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bonus blogging

I’ve been re-watching Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth via Netflix. It’s like church for me. If church was like this, I’d go every week. Campbell’s ability to see the forms that project the shadows on the wall, his talent for finding the same metaphor in every culture and every era is amazing. And what has been interesting about watching this the second time around is how many of his themes and metaphors fit naturally into the issues that concern me the most in organizations and modern corporate life.

This set of interviews was done in the late 80s, and talks a lot about how Campbell was a big influence on George Lucas and the Star Wars (original) trilogy. He discusses how in western culture, dragons are metaphor for intellect without body connection – a state which results in unchecked greed and insatiable hunger. He also thinks that Darth Vader, a man who has almost completely disconnected from his body and the natural world in order to maintain power, is a metaphor for oppressive systems that dehumanize us.

While I think Campbell saw this as metaphor for oppressive governments, I think the corporation has become one such system. Though it’s made up of people who are probably largely ethical and decent, we all get paid to work for the profit of others, and the concerns of those “others” must transcend our own connection to what is natural and right for ourselves and those we love. I’ve struggled a great deal in the past year with the fact that what might be the ethical or loving thing to do in a personal relationship is often considered unprofessional in work relationships. Campbell’s framing of the dragon or system as that which removes us from our bodies, and so removes us from our eros; our vital, living presence in our own existance, seems incredibly apropos of what the corporate system is doing to our humanity as a society. Why else does company after company, even the ones touted as the most ethical, get caught in governance and ethics scandals?

How can an organization that is structured to subjugate the needs and concerns of those who run it be anything other than dehumanizing, if that which makes us human is that which allows us to have compassion for ourselves and others?

post of normalness

This year is going very quickly, but not necessarily in a fun way. I’m in my second and final (we hope) year of grad school, and so far, it ain’t easy. Which is good, I know, I’m paying a lot of money to be challenged, not coddled, but man, a little coddling goes a long way. My job is challenging, new stuff to learn and adapt to every week. The combination of the two is more than a little ass-kicking. I hope that through getting a lot of sleep, managing my time well, and judicious bitching I can just power through it all.

On the home front, I’m working on a partial re-design of the bedroom, pictures to come soon. I really enjoy doing home stuff, it’s nurturing and appeals to both my nesting tendencies and my need to be creative. I do feel like I’m missing out on my creative/artistic outlets with my current schedule of madness, but I think it’s to be expected. Somehow I’ll get back to the dancing/painting/singing/embroidery/creative writing/cooking when this grad school thing is over.

David and I have stuck with the yoga, which has been really beneficial for me. It’s nice to do together, our newly re-done living room is very well adapted to our practice, and it’s just plain good exercise. Rodney Yee kicks my ass.

David and I celebrated our three year anniversary at Hudson’s on the Bend last week. We had the Chef’s Tasting Menu, and my oh my was it good. Highly recommended.

Besides yoga, one of my only remaining outlets is cooking, and I’ve been using and adapting recipes from Cooking Light. Most of them are really good. If you go to the recipe and run a search on an ingredient, re-sort the results list by rating. I stick with the five-star recipes, and it pays to read a few of the reader comments to see if there are any consistent suggestions.

Ho-hum. Not much funny or introspective to say at the moment.

Things I Have Learned: Unsolicited Leadership Advice for Everybody

Thing #1: Get to know yourself really, really well

I am the kind of person who takes EVERYTHING personally. You could sneeze, and I would think that somehow my presence had caused dust eddies to be stirred up that would not have otherwise been there, which may lead you to have a sinus infection which will eventually cause you to die horribly of hemorrhaging. I can blame myself for totally unrelated, incongruous events. But as an occasional teacher, and as a brand-spanking new manager, I know that the behavior of the people I have some small amount of power over is NOT an indication of my qualifications or basic intelligence. It can, however, be a reflection of my level of competence with and/or comfort level in whatever area I am providing leadership. If one of my students or employees is giving me a hard time, then it might be an issue they’re having, but if several of them are unhappy or unproductive guess what? I am bound to be at least partially responsible.

