Tag Archives: relationships

Marriage — to take his name…or not?

Who are we, as women?  As a woman, who are you?  Do you know?  If so, how do you express that? What sums up your identity?

For me, a big part of that is my name.  It’s something sacred.  It’s my calling card in the world.  It’s something that identifies me as me.  It’s something that provides continuity and coherence  in the long story that is my life.

I don’t always like my name, and in truth I legally modified my birth name several years ago to better suit me — I literally bought my first name an additional letter.  I don’t always like my last name.  It’s hard to spell and people often mispronounce and/or misspell both my first and last names.

But it’s mine.

I read an article the other day that struck a nerve.  Titled “Retro Marriage Trend Makes a Comeback, for Better or Worse” the piece describes how large majorities of women are now taking their husbands’ last names when they marry.  There seems to be conflicting data on whether this is more common among older women or younger women, but one statistic presented in the article is that 8% of women now keep their maiden names, compared to a high of 23% in the 1990s.

This troubles me.  It’s hard enough for women to discover who we are, what our values are, what our unique gifts and dreams are, and how to manifest them.  It’s hard enough for women to be seen as whole people, to have a Self outside the needs of other people — our children, spouses, partners, parents, and siblings.  It’s hard enough for women to be seen, heard and taken seriously — or for us to take ourselves, our voices, our lives and our responsibilities seriously.

So why add to all that potential for getting lost and not forming a solid independent Selfhood the additional variable of a name change?  A change in our major identifier, that connects us with our entire lives?  And a change that typically happens at an age when we’re just about to burst onto the stage of our own lives?

Maybe women in the United States don’t know the history behind the custom of changing names.  It comes from English law where women had nothing — were nothing — without attachment to a male.  First that male was their father, then it was their husband.  Women — even ones from rich families — had no right to own any property of their own, and no right to much of anything.  As economic entities literally owned by men, we women were vaginas and wombs used to pass on the names of men and their property (to sons) or to form economically and politically advantageous alliances with other families (through marrying off daughters).  To lose or gain a name was to lose or gain basic rights and economic safety.

And by the way the term “maiden name” is sexist in itself, implying that a pre-married woman is (and should be) a virgin.  Of course men enjoy no comparable labels distinguishing the various stages of their sexual activity (which is another subtext of unmarried vs. married — don’t get me started on the whole “Miss”, “Mrs.”  and “Ms.” thing).

It’s not this way in all parts of the world.  In countries colonized by Spain instead of England, people have at least two surnames — one from the father and one from the mother.  (This norm may have originally come from Arabic-speaking cultures, which spread to Spain.)  While the maternal surname eventually gets dropped after two generations, every person carries identifiers from both parents.  Latin American women rarely change their names when they marry, and if they do, it’s often added to the others and preceded by a “de” to show it’s a married surname.

Also in Spanish-speaking countries — cultures often thought to be more machista (sexist or male dominant) than the USA — women have long been able to own property separate from men.  In fact, California was the first state where women could own property separate from any man.  This was a holdover from Mexican law that was preserved when California became a part of the United States.

I understand the practical reasons for changing one’s name.  Sometimes we women don’t like our birth surnames.  Sometimes we don’t like our family of origin and are happy to join a new tribe.  Sometimes we want continuity with our children.  When I was married, I got a new passport with a hyphenated last name in anticipation of children, and signed legal documents as a hyphenated person when they were jointly executed with my then-spouse.  But nowhere else.  It gleefully tickled my feminist funny bone to no end when we’d get spam phone calls from some poor soul wanting to talk to Mr. [my last name].

My main issue about changing names is this — why is the name change only a woman’s issue?  Why don’t men get to go through this?  If marriage implies a union, why not make it equal and NOT a subsuming of the woman’s identity to the man’s?  Some men do change their names or both spouses take on a new hyphenated name, and I’d love to see more of this.  I adore how Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, actually combined his last name (Villar) with his wife’s (Raigosa) to create a whole new entity.  What a metaphor for partnership, union, shared new identity, and equity!

Marriage today has its roots in feudal economic relationships where women are not only unequal to men, but their property.  Because of this inequity and the burdens it brings, we continue to have to make myriad decisions that are men’s privilege to never have to consider — like having to time children before it’s too late biologically but after it’s sufficiently economically stable; whether to try parenthood plus career or choose one; like balancing”work work” and housework.  On top of all that, we have to decide what to call ourselves too?

There must be some payoff.  Let’s face it, the logistics of changing your name is a HUGE pain in the arse, especially in the digital age.  So ladies, what is the payoff?

I suspect there is another piece here that isn’t talked about much.  Women changing their names upon marriage is a public declaration of the married state.  It’s a way to announce to the world “I am married now!”  It’s a way to announce “I am now legitimate before the world, as are my children and my sexual activity!”  Even though we single women tend to be better offer financially and (according to some studies) also happier than married women — especially ones with children — there is still a stigma attached to being a single woman with our wild, unclaimed vaginas bandying about.  The stigma is that somehow we haven’t been able to attract a man that wants to marry us (which apparently should be our goal)…and therefore we are defective somehow.  Unintentionally perhaps, women taking on their husbands’ name contributes to a societal sense of “there are better and worse buckets of womanhood, and I’m in the ‘good woman’ bucket now!”

Let’s be honest.  There is some truth to the existence of the good bucket. Being married — and letting the whole world know we’re married by changing our name — still gives us an identity, legitimacy, and personhood that singledom does not.  Also, few relationships in a woman’s life outside of marriage have the power to determine the path and quality of a woman’s life (and that of her children) in terms of basic physical safety and economic well-being…whether for better or worse.

I hope for the day when marriage is NOT such a defining and critical moment in a woman’s life to the extent she feels compelled, or obligated (one of my recently-married acquaintances was pressured by her new husband to change her last name because it was “the polite thing to do”) to change her identity.  I hope for the day when marriage is just as critical and defining a moment for men.  And I hope for the day when men have to wrestle with the big questions of life, identity, work, children, and family to the same degree as women.

In the meantime, I do my part to encourage this shift by resisting the norm and its oppressive history.  While I may hyphenate again one day, I retain my surname, and along with it my identity, my herstory, my whole personhood, and my Self.

What do you think?  Why did you change your name? Or not?

In lak ech!

Jaxsine

Sex and Violence: From New Delhi to Steubenville and Beyond

It’s February. The month of Valentines Day, and the beginning of spring according to some pagan traditions.  Warmth and green are just around the corner, and I’ve been thinking about sex lately.

I’ve been thinking about sex as something I need more of in my life (a story for another post perhaps 🙂 ) but especially since last month’s news of Nirbhaya — the name given to the young woman who was raped on a New Delhi bus and eventually died of her wounds.  When I read them, just these bare facts affected me deeply, partly because of all the horrified questions that came up — how can someone be raped on a bus (which I assumed was moving in New Delhi streets during the day)? Why didn’t anyone do anything? How did the assailant hide what he was doing (although I’ve been on some pretty crowded and anonymous busses in many different places in my life)? Why didn’t the driver do anything, or stop the bus? The whole scenario really rattled my fragile cage of faith in strangers and humanity.

Later, I learned more and gained a more complete picture — the young medical student, and her male companion/date, had accepted a ride on a private “party bus” one evening while making their way home from a movie.  The men on the bus (including the driver) neutralized the male friend, then at least six proceeded to rape Nirbhaya for over an hour while she fought back viciously.  Over an hour.

They also “inserted an iron rod” into her body.

Bullshit! Just writing those words give me chills.  “Inserted”?  I don’t think so!  That’s what I do with a tampon.  These grown men forcefully and repeatedly rammed a metal rod into the woman’s tender vagina so many times, and with such force, that she required mutliple organ transplants and died in Singapore from her wounds.  “Inserted” is not factual.  Why did the news reports consistently downplay the vicious and brutal violence of such an act, making it sound so innocuous and clinical?  Fear of the public’s reaction perhaps? If so, then damn right!

Oh, but there’s more.  After her rape and assault (the men beat them both as well) Nirbhaya and her companion were thrown out of the bus, bloody and naked, where they lay in the road for about an hour waiting for someone to stop and help them (this is crowded India, remember).  And then they waited some more while local law enforcement argued over whose jurisdiction it was.

Just reading this story gave me secondary trauma on so many levels.  I had pictures in my head of the scene, saw her tortured face, heard her screams in my head, watched her fight,  felt her companion’s agony while he watched, saw her lay on the side of the road while passersby hurried on, and heard her heart monitor flatline.

And then the story of Steubenville came out.  Apparently, last summer a group of football players in Ohio took a 16-year-old woman, who was super drunk, from party to party, raping her and taking photos.  One of the teens was widely seen on video making fun of her plight, graphically describing what was done to her, and referring to her as a “dead girl” and that he wouldn’t care and would see her the same way if she were his daughter.

Someone please explain this to me.  I have an excellent imagination and I have seen and heard some terrible things in my life.  But I can’t fathom how a human being can be cruel to another being when that being is helpless, much less clearly demonstrating their pain and horror.  HOW are we capable of such things?  I can imagine myself doing some horrible things to people, but I can’t imagine causing someone to feel agony and terror.

I got an excellent sexual education from my parents when I was younger.  I also learned somewhere that rape is violence, and not about sex.  But that idea always bothered me.  I remember being a college freshman and asking the older Resident Assistant on my dorm floor a question during a workshop on sexual assault.  I wasn’t challenging the information being presented, I wanted clarity.  My question went something like, “If rape is violence, and a man raping a woman is like stabbing her — but with his penis — then why does he use his penis instead of a knife?”

The RA basically brushed off my question, and 25 years later I still don’t have an answer,  except this:

Rape IS about sex.  It’s violence done to another — mostly to women and children — using sex.  It’s about torture and terror in a way that is supposed to deeply traumatize.  It’s about making us afraid and submissive.  It IS about power, but it’s about wielding sex as a weapon of power — perhaps because women’s sexuality is such a powerful force.

