Stepping away, taking a break

Ahhh…. it’s waiting….

Ah, the start of vacation… The beginning of 10 days of obligation to do almost nothing at all.

I do need to clean out the car and pack it for the trip, but in a matter of hours, we’ll on the road, putting the rest of the world behind us… and having the space and time to catch up with the rest of the world that gets shoved aside in the mad rush of the everyday.

A time to stop and sit and reflect. A time to kick back and relax. A time to remember what matters most to me, what means most to me, and what I want most to do with my life. My job situation has shifted in a surprise that is causing me to radically rethink my direction. Two mid-level executives are leaving, which is going to open things up internally to shifts and changes which may work to my benefit. The dead-end that was in place just a month ago, has changed into something else. Who knows what that “something else” will turn out to be, but the bottom line is, some of the big reasons I have been planning to move on, may not even be factors by the time I get back from vacation. And by the end of the year, the company may look very different than it does now.

At the same time that things are changing on the outside with others, I know there are also changes I need to make in how I do things where I am now… because it’s not helping me in my search for what’s next. My bad attitude and resentment has been “leaking out” and it’s giving people visible pause to question why I am leaving, if things are so great where I am right now.

In any case, I have the next week and a half to just kick back and let it all roll right off me. I’m going to be beach – the weather is going to be beautiful – I will be seeing some good friends and taking a lot of time to stop and think and re-think some things that really matter a lot to me. The main thing I want to avoid, is what’s happened to me in the past — that I get caught up in obsessing about the problems I have back home and in my everyday… and that looping keeps me stuck in a very uncomfortable state of mind that doesn’t help me at all.

I really need a vacation – from my “everyday self” as much as from my everyday life. Rest, renew, reboot. And so it goes. I’d like to rest up sufficiently to stop the tremor in my hands, and cut back on the fatigue-caused vertigo… just to settle in and stabilize and get my strength back. It’s been too long since I last had a real vacation, so I’m hoping I can get back some of what I’m looking for… some of what I need.

I’m sure I’ll manage.

And now it’s time to manage the beginning of my vacation – pack my bags, pack the car, pick up some food and fill the gas tank, and off we go.

Yah, baby…

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On living – and living well

                                  Soon…

I woke up early this morning, at around 5:30. I had been hoping to “sleep in” this morning and get at least 8 hours of sleep, but 5-1/2 hours after I went to bed, there I was – awake.

I stayed under the covers for a little bit, trying to relax. Then I realized I was actually cold. Summer has now officially passed, although it’s got another couple of weeks before the autumn equinox, and last night I thought about putting another blanket on the bed. But I decided not to. And at 5:30, there I was – awake. And cold.

So, I got up and pulled the comforter out of the closet, laid it atop my other blankets, and went back to bed. It felt so good to be warm, I went back to sleep. And slept till after 8. So, I almost got my 8 hours.

Almost.

But it’s close enough. Because now I am awake, and now I can feel myself coming back. I have been in such a churn for the past weeks, that I haven’t had much time or energy to really enjoy much around me. This past weekend was a wash, with all that beautiful weather happening outside my house, and only work taking place inside for me. I did manage to get out for a little bit on Saturday and Sunday, but it was all for a purpose. It wasn’t just to be.

It wasn’t just to live.

Well, it had to be done. There it is. I took care of what I needed to take care of, and because of that, I didn’t have to get up at 5:30 again today and drive in to the office in the midst of heavy rush hour traffic. Because I took care of those things over the weekend, I can take a few minutes to stop and really breathe… to have my cup of coffee and look out my back window at the woods behind my house. I can watch the sun rising over the hill in the back and feel the nip of that chill in the air. I can look around at the books and papers lying on my desk and sense what each of them means to me. I can clear my head, before the day starts full-speed.

There are some changes happening at work. The boss’es boss’es boss has given notice and will be leaving in a few weeks. They’ve had enough and they’re moving on. It’s always interesting to watch how these things play out. This changes things. The Big Bully is leaving. They set a tone that’s really unprofessional and pushy, and they rely on browbeating their direct reports to get what they want. They have been a big reason I wanted to leave — the name-calling and ridicule and yelling and joking around in ways that get some folks sued in larger organizations, has been tough to handle each day. Now they’re leaving, and that tone may change — dramatically.

