Saturday, July 7, 2018

Random Thoughts

Random Thought #1:
I survived, even thrived, through Change of Command. It was a flurry of events once the incoming Commodore arrived at work on Sunday morning, ramping up to a whole 'nother level of intensity when the Admiral came in three days later. It all went amazingly smoothly. I pretty much just hung on for the ride, enjoying the fruits of the preparation we had done prior to it all kicking off. I credit the event's success to the attention to detail of the three (yes, three: one for the ceremony, one for the relief week schedule, and one for the distinguished visitor visit) Project Officers that worked completely seamlessly together, kept me well informed, and maybe a smidge to my tight grip of worry and constant attention to making sure things stayed on schedule (Control Freak Tendencies were at full throttle for about 48 hours). There were a few hiccups, a handful of last minute changes, and at least one moment of abject fear.

There I was, on stage in front of nearly 200 people. I had just introduced the presiding official, and happened to glance at the next few lines of the script, so I knew when I needed to check back in (not that I wasn't paying attention to the Admiral's remarks...I just needed a moment or two to regroup). And realized the next part that required anything from me was reading the outgoing Commodore's award citation. Oh, holy mother of heavens...the award citation!! Where the blazes was it?!? I had been told it was being hand carried in, but I hadn't actually put eyes on it. I frantically looked around the room, and found someone whose phone number I had in my phone (which I am still amazed I actually had on me; working in a secure space means I don't always take it with me these days when I leave my office) standing next to the Change of Command Project Officer. I texted him frantically. Then texted him again. And again. I'm pretty sure one of the texts was simply, "Help!" The multiple texts got his attention, and he checked his phone. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him showing the screen to the Project Officer, who then calmly walked around the back of the room over to the Admiral's Aide (who was standing off-stage, out of my sight, so I had no idea he was there) to verify he had the award. He did, thank my lucky stars! And when the time came, he calmly carried the citation and medal box up to the stage and handed it to the Admiral for presentation. Thankfully I already had a copy of the citation in my script, so it looked as if we had planned it that way.

When I chatted briefly with the Aide after the ceremony, he assured me he had it under control the whole time, and told me to trust him. I shot back, "Trust, yes, absolutely, but verify. Trust, but verify." We both laughed.

And the cakes were delicious. I liked the chocolate one a tad bit better.

Random Thought #2:
I have eight days left in my second month-long challenge. At last count, I have said 28 cusswords in the last 22 days, and have had seven days where I said no cusswords at all.

Uh, I just looked up what the 28th number in the sequence is, and almost choked. I am going to have to change my rules somehow. The 28th number in the Fibonacci sequence is 371,811. I really want to say a cussword right now. But that definitely defeats the purpose. Because the 29th number is 514,229. I'm laughing now, which is good. Ok, new rule: for every cuss-free day, I can take one number off my tally. So for now, with seven cuss-free days, I can reduce 28 to 21, which is still $10,946...but with some self control and awareness, I can work down to 14, which is only $377. Talk about effective motivation...

So that was really just part A of RT#2.

B. I'm getting things I didn't expect to get out of these two challenges I've done so far. With the letter writing, it was how easy it was to fill barely three sides of a note card to people I care about. And how, just when my enthusiasm for it was flagging, I started receiving word back that people were getting my letters and enjoying them, which reinvigorated the fun in it.

This time, instead of feeling constrained by the limitations like I thought I would, I'm learning to slow down and pay attention to what I say before it comes out of my mouth. Which is a lesson I desperately have needed to learn for a very long time. I get a sense just before I say something, based on the thought I'm trying to communicate, that my default expression would be a cuss word. I've learned to pay attention to that sense so I can modify the words before I say them. It's much more profound than this description here is making it out to be. Maybe it's the **Intention of Observation** that I'm actually cultivating. Because that's something I can apply throughout my life, personally and professionally, and not just to not cussing for a month.

Funny story about not cussing. At the Eagles and Anchors (Officers and Chiefs) event the evening after the Change of Command, I was standing around chatting with a couple of the Chiefs. I have no idea of what we were talking about, and I was about half-way through my cup of white wine, so I was starting to get a little um...expansive in my communication style (more arm waving and emphasis on Very Important Points). Whatever I was saying required an f-bomb. I got the F and U out, before I realized what I was doing, and was able to stop myself before the C and K were uttered. It came out a little choked, and I apologized for garbling things. The Chiefs thought I was apologizing for almost saying the f-word (as if!), so I explained to them what had actually happened. They asked a few polite questions about my year of challenges, including what I expected my hardest challenge to be. And laughed understandingly when I said it was February's...where I am challenging myself to use the stairs to or from my flat at least once a easy feat when I live on the 19th floor...

But back to the intention of observation. Because that really has been a fundamental shift for me. If I can observe what I'm feeling, and explore that, instead of simply reacting to it, I keep myself much more grounded in a sense of personal/emotional space that I want to be in. I can notice myself being upset, recognize I'm upset, and adjust my external reaction based on knowing I'm upset. It doesn't work perfectly every time, of course. I still say stupid things, and react poorly in some situations. But that's happening slightly less frequently...which is absolutely better than every single time.

