April 1, 2024 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

As a trustee for a nonprofit organization, this past week I worked with the other board members interviewing candidates via Zoom to replace the departing executive director. It wasn’t a disruption to my regular workweek because my employer, LexisNexis, allows a reasonable amount of paid time for charitable work during business hours. I’ve been with the company for many years and appreciate having such benefits.

Still, the prospect of interviewing job applicants, which is not something that I have done in my career, gave me a serious case of impostor syndrome. The candidates reminded me of my younger self, feeling judged and at the mercy of other people’s expectations. Now, I was one of those doing the judging. What kind of puffed-up faker was I, wielding power to determine other people’s futures?

Image of a bird on a post wearing military regalia.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

As the week went on, though, I began to feel more comfortable. I realized that it wasn’t about judging people personally, but about assessing skills and how well they matched the job, and that I did in fact have a reasonably good sense of what was needed.

Although I can’t honestly say that I have overcome the fears of the younger self who nervously applied for jobs so long ago, I do feel closer to getting there.

February 13, 2024 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Coming out of the pandemic, I set my ringtone to “Way Less Sad” because that song suited my mood at the time. I still had some anxiety from all the disruptions, and I couldn’t always say that I felt happy; but I was, as the song put it, way less sad.

When my husband mentioned recently that he had some Amazon credits for music or other digital products, I thought it was about time to change my ringtone, and I asked him to buy “Yes I’m A Mess.”

He seemed surprised and asked me why I wanted a goofy song about being a mess. I told him that it’s because the lyrics say, “I like myself like this.” To me, it’s a good reminder that on days when I might, for one reason or another, feel like a mess, it’s OK anyway.

August 9, 2023 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

After I wrote last Thursday’s post about being thankful for all the fun little conveniences we have nowadays, such as an online pizza delivery tracker, I thought about it a little more and realized such things also make workers more stressed. They are not totally sunshine and rainbows.

Photo of sunny hills and a rainbow.

(Photo credit: Colin Houston)

Back in the day, working in a pizza store was pretty simple. Store workers took orders over the phone, assembled and baked the pizzas, and either sent them out with delivery drivers or took payment directly from customers for carryout orders. Now, the phone still rings, but orders also come in by way of the computer, and workers have to scurry over to update the tracker program every time an order’s status changes. And, of course, it’s always a bad day for the workers if (when) the software gets glitchy.

Now, multiply that by all the computer-related tasks added to the lengthy to-do lists for just about every job in today’s world, and it explains a big chunk of those “too much going on” feelings.

That’s not to say we would be better off if we could wave a magic wand and go back to 1980, or any other simpler time in history. Our apps and other modern conveniences really do make our days more cheerful and interesting—as long as it’s someone else doing the work to make sure they’re functioning properly. Even if it’s our work, using computers doesn’t just pile on extra tasks, but also makes many things easier than if they had to be done the old-fashioned way. So, it’s a mixed bag; we have more to keep track of, but also more software to help with it. I am hopeful the balance will tip more in our favor as time goes on.

July 25, 2023 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Following up on last Thursday’s post, I got a bit more pushing than I expected at the rowing regatta. Eagle Creek in Indianapolis looks peaceful and calm in this photo that I took when we arrived, but it is wide and often windswept, which makes it choppy and a challenging place to row.

Photo of Eagle Creek in Indianapolis.

On the practice day before the races started, when I had thought I’d go out in the double, my husband suggested that we row singles instead because the weather was good. I had never rowed a single there and, to be honest, I wasn’t planning to row it because racing singles are such tiny, narrow boats that it can be scary to go out on a choppy course. He talked me into it, though, and the water was in fact pretty calm, so it wasn’t bad.

We also had a good day for the mixed double race, with very little wind. The regatta was well attended, and our competitors were fast enough that we didn’t win any medals this time. Still, it gave us a good benchmark of how much we have improved and of what we need to work on.

The other races had the more typical windy, choppy conditions, and I felt that I had to push myself to keep going back out there. Our club currently does not have any quads that are small enough for lightweight crews (although one is on order), so we were bobbing around a lot, which made me nervous. By the end of the regatta, I was exhausted and glad to get home. Still, a few years ago, I couldn’t have done as much, so I can’t complain—it’s definitely doing me some good.

June 1, 2023 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

…it doesn’t feel like a to-do.

