L3: Celebrate Individuality

I once worked as an office manager where I was berated for the way I answered the phone.  I was told that I sounded like a little girl and that this was unprofessional and unacceptable.  Surely adding more words would convince callers that I really was in my 20s, and not 16 years old.  I resisted answering the phone with a four sentence greeting as instructed until the ‘boss’ literally screamed at me at the top of his lungs while standing over me as I slouched down into my now uncomfortable office chair.

There were several things wrong in this scenario.  First and foremost, I did not like being told how to do perform the perfunctory duties of my job; I felt that I should have professional discretion in this area.  I also felt that I was being treated with disrespect because of my gender.  How many young men are told that they sound like little boys when they answer the phone?  Finally, being screamed at is not only rude and unprofessional; it is also totally unnecessary and not truly effective.

When I went to that job, I was expected to be boring Miss Office Manager, not fabulous Jessica.  I disappeared when I walked through that door – my personality, my goals, my work style, and eventually my self-respect. Had I been allowed to be myself at work, my productivity would have increased, my attitude would have improved, and everyone would have been much happier. Work could have been fun!  What a waste of time and energy.

To heck with that. From now on it’s just authentic Jessica all the time.

My Big Ego

So often, we are told that the ego is bad, that it causes us to act exclusively in self-interest, and that it represents our shadow. Over the summer, I was reading a Ken Wilbur book when I came upon his idea that the ego is good. It is an engine that drives progress.

I tend to agree with both points. I believe that the ego is not inherently good or bad, but that it can be used for either purpose according to the values and motivation of the individual.

I have a HUGE ego. HUGE. I’m not exaggerating. It has sometimes led me to do bad things, like seeking unnecessary attention. But it has also led me to do many good things, such as complete degrees, compete for prestigious positions, and write a lot of personal things – like this post, for instance.

I’m grateful that I have such a big ego. If I didn’t, perhaps the world wouldn’t know what a big heart I have.

From Professional Victim to Provocateur of Possibility

My early experiences working in human services resurfaced the trauma of many of my own personal challenges. I found a lot of commonality between my life story and that of the people served by the organizations for which I worked. This led to a strong sense of experiential empathy to complement my feelings of generalized or theoretical compassion. I truly felt solidarity with others based on my own past and felt that this made me more effective in my work. Yet, I found myself focusing on the most negative aspects of my personal life story. I became a professional victim.

Focusing on problems is quite common in human service and other nonprofit organizations. It is the modus operandi and the basis upon which organizations justify their existence and promote their case for support.

I feel that acting as a professional victim was psychologically damaging. Rather than learning from and healing my past to move forward, I felt stuck in the mire of my previous lives.

Now that I am more mature, I understand that I can still feel compassion, empathy, and solidarity with others without limiting myself to the most negative aspects of my life story. I can focus on all of the good things we have in common as well as the bad or challenging things.  We can engage around our shared dreams for the future.

I have become a provocateur of possibility.

The Humor of Political Difference

I am really happy about the number of women who were elected to Congress this fall. I posted a status update to this effect a few weeks ago. One of my friends, someone that I knew very well when I was a child, wrote a snide remark in response to my post. Normally, I might have found this to be offensive. But I know that he was, and probably still is, one of the funniest people I have ever known. I chose to feel amused and I responded with a similarly snide, yet convivial, comment.

Perhaps the true problem in our political system is that we are too serious and angry. It is not our difference that is problematic– it is our identification with, and interpretation of, these differences that causes conflict.

So let’s lighten up. Let’s focus on the seriousness of the issues we are exploring, but let go of the personal attachments that cause us to react with emotional violence. Let’s create a more miraculous world through our political system, and have fun doing it.

The Theatre of Me

One of my cats, Sugar, loudly cries while pacing through the house with a large stuffed monkey in his mouth whenever I am not immediately accessible to him. He does this when I am asleep at night, am on the phone, have company, or leave the house.

His sad expression is a performance, one that is communicating a deep sense of despair. But is he doing so for himself or for me?

I tend to think that he is doing it strictly for himself. He performs this act both when I am at home and when I am not at home. It is a means to soothe his spirit, not to provoke me.

When we communicate in any situation, so often it is for ourselves and not for the other person. We may be thinking about our interpretation of who that person is, or what we would like that person to do, but both of these are rooted within ourselves.

I think it is helpful to remember this in our interactions with others. When others say and do things that we find offensive or hurtful, it is an expression of themselves; it is not a reflection of us.