Random Thought #3:
I passed my two-month mark in country. I was wondering why I was feeling a little antsy, and realized I haven't been in one probably eight-mile radius for this long in...jeesh, I'm not sure I can remember. Back stateside, I was always taking off on the weekends, or traveling for work, or using every excuse I could find to get out of the city, or before DC, getting underway and sailing off to new places. For the last two months and one week, my radius of existence has shrunk. Furthest afield I have been is probably the one trip to Bahrain Defense Force Hospital, which is 8.1 miles away from where I'm sitting in my flat right now. And one trip to the Harley Davidson dealership (ooh, good story there!! maybe relevant to the next Random Thought...). And one trip yesterday out to the not-quite-open-yet Ikea store. It's not bad, one way or the other. Just different. Not what I'm used to.

In some ways, I really like that probably more than 95% of my time is spent in a less than two mile radius, that I either walk or bike around. It feels much more personal. I'm starting to recognize the potholes in the roads I bike; the car washers who are working so hard when I pass them on my way in to work in the morning; the gate guards at the Indonesian Embassy; the neighbors tending their sun-beaten landscaping. I'm watching a house be built, seeing progress every day, from digging the holes for the footers, to filling in the trenches, to the walls going up...and that's as far as they've gotten. But before long, I'm sure I'll see furniture moving in, and maybe people living there. There is an intimacy with details that comes with living in a close space.

And an expanded excitement that comes with moving out of that space on the few occasions I do. Everything is new to look at, and slightly different from the things I've been seeing constantly. That may be why I was so tickled by the donkey I saw in the back of a truck yesterday. Just riding along, ears twitching and muscles shifting as they turned corners, didn't seem perturbed by much of anything that was going on around him...made me laugh at the absurdity of things.

Random Thought #4:
I've added a goal to my list for this year. I want to enter a Story Slam. Maybe The Moth, but maybe another after I do some more research. It's another venue for telling my stories. I'm fairly comfortable talking in front of crowds...I've been doing it a lot lately. I have good stories to tell, sometimes even complete with profound lessons...or at least profound to me.

Two first steps I can see I need to start with: pick a story and pick a slam.

Picking a story is harder than it seems at first blush. Many of my stories are sea stories, which require some fundamental understanding of life on a Coast Guard cutter...or lots of time to explain how things are and why they are that way...and story slams have a time limit. So maybe the cross-country motorcycle trip? But what part of that? I started telling the cadets some of that story, and realized there are lots and lots of tendrils to it, lots of side roads to travel down, if you will. Or the story about the deformed o-ring I wear as a necklace?...which is a sea story and requires a visual of the o-ring, which might not work from a slam stage. Or the trip to the Harley shop here in Bahrain which started out very frustratingly, but ended up with camel's milk and plants in my house and office? Not sure that one is actually long enough.

Picking a slam requires some research. And some knowledge of my future schedule. I get overwhelmed with too many options, so I'm not sure which is really the harder part of this piece.

But there it is. On public record with a new goal. More to follow.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Uh...Not Already?!?

Pre-script note: it's worthwhile reading, or skipping, to the end. It's not all CG-speak.

I've only been here nearly two months. It'll be two months in about four days. And I've already had to submit stuff for transfer season. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that. Senior Command Screening Panel (SCSP) and Senior Education and Fellowship Panel (SEFP) submissions were due in Direct Access Friday before last and last Friday, respectively. So as much as I just want to focus on learning and doing my job here, I've been distracted a few times thinking about what's next, and what that means in the grander scheme of things.

I knew I was going to put in for SCSP. That was pretty much a given, and one of the primary reasons I wanted to come out be tour complete in AY19, when there are lots of amazing command afloat opportunities open. An abundance of WMEC 210s and 270s in great locations, and me tour complete so OPM *has* to cut me orders to somewhere, instead of three years into a four-year tour at HQ, trying to convince the detailer that short-touring me was a necessary option. Coming out here seemed kinda crazy back last August when I asked for it, but is making more and more sense every day.

Which then brings me to the question of what and where. I'm really, really, really trying hard to just let it be for a while longer. And maybe those questions should actually be a post for another day. E-resumes aren't due until 1 September, so instead of fretting over which boat where for the next two months, I would much prefer putting off the question, at least for another six weeks or so.

The larger question of what this decision means in the grander scheme of things is what I want to get out of my head in this post.

It took me a while to realize I was a cutterman. Especially looking through the lens of today's officer career management practices, where so many of the specialties require people to sign up early (like by their second tour) in order to get all the qualifications they need to compete strongly for good jobs and promotion to O4 and above. I was four tours in, as OPS on (the old) HAMILTON (aka, HAM-Bone) before it really sunk in to me that my primary specialty was Operations Afloat. (Ha...and I'm still not sure what my secondary specialty is...maybe Jack of All Trades, aka Management, MGT10. Not as specific as say, Financial Management (FIN10), but it's seemed to work for me so far...)

And once I realized I was a cutterman, I started thinking about what cuttermen did as they continued advancing in their career. So I did that, and went back to sea as a LT CO, then a LCDR XO, and next, hopefully CDR CO. And then...???????????????

