Motivate Me: How To Change My Mindset and Thrive in Work Life and Beyond

When I started my last job on the first day I said to myself “I am going to fail.” There were a number of reasons I thought this — the role itself seemed impossible. Telling myself that I was going to fail wasn’t the most productive thing to say to myself over and over. Every little challenge resulted in my returning to this statement. Why did they hire me? I didn’t have the innate ability to be successful in the role. Sure, I had been successful in the past and this lead to the company wanting to bring me on, but that was a fluke, an outcome due to other people not my own contributions.

And so, six months later, I failed.

While the failure itself was not career ending (and for many other reasons the role and company was not right for me and I should have never selected that role in the first place) I didn’t have to force myself to suffer so much through this experience. I didn’t have to wait up every morning and tell myself “you can’t do this” instead of “you can.”

So for my next job I’m determined to 180 on this mindset. To start I actually do believe I can do a good job because I understand the space better, I have an awesome colleague who is going to consult for me who is one of the best in the business, and overall I just feel better about the company and my chemistry with the team. While it won’t be perfect or easy, I’m really ready to kick some major ass.

However, I want to address my mental models around success and failure. Spending time with my family this week has reminded me exactly why I’m so messed up when it comes to cognitive dissonance around my intellect and my potential performance.

What Does Smart Mean Anyway?

There are numerous studies which point to parenting styles having a large impact on a child’s potential success. In one recent study on types of praise and performance, researchers found that kids praised for their effort tended to take on more challenging tasks and learn more. Meanwhile kids praised for their intelligence would request the easier task and give up more quickly.

As I get older and older, returning to spend time with family allows me to put on more of an observational lens to see the psyches that shaped my own mindset as well as that of my sister, who is struggling in her own right though still managing to grow up and find herself. In the discussions about my grandfather this week around his funeral, one thing that stood out was the commentary around how strict and hot-tempered he was with his sons, though my father could get away with any calculated murder, it seems. My father, this first born of six, was a nerd, and he never had the same energy as his brothers to partake in sports. More so, he believed firmly that his skills and aptitude was innate and could not be changed and he was praised relentlessly for being “smart.”

Years later when my father was a masters student in theoretical physics at a top tier program he dropped out because it got too hard. I’m sure to him after all the years of things coming easily he was not prepared for the challenge. He has stated to me that he just wasn’t up to the level of work required. I believe he was just forever stuck in the mindset that your abilities are what you are born with. And that mindset trickled down to his parenting style with myself and my sister. Meanwhile my mother also grew up with that type of parenting so she believed she wasn’t smart but was reasonably talented at art – at least enough to work as a business professional in design but not enough to be a great artist.

Thus, as early as I can remember my parents were bragging to others about how I am so smart. When I struggled in school, I felt like I had failed them. I was told to study but I was never told “this is hard and you have to work at it to get good.” I was basically told that if things were hard it’s because you just aren’t good at them and you never will be that good at them. And early on I gave up at trying. When I managed to get good scores on quizzes or papers I felt rewarded for being smart. When I failed, well, that was just because I would never be smart enough. It was an easy out but it also made me give up way too quickly most of the time. And it still does.

Girls Get Results-Based Feedback More Often than Boys

Since I do not have a brother, it’s hard for me to compare my upbringing to that of a boy. However, I often look at the differences in how my sister — who had some breathing issues at birth and has a learning disability possibly due to this — was raised and how I was raised. We both were raised with black or white thinking around intellect. I was smart. She wasn’t smart. Neither of these were true by the way. She’s quite intelligent and curious and I’m finding my way with the acknowledgement that smart doesn’t really exist with the rare exception of someone born with very high IQ.

In this Psychology Today piece – The Trouble With Bright Girls – it highlights how girls are more likely than boys to omen who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon. be praised for things like “being good” and being smart. Meanwhile boys can be a handful so they’re often praised for their effort and progress. Th

How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or ” such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart”, and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because bright girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves–women who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.

Of course my initial argument here was that my father actually gave up too soon, but generally speaking there is research to support this story. And he only gave up after many years of being the intellectual champion of his little world — as he managed to get out of things like being in trouble for skipping homeroom since he never woke up on time given his extremely high GPA. Yet I think how easy everything came to him… and mixed messages from my parents around what it means to be a good, talented and beautiful girl over academic performance… really f’d up my motivation.

But I’m Better than This…

Knowing how things are I should really be able to change my mindset, right? Why is it so damn hard to change the way I think from believing anyone can learn vs that knowledge and abilities are so innate? I spent so much time trying to convince my sister of this as she fights through her own frustrations, knowing full well that she’s capable of so much despite being raised to think she couldn’t do much of anything. As I approach my new role it really feels like a new phase of my life, one that I want to start off with confidence. I want to wake up every morning and tell myself “I can do this. I can do this really well. It will be hard and at times I will make mistakes. But overall I can kick some major ass. And I will.”

