Agnostic No More?

It’s funny how connotation works, isn’t it?

You immediately think you know what that word means here, and you might be right. But as with so many things in life, it carries another meaning that also applies.

Most people see “agnostic” and think it must mean a belief, or a lack of belief, in a deity or a doctrine. I’m an etymologist, though. Not one with a degree, just a passion.

As an avid reader, I love to discover new words, but I am always on guard for alternate meanings.

As a writer, I constantly work to choose the best words — the most precise for what I am trying to describe, or the one that purposely has a dual meaning, to convey both at once, where appropriate. This is a perfect example of the latter use.

Years ago, I described myself as an agnostic in its modern sense: someone who distinctly does NOT know all the answers about a deity or the world(s) beyond our five most common senses and our three-dimensional environment. Most people know this meaning today.

However, as an explorer of science, medical discovery, applied psychology, and general self-development (I mean, really: can’t we all learn to do something better today?), that would seem to make me an agnostic in other ways, too.

The word agnostic comes into English from gnostic, which derives from the Greek for “known” and is related to the Latin “know”, according to Oxford Languages. Agnostic literally means “not knowing”, in its simplest form.

etymology of the word gnostic
I don’t know all the symbols to type this out myself yet. 😉

If you are certain you know the answers to something, people might say that you have faith, which Merriam-Webster defines as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”. However, I suspect that most people with a powerful faith believe what they believe either due to evidence they’ve witnessed (ideally) or from simple indoctrination, where beliefs are pounded into someone’s head through repetition (and sometimes punishment) without any evidence.

Most people who profess faith in a religious doctrine might point to holy texts, or even to a spiritual experience they’ve had which reinforced what they already suspected or believed or learned, and which left them with even stronger faith in their existing beliefs or hopes. This is evidence-based, even knowing that our minds are subject to bias and error and all manner of struggles, and that seems like a better reason for believing in anything.

This is why I support the scientific process all the time, too. Scientists are constantly discovering evidence that tests their hypotheses and forces them to evolve new theories, which often lead to more discoveries. This is how the human brain seems to be wired: constant feedback and growth is how we learn about our environment, and it is literally key to our survival in the world around us.

We’re not straying from the point, by the way. Quite the opposite.

Knowing what you don’t know gives you room to learn and even helps light the way. Anything that you study, with critical thinking and an open mind, can lead you to incredible discoveries: both the work others have done before you looked, and of course the ground that you break as well. And anyone can develop a new theory of how the world works, or how people think, or how to solve a previously-befuddling problem in astrophysics, psychology, medicine, theoretical mathematics, or almost anything else.

Artists constantly reinterpret and even reinvent the world around them, and such a new vision can enlighten, dishearten, inspire, anger, or simply teach. Artistic expression is crucial to our growth as a species, because while scientific curiosity can open many doors to knowledge, artistic curiosity can open doors to mysteries. And mystery itself can be frightening or exciting, depending on your perspective, which of course can change and grow anytime.

Also, doesn’t every mystery invite exploration? How better to keep us seeking a deeper understanding, and more knowledge — and even theory — of the world (or worlds) around us? Maybe we’re wired for curiosity as well. Maybe it’s what we need the most in this life.

What do you think you know the best? What are you working to discover about yourself, your world, or the life around you? Please comment below and share your thoughts!

Learning the Sum of Your Parts

So I was listening to ‘Dreamlover’ by Mariah Carey, and she sang, “Just want someone to belong to, every day of my life, always, so come and take me away.” And of course that set me to thinking.

It feels great to belong. It feels great to be needed. But if it’s your defining emotion, you might be codependent.

If you don’t feel like anything’s right until this happens, that might be the sign of a problem.

However, if you know who you are, and you relish that feeling, but it’s not THE defining characteristic of your life, then you understand the difference between an emotion and your core being. That’s a difficult lesson to learn in life.

Reading the Map

Emotions are powerful; they’re meant to be. And the amygdala actually releases brain chemicals when we feel emotions. It’s more than just a brain wave. It’s more than just a moment. You feel it throughout your entire body, good or bad. It can fill us with euphoria; it can flush us with dread; it can paralyze us with terror; it can make us angry and drive us to make things better when there’s an injustice. It can also make you warm and tingly, or incite passions. All of these things are real, physical reactions to emotions. Emotions are real, but they’re not everything.

