The Positive Stories Project (TPSP)

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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.


slide 2By 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.

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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.”

slide 4I 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…


slide 5My 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.


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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:

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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.

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These were some ideas of things I could try for TPSP. I don’t have to be successful at them, I just have to try these out and try to turn it into a positive story. 🙂


Move over Bucky; I too want to make a good story…! 🙂

Freedom Costs | The Opportunity Costs of being Complaint Free


Wow, What a roller coaster ride!  You never know how much potential a situation has to escalate until you find yourself saying absolutely nothing.  You ever see that angry stormy guy in the office, who looks like he’s one off-the cuff comment from exploding on you? Yeah, that’s the kind of energy I’ve been staving off over the past couple of weeks. And I mean, I’m not above admitting it’s been something I’ve been really wrestling with.  I spent a good portion of the first part of this period in CYA mode.  I didn’t realize how much documentation I really had in my possession but it’s actually enough to disrupt the operations of my entire department (so I’ve been trying to determine what my ethical responsibilities are) since I know that I’ll be asked to complete an exit interview when I leave the organization about my reasons for leaving.

If you were in my position, what would YOU say?

I’m actually waiting for my performance review (which should be coming up in the next month) to address a lot of these issues. This approach was recommended to me by someone who used to work in the HR department, and since things have been tense enough around the office for me to understand that it’s going to come up in my performance review, I’ve already included my intent to discuss it in my self evaluation under the portion where I’m supposed to evaluate the work I did this year as a supervisor.  And when I say I have a LOT of documentation, I mean that I literally have piles of student performance records, anytime I worried that there may be a problem escalating due to conflicting directives, client complaints, etc. I have put it into writing.  I even thought very seriously about creating a histogram outlining the staff behavioral progressions/regressions that compliment their policies and the effectiveness of the boundary constraints under which I’ve been placed. But I’ll probably save that for my memoirs or something, idk…

In the meantime, I’ve been really working on “sharpening the saw,” so to speak so that I understand what my responsibility is in terms of the energy I bring to the space, the boundaries I articulate, taking the steps I need to ask for what I need and document those efforts, going through the necessary final steps before I make a decision about whether or not to go through a formal reporting process, and to what extent, etc.



I’ve also had to go through a pretty strict regime of filling out job applications, scheduling play, coordinating restorative meal plans and making myself get back into my workouts (which I’d been blowing off to fill out job applications). Because let’s face it, I’m terrified that I will sabotage the very thing I am working toward (being a happier, healthy person and an effective leader), if I stop taking care of myself.

Then yesterday afternoon, we had a festival in town. I had scheduled the time off from my routine and bam, I had a great time.  The Facebook status I left at 2am read (I know, who uses Facebook anymore):

I couldn’t have prayed for a better evening; incl. randomly running into an old college buddy in the park, hanging out with an old professor he was meeting in town, having a brownie and a milkshake while swapping jokes with these really funny guys I hadn’t seen in awhile, spending time at the bluegrass festival with some of my local artisan friends, getting to see one of our vendors (and friends from one of the local businesses) fire dancing, followed by an impromptu bourbon guitardy at my place that degenerated into hilarious cat whisperer reality tv (upon the recommendation of one of my artisan friends). If today was any indication of the rest of my weekend, then I am truly blessed beyond belief.

And it worked.

I woke up this morning feeling like a whole new person. It’s amazing what a difference it can make when you go out of your way to surround yourself with the people and activities that you love.  I think right now I’m having one of those Bucky Fuller moments where I’m beginning to wonder; how would my life be different if I only surrounded myself with people who inspired me, encouraged me or made me feel valued and loved? Or if when I couldn’t help who I was around that I filtered my attention toward creating the kind of environment where I encouraged other people and made them feel valued? Then I suddenly realized, that’s what I do. It’s what up until recently I have always done.  Except with those who I didn’t feel contributed to that environment, albeit through poor ethics, lack of accountability, whatever.  Which means that I need to re-evaluate how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.