This is also why men who are intimidated by a woman’s opinions and intellect threaten her with rape and hurl insults regarding her sexuality.   Google journalists Laurie Penny or Jennifer Gish for some spine-tingling stories.  Men who are intimidated by other men’s opinions and intellects don’t typically threaten to sodomize them to make them suck their dicks.

Men’s violence again women is sexual in nature.  And that’s the case even if he never forces his body into her body — it’s also done with words, suggestions, and less penetrative physical actions.

Few things make me want to do intense violence to people, but stories like Nirbhaya’s and the Steubenville “rape crew” make me want to strap on a load of ammo and take to the streets with two HUGE automatic weapons and a Bowie knife, and just mow men down like grass.  Imagine me as Sarah Connor from T2 … times ten.

I think we need to stop lying.  Rape is about power and violence, but it’s also about sex.  We combine the two all the time.  Just look at the discussions about military women now being able to be in combat (a victory in the middle of a larger tragic narrative, I think).  Check out the SuperBowl this weekend and the statistics on how violence against women goes up during Super Bowl weekends.

As we women continue to come into our power and full potential, we need to be prepared to deal with the reality of men’s fears, and with what we will encounter there.  We need to tell the truth about sex, violence, and rape.

And we need to continue to stand up — all of us, every time — against any words or behaviors that glorify, minimize, or desensitize us to the rape culture we live in.  That includes torture of people and animals, and cruelty of any kind (I personally don’t include wringing a chicken’s neck or slitting a lamb’s throat for food in the same category, but I suppose that’s up for debate 🙂 ).

In the meantime, I will continue to ponder how it’s possible for a human being to cruelly hurt and torture another person or animal that is obviously in pain.  If any of you have the answer, please share.

Or maybe don’t.  Maybe there are shadows best left alone — in the dark.

In lak ech~

Jaxsine

Sense and Sensibility: The Newtown Massacre

It’s happened again.  For the second time in a year, I’m blogging about a mass shooting.  For the fourth time in his presidency, Obama travelled today to a city to grieve with families after another bout of senseless violence.

And I am weary of hearing these incidents referred to as “senseless”.  From the principal of Columbine High School to the prime minister of Australia to news anchors and my Facebook friends, one of the most common words I hear is “senseless.”  But to me, it makes perfect sense.

In fact, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.  When you take a society that values money and material things over people and relationships, add social isolation and lack of true community (like Adam Lanza’s upscale neighborhood where he occupied two bedrooms in his mother’s spacious home and some neighbors didn’t even know them), leave out critical education about mental and emotional health (as well as resources to identify and treat those with these challenges), leave out education about healthy communciation and anger/conflict management, and add a healthy dose of easy access to guns, you have situations like Newtown waiting to happen all over this country — a country where there are as many guns as people (300 million) and, compared to most other industrialized countries, a very high percentage of people experiencing mental and emotional illness, excess stress levels, and a lack of healthy coping skills or social support.

This is not meant as an indictment of the Lanza family or of Newtown, but a plea for us to look at the bigger picture,  We are all connected.  We can’t tolerate institutions that oppress and dehumanize us; an industrialized food system that not only does not nourish us but addicts our minds and weakens our bodies; a prison-industrial complex larger than any in the world; forms of entertainment that dehumanize us; a lifestyle that disconnects us from the earth, other lifeforms and spirit; a general disregard for the needs of women and children; a general lack of purpose, meaning, and love … and expect there to be no consequences.

Newtown is one of many consequences.

I’m grateful that this time around, there seems to be less usage of the word “evil” to describe these murders, as I decried in my post about the Aurora shooting, despite the fact that most of the Newtown dead were six-year-olds.  I can’t even imagine the horror of such a thing for a parent.

And yet we still need a responsibility check.  It’s not useful to decry such violence as senseless or incomprehensible, because it is neither.  Doing so absolves us of any responsibility, and makes us believe we are powerless.  We are not powerless.  The “society” we rail against is not an entity outside of us — it is something we each create each day with the jobs we choose to work in, the decisions we make, where we spend our money, what we eat, how we speak and think, and how we treat each other and ourselves.

And calling Adam Lanza — or James Holmes or any of the other recent perpetrators — “crazed” is also inaccurate and feeds into this kind of helpless thinking.  The folks who perpetrate these murders — who are typically young males, usually White — are methodical and deliberate, and take months to plan their attacks.  According to Jack Levin, a well-known professor of sociology and criminology, they don’t “go off” or “snap.”  What they do have is a sense of their problems being caused by other people — they blame everyone but themselves.  They too see themselves as powerless and unresponsible.

Levin also challenges the notion that these events are increasing.  On NPR the other day, he said that there are about 20 such mass murders per decade, with about 150 total victims.  In the meantime, he points out that there are about 15,000 individual homicides — per year.   However, Connecticut Senator John Larson said today that of the 12 worst mass shootings in our history, half have occurred in the last 5 years.

Regardless of who’s right, it seems most people feel things are coming to a head.  And solutions are already being proposed.  Paul Bennett, author of Glock: Rise of America’s Gun, said today that two short term solutions are (a) greater security in public places, and (b) better support and resources for people with mental and emotional illness.  Others are using Newtown to bolster the argument for gun control — I’ve already seen a couple online petitions to this effect.

And while gun control would certainly be a sane approach to the insane ease with which people can access deadly firearms in the U.S., it’s not the solution.  Guns are still tools used by people, and while limiting access can minimize the damage (there was an incident at a school in China on the same day as Newtown, and while the perpetrator, a man in his 30s, stabbed 22 children, none of them died), it doesn’t solve the problem of hurt people hurting people, and the epidemic of walking wounded in the U.S. and the world at large.

Much like I argued in my “Aurora, Anger, and Evil” post, the drama of the latest episode of mass violence in all its technicolor drama often obscures larger, more sinister problems and a bigger context.  It’s a symptom, not the problem per se.

Perhaps it’s helpful to think and talk about what is working.  Be humble and reflect on how there but for the grace of God go we.  How many of us, when we are being fully honest and self-aware, can’t think of a time we wouldn’t have liked to take out a bunch of fellow humans with an uzi?  Or take our own hopeless, miserable lives in some dramatic way?  Or feel like everything is someone else’s fault and someone has got to pay?

My hand goes up on all three of those.  It’s profound to think about the little things that stood in the way of me actually doing damage to others or myself in those moments.  Perhaps we can learn from this and not stop at celebrating the heroes of incidents like Newtown, like Dawn Hochsprung and Victoria Soto, but also try empathizing with and mourning the broken souls of young men like Adam Lanza.

We should grieve.  We should rage.  But we should NOT hide behind “hugging our children tighter” or stop our examination of the situation as “senseless” as if it were random and outside of our power.  The bigger context is that we need to see and own our power, and therefore our responsibility.

Lately I keep coming back to the Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.”  I think owning our own power, and all that entails, is one of the invitations and challenges of humanity as we move farther into the shift.

I’m heartened that President Obama, and others, are talking about “meaningful action”.  I’m glad he said tonight in Newtown that we will have to change.   I’m grateful that he said,

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days … If we’re honest without ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change.”

He continued:

 “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

And this, to me, is the key.  We are not powerless.   This violence isn’t senseless.  It isn’t incomprehensible.  In fact, it is in the comprehending, and in the activation of  our sensibilities — emotional capacity, responsiveness, and consciousness —  that we can make sense of this heartwrenching tragedy and take meaningful action in such a way that we take powerful responsibility for ourselves, those around us, our communities, and the “society” and country we all co-create, every day.

Que en paz descansen los muertos de Newtown y que duermen con los angelitos los sobrevivientes.

In lak ech.

Jaxsine

 

Breaking the “r”ules: The Final Chapter

The moment finally arrived when I knew it was time to go.  I finally left an abusive marriage.  I finally exited the burning building, unable to see, let alone breathe.  I finally jumped out of the boiling water  That is to say — on Friday, June 1, 2012, I presented my New Boss with my resignation.  And on Tuesday, June 5th, the day of the Transition of Venus and following a new moon, she escorted me from the building with my personal effects at 11:30 a.m.

A lot happened in 12 weeks.  Let me catch you up.

We left off in the story where Beloved Boss presented me with a title change to make me stay (which by the way, I later learned came without a salary increase), then a three-day suspension for a nostril piercing after I removed the jewelry, then the withdrawal of the title change due to the discipline, then a change in reporting structure.  New Boss had been my peer and mentor, and the person ultimately in charge of the disastrous department I inherited a year ago.  I was starting to notice shortcomings in Beloved Boss and New Boss I had failed to see before, yet my faith in them — if not in the organization — remained intact.  At last writing, I believed Beloved Boss had my back and was fighting for me.

I was wrong.

So I was suspended without pay for three days the first week of April, just after being handed over to New Boss on April 1st in a hasty handoff that took even New Boss by surprise.  There was no joint meeting, no formal announcement, no clarification of expectations, no division of duties or planning.  I spent my unpaid days off cleaning, reflecting, and building my new business.  I decided not to accept the discipline unchallenged, and filed a three-page grievance letter on the last day I could file.  I laid out the timeline of events and cited the reasons I believed the suspension to be excessive and unfair: I took responsibility for my actions, others have not been disciplined at all for more serious violations (including of the same policies I had violated), I had indeed followed direct instructions, communication was unclear and inconsistent, and the additional circumstances surrounding the discipline (title change and withdrawal and change in reporting structure) were concerning.  I stated I had shared the events with select medical school and community leaders who were also concerned, and I asked to be paid for two of the three days and given the new title.

I emailed Beloved Boss to let her know I had submitted the grievance, expressing regret at any pain or disruption this would cause her, but stating I needed to do what was right for me and the future of my Office.  On the same day, I chaired a community meeting in which I let the group know of my new reporting structure.  The attendees expressed concerns about what this meant in terms of the future of the Office, my position, and the importance of our work.  I did my best to paint an optimistic picture without denying I also had questions.

