Rediscovering my superpower


With the Dude in college, the day-to-day operation of Dude.inc went from being my primary enterprise to not my business way too quickly. They don’t make golden parachutes for mothers. We’re ejected from the plane without remorse or apology, while making it look as graceful as possible. After all, this is how it’s supposed to be.

So after all of these years of thinking “What about me?” in my more frantic and  less generous moments, I had plenty of time to answer the question.

What about me?

I’ve worked as a volunteer and substitute librarian in our school system for years, and every so often I’ve toyed with becoming a librarian.I’d look at master’s degree programs, think about the time and expense required to make it happen, and each time I’ve walked away. It would take too long, I’d be too old, libraries are a dying institution, it doesn’t pay well, and I already have an MBA–haven’t I had enough education? I had a lot of reasons not to move forward.It made no sense.

Then one morning it did. It happened without lead-up. No pondering or fretting, no lists of positives and negatives, no break even analysis or internal debate.

My husband came home from work and I gave him the good news. I was going back to school. It was not unlike when he came home from work and I told him that I’d quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. He was totally supportive. He knows I’m not impulsive. As much as I might fret and wonder, once I decide upon a course of action, it’s a done deal.

Unfortunately the world does not move in accordance with my plans, so I have to apply to programs and wait to be accepted. For now, I’m taking some prerequisite classes. I’m glad I did, because going back to school is much harder than I thought it would be.

Much of today’s education is available online. It gives one great flexibility, and saves me the discomfort of being a 52-year-old in a sea of 20 somethings, but it’s foreign to me. I started to worry that I’d made a mistake.

My husband reassured me. “Learning is your superpower.”

My superpower? Did I have a superpower?

I’ve always believed that I could do anything with time and instruction, if I wanted it enough. This was different though–the learning environment was different, the technology was different, and I’m pretty sure my prof was on a beach in the Outer Banks. “Even Superman had a transition period,” he said. “Besides, it’s not the notes and tests and papers that make you super. It’s that you actually do what you set out to do.”

My husband is the best. He has my back.

Ninety five percent of the world supports my decision–my husband, my friends, my parents–the people who matter. That five percent though, they throw me for a loop every time. Instead of “Good For You” and “Congratulations” it’s “Why do you want to do that?,” “That’s ambitious,” “You need a degree for that?,”  and my favorite ,”You’re so brave,”  which comes out sounding more like “You’ve got to be crazy.”

It’s totally possible that I’m projecting. It’s also possible that I’m not.

I get it. It’s crazy. Another master’s degree at this point in my life? Starting an entirely new career? Why do it?

Because I want to. Because I have a mission to teach students how to do real research to make informed judgments. Because I can. Because I’m worth the investment.

The Dude finds my scholarly ambitions amusing. He came into my office last night where I have a detailed diagram of a computer network on my whiteboard.

“You did that today?” He admired my use of multicolored pens. It’s an information technology class, I have to amuse myself somehow. “When is it due?”

“Tomorrow.”

Was that admiration I saw in his eyes? “This is hard,” I said. “Not just the classes, but the whole thing. The tests, the application process, the not-knowing how it’s going to turn out.” I didn’t have to say “The risk of failure,” we both knew it was underneath it all.

“I know, right?” I had new-found empathy for the Dude. No wonder he was a wreck last fall. “This is just like KT201.” We spent a lot of late nights texting over that class, using baseball analysis to make database structure less mysterious.

“So when you move into an apartment, I can help you set up your network.”

“And when we both run into issues, we’ll call Dad.”

“Exactly.” Good IT support is hard to find, unless you marry it.

“You’re very brave.” For once, I didn’t hear “crazy” in the undertones. “A lot of people say they are going to do things. You do them.” It was a hug made with words.

“Thanks.” Maybe I wasn’t crazy. After all, learning is my superpower

 

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Moving Mental Furniture


I rearranged my living room furniture. Which is to say, I pointed to various locations and said to my husband, “there, no I mean there, six inches that way, wait, no, over there is better.”

