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.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Lessons from Cultural Awareness Training

One of the training sessions we had last week during Pre-Deployment Training (PDT) was Cultural Awareness Training. A dynamic older gentlemen, former military (Army, I think), Arabic translator/interpreter, originally from Bahrain, taught the four-hour class. By the time we come home, we'll all have felt as if we had a year-long cultural awareness class, but this was to prep folks who haven't been there for some of the fundamental and practical differences between Bahrain and the US.

It only took about 30 minutes before he said something that put my back up. I don't remember the specifics, but I vaguely remember an extremely negative judgmental comment about homosexuality. I think it was meant as a generalization of religious dogma, but the speaker certainly didn't qualify it that way, so it came across as the truth as he saw it.

A few minutes later, he brought up gender roles and how men and women are treated in Bahrain. I know this is a push-button topic for me. I know I'm tecchy (i.e., touchy, with a spin of mountain pride) about it. I know I have some personal work to do here. So I was, maybe not prepared to be offended, but hugely aware it was a distinct possibility. Still, hearing him say blatantly that, in a group of locals and US military, the locals will always, always, always defer to the men. Never mind the rank or experience of the women, it's just not in their world view that women would have a useful opinion.

During the second break, the other O5 trainee in the group approached me. He's deploying too, but doesn't work directly in the same chain of command as I will. He had heard some of the conversations from the more junior members during the break that they were disturbed, uncomfortable, disgusted...pick your emotion...with the delivery of the training. He suggested I address it, either with the instructor, the training coordinators, or the group. I love having a task to complete, so I immediately went looking for someone to talk to.

I came across the instructor first, and discussed with him my intent to add a few comments to the group after he was done with his presentation. I think I managed to get my point across that a lot of what he was saying was uncomfortable, and that's what I was hoping to point out to the crews.

Finally, after a few more insults about how all women like to shop to excess and how my gray hair will make me be perceived as an elder despite my actual age, the presenter wrapped it up after four hours and six minutes. I strode up to the front of the room, made sure all the lights were on (they had been dimmed for the power point presentation), and thanked the presenter for his welcome insights into the Bahraini culture. Because it was helpful to hear about how welcoming and friendly the locals are, about the beauty of the culture, and about the variety of goods in the souks and all the other mundane tidbits he shared with us.

I knew I was balancing on a very thin, tight rope, so I chose my words carefully. I said very blatantly, "Some of what he said offended me." I explained further without attacking him personally, along the lines of whether we heard things that offended us because of our gender, our sexual orientation, our age, our religion, or whatever... there was plenty in what he said to make us uncomfortable. For myself, I said, it's incredibly demoralizing to hear that, in a mixed group of locals and US military, I will always be dismissed, even in favor of a man of a lower rank, simply because I'm female. It feels like 18 years of a hugely successful career has been wiped away and is meaningless, all because I'm a girl. And that makes me feel awful and worthless.

I then went on say that figuring out how to be ok with being uncomfortable is necessary for us to be effective in our operating environment. That doesn't mean just fighting against whatever is making us uncomfortable, because, where we're going, that could start an international incident. It means understanding what exactly is putting us off balance, and being strong and self-aware enough to know that whatever it is is not our truth, and is instead an artifact of us being in a different culture who operates under separate beliefs. We have to learn to accept a certain amount of discomfort to stay focused on what we're over there to do.

I tried not to ramble too long...jeez, we'd already been in there for 4+ hours. But I wanted to make sure they understood my point.

Beyond the more obvious lessons about sitting with what makes us uncomfortable, I took two other insights away from this training session that were maybe more useful to me:

1. Trust my instincts. I say this All The Time to my JOs, so it was good to have it reinforced for me. I knew what I heard (important distinction of "message received" from "message sent") was not in alignment with our collective CG values. It took someone else validating that for me to take action. I'm very grateful to the other O5 in giving me the impetus, or maybe the tacit permission, to address it with the group, and maybe make the most of my first real opportunity to be a leader for them.

