Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The long and winding road

On my last post, I joked that it might be twenty more interviews before I have answers.

I might not have been too far off.

Today I had a successful interview.  Successful, however, does not mean a job offer.  And the Big Boss has a lot of Bigger Bosses.  This journey isn't over, and so far it's been successful, but it turns out that I am nowhere near the finish line.  I am told that there are an additional three to four interviews ahead for the final candidate.  Will the job be offered to me?  I don't know.  But I AM a candidate, and I've made it this far, and I'm going to move to the next level of interviews.

I have been told that I will have to be patient, because this is a long process.  When I heard that, I felt incredibly relieved.  My head is still spinning with all of this, and I really need to catch up with myself.

In the past couple of months, my perception of myself has started to change, and I do not feel entirely caught up to myself.  A little time to catch my breath doesn't sound like a delay, it sounds like a welcome break.

Ten years ago, I was shrinking to a size that I didn't belong in.  Ten years ago, I was about to "come down with" breast cancer.  My marriage was unraveling.  I'd willingly stepped away from my job.

Four years ago, I said "Enough."

Four years isn't very long to make over an entire life, to lose all of one's baggage, to change EVERYTHING.

Three years ago, I started working full time and my ex moved out.

Two years ago, I was officially divorced.

A year ago, I successfully switched careers.

And this year I'm going to try to land the job that will truly put me on the path I wish to be on, financially and personally.  But more than that, MUCH more than that, is that I'm going to try to re-conceive of myself as a person who doesn't just belong at the big kids' table, but at the adult table.

My head is swimming in all of it.

I need to gather my energy, because all of these changes aren't easy.  Today, I feel completely worn out, as a matter of fact.

But I'm one step closer.  One day at a time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Big Kids

It occurs to me that I have spent most of my 45 years feeling like an embarrassed little kid.  I've felt like others were in charge of me - my parents and family, then my husband.  There were some gloriously free years in my 20s, but they were marked with a sense that unless I had a partner I was doing it wrong, so I gave my power to boyfriends or men I wished were my boyfriend.

Ouch.  That's not exactly the feminist, strong, powerful version of myself that I like best.

Lately I've had plenty of opportunities to explore where I belong: do I belong with the little kids, or the big ones?  Do I need to ask permission to do what I want?  Do I need to accept the things that other people do, and simply adapt to them, or am I the one making waves?

45 years old and I'm still figuring this out.

I am in the middle of interviewing for an amazing, wonderful, fantastic job.  In this job, I'd get to work with my passion AND my professional skills.  I'd be doing amazing, meaningful work.  And I'd be doing it in a charming part of town, in a beautiful old building, and surrounded by an incredible team of colleagues (many of whom I've already met: they are smart, interesting, motivated, and the kind of people that I like to be friends with).

It's a long story, but I'm about to enter my fifth interview with this organization (tomorrow), and in the process, something in me has changed.

When I got my job during divorce, I was just clinging to life, hoping that I wouldn't drown.  Then, when I realized the path I REALLY wanted to take, I felt like I was drowning again as I pursued it and thought that my financial house might go down in flames.  When I got the job offer for the place where I now work, I was gasping for breath, fearful, and mostly just RELIEVED that I wasn't going to face utter failure.

But this is different.

This company reached out to me - the friend of a friend of a friend.  And I held back at first, not sure that it would go anywhere, and they pursued me.  And I got more interested.  And I interviewed with lots of higher-ups, and they saw something in me, and let me know it.  They treated me like their equal, and made it clear that I belonged in their circle.  They asked me hard questions, and I answered them.  I asked them hard questions, too, and they answered in response.

And somewhere in the process, my mind has been blown.

For the first time in 45 years, I'm feeling like I belong at the big kids' table.  That I can hold my own with the key players.  That I am not a fraud, and that I have something big to offer, and that they'd be just as lucky to have me as I would be to have them.  To say that this is a different mindset is comically understated.  It feels like a shift at the cellular level, that I am not the person that I was a month or two ago.

I do not know what will happen at tomorrow's interview with The Big Boss.  I do not know if I'm in the top five candidates, or if I'm the top candidate.  I do not know if they will offer me the job, make me interview with twenty more people, or give me a nice little "thanks, but no thanks" speech.  I feel confident about my abilities, and about the fit, but I still don't know what will happen.  (Put out some good thoughts for me, please.  This is a great opportunity in every way for me, and I really want it!)

