Friend by my side…or taking sides

Hello people! I miss blogging. Miss my blog. Miss the discussions with my readers. But that ‘zing’ I need to blog has hardly been there. Today for some reason, the ‘zing’ is back with a bang. So here I am with thoughts about friendship…having just passed another Friendship Day last week.

I make no secret of the fact that I get more strength from my women friends, than I do from family. But connecting with my girl friends is so so tough. Virtually, I’m on Whatsapp and FB…some groups from which I do get strength. But often there’s no time to type out detailed replies…and conversations peter out in various threads. Meeting personally is happening oftener as we’re all growing older and freer from the kids, and marking out ‘me’ time with our families. All the same these f2f meets are rare and far spaced. Phone conversations are tough; everyone’s got their own routines and constraints. For me, the silliest constraint is not having a good signal inside my home. I have to go out for a walk for my long convos with friends. And of course, getting the privacy to talk freely is also hard.

But I wanted to ask one question. Because I’m in a situation where I have been reaching out to friends…whom I sense will have no judgment and understand totally. I don’t want my friends’ opinions. I just want to be listened to, to know there’s someone who cares. It’s funny, as we grow older, how many judgments we lose. I’ve crossed some no-return points…and it’s startling how many opinionated judgments I’ve let go of. When you’re in those shoes you’ve always turned your nose up at, saying, “you’ll never catch me doing that”…you often find that there’s a legitimate reason why people do what they do. It’s not black and white. At all. The greys are of so many shades, everyone knits the greys into their own color palettes of justification of why they do what they do. The grey is also hard to deal with…everyone’s talking about Robin Williams depression…and many of us are wondering if that sinking feeling, if the unreasonable sadness in the face of pretty perfect situations is depression or a sign that something isn’t so perfect about that situation…the good thing is many of us are listening now more to our friends.

Because we don’t need judgment. We need understanding and someone standing by our sides. Not someone taking sides.

There’s nothing more aggravating than someone telling you to look on the bright side of things. Yes, there are plenty of bright sides. But when someone is in the doldrums, when someone is struggling with the right choice vs the comfortable choice…it’s the dark side that’s coloring their view. And you can’t take the dark side away. It’s there for each one of us.

As 40 comes closer…I want to know. Do you listen, really listen? Or advise. Or diagnose. Or dismiss. Or avoid. Or cut off. Do you check in again? What kind of friend are you? Are there some non-negotiables in which you WILL not support your friend…where you will say, “this goes against my principles, so I really don’t want to be involved in this conversation about your choices.”

Claiming my space

Sometimes there are these little things I do that raise my self-confidence in a BIG way. I’d blogged about this earlier…and it’s a continuing focus for me.

  • When I’m walking, I often do not make way for people, especially if it’s men coming head on at me. This is because I’ve noticed that men almost never make way for women. In an instinct to protect ourselves, and to accommodate and adjust like we’re programmed to do, women tend to step or swerve out of the way. I’ve almost stopped that and it feels very empowering. I just keep walking straight. Sometimes the men get out of my way, and I can’t tell you how normal that feels. Mostly they don’t. At that point, I just stop and look pleasant, sometimes say ‘Excuse me’, but mostly ignore them and refuse to meet eyes. This might seem confrontational or aggressive, but it really helps me feel like I’m occupying my space.
  • Another thing I’ve stopped doing while driving is swerving to avoid people coming at me against the one-way of my side of the road. This is incredibly common in Bangalore. To save petrol, escape signals and find convenient U-turns and turns, two-wheelers, autorickshaws, and even bigger vehicles blatantly go against the one way, and it’s infuriating. It’s also terribly dangerous. Why on earth should I swerve out of my straight path and risk getting hit by vehicles behind me? Last weekend, 12 two-wheelers and 3 autos came at me successively over a 10 km drive. I made the mistake of making eye contact with the first couple, when I stopped right in front of them and waved them to swerve instead of me, into the incoming traffic. I decided that was too confrontational, and for the next culprits, just stopped and looked calmly out my side window, while they decided to swerve around me and harass the entire traffic behind me to save their precious petrol. I feel great, because if I’m following the traffic rules, I don’t see why I should accommodate drivers who don’t, especially if I have to risk my car and my safety for it.
  • Even at our office tea stall, now I clearly say ‘Excuse me’ and stand my ground in the middle of the mostly male crowd, because I find most men to be very ill-mannered thrusting themselves in front, and women hanging back because they don’t want to inadvertently get touched, and besides, we women are taught in a hundred different ways to give way, adjust, make space for others, compromise.

