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My Vacation To The Lake And Learning To Care Intentionally

Lake TimeThere I floated on my bright yellow raft, not too far away from the dock. It was the first morning of our summer lake vacation and was starting to warm up into one of those typical late July hot southern days. But instead of feeling the peace of being on the water and the relaxation of being on vacation, I unintentionally brought something else along with me. A big, nasty ball of feelings that I had slowly and gradually crunched up in the pit of my stomach: bewilderment, anger, sadness, and more.

Yep, I made the critical error of bringing my job – and the frustrations of the last few weeks – along with me. I wager that every single person who works inside a nonprofit wrestles with an existential crisis at times. I was wrestling with the question of whether anything I was doing in my work really mattered. So there I floated, eventually coming to a point where the constant refrain in my head was, “…I could so care less.” I had gotten to a point where I was starting to find easy solace in apathy. 

Eventually, the slow ebb and flow of the water did its job and I felt my muscles and mind start to relax. The sounds of the birds and the cold beer in my hand led me toward some much needed inner solitude. I questioned how I had arrived at this place where “Screw it all!” was an acceptable landing spot.

I needed to confront head-on the confusion of experiencing this apathy in work that I deeply enjoyed and was exceptionally good at for an organization in which I believed in its mission. What the hell was going on that would make me accept the possibility of caring less?

Then, I recalled something a trusted mentor told me not long ago. I didn’t actually want to care less. My problem was that I was caught in a pernicious trap of caring too much. How is caring too much a bad thing? For me, caring about the outcome of every single experience, every single event, every single opinion in my workplace was exhausting. Further, it only led to disappointment and cynicism when those outcomes failed to match up with my expectations. It was a sure-fire road to burnout and I was on the express bus. 

Fortunately, I was able to pause. I quieted the thoughts about how I should care less or care more. Instead, I started to reflect on how to be more intentional as to what I truly do care about.

Not everything is worth the battle or engaging in the fire drill. We don’t need to actively participate in everyone’s drama. So many things exist far outside our control. However, what we can control is our thoughts and reactions to the daily dramas. When we get clear about our values and goals, we can make better choices about how we want to matter.

Later that evening, I sat on the deck overlooking the lake and spent time with the person I am at my core. I took some time to recall my values and why I returned to the nonprofit world. I sketched out the big picture goals for my work. Anything I could use to reorient me toward giving my best effort to my organization as well as my career. Shortly afterward, I let go a great sigh of relief and settled into enjoying the next few days of special quality time with my family.

By the end of the vacation, I left the lake with what I call my Roadmap for Intentional Caring.

For those of us working in nonprofits (or really any occupation where we know our work matters), the temptation to care too much is always there. And the relative “safety” of trying to not care at all is always there, as well. It’s locating the sweet spot in the middle and being able to get back there to intentional caring when we swing toward either end of the spectrum.

We passionate nonprofiteers tend to be a curious lot who strive to improve ourselves. However, it’s also not always about learning about how to write a better grant or develop a better campaign or host a better event. Sometimes it’s about learning how to look after ourselves so we can continue giving our best and being of use in this world that still clearly needs us to care.

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WorkPlay Review: Pzizz

Either I’m getting older or it’s just part of my natural makeup…I truly enjoy an afternoon nap. And there are days when it’s more than a want, it’s a need. I need the benefits of shutting down for a few minutes. I think better, I’m able to focus more, and my general disposition improves significantly.

I’ve been playing with a program called Pzizz for a few months to see if it helps improve my napping. Happily, I can say that it’s well worth the download and even the cost of the bundles. Here’s what I like:

  • I’m always in danger of overnapping which can be just as bad as not napping at all. For most of us, if we start to sleep too long, we actually start the whole sleep cycle. And when we wake up, we get sleep inertia. We feel groggy. not mentally sharp, and probably a little irritable. The Pzizz napping module defaults to 20 minutes and you can customize this if you want, though most sleep experts suggest you shouldn’t go for more than 30 minutes.
  • When I nap, I like to have ambiance music. Pzizz produces soothing sleeping sounds like ocean waves. It also includes guided-relaxation through NLP. With Pzizz, you can customize how much of the voice you want to hear.
  • You can download any number of Pzizz naps to an iPod or other mp3 player. This feature has been a gift for flights because I have trouble sleeping on planes.
  • Free upgrades for life. It’ll be interesting to see if this sticks but this is quite a deal. For instance, the most recent version update (2.3) reduced the amount of time it takes to create nap from what seemed forever (maybe 3-4 minutes) down to around 30 seconds.