Yep, I kinda always thought I'd retire off the flight deck of my cutter as an O5, right after eating shrimp at my outgoing Change of Command. In my mind, cuttermen, at least the type of cutterman I want to be, retire from their ship with a sense of knowing they're walking away from the greatest job on earth. And I thought there weren't any jobs past that O5 CO pinnacle that could entice me to stick around. O6 command seemed...idk, out of reach maybe? Or not that, exactly, but to go from 15 or so chances to be an O5 CO every year, to at most four O6 CO opportunities as we move from 12 WHECs to (at the time) eight just seemed like a competition that would get political, and I don't know, don't want to know, and am unwilling to learn how to play the political game.

Then one day, I had a conversation with one of my dearest mentors, and I started seeing a path past an O5 CO ride that I might be able to stomach (oh dear, bad pun. I ate a bad blueberry about an hour ago, and just hurled a coupla times to get rid of it. Does not bode well for the fresh, raw camel's milk tasting I have scheduled for this evening....which is another story for another day.). There are a couple of post-command staff tours (literally, two) that I think would be interesting. And I did put in for a handful of Senior Service Schools this year, just in case I wasn't already in the throes of wondering what I want to be when I grow up. And now that there are at least 11 WMSLs...well, the O6 command opportunities aren't as bleak as they once were.

Part of me wonders if this newfound interest in continuing past an O5 command is just my brain freaking out that it really, really likes something that it knows, and it's just me being scared of retiring from active duty and finding something else to do. Actually, make that "terrified," not "scared." As in, being terrified to leave the Service and having to entertain myself 24x7.

There are plenty of other things I want to do with my life that don't include moving around every two years, and spending half the year away from home on an old-arse steel bucket bouncing around the ocean, and the other half of the year, working my own arse off to keep said old-arse steel bucket running. Yep, plenty of things...I got lots of ideas...a whole notebook of ideas. Pages and pages turned into a good idea fairy nest, full to the brim of ways to keep myself busy and feel like I'm contributing something positive to the world. Like build on my fascination with real estate and be a property manager, or buy an old building downtown and convert it into a kitchen incubator where we host "Meet Your Maker" events showcasing the folks who use the incubator to cook up goodies, or teach leadership and management classes at the local community college while I run an Air BnB out of my upstairs studio apartment and generally just enjoy life in one spot. Or maybe all that at once because I don't know how to slow down very well after a 20+ year Coast Guard career.

As I start to freak out over what ship to ask for (because the differences between a 210 and 270 seem so monumental if I'm interested in an O6 command tour, maybe even as a PCO of an OPC????), I have to actively remind myself that I am in a totally enviable position of having nothing but amazing, abundant, awesomely good options. So I decide to get out after my O5 CO ride? I am financially secure enough to only work if I want to, doing what I chose to do. So I decide to stay in past an O5 CO ride? Good jobs in which I'm interested, and the chance to do it all over again as an O6.

Truly fantastic options, all around. No need to fret or stress or spend energy in angst over it right now. Just don't shut any doors before I'm ready for them to be shut, and spend my time and energy doing what I'm supposed to doing right my current job. Easier said than done, on a quiet Saturday afternoon. But still good advice.


It wasn't until I was talking to my sister this evening, and she mentioned she just couldn't power through all the CG jargon in this post that I remembered I had another point to make.

I feel like leaving the Service is a taboo topic. We're not allowed to talk about it, like it's disloyal somehow to consider that there's something outside of being on active duty that might be worthwhile doing.

Especially if you're a good performer. Especially, especially if you're a good performing under-represented minority.

I understand that I have plenty to offer to my country by serving in this way. I also understand that I have plenty to offer my country to serve in another way of my choice. And guess what...once the terms of my contract have been served, it is my choice to enter into another term of service. Or not.

In many ways, it's like a relationship. I'd rather be with my partner and have my partner be with me because we both chose it, because we both *want* it. Not because we feel like we *have* to be together for some reason or we wouldn't survive. *Having* to be with someone means there's no choice, just need. *Wanting* to be with someone means you both have choices, and are making the conscious decision to continue being with each other. "Having to" comes from a place of desperation and fear. "Wanting to" comes from a place of desire and confidence.

For now, I want to be in the Coast Guard, doing what I'm doing. That may not always be the case. And when it's no longer the case, we're both better off if I leave, regardless of whether or not I still have something to contribute. I want to go out on the highest note possible. I want to go out with passion still in my soul. I want to go out happy with the choices I've made. There may be some sadness because good possibilities still exist. What won't be there is bitterness because I've stayed too long.

People stay in for different reasons. People get out for different reasons. We need to be comfortable talking about all of the possibilities, not just the ones that fit comfortably in our own world view.

Friday, June 15, 2018

One Month In

The first month was really fun. I wrote a letter home to family and friends every day for 31 days, from 15 May to 14 June. Thanks to everyone who was generous enough to share their address with me...made it much easier to complete the challenge. If you want in on the fun, send me your address, and I'll keep it going :)

There were a few times when it was kinda like cooking dinner: I don't mind cooking as long as I don't have to figure out *what* to cook. I didn't mind writing the letters; that part was super easy. The very hard part was coming up with someone to write to. I went through most of my family, which is not very large. I asked my peer group if anyone wanted to exchange letters, and had a couple of wonderful women to write to. I even trolled Facebook to remind myself of good friends that, honestly, I couldn't believe I didn't think of on my own.