This leader thing is relatively new for me. I have been in the follower position far more in my life thus far. And when I have felt victimized, belittled, abused, intimidated, or even just challenged by a boss or teacher, I have spent a goodly amount of energy trying to tease apart the dynamic and understand what part of my (generally disproportionate) negative reaction is my own crap, and how much of that crap belongs to someone else. It’s rarely an all or nothing proposition, folks. So while I continue to be on the neurotic and hypersensitive side, I also have a pretty clear picture of a number of my strengths and weaknesses. Now when I have to deal with an authority figure who doesn’t seem to have their shit together, I can keep it in slightly better perspective.

But here’s the thing I know from having been in the down position for most of my life (and seems really obvious to me as a newbie leader):

Thing #2:
If you are in a position of relative power over someone else DO NOT take their perceived failures or inadequacies personally.

This is very important. If you take your students’ or employees’ or children’s weaknesses personally this means that you feel (usually unconsciously) that their poor performance is a reflection on you and will make you look bad to your superiors or peers, then you will probably blame your employees or students or children for your own sense of inadequacy. You will then be likely to behave in a way that is less than objective when giving feedback or criticism. In short, your negative emotions will inhibit your ability to do your job, which is to support, help and teach the people you’re serving as a leader or teacher or parent.

Let’s have an example, shall we?
My last voice teacher was amazingly talented. His singers had substantial careers and my technique improved significantly during the two years I studied with him. But he wasn’t objective. When I had a big performance or audition coming up, he would start to freak out. I could almost see the thought bubbles over his head, “What if she gives a bad audition, and the judges know she studies with me, and everyone thinks I’m losing my edge and taking on poor students?” So he would go from a demanding but nurturing and supportive teacher, to an abusive, autocratic bastard. He would make disparaging comments, force me to repeat passages over and over again (screaming out a high C ten times in a row generally does not make it get any better, trust me). My favorite comment ever came during one especially grueling sessions. He said, “It’s really a testament to my teaching that I can work with a problem voice like yours.”

Yeah, he really said that.

I had to explain to him gently (yelling is gentle, right?) that that type of comment made me feel hopelessly inadequate, and did not motivate me to do anything except perhaps throw my metal music stand at his head and leave. And it did not make me sing better. He told me he’d meant it as a compliment.

It’s basic, folks. You discourage and degrade people, they give up or they have less energy and less hope. None of those things make people productive, competent, or successful. Don’t do it. You can tell me about tough love, about pushing people to excel, but tough love is not abuse. Humiliating or denigrating people does not make them better performers or humans, it just makes you an abusive bastard.

Thing #3
Forgive yourself for being an abusive bastard, and move on.

If you have power, you will inevitably abuse it at some point. It will probably be unintentional, and it will hopefully be minor. So if you realize that you’ve been attacking an employee or student because you’re secretly afraid that they’re going to make you look bad, or your son’s habit of shuffling around with his shoes untied makes you feel like a bad parent and you’re a little too hard on the kid, recognize your own flaws, make amends, breathe deeply, and move the fuck on.

I see light

As of today, I’m feeling much less submerged. I got through my horrendous annual report analysis project with a respectable grade, no less. I would have just settled for “done”. Starting to find my groove at work, learning how to communicate and respond in a very, very different environment than I’m used to. Michelann does not like it when she cannot control her environment, other’s perceptions of her, and her own sense of inadequacy. All those things that you just really can’t control. Of course, the best way to deal with it would be to GET OVER IT, as my boyfriend has lovingly suggested on several occasions, but I prefer to stress out, cry, feel bad, mope, talk about it far to much, and then get over it. And then find something else to stress out about. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Remember the pictures I posted of the house a few weeks ago? Of course you do. Well, now we’re featured on our designer’s website:

Great pictures, no? It’s a very nice room to hang out in. Next on the agenda is the bedroom. It’s going to be hot pink with purple stripes. Just kidding, David. Oh, wait, David never reads my blog. It really is going to be hot pink, shhh, don’t tell him!

One of the unintended outcomes of my finance class, is my sudden realization of my total financial incompetence. From understanding basic terms, to having the first clue about investment and retirement savings, I have been operating at about a 5th grade level. Except I thought I was a fairly financially savvy adult. I was wrong, so wrong.

I have to spend the weekend writing a research paper for my class, which seems like a happy vacation after the last project. Actual prose! No ratios! Comprehension of what I’m writing! After class, we’re all going drinking. Amen.