You are more than the sum of your emotions; you are more than the sum of your body chemistry; you are more than just your thoughts. Your thoughts and those you choose to turn into actions are incredibly important. They may define how others perceive you, but they don’t define your whole self. You are more than the sum of all of your parts, inside and out.

So feeling like you belong to someone, or feeling like you are completed by someone; a fine line separates those two, and if you don’t understand the difference, you might be on the wrong side of it.

Feeling like you’re incomplete without someone – that’s the sign of a problem, too. If you felt incomplete before you met this person, then you had a problem before you met them, and meeting them has not solved it.

If you don’t think you’re missing any pieces in your personal puzzle, and then you find someone with whom you just “click”; someone who fascinates you, or who enriches your days and nights in any way; then you two could be a great fit!

A Brief Success Story

Meredith and I followed this last course. We were each doing well enough on our own when we met, and we had a couple of things in common from the beginning. “You know, I really liked the way you said that.” “Oh, that’s a very good point about kindness.” “Oh, isn’t that mutual friend great?” It sparked some interest. Once we really looked at each other, and we liked what we saw, that sparked a little more interest.

But then we started getting to know each other. And when THAT happened, that’s when we began to learn just how well we meshed.

Now, nobody’s perfect. But it was a lot like a zipper zipping up correctly. So many things lined up with our values and our humor and our thinking, that we’ve been together ever since, and happily so.

To Keep or Not to Keep?

Plenty of couples are simply mismatches. You may have some wild passion, or strong attraction; you may have this one cause that brings you together, but you just can’t agree on anything else…. You two are not meant to be together! You can spend time together; you can talk; you can exchange ideas; you can have great sex; just understand that this is not a relationship that’s gonna last forever and fulfill you both, if you don’t complement each other in a lot of ways.

Enough common interests to enjoy them together; enough shared values to believe that the same types of things are important in life (that’s a big one!); but enough differences to remain interesting to each other: THAT is a formula with the potential for a long-term relationship.

And I do believe in love that lasts forever. Don’t think for a minute that I’m saying anything else. It’s just that until you figure out who you are first, you’re not gonna know if you really fit someone else, or if they’re just shielding you from the things that you don’t want to face.

If all they do is keep you from being alone at night, because you can’t stand to get into a cold, empty bed – that’s another sign of a problem.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking somebody home if you want; if you trust them, you like them, and you know that there’s no commitment here, that’s fine (as long as you’re all consenting adults who feel the same way). But if you’re not actually talking about that, then how are you gonna know that you’re on the same page?

There’s nothing wrong with falling in love with somebody immediately, either. But you still should take the time to find out these things about each other. If you fall in love immediately, and you get married three days later – good luck! I don’t know how that’s gonna work out. I haven’t seen it work very often, but it certainly can.

However, if you fall in love immediately and then spend three months getting to know each other, and then you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna spend a lot more time with this person,” and then, six months after that, you get married? Congratulations! Married a year later because you know what’s right and you’ve checked all these things? That has a lot of promise. (Yes, I might know a little extra about this type of scenario!)

And if you decide never to marry anyone, but you simply cultivate terrific relationships throughout your life? Anything that fulfills you, that doesn’t leave broken hearts in its wake, sounds admirable and worthwhile to me!

You don’t have to fit into any mold to find true contentment or even overflowing joy. Just learn who you really are, don’t hurt anyone on purpose, and try not to hurt anyone by accident, and you’re on your way to a rich life of friends, family, or whoever and whatever you choose to fill it with.

Find yourself, forge your path, and enjoy.

Misunderstanding the Novel Coronavirus

Here’s what people seem to misunderstand about the novel coronavirus in 2021.

The Delta variant – just one of the newest variants circulating the globe now – sheds approximately 1000 times as much as the previously-dominant variant. Even vaccinated people, whose primed immune systems keep it mostly at bay, can carry this around for a time, freely sharing it among others they approach.

