Feb 24, 2018

Home is Where...

...the dogs are.

...you stop sucking in your gut.

...bare feet don't feel like a risk.

...you can walk around in the dark without bumping into furniture.

...the decor has become invisible.

...you can let your guard down.

...the water doesn't taste weird.

...you can sleep naked.

...the messes are your messes.

...you can finally relax.
Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually

Feb 12, 2018

Jenn Discovers Honesty

I've traditionally had terrible luck when I try to be honest with friends. When I try to intervene in an emotional situation, or even to answer questions honestly like, "Do you think I'm being irrational?" or "What do you think of this outfit?"

I had come to the conclusion that people really just want reassurance; they don't want honesty. That outfit looks great, your significant other is an asshole, girrrrl you've never been wrong a day in your life!

I'd mostly made peace with this philosophy but occasionally, usually when talking to more blunt or honest people, I'd feel twinges. Not of guilt, exactly, but I knew I wasn't behaving with integrity.  It didn't feel right.

So I gave the honest, tough love approach another go.  I sent an awkward text to a friend to let her know I thought she was treating someone inappropriately.  And another awkward text to a family member letting him know I thought his behavior was out of line.  And when a close friend asked, "What issues do you see with my relationship?" I suppressed that inner voice screaming "don't do it!!!" and made her a list.

Her response?  Well, it could have been worse I suppose.  But she was upset and didn't understand why I was being so harsh and really it's none of my business.


"Ok," I thought. "Honesty doesn't work."

But after talking it over in a group text with some friends who are probably my best role models for balancing "I support my friends" and "I tell it like it is" I realized honesty wasn't the problem here. The question was the problem.

Their relationship IS none of my business.  Admittedly my friend invited me into it when she asked that question, but I didn't have to let her.  I can be honest with her and still stay out of her business.

So the next time she asked my thoughts on something relationship-related (and yes, it did happen again), I recognized the question for what it was. She wasn't asking me for an analysis, or suggestions. She was asking for reassurance, even if she didn't realize it.

I could be honest by refusing to give reassurance that something was ok when I don't believe it to be.  But I could also keep my nose out of her business by stating the (in hindsight) obvious, "You would know better than I would - I'm not actually there when any of this is happening."

I'm sure another friend with thicker skin could handle real feedback.  But now I try to assess what a person is looking for before diving into their love life with a self help book in one hand and a list of relationship counselors in the other.

Another opportunity to practice arose not long after the first fiasco.  Another friend, another relationship problem.  This time I was convinced that it wasn't issues on both side that could use honest communication or counseling.  The description of her significant other's behavior made me feel alarmed, disgusted, and concerned.

Of course they got back together, and I knew continued voicing of my opinion wasn't going to help.  But I also knew I couldn't stay silent.  So we met up once, I explained my concerns and that I couldn't continue to be friendly towards him but I'd still like to be her friend if she was ok with that, and that was that.

I think it went over so much better this time both because this friend wasn't as emotionally fragile, but also because I did a better job of assessing what she wanted to hear.  I balanced saying what I felt needed to be said with supporting my friend and I think it was ultimately positive for both of us.  she knows how I feel but still feels comfortable confiding in me.

I've been a terrible friend in the past.  When my friends make terrible decisions, I've berated them, nagged them, and generally made them feel even worse about it than they already did.  Ultimately that approach is pointless.  You can't "slap sense" into people.  They have to recognize their own issues and decide to action on their own.

And when I really dug down into why it bothered me, the reason was because I cared about their well-being.  I wanted them to have fulfilling, easy lives and to be happy, and watching them make choices that took them in the polar opposite direction was frustrating.

Telling people that instead of yelling has been a much better approach.  "I care about you and want you to be happy, and I consistently see that you're unhappy after spending time with this person you're dating" goes over much better than "He's an asshole, treats you badly, and you deserve better."

The last piece of the puzzle that JUST clicked into place for me was boundary setting.  I don't have to carefully reserve honesty for when my opinion is solicited or to inform my friends of truths they might need to hear.  I can also use it to set boundaries and for my own mental health.

I recently told a flaky friend how frustrating it is when she cancels last minute.  I told her that it was hard to tell if she wants to be friends with me and that I'd much rather be turned down for things than canceled on.

I don't know if we're still friends - she hasn't answered yet.  But the alternate path was to drop her as a friend anyway, because after someone bails on me 3 times, I stop inviting them out.  So at least this way I gave her a chance to talk it out with me, if she wanted to.

And I feel better.  No lingering resentment or irritation.

