Is it you or is it me?

Do you ever walk away from a conversation feeling worse about yourself than you did before the conversation?

I do. Sometimes. When this happens I ask myself, “Was that them or was that me?” Was I being thinned skinned, as my mother told me I was or were they being superior, mean, passive aggressive?

Yesterday I reached out to a co-worker by asking her some “How are you questions?” I listened to her answers, nodding, laughing. I felt interested. I was getting her. Then she asked me a specific question about myself concerning an issue that was public enough  for her to know some details. As I responded, she interrupted with a moralistic sounding interjection. What I heard her saying was…if only I had thought like her I wouldn’t be in this jam.

“Wow I was stupid. I should have known this. She did. That’s because she is a better therapist than me.” My mind was racing.

I began to give her more details, hoping my explanations would explain my decisions.  I was grasping for her understanding. I was feeling increasingly pathetic. The more I told on myself the more I seemed to reinforce her “take” on my situation. I finally stopped talking. Defeated. I walked away not liking myself as much as I did before we engaged. I walked up the stairs to my office with heavy feet.

Since this was not my first I-am-inadequate rodeo, I knew what I needed to do. Over the years I have developed coping strategies for this kind-of-thing.

  1. I decide I never liked her anyway. I call on my best-junior-high-mean-girl to internally trash talk her. My adolescent self believes this will make me feel better.  It never does.
  2.  I decide I better get busy being a better, stronger, more successful version of myself. I’ll take a class. Read a book. Dress more sophisticatedly. Share less of my vulnerability. I usually just feel tired at the end of this option and take a nap.
  3. I eat some chocolate. I haven’t found a down side to this.
  4. I call a trusted friend to vent hoping they will agree that she is just not that nice. I love it when my smart, loyal, accomplished friend says, “Yeah I always thought that of her too. You poor thing. I think you are wonderful.” For a moment I feel victorious.
  5. I ask myself what got touched in me that I am reacting so strongly. This one is the hardest and the least fun…”Really? Do I have to look at myself again? Do I have to get honest about me? Damn!” Sometimes it helps do combine this one with #3.

So after quickly moving through #1, #2, skipping #3 & #4 — since I had no chocolate or time to call a friend — with a sigh I moved into #5.

I remembered the book The 4 Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. The 2nd agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. The premise is that what others say is more about them then me. That we all come from our own projections that are a result of our view of the world. The stories we make up.

This was comforting. I realized that my co-worker had her own reasons for commenting the way she did that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her experience. I no longer had to be angry at her or quickly read a self help book.

Not taking anything personally is liberating.

But, it may not be the finish line.

If the relationship is significant enough to me I realize I need to say something about how I felt as a result of what was said. Even though I am not taking it personally I may still feel bruised. So coping strategy #6 is talking to the person about how I felt when they said what they said. (I lied, this one is harder than #5.) It takes courage and trust in the relationship to be strong enough for vulnerable honesty.

Deciding when to speak up and when to let-it-go is a constant process of discernment.

Chocolate makes this easier…

 

 
waxseal2

 

 

 

A day in the mountains…

I spent yesterday in a time warp. Jena was a bridesmaid in a best-childhood-girlfriends’ wedding, along with several other lifelong friends, and Tom and I were invited to join the celebration.

Going back to the mountains is a mixed bag for me. I feel totally at home and out of place at the same time. This is how I spent the 24 years I lived there. A neighbor and a stranger.

The small church was packed. I recognized one pew full of people on the other side of the church from where Tom and I sat in folding chairs. It was filled with the neighbors and friends I had raised my kids with, and my X husband and his new wife Patty, from Boswell, PA. Really!

The ceremony these two young kids created was touching. It brought me to tears. Their words, humor and poignancy made me realize how grown up our daughters had become. (Jena if you are reading this don’t get any ideas.)The bride (and groom) had clearly designed a wedding that was uniquely their own. Everyone recognized their personalities and quirks. The groom deliberately ended his wedding vows with a preposition (they are both English buffs), to alleviate his brides insecurity that her vows wouldn’t be as good as his. “Where are your vows at?”

Instead of communion, or lighting a common candle, or pouring colored sand into a bottle, the groom poured milk into a goblet, the bride chocolate. Together they stirred it into chocolate milk. The best man provided two straws and together they drank from the same cup. There was not a dry eye, or a face without a smile, in the church.

The bride and her dad danced to a song they sang together on road trips. Not just any song, but the operatic Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli – Time to Say Goodbye. As they spun around the dance floor they sang it to one another, hitting high notes with dramatic flourish.

In his toast, her dad told funny stories. One in particular was about a phone call he got while working the late shift. She told him she had hit a bird with her car. She had killed it. But, it was still stuck in her grill. Could he please get it out when he got home? “Of course,” he said. Turned out the bird was a goose. Stuck in the grill, and the hood, in such a way that as she drove the 4 foot wing span opened and closed.

Again, not a dry eye or an unsmiling face in the room. Conjoined polarities.

At the end of the evening Tom asked me to drive home. I took the wheel without hesitation. I knew these roads. I had driven them most of my adult life. I recently told someone that I am still learning to be a city driver because I am really a country driver. City driving, with all the cars on the road, the on/off ramps that send me careening into 70 mph traffic, the street lingo rolling off natives tongues — the parkway, the crosstown blvd, the boulevard — the surprise road closures that knock me off my course, keeps my breathing shallow and my wits on end. Being in the mountains, driving in the dark was a piece of wedding cake.

Except it wasn’t. And when had it gotten THIS DARK? I couldn’t see anything outside of my headlights. At some point I noticed the road we were on was getting terribly narrow and winding. I didn’t remember this stretch of road from Ohiopyle to Chalk Hill. Where were we and how had I gotten off course?