The more people who carry the virus around (in any variant), the more chances these viruses have to mutate yet again. The *longer* people carry the virus around, the more chances it has to mutate.

Vaccinated people’s bodies recognize and kill off the virus more quickly, limiting its life cycle despite the high shed rate of Delta. Isolating themselves after exposure, or upon ANY symptoms, or any suspicion, is the best way for even vaccinated people to avoid spreading it to others. And masks still help!

If a vaccinated person isolates for the life cycle of the virus, their body will typically overcome it fully. This means that even if a mutation developed during that time, it would be destroyed by the immune system without spreading to new hosts. But only if they don’t expose anyone else.

While Delta spreads the fastest and most aggressively, there are many other variants that are circulating around the world right now. There is a Lambda variant already, which means there are eleven NEW known variants of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The original virus mutated to a more contagious version in 2020, before we started cataloguing the variants and giving them designations like Alpha, Delta, and Lambda. But this pandemic has been going on so long, and with vaccines still too few and far between, that eleven MORE variants have been discovered and identified.

All viruses mutate as they replicate. This one is no exception. But with its incubation time, the fact that some people can spread it without ever developing symptoms, and its extremely contagious nature, it has a longer reach and a greater footprint than many that came before.

Now we are tracking at least 11 new mutations, plus the previous dominant strain, that have all established their own successful chains. Every one of them will continue to mutate as it spreads. Every variant has the potential to spawn a new, worse variety, like the Delta variant.

The Delta strain has a shed speed that attempts to outpace even an inoculated immune system. While it may not overwhelm a body that is primed to fight it off, if it keeps ahead of the body’s defenses for a time, it can keep spreading, with more chances to find an unprepared host.

The only way we will overcome this virus as a species – the human species – is if we can all work together to survive long enough to get effective vaccines to everyone. On the planet. This means that we must help each other survive from a distance: Eat. Rest. Heal. Safely.

There is no “island” in our population where people can afford to turn away from this pandemic. When the former President of the United States denied the severity of the virus, and caught it, he doubtless had the best care money could buy, and he survived. Many more have not.

Every infected person creates the potential for a new variant to beat our existing and developing defenses. No one is safe until we are all safe. We MUST work together to succeed in this. It’s NOT “just a flu”. It DOES kill people. It CAN ruin a life even if the body survives.

This is serious. This is life or death for almost everyone. If you’re lucky enough to have immunity, you may know or love someone who doesn’t. For them, if not for you, PLEASE do your part.

This pandemic continues to worsen. We are literally running out of time, and no one knows how long we have left before a new variant emerges that might get around all of our existing vaccines. Starve the virus of prey by distancing, masking, washing, and paying attention.

Everyone has someone to lose. Don’t be that loss for someone you care about. And don’t lose anyone else you love, either. Wear a mask in public. Get vaccinated. Practice physical distancing, not social distancing. Keep in touch, but do it safely. It has to be now.

Right now.

Solving For X

I have been saying for years that with decent education, genuine health care and health advice, and perhaps a diet with less meat in it than most people in the USA seem to prefer, world hunger could be reduced and probably even eliminated. But there are countless other gains to be had from taking care of our fellow citizens, too.

The one part of my stance against which I always hear arguments is the cry over who would pay for the endless giveaways that some people think would result if we stopped fighting each other long enough to start caring for people who are suffering from hunger right now.

But here’s the simple truth: whatever we prioritize as a people, we find a way to address effectively.

Japan prioritized employment during a US-led currency war in the 1980s, and even though some companies suffered unbearable setbacks, one of those1 gave their employees a hard deadline of ten years to develop a new economic model with their suddenly-too-expensive technology. They tried a number of concepts until one succeeded, and no one at that company lost their job.

Canada and most of Europe prioritize health care as a human right, and those models, despite what US propaganda would have you believe, tend to result in a completely funded and completely shared structure that literally leaves no one behind. Plus, people don’t lose their homes or go into debt for years to pay for that care, because the system is built to work for everyone, not to isolate care to those with deep pockets, as we have in most of the USA. And that only considers actual health care; the US trails plenty of other “first-world” nations in many more aspects of a strong, healthy society.

