The injustice of it all…

My daughter got an A on her school essay about Canadian history. However, instead of being happy with her mark, she felt that she did not deserve it and thought that compared to a fellow classmate’s piece, it was just an A- or just a solid B+.

“JD should have gotten a higher mark than me but Mr.S gave me a better mark because everyone thinks I am one of his favourite students.”

I have always known Mr.S to be a fair teacher and so I would not put a lot of weight on that reasoning.  He would have taken all the factors into consideration–the perspectives presented, the flow of the writing, the research gathered and conclusions reached. After reading the essay, I thought it was deserving of the A.

But, let’s step back for a minute.

What if…someone you did not perceive to deserve such accolades but due to favouritism, received more opportunities than others?

Not quite fair, is it?

This is of course assuming that your perspective is accurate that they do not deserve to be the favourite and the opportunities in question are truly opportunities that everyone would die for…

I recall a recent conversation with one of my closest friends from school …the promotion she was working hard for was given to a more junior person (let’s call him Junior) who always went for coffee with the boss, did not rock the boat and followed whatever was asked of him. Whatever his work ethic was, I did not know and my friend was not in the mood to tell me.

“I went to MIT and Wharton! Junior went to a small college in the US!”

“I had all these ideas and he had none!”

“He made all these mistakes that cost millions but no consequences!”

At any rate, the comparisons went on and on and all one sided. I don’t think she even spared a thought of how Junior must feel…perhaps he doesn’t really want to be the favoured one? I am not entirely sure if all of it were true or even relevant but at that time, it was not a good idea to interrupt her rant..

Sound familiar?

Last I heard from my dear friend, she quit and moved to a better job where she makes loads more money…and more importantly, where favoritism is not as crippling. She is happier and I’m extremely glad that all turned out fine for her.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where it doesn’t impact yourself directly but you may have to take on more work to help the favoured one out?

Or how about when the favoured one has a protective shield and is immune to any consequences while the ordinary people have to watch out for their own backs?

I hear lots of these types of indignant stories….in the elevator, on the train to and from work, while waiting in line at Starbucks…and almost always involves the workplace.

So, what is one to do when faced with such injustice?

I personally think…do nothing.

It is what it is.

I think it is part of our human nature to indulge in favoritism and try as you might to change someone’s perspective about their favorite person, you cannot do anything until that person is ready to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them.

My daughter says “sounds like a defeatist attitude to me.”

Is it?

I don’t believe so. Doing nothing does not mean that I consider favoritism in the workplace to be okay. On the contrary. It does a great disservice to everyone in the team and no one wins. However, most of the time, one cannot do anything about it.

So, I accept that it is unfair but it is out of my control. Continue doing a good job and move on. Focus on something else more important outside of work and move on.

Of course, if it becomes intolerable, doing what my dear friend did would be the best course of action….leave a potentially toxic environment and hope that you find greener pastures.

In the perfect world, we would all be the favoured ones….but sadly, the world is not perfect.

Accept and move on.

Debbie.

Work does NOT define you…

…these were the words that stayed with me as I left my doctor’s office a few weeks ago.

I had to keep repeating it in my head since it was so profound, so mind blowing, so true. I did not want to lose the sense of wonder of this eureka moment.

Of course, I always knew that work is supposed to be just that, WORK….. but the fact that it was uttered out loud made it so earth shattering.

“People underestimate the power of having a hobby.  Find something you enjoy. But don’t overthink it.”

A hobby.

Don’t overthink.

Well, I like running…but somehow, I would not consider it as a hobby.

Don’t overthink.

Well, I like painting…again, I did not feel as it qualified.

Overthinking!!??

I thought that it should be something I can sink my teeth into and actually enjoy learning something new.

Definitely.

To make a long story short…I did discover that I like doing little home craft projects. Peter had some cedar planks and some travertine tiles left over from when he built a sauna for me in the basement.  I thought I could make something out of them.

First, I had plans for the cedar planks to make it into cedar planters.  Would be a nice addition to my garden in the spring.  However, Peter did not trust me around power tools.  He did say that I should just give him the dimensions so he can cut it down to size for me.  I did not like the sound of that since he will likely end up doing all of it.  It’s supposed to be my hobby .

So I until I know how to maneuver around with a jigsaw, I had to revert my focus on the tiles.

After a bit of research, I found out I had travertine tiles.  I also found out that the Romans used travertine to build the Colosseum. Cool, huh?!  Last but not least, I found that I really liked how heavy, how solid these tiles felt in my hand, and that each tile is different with its own unique holes, textures and colours.

