Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mapping, part 2

 On a Saturday evening, after mowing my lawn and showering, I began to draft my journey map.  In Excel.  Because I'm super-cool like that. 

I'd be percolating on this since Wednesday, not thinking about it very hard, but letting myself absorb that I wanted to devote it some attention. 

Is it bad to confess I was a bit afraid of this?  I have a friend who did an intensive yoga retreat in Vietnam last year.  Even listening to her talk about it Freaked Me Out.  I don't want to explore the depths of my soul.  Or reach the boundaries of my consciousness.  That's releasing control over your boundaries and I like my boundaries. 

I still have recurring dreams of being driven somewhere - often in a school bus - and very suddenly going over an edge and down a deep incline.  Though the bus remains on the road, I am unanchored and lift up, plucked from my seat by forces beyond me.  I typically wake, frantically looking around and ahead, seeking something to which I can cling or hoping the road levels so I can find a seat to support me again.

Point is why would I want to delve deeper into a brain so scary?  I'm good with superficial knowledge, thanks.   

Anyway.  Back to mapping!

I had three columns - (1) Month, Year (2) Feelings on an arbitrary scale from -10 to 10, (3) Notes.   I added the colors later - ignore those if you're following along on your own journey map.  (In Excel.  Because you're super-cool like that too!)

I quickly found that I could best assess my past if I looked at May as that's when the academic year typically ended for me.  I added extra time points as they struck me as important but I set my minimum sampling at May.    I finished with May, 2014, so I have a current state.  There's no particular reason I started in 7th grade - it felt like my first "professional" accomplishment and gave me upwards of 20 years to consider patterns. 

I may have scrunched up my face in thought to get a Feelings Number but I tried not to think about it too much.  I made it a 'your first answer is probably the right answer' exercise so I worked pretty quickly, going back and inserting rows if I realized I'd forgotten something I wanted to capture or adjusting values if I found my scale was a bit off. 

Also recall that I did this at night.  I'm sharp in the mornings - my brain is nimble and fast.  Like a ninja.  Or an otter.  An otter ninja!  At night, my brain more resembles a befuddled yet emotional elephant  - the edges of thoughts blur, I'm much more likely to get upset - angry, sad, anxious - depends on the day.  So I tapped into the emotions that tend to linger closer to the surface at night for me. 

I was oddly disappointed when I inserted myself a line graph and did not find my squiggly line profoundly informative.  I poked the screen of my laptop with my finger, befuddled-elephant-brain wanting it to tell me something.  Upon admitting it was going to remain a squiggle and smiling over how I could see some Ms - "M is my middle initial!" I giggled - I closed the laptop and went to bed.

When I realized the ends of those Ms looked remarkably like my dreams.  Sharp, surprising declines that leave me floating frighteningly above the ground, grasping for help that won't come fast enough.

Closing the laptop quickly, I calmed myself and climbed the stairs to snuggle in bed and sleep.  I'd think about the rest later.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mom Flies Solo

My parents spent February, 2012, just south of Tampa Bay.  Dad didn't feel well during that trip, though they did have a nice time.  Returning home the first of March, Mom made an appointment for him to see our family doctor and he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer on March 16. 

Aunt and Uncle have taken this February Florida trip for years now and while they let Mom stay with me in 2013, they nudged her to join them this year.  She agonized over the decision - she and Aunt talked, she and I talked, she and Uncle talked.  Repeatedly. 

It was at last decided that she didn't want to stay the whole month.  She would instead fly to join them for the middle two weeks.

I blinked at her when she told me, but quickly recovered to smile encouragingly.  "Great!" I said.  "I'll fly down with you and then fly back the same day.  And we'll do that again when you return."

"No," she replied firmly, though her chin quivered nervously.  "I can do this." 

So I watched her make reservations.  Helped her pack, walked her through what would happen at check-in and security and while boarding.  Told her to ask for help if she grew confused - she's such a sweet lady.  People would help her.

I checked her in the day before, frowning thoughtfully at her ticket.  It had merged her middle initial with her first name - making her a Judithe.  But there were three letters - lower case i - at the end of our last name.  I snorted, almost choking myself when I figured it out.

"You must have accidentally filled in the suffix when you made reservations," I told her, chuckling at her outraged denial.  "You made yourself Judithe, the third."  After assuring her it wouldn't matter and showing her the websites that reassured her, we giggled about it.  I took to calling her "i-i-i."

We drove to the airport in the predawn hours on a Sunday.  I kept expecting her to refuse to go so I could whisk her safely home. 

She did not.  We checked in, printing her boarding passes and asking the nice airline representative about the "iii."  She told us it was fine, smiling warmly at my mother and promising she would be fine.  I walked with her to security, leading her to the entrance of the empty maze of ropes before a TSA guy waved her over to the first class line instead. 

"I'm proud of you," I whispered, hugging tightly and pressing a kiss to her cheek.  She nodded, chin trembling, and took her bags from me and moved toward the ID-checker.  She turned to wave before moving to unpack her luggage as we'd practiced and I waved back, standing on tip-toes so I could continue to watch. 

She motioned to her knees - they've been replaced - and leaned closer to listen as they explained the stance you take in the scanner.  And then I smiled as she gathered her bags and walked toward her gate, dutifully checking the monitor as we'd discussed. 

She texted me from Atlanta, saying she'd made friends on the plane and they helped her find the train to her connecting flight, despite ATL being their final destination.  Then she made another friend who watched her bags while she went to the restroom.

She enjoyed the weeks at the beach - wandering the shore, exploring shops and restaurants and spending time with Aunt, Uncle and other couples.  And she missed my Dad.  But she did OK.

I went to fetch her late one Thursday, rushing to meet her as she emerged from the concourse, looking exhausted but happy. 

