And now I feel it for the next week

work sign showing person shoveling a pile of dirtI had a busy day, yesterday. A quiet day, too. I helped my spouse get ready for their event, drove them there, unpacked the van, chatted with people at the venue, hopped in the van, and drove home along back roads (because the main roads were packed).

I had some lunch when I got home. Nothing huge, just a sandwich, potato salad, chips, pickles. I had a handful of things to do, so I ordered them according to the weather. It was amazing weather, yesterday — sunny with passing clouds, a nice breeze, in the mid-60s. Couldn’t ask for better mowing weather. So, I pulled out the lawn mower from the back corner of the garage, topped off the gas, and got mowing. It took me an hour and a half, but I got the front and back yards done. I also raked up leftover leaves from last autumn, swept out the garage, replaced a down-spout that had fallen off my gutter, and trimmed back some underbrush that was blocking the view from my driveway.

I used the leaf blower to clean off my driveway, stairs, and deck, and then I ran my snowblower till it ran out of gas. It’s best not to let it sit with old gas in the engine all winter. I’ve had the snow blower nearly 15 years, and it’s held up well, but I need to be smart about storing it over the winter. At last.

After that, I had a snack, took a shower, and put up a new huge bookshelf in my study that I got from the neighbors for almost nothing. I’d been needing a new bookshelf, and the timing was perfect. It took a lot longer than expected, because I don’t have a lot of room to maneuver in my study, and I had to put it together in a very small space. I also had to partly take it apart, because the way I’d assembled it first made it impossible to turn upright. Eventually, I got it, but I was not expecting it to take me three hours to do it.

Ah well, so it goes. I now have enough shelf space in my study, so I can get rid of some of the piles. I also have a lot of books I want to get rid of. I was interested in a lot of stuff, years ago, that just doesn’t have anything to do with my life, anymore. And I need to get free of all of it.

I also need to get rid of some of the computers I have. I don’t need to hang onto them. There’s no point.

Lightening my load. Getting my life in order.

It feels like I’ve been doing that a lot, lately. Picking and choosing and prioritizing. As it should be. I can’t do everything in my life, and I don’t have unlimited energy. So, when I do find something I care about that matters, I need to make the most of it.

I’m also getting clear about where I want to go with my work in life. Future directions. Areas where I need to focus.

I’m sore as anything, today. Just aching. But it was worth it. I got a ton of stuff done that I’d been needing to finish.

Whatever I do, and however I do it, I just want to make it count.

For June: Do one positive thing a day for myself and my dreams

road leading into the distance with a flat horizon
Just keep steady, in a good way

Let’s just face it.

I’m stalled.

I’ve been stalled for months, even years. Even longer than that, actually. No matter how I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to break free of the rut I feel like I’m in. It’s just felt like one problem after another that I’ve handled… that is to say, other people’s problems. And in the process, I solve my own.

I get paid to solve other people’s problems. I get paid pretty well, too, so that solves a lot of problems in my life. I need money to survive. I need a certain amount of status and security to stay healthy and not die. I know people who treat money like an optional thing. They don’t want to get entangled in it. They have more important things to worry about.

And I’m happy for them. I really am. If they can make it — or survive the stresses of not having enough — that’s a quality I admire. But I can’t do it. The stress throws me off too much. It disrupts my sleep, and when that happens, I can’t function. Even worse, my behavior takes a nose-dive and I lash out. Yelling. Slamming things around. It’s not good, for me or the other people around me. I’m stronger than people realize, and I can do some damage, if I let it all loose.

So, I need to keep things well managed, in a steady state of balance. That means getting enough sleep. And that means not getting so stressed out that it starts to wreck my life.

I keep myself in a pretty regular routine. And it works for me. I manage to get enough sleep, most of the time. I eat regularly, exercise regularly, take care of my responsibilities, hold down a job.

But I’m in a rut.

So, I need to get myself out of it. I need to take action on my own behalf, to at least create the impression that I’m taking care of myself. I’m so busy taking care of everyone else, I get lost in the shuffle of my own life. And that needs to change.

So, I’ll do one positive thing a day for myself. Something that brings me happiness, not just maintains my steady state. And I need to prioritize it over everything else. Yes, I may need to do other things, first thing in the morning, to get myself going — exercise, eat breakfast, take care of my spouse — but then I need to just take a little time on something that contributes to me. And my future.