Other systems work because people care about the results first, so human ingenuity and compassion combine to find a way. And this is the only way we will tackle national and global problems now. When we start with the results we want to achieve, everything else comes into focus rather quickly. These are heavy challenges to meet, and they demand a new mindset to resolve them, but sustainable, human solutions are all within our reach. We must begin to recognize this and act accordingly, if we are to have any measure of success.

 

Further reading:

  1. Journalist T. R. Reid wrote about NKK Steel’s ambitious and successful reinvention to keep everyone employed, in his 1999 book Confucius Lives Next Door (by Vintage Books, a division of Random House)

You Deserve Better

Six months ago, and a year ago, things may have seemed simpler for a lot of us, for so many reasons. Today I considered a crucial one that we often overlook.

I have heard a number of friends lately struggle with this concept, as have I. Anyone who is trying to build a brand, or write a blog, or start a podcast, or anything that you are trying to do… you want people to listen. You want people to hear you. And on the surface – in the beginning – ANY reader, viewer, or follower seems important. And everyone IS important.

But.

If you walk one of these paths – indeed, if you strive to achieve any goal at all – you will find trolls. You will find people who want to tear you down. You will find people who always have something to say about what you said, or did, or wrote, or made. But it’s never uplifting; it’s never constructive; it’s never encouraging. It’s never even questioning. Some of these people just always want to tear you down.

I’m all about questioning. I love to have people challenge my ideas (most of the time, anyway). But challenge them with your own thoughts and your own ideas, not just some twisted dogma or vitriol, because you had a hard day, or a hard year, or even a hard life! I feel for you, if you have. Everyone has gone through struggles, but that’s one of the things that connects us.

Many of you will have heard this before, or one of its variations:

“Always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you do not know.”

Struggles, challenges, courage, hope, overcoming, even grief! These are things that can bond us together. These are things that can help us find common ground, understanding, compassion, for each other. I don’t worry much when someone has a bad day and says one rude thing. (I’ve certainly done this! And no one is too big to apologize.)

Anyone can have a bad day, and anyone can say one hurtful thing. Accidentally, or even on purpose, by lashing out because of some emotional damage they didn’t realize was being externalized in the moment. And if that person realizes what happened and apologizes, the odds are very strong that I will forgive them and we will move on, as adults.

But some people just want to trash talk, and I don’t have time for those people anymore.

I have a tiny blog, with perhaps a handful of readers. But I already don’t have time for people who just want to hate. I have had to part company with some old friends, because while we once had spirited discussions, debates, and even disagreements, they became bitter over something. Anything! Often politics. Sometimes personal losses that weighed so heavily on them that, instead of leaning on their friends for support, they simply became sour, toward everything.

One of them, I had to separate from months ago. I saw him struggling, read what little he shared online, and reached out to him and asked him what I could do. I made sure to take it offline, so there would be no audience, and we could just be two adults who respected each other, having a discussion about our lives. He dismissed me; brushed away my offers, which is fine; that’s his right. But he continued to be extremely caustic in public, and whether that’s his brand, and he wants an audience, or whether he’s just become so filled with frustration that he hates everything most days… I don’t have time for that now.

That’s just one example. If you’re reading this now, you may have encountered what we call The Internet (!), and you can likely think of many more!

If you’re an artist, an engineer, a builder, a designer of any kind, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

You need to know this: shutting out destructive people, toxic people, bitter people, who have no room left for joy, encouragement, hope? Sometimes that is the only option you have, for your own survival.

If you have a strong foundation, if you’re in a good place, with lots of resources – time, energy, even money – and you want to help a lot of people… do so! I encourage that, too. If you want to start an organization that can reach people who are struggling in a community, in a sector, in a country… by all means, go for it! That can be a wonderful cause!

Even if you have limited resources, but you’re still in a position to help someone else, and you want to, that’s terrific. But if you’re in a troubled place right now, maybe you should start with yourself. Maybe you should get yourself on steady footing before you try to throw a line to others.

Of course I don’t mean to be rude, or heartless; not ever! Sometimes we find new strength and energy in the very act of helping other people. And that can make us stronger, help bring us more focus, and more confidence. Even fulfillment.