Having discovered this tool, it's one I intend to wield liberally whenever my friends stray from venting into constant negativity.  I can listen to you describing a frustrating day at work.  I won't listen to the same daily rant about how much you hate your job while you do nothing to improve that situation.  It doesn't solve your problem and it brings us both down.

Maybe this is a skill that most people just know how to use.  But I've struggled my entire adult life to figure out how to resolve conflict with people.  Literally telling people how I feel just never occurred to me until recently.

I have a coworker who uses emotion talk quite liberally at work.  He's the epitome of thin-skinned so it doesn't take much to set him off, and I watch in absolute horror as someone asks him for something and he launches into, "When you say that, it makes me feel..."

Get those emotions out of the work place!  You're embarrassing us all, man.

I'm still not 100% convinced that emotion talk is needed to resolve work conflicts, BUT they are helping me immensely in my personal life now that I finally started applying them outside of marriage.

If I had written this post listicle style, I would have said that there are 5 things I've learned:

  1. Figure out what people are really asking for
  2. Deliver it as concisely as possible and then get back to the support role
  3. Focus on why I want to share this with them rather than what I think they're doing wrong
  4. It's ok to put my own emotional needs first
  5. An awkward conversation is forgotten a lot sooner than bottled resentment

Your turn - tell me about your strategies for being honest with friends!  Better yet, tell me about times when honesty blew up in your face (so I don't feel so dumb about mine).

Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually

Feb 8, 2018

There is No Lightning Bolt

Back when I was reading all the habit books, I was taken with Gretchen Rubin's concept of a "lightning bolt" change.  She said usually, for most people most of the time, change happens slowly and it requires small steps and consistent effort.  However, on rare occasions, and for some personality types, change could happen quickly because of the "lightning bolt."

The lightning bolt could be anything that shocks you into or out of action.  If you ever read weight loss stories, or addiction recovery, you'll know what I mean.  The story people tell about that one day when it all got to be too much.  Something happened that made them realize how bad their situation was and how unlikely things were to get better if they didn't make a drastic change immediately.

Those stories are much more compelling than "I just decided to be healthier and worked at it a little bit every day until the changes added up to something substantial."

They're also unreliable.

I think I was making excuses to wait for a lightning bolt.  If I could give up alcohol just like that, then I'm a lightning bolt sort of person, right?

But I wasn't addicted to alcohol.  If anything, alcohol was that first long-term relationship that was maybe headed in abusive directions that we all secretly knew wasn't a good idea in the first place.  So quitting wasn't really a lightning bolt - it was a culmination of years of mixed feelings and a final year spent trying it out and debating the pros and cons of alcohol use.

And when we start talk about sugar and emotional eating, yeah...

I was hoping for a lightning bolt because I felt weak.  Giving up 30 years of habit training is hard!  I wanted that thing, whatever it was, to shock me into making changes.

Every self help book I read that mentioned habits or nutrition or emotional eating, I thought, "This is it!  This is the thing!!!"

And then a week or two later that thing didn't seem important anymore.

So here's my "lightning bolt": there is no lightning bolt.  There is no abrupt, rapid, easy change.  But there is plenty of work ahead.  And it's high time to get started.

Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually

Feb 5, 2018

5 Kinds of Guilt

Life may have joy in it again, but it's not all rainbows and sunshine!  On a serious note, I definitely think being a parent has made me more aware of the many different forms and manifestations guilt can take.  So obviously we need to start with...

1. Mom Guilt

Moms feel guilty about everything from using formula to putting their kids in daycare.  It's like the moment the baby pops out, our brains lose all ability to silence that doubting inner voice that tells us we're doing everything wrong.

I think the underlying emotion behind this guilt is fear.  We're afraid that we're not good enough, that we'll fail our children, that this choice will be wrong and will ruin everything.  Being physically capable of producing a child does not in any way mean you're capable of being a good parent and our brains like to remind us of this every time a new decision needs to be made.

2. Spouse Guilt

I actually think Ryan might be suffering from this more than I do, but in our case it's the acknowledgement that with a baby and work and trying to snatch a few solitary minutes of non-productive time, we really don't spend much time together anymore.  Doing nice things for each other is definitely on the backburner and our main relationship goal is to not fall apart, rather than to soar the heights of romantic love.

I often feel guilty when I get irritable with Ryan for no good reason, and underneath the guilt is a sense of cranky petulance.  I almost resent the fact that here is another thing I need to feel guilty about.

3. Pet-owner Guilt

The dogs haven't been out to run in weeks and, honestly, they're not even getting walked regularly.  We tried going on a family walk recently, which ended in a pink-cheeked, screaming baby because it was uncomfortably cold out even with his jacket and blankets.  I could walk them during the day when I work from home and the baby is at daycare, and I should.  Scrambling to keep up with client projects is no excuse, even on a week particularly full of networking events and client meetings.