2. Figure out how to make my vulnerabilities into my strengths. I used how I felt about what the instructor said about women as an example. "I was offended." I described why I was offended and how it made me feel. And then I followed up with what I was going to do about it as the teaching point. I'm still getting used to the possibilities of making my vulnerabilities my strengths, and this was a fantastic example of what it might look like. I definitely felt vulnerable up there, talking to E3s and E4s, and all those other people who are going to work for me, about my soft fears about my own inadequacies and how they manifest and undermine me. But I also think it made it relate-able, made it personal for everyone, so they could be ok with feeling uncomfortable with whatever they may come up against. Or, at least that's what I was aiming for.

Afterwards, I got a hugely welcome and supportive text from one of the COs: "Thank you for giving the follow up talk after the training. That was very necessary and clarified some of the things I wanted to make sure the crew understood...It was just what we all needed."

Yes. That's what it's all about.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Orders, v. 2018

It's been a while. Too long a while. I certainly haven't done what I said I was going to do a year ago, which was blog about taking advantage of being in a staff job to focus on my personal growth. That's not to say I haven't focused on my personal growth...I just haven't written about it here. So here's a quick recap of the last year:

I chose to quit roller derby right after skating in my first bout. It hurt too much physically. The bout was like being in a washing machine with baseball bats. Between that, the falling and absolutely *dreading* practice, I decided I valued the integrity of my bones, and made the really tough choice to quit. It also gave me a huge amount of time back.

Which I used to visit my (new to me) house in western NC. I took my motorcycle down in the summer and proceeded to bomb around the mountains on my bike and have So. Much. Fun. I had to remind myself it was all perfectly legal. Trips down that way also let me hang out with some of my bestest friends more than I was used to. It was an amazing reminder that I am more than my Coast Guard career.

I dated dedicatedly for a few months, until I had to deal with some of the consequences of my lack of willingness to compromise myself for the sake of someone else's happiness or ego. I've been on a break pretty much since then, and am so grateful for all I've learned about myself from that whole experience.

I'm still very much struggling with the topic from my last post about gender issues? equity? parity? I don't even know what to call it. I just know I'm still genuinely annoyed that there are still only 15 women who have had commands of major cutters. AY 2018 didn't do anything to change that number. More to follow on that, I promise.

And now for AY 2018...I GOT ORDERS!! I will have spent one year and eight months at Headquarters this time, when I leave at the end of April to go be Deputy Commodore of Patrol Forces Southwest Asia in Manama, Bahrain. Since I don't ask for what I don't want on my e-resume, yes, I asked for it. Of course, I asked for CO of a few different 210s first, but I knew that was a total long shot, being two years from tour complete and all. But yes, I want to go to Bahrain, for lots of different reasons.

First and most definitely foremost is that I get to hang out with and lead mostly cuttermen. The shoreside job is to man, train, and equip the six patrol boats that work for the Navy there. I very briefly met the prospective COs and XOs last week, and they look like a good bunch. I'm very excited to work with them. And hopefully lead and train them well.

Second, I will be tour complete in one year (instead of two years, if I had stayed in HQ). That means I have to be transferred, instead of hoping they may need another warm body beyond who they already have who is tour complete. There is a delightful selection of O5 afloat commands open for me in AY 2019...I may already have my list prioritized. In color coded spreadsheet form.

Third...well, the tangible benefits of going over there can't be ignored. I have a goal to save $50k while I'm there. Totally doable.

That was enough for me to say absolutely yes when the detailer called just before Thanksgiving to see if I was still interested.

And tonight, I'm sitting in the guest housing for Pre-Deployment Training (PDT) waiting for training to start in the morning. I was here, in Moyock, NC nine years ago when lots of the training was contracted to the old Blackwater Corp. We're on the same facility, under different ownership, I think. I'm fighting a slight sense of deja vu, but am such a different person now than I was nine years ago that it's like seeing it through whole new eyes.