 

There’s a New Star in the Night Sky

The large crowd filled the funeral home, spilling into the overflow room which was opened to the right of the casket as many friends and family and friends of family and family of friends showed up to pay their final respects to the man who – was – my grandfather. At 8:30am the casket was open for those who wished to see my grandfather one last time, which was customary due to his Catholic upbringing. In fact, despite his wife and many members of our family being Jewish, the funeral itself was a Christian service led by a Priest.

This morning after a relatively good night’s rest following a bittersweet couple of hours attempting to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite a short speech for the funeral to represent his grandchildren, I rolled out of bed and threw on the black dress I ran to the store to pick up yesterday so I wouldn’t wear a brightly colored outfit, which seemed to be the only options I brought with me on this trip. While I considered walking up to the casket — which was later covered in an American flag to honor his Navy service as a teenager — being as this was the first funeral I attended ever and I also had the opportunity to see my grandfather alive yet in a state of near-death – I didn’t want my last memory of him to be a lifeless body. Later my father said I should have gone up, but I stand by my decision. Dad said he looked at peace. I know they buried him in a full Yankees getup, just as he would have liked.

It was so surreal to see my large family there – well, almost all of us – so somber yet glad to see each other on this unfortunate occasion. I sat in a corner for a few minutes cleaning up my speech some more and then worried I wouldn’t be able to make out my chicken scratch. I mostly just felt more comfortable staring at a piece of paper than interacting with the living. I’m much more in touch with my emotions than my sister (the daughters of a mother with no empathy, we’ve each turned out a bit emotionally disabled, and don’t know how to handle such situations) and as such I felt like a child when third cousins twice removed that hadn’t seen me since I was six or so hugged me as if we were the closest of family and said that they were sorry for my loss. I hugged them back and said thank you, of course, but after a few minutes of that I realized standing right by the entryway waiting for the service to spot was putting myself in the line of fire, so I moved further back and started to edit.

At the service a few family members brought framed pictures of my grandfather throughout his life and put them on the front table. Being as I’ve never been to a funeral before I didn’t realize this was customary. I managed to make out a few hellos to people who I knew and those who maybe I knew once a long time ago before the service started. I was glad when it did. My cousins – the ten of us who were able to attend the service – sat together in the front row of the overflow area where we had a good few of not only the casket, which held my deceased grandfather but also the majority of attendees. My grandmother attempted to hold herself together but it was clear that composure wouldn’t last for long. She sat between her youngest son and her oldest son (my father) who comforted her as much they could while trying to also comfort themselves.

When sitting there waiting for the service to start, the emotions hit me like a brick. I had been crying on and off for the past few days, angry at myself for not being sad enough, or being sad for the wrong reasons. In these moments it’s human to feel completely at a loss. Yet I live in a household where my mother – never malicious yet always juvenile and self absorbed – doesn’t know how to care about other people. She just doesn’t have it in her. My father, for all his faults, at least has feelings and understands some level of basic human decency in such situations. I just hoped – maybe even prayed – to god that she wouldn’t do anything too irksome to set my father off today.

As tears started to paint my cheeks, I thought back to something an old high school friend had said to me this week. My good friend from high school happened to be visiting the area and we picked up another more distant friend to go to yet another friend’s house to say hello. It was all quite surreal. The friend who we picked up, I’ll call him Mike, was always a bit out there in his personality, and I didn’t get to know him well in the past. Mike is this blonde hippie type with an Eastern European accent and a thousand pounds of passion in his heart.

What I didn’t know was that Mike had made a career as a massage therapist. He didn’t go into this profession just because he needed the money, he went into it because he loves to help and heal people through touch. He loves it so much that the other night he gave me and my friend both these amazing massages as we sat in the kitchen of our other old friend’s apartment and looked through a mid century issue of Life magazine. And they weren’t just any old massage – he had this sort of magical way of using his hands to find points of pain and knead away the stress.  I think he said it was Jin Shin Do massage, an ancient Chinese form of healing, but it clearly came out of him in such a love for healing, his hands soft yet firm at the same time, and while I felt uncomfortable accepting such touch from a friend I had not seen in years and had never been close to, I felt so content to have connected through this kind of touch.

“Mike” brought up that touch is what drives him and is how he expresses his care for other people, noting that there are five or so different types of things that can drive you as a person, and then posed the question what drove me the most. It was an interesting question to ponder given that I’ve never been a touchy-feely type, yet even just sharing a moment of non-sexual touch in the form of a back massage reminded me that I am actually a very touchy-feely person. I grew up in a household that never expressed through touch with the exception of the burning snap of my father’s belt finding its way onto my flesh again and again. Past the age I was certifiably cute I don’t recall hugs or kisses or any sort of warmth physically.

And today as I sat watching my grandfather’s funeral, I felt my arms cross my chest, hugging myself, my hand on my knee, subconsciously squeezing it, longing to understand how to connect through touch. As my grandmother sitting there collapsed into tears, I wanted nothing more to reach out and comfort her, to hug her, to put my hands gently on her shoulders, or to give my dad, also caught up in his own tears, a hug that meant what other loving family’s hugs means. Instead, I hugged myself tighter and hoped no one would notice.

