Sunday, September 6, 2015


Did I really last write in May?

Oh dear.

Readers, I've been busy.  Not "I'm too busy to blog!" but "I'm busy trying to figure out my life, and while I figure it out I have no idea what to say."

Generally, when I'm writing, I'm grounded.  You would be accurate to assume that my lack of writing here - and anywhere else - is a sign that I haven't been grounded lately.  At all.

I'm okay.  Things in my life are humming along, all things considered.  I am healthy and strong.  My daughter is thriving.  I still live in a big old house that, while a bit worn around the edges, is also cozy and filled with comforts.  I've spent as many weekends this summer as possible out backpacking, filling my soul with forests and alpine lakes and incredible vistas that nearly make me weep with their beauty (yes, I'm sappy like that).

But some deeper work is going on.

I believe that we keep learning our lessons, over and over, until we get them right.  Well, it seems that I have not learned some critical lessons just yet, and it is about time.  I've been struggling, and I think that I've been so deep in the struggle I couldn't even analyze it or explain it: it exhausted me past my ability to figure it out.

On the surface, the struggle is about a bad boss.  My Executive Director is temperamental, prone to emotional outbursts.  He runs a disorganized organization.  He manages through fear, control, and ego.  He is prone to committing to things, and then changing his mind after the ball is already rolling.  He has looked me in the eye and lied to me on multiple occasions.  What's worse, we serve an incredibly low income community and he treats our clients disrespectfully and doesn't always operate within their best interests.  To say that it is disheartening is an understatement.  Over the past year plus, it has worn me down.  I have been weary, and felt more and more broken.

There is no question that I'm good at what I do.  The results are clear, and the feedback from other staff, others in the field, clients, volunteers, and my peers at other organizations is clear.  When my boss allows me to do my job, I get results.  I am proud of my work, clearly on the right career path.  When asked directly, my boss actually tells me that I'm doing good work, that he's pleased with my results, that hiring me was a great idea.

But I'm locked in a bizarre relationship with this boss, who treats me badly and then praises me.  It's nonsensical and confusing.


Bryan, too, treated me badly and then told me that all was well.  Bryan was temperamental, too; he also made illogical decisions and then expected me to clean up his messes.

Clearly there is a pattern.  Over the past few months, I've been struggling not to see the pattern - oh, it's there, clear enough! - but to determine my role in it.  Why do I keep attracting these impossible situations for myself?  Why don't my friends struggle with this?  Why am I locked in this pattern?


My father is all about control and "respect."  He demands that I adhere to the notion that he is my superior, and that what he says is to be done, without question.  I supposed that there are plenty of fathers like that; strict dads aren't that unusual.  But the thing with my parents is that one minute they are playful and generous and treat me like I'm interesting and special and that my ideas have value, and the next they are angry and name calling and unkind.

This week, my plans to go backpacking got canceled.  This was my "big trip" this year: having limited money (Bryan is again unemployed, and again not paying child support) I had planned a trip into the mountains for four or five nights as my big vacation.  However, the weather - hot and sunny all summer! - suddenly shifted to downpours and lightening, so it wasn't safe to go to the woods.  I was glum about it: I've been fantasizing about this trip for months, and badly needed to clear my head and get a break.  My father called me, concerned about my safety, and kindly asked about my plans.  I told him that I just wasn't sure what to do: I needed to stay safe, but I didn't have money in the budget to do hotels and such, so I was feeling sad about it. My father said, "Well, I think you need a vacation.  Why don't I give you some money so that you can take a trip?  You and Katherine need a break.  Where would you like to go?  What would you like to do?  I can help, just tell me what you need."

I hesitated.  I have seen this before, and sometimes it's a trap.

I said, "That is so incredibly kind and generous of you - thank you for offering.  Please know that Katherine and I are fine, and though I absolutely love that you offered, I don't want you to feel obligated," and so on.  I was determined not to fall into the trap this time.

He said, "No, tell me what you want!  I want to help!"

I still hesitated.  "Well....I don't want to tell you how much to spend.  If you'd like to help out, please tell me what you feel comfortable with, and I will work within that budget..."

He got annoyed with me, said, "Come on!  I want to help!  Just tell me what you want to do!"

I bit the bullet.  "I'd love to go to the San Juans for maybe three nights, stay in a little hotel..."

I hadn't finished the idea when he snorted.  "WHAT!?  That's ridiculous.  The cost of the ferry, and you've got so many other expenses - do you really think you should be spending money on a vacation right now?!"

I was still sucked in, trying to please him.  "I'm sorry, I don't understand, Dad.  I am not sure what to say, I thought you wanted me to give ideas....?"

My father, loving and kind five minutes before, practically sneered through the phone.  "If you want my money," he said, "You're going to have to grovel."


I can not, in ten million years, imagine seriously telling Katherine to grovel in order to receive a gift, or imagine begging for her ideas on a vacation and then telling her that her ideas were ridiculous and worthy of scorn.  I can not imagine offering her something, and then rescinding it.  I can not imagine telling her "Ask for anything!" and then treating her as if she was unreasonable.