Beloved Boss did not respond to my email, nor did I see her since she was no longer my boss, until two weeks later.  I thought our scheduled meeting was to provide me with a response to my grievance, and I was prepared.  I didn’t realize it was a hearing, and HR was there.

For this I was not prepared.  Thrown off guard, I collected my thoughts for a few seconds, and began by telling Beloved Boss what she meant to me.  How she had been my mentor, role model, big sister and friend.  How I didn’t want to report to anyone else in the organization  How this was painful for both of us.  I talked about how the HR process is antagonistic and dehumanizing — for everyone involved — and that although I was upset and the grievance was written as if it were directed towards her, I didn’t really know who I was upset with, or who I was grieving (the CEO? HR administration?).  She owned that it had all been her decisions.

This suprised and saddened me, given her sheepish, apologetic “they’re making me do this” demeanor in our previous conversations but I figured maybe she had to say this in front of HR.  I continued, laying out the basics of what I remembered from my grievance letter, since I hadn’t brought anything or anyone with me.  I still thought I was having a dialogue, and tried clarifying and asking questions.  The meeting turned into her grievance.  She was angry with me for calling the change in reporting a “demotion” and said going to the community was “a mistake”.  I told her I needed to get support and perspective and pointed out that at least I didn’t go within the organization — she said I had (the medical school folks).  She was angry about me making it look like she didn’t care or wasn’t committed.  I tried to explain the difference between intent and impact and that I wasn’t questioning intent, but that this decision can and will have negative impact. She was angry with me for suggesting she could have invited dialogue about my piercing instead of ignoring it or disciplining me, and she told me I should have had a dialogue with her before doing it — that there is a process.  I talked about processes not always working, and that sometimes people breaking rules is what causes change (I didn’t say this, but the Lovings just went and got married instead of spending years petitioning the courts to make interracial marriage legal, and Rosa Parks just “sat her Black ass down” [not my words] instead of heading for downtown Montgomery to lobby for equal seating on buses!).  I talked about leadership versus management and that I felt I demonstrated the former.  I didn’t tell her one of the reasons I didn’t tell her or consult with her beforehand was because I didn’t want to implicate her in a decision that was my own to make.

I could feel her, the situation, and our relationship passing through my fingers like sand that I tried to grasp as it followed gravity.  I talked about this sitation having a broader context that needed to be considered, like the context of inconsistent accountability in the organization.  She disagreed.  She said “no, this is about YOU.”  I talked about us having co-created the situation together.  She disagreed.  She said “this is on YOU.”

This was not the Beloved Boss I knew.  I don’t know why I said “thank you” when it was over and I left her office — for the last time I’d later learn.  The one thing that felt positive was her admitting that indeed the combination of the discipline, title change withdrawal and demotion “looked bad.”  But it will take me years to forget her face during that meeting — angry and wanting to yell at me, sad and close to tears, eyes full of disappointment and betrayal.  These were eyes that used to light up,  smile, laugh and bathe me in warmth.  I felt like my lover and I had just split after an ugly, avoidable quarrel.  I felt sad, disappointed, and shocked.  I hurt.  I doubted myself.  Had I done wrong after all? Was she right?

They (she) had two weeks to respond in writing to my grievance.  In the meantime, I was realizing that New Boss was not a good fit for me.  Her style was more controlling, mothering, and directive than I felt comfortable with.  I could see I was not going to be treated like a professional, and that we were going to end up having it out at some point.

I had set a goal to be out by July.  I felt that gave me enough time to be sufficiently prepared — psychologically and financially — to be out on by own.  Originally I’d been eyeing May when I told Beloved Boss in February I was planning to leave, but things had changed.  And now my goal each day was to avoid quitting.  Things had truly disintegrated.  The smoke was getting thicker and the water even hotter.

After hours on the day of the deadline, a Tuesday, I received an email from Beloved Boss requesting an extension to respond.  I said no problem and thank you.  I was heartened.  Maybe they needed extra time to do the necessary paperwork in HR to grant my request!

Or maybe they needed time for their lawyers to look things over first.  The following Monday May 14th, also after hours, I received the two-page written response.  Reading it made my abdomen tense up, my chest and arms turn icy hot, and my brain go numb.  Not only was my request denied, Beloved Boss asked me to “sincerely consider [my] ability to resume in a management capacity” given that my commitment to the organization had been affected.  She cited the fact I had communicated with people in the community about my discipline which “casted [sic] doubt on the [organization’s] commitment” to diversity, and the minutes from the aforementioned community meeting, which could be considered retaliation and grounds for future discipline.

How the hell did she get those minutes, which I had not sent out yet?

Bu that wasn’t all — the summary of the hearing, based on the notes she and the HR representative took — misconstrued my words and left out key points.  It stated I had taken no responsibility for my actions, and “continue to blame a ‘bad policy'”, which wasn’t true.

This was definitely a breakup letter.  It was definitely over.  I hurt all over again, and had a hard time grasping what was happening.  The emails and text messages flew.  I got support and indignation from my allies (“WHAT?!” and “they don’t have enough to fire you, get them to give you a nice severance package to shut you up”), but nothing soothed my heart.

On Wednesday I tried one more time.  I’d considered one colleague’s suggestion on how I could try negotiating a severance.  I didn’t believe that would fly, and the idea of me just carrying on with work if they refused me made my guts turn.  I clung to the idea that Beloved Boss had been unable to be real with me with the HR rep in our meeting — maybe she could be more of her old self if we didn’t have an audience!  Perhaps I could try a more “power with” tactic since going along with the “power over/against” process was not working nor feeling good for anyone.  I’m a mediator for Chrissake!  So I researched, then proposed we go to mediation.  I wrote her: “I feel like I’m not being heard or understood, and it seems you feel the same way.  Perhaps in a confidential, safe environment we can really talk to each other and come to some agreement on the best way to move forward.  Are you open to a mediation with me?”

She forwarded my email (to the lawyers? HR? CEO?) then responded she was “not interested in going through mediation” and said if I didn’t agree with the grievance, I could proceed to Step II.  Step II was to appeal to the CEO or HR Administrator.  I knew either would be as open and supportive as a brick wall on fire on the other side of a moat filled with demon alligators.  No thank you.

And so I pressed on, biding my time.  I contemplated getting a lawyer and realized this would take more out of me than the organization, even if I won, and I was not going to get what I really wanted — understanding and fairness.  In the meantime, Toxic Employee had filed another lengthy, detailed, crazy grievance against me for retaliation (I was still expecting her to work her full hours and follow rules).  Also, my performance evaluation date came and went.  New Boss said Beloved Boss (BB) was going to do it, and she was out that week.  New Boss said she had no doubt I would pass.  I doubted that was true.  I began to think maybe something who knew The Bigger Picture was loudly trying to tell me to leave, and maybe I should just listen.

I talked with my administrative assistant and New Boss about how ex-Beloved Boss (BB) had gotten a hold of those minutes.  My administrative assistant said New Boss (who she also supported) had asked her for them.  I explained why I was asking — that they had gotten to BB and were being used in an unhelpful way — and problem solved about how to handle the communication going forward.  When I talked to New Boss about it, it turned out she’d also wanted to discuss them with me, since she’d been listening to the tape (!?) and also had concerns.  I told her I hadn’t wanted to involved her in the situation between me and BB, but that my words were being misconstued and taken out of context.  I shared a little about my piercing and if I’m forced to choose between the organization and the community, and the organization and my integrity or reputation, I know where I stand.  I talked about BB not wanting to own her part, and that she’s angry because I’m not ashamed or afraid and I set boundaries.   I felt yucky being this honest, but it was good for me.  New Boss seemed to listen, and asked about my commitment and whether I could get on board.  I was flabbergasted that she was actually asking this question and thought I could be.  I said no, and that I would be leaving soon.  I told her that since I told her in December I’d started looking, I’d only stopped looking briefly when the title change emerged.  She thanked me for being honest.

It was Friday of the following week that I resigned and gave three weeks’ notice.  I still had not received my performance appraisal, and the retaliation grievance filed by Toxic Employee was still not resolved.  It felt like we had all been under water holding our breath in some twisted contest to see who would give, and I bobbed to the surface first.  That lungful of air felt so good to my lungs.

New Boss read the two-page letter and cried — she had seen me in my element and called me a “rockstar” just the day before.  She was most concerned about New Employee.  She was also concerned about how the community would react.  She wanted time to build a relationship with them, and to craft a message.  I asked who “community” was (I think she said local external contacts).  I agreed to her request to hold off on communicating my departure to them until she and I could meet again Tuesday morning.  I reminded her that some community folks already knew, since I’d been talking to them.  Yet again she thanked me for my honesty.

On Monday I sent an email to multiple national colleagues informing them of my imminent departure.  I included a line about having “revived my former company and will be pursuing client and projects that are a better fit for my talents.”  The email recipients included a listserv which BB was on — I knew this but didn’t think I was dong anything inappropriate.

On Tuesday I rolled into the office late after informing a crowd of 10-12 students in gray scrubs smoking not 15 feet from the entrance that they were too close to the building. I suggested that maybe no one had told them, pointed out the smoking area on yonder side of the parking lot, and quietly fumed over yet one more example of the insanity of the place.

I went into my meeting with New Boss at 9:30 with a one-and a half-page list of single spaced bullet points describing all the most crucial items to be discussed and handed off in my transition.  We talked a little about this and that for a few minutes.  I asked about how we should communicate my leaving to my staff.  She suggested I send an email that day.  I was surprised — shouldn’t we do a meeting?  No, she said, actually today would be my last day.

W … T … F???   Why wasn’t this the first thing we talked about?  Was she trying to get all the important transition information from me before telling me?

Apparently the email I’d sent the day before was “concerning” and “cast doubt on the commitment” of the organization.   Two people at the medical school were included on the listserv I’d copied.  Oh yeah.  I’d truly forgotten about that.  (But wait, aren’t medical school people considered part of the organization and not the community? That’s what BB said in my hearing.)