All these aspects of human emotion and psychology and character are real. But if you’re struggling, whatever your work hustle is, or even if you’re just trying to survive this moment, don’t give anyone who wants to hurt you the time of day. Don’t give anyone who has nothing useful to say to you, a minute of your time, or one spark of your energy.

I’ve long said that you can only truly love another person once you love yourself. You can’t appreciate respect from another person until you respect yourself. Plenty of people struggle with these aspects, too. In fact, I wrote another entire blog about my own journey from self-loathing to self-respect, and it has literally turned my life around.

You must help yourself first. If you don’t put some of your energy into yourself first, you will very quickly feel spent dealing with other people, even people you love, even people you’re trying to help. Thankless work may be fine for saints, but most of us walk a line somewhere in the middle! Most of us want to feel appreciated, at least from time to time. Most of us want to know that we’re doing the right thing, as often as possible.

If you know your path well, you have an excellent start. But if you can filter out some of these people who have nothing to add to your life, and who only take things away, then the struggles won’t be as hard. And your successes just might feel every bit as sweet as you deserve.

Regular pruning helps trees and other plants to thrive, because life is about growth, and growth is messy. How many people do you know whose life has followed exactly the course that they charted for it? At best, I know people who have accomplished one or two major goals that they set when they were younger. But most of us are finding our way every day, and it’s okay to change that course.

If you’ve found your North Star, and you can follow it firmly, so much the better. If you’re still looking for it, that’s fine, too! Some people know what they want in life at age 20; some people are still seeking it at age 50.

Grandma Moses always loved art and preferred embroidery until her late 70s, when her arthritis made that craft too difficult. She took up painting again, and we all know that turned out well. But she found joy in it, and sold paintings for just a few dollars at first, and later for thousands of dollars. Quite the success story, though she started off doing something else.

So there’s plenty of hope for all of us.

Prune your life of people, places, and things that hold nothing but ill will or bad memories for you. If you need to give away something from an old relationship so that you can let it go and finally move on with your life, give it away. And if it was a bad relationship, break it. Burn it. Consecrate it and bury it in the ground. Whatever you need to do.

If there’s a place you can no longer stand to be, consider a move. I know that’s a huge step! I don’t pretend that’s easy or simple. But it is possible. It’s possible, and it can give you the fresh start you need. It can give you a fresh outlook, new energy, and a clean slate.

And if it’s people that are holding you back, or holding you down, or always trying to discourage everything you do, you can change that, too. If you’re brave and they’re reasonable, bring it up. Frankly, honestly, simply. Plan a time, plan a place, make it over a meal, make it in a public place, make it at home – wherever it needs to be – and talk. Tell them what’s bothering you. And if that’s not possible, you can simply break off contact, with or without an explanation. Whatever is appropriate for you.

You deserve to have people around you who support you, who lift you up. My best friend says that you become like the five people that you spend the most time around and invest the most time in. And so he makes sure that those five people are good for him. He feels that I enrich his life and that he can learn from me, and that I help him strive for better things. And I feel exactly the same way about him.

Maybe it’s time you start choosing the top five people in your life. And if you have a close family of twenty or more people, maybe some of your top five will be in that family. Maybe they all will. Maybe none of them will. That’s okay! I’m not telling you to abandon your family if they’re not in your top five. I’m just saying, find the people who lift you up, and make sure to invest your time and energy in those relationships.

It doesn’t have to be five. It can be three, or ten, or whatever you have the time and energy for. Extroverts will have more energy to deal with more people. Introverts may only be able to handle two or three people.

You CAN do this.

You deserve strong, supportive relationships in your life.

Carve out some time to start thinking about this. It could be in your commute. It could be while you’re washing dishes, or sewing, or working out, or cleaning your house or apartment, or sunbathing, or on the beach, or at the library, or hiking through trees, or in any place where you can hear your own thoughts. Write these things out if you need to, and be honest. No one else ever has to see it. But you’ll appreciate figuring this out, and you may have more energy than you ever dreamed possible once you do.

You can do this. Find a safe space and start now. You can thank yourself in six months.

