From Type A to Type Ahh

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World – Ghandi


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Breathing into Another Year

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Today I am saying good-bye to 47.  Tomorrow I start being 48.  I am not hung up on my age.  I don’t freak out about the big 50.  Yes if you are reading this in real-time you now know that I was born on April 1st.  Yes insert obligatory “you were born a fool” joke here.  First time I heard that; I swear.  Also in my defense I would like to point out that the need to disprove my birth destiny may well be the genesis of my Type A perfectionism.

I do feel like I am leaving 47 a little more peaceful, purposeful and centered.  I think I am learning, not to Lean In ( I was sort of already all over that) but to breathe into it.  I have been working on being more present and getting clarity.  I have been trying to find what is truly important to me and then actually living those priorities.  Some weeks are harder than others.  This week brought a lot of challenges and also, though it pains me to say it, (recovering perfectionist here) a lot failure on the path to the new more peaceful and zen version of myself.

Ever have one of those days where you feel like a pinball machine on TILT?  That was yesterday.  I had every intention to be that better version of me, well the road to where again, is paved with good intentions.  Somewhere on that familiar trip down the rabbit hole, I got this sensation of watching myself like an observer.  In that moment, with my boss no less, I was able to stop everything and breathe.  After that I was able to begin anew and as my husband would say taking things less personally.

I have many wonderful work mentors and recently one of them, Frank, the most Zen water engineer with a PhD in philosophy, said to me “Kathy you have to learn to be passionate without caring.”  To be fair, I love Frank but I only understand about 1/4 of what he says to me.  I had filed this away as another of Frank’s riddle of the Sphinx I would never get.  I have to say today when resolving one of the big issues from yesterday.  I finally got it.  I was able to begin walking that long, winding road, paved with more failure, toward that detached passion Frank was shining a light on for me.  That is a pretty good birthday present, also giving myself a week off with my husband during his spring break.  Namaste!


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Being Here is Hard

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In all fairness I am not a monk and being present all the time is hard work.  I never noticed how many times I zone out or feel a little uncomfortable being totally present.  It can be really hard to truly be here and fully present, especially to someone else’s pain and struggle.  To really sit with it and try to work through it with them not for them.

I had that at work today.  I have been working with an elderly customer for the last 6 months and a lot has happened with him.  Unfortunately, things are just spiraling downward for him and I can sense he lacks the cognition to really comprehend what is going on.  I sat on the phone with him for a long time.  I finally worked out a temporary solution for his current problem.  While talking to him he is asking me what next and I had to tell him I don’t know.  Sadly, he has put a lot of faith and trust in me because I listen to him but I am a water resource manager, not an expert in elder care.  I just listen because I think about my mom who I take care of and imagine if she needed help I hope someone on the other end of the line would listen too.  Also what I have realized through all of this is we are all essentially the same and we all just want to be happy and understood, no matter the path.

It is hard to be present when you have little else to offer, but that.  Sorry about the downer post.  To end with something more upbeat it was a reminder of how truly grateful I am for many things: the essential ease of my life compared to so many, my loving partner and husband, the fact that our mothers have support systems, and the assistance I was able to provide.  At least a friend and I found a senior referral center and I hope they can help.  Namaste.

 


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Maybe it is Just about the Sponge

 

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Today I realized something important.  It’s not you; it’s me.  I had a revelation today over a free and discarded garden hose.  That is how my day started and also where a pretty wonderful day could have gone off the rails and certainly has in the past.  My neighbor has had an old discarded garden hose in front of their house “free to good home” for at least a week.  Hubby has casually asked about  3-4 times about it.  Each time I have said “we don’t need that”.  Truth be told we are not weekend warriors of home improvement.  We don’t wake up on Saturday fresh with excitement about building a garden or painting the house. We truly don’t need a garden hose.   I also realized that is not really the point.

This morning my husband was definitely less casual.  He had clearly thought through the free garden hose conundrum and come up clearly pro garden hose.  At first and really for no reason, I reacted like I typically do.  I was prepared to go to war over the lack of a need for a garden hose that was just going to sit rolled up under our porch, unused, like the current broken garden hose we have.  When all of a sudden all that meditation, mindfulness, and presence I have been working on whispered back “maybe it is just about the sponge.”  All of a sudden I just stopped arguing.  We got in the car, had breakfast, went grocery shopping, laughed, and prepared for a fun day with family who had come to town.  When we got home from grocery shopping I became half owner of a free unneeded garden hose.  You know what?  My life has not changed a bit.  In fact the world did not end because hubby got a garden hose.  The best part is we enjoyed a great day and I was a lot happier.  It was never about him.  He just loves free stuff and our garden hose is broken.  He was not trying to make a power play.  He had no hidden agenda.  He was not making a social commentary on my recent focus on conscious consumption and minimalism.  He just can’t see free stuff go to waste and may some day want to hose down the porch.