I did what I tend to do in these situations — freeze and caretake.  My mind started blanking out.  We decided to cancel a meeting I was supposed to chair that afternoon.  New Boss stuck her head out of her door to ask our administrative assistant to send out an email.  I thought that was odd, since I was going to do that as soon as I went to my office.  I talked about having to complete two employee performance appraisals.  She said she didn’t know what time my computer access would be shut down, so if I didn’t get to it, she’d pick up.

OMG!  I finally got it, this was happening! Now.

I asked her to put her offer to pay me through the period of my resignation in writing.  She said “you don’t trust me?”  (Really!?)  About halfway through my list she said her heart was racing (from the overwhelm) — not a good thing for a morbidly obese person.  I touched her and gently  said something I’d wanted to say to her for a long time: “You also deserve to be happy and healthy.”  Wiping away a tear, and without pausing, she said “I have two kids in college.”

Wow.

We’d agreed to meet again 1:00 to go over and visit the staff together.  As soon as I got to my office I executed Emergency Escape Plan.  I sent two emails I’d composed and been holding in “drafts” for weeks.  One to internal folks, one to external folks, saying goodbye and providing my contact information and website address (just activated the day before in fact).  On the external email I included the line about “better fit for my talents” and on the internal one I added “values” after “talents” and a line about “I find myself unable to effect meaningful change, or lead with integrity, given the organization’s current culture and priorities.”  I felt people had a right to get a personal goodbye and hear at least a tiny part of the truth. I didn’t want to leave people in the lurch or feeling abandoned.  I also composed an email to my staff, letting them know I was leaving and that the abruptness was not my preference.  I thanked them for this and that, wished them well, reminded them of the crucialness of their work and asked them to keep asking the tough questions and holding their leaders accountable.

New Boss appeared in my doorway.  I don’t remember what she said, but she was upset about the emails I’d sent (?!) — something about making her look bad.  I genuinely asked “why?” and she said “because I’m your boss!”  I threw up my hands and made a gesture like “what did you expect!?”.  She had me shut down my computer and pack up my things.  I was prepared — as part of Emergency Escape Plan I had been preparing to leave for weeks, just like I prepared to leave my ex-husband almost exactly ten years before.  Important files, my books, other effects, were already at home.  I had cleaned up my computer drives too, after those meeting minutes got to BB.  Now I just had one more bag to fill with my desk toys, and my artwork and lamps to take down.

I drove my car up; got in a few hugs to a couple bewildered staff; loaded up, handed over my badge, keys, pager, and parking permits; single-arm hugged New Boss — whose face was like a silent scream — and said “until we meet again.” I drove away, free.  By that time my computer and email access had already been revoked, and the emails I had sent had been retracted from those who hadn’t opened them yet (I have since sent a pile of messages from my personal email).  They tried to take away not only my leaving, but how I left and who I told.  But I was free.

***

I am going to be processing this story for a long time.  Even just writing it now has been difficult, and a rollercoaster of emotion.  It still doesn’t feel entirely real, and my fired-up brainstem hasn’t completely relaxed yet.  It’s almost like a dream.  I am relieved to be free of Toxic Employee and the majority of my job.  But I do miss some things.  I miss New Employee.  I miss structure.  I miss reliable money and power and my ego being stroked.  But these are things I can live without, and things that were twisting me anyway.  And New Employee and I will still be friends.

What is interesting and disturbing to me is how few people have been outraged by my story.  People who know my organization — or even work there — are sometimes slightly disappointed, but not surprised.  Others who don’t know my organization, but know the corporate world, often have their own, similar stories.  The normalcy of this is disturbing — the banality of evil rears its head once again (see post on The White Ribon 12/19/11).  I have been reading a couple wonderful books lately on power that I will be writing about soon and one of them — Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times — suggests that one thing that causes certain people to stand alone and do the “right” or “moral” thing (e.g., breaking the law and risking one’s life to save Jews during Nazism) is actually believing in the stated ideals of a nation or organization.  Perhaps it’s not naïveté or blind idealism that make me tend to believe that people and organizations and nations actually mean to be who they say they are, and hold them to that.  Maybe it’s just about integrity, and a good trait.  Perhaps belief is subversive when apathy is the norm, and numbness the new evil.  Perhaps we need more believers, and more outrage, and more feeling.

Still, I have learned a lot.  If I had it to do over again, I like to think I would have left earlier before it got ugly, or turned down the offer of the title change and stayed on a path out.  I like to think I could have done something to preserve the relationship with BB and leave on good terms.

And maybe things happened exactly the way they had to for me, and for her as well.  Who knows what repercussions this story will have on how things play out moving forward.  I hope me taking a stand pushes the organization and change forward, raises important questions, or inspires others to be better, happier, healthier, and more alive.

I learned that me taking a stand pushed some people away, and others towards me.  I learned I was not alone. I learned I was loved, respected, admired and appreciated even more than I knew.  I learned that when the warning signs start to appear, I should listen instead of bargaining and doubting myself.  I learned that when I’m not listening to the Universe, she starts to speak louder, then shouts and hits me with a 2×4 until I get it.   I learned that I really can’t avoid messes if I’m going to be true to myself more.  I learned I still have some control issues and self love issues to work on.  I learned I need to get in better touch with my anger, sooner.

I learned that in a hierarchical organization, the culture really is driven, and the tone set, by those above.  Despite my insistence on the power of individual agency, ultimately this is the truth.  In an organization headed by a numbers man who is devoutly Catholic, lacking in emotional intelligence, fearful and intolerant of anything perceived as criticism, this orientation trickles down.  New Boss was protecting BB who was protecting him.  Both were afraid and trying to protect their jobs.   BB was copying his pattern of maintaining a small, close inner circle of trusted and protected people who could do no wrong until their “loyalty” came into question — when their toes started pulling back from the party line.  Because I was in BB’s inner circle (of which I was not aware), I was seen as even more of a traitor and punished even more harshly than someone not as close or trusted — like White allies during Civil Rights and light skinned “half breeds” in Indian boarding schools.

Also, I’ve realized that in a hierarchical “power over” institution, those above are always under someone else, with Almighty God being the Ultimate Boss.  Fear, compliance and control are the drivers.  And in a “power over” paradigm all manifestations of power are interpreted through that lense.  So those who exercise other forms of power — like “power with”” or power within”– are not recognized as such, but as players in a “power over” game trying to win and dominate others.  In making decisions true to myself, being honest, and raising questions, I was perceived as trying to assert “power over” and therefore neutralized as a threat instead of being recognized and engaged.

But more on power later.

While this is the end of this particular saga, I don’t know that I’m quite a Jedi knight.  🙂   But I am happily “single” and safe.  I swim in healthy, comfortable water.  And I can breathe again.  Hallelujah.

What came up for you as you read this post?  Insights or feedback?

Ometéotl!

~Jaxsine~

Knowing when to leave

It’s all right, honey. Let her go. Let her go. You know, Miss Ruth was a lady. And a lady  always knows when to leave.

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes.  Sipsey utters these lines at the moment the saintly kind-hearted Ruth dies, leaving Idgie alone again.  It usually makes me bawl.

But it has also made me wonder, for years, how to know when to leave.  How do I not possess Ruth’s grace and wisdom?  The truth is, it’s a tough call to make, especially if one of your virtues/flaws is to focus on the good instead of the bad, despite greater quantity or proportion of the latter.  The truth is also that I usually stay too long.

I have already shared the story of when I knew my bad marriage wasn’t going to get better (12/14/11 post).  The months that followed were a terrifying gift of staying in a dangerous, destructive relationship while quietly planning my escape.  It was excruciating not being fully able to speak the truth or leave, but the blessing was getting almost daily validation of why I had to get out.  It made my final exit less conflicted.

I feel like that now, but unlike with my marriage, I don’t have a specific deadline to rely on.  Towards the end of my marriage, I had graduate school in another state to plan for and provide an escape.  This time, with my job, it’s not so concrete.

But there are lots of parallels between the two.  How is my current bad job situation like my previous bad marriage situation?

  • I got what I said I wanted — but I wasn’t thinking carefully through  the long term requirements or commitment.
  • I didn’t want to tell myself, or anyone else, the truth about my feelings.
  • Once I finally started talking, however, I got understanding and empathy from others.
  • All it takes is one really bad day to make me want to leave — my loyalty and overall satisfaction are that fragile.
  • All it takes is one decent day to make me think it’s not so bad or it’s finally getting better … until the awfulness starts again and I realize the good day was just a respite.
  • There’s very little joy.  Good days are about the absence of significant conflict or drama, and satisfaction from having completed a certain number of tasks.
  • I give more than the other.  The other can’t, or isn’t ready or able, to change or give more.

I have been aware of these ironic parallels for some time, but recently I have had two additional realizations (which are also like what happened in my marriage).  One — those I loved are either changing or I am seeing them more clearly.  Two — I am changing too, and I don’t like what I am becoming.

My first inkling of changes or shattered illusions began when my colleagues didn’t say anything about my nose piercing.  Then my Beloved Boss didn’t say anything.  Then she came down hard on me, and later expressed feeling awkward about bringing it up — a management 101 skill in my book.  Then she suddenly offered me the one thing I always wanted, when I was already halfway out the door.  Then she got on one of my colleagues (my soon-to-be New Boss) about something I was working on instead of asking me about it, which was a new experience for me with her.

Meanwhile, my soon-to-be New Boss scheduled a meeting with me which I discovered (in the meeting) was about clearing the air about a few things before she became my boss (as if we could be completely honest and ignore the impending power shift).  I was completely unaware of her concerns, one of which was thinking I needed something from her when my Beloved Boss was getting on her about the aforementioned project I was working on.  (I still don’t entirely get that one.)