And the other hard part was my handwriting. I sorta felt like I was back in 3rd grade, when my very worst grade ever was a C in handwriting. Let's just say it hasn't gotten any better in the intervening 36 years. I really did try to be neat too. My hand just can't keep up with my brain, no matter how hard it tries. So, thanks also to everyone for bearing with and through my chicken scratch.

Just when I was starting to lose a little bit of enthusiasm for the challenge, I started getting return letters in the mail, or FB messages that people had gotten their notes, and enjoyed them. Never mind that I had talked or corresponded with them in the interim...somehow I didn't run out of things to write in the letters. Little details about living in Bahrain, my flat, my job. Plenty of stuff to natter on about.

So, one challenge done. Time for the next one. Warning: foul language alert...

Oof. No cussing for 30 days, from 15 June to 14 July. Good thing this one isn't in a 31-day month. And I need rules this time. Real rules. Written rules. Rules I can't sea-lawyer my way out of.

Here goes:
-- Using cuss words while I'm writing the rules doesn't count against me, so that I can have a very clearly defined list of what is unacceptable.
-- Unacceptable words are: f*ck (which will be the hardest one ever for me to not use, so it comes first), sh*t, damn, piss, bitch (eek, another tough one), ass, the c-word, christ, d*ck, c*ck.
-- I may add to this list, but not take any off of it during the course of the month.
-- Derivatives of the above words are also unacceptable: pisser, mutherf*cker, sunovabitch, asshat, asshole, jackass, asswipe (what is it about ass that it lends itself to so many combinations?), g*ddamn, d*ckwad, c*cksucker, and so on. (Yes, I have used each of these in the past, so this is a fairly onerous requirement)
-- Other, less offensive or like-sounding combinations that don't actually use the unacceptable words are allowed: sunovabiscuit, jackhole, patootie, mutherclucker, sugar, shinola...feel free to add more suggestions to build my repertoire in the comments.
-- I must keep a running total of how many times I slip and do use the unacceptable words over the course of the next 30 days, starting once this post is finished until 2359 on Friday, 14 July (I will probably go to bed early that night...either that, or I'll stay up and let loose a five minute string of foul-mouthed expletives that have built up over the previous 30 days...hahahaha).
-- Each time I use an unacceptable word, I will accrue charges on a Fibonacci scale, starting at $1 in full dollar-increments. At the end of the month, I will donate these accrued charges to a worthwhile, but frivolous-to-me charity. Any suggestions?

And away we go...Challenge starts...NOW, 0928, 15 June 2018.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Year of Challenges

No, really, a year of challenges. I'm not talking the, "oh this job is going to be full of challenges" kind of challenges. I mean 12 30-day for each month that I'm here. 

I'll probably start on 15 May, and run each one until the 15th of the next month. I still need a little time to settle in, get over the jet lag, and, oh yeah, learn my job...

I have 10 of them already identified, and need help with figuring out what the last two should be. Of course, a few of them are food related:
-- Whole it...way easier than me trying to explain it. 
-- No, really, no sugar. Not even my weaselly little attempts to satisfy my sweet tooth with dextrose-made treats. I'll allow dates...but only to give myself time to try more food from this region.
-- Cooking from scratch, or whatever is in the cabinets. I really enjoyed this one from a year or so ago...time to try it again. I'll save this one for towards the end of my year here, so I can use up all the random bits of stuff before I have to leave.
-- "Local eating." In the local groceries, most everything is labeled with its country of origin. I don't think I'd be able to eat just from Bahrain, but maybe from the Combatant Commander's AOR? I'll have to do some research for this one to figure out what is reasonable.  

Other challenges: 
-- 30-day writing challenge. Yup, another oldie but goodie. Won't be fun sea stories, but I'm sure I can come up with good tidbits on a daily basis.
-- No cussing...yeek! I definitely need to do this one. And because I'm me, there's a consequence attached for when I inevitably don't meet my own standard. I'll use a Fibonacci sequence to accrue charges. My first offense (and by offense I mean, each individual cuss word I say in earshot of another person) will be $1, 2nd will be $1, 3rd will be $2, 4th will be $3, 5th will be $ get the idea. And I will donate the money I've charged myself to a charity I would normally never support. I can't quite bring myself to donate it to a charity whose work I actively oppose, but something I think is...frivolous, maybe. I promise details on my running tab. Any suggestions for charities?
-- One mindfulness exercise a day from a lovely little book I picked up on my travels somewhere, called "I Am Here Now" by The Mindfulness Project. I should probably start with this one. Get me in the right mindset, and all. 
-- Take the stairs to my flat once a day. Note: this is not an idle challenge. I live on the 19th floor. Oof.
-- Write and send one letter or card through the mail each day. One of the little perks of my current assignment is free postage. I should definitely take advantage of that!
-- Take a picture a day. Of some thing interesting. And post it with a caption. 

