Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Old Beliefs, New Year

If you've been paying attention at all to this blog, you'll realize that I've been having a bit of a rough year.  Adversity always makes me contemplative, and I've realized that I have an extremely strong, almost codified, system of beliefs (not religious beliefs really, I'm still a bit on the fence there).  I live by these, they are who I am, and so when I fail in one, I feel like I've failed as a person.

No Excuses.  There is No Try.  Only Do: This one I had all but beaten into me, so naturally it's the first one that comes to mind.  I was in a volleyball gym from the time I was a week old on.  I grew up knowing the game and so, when I started playing, I knew exactly what I was doing wrong; and that was true pretty much always.  It frustrated me when coaches corrected me and I frequently let it show.  My response to a correction was frequently something like: "I know what I did wrong, leave me alone." or "I'm trying".  Their response was always: "If you know, then why didn't you do it?" or "Then do it next time". That always angered me even more, because I knew exactly what I'd done wrong, but I couldn't always make my body do it correctly.  It took me a long time to find the words to explain that concept and by then it was too late.  I remember having an hours long talk with my mother in the car and I just sobbed the whole time.  She explained that to the coaches, it didn't matter if I knew or not, I'd still done it incorrectly and to them, I was just making excuses.  So I learned to duck my head, say "okay" or "thank you", and move on.

It took me years and years to truly believe in what my mom told me, but it worked, so until I did believe it, I followed her advice.  Now though, I understand why the coaches were so frustrated with my response.  When I made excuses, I was trying to push attention away from my shame of failing.  I would say: "I'm trying" but they didn't want to hear it, and here's why.  The word "try" inherently means that you've failed.  If you're successful in your endeavors, you say: "I did it".  If you fail (most people) say: "I tried".  The full sentence though is: "I tried and failed."  By using the word "try", I was trying to weasel out of my own failings.  And that seemed dishonorable to me, so I don't use the word try anymore.  If I fail at something, I'm going to own it.  "I'm sorry, I failed," is fucking hard to say the first hundred (or so) times.  But the more I've said it, the more I've accepted it, the more I've owned my actions.  I respect myself more for admitting my failings and moving on from them.  And, the fact that I can receive a note and say "thank you" and honestly mean it (although there are still times where I don't mean it), has earned me respect from my peers.  I've actually had a boss commend me for always taking a note with a "thank you", even when he knew I probably disagreed with him.

Lead by Example: This one is rather less specific to me, but like the other one, I know exactly how it came about.  As established above, I hate being told what to do.  It irks me, and even though I know people are trying to help, to this day, it is still extremely difficult for me to accept that they aren't being condescending.

By nature of my personality, and despite of my relatively young age, I end up in charge of many situations. I was a shift supervisor at my Starbucks 22.  I assistant stage managed an equity show at 23.  I'm props lead for a prominent theatre and have been since I was 22.  It's not the authority I'm seeking, honest.  I just look to do my job the best I possibly can, but that, I've found, leads to having authority. And so, how does one lead without condescending to people?  How do you lead people decades older than you?  This is the problem I have faced since I graduated college.

My solution (and it has been my solution since before I graduated, but it's become more important since then)?  Do, don't tell.  I read a lot, and so often, the hero becomes disheartened when they try to live by this principal, but fail, but I've surprisingly found a lot of success.  At Starbucks, hardly a week would go by without a coworker mentioning that I inspired them with how hard I worked.  And let me tell you, those words are heady and I never got sick of them.  When I left my first store, one of my coworkers flat-out told me that she thought I was effective because I lead by example.  It made her and other people want to work harder.  And so, despite my expectations, sometimes people do notice.

Moments like that are why I always work my hardest; even when I'm exhausted or hurt or sick, I will always give everything.  And if I can convince even a few people to follow my example, then I count it as a success.

You are your Own Worst Enemy: This belief came about in college.  My entire life, I've always taken failing hard, particularly when I'm letting down other people in addition to myself.  My freshman year of college, I got a stomach virus.  I had a fever of 102 at it's highest and the illness lasted about a week.  People covered the concerts I was supposed to work, but when I was finally feeling better, I completely spaced and missed a show.  My boss (who was also my professor) could have fired me right then and there.  He had all the cause he needed.  I went to him, sobbing and terrified.  He just looked at me and said: "Nothing I have to say will make you feel any worse than the things you have already told yourself." and he dismissed me.  I couldn't stop thanking him.

His words were ones I had never heard before, but they were life changing.  I vowed that I would take that approach in the future.  When people fuck up, they don't need your derision, they know they fucked up; it's only hurting, not helping.  And so I've found myself repeating my professor verbatim over the years and the grateful looks I've gotten for that have been nothing but rewarding.

