Category: Work and Career

On opening the windows, shaking off the dust, and blogging again

I have that feeling now, that feeling where the weather starts turning warmer and you want to clean everything and throw out all of your winter clothes and go shopping.  Spring fever or something like that.

I’m finally home.  My traveling isn’t over forever, but I don’t have any work trips planned for at least a month and I’m settling back into a more normal routine.

I’ve missed you all.  And I’m excited to be back, but also nervous that it’s silly to blog after being away for months.  (But, honestly, blogging is a little silly at its very nature, so whether or not there will be readers really doesn’t increase or decrease its inherent silliness, am I right?)

Work has been — hard.  I’ve been traveling and stressing out and making presentations and filtering spreadsheets and loving every minute.  I’ve never felt more grateful for anything than I have felt these last few months for the continued opportunity to work hard in a job I love.  I’ve had really terrible jobs, and I know how depressing and terrifying and boring it is to feel like your time is not used well and you aren’t accomplishing anything because I have lived that life too.  A lot.  (If you are there right now, I’m sorry.)

I’m also learning first-hand how important it is to set boundaries for myself.  Everything in moderation.  When I’m caught up in my work, months can pass without me remembering to get a hair-cut, go out with my friends, paint my fingernails.  And let’s not even talk about laundry.

When you’ve been going nonstop and working a lot its easy to convince yourself that your work is very important and that because your work is important, you are important too.  And that is a lie.  Just because your job is hard or your hours are long does not mean your job is important.  And, whether or not you work a lot or your job is important does not make you important.  You are already important because you are a person who loves others and who is greatly loved.  Being a person who is alive is AWESOME.

I’m mostly writing for myself today.  And this is what I need to hear, every day, but especially when things feel insane or tedious or impossible or just plain boring.  You too?

 

Thanks for joining me here, my friends.  It’s been too long, hasn’t it?  How are things? 

What I’m Into: Summer 2014

Well, it’s September.  Holy cow.  How did this happen?  The summer has flown by in a blur, but there were a few pockets of awesome mixed in too.  Here is a quick rundown of some of the things I loved (or learned) over the past few months.

 

I went to a professional soccer game.  It was crazy fun.  Did you know that fans throw beer into the air after each score during DC United soccer games?  Yeah, me either.  They do.  (Pro tip: do not wear your suit to the game even if you are going after work.  Dry-cleaning is expensive.)

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I ate a lot of not-so-great restaurant food, but I also enjoyed some pretty yummy DC meals during my lengthy hotel stay.  For example, have you ever eaten a scotch egg?  It’s a soft-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, and then breaded and deep fried.  I think.  I tried this one at the Copperwood Tavern in Shirlington (Arlington), Virginia.  It was delicious.

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During the rare minutes I wasn’t working or traveling this summer, I mostly (a) went to dinner with friends or (b) watched Netflix in my hotel room.  But one weekend when H was in town we drove out to Theodore Roosevelt Island for a little wilderness.  Did you know that even though they drained all of the water out of the fountains on Theodore Roosevelt Island and closed the island’s bathrooms for repair, the landmark is beautiful in a weirdly Soviet way?  It needs a lot of love and attention and Teddy deserves better.  I was excited to finally visit the Island and — disappointment all around.

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I took a four-day weekend over the Fourth of July and flew to Chicago to drive to Detroit to spend the weekend with extended inlaws.  I caught two huge fish and one tiny perch and bought my own fishing pole (named Ice) and a camo fishing hat from Bass Pro Shops.  It was potentially the best weekend ever.

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This summer I also saw two pretty cool people get married, ate a TON of Kansas City barbecue, went to brunch with some pretty fabulous people (really, tons of Brunch.  That’s my kind of summer.), and learned a lot at work.  After 60 days away, I’m feeling pretty comfortable in my skin and more confident about what I want out of my life.  Which is to say, a cool job is cool but it isn’t enough.

 

AND THEN I came home.  It was beautiful.  I crashed the first night in Chicago and then got to work, making our two-bedroom condo overlooking the city mine.  My return home was one year after our move to Chicago (weird how anniversaries work, isn’t it?) and only a few days before our fourth wedding anniversary, and I didn’t want to enter this new year without fully unpacking from our move and settling into our space.  We still had a few boxes of photographs and art pieces that needed to be hung, and we had crammed all of our excess belongings into the guest room closet (seriously, it was treacherous), and it was time to dig in and clean out.  We made a huge contribution to Goodwill and have a few more furniture pieces headed that way next week.

