In Kindergarten, I launched my first social experiment. Well, the first one I remember.
The rules that day were very clear: color in the lines. That’s not a metaphor. That is what was expected. Do what the teacher tells you, and the teacher told us to color in the lines.
And I loved following the rules. I was sooooo good at it. I was eager to please, easy to get along with. But one day I colored outside the lines. Again, not a metaphor – I just took that crayon and went to town. My little five-year-old brain wanted to ask “why”? Why color in the lines? Why not color outside the lines? What would happen?? Is there an alarm? Would I be immediately ejected from my seat?
What happened was the teacher noticed. Not in a good way. She noticed my little colorful explosion, and she was not as interested or impressed as I was. She made some disappointed sounds at me and whisked the paper away. I was given another coloring page and told to start again. But, MAN OH MAN, that little seed of disappointment, that shame, it stayed with me.
Shame has become a close friend since.
When I hit “publish” on this tiny blog and shared the story of my lay off, I felt like I was coloring out of the lines again, seconds away from a finger wag. Or worse.
Then the messages started pouring in, hundreds of supportive messages, from people I know on and off the internet. People who I viewed as actual professional geniuses texted that they too had been laid off. And slowly a layoff felt like old news. I began to view this moment as a natural part of any career. I began to get more comfortable with taking time I needed to unburn out? Burn in? I’m sure there is some elegant word in Japanese to describe the process of repairing your soul after too much corporate life. (And don’t forget the twist of global pandemic and two small children to make it REALLY interesting.)
And offers started arriving. Consulting offers, offers of connection, happily employed colleagues and friends referred me when recruiters called them. Without asking people reached out to share their Rolodexes (sorry youths, “contacts”).“I know a good resume editor, can I give you their information?” Genuine offers of help, guidance, connection.
“Let me tell you about my company.”
“Who can I connect you with?”
“Can we have lunch?”
And I accepted all these offers. Every week I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with far-flung colleagues, classmates from MBA school. I had my resume professionally rewritten. I looked and felt like a professional human. It was warm and cozy and wonderful.
As this happened, and I drunk the milk of unbidden human kindness, something else occurred to me. Is this what happens when you ask for help? People just…give it? In the words of prominent physician Doc McStuffins, I have a case of “This-fucking-woman-tries-to-do-everything-her-goddamn-self-itis.”
Then, after all this wonderful warm human connection sunk in, my brain took an unplanned left turn. (She’s a tricky one!) I had a small moment of anxiety, ok, a LARGE moment that lasted many days, fine WEEKS, as over 1200 people read the story of my lay off from my dream company.
My anxiety response went into overdrive. Had I overshared? Am I doing this wrong? Would I regret sharing? Would this bare accounting of experience cost me an opportunity later? Why are all these people supporting me? Is this pity? Are people hard cringing at me? Am I hard cringing at me? The feeling was so overwhelming, I un-publish the blog. And it’s remained unpublished.
The supportive reaction I got was so tremendous, it short-circuited my brain. My shame tells me receiving help is bad, asking for help makes me a burden. People pleasing is good, the greatest good. Having needs makes me “a problem.” I must know exactly what I needs to be done, and I alone must do it. Dare I color outside the lines, I have to start again.
I was so worked up that I imagined my former employer was disappointed in me for sharing my experience. (Yes, I know how wild this sounds.) I assumed it was only a matter of time before I lost my unemployment benefits in retaliation. I had a full blown, hyperventilating panic attack in my driveway after I got a letter from LEGO that turned out to be…tax information.
And I wish this was hyperbole, I wish this was overstatement.
So – I guess this is the big reveal moment, where I put it together like Scully and Mulder and we all feel so satisfied – what the woman who began people pleasing in Kindergarten, can’t ask for help, and when she accepts help, has a full-blown panic attack…should do next.
But I don’t have a good answer. I just have this weird brain. And maybe there is nothing to fix. But this weird brain is VERY uncomfortable now. I’m writing my way through it. I’m keeping my commitment to my body, my creativity and my home.
Or in the words of our Anna from Frozen and Frozen 2: I’m doing the next right thing.
I’m sticking with my three daily goals:
Something for my body: my watch tells me I’ve walked 102 miles in January, up from 80 in December. I no longer wake up exhausted. I’ve skied more days this year than the previous 8 years COMBINED. I’m not dreading our Disney trip in April for the possible exhaustion of walking for 10 hours a day. So, win.
Something creative: I’ve been posting on IG, a video about my ski pants not fitting got 24,000 views which I thought was pretty cool. (Also, if you only know me from trying to stuff myself into 2019’s snowpants on the internet, and you see me in public, I demand you say hello to me. SEE, I’m learning to ask for things!!) To gin up my courage to read a poem or story on stage, I went to an open mic night to listen. Baby steps, baby steps.
Something for the house: I’ve hung pictures that had been sitting in my hallway for a year. A YEAR. Cleaned out the kitchen doom drawers (not ready to hit the storage space yet), installed Mavis’ hanging chair, installed Veda’s hanging chair, installed cabinet pulls on Veda’s new closet doors. I tapped maple trees with my best friend.
I’m keeping on, even if I don’t know where the lines are or what color I’m supposed to be using.
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