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Separating Who You Are From What You Do

When the agency I was working for hit rough financial waters and I was laid off, I decided to try a bold new experiment…getting a life.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting laid off with more than a half-dozen of your coworkers during the holidays is not something you build into your five-year plan. In fact, because the holidays are not the easiest time to find a job, I had to resolve myself to the reality that I might have six weeks of free time on my hands.

While searching for a job I wondered what would happen if I gave myself time to explore who I was? For the first time in my adult life would I be able to separate the idea who I am from what I do?

There are dozens of studies that show that we, as a society, are increasingly building our identifies and our sense of self-worth around our jobs. In fact, people who lose their jobs experience depression and identity-related crises at more than twice the rate as those of those still employed.

Finding a sense of self-worth that is more independent from what we do is not just a matter if short-term happiness, it’s a long-term requirement for happiness.

Based on my experience, here are a few potential ideas that proved out their usefulness in helping me find out what really mattered to me (click on any photo to start slide show):

In retrospect though being laid off wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to me it also wasn’t the worst. With nothing better to do, I had to take life day-by-day. Through putting things in perspective, I rediscovered the things that mean the most to me.

Ultimately, my period of unemployment only lasted two weeks. My new job offered me the chance to start right away and I had to think seriously about taking them up on it. However, I opted to give myself more time in the experiment and the results are pretty self-evident in the photos.

Though I am ready to get back work, I am doing so more mindful of what it is that means the most to me in life. By trying to separate who I am from what I do, not only I am going back to work happier but I am going back to work with more appreciation for my life as a whole.

If you find yourself laid off or with some time on your hands, I can’t recommend highly enough conducting your own experiment. Treat yourself like you would your job and invest in your own happiness. It’s worth every second.

In 2013, Resolving Myself To The Chaos

I think we can all agree that 2012 didn’t turn out anything like we thought it would.

Whether you’re republican or democrat, rich or poor, gay or straight the last twelve months have thrown us all a couple of curve balls.  We never could have imagined exactly where we would be today when we set those resolutions on January 1, 2012.

In that spirit, I am taking 2013 to make a new type of resolution.   I resolve not set goals for what I want the year to be but to be more appreciative of the journey, itself.  In essence, I am resolving myself to the chaos rather than a specific aspirational goal.

I’m tired of making resolutions that don’t take into account that life changes.  In fact, I not only want to anticipate those changes but I want to learn more from them than I would if life stood still.

I want to spread gratitude for the chance to be a part of those changes and to be a part of something bigger than myself.  I want to give back to the people that enrich my life and allow me to be a part of a support network that helps us help each other manage those changes.

Sure, it might sound like I am getting wrapped up in the changing of the year and even waxing a little philosophical.  The fact is though that there’s only one way to break a resolution to roll with the punches and that’s to quit.

I’m not sure about you but quitting isn’t on the menu, particularly after what we’ve been through in 2012.

Happy New Year, everyone and may all your resolutions be unbreakable!

Burn All Your Performance Reviews

If you’re like me, you take performance reviews very seriously. They’re a great way to get a read on how you’re doing professionally and they allow you to set out goals for future growth. They are also one of those documents that should be read over thoroughly and then promptly destroyed.

I’m serious. Performance reviews should never be allowed to simply sit around in a file folder. In fact, performance reviews should never exist anywhere where they can be easily reached once they have been initially delivered. This is a truth I had to discover the hard way after keeping all of my previous performance reviews for the last 9 years.

Not only did I keep a digital copy of my reviews; I printed out each of them and stuck them in a manila file folder. This folder sat just beneath my desk and it had a tendency to be pulled out when I was feeling introspective.

Simply put; performance reviews are the last place anyone should be looking when they are trying to determine the best way to move forward. The reason for this is, like many documents, performance reviews are subject to their author’s own personality. This is not to say that my previous supervisors had it out for me. In fact, the exact opposite is true and that was the problem; performance reviews tended to reflect the best way I should move forward AT A SPECIFIC TIME.

That’s why I chose to take all of mine this past week and commit them to the care of my fireplace. I was simply tired of trying to reconcile my current path forward by examining the path I took to travel here. It was like Lewis and Clark trying to find their way through undiscovered wilderness by facing backwards. Every time I tried to make a correction based on what I had previously done, I took my focus on interpreting exactly what was in front of me.

I truly believe that the performance review process has merit and can be incredibly useful when done correctly. The fact is though that when you keep them around for future reference they make really lousy road maps.

If you have any still around, do yourself a favor and just get rid of them. Wish them the best in their future state of kindling, bird-cage lining, or however you chose to use them. Trust me on this one – you’ll be much happier and, without the reverse road-map, you might even get to enjoy the journey.

Photo Courtesy RyanKemmers

Of Dogwoods & Gratitude

I was originally was going to make this Part II of my Maslow post but I wanted to preempt it to share something that ran through my mind today.

Amid the insanity of a couple thousand OTPers descending on Midtown Atlanta, I was still able to make it out to the Dogwood Festival.  Though the festival was made up of mostly the same artists and food vendors you see year after year, it was the first time a couple of my friends had gotten a chance to see it so I agreed to be a guide.