My Californiversary

Moving across the country in 2019 changed everything, overwhelmingly for the better. Thinking about my Californiversary, I also looked back and considered my career to date.

I had a lot of odd jobs when I was young, and I learned a lot of skills, had a little fun, learned about a thankless grind in places, and at one point I worked FOUR different jobs: two during the week – both part-time – and two on weekends only. It was crazy, I was very young, and I almost never slept.

For the record? I don’t recommend that. To anyone. But moving ahead:

I’ve had three important segments in my career as an adult. The first was when I was just starting out, and I was hired at a small, family business, directly by the owner, who was ready to retire and sell the company. She wanted two reliable people she knew would help keep things safe. She had one – he’d been there for 2 or 3 years when I signed on. But she wanted a second sharp one to come in, pick things up quickly… and then she could move on with a clear conscience, knowing she left her customers (many of whom she had known for decades) in good hands.

She tried me out, found out I had the perfect blend of broad skills and adaptability (plus a dynamite learning curve) that she needed, and she hired me as a temp. She’d finally turned to a temp agency to let them pre-screen, because hiring straight in had brought more headaches than help for a while. As it happened, I came highly recommended by both my short-term clients to date and my agency, so when she asked them, they had someone promising on tap and sent me over.

On the job, I picked everything up quickly, and she was so pleased that she soon asked me when my contract was up. After confirming with the agency to be sure, I told her 90 days after hire. She said, “You put that on the calendar, and you tell me on the last day, because I want to put you on payroll!” That was encouraging (and welcome!) news when I was just starting out at a new job.

When that day came, she sat me down and said, in short, “Obviously you’re doing very well. I’m delighted to have you, I’m very tired, and I want out of this business that I’ve built. But before I sell it, I’m gonna put you on payroll, and I’m writing you and Jeff into the sale contract, where you cannot be turned over as a disposable asset. You will both be hired in and kept on.” (Unless, of course, one of us were to be fired for cause, but neither of us ever was.)

Of course I was delighted with that news as well! She asked me what I was making from the agency, and since this was the payroll conversation, we were direct with each other. I was making X; she was paying them Y. She took $0.50/hour off the higher number and made that my new wage, effective the next day! I thanked her for her generosity, and she replied, “You’re a young man who’s working to build his life. I’m in a position to give you some solid footing, and I’d like to help.” It was far more than the minimum wage at the time, and we were both satisfied with the arrangement.

Once the contract additions were in place, the owner promptly sold the company, having already negotiated most of the details with a buyer once she saw that I was working out so well. It was then sold two more times, but I stayed with the company – or rather, with that group of people, performing the same roles – for twelve years.

A few years after I began, it was acquired by a large company with an international footprint and a worldwide presence. They had systems for doing everything, and people were just numbers. We were all cogs in a wheel, but at least there were rules.

I learned the rules, I fit in very well, and I was promoted a couple of times. But then the company stalled out; they saturated their market, they eliminated ALL the growth opportunities and the available position I was applying for next, and they literally told me, “You’ve maxed out your pay scale, and you’ll never get another raise, unless you take another job.” And of course, they had just eliminated all of the other jobs in the company at large, with that contraction. So unless someone above me quit, I was stuck.

Needless to say, I started looking and training my successors, just in case. When I found a role elsewhere, I had also found someone sharp who could step into my shoes rather easily. I finished up the project I was leading (giving three weeks’ notice instead of two) and stepped into my new company: a small, family-run business once more.

Now, I had just completed nine years at this international mega-corporation, so the idea of being a more important part of a smaller group again held enormous appeal.

What I didn’t realize was this: at a large company, you can sometimes change roles (unless they decide they’re too big and they must eliminate their open roles instead of streamlining their operations); at a small company, you may wear more hats, but there’s no room for advancement.

There were five people who ran this family business, and everyone else was “floor level”. Either you were an owner/manager, or you were a foot soldier in the workflow. And that was all there was.

I learned this a little way in, but just a few months after I arrived, the Great Recession of 2008 shut everything else down, and everyone did a hiring freeze, so then there was no place else to go, either. Might I have gone and begged for my old job back? Perhaps. But stubbornness kept me where I was, convinced I could make a difference in this place, and knowing that in the smaller company, even with fewer resources, they had greater control over how those resources were allocated. So I thought if I could help the bottom line, surely I could improve my position.

