An Atmospheric Shift

I grew up always having cats. So imagine my surprise when I went away to college, and my eyes stopped itching and my nose stopped running. Holy crap. I’d been allergic to cats that whole time and didn’t even realize it. It was just status quo for me.

Similarly, people have been telling me my whole life that I’d feel different when I got married. I didn’t believe them. I mean, I’m an adult. I know myself really well. And I’ve been in two long term relationships. So why would this be any different?

And yet, it is. It’s completely and utterly different. Why is that?

It had been confounding me for a few days. So, one day while sitting on my drawbridge, I decided to do some inner dialogue with myself to try to get to the bottom of this feeling. What’s changed?

After meditating on it for a bit, I figured it out. And It brought tears to my eyes. Because here it is in a nutshell: For the first time in 53 years, I’m not afraid.

And I’m not just talking about feeling more financially secure because of our combined incomes. (Although, yes, that’s a part of it. We are saving a fortune in insurance and utilities and in so many ways it’s insane. You don’t realize how much the capitalist system is stacked in favor of married couples until you join that elite group.)

But that’s only a small part of it. Here’s what’s huge: I had been living in fear for so long that I didn’t even realize that free-floating anxiety had always been in the very air I was breathing.

Fear of spending the rest of my life alone. Fear of dying on the weekend and it being days before anyone found my body. Fear of getting so sick that I couldn’t call for help. Fear that this painful loneliness would eventually kill me. Never feeling completely safe.

For the first time in my life, I feel like someone has my back. Always. Unfalteringly. There’s someone I can count on, and someone who can count on me. That’s incredibly new. Before, if I screwed up, I was on my own.

And if I triumphed, I was on my own, too. You don’t realize how freakin’ lonely that feeling is until you actually have someone to share the triumphs with. And that makes me really excited about the future!

The fact is, I’m part of a team now. A mutual admiration society of two. We are each other’s roofs and foundations. While past relationships have dragged me down, this one lifts me up, and if we go down, we’ll go down together, and climb back up together, too.

It seemed as though in past relationships I had to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. In this one, we are more equally balanced. We work toward the future together, and we want to go in the same direction.

So yes, this realization brought tears to my eyes, and they were complex tears, indeed. Tears of joy for the amazing place I find myself in now, and tears of sadness for the person I was a month ago, who had absolutely no idea how afraid she always had been.

If you’re lucky enough to be on a winning team for life, go and hug that person right now. Right this minute. And never let go. Because that connection is every bit as precious as the air that you breathe.

Breathe

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Flags Scare Me

The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.

Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?

Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.

Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.

It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.

But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.

What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.

And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.

On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.

I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.

That scared the hell out of me. It still does.

I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.

http _orig06.deviantart.net_404b_f_2008_153_1_5_flags_of_the_world_by_condottiero
So many thems.

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A Few Thoughts on International Women’s Day

First of all, happy International Women’s Day! It’s nice to be recognized and celebrated. I’m glad that organizations throughout the world will be using this as an opportunity to speak out about equal rights. I’m thrilled that this will open up dialogues that many people wouldn’t otherwise have thought to have.

But at the same time, it frustrates me that we still need a day like this. Aren’t we women every day of the year? Don’t we deserve basic human rights all year round?

Recently I was sitting at a table with 15 other women, so I took an informal survey.

  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been touched inappropriately without your permission.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been cat called.
  • Raise your hand if anyone has ever discussed your breasts, behind, or legs without your initiating that conversation.
  • Raise your hand if your opinion has been dismissed as trivial.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve heard a man singing the words “bitch” “slut” or “ho” along with the radio.
  • Raise your hand if you yourself have been called a bitch, slut, or ho.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve seen nude women calendars in public places.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been interrupted by a man who insists on explaining something to you that you already know.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been treated like an idiot by a mechanic.
  • Raise your hand if men have assumed that you’re not intelligent.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been rejected based on your weight, age, or shape.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized because of something you were wearing.
  • Raise your hand if people have assumed you need to ask a man’s permission to do something or go somewhere.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of not being feminine enough.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being too girly.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told you do something good, “for a girl.”
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to drive behind a truck with naked women mud flaps.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been paid less than a male counterpart.
  • Raise your hand if men that you’ve trained have been promoted above you.
  • Raise your hand if a man assumed you needed his protection when you didn’t.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told something was women’s work.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being emotional or hysterical.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Try giving this survey the next time you’re with female friends. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that in the vast majority of cases, every woman at the table raised her hand. And that’s probably the most outrageous part of all – that it comes as no surprise.