I also realized that it would be a good way to practice mindfulness. Especially for a recovering perfectionist, I had to get used to the idea that “it is what it is”. I cannot change the holes in the tiles that I felt were too big, too small, or in the “wrong” place.

So, these past few weeks, I have been dabbling with these tiles with different techniques of transferring ink to stone, experimenting how one type of ink responds to heat, to moisture, to everyday use ( I’m trying them out as coasters).

Here are some of my favorite pieces.

This vintage bike was inspired by a good friend who rode her bike to work each day.  I once confessed that I fear for her life all the time since she had to share the road with people whose main concern was to somehow trick the “traffic gods” and not hit a red light!  At least with this type of bike, no one could ever say…”I did not see her!”

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This next piece was inspired by another good friend who I thought played the violin.  So when I told her I had her in mind when I was making this tile, she looked at me curiously and said “Debbie, I don’t play the violin…I play the flute!” I got a hearty chuckle out of her. I’m sure she will never let me live that down. Maybe the next time, I will make a coaster with a flute!

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I love owls.  Perhaps because my middle name is Minerva.  She is the Roman version of the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, trade, art, and strategy/war.  She is always associated with her sacred animal, the owl.  Someday, I hope to visit Greece and check out the Parthenon, Athena’s temple.  I think I would have to wait until the economic crisis in Greece gets better….
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So, I have been busy these past few weeks in a creative mood.  Working with these tiles have been partly frustrating due to the fact that sometimes the combination of ink, acrylic, gel and stone does not turn out to be what I expected.  Although, I am getting better at not being too judgmental and critical…

I am getting better at saying “Meh…..no biggie.”

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Debbie.

A Lesson on “Distribution Lists”…

Yes, I have gone back to work. I have been back for two weeks, in fact.

“How am I?” you must be wondering ….

It is good to be part of the working population again.

Yet…

Also not so good to be back with the working population again.

I was telling a good friend and colleague of mine that this time, I came back a little more  jaded compared to when I first went offline a few years ago.  I was reminded that when I came back after being diagnosed with anxiety back in 2012, I came back to work full of enthusiasm and energy.  I had all these ideas on how to make work more enjoyable, less stressful, more fun.  I looked forward to going to work; I was quicker to forgive and make concessions and excuses when something or someone pushes too hard.  I felt connected and optimistic that things will be ok.  It’s all uphill from here on in, I used to say….

“It’s ok, she is just having a bad morning”…or “he does that to everyone so don’t feel too bad..” or ” Let it go, it’s not such a big deal…”

However, I realize now that these little things, these little concessions here and there, were  silently and relentlessly chipping away at my enthusiasm.  It’s like waves crashing on the shore…mental and emotional erosion.

In my first week, I resolved to integrate slowly and stick to the plan.  Come in, turn on my computer, change my shoes, walk to the washroom and wash my hands, say hello to everyone I see, and come back and start my work day, taking little breaks here and there.  Good safe plan.

Catching up was easy as I was not gone that long and all the issues that may have come my way had already been dealt with.  The team I work with is comprised with very smart people…our little world continues even when you go offline.

I thought I was doing okay…well, until someone from another team came to my cubicle and “scolded” me sending out an innocuous email and including someone who he thought did not need to be copied.  “Scolded” does not seem to capture the moment.  I knew he was upset as his posh corner office was on the other side of the building and he actually took the time to walk to where I was sitting.

My brain was reeling.  “Upset over the distribution list?!!? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!”

He talked to me through gritted teeth…a passerby would have mistaken it for a smile but the tone was clear “Don’t mess with me, I’m more senior than you.”  However, with an open concept office, voices travel and people hear.  They knew that something was off and were curious.

At any rate, I recall that my cheeks started to burn for holding up my forced sunny smile while my lesson in choosing my distribution list continued.  All I could say was “Noted”. It took a Herculean effort not to add “JERK”.

He was gone as quickly as he had come.  I had to shake the negativity off.  I felt dirty to have seen such rage over such a petty thing.  Good thing it happened on a Friday afternoon and the idea of going home was like a lifeline.  I had to tell my boss what happened as some people heard and may have been drawing their own conclusions.  I sent a quick email saying I had to leave before I do anything stupid…like copying his boss. Shock-horror!!

On the train home, the concessions started….my practice on compassion and loving kindness came to the fore as I searched my brain for my mantra when people irritate me (although, it did have a rocky start)…

“May this JERK be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease”.

Ok, try again.

“May this silly person be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease…”

Again?

“May he be safe, be happy, be healthy, and his daily life be at ease…”

Better….

I repeated this mantra several times and by the end of my train ride, I was feeling ok.  It was the weekend, anyway.

