Roses and Time

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A few weekends ago my good friend from Australia, who I wrote about here, and his wife stopped by the Bay Area for a couple of days on their way to New York. Given that my daughter was celebrating her 9th birthday by hosting a sleepover at our house(it actually wasn’t as bad as I had feared!) I didn’t get to spend much time with them that Saturday. However, thanks to the generosity of my wife, I was able to spend all of Sunday with my friends. We went from the observation deck of the Lawrence Hall of Science (where, incidentally, I proposed to my wife) to the Marin Headlands to North Beach and Chinatown in San Francisco. I enjoyed playing tour guide, and also just getting hours to walk around, and talk with my friend and his wife.

What most struck me was the couple of hours spent at Vesuvio in North Beach. I occasionally meet friends for a beer in the evening from time to time, but this was different. Being able to sit and talk knowing we had many hours before having to be at the airport was so liberating. It had been a bit chilly outside, so it felt great to sit in a warm comfortable room, with interesting stained glass and a great overall feel. It brought to mind the international trips I used to take with my wife before we had kids. During those trips it felt like we had all the time in the world and could just relax into where ever we were. An image has stayed with me, of me and my wife at a Spanish cafe in Melbourne, Australia during our trip in 2001. There was a stained glass window above the door with an image of a red rose. We had stopped in to get a quick bite but it started pouring outside, so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon there. The joy wasn’t necessarily in drinking alcohol, but rather being able to talk, laugh, eat, listen to the music playing on the stereo and not have any worries at the moment. Those couple of hours with my friends at Vesuvio brought back some that feeling, and I realized I missed having those carefree periods of time and the chance to really be present with people. I was feeling connected again.

That feeling of connection and happiness was short lived; the next day I was triggered by a meeting with former colleagues. Seeing how much more productive and creative in work these people were made me question what I was doing. I sat with that for a day, then started questioning whether I would ever get my act together career-wise, and how I would probably never be able to buy a house, and what did that say about the professional side of my life, and so on down the tubes of misery.

As usual I can recognize that this is the depression speaking, but on some level I think it serves a purpose. I’m over 40, and even though I don’t work in Tech, where ageism is brutal, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m running out of time and options. I’m worried that the efforts I make, such as a great online class I took from Samantha Sutton PhD, don’t carry over because I lack the follow through. I’m taking some steps, such as setting up informational interviews, but it’s much easier to focus on the immediate tasks on hand I have to do for work, than to step outside my comfort zone and explore the unknown so everything seems to get pushed back. I’m not sure where to go next in this process, but I need to start moving.

Since then my feelings about work have gone up and down, I’ve gone from an intense pride and love of my kids to exasperation and annoyance, and back. I feel like I float between my various projects and responsibilities and have a hard time feeling grounded. I’m just not sure what do, and generally fear that everything will be too hard(and I’ve noticed that I tend to shy away from things that I think will take too much mental energy).

I want to find a way to more often feel at peace and connected, be able to enjoy the people in my life and their company and to feel relaxed. I want to be able to carry this with me where ever I happen to be, even if it’s not in a cafe with roses of some sort in the window.

Dreams in the new year

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I have been thinking about a new job for quite awhile. I would say “looking” but my wife(and the more honest part of me) would quickly point out that I really don’t “look” very much. Let’s say I dream about a new job. The dream itself has been really hazy, but the idea of “something else” has been a constant. A few weeks ago I interviewed for a job with the State. It was all a bit fast, a friend of a friend was the director of the specific department, and I had initially just been curious about what kind of work there might be for someone with my background. Things progressed quickly, and before I knew it I was interviewing, and then a little bit later I was offered the position. The exact work wasn’t quite what I had been “dreaming” about, but I thought it would be interesting enough, and very safe and secure. I then had a bit of a shock when I realized 1) that the initial pay would be significantly lower than what I am making now, and 2) that the earned leave/vacation was less than half of what I get now. More importantly, after about a week of anxiety and feeling torn, I came to realize that although it would have had some great benefits, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I had an emergency session with my therapist/coach, and with some inventive and intuitive exercises, I was able to vocalize what a part of me had kept to keep hidden, that I wanted something with a better fit, that is something more in line with my values and interests.

It had been hard for me to allow that thought that I want “something better” to be there because I always fear that I am asking for too much. Here was a job close to home, with life time security, and probably interesting work. I was crazy to pass it up! Who was I to think that I deserved, let alone could find a better option? With the exercises I did in my session, I was able to not judge that feeling, and let it come up. I realized that my vacations are incredibly important to me; it’s the few times a year when I get to be with the family and not deal with the stress of school and work. We can be together and have fun. I also realized that the kids are getting older and we can start doing new activities as a family and also that they won’t be wanting to spend that much time with us pretty soon, so I should take advantage of it while I can.

It was an incredibly hard decision to turn down the offer, and I almost threw up after letting the person who interviewed me know. I sent a heartfelt letter expressing my appreciation for the time and effort to bring me in and my reasons for turning down the job. It’s very possible I will regret this decision down the line(I still do from time to time), but I feel I have to really try to find what I want this time around, rather than just take whatever falls into my lap. Despite the incredible benefits, I know I don’t want to stay where I am. The work itself is okay, but I am too isolated and the limited interactions with my advisor aren’t that fulfilling. I also feel that if I tried to stay in academics I would keep falling in the same rut as I have the past 11 years. The State job would have been fine, and I’m sure I would have done pretty well, but despite the security, working in the same job for over 20 years, in order to make the pension make sense, it seemed constraining.

The exercise with my coach was very interesting. Using purely intuition, I laid out 3 potential paths, represented by scarves of 3 different colors, and selected photos at random that belonged to each path. The 3 paths were, 1)take the state job, 2)try to stay where I am, and 3)the unknown, or to follow my dream. Each path had it’s own theme and scenarios along that journey. The unknown path is what I choose. We constructed a story from the photos. To summarize, my vision is hazy but it will come into focus. There will be tough periods ahead, but if I keep moving forward with determination there will be joy and peace at the end of that journey. It was scary to choose that, but on some level deep down it was I knew I was feeling, I just needed the safe space and process to allow that choice to be made.

As this process has been unfolding I was bombarded by the word “Dream” everywhere I turned. From Dizzee Rascal’s “Dream” on the radio, in which he tells of becoming a successful musician.

The song’s chorus is:
“I like the talky talky happy talk
Talk about things you like to do
(Talk about things you like to do)
You got to have a dream if you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?”

To quotes involving dreams in my daughter’s mindfulness coloring book such as “Dreams are illustrations.. from the book your soul is writing about you” to the idea of dreaming of new potentials in the book Who moved my cheese? that I found at my in-laws house during vacation.

I’m scared. I have moments, especially after some of my job search training exercises where I think what I am looking for, decent vacation time, interesting work and team, and a good location are a pipe dream and then kind of freak out. I have to remind myself that I have time still to keep searching and stay on the path I want. I also try to remember that I want to show my girls that it’s okay to reach for your dreams, that even if you go through tough times, you can lead a much richer life. So I’ll keep bringing that dream into focus, and keep pursuing it. I still fear that I am asking for too much, but for once I’m letting myself dream a bigger reality for myself than I have for a very long time.