The priest began his sermon (is that what they call it at a funeral?) and discussed how my grandfather, while not being a very religious man all his life, had come back to the church in his final years. He read sections from both the old and new testament, and gave quite a moving infomercial about not waiting until the end of life to return to God despite that God is going to accept us even if we do end up waiting. As a marketer, I found his pitch needed some work.

After the priest finished his section, the grandchildren were called up to say a few words. I was told we were going to go after the direct children of grandpa, so I wasn’t quite ready to speak. I had just recovered from a fit of my own tears sparked my one of my grandmother’s, and I was worried I wouldn’t get through my short speech. Thanks to the review by quite a number of family members I changed my original talk entirely, shifting the focus to say the same thing but from another perspective. It actually worked out perfectly. My speech was an overview of what it means to be in our family and how this is largely due to my grandfather’s strong will, belief in standing up for what’s right and perseverance in the most difficult of times. I noted how he taught us that being in this family meant simultaneously ruling with an iron fist and a heart of gold. I think my father liked that bit. While I removed a few jokes that were maybe better suited for a roast then a funeral, I kept a good one in about how he taught us that family always came first. Well, maybe the Yankee game came first. Family a very close second.

That one got a laugh. Because it was true.

When I concluded my speech three of my cousins read their own. My youngest cousin on that side, now a senior in high school, read an essay she had just written about grandpa for her college applications. She talked about how grandpa was the Cribbage king – and while she always wanted to one day beat him she never could. Her brother then read a moving speech about how in the last few years he got to know grandpa quite well, living so close and being there to help out when help was needed. He shared how he got grandpa’s Indian chief necklace charm tattooed on his back. It was a great speech. Then another cousin got up without a prepared speech and shared a short story of a memory he had with grandpa – which was really representative of my memories the older cousins had with him – like getting yelled at for doing something like changing the channel during a Yankee game. I surely had my fair share of run ins with grandpa and learned to not get in his way.

It actually worked out nicely that the cousins gave their speeches first. Of my grandparent’s six children, three of them decided to talk — first the youngest brother, then one in the middle, and finally, my father. The first brother got up and struggled through his speech, with his wife standing firmly at his side to help him through it by holding his hand. He talked about how his father had three rules — do not disobey him, do not wake him up, and do not disobey his mother. He went through each of his siblings and a time they had gotten in trouble. While he didn’t go into much detail of the discipline, it has been said my grandfather was known to throw his kids through walls. Everyone knew he had quite the temper. When he went through the list and got to my father he said he couldn’t remember a time when he got in trouble, he must have been the perfect kid (later my father noted that he did get in trouble for things like being lazy and not cleaning up – sounds familiar – but not for anything too crazy like some of the things his brothers did. My dad was the quiet nerd, so it was the next born, a firecracker, who started all the trouble.)

But in this speech my dad’s youngest brother also shared something very significant about the character of my grandfather. One day he and his friend were walking around a movie theatre – think it was a drive in – not causing any trouble, but just being where they weren’t supposed to be. They got caught and the cops or security guard called up his parents and his friend’s parents. When his friend’s dad showed up the dad gave his friend a smack across the face. My uncle thought to himself oh no, I’m in so much trouble now. But when his grandfather showed up instead of beating the living daylights out of him, he instead asked the man who called him what his son had done wrong. When he found out that his son hadn’t disturbed anyone and instead was just walking around this place, his father told off the cop and said it was ridiculous that he had gotten in trouble in the first place. He definitely had a strong sense of right and wrong, albeit a black and white one, but if he didn’t think you were wrong he’d stand behind you and fight for you as hard as anyone would.

Next another brother gave a very moving speech with his wife clutching his arm, standing strongly by his side. His speech was generally about his time apprenticing with his father. My grandfather, I was reminded, had served in the Navy from age 16 to 19, returning at 19 to then meet my grandmother who was then 16 and to soon get married and take on a job as a toolmaker. My grandmother, it turns out, was kicked out of high school for getting married, because that’s the sort of thing they did back then. (Crazy.) And, being as my grandmother has been with my grandfather so long, I can see how she really can’t recall life without him. I’m sure that makes losing him all the more hard. My uncles story went on to talk about how his grandfather taught him  how to love making machinery and gave him the passion that lead to him becoming a mechanical engineer. My grandfather was a strict and hot-tempered man, but he was also a very hard worker. While the family did not have a lot growing up, he worked long hours to make their lives comfortable.