All these little ‘un-learnings’ really really help me. What do you think?

Just watch yourself the next time in these similar situations, on the footpath, driving on the road, walking down a corridor or up the stairs, jostling in a crowded space…do you agree that women usually give way? It feels symbolic to me. When I stop giving way ‘physically’, I stop giving way in my other interactions too.

Yes, I agree with ‘Lean In’…loving Sheryl Sandberg’s writing and agreeing with every word.

 

Smooth heels

Yes, a rather startling observation when I went for a pedicure last week. The beautician remakred that my heels hardl had any rough skin. I realized with a start that up to a couple of years ago, they were cracked and I used to dig in, peeling it off. I don’t remember the last time I did that. How do hard, rough, cracked heels get smooth and soft all by themselves? I don’t take care, I don’t apply cream, I wear high heels, I do pedicures once in six months. So how does something like this get reversed.

It got me thinking. I havent been sick for a long time. It’s been more than a year since I got a cold. I haven’t had wheezing for several years. None of those rashes, allergies or throat infections. People say I look younger. I lost so much weight two years ago, that just melted off without my really doing anything about it. Can that really happen?

Only one thing hasn’t reversed…I wish it would. But it doesn’t matter anymore. People hardly notice my one (very big) flaw that I used to think makes me look like a freak. I thought I was repulsive. Suddenly, people tell me I’m attractive. It’s from inside. The healing. Happy people are attractive. People true to their natures are gorgeous.

I kind of see it in some of my women friends too. They’re getting older, but many hit this stage when they start letting go of crap, standing up for themslves, establishing boundaries. Suddenly they look younger, slim down, look sexier, and ooze self-confidence that you can spot a mile away. Wow, simply wow!

I think a good deal of sickness is really emotional. When one is happy, not making compromises against one’s nature and desires, when one has emotionally healed more and more…the body does heal itself.

I undergo so much stress at work, still I haven’t gotten sick. It’s really weird. So is it positive stress, or something? Stress that makes me grow in the right direction? These days, some of the weight has come back…it seems to be coinciding with me getting a little complacent and content, in the wrong way. Eating to drown the feelings.

What do you think? I do believe it. I looked up Louise Hay who believes that all disease is dis-ease and our bodies express our innermost turmoil in their symptoms. Corns are supposed to represent hardened areas of though–stubbornly holding onto the pain of the past. When you move forward and free yourself from the past, you feel safe and free. Skin problems are representative of a loss of individuality and our sense of self. Foot problems represent an inability to move forward. Very, very interesting.

When opportunity knocked…

…I said “No”. Luckily opportunity hung around waiting…for me to realize I’d better grab it. Looking back, I’m so glad I jumped at it.

In June, I got a decent hike, and also became eligible for promotion. So, as low as I think of myself, and as incapable and non-valuable as I consider myself to be, I was most startled when 5 minutes after the information about the hike reached me (minutes, mind you, I was expecting this to happen in months), I was told to apply for promotion. My first thought? “No way, not now, I’m so not ready.”

It came at a very difficult time personally. We had finally caved and put our son into an after-school remediation program to help him for his impulsivity and restlessness, which were having far-reaching ramifications. This involved me leaving office everyday at 2.30pm, bang in the middle of my workday to go pick up the son and drive him to the therapy center, work in the car while waiting for him, then drive him to the daycare when my daughter was, wait and work again from the car while they finished their dinner there, and then drive them back. And catch up with work in the nights. To make matters nightmarish, the transport we’d been using for my kids to reach the daycare suddenly fell through. So I had to also ferry my poor daughter around. And work through all this. I missed the fun and atmosphere in office. I missed meeting my clients terribly.

At this opportune time, opportunity knocked. Right. Timing.

I said “No”. Because I could barely manage this rigmarole, I was pretty sure I could not take on anything additional, which would surely come with a promotion. If I even got it. Why put myself through that humiliation, and failure?

But the hiring manager stopped by and asked me why. I was about to blurt out my problems, but stopped myself. Told him, that I might want 3 more months to apply. He seemed understanding. Then I said I would reconsider it. Realized belatedly that I’d myself hesitatingly asked for a promotion back in April. Had apologetically requested one. So, I spoke with some supportive friends, who told me that women generally tend to make sure everything is okay on the home front, and then take a risk or an opportunity at work. Men just jump first and then figure everything out.