But what I DO know is that I am worthy of this job.  And that if not this job, another one like it.  I know that I belong with the big kids.  I know that I'm not a fraud.  This knowledge changes the way I see everything!  Really, it's all different now.

Maybe feeling like a little kid is what makes us get treated like one.  Maybe I've been a big kid for a long time and didn't know it, or maybe something really has changed.  Whatever it is, I'm starting to feel like I can hold my own, that I belong anywhere I choose.  I know that this applies to work, and I think it applies to love, as well.

Stay tuned, because big changes are afoot.

Tomorrow, I'll move to the next level, or face rejection (and I'm pretty sure that big kid rejection hurts just as much as any other kind, and I'll have to manage that if it happens).  But I am determined to remember that there is a chair waiting for me at the big kids' table.

Anything is possible.  I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Amy Poehler is Smarter Than I Am

The other day, this came through my Facebook page:

...and my head nearly exploded.

I spend a lot of time apologizing: apologizing for being opinionated, for being strong, for being unavailable, for rocking the boat.  At work right now, things are pretty bad: my boss has crossed all kinds of HR lines (not sexual ones, but just about every other variety), and he tells me "don't do X" and so I don't and then he says "why didn't you do X?" and it is crazy-making of the extreme variety.  He yanked some of my benefits without notice - the very benefit that made this an attractive job, actually.  (No more comp time for me.)  He refuses to follow best practices for the industry, but doesn't have alternate methods that work.  He brought me on board to change things....and then when I try to do my job, he puts up roadblocks at every single step to make it impossible for me to do that job.  I identify problems, propose solutions, and he says NO.  I say, "How would you like to resolve the problem?" and he walks away.

My response to this has been to bend over backwards trying to make things work.  To apologize to him for my misunderstanding, to try to smooth things over and make it all okay for everyone, even as I seethe.

I finally broke down and spoke to a favorite board member off the record, and she nearly exploded.  "He did WHAT?" she said.  She went on to say that if he treated her like that she wouldn't care what the results were, she'd rip him a new one, etc. etc. etc.  (She was quite colorful about it, and it was actually pretty funny.  My response?  "So, I'm not crazy?" and she said, "Girl, you're crazy for sticking around with that kind of behavior!" and then she begged me to stay anyway and offered to help.)

This is an old pattern, learned early, and it takes me a while to unlearn it.  45 years and counting, actually.

So, enter Ms. Poehler, and the quote in the photo at the top of this post.

Why the hell am I apologizing for improving my organization?  Why am I apologizing for being good at what I do?  Why am I apologizing for innovation?  Why am I apologizing for doing my job?  Why am I apologizing for expecting him to live up to his end of the bargain?

I may be a slow learner, but I AM learning, and I'm going to stop apologizing for this nonsense.  If I hold my ground, he will blow up (I know that, because he has blown up before).  But I am not going to apologize for his response, or make myself smaller than I am.  If it doesn't make sense, it doesn't make sense, and I am not going to own his nonsensical reactions any more, trying to Be A Nice Girl.

Being a Nice Girl has gotten me into all kinds of trouble, now that I think about it, and it's the number one thing I'm trying to unlearn.  My value is not in how many people like me, especially if they only like me because of what I can do for them, as in the case of my boss.  Trying to make him like me is a lost cause, and that sits poorly with me.  I try to work harder, smarter, kinder.  I try to find the way to apologize for having better ideas, or better rapport with the board, or better documentation, or whatever.  Why on earth would I apologize for THAT?

Amy Poehler is much smarter than I am, clearly.  But here's something I have in common with her: I like bossy women.  I like working with super smart people.  I like working with outspoken people who are passionate about what they do, and who are always willing to improve.

I often get the feeling that my boss is rooting for my failure, because then his Top Dog Status would remain intact.  Recently, I've been rooting for his failure, because he's driving me nuts and I want him to stop bothering me, but that isn't the right answer, either.  I'm working on finding a way to use this tension to drive the organization to a better level.