Last my father walked up to the podium, wobbling under his weight as he does with his thin cane. My mother, being the child she is, gave me a look as if asking my permission to go up with him. While the other couples were seated together my mother sat behind my father who was in the front. I wondered if my dad would have her come up with him since the other brothers had done the same with their wives, but figured he wouldn’t. He was caught up in his own world. Not that I blame him today – it was a tough day for him, losing his father – but he didn’t even think to ask her to come up there with him, which looked a little strange as she was right there behind him. Later he said he didn’t know where she was. He clearly didn’t look. His speech was hard to watch because it’s always a struggle to see my dad, always such a strong man, break down. But I’m glad he talked and in his own way asked for peace and forgiveness for not being able to say a proper goodbye. He noted that his dad was a very honest man, sometimes brutally so, highlighting how in the last week at the hospital, barely able to communicate with the outside world, he managed to get out “there’s a problem here that no one wants to talk about” before getting lost in himself again. My dad is broken up over not being there in the moments when his father was more aware in the final week, and I wanted to be able to comfort him but that wouldn’t be possible in my family – my dad can have feelings and strong ones but he doesn’t want to be comforted. My mother wouldn’t want to or know how to comfort a person so I guess on some level they work perfectly together.

After the service they carried the casket out to the hearse and we drove in a funeral procession about 30 minutes to the cemetery. We were reminded before leaving to obey all driving laws as just because we have our emergency lights flashing we still do not have right of way. I was just commenting how dangerous it was to drive in a funeral procession (especially given that when one’s emergency lights are on use of the blinker to signal turns or lane changes is moot — after my mother put on her blinker to move over when getting left behind at a stop light, thinking she was signalling to the car behind her that she was shifting lanes but instead actually just getting lucky she didn’t ram into him) when two cars in the procession that had made the light rammed into each other. It turned out to be my cousin’s car in front and my uncle in back. Luckily the car was ok but he had him them pretty hard – my cousin mentioned a little back pain later. I think someone needs to rethink this funeral procession situation because it’s just straight up dangerous. There’s enough death in the day to not accidentally conspire to any more.

In the car I asked my mother if I could perhaps have a piece of her granola bar since I failed to eat breakfast that morning and was feeling lightheaded. My mother who was driving and who had eaten breakfast told me that I could have half of it, though she did so in a way which made me feel bad for asking, so I just decided to hold out until lunch.

We arrived at the cemetery shortly after most of the group did since we had gotten a bit of a ways back and missed the turn off. A slightly smaller group than those at the funeral parlor service stood under a green tent that I could see in the distance when we pulled up with two sailors in their white uniforms standing and waiting for the burial service to begin. I didn’t realize that sailors were going to be there so I first noted that we were going to the wrong spot, but then was informed that they were giving him an official U.S. Navy send off. I thought that was nice. My mother took out the granola bar (because she doesn’t realize how rude it is to eat a granola bar at a funeral service) and when I wasn’t paying much attention handed me a small piece of it. I didn’t fully comprehend that she was handing me the granola bar there with everyone around waiting to start the service since we were already a bit late, and thought I waved it away to signal that I didn’t want it then and to keep it but instead she just dropped it on to the floor and scolded me for wasting it by saying my name with the tone which means just that.

I tried not to be bother by this and focus on the moment. My phone had been accidentally left at home which was good so I could for once just be present. It was the right thing to do. I looked around and saw that the beautiful wooden casket had been taken out of the hearse and rested over an open space in the ground waiting to be put in. In front of it sat flowers, a multi-photo picture frame with pictures of my grandfather as a young man, many of him in his Navy uniform, and a small sailor figurine. My grandmother – who seemed about to crack open in her fragility – sat in the front row and burst into tears every few minutes. The two sailors took the American Flag which was previously on top of the casket and very carefully and ceremoniously folded it from one end in these very neat, sharp triangle folds as another played the trumpet for the formal Military Funeral Honors.

At this time, I heard this “crunch, crunch, crunch” behind me and I was upset that my mother was chewing this granola bar during this very serious moment in the service. I gave her one of those looks that a mother is supposed to give her children, not the other way around. That was a bad idea. She whispered – loudly – to me “you can hear me?” and I couldn’t help myself but turn to her and say “shhhhhhhh!” I tried to return my focus to the sailors who were nearly done folding the flag. My mother bit into another piece of the granola bar to finish it off. “Crunch, crunch, crunch.” I tried to ignore it. My boyfriend has given me quite the complex for chewing noises since he is so sensitive to them and in this situation eating at all was just not appropriate. I took a deep breath and returned my focus to the ceremony. The older sailor took the perfectly folded triangle of blue with white stars and presented it to my grandmother, thanking her for my grandfather’s service to the country. I’m pretty sure I lost it at that point, completely forgetting that I was upset with my mom seconds before, just bursting into tears. I wasn’t the only one sobbing. With no one to hug I just found myself wrapping my arm around the tent pole, feeling its cold steel against my flesh, comforting me in its stability but by no means its warmth.

