Wednesday, August 22, 2012

There's a paradox in every paradigm

I had a passing conversation the other day about "To Do" lists -- a little light-hearted moment that was more about sharing some unsarcastic "you busy? me too. ain't-it-great?" banter over a cup of coffee. I quasi-joked that in my personal little universe, "To Do" could be differentiated into a range of categories related to taking some "action," but that most of the time, "do" wasn't, strictly speaking, the right word. The acquaintance I was talking with was immediately intrigued, and we chatted for another minute or so about how much consensus-building and deliberation my work stuff sometimes requires.

Thinking later about it for myself, I came up with the following little list that fleshes out the point, if a bit goofily. Maybe I should preface this by saying that I work in a field that requires me to be responsive to other peoples needs in the context of compliance with a set of civil rights statutes... collaboratively through a recursive, deliberative process utilizing case-by-case analysis... the standards governing which change radically with time and circumstance... all of which entails handling highly confidential records and communications. The abridged explanation I usually give is that "we live in the grays -- there's almost NOTHING black and white about what we do except that it must be done."

"To Do," expanded becomes:

- To Do (the next step is clear and actionable, and I can "do" or delegate immediately)

- To Resolve (meaning the hows are going to have to be developed on the fly)

- To Staff (I need guidance from my collaborators or leadership; or I need to share guidance with my team)

- To Respond (something needs acknowledgment or feedback)

- To Document (what's happened has happened and the "paper" trail needs to reflect that fact accurately)

- To Mediate (there's no way forward but to talk/"hug" it out)

- Pending Research (something's new, something's changed, something's odd, or there's some unusual combination of issues that needs analysis in context; "uh... let me get back to you on that")

- Pending the Second Coming (uh... yeah, it's coming, but maybe not anytime soon)

- ELMO (Enough Let's Move On, usually reserved for "we'll get to that, but not now"; sometimes it's "file under someday/never, legally untenable or politically too thorny")

All that stuff that was not lost on me
Teach myself to see each of us
Through the lens of forgiveness
Like we're stuck with each other (God forbid!)
Teach myself to smile and stop and talk
To a whole other color kid
Teach myself to be new in an instant
Like the truth is accessible at any time
Teach myself it's never really one or the other
There's a paradox in every paradigm

- Ani DiFranco "Paradigm," Knuckle Down (2005)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Half of learning how to play is learning what not to play

Staying focused when the pressure's on

I flourish under a looming deadline -- an attribute (I hesitate to call it a skill, per se) that has served me very, very well as an academic. As I age though, I find I don't particularly like this about myself very much anymore. It's part of what I'm working to adjust with the whole change mumbo-jumbo I've been on about in my last few blogs: planfully and intentionally shifting around the parts of my life over which I have some measure of control so that I don't live in "go" mode. Because frankly, living there as I have for the past 8-9 years will kill me eventually. And I really like living.

Functioning well in "go" has it's utility though, particularly when you work in a field where you must be responsive to the literally on-a-dime evolving needs of multiple constituencies. Reminding myself daily to seek balance in all things, but if I'm honest, I'm working really hard to level up. Is it obvious I haven't yet worked out the boundaries on just exactly how I'm going to do both? ;)

Oblique Strategies

Friends and collaborators Brian Eno (electronica musician) and Peter Schmidt (painter) have worked creatively together for years. Over their long friendship, the two realized that they shared a very similar approach to working through "roadblocks" to productivity. Both "tend[ed] to keep a set of basic working principles on hand which guided them through the kinds of moments of pressure - either working through a heavy painting session or watching the clock tick while you're running up a big buck studio bill. Both Schmidt and Eno realized that the pressures of time tended to steer them away from the ways of thinking they found most productive when the pressure was off. The Strategies were, then, a way to remind themselves of those habits of thinking - to jog the mind." (source + more info)

I've been known to seek out the deck for a kickstart when what I'm working on is creative in some way. And I'm perennially (delightedly!) surprised by how frequently my work in higher education falls under that general banner. Consider checking them out sometime.

half of learning how to play is learning what not to play
and she's learning the spaces she leaves have their own things to say
and she's trying to sing just enough so that the air around her moves
and make music like mercy that gives what it is and has nothing to prove
she crawls out on a limb and begins to build her home
and it's enough just to look around and know she's not alone

- Ani DiFranco "up up up up up up", Title track of the album of the same name (1999)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Be brave, dear one. Be ye changed or be ye undone.

Some roles we choose. Others are ours outside of our own selecting and become something to manage, which includes living with the ramifications if we choose not to engage. And of course, sometimes not engaging or constraining the boundaries is the healthy choice.

Probably too thorny a thing to be thinking about when I'm sleep-deprived. My sleep's a bit disrupted at the moment and this Monday morning I'm up at 3am when I should be resting for the start of another work week.

Kurt Lewin's heuristic for human behavior identifies it as a function of an individual's personhood AND his/her environment.

One role I'm thrilled and enchanted by every day? Pet carer-for. Pet steward? I don't know what term works best, but "pet owner" just isn't it; I don't "own" my pets. It's my privilege to care for, support and share my life with them.