This guilt is, I think, the most pure because there's no sense of "the world will explode because I didn't do this" the way there is with the baby, and I don't feel irrationally angry at the dogs because they are innocent beasts who have no control over my actions.  I just feel bad that I'm not a better dog-mom to them.

4. Friend Guilt

I'm not currently a good friend.  I showed you guys my value chart and social was last and is often traded out for "me time."  It's just not a priority and while I'm sorry, I also know I'm not willing to change that while my business and baby are still so young.  I just have to hope that my friendships will survive on the scraps of time I throw at them and that I can nourish them a little better in the future.

This guilt is heavily overladen with exasperation and exhaustion.  This person needs what now?  Someone's mad about what stupid reason?  Why does anyone have time to care about any of these things?  Can't we just get coffee and say nice things to each other???

5. Health Guilt

I should take better care of myself, but... [insert excuse here].  The chocolate was beckoning, I had a client meeting during my usual exercise time, I was too tired to get up early, it was too cold out.  The list of excuses is never-ending.  This guilt is usually easily silenced with a book and some junk food, which keeps the vicious cycle going.  For me it's associated with a feeling of rebelliousness.  Yes, I know X choice is better for me, but I do what I want!  Get off my back!!!

Quick recap:

  • Mom Guilt = Fear of Impending Doom
  • Spouse Guilt = Cranky Petulance
  • Pet-owner Guilt = Normal Guilt
  • Friend Guilt = Exasperated Exhaustion
  • Health Guilt = Rebellion

What does guilt feel like for you?

Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually

Feb 1, 2018

Words with Friends

No, not the game.  These are words I'd like to say to my friends if I thought any of them would be interested and it wasn't so much effort to plan a damn lunch or coffee date!  (More on that further down.)

"For an enterprising mom..."

A potential client used this phrase during our meeting a couple weeks ago.  At the time I was focused on answering his question and not on his phrasing, but every once in a while my brain dredges this up to get irritated at it.  (Day going too smoothly?  No worries - we can find something to get annoyed about!)

It's really, really not a big deal but... I'm not an enterprising mom.  I'm not a stay-at-home mom who thought, "Childcare is so super, duper easy! I better find some extra work to do to fill in the extra gaps in my day and wallet."  (Note: if you know me at all, you know this is laden with sarcasm because I found staying home with a kid to be much more challenging than running a business.)

I'm an entrepreneur.  I have been since well before my child was born.  An entrepreneur who is also a mom, sure, but in our business meetings the entrepreneur always comes first.  The mom part comes first when I'm with my baby, but I didn't see him at that meeting, Mr. "Enterprising Mom"!

"My car got a nose job."

This is what I tell people when they ask me why my car's bumper is conspicuously absent and its innards visible.

Yes, I got in a fender bender.  It was my slowest, most low-key accident yet and also the first one I've had since I was 21 or so.  I'm a little sad to break that streak of not destroying my vehicles.

More importantly, I'm ok and the baby is ok.  (Baby's first car accident, yayyyy...)  But I'm still a little distressed by how this went down.

A car was at a stop sign on a road perpendicular to mine.  I had no stop sign.  Right as I entered the intersection, the other car decided it was their moment and darted out in front of me.  I don't remember any crunch from the initial impact, just a grinding noise and then a small jolt as the resistance in front of us disappeared.  I slowed in the intersection, trying to decide what to do, felt the drag from the front end of my car, and watched incredulously as the other car slowed, and then seemed to change their mind and speed off.

Get-hit-and-run.  Is that a thing?  Well it is now.

Since my car was obviously in no shape to chase down the other car, I pulled off, confirmed that my bumper was dragging on the ground, and then proceeded to have 2 awkward conversations with the 911 operator about what one is supposed to do in this situation.  Do I need to report it if I don't want a damage report?  What do I do with my bumper?  Is there some kind of procedure for cleaning up road debris?

She was not amused and not helpful.  I ripped my bumper the rest of the way off and took my baby home.

"I read a great business book on the plane..."

Sometimes I think I'm not really becoming more proactive at all.  It's just that instead of jumping to react to whatever's happening that day, I'm jumping to react to my latest self help book.

I don't feel like worrying about that so I'm going to use vague phrases like "synchronicity" and "we hear what we need to hear" and leave it at that.  This particular book was very exciting because it gave me options for achieving business success in a way that feels better to me.

Everyone I've talked to who has employees has said to offer more money and to only hire people if they're the perfect fit and they have skills I don't.  This book said that if you systematize down to the literal step-by-step tasks needed to get something done, you can hire the base level of skill needed to do the tasks without needing a great amount of skill.

