St. Barbara of Arrowsmith-Young

Thanks for the help this past Sunday

So, on Sunday I spent the afternoon reading Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”, about how she learned how to identify the underlying issues beneath her severe learning disabilities, which had made her life a living hell for 26 years of her life. I found the book for free on Scribd.com — my new favorite place of all time. You can read the book for free here: https://www.scribd.com/book/224350322/The-Woman-Who-Changed-Her-Brain-And-Other-Inspiring-Stories-of-Pioneering-Brain-Transformation – you just need a free login.

Anyway, I am finding a lot of similarities between her situation and mine, despite obvious differences. And it occurs to me that after hearing a number of accounts of her hitting her head (running into things, banging her head before she started to study, etc.) TBI might just factor into her account. She focuses on the learning disabilities parts, rather than the root cause, so that makes the book more accessible for folks who have had any kind of difficulty with learning and understanding and communicating — me included.

One section in particular jumped out at me yesterday:

I recall a twelve-year-old student with average intelligence but whose severe weaknesses in both the left and right prefrontal cortexes left her as compliant as a young child — so compliant that other children would toy with her and order her to stand and sit on command or to stay in the schoolyard long after recess was over or to surrender her Nintendo game. Her neurological weaknesses had robber her of her ability to evaluate a command and decide whether it should be obeyed. She addressed her problem areas and eventually was able to say no.

That’s pretty much me — but in very different kinds of situations. I didn’t have a problem with being compliant and going along with others as a kid. If anything, I was defiant and went against what anyone and everyone told me to do (except for my love interests — they could always boss me around).

The compliance and obedience and lack of questioning happened in adulthood. And I wonder if the three car accidents, the fall off the back of the truck, and the occasional head-banging — all in my early adulthood — might have affected my prefrontal cortexes to the point where I would just compliantly do whatever my spouse told me to do.

If that’s the case — and my compliance has been neurological, rather than emotional or character-based — then that’s a huge relief. And it means I can do something about it. For close to 20 years, I pretty much went along with whatever my spouse told me to do. It wasn’t so pronounced in the beginning, but then it got worse.

I had a car accident in 1997 where I was rear-ended, and I couldn’t read for several days. The letters swam on the page, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I recall feeling weird and shaky and being a bit “off” for some time after the car accident, and I wonder if maybe that affected my prefrontal cortexes and made me more compliant. People around me thought my spouse was bullying me, that they were being abusive and domineering, but honestly, I just went along… because it was the only thing that seemed useful to me.

I need to check around to find out more.

Anyway, that’s just one part of the book that I’m really enjoying. There are a number of different places where I recognize myself — the hesitance, the inability to get things done, the self-regulation problems… I’m not sure I want to think about them in terms of learning disabilities, but rather brain capabilities. And they apply to all kinds of situations, not just educational ones. That’s something that the author talks about a lot — how addressing these learning disabilities will improve functioning in the rest of life.

What Barbara Arrowsmith-Young has done is remarkable. She’s really figured it out — and from the inside, not from the outside. It’s amazing. I’m a huge fan, and if I were religious, I’d recommend her for sainthood. Her story is one of the reasons I got myself into neuropsych rehab, in the first place — when I read Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” her story stood out for me more than any others. Because she took it on herself, and she did the work, instead of having someone else do it for her. And now she’s passing it on to others. She does public lectures. She has her Arrowsmith School. She’s written a book.

Unfortunately for me (and probably many others), the Arrowsmith School is expensive. And it’s in Canada, which is not an impossible distance from me, but still… I have to go to my job each day, I don’t have a lot of money to spend, and I’m thinking there must be another way to get this kind of help without being locked into a specific location, or paying someone to get me on track.

Again, I come back to living my life as the best recovery. Living fully and reflectively. Mindfully. Engaged. All those catchwords that basically say,

Do the best you can each and every day…

Be honest with yourself about what’s going on…

Learn from books and movies and the world around you, your experiences, your teachers and your mistakes…

Change what you can so you do better next time…

And share what you learn with others.