Be brave, dear one
Be ye changed or be ye undone, undone
It's so hard, it's so heavy
To be hungry, to be happy
It's all right, it's so easy just to be
Oh God, what would you do with me?
Oh God, what's my responsibility?
- My Brightest Diamond (aka Shara Worden), "Be Brave" from All Things Will Unwind (2011)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Now I'm ready to start

My new personal anthem, from 3:02 especially. Funny, when this latest Arcade Fire album was released -- and then, IMHO, went on to hold its own as the best of last year -- this track didn't really strike a cord with me. It sure does now.

After some serious reflection, I'm shifting some life stuff around and (re)starting a few new things lately. Perhaps partially motivated by a perfectly glorious transition into spring and all the new life cropping up around me. Spring also means reading poetry for me, a habit I picked up a few years ago from a friend who discovered that the genre of literature he reads tends to shift with the seasons. Yesterday, I revisited an old Mary Oliver favorite and I think it mighta contributed a bit, as well.

I think larger though, I've run the gamut on thinking and considering and weighing and what-if-ing and its simply time to do, move, change. Feels good to have come to this point, but personal transitions have always been a little bit of a stumbling block for me. Helping people come to and navigate change for themselves, I'm your girl; change for myself, less simple. Classic perfectionism. Gotta genetic predisposition for it, which has plausibly been further amplified by reading too much. And having bright friends who have and share all manner of alternative perspectives to be considered.

So the adage goes, "change is a constant." Today, I'm feeling strong and ready.

Listening > Hearing
There's a huge distinction between perceiving sound waves as they interact with the structures of your inner ear and the focused attention, discernment and receptiveness required to really LISTEN. My job requires that I engage in empathic listening about 80% of my day, everyday. In my current role, a fair bit of that happens via email, which is fraught with the peril of being bereft of all the nonverbal communication behind the words and requires a lot of restatement/paraphrasing, checking for understanding and asking of follow up questions. Regardless if the communication is face-to-face or virtual, it takes a lot of energy to do this well and it can be frankly exhausting. I've heard/read compelling arguments that truly great listeners are born not made, but as with any physical training, in time your body does become increasingly more efficient and the act can come to be "second nature" -- something that you can engage in with virtual effortlessness for extended periods, provided you've got the right conditions (rest, energy, support, training, time/release from other obligations, etc). I've been spending time with a colleague who's still working on this stamina for herself, and it's reminding me just how life-changing, even UNIVERSE-changing honing this skill was for me, for others I've known. It absolutely changed my life (positively) and so I find it invigorating to see it happening for someone else.

Regarding listening -- one of my favorite moments from the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction:

Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) to Vincent Vega (John Travolta): "In conversation, do you listen or do you wait to talk?"

Vincent: "I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I'm working on listening."

Would that we were all so self-aware and open as Vincent. ;) Peace, puppy kisses and happy spring to all reading these words.

Now I'm ready to start
I would rather be wrong
Than live in the shadows of your song
My mind is open wide
And now I'm ready to start

Now I'm ready to start
My mind is open wide
Now I'm ready to start
Not sure you'll open the door
To step out into the dark
Now I'm ready!

- Arcade Fire "Ready to Start" from The Suburbs (2011)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A detour in your new life

What's your touchstone when you feel like the usual suspects are dragging you away from your equilibrium point? ...when you slip from that ideal homeostasis where everything isn't easy per se, but you feel like you can readily handle anything that's being thrown your direction?

For me, and as I suspect it is for most people, the simple answer when it gets really bad is plain old, tried-and-true prolonged rest. A week on a beach somewhere. A long weekend in a cabin in the woods with my dogs. A roadtrip to see a friend who lives x states away.

While there's no substitute for the real thing, I've spent the entirety of my adult life trying to create the conditions in Everyday Life so that restoring that balance is Action Item #1 on the agenda. Building in some "protected time." A great workout. A massage. Meditation. My sister and a number of good friends all swear by yoga, and you know, I'm starting to see the power of it for myself, too.

The point is, it takes ACTION to get back on track. When I'm working with a client who's struggling with balance, or what one of them calls "just dealing," I often refer to this process of doing/creating/finding/making something work for you as Sourcing Your Own Peace.

On Monday morning, my husband and I are taking a huge step forward toward making the option of a "Getaway" happen more often, more readily for us. We are buying some beautiful acreage about an hour and a half from our home to build our own little escape -- 24 acres for our own version of Walden, complete with a cabin next to a pond. We're both very excited and can't wait for the adventure of making this spot all our own. And I look forward to sharing our plans and progress here with friends and family.

Redefining what a life well-lived looks like

Check out this TED talk from Nigel Marsh on work-life balance. Brilliant stuff.

"So many people talk so much rubbish about work/life balance.... The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality of the situation you're in. And the reality of the society that we're in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like. And it's my contention that going to work on a Friday in jeans and a tee shirt isn't really getting at the nub of the issue."

"Cause they know and so do I
The high road is hard to find
A detour to your new life"
- Broken Bells "The High Road"