I am writing this on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving. Because I like to finish one holiday before leaping ahead to the next, I am making this a quiet day, a space to reflect on what this annual feast, now so narrowly focused on eating and football, really means.
The actual history of Thanksgiving is far more complex, both messier and richer, than the story everyone knows about the Pilgrims inviting the Indians to dinner.
We hear very little about how the Pilgrims stole seed corn from the Nauset Indians of Cape Cod a few days after they arrived, or the fact that the land around Plymouth had already been cleared and cultivated by Pokanokets who had been wiped out by disease shortly before the newcomers arrived, or that when Native American neighbors came to help the Pilgrims they usually showed up naked!
We cheat ourselves when we settle for an oversimplified view of history because the arrival of the Mayflower in Plymouth represents a nitty-gritty struggle for survival which is as relevant today as it was for the residents of Plymouth in the 1620s.
Every event or conversation that upsets or displeases us is made up of two components: what actually happens in real time, and what our head does with it afterwards. We have little or no control over many of the difficult things which occur in our lives, but we can change our response to them.
A good starting point in keeping our minds from spinning out of control is to learn how to "drop the shock and awe." We do this by making a choice not to be surprised—once again—by behavior that we know from past experience is consistent with a particular person.
Because we already know what to expect, we can eliminate, or at least shorten, the time we spend trying to build a case for why we find another person's thinking, words or actions unacceptable.
I’ve been aware for some time now that what causes my clients the most pain in their professional lives is not the weight of their responsibilities, the heavier workload due to the economic downturn.
What leads to frustration, sometimes despair, are those difficult or even hostile exchanges with specific people in the work environment, often the boss. These interactions play out in predictable patterns which one of my clients recently described in great detail.
The scene was all-too-familiar: her boss kept calling her again and again, each time with a new demand, neither asking nor caring how the interruption would affect what she was currently working on, expecting her to be able to shift gears immediately, insisting that everything was urgent. It was making her numb.
I regularly work with clients who have creative goals—making pottery, writing poetry, actually using the sketch pad they've purchased or been given as a gift. Sometimes these aspirations come up almost apologetically: "Of course, it's not practical and I have so little time, but what I'd really like to be doing is—"
Frequently they come to light in an exercise where clients write stories about experiences in their lives which gave them a deep sense of personal satisfaction, e.g., this description of a drawing class written by a woman who manages construction projects: “I loved how I felt when I was doing these drawings. There was a connection between my soul and the paper.”
Occasionally, the need to put hands to clay or pen to paper has become so important to a client that the failure to be able to do it become the focal point of our discussion. This is always exciting to me because it is an unconscious recognition of the link between the artistic urge and transforming a work life.
In my clients' frustration I hear the struggle to claim the creative space which is essential to a genuine transition. The challenge for them (and for me) is to actuate these seemingly non-productive, impractical pursuits to serve the longer term goal of professional fulfillment.
People who vacation on Cape Cod would probably find it strange that someone who lives here would leave in July.
Nor would they be likely to see the connection between their arrival and my need to get away.
Initially our annual mid-summer escape was motivated by the desire to leave our tourists behind and become tourists ourselves.
We have come, however, like many others, to love the meandering coastline of Maine, with its rugged coves, smooth-as-glass inlets, and sailboat-dotted harbors.
We have grown particularly fond of the panoramic, almost three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of Penobscot Bay from Owls Head Light. It has become for us a must-go-to-whenever-we’re-there destination.
This year we made it the last stop, a place to pause to take in the beauty of the natural world before turning our backs on the sea and facing the five-and-a-half hours of highway ahead of us.
Some places never disappoint, and when you know this, it adds to the joyful anticipation of returning.
Growing a lawn, as opposed to isolated clumps of grass, is a problem on a sand bar, which is a good description of outer Cape Cod, where I live.
After years of trying without success, this Spring my husband announced that he was giving up, and he was going to put down mulch because he was sick of mowing dirt.
I have a strong preference for the natural look, so I balked at the idea of covering what little green we have with brown—or worse yet, red—mulch.
