What to do when things look tough

This has been a tough year.

Since November of 2012, I’d been suffering with a loss of feeling in my hands. Typing was almost impossible and dictation software, well, I was correcting more mistakes with my hunting & pecking than I was getting right. I was losing strength. I was dropping stuff. It was really making me crazier than I am naturally.

For a year and a half, I saw my internist, who prescribed meds, then sent me to have an electromyleogram done. Lots of black & blue and his conclusion was carpal tunnel syndrome. Following the EMG doc’s advice, I saw a hand surgeon who did carpal tunnel release surgery on my right hand. Of course, $2,500 later, it was worthless. I mean not even 1% improvement. Back to the internist (it’s now December of 2013) who finally sends me to a neurologist. Finally, I get diagnosed (after an MRI) with degenerating cervical discs in my neck. Nice, not!

In between times during this segment of my life I saw an acupuncturist, a chiropractor and a physical therapist. But, it’s the neurologist who leads me to a neurosurgeon. He tells me I’ve got severe degeneration and really need to have surgery to get this fixed.

Now, I’m OK with the surgery, but the last time something like this happened was in 2001. I was working for IBM. I needed an angioplasty. Had it. But, after two months in post-cardio rehab and a second angioplasty, IBM put me in a group of 1,500 and laid me off. So, when the talk of a three-level cervical discectomy came up, I was a little gun-shy about talking to my present employer.

In late March of this year, 2014, I told my boss I was going to need the surgery. A couple of weeks later, he told me to go forward with it. A week or two after that, he calls me one morning, Good Friday to be exact, and tells me my employer is terminating my position. Now, to be fair, I’d been working for this company for about seven months and my utilization (I’m a mobile employee who gets billed out) was nearly almost nothing. Nonetheless, when he told me my job was being eliminated, I went dead silent. Now, anyone who knows me well will tell you that doesn’t happen very often.

Let’s start with some good news. Had the surgery the last week in April and almost immediately things began to improve with my hands. That, was a miracle I am grateful for.

Now, the bad news: After a week of medical leave and two weeks of vacation, my employer stopped paying me. I mean nothing. And that’s how it is now in early August. I’ve watched my bank account dwindle. I’m getting that old fearful, nervous feeling about money again. Hence the title of this writing: “What to do when things look tough”

Well, there’s always when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And, to be honest, I’m trying. But, I’m not hitting 500 balls a day yet. I’m scouring the web for jobs, I’m trying new things I can do from home but so far, not much has been happening.

If you’ve followed this blog for a bit, you’ll know fear is a primary response of mine and I can feel it grabbing for me right now. It’s kind of like being Harry Potter and feeling the dementors circling. (Where’s my patronus when I need it?)

When I first learned of my pending unemployment, I thought, “OK, one door closes, five doors open.” Perhaps that was too grandiose. Perhaps while my mouth was saying that, my brain and everything else was telling the Universe, “Really, how about if one door closes and another one opens…sometime, but maybe not as soon as you’d like.” Now, that seems real to me.

So, what do I do when things start looking grim? I keep my spirits up. I write. I keep searching for something to make all this change. It will.

And, (I would have used but, and realize that effing word negates everything in front of it) why do I keep falling back on the same old responses? Why fear? Why negativity? Because, they’re comfortable; like an old worn blanket. And, (this time I mean and) I believe it’s time to get a new blanket.

When fear becomes my dominant re-action, that’s what I do. Become afraid. Play dead. Curl up in a ball and do nothing. And what does that buy me? Exactly, nothing! It’s time to put the kettle on the stove, boil the water and make some damn fine tea! With honey!

George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I think oftentimes that’s true. I don’t remember how fear leads to a void where nothing happens which is positive, so when faced with a choice, fear often wins out. The result is the same as it has been the last umpteen million times I’ve made that choice before. Nothing positive. It’s comfortable, therefore it’s still a choice available. What has to happen so that choice is no longer the ‘winning’ choice? I believe it’s the same thing which allowed me to put anger in it’s place. For a very long period of my life, I often chose to be angry about something. After many years of looking at that choice, I realized it wasn’t really anger I was choosing, it was avoiding sadness or fear. And believe me when I say it wasn’t a macho thing I’d learned as a little boy. It was anger was OK (my Dad could be a very angry man) and fear and sadness hurt. When I accepted the fear or sadness or both, the number of times I actually became angry diminished considerably.

Now, the time has come to put fear in its place. This is what the tough do when the going gets rough. Not necessarily get going, although that may be the right choice in certain circumstances, but find the courage to move forward. Like a shark. Not attempting to fall back on the comfort zone of fear. So, it’s about recognizing the fear, thanking it for all the times in the past it has helped me, then asking it to move aside to let my new friend courage drive the train. I don’t think it’s about trying to banish fear; just use it when it’s productive, not when it’s comfortable.

