What have you done in the last year that makes you proud? / What did you learn recently that changed the way you live?

It is important for me to reflect back on the last twelve months of my life. It has been almost a whole year since I sat in this same chair, wrapped in this same blanket, and created this blog. I was so full of intention.

Tonight I am actually writing this from my desktop computer, something that I rarely do, because my laptop is broken again (pretty sure Apple sold me a dud MacBook, but I’m like David over here trying to slay the giant). It’s actually very uncomfortable in our home office – my husband selected the decor, and it’s more for looking at than sitting on. However, it was this same computer that I created this blog ten months ago today, and so it takes me back to a certain time.

Last night I spent some time with a very dear friend of mine. She was a my college roommate, the very first person I met in the United States, and has been close to my heart since I stepped off of that plane over seven years ago. Last week she got engaged to a man that has been such a rock to her, and yesterday she asked me to be a part of their wedding party. Of course, I said yes.

Over the course of our evening together we talked at length about our friendship: the high points, the low points, and the things about each other that we weren’t aware we didn’t know. A few years ago my dear friend went through the biggest challenge of her life, and spent a year battling her way out of it. At the end of this year she met the love of her life, and the rest, as they say, is history. We talked about her tough times, and I shared with her my recent struggles, of which she was not yet aware.

The reason I am sharing this tonight is because I learned a lot about myself last night, and a lot about my friend, and a lot about the way that “most people” live their lives. We shelter the world from our emotions, often choosing to take a personal hit over risking exposing how flawed the world is, and how poorly it has treated us. My friend told me about her own dark path, and the steps she had to take to free herself from it: most of it I knew, but some of it I didn’t. At the end of our conversation I was sad that she had been in that position, angry at the world that had put her there, but mostly proud that she had come through.

When I look back on the last year of my life I am coming to a realization: I am going to be proud of the way I handled myself. I have made the active decision to disassociate myself from some people that have been harmful, and it has been a point of contention, and I really have had to question whether I have made the “right” decision. However, through my conversation with my friend last night I realized that there are people in this world that will take you at your lowest point and twist your soul, and once they have a grip on it they are impossible to shake off. I think that I shook myself free from those people in the last four weeks.

Before I sat down to write this blog post this evening I went into the bathroom to get a glass of water and stared myself straight in the eye. I found myself trying to picture my face a year ago, two years ago, ten years ago, but all I could see is the face looking back at me. Probably, I have not changed that much on the outside, but I feel that also the only person that matters in my life right now is who I am at this moment in time. And I might look tired (I really do look tired), and I might be starting to get some frown lines around my eyes (I’ve been frowning a lot recently), and I might be fifteen pounds heavier than I’d like to be, but I feel like a victor tonight.

Yesterday taught me that I have lived my life right recently. Prior to today I have doubted myself, and wondered if I would live to regret the choices I have made, but tonight I know that absolutely not. I have lived my life right recently, and I am proud of myself, and I really believe that only good things will follow.

Have you ever regretted something you did not say or do?

So today the husband and I went out to dinner at our favourite local restaurant, The Canoe Club in Lake Lotowana, MO. If you’re ever randomly in this area of KC, just east of the Metro, y’all should stop by, it’s amazing. Anyway.. I digress.

So we were enjoying our second drink (mine a merlot, his a mojito), and the husband told me that he thought that I exercised an amazing amount of restraint today. You see, this morning I had the very rare opportunity to be completely honest about a situation that I desperately wanted to be honest about. But I didn’t take it.

You see, when I sat down to have “the conversation” I realized that no matter how effectively I demonstrated my feelings to my audience, my feelings would never mean as much to those people as they do to me. However persuasive I was, however emotional, I would never be able to control the outcome of that conversation, and I would probably always wonder if I could have said it better.

So I decided to rise above the situation, be gracious and kind, and not deliver myself into a situation that would always hurt ME the most.