No Regrets: This one I don't have a story for.  I suspect it was something that happened when I was really young, but I couldn't tell you what.  My whole life though, I've lived mostly without regrets.  I'm not sure how I manage it, but I'm grateful that I can.  The few times when I have regretted a decision, I've been utterly miserable and so I've sought to avoid it as much as possible.  To me, regrets do nothing but cause you to question yourself.  I try to have confidence in myself and trust that I've made the right decisions.  I think in almost every case, it's worked out for me.  I only get one life, I'm not going to waste it on what might have been.

Expect Results and you'll Get Them: This belief developed slowly while working with children and I'm so glad it did.  I've found that if you tell a child to do something and have no doubts that they will object, then they'll do it.  I don't try to take advantage of this; I don't want to abuse my authority over them.  However, having absolute faith in what I say and how it will affect their actions, has proven key to me.  If they have a question or concern about it, I'm not going to force them to do it.  I'm not demanding or requiring they do something; I've just found: expect something reasonable -> they will oblige you.

This result was curious to me and so I've tested it over the years.  When I first began to train my dog, I was curious if it would apply to him and it does.  If I tell him to "Sit" then he's going to; I'm not uncertain about it, he will sit (it might not always be prompt, but because it's my expectation, he will meet it).  People (and apparently animals) seem to naturally want to meet expectations.  I think this is another reason that I'm able to be in management positions even when people are 10, 20, 30, 40+ years older than me.  I don't care their age, I wouldn't be asking something of them if it didn't need to happen, and I have no expectation that it won't happen.

I think this whole method wouldn't work out for me if I was unreasonable.  I'm not ever trying to be manipulative or demanding and people tend to get that.  If you're not demanding, people tend to also be more willing to accommodate you.

I don't think I did a particularly good job explaining this one.

Trust Yourself First: I don't have super high self-esteem in many ways (though this post would seem to belie that statement), but I have always be confident in my sense of self.  I know who I am.  I know when I do something, I'm probably not going to fail.  If I do something, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability, even if I do fail.

When I was attending college prep school we read a poem called "The White Man's Burden" (it's about Imperialism) and the question my teachers asked of us when we finished was, "Was the author serious in his intent or was it satire?"  They asked us to move to one corner of the room if we thought it was satire and another if we thought it was serious.  It was a co-taught class of 50 or so high school sophomores.  By the time everyone had decided, I was sitting alone in the corner of the room designated for the author being serious.  Twice my teachers asked me: "Are you sure?  You're all alone."  And twice, I assured them that I was positive I didn't want to move.  The teachers then went on to explain that I was right and commended me for being firm in my decision.  If the teachers had said move to this corner if you think you're pretty, or a good weight, or likeable I would have never stood firm in my belief of those things, because I didn't believe they were true.  But in this area, I knew, unequivocally that I was correct.  Every now and then, a situation comes along where I know in my bones I'm correct, even when no one else believes me.  This was one of those.

My junior year of high school, I was in chemistry and my teacher was trying to explain a concept and the class was just not getting it.  I did understand and eventually halfway through the class period, I raised my hand and asked: "Is it like this ______?"  I was hoping to lure her on to a more understandable path. The teacher got so upset she asked me: "If you think you're so smart, why don't you teach the class?"  She gestured toward the board and I shrugged, got up, drew a few diagrams, made a brief explanation, and the class all nodded and expressed their thanks.  I can be a shit at times...

What I mean by all of this isn't that you should trust yourself and not other people, or even over other people.  It means, for me at least, that's it's really really hard for me to trust other people if I don't trust myself.  And I want to trust other people, so trusting myself is also a must.  Know when you're right and have faith in it.

Show Consideration to Everyone, but Respect is Earned:  When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be a grown-up (now that I am an adult, that desire still doesn't seem foolish).  I hated being treated like a kid.  I hated not having a say in my own choices.  I hated that people seemed to think that I was incapable of reasoning.  I hated that I had to respect my elders, even when they didn't deserve it.  I hated that I seemed to be somehow sub-human.  I just said hated a lot in reference to my childhood, and in truth, I really didn't care for my childhood.  I was mostly miserable.

As soon as I turned 18 (or rather as soon as most of my friends did and I demanded the rights they were receiving) everything changed.  I was suddenly capable, responsible, etc.  But what changed?  Nothing, not really.  I resolved, then and there, that I wouldn't treat kids that way when I interacted with them.

When I was a kid, my dad (and occasionally mom) was constantly telling me: "Don't be disrespectful."  It got so I clenched my jaw and ground my teeth at the phrase.  It just made me so angry.  "Respect has to be earned." I would say (or usually shout) back.  And despite everything, I still think that's true.