How Am I Changing: I’m willing to look at the things keeping me stuck; I’m willing to take small steps to move around them. Hopefully, many of those small steps will move me along on my journey to my final destination. And for me, that looks like being the best me I can be. Today, tomorrow and for the rest of my life.

Hit Five Hundred Balls Until Your Hands Bleed….

It’s been four months since I wrote anything for this blog. Four months.

When I ask myself “Why?” and am really honest with myself, it’s because I have lofty goals for this blog. I want one million readers. And I haven’t been willing to do the work necessary to make that happen. Hence, the title of this blog.

It comes from a story about Gary Player, the golfer.  “Many years ago the legendary golf pro Gary Player was hitting balls off the practice tee one morning, and the first ball he hit went 280 yards straight as a bullet.  A guy in the gallery just within earshot said, ‘Man, I’d give anything to be able to hit a golf ball like you.’  Gary walked over to the guy and said, ‘No, you wouldn’t.’  The guy said, ‘Yes, I would.  I’d give anything to hit like that,’  Gary said, ‘No, you wouldn’t.  You wouldn’t be willing to do what it takes.  You have to rise early in the morning and hit five hundred balls until your hands bleed.  Then you stop, tape your hands, and hit five hundred more balls.  The next morning you’re out there again with hands so raw you can barely hold your club, but you do it all over again.  If you do that through enough years of pain, then you can hit a ball like that.’  Player won more than 160 professional golf tournaments and is a member of “the big three” — along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer — who dominated golf through the 1960’s and 1970’s” (Bob Merritt, 7 Simple Choices for a Better Tomorrow, p. 136).

I haven’t been willing to hit enough balls to hit like Mr. Player. What I mean is, I haven’t written every day as I originally thought I would. After about five months of writing sporadically, the blog had fewer than a dozen followers. I got discouraged. I gave up. I thought, “This (blog) really isn’t going to go anywhere. No one really cares about what I’m writing.” And, this was pure BS. There were a handful of persons who ARE interested in me and this blog to read each post as it has come out. The problem is, I wasn’t doing enough to grow the village to raise the child.

I made up stories. I saw a friend writing her blog about a personal tragedy in her life. She has more than 500 followers on her blog. What I didn’t think to research, is how much she’s done on other blogs she has. She’s been hitting five hundred balls for some time. So have many others I’ve met in such places as Triberr.

There have been other times in my life where I’ve had lofty expectations, only to let reality teach me otherwise.

I remember when I went back to the University of Missouri to go through the Photojournalism program, I thought I knew it all. Cocky as all get out. Fortunately, I had a wonderful teacher in Angus McDougal. He was one of several professors who showed me what I didn’t know. It was an incredibly humbling experience. When I got to the premier course at Mizzou at that time, called, of all things, Photojournalism, Mr. McDougal taught the art of picture stories. How to tell a story through the use of photos, with the text of the story to elaborate the pictures. I had a pretty difficult time at first grasping this. To the point that one day, I walked into his office and told him I was going to quit the program. I think he was truly astonished.

McDougal sat me down and closed his door. We reminisced a bit about the past. Only a year or two before, I had been that cocky SOB who knew everything. He told me I had talent, I just need to be patient and nurse it. He could have accepted my resignation and laughed. He didn’t. He said with hard work and dedication, I’d make it. He gave me back my dignity and a reason to stick with the program. I did. I went on to have an ‘interesting’ career as a photojournalist. I made some really good picture stories at the papers I worked for. Problem was the cocky SOB was still running the show. I wasn’t a very good employee and got what many with the cockiness get – fired. But, I digress, that’s another story.

I want this blog to be successful. I don’t know if I’m willing to hit five hundred balls until my hands bleed. I want that, but I’m not sure I’m motivated enough to make it happen. As I’m writing this, I want to make a commitment to write a certain number of posts in a given time period. I’m scared to do that. I’m scared about a lot of things in my life. Fear has always played a dominant role in how I live. In some areas, I’m less afraid than I used to be. In other areas, fear still runs the show.

So, to the question at hand: I’m committing to writing three posts in the next two months. That’s not so hard. It felt good to say. Small steps. I see too many around me try to conquer their fear overnight. Including me. It didn’t develop overnight. Why try to battle it to the death overnight? Perhaps after I reach that goal, I’ll have the courage to take on a bigger goal. And then, a bigger goal after that. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get a million readers. And, if I don’t, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means I have to continue hitting more balls until I get the results I want.

What about you? What goals are you telling yourself you can’t/won’t do because……  Are you willing to make a small commitment to yourself to take a baby step. I hope so. I’d like the company.

How Am I Changing: I’m willing to own my fears and take small steps to get past them.

First, Do No Harm….

This is a vital part of the Hippocratic Oath as I understand it. How does that apply to an IT trainer/consultant? It seems to be a lesson I’ve only just recently taken to heart.