Another of her concerns was that something I told Toxic Employee got back to her (why did I trust Toxic Employee with that?).  I’m still not sure I shouldn’t have told Toxic Employee what I did, because I still believe soon-to-be New Boss made a bad decision and set me (or whoever would come after her) up for failure by not being honest with Toxic Employee about her poor performance.  I didn’t tell Toxic Employee the truth, even though I wanted to very badly, but I did imply her previous bosses hadn’t been entirely honest with her.  I was trying to give her a bigger picture that painted me as less the lone bad guy out to get her, and more the person trying to deal with a tough situation and do the right thing.  I was trying to show fairness and empathy with her shock and indignation, since she had been led to believe she had been a stellar employee for ten years until I came around.  The illusion she had been sold was hurting both of us — and the entire department — and I was trying yet another way to give perspective and make things better.  I guess it didn’t work, and she told soon-to-be New Boss what I’d said, with her own spin.

I received a message almost two years ago that “leadership is more than what most of the leaders around you, even the good ones, are doing.”  I couldn’t fathom this at the time because I adored Beloved Boss and soon-to-be New Boss (one of my mentors), but now I get it.  The two people I have most loved, trusted, and respected at work are not entirely the great leaders I thought they were.

I suddenly see The Matrix before me.  Beloved Boss contributes to The Problem.  She hasn’t always been direct with me about what she has needed from me, or in asking me to change or do something differently.  She didn’t go to bat for me when it mattered until it was too late.  She said yes to being given more and more responsibility for projects and functions outside her purview — with no title change or extra compensation, and to an extent that will hurt her other areas.  She allows her competence and skill to be exploited to make up for others’ (mostly men’s) incompetence and lack of planning.  She exploits soon-to-be New Boss’s competence and responsiveness instead of holding her colleagues accountable.  She sometimes says yes when she should say no — or sometimes she says nothing, which is the same as yes.

Soon-to-be New Boss also contributes to The Problem.  She allowed gross neglect and incompetence to go on for years in the area I inherited because she never had reason for concern (and I guess never had reason to even check).  She also allows her competence and skill to be exploited to make up for others’ under-functioning.  She enables her reports’ incompetence and irresponsibility by taking on their decisions for them and keeping their failures from showing (which keeps her from looking bad, but does not lead to growth or efficiency).  She doesn’t understand why our sister organizations say they don’t want to be like us.  She also says yes sometimes, when she should say no.

Both of these women have been in the organization for about 25 years.  They are outstanding people — and part of The Solution — but I now see they have not been immune to their environment.  They have grown up in a dysfunctional culture and have a tolerance for things they wouldn’t otherwise.  They don’t know any different.  Both allow their priorities to be manipulated by the latest regulatory freakout or demand from a superior without questioning or taking a stand (it seems).   Both appear to make pleasing their bosses top priority always, despite what suffers as a result.  Both allow themselves to be handed an impossible amount of work, which keeps them in a perpetual state of overwhelm, attending primarily to ugliness and urgent problems instead of mindfully building and nuturing people and programs.  Reaction over prevention isn’t their personal preference, but it is the reality of how they operate.

And both have told me my standards are (too) high.  My standards are not too high, I believe they are reasonable and good.  I don’t think keeping employee files locked up, doing decent performance evaluations, keeping accurate records, answering emails within a couple days, confronting problems head on and keeping one’s word are unreasonable standards, they are part of The Solution.   Perhaps I am like the frog put into boiling water — I jump right out when I sense right away it’s too hot and dangerous.  They are like the frogs put in water that has slowly been heated (over 25 years), and now they are (un)happily boiling to death.

Illusions are deadly — deciding someone or something is bad keeps us from seeing goodness, and deciding someone or something is good keeps us from seeing faults and failings.  Neither is fair or accurate.   Seeing through illusions can be painful and costly; now that I am seeing the Matrix, I feel more vulnerable and alone, without allies.  I see again my own failing to be entirely balanced in my assessment of people, tending instead to either blindly trust or entirely write off — like I did with my ex-husband (first the former tendency, then the latter).  It’s almost amusing how I fall prey to the same dichotomous either-or thinking I often rail against.

And hope can be dangerous.  Hope enables human beings to survive horrible circumstances and overcome tremendous odds.  But it can also keep us stuck in an illusion.  Holding on to the flickering possibility of change or good can keep us trapped in something mostly bad. This is tempting, since nothing is ever all good or all bad.  Holding on can lead to genius or breakthrough or triumph, but it can also lead to disaster and ruin and tragic waste.

Perhaps my doubts about knowing when to leave are really about my fear of being wrong.  I can stay and see things stay bad or get worse, and then I will be wrong about staying.  Or I can leave and see things improve, and then I will be wrong about leaving.  I just can’t know what will happen.

What I do know is I should not make choices counting on certain outcomes.  Besides, me making the choice and taking action changes the outcome — my decision shapes the future.  What I also know is that I do not like how I am changing, and what I have become.  I’ve noticed I’m not really a frog jumping out of the boiling water — I’m trying to swim in it, and my delicate skin is burning.

The fact that I would consider lying to get a coveted job title is not a good sign.  The fact I would violate confidence and tell Toxic Employee that soon-to-be New Boss wasn’t honest with her is not a good sign.  The chronic bags under my eyes that defy all beauty remedies are not a good sign.  My exhaustion even after only working eight hours is not a good sign.  It’s not a good sign that I have actually uttered the words “I hate my job” more than once.  The other things I hear coming out of my mouth to one of my new employees is not a good sign.  The subtle negativity, the undertone of anger, the ultra-political sensitivities and cautious maneuvering — these are not good signs.

In two months, New Employee has been showered with the appreciation, curious inquiries, and positive responses I have yet to receive in 18 months in my new role.  I recently read over the many wonderful comments I used to get all the time when I was doing what I love and am truly gifted in doing.  I remembered what it was like, and saw even more clearly when I compared myself to New Employee, that my unhappiness and lack of fit isn’t just hurting me — it’s hurting my effectiveness, and my ability to create positive change.

If everything we do is truly infused with the consciousness with which we do it, then me staying and forcing myself to make potentially positive changes in the organization is likely being cancelled out by my attitude and how I go about things.  Maybe I have taken von Goethe’s advice — “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being” — too much to heart.  Maybe I really am going too much against the grain, pushing too hard, or expecting too much.

In this way I still wonder, is it me, or the organization?  Can I still do good?  Is there sufficient hope?  I was curious to find some rational data — some objective evidence to provide some clarity or insight.  So I looked up “dysfunction” in the dictionary to see if my organization qualified.  The dictionary said “malfunctioning”, so I looked up “functional.”  The second definition was “having or serving a utilitarian purpose; capable of serving the purpose for which it was designed.”  This seemed like a good definition, but it struck me that folks in my organization would disagree about the proper definitions of “utilitarian”, “capable” and especially “purpose.”  Personally, I see multiple examples every day of how the organization is not serving its purpose, and lack of clarity around what (whose!) purpose it was/is really designed for.

Maybe the key word is “capable”?  Maybe my standards are too high and my expectations unrealistic in this environment.  And maybe I just don’t agree that the status quo is the best we can do.  Maybe I can still see that things don’t have to be the way they are — that there is A Solution (probably more than one).  Maybe I believe we can actually change things — that A Solution is doable.

And maybe my beliefs are moot.  Just like I believed my now ex-husband was capable of change, he just wasn’t willing or able.  And I got to a point where I realized I wasn’t willing or able to function inside that reality anymore — regardless of how that reality might be viewed or labeled by others, and regardless of how hard I tried.   And while that point is coming again, it doesn’t feel like it’s fully arrived.

So when should I leave?  Perhaps like Ruth, I will know when it’s time.

In lak ech,

~Jaxsine~

She (finally) brought me flowers

Three weeks ago at work, I was offered something I’d asked for more than once over the last several months.  A new title.

This may seem like a minor detail, but the truth is it matters to me.  It matters to me because I have been doing a job equivalent to those with the higher title in my organization.  It matters to me because I deserve it.  It matters to me because I don’t want to be one more woman who sells herself short or accepts less than she has earned in the workplace.  And it matters to me because titles make a difference in my organization.  I wish it weren’t true, but it is, and a higher title that better reflects the reach and importance of what I do is one more way to lend legitimacy to the Office I have created.

But it was bittersweet.  I had asked my Beloved Boss for this title before, making it clear I didn’t need or want a raise in pay, but that the title meant a lot to me.  And she finally offered it to me during the same meeting where I explained about my piercing and apologized for how I realized my choice had affected her (see Breaking the rules — Part III post on 2/27/12).  She said the title change “had finally come through” and that she could offer it to me if I stayed.  If I didn’t stay, I would keep my current title and the job would be posted in the new title for the next person.

WTF.

I’m not very good in interpersonal crises.  When it comes to an earthquake, natural disaster, or other physical threat, you definitely want me around with my level head, clear thinking and assertive responses.  But when I am confronted with a relational problem, I usually either go into empathize-with-the-other mode, or I freeze.

So in the moment I said I understood and would think about it, but later it didn’t make sense.  Why, as one of the most powerful people in the organization, “couldn’t” she change my title if I still planned to leave?  Why did it “finally” come through, right after I said I was leaving and was being called on the carpet for having a nose piercing?

And why did my HR recruiter, when I spoke to her later by phone about something else, express sympathy about me leaving?  I was suprised and alarmed.  I asked how she knew, and she said “I work in HR.”

WTF?

It started to dawn on me that my Beloved Boss might not have been entirely honest with me.  My new title hadn’t suddenly come through, she had pushed it through to keep me.  And she was using the one thing I wanted to entice me to stay.

So the fact I am unhappy and the job isn’t a fit don’t matter.  The two conversations I had with her last fall about getting close to reaching my limits and needing help hadn’t mattered.  She had waited until I was done and walking out the door to try and retain me.  And she offered me money and power instead of a solution to the problem.

Not only that, she also told me that she would likely be handing me off to one of her other reports — one of my peers (but with an even higher title than me) who had been my mentor.  She just couldn’t manage with some new responsibilities she had been given from higher ups, and had to delegate.  Soon-to-be New Boss is one of the few people I respect and trust, but also one of the most overwhelmed and overworked people in the organization, and the person who had been ultimately responsible for the (severely neglected and chaotic) department I had inherited last summer.