There’s a lot of stuff I can do for myself. I have a bunch of books I’d love to read. I’ve been wanting to read them for a while, and I will surely get around to them. And there are other undertakings — writing, designing, artwork — that I want to get back into. My legendary (in my own mind, anyway) projects take on a life of their own, and they bring me a lot of happiness. But I’m stalled between a number of choices. Each of them has benefits. Each of them has downsides. I might be able to do any of them and be happy about it. But I have to pick one. And move on. Get going with just one, so I can get out of my rut… make some progress.

So, that being said, I’m picking one project and doing something positive about it, each day in June. I may not blog about it, every single day, but I will have that focus. I’ve made the commitment to myself, and now I’ll carry through.

The main thing is to have a deliberate focus in my life. My job is… fine. But it’s not how I want to spend all my free time. My marriage is on good footing, although it seems to be getting more challenging each week. My health is pretty good (though I could stand to lose 15 pounds). Overall, my life is… fine. But I need a specific focus on something that is mine and mine only, so I don’t feel like I’m just evaporating into the mist of everyone else’s dreams and ambitions.

I can do that. I will do that. I am doing it.


Feel like crap, but I don’t care

This is my whole new attitude, these days. And it seems to be working. Ironically, when I stopped worrying about feeling like crap, and I quite trying to always get myself into a “good space”, I immediately began to feel better.

I got about 6-1/2 hours of sleep last night. I had a 2-hour nap yesterday afternoon, which helped me yesterday, but it left me feeling almost worse after I got up. I am really dragging, today — probably due to having lost a LOT of sleep last week (waking up at 2:30, not being able to get back to sleep), and not being anywhere near caught up. Another thing that’s dragging me down is a bunch of things I meant to do yesterday, but didn’t get to, for one reason or another.

Anyway, this morning I’m foggy and slow and “clunky” – about the only way I know how to describe it. I am definitely not sharp, and even a cold shower and some exercise didn’t perk me up. Part of it is my mood. I’m not feeling very positive about my life, right now. A lot of situations around me seem really messed up, and it’s completely out of my control. It wouldn’t be so bad, if it didn’t affect me, but people close to me — family and friends alike — are making incredibly bad decisions, in my opinion. Actually, no, it’s not my opinion. They really are making bad decisions that have bad consequences. It would be easy to sit back and say, “Oh, too bad – not my problem,” but ultimately it will fall on me to help them put the pieces back together — pieces that they broke, to begin with.

It’s all way too messed up, in my opinion. Especially with the stupid health decisions, some of which are landing my relatives in the hospital. People are seriously causing themselves a lot of suffering because of how they don’t take care of their bodies, minds, and emotions. So many things around me seem broken and sad, and I cannot do a thing to change them. I have friends who tend to see the world in recovery-type terms, and they love to go on about “co-dependency”. I don’t think I’m being “co-dependent”, wanting the best for other people and wanting them to make decisions that make them happy and healthy, rather than stressed and fried. I don’t think it’s a sign of a problem, for me to genuinely care about others… and also care about myself and my own limited bandwidth. I feel like I have to be on constant guard against people close to me, because they are so habituated to patterns of thought and action which do not help them in the least — if anything, they work against them.

Everybody seems so caught up in their illusions and confusions, and they apparently love it. I know how that goes — it makes them feel alive. But for me, it’s a total friggin’ drain. And the thing that drains me the most is feeling like people close to me are getting progressively worse, not better, and they’re on this downward slide into one form of madness or another. Meanwhile, they’re sucking up valuable time and energy from the things that I really care about and the things I want (and need) to do.

It sends me over the edge. Like last night, when I went out to pick up some dinner with a friend, and we ended up arguing and tossing f-bombs at each other in the restaurant parking lot. Nothing like a little public display and disturbing the peace to round off a really aggravating afternoon with this person who loves to get riled over all kinds of crap, is diabetic, overweight and they don’t watch their blood pressure. Not only are they becoming increasingly difficult to deal with, but they’re also one of my main supports. The restaurant staff were understandably wary — good thing we got the food to go.