One of my shortcomings, has been for a very long time, this angrily, impatient guy who has the ability to lash out at the most inappropriate times. For instance, I might be working with a client. Someone who’s actually paying me. One of two things might unleash this Mr. Hyde. The first might be the project is not going well. I’m having difficulty completing the task I’ve been hired to do. The client, or someone else present, asks a simple question, such as “How’s it going?” Rather than simply say, “Not so well,” or “I’m facing a bit of a challenge here,” that person is likely to get a snippy answer or, in many cases, even worse, a look saying, “Get away from me now! Leave me alone!” The second scenario might be the client asking me a few questions about other things they need done, and I haven’t completed the first one yet. Same likely response. The end result is not good. I can immediately tell I’ve insulted someone or at the very least hurt their feelings. Neither of which is how I really want to be seen. I’ve been working on this for at least 10 years. Getting better, but still don’t have it whipped.

How does the title of this blog come into play? Well, a couple of days ago it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I don’t usually go to the synagogue on this day. I choose to do something else which I believe will be valuable to both me and the persons around me. For the last couple of years, I’ve met with my friend Bruce. He’s a very wise man; I think it’s important to have wise women and men in my life.

We were talking about ways in which my Mr. Hyde has a tendency to show up. Bruce, is also a Warrior, that is he’s done the New Warrior Training, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time together in that forum. Bruce asked me where in that part of my life I’m best. I knew he meant times when I’ve facilitated another person through a process to help them heal an event from their life which may be kicking them in the head after many years. We often refer to this as Carpet Work, because it’s usually done on a carpet. The carpet is just a symbol of a safe place to do the work. I really believe one of my heavenly gifts is to act as a facilitator of this work.

Bruce went on to say, when I’m ‘on the carpet’, no matter what’s happening, I maintain the ability to guide the person I’m working with through their work. I don’t get flustered if it’s not going the way I ‘think’ it should. I don’t get flustered if someone else in the area starts asking me a bunch of questions or is making a bunch of suggestions. My goal, in this moment, is to help this person get resolution on whatever they happen to be working on. Most importantly, I work very hard to do no harm.

The next question Bruce asked me, a feather could have knocked me down. “What’s keeping you from bringing that guy, the one on the carpet, to the rest of your life, especially your work?” I almost started to cry.

“I’m afraid in my work, when I’m getting paid, someone will see me as incompetent if it’s not going well. I’m afraid I’ll be ridiculed.” For the other scenario I’ve mentioned, someone asking me a lot of questions, that’s about my challenges around multi-tasking. I’m usually not very good at it. Solving one problem at a time works best for me. So, when someone is asking me a lot of other questions, my concentration on the current problem becomes diminished. Again, I think I’ll appear incompetent if I don’t get each problem solved in the order begun.

My wise friend continued. “When Mr. Hyde wants to come out, become the guy on the carpet. Step back. Ask yourself, “What would he do?” Would he get angry or belittling?” I knew the answer was no. It was an ah-ha moment. Now, if only I could put it into practice. And, I did, the very next day.

I was working with a client. A fellow I’ve worked with many times before. He asks a lot of questions while I’m working. And, this particular job was one I hadn’t really done before. I’d also done something I don’t usually do: I’d quoted him a flat rate for the project.

While I was working, he started asking questions. First, do no harm; that’s all I wanted to remember. Sometimes, I would stop what I was doing and ask him if he wanted me to stop the first problem to deal with the newer problem his question propagated. He  always said, “No, let’s solve this other one first.” Sometimes I would stop after he stopped and I’d tell him I hadn’t really heard what he said because I had been concentrating on the first problem. Would he mind repeating what he’d said. He did. Do no harm. It was working.

Finally, we got to a place in the project where I was about to do some physical work with his laptop. I was going to replace his hard drive. For a lot of folks who do what I do, that’s no big deal. For me, I hadn’t really done it before on this computer model. I was nervous.

I’d watched a good video on the subject. I’d made notes. I started. Much of what the video showed was spot on. Some of it had some minor detail differences. But, when I got down to taking the old hard drive out, there was, for me, a big difference. The video had said there might be some tape on the hard drive cable. Just peel it away the video said.  It turned out, the cable, what they call a ribbon cable (very, very thin and easy to break) was  actually attached to the top of the hard drive with an adhesive. Whatever happens, do no harm. At worst, I’d have to buy the guy a new cable. It all worked out beautifully. I stayed calm. Replaced the drive. Put everything back together. Started the computer up. At first, it choked. I thought from the clues the computer was giving I might have not seated the memory chips correctly. Re-seated them. Perfect! And, even when the guy came in and said, “How’s it going?” I said to myself, do no harm. And, I didn’t.

At the end of that day. I felt great. Mr. Hyde stayed at home. The client had asked me how much he owed. I told him I’d quoted him a flat rate but it had taken twice as long. I was good with whatever amount he felt was fair. He paid the full amount! (He’s really one of the nicest clients I have.)

How Am I Changing?: When I don’t allow the fear to ‘control’ me, life is good. I’m blessed and so is everyone around me.