This random bit of advice bubbled up from my subconscious mind early on Monday morning, after I went to bed feeling that the long weekend was almost over and I hadn’t done much. There wasn’t in fact anything that needed to be done right away, but I hadn’t been able to relax. I had in mind to answer an email, update my resume, and other non-urgent stuff. My blog was starting to feel neglected, too, but I didn’t feel creative enough to write anything. Even choosing an image for my art display seemed harder than usual on Sunday; I finally settled on this photo of the Columbia River Gorge.

Monday went better when I got my breakfast and simply asked myself what didn’t feel like a to-do. I had some thoughts about the email I wanted to write, so I started with that, and after a while the day started to feel more normal. Tuesday went reasonably well too, although I hadn’t quite sorted out what to say for this blog entry. Wednesday was busy, but not overwhelming.

Something felt different on Thursday morning, and then I realized that I’d gotten out of bed feeling much calmer. The big flock of to-dos had found somewhere else to roost. They won’t be missed!

On both Saturday and Tuesday, I had good workouts on my Concept2 RowErg, in which I was able to stay below my desired pace of 2:05 for a series of five 500-meter intervals. These workouts, with a minute of rest between intervals, are meant to assess fitness for a 2K rowing machine race. Concept2 is the standard machine used for competitive races.

Rowing machine results for a 5x500 workout.

This is noteworthy because I had been trying to achieve the 2:05 pace for two years, but I had never been able to do it in a 2K race. I could stay at 2:05 for a little over 1000 meters, but then I would get tired and start slowing down. I couldn’t pick up the pace at the end, either; when I tried, my heart rate spiked and then I went even slower.

It wasn’t from lack of fitness; I was training pretty hard, and I could hold a better pace on 10-minute rowing races on the Hydrow machine, which didn’t make sense to me because a 2K race is shorter than 10 minutes. Why did one machine feel so much more exhausting than the other? I couldn’t figure it out, and the worse I did on the Concept2, the more anxiety I had about it.

So, when I did the practice on Saturday, instead of visualizing it as a race, I told myself that it was just another workout and that everything would be okay. I focused on staying consistent and didn’t worry about anything else. Much to my surprise, I felt that I had plenty of energy and was able to maintain the pace throughout. Then I spent all weekend wondering why. What had changed?

By Monday, it occurred to me that the difference was simply that I had started a little more slowly. With a Concept2 race, the machine has to be started from a standstill, and I had been taking three strokes faster than my race pace to get going quickly. Hydrow races, by contrast, have a flying start, which allows for a gradual buildup to race pace before the race actually starts.

I hadn’t thought it would matter if I used a little more energy at the start, but apparently that made it harder for me to sense when I was on a sustainable pace. Subconsciously, without having a consistent pace, I couldn’t be confident that I had enough energy to finish. I believe what happened was that after a while the uncertainty triggered my mental threat detectors, causing me to slow down to prevent overexertion. When I tested that theory by starting at a consistent pace on Tuesday, I was able to sustain it again.

Now I’ve started to wonder how many other things in my environment might be causing preventable feelings of anxiety or overwork. Maybe there are a lot of ways in which an easier pace, or some other simple change to everyday routines, might leave me feeling much calmer and more refreshed. I’ll be looking for them!

My rowing club’s annual training camp, on the first weekend in May, left me feeling stressed. That was mainly because I hadn’t left myself enough time to rest and recover after traveling with my husband on a road trip to Chattanooga the previous weekend. We had fun, but it was a long way home, and then we were back to work as usual.

I hadn’t quite gotten back my energy when the rowing camp started, and the weather conditions left much to be desired—heavy rain on Friday, then high water, and a chilly wind. Walking between the boathouse and the dock, I noticed violets blooming in the grass, but I didn’t pay much attention to them because I was more focused on avoiding the goose poop.

Afterward, I was lying awake in bed on Sunday night sometime around midnight, still feeling unsettled. My bed felt like it was not firmly attached to the floor but, instead, was bobbing around like a boat on the river. Then it occurred to me that my archetypal imaginary protector, Dame Shadow, featured in several posts, hadn’t been around for quite some time. Admittedly, she could be troublesome: her past antics included giving me a backache to get my attention (twice) and shrieking at me to trust no one.