So I'm working as hard as I can to honor my existing position despite the challenges, but in the meantime I'm trying to take a GIANT leap professionally to do work that will change the world even as it changes my life.  A job with more responsibility, but also more resources, and a team of super smart, interesting colleagues who have indicated their willingness to support me.  A chance to play with the Big Kids, as I keep telling my girlfriends.  (This makes those friends laugh.  They've been Big Kids for a while, and can't entirely relate to my feelings of smallness.)  The job I want, well, I am almost ready for it, but I am going to dive in like I am absolutely ready, and I'm going to make it happen.

But there is one thing that Ms. Poehler could learn from me, because she's wrong about this one:

I am as old as I have ever been, but I am only now learning how to take big risks, to release the fear, to find flexibility in my life's path.  (Even though my knee hurts!)

I'm more ready now than I was before.  I'm going to stop apologizing for who I am when who I am is smart, tenacious, hard working, and respectful of the people around me.  I'm going to be more bossy when leadership is needed.  And I'm going to do great things professionally, either with the job in front of me for a big national organization, or with the job opportunity that comes after it.  I'm ready to take the leap.  I trust myself to make it happen, and I'm not going to try to be patient and put it off out of fear.

Even if I am 45, I'm ready to take some bigger risks than ever before, and to make it happen.  If not me, it'll be someone else, so why not me?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Other people's lives

Like everyone, I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, "Wow, I wish my life was more like hers" when I talk to someone who is experiencing something wonderful like romantic love.

But I'm learning, over and over again, that things are not always as they appear.

Yesterday I got my hair cut by a woman who has been part of my social circle for over a decade; I don't know her well, but we know a lot of people in common, and she actually participated on my Breast Cancer 3-Day team many years ago.  I hadn't talked to her in ages (she had never done my hair before - I decided to pay for a nice haircut for once, instead of going for the bargain, and so I went to her....but that's another story!), so we were catching up.

She caught me off guard, and said, "I was SO surprised when I heard about your divorce.  You were such a happy couple!"

I nearly fell out of the salon chair.

The thing is, I did my absolute utmost to make the best of my life, to make the most of my marriage, to be the kind of spouse I'd want to be married to.  I didn't trash talk him (although I did confide in my absolute closest girlfriends), I worked hard at presenting a unified front.  The whole time I was dying inside (possibly literally, given my breast cancer) and I felt like a total fraud, very unhappy, lonely, and confused.

But on the outside, it looked like I was a happy hausfrau.

In the past few weeks at my daughter's gymnastics class, I've been on the other side of that equation, feeling surprised at someone else's struggles.

Gymnastics Mom #1 (GM1) has been divorced for a few years.  She's got a hotshot career.  She's also got a hot boyfriend, and a year or so ago they bought a house together and moved in with one another and their kids.  The kids are all besties, the new boyfriend is loving and attractive, and life looked really, really good from the outside.   I've asked her how she got her life to this place, and she has glowed and looked happy and said things like "It'll find you when you least expect it!"  (True or not, this has to be one of the most annoying phrases ever, but I digress.)

This week, GM1 approached me while our daughters vaulted and balanced and cartwheeled.  "I've been wanting to call you," she said.  "I need some support."  She started to cry.  "(Hot boyfriend) told me that it's over, and he's moving out.  I didn't see it coming, and I'm devastated, and I can't do this...."

Their children don't know yet.  She has to move, because she can't afford to stay in the house they purchased together using their combined income, designed to fit four children.  I hugged her and said, "You survived your divorce.  You will survive this..." and she said, "No, it's different, this is worse..."

Yikes.  From any angle, that looks impossibly painful.  :-(

Gymnastics Mom #2 (GM2) has a similar story.  Divorced several years, she's in a two year relationship, and they live together with his daughter and her daughter.  They go to hot, sunny, Latin American beaches with regularity; they appear to have a discretionary income a zillion times my own.  She paints a picture of a perfect life.  But I'm listening, and after I got over my burst of jealousy (hey, who wouldn't want what she describes?) I started to hear something more.  She wants to get married, he doesn't.  It's hard for them to find any time together, and whenever time opens in the schedule he's prone to booking it with something else that doesn't include her.  Their lease was due to renew, and he said he only wanted to go month to month because he wasn't sure where there relationship was going.  Then she told me that he has tried to break up with her two years in a row because, in her words, "He doesn't know what he wants.  He wants me, he's just confused."

