.

Stay tuned……

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Filed under dating, divorce, general musings, relationships, single mom, work

when “conflict-averse” isn’t

I’ve been spending some time of late considering conflict and what it means to be conflict-averse.  One thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t know anyone who describes herself as conflict-averse.  I think it must be like a sense of humor and good taste:  not everyone is funny and tasteful, but everyone thinks they are.  Not everyone is good with conflict, but no one wants to admit that they aren’t.

People who grew up with me will tell you that I never seemed to shy away from conflict.  In elementary school, I decked a boy two years younger than me because he was picking on a two-year-old (I still maintain that my action was justified.  I mean, really, who picks on a two-year-old??).  As a teenager, I spoke my mind freely and easily and often.  And even now, in many areas of my life, and with many people, I am quite comfortable being clear in my thoughts and feelings.  But not in every situation, and not with every person.

I have noticed that this is often true of other people, as well.  Most people, it seems, have areas of their life wherein they are more willing to tackle conflict and do so in a productive manner.  Maybe they’re good at it with their friends, but terrible at work.  Or maybe they are great with their kids, but awful with their parents.  (Parents, by the way, seem to be a conflict averse area for many, many people.)

For me, it is less about the type of situation and more about the type of person.  For the better part of my adult life, I saw myself as something of a conflict wimp.  A large part of this perception stemmed from my ex-husband’s pronouncement that I didn’t “stand up” for myself enough, that if something was bothering me about him or our relationship, I should voice it and express it.  I can appreciate the value in those words and the truth in his analysis that I was not always forthcoming with him about my feelings.  But I didn’t have an explanation.  Indeed, I was truly puzzled by my own reticence to broach matters of importance to me with him, and some of my guilt, post-separation, generated from a fear that if I had been more confrontational with him, perhaps we could have created a better relationship.

But yesterday, I had an amazing aha moment.  I finally realized that there is a difference between being conflict-averse, i.e afraid of conflict and unwilling to face it, and simply choosing not to engage in conflict for reasons that are valid and real.  Sometimes, as in the case of my ex-husband, the person with whom you are engaging is not ready or willing or maybe able to hear any of the truth in your words.  Sometimes that person needs to come to the truth themselves.  Sometimes it is wise to simply let things go, knowing that our words will be wasted and our efforts misunderstood and misinterpreted.  I learned this week that there is sometimes wisdom in not being confrontational, depending on the situation and/or the person.

This is hardly a novel idea.  Activists and pacifists have written tomes about when to confront and when to act passively to achieve laudable goals.  Martin Luther King, Jr.’s plea for passive activism was an acknowledgment that the audience that black America was trying to reach wasn’t necessarily ready to hear the message, and so needed to be dealt with less directly.

What I’ve learned is that we simply need to be clear with ourselves in our reasons for avoiding or choosing not to engage in conflict.  Being strong does not require that we engage with someone when the engagement will merely feel like pounding our head against the defensive wall they immediately pull up.  Being strong doesn’t mean sharing every feeling we have, when we are fairly certain, based on past experience with this person, that our feelings will not be valued and honored.  Sometimes being strong means choosing what is best for us in that situation, regardless of whether it is what the other person wants us to do or how they want us to handle it.

None of this is without nuance, of course.  I know that I have moments of sheer conflict-avoidance, and that I will continue to do so.  Realizing when we are simply avoiding something, as opposed to making a conscious and valid choice, is a difficult thing.  I mean, not many of us are aware when we are practicing denial or avoidance.

So, maybe the next time you or someone else labels your behavior as “conflict-averse,” you might take a breath and a step back and consider several things;

1.  Am I avoiding broaching something?

2. If yes, why am I avoiding broaching it?

3. Does this reason serve my best interest in some meaningful way?

Because maybe, just maybe, you’re not being weak or conflict-averse.  Maybe you’re just being wise or self-protective.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, parenthood, relationships, work