"Hi!" I greeted her, practically bouncing.  "I missed you!  You did it!  How was it?!" 

"It was hard," she told me, smoothing my hair as I took her luggage and widened my eyes and how heavy it was.  "Presents," she noted, nodding at the smaller - and heavier - of the bags.  "But I did it," she said and I nodded, immeasurably proud of her.  "Let's go home."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mapping, part 1

"Where do you see yourself next?" he asked and I cocked my head at him. 

We'd been discussing organizational changes.  Growing pains.  What was working and what wasn't.  I find I'm fond of him - this new manager with a team parallel to my own.  So when he asked if I had a moment after we completed a meeting early, I strode - in my nude kitten heels - toward his office.  We sat around his desk and talked - I tried to answer his questions fairly but offered enough criticism to be helpful.

"For my next role?" I clarified and pressed my lips together when he nodded.  "I don't know."

"You must know," he replied, smiling, for I am a thoughtful person to the point of being neurotic.

"Not really," I stated slowly.  "I want to be a better person. That's what I know."

"What does that mean?" he asked, leaning toward me behind the closed door in his office.

"I don't know, exactly," I sighed.   "I had a plan once.  And then my parents got cancer and..."

"You told me," he offered when I trailed off and I nodded, not recalling that conversation.  I tried to remember, wondering how often I repeat it.  My parents diagnosed.  My dad died.  I miss him so much and remain so sad that it all happened. 

Life doesn't always work out, I wanted to confide.  You don't know what will happen and you plan and train and fight and win and then when the biggest battle is before you?  You're as helpless as if you'd done nothing at all.  All the knowledge and contacts and strings to pull?  It matters not.  God's will be done.

"The business won't tell you what you want," he finally said as he watched me struggle, sympathy lingering in his dark eyes.  "You have to decide where you find purpose and joy and then drive toward that.  You have talent, Katie.  I see you being capable of so much.  But you need direction and must find that for yourself."

"I don't know how," I admitted softly.  "I mean, I've thought about it.  I really have.  I want to do good work - find something important and do really well at it.  I want to work with people who are happy and fulfilled.  I want to be good at what I'm doing now."

"You are," he stated quickly.  "Let's move to what's next."  At my raised eyebrow, he rose from his chair and began to draw on the board.  The green marker moved, creating axes with little pluses and minuses and a wiggly line moving in the space they defined. 

"Draw a journey map," he assigned.  "Take the last 10 years - 20, 30, whatever - and remember what made you happy, hopeful, strong and what was sad, difficult, upsetting.  Your parents - that's the low point.  You're climbing back from there and that's hard.  So think back to when you felt good and figure out how to get there again."

"OK," I said, staring at the green squiggle for a moment before deciding I would try.  Go back through blog posts.  Think.  I would use Excel to assign numerical scores to my mood and what happened in my life. 

"Two weeks," he said before rushing off to a meeting.  "We review your map and define next steps."

I nodded before gathering my bag and glancing at the board one more time.  I seem to have inadvertently found a mentor, I decided, somewhat bemused.  Maybe things do happen when they're supposed to happen.

God's will be done. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The More Things Change...

I felt my lips curve from involuntary amusement when I realized my last three purchases had been bags.  I can recall arranging my purses and totes, carryalls and laptop bags to demonstrate the breadth of options I required once upon a time. 

I've donated many of those.  Decided to simplify.  Feel proud that I consistently carry the same navy bag, ensuring its designer label faces outward proudly.  I purchased it with a work award, beaming at it upon arrival for I now have a nice bag. 

Then, awaiting a trip to Europe, I delved into credit card points and bought a new backpack.  My old one is literally falling apart.  I accidentally became infatuated with a Coach wristlet while browsing so I decided to have that as my very own too. 

So despite despairing that I have lost some essential element of myself, I remain constantly Katie.  I buy too many bags.  I have an inordinate fondness for cut flowers.  I try to be kind but am too impatient and irritable to consistently succeed.  I love God.  But too often absently - without the dedication and devotion that relationship deserves. 

"Do you miss it?" Two friends - old ones with whom I've not spoken much since taking my new job almost 2 years ago - asked gently when we connected for lunch.  In response to my inquiring expression and cocked head, they elaborated.  "The travel.  The stress.  The potential for promotion." 

"Ah," I replied, considering it.  "Sometimes?  Not often.  Work stuff aligned the way it should have.  I love being here for my mom.  I needed the steadiness.  The knowledge that I could do a good job but not kill myself.  But I do miss the travel - I'm craving Europe like you wouldn't believe."

But just when I was feeling increasingly unsettled - am I not important enough to travel?  Why am I not recognized for the work I do for projects that are increasingly high-profile?  Is this organization career-limiting?  And, if so, given my salary and stress level, do I care? - circumstances shifted. 

I was granted permission to go to Europe at the end of May, an event that sends me researching hotels on my iPad twice daily.  I'm visiting two new places (to me - centuries old unto themselves) and one familiar locale.  I was appointed to a different project and somehow gained the visibility I seem to seek.  And I was appointed to a committee that aims to address some shortcomings in my group - a difficult task to be sure, but one I feel is important and urgent.  I recognize such talent and passion and creativity in my peers (and managers) that I feel is being misunderstood and unused. 

It pleases me that when I have little energy for much of anything, I remain - or perhaps have become - an outspoken advocate for morale. 

I listened - over a different lunch - to a brand new colleague talk about her long-term plans.  I smiled and nodded over promotions and leadership roles she had in mind.  Offered advice when asked.  Made encouraging comments when appropriate. 

"What about you?" she asked when we were nearly out of soda.

"Long-term?" I asked and shrugged when she nodded. 

"I want to be a better person," I told her.  "I'm not sure what that means exactly but that's the goal."