The only reason that this happens is that we are not in the exclusive group of humans who sports a penis. That simple fact makes “us” not “them”. As far as I can tell, that appendage does not endow people with superior abilities of any kind. It just means we get to be easily identified as being on the other team. And society has arbitrarily decided that our team gets to be the losing team. It’s not rational. It’s not just. And it’s not acceptable.

I for one am sick and tired of being treated to micro-aggressions every single day. Case in point, I looked at my supply of Graphicstock pictures to see which one to use for this blog entry. This, below, is their idea of a good image for Women’s Day. Because we all should be depicted as naked, sexy, thin, with long flowing hair and luscious lips, arching our backs while floating with our heads in a flowery cloud.

Happy Women’s Day, indeed.

happy-womens-day-greeting-card_m1nzs5do_l

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Throw Me a Bone

I just finished training on the University Drawbridge. That’s two Seattle bridges under my belt. So if you count the three bridges I was qualified on in Jacksonville, Florida and the one in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, that’s 6 bridges I’ve operated, and that includes all three main types of bridge (bascule, lift, and swing). I know of only one other bridgetender who has such varied experience. (If there are any others out there, I’d love to talk to them!) I’m rather proud of myself.

But as I write this, I can’t really show how chuffed I am because I’m in the presence of one of those people who frowns upon kudos, whether self-awarded or not. I’ve heard this called “tall poppy syndrome”. If you stick your head up above the other poppies around you, this type of person will chop it off. I’ve never understood this mindset.

It’s always been my philosophy that you should give credit where credit is due. Not only does that engender positive attitudes all ’round, but also if you allow others to shine, you benefit from the glow yourself. If your team members look good, the whole team looks good by association.

But some people simply cannot throw others a bone. They think it’s more impressive if they hoard them all for themselves. So I’ll do my prideful happy dance when I get home. Until then, I know this is an accomplishment, and no one can take that away from me. Yay!

“…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ~Marianne Williamson

poppy

Seventeen Fatal Mistakes Managers Make

I have been working since I was 10 years old, and have experienced every type of manager conceivable. There is quite a bell curve on the spectrum of competence. I’ve seen many of the same mistakes made over and over and over again. These professional landmines should be easy to spot and avoid, but apparently not, because they get stepped on with annoying frequency, and it’s all so unnecessary.

In no particular order, here are some of the most common errors.