Along our walk, I decided I wanted to show my friends the newer section of the park including the Legacy Fountain.  In contrast to the main sections of the park, the newer area was almost completely void of visitors.  It made for a nice calm and with the cool wind whipping around us, it made one of my favorite poems come to mind:

“I walked in a garden today
Where loving hands had wrought
She could not have known
As she toiled there tirelessly,
That I would come today
Despairing, lonely and afraid
And that her garden
Would restore my peace of mind
And give me hope and faith.
I walked in her garden today and
Tonight I thank God for her
Who toiled there tirelessly.”

O.R.W. – Cheekwood Botanical Garden

Though the last few weeks have been an interesting mix of productivity and drama, the thing that has stood out the most is how much I am learning about the finer points of cultivating serenity. Sure, it sounds kind of fluffy but you never know how important it is until you need it to kick your goals into high gear.

That poem and, in particular, the timing it had running through my head reminded me that building that sense of serenity is a two-way street. In one direction, we’re trudging a road paved by others.

When you’re looking for that serenity and you’re a typical “Type A” personality, that journey usually requires the help of people that have been there before.  There is an enormous amount of gratitude to be found for those people who are there for you be they family, friends or just someone with a big heart who is willing to help.

In the other direction, you’re maintaining or paving that road for people who may come after you. Like the poem says, you may never know who comes after you but that road may indeed mean quite a bit to them.

The friends I took through the park had a chance to experience what I’ve gotten to experience dozens of times before.  In sharing that experience, though – this time it was somehow more profound.

Like I said, it was kind of a fluffy moment but when you work hard and care a great deal about what you do, these moments help remind you of what’s important. If this sentiment means nothing, I promise the next post will be fantastically geeky enough to make up for it.

If the sentiment did mean something to you, that’s even better. In that case, I encourage you to try it out for yourself and pass the feeling forward.  You’ll be glad you did.

Photo Courtesy of brettlohmeyer

My Life In Check-Ins

I am a sentimental schmuck. I also love the geo-social application, Foursquare. This is probably why for the last year I have been ruthlessly addicted to something called 4squareand7yearsago.

What 4squareand7yearsago does is send you an email every morning listing out your check-ins on that day, one year ago. As you can imagine, I’ve been having an interesting time keeping track of and counting down to my one year anniversary of moving back to Atlanta.

It’s not that the move back was anything exceptional but, like I said; I am a sentimental schmuck and I guess looking back on things gives me some perspective if I’ve actually done something with my life. Take, for instance, today’s historic, run-down:

Allow me to translate….

  • One year ago was that day I officially moved back from DC
  • Port City Java – I got up in the morning and walked to a coffee shop since my coffee maker was already in a box
  • Eastern Market – I took one lap around the historic Eastern Market before heading back to finish packing
  • DCA – My friend/landlord Frank thoughtfully drove me to Reagan-National, where I did my best Porky Pig impression in a vain attempt to hide the fact I was seriously wondering if moving back was the right decision
  • ATL – By the time I landed I had kind of made up my mind that regardless of my trepidation, I had to make the move work one way or another
  • Chattahoochee River – Failing to find my parent’s house on Foursquare, I just checked in at the local park

Some might look at Foursquare and say it’s pointless or over-sharing but, as you can see, it does serve its purpose. In this case it facilitates memory, which is an important, if not sometimes the only benchmark we have for success.

Obviously things worked out for the best.  I’m running a half-marathon, I’ve got my dream job and life is good.

How do I know I’ll keep moving forward? I don’t quite know.  I’ll just have to keep on checking in to see.

Pride/Tribe – Part I

When I was a teenager, finally making it to Atlanta Pride felt like the bravest thing I could possibly do. I never really had any gay friends in high school so gay pride was the one time of year I really felt any connection the gay community at all.

Flash forward 15 years, an internship with a major gay rights organization and four boyfriends and nothing much has changed. In fact, as gay pride rolled around this year on Yom Kippur, I couldn’t help but see the similarities in my relationship with the gay community and my relationship with the Jewish community.

With both, I am proud to say I am a member of a strong community with a legacy of triumph and perseverance. However, in a way, I am at odds with each of them.

Looking around Piedmont Park at the hundreds of white gay men with mussed hair, tank tops and oversized sunglasses I can’t help but think to myself – who the hell are you people?! Where once the rallying cry of gay pride was “diversity and acceptance” it now seems to be “fabulosity through conformity.”

I feel a very similar juxtaposition with the Jewish community.  Despite my family having deep-seeded roots in various congregations, I am still searching for an Atlanta-based congregation that I feel fits with my own version of myself as a Jew.

In both instances, the idea of authenticity and unique expression play an important role in the search for a place to “call my own.”

With everything going on in my life, it’s easy for me feel surrounded at the macro level. I feel enormously lucky to have made connections with an eclectic, diverse group of people from all walks of Atlanta life.  The challenge is getting down to the more basic level of community – one that most people take for granted.

For now though, I’ll leave it at this: I was walking out of Atlanta Pride, yesterday and happen to bump into a friend of mine.  It was late in the day, my Yom Kippur fast was starting to get to me and I was eager to get home to take a nap.  It was completely random but we ended up chatting about one of my groups and how he should come and speak.

Thus is my life these days – completely interconnected despite the randomness.  Now, if I can only make sense out of it I’ll be all good.

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