So I applied. And got it. Got another hike. And then another one 2 months later. I was told by envious co-workers who have been in the company through tougher times, how lucky I was. Thanked a senior manager, who told me I wasn’t lucky, but deserving. Hmmmm.

Then everything got very tough. Budget cuts. Teams being slashed. Business went down a significant amount.

And I’m so glad I applied. Because, if I had waited 3 more months, it wouldn’t have happened.

Phew. Taught me a lesson, that I’m still absorbing. Just stop waiting for everything to be perfect.

The transport issue got resolved after 20 days of struggle in June. I continued ferrying the son every single day in the afternoons and was exhausted working out of the car in the heat and madness of the roads, with parking hassles and connectivity issues. The husband pitched in where possible. I couldn’t take client calls, and had to keep them all to mornings. I could not travel to meet clients, and had to manage with calls. But my boss was pretty unbothered, “As long as you keep up with work and stay connected, it doesn’t matter where you’re working from.”

By July end, the son had improved enough, to bring down the classes to thrice a week. By September end, he was down to one class a week, and one on the weekend. It’s such a pleasure to be able to stay in office all day.

But, I did break down at work, in August. It got to me, the strain, the expectations at the new level, my daugher struggling with her studies because of how stressed out I was and my neglect of her. Established some work-life boundaries, that improved matters.

But am struggling with it again. I think it’s hard, very hard. I don’t get too affected by stuff at work anymore, but when it impacts my kids…it’s hard. :(

Information hoarder – is that normal?

When I was a preteen, my dad once advised me to be interested in my friends’ families, because I was unable to answer him when he asked me how many siblings some of them had, or where their dad/mom worked, where they lived etc. He taught me slowly, I think, how to chit-chat and talk to people. Maybe he recognised that my shyness and introverted tendencies needed to be tackled for a minimum level of socialization.

I’m remembering this because a colleague at work, who is very sharp and accurate in analyzing people, told me I’m an information-hoarder. And that this is a crucial skill that helps me as a writer.

When I joined my current job, I had this marvelous manager, who told us in a meeting, that as leads, we should know everything going on in our reportees’ lives, even their pets’ names. He told us to take them for breaks and tea and said it was really important to connect with them personally. I loved this advice. Because I am like that!

I’ve worked since with managers from the other extreme. Who were so distant and disinterested that I would get frustrated. I worked closely with a client for 3 months, and was amazed that he never picked up a single cue from any conversations with me, about my personal set-up, even though I often brought up a mention of my kids. (Notice the plural.) I know there are people who are very wary of asking potentially offensive questions about people’s personal lives, but surely when I myself bring it up, do they not get the message it’s okay to proceed a bit in that conversation? Because at a farewell dinner with the whole team, he asked me how old my child was. Child. I was startled and said, “I have two children.” He seemed most disinterested, and I’m not sure he even registered this fact. Because a few months later, I drove past him on the road, and my two kids were in the back seat. He told me, “I saw your child.” *bangs head on wall*

 So, back to what my analytical colleague told me. Apparently I collect information about people and organizations automatically, store it away and connect lots of dots that help me ideate and think of bigger pictures.

1. I never realized that about myself.

2. After I realized that about myself, I also that not everyone is an information horder. This was a light bulb moment. :)

And that my getting offended when someone doesn’t remember ‘important’ facts about me, is actually wrong, because people notice and remember different things about others. I hoard personal information. In my current line of work, I do a lot of people stories and interviews, and I see some people taken aback when I remember facts they’ve mentioned long ago in an interview, and quote it in some conversation we’re having.

I notice birthdays, becuase I have this cheesy habit of slotting people according to their star signs. It’s fun…and I don’t think it’s as potentially offensive as slotting people according to their religion or community or gender. So when I remember birthdays and reach out to wish people, some get a bit taken aback.Then I wonder if I look like a stalker or an obsessed person.

But no. Actually, I just find most people extremely fascinating. I just do. It’s quite interesting to think it actually helps me do better in my work!

Thinking about it, I realized that there arealso some things I do not notice about people. It’s just not on my radar. And maybe I, in turn, look odd for not recording these facts.

I n.e.v.e.r notice jewellery. Ever. I go to weddings and other ceremonies and come back to questions from gossipy ladies, “How much gold was the bride wearing?”, and I realize I never looked at her jewellery. I was more interested in what she spoke or the expressions on her face, her interactions and the unspoken messages in her body language, (or let’s admit some superficiality here….her figure!).