We compromised on ground cover and shrubs in the front, but what to do on side of the house remained unsettled until I had a wild idea in the middle of the night—we could build a labyrinth.
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol for wholeness. It combines the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path representing a journey to one’s own center and back again into the world.
Sometimes I’ve just had it with the absurd extremes marketing goes to and I have to stand up and say, "Enough!"
In the window of a convenience store near my house there is a sign which announces, "Cape Cod Ice Sold Here."
The Cape offers many wonderful things—clam chowder, lobsters, glorious beaches, and cranberries, to name a few—but no one ever returned from a vacation here saying, "I can't wait to go back next year for some more of that fabulous Cape Cod ice." Give me a break!
I heard some of the best work search advice I've come across in a long time at a career event sponsored by a Boston university where I was invited to give the keynote address.
After I spoke, a panel made up of career counselors from the university and a former executive recruiter answered questions from the audience and talked about how they managed their own professional lives.
The former recruiter had recently been elected to a leadership position with a volunteer organization serving professionals under 40 on Cape Cod (a minority here!) and each time she spoke, she would bring up some activity she had participated in with the group.
She talked with unrestrained enthusiasm about spending time the previous weekend, restoring the landscape around one of the Cape's precious kettle ponds, and then she announced:
"If you're looking for a job, go plant trees. You'll probably find yourself digging in the dirt with a bank president or a business owner."
I could barely contain myself!
It seems like just about everyone I've talked to lately has commented about the accelerated pace of their lives.
I hear it in ubiquitous phrases, like, "I've just been so busy, flat out, swamped, etc."
I feel it in the genuine regret I experience when I have to say no to something I want to do or find myself postponing being with a friend or colleague whose company I enjoy because I'm booked solid.
Although it's comforting to know I'm not alone, it's also alarming to realize that the goal of living a more balanced rhythm is eluding so many of us.
Could over-scheduling be like global warming, sneaking up on us by degrees and threatening our well-being?
Fortunately, last October, after a period of trying to normalize my overextendedness resulted in failure, I became painfully aware that I was driving myself too hard.
Whenever the same question comes up more than once in a short period of time, it gets my attention, so when feedback from a program I did for an agency which helps women in transition mirrored a recent comment on my blog from a career coach who works with low income people, I accepted the invitation to re-examine my thinking.
Both comments expressed the concern that people at the lower end of the employment spectrum would not be capable of grasping and utilizing an entrepreneurial approach to work-search, nor would they be likely to benefit from it if they did. They suggested that my thinking about the entrepreneurial mindset was all very well and good for some people but not for those with very few resources and a lot going on in their lives.
It was cabin fever, the need for a broader view of world than the one of the bird feeder outside my office window, that gave me the idea of going away for few days.
The destination I chose was the port city of Salem, Massachusetts, with its abundance of historical sites and excellent museum. But I ended up seeing none of them.
The snow began the afternoon I arrived, and by the next day, over a foot and half had fallen on Salem, with layers of ice and freezing rain for good measure, in effect closing down the town. The new snow fell on top of an already substantial buildup from earlier storms, causing unexpected problems, such as what to do with all the additional "white stuff" (it’s against the law to dump it in the harbor) and roofs that collapsed from excess weight.
Watching people laboring to shovel a path between snow banks almost as tall as they were, or improvising a solution by hanging out a window to clear off a porch roof with a rake, it struck me that their efforts had a lot in common with long-term unemployment. The work is arduous and all too familiar; "caving in," i.e., giving up, is a real danger; and it feels like spring will never come.
After the holiday break, I was not surprised to start 2011 with a full inbox, but what has been startling is the number of emails I have received from people over 50 who have been laid off and can't find work.
For months, in some cases years, these people have carried on discouraging job-search campaigns directed toward securing the kind of work they did before "the bottom fell out" of their professional lives.
They have reached the point where they feel they "can't buy a job" and are at their wits end as to what to do next.
At first I wondered, what do I say to these people? But then I noticed that none of them mentioned doing anything to create something new.