This is primarily a review of the napping module. They do have a sleep module that’s worth checking out. I don’t use it because Caroline isn’t a big fan of music or sounds as she sleeps. Maybe I’ll convince her to try it out with me soon.

Give it a try and see what you think. If it works for you (or even if it doesn’t), start a dialogue here. I’d love to know about your experience.

Link: Pzizz

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What’s Next: July’s Theme Is Reflection

I’m back from my own experiment with retreat and reflection, spending some time with my gals and extended family at a beach house without television and computer. Lately, the television hasn’t been that prevalent in my daily life; though, I must admit that if it is on it’s usually tuned to a baseball game. On the other hand, the computer tends to be an interesting presence in my life. It serves as a portal to the wider world and creative catalyst through my blogging ventures. It also seduces me toward more frivolous websurfing activities (rather like channel surfing and getting caught up in a stupid movie that I regret watching later). It’s that lack of intention that leaves me with an empty feeling. One remedy is to introduce or re-introduce retreat and reflection into life.

I’m going to try something new here…I’m going to incorporate a monthly theme into the WorkPlay blog. While other folks have done it with great success, this will be my first foray into this type of writing. So, July will focus on ideas of reflection: uses in our lives, but perhaps more importantly, uses in our work. Let’s see where it goes and what we can learn. See you soon.

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Be Patient With Yourself

I’ve been a rather delinquent blogger lately and that’s been weighing heavily on me. Actually, kind of stressing me out. But I don’t think this is just a case of blog guilt…it seems to go deeper than that. It’s a feeling that I’ve been letting myself down, that I’ve been letting some of my own dreams and aspirations flitter away. There’s also a feeling that I’ve been ignoring some wonderful friends and not keeping up my end of our relationships. For the past few months, I haven’t been able to consciously figure out this block, but I sure have felt it in the pit of my stomach. Every time, that dark feeling has voiced this question: If the ideas behind Bailey WorkPlay (including this blog) and my relationships are so damn important, why am I unable to care for them anymore?

I haven’t been sleeping well lately and last night was no exception. I tossed and turned, not really able to fully relax. But somewhere in that strange state of twilight sleep I heard another voice which simply said: Be patient with yourself. Undoubtedly, my subconscious was able to break through the logjam and offer the help that my conscious mind could not. That was a few hours ago and I’ve been awake and contemplating the message ever since. All of which leads me to some insights that I hope find some resonance for you, too.

The harder we try to do something or the tighter we try to hold on to an idea, the more amorphous it can become. For me, I’ve been clinging to the notion that I should be able to do everything at the same level of intensity while forgetting that so much has actually changed in my life. New work, new home, a whole new zip code that’s 1500 miles from where I used to be. Change is good, but it can lead to unrealistic expectations of ourselves…an impatience when we don’t adapt immediately.

If you find yourself in full self-flagellation mode, give yourself permission to be patient. Be mindful of the ideas to which you’re rigidly clinging and get curious about what might happen if you released your grip even just a little. And consider a short mantra to help you through. Here’s mine for today:

Here I am. Being patient with me. Listening to my true inner voice. Knowing that I can restart again. Small acts are okay. Being patient with my humanness.

Be well and be patient.

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Take A Break Or Break Down

I’m feeling kinda rowdy today.

Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity has a great post with a slew of links on the subject of balancing one’s work and life. At issue is the fact that most American corporations, consulting and law firms, and even non-profit organizations practice a modern type of indentured servitude. And most of us American employees just settle for it thinking this is the only way to make a better living. Okay, maybe that’s stretching Arnie’s post and point a bit, but let’s consider a few things.

Are you taking a vacation this summer or at another point this year? If you’re roughly one out of three American employees, you’re making a decision to forfeit your vacation time. That’s according to a survey conducted by Expedia.com. I used to work with a woman who was allowed to rack up 225 hours of vacation time (for those of you scoring at home, that’s nearly a month). When she transferred into the department I managed, I was strongly encouraged by my own director to get her to take leave. Thinking it would be easy to get her to take two or three weeks in the slow summer months, it was more like pulling teeth. She was a support specialist and felt she was needed too much to be away even for a couple of days. She was concerned that something would fall apart and she wouldn’t be there to handle it. She felt responsible for the working group. Sound familiar? She was also so burnt out of her job that she was constantly on edge, always a whisker away from a good cry.