Her relationship has all the signs of RUNNNNNNN!  I know that it's not mine to judge, but to me it sounds desperately unhappy, and the more that I learn about it the less happy it sounds.  Yet, when I first met her, I was convinced that she is the one who had it figured out, and I had much to learn.

I like to stay on the move, changing my life daily for the better.  I like to see what I can improve, and improve it.  I have lots of goals in my life, and every day I think about how I can reach them: career, financial, romantic, health, travel, writing.  It's so easy to see how far I have to go.

Today, I'm stopping and thinking about how my life might look from the outside.

Perhaps people look at me and think "Oh that poor woman!  Cancer, divorce, single mom....I don't know how she does it!" and they feel sad or sorry or something.

Or maybe they look at me and feel envious, because I have a meaningful career, a great relationship with my daughter, a comfortable home, health, friends.

My life isn't perfect.  I'd really like to drop the muffin top and get back into marathon shape.  I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to switch to this new job opportunity, in my field but so much more than my current job.  I'd like to fall in love.  (Interesting, hmmm?  I "REALLY REALLY REALLY" want the new job, but I'd "like" to fall in love.  That's a switch!  But it's honest.)

Who knows what people see when they look at me.  There are elements of truth in both viewpoints, of course, but neither pity nor envy feels like an appropriate response to my life.  I love where I am, but the journey here has been difficult, and my path certainly isn't for everyone.

I am going to try to remember that when I look at other people's lives.  I'm going to try to remember that most of us are just struggling to make the most of our lives, to do the best we can.  I'm going to try to remember that things are not always as they appear, and that unless someone invites me in to their inner circle, I have no way of knowing how things really are.

Today, I'm working on letting go of envy.  My life is beautiful, even with all of its imperfections, and I am grateful to be where I am.  I'm working at seeing people, with their beauty and imperfections, as people "just like me" and not entirely "other."

I can't help but be astounded that I am so happy, so content, even when I am outside of a romantic relationship.  The less I focus on romance, the more content I am, actually.  It's not time to buy a dozen cats yet, but I do see the appeal: I am living my life on my terms, and there is joy in that.

Today, I'm sending out good wishes to GM1 and GM2.  Whatever my perceptions of their lives, true or false, I hope that they find peace with their paths, that they feel joy in their choices, that they feel loved and accepted.  I think that's what we all want, whether in a romantic relationship or not.

What a jolting sensation, to realize that I have put their lives on pedestals, so certain that they had what I'm seeking, only to find out that I am in the more enviable position of being content with where I am, free of heartbreak, at peace in my life.  I certainly have a great deal to learn (wouldn't it be nice to feel those things AND have romantic love?), but I have wouldn't trade places with them for anything.

Lessons learned, every day.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Leaps of Faith

I'm getting better at taking the leap of faith.

Leap #1: that trip to Europe, mentioned in my last post.  My parents told me that I was crazy, didn't support me, suggested that I'd get murdered in my sleep in the youth hostel.  I went anyway, despite the fears they instilled in me, despite the fact that I'd never done anything like that, despite the fact that nobody in my family traveled (ironic, given my grandparents' emigration from Germany) and learned that I was indeed a world traveler, and that I did actually have access to the great works of art, castles, and sights that had previously only existed for me in books.  I spent my entire meagre savings, quit my job, and made my dreams happen by heading to Europe alone with a backpack and Eurail pass.  That trip changed who I am and my understanding of the big wide world and my place in it.  I came back, got a new job, and reentered my life an altered person, better than before.

Leap #2: I decided to believe that I could handle the never ending surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, and that if I kept going the treatment itself wouldn't kill me, decided that I could handle the pain, decided that my life was worth it.  It's nearly ten years later, and here I am!

Leap #3: I decided that if cancer didn't kill me, I could survive a divorce, even if I didn't have money or income or any understanding at all of how I could create a new life.  Leap #3 came from a gut feeling that my daughter's life would be better if I left an ugly marriage, and that I could give her more outside that marriage than within it.  Nearly four years after that decision, here I am, in a life a million times better than my married life; my daughter is thriving, and her life is better, too.

Three leaps so far, and they gave me the world, my life, and a renewed sense of the possible.  Along the way, there have been missteps, or detours, that's for sure.  My path is not a straight line, and there have been many steps backwards, and much confusion, but still, I took the leaps, and they have landed me here today.

I am getting ready for leap #4.