Still, I felt that Dame Shadow’s protection would be helpful at that moment. I did a bit of searching in odd corners of my psyche, trying to determine what had become of her. Although I didn’t see or hear the Dame anywhere, my bed started to feel like it was solidly anchored again. Behind my closed eyelids, tiny violet dots appeared all over the comforter, which floated peacefully above me; and I drifted off to sleep.

By morning I still didn’t feel entirely refreshed, but the image of violets floating on calm water had helped to settle my mind. I had a quiet workweek, followed by a mostly unhurried weekend in which I spent time in the yard, weeding and mulching. Meanwhile, my husband traveled to Michigan for a junior rowing regatta where he was a referee. He sent me a photo of the course, which was beautiful.

Photo of starting line at rowing regatta.

After he returned, we went for a short row in our double; he wanted to spend some time outdoors with me, even though he was tired from driving and from waking up early. We also rowed on Monday and Tuesday.

I wasn’t expecting to go out yesterday because of rain, but it started tapering off later in the day. My husband said we’d be fine with our raincoats. I wasn’t as confident because we’d gotten soaked through our raincoats during the rowing camp, but it turned out he was right. The water was calm, the rain moved off, and we saw a rainbow. It was getting dark by the time we took the boat out of the water, and the grass was still wet, as were my feet; but then I thought about walking through violets, and all was well.

A friend recently asked me if I still had some old emails from a list we had both participated in ten years ago. I said yes, I had them archived in Outlook. When I looked, though, I had only a year’s worth of messages, and there should have been more.

After a while I remembered that I had joined the list originally using a web-based email account, rather than the address from my Internet provider, which I started using for the list later. So I went to the former account, which I hadn’t used in many years, and found it was still active. I didn’t have any further use for it, so I gave my friend the login information and told him that he could do whatever he liked with the old messages.

The annoying little gremlins (as Brené Brown calls them) in the back of my mind then started yapping at me that I was losing my sharpness. How could I forget all about an email account when I’d had no problems keeping track of multiple accounts in the past? Somehow I’d gotten myself lost, wandering around foggily in a dim, dark place without a clue how to climb back out.

Waterfall in a cave with a forest looming overhead.

Of course, such thoughts made no sense, as I realized soon enough. The Internet is full of old accounts that people abandoned and totally forgot. That’s just the way of things in the modern world—we now have a lot more random stuff floating around than we used to have. Expecting to keep it all in mind and perfectly organized, forever, is just plain ridiculous. No need for perfectionist anxiety in that regard!

I didn’t feel inclined to do much writing last week because, among other things, I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to imagine the future. What with the entire world having been totally upended this year, I felt as if I’d lost whatever intuitive sense of direction I might once have had. Because telling stories to make sense of a confusing modern world is the central theme of this blog, it seemed rather pointless to write about being lost in a sea of befuddlement. (Well, except that putting the word “befuddlement” into a sentence just now was kind of fun.)

Then I started reading an apocalyptic business book that projected automation would destroy most of the world’s jobs in the near future. Before this year, I had dismissed that scenario as highly unlikely because it looked like we had plenty of jobs, with more coming open because of retirements and lower birthrates. But now, with a pandemic that could go on for a long time, what business owner wouldn’t want to replace sickly, unpredictable, and expensive humans with robots and intelligent software?

Large robot leaning over a wall.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

That line of thinking put me into quite a funk, and I considered talking it over with my 119-year-old future self, Fannie the Fantastically Adventurous. She might be able to offer some helpful insights and encouragement. But no, that wouldn’t do; I already wrote a post last year in which I asked Fannie for career advice. Something more was needed.

“Yoo hoo!” A waving hand appeared in my imaginary inner landscape, connected to an arm that was nicely toned, if a bit wrinkled. The rest of the body soon came into view, dressed in lime-green workout shorts with a matching tank top and sports bra. This visitor had just been outside on a humid afternoon, judging from the damp, sweaty curls tumbling in all directions over her shoulders. A thin line of gray roots was barely visible under the brown curls.

“I’m Kass,” she informed me, “your 76-year-old future self.”

“Is that short for Cassandra?” I asked, wondering where a future me would have gotten that name. Usually when new characters introduced themselves, I knew their origins; but this time I had no clue whatsoever.