What she failed to realize is that her “dedication” was slowly killing her or at least robbing her of joy in life. And you could also make some arguments that there was more going on here than just wanting to be a great support staff. Make no mistake…workaholism is just as addictive, damaging, and soul-consuming as some of the other “-olisms” like alcoholism.

Here’s a challenge to you if you’re a manager or an exec…tell your people to get lost at some point this summer. If the summer is a particularly busy time of year for your organization, then make it known that each person is going to need to take some time off when it slows down. If they don’t know how to take a vacation, confiscate the Blackberry and block their access to email and voicemail. Call it “tough love” because it’s an act of love to help another person reconnect with their full life.

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Homework For The Weekend

Well, for me at least. I’ve been stopped cold in my tracks today by two deeply probing questions offered by Dick Richards at Come Gather Round:

I need to reflect on the first question because I’m wandering now and not in the good kind of way. After a recent foray in the world of self-employment (and later unemployment), I am most thankful to have stable work that pays…but true to my self and my beliefs that is simply not enough. I’m seeking to rediscover my own soulful work because I am not sure that I’m doing it right now.

Which leads to the issues surrounding the second question. I might even reframe it: Do I really like who I am when I do my current work? I have a feeling that the answer may be hard to confront. But I know that my heart is telling me that its time to reconnect with it; it’s been patiently calling me for some time.

Which reminds me…I need to make sure that I read Dick’s book, Is Your Genius at Work?, very soon.

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The Perils Of Psychic Claustrophobia

I tend to have some interesting phobias, but they’re probably not uncommon to those experienced by other folks. For most of my life, I’ve been afraid of spiders. Here’s where it gets interesting…not all spiders. For instance, I really like tarantulas. I guess its because they’re kind of like giant fuzzy caterpillars (you know, the brown and black kind that you commonly find crawling up trees and along porch rails) only with eight big legs. And I love Spider-Man. On the other hand, I can’t stand the ones with long spindly legs like black widows and argiopes. I find them fascinating, but the thought of having one touch me sends a cold shiver running through my body.

Another phobia that I seem to have is linked to small, tight spaces. I remember my one time doing some cave exploration in high school, I found myself in a confined area trying to squeeze through and all I could think was “what if I get through, but can’t get back out?” Well, that was my last spelunking adventure.

[An aside…as I get older, I realize that many of my fears are irrational and the quickest (but definitely not easiest) way to overcome them is to confront them head on. Perhaps there’s more there for me to consider. Okay, back to the original point]

This weekend is a holiday for the U.S. Federal Goverment which means my organization offers a three day weekend. And my wife decided to take the girls to visit her parents in Southern Virginia. This left me alone in my home for the first time in quite a while, and it has been a wonderful time. It’s not so much the quiet as it is the isolation that has been rewarding. The past two days have allowed me the chance to review all that has been going on in my life the past few months, to realize that the critical problems I’ve been facing at work are not insurmountable, to reorient myself back toward my north star – the very philosophy that defines how I choose to bring myself to my work and my life.

I realize now that I had been suffering a type of psychic claustrophobia where problems at work and home had closed in on me leaving me constricted and struggling for breath. I desperately sought an exit. Little did I know how simple the solution could be. For me, it was some temporary freedom from many of my other roles: father, husband, manager.

This is what works for me. If you’re finding that nothing seems to be fitting into place like it once did, perhaps its time for a retreat of your own. We each have a different breaking point and a different idea for retreat. And it won’t permanently solve the problem. In retreat, there’s work that must still be done. It might not be isolation that’s needed, but time with a good friend. Whatever it is, be good to yourself and find what your mind, body, and soul need.

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Are You Getting Enough Oxygen For Yourself?

A great article at the Parentalk Working Parents Naturally Savvy site. The ‘Oxygen Mask’ Principle relates that familiar airplane safety reminder of putting on your own oxygen mask before trying to fasten your child’s mask to taking care of yourself as a parent. So often, we take care of everyone BUT ourselves and in the end, we not only cheat ourselves, but those around us. Sometimes, it’s essential that we’re selfish. Then, we can be fully present when our children, spouses, and other loved ones need us.

What are you going to do this week to get your oxygen?

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