We’ve lived in our home for nine years, and we have both complained about the layout of the living room for almost as long. The chairs are too far away from each other, when you sit on the sofa, you look into a dark dining room, and there’s no place to put my tea (or wine, depending on how the day is going). Totally a first-world complaint.

Every time we contemplated moving things around, however,  we always decided that the alternatives, for a myriad of reasons, couldn’t possibly work. Plus, if we moved the sofa, we’d have to move the area rug, which means we’d find out just how dirty the area rug is. On the flip side, we’d find nine years worth of missing cat toys and maybe enough spare change to go out for dinner.

Rearranging the living room was sort of like middle-aged sex. When one of us was in the mood, the other was too tired, nursing a sore back, or in the middle of doing the taxes/laundry/reading a good book. Sunday, we finally decided we had nothing better to do than give the sofa a change of scenery.

Now that the furniture is re-arranged, the room finally feels like home. The traffic flow is more welcoming, the foyer is better defined, and that big picture window finally has a purpose. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? We get so set in our ways, thinking there is only way way things could possibly work, until we try another way and find it works even better.

It made me wonder how other parts of my life are organized. I’ve struggled with redefining who I am with the Dude in college. Even though my time totally my own again, I’m feeling stalled, treading water through time. Maybe my mental furniture could use some rearranging.

If I change my habitual behaviors, my notions of what a “day” looks like, maybe I’d find a new corner with a view of the garden, or rediscover a story that I’d been looking at forever and not really seeing. If I let go of how things “were” or “should be” maybe my thoughts and energy would move in new directions.

If I release myself from expectations and the fear.maybe I’d trying something that doesn’t pan out, instead of living with something I know only works marginally well. After a few misses, I might find a place to put my teacup, or my glass of wine, depending upon how the day is going.

I’m ready to start rearranging the bedroom next. My husband says I can’t until I buy another bottle of Advil and learn the difference between right and left. Until that happens, I’ll have to be content with looking under my own sofa cushions. Heaven knows what I’ll find in there. I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

 

 

Ditching the electronic calendar

1-IMG_1077Sunday morning began in the usual way. Turn off the fan. Turn on the lights. Turn on the lightbox. Move the cat. Check email.

Check email.

Where the f*** were my emails?

I rebooted my phone. My Gmail account was still empty, so I ran to my desk to check the account on my laptop. Nothing.

This was a disaster.

Google wasn’t much help. The best they could do was restore the mail from my promotional tab so I could relive every website deal from Thanksgiving until Christmas. All of my business correspondence? Forget it. The holiday best wishes from friends and family? They would have to live in my memory. Anyone who asked me to do something or be somewhere, good luck with that.

Then again, I had an empty mailbox, which felt pretty cool.

How much of what was lost did I really need, and how much was I hanging on to because I could? I knew who I needed to ping to get critical information back. As disasters went, I’d survive.

I had a similar situation last month when my computer died. My advice for today–do not drink near your computer–especially if you gesture a lot when you’re on the phone. That sizzling noise the laptop makes as water seeps into the motherboard is your files saying goodbye.

Luckily I had a backup of my files on the server. Luckily I have a server, thanks to my husband to whom I apologize for rolling my eyes behind his back when he talks about security and recovery because like most people, I assume these inconveniences won’t happen to me.

I had a shit-ton of stuff in my archives; Multiple versions of the novel-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day, Four year old orchestra press releases, Every iteration of the Dude’s college essays.When I thought about the files I really needed access to, it was a small fraction of what I had in storage. Did I really want my new laptop to inherit all of the clutter and chaos of the last one?

I decided to manage it like moving boxes. I’ll bring a file over to the new computer when and if I needed to. Otherwise, it could stay where it is.