Consideration means everything to me.  Having written that and looking over that sentence, I still don't quite find it hyperbole.  If you are inviting people over, you need to tell everyone you live with.  If you said you'd make dinner, then you need to make dinner (or at least tell everyone who's eating it that you're not).  If you're planning on a event, invite everyone you would normally invite, even if you think that person is probably busy.  Consideration is how you show people that you care (there are of course other ways, but this is my primary way).  I don't mind going out of my way for everyone.  It doesn't hurt or really affect me.  I don't mind being inconvenienced at all, because as people, everyone deserves my consideration.  I feel like it is a thing people should receive by right of being people.  I will be considerate to everyone I meet and again, to me, that means treating everyone courteously, politely, kindly, and (at least initially) believing that they're competent.  This applies to kids, the differently-abled, people of different races, of different religions, of different genders, of different orientations, hell, I apply it to domesticated animals sometimes.

But for me, respect is different.  When I meet someone, I will be considerate of them, but I'm still assessing them (maybe they're not competent or intelligent or friendly (etc), but that doesn't mean I should be mean or impolite).  However, there are very few people I honestly respect in the world (I can name maybe 15).  For me respect is something I almost cherish and it is definitely earned.  People have earned that in difference ways.  For me, being completely competent and astonishing at your chosen profession is a really good way to earn my respect.  Being an incomparably good human is another way.  Having put up with my bullshit from childhood is another.  I am always seeking to earn everyone else's respect.

Anticipate Problems and You'll Prevent Most of Them: This whole post seems to have turned into me bragging, which isn't what I mean or want.  These are just tenets that I live my life by and so I have devoted everything I have to trying to be good at what I believe.  All that being said, I do feel like I am extremely good at anticipating what other people want.  My boss (and other coworkers) have a tendency to turn to me and go "Kaylee, could you get..." and I'll hand them the tool they needed before they finish the sentence.

It's such a useful skill as a stage manager, so it's one I've cultivated daily.  If something goes wrong on stage, I have a 70% chance of being the one who will notice.  And if it's minor, I'm just going to take care of it, but if it's major, I can tell my superiors and they can troubleshoot.  If I say something ill thought out or the phrasing is off, I will tend to notice that the person I'm talking to is upset and trying to smooth it over and apologize immediately.  If someone is hurt or sick, I generally hand them a bandaid or a cough drop, or whatever, without them even asking.  I want to be a person who notices that your drunk friend went to the bathroom awhile ago and hasn't come back, so that you can be there for them

It's not mind reading, but the more I observe people the better I get at anticipating, and the more people seem to think it is.  And I'll admit, it's not totally altruistic, I feel awesome when I'm able to anticipate someone's needs without them asking.  I'll admit, I'm occasionally rude and cut someone off with a "Yeah, no problem" before they finish their sentence and they get mad (I've played the: "Well, what was I going to say?" game with people who are upset at being interrupted quite often (I frequently make them more mad, by finishing the sentence correctly)).

For all that I can take a note with a "thank you" it's still hard to not think that I've failed since I got the note in the first place.  This means that I expend probably more of my energy than I should anticipating what people want or need, so I don't have to take a note in the first place.

Let your Best be Good Enough:  This is my newest held belief and it is still the hardest for me.  Growing up, I have always been competitive.  People often think that I want to win at all costs.  It's made more than one person not want to play board games with me anymore.  For a long time, I bought into it.  I'm competitive, I'll get upset if I lose, I just shouldn't play.  That was still preferable for everyone than when I played and got upset, and I really do enjoy watching almost as much as playing.  But recently I came to the realization that I don't hate losing.  I hate not doing my best.

At Nationals for volleyball, we faced the number one ranked team in the nation and went a full 3 games (best of 3) with them and only lost but the minimum 2 points.  And I didn't feel bad at all.  In fact, I felt proud of  how my team had played.  It took me a long time to realize, that I only got upset when I lost and I felt I could have played much better.  So now that I recognize that feeling, I can generally play most games even when I don't play well.  But it's still very hard for me to lose when I played badly, and it's going to take a long time to truly accept that sometimes I will do badly and that is still good enough.

There is an Optimal Solution: I figure I'll start with a belief that's fairly unique to me and end with one.  I feel like many people believe that compromising is often the best solution.  For me, I find that a compromise is rarely even remotely satisfactory.  I have a hard time believing that there isn't an optimal solution where everyone will be happy.  And the thing is, I can find that optimal solution just often enough (sometimes in situations where it really seemed like there wasn't an optimal solution) that I have a hard time shaking myself of this belief.  This is a belief that has gotten me into trouble, when I get so stubborn about looking for the optimal solution, that I don't want to accept one that's adequate.

Similarly, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when someone takes an inefficient route to somewhere.  I understand that their route (or solution) is perfectly valid and I shouldn't malign that, but I do have a hard time (