Absent the resources to enroll in the Arrowsmith School for months (if not years), and with the help from a handful of competent professionals, I seem to be making decent progress.

Speaking of which, I’ve got some chores to do.

Onward.

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Amiss, but getting better

On second (or third) thought… no thanks

I’m scrapping the idea of going to the ER today. I stretched and moved yesterday, and I took a real break — spent the afternoon napping, reading Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” (more on that later), and just puttering around the house, taking it easy. I’m going to mention the left-side weakness to my counselor, just so someone else knows about it. And I’m probably going to check in with my neuropsych on Wednesday. I do feel better, after taking some time off, and now the idea of embarking on a medical adventure doesn’t seem like a good use of energy.

Oh. My. God. When I think about having to explain my situation to doctors all over again… Yeah, no thanks.

So, a big shout-out to those of you who talked me back from that edge. I owe you.

It’s Monday. Only two more days in the office 20 miles from home. Then I move to the office 5 miles from home. It’s exciting. Also, I’m barrelling down the road towards a couple of big-big deadlines this week. That makes things easier.

It’s interesting — I’m gradually getting the hang of living by deadlines and holding people to them. In past situations I’ve worked in, there were two kinds of situations. Either

  1. The deadlines were fluid and there wasn’t a hard-and-fast rule about when things got done, and in what order. People were sort of lackadaisical about doing their jobs, and if it got done, then woo hoo. But if it didn’t get done, oh well.    Or
  2. Deadlines were in place, but everybody was a top-notch over-achiever who would have sooner cut off their left hand, than not do their job.

Now, everything is about the deadlines… but I don’t have a top-notch gang of over-achievers available to me, to get the job done. I have maybe one or two, who are usually overworked.

Sigh.

Well, it’s all very educational. Now I get to learn how to motivate people who have no real reason to be motivated at all. They don’t report directly to me, they aren’t all that thrilled about their jobs, and the burning desire to excel doesn’t seem to light up their days and nights.

Interesting.

So, now I get to learn how to make it all happen. And in the end, that’s going to be a valuable skill. I just have to acquire it.

I’ve got some more work to do on restoring a sense of self after TBI. I’m also restoring a sense of my own self — as much by slogging through the tough times, as experiencing the good times.

In a way, slogging through the tough times is even more useful to me than having everything go well. It shows me that I can do this thing, called adapting and overcoming. And it teaches me valuable skills along the way. I am extremely rigid and uncompromising in some ways, which can come in handy, when it has to do with personal integrity and delivering on my promises. When things come up to oppose my grand plans — as they invariably do — I can either buckle and fall to pieces (that sometimes happens), or I can learn from it and add to my overall knowledge and skill in handling those types of situations.

I choose the latter. And instead of tearing myself down — e.g., beating myself up for going off the deep end yesterday with the sensations I’m having on my left side — I can learn from the experience, chalk it up to, well, being human, and move on with a little more information under my belt.

And when I focus on learning and growing from experience, that builds up my feeling about who I am and how I handle myself.  Getting bogged down in despair and frustration is not how I want to be. It’s now how I understand myself to be. So, I have to find a better way. And recognize my limits — my tendency to go all catastrophic on things that happen with me — so I can keep them from taking over my life. I have limits, just like anyone else, and they are part of me — but only a PART of me, not all of me.

Having a broader sense of myself as a collection of many features and qualities, as well as a lot of strengths along with my weaknesses, makes all the difference in the world. I can’t gloss over the tricky parts, but I sure as hell can emphasize the cool stuff, and make the most of that.

Speaking of making the most of things, I need to really focus on getting into my day. It is SO HARD to get going for work, this morning. Mondays have been very difficult for me, lately. Transitioning into work and really getting invested, has been a monumental task. I dread everything about it, and I can’t seem to get into the day, no matter what I do. I know why, though. It’s old patterns from many years of bad experiences that are cropping up again, just at this point in time. Four months into just about every endeavor, this happens with me. Like clockwork. More on that later.

