You Mad, Bro?

As I begin the process of transitioning off my biggest account at work, the still professional but definitely sympathetic tone of the Project Managers is definitely the worst part. The sting is primarily because they aren’t wrong. I am struggling lately and we all know it.

Still burns my ass, tho.

Also, I am reminded that I work hardest/best when I’m pissed off that someone thinks I can’t do something.

I was in line for a Lead role on a huge, important account. And, now… I’m not. The diabetes is the primary factor. It’s been a rough couple of months (putting it mildly) and I’m still not 100%. I’m putting my health first, as I should, and my entire friend base and professional support network are all 100% in agreement. So, I’m stepping back. Yay me! Self care is important.

[stepping back – yay me]

It’s absolutely the right thing to do, part of a plan to find other projects and roles where I’ll thrive. And I’m not fired, not disgraced, not punished. Just off that particular account and out of that role.

The other team members are being 100% professional and supportive. They are good at their jobs. But it’s there. They know that I’m stepping down and that I’m struggling. So there is just the tiniest hint of sympathy in their choice of words, the tone of voice. It’s subtle, and I’m definitely over-sensitive to it (and probably imagining at least part of it.)

Still burns my ass, tho.

Ugh. Why all this anger?

Full disclosure: I literally suggested this move myself. This is not something that was forced on me. I initiated and engineered it. So it’s interesting from a psychological standpoint that I’m having a strong emotional, angry reaction to it. What is it inside me that must fight against being told I can’t do something, even when it’s ME that is saying it?

Ah, the doubts were there. My gut knew it all along, if maybe not exactly why. Now, much time and soul searching later, I see how I was chasing the prestige, the high profile, but also going with the flow because it’s expected of someone in my position. But in reality the Lead role is absolutely, positively not in my wheelhouse nor a situation in which I would thrive.

This is a lesson I should have learned when I was 20. Background… I went to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology right out of high school because it was (trumpets blare, angels sing) The Rose-Hulman.

[angels sing]

I went to Rose almost entirely because that’s what everyone expected of me. The school is in my hometown and sits, pristine and elusive, on the eastern edge of town, a tiny castle of nerdy might, a Temple to the gods of Future Earning Power.

I didn’t have much choice. I have an uncle that, many years before me, was able to escape Satan’s Evil Clutches, AKA poverty, by getting his Rose-Hulman degree. So my family had pretty much resigned me to it since the moment I aced my first math test. Hell, I was voted Most Likely to Become an Engineer by my high school class. It’s a prestigious, exclusive, and powerful school and not everyone can go there even if they want to… so if you can, you should, right?

So, I went.

I fucking hated it.

Other than the many, amazing life-long friends I made, I hated virtually every aspect of attending that school. And it was EXPENSIVE. Sure, my grades were fine, but I was not. Yet there is such a strong stigma against being a “drop out” that I stayed well beyond my expiration date. There it is again, that irrational desire to prove myself to the haters.

Like a good little punching bag, I dutifully agonized for months and months over the shame of it, the soul-shattering failure of dropping out of THAT GOOD COLLEGE, the mind-numbing fear of disappointing my family, friends, and well-wishers.

A word of warning to others who may tread this path: Yes, college is fun but this type of emotional purgatory, especially when paired with epic binge drinking, is NOT a blueprint for the healthy psychological growth of a young person just coming into their prime. The internal agony pushed me into what was the first of many deep depressive episodes that would then continue to occur fairly regularly across my lifetime. I was miserable in every way possible. I barely left my bed for a couple weeks. Inside my head, I crumpled, I wailed, I curled up and died, over and over.

And yet, entombed in my blankets, shrouded in grief and a haze of cheap grain alcohol… something had to give.

Finally, after my Sophomore year at Rose, I tucked my tail between my booze-soaked, student-loan-burdened legs and transferred to Indiana State University, the small, much less prestigious liberal arts college also in my hometown. A failure, a mockery, a mere shadow of the man I once was, I resigned myself to at least try to enjoy ISU a little, and promptly signed up for as many Literature and Philosophy classes as they would allow.

Guess what?

I loved it.

LOVED. IT.

What the hell was all that anguish about? Why had I beat myself up so badly? What had I been trying to prove, and to whom?

Do not burden yourself too much with the work of meeting someone else’s plan for you. If they aren’t paying your bills, if they aren’t doing the hard work of living your life, then they have no right telling you what you should do. How do they even know what is best for you? SPOILERS: They don’t.

Yet here I sit at almost age 50, beating myself up for basically making the same mistake again. I let external pressures guide me somewhere I shouldn’t have been, and instead of listening to my gut and making a simple adjustment early in the process, I doubled down on my bad decisions and made more, bigger, badder decisions. Yah! That’ll show ’em.

To those of young in years or at heart, please be careful what patterns you create for yourself. You have a long, long time to follow the trajectory that you create at age 20. It sounds ironic, but there is very real, very serious danger in putting so much energy into just going along with the flow of other’s expectations.

Also, just because something is the right thing to do, it can still hurt really deeply.

Make good choices. Love each other. Forgive yourself.

Peace and Love — VVV

My Money-Maker

We were sitting at the breakfast table today when my youngest daughter spoke up.

“Daddy,” she said, “I think I’ll have a lemonade stand this summer. I need to make money.”

Which is a really awesome thing for a seven year old kid to say. She’s showing initiative, creativity, problem solving, respect for money, the value of work. I mean, clearly, we have a budding entrepreneur on our hands, right?

Problem is, as I’ve mentioned a few times, we live way out in the woods. WAY OUT. We get maybe 15-20 cars past our mailbox PER DAY, and that’s pretty much just our neighbors. And you can’t see the road from our house. It’s a bit of a hike. Not exactly what you’d call prime real estate for a young purveyor of quality lemon-based libations.

Yet, how could I subtly steer my 3rd grader through the minefield that is supply and demand, start-up costs, customer acquisition, overhead? And let’s not even mention the soul crushing rigor of health ordinances. How could I gently impart those golden nuggets of parental wisdom without squelching that glorious go-getter spirit of hers?

In my best fatherly voice, I posed the most obvious question, “Why do you feel like you need money, Dear?”

“I want to buy more stuffies, of course,” she said, glancing askew, as if I were suddenly a raving lunatic.

Before I could control myself, I heard my mouth blurt out, “More stuffed animals? Don’t you have enough already?”

This was a horrible mistake on my part, you understand. She glared at me, through me, her eyes blazing like laser beams. Her eyebrows bunched and knit, her hair somehow fluttering about her head in an unseen wind. Without opening her mouth, a wailing sound arose, slowly increasing in both pitch and volume, not unlike a violin being played by a power drill in a tornado. I swear I heard glass breaking. In the distance, a baby cried.

Luckily, her older brother chimed in just in time to save me. “Trust me, you don’t want a lemonade stand here at our house,” he said nonchalantly. He has very little chalant.

“Oh, yeah? Why not?” she demanded in a tone reminiscent of a drill sergeant who quit coffee and smoking earlier that day.

Immune to her posturing, he continued undeterred. “Look, you won’t get any customers on our road. You’ll go out of business in the first week.”

How proud was I? While his old man floundered and sputtered, my darling boy captured it all in two short sentences. He was so wise for his age. His response was so succinct, so gentle in letting her down easy. I take full credit, of course. That apple didn’t fall far from this tree.

“Oh,” she shrugged with uncharacteristic resignation. “I see,” she said. Then, walking toward my bedroom, she muttered, “Guess I’ll just go back to looking through Dad’s pockets.”