However, small companies have their own issues, and I frequently found myself pigeonholed if I tried to step outside of my primary duties. When I taught myself some new skills, scooped up technical work from in-house, and kept us from having to outsource that (saving money and often time), that was a welcome change. When I learned a new technology for our website or some new device for our office, I could confidently troubleshoot it and bring everyone else who needed to use it, up to competence as well. Translating systems from one person’s lingo into that of another, has always been a strong suit of mine.

Well, these were suitable changes, but when the bottom line was suffering, and the owners told everyone, “We need to increase sales!” I considered this, found a few ways that I thought we could do so, brought them to the owners, and offered to take point, or even just to participate on the side without telling anyone. And the first time I heard, “But YOU can’t do that; you’re not in sales!” I was dumbfounded. It took a very long time for me to wrap my head around this, but I was an Executive Assistant; if I started doing more sales, I might be working with a different group of people in the company. And since I was the ONLY Executive Assistant for all of them, I think the CEO and a couple of others thought that I would be unavailable to handle their needs while I was busy helping us bring in enough money that everyone could keep getting paid on time. Either way, most of my ideas were shuttered, and when that happens often enough, most people will stop volunteering new ideas.

The company stagnated for a while, had a couple of changes in leadership (in and out of the family – not being sold like the other one), and eventually, I left them, too, although I had at least been preparing this change for several months. When that time came, I had built them a series of reference documents for tasks from the basic to the complex, and I taught a crash course for the successor they hired at the last moment, after cross-training as many of my colleagues as possible in the months prior. I kept my personal phone on their speed dial for a few weeks after my departure, and the company officers sent me with glowing letters of recommendation for my future roles.

I moved to California for love, not for employment, so of course I still needed an income. While I’ve done some freelance work here and there, most of my income for most of my life has come from a traditional job, and I am very good at what I do. Though I applied at several places in and around my new hometown, and even walked in cold at a few more to find out what was going on, I had also registered with an agency or two in the area, and much as had happened more than twenty years ago, I soon got a call. The agency told me that this great company with which they’d worked for years needed an experienced Executive Assistant who can handle a lot of things at once while working for at least five different people, maybe more. I could not hide my smile on that phone call as I replied, “You’re in luck!” The recruiter laughed and asked me a few questions (she was not the same one who had completed my registration, so we were new to each other), and when she confirmed that I had in fact worked for five different executives at the same time, successfully and with glowing recommendations at my departure, she let her client company know that someone might just fit that bill perfectly.

Sidebar: her exact words were, “They basically read me your résumé in their job description!”

That Friday, I had a long, delightful conversation with the client’s in-house recruiter, who set me up an interview for the following Monday. That interview went well; I liked the first executive who interviewed me as a temporary addition, and we seemed like a clear professional match. As I got back into my car, I decided to send the in-house recruiter a simple but gracious email from my phone. I sent the thank-you note, and before I could start the car, I received an email back. She told me that the interviewer had been quite impressed and wanted to give me a shot. Could I start tomorrow, she asked? Of course I did so!

In the past year with this company, I have learned something important. Large companies that are very well-run understand the roles their people play, and that they must develop those people to invest in their teams. Investing well and wisely in your people is a tremendous incentive for them to explore new areas, master new skills, and generally add value every single day. This is reflected in the best attitudes and often the best teamwork, as enthusiastic groups of curious people with even decent communication skills among them, are incredibly productive! Add in an atmosphere of continuous improvement, and you can blow the game right out of the water.

Now I am in a workplace where everyone believes in development. I have been given the chance to explore numerous fields outside of my “generalist” areas as an Executive Assistant. While my primary role can encompass an unlimited breadth of challenges, I have been able to step into specific new roles as well.

Finally I can see a number of options for my future with this company, instead of just the one.

I only moved across the country, but it’s a whole new world where I landed.

We all need some little victories

Five months of quarantine, working at home or not working at all, and we have had good and bad days. But then wildfires grew from seasonal to terrible, and we’ve been stuck inside all day and night due to the pervasive smoke in the tiny backyard that was once our safety valve to the cabin fever that I know is challenging so many people these days.