Anyway, the day is waiting, and I have a lot to get done today. Things are looking up, and that’s a good thing.

Onward.

How I am today

I didn’t get much sleep last night. Things have “blown up” at work, and a project I was managing and thought was fine, is NOT fine. It’s crashed (not quite burned), and now I have to get it put back together and back on track.

I’ve done this before at this job, but on a much smaller scale. This one is very big and very high-profile. And the (over)reaction to the date slipping is making me reconsider taking a permanent job there. I had been thinking seriously about going permanent with these folks — they had hinted at it a number of times — and everything was looking good.

Then things went wrong, and the reactions of people outside my group have caused me to reconsider my plans. It’s one thing for me to screw up this badly — which I may or may not have done. There are some things I could have done very differently, which would have helped. But I honestly didn’t realize I needed to do them, and even though people were around to help me, I wasn’t aware I needed to ask for help.

Now I know.

But the folks outside my group, who are the ones making up the unrealistic deadlines, are having little hissy fits and flipping out. So, the whole grand progressive business world ideal of “failing fast” and “learning from mistakes” is just a bunch of B.S. — what matters is that you meet your dates — and ONLY that you meet your dates.

Yeah, that works out really well, for sure. Talk about sucking the life out of your work.

So, now I’m back to considering myself a contractor who’s just there to do a job. In a couple of weeks, we’re moving to a new office much closer to home, and that’s what I’m focused on — being close to home. I’ll be able to go home for lunch and take a nap. I’ll be able to just roll out of bed and go to work. I will be closer to everything that makes up my everyday life, and that’s what matters.

The simple fact is, I need to not get attached to my visions of how I think things will eventually turn out. I had been thinking that I would just sail through this first set of challenges, and all would be well.  Untrue. I’ve had a number of things blow up in my face, and I’ve had to scramble a number of times. As my boss said, “It wouldn’t be a real project, if there weren’t a fire.” Everybody else I work with has been through this to some degree or another, so now it’s my turn. But what this means for the long term, who can say?

Anyway, I’ll get what I can out of the situation. I’ve been on a roller coaster for the past two days — no, the past two weeks — and my world pretty much turned to sh*t in an instant. All the miscalculations, all the drama. Who needs it?

Then again, just because everyone else is all worked up about things — or my boss is saying they will be, in order to motivate me and get me moving with a kind of panic-anxiety booster fuel… I don’t need to lose my cool over it. Their stuff is their stuff. I’ll just keep going, to get it all done, and keep steady at work.

If nothing else, people are impressed by how calm and composed I am in the midst of it all. This calm, composed demeanor is genuine, and it comes from years of managing outright panic in the face of very real crises. It comes from all my years of living in a sea of confusion and overwhelm, and figuring out how to function, anyway. It comes from years of walking around in a fog and doing a damn’ good impression of someone who’s mellow and chill.

And the good news is, I’ve got it all together. This is the first time I’ve been able to hold my sh*t in the face of very real problems, since I fell in 2004. I’m not melting down, I’m not losing it at work. I’m not flying off the handle, and I’m not flipping out, throwing things and slamming shit around on my desk. It’s cool. I’m cool — on the outside. Inside, I feel like I’m dying — like the Allman Brothers song:

Sometimes I feel… Sometimes I feeeeeeel

Like I’ve been tied to the whipping post… tiiiiiied to the whipping post… tiiiiiiied to the whipping post

Oh, Lord I feel like I’m dyyyying…

But I’m not dying. I know I’m not. It just feels that way. And in another couple of weeks, I won’t feel this way anymore. So, I’m dealing with it, walking through the pain and agony. Every breath pains me, and I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. My demons are flailing around — overtime — and while I can see my way through, who knows what will pop up along the way?

Whatever does, I’ll deal with it. I can do that. That’s how I am. It’s who I am. I used to be like this — in the most trying of circumstances, I would remain calm and prevail. I’m doing that again, and although it feels excruciating… f*ck it. I’m here. And in the midst of this all, I feel like my old self again.

