I had breakfast with an old friend this morning. He asked me about work and I just unloaded everything. I think I was just so relieved to have someone I could speak with about it that even though I could hear myself and the red flags popped up that the content was a little heavy for this reintroduction, I just didn’t stop.
By the time we parted, I apologized, because I knew that it was wrong, I just couldn’t seem to control the impulse to talk about it, and he confirmed my fears by saying, well maybe the next time I see you we can chat you’ll have some more positive stories to share. And I felt sick. I knew I was being kind of a downer. I kept apologizing for doing it, but it was like word vomit. I couldn’t make myself stop. Actually, the truth is, that I did make it stop, but the next time I opened my mouth again to talk about something else, I kept referencing my own experience which only reinforced my anxiety and made me more nervous.
That’s not good.
As I walked away with this toxic pit in my stomach, I realized that I had poured so much energy into trying to work my way out of this negative experience that my whole identity had become wrapped up into it. I was either this person who felt like a victim in this scenario, or this person who was intentionally practicing these other coping behaviors because I didn’t want to feel like a victim in this scenario.
What I would have liked to have been, was this person who was able to charm and entertain others with these really awesome, inspiring and uplifting stories; and I honestly didn’t have any to tell, unless I talked about the really small stuff, the little everyday miracles that bore most people and make people want to find someone else to hang out with, someone who’s life is a little more exciting. So the little bits of info that my friend and I talked about didn’t have the same kind of emotional tags and we ended up chatting about the sucky parts of our stories because that’s the kind of energy I contributed.
So I made a decision to sit down at the coffee shop and sketch out a storyboard for what I imagined would be a really great story about me and my friend eating breakfast and me complaining the whole time, me having this realization, and then sitting down and drawing a comic strip for a segment I’d like to integrate into this blog called “The Positive Stories Project.”
I probably should have picked a different location, because I ran into some old friends who were visiting in town. They asked me what I was up to, how I liked my job, etc. and I made an effort to be positive. But my responses came across as kind of cryptic and weird. You could tell that I was giving kind of a manufactured answer, so they kind of automatically assumed the worst. Then I’d have to go, “well it’s not really that, I’ve had an opportunity to learn ___ from this experience.” And the conversation just kind of dragged on. So I kind of changed the subject and tried to make things as pleasant as I could, but my anxiety at “being found out” kept growing, so at the first opportunity, I ditched them for someone else (almost as if I had the opportunity for a do-over) and extended the appropriate pleasantries for exiting and that was kind of the end of it.
Ironically enough, the person I ditched them for, was there to meet up with the old friend I had just had breakfast with, so I kept the pleasantries simple, briefly explained why I would not be able to hang with them (I was honest about having been kind of a downer earlier since it was someone who was already kind of familiar with my situation and she was super supportive and understanding about it. – She even offered to take our old friend to see her new dog so as to change the vibe for a moment). Then I bolted to the outdoor patio and buried my head in a book.
Speaking of irony, the chapter that I read was about how Inappropriate Self Interest leads to errors we believe will produce short-term gains but instead, produce long-term damage. Yeah, so that happened…
My old friend and other friend stopped briefly to greet me as if I hadn’t seen them earlier and I wished them a great outing and pretended to be deeply engrossed in the reading for my book. Then I read for awhile until I was distracted by an old acquaintance who I talked with about this moped he found on Craigslist that he hoped to buy. Then he asked me how I liked my job; he had recently seen me when he stopped by for information because he assumed that the job should be pretty cushy. I explained that it should be, but that I didn’t expect to be in the position much longer. And we talked a bit and he seemed pretty engaged, so I just kind of let him coax the story out. I felt better afterward, because I had done a better job of avoiding the details and put more of a positive spin on the story, abbreviating the negative parts with descriptions like “misaligned ethics,” “not on the same page when it comes to our operations process,” and my favorite statement, “the reality of working within conflicting boundary constraints, especially when you’re able to quantify it is that when you follow instructions and do what’s asked that when people get the results that they’ve asked for, the reality is that everyone ends up disappointed. Then we discussed whether it would be beneficial or detrimental to include a histogram graphing out the performance progressions/ regressions and how they correlated with the workers performance over the range of time in which the policies were re-structured.
It was a helpful conversation that was very solutions focused. I was obviously craving the need to have someone help me kind of work through it, but I was also kind of bummed that I had not followed through with my intention to publish my storyboard. I decided to change venues hoping that I might be able to find some inspiration with a change of scenery.
Of all of the places to run into people, I found a slew of them on the scenic route home. I happen to live near the college where I went to school and it just so happens that some of the younger siblings of my old classmates were going to be graduating from college this weekend. So not only did I run into my old classmates, but also their very large families. It appears that they had all gathered down at the local park near the cross country trail and had begun to grill up burgers, chicken, etc. Now when I say large families, let’s just say that there were approximately 6 families there by the time I left, the largest had 12 immediate family members (which doesn’t include extended relatives). The next largest family had 9 of the 10 family members present and so on…
Interestingly enough, although I didn’t know their families well, I was the only one there who had stayed at each of their residences (mostly on account of my own family situation is rather complicated, and it creates a fair amount of anxiety to have to explain why I don’t go home for holidays to my friends parents, so I generally avoid family events unless someone has gone out of their way to invite me). Even so, I found myself going through the process of introducing parents at an event to which I hadn’t even been invited. So after the initial introductions and talking with some of the less assertive parents for a bit, I eventually excused myself and made a ghost retreat before too many people noticed.
I felt bad for leaving, and probably would have benefitted from to social activity, especially where play was concerned. But for some reason it didn’t feel appropriate. Plus, some of the families were very different in values and I could see the tension building from some of the more conservative graduates, who were worried that one of her friend had arrived to the event in a very short mini skirt and was slightly inebriated. I actually heard one of the parents (not her own) tell her that her initial reaction was, “wow it’s impressive that you can pull that off, but what in the HELL are you wearing?” And that wasn’t even any of the more conservative parents.
So yeah, that’s right about the time that I left…
The good news is I didn’t talk about myself. It was nice to shift my attention elsewhere for once but I did get that overwhelming sensation that I was grossly out of practice. So I can definitely see some benefit toward using a project like the positive stories project as a mechanism to reinforce the behavior I would like to see. That being said I was able to achieve two outcomes as a result:
1) I actually completed a digital version of my storyboard (the dialogue boxes illustrate how much I feel like I dominated the conversation in each situation) and
2) I completed the first step of my positive stories project by acknowledging what kind of energy I contributed toward those interactions and making a vigilant effort to correct it.
This doesn’t mean that I’m out of the woods, when it comes to my work life just yet. But as long as I have other things to focus on that are independent of that experience, I think that I can start to repair the impulse control portions that have apparently been damaged by internalizing all of this nonsense. And if these positive psyche theories are correct, I should go back to being a happier person again because of it.
Move over Bucky; I too want to make a good story…! 🙂