Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Navigating the Holidays

I tend to dwell on things.  I'm a dweller.  I dwell, and I endlessly plan for all potential outcomes.  It's exhausting.  Part of my getting a grip is about learning when to let the outcomes just happen.  Because that's OK, when stuff just happens.

Thanksgiving can't just happen, though. I just can't let it HAPPEN.  Even if it's not at our house (it was this year, we'll get to that in a minute) I spend way too much energy on it.  What if whatever I'm bringing is weird for some reason (because, you know, pumpkin pie can be weird...?)?  What if ... I can't even describe some of the What Ifs I've dealt with in the past.  It's too soon in my blog to let you in on my weirdness to that level.

So this year, Thanksgiving was at our house.  RED ALERT.  RED ALERT.  ALL HANDS ON DECK.  Historically, this would be reason enough for me to lose my mind.  Both sets of grandparents, plus the aunt who has hosted the past 4 years and her family AND her daughter's friend?  Oh good heavens.

I did what any person who was aware of the potential for meltdown would do:  I went into Spreadsheet Mode.  We all need our Survival Kits, right?  Mine is the spreadsheet.  I like Google Docs, because I can access them from my phone, which proved to be invaluable this year when I needed to double-check a recipe during my final pre-feast grocery trip.  A couple of months ago (because as you know by now, I'm like that...) I started setting up my spreadsheet.  The columns were for each dish I hoped to have for the meal.  You know, like "turkey".  "Stuffing".  Easy stuff like that.

The first row underneath the column header?  Who was making that dish.  Some things were easy enough to determine.  The turkey can't be transported, so it should be cooked here.  My name goes in that column.  I left things blank, or with question marks, until anything that was to be delegated (like pies...) was confirmed.

The next row was a link to the recipe.  I'm a big believer in The Interwebs, so anything I didn't know how to do off the top of my head was Googled (ahhhhh Google you make me so happy...) and linked.

Next row was titled "Prep".  When does stuff start to happen?  Some things can be built in advance (like a fantastic cheesy butternut squash casserole), and that saves a scramble on The Big Day.  Cranberry sauce (easier than you'd think to make from scratch...)?  Sunday.  Chopping vegetables for the stuffing?  Monday.  Pasta salad?  Tuesday.  You get the idea.  Doing the prep in advance (the French call it "mise en place" which I just love) meant that on Thursday, the turkey had my full attention.

Also on my spreadsheet was my shopping list.  I went through the recipes a couple weeks ahead of time, and anything that wasn't already in my kitchen went on the list.

Entertaining makes me angsty even when it's just a few friends coming over.  Thanksgiving had the potential to make me a lunatic.  Simply planning in advance made it easier.  Knowing I was organized and had a plan of attack helped me keep it together.  Instead of spending Thanksgiving day running around like a crazy person, trying to do everything all at once, I was able to talk with my family, watch some football, and enjoy the day.  Sure, there was a bit of a hubbub when it was all ready to go on the table, but since I wasn't worn out from the morning, it was all right.

What's your best method of keeping a big event organized?  Spreadsheets don't work for everyone, I know.  For some, it's a calendar that is never too far out of reach.  Others live and die by the post-it note.  Any system that works is a good system.  The important thing is to know what your system is, and to use it.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a happy one!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Write Your Own Report Card

I've come to find real value in the annual job evaluation process.  It's a pain, sure, and having to revisit the successes and failures of the past year and plan for the next is never easy.  But when you are able to put it all into words, there are revelations that you don't always expect.  When given an honest effort, an annual assessment can become a real foundation for your daily operations.

Currently, my department does not perform annual evaluations.  Our resources at present do not allow for the time and effort required to go through a valid assessment process, and that's unfortunate.  I was astonished when I discovered this.  My immediate reaction was "How do we know if we're doing well?  How do we advance?" and it was kind of paralyzing.  It had been some time since I'd had a job that didn't come with the expectation of professional growth.  I'm still getting used to it. I see this situation as having two very specific components: 
  1. My superiors are unconcerned about how I and my co-workers perceive our jobs.  That sounds kind of touchy-feely and needy, but really, how we see ourselves in a role that is such a significant part of our lives is important.  Employee job satisfaction is simply not something this department is willing or able to discuss.
  2. My superiors are unconcerned about how I and my co-workers perceive THEIR jobs.  A good evaluation is a conversation, not just "here's what I liked; here's what I didn't".  When one staff member succeeds, it's because sufficient support exists from above, around, and below.  They're not even going to ask me this year if I have what I need to do well, and if not, how can they improve for next year.
It's disheartening.

Part of getting a grip, for me at least, is taking the words and deeds of others less personally.  Here's my chance.  This is not personal; it's business.  That's something that I have heard more than once as decisions were made and transitions were set into motion.  All righty, then. 

I'm still going to do a personal assessment.  I will honestly evaluate how I did this year.  I will make specific goals for next year, based upon my job description and expectations as I understand them to be.  I will break down the good and the bad, objectively.  I will, without commentary or accusation, assess my strengths and challenges in my current environment. 

I will be the only one who reads it.  And that's fine. There is value in how I perceive my job.

There is value in how you perceive yourself in your job, whether your job is in a corner office or in the home.  You know if you're doing well or not.  If you're not, having a plan for improvement or change can be groundbreaking.  Set goals, broad ones if you're not sure of what's coming next or specific ones if you're on a well-defined path.  Without goals, we don't grow.  When we set goals, we are envisioning an improved self.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Everyone Has A Grip But You

Doesn't it just feel that way sometimes?  Your colleagues, your family, your friends, they just seem to be the center of it all.  Sometimes it even feels like it's at your expense; your priorities take a back seat because of circumstances beyond your control.  And it happens.  We have obligations outside of our own little universes that take over.  We don't live in a vacuum, and as nice as it would be to be able to say, "You need to drop everything and work your situation out on your own, because I'm quite occupied with getting my grip," the world just doesn't work that way.  As much as you need help from other people, they need help from you.  Our friends go through transitions that drastically affect them, and in turn there is an impact on us as well. 