Which hasn’t happened in a very long time. And I thought it would never happen again.

But surprise — there I am again. That side of me is back. It’s partial, and it’s struggling, but it’s there. And that’s good enough for me.

Okay, back to it. Suck it up and wade back in.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rise and Shine – At last, a reason to get up in the morning

It’s a new day. Literally

Today’s Fog Factor: 75%

I woke up at 5 a.m. again today. It was not because of an alarm, and it was not because I jolted awake on adrenaline that won’t quit. I just woke up. Because I was done resting.

I lay in bed thinking for a while, then I talked to my spouse who was also up at the same time, and we sorted some things out that they’ve been mentally wrangling with for some days, now. Then I had my exercise — just a little, not too much that messes up my head — and I made my breakfast at the same time. Making coffee fits in well with me riding the exercise bike, and frying an egg fits in well with my leg exercises. I didn’t do any lifting today, because I’m a little sore from yesterday, and the point was really just to move, not to overdo it. I may go to the gym later today. I have my gym bag in the car, so I can do that. It’s been a while since I got on the machines, and I actually miss it.

So, I’m going to go ahead and spend a little bit of time in the gym at work.

So, I woke up early and got up early, too. I’ve been waking up around 5 a.m., ever since I got back from my last trip. Having only a couple of weeks between international trips makes it hard to get back to a regular schedule I also feel like I need to shift my sleeping schedule up a bit, anyway, because I was getting too lax before… too lazy, too in love with a leisure that I cannot afford to indulge. I was getting to bed too late and getting up too late, too.

In the past, I was also pretty depressed about my job situation, to be honest. It just dragged me down terribly and now that I think about it, as valiant as I tried to be to keep on keepin’ on, it was a total friggin’ drag. Small wonder I didn’t want to leap out of bed in the morning. I was reporting to a nincompoop… who was following on the heals of a jerk… who was following on the heels of a real d*uchebag. I haven’t had many decent bosses at all, in the past almost-4 years at this company, but now at least there’s a (relatively) competent person at the helm of my group. It would be an understatement to say I’m glad that the organization has changed and I am no longer stuck in that old situation, reporting to those old bosses.

At the same time, I’m also really glad that I have this new situation. It’s more than being glad I’m out of that old situation. I’m really happy to be in new circumstances. It’s a relief, to not have to fend off idiots all the livelong day. And better yet, it’s positioning me well to move into a different and better line of work than I’ve been in for almost 20 years — a line of work that can translate across a number of different industries and disciplines — not only technology.

That new direction is project management. I’ve talked about this before as something I wanted to move towards, but there was something that always held me back. Project management is actually something I’ve been doing for years now. However, because I’ve always had a hands-on role in the projects I’ve been involved in, and I’ve always had to report to some d-bag who tried to undercut me because I threatened them, I was never considered (or permitted to be) a 100% project manager — just a coordinator or a producer or a “lead”.

That’s changing, now, as I move forward. And I can detect a distinct change in the way I’m relating to my work and going about my business. I’m thinking bigger picture — because I can. I’m not being blocked anymore. I’m a lot less hands-on than I’ve been in the past. And I’m a lot better able to step back and just let others take over doing the hands-on work.

This is a big change for me. For so many years, I was deeply invested in being THE ONE who did the work. I had to be the one who took care of things. I had to be the one who got everything squared away. I didn’t trust anyone else to do the job, because I didn’t believe they could do it as well as I could.

And back in the day, that was accurate. I could do my job better than anyone else, and it was extremely painful to see people struggling through, trying to get things done, which I could take care of far better, in a fraction of the time. It took forever. They didn’t know how to do things properly – they still had to learn. And my anxiety was out of control, to the point where I couldn’t even begin to step back and let someone else handle things — because they would do it wrong, and that was unacceptable.