 

I built these flower boxes on my balcony when I got back to Chicago.  And by built, I mean I purchased them from Home Depot and encouraged my husband while he attached them to our balcony with screws.  But I planted them myself and so far only 1 out of 10 of these plants is showing signs of death.  And only a slight shade of death, so that’s a pretty successful planting experience for this black thumbed girl.

flower boxes

 

Here is a photo of my beautiful clean kitchen.  I emptied every cabinet, dusted and cleaned, scrubbed the appliances, rearranged our dishware and even set up a cookbook display to add some extra color.  It doesn’t look exactly like this every day, but we are trying to maintain.

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And, while cleaning and sorting and donating has taken up a lot of my non-work minutes, we’ve also made sure to spend a little time out in the city.  Chicago is a beautiful place to live, and I’m so happy to be home.

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Today’s post is part of Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into Link-Up.  To join the link-up or check out other posts, please click here.

 

Pressing Reset

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I love to work. I feel pride when I create an excellent product, or write a smart and convincing paragraph, or (more recently) learn a trick in Excel that allows me to sort efficiently through data to find fact-based answers instead of opinions or conjecture.

I feel most like myself when I’m working well. While I don’t live to work exactly, I do gain a lot of personal fulfillment from my career. When I’m putting in a lot of hours or trudging through a difficult project (like I am now, with a dark and twisty project I am managing that sometimes feels like it is managing me), it is easy for me to flip to the dark side. I can begin to despair: I am terrible and worthless and stupid and eventually they will notice and my career will be over. Which, as a side note, might be because smart girls are socialized to believe they received innate smartness at birth instead of learning that good results are achieved through hard work.

Have you been here too? Have you obsessed over the tiniest details of your workload on a Saturday afternoon while going through the motions of a weekend shopping trip? Do you stare out the window of the car mentally re-hashing a meeting or remembering things you should have or could have done while the other passengers are jamming out to AC/DC? (You do still jam out to AC/DC, right? There really is no better driving music.) Have you spent too many evenings in a row, crashing on the sofa after dinner and binge-watching television that really isn’t that interesting (I’m looking at you, The Killing) so you don’t have to think or talk or decide anything?

When over-focused on work results, I begin to slip out of my personal life. I lose track of time, or forget things I would otherwise always remember. I recognize it quickly, but sometimes it takes me a few weeks to take action. (Once I act, I always feel really stupid for waiting so long.) When the working is too big and the living is too small, what I really need is to create something beautiful.

The underlying problem of it all is that I’ve forgotten to do the things that make me feel alive and proud in my non-work hours. When work demands a lot, it is too easy to give up writing time, blogging time, photography or reading or biking or yoga classes. But I’m learning that it is precisely those things that I often consider selfish or unnecessary extras that keep me alive.  To bake bread, plan a delicious dinner party, browse a used book store or plan a trip or choose a new fall color scheme for this space.

When work gets hard, I must force myself to remember what is so easy to forget: I get to choose what I do, what I value, and where I focus. This week, I choose to live a beautiful life.

Half-way Home

I’m half-way through my 60-day detail in DC as of this weekend! There are only four work-weeks left until I’m back at home full time with H and Leo.

These past 30 days have been long and busy, but time is also flying by. Half of 2014 is gone. I’m nearly half-way to age 29 (how can I possibly be so dang old?!). Christmas is less than six weeks months away. In just a few months, it will start getting colder and colder in Chicago, and I’ll have to say goodbye to arms and legs and shoes worth looking forward to wearing.

I’m not ready. There are so many more things I want to do before this year is over. A lot of my internet friends are posting half-year updates, and while I don’t want to go line-by-line through my plan for this year, I do want to say two things.

First, this year I wanted to attack my life instead of letting it pass me by. And for the small things I haven’t. I’m still more likely to watch television than exercise, or to stay home instead of going out, or to blog or tweet instead of making that phone call. (Sorry Mom, it’s just really hard.).

But for the bigger things, I’m really proud of myself. I have been more intentional about saying what I want to do, where I want to go, what I want to eat. I’ve prioritized traveling and seeing friends and doing what I love. And I took a few big risks this year, including that writing boot camp and my writing conference, not to mention saying yes to this job in DC.