  • Creating adversarial situations. Believe it or not, most employees want their company to succeed, and want to feel like they are part of the reason for that success. When you force them into a position where they are made to feel that you are on opposite sides, or when you pit one employee or department against another, it’s demoralizing. Imagine how much more functional your company would be if everyone were allowed to feel as if they were on the same team.
  • Not allowing employees to have dignity. If an employee needs to be disciplined, for God’s sake, don’t do it in front of coworkers or, even worse, customers. Allow them to save face by taking them aside and discussing the situation one on one. Your goal should be to correct, not to humiliate. And there’s never any reason to shout. You’re talking to an adult, and odds are good that they can hear you when you speak in a reasonable tone of voice.
  • Not trusting staff. If you treat employees as though they do not deserve your confidence, they will eventually lose the desire to be trustworthy. What’s the point of striving for trust that can never be achieved? If you truly have no faith in your staff, why did you hire them in the first place?
  • Enacting changes without consulting employees. This is one of the most costly mistakes an employer can make. Your front line employees are your best and most vital knowledge base. They can usually tell you what will work and what won’t and why. Before making a policy change, run it by them. You’re not trying to get their permission. You don’t necessarily have to take their advice. Most people, after all, are resistant to change. But they can point out problems that you may not have considered. If you have their input, they will be more likely to buy into your change. Time and again I’ve heard of large companies that pay consultants 250k to help them improve efficiency, when they could have simply asked the people who actually do the job. What a concept.
  • Wasting time. Don’t have a meeting just so you can look like you communicate. Own it. Actually make it worth the effort. If you have nothing important to say, let them go do their jobs. Likewise, don’t make employees sit through training just so you can say you’ve trained them. If the information isn’t relevant, or if it’s self-evident, don’t take up time that could be better spent.
  • Turf guarding. If you allow your employees to shine, you will be bathed in the glow as well. Why, why, WHY can’t managers grasp this basic concept? Don’t take credit for things that your employees have done. Don’t hold people back. Recognize the accomplishments of your staff, and sing their praises from the rooftops. This will make them want to do even better, which in turn will reflect well on you. It’s sort of like a perpetual motion machine of success, but one which is hardly ever taken advantage of.
  • Micromanaging. Have you ever heard of anyone who likes this behavior? Of course you haven’t. People like to feel as if they can be trusted to think independently. If you weigh them down with an ever-increasing mountain of petty rules, you will create anxiety, resentment, and a whole lot of people who are coming up with ingenious ways to look as if they’re complying without actually doing so. Worst of all, you will lose any respect that you might have had. Before imposing a rule, ask yourself what would happen if that rule didn’t exist.
  • Being inflexible. Employees are human beings, not robots. Sometimes you need to accommodate them. This does not mean you play favorites. It means you take unique circumstances into account. If you are reasonable with people, you will gain their loyalty. If you are rigid, they’ll simply consider you to be an a**hole, and won’t cooperate with you.
  • Weak link-itis. If you have an employee who isn’t up to snuff, you might think it is easier to have your more competent employees pick up the slack, but all this does is eventually burn out the good employees, causing them to become less productive as well. It also breeds resentment. Rather than lower everyone to the level of the weak link, form a backbone and get the weak link to rise up to the appropriate level or get rid of that person.
  • Throwing people under the bus. If you’ve screwed up, or cause your department to screw up, own it. Don’t blame it on your staff. If you cause a traffic jam in New Jersey, fall on your sword of stupidity and pettiness. Don’t fire your underlings and act as if the crisis has been averted. Everyone will know you’re lying.
  • Forcing employees to make fools of themselves. If you insist that your employees wear silly uniforms or say inane and insincere things like, “How can I provide you with excellent customer service today?” You are going to be the one who winds up looking like an idiot, and if they take the opportunity to run you down with their car no reasonable court in the land would convict them.
  • Creating anxiety in terms of job stability. People aren’t working for you for the fun of it. They have families to feed and bills to pay. Don’t make them live under the constant threat of possible discharge. That’s their livelihood you are messing with, and it causes unnecessary anxiety, a distinct lack of concentration, and probably a lot more turnover than you would have otherwise.
  • Not being open to suggestion. Your employees spend a lot of time thinking about their jobs and how best to do them. Every now and then they may actually come up with something that you haven’t considered that will greatly improve production. You’ll never know this if you behave as if there’s a brick wall between you, or if you get angry when someone seems to be trying to upset the apple cart.
  • Losing perspective. There are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe. In the overall scheme of things, there is very little that we do on this tiny little planet that is worth getting spun up about. Relax. It’ll be all right.
  • Lack of appreciation. Everyone wants to be acknowledged for their hard work. You don’t have to like your employees, but you do have to realize that if they weren’t there, your company wouldn’t exist.
  • Putting your pride before logic. If you come up with a stupid idea, own it, rescind it and move on. Don’t continue with the insane policy simply to save face. It’s counterproductive.
  • Not sticking up for your people. In all my years of employment, I’ve only had one boss who was willing to stick his neck out for me, and that’s my current one. Because of that, when he needs me to go the extra mile, I’ll go an extra ten. He has my loyalty, because I know he has my back. On the other hand, if a boss lets me be unjustly attacked by upper management or clients, he or she is dead to me, and I’ll only do the bare minimum to remain employed. The customer may always be right, but don’t assume that means that your employee is always wrong.

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[Image credit: wanttoworkintelevision.com]