Now things are very different. First off, because of my learning and reading and comprehension and memory issues, I can’t retain and process information nearly as fast and as capably as in the past. This has been an incredibly difficult thing to take. Not being able to read and retain what I read… not being able to think fast on my feet and adapt instantly to changing conditions… not being able to adjust and switch gears… it’s really been a hard pill for me to swallow. But that’s how I’ve become. And while the past 10 years have seen improvements with me, I am nowhere near as capable of picking things up quickly and adapting to ever-changing conditions, the way I was before.

I have fought and struggled against this for years, but in the past year, I seem to have finally given up on the idea that I can ever get back to my old level. That’s just gone. All the attempts at keeping up, at getting my abilities back up to snuff… well shit. That capability is just not there anymore. I’ve got to move on. I see that now.

The thing is, moving on is the best thing I can do under the circumstances. Because frankly, it gives me the opportunity to effect change at a much higher level than I’ve been able to, before. Changing my career direction makes it possible for me to actually stop things from being chaotic and frenetic and stupidly “dynamic” for no other reason than the thrill of the chase. Being in a project management position allows me to change the culture at a fundamental level and create the kind of environment that I know is productive and helpful for everyone — and that supports positive change, instead of driving everyone ahead like mad little animals being herded into a truck and shipped off to God-knows-where.

I’ve chafed against conditions of confusion and frustration and ambiguity for years. And now I get to change that — for the better. I may not solve every single problem, but I can at least make a dent.

I’ve also been given a really huge task to take on at work – and it seems well nigh impossible. So, I have to let go of my need for control. It’s impossible for me to control alone. It is simply too big for me to make happen all by myself, and I have to step back and let others handle things. It’s not optional. First, I don’t have the time to follow every single detail of every person’s activities. Second, I don’t really want to. And third, it lets me focus on the bigger picture and providing leadership to folks who are struggling to find their way.

A coworker of mine is trying to manage everything personally, with a hand in every single thing that happens, and it’s driving them crazy. It’s making them ill. It’s painful to watch, and I am learning a lot from their mistakes.

I just don’t have the time and the energy for that level of involvement. I need to find another way. So, that’s what I’m doing.

And it’s funny — all of a sudden, I want to get up in the morning. I want to wake up. I want to move into the day. I want to turn my life around.

Because on the one hand, I finally have a job that is a real intellectual challenge for me — it’s stimulating and invigorating and frustrating and confounding, and it’s just the sort of impossible mess I specialize in handling and setting to rights.

On the other hand, I can’t wait to get the hell out of there and get my life back. I can’t want to find a job doing project management that’s within 15 miles of my home, which doesn’t kill me with the commute, and leaves me time in my day to do the things I love to do — write and read and relax. I’ve had precious little of that, ever since my job moved 20 minutes east, into the thick of the worst commuter traffic in the region.

I also look forward to finding another job which all takes place here in the United States. I do like my international colleagues, and we get along pretty well. However, traveling overseas on a regular basis is, well, hell. It destroys the quality of life I have worked so hard to create, and the fatigue and logistics are serious issues with my mental and physical health. It’s taking a toll, and I need to stop it.

Plus, the people I work with stateside are unprofessional pains in the ass. Seriously, I haven’t heard this much bitching and complaining since high school.

Of these three issues, the last is probably the least likely to go away. People will be people, and no matter what the circumstances, they’ll tend to act like adolescents. But the first two, I can control, and there is hope for me there.

So, that’s my plan. And I’m sticking to it. Do my job to the best of my ability, make my internal “customers” happy and discharge my duties with professionalism and capability… and prepare my exit strategy. It makes no sense for me to continue like this indefinitely. I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve got better things to do with my time than sit in my car, wrangling with traffic. I can think of a number of better uses of my time, energy, and money, than commuting.

So, that’s where I’m going to put my energy. Just take care of what I need to take care of, and set myself up to move on with all due haste.

It’s a plan.