You'd think design couldn't be systematized that deeply, but in an effort to communicate better with my current employee that's exactly what I've been doing.  The book made me realize I need to break it down even further, and it also told me my job is to organize the business first and to do the work second.

To a lot of people that would sound awful because they got into their business because they like the work.  I like the work I do, too, and it's important to me, but I also like organizing, so I can handle this.

Here's what a systematized design process looks like.

The best part is, it's still totally creative!  But it gives you a framework to work within.  My design teachers always said we needed a box because without some kind of limitations, the options are completely overwhelming.  And you can go outside the box, but only with good reasons not just for the sake of being unique.

Anyway, long tangent, but self help books + organization = happy Jenn.

"I didn't realize I had to talk to you in order to stay friends..."

This is heavily paraphrased but that's basically what one friend said to me when I checked in with her recently.  I had checked in only because our mutual friend said she'd been feeling down and maybe that's why she wasn't really reaching out.  Nope!  It just never occurred to her that friendship goes both ways and each person needs to extend some effort in order to continue to keep the relationship alive.

Yes, we're 30 years old.  My other friend is younger, but she's doing something equally frustrating.

"My super important job keeps me busier than everyone else."

Arghghgh!  Yes, when I was in my early 20's, I too thought being busy was an exceptional situation that only afflicted me.  And maybe she'll figure it out eventually.  But right now... I'm too old for this shit.

I'm also aware that my definition of friend is a little different than everyone else's.  I don't call every single acquaintance a friend.  I have a "brunch group" who isn't really friends because we don't hang out individually (though more and more of them are jumping the gap).  I see my book club more often than many of my friends but we never text each other just to chat, so they're not friends.

It doesn't mean I don't like you!  And if you seem interested in becoming friends, I'll totally invite you to stuff and plan events.  But I don't want to waste time organizing and planning events for people who are going to flake and never reciprocate.  Or people whom I don't enjoy - "friends of convenience" isn't something I want to do anymore.

Here's my standards for friendships.  You're not my friend if...

  • You haven't met my baby. (It's not like he was just born - you've had a whole year to stop by.)
  • You cancel an outing and don't plan the next one.
  • You only see or talk to me in group scenarios and never one-on-one.

"On a scale of one to ten, how open-minded are you about..."

In the last few months, we've lost a few family members.  My aunt, and then my grandmother (Dad's stepmom), and most recently another grandmother (Dad's mom).

It's been hard but there's not really much point in continuing to write posts about the circle of life and processing grief and all that.  I'm sad, I'm not performing at 100%, and I'm doing my best to not scream at Ryan when he tells me deep breathing will make me feel better.  (If it doesn't bring my grandparents back to life or retroactively make their last years less miserable, it's not going to make feel better.  Thank you but stop, please.)

But the thing I want to talk about here is the bizarre coincidence of timing.  You might have noticed that the grandmothers who died were my dad's mom and stepmom.

From all accounts, these two ladies made the best of things when the kids were small.  They were tied together by a man and his children, and it wasn't the kid's fault, so they made do.  This ceased once the children were grown and only got worse with time.

After my grandfather died, you'd think the source of contention would be removed, but it seemed like the opposite.  They grew increasingly isolated and bitter and I heard more and more negativity from each of them over the years, often directed at each other.  They probably hadn't seen each other in 20 years!  But still...

"She stole my husband."  "She says such nasty things to Jack [my dad]."  Etc, etc.

Both died very abruptly, the first from cancer after being given 30 days to live, and the second quietly in her sleep about 3 months later.  The first had been declining for some time, and the second had actually been improving.

At one time I might have called it superstition, but my brain keeps saying it wasn't random coincidence.  They were tied together through years of pain, years of emotion, and years of focused energy.  It might not have been a positive, but they certainly thought of each other a lot.

There's a theory called Quantum Entanglement that talks about particles that relate to each other even when distanced physically.  (I'm not going to link to anything because I couldn't find an article that breaks it down in non-science-y language but it's on Wikipedia.)  I know it could be coincidence but my brain keeps whispering that's it more than that.  That they were connected, even though neither would have wanted to be.

My mind has been slowly creaking open lately, due to the prevalence of manifesting type talk in the online entrepreneurial world.  If 0 is total skepticism and 10 is total belief, I probably would have been a 1.  Now I think I'm at 4 or 5.

I like to think about energy connecting us through the boundaries of space and time.  It feels less lonely that way.

What's been on your mind lately?  What do your friends do that drives you up the wall?  Where do you fall on the open-mindedness scale?

Jenn signature graphic | Optimization, Actually