Once my grandfather was presented the flag the very short cemetery service was over. It was very short. The cemetery workers came over to lower the casket in the ground. I found out that they are burying him vertically and will one day put my grandmother in the spot next to him. They lowered him for quite some time. I stood and stared at the open hole in the ground, not sure how to feel or what to feel. I walked up and looked closer at the pictures of him as a young man, with all that life in him, long before I was even born. A family friend suggested that we wind up the figurine to play music for him, and we did. It was a beautiful moment, the soft ringing of Anchors Away which only those of us closest to the grave site and decorative display could hear, most of the notes lost just a few feet away in the wind.

They said those of us who wanted to could help put in the first dirt — apparently a tradition to symbolize that it is not stranger’s burying you but loved ones (even if strangers ultimately finish the job, it takes professionals to cover a hole that deep and do so safely.) While I didn’t put dirt in (I couldn’t bring myself to do that) I took two of the white flowers from the bouquet in front, kissed them, and threw them down into the hole where he would stay. I happened to be standing by my grandmother who, as the casket was lowered into the ground, broke down in the biggest fit of tears yet, and she said goodbye and I’ll be there soon with you. Luckily another person said what I was thinking to her “not too soon.” I briefly thought about how my father’s funeral will be – what my mother will say – how she will not cry, because she doesn’t cry,  and how she’d never have the desire to jump into the ground after her husband even after all these years. I won’t put that all on her – he’s been quite awful to her through the years – but it hurts to know my parents aren’t capable of that kind of selfless love. I’m not sure if my grandfather was, but my grandmother sure had the conviction.

I told her later that while I can’t at all know what she is going through right now I can understand how painful it must be after all these years to lose your one true love. I admit I thought of how in many, many years, hopefully after a long, healthy and fruitful life I would be forced to experience the same with the man I love, or he with me if I happen to go first, and I know the harder you love the harder it is to lose, but even with that I renewed my commitment to making the choice to love and love as hard as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.

After the service we drove to a lunch at this delicious Italian restaurant and sat around comforting each other and talking about our lives as we would at any other family occasion. I ate too much food and drank too much wine though paced myself because I didn’t want to be the funeral drunk. I had just enough to deal but not enough to drown.

Following the lunch we went back to my aunt’s house for more bonding time and dessert (which I shouldn’t have eaten but I cannot resist apple pie.) I spent some time with my grandmother never knowing what to say, trying to see how I could put my hand  on her shoulder in an organic way to express how I feel without words because words just weren’t cutting it. I am so sad for her, and for what she faces now. Her entire life has been lived as a caretaker – first for six kids and then for her husband – and now while she has a large extended family she finally has the time to take for herself. This can be a good thing, but for a woman who is an expert at caring for others, this is also a terrifying opportunity. In many ways it’s good for her – not to be alone – but to be free of these painful years of trying to take care of a man with dementia, trapping her in her own house day after day. I hope she can find it in her to live life for the moment and not dwell on the past, but I know it will take a lot of time. It’s wonderful that of her six children many of them live close and others visit often, so she will rarely be alone unless she wants to be. It made me think of how so many people in this world do end up in old age alone – whether they didn’t have kids or the aren’t on speaking terms with their children or they lost them due to some horrible tragedy. But it also made me, in a weird way, look forward to the next chunk of my life – which hopefully includes getting married, having a small handful of children (two can be a handful and three would be nice if I can manage it) and so grateful for having found at the very least the man I want to marry and have those children with. And it made me want to be closer to my family, not right away, but when I do raise those children… because my family, despite its crazies, is one pretty remarkable, loyal, and tight-knit bunch.

 

 

 

Life and Death and Everything in Between

When my mother was talking to my father on the phone this evening, I could read through the spoken lines what had occurred. My grandfather has passed. While I saw him in his rapidly deteriorating condition earlier this week and knew the time would come soon, I did not know exactly when it would or how I would handle that moment.

I wasn’t particularly close with my grandfather on an emotional level, but he is certainly the first person in my life to pass away who I was close to at all. My mother’s father and his brother died when I was younger, but I grew up far from them. My dad’s father, on the other hand, was a mainstay at our holiday gatherings with his sharp, hot-tempered, yet somehow charming personality. Ever since I can remember my grandfather was there, bickering with someone over something that probably didn’t matter at all, and taking our holiday pictures with our large extended family, making sure to fit everyone in the shot he’d set up and the run into at the last minute.

The death of an elderly grandparent is not unexpected or uncommon – in fact, it’s inevitable – yet I still am having trouble processing. While my first sentiment was that of relief, for I could only imagine how it must feel to be trapped inside your body unable to communicate with the outside world, unable to move at all, and losing all sense of self as you drift into this alter universe between life and death. My greatest fear and sense of emotion was that he was suffering silently and would be for a long time. I felt a sense of relief knowing that if he was suffering he would no longer know of it.

But then there is my father who is a highly emotional person yet unable to ever handle his own feelings. I expected him to be upset as he should be but the tears come in through waves. I feel bad for my father – who both was at my grandmother’s house when my grandfather who was supposed to be asleep went out for a walk to pick up the paper and fell, causing his rapid mental decline – and him spending many nights in the hospital with his father over the past week but not being there during the day when his father did respond to some people in the room and say a few words (I was there when he did this, so I just assumed my father had also seen this.) I told my dad that I’m sure his father knew that he had visited, but I’m sure that is something that will haunt him going forward. Of course, my father could have stayed one of the days instead of just at night, but in his avoidance of reality he stuck to the schedule versus admitting to himself the seriousness of the situation.