Second, I’m starting to feel like my own person (getting older is pretty awesome on that front, huh?) and feel very confident about my skills and abilities. Over the last year I have been so lucky to work with an incredible boss and mentor; his continued support, guidance, and trust have been incredibly affirming for me. I have a newfound comfortableness in my own skin that feels incredible. I’m no longer afraid to let people see how smart I am. (I dream of a world where all women everywhere fearlessly and confidently use their whole selves and full abilities to make our world a better, safer, healthier place.)

That’s where I am right now, and it’s still hard, but I like it. I’m weirdly happy, even though I’m itchy from a crazy rash and tired from constant flights and sick of eating at restaurants and still using my iPhone 4 with weak battery life and low memory. This year is half-way over and things aren’t perfect but I am happy, and that is awesome.

Long-term Work Travel Advice: the good and the bad

When I decided to accept a short-term detail in Washington, DC three weeks ago, I had only a few days to prepare for my departure. Like any Millennial faced with the unknown, I took to Google to gather information. I searched “long-term business travel” and read message boards from the suitcase brethren who had traveled before me.

A lot of the advice was pretty spot-on, if not a little obvious. Many commenters mentioned how easy it was to forget comfortable evening/weekend wear, and that packing a pair of sweats and a few cute, casual outfits was essential for any non-work activities that might pop up. Others articulated more health-conscious commentary, including the difficulty of maintaining weight-loss while eating so many meals in restaurants, or ensuring that the workout clothes you pack could do double-duty for either a quick jog or an impromptu yoga class.  One of the best pieces of advice was about the dangers of unintentionally over-consuming alcohol: when every dinner is a once-in-a-blue-moon evening out for your friend, it’s easy for a glass or two of wine at a nice dinner to become a glass or two of wine at every dinner. It’s okay to have iced tea, or seltzer with lime, even if you are hanging out with a friend you haven’t seen in years.

But, the one comment that I couldn’t forget was about coming home. Don’t do it unless you absolutely have to, one poster said. Coming home means leaving again, and you want to leave as few times as possible. Avoid coming home as much as you can.

It’s true that saying goodbye is incredibly hard, but I have to tell you that, at least for me, coming home this weekend was exactly what I needed. The stress and anxiety of a new job melted away as I talked with H about my worries, my goals, what I’m doing well and what I want to do better. (I want to arrive earlier into the office each day this week, for example, and do some significant early-morning research so I can stay ahead of deadlines.)

Seeing H and having an intense round of cuddles from Leo the Cat helped me remember that my physical presence in Chicago is not essential to the daily functioning of my family – the boys are just fine without me. I don’t have to feel guilty for leaving or be distracted from the cool and important work I’m doing, because they are just fine and my professional goals are important to all three of us. Well, maybe Leo is more concerned about getting his white fur on my black work slacks than he is about financial outlays or budgetary priorities or spreadsheets or regulations, but he’s a cat so I think we can give him that.

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And just in case this isn’t obvious, spending the weekend in my city was also pretty dang fun. Fun is important, and having fun with the people you love is the most important thing of all.

I’m back in our nation’s capital today, working hard and learning a lot and enjoying hot muggy weather [for America]. Going home helped me remember why I left.

Living the Dream

On Tuesday of last week I was asked to accept a short-term assignment in DC.  It was a fantastic opportunity — doing work that I’ve always wanted to do, that I can’t do from Chicago — and with only 24 hours to decide we said yes.  It was kind of surreal, one of those outside-your-own-body moments.  I don’t know that I actually ever wanted to say “yes! I’d love to leave my home and my little family and my beach-access apartment and spend 45 days in the hot humid DC summer,” but I knew somehow that I was supposed to say “yes!” and so I did.  I don’t like to make uninformed decisions and I don’t like surprises and yet, somehow, I did it anyway.

Even now that I’m here and in the hotel and enjoying my lovely desk (with a window!) and doing the work, I’m still not sure how it all happened.  And I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better if I was in Chicago following my normal routine and making sure Leo gets enough cuddles and H gets sufficient calories from baked goods.

I spent the weekend soaking up the early Chicago summer.  We biked to the beach and went out for burgers and drank my favorite beer.  I purchased a new suit (it’s navy blue and from Ann Taylor!) and packed a TON of clothes and more shoes than I’ve ever traveled with at one time. In one large checked bag and one Vera Bradley duffel, I packed work clothes, hanging out clothes, gym clothes, work supplies and my bike helmet.  (You know, just in case I need to ride one of those  rental bikes around the national mall while I’m here.  Safety first.)