That said, there comes a time when it's necessary to step away from Other People's Drama (oh, that's not nice, is it....) Priorities and re-center around your own.  Sometimes, you may choose to rearrange yours to make room for theirs for a time, and that's valid.  There are certainly situations where Of Course I Will Drop Everything! is the only right answer.  Take the occasional inventory of how many Drop Everything situations you're dealing with.  Everything simply cannot be the top priority.

It's hard to say no when someone asks for help.  Maybe because we know it's so hard to ask for help.  I'm not talking about committees at work, or that person who regularly drags your attention and energy to what is important only to them (oh, right now you're picturing that person, aren't you?  yes you are.  it's OK.).  These people?  File them under "To Be Let Go".  The ones who genuinely need you, when you make room in your priorities for them, that's getting a grip on what really matters.

Monday, November 14, 2011

ICE (In Case of Emergency): What's your plan?

In the last month, we've had 2 trips to the ER (minor stuff, but still emergent/after hours, etc).  The first trip was because Boo's croup had taken a turn and we were suddenly dealing with a bad fever that was only going up.  She's so rarely sick; we simply weren't prepared to deploy.  Once we made the decision to take her to the ER, we spent a good 20 minutes gathering, running up and down the stairs, checking and double-checking things, going back into the house for one more thing... you get the idea.  It was much more stressful than it needed to be.

Yesterday, I dropped a glass and ended up with a "lacerated" (the very word makes me cringe) finger that needed more attention than we could give it at home, so off we went again.  Here's why we weren't scrambling this time:

  • My drivers license, debit card, and insurance card were in my wallet, not just tossed back into my purse after their last use.  Do you know where yours are?  Get up, right now, and put them where they go.  This departure was a bit easier simply because I'd spent some time getting a grip on the contents of my purse.
  • Triage at home:  we don't have a traditional first aid kit, but the top drawer in our bathroom is organized.  Bandages are in a Ziploc bag, antibiotic ointment is right there, etc. 
  • On the way to the hospital, my husband and I devised a strategy (it sounds so Mission: Impossible...).  "I'll drop you off at the door.  You go check in, I'll park the car and bring Boo."  By the time they got inside, I was in triage (this is largely due to the ER staff being organized too.  Rock on!).
  • No time to line up a sitter?  Have a go-bag ready with stuff to keep the kid occupied.  I have a folder on my phone labeled "Boo", and it's full of apps that are just for her.  We were glad to have it, because Pop Pop Popcorn bought us 10 minutes of distraction so we could take care of the business at hand.  I keep a handful of crayons and a notebook in my purse (hi, I'm Mary Poppins, nice to meet you, even when my purse is manageable) because coloring is always OK with Boo.
  • We knew the answers to their questions.  Pop quiz:  What's your deductible?  What's the dosage of any medication you regularly take?  Do you have a living will/advance directive?  If you don't know offhand, write it down somewhere or put it in your phone.   
  • We stayed calm.  Going to the ER is one of those super-loaded events where you're in a heightened sense of awareness and everything can seem so much more intense than it really is.  Once you get there, though, you're where you need to be.  You're going to get the help you need, so it's OK to exhale, roll your shoulders back, and let the help happen.  
Your ICE plan doesn't have to be something written down, unless that's what works for you.  Take a minute and identify the closest ER or Urgent Care Clinic (make a note of their business hours...) to your home.  Think about what's involved in getting out of the house quickly if you needed to, and start streamlining that process.  You may never need to deploy (one of my new favorite words!), but if you do, having a grip on it will be a good feeling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Let Go or Be Dragged

Sometimes, it's obvious that the universe is trying to tell you something.

Yesterday, I was looking for a birthday gift for a friend, when I came across this magnet.

Well that's kind of perfect, isn't it? I saw this *after* I wrote yesterday's post about letting go.  It looks like the universe approves of this line of thinking.

Letting go is hard.  It means releasing control.  It means clicking "delete" instead of "reply" (or, even "reply all", which is the ABSOLUTE ZERO of not letting go). When you let go, you aren't giving up or giving in.  You're just... stopping.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The First Post...

...in which we begin to spell out our parameters.

Getting a grip is hard.  You probably have a grip on quite a few things already.  One more grip might just be too much.  My hope is to help you determine what's Grip Worthy and what can be Let Go.  The stuff that's truly worthy if being gripped?  Always manageable.  I can help with that too.

Everybody's grip potential is different.  Some people thrive when they have a lot in their grasp. Seriously.  I know we fantasize about how That One Neighbor/Other Mom/Colleague/Whomever with the perfect life cannot possibly maintain that forever and we secretly (or not...) hope we're there when she blows because it's JUST NOT NORMAL.  For her, it may be just fine. Or not.  She may be here too.  Don't worry about her. 

For the rest of us, so much of it is just a burden of static.  It's just noise.  It's a show we put on for the people around us.  It's the way you feel when your shoulders are up and your head is down and you're bracing against the barrage of whatever just keeps coming.

Some of it can just go around you.  Not all of it, of course.  There are things that are genuinely important that deserve the attention you give them.  Those are the nouns, the Proper Nouns, on which you will get your grip.  The rest of it?  Let it go.