Yet just seven years ago we were all sure his father was going to outlive him – a late-stage cancer patient who was told he had maybe two years to live.  Here we are today – my father still alive, thank god, and my grandfather’s funeral set for Monday. I look at this whole situation and acknowledge that I will be facing the same with my father in the coming years, only I won’t be in my 60s saying goodbye. I’ll be in my 30s, likely before having children or a young mother juggling a billion other things as I try to make peace with his looming passing. And while somehow my mind can process my grandfather sitting in the hospital unable to talk, slowly fading to the end of his life, I take no comfort in my father, as crazy as he is, facing such a decline and losing his ability to be his angsty, hot-headed, bulldog, borderline self. As I see my father cry and go through his own grief, I don’t know what to say, only the words I keep quiet around knowing that we will be facing this moment again and I will be equally as saddened and pained – but that’s not exactly the right thing to say to someone mourning his father’s passing and trying to avoid his own pending mortality.

With this mentality he also failed to call my mother and myself earlier today when my grandfather passed though other relatives were notified and came over to my grandmother’s house. I will see her this weekend and am trying to decide whether it’s in bad taste to attend a baby shower tomorrow with my mother for a close family friend versus focus on my own family. Being as I live on the other coast yet grew up so close to the family on this one, I see how close those who remain here still are and I feel a sense of sadness and envy, and distance in trying to feel part of that now when family is needed most. But my father didn’t even call me to come over earlier, he waited until night to tell us what had happened.

If I still had my former job I would not be out here this Monday, but it turns out my life has enabled me to decide to stay out an extra Monday and fly back on Tuesday. I just felt like I had to be here this Monday versus heading back earlier. So it happens that my grandfather’s funeral is on Monday and I will be here for it. I don’t know if I would have been able to fly out for this if I was currently employed full time. And I start my new job very soon so I can stop thinking about that and instead focus on what matters right now – family. In the end, that’s the only thing that really matters anyway, isn’t it?

 

L’Shana Tova: Here’s to New Years and New Beginnings

While I don’t consider myself a religious person, I do like that the Jewish New Year occurs in the beginning of fall, vs the standard global New Year of January 1st. Fall is a natural transition period between the long days of summer and getting back into the swing and grind of winter. It’s also a good time to pause and reflect one’s growth and changes over the past 12 months. This year, in my own, there have been many.

But 2014 seems to be ending with a bang. I am very close to closing out an amazing employment opportunity that I’m excited about for so many reasons. The subject matter is something I’m deeply passionate in and I think I’m most excited about the chance to work with a few particular individuals who are just the cream of the crop in their roles, especially the small external team I am already pulling together. What really hurt at my other job was that I didn’t feel like I had the right team for success – and in a leadership role it is absolutely impossible to win alone. Just like casting a play a director knows the success of her show is largely in who she gets to show up for auditions and who she puts in each part, so is the success of managing an important function in an organization. I have at least one superstar player on board, at least for a short while, and I’m just absolutely floored that he is willing to partner with me on this mission. I know he has his choice in employment so it means a lot for him to take a chance on me, despite that I’m actually very confident that I am going to an excellent job in this specific role.

Turning down a large company for a position at another smaller company is tough, but not so tough when I feel like I’m set up for success in the smaller company. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me and it’s surely and uphill climb but I’m going to get it done. I’ve taken my offers to negotiate a very strong package for myself (knock one wood) that will not only serve as fuel towards my savings goals but also further motivate me in going above and beyond to kick every ass there is in sight. I’m scared as all hell but well rested and ready to do this. And, side note, as soon as health insurance kicks in I’m investing immediately in a great psychiatrist and some anxiety meds and/or antidepressants to smooth out my mood so I can focus on what is important.

I’m starting to feel like 2015 is going to be one incredible year, all leading up to my wedding in spring 2016! And, in addition to working for a company whose mission I believe in and who has a team I really like, my seemingly unreasonable goal of saving $500k before I have kids is actually achievable if I can achieve my full bonus over the next two years. It’s pretty amazing to think that my ridiculous goal – which I set when I had $8k in the bank in 2007 – is actually within reach.

While I’m still waiting for the final contract to come through, it seems as though this is going to happen. I still have another solid offer which is there for the taking, but I am really revved up about this opportunity and just need to focus on my mental and physical health to make the best of it. Let’s do this.

 

In Limbo but Trying to Relax in my Looney Toon life

With so much up in the air and this cold that won’t go away and my grandfather’s deteriorating condition it’s certainly hard to do what I need to do this week – relax. Every day spent at home is certainly an eye-opening reminder of the makings of my psyche, for better or worse. It’s useful as I pry myself out of my narcissistic personality to address head on the makings of this neurotic mind.