I started this blog when I went to Bahrain the first time, mostly to keep my family up to date with what I was doing without having to send them all the same email. I blogged anonymously (which was allowed within policy at that point), because I wasn't sure about my ability to stay on the right side of operational security. Anonymity was tough in some ways (like trying to describe a mooring evolution without giving away I was on a ship...), but it was a good forum for venting about leadership challenges in my first command tour, both up and down the chain. I took down all those posts when I went public, but I saved them all. I need to find that harddrive and re-read some of them :)

So I'm going to try it again this time. I'm nervous about it, not sure I can be as honest and vulnerable as I want to be in a fairly visible leadership position. But there are things I want to say and explore. Like, seriously, the damn woman thing, but also my approach to what will likely be my second-to-last and last tours before retirement, my potential for financial independence upon retirement, living in another country for a year, staying true to myself in a grinder of a job instead of just putting nose to grindstone and forgetting about what *I* need to be happy, and all kinds of other things that I haven't put quite as fine a point on.

I don't know how much time I'll have to write during training (I have plans most weekends). But I have a goal to write a post a week once I get there. Keep me honest.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Not Really Just a Girl...Not Even Close

Pre-script (v. post-script) warning:This post is not my usual cheerful outlook buoyed by positivity. It's part confession, part catharsis, and mostly something I've needed to write for a very long time. But hadn't because I knew it would be very hard to write without it turning into an all out rant. And reading back through it, I realize I fail to offer concrete solutions to a number of the questions I raise. I'll keep working on that...


I struggle with women's groups. There. I said it.

And I struggle with the fact that I struggle with it, especially the more senior I get, the more stories I hear, the more conversations I have about mentoring and leadership and all the rest.

My first order struggle is with my interpretation of many women's groups message, which I take to be "we focus on our being women to find common ground and provide support" or something like that. Here's my issue with that: I like to focus on my ability to get the job done, rather than relying on some vagary of genetics and biology. I like to find common ground with as many people as possible, which actually, lots of times, means I don't have anything in common with other women (especially at women's groups meetings) other than the fact that we *are* women. After about the second time a women's group function mentions child care as a fundamental concern, I lose interest. For me personally. Sure, I absolutely recognize it is an issue for many...FAMILIES! Not just women. And, oh, by the way, having children (in the largest majority of cases...I can see where it wouldn't be a choice if someone close to you died and asked you to be their children's legal guardian) is a personal choice. There. I said that too.

My second order struggle is that I know my opinion about this is not typical and that many of the issues raised by women's groups are critical to supporting people with the eventual goal of diversifying our workforce. I truly believe that we are better off with diverse perspectives, and the more we open any organization to different experiences of the world, the better our decisions are.

...but that goes for women's groups too. If all they talk about is child care, co-locating with spouses either in or out of the Service, and how men and the patriarchy and the system just don't understand their struggles, then I get the feeling that my experience, my world view is not valued. Do I have stories about being judged on my performance because I'm a woman? Yes, of course. And I'm fortunate enough to have truly blatant examples that I can say without a doubt, that's on them, not on me. Except the experiences did make me doubt, and still do, but I value them for making me who I am. You could say I'm a little conflicted about the whole thing.

For example, I had one truly, spectacularly bad boss. He got fired for it, eventually, but it took so long it made me wonder how the heck he got as far in the system as he did. And just because he was a bad boss didn't mean I didn't learn good things from him. Like, you don't know what you don't know, which I took to mean that it's important to question more than you think you need to. Anyway, enough defending him. I had a couple of unforgettable run-ins with him that make good sea stories.