Note to self: Make New Friends, because the ones I have aren’t taking good enough care of themselves to be around for the long run. I expect to be visiting this friend in the hospital within a few years — again. I went through a near-death experience with them nearly 10 years ago, and it wasn’t fun. The prospect of doing it all over again (if they survive this time), is one of the little black clouds that hangs over my head regularly.

Well, the only thing I can do, is try to stay strong and positive in my own life, do things that make me feel like a real person again, and let me get my life back. I get sick of feeling like someone else’s sounding board/punching bag, when they aren’t being responsible with their own physical, mental, and emotional health, helping them pick up the pieces that they break apart and throw all over the place.

Call me “The Cleaner”. Only I don’t get paid for this job.

Well, I’m sick of bitching about everything. Vent, vent… whatever. I’m not feeling well physically, and I know it. That messes with my frame of mind, and it makes me touchy and edgy — things that I usually take in stride don’t get to me. I have another day to myself before I go back to that hell-hole of work. At least tomorrow I have all-day training that will help me get to the next stage of my working life. I think this is going to be good — it’s formal training in something I’ve been doing on my own, on the side, and it will give me a good idea of I’ve learned enough and if I’m expert enough to market that skill. It’s almost like a formality for me, but it’s an important one.

So, that’s a positive thing.

Summer is winding down, and I know that things can change in an instant with me and my outlook. All it takes is a little bit of good news, and I’m back. I know I’m tired, and I’m feeling crappy today, but that doesn’t need to derail my day. I have a wide variety of things I can think about and focus on, so if I can manage to get myself out of that bad headspace, it can only help.

At least I am centered and doing well in my own life and my own head. Public melt-downs aside, I’m doing pretty well, I have to say. I’ve been making good progress with my projects (marketing pains notwithstanding), and I’m feeling really positive about where things are going. I have a meeting coming up this week with some folks who may be able to help me reach some of my goals, so that’s encouraging. And I have other folks who have expressed interest in what I’m doing and may want to help in other ways. I just need to clear some of the extraneous stuff off my plate, take care of little to-do items that are hanging over my head, and just move forward.

Yeah, keep moving forward… Use the anxious, nervous energy I have for something that’s positive and pro-active. Don’t fight that energy, use it.

Which brings me back to the original theme of this post — feeling like crap, but not caring. When I stopped fighting feeling like crap and decided to just go with it… and use the energy for something positive… things started to really look up for me. There is an awful lot in my life that is just plain wrong, but rather than fight it or struggle with it, when I accept it and then take that anger/sadness/frustration and channel the energy into a positive activity, things really start to turn around for me.

And this is new. Because all my life, I’ve been in damage-control mode, where I had to have everything just-so, in order to do anything. Now that I’ve stopped caring so much about things being p.e.r.f.e.c.t. I have access to this store of energy I can use for other things. Instead of pushing it down, I let the anger/sadness/frustration just bubble up, and then I direct it towards what I want to do with it.

In the end, it’s all just energy. What I do with it, is my choice.

And right now, I’m choosing to go do something I meant to do yesterday, but didn’t get the time. I have the time now. So, let’s do it.

Finding what I love most

What gives life?

This job search is proving quite enlightening. As painful as all the insecurity is…

Will I be able to learn what I need to know? Will I be able to impress the people I need to impress? Will I be able to earn what I need to earn? Will I be making a bad decision? Will the company I go with be able to stay afloat? Will I be able to have insurance? Will I be able to have a life? What will become of me?

I am learning a lot about myself and my limits. It is incredibly difficult to stay cool at work, while I’m working on my exit. Everything feels like it’s in limbo, and the whole situation seems surreal. I don’t have a lot of margin for error, and it’s incredibly stressful to be in this situation. On top of it, I’ve been pretty hard on myself for “getting myself into this situation” because I feel like I’ve gotten myself into this tight spot, and it’s all my fault that I can’t make a success out of this situation, the way I’m expected to.

What an impossible scenario I’ve created for myself. I’m being way too hard on myself, and my ego has completely taken over with thinking that I’m the sole creator of this situation, when nothing could be farther from the truth. The real truth is that I’ve been making the best of a wretched situation for a long, long time — about a year longer than I expected to be able to. And I’ve accomplished things that nobody thought could be accomplished, despite outright sabotage by my bosses for the past two years.