Leap #4 is about believing that I belong with the best in my professional field.  It's about believing in my ability to land the BIG job, and to have amazing success within that job.  It's about making a huge impact with my work. It's about using my career path to change the face of cancer forever.  It's about believing that I am not meant to do small things, and I am not meant to work with small people.

It's about believing that I can work with the best and the brightest, and that I need not huddle with the the masses, but that my professional life has meaning in this world.  It's about believing that I can be happy at work.  It's about believing in my ability to make a difference.

It's about believing that I will be accepted into the circles of these professionals, embraced as one of their own.

For all of this to happen, I have to believe that I belong, that they are not doing me favors by hiring me, and that with hard work, time, and grace, I can be among their best.

It's about believing that my current salary is not a reflection of my worth, and that I my talents, education, and experience are worth more.

It's about believing in my ability to give my daughter the gift of travel, and the gift of education (opening new opportunities for high school and college if I have more income).

It's about believing that I deserve to work in a functional work space, with brilliant, compassionate people.  It's about believing that my donors will respond well to me and to what I offer them.  It's about believing that I will be taken seriously when I ask for a million dollar gift to fight cancer.  (A million dollars, and I want them to give it away, and they will say yes.  How cool is that?)  It's about my ability to believe that I can play with the big kids and hold my own.

I'm going to give it my all, and I'm going to take the leap.  It's a huge leap.  Maybe, it's my biggest leap yet, and it's a game changer.  I feel the change happening inside myself at a cellular level: my belief in my abilities is changing, and my understanding of my place in the world is changing.

I think I'll get the job.  I really do.  (This, in itself, is a miracle.  Six months ago I would have told you that you were CRAZY if you suggested that this kind of job would be on the table in 2015.) But if I don't?  I'll get another job like it.  I am determined, and I have faith that this is the path I am meant to be on, so I won't give up.  I'm ready to live BIG and the world is ready for me to live BIG, too.


I have a really, really hard time believing that all things happen for a reason.  How does that help the alcoholic sleeping on a park bench?  And what about AIDS babies?  And victims of domestic abuse?  What on earth can be good about those things?  People waste their talents all the time even when they have access to a better path, and then of course there are children living in a garbage dump in Mumbai.  (I could not finish "Behind the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo.  It hurt too much to know that it was real.)

I do not understand pain and suffering on a global level.  It is beyond my ability to comprehend.

But I am learning that the pain and suffering in my own one small life has had meaning.

Every obstacle that has been placed in front of me has taught me something about myself and given me access to entirely new worlds.  I know that sometimes in the heat of it (say, the heat of a third degree radiation burn) it was hard to locate the power that is being unlocked (as I whimpered through round the clock wound care on a three hour cycle to fight a threatened staph infection), but I am learning that the power will come.

I am starting to understand something about grace and its place in my life.  Somehow, good things are coming to me, if I will get out of my own way.  I may fall down several more times.....I do not forget that less than a year ago I was unemployed and panicking, and that I was losing hope every minute, and a year isn't a very long time to have passed since then.....but I have to have faith in my ability to turn these twists and turns into something good, too.

If I didn't have cancer, I wouldn't have learned that I had the strength to get divorced, and I wouldn't have understood the urgency of doing something more with my life.

If I didn't get divorced, I wouldn't have been "forced" back to work.

If I didn't work at a job that paid reasonably well and didn't stress me out but bored me out of my mind, I wouldn't have understood how much I needed to connect to my work at a deeper level.

If I didn't mention my job dissatisfaction to my boss, I could have stayed there forever.  But when I told her - my friend! - that I could not imagine being in the jewelry business for the rest of my life, she forced my hand, and I was fledged from the nest and learned that I could fly doing meaningful (to me) nonprofit work.

If my current employer wasn't so insanely dysfunctional, I would have stayed there for several years, maybe more, at a below-industry-standard wage, working with people who are not at the top of their games, thinking small.  But because my boss treats me poorly and the organization isn't well run, I have to move on.

And because I have to move on, I'm going to grab ahold of the job that touches my soul, and I'm going to get a huge raise in the process.  I'm going to work in an attractive office with interesting people, doing much more interesting work, with a much bigger impact on the world.


What leap do you need to take?

What pain and suffering has lead you to a better place?

How can your current suffering take you to the place you want to go?


Ready, set....JUMP!