Monday, April 17, 2017

Episodic Endings; Sometimes the Bird That Must Fly is Me

Some things about life are episodic.  They are in mine anyway.  Three opportunity themes dominate my universe.  I run into some important problem in the world I wind up figuring out solutions to every five to seven years. I wind up in charge of something every three to five years, and I encounter at least one new protégé to teach and transfer what I know to every two to three years.  This has been happening to me for so long now I set my internal energy clocks to them.   That’s my fate.  I’ve accepted it.

Like all story arcs, these episodes have beginnings, middles and endings.  Some are spectacular success worthy of epic fables, some are spectacular disasters worthy of detailed after action analysis reports, some are mediocre on the outside but emotionally meaningful on the inside, and some are meaningless and best forgotten.

The more I ponder these episodes the more I see patterns.  The most exciting is that opportunity really does come and knock repeatedly. It’s really cool.  My natural curiosity and puzzle solving penchant combined, at this point, with decades of subject matter expertise experience, almost always causes these opportunities to blossom.  They are wonderful adventures with interesting people.

Things do have endings.  When it goes well, goals are reached with a smile.  Levels of accomplishment are achieved.  Key events that mark gateways happen. There’s celebration of the moment; honoring the junction.  Sometimes it’s not us who declare the junctions.  Sometimes it’s something out of our control.  It could even be something unexpected and sinister.  You have to honor these junctions too.

I’m really not very good at endings for the emotionally meaningful ones.  They tend to linger like run on sentences.  It’s because I’m a giver.  I love to teach.  I love to pass on what I know.  I love to take care of my friends.  There’s a basic character flaw among givers, we almost always wind up giving too much.  I’ve done it all my life, over and over.  It’s not an unaware process.  At this point in my life I can clearly see the junctions when I hit the point of over commitment.  Sometimes I pull back; but mostly I give anyway knowing there will be a price to be paid at the ending.

Regardless, the process of unwinding begins.  I’ve done this over and over too.  You get a little better at it over time.  Maybe harsher as well. It is one of those cruel artifacts because you’ve seen it before and the angst is now accompanied by wisdom. Endings are pretty straight forward when it’s a work thing; the economics and missions are clearer; like chess pieces or math equations.  It’s a bit more tricky when it’s a personal thing.  Who ever wants to let go of the things that have emotional meaning to us?

There are signs when it ‘s time.  You start to notice people that love you say the same thing hinting that change has arrived.  Don't be in denial of it.  You need to listen when that happens. There’s always hesitation.   It’s natural to fear letting go.  It’s alright to not like being cruel to oneself.  But it’s actually more cruel to yourself to keep hesitating when you already know what must happen.  Don’t confuse your internal angst with being cruel to others.  They’re probably already gone.  And do give yourself the luxury of being sad about it.   Honor your heart and the things that will have a permanent, if dormant, place in it for the rest of your life.

But here’s the thing.  It’s part of the cycle.  You cannot fly again unless you are free.  You cannot give again unless you’ve created the capacity to do so.  It’s the beginning of the process to recharge your batteries.   Because just around the corner, you’re going to do it again.  A new journey will appear.  It always does.  And the worst thing you can do for yourself when it arrives is be stuck in self pity about yesterday’s news when tomorrow comes.

Will I do it again? Will I embrace the next episode? Will I give again? Will I over commit again? Will I reach yet another ending and honor that moment when it comes? You bet I will. That's the path to thriving. I hope you will too.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Take Control of Your Life; Turn the Passive Anger Around You into a Passion to Thrive

"We do not have to accept the problems we create within our souls." - D. Santiago, April 2017
Passive anger is the cancer of humanity. It saps our relationships to the point that love becomes exasperating, desperate and confused. It drives us to think irrationally questioning truth and engaging in actions the test our limits pushing on walls inside our minds. It’s like being a caged animal. We become pains in the ass as we search for why this is happening? We engage in self-doubt asking, “What did I do wrong? I believe I am a good person. I’m generally happy with who I am.  What am I missing?  What’s not good enough about me?”  Worst of all, being social creatures down to our genetics, we feel angst as we notice the loneliness that comes from the human connections surrounding us breaking down.