Don’t get me wrong for a second: I know how lucky we are to HAVE a safe home at all, especially during wildfire season and this pandemic. It’s just that we had adapted fairly well to the temporary strictures of limited grocery shopping, extra cleaning and caution, and suspending literally everything else we wanted to do lately. We KNOW we’re lucky.

But when even the tiny bit of equilibrium we had maintained was spun off kilter, things started to break down again.

Last night, I realized that maybe what we need are some little victories. Even tiny little benchmarks can give you a sense of accomplishment, and when everything seems to be in stasis — when it seems like we are constantly holding our breath, all day, every day — having something to look toward and work toward, however small, might be the next rope we can cling to, to pull ourselves back toward solid footing again.

Months ago, I made a list of things I wanted to do each day, each week, and each month. The daily items were small: a few minutes of stretches in the morning, 4000 steps on my cheap pedometer (a relative measure, but one that made me feel sufficiently active), a free Duolingo lesson each day, and a personal goal to clear out my email newsletters whether I read them or not, so that I didn’t have even that miniscule burden piling up on me. The daily goals were fair, but even those slipped at times. My weekly and monthly targets didn’t even come close.

Fast-forward to the present, and we will have to see what tiny things we can do now, even all indoors if that’s what it takes. I don’t care how simple they are: anything we can work on and potentially check off a list, even a list of only one or two things at first, can be the difference between focus and floundering. And focusing on something that is possible, can make the difference between overwhelm and holding it all together.

Holding it all together for a few hours gives you hope. Doing so for a few days gives you momentum. And keeping up that momentum for a few weeks means you have formed a new habit, and THAT can bring you new equilibrium.

As people talk about “finding a new normal” in pandemic times, I prefer to talk about a new equilibrium. Things will never go “back to normal”, and with all of the challenges facing us as a country and a world today, that can only be a good thing. We don’t need to go BACK to how things were; we need to find a way to deal with life NOW, for today and tomorrow.

When we focus on the moment, things don’t always feel so overwhelming. Once we can manage today, we may find that we can spare some energy for new ideas, for tomorrow, and for our fellow humans everywhere. And that is a balance that we can use to help ourselves and each other, to make things a little better each day.

Big steps come after. Today, put a little victory or two in sight, and start with that.

Order and Chaos (part 1)

I think it takes a very different spirit to appreciate the fleeting nature of life, versus that with which so many of us may have been raised.

Navigating to a new store today, in an area with which I was unfamiliar, I spotted a sign that said, “Yummy Bowl: Mongolian stir-fry and sushi, coming soon”. I was reminded of the restaurant Genghis Grill, which was wonderful on my first visit, good on my second visit, and closed on my third attempt. That restaurant closed forever before I got to try it a third time. While disappointed then, I look back today and am grateful that I got to discover it at all.

Which leads me to my Zen wisdom of today. That experiences are what make us richer, and I can always use a reminder to be grateful for what I have, and what I have had, more than I should ever continue mourning anything that I have lost.

Carpe Diem

This morning I heard “Chasing the Sun” by Sara Bareilles, one of my favorite musicians ever. In case you haven’t heard it yet, the song reminds us that life can be rich though fleeting, and that honoring those no longer with us should reinforce the value of our continuing lives. A universal message to be sure, but one too easy to overlook in the hustle of daily life. I’m not doing the song justice, of course. Find it here and listen for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Chasing-The-Sun/dp/B00DRDSLNU

“Life’s a Song” by Mindy Braasch is another worthwhile listen, available (at least right now) as a free download from her website here: http://mindybraasch.com/

Take a moment to reflect on what you do each day that really matters. If you have trouble finding these answers, that’s okay, but you need this reflection even more. Life is far too short and too fragile to let it slip away without a fight. We’re not all taught that, but it is still true. Step up, step out, and live today as if it is all that matters. Tomorrow will come for most of us, if we’re lucky, but today is really all we have. It’s the most important day, and it means everything. Be grateful, and more than that, be aware. Look, listen, pay attention, and live.