Part of me wants to jump in the fray and see if I can move up in the organization, but I am not sure I want to take that on. I’m having enough of a challenge keeping balance in my life at this point, let alone with more responsibility. Changes always get me fired up, and that’s an occupational hazard with me — I seek out stress to keep me pumped, to keep me alert… when what I really need in my life is balance, rest, the ability to regroup after times of intensity and stress, and have more to life than just my job. There’s part of me that wants to push — and push hard — but I’m just now learning how to relax and enjoy my days. I’m actually getting my life back, even in the midst of the crazy fray. Why wreck that, just as it’s beginning?

Indeed. I mean, look outside… Just look at this weather — clear and bright and cool. Perfect weather – just the kind I like. The birds are singing, chipmunks are chirping at each other, warning about a nearby predator. There’s the whoosh of cars passing on their way to work… and the day ahead of me is getting me ever closer to my deadlines and my goals.

And in another two days — 48 hours and counting — I will be packing for my vacation. I’ll be out of the office and out of the loop for eleven days — seven work days, four weekend days. It’s pretty incredible. I have a lot of hopes for this time, most of which include just sitting and looking in wonder at the world around me. I’ll be near a beach that I love. I’ll be near hiking trails. I’ll be near the woods. And I’ll be staying in a small town with everything a short drive or a walk away. Friends are going to visit us. We’re going to party like a bunch of giddy squares — our wild times will probably involve sitting on a deck playing Trivial Pursuit or somesuch. It’s going to be good — really good. Even if it rains the whole time, I have some books I plan to read, and I will have my computer so I can hone my technical skills and get online. And I will be out of the mad dash flow for nearly two weeks.

It’s all good. It’s life. And it just keeps getting better.

Long day. Soon off to bed.

Pretty rough day, today. Started early – up at 5:30 – and went till 10:30, when I met my spouse at the emergency department, where they were getting a jammed (possibly broken) thumb tended to. The injury, it turns out, is not serious. A simple splint used for several weeks should help.

That’s good.

Things went pretty dicey today. There were all sorts of snafus and glitches, and it would have been the icing on the cake if the smoke we saw out the office building window had indeed been a car on fire. Not quite. Construction work with smoking asphalt.

In the end, though, things got done. And that’s that.

Tomorrow it’s back to what I was doing today, but in a slightly different way. The first Big Deadline was met — rock on — and now there are two left for me to tend to. Big Deadlines. Very Big.

But it’s happening.

Just gotta keep moving. Keep on keepin’ on. Vacation is just around the corner. The beach awaits…

Back to work again

Writing helps

Well, this past weekend was interesting. Call it a wash. Call it an excellent use of time. I did things, this past weekend, that I haven’t done in years — read a bit of fiction and a bit of essay, explored various countries online, and wrote in my journal. A lot.

I haven’t really written journal-type stuff (outside of this blog) for a pretty long time. It’s been fits and starts, on and off, without much commitment. I’ve also been a bit wary of the whole journaling thing, because it tends to pull me into a self-consumed state of mine where I hash over the same stuff over and over and over again. And then when I look back, it really bothers me that I couldn’t get out off that loop.

This weekend, though, I did a lot of writing. I just didn’t care about the danger of “looping”.  I was sick. I was feeling bad. And it gave me some relief.

So, that’s good.

What was really good about it, was that I was writing in a different way than I used to, when I kept those “loop journals”. This time, I was writing for the specific purpose of getting my brain online.  See, I believe that the ways we use our brains determine how they are shaped, and I believe that writing is an excellent way of reshaping our brains. Keeping up this blog has been a huge part of my recovery — both because it helps me, and because it seems to help others. There are just no downsides (so long as I don’t let the blogging interfere with my daily routines).

What I did this weekend, was spend a lot of time really paying attention to my life and the world around me. I paid really close attention to the qualities and characteristics of the things around me — the minor parts of life that are so full of rich details that if we stopped to pay real attention to them, our lives would be as full and as wonderful as any action movie. I do believe that. The reason it doesn’t happen is, we just don’t try. We don’t realize that’s possible. And we don’t do it, so we don’t have practice, so it’s hard for us to do — and things that are hard are really no fun, so we don’t do them. And we get even more out of practice.