Having the Dude leave the nest has had a similar effect on my life. For eighteen years, his schedule dictated mine. I loved being an at-home mother, but I was definitely in orbit, held by the gravitational pull of the Dude. Now that he’s on his own, the slate is wiped clean.

I have always kept a detailed electronic calendar, a throwback to my consulting days. It’s color coded by type of activity, participants and purpose. That calendar was the extra set of hands that kept me from dropping the ball, but the Dude took the ball with him when he left for school, and my calendar still looks exactly the same.

My father-in-law gave me an engagement calendar as a Christmas gift. When I opened it, I thought, “how quaint,” but I’m starting to reconsider.

The beginning of a new year serves as a reboot for me, a time to consider what to take from one year into the next. if how I live my day is how I live my life, how does my electronic calendar measure up? Like my email account and my computer files, maybe my schedule could do with a little electronic obliteration.

The booklet that my father-in-law gave me is beautiful, but not complex. It shows a week at a time, without demarcations for hours and minutes. It doesn’t call itself a calendar, or a planner, but an engagement book. Perhaps the term isn’t one of pretentiousness, but one of intention. An engagement can be a commitment, but engagement is also a state of being. This calendar requires a pen, and writing, and some consideration. I have these 24 hours. What will they mean?

Of course, I have appointments to keep, for which I’ll maintain my Gmail calendar, but focusing on life at the granular level is like bad musical theater, where time becomes no more than filler between songs.  Instead of focusing on what I need to do each day, I can decide what I want each day to be.

So I’ll add my engagement book to my morning routine, right after moving the cat. My email can wait, assuming there’s anything there.

 

 

Is the garage door open?

I can’t count the number times I’ve driven away from the house, only to turn back, sure I’ve forgotten to do something—close the garage door/turn off the iron/set the DVR to tape Downton Abby.  It’s like I can’t reach escape velocity from worry, a compulsion that kicks in as I reach the limit of home’s gravitational pull.  My husband often teases me by stopping at the subdivision perimeter to ask if I’ve left my curling iron on.  I have to think about it carefully, even though I haven’t used a curling iron in years.

I had a friend that spoke a mantra of “brains, keys, wallet” before crossing the threshold.  Only a single guy could have it so easy.   I need a list.  Better yet, the ability to turn everything off by IPhone. There’s got to be an app for that.

However, when I have gone back, almost without exception, I’ve done whatever it is I’m sure I’ve forgotten. Thinking about it more carefully, I don’t turn back because I’ve forgotten to do something.  I turn back because I cannot remember if I’ve done the task at hand.  That’s very different.

It’s a matter of mindfulness, the attention to detail that goes by the wayside in the transition between the now and the soon-to-be-now.  The in-between anchors moments in time—establishing  both closure and entry,  the clearing and setting of the stage.  How can I successfully, meaningfully enter into a new sphere if remnants of the old are still tapping on my shoulder, whispering “Hey, are you sure you aren’t burning the house down?”

My life is at a transition point, the crossroad between past and future.  I work to move forward, yet I feel stuck, mired in fear and doubt.  I alternate between pedaling as fast as I can and dragging one foot behind me to slow down.  Perhaps there is some innate wisdom at work.

Part of moving forward is letting go of what is as a critical step in becoming what will be.  Saying goodbye to old paths and patterns, perhaps even some people, so I can pull up my foot and pick up speed.  Maybe even saying goodbye to a concept of self that has served me well in the past for one that is high beta—high risk, high reward, high probability of burning the house down. The plain truth is that I’m utterly terrified, and maybe the idea that I know exactly what I’m doing—something I have built my persona around—is the very thing I need to turn off and say goodbye to.

So the goal for March is to create a mindful transition.  To tend to the details that hold me back from pursuing a dream.  To embrace that I have so much to learn, and that’s an opportunity, not a personality flaw. I’m sure I’ll still forget whether I’ve closed the garage door or not, but I won’t worry about the curling iron.  I think.   It’s a process.

What do you hold on to?  What have you set free?