One was a tiff we got into over weapons qualification requirements. We had about half a dozen people on the ship who couldn't qualify on the 9mm pistol no matter how many times they went to the range and how hard they tried. He wanted to eliminate the requirement for these individuals...most of whom were petite women. I wanted to change the requirement so they were still contributing, just in a different way, to the good of the ship, because it would have undermined their credibility on the ship if they were singled out for special treatment, especially if that special treatment got them out of a particular duty that everyone else was required to do. I shared my opinion, maybe a little too forcefully for the Department Head meeting setting, and he barked back, "Well, not everyone is Wonder Woman like you." Look up backhanded compliment in the dictionary and I'm pretty sure you'll find that as an example. Tears sprung to my eyes in front of three of my peers, my direct supervisor, and the command chief. I didn't say much for the rest of that meeting. But it was my first inkling that not everyone wanted me to be successful for being good at my job.

A few months later, our cutter boat was on a run into the closest foreign port to pick up CG Investigative Service (CGIS) forensic IT specialists to see if they could find any inappropriate emails on our server related to an ongoing investigation into my boss' conduct. He and I were standing on the bridge wing, watching the boat zoom off under a cloudless blue sky through azure waters, with only a hint of a breeze, and he (a minority in his own right) said to me, "the only way minorities will ever get ahead is if they help one another." I was *stunned.* I had just gotten my OER a few weeks before, and it was stupendously good. Like crazy, walk on water good. And I kinda thought it might have been inflated before he made that comment, but I was completely convinced it was overblown after that. And to this day, when I get a good OER, I wonder if it's because I'm really that good, or if my boss has his own agenda he's trying to further by giving me a good giving another minority a chance or promoting the office's stature and desirability by showing that good performers can be successful there.

And that completely offends me. I want to know my success is based on my ability to DO MY JOB and do it well, not because I'm getting extra credit simply for being female...or whatever the agenda may be. I have control over my performance, while I have no control over my gender...and for a control freak like me, you can guess which one I prefer to be judged for.

For the younger generation I wonder, how can we make their challenges more about leadership instead of having their energy drained fighting against someone else's narrow view of their capabilities and capacities? That goes for women, racial minorities, men, transgender, religious minorities...whatever. It needs to be about the *individuals,* their capabilities, their strengths, weaknesses, experiences, their professional choices.

My sister suggested I add in something about offering support to make sure we're all starting from essentially the same point. Because not everyone has the same access to good education, good opportunities, good mentorship, or time to work, frequently based on their situation...where they grew up, how involved their parents were, family obligations or whatever the case may be. I think that fits into my philosophy of individualism just fine. It's all about finding out an individual's they got to where they are, what they value and what they need to succeed, why they're struggling. As a mentor, it's my job to help them delve into those questions and assist in finding clarity. As a leader, how do we aggregate the individuals into policy?

Everybody struggles. Everybody has challenges. Singles v. married with children...but who gets the extra support from the organization? BAH with dependents is the most obvious. And a lot of people have heard my soapbox rant about Family Separation Allowance (FSA). And woe betide the messenger if I ever hear of some single (in the sense of "without dependents") sailor at my unit being stuck with duty on a holiday because said sailor doesn't have a family on location with whom to spend the day.

I made a personal choice a long time ago that I didn't want kids (and have been called a monster for it...true story). But that personal choice has given me a different level of flexibility with which to approach my career. I've been able to get underway without having to worry about child care, or build my e-resume without having to worry about the quality of local school districts. So given that, why do I feel annoyed that other people get special consideration from our meritocratic organization for their differing personal choices?

And that's where it gets sticky, right? It's that interaction, that border ecology of professional choices and personal choices. My sister told me of a university that implemented a policy that stated that familial leave was required to be taken for the birth or adoption of a child, so that the women faculty wouldn't feel disadvantaged for taking the time off, because the men had to take it too. But what the university found was that, while the women used their time off for child care and adjusting to a new family reality...and probably recovering from the medical experience of childbirth, the men used the time off to write and publish more academic papers and advancing their careers.

Well, hell.

So after all that, I still got nuthin. No answers, no solutions. Just my experience. Just my complete unwillingness and utter rejection of being judged for being Just a Girl.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hearts and Minds

I recently went up to the CG Academy for their 28th Annual Ethics Forum. It was such a great experience, starting from Dr Lenny Wong's keynote address about his article on lying in the Army, to the opening remarks by RADM Thomas Wetmore's son about the important contributions his father made to the Service, Academy, and pretty much everyone he came across, to the discussion after the sessions with the other presenters.