I was waving my hand around (my normal exaggerated way of speaking :P) the other day, while talking with a colleague, and she pounced on my hand and wanted to check my tiny ring. I…wouldn’t have noticed if she was wearing a rock on each finger. After she had finshed examining it, it still did not occur to me to look at her rings – and she’s a newly married woman.

Just an interesting fact I’ve discoverd about myself. Of course, I also think that, it’s when I find a person interesting that I hoard information about them. There are certain mind-numbingly boring people whom I keep forgetting basic facts about, like where they live or where their last job was, and find myself ashamed when they tell me they already told me that.

Do you remember stuff about people? Tell me please, because I do wonder if I have ‘stalker’ tendencies! ;)

A shy extrovert?

I’ve realized that I’ve wrongly classified myself as an introvert all my life.

Or maybe I’ve just found my gregaroius side, and how to get over my extreme, inherent shyness.

Once I get over it, I get energized by people, and that…is the characteristic of an extrovert. People energize you. If they drain you, you’re an introvert. I always thought that since I am very comfortable being by myself, and alone, and totally comfortable going for a movie or a lunch by myself, that I must be introverted. Na-uh.

Since the last 18 months, I’ve realized more and more, how much my life-energy was sapped by working from home for the 4 years prior to that. I come alive when I’m feeling confident and among people. Being in office just adds a zing to my step and a glow to my face. How many years have I been confined to thehome…it makes me tend to get a bit hyper at work, and I watch myself there…coz I probably come across as too enthusiastic compared to most people and their jaded looks!

My role requires me to go interact in person at client offices, and events and workshops….and at first my intimidation and severe under-confidence made me freeze up and shrink back. Also known as paralyzing shyness.

But once I got my confidence back (or not back…it’s more like I never knew I had it in the first place)…I amaze myself by actively seeking out prviously intimidating situtations and being able to laugh at myself, my confusion and nervousness..and somehow people warm to that! They openly express appreciation that I take the trouble to march up to them and introduce myself, where a mail or call would’ve worked equally well. It makes it difficult for them to dismiss or ignore me, as is usual in my line of work (business/technical/content writer=pest). And I feel like one of the gang when I do that, instead of hanging back and believing I don’t belong.

I had a choice on Friday whether to go meet a new person in a client team or not. I didn’t really have to, I hardly have any work with him, and mails and pings work fine. I had to walk across the office campus to another tower where his workstation is, and it seemed pointless. Then I thought, “What the heck….this is my new USP…personal interactions…doesn’t matter what others think, if I feel this is the best way to establish a working relationship, it’s the way I’m going to do things.” I then had to get over my other usual fear – getting lost. I actually enjoyed it, and was grinning so much, that a staff member who’d pointed me in the right direction, then ‘found’ me very much in the wrong direction, exasperatedly rescuing me, and depositing me outside an intimidating ‘Restricted’ bay door. He offered to buzz me in, but I lost my nerve at that point and pretended to call the guy I had to meet, mumbling that I’d manage. I did NOT want to enter that scary bay, and have the whole bunch of people turn around and look at me. I was just about to flee, when the door opened and the person himself was standing there, “Hello, are you Starry?”. He ushered the most alarmed me in, and then promptly introduced me loudly and cheerfully to 20 people, all of whom looked at lost-n-found me amused.

I was shocked to find myself grinning back most charmingly, and ended up having a most interesting chat…and he was very appreciative that I’d taken the trouble to trot over.

I like the new me, I really do.

Of course, then I spent the next day wondering if I come across as too forward. Too friendly. A flirt? Eeeps.

I dunno. I just feel ALIVE with people. Does it matter what they opine? Or is it more important how I feel…and the energy it gives me to do my work at top performance? I feel like…I’m bleddy 38…enough of putting limits on myself according to others’ definitions.

Today, I decided to stop re-hashing and analysing everything I do and say.

And explore a bit…this shy extrovert thing. What do you think about it?

Hello…anyone there?

I’m baaaack…and here’s a quick update. The reason I don’t blog is because I have too much to say, and I want to say it perfectly. Gotta stop that!

1. Completed 18 months at work
2. Son just celebrated his 8th birthday!
3. Got 3 raises and a promotion at work and still I don’t believe I’m good enough. Impostor Syndrome…just can’t seem to shake it off :(
4. Daughter is hurtling towards 12 in 2 more months. Eeeps.
5. Just did a whirlwind tour of Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra….best break ever and longest one from work…so detoxifying…now am back struggling with a lot of questions and decisions that came up during the vacay.

How have YOU been?

And thanks to Makk for checking in on me! :)

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