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Everything I’ll need for the next two weeks is crammed into these two bags. There was a little rearranging due to that pesky 50-pound weight limitation.

I spent 8.5 hours traveling on Sunday, due to repeated delays and airplane events and bad luck.  When I finally checked into my hotel in DC everything around was closed.  I was tired and hungry and had just paid $98 for a cab ride that was worth every single penny.  I went grocery shopping at the 24-hour CVS.

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Life essentials: multi-grain cheerios, half-and-half for coffee, hummus and crackers, and 100-calorie ice cream bars.

I’m lucky to have the greatest of friends and family here in DC, which is my first love of cities and was my first “real” adult home.  I’m so happy to be back here, for a little while, making memories and learning a lot and building on my work over the past year.  But while you absolutely can go back (you just purchase a ticket and pack a bag and leave), it’s never quite the same.

It’s hard to really embrace a new home, like my new home in Chicago, unless you let go of your former residence.  If you spend every spare minute talking to old friends and every holiday visiting old places, you don’t give the new things in your life a chance to change you.  These past ten months in Chicago have been hard (and remarkably cold), but they’ve made an impression.  I’m still a DC girl at heart, but I’m not a DC resident anymore.  I miss my skyscrapers and my lakefront views and my ever-present breeze.  I miss my short commute too.  (Seriously, even shorter than my train ride from the hotel!)

It’s a lot easier to be a game changer when you’re just talking about pipe dreams.  Being a fierce independent woman is harder when it means traveling 700 miles from home and seeing your husband every-other-weekend.  But also worth it. These 45 days could open a world of possibilities.  And even if they don’t, a dream fulfilled is a life well lived.

On Powerful Words

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I connected with my law school mentor this week. It’s been a while since we were in touch. She shared some good news I wanted to hear, and I shared a link to the panel on creative writing projects by prisoners INCARCERATED PERSONS I attended last week.

It was just a few emails, sent back and forth while we were each doing our own regular work. Nothing important, really. I asked about her daughter’s first year away at college; she asked how my husband’s job was going and if we’d fallen in love with Chicago yet. [Quite well, and yes! a little more every day.] She asked about my current work, and I wrote back about my ongoing project and how I was surprisingly very happy even though I wasn’t currently practicing law. She replied,

Wow, [pink-briefcase] — that is amazing. Those are some incredible skills you are learning. What is the hardest part? Where do you see yourself after this?

We talked a little more, about law school rankings and the future of legal education and the flowers blooming there but not here, but those twenty-five words worked a powerful magic in my heart.

  .  .  .  .

I have a supervisor that isn’t my supervisor at work. He is kind of a mentor, kind of a boss, and kind of a friend. I’ve learned a lot working for/with him. Every now and then, when things get rough and I start to feel on edge, I read over an email he sent one day, which started off:

Your professionalism, persistence, patience, exemplary work ethic and positive attitude have been evident to all throughout this project.

On days when nothing goes right and all I can do is put down my pen and shake my head and pour the tea and start over again, this sentence waits for me. I look up and see it, hanging on my blue bulletin board right above the empty jar that once held black-raspberry jelly my husband’s grandmother made us for Christmas, which now holds pens and highlighters and a pair of scissors, and I read those words. I remind myself that one bad day cannot cancel out months of hard work.

  . . . .

I’m not sure that either of these mentor-friends knows how important their words were/are to me. I didn’t write back “HOLY COW THAT IS SO NICE I’M GOING TO PRINT OUT THIS EMAIL AND HANG IT ON MY BULLETIN BOARD AND LOOK AT IT EVERY DAY FOREVER.” I said thank you and continued on, slightly embarrassed about all of the fuss. No perfectionist really wants to be congratulated for doing a good job (don’t I always do a good job? I always try to do a good job! why is this time different? did I screw up something terribly last week?! . . . ). But as awkward as I may feel when I first receive these affirmations, I am completely changed by knowing that people I trust think these things. I am confident and brave and resilient because I trust their opinions of me to be true, even when my opinion of myself falls far short of their esteem.

We talk a lot online about how words have consequences, but we often really mean that words have negative consequences. We criticize and condemn each other too freely, with too little concern for the way another might feel to read a scathing review, a bullying comment, a snide remark. We forget too quickly that it could easily be the negative comments they are printing out and hanging up on the blue bulletin boards of their hearts. Negative words do have an undeniably strong hold on us, but I’m becoming more aware of the immense power positive words hold as well.