So, this past weekend, while I was fighting off my ear/sinus infection, I practiced. I looked at the patterns of raindrops on the roof of my car sitting down in the driveway. I examined the movements of clouds and the colors of leaves turning for autumn. I really felt the textures of the things in my house – the uneven surface of the bannister, the roughness of the walls, the weight and rumble of the sliding glass door. And even though I felt really, really sick, it woke me up in ways that I haven’t been awake, in quite some time.

And I realize that the big reason that my journaling didn’t help me — and got stuck in a loop — in the past, is that I was too much inside my head, too consumed by the confused thoughts and conflicts raging inside of me. I wasn’t journaling about the world around me, I was trying to “pin down” what was going on inside of me, and that — frankly — was a lost cause, because it was all a swiftly moving target that was constantly changing and morphing and flying from one extreme to the other, and it could never be pinned down.

But this different kind of writing — the “outside-in” writing, which is about what’s going on beyond my brain — is a whole other way of sorting through things. It’s like I’m exercising parts of my brain that don’t get any exercise in the course of my everyday logistics life. It’s like I’m
“airing out” the musty corners that don’t get much sunlight when I am so very intent on just getting something done that’s a problem for me. Focusing intently on doing things like making breakfast or doing my morning warm-up is good for the attention, but it doesn’t do much for my imagination. And the imagination part is what really rounds out my life and makes it enjoyable and worth living. Imagination is what I need help with, and this sort of writing — even just a few sentences about the shape of raindrops on the roof of my car — fires up that part of my brain like nothing else. It jump-starts my ability to experience life around me, in small pieces that don’t overwhelm me. And that’s good.

So, today I am awake with a very different perspective on things. I have finished my antibiotics, and I have another appointment with my doctor tomorrow to make sure my ears are alright. I still don’t feel well, and I have a ton of things to take care of at work today. I also have more things I need to do for my own life, because my spouse has been very, very sick and I am a bit more functional than they are, so someone needs to pick up the slack.

I feel, in a way, like I’ve turned the corner on something. I’ve had a pretty rough couple of months, with my job change and all the craziness going on inside my head. But I’m settled, now. I am settling in. I have a really good understanding of the physiological basics of keeping my life on track. I have a pretty good understanding of how to keep stress from wrecking me. I am determined to stick with those things and make my life better. And I have this new way of writing and exploring and improving how I think, how I feel, how my brain works — how I experience my life.

And it’s good. I can get back to work again. It’s going to take time, but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy the process.

Progress this week?

This week has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, I have gotten a lot done. On the other, I have not been exercising as much as I should, and I have not been sleeping as much as I should. I’m having a bit of a breakdown, actually, with a lot of things feeling much bigger to me than they are, the job situation getting on my nerves… everything getting on my nerves.

I’m just not feeling right about a lot of things. On the other hand, I know for a fact that I’m thinking and working better than I was a year ago, and I know for a fact that I will continue to improve.

I seem to have reached a plateau of sorts. Or maybe I’m coming off a plateau. I’m not sure.

All I know is, I really need a break. I could probably use a vacation.

Yeah. I’ll have to see what I can do about that.

How to have a working vacation

Work doesn’t have to be a chore. It can actually be fun. Over the past nine months, I was essentially on a “working vacation” — doing a job that paid pretty well and was really easy for me to do, and that had constant opportunities to learn.

In these times of economic hardship and unemployment, it may seem like productive, enjoyable work is well out of reach. It’s not. Here’s how you can work a job that’s more like a vacation than a J-O-B:

  1. Get training in specific skills. Learn a trade. Take classes. Acquire and develop your ability to do something, whether that something is fixing clothes dryers or building web pages or operating tool and die machinery. If your industry is becoming increasingly automated, learn to use the machines that are “taking your place”. Trust me — they’re going to break, and it will take trained people to get them back online.
  2. Hone your skills to the point where they come second-nature. Some people think that having skills or qualifications is enough… that simply having a degree or a certificate is enough to secure their future. I’m not sure what the weather is like on their planet(s), but that’s not been my experience. It’s not just having skills that counts — it’s being able to use them. So, if you have some, work, work, and work some more to attain mastery in your chosen field. Do not rest on your laurels. Make it your mission, your vocation, your calling, to be the best you can be at what you do.
  3. Keep learning, keep growing. That, in itself, is a reward. It makes you feel good. It makes you earn well. It makes you an asset to your employer and your co-workers. The more you learn and the more adept you become, the less your work feels like… work. When you reach a place of mastery in your profession, your calling, your vocation, work becomes worship, and the level of effort decreases dramatically.
  4. Take on more than you think you can handle. This will stretch you and force you to push the limits of your abilities. Really stretch yourself. Push yourself. Do things you don’t think you can, and don’t be afraid to fail. Then, when “regular” jobs come along, they will feel like a breeze. “Average” work will feel like child’s play, compared to the more advanced stuff you’ve done.
  5. Do the dirty work. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s not the fun jobs that win you job security, it’s the shitty, crappy, awful, boring, distasteful jobs that nobody else wants to do. When a crappy job comes up, if you have attained a level of mastery in your work, dealing with the stupid, niggling little details will not be such a chore. You’ll be more than up to the task, and your job will be much more secure than people’s who are prima donas, who think that because they have such-and-such qualifications and certifications and degrees, they shouldn’t have to do the “scut work”. Scut work is the stuff of job security, dude. Never turn it down. The people at the top are always looking for folks who can handle the shitty jobs well — and with mastery.

Basically, having a “working vacation” has two parts — ability and attitude.

Optimized, maximized, top-flight ability lets you do difficult things easily and with style.

A positive can-do attitude lets you treat every assignment like the opportunity it is.

Work should not  be a chore, a task to perform at the risk of homelessness. We have to work, we all know that. (And the ones who say otherwise are being silly — or revealing their independent wealth).  But it doesn’t have to be a burden, if you take the right approach.

Mastery, not servitude, is the key. So, take charge of your life, take control of the things you can control — your attitude and your abilities. And don’t let anyone hold you back or tell you anything other than You can do it.

Because you can.

Lost to TBI: Enjoying Going to the Beach

I used to love to go to the beach, but in the past few years, I’ve come to dread it. Whereas I used to just race across the sand and dive into the water, I now become highly agitated and cannot relax. I don’t feel comfortable doing anything with abandon. And I dread walking near other people, attracting their attention, or playing in the water in public.

If the beach is empty, it’s one thing. But when the weather is beautiful, chances are, I’m going to be surrounded by people, which I no longer tolerate well. I get very uptight when there are a lot of people around. The conversation and noise distract me and I can’t relax, having to constantly filter out the sounds of other people’s conversations and music and arguments and barking dogs and… whatever. I also worry about being approached by people and not knowing how to handle myself — saying the wrong thing, doing something stupid, interacting with their dog(s) in the wrong way. I worry about looking the wrong way and having people think I’m angry or aggressive or hostile.

I’ve become deeply self-conscious about my appearance. I feel like I’m too pale or too lean or too lanky or too flabby or too… something that other people will notice unfavorably. I sometimes actually forget how I look, and I can end up walking around with bits of clothing or underwear or hanging out, haing my buttons being unevenly buttoned, or looking otherwise disheveled. And I won’t find out till it’s too late. I worry that this will happen to me on the beach. I worry that I’ll meet and talk with someone and I’ll make a fool of myself, and then I’ll see them in town later on, and I’ll be embarrassed by my behavior or my looks. It’s easier to just keep away from people, period.

I’m also nervous about going in the water — it’s very challenging for me. Whereas once, I used to just dive in and splash around, now I have to really focus and concentrate on the movement of the waves. Putting my head under water scares me, and I need to force myself to do it. Once I do, I feel better, and I can relax a little bit, but just getting my head under the water is a struggle at times.

The open space of a beach makes me nervous, as I don’t feel like I can manage my surroundings. I dread being out in the open, and I prefer to be in an enclosed area, where I know where I can hide or duck out of sight.

I feel much better when I can find a “sun trap” to hide away in. It gives me a break from the social anxiety of not knowing how I’ll (re)act/interact around other people, when I get too stressed. If I’m out in the open long enough, eventually I do get very stressed. And I either shut down or I melt down. Neither one is very pleasant for people with me.

It’s embarrassing and mortifying and I hate that I can’t deal with something as simple as going to the beach, as a 40-something grown individual who has always loved the ocean, the beach, and the feel of sand between my toes at sunset.

I fucking hate it.