Will I ever regret this decision, I wonder? Will I ever wish that I had laid it out on the table, given my complete and honest opinion? Would I feel more validated? I don’t know the answer to these questions, however, I do feel calmer and more like “me” this evening than I have in a while. Ultimately, I am not the type of person to use words to hurt a person, even indirectly, and by not being as honest as my husband thought I would be, I was able to leave the room as gracious as possible. I really learned the meaning of “if you throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick” – in a world where everyone is throwing mud, I want to be the person that thinks that it’s important to rise above it.

What lifts your spirits when life gets you down?

When I first joined Pinterest many months – even years – ago, when it was an obscure website that only twenty-something women that baked had heard of, I came across the following picture. It was the first thing I pinned.

This “pin” summed up in an instant the way that I have felt about the world for most of my life, the most used of these methods being “the sea”. When I was sitting on the veranda looking out at the north sea, it’s currents and creeks tracing paths all the way to Scandinavia, I felt as though nothing could touch me. Since emigrating, I have always been able to lift my spirits or calm my mind by simply wishing myself back there – closing my eyes and imagining the cry of the seagulls, the sound of the waves.

Most specifically, I remember one morning when I was a teenager. My sister and I woke up to an especially high tide, the water being at least a third of the way up the embankment – merely a few feet from our front door. It was a bright, sunny day in early summer, and I remember that we took advantage of the cool, clear morning tide and went swimming. Through the water we could make out the concrete blocks of the bank, some still with beer bottles and candles in them (used for lighting as people stargazed).

This memory, however small, has been one that has carried me through many hard times.

Unfortunately, I think that there are moments in life that are impossible to cure, and that simply have to be endured and escaped from as quickly as possible. Having recently gone through one of the most trying times of my life, one of these impossible times, I have found it harder to conjure this memory when I need it. Instead, I have resorted to numbing my mind with television. Of course, this doesn’t really do a lot to to lift my spirits permanently, but it is a good distraction for me as a pass the time until I am able to rebuilt my spirit, and return back to the sea.

What is the most desirable trait another person can possess?

So, I’m probably writing this from a slanted perspective last night, having spent the last two weeks at home with only my dogs for company, and yet still had to endure two hours of drama created by a person that I have made every effort to distance myself from. My efforts have included leaving my job AND cutting people I value out of my social life purely as a way to safeguard myself from my personal information reaching this individual. Yes, it might seem drastic, and it probably is. However, having spent years working in one of the most dramatic offices I have heard of, I learned just how damaging and enduring this type of environment is.

I’m not a thin-skinned person. I moved from England to the United States when I was 23, leaving all my friends and family behind. I endured wide-spread prejudice against foreign people in the down economy, and applied for literally thousands of jobs before I was able to find one in my field. This job gave me a lot of skills and great experiences, but at the cost of watching people I cared about routinely fired for no longer matching the company vision. However, I loved my company and I loved my job, and never thought that I would leave it willingly. I saw a lot of excellent qualities in the people I worked with: determination, intelligence, strength, insightfulness, and drive. All in abundance. These were incredibly smart, professional, people.

The one quality that lacked was genuine kindness. For years I missed the absence of this, happily blinded and distracted by success and shiny new phones and computers. However, at the time that I faced a time that kindness was needed – when I faced personal victimization from a fellow colleague – it was nowhere to be found.

Many Americans have struggled to understand why this is a good reason to leave a high paying job, my husband included. I will say this, that I don’t want to become the type of person that doesn’t care if kindness doesn’t exist, and is desensitized to workplace bullying. To me, the most important thing for me as a person is to keep my integrity. It is more important to me than money, success, even my marriage. When I have children I will tell them that the biggest achievement they can strive for is to be a good person, a kind person, someone that wants to help others in need.

To me, that’s the most desirable quality another person can have – for me, and for my children, and for any of my friends or family. Kindness transcends all languages, all cultures, and all borders. I hope that I never lose my pursuit of kindness, or that I never learn to devalue it in favour of money, popularity, or success.