So two questions for you, my delightful readers: 
-- What should my remaining 2 challenges be?
-- To what frivolous charity should I donate my inevitable "no cussing" charges?

I very much appreciate any suggestions!!

Thursday, April 19, 2018


I left DC for the foreseeable future yesterday. I didn’t even notice.

My last post was a few months ago, and I feel like a lifetime has happened since then. I started working with a coach, ostensibly in preparation for managing 225 people, but really that was just the excuse I used to give myself permission to do it. It has a lot more with wanting to reach my full potential, and feeling stuck professionally. I know I can do more, be better, live more fully, and since I identify a lot with work, that felt like a safe place for progress.

During our most recent session, my Coach asked what I wanted to discuss. I had three things I wanted to get through: my reaction to her previous assignment which was to pay attention to why people tell me they want to work for me again, some closure for the job I just finished at CG-751, and plans for the upcoming two weeks before our next session. Honestly, I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to talk about with her before the session, but it sounded like a good framework, nice and manageable, so that’s what I went with.

We started with my observations about why people want to work with or for me again. I said that I’m authentic; people know what they’re getting with me, I don’t pull punches or try to sugar coat things, and I think that encourages them to trust me. And I value input. Lawd knows, I don’t have all the answers, and have learned that the best way to get them is to ask questions, and then listen to the answers. It makes people feel valued to have their opinions and expertise asked for and taken into account. That doesn’t mean that I take what people say as completely actionable gospel truth all the time; I do, however, somehow manage to convey that I appreciate their input.

And then we talked about finishing up at CG-751. I told her I had officially left the office, but still had one briefing left to do because I was a control freak and couldn’t let this one project go before doing the initial brief for CG-821 and CG-0921. She wouldn’t let me get away with the “control freak” comment, saying I said it like it was a bad thing. And I guess I’ve always interpreted it that way, or let other people interpret it that way for me. What I ended up realizing I actually meant was that I was the best person to give the brief because I spent innumerable hours studying the subject, asking for stakeholder input, identifying and clarifying the nuances, and distilling what I knew into a revised instruction. That’s what made me the right person for the brief, not that I’m a control freak.

Somehow through that discussion we got into my service reputation, and how I didn’t want to screw up briefing -821/-0921. I told her the story of the initial round of input I got from those two offices: a colleague consolidated comments from the offices and forwarded it back to me in an email that said (paraphrasing), there are some concerns with this. I saw the initial email on my cell phone, which meant that I couldn’t open the document to immediately read the comments and then spent the next 13 hours torturing myself thinking that they had basically shat all over it, thinking it was ridiculous, didn’t serve any basic purpose, and was a monumental waste of time. When I finally did get the document open the next morning to read the comments, I laughed when I read the very first comment which was (again paraphrasing), this is a good idea, but may be difficult to execute in the field.

The joke was totally on me!! Of course I know that the changes I propose will be difficult to execute in the field...any kind of change is hard. And it will take lots of effort from my former office to bring people up to speed on the changes, because they are complex and nuanced. But, in the end, my best piece of work was pretty damn good. Not perfect…not by a long shot...but a good starting point from which someone else can continue to incorporate stakeholder input for a much improved final product.

Again, I’m not sure how it came up in the conversation...probably something about feeling like I need to prove myself to my CG-821 Seagull shipmates, that I am terrified of my own success. Like scared to death that I am actually as good as people tell me I am. It feels too much like Icarus flying too close to the sun, and having the wax melt off his wings, and then plunging, unstoppable and crashing with all bones broken into the sea below. Like I might start to believe my own mythology that I really am that good, and that’s just asking for disaster, maybe because of Murphy, but more likely because I may stop doing the things that actually make me good.

So, Coach asked me to do a little exercise. I got up from my seat, and started from a mental point of authenticity and wanting and valuing other people’s input. I walked towards a mental point of believing my own mythology. And, oddly enough, right before I got there, I just stopped. I didn’t want to go any further. There was reluctance in my bones of being too full of myself, too taken by my success to listen to what other people have to offer. It was an interesting exercise.

Afterwards, as we discussed how that little walking trip of a couple of steps felt, I described it as feeling like I could now see the chasm that existed between trusting my values (listening to other people and being authentically me) and my fear of success. That chasm is my fear of believing my mythology to the exclusion of things I value. I felt a bridge slowly being built, just by recognizing that the chasm was there.

I know this sounds all very woo-woo in plain black words on the page, but it felt important and foundational.