My talk's topic was "Difficult Conversations: Why They're Important and How to Have Them." It was maybe a stretch to the overall theme of the Forum which was Core Values and the Chain of Command. I think I made it work though.

After my second of two presentations, a young cadet approached me, asking if he could email me a question once he had an opportunity to formulate it a little better in his own mind. Here's what he sent me a few days later:

"I think it's best to start with a little explanation. There is clearly a need to balance emotion and reason in a professional setting, especially in the military. I've read and heard a lot about not letting emotions control your decisions as a leader, and that you have to lead with your mind. On the flipside, there's not as much talk about using your heart or emotions effectively as a leader, and I think it's something worth exploring. I understand this is all a little vague, but hope I get the gist of my thoughts across!
From your talk and your stories in leadership and followership positions, and from your demeanor and bearing, I got a significant impression that you seem to have that balance between mind and heart figured out well. I'm not sure if that's something that comes naturally to you, or if you had to work on finding a balance. Do you have any advice or words on the matter?"

Here's my response:

I don’t think I’d be comfortable saying I have the balance between heart and mind figured out…but I’m glad to know I come across that way. “Fake it ‘til you make it” works sometimes :) Your question definitely got me thinking about it though… which is always a good thing.
A couple thoughts:

-- Know yourself: I choke up when I talk about anything remotely emotional. It’s taken me *years* to accept that. It helped when my uncle said his dad (my grandfather) was the same way, and most of our family members have the same attribute. It’s like knowing I came by it honestly made it ok for me to be that way, instead of thinking it was a weakness or something to fight. It still can be a little…um, uncomfortable, especially when (for example) telling a heart-wrenching sea story in front of 100 cadets… But I’m human, and it’s part of who I am, so I decided recently to own it. I’m not sure I could have done it before, or without being confident in lots of other ways that I’m good at what I do. Vulnerability is hard.

-- Know yourself, part 2: I don’t have a poker face. Never have; don’t think I’ll get one anytime soon. What I think and feel is almost immediately communicated across my face. So, when I’m pissed, I give an evil eye (ask 1/C Labelle…he probably saw me give the evil eye to a JO at some point during his 1/C summer on DILIGENCE). When I’m excited and happy, I bounce and grin. I’m genuine, and people realize it pretty quickly. I try to use this to my advantage to build trust… which requires me to maintain a positive outlook so I’m contributing positively to a situation instead of negatively raining on everyone’s parade all the time. But the important thing is to be genuine; Coasties are smart enough to have pretty sensitive bullshit detectors.

-- Empathy: Upon reflection, I realized that the most common way I use emotions in a professional setting is to understand where someone else is coming from. If I can put myself in their shoes, think about how I’d feel if I was them, dealing with what they’re living with, it helps me empathize with them and maybe come up with a better solution than if I just looked at the surface of the problem. I took a great class during grad school on Conflict Resolution, and one of the main ideas behind negotiation is looking for common ground. Emotions can offer a path to common ground if you can see a situation from your negotiation partner’s point of view.

-- Know the policy: Go look up and read the governing policy for whatever decision you’re trying to make. Read a couple paragraphs before and after to see if there’s explanatory information that gives background to help understand why the policy is the way it is. Look up any references. This helps build the knowledge base to support the next thought…
-- Pay attention to your instincts: If the hairs are standing up on the back of your neck, there’s probably a reason for it. Trust that. Look into it. Go back and read the policy again to make sure someone isn’t trying to bullshit *you.* It may take you a while to build the knowledge base to have an instinct to trust, but you’ll develop it. Once you do, trust it. Ask questions, dig a little deeper, make your sailors show you the policy they followed with their work, don’t rely on templates or the unavoidable “this is the way we’ve always done it.” I’m not sure this is entirely emotional, but I’m not sure it’s not, so I decided to mention it.