And it has me getting out of bed in the morning. Because I want to. Because after so many false starts, now I can truly see the end of the road ahead of me. There’s only another 8-10 months I have to do this, and things are so insane and so fast-paced, I’m sure the time is going to just fly by. I figure it’s going to take about that long to get my current situation squared away sufficiently to show results, fill out my resume, and position myself well for my next steps. I just need to study up on what I’m doing and figure out the best way to do it. I need to get clear on my abilities and interests, and just move forward with them, all the while keeping things moving along in my neck of the woods. I’ll focus on acquiring the skills and experience I need to transition into my next position, and not worry about how things are right now.

They’re going to change. It’s my job to change them. So, I’m going to do exactly that.

Onward.

 

In praise of shape and color

I’ve been experimenting with better ways to keep myself organized throughout my days and weeks. I have always had problems with losing track of what I was working on, forgetting what I was supposed to do next, whether it was from hour to hour or from day to day. When I was a kid, it brought me all sorts of grief because people thought I was just lazy or not trying hard enough. When I grew up, it continued to be a problem, only on a much larger scale.

Forgetting to finish cleaning the bathroom sink during Saturday morning chores, or forgetting to finish sweeping the neighbor’s driveway when they’ve hired you to do the job is bad enough. But forgetting what you’re working on, from day to day, at a full-time job, and losing track of projects you’re responsible for… well, that’s an issue of a much higher order.

I have hassled and struggled with this for many years. When I was younger and just starting out in the working world, I found myself essentially unable to hold down a “real job” for longer than a year or so. I could keep up for a while — maybe six months or so — then I would start to forget things, start to misplace things, start to get turned around, and the downward slide would start.

I’d begin to withdraw from the people around me, confused about what the nature of my issues was, unsure about how to deal with them… thinking I was losing my mind or something like that. I’d get increasingly uncomfortable around other people and I’d start to say things that were unkind or impolitic, and slowly but surely alienate even my closest allies. Eventually, the situation would deteriorate (in my mind, as well as in reality) to the point where I just couldn’t stay anymore, and I’d start looking for another job.

Ultimately, I figured that I was much better off just temping, taking on enough short-term assignments to fill my week and pay my bills. So, I signed up with a bunch of different agencies who had enough work to keep me busy (I was living in a big city at the time), and I managed to not only keep my head above water, but pay for a really nice place to live in a really good neighborhood.

Eventually, I did have to branch out and find permanent work. I needed the benefits, and I got tired of being a vagabond. I’ve done really well for myself, and people who know my history are amazed at my ability to get by as well as I have.

One thing that’s constantly dogged me, though — and that I’ve constantly struggled with — is this memory business. Losing track of what I’m supposed to be working on, and keeping on schedule for getting it done. Early in my high tech career, when I was just starting out, keeping to the project plan wasn’t a problem — someone else was in charge of making sure I was keeping on track, namely the project managers. But now that I’m at a more advanced stage of my professional life, and now that the industry has changed (to move away from having distinct project managers on every project), I find myself tasked more and more with the responsibility of tracking my own projects, setting my own priorities, and keeping myself on schedule.

I’ve really been struggling with this aspect of my work for some time, and over the past six months, the problem has been even more pronounced, as my new job is a whole lot more stressful and high-demand than my previous one.

In my previous job, nobody was paying particularly close attention to what was going on, there was no great sense of urgency, and the general attitude about tasks was, “Oh, whenever you can get to it, that will be great.” Now, things are completely different. There’s very high demand, high expectations, and there are no excuses allowed.

Talk about sweating bullets. I’ve tried a bunch of different techniques over the years to keep myself on track – list-keeping of many kinds, whether in spiral-bound notebooks or on stickie notes in my daily minder…  specially designed forms for lists of things I need to do, all broken out by category and time of day I need to do them… recording everything in my Outlook calendar at work… putting reminders in my personal online calendar (which doesn’t work so great, anymore, as I can’t access my personal email/calendar from the office)… leaving notes in prominent places so I won’t forget them… keeping journal entries about what I have done, haven’t gotten done, and what is keeping me from finishing what I started. But lately, my systems have broken down — they’re just too clunky and for some reason, they just don’t work with me, anymore.