This reminded me of the first big fight my husband and I had after we were married.  First, I must confess I was not the girl who dreamed of my wedding day.  I was the girl who thought marriage was a legalized form of slavery.  In fact before we got married I did not eat for an entire week because I was so nauseous thinking about getting married.  We had been together  6 years; it wasn’t him or commitment.  We owned a house together, had a joint checking account, all the bells and whistles, but he did not have ownership papers,  more commonly referred to as a marriage license.

Long story short we got married, baggage and all.  It was remarkably similar to our pre-married life.  Then one day I was cleaning up the sink after cooking.  I put the sponge back down and my husband said “aren’t you going to replace that sponge?”  Suffice it to say it was a different reaction than the garden hose today.  I am pretty sure in a fairly blind rage fueled by fear of being my mother, I might have compared this suggestion to World War Level mind control.  Yes, it was a pretty reasoned and proportionate argument.  I called my best friend at the time, who was actually my husband’s best man at our wedding.  In discussing the “sponge incident” as it had now become.  While seriously asking if I could really stay with  a man who felt this way about how I used a sponge?  I mean what did this mean for women’s rights and equality everywhere?  My friend made the bold suggestion, “maybe it is just about the sponge.” He correctly noted that my husband is a straightforward, zen kind of guy and maybe a more devoted feminist than I was.  Succeeded in pointing out that relationship  domination probably did not begin six years into it and likely did not start with a sponge.


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Multi-Tasking the Enemy of Mindfulness

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My name is a Kathy and I am an addict.  My addiction is multi-tasking.  I would go so far as to say, for most of my life it has been my identity and one of my proudest achievements.  I could do so many things at once and get them done and never miss a deadline.  Afterwards, I could look back at what I had achieved and remember little or nothing about it and set off on my next set of competing priorities.  I am not unique;  I think our 24-7-365 technology obsessed culture expects it and nearly demands it.

I am not going to lie, in all the things I have been trying to do to be that kinder, gentler, and more there me, multi-tasking is the siren hardest to resist.  To truly do one thing completely, solely through to completion fully engaged, is harder than riding unicycle on a high wire while reading.  It is hard to make that commitment to yourself.  The reality is nobody else really cares if you do things one at a time or if you are in the office leafing through a report, while writing a performance review for your direct reports, and using your foot dial in by speaker phone to a global conference call as long as it gets done, right?  Maybe.  Let’s think about your employee’s performance review.  How much value will they gain from the work you squeezed in to check that box?  What if you took a set time really thought about their performance through the year, where they want to go, what strengths they possess and what strengths they need to build?  They would probably get more value. Isn’t that our job as managers, to grow people?

If that can happen at work imagine what it would be like to eat dinner with your loved ones free of TV, cellphones, and video games.  What if it was about the food and truly listening to their day.  Multi-tasking has addictive qualities, it makes you feel a little superior, extra productive, and don’t forget that checklist.  Being fully present in our lives has its own rewards.  We can actually enjoy the people in our lives.  We become more grateful for all we have.  Those memories we make will be more vivid.

If you fully engage in what you are doing you also get to fully experience it.  I have found out that the times I have done this successfully the quality of my interactions and results have improved.  I still struggle with this.  It is hard to undo an ingrained habit of 4 decades,  The beauty is I don’t have to completely undo the habit to benefit and hopefully benefit those in my life.  Every step forward helps.

 


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What are You Passionate About?

Doesn’t that seem like a question that an adult with nearly 1/2 a century behind her would easily be able to answer?  I only ask that because in my recent experience this question was posed as essential to making more mindful and impactful decisions in so many areas.  If I had been asked that as a wide-eyed 10-year-old I would still be listing everything.  As a 47-year-old at a self-imposed crossroads, I found myself stymied.  We spend so much time on the hamster wheel just doing what comes next and thinking we have no choices.  Part of that comes from being the “Girl Who Can’t Say No.”  Part of it is as we get older so many of us think we must supplant passion with duty and obligation.  We forget to find space in us and our lives for what brigs us truly heartfelt joy.

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For me I needed to make the room to really think about that.  One by one I needed to invite those things in to my life.  Surprisingly I found some of them were already there, but I suppressed the part of them that brought joy.  I worried about how it looked.  Was I serious enough?  Was I moving forward according to the plan I don’t recall making?  I had to make room for being silly, getting in touch with that 10-year-old girl who did not really care what anyone thought.  She knew something I forgot.  She knew there were so many things to be passionate about because you could bring it with you to what you do.

I am passionate about my job.  I mean helping people to value and preserve water.  It is a calling, but I had to reconnect to the parts of my job that are fulfilling.  I had to start trying to find some room. The door to that passion was saying no to things that pull me away.  In all aspects of my passion pursuits I find this Achilles heel.  Every time I mindlessly say yes I am closing the door to a passion.  I am making a choice, usually out of that place of fear.  What will I look like? Won’t I miss out?  What will people think?