And I may not say anything to actively discourage them, but my body language has always just shifted to neutral, or if I feel as if I am being asked to do something with questionable ethics, I have been very direct in asking them to clarify the boundary constraints of what they are asking me to do. (e.g. The supervisor who told me not to assign tasks and to email him when his workers are off task, often forgets that he has done this, chooses not to respond under the guise of being too busy, or shrugs things off which he doesn’t believe to be important). So I’ve been pretty wound up lately because things have more or less degenerated in our office, because he, queen bee, and level 6 have opted for the de-constructivist approach to management during the time of year  when we host one of our biggest annual events, and people have begun to notice.  Sales are down, clients are dismissing our lapse in service with the transition in our staff (because half our staff grew so disengaged they just stopped coming in, or just come in whenever they feel like it).  The whole thing has just turned into one giant cluster (literally) of people partying and hanging out around my cubicle.

So cue me: I get to be hyper-vigilant guy. I’m just a huge ball of frustrated anger, sitting over in the corner judging how this whole situation is being mismanaged.  At this point I’m not even keeping data anymore, because it would literally take up more time to document than it would to put headphones in, but I can’t ignore it. And this isn’t because I’m being obsessive or anything, literally the higher I crank up my 80s power ballads so I can’t see or hear what is going on while I’m working, the more that signals to queen bee and level 6 that the behavior will go unchecked, so more people gather around our cubicle and it actually attracts quite a bit of attention from our clients and the other department who don’t know I’ve been systematically dis-empowered from being able to correct the behavior.  In all of their eyes, I’m still the one who should be accountable.

And it’s not just in this way, concurrently we had another issue arise in which I published the summer schedule, I knew we had a lot of people heading off on sabbatical this summer, so I didn’t question the scheduling gaps because I assumed that the schedule I received from upper management reflected whatever contracts were negotiated with our vendors for this period.  So when I published our events calendar, I received an email from one of our vendors asking if this meant that we wouldn’t be carrying their product anymore because upper management had never discussed the dissolution of their contract.  And it was very uncomfortable, because the vendor had been with us for a very long time, and was in a cooperative with several of our other vendors. I go to church with the rep for this particular vendor and because of the way this thing was handled, we had not only violated a business contract, but a social contract as well (and we’re in a small town where everyone including myself LOVES this rep, who brings quite a bit of social equity to our services which is one of the reasons why the contract with the vendor has lasted so long).  And even though I know that the vendors are going to hold me accountable for the decision making of the person who neglected their duty, there wasn’t much I could do within the parameters of this ethical grey area.  As frustrating as this whole situation was, I couldn’t acknowledge that the person had wronged her because of the professional ethics associated with this situation (even if it is true). In fact, the only thing that I could do within the boundary constraints I was given, was encourage the vendor to try and get in touch with the senior manager, who I knew would not be accessible and would actively avoid the conversation by saying they were too busy to make a 5 minute phone call, that could have saved us from escalating this very preventable issue. So now the other vendors are also pissed (but the senior level managers aren’t around to take the heat), so here I am, paying the consequences on their behalf.

So this is why things have been a little stormy for me.


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A wise woman by the name of Alice Walker once said, “no person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”


But I also know that I have a responsibility to be accountable for the energy I bring to the space, so I’ve been trying to figure out which actions I can take so that I can reassert the boundaries that I need to in order to keep the peace until I can find my next job.  I’ve got about 12 applications completed. And I’ve only applied to organizations that have been very intentional about making it clear that they only want people who value others and who share the same level of commitment that I do to ethics and creating a positive work environment.  So you can imagine I’ve been in my head a lot about what lessons from these experiences I’m going to want to take with me and what kind of energy I want to bring into my interviews.  But also, I’ve had this intense desire to really get my personal life back on track so that I can remember what it’s like to experience that, so that I can easily recognize the organizations that are genuinely good not just in mission but in practice as well.  The organization in which I work now has articulated these great values and commitments toward valuing all people, dignity in labor and so on, but there are no real mechanisms in place for reporting when senior level managers aren’t living up to that.