What word best describes the way you’ve spent the last month of your life?

The last month of my life has been surreal and frantic in equal parts. Honestly, it has been one of the most destructive experiences of my life so far, and I feel as though I have weathered a storm as I come out the other end of it.

Surprisingly the root of this terrible month has not been in my personal life, but in my professional life. Maybe most people would not find this surprising, but I never thought that I would allow my life to be so influenced by my profession that it could cause me the level of personal hurt that I have recently experienced. It’s actually difficult for me to write down the “what happened” here, as truthfully I don’t know all of it, but I’ll give it a shot.

The simplest way to state it is to say that I have been with my company for three years, and in the last few months one of our newest employees has waged such a war of hate against me that I’ve found it impossible to withstand. Naturally, she was hired in by a manager who is a personal friend of hers, and therefore she is untouchable within the workplace. I have never been privy to understanding why she took such an immediate dislike to me, and really it doesn’t matter, but the last month has really made it apparent the depth of her poison within our company.

More hurtful than her attack is the reluctance of the company to do anything about it. Even when she has launched into very public personal attacks on me, the stance of our management has been that workplace bullying is in the eye of the beholder: that it says more that a person allows themselves to feel bullied than it does about the person bullying. I’m sorry, but that’s one hell of a lot of bullshit right there.

Anyway, after weeks of seriously feeling like I was losing my mind I took decisive action in the only way that I could – I applied for another job. This morning I received my formal job offer from that company, and I couldn’t be more excited about joining their team. I actually ended up having to challenge my personal values about work, compensation, and personal balance, and I feel as though I passed the high standard that I set for myself.

Reflecting back on these recent events I feel sad that I was put through this experience, but mostly I am sad that a company I thought I would stay with for many, many years turned out to not be the company that I believed it was. I am sad that I was so deceived, and I am sorry that I lost respect for people I had genuinely cared about. However, I am proud of myself for coming out the other end on my terms, and I’m excited for the new step forward in my life.

I think if I had to identify the one thing that surprised me about this whole experience, it would be my choice to leave. I always believed that I would fight injustice, or stand up to the wrongdoer in these situations, but I didn’t. What I learned was that I had assigned too much feeling to this workplace family, and that really fighting it was just going to be an exhausting process that would only weaken me.

Right now I have two weeks off (paid) before I start my new position, and I’m going to use it to reflect on my life and restore my emotional hard drive.

Would you rather have less work or more work you actually enjoy doing?

This question seems rather apt right now, as I sit on a flight home after 10 days vacation. Ten glorious days with my sister, who lives on the other side of the world, seeing four national parks, four states, and many different cities. Tomorrow I return to work and, like a subconscious stretch before a run, last night I dreamt non-stop about “the office”. I dream about Work all the time – I find it impossible to disconnect myself from my job. Ultimately, this is the American “live to work” culture, and I don’t mind it – I’ve always been a hard worker, and apply myself to every aspect of my life – but this time I made an effort to totally shut myself off from my working life.

I expected it to be harder and scarier than it was, and, although I know that tomorrow I will arrive at my desk to a veritable avalanche of emails, I have no intention of checking in tonight, either.

This time away, as well as the “quarter life crisis” I’m likely in the middle of, has caused me to re-evaluate my life. I like my job, I’m very happy with the company that I work for, and am by all means satisfied with my position. However, I would love the opportunity to work for a non-for-profit. Working in healthcare has opened my eyes to all the huge problems facing America, and how important it is to show support and give funding to the multiple not for profit organizations that dedicate their lives to better understanding, educating, or improving lives surrounding these causes.