Ha ha. I’ve succeeded anyway.

So there.

Yeah, it’s not all that bad, and I need to get over myself and stop telling myself that it’s all “my bad” that things suck bilgewater. Things suck bilgewater all across the board, without any help on my part. I’m free to go anytime, and so is everyone else. If they choose to stay in the situation where they are, that’s their choice… and there you go. It’s all a matter of choice. It always has been, and it always will be.

I’m a big believer in taking responsibility for your circumstances, and doing everything in your power to direct your own life in ways that are true to you and your vision and your talents. I stepped into this job, a little over two years ago, hoping to bring my talents and vision to the job. I succeeded to some extent, and the changes I’ve effected have permanently altered the organization. There are higher expectations now, and higher standards in some respects. We have a better infrastructure in place than ever before, and long-standing problems have gotten solved.

Yet at the same time, that improvement has gone completely unnoticed by the folks in charge, despite my drawing attention to it and documenting it and educating folks about it. The folks in charge are all about short-term quarterly results and being able to show “growth” in small increments, which is directly opposed by own point of view, which takes a longer view of things — when you take some extra time to fix things that are broken (and have been broken for a long time), you will speed things up for the future. The best part of it all, is that you’ll never realize that there is a whole system behind what you’re doing — it will work silently and invisibly, as it should.

But then the people who make their livings off fixing things won’t be able to log any progress.

And we can’t have that.

So clearly, if the organization doesn’t share my outlook there’s not much point in me staying there. And I have to remember that there are other places that do share my beliefs. I’ve worked in some in the past. This current place is an anomaly for me — probably because I am not working in a predominantly technical division. They do the sales and marketing and customer relationship stuff, not the technology stuff. And I’m definitely a fish out of water, flopping around on the bank of the stream, gasping for air.

Time to go…Β  time to go…

And look up from my little workspace to see what else is out there, what else is available that really moves me. The simple fact of my life is that, in order to excel at things, I need to focus in on it so intently that it becomes a transcendent experience for me. And I haven’t had that for over a year. I need to be able to completely immerse myself in my work, and the present environment prohibits that – in fact, it’s designed to prohibit it. In order to build up skill in anything, you have to put in a lot of hours and a lot of hard work. You have to try things and fail and look for workarounds. You have to really kick it, and be able to sustain your passion for what you do, day in and day out.

I — and everyone else in this world — cannot truly succeed without sustained effort, and sustained effort requires a ton of passion. Not just the kind of passion that comes up in the moment, but passion that lasts through it all — through the boring times and the exciting times… the kind of passion that keeps you up at night, that wakes you up early in the morning, and fuels you when all seems lost. I love the work I do, when I’m allowed to do it, and it’s that love that keeps me going, that keeps me learning, that keeps me sharp and engaged. It’s not the trophies and the prizes and the recognition. It’s not the outside-in rewards that drive me. It’s the inside-out passion that makes it all worth it, day in and day out.

In looking around at all my job options, I’ve come across a lot of jobs that offer external trappings — prestigious positions at top corporations who are leaders in their field. I’ve come across a lot of opportunities that look great on the outside. The companies that offer them promise rewards, benefits, and the chance to associate yourself with leading-edge industry powerhouses. And then I look at the company reviews on places like Glassdoor and Hallway, and I find different stories being told by people actually inside the companies.

And I have to stop and take a step back. I have to reconsider my orientation. Because it is so easy for me to be seduced into thinking that those powerhouses are the key to my future — prestige being the biggest draw. The only thing is, the things I look for are not mainly the external trappings. It’s the conditions that people work in, the technical focus, the infrastructure, the quality of staff. It’s the innermost working of the company that I need to look at and value — far above the outside reputation that’s made by sales and marketing and branding folks.

Frankly, it worries me when a company is so focused on it “brand” and there are serious holes in the internal infrastructure. It’s classic smoke and mirrors stuff, and I have to be really careful that I don’t fall for that, because it is so seductive and so attractive.

So, what do I really love, above all else?