So one hand giveth and the other taketh away.  I was offered the title I always wanted on a condition of staying in a job I had made clear was a bad fit and making me miserable and ill.  And I was being told I would no longer report to my Beloved Boss, who was one of the three things I liked about my job, and she knew it.

So now I had a dilemma.  Do I stick with my integrity and leave anyway?  Or do I stay when I don’t want to, to get what I wanted and deserved?  Stewing over this dichotomy as I got into the shower that night, I asked myself indignantly, “How would they know, if I said I’m staying, that I actually will?  I could be lying to them to get what I want!”  And then I realized this was a third option.

I was troubled that I even considered this to be a viable possibility.  One part of me counseled me to rise above, to take the high road, to focus on the spiritual and what’s truly important in life — getting out despite what I might lose in the process.  It encouraged me to let the petty issue of the title go.  But another part of me — the freedom fighter and suffragette — reminded me that countless oppressed people have used that approach to accept defeat and less than they earned, and feel like good, righteous people for doing so.

Oh HELL to the no!!

So I thought about what I could do and say to get what I wanted and earned, yet stay in integrity.  I wasn’t willing to compromise integrity; I don’t believe in selling my soul to play The Game.  I wondered about a middle way — a third option besides “OK I’ll take it and stay — you win” or “take this job and shove it — I win, your loss … suckas!”?

As before, I enjoyed the brainstorming help of a smart, trusted friend and came up with a plan.  The following week I met with my Beloved Boss and told her I’d thought about it, and I appreciated the offer and confidence the organization had in me.  I talked about how this title will make a difference for the program, regardless of who has it.  I said I didn’t know how I would feel moving forward, but that I had faith the new title and the hiring of a supervisor to help me out would make a difference.  I said I could say for sure that I am willing to give it a try, and that having the new title would keep me longer than I would have stayed without it.  If that was acceptable to her, than I would accept.

She said that was acceptable.  She said one never knows, and I would have to do what was in my heart.  She was glad I was staying.

She brought me flowers, and I put them in water in a vase.  I wonder how long they’ll last.

***

POST SCRIPT

Since I originally wrote this piece a few days ago, I have been presented with a written proposal to suspend me for three days without pay because of the nostril piercing.  (When I accepted the offer of the new title, I was told no disciplinary action would be taken if I were leaving, but since I was staying, a verbal warning would suffice.)  Oh … and the new title is being withheld for now, pending the outcome of the proposed disciplinary action.  Leaders who are being disciplined should not be rewarded, of course.

Beloved Boss is fighting for me and has my back on this one, but … the flowers are wilting …

In lak ech,

~Jaxsine~

Househunting is like Dating …

So today is 3-9-12, which is a supercool date.  On top of that, yesterday was International Women’s Day (woot woot!) … and a Full Moon (how’s that for some serious female mojo!).  And today I signed the refinance paperwork on my mortgage.

This is noteworthy not only because I now have a 4.0% interest rate (!!??), but also because, even after being a homeowner for over 5 years, the historical significance of being a single woman who owns property by herself, with no help from anyone except a generous employer in a socially acceptable industry :), is not lost on me.  When I bought my house and signed my first mortgage paperwork in 2006, I could feel my mother and grandmother and many other female ancestors there with me, proudly looking on like so many signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Not long after, I wrote the following essay.  The housing market crashed within a few months, so I figured trying to publish it would likely be futile.  But all things happen in their own time, so here I present to you:

Househunting is like dating … or “How finding the right home is like finding the right partner”

Be ready for the hunt.

You have to be serious, and willing to invest the necessary time, energy, and money.

Do your homework.  Learn as much as you can about the process before you start.

Talk to people, especially girlfriends, that have had a successful hunt and are happy with their catch.  Listen to their advice, but know your experience will be unique.

Decide why you are hunting – is this a long term investment? A place to nest? A temporary place to sleep? A way to make some fast money? Will you be here long or not? Will there be children? Parties? Lazy afternoons together? Everyone has different motives, …and yours may change in time.

It’s important to know what you want BEFORE you start hunting so you can focus, and not waste your time or that of anyone helping you.

But… sometimes it’s good to explore and look around casually before you get serious, so you get a better sense of what you want.

And … know that what you want may change during the hunt.

Learn to communicate what you want clearly to anyone helping you with the hunt.

Use your head

Success has a lot to do with timing and what’s available when and where you are hunting.

Know how much you are willing to spend and invest.  Don’t get in over your head!

Have a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves.  Don’t compromise on the must haves.

Listen to past mistakes.  If in the past you have settled too quickly out of being tired or thinking you might not find something better, don’t!

Learn from every one you see or go inside.  You will get a better idea of what you like and don’t like, the lighting, decoration tips, things you may not have thought of before.

Check the foundation.  Check the plumbing.  Check the heating and cooling systems.  Are the surroundings safe?

Note that the time of day you see it can make a difference.  Check it out at difference times of day to see who’s hanging around and what the neighborhood is like at night on weekends.

Always get inspections done before you close the deal!

Don’t beg.  Don’t bid too high out of fear of losing.  Be clear on how much you’re willing and able to give.  Be open to negotiation. Be fair and not greedy … but be willing to give more than you expected.

Listen to advice, but make your own decisions.

Sometimes you need to change your search tactics, or get a new person on your team to help you hunt.

Have faith and hope

Understand that this is as much about heart as it is mind – let the magic happen.

Listen to people who tell you when you find the right one you will “know”.

The hunt is scary!  It can be exciting, exasperating, discouraging, exhausting!

Stick to what YOU want, since you have to live with your catch!

Don’t let anyone intimidate, guilt, or talk you into one you don’t want.

Don’t let anyone discourage you from going for the one you DO want, in your heart.

You may be disappointed.  You may make an offer that is rejected in favor of someone else’s.

It’s hard to get your hopes up and get excited, thinking this is the one, and then it doesn’t work out.

Try not to pine after the one that got away.  Try to avoid driving by and gazing longingly at “yours”, with the “sold” sign on it.

Trust that the right one will come along, and have faith that you lost the ones you did for a reason.

Be sure you have a great support system!

Be sure you have a kind but savvy advocate!

Don’t get out of the game too soon –  hold out for the right one, but also know when to take a break, or even when to quit.

Sometimes you’ll wonder whether you’re really ready for your dreams to come true, whether you’re ready for the responsibility.

Enjoy the hunt!  Stay present, focused, and kind!

Some of us take longer to recover from loss, rejection and disappointment.  There’s nothing wrong with you!

Be ready – it can happen at any time!  Be aware, and flexible.

Don’t accept the one in front of you because you’re afraid you won’t find another one better, but because you know you won’t find one better.

You’ll feel/know it when you’ve made a good decision.

Some of us fall harder and deeper than others.  Some of us need time to mourn and recover.

Sometimes prayer doesn’t work, unless you pray for the right thing to happen.

Hearing “no” is hard.

Sometimes it’s good to get back out there ASAP to see there are other options.

Trust that there are others, that it’s not the end of the world.  Don’t lower your standards.

For a while it may seem like none are as good as the one we lost.  That passes.

The search can be long and discouraging.  You may get tired.  You may need to give up or take a break for a while.

Opportunities present themselves at any time, out of nowhere. Be ready!

Sometimes the one that got away gives you a standard to shoot for, a vision to dream about.

Have courage

Be patient – the hunt may take a LONG time. Hold out for what you want.

Sometimes you will be the only one who understands what you are looking for.

Some aren’t as great as you imagined after you move in.

You will ALWAYS discover something extra after you move in – both flaws and delightful quirks.

The one that got away might haunt you, but hang in there!

Be ready to work

Sometimes you may have to clean up after the previous owner and spruce things up.

Some have been so neglected or abused by previous occupants that it’s hard to see the potential and beauty.

And … Strike a balance between seeing potential and noticing the reality.

Decide how much time and money you want to invest in repairs and decoration – do you mind a fixer upper?

No matter what, when you find the one you want, it will still need some fixing up or just some ol’ fashioned acceptance.  It will not be perfect.

Be grateful

Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you’ve found until you’ve lost a couple good ones and regretted it.

You appreciate a good one more when you’ve seen lots of bad ones!

Listen to your heart.  Trust your instincts.

Sometimes it looks good on paper or in the ad, but when you see it you don’t want to go inside.

Sometimes they don’t look good on paper but are charming when you see them.

Sometimes the outside looks nice but the inside is in bad shape.

Sometimes the outside isn’t so great but the inside is clean, well-cared for, and cozy.

Sometimes you find one you want to love and think you “should” love, but you just don’t.  Don’t force the heart.

Don’t pass up the old ones just because they’re old – they often have a lot of character and charm to offer.

Listen to your heart.  It may fit everything on your list, but do you love it?  Can you love it?

You may see some that are out of your range, but it’s still fun to peek in the windows!

But … Do a drive by before you peek in the windows.  Peek in the windows before you go inside.  Consider bringing a friend or an advocate.

Sometimes talking to the present or previous owner yields helpful information.  Sometimes it’s just a turn off and not helpful.

It’s hard to get a sense of a place when there are occupants and their things inside.

If you don’t feel at home when you go inside, it’s not meant for you.

If it feels like someone else’s, and not yours, it’s not meant for you.

There may be some you appreciate or admire very much, but they’re not for you.

Remember there are some things that can be changed or modified, but some that can’t.

Be appreciative of those supporting and advocating for you, but be more concerned about not disappointing yourself.

When you’re in love, you forget the things that initially weren’t how you liked or what you expected.  Remembering those things can help you get over heartbreak.

You may fall in love with unexpected things you hadn’t thought of or hoped for.

It will only work if they love you back.  No matter how much you want or love, if it’s not mutual, it won’t work out well.

When you find it, it may not look like the picture in your head, but you’ll still recognize it.

Know the difference between what you need and what you want.

When you find The One, move heaven and earth to get it.