After experimenting with this for years, and I was about to give up and just surrender to the fact that I’m going to be behind the eight-ball for the rest of my born days, always scrambling and playing catch-up. But then, on a whim, I tried something different the other day. I started using colored images in my daily planner to prompt me about priorities and my status.

I went online and found some images of red and green and yellow arrows and x’es and other little colorful symbols that meant something to me, and I started inserting them in my to-d0 list for the day. As the day progressed, I kept updating my list as I went, replacing the yellow arrow (for “in progress”) with green check marks or red x’es for “success” or “failure”. I also started color-coding my priorites — red bold for HIGH/Mandatory, green for Medium/Important, and blue for Low/Optional.

And it worked! Lo and behold, by the end of the day, I had tracked 17 different necessary tasks (for my job — I have a lot of responsibility), out which 11 were successfully completed, 2 were incomplete, 1 was delayed, and 3 were failures that I needed to try again the next day to do. The beauty part was, I printed out my list and took it with me at the end of the day, and when the next morning rolled around, I had an easy-to-read list of things I had not gotten done the day before that I absolutely positively needed to get done.

Resuming tasks I neglected to finish has been an ongoing struggle with me.  I’m usually at my cognitive and motivational peak, starting at 3:30 p.m., which leaves practically a whole day of ennui, disaffection, and relative cluelessness to contend with, while tasks like on the to-do pile, mouldering away. Many times, I’ve only started to recall that I needed to resume a certain task towards the end of the day, not first thing… when the window of opportunity is that much smaller and that much harder to fit into.

Of all the issues I’ve had with time and energy management, this has probably been the biggest one, and I’ve never been able to figure out how to assist myself and my easily distracted attention.

Until now.

Now, I wake up and can glance quickly at my list to see what I didn’t get done the day before. I can see what the priorities are, and how they match up with the status of my tasks. Is there something that was urgent yesterday that didn’t get done? If so, I put it at the top of my list for the day… and then I track my success with getting it done. The system is simple, easy to read, it’s complete (as I keep important notes), and it’s not just a sheet of words lulling me into a trance as my eyes drift from line to line to line.

This is huge. This is good. What a relief, to have found something that really works… for once.

Post-TBI Job Strategies for the New Year

I’ve been thinking a lot about my job strategies for the coming year. Even though it’s been some years since my latest head injury, I still have yet to fully adjust my career approach to this reality. But since getting confirmation from my neuropsych that all is in fact not perfectly well with me, cognitively speaking, I’ve been literally forced to look at the decisions I’ve made with regard to work — and with regard to the work I’m considering doing — so that I don’t get myself into hot water that has me end up like a frog in progressively hotter water… never fully aware that the water around me is heating up, until I’m drawing my proverbial last gasps in a boiling cauldron.

I’ve always been a pretty vain person, professionally speaking. Academically, I always knew I could do better than I did. At least, I was convinced I could… I just didn’t “feel like it,” I told myself. In most things in life, where I encountered difficulties that I didn’t fully understand, I often told myself that I just wasn’t succeeding because I wasn’t fully applying myself, and I wasn’t fully applying myself because things were boring or I just didn’t feel like doing more than the bare minimum.

Looking back now, I can see that I often covered up my confusion and disabilities and difficulties at following what was going on around me, by making lame excuses that weren’t even true. And I realize that over the past four years since my most recent TBI, I’ve essentially done the same thing: told myself that I was consciously choosing to not learn the things I need to learn to stay employable, because they were “beneath” me, or they weren’t challenging enough to hold my attention, or I just had other things to do, than apply myself to mastering them.

But these days, I can see that not only is this not true — I do have trouble with learning in ways that used to come easily to me — but I need to fully own up to the fact that I have newfound limitations that have substantially changed the way I learn, the way I retain information, the way I relate to the world around me, and the way I go about starting tasks. I have to admit that my skills, sharp as they are, still move more slowly than they used to. And I take longer to grasp certain concepts that used to come quickly to me. I can no longer acquire information the way I used to: starting at the beginning of a book and reading through to the end and remembering everything I read, the whole way through. Now, I have to use other strategies to retain the information, and in fact I need to develop new strategies to even get started reading and learning the information. Forget retention. It’s the initiation that stumps me, these days.