Are your parents crazy? Are everyone’s parents crazy? Are mine just a bit more crazy? It made me chuckle out loud yesterday when – out at a very awkward lunch with my father at the local Indian Buffet – he described my mother as “looney toons.” While that, in fact, may be true, he isn’t exactly Mr. Sane himself. What both of my parents do not have is the ability to understand how their actions effect other people. It isn’t that they don’t care, they just don’t even stop to empathize with another person. Their lives are, individually, more important than any other thing in the world, except maybe – conservative politics, to my dad – and the holocaust, to my mom.

We walked into this nearly-empty Indian Buffet restaurant for lunch and my father, a regular frequenter of the establishment, puts on his awkward fake charm introducing me to the workers at the restaurant, making a comment about “this is my daughter, isn’t she beautiful?” and then he makes some awkward comment about the woman who owns the establishment and how beautiful she is two, he’s “surrounded by beautiful women” and for her to, jokingly, not tell her husband he said so. While that alone was not terrible, what gets to me is how unaware he is of other people and what is going on in their minds. Our waiter – a very awkward probably 18-year-old Indian male who seemed to speak little English and possibly have some sort of minor autism – was greeted with the following message by my father “this is my daughter. Ask her out, maybe you’ll have a date.” What dad? What was that?

I hoped the waiter he didn’t hear or understand what my father had just said. I briefly thought to explain why it was absolutely inappropriate to say such a thing, but saying anything of the sort would be fruitless in use anyway. I got up immediately and walked to the buffet, blushing. Despite letting everyone at the restaurant know how “beautiful” I am this didn’t stop him from later in the dining experience, when I was explaining my braces and how they work, spurting out that my teeth are yellow and I should get them whitened (as if I do not know this already or are not completely self-conscious about it.) A person who thinks about how other people feel might say the same in different words — maybe even “have you ever tried teeth whitening, I was looking into it myself” or “I heard about this teeth whitening thing but it probably costs a lot, are you going to try that for your wedding? I hear a lot of brides do.” There are just more elegant ways of telling someone such news, or not at all. But with him the comment comes out of no where in the middle of an otherwise momentary pleasant conversation. Sure – you’re spending thousands of dollars to straighten your teeth and fix your overbite, and I just told everyone here how beautiful you are – but your teeth are yellow. Nevermind that my father’s teeth are cracked and falling a part, that he has been morbidly obese in various ranges throughout my entire life, and that his own teeth are not exactly pearly white. I held my breath and changed topics.

The Game of Risk: We’d Rather Not Play at All

One thing I never quite realized about my father until this week was just how risk adverse he is. It’s not just risk aversion, which played into his career where his job was to calculate risk, he’s absolutely paranoid. For example, when I got dropped off at my friend’s bridal shower after he screamed at me for failing to have the right address (my phone internet was not working as I planned to look it up in my Facebook history and it took a few minutes or drive time to get into a better reception area) he then didn’t believe me that I had seen the restaurant a few blocks back to let me out of the car, as he was worried I might get hurt. This from a man who used to beat me with my belt and to this day if he gets the strength for it can shove my mother across the room. His definition of hurt needs some work. I convinced him to let me out and walk back a few blocks to the restaurant. He sat on the curb until he saw I got inside, as if I was 2.

My father also could have been a great physicist – for all the crazy he is a very intelligent man. I had forgotten and reminded my week by his sister that he received a full ride to MIT for undergrad, chose not to even apply to Princeton, and went to a much smaller, less prestigious school despite being able to go practically anywhere he wanted for free with his stellar academic career. He didn’t want to go so far from home or to be in a bigger school, so he went somewhere with 1000 people only. Then as a grad student he dropped out of Cornell, unable to take the pressure, it seems.

His parents are fascinating as well – a father who was both to a man from Naples who disappeared when he was less than two – and a Slovakian woman who raised him with a German stepfather in a very Catholic household. He was in the Navy and raised his kids as such. Seeing the shell of the man he once was at the hospital this week is unnerving as he’s always been full of spunk and an energy you know not to piss off. Now he can only make out a few grumbles while squeezing his fist so tight you think he’s going to rip through his hand.

My dad’s mother, on the other hand, is a Jewish woman of Hungarian and Polish decent. She, at the least, has the ability to somewhat understand how her actions effect other people. Yet her six children – my dad being the oldest of the six – all have their larger-than life personalities shaped by her parenting. She’s a strong woman in my mind, though a bit OCD, and I can see where my father gets his monotone range of panic over any unsettling situation from her. Everything that doesn’t go her way is, momentarily, the end of the world. It’s the same with my dad, though she doesn’t react in the same violent frightening way.