  • Working with passionate people who love their work and want to make the right decisions for the right reasons, not because it’s politically expedient, or because everybody else is doing it.
  • Working at a company with a solid technical foundation and that values and understands the importance of its infrastructure enough to invest significant resources in building and maintaining it.
  • Working with people who understand and value technical standards and make the effort to stick by ’em.
  • Being able to immerse myself so profoundly in my work, that everything else ceases to exist for a few hours each day.
  • Having a good balance between what I love to do, what I have to do, and what I can’t help doing… and making room for my whole life, not just grinding out the hours because it’s the cool and tough thing to do, and losing my whole life to a single employer, doing a single thing that is only for that employer. I have so many other interests in my life – why would I sacrifice them all for a paycheck? There are other ways to do this, people. Many other ways.

There are other things, of course, but these are the Big Five that I look for. These are the things that Really Matter Most to me. They are the things I’m just not going to compromise on. I’m just not. They’re also the things that I tend to get seduced away from, by things like prestige and power and what-not. Ultimately, the only power we really have is over our own lives, and the illusion that we can have power over the rest of life or the rest of the world… well, that’s just an illusion.

So, as painful as the insecurity can be, as awkward and difficult as it is, to be in limbo, this is good work for me to be doing — to be taking a long, hard look at my life and being forced to consider what it is I want to do with my life. I need balance and the energy to pursue other activities and interests outside the 9-to-5. I need to find work I love with all my heart, that I can be continuously challenged with. And I need to work in a group that is all on the same page, not just flailing around, covering their asses and not being responsive or responsible to others. I need to find other people who love their work with all their hearts and who are willing to dive deep into a mutual effort to build things that make a difference in the world.

It’s not too much to ask, right? πŸ˜‰

Actually, I think it’s not. It can happen. I just need to keep looking and keep holding out for what I am looking for, and not cave in the face of professional seduction.

What I want is what I need, and I simply can’t settle for anything less.

So, onward.

Learning the hard way may be the best way

I recently came across this article – Learning information the hard way may be best ‘boot camp’ for older brains (thanks Twitter) and I found it very encouraging. It seems to support what I believe more and more every day — learning things the hard way is the best way of all. And it seems to support my sense that when you’re bouncing back from TBI, and you’re working at overcoming cognitive and behavioral deficits, pushing yourself a bit, making mistakes, and then learning from your mistakes can be very, very helpful.

I’m not a rehab person, so I can’t speak to how rehabilitation theory goes, but it seems to me that — especially with TBI — there may be an eagerness (conscious or not) to ease up when things get tough… easy does it… and let up on the amount of challenge that’s presented to the patient/survivor/individual. I think it may actually be human nature to do that, since you don’t want to push people too terribly hard, especially if they have been injured. You don’t want them to overdo it, and you also don’t want to put yourself in danger by provoking aggressive behavior.

I think that aggressive behavior and tendencies to lash out are particular dangers when it comes to TBI and recovery. People get intimidated and/or they just don’t want to have to deal with it, anymore. When someone with TBI gets overwhelmed and feels put-upon / threatened, they can lash out and make the lives of everyone around them pretty miserable. It’s not fun for anyone, and the person being pushed can end up feeling stupid, depleted, and generally less of a real person than they were before.

And nobody wants that.

So, we tend to back off. Unconsciously, I think. Because we don’t always know what to do, and our lives are often “exciting” enough without having to deal with someone’s brain injury on top of it. So, we don’t push others. And if we’ve got our own brain injury issues to deal with, we may get dispirited from having a bunch of bad experiences that make us think there’s something wrong with us, and we have to do less instead of more, so we don’t end up looking/sounding/acting like freaks.

The thing of it is, though, this may be the opposite of what we should be doing. Especially if we are older. It’s one thing for kids who experience TBI – their brains are changing and growing and they are still being developed. And learning the hard way may pose issues for them, as their personalities are still developing, and they may pick up some flawed messages (or interpretations of messages) from their experiences.

For older brain injury survivors, however, it could be that making mistakes and learning from them is the best medicine.

From the article:

Canadian researchers have found the first evidence that older brains get more benefit than younger brains from learning information the hard way – via trial-and-error learning.

The finding will surprise professional educators and cognitive rehabilitation clinicians as it challenges a large body of published science which has shown that making mistakes while learning information hurts memory performance for older adults, and that passive “errorless” learning (where the correct answer is provided) is better suited to older brains.