I have played this game with my parents my whole life: they offer kindness, gifts, praise....and then switch gears, and I find myself with my head spinning.  How can my father go from openly offering a gift - which I did not request or hint at - to treating me as if I'm a foolish spendthrift, and telling me that I need to grovel?

Who the hell tells their kid to grovel to receive gifts?!  Never mind that I'm in my mid-forties; this type of language has been around my whole life.  My father doesn't just treat me like this, he treats everyone like this, and because he's "the boss" (the patriarch of the family as well as a successful business owner) he gets away with it.  Well, except that there are snickers behind his back and I think he knows it....he has his own struggles, and his control issues, his ego issues, likely pain him much more than they pain me.

And here's the lesson I'm trying to learn, deeply and thoroughly: this behavior is not normal or acceptable.  It is not a reflection on who I am, or my value.  And it is NOT MY JOB TO FIX IT.


When Bryan lied to me, I stuck it out for years, and did a lot of self-work to figure out how I was contributing to our marriage problems, and tried to be sexier/more interesting/a better wife.  I picked up his slack, over and over, hoping that he'd see that I had worth and value, and the harder I tried, the less he appreciated me.  Actually, it was almost an inverse formula: the more I worked at our marriage, the less he did.  He was very happy to hand me all of the work....and give me all of the blame.

My parents raised me to be like this, and I'm slow to see it.  They switched gears based on their moods or whims, and expected me to respond with gratitude, whether it was to praise or insults (I heard "you can do anything you set your mind to" and "you're a moron!" in equal doses.  They raised me to believe that "groveling" was what one does to people in power.  I was expected to switch gears when they broke promises, without resentment; *I* was expected to try harder.  (The big broken promise was college: in my senior year of high school they told me that they would not pay for my college, after a lifetime of telling me that they would.  I managed to put myself through college with only the tiniest bit of help - $100 here and there when I literally could not buy groceries - from my parents.  They unabashedly gave my brother a full ride at college, paying for everything, which is more ironic because he dropped out and never graduated, while I managed to get two undergraduate degrees and a masters on my own.)

I have spent the past year groveling to my boss, trying to work around his craziness to make it make sense, to prove that I am worth his praise.  In the context of my birth family and my husband, this makes sense.  It is pure craziness, and yet in my head I've allowed it to make sense.


So what is my lesson?  In the midst of all of that craziness, what is it that I am to learn?  Saying "Don't sign up for crazy!" is far too simple.  What is it that I need to learn?

Here's what I think the lesson is:

Other people's bad behavior is not a reflection of my character, and I don't need to own it in any way.  I do not need to prove my worth, to convince them to change, or to accept their behavior.  I can say "No" and doing so is a sign of health, self-respect, and integrity.  Sticking around to help them to solve their problems - when they don't want to solve their own problems - is not useful or desirable.

When I walked away from my husband, I thought I'd learned that....but I see that it was an incomplete lesson, an important first step, but not my destination.

This week, when my father told me to grovel, I didn't yell at him or accuse him - what would be the point?  Instead I just said, "Thanks for your offer but I can manage this."  And then I managed it: I did a little road trip, stayed with family in another town, had some adventures.  I had a great time, on my own budget, without his help.  Most importantly, I didn't grovel, or apologize to him for something I hadn't done, or try to make him feel good about himself.  I do not owe him for his offer, and I don't need to wonder what I did wrong that he basically rescinded it, mid-conversation.  I did not attempt to convince him of my worth, by groveling or by getting angry.

I think this surprised him, actually.

With my boss, I'm also laying the foundation for walking away.  A favorite charity is interviewing me, and I might just get the job.  It's a dream job, and I do hope that I get it....but if I don't get this one, I'll get another job, just as good.  I've shared my concerns with the board, and they are concerned, also.  They see the good work I'm doing, and they are astonished at what I've revealed (especially because it all checks out).  In the end, the ED may be fired over this, and the board is begging me to stay.  I know that it doesn't feel healthy for me to stay, however, and I am okay walking away.  I leave them in better condition than when I found them, and I am ready for my next career step.  Their need is not my problem to solve.


My worth is not judged by other people's behavior.  I do not need to analyze, to convince, to argue, to fight for kind treatment.

I am taking this information with me, into the next phase of my life.  In all of  my interactions - personal, professional, and everything in between - I am holding fast to this new knowledge.

My worth is not determined by people who are struggling with their own worth.

It is not my responsibility to fix damaged people.

...and, because I am PollyAnna, one more lesson, encapsulated in a Taylor Swift lyric:
"Don't you worry your pretty little mind,
People throw rocks at things that shine..."

Well, I'm shining.  With every year, I get a little brighter, learn a little more, make a bit more progress.

Mark my words:

This shiny thing is going to get the next job, and she's going to learn to love herself so deeply and thoroughly that she will attract a man who also knows how to love himself, and together, we will have a love that offers great light into the world.  I feel it getting closer, and I know it's true!


PS  All of this introspection is exhausting.  It has taken me months to figure this out, and writing it, my belly has done little flip flops.  I am, perhaps, a very slow learner.  Better late than never!