I could hear Twilight Zone music playing, Rod Sterlings voice saying, “You have just entered another dimension.”

Tom pretended to calmly suggest I wait to find a driveway to turn around in. He was concerned that the sides of the road would be swampy. In a very small voice I told him I didn’t suspect there was going to be any driveways along this road.

And there wasn’t.

I eventually found a wider part of the road and did a K-K-K turn, knowing that to go further could lead us into the part of the mountains where no man has gone before and returned to tell the story. Dunbar.

I wound my way back up the road, totally disoriented in a completely familiar place. And let me say again, it was so damn DARK. We came to an intersection that I sat at for more than a minute, getting my bearings. (You can do that on country roads at 8:30 at night cuz you are the only one on the road.)

My wits returned, I turned right and successfully drove us home. To Pittsburgh. That is my home now. But driving past the entrance to Deer Lake, my home of 24 years, I could have just as easily turned left to go home.

Returning to a past life. That is what I did yesterday. I fell back into conversations as though I hadn’t been gone for 5 years. As though I had seen neighbors just the other day. But when they asked me, “What’s new?” how do I begin to tell them: my whole life.

Perhaps you can never go home again. Or at least not without some disorientation.

 

Good Surprises

So I am here to tell you, ya just never know.

 

We just have to be open to the next thing that appears.

 

So I am telling myself…as I work with determination and faith to develop a new venture I am alternately thrilled by and terrified of. (Can I end a sentence with of?)

 

I am offering my counsel as a financial wellness coach.

 

I am thrilled because I have been informally sharing with anyone who would listen–and some who would not–my personal financial transformation.

 

After my divorce I decided to I needed to change my relationship with money. I knew if I was going to make it on my own financially I had to take a look what was not working-just like I had done with my ailing marriage. Over time and with a discerning eye it was clear-money and I needed some couples counseling.

 

So, one night, with a bottle of wine, steamed shrimp, cocktail sauce and chocolate for dessert (my comfort menu at the time), I sat myself and money down on the couch. We spent the evening reacquainting ourselves with one another. We painfully sorted through everything, especially what was coming in and what was going out.

 

What made this evening so memorable is that money and I became very clear we both needed more from each other. I needed money to help me have more adventures in my life and money needed me to be pay more attention to it.

 

So we began, awkwardly at first, like dancing with a new partner, to develop our rhythm.

 

This meant learning several new steps. I had to look at long held family dysfunctions concerning finances. I had to treat myself and money with respect…everyday. This meant making responsible money choices. At least once a month I needed to spend quality time with my budget and bills. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I needed to dream and plan my future.

 

The resulting two-step crescendoed into a very specific budget system I call The Best Money Management System in the World (pretentious perhaps, but true!). Eight years later I am living the financial life I dreamed about that night on the couch.

 

I recently shared my journey and my system with some close friends. Their unanimous advice was to teach this to others. “Really? Me teach money stuff?” I countered, “I can’t teach this.” This brings me to the terrified of part of my story.

 

You see I was never a math wiz. Actually, that isn’t quite true. I was good at math until I hit middle school where my 7th grade math teacher hated me. I, in turn, hated him. He was also the vice principal. So while commendations for History and Spanish were being sent home, Mr Small (yes that was really his name) sent home Math deficiencies. He called my mom in for conferences on my behavior and dress. He took exception to the culottes I wore, calling them shorts. Unfortunately for him, my mom had made those culottes and was quite proud of them. Mr Small was sorry he had shared his opinion with my mom. He never commented on my culottes again.

 

He also would keep me in his office all day bullying me into confessing to offenses I didn’t commit. I was a really good girl in middle school. I tried very hard to stay on adults’ good side. My rebellion thankfully showed her brilliant face though by refusing to give in to his harassment. I was determined and I succeeded sitting the full day in his office without showing him any hint of fatigue. He finally gave up, but the damage to my math self esteem was done. I had come to believe I was bad in math.

 

I went on to bomb out on my math SAT’s. I zoned out when I saw anything math related. My first job after college was as a bank teller outside of Richmond Virginia. My friends were astounded. They knew my talent was in talking with people, not banking. However, in Va. I needed a masters to work in the therapeutic field, so I took the job that would hire me.

 

Citizens Saving and Loan.

 

My money drawer never settled. Some days it was over, some days under. Amazingly Citizens never accused me of embezzling. I think it was because they knew I was not mathematically savvy enough to rip them off. At my exit interview my manager Rick commented that my people skills were exemplary. He went on to say that wasn’t so true of my teller skills.

 

He highlighted the day a familiar customer pulled up to the drive thru window explaining she had forgotten her check. She asked if I could give her the amount of the check and she would run the check back later in the day. I had no doubt she absolutely would bring the check in. I also knew first hand what a pain it is to forget your check when you need the cash for your next errand. I considered her request. I trusted her.  I still believe, to this day, she would have come back with the check. Rick didn’t agree. He said, “No.”

 

Today, I am out from under Mr Small’s spell and I understand why Rick said no.

 

Necessity derailed my self-fulfilling prophecy, as it is known to do. I needed to support myself and my kids, I wanted a life with more financial pleasantness and security.  I had to get serious with myself and with my relationship with money.

 

I am writing this on my way to Barcelona, Spain followed by 10 days in the South of France. Places I never dreamed I would be able to afford to visit. I have also been to vacation in Paris, Mexico, New Mexico, Wyoming, Cape Cod and the California wine country in the past 8 years.

 

My ability to travel is a dream come true. My ability to pay for it feels like a miracle, but it isn’t. It is a result of using a very specific budget system that thinks ahead so there is money there when you need some.

 

Who knew?