She also suggested I read, The Secret Thoughts of Highly Successful Women, by Valerie Young. I’m about four chapters into it, and identify deeply with the Impostor Syndrome she discusses: A childhood where I was assumed to be the smartest one in my class -- check (I skipped 1st grade, was reading at a 5th grade level at the start of 2nd grade, had to take as many AP courses as possible in lieu of the vocational classes I actually wanted to take, graduated high school at 16, and college was *always* and inescapably the next step after high school...never mind always being on the Honor Roll and a member of the Honor Society, and getting high SAT scores); being different than the majority...most obviously a woman in a man’s vocation -- check (starting with working on a farm at age of 14 (side story below about that, which I absolutely *love*) and learning to drive a tractor, working on the farm through college and wanting to work with the animals but being relegated to the greenhouse because that’s where all the girls worked, then on to graduate school where somehow my research fields were the only ones ruined when the drainage ditches were dredged into my plots, and well, then into the Coast Guard and especially on to Coast Guard cutters, where, even though I had a guaranteed District coming out of boot camp, there was only one ship I could go to because it was the only one in the district that had enlisted female berthing) but also just by being different -- check (an OCSer in a fleet of Academy grads and having stepped my first foot on Coast Guard ship at the age of 26 for my OCS interview and then five short sea service years later, finding myself in command of a a war zone, no less, without the benefit of all the semesters of Nautical Science or summers underway); and feeling like the representative woman in that man’s world who took on responsibility for the entire gender with my performance -- check (after telling a group of (male) Navy peers that I successfully screened for command having one of them say, “Must be nice to be a girl,” “Not everyone is Wonder Woman like you are, OPS,” being the only woman on my last three ships for at least a year...which I wouldn’t give up for the world, but definitely left me feeling like my gender difference made me...different).

So it’s been an interesting read. One great insight I realized from reading it is the difference between thinking and feeling. I can rationalize that I’m good at my job; in fact, I’ve said it numerous times, “cognitively, I know I’m good at what I do.” But thinking won’t get me out of the Impostor Syndrome, because it’s something I feel. I feel like an imposter. I have to *feel* my way out of it. For someone who was absolutely *all* “T” in my last Myers-Briggs test...well, that’s an interesting and daunting realization.

Now on to the fun story about the Farm: a few nights before I left DC, I went for dinner with Leigh and Lynn and Merle from the Farm I worked on in high school, starting when I was 14. That was definitely one of the best things about living in DC for me, was being able to reconnect with the Farm folks. Lynn and Guy, two of the owners, especially, were very influential in my formative years. It’s so lovely to go back to the Farm and jump in, with minimal task direction, and just know what needs to be done. I’m pretty sure I can pack a peck of peaches with my eyes closed...which I would *NEVER* do, Lynn, because how else would I see if there were any blemishes on the fruit before placing it carefully, stem side down in the basket.

Before we sat down for dinner, Lynn and Leigh presented me with a gift bag, all nicely tied up with colorful ribbon. I unwrapped the white packing paper, and saw my original tractor operator and tractor safety training certificate wonderfully framed, ready to hang on the wall in my next office (when I got home, I immediately put it in my checked baggage to make sure I’d have it with me when I got to Bahrain). Lynn and Leigh had been cleaning out the Farm’s office, and had stumbled across the originals of a few of us young oldtimers in the files. It was dated June 1988, signed in blue and black ink by the two instructors. I hadn’t thought about that class in decades, but it was probably my first professional accomplishment. I was so touched that they framed it and gave it to me.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Slow Yer Roll, There, Sister Roar

Yep, after yesterday's post all high and full of righteousness, I was...not mean, but certainly not kind to someone today. This is my confession.

It was at the end of a long day, where I had spent most of the day heavily concentrating on Big Thoughts. I did eat lunch, and even an afternoon snack. But I was tired. And frustrated. My Big Thought project was hitting obstacle after obstacle, to the point where I just decided to give up for the day and try again tomorrow.

I figured I'd do one menial and tedious task before I left. I didn't know where to start. So I asked someone who, if they didn't know, was the right person to find out for me. S/he is not the easiest person for me to talk to, being nearly dumbstruck with what comes across as fear of me, but I suspect is just general unease around people s/he doesn't know well.

I thought I asked my question carefully, but s/he didn't answer what i asked, and instead went off on a shiny metal object tangent. Once I realized that's what was happening, I got more direct. Like freshly sharpened knife direct, slicing straight through to my point which was I expected hir to be the expert on their area of responsibility.

In my book, from years of working on the farm, it's totally okay to admit you don't know something. But lawd help you if you sit on that as an excuse like a contented toad on a toadstool looking perfectly pleased with yourself, instead of saying very simply, "I don't know. Let me find out and get back to you."

Obviously the conversation went down hill from there. And out went all my high-fallutin' ambitions of treating individual with respect for their own uniqueness. I didn't yell, (miraculously) didn't cuss, and wasn't overtly disrespectful, but I surely wasn't kind either. I walked away feeling even more frustrated than when I went to ask my question and a little angry with myself for kicking a puppy (**figuratively, ** people...jeez!).

I'm trying to figure out how to deal with this tomorrow. This person does not work for me, but provides me with required support services. And I saw on my phone (but did not read the email) that s/he sent an email out with a subject line that indicates it's the information I requested. But staring at me dumbfounded and making excuses about not knowing basic required knowledge...? Well, let's just say I don't have a lot of tolerance for the excuses.

I know I should look at this from hir point of view. I have no idea what hir workload is or what I interrupted with my question. I'll likely address it with hir supervisor and see how this incident fits in with their prior stated expectations for hir. And not go overboard being nice to hir, but certainly trying harder to be more understanding and less instantaneously judgmental.

It's a work in progress. *I'm* a work in progress.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

I Didn't Drown...or More Thoughts on Finding Strength in Vulnerabilities

Convincing my super strong lizard brain that I wasn't going to drown...well, that's another story.