“The scientific literature has traditionally embraced errorless learning for older adults. However, our study has shown that if older adults are learning material that is very conceptual, where they can make a meaningful relationship between their errors and the correct information that they are supposed to remember, in those cases the errors can actually be quite beneficial for the learning process,” said AndreΓ©-Ann Cyr, the study’s lead investigator.

In two separate studies, researchers compared the memory benefits of trial-and-error learning (TEL) with errorless learning (EL) in memory exercises with groups of healthy young and older adults. The young adults were in their 20s; the older adults’ average age was 70. TEL is considered a more effortful cognitive encoding process where the brain has to “scaffold” its way to making richer associations and linkages in order to reach the correct target information. Errorless learning (EL) is considered passive, or less taxing on the brain, because it provides the correct answer to be remembered during the learning process.

In both studies, participants remembered the learning context of the target words better if they had been learned through trial-and-error, relative to the errorless condition. This was especially true for the older adults whose performance benefited approximately 2.5 times more relative to their younger peers.

This really excites me, because it confirms what I have firmly believed for some time — that the process of learning from mistakes is far more instructive than getting everything right the first time. I’ve seen it time and time again, and I do believe it’s one of the secrets of my success over the years — I’m not afraid to make mistakes. The times when mistakes are a problem, are when other people have no tolerance for mistakes, and they expect me to get everything right the first time.

Here’s the deal — I’ve had enough injuries and experiences over the course of my life, that the chances of me getting everything right the first time are slim to none. And in fact, the times when I do (by chance) get things right the first time, I’m less likely to repeat the performance on down the line.

So, I have a pretty high tolerance for screwing up the first time through. The problem is, however, I am working with people now who don’t have a high tolerance for it. They get nervous. They think it means there’s something wrong. I say, as long as people are pulling together as a team and can help cover for each other and area available to help — and there is no stigma associated with screwing up — you can get a ton of work done, and do it quite well. And everybody can learn something from it. But if you hang your hat on always getting everything right, delivering everything ON TIME and being 100% error-free at all times, without fail, well then, you’re just setting up bogus expectations that will make everyone feel like crap.

I think one of the hurdles with overcoming TBI when you’re older, is that conviction that you’ve already learned what you need to know, and you’re not going to need to learn things again. Or that if you have to learn things again, and you screw up the first time (or first couple of times) you do something that “should” be familiar, it means there’s something wrong with you, and you’re damaged permanently.

This is also a big problem, when you’re dealing with other adults, who hang their hats on the idea that they are experts and they know all there is to know about their subject matter and domains of expertise. It’s tough, especially in professional circles, where your livelihood depends on KNOWING how things work and being EXTREMELY CAPABLEΒ  in everything you do. In a business environment, where precision and perfection are prized and financially rewarded, it can be pretty tough going. Especially when everyone around you is even harder on themselves than on others. In a work environment, there is this mythos of perfection, of ideal execution, of getting things right, no matter what. Especially in technology, we’ve got this, and it’s a pain in the ass at times. There’s just this expectation that if you’re being compensated a certain amount, you’re going to perform at a certain level. And there’s not a lot of margin for error. Getting it right the first time is the ideal.

But I don’t think life works like that. And I think that sets us up for failure of our own making. Of course things will be overlooked. Of course we will make mistakes. Of course we need to relearn things. Of course we’re going to be constantly surprised by the areas where we have to make more progress, even repeat former progress. Of course we’re going to have plenty of occasions where we’re a lot less facile than we thought we would be. That’s all part of relearning to live our lives in this new way. But it doesn’t mean we’re broken, permanently damaged, or unable to have full and fulfilling lives.

Far from it.

It just means we’re human in all different ways, and we have the opportunity to learn again — again and again and again.

Ultimately, I think a lot of it is about avoiding those mental traps we block ourselves into — being too brittle, inflexible, and not being open to greater possibilities in life. TBI is problematic in that it can make us more agitated, restless, irritable, and aggressive, and our brains are really sensitive to flagging energy, so that can make this kind of “boot camp” learning problematic. But if we can get past the idea that messing up means there’s something wrong, then this kind of trial-and-error learning can be a very powerful tool in helping us get back to where we want to be — and even better.

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