So our organization has lost a lot of really wonderful people who have just opted to leave and the problem still goes unreported and uncorrected.

But not being able to do ANYTHING I think has created more angst and anxiety than doing the wrong thing I think mostly because I feel as if I do NOTHING that I increase the risk of undermining my own credibility once others perceive that I am contributing to the problem by neglecting what the believe to be my responsibilities. Especially since my workspace is the most visible. So I’ve had to rock the boat a little bit and be more assertive which isn’t making things at work easier, but is allowing me to at the very least keep those boundaries.

The problem is, all of this hyper-vigilance and fear based tension is marginally effective and frankly exhausting. I’m hoping that the performance review will give me the opportunity to be direct (albeit minimally confrontational) so that I don’t have to continue doing things that I know are making my work environment increasingly hostile (e.g. pulling my supervisor aside to ask whether he has assignments for the people congregating around my desk and explaining how their presence is hindering my ability to do my work, and yes I would prefer that he provide the directive since he has already established the precedent that the workers no longer have to uphold our organizational policy if it comes from me).  Or having to ask him to resolve the issue with the vendor because he did not seem to understand the  ramifications of his judgment and the effect it had upon the other vendors because he wasn’t the one who had to be here to deal with the consequences. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how composed and professional you are, implying that someone else isn’t pulling their weight is never a fun topic, which is why I generally try to avoid it.  And of course I didn’t state it that way.  I’m much more direct and in these situations I will start with asking for what I need, and then if it’s questioned

do you happen to have task list on hand for these guys?”

…and after it’s kind of shrugged off then I get into the meat of it…

when we spoke, you asked me to do ___ and I have made it a point not to step outside of those boundaries, but the outcome of said policy has resulted in ___ behavior, so if you would like me to continue to operate within those constraints, I am going to need for you to uphold your end of what we discussed.”

…yeah, it’s kind of bitchy, if you’re not used to being in the kind of environment where you have to share accountability… but necessary if you’re in the kind of environment where expectations have yet to be clarified and norms need to be established…

At most I’m met with an eye roll and the problem is then corrected, then I try at the very least to keep things courteous to reinforce the behavior for the rest of the day.  But this is only in extreme cases.  Most of the time I’m much more cooperative than that, mostly because I empowered my workers to take ownership of the policies and to remain accountable to one another using peer influence.  I never thought I’d be witnessing the downside of peer influence. Thankfully, the regression in overall behavior hasn’t occurred significantly in anyone that I’ve directly managed. Unfortunately, many of those workers have made arrangements to transfer out or to go on sabbatical during this transitional period. I don’t blame them. Heck, if I could get away with it, I would too.

So this brings us back to my dilemma, is it more important that I ask the organization to create a better mechanism for reporting or is it more important to focus upon re-evaluating how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.  I don’t know if you had the opportunity to check out the cat video (I can’t believe I’m saying this), but the cat whisperer has some really interesting points that I hadn’t considered.


This is where my motivations fall.


And although I initially viewed my documentation as an opportunity to correct and reinforce positive behaviors, the moment that I stopped doing that, I began acting solely in my own self interest (or CYA mode).

This is where I'd like to be.

This is where I’d like to be.

This is where I’d like to focus my attention. And I can’t do that if my attention is focused upon the behavior of my colleagues, which is hard, because as of late it has been rather disruptive. I’m going to have to find a way to be proactive about bringing constructive and affirmative energy into the space so that I can be a more effective and accountable leader, both personally and professionally.

So I’m not entirely sure what that entails as of late, but I certainly have some really fascinating work ahead of me, esp. if there’s a chance I can find a way to make something positive of this situation or to resolve it effectively.