Turns out what my father used to say to me is correct.  “If you knew how infrequently people thought about you, you would not worry so much about it.”  All those people have their own stuff going on, too busy to ruminate over me.  I find it easier everyday to say no.  Mostly because I have identified what is really important and are true passions for me.  I can say no to staying late at work because cooking and sharing my day with my husband is a passion.  I can say no to watching mindless TV because I can read a book and expand my mind or spend time writing.  I can so no to  requests that take away the time I have to meditate and run.  Saying no has allowed me the room and space to say yes to volunteering, because animal rescue is a passion I miss.  It has made room to say yes without regret or obligation to my mother because helping my family is consistent with my values and passions.

Turns out making life decisions is not as complicated as I thought.  It just involves finding out what is of value to me, what feeds my passion, and realizing for every opportunity missed there is a more valuable purpose fulfilled.  I am trying to be a reformed yes woman and a more present person.


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Discipline or Regimen

I would say I am a creature of habits, not just habit.  Since I started this journey toward a kinder, gentler, more present me I have struggled with this side of myself.  Is it a hold over, an improvement resistant aspect of my Type A personality?  Is it something different?  I know what my husband would say, as one who naturally shuns routine.  I have to answer this for me.  I have done some soul-searching and also, as has been my quest for presence, started actually paying attention.

I have arrived at a theory or rather a test I administer to my own routine.  I do think there is difference between discipline and regimen I think that is where I find my answers.  Discipline is the calm in the storm.  I don’t mean a nun with a ruler kind of discipline.  I mean that sweet concept of self-discipline.  I would say Buddhist Monks, lets all agree, among the kindest and most gentle of all people are pretty self-disciplined.  If you don’t believe that when is the last time you meditated for 14 hours a day and went months without speaking?  Self-discipline is the tool that holds you to your goals and makes you answerable only to yourself.There is a quiet calm and sweet freedom in self-discipline.

Discipline is Freedom

 

Regimen on the other hand, is more like being held captive.  There is a reason it is also used to describe a unit in the Army.  This is the OCD level commitment to a routine or process.  There is no freedom in that and there is no destination to be reached.  It is the modern obsession with checklists and to do lists.  I personally have enough people telling me what to do.  I don’t also need a bossy post it note getting into the act.

Where I have landed on all of this.  I ask myself is this discipline or regimen?  Am I in control or is the routine in control? Am I benefiting from this or suffering though it? I have found through observing, just me and how I feel and how my world feels, discipline is necessary.  The discipline of my day also provides the flexibility and freedom.  In the discipline I find the breathing room.  Because I go to bed at 9 PM I can get up at 4 AM.  Because I get up at 4 AM I can run and I can meditate.  I have quiet time to start my day and nourish my physical and mental health.  Because I come home and prep for the next day and have a system for taking care of the cats it frees up time to cook healthy meals for me and my husband.  Because I have completed the chores I can relax and truly be with my husband at dinner sharing our day.  In the discipline I find the exhale.  It works for me.  Sad to say to my husband my self-disciplined routine will most likely continue, but I will also continue to allow for flexibility.

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Facebook Fast…Do I Still Exist?

I hope you are sitting down for this.  I removed Facebook from my phone.  I know what you are thinking, and no, I have not become Amish.  What I am trying to become is more aware, intentional, and present and Facebook as well as so many of our social media platforms are the actual and “virtual” antithesis of that.  See what I did there?  That is a shout out to all the English majors and minors out there.
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I also decided not to check it regularly.  So for me, that means once a week or less.  I am pretty sure some of my Facebook “friends” think I have died or contracted some horrible disease.  My friends who really exist in flesh and bone actually know that I just felt like this was not a productive use of my time.  Here is the thing, when you strive to become more aware… we are back to this conundrum again.  You become aware.  I became aware of a couple of things.  I spend a ridiculous amount of time checking on people, most of whom I would never bother to call or even text, and apparently I care about their crazy political opinions and what they ate for dinner.  Second thing, turns out  I don’t actually care about any of that.  If I want to know what a friend of mine thinks about an issue near and dear to me, I am probably going to have a more nuanced understanding of their opinion by discussing it face to face.  Also I can get the recipe for that vegetarian lasagna they made last night.  Next thing I became aware of, we only have so many hours in our day.  Now that I am trying to live more intentionally I need to make conscious choices about how I use that time.

It really is as simple as those word problems we used to do in school.  If Kathy has 24 hours in a day and she like to get 8 hours of sleep and she works for 8 hours and her commute and lunch hour add another two hours how many hours does she have left?  The answer is six hours.  SIX Hours to do all the things she has recently prioritized: meditate, spend time with husband, spend time with the cats, write, read, run, cook healthy meals, help my mother, and volunteer.  Yes fitting all of that in is a challenge.  There is nowhere in there for spend two hours scrolling through a lot of random opinions from people I have not kept up with since high school, but am constantly reminded of why I never kept up every time I log into Facebook.

If social media is important to you than it should be a priority, enjoy it.  It has a purpose.  My work requires it.  I don’t hate it.  I still can enjoy a small helping.  Who doesn’t love a viral cat video.  I mean I am human.  All of this social media reevaluation left we with a lingering concern.  In today’s interweb-connected world of “I tweet therefore I am.”  If I don’t, Am I not?