Here’s the thing, it’s probably not you.  If you read up on these feelings, you eventually run into a discussion about the phenomenon of human withholding.   That’s the behavior where people shutdown and recede into a safe space inside their minds.  For whatever reason, and by an infinite number of possible triggers, a person feels unheard, disrespected, unrecognized and they retaliate passively.  They cut you out because they are unable or unwilling to face you and fight you for their space.  So instead they carry on with the normal pleasantries but you, if you’re perceptive, will feel that there’s a boundary there, a wall preventing connection.  You may not see it right away but sure as the sun will rise, that person doing the withholding is sheltering inside a tenuous safe space trying to protect and nurse a soft and hurting inner being.

What triggers it in some people can be as simple as disagreeing with them on a seemingly minor point.  In others, it’s caused by a disappointment upon discovering a difference expectations about life outlook; often something to do with very deep presumptions in a person’s cultural upbringing and the assumptions one carries into more complex life because of it.  Regardless, the perceived slight causes resentment.  If it goes passive, it becomes a grudge that can go on for decades stewing like magma deep inside a volcano powering ever worsening resentment.  And the pleasantries go on.  Over time, witnessing the dissonance of a person driven by two tidal forces in conflict becomes loud and confusing.  The cancer grows. You feel the volcano hidden beneath a ever thinning covering of top soil.  If you are a good person with a good heart, it’s deafening. It hurts your very soul to sense it.

Now step back for a moment and keep your perspective.  There are billions of people on this planet and no one has a connection with everyone.  Of the limited number of personal connections we have, most are casual connections where we have no need to invest in the deeper interplay of positives and negatives that are part of a deep connection with them.  They’re what we called “hi friends” in high school.  Wave, smile, say hi, move on.  Only a few people graduate to deeper meaning in our lives where maintaining connections matters.

This being said, the meaningful human connections we maintain are quite complex.  There are such things as hostile connections where we feel bilateral animosity as the defining basis of an interpersonal connection.  These are honest distastes and deserve recognition as a legitimate form of human pairing.  The noun for this is enemy.

Not to despair, there are also such things as friendly connections.  These are the positives in our lives where two people find nurturing energy in each other.  These are the beginning points from which friendship blossoms.  It is where love begins.  This is also where passive anger and withholding can happen all too easily.  If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize that all nurturing friendships have degrees of passive withholding in them.  Where our relationships get into trouble is when we lose our balance at the built up passive anger comes to dominate the connection.

What next?  Make no mistake about it; it’s work to repair broken connections.  Furthermore, the repair can take many forms; some of them painful. If you are a good person, the most important thing one must discipline yourself about is that, having recognized the flaw, the quest is to find the right answer, the good answer. It is not about forcing a desired one.

It may, make that will, get noisy.  When it does, trust in this.  Even as the angst and confusion rages, it’s important to remember that it’s unlikely that a broken connection with a friend means you should have been enemies.  That just does not happen unless the other person was purposefully deceiving you from the outset in which case you were manipulated and played.  If that’s the case, transitioning them to enemy is justified.  But most of our relationships are not enemy ones and you have to have faith in yourself that your gut would have warned you early on if it was.  You are not an idiot.  Don’t waste too much energy dwelling there.  The same goes for casual acquaintances.  You know you haven't made a deep love commitment there either.  Do admit to yourself that we humans do love with our best friends.  That bond is a deliberate act we know we’ve done or not done.  Trust the truth of it.  Honor the meaning of it.

What is far more likely is that your valued friend is withholding because they are stuck about something internal to them, something they don’t want to share. Whatever it is it’s an unhealthy state for them, a weak state. They are expending precious energy walling that part of themselves off from the the rest of the world.  The withholding takes many forms.  Between lovers, the most common artifact is one partner shying away from intimacy because not only is your body naked there, so is your soul.  The unwitting partner becomes the trigger to remind them of whatever it is that’s bothering them.  It tests the very limits of the love bond when it happens. Between friends, it manifests as avoidance.  Good friends, best friends, share deep trust and this too is a path to the nakedness of one’s soul.  The friend becomes the trigger that ignites the inner dialog of issues.  Either way, triggers cause us to reinforce our walls.  We become trapped inside the powerful gravity of our self-made black holes, unable to break free.  And on the other side of that wall is a trusted lover or friend thrown into confusion by the opacity of what’s being hidden behind the emotional wall.