I feel live a reverse of myself – or perhaps just a mirror of my quasi-liberal upbringing – I came out of college wanting to join a huge corporation and take over the world, and now I find myself wanting to “save the world”. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

I keep thinking to myself, what would I give from my life to be able to achieve this dream? I have looked into various different volunteer positions, but the truth is that I would need to dedicate evening and weekend hours that, right now, my current job demands. Additionally, having two stinky, scruffy puppies that need their tummies filled, and a husband that doesn’t get home until 9pm, doesn’t really liberate time in my evenings. It’s the most I can do to fit in a 45 minute workout a couple of times a week. But I know that it’s something that I have to find the time to do – or rather, than I need to find time to do to scratch the itch inside my heart that tells me my life so far has been too easy.

Ultimately, the answer to this question is obvious to anyone, and I don’t know a single person that would say they would rather work 30 hours a week gutting fish (unless that’s your calling, in which case more power to you) than doing what they love. Because really, those of us that aren’t lucky enough to work what our heart wants us to work spend so many hours a week dreaming of our “ideal” job, the hours would negate themselves.

I also think it’s important to look at this question as brutally unfair in most aspects – how many people ever have this choice to make? I hope one day that I will be fortunate enough to be able to do what I love, but until then I am not going to be remorseful for the job I do have – there is no value in these “what ifs”, they breed discontent more often than they inspire.

How corporate America stole my abililty to speak freely

Aside

It’s been two whole months since my last post. I got sloppy. 2012 has not been my best year to date. I reached the point where answering questions about where my life was going, or what my legacy should be became painful to even think about. I didn’t want to articulate what was actually going round in my head, and trying to force out what I thought I should want to say because exhausting; I got the point where I could barely remember who I was, as though I was writing the account of someone I met once on a train and thought we might be friends if we lived closer. I still feel like that: like who I am is in another room and I am opening doors trying to find her.

When I first started this blog my aim was to rediscover how I express myself; to encourage deep thoughts; to realise interesting things about myself and feel reunited with my i. Perhaps I aimed too high. Perhaps I’m way too out of practice at these things. I work in the corporate world, people. Worse, I work in Healthcare. Even worse, I work in Healthcare in a foreign country. I am used to expressing myself according to very limited terms and conditions. I measure my opinions. I live in the midwest, the key is to blend in. And truthfully, I don’t disagree with blending in, it’s something that, as adults, most of us have to do to some degree. It’s compromising, or justifying, or being collaborative, or some other business lingo. It’s a mindset that you train yourself for, or that you get unwittingly trained in through the “needs must” school of life. It’s hard to admit that it’s nearly impossible to break out of this identity, it’s like a bad habit, I self-edit constantly.

As a marketing and operations professional, I focus on impressions and working as an art form. I advise people, reprimand people, mentor people on the right or wrong thing to say. Most of what I preach I don’t practice, and even less do I actually believe is true in the real world. But the business world isn’t the real world, and that’s the fundamental lesson behind my life. How many people would write emails to their friends like they write to their colleagues? Or how many people would dress to go to a ballgame with their friends as they dress on “casual” day at work?

I’ve learned a lot from my job, especially my current position, and wouldn’t want to change any of it. I’ve build a knowledge base on everything from database systems to healthcare operations; public speaking to individual mentoring; from how to dress at a conference to what is the “right” answer if someone offers you wine at a business event. But I haven’t learned anything about myself. I’m English, so people label me constantly. Mostly people run the fine line between considering me an awful prude or an outrageously liberal alcoholic (I’m neither, by the way). I’m a monarchist or a communist, a label-loving Londonite or a Welly-Wearing hoorah henry with a country pile. Different people take away a different version of me, and I am constantly shifting between each identity.

My failing was that I thought this would be easy. Things have always been easy for me, I’m one of those people that worked hard but not too hard in school. I got excellent grades because I understood how to check all the boxes, not because I actually wrote the most insightful answers. This is why I’m excellent at my job, because it’s all about educating people on what they should be saying or doing, and I’ve always been good at playing the game. Life is about displaying that you know what you’re talking about, rather than knowing what you’re talking about. The truth is, I’ve realised, that I know how to act like I know who I am, but really I have no clue.

So I’m starting from scratch here, and it’s probably going to get a little ugly.