What stayed with me throughout the weekend was not that I should be mindful of who I copy (that’s garbage…I’m smart, I know who I should or should not copy to get things moving!), but rather that I felt I had given a small concession once again.  My boss used to tell me if someone was rude to me, to be rude back.  Dish it all back.  Sigh.  Perhaps I need a lesson on Confrontation.  I just find it so hard.

No.  Can’t quite bring myself to be like that.  I would probably botch the confrontation anyway and end up in more of a mess than when it started….

So, I resolve to build thicker and higher walls so I can slow the erosion.  I will have to.  My field of expertise is full of people like that…full of overinflated egos and insecurities and I have to learn how to walk through the minefield, taking care not to blow myself up.   I think it is the same in all other professions.  We just have different ways of dealing with our own erosions…. That’s just how it is, I guess.  My first mindfulness teacher would say, “Accept.  It is what it is.”

But, this episode has hardened me.  I feel it.  I came out jaded.  I broke my rose coloured glasses.  It was probably a good thing.  A good reality check that however hard you try, you cannot control everything…people, most of all.

Anyway, I had a good break from the stresses of the world.  I am grateful for this little respite.  I wish everyone had this opportunity….I guess that is what vacations are for….of course, without visits to the doctors office.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Debbie.

Paintings over the years…

I finished a painting yesterday and I realized as I cleaned my brushes that I seem to always come up with a painting when I have one of my major anxiety attacks and relapses.  I reset.  I paint.

So, here are some of my paintings that I have accumulated over the years (yes…YEARS…sad but true).

2012

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“Blue”

30×30 Acrylic on canvas

This is one of my favourite pieces.  I remember agonizing over whether I had too much blue…it seemed so cold, so sad.  I was planning to paint a daisy…something with yellow, something that whispers of sunshine and happy days ahead…instead, my hand seemed to gravitate toward BLUE.  So, here is it…no yellow in sight.

2013

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“Eyes Closed”

30×40 Acrylic on canvas

2013 also had a relapse…and a painting.  So, back I went to the art store and purchased a bigger canvas.  I was determined to have something that I could look at and say, “Yes, that brightens up my day and everything is going to be OK.” Instead, I again seemed to gravitate to darker colors and darker moods.  I remember it was the middle of summer and I just wanted to crawl into my proverbial cave and close my eyes and hoped I would feel better when I do open them.  I wished it was winter.  At any rate, here it is.  Eyes closed and a scarf to keep me warm.  Still no yellow in sight.

2014

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“A Million Suns”

60×60 acrylic paint on canvas

This is the biggest piece I have ever done. My husband actually had to make this canvas for me since they don’t sell this size in your normal art store. This was a painting inspired by an accountant turned artist, Jonah Calinawan ( incidentally, also my brother!).  His work discovers the endless possibilities of choice, destiny, and identity using a 19th century printing process called cyanotype–which gives his images a deep blue color.   You can check out his work at  amillionsuns.com.  As I was doing this piece, I was thinking that life is not really black and white, that we have a choice in making our lives happier, that our outlook in life can be more positive… if we want it to be. I used to scoff at these sayings like “choose happiness”. Very cliche and I roll my eyes. But you know what, there was something to be said for making that choice that “Hey, I can do this.  I choose to be happy, I choose to have a more positive perspective.”  Of course, there were days when it just seemed so hard to get out of bed when I felt storm clouds in my head and I did not want to move a muscle for fear of letting all my inner demons come out and dance in the rain. (Laugh).  I found this was when my mindfulness practice helped me the most. In this painting, I finally had to courage to use Yellow!

So, perhaps, this is why this recent setback has really shaken my resolve.  I was on a roll and I was doing fine (or so I thought), then boom!  Episode in the stairway (see my previous post “May 21, 2015“).

2015

 image“A Reminder”

24 x 36 acrylic on canvas

This is my most recent painting and from  looks of it, I am getting more comfortable with using more “happier” colors.  This set back has been brief ….maybe because I just needed a quick little reminder  to “pause”.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I have gone back to work this past week…slowly integrating back…a few hours a day.

I will leave that story for another time.

At any rate, I look at my paintings over the years and while they were made during difficult times,  I am glad I made something beautiful out of it (or so I think anyway!) .

 I am also realizing that at the rate I’m going, I will be running out of wall space pretty soon!

Debbie.

Today…

I woke up angry today.  Mental forecast–stormy and threat of thunderstorms….

Not sure why exactly.  Just angry.

Angry at how cold I felt even though I was under the blanket all night; angry because it was already morning and I still felt exhausted; angry at not being able to go to work like the rest of the world; angry because I did not know what I was going to do today.