And this is where true love, true friendship comes in.  This is where you must decide that to thrive with those whom you want in your life you must do something risky and brave.  You have to start a fight to break down the wall.  You have to do it out of love.  You have to do it seeking only the best interest of the person in need.  You have to do it asking for nothing in return. You have to be willing to lose them if that’s what’s right for them.

Starting a fight is an act of love.  The bravery of that love is in bracing for the anger as it changes from a passive form to an active hostility.  It’s ground hog day except you’re waking up a honey badger.  They’ll likely fight you and hate you as their passive anger turns to active anger.  But that’s the healing process in action.  That’s the getting it “out of their system” so they can live again.  If your instincts about what valuable friends to you are right, odds are they will make it with a little help from a friend.  And they will see what true friendship meant in their hour of need.

And even with all that work, there are no guarantees.  Only they can crawl out of their hole.  The only capacity you have is to help them see that they are in a hole, assure them they are still loved, and show faith that they can rise above it.  The rest is up to them.

So what’s the self-thrive in this?  If one’s aura in life is to do good, to see the people you love able to love themselves again is food for you own soul. It’s reaching clarity.  It’s removing the clouds of confusion from feeling the waves of passive anger and withholding near you.  It’s buying back energy to live happily.  It's creating space to return to your own center.  It’s banking goodwill for when it’s your turn to be the one in need.  We are all imperfect.  We will all be frail at different points in our lives.  If we are lucky, a brave person will be there for us.  Ultimately, to thrive is to live well with this imperfect reality as part of our lives.

If you’ve ever been confused by the passive anger of a withholder or suffered the pain of being the withholder inside a shell yourself, I hope this article helps you see that you really are worth the love one shares with those who love you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Overcoming One’s Character Flaws Means Remembering to Love Yourself