Inspect carefully before you buy.

Have plans for changes, updates, personal touches but if you want to change it too much, it’s not for you.

You may find yourself wandering back to check out the one you lost.  That’s OK as long as you look from the curb.

The one who ended up with the one that got away may not be taking care of the one that got away as well as you would have.  Their loss!  That doesn’t mean that destiny or history is cruel.

Timing is essential.

Things you didn’t like at first may end up being exactly what you wanted or needed in the end!

You will eventually realize that the one(s) that got away were actually not as perfect as the one you got, and you got a great deal on it to boot!

Someone nearby may have one very similar to yours and fix it up real nice and new, but somehow it’s still not as great as yours and still doesn’t feel like home.

Finally …

Finding the one is only the start of the journey!

I haven’t yet met my Beloved, but I still love my house! 🙂

Paz, amor … ¡y arriba las mujeres!

~Jaxsine~

Breaking the rules – Part III (The Empire Strikes Back?)

Those of you who are fellow card-carrying lifelong diehard Star Wars fans might point out that The Empire Strikes Back was actually the second (well, really the fifth!) Star Wars movie in the first trilogy and not the third, and you would be correct.  So why, you ask, would I name the third installment of this particular saga after the second installment of said Star Wars saga?  Answer: the title of this post is appropriate given what has transpired since Part II, and because in the trilogy formula, the second act is usually the darkest and most conflicted, as is this one.

Just days after I wrote Part II, and perhaps even because of the energy behind that post – or in spite of it – I got my first message that my piercing had been noticed and that I was, well, on notice.  After climbing the stairs and reaching the top of the parking structure on my way out that afternoon, I ran into one of my main allies in HR.  She and I had exchanged friendly words in another parking structure the week before, nose jewelry in full view, so I didn’t expect anything different this time.  As we parted, however, she mentioned — almost as an afterthought, and almost apologetically — that she had noticed my nose piercing, that it’s against policy, and if someone complained she would have to bring it to my boss.

I’m not sure what she expected (defensiveness? indignance?) but I politely said I understood, I realized it was against policy, and I thanked her for saying something.  Her stock rose in my personal Market of Integrity.  Finally someone was doing their job.  Finally someone had the guts to speak up!

But … what was this about “if” someone complained?  So I get to break the rules as long as no one complains about it?  I’m OK as long as I get away with it?

Apparently so, because a couple days later — again as almost an afterthought at the end of our regular hour-long weekly meeting — my boss mentioned that she got an “anonymous complaint” about my nose piercing, and that she said she’d address it.  There was no request to remove it, no statement of consequences and no question, so I assumed this “addressing” was the equivalent of saying “I see you.”

The following day in a follow up meeting I made the brave, premeditated move of telling my boss I was planning to leave the organization, citing unhappiness, lack of fit, and a desire to return to doing work that truly expresses my gifts — even perhaps as a contractor for the organization.  I told her I wasn’t giving notice yet, and that I wanted to be honest with her because our relationship is very important to me.  I told her it was hard for me to admit how I was feeling, since I didn’t want to disappoint or abandon her.  I said I intended to not leave my department in disarray.  It felt like a good meeting.  She heard me, said she knows I’m loyal, and just asked me not to leave things in chaos.  That was a hard day of three very honest meetings and lots of boundary setting.  It was epic.

You see, my boss is one of the three things I like about my job.  And I love this woman as a person — she is the one individual I would want to report to in my organization and one of the few I not only admire and respect, but like.

The following week, on Valentines Day, we had our regular weekly one-on-one.  It was a normal meeting, mostly me going over all my projects.   I followed up later that day with an email regarding two things I forgot, and in her reply my boss mentioned she had gotten another inquiry about my piercing and that I needed to remove it as I was not in compliance with policy.

So now we were in the Realm of Direct Communication and Danger of Defiance Zone.  What to do?

A day later I responded that I appreciated her saying something, but that there was a story behind it I wanted to explain.  I said I would not be asking for special treatment or to be allowed an exception to the policy.  I asked — is that OK?  She wrote back that several people were now commenting and questioning her, and that we could talk, but that I had to remove it that day or face disciplinary action.

Whoa.  I realized I had not expected that reaction, nor to face that kind of clear dilemma.  I spent that day, and the next, sort of out-of-body at work, but with facial jewelry intact.  Then the weekend came.

I realized I needed help figuring out what to do.  Do I back down on my commitment?  Sell out? Submit to oppression and injustice?  Defy my beloved boss? Risk burning bridges?  Make a big deal?

I was also angry and suspicious that the hammer had come down on me right after saying I was unhappy and planning to leave.  Could it be possible that my boss was pulling tightly on my reins just because I was trying to break free?

In seeking wise counsel from trusted friends (thank God(dess) for such gifts as friends!) I learned two things.  One, my Beloved Boss is human, and as a human she probably — albeit subconsciously — was sad and upset I was leaving and found it easier to deal with the grief and loss (after all I have been her ally and confidant too) by getting angry with me and exerting her authority.  After all, screaming “FINE!  Go on and go, you %&*$-ing #^*$!” after your loved one as they exit the house with packed bags in hand feels a lot better and more powerful than bursting into tears and facing the silent, ambiguous emptiness left in their wake.

Two, I learned I had been selfish.  I hadn’t fully played out the scenario of her reaction to the piercing in my mind, but I had assumed it would consist of her noticing and asking me about it goodnaturedly, maybe teasingly telling me I was going to have to take it out, me explaining my reasons and her totally getting it, then negotiating some resolution with me or asking me to take it out, citing some really good reason I had never thought of before.  OR!  Maybe she would even join me in my commitment, let it go, and tell the concerned parties to go focus on more important things like ensuring our patients get the safest, quickest, most respectful care imaginable, and keeping stellar employees happy and feeling supported.

What I had missed is that my Beloved Boss likely sees herself as constrained in her role as I do, if not more.  Allowing me to walk around with a tiny jewel on the side of my nose undermines her authority.  It implies that either I enjoy her favoritism, or that she is powerless to get me to follow The Rules.  I had not considered that my actions would put her in an awkward position that hurt her credibility — credibility I respected and had worked hard to protect.

So I went back to the studio and got a clear glass retainer put in, which is actually healing a lot better now than the jewelry was.  I didn’t do it because I backed down from my commitment, or because I am weak.  I didn’t do it out of fear.  I did it out of love — love for my Beloved Boss and what she represents, as well as who she is.  I did it out of respect for how difficult her job must be, and how she will be the one left behind when I leave, continuing the lonely fight to do the right thing.

One of my friends also pointed out that this decision could also be about me letting go of being right.  I had never thought of myself as insisting on being right since I’m the type of person who meets disagreement or conflict with dialogue and a sincere attempt to come to a mutually beneficial solution.  However, I hadn’t considered my righteous commitment to an ideal or principle despite all consequences as having undertones of insisting on being right or superior.

The following week at our meeting my boss and I had a candid conversation.  Indeed, she had been annoyed with me.  I was surprised to hear it’s awkward for her to bring up dress code issues with staff (I assumed this would have been old hat for someone who started out as a front line staff person and supervisor).  I suspect she felt extra hurt it was me — of all people — she had to address this with.  I’m the Teacher’s Pet after all, so my apparent defiance must have really stung.  I realized I have no idea what kind of pressures and challenges to her authority she must face, and how I put that in jeopardy.

She heard my reasons (I gave the main ones), listened to my explanation (no intention to be defiant of her initial “addressing it”) and accepted my apology.  I don’t think she fully understands why I did it — after all, she has spent nearly 30 years in the organization and has grown up in the culture — but I hope she still believes I’m loyal, at least to her.

I suppose this is a part of pushing the envelope and breaking rules — sometimes it doesn’t have an effect on anyone but us.  It can sometimes be as much about our own psychological development and spiritual awakening as anyone else’s.  Through this process, I certainly have learned a lot more about people and this organization — as well as reminders about why it doesn’t work for me.  Most people really don’t think on the level of metaphors and philosophy and ethics and big principles.  It’s really about relationships — and safety.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Ultimately then, I have gone through another trial, grown, and come back to share my new knowledge.  So perhaps a more apt title for this post after all would have been … Return of the Jedi?  🙂

In Lak Ech … paz, amor y sabiduria

Jaxsine

Breaking the rules – Part II

Today it’s been a month, and you may be wondering — what happened with my first daring foray into being authentic and breaking some rules?

Well, nothing.

I’ve been at work 19 days since I got my nose pierced, a clear violation of the dress code at work, especially for management.  And only TWO people have said anything.  They both said something as soon as they saw me for the first time since the holidays — one was curious and surprised, the other complimentary.  But neither my boss, nor an HR director I met with one-on-one, nor any of my immediate peers, nor my direct reports, have said a thing.

What does this mean?  I’m really not sure.  I can tell most people notice it, but their faces don’t change, nor do they seem uncomfortable.  Maybe they’re really not seeing it.  Maybe they think (as somone at the piercing studio suggested) I always had it.

I think what is more likely is they don’t know what to say, they are afraid to say anything (?), or they have more important things to worry about.  Regardless of the reason, I feel a mix of relief and disappointment.  I’m not disappointed because I’m sad to have missed a chance to make a point or take some big, loud stance.  I’m disappointed because I expected more.  I expected accountability — at least a question — especially from my boss.  That’s what I would have done if someone who reported to me showed up with a nose piercing: “Hey, I see you got some new jewelry there.  Tell me about that?”   Then I would have said something about taking it out at work or (now that I have one) saying it’s against policy but I’m not going to make it an issue.  If the person were a colleague, I would have said something appreciative or at least acknowledging, depending on the person.  Then I might have asked my boss about what I’d seen (“so, did the policy change?”), or gone out and gotten one myself.  🙂

Right now, I interpret the silence as another symptom of dysfunction in the organization.  If we are unable, unwilling, or too stressed out to notice the little things that aren’t right — much less hold each other accountable — then it’s no wonder we have a general lack of consistent accountability and a culture that has streaks of anger, injustice, and righteous entitlement.