I also need to realize that I cannot assume that just because I have my heart set on making certain “advances” in my career path, that it will work out for me. Things like managing other people and being able to navigate complex political organizational landscapes, are now not only annoying and frustrating to me — my diminished ability to deal with their complexities — can actually jeopardize my career path, even my job. Things that used to just irritate me or even roll off my back now send me halfway ’round the globe in a fit of frustration and anger. I not only have a harder time dealing with things like communication and temporary setbacks, but I also have a hard time dealing with my inability to deal with them. All too easily and quickly, I slip into a downward spiral of raised hackles, raised voice, and hot temper. Not good, if you’re in management, I’d say.

So, I need to rethink my career path and reorient myself towards the way I learn, the way I work, the way I get through my days.

Am I making sense? I hope so. But here are some examples, in case you’re as confused as I may be:

Old Way of Learning

1. Decide I want to learn something, just ’cause it sounds cool.
2. Pick up a book and read it through, using a highlighter to call out key concepts.
3. Now and then sit down at a computer and tap away at some exercises. Get the general gist of the new material.
4. Trust that I “get it” and start using what I’ve learned in the everyday.

New Way of Learning

1. Find out what skillsets are important and make me marketable. Pick one or two that I want to focus on.
2. Go online and find articles about the skill to read, to generally familiarize myself with them.
3. Install the language/program on my computer and get my development environment in place to work with it.
4. Find working, best-practice examples of the skills in action, such as code snippets and small applications, and then fiddle with them to see what happens if I make this change or that change.
5. Keep fiddling with the pieces, until I can see, feel, smell, taste, touch the way the language/application works, so that it becomes a part of me and it’s almost second nature. Start at the end, and work my way back towards the beginning, very hands-on and experimental, and involved with the inner workings.
6. Forget about trying to understand the underlying principles and the minute details of how it’s all put together from the start. Just concern myself with becoming familiar enough with the pieces, that I don’t get frustrated and confused and anxious and irate when I hit a bump with the language/application, and I can just work my way through it.

Old Way of Defining My Career Path

1. Trust my employer/headhunter to guide me in the right direction.
2. Keep an eye out for new opportunities and pursue them with all my gusto.
3. Keep moving up in the world, moving from production to management, and on up the mangerial ladder, into the corporate stratosphere.

New Way of Defining My Career Path

1. Keep a close eye on the job market. What are people paying for?
2. Focus on my skills, my technical proficiencies, rather than looking for managerial positions.
3. Keep my attention on jobs that involve working with machines and logic, rather than people. Forget about climbing the corporate ladder. That’s just not happening for me. I cannot deal with the complexities of politics and I cannot be responsible for the well-being of others. I really just want to code, alright?
4. If I start to be pressed for signs that I want to advance, assure my employer/headhunter that I’m much better off — and so are they — if I just keep my focus on dealing with machines, not people.

The last piece is tricky, because employers who have loved me in the past (and yes, in the past, before I fell and turned into a different person, they really did), have been really encouraging when it came to “advancing” through moving into management — project management, team leadership, you name it. As though the real value to their operations lay in my being able to make people obey me the way I could get machines to. Well, fortunately or unfortunately, people are not like machines, and even though I did a great job of handling people in the past, and I was able to really motivate and guide others to do their best, the fact is that now I’m a different person with different skills and different inclinations, and a whole lot less interest in running other people’s lives, than in just making the most of my own.

It saddens me, yes, to think I need to let go of that old potential I once had. I feel a distinct sense of loss and grief, that my abilities have been so sharply curtailed. But on the other hand, I’d rather be realistic and honest and accurate about where I stand, right here and now, than hold out false hope for something that not only isn’t very realistic, but could have serious negative consequences not only for me but for my direct reports, if I ever bit off more than I could chew, functionally speaking.

This is a new way of looking at things. But it’s a necessary one, as well.