One of the training sessions during PDT was water survival, designed to teach us how to get out of heavy ballistic plate armor if we fall in the water. Very reasonable and useful training, making sure we have at least some muscle memory of how to save ourselves in case things go Very Badly Wrong.

The training is done in steps, crawl-walk-run style. The crawl part was a skills assessment. Very basic. I'm a strong swimmer. I love to basically a fish without gills. My mom had to threaten dire consequences to get me out of the pool when I was a kid.

But, (there's always a but) I hate feeling like I can't breathe. It...well, Terrifies me. Which is weird, because I can hold my breath a reasonable amount of time. I do controlled breathing exercises in yoga and for meditation. But you add water, and I freak tf out.

The skills assessment didn't go well the first time. I wore myself out trying to do the dead man's float (face down, holding my breath), and tapped out after about 2 minutes of it. I was panting too hard to control my breathing to willingly put my face in the water. Didn't bode well for the rest of the training.

And it **FRUstrated** me. I knew it was in my head. There was nothing the instructors were asking me to do that I was physically challenged to do. But that damn lizard brain at the base of my skull got aholt of me, and terrorized me with a desire for flight. I sloshed out of the pool after failing the skills assessment.

I didn't cry in front of everyone. I stepped outside to do that.

I sulked for a few more minutes, chastising myself that this was the easy part, wtf was I going to do when we got to the fast walk drills. Finally, I swallowed enough of my pride to go into the shallow end to work with one of the instructors for "remediation." I did the dead man's float by itself for about 25 seconds, and then immediately had to take about 2 minutes to compose myself so I didn't burst out in tears in front of the instructor (he was very patient).

In the meantime, the rest of the group was working their way through the slow walk stages of the training. At least my lizard brain didn't impede their progress with her nonsense.

Once I convinced myself that I wasn't going to die during the dead man's float, I successfully passed the skills assessment. I sang The Eagles, "Take It Easy" to myself, and rubbed the thumbs and forefingers of each hand together to distract that lizard bitch. Whatever. It worked.

And that was the end of Day 1. I spent a good part of the evening in a mixture of a) wondering what tf was wrong with me, b) berating myself for being such a f'ing delicate snowflake, c) thoroughly dreading the next day, and d) absolutely not facing the reality that I had to get through this somehow. Emailing, texting, then calling my sister helped. She's pretty skilled at calling my bullshit what it is.

I passed the next phase fairly easily first thing in the morning, while everyone else was getting ready for two steps ahead of me. Then it was on to more work in the shallow end. This is how it went for me in the shallow end: go through the required steps out of the pool, lower myself into the water, psyche myself up to go under, freak out a little, take a few more deep breaths, go through the steps again out loud with the instructor, psyche myself up to go under, take a deep breath, go under, get through one or two of the steps, freak out a lot, stand up and gasp for air, stand there feeling foolish and ridiculous and pitiful and pathetic...and repeat, like two more times. I think one of those times I didn't even make an attempt to do anything, just went straight to freak out mode. They didn't count that one against me.

After what felt like a thousand times, but I'm pretty sure was only the three we're allowed, I was able to get through the first task. You know, the easy one. There was significantly more psyching up to do for the second know, the much harder one. We were still in the shallow end. Somehow, idk, maybe the lizard brain was finally wearing out or maybe, just maybe, realizing that I was going to do this regardless of her input and she should ease up on convincing me that flight was the only response, I managed to get through the second task on the first try.

I was still two steps behind the rest of the group; they were progressing fantastically, and making it look easy at the same time. Then I had to move up to the deep end for the next stage. It was the same tasks as the shallow end, just, you know, in the deep end, where I couldn't stand up if things started to fall apart for me.

It was about this time that one of the guys who hadn't passed the skills assessment (also a strong swimmer, just having difficulties with having boots on in the water) told me he was impressed with my ability to stick it through despite my difficulties. I think I made some brush off comment about being overly stubborn.

But the truth was, I was still terrified that I wouldn't successfully finish each of the remaining tasks, and I'd have to go into the remedial swim training when I got in theater. Not only would that be completely mortifying to my pride, it would also take precious time away from my ability to Do. My. Job. So into the deep end I jumped...after staring at the water for 30 seconds, walking through each step in my head, freaking out a little, deep breathing, staring at the water...well, you get the picture. I was not being shy about my freaked-out-edness.

For the second task, the harder task in the deep end, I talked myself out of jumping a couple of times, tried to get one of the JOs who had to do it again to go ahead of me, and then realized that wasn't fair because s/he wasn't ready either. When I stepped back up to the edge, I stood there, breathing, looking at the water, and then looked up. I saw a gaggle of the high-speed, super low-drag crowd standing by the lifeguard's stand about 20 feet away. As soon as they saw me looking at them, they quickly looked away..."No, why of course not, we weren't looking at you. Why would we do that? Nope, we were looking at that fascinating ceiling beam up there." My lizard brain had too much of a grip on me for to do more than note it at the time, but later, I realized they were concerned about me, watching me to make sure I was okay. And was going to be okay.