copied from original posted on 3/21/2017

Me being neither pajama nor tacticool. Make the time to do something epic for yourself. You’re worth it.
Photo credit, Samantha Bonilla.
To be a good man means part of you needs to take the hero’s journey. Not a caricature of a hero’s journey, a real one. The full archetype of self-worth learning kind of journey. Dude there’s no heroism in being a prick — pajama or alpha; that’s just hiding behind an artificial stereotype. Nope. You need to find what it means to be an individually good man, a real hero.
Part of that journey is that you have to learn to succeed. Part of it, and probably more the more important part, is that you have to learn to fail. One of the best pieces of mentor advice I ever got came from a meeting I had in the late 80’s with then recently retired USAF General Bill Creech, the former commanding officer of the Tactical Air Command. Four stars. He was an imposing figure. I had the misfortune to annoy him a time or two challenging the rubber on the ramp assumptions of the reliance on his fleet of mosquito sized F-16’s in a world evolving full of threats requiring more range, loiter and ordnance in places who’s then obscure biblical names people can name today as part of the current events geopolitical landscape. I lost those operations research battles, not for lack of trying or being wrong, but because those were the circumstances of the time. We needed airplanes in large numbers to swarm over the Fulda Gap. So Bill is doing his post-retirement consulting rounds with all the major aerospace companies and he takes a meeting with me. He did to specifically to give me this one piece of advice, “Son, sometimes the only way to win is to lose gracefully.” That is such an elegant summation of a true hero’s journey.
There’s nothing worse for you in the world than getting down on yourself when you start to lose. It drains you of your energy, your sense of humor, your tolerance. People can see it, particularly the people that know you well. It’s amazing how tiny changes in your smile, your posture, even the tension of your skin telegraph that things are not well. People start asking you if you’re feeling alright, if you’re giving too much and not taking enough, being too quiet, getting grouchy. We’ve all been there.
The reason doesn’t matter, it’s one of those emotional roller coaster things humans do; some have wilder roller coasters than others. Mine are not that wild. I’m a brooder. I overthink things. I over communicate my unformed thoughts. I cling to my trusted touch points. In general, I bug the crap out of people until I figure out what’s bothering me.
In novel form, I become afflicted by what’s called a character flaw. It sets up a journey to resolve it. My goals at the beginning are always almost misguided, a story of misinterpreted facts. The troubled part of my psyche is my own internal antagonist, the enemy within preventing me from achieving my true goals. The plot is a series of dramatic back and forth battles inside my head. The supporting cast in the play is everyone who must suffer through my bugging them as I do it. The ending is where some sort of resolution comes to either overcome the flaw or figure out how to coexist with it. Spice it up a bit and you’ve got a script.
My last flaw had to do with overextending myself giving to so many people and so many things that I lost a grip on myself. The realization dawned on me and was reinforced more over time as the people who loved me the most started telling me to be a bit more selfish and look out for myself; that I don’t need to be needed by everyone all the time no matter how many people keep asking for things.
There is truth to the fact that I do get asked for many things big and small. It’s part of having talent. I do tend to give everything I have and I do tend to win at what I do. I have this Jack Ryan boy scout thing that compels me to use my talent to do good. You do get to do the most interesting things. People like you for it. Heck, people pay you for it in both monetary and non-monetary ways. But it is a character flaw. The flaw is best described as being addicted to being needed. Do too much of it and you feel like you have no time for yourself … because you don’t.
I knew I was overextended and I started dumping obligations a couple of years ago. It was the beginning of a nervous reversal of a lifelong motto of turning one’s desires into one’s obligations. That’s a classic formula for creating success in life. It’s also a trap one can easily fall into to spread yourself too thin. I had so I began to shed things I’d done for over a decade; in some cases, for most of my life. These were things that had real responsibility. The changes I was making created real vacuums and forced learning curves on other people who would need to step into the shoes. Some were for work. Some were for hobbies. These were things I had nurtured into the kinds of effortless grace that other men attach their entire self-images to. But their time had come. I needed to clear the deck to make room for the next desires I wanted to turn into my future obligations. That’s also a classic formula to creating additional success. What I had not fully accounted for was that there is a mental price to be paid to let go of things. In the process of shedding what I consciously wanted to, I’d also cut back on too many of the activities did just for me. And it brought out deeper latent wants I’d been deferring dealing with, in some cases, for years.
This is the part where you have to accept that your first goals were not your real goals. In books, it’s the hero’s epiphany moment. Except, it’s happening to you. You have no idea what the real answer is you need to find. You do realize that the cost of what you have to really give up or change is a lot higher than you’d thought. And it scares you, truly scares you to see that it’s not a clinical thing to find yourself again. The only thing you really have is the conviction that you need to find it.
This is where loving yourself comes in. This is where believing in yourself comes in. This is where you must turn to selfishness to find self-worth. This is where I am as I write this article. I have no idea what Act III of the play will be like. But I do know I’m worth moving forward into it. And I know my overarching theme is to do it as gracefully as I can.
If you have had similar issues beset you, I hope hearing this perspective helps yours.

Be Epic in Whatever You Do

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup
Long night of nerding completed.

I have to remind myself every now and then that there's a big difference between "maintenance grade" IT staff and "superstar" grade IT gurus. Superstars know the innards of their boxes so well they can think outside them. They know how to pivot the jewel and look at every facet head on. They are the magicians; the ones who pull rabbits out of hats and make it look easy. As a manager, one steps further away from the keyboard as time passes. One learns the art of success through the hands of angels of a lesser god. But every once awhile, in the middle of the night, when all hell has broken loose, you still get the chance to show the kids how it's done ... and remember that you can still build Rome in a day.
Be epic in whatever you do.

It's worth the work to know how to make a difference in this world.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Are You Trapped In an Incomplete Man?