Mom is in Her Own Little World

Mrs. Looney Toons, my mother, is probably certifiably crazy. It’s interesting pitting the psyches of my mother and father against each other because in a lot of ways they are the same – living in their own self-entitled world. However my father – to give him some credit – has a limited grasp on reality (working to support a family of four for so many years and a wife who quickly spends a ton of money without understanding of what this does to ones savings can do such a thing to a person.)

A friend of mine recently shared some insightful wisdom on how kids don’t generally know how to do things well, they must have a model to follow. If the parents are constantly screaming at each other and being violent and then the child starts to act up and the child is punished for her behavior, well, then, the parents actually taught the child the same behavior they are punishing her for. It’s a vicious cycle. Same goes for my achilles heel – my lacking ability to clean up my room and keep my life organized. While this was the main source of my own beatings as a child, I had a mother who would simultaneously tell me to clean up my room while freaking out should I ever suggest throwing anything away. My father’s organization skills were no less troubling, his own room and desk flooded with papers and books. Yet somehow I had to understand how to keep things organized without throwing away any of the items. I guess organization comes naturally to some without the model but for me it was very difficult and to this day is a huge challenge. My mind runs on a thousand times in this paranoid loop of whether I will ever need an item before I can part with it – making cleaning take much longer than it would for the average person and causing more stress than it ever should. No wonder I avoid it.

While my father will comment about just anything about you without concern or thought for how such a statement makes you feel, my mother’s comments are much more shallow. Her primary goals are for you as a child are for you to look good in pictures and have a job that she can explain ad nauseam to anyone she encounters who she might possibly somehow know. For example, a neighbor walking down the street with her dog, obviously not intending to stop and listen to my mom’s story vomit for fifteen minutes, got caught up in this by stopping to say an unavoidable hello passing our house while we were out front. My mom – completely unable to grasp that someone may have better things to do then hear her life story du jour – starts to tell my life story, my sister’s life story, the story of what is happening to my dad’s father in the hospital. The woman, who is trying to not be rude, smiles and nods at her dog tugs at his lease and tries to move her along. It isn’t that the woman wanted to not stop and chat at all, but my mother – likely aspergian to some degree – doesn’t have it in her mind to read people’s faces and understand it’s time to stop talking.

In another example of my mother’s childish narcissism, and this is something she does often, we were at a sort of outdoor museum and in one garden area a wedding was being held. It was in public so it was her right to peer inside like many others were doing – however, while the other group remained further back from the opening between two sets of bushes she walked right up to the hole, loudly announcing that her daughter is looking for a wedding venue too. She wasn’t talking to the people inside the wedding itself, she was talking to the air, because she thinks people care. To her credit, this is how she gets into conversations with others about whatever topic she wants to be talking about at the moment – someone usually takes the bait and often it’s another Jewish woman with a similar penchant for rambling on and on and on. My mother, to her credit, has no social fear. She can walk  up to just about anyone and start talking to them on the topic of just about anything. I don’t know how she does it as the thought of such a thing makes me shrivel up and a panic attack arise, but she doesn’t have this fear at all inside of her. Maybe it’s a blessing. But it can be quite awkward and embarrassing in many situations. As my mom explained to the air and to the workers blocking the opening to the wedding that her daughter is looking for a wedding venue, her daughter, struck with the panic of embarrassment, disappeared into another exhibit.

Both of my parents are in many ways like children who are unable to be pleased. Another conversation I had yesterday with my aunt was around how I feel terrible for never buying my cousins and grandparents gifts but I have an honest neurosis around buying a gift that isn’t good enough for them. She said that’s silly, that it’s the thought that counts. I countered with the reminder that my parents would judge any gift I got them with contention, and often the gift would be not good enough for their tastes. My father would complain about it only to later make some comment boasting about his daughter got him a gift. My mother would, unless I got lucky, complain that the gift wasn’t useful or it was something she would buy anyway or she just didn’t like it. So I rarely buy people gifts. It’s not just a financial thing, it’s also this mental freak out I have every time I try to get anyone something.

What my immediate family never had was this ability to care for each other. Everyone is in their own world of self importance. We are a family of egos, my parents hyper-critical of everyone but themselves – and myself and my sister – caught up in this web of learned narcissism paired with a lack of trust in who we really are. That is why, for me, it is so remarkably refreshing to be in a relationship with a man who is the complete opposite of what I know. Where love in my family is only defined by financial support and the basics of life – “I love you therefore I feed you” – my relationship is filled with love and care. I’ve had all of this love boiling up inside of me for so long that I didn’t know where to put it or how to use it. But it really is simple. I love my guy and we can sit and cuddle and laugh and – I try my best – to care for each other no matter the other’s choices. His life is not my life and vice versa. I have no right to judge his choices as long as they do not severely effect my well being. And he doesn’t judge at all. He is there for me in my best and my worst and my worst again. That’s what actual love is. Money can get in the way but as long as you focus on yourself and the money you need to live the life you want and support your children in the way you want then it’s not an issue. Financial independence – from each other – in a relationship makes love possible. Then it can’t be about what the other person provides beyond love, care, and ongoing moral support for the chaos that is life.