You asked a great question. Thanks very much for the opportunity to think about it as I put together my answer. Also, I hope I actually answered your question! It’s always a little hard to tell with leadership questions like this. Please feel free to ask for clarification if you need it.
During both sessions, I told different stories that caused me to choke up. I questioned myself as I was telling them. I mean, what the hell was I *doing?!?* Voice thick with emotion, deeper and tighter than normal, having to inhale deeply just to take in oxygen just to keep going, and pausing to collect myself so my voice didn't crack and unleash all the tears built up from years of seeming invulnerable... in front of 100 young cadets training to be the next generation of Coast Guard leaders. I definitely questioned what I was thinking. But the stories helped make my point, and apparently my delivery was meaningful also. 

And I really appreciated the thought exercise prompted by the question. It helped me consolidate my thoughts on the place of emotions in leadership. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Derby Weekend

This weekend ended up being just what I thought it would be...a total Derby weekend. Yesterday was the DC Rollergirls Season Opener. I went to volunteer, and stayed for a few minutes of the second, full match. So many people, so much fun, awesome! half time show by Batala!

And today was Boot Camp and Open Tryouts. I've been going to Boot Camp for a couple months now...since probably mid-October, maybe? I've missed a few weeks here and there, and December was a pretty light month because of the holidays. And I hadn't really been on roller skates since I was a terror at the Church Skate Nights when I was like, ten. My learning curve was steep.

I made the FREAKING TEAM!!!! And I feel Really. Freaking. Good about it! 

Now I'm going to do something that feels *very* out of character...I'm going to uh, brag.

Here's why: I'm 43 years old. There are any *number* of reasons why it's harder now.
--  Learning any new physical skill at this point in life isn't easy. I know...I tried to learn how to snowboard about half a dozen times over the last five years...and I still suck at it. I have since stopped trying and defaulted back to skiing so I can actually enjoy my limited time on the mountain. 

-- And it hurts. My legs ache right now. My left ankle is cranky, my thighs are gonna cramp up on me later when I'm sitting in my chair watching a movie despite all the stretching I've done and water I've drank, my hips are stupid tight, and my shins have splints. The first Tuesday after my first boot camp class, I could barely walk down stairs. Sitting down was torture. Thankfully the pain hasn't been quite so intense since that first week, but skating definitely uses muscles that aren't used by any other activity...and they make themselves loudly known. And falling...well, falling doesn't probably hurt any more now, but it definitely takes me longer to recover afterwards.

-- The other Boot Campers are, at the oldest, in their early 30s. Some are in their early 20s. They have resiliency that I don't. (I mean, I have knowledge and experience they don't, so there's a certain trade off). I'm not sure it's such a stretch for them to go out and learn new's just the phase of life they're in. It was challenging for me to admit I wasn't going to be immediately awesome at this new thing (even though I had no reason to *expect* to be awesome), and still go do it anyway. I feel like I've lost the ability to not be good at something...or maybe that my recent experiences are based in things I already know how to do, so even if they're challenging, they're not completely new, and I can just rely on my instincts, instead of having to figure out each time how to react. 

-- Derby is very physical, and I can still **totally** hang with the younger crowd. I am strong, my core strength is great, I have endurance, my derby stance comes almost naturally. So maybe wondering whether those flight deck workouts were gonna kill me or make me stronger finally has an answer.

I'm just plain proud of myself. 

Or, maybe I'm just being a whiny little bee-yotch, thinking that everything should come easy to me. It's kinda hard to tell sometimes.

I'm not entirely sure what the next step is. We're supposed to get an email with more admin information. And I need a derby name. I was gonna use CDR Grayhem (like Mayhem, but Gray... well, for the obvious reasons), but there are already a couple Mayhem's in the group, and I didn't want to add any confusion. Keel-haulher and Ancient Scare-iner are options, but I'm not totally in love with those. Any suggestions???