I felt lost. Lost.

I did not know what I was supposed to do to help myself.  Even after a week, I was still struggling to find some peace or at least some eureka moment that would propel me to feeling better.

This past week has been a roller coaster ride for me.  I meant what I said about not losing hope.  From my mindfulness journey, I know I will get better….I painted, I visited my best friend, I gardened, I meditated…but somehow it does not feel enough.  Not this time.

I wanted to lash out.  I have always considered myself to be a “good girl”.  I read all the instruction manuals before I put things together, I always tried to follow the speed limits or at least the speed of traffic, I always returned the carts when I go shopping, I am always polite, I watch what I eat, I exercise, etc….

So, today, I rebelled.  I did not meditate.  I ate a jumbo size Snickers bar for breakfast, bowls of chips for lunch, had 2 glasses of wine  at dinner instead of my usual one glass, I sat in front of the TV and watched Netflix episodes of “Lost”.

I knew I was not in a good place. I knew I was sulking. My family knew I was not in a good mood.  However, I could not help but feel sorry for myself.  I have not felt like this in a long time and I did not know how to cope.  I just want to crawl into a cave and never see the light of day.

It’s past midnight and I am off to bed again.   As I settle in for another night, I have a stomach ache, a headache, and worst of all, heart ache.  Being angry and feeling helpless takes a toll, physically and emotionally.

However, I realize that today was not such a total waste.  I realize that I don’t want to spend another day like today–angry, helpless and feeling like a disappointment. Definitely not me.

So, tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow, I will go back to my usual routine…meditate, exercise, eat right, be mindful, be patient, etc…Perhaps, tomorrow, I will feel better.

Let’s hope that the forecast is sunny and optimistic…..

Debbie.

“Don’t push me…please.”

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Those who knew that I was on this mindfulness journey were actually afraid for me…”That’s it.  Debbie is going to be a doormat once the word gets out that she is actually nice….”

BEFORE that fateful spring day in April 2012, I was the “Yes, I can handle this” type of person.  There was nothing I couldn’t juggle:

  • a stressful career and since I just got promoted, my “proving mode” was on overdrive
  • a busy family life (swimming lessons, piano lessons, Olivia’s homework, renovating the basement, laundry, grocery shopping…you get the picture)
  • running regime (trying to break sub-2 hours in a half marathon and not throw up at the finish line),
  • learning Spanish for work (fail…although, I can order a bottle of wine and ask where the bathroom is)
  • writing a children’s book (still not finished)

While I thought I was a pretty good juggler, I admit I was not the nicest person to be around.  I was more impatient, more crabby, more mean…just “more”.

I remember telling my husband that his 102-year old grandmother will die a very bitter old woman and she deserves it. Ummm, yah. Not nice.

In the office, I had just gotten a promotion and so I was so engrossed in proving myself…if someone disagreed with me, I spent the day poring over accounting rules to prove them wrong.   “I am right and you are wrong.” Ummm, yah.  Not nice.

THEN, while on a conference call that fateful spring day in April 2012, my brain and lungs decided that juggling was no longer fun. I could not catch my breath and everyone in the office thought I was having a heart attack.  They called 911.

Not a heart attack, but an anxiety attack…equally as life changing.  It took months of doctor’s visits, hours of therapy, rigorous regime of mindfulness practice and meditation to realize that it is OK to be…imperfect, vulnerable, not be in control.

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY ….

I am more centered, more mindful, more present…just “more”.

My daughter loves that fact that I am patient, calmer, and actually listens…

Work is also more enjoyable–both for me and for my colleagues.  I try to inject humor and an all-around-positive-attitude during meetings, I try to actually listen with a “beginner’s mind” even though I may have seen the issue in the past (hey, I might learn something new), and I am more patient in explaining myself (if the other person does not get it the first time, it is OK…I can try to explain again).

So, getting back to the “doormat” issue.  I must admit that I too was worried that people would take advantage of my “niceness”….and you know what?  Yes, people have tried to take advantage.  I don’t fool myself into believing that just because I am on this mindfulness journey that everyone is also on the same journey. However, as Mahatma Gandhi once said,

“You cannot change how people treat you or what they say about you.  All you can do is change the way you react to it.”

So, when someone pushes me, I generally pause, assess (the person may be having a tough day!), and say with kindness and compassion…”Don’t push me…please.”

So far, this reaction has worked for me.

However, I wonder if they had kept pushing me…I think I might have eventually taken a page from the book of one of my very passionate Latina friends…..”You keep pushing me….and I BITE YOU!!”

At that point, I would have taken away the WELCOME mat….

Oh well.

Debbie