It’s odd — even though I didn’t get the piercing to make a point or be a rebel (nor is being a rebel my M.O.), I have found myself oddly emboldened by the lack of reaction.  It almost makes me want to push envelopes I had no intention of signing, sealing and delivering in the first place.  It gives me insight into why (and how) other folks might make such envelope pushing their way of work life, or feel it’s their right to do so.  There are fundamental problems in any system when the line of accountability is blurry, moves around or appears so far down the field that once someone finally calls foul, the foul lacks credibility and evokes indignance or disrespect from the violator.  When certain policies aren’t taken seriously, how do people know which ones are?  I’m not advocating for rigid, consistent application of the letter of all laws, but at least a noticing and dialoguing when people violate  agreements that we implicity or explicitly make with each other.

So today I did Rule Breaking Part II, but not because of the lack of reaction, mind you, this was already part of the plan.  Today, 2-4-12 at age 42 I got my 4th tattoo at 4:00 by a woman with a four-letter name (!).  She did a beautiful job and it didn’t hurt nearly as much as the other three.  I was nervous about this one, but I love it.

And I am not going to cover it up at work when summer comes.

Today is Imbolc — the first day of spring.  It is a day of new life, of new green tendrils poking up through the hard, frozen, sleeping earth.  And as of today I wear another external symbol of my commitment to what is real, what is authentic, and what is important.

In lack ech,

Jaxsine

The Psychology of Sheep

Have you heard the story about the weird chicken? Well, here goes.

There once was a farmer who had a large flock of chickens.  One spring, he noticed one of the new chicks wasn’t quite fitting in,  He didn’t look like the other chicks, he didn’t sound like the other chicks, and he didn’t act like them either.  The chick, as he began to grow up, also noticed something wasn’t right. Try as he might, he couldn’t make himself be like the others.  The other chickens were mostly polite, but they noticed too.  Even the farmer saw that this bird was not turning into a very well-behaved or tasty-looking chicken, and he worried that the other chickens, and his reputation, were in danger because of the weird chicken.

One lovely afternoon a stranger passing by the farm struck up a conversation with the farmer.  The stranger noticed the weird chicken and took an immediate interest in the bird.  He offered to buy it.  The farmer, thinking of no other use for the chicken and seeing the stranger was a bit daft but friendly, agreed.  The stranger took his new feathered friend to the edge of the tallest cliff in the region, held him up high and gave him a little push, saying …

“Fly, eagle, fly!”

And the eagle flew.   Turns out he’d been blown into the chicken yard during a windstorm as a tiny eagle chick.  At first he was terrified and unsure of himself, but eventually he found other eagles.  He rejoined his tribe, happy to fit in at last — fully spreading his wings, hunting rodents and using his sharp beak and talons to their full potential — all things he was meant to do, but discouraged from in the chicken yard.

My guess is that many probably relate to this story and are eagles among chickens looking for their true tribe.  I definitely relate, and made the error most of us make — thinking others are like us.  However, I am now beginning to notice that there are plenty of eagle chicks who would just rather stay with the chickens.

Allow me to explain.  One of the people who reports to me at work was someone I was friendly with for years before I became her boss.  She always seemed to have some kind of struggle.  As the manager of her department she had a really hard time because she had no support from her boss and felt abandoned.  Then she stepped down and took another position in the department.  She confided in me how hard this role was too — no support, no motivation, no inspiration from her bosses — and her colleagues were also hard to work with.  A year ago this month, she cried in my office about how frustrated she was, and how she was thinking of quitting.  At that time I knew plans were in the works for me to take on leadership of her department, so I encouraged her to hang on.  “The organization needs you,” I told her, “You have so much to offer!”  As usual, she was very grateful to me for our trusting relationship and my empathy and support.

I was excited — once she found out I was going to be her boss, she was going to be excited too!  All she needed was some guidance and ideas from someone energetic and organized, with expertise in her field — me!  Together, we were going to do great things!

Four months later the leadership transition was announced in a department meeting.  She was there, and had been briefed days before about the impending changes.  For reasons unclear to me at the time, she quietly left the room at some point during the post-announcement group discussion, unable to “control her reaction” as she later explained.

Since then, this person, who I might have called a friend, has turned out to be the most manipulative, toxic, gossipy, lazy member of the team.  At first I thought it was my fault.  A new manager after all, I thought maybe I was doing something to cause this behavior.  I tried more contact, more structure, more concrete deadlines and clearer accountability.  I experimented with letting some things go and giving freer rein.  Despite lots of help from HR and my mentors, nothing I did seemed to make a difference for long, or at all.  I just really needed her to do her job and was to shocked to discover she wasn’t doing it, and hadn’t been for some time.  The disturbing gaps in her work performance even included things that put us at risk as an organization.

To date, she has been written up twice, suspended once, coached multiple times, and earned a non-passing performance evaluation.  She has contributed excessive absences, low productivity, missed deadlines, lack of follow through, troubling lack of documentation, inappropriate emails, and a number of poor or careless decisions requiring damage control.  Her responses to my efforts to improve her performance have included filing two grievances against me — one with the organization and one with the EEOC — for discriminating against her due to race.

I still believe that people co-create situations and that no one person is ever to blame completely for conflict or interpersonal problems.  Therefore, I know I helped create this situation.  However, I also now believe that I have done nothing wrong.  I am not the racist, demanding, oppressive boss from hell she believes me to be.  I am just requiring her to do her job, not letting her off the hook, and not buying into her victim persona.

And that’s where I went wrong.  I thought I was the friendly stranger rescuing the eagle chick.  I was prideful.  I thought, “Oh, these poor folks having to put up with all this bad stuff.  Once they get me as their leader, all will be well!  We will become an awesome department full of fulfilled, happy people, and they will be so grateful to me for fixing things!”

You see, the same thing has been happening with the rest of the team.  Like their colleague, for years they have complained and expressed frustration about the way things were.  Now that I am starting to shape things into what I thought was our shared vision of excellence, high performance, and greater efficiency, most of them have been fighting me all the way.

Here’s what I finally realized — if a person is unhappy in a situation, complains about it, and stays there, that negative situation is meeting their needs on some level.  If they really wanted things to be better or different, they would have either changed things or left.

Of course, this is not conscious, and to point this out to someone in this situation would likely provoke indignant howling.  But if a person is invested in their identity as a victim, even though they may say — and believe — they want things to change, they will fight to maintain their victimhood and rail against attempts to change.  We still need control after all.

This isn’t to say that the kindly eagle rescuer has no value or purpose.  Having someone come by, pick us out of the flock, and show us our true selves can be a powerful and life changing experience.

But we have to decide to flap our wings instead of clinging to our chicken identity and dashing to our deaths on the boulders in the canyon below.

Please pardon the switch in animal metaphors, but this is what I call the psychology of sheep.  Sheep (unlike chickens) are herd animals.  They follow each other compulsively — even off cliffs and to the slaughterhouse.  They get very anxious about being separated from the herd.  They are highly social and aware of each other, and like to stay together.

The psychology of sheep is one of mindlessness, of conformity, of blind following along.  It is a psychology of victimhood and powerlessness.  The psychology of sheep is sleep.

This is not our birthright, it is learned powerlessness.  I still believe we are all eagles.  We are all unique, vastly powerful and immensely creative beings.  But as eagles in sheep’s clothing (!), we decide it is safer — because it sometimes is — to blend in, to become small, to blame someone else.  Graduating from sheepdom requires (as one of my teachers called it) the Religion of Radical Responsibility.  To claim our power is to claim responsibility.  We take responsibility for the state of our lives, our health, our jobs, our relationships, our nation, our planet.

Terrifying indeed.  It’s so much easier to be a sheep.  Asleep.

One of the ways I have bought into victimhood in the past was my false belief that people in authority positions must know more, and better, than me. Therefore, I could abdicate certain knowledge and responsibility — leaving these in their capable hands — and also blame them when things went wrong, and righteously try to convince them to change.

I have learned a terrible secret.  Many, if not most, people in power positions are equally afraid and convinced of their powerlessness!  We are sheep following sheep.

This might be another reason for my team’s resistance:  I am not a sheep in a sheep organization, and it makes them nervous.  Or it makes them angry — my friend-turned-toxic-employee is probably rightfully indignant that she is suddenly being asked to do good work, when substandard work has been acceptable for years.  I made the mistake of trying to be an eagle in a sheep organization.  Just who do I think I am anyway!?

As a good friend and colleague once said to me, in analyzing our workplace:

Sometimes people breathe toxic air so long they think it’s normal.  They think the abuse and neglect is normal.  It feels normal to hurt like that.  People adapt to dysfunction to the point where it’s seen as desirable or preferable to change.  The results are negfests, learned helplessness, and resistance.  In our organization, function often follows form, the letter of the law is emphasized over the spirit of the law, and the adventure of academia spars with the risk averse bureaucracy.

I still believe people are not sheep.  I don’t believe we need a shepherd — noteworthy that this is one of the more powerful symbols in Christianity — nor am I interested in being a shepherd.  In my job, it has felt for months like “my employees” either want me to just be a sheep or a shepherd.  But I am not interested in reinforcing false dualities.  I am not interested in running around waking up sheep or forcing them to separate from the herd.

I also do not want to be a sheep — because I’m not — but as a non-sheep it is exhausting trying to exist in a herd, especially when it’s heading for a cliff. I can’t seem to break away from the crowd due to the force of their momentum, yet if I stand still I’ll get trampled.

I think for now the bird metaphor is a better fit.  I know I’m an eagle amongst chickens, I’m just waiting for the right moment to fly.  In fact, one image I play with during the day as I walk down the drab institutional hallways of my place of employment is to picture huge angel-like eagle wings opening with a loud feathery snap behind me like a skydiver’s parachute, brushing the walls on either side of me as I glide to whatever adventure awaits me next.

How about you?

In lak ech,

Jaxsine