I got through the second deep end jump successfully. One of the Chiefs came up to me as I was prepping for the next task. He said, referring to a conversation we had previously, "sometimes your battles are not about you at all," and told me the JO who I tried to get to go first, who was also struggling, did it more easily because I did it at all. Perspective.

The third deep end task...well, we got to hold on to the side of the pool for it. And then came the platform jumps. By this time, I had caught up with the rest of the group, thankfully. And I had also come way too far to give up and quit, even though the platform jumps scared the bejeezus out of me and I really, omg, so very badly didn't want to do them. I got through the first jump successfully enough. And then somehow, managed to find myself on the platform again for the second, harder jump. And I jumped. I got a couple breaths, and then tried to get one more, as I shed equipment, but wasn't quite able to manage it. My panic started to set in, and then somehow a thought passed through my mind that I didn't need to breathe yet. I had enough air to make it through the last crucial step to get the majority of the drowning weight off my body, and from there I was home free.

As I climbed the platform for the last, easiest jump of the day, one of the instructors said something along the lines of being very impressed with my courage and that he'd serve with me any day.

Um, they all just saw me almost lose my shit, struggle with and almost fail at some really simple tasks, and that's the response I got? Huh. Not what I expected.

From the perspective of a few weeks, I (obviously) have a few thoughts about the experience. The majority of the early days in my working life, both before and in the Coast Guard, were all about not showing vulnerabilities, not being perceived as weak, making everything look as easy as freaking possible. If I did any of that weak stuff, I was pegged as a useless girl, and then I had to work twice or three times as hard to prove myself the next time. So I limited my vulnerabilities...or I limited my willingness to admit I had any, even (and probably most damaging) to myself. I shoved them all deep down, away from the bright light of day as much as I possibly could.

It's just recently that I've started to wonder, as I work on becoming my most honest version of myself, if those vulnerabilities I buried so deep could actually make me better at what I do; maybe make me better able to appreciate another person's experience, or offer them a way to connect with me through shared perspectives, or make me think about a situation differently while looking for the best of a bunch of bad solutions to a problem. Or maybe just give me a stronger foundation, a more complete me, from which to act and react.

On the last drive back to DC from NC after training, I listened to a bunch of podcasts, one of which was Freakonomics podcast titled, "After the Glass Ceiling, the Glass Cliff," about the 5.4% of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women. From one of the interviewees, Michelle Ryan, "...we should see that after women were appointed to these boards of directors, share price should go down. But actually what we found was the opposite. What we found was when companies had been doing poorly, when their share price had been declining, they then appointed women to their boards of directors. So what we found was a really different causal problem. Rather than women wreaking havoc on company performance, what we found was when companies were doing badly, they were much more likely to appoint women."

The podcast goes on to talk about a series of experiments that Ryan used to delve more deeply into her results. "We had two incredibly well-qualified candidates for the job, one man and one woman. We gave their C.V.s, and descriptions of their experience. We gave photos of them, and we’d very carefully made sure that they were absolutely equally qualified for the job. And in fact, what we had was, we had two C.V.s, and we just switched their names on them, really, for every second participant in the study. And then we said, “Okay, who do you want? In a scenario where everything is doing well, who do you want: the man or the woman? And in a scenario where things were going badly, who do you want?”

"What we found was when everything is going well — when share price was going up, or when everything is hunky-dory — they were almost 50-50 likely to choose the man or the woman. But when things were going badly — when there was crisis on the horizon, where there’d been criticism, and where there was risk involved in the leadership position — they almost exclusively chose her. So we can conclude from that there’s some sort of preference for women when all is going badly."

The podcast goes on to talk about what might be behind that "preference for women when all is going badly." The theories range from shareholders wanting Mommy when things are going badly (seriously), to men not wanting the risk associated with a potentially failing company and having the options to say no, while women don't have the same career opportunities and are grateful enough for even a bad job, to unfair targeting on women-led companies by activist shareholders, to less than complimentary media coverage for women CEOs. I encourage you to read or listen to the whole thing.

I'm not entirely sure why I thought this podcast was so relevant to my thoughts on strength from vulnerabilities. Probably about shareholders wanting a CEO they think will be more collaborative and focused on teamwork like women are supposed to be. Turning what appear to be vulnerabilities (as compared to the aggressiveness ascribed to men) into strengths.

But that just makes me uncomfortable, too, ascribing certain qualities to a certain gender. I struggle (a lot) with the idea of the female identity solely as "...gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, deference, and succorance..." straight from Wikipedia's definition of femininity. That is simply not my world view, my experience, my being. Just for comparison, here is what Wikipedia has for masculinity, "courage, independence, violence, and assertiveness."

I am some of both of those things, and I really want to be valued by my organization, my bosses, my peers, my subordinates, my friends family and acquaintances, for Who I Am...for my essential Me-ness...that irrepeatable combination of quirks, qualities, quixoticisms born from my DNA, molded by my family, shaped by my experiences, honed by my challenges, burnished by my family and friends and breathed daily by this ephemeral mortal shell....not some societal generalization of what They think I should be because of my gender, my age, my skin color or any of those other things that are more by-products than essence.

It only works if I can offer the same respect to other Individuals I meet.

How's that for some mf'ing strength from vulnerabilities.