“No, it’s Kass with a K. And it’s short for kicking yours.” Kass smirked in a way that made her look more like a juvenile delinquent than a respectable lady of her claimed 76 years.

I briefly considered tossing her back into whatever murky pool of my subconscious mind had spawned her. Curiosity got the better of me, though; and I decided to take her bait, even if doing so might have been against my better judgment.

“If you’re from my future, aren’t you supposed to be kind and forgiving toward me?” I demanded. “That’s the whole point of imaginary conversations with younger selves, right? You help them to put things in perspective and to understand that their mistakes weren’t really as bad as they might have thought.”

Kass waved a hand in a dismissive gesture and made a “pfft” sound.

“Yeah, right—like you were kind and forgiving when you told our past self Queenie to take a hike?”

“Well, okay, that wasn’t very nice,” I had to admit. “But I did it without thinking, I apologized to her, and then I went back later and told her she was brave for standing up to social pressure.”

“Aren’t you the noble one.” Kass sneered, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at me. “I’m not feeling nearly that altruistic right now, and that’s mainly because I am still recovering from all your ridiculous fears and insecurities. Fannie has had a much longer time to mellow into a wise old woman; I’m not nearly there yet. Just this afternoon, I was out for what should have been a nice relaxing jog in the park, until your annoying self-pitying thought loops about life’s unfairness showed up and ruined it.”

“Queenie had a few things to say when I felt like that,” I pointed out. “She told me that it wasn’t fair to blame a bad day on a younger self, who was likely finding it hard enough to stay positive without the added stress of being responsible for how her future selves might feel. And I would add that is especially true in 2020, when everyone in the world is stressed out.”

“Aw, boo-hoo-hoo, so unfair, poor tragic long-suffering little you. Cue the violins.” Kass made exaggerated fiddling motions in the air. “We both know that you’re super lucky, compared to what happened to a lot of people. So get over yourself already.”

She dropped her hands into a more relaxed position at her sides and took a deep breath before going on. “And in particular, you need to stop judging yourself as a stuck-in-a-rut failure for not having a clear sense of career direction—or any other kind of direction that you feel you’re lacking. You live in a time when the world is changing so fast that almost anything might happen. Recognizing that fact doesn’t make you less insightful or motivated than anyone else.”

Turning that over in my mind, I couldn’t dispute her point. Clarity wasn’t easy to come by these days; and framing its lack as some kind of personal failure did not, in truth, make any sense.

“As for work,” Kass concluded, “just think what might have happened if you’d felt inspired to change careers or start a new business in 2019. Many people did just that—and then the pandemic hit, and they lost everything. So, your uncertainty turned out to be a blessing, even if it didn’t seem like one. Be grateful for it, give yourself permission to chill out and relax for now—and be open to new opportunities finding you later, when the time is right.”

She gave me a smile that actually looked like it might be a real, good-natured smile this time. “And then, maybe, I can finish my next jog without interruption.”

I enjoy having a digital art display on an otherwise blank wall because I can imagine it as a window into many places. The company that made it is no longer in business, though, and I can’t always count on being able to log into the online art library to change the picture. Not enough bandwidth where it is now hosted, apparently. Of course, I’m lucky that it still functions at all, rather than ending up as just a dead screen.

It’s a bit of a disruption to my routine because I had gotten used to changing the picture every morning, so as to imagine myself starting the day in a new and different place. Now I can rarely log in that early and instead have to wait until the afternoon. Today I wanted to display this peaceful image of a garden path, but I had to try several times before it worked.

Flagstone path through a perennial garden.

(Photo credit: Jennifer Rafleyan)

I found myself thinking about how people create calming rituals and routines to make a busy, complicated world feel a little more manageable. When it works as intended, it’s all good; but when something doesn’t go quite right, it becomes another source of anxiety.

Looking at it in perspective, the time of day when I change the picture is so insignificant that I shouldn’t care at all. Most disruptions to everyday activities are just as small and unimportant, but people often find them hard to cope with anyway. That’s probably because in the modern world, there is always so much going on at once, the least little disruption can feel like it might all spin out of control.

That feeling is just an illusion, though, like the window on my wall that isn’t really a window. Those little disturbances and interruptions usually cause no problems at all. The more difficult part is simply to convince the subconscious mind that it’s all okay. Looking on the bright side, a nice, relaxing imaginary walk along the garden path should help with that…