I know I am a good man.  Some would say, maybe too good.  Thirty years ago, as a young man in love, I made choices.  I picked from the still not fully formed pieces of myself and began a journey into my future as a husband, a father, a provider.  The pieces of me I kept in the open were the ones that would make my life with the woman I loved work.  And even here, I separated the pieces into a home life and a work life lest the hyper-competitiveness of what I must to do to provide hurt the selfless nurturing that I must do to be the rock, the comfort of my home.   The rest of me I put aside into that little space all men keep in their hearts that a therapist will eventually tell you to take for a walk at sometime in your life.  Those were the habits of "singledom", the essences of selfishness that might damage a still budding marriage between two people that life has not yet taught the full cost of the vows they just exchanged.

Career and the arrival of children would put considering the cost of this Faustian bargain on hold for decades.  There’d be ups and downs.  Life’s journey is like a novel.  One chases goals, overcomes antagonists, keeps going.  One is Tristan, the archetypical new man, following a personal hero’s quest to be the knight to his princess.  It’s a life shrouded in the fog of the moment.  Careers had set backs followed by opportunities.  The cycle continues and, if one is fortunate, it advances and ones ability to provide stays ahead of one’s obligations.  I got lucky here.  My work talents climbed me through the ranks with titles like Vice President of this and Chief whatever officer.  Disposable income enough to provide shelter, leisure and options for a brood growing up in a rapidly evolving America.  My family got lucky here too.  As a couple, a former boyfriend and girlfriend settled down to the co-worker job of being mom and dad.  And over time, under the stress of having teenagers, one does lose one’s identity.  We forget who were are for a little while.  That’s the job.  We become the jobs.  And we become robotic at it.

And then the job begins to dissipate.  It’s a dangerous vacuum.  The years living on autopilot place heavy sacks full of stones onto our backs.  It happens to all of us.  It’s part of the circle of life.  It’s kind of a roll of the dice as to who feels it first.  I’ve had friends where it’s the woman that sees the vacuum first.  As motherhood wanes, the aloneness of living with a stranger provider is agony.  I’ve had friends where it’s the man first.  The episodic predictability of mid-life hijinks that people make light of are real deeply felt expressions of angst.  Sometimes they make it through the gauntlet.  Sometimes not.  The ones that don’t carry that linger of sadness that comes from feeling the sack of rocks on their backs that can never be resolved because it’s too late.

If you catch it in time, the challenge is clear.  A husband and wife completing their career as family management co-workers face a daunting task.   Each has grown over decades into different people.  The hardest question in the room is can we be boyfriend and girlfriend again?  Are we still compatible?  Is the love we had that made us commit everything recoverable from beneath years of layers of compromise, resent and neglect?

It’s worth a shot.  If you’re a good man, this is the time look in the mirror and see what you've become in the last quarter century, take stock of your qualities – warts and all, and figure out how you are going to work past the creeper sweeper instincts of your co-worker wife to ask the pretty girl that you can’t take your eyes away from inside her out on a date.  This may take several tries and being persistent enough to survive the spurn of one’s advances.   But hey, that’s what it took to win her the first time.  There are no shortcuts.

And this is where the incompleteness of one’s manhood comes in.  The bottom line is that girls don’t want partial men.  They never did and they’re right.  But that’s what one becomes over time.  Incomplete. Parenthood is about stability. It’s deleting the risk, the adventure; the very core of desirability and sexiness. That "singledom" stuff.  The part of you that got put into a cage a quarter century ago.  It’s needed again.  You cannot be complete unless you are complete.  It’s a dangerous thing to free from it’s cage.  It’s immature compared to the rest of the man you’ve become.  And it’ll be bitter about having been cooped up.  There’s work to do.  It’s an exercise that is fundamentally selfish; but more importantly, it’s a vital exercise one in finding one’s total self worth again.

You’ll be looked at oddly when you first start doing it.  Maybe even accused of reneging on years of agreed upon comfort.  The scariest part is that you don't know how it's going to end.  That's the nature of life.  But it’s vital for your well being.  It's the only way to unload some of the rocks from your sack so you can take on what comes next.  And the people who truly love you will care.