Anxiety And The New Job

Indulge me a moment.

Monday night I lay in bed working myself up into a good deal of anxiety about work. Didn't I quit the job that makes me anxious? Yes, yes I did, and I'm in a great job now. I like the work I'm being asked to do so much that I worry about not doing it well enough. Monday night I blew past anxious almost to panic. It's no wonder my dreams were frantic and in each of them I was helpless.

My inclination in such times is to shut up, hide, and hope no one notices. That's led to some predictable results. Sometimes I get through, but the anxiety seed takes root and waits to bloom again. Other times things fail to detonate, like a kid waiting and waiting for his lie to be exposed (not that I've had childhood experience with that, no not me). Still other times the whole thing blows up.

Tuesday morning I woke figuring I would go with the usual plan. Habits. But, in the waiting room of my daughter's MRI, I read a Harvard Business Review article "What Makes A Leader?" (subscriber only link, sorry) about emotional intelligence and leadership. Good leaders show "a propensity for reflection and thoughtfulness," something I like I'm well practiced i doing. I was still feeling anxiety from Monday night, so I stopped reading to acknowledge that.

Then I wondered, now what?

Here's a lot of why I like my job: I have four people to whom I report and I talked with two of them today. I told them about my anxiety and not only did they wave it off as nonsense but they assured me I'm doing well and suggested ways forward. Both also offered specific assistance instead of "anything I can do, let me know."

This is my new job. In my old job, it was all too easy to be alone in my anxiety. In my old job I had to hide from management. In my new job I work with leaders. What a difference.

I still feel like I have to do a better job, but I get that I need to grow into things, and I'm pretty sure I'll get there. I know I've got help. I expect to sleep better tonight.

Thanks for listening to my therapy session. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program already in progress.

Sustainable Listening

I take the album from its paper sleeve which I had pulled from the cardboard sleeve in which it rested. The vinyl is forty-seven years old. I set it on the platter, switch the turntable on, and brush it. The amp hums. I swing the tonearm over the record and lower the lever. (My fingers were never steady enough to lower the needle on their own and now I'm even less steady.) Crackles pop in the speakers, then Neil Young sings about packing it in, buying a pick-up, and taking it down to L.A.

Across the room I sit at an HP laptop reading work emails going back and forth between a couple of the directors. I signed onto the job thinking I'd just write grants, but it has turned into something more interesting because I want it that way and the people who hired me encourage such things. It's a sweet thing. About as sweet as Neil's voice out on the weekend.

My daughter is teaching me about sustainability. Because of her I've committed to never drinking out of a single-use water bottle again. Small steps.

Records are sustainable. I can feel it. The paper sleeve. The brushing. The crackles and pops. Sure, vinyl is pretty nasty petroleum stuff, but it's forty-seven years old and I'll keep it the rest of my days (having learned the mistake of ditching the albums from my childhood).

The job feels sustainable too. My old one was like sitting in a running car in a closed garage. I wrote a note this morning to an old colleagues. I keep wanting to break a window, open the door, something before he suffocates. That's how it was with me. And the effects of that linger. That place was poison to me. I'm only now just beginning to recover.

Over coffee I read Neil Young's Lonely Quest To Save Music and his idea that the compressed digital music is doing something bad to our brains, kind of like the mind-suck of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else feels necessary but disconnects us. That ain't sustainable either.

The record's almost over. Even that can't go on and on. But there's the other side and there's another record and another after that. Just the feel of the record, the act of putting it on, and the restorative sound flowing across the room, yeah, it's enough to sustain me. It all feels so good.

Walking To Work

This morning it was raining gently outside. Seems as though everyone is complaining about it. I shrugged. For whatever reason the rain isn't bothering me. Our basement is dry. I had no picnic planned. My umbrella and raincoat keep me dry enough. I pulled the door behind me and walked from home toward my new job, thirteen minutes up the road. Yeah, I've timed it.

Walking to work is a change for me. Until yesterday I drove nearly twenty minutes to school on the highway. It wasn't bad and was an improvement on the hour-long commute I had before that. I'd put on music or podcast or ride in silence, but it wasn't fun. It's no fun to commute to where I was going, but even riding home I felt blah about it.

This morning, though I was tired, I didn't feel blah. Even if I had felt blah, the walk seems to change things. The exertion, slight as it is, feels good. My mind wanders or turns off in a way that would be too dangerous in traffic but is fine on the sidewalk. I feel the commute from toes up to my head and it feels good.

There are books about walking and writing, the connection between the two. Maybe this daily walk will rub off on my writing (as I suppose it has here). I felt almost as if my feet and legs were writing on the short walk this morning. I'm just not sure yet how to read what they've set down.

When the workday ended, I packed my things and pulled the bag over my shoulder. The weather had cleared. I stuffed the rain coat in the bag, pulled the umbrella down from the hook, walked downstairs, and headed out into the world. I found myself smiling as my legs carried me one step at a time back toward home. My mind and heart had already arrived where they need to go.

Clear Behind, Work Ahead

I got a message that an old email account of mine had been used to send spam. Well, that's disconcerting. It's an account through an organization I'm still part of but I no longer use that address. I logged in, changed the password, then looked through what had been sent. Russian spam, God love those little bastards. Scrolling past those I saw messages from the past showing all the ways in which I used to be logged into the web. It got me working.

Years ago I had accounts on so many things I can no longer remember a tenth of them. Many of the sites are defunct or have been largely forgotten. One, of which I was an early subscriber, had a couple million members then but gets fewer than a thousand hits today. I still have the account. Finding all this was like that moment when the closet is so full it won't shut. I started clearing, removing the breached email account from my online presence, learning what trails I have left behind.

The process is tedious but I don't mind tedious sometimes. It reminds me of a summer I rooted out the grape vine in our backyard, cutting, digging, clipping, pulling, ripping, and carrying brush to the curb. That summer I needed a project. I sweat and swore at it for hours at a time over a week or two and when it was done I smiled. Two years later the whole thing was back as if I had done nothing because there's no getting rid of grape vine without lethal doses of roundup or napalm. I'll never clean up my online presence either. The roots go too deep and have spread. Still, it's a useful exercise.

For some reason the work got me down. The hacked account, when I first created it, was going to be my way forward, my way out of a job I'm still in. It was to connect me with bigger, better things. It did that, but I got involved with idiocy and foolishness which became a total mess and near disaster. These kept me from doing my best work, from believing in myself, and from making good choices. Cleaning out the old online roots could have felt empowering as if I was starting anew but I felt depressed over mistakes I made, opportunities I missed, and the feeling that I won't ever get where I want to go. A couple hours into pruning and pulling internet roots, I took my depression to bed and sleep. I dreamed of being lost in a house the size of a shopping mall filled with people I don't want to know. I kept trying to get away but was called back again, again, and again while the lights in the mall/house grew dimmer and darker.

It snowed hard that night and I woke to eight inches of heavy snow in the driveway and on the sidewalks. I made coffee, took that and my pen to the nook to write Morning Pages, and found myself having an idea for the future. I wrote it on a post-it noteand finished Morning Pages. The idea still percolating, I pulled on boots, coat, gloves, and wool hat, walked out to the garage, pushed the button for the door, and grabbed the shovel. Before the door had opened all the way I dug into the snow and counted "one." It was nine degrees with a stiff wind and snow still falling. "Two," I counted as I threw the next shovel of snow up and over the wall.

I imagined a clear driveway but it takes a lot of shoveling and the snow was still coming. One hundred strokes in I had a section cleared to the blacktop. "But there's so much to go," I thought and began figuring how many shovels of snow it would all take. I stopped halfway through the figuring and looked back at the area I had cleared. It was already well dusted with snow. "I will never be done," I said in a Charlie Brown voice. A thought came to me and when I said again, "I will never be done," the tone was different. I've cleared snow out of that driveway for eighteen years. I pushed the shovel in and threw snow up over the wall. "One hundred one," I said into the wind and snow. "One hundred two," I said throwing another.

It took 941 shovels-full to clear the driveway and all the sidewalks. I took a break to pet the big black dog who is the neighborhood mayor and speak to his owner. I took another to say good morning to my wife and our smaller black dog as they went for a walk/run. I took several short breaks to recall my father clearing snow when I was a child and checking on me clearing snow from the parking lot of his funeral home when I was in school. I imagined him in the driveway, me telling him to just talk and not worry about helping me shovel. I kept counting each full shovel of snow as I shifted it up onto the banks.

When I finished the sidewalks I put the shovel on the wall of the garage and took down the scraper. An inch of new snow lay where I had begun shoveling an hour before. I scraped back down to blacktop then stood in the open garage to consider what I had done.

The snow was coming down and would cover the driveway and sidewalks. In two hours I would shovel again but the snow would be lighter than the overnight accumulation. "I will never be done," I said again looking up into the infinite grey.

This spring the grapevine will come back. I may rip it out again. I could use that kind of project, something long-term, difficult, and with no hope of being completely finished.

I may try to clean up my online profile some more, deleting old accounts, unsubscribing from more and more clutter. There will remain fragments of me out there and every so often some cretin will hack in and spam people. That's just one way in which the world works.

Looking over my shoulder I see the stuff of my past: mistakes, projects that didn't work out as I hoped, the continuing misery of my job. But I also see that I clear down to the blacktop in places, make piles of brush at the curb, and delet some of the detritus of my online past. I nod twice at that view over my shoulder, turn around, dig the shovel in and resume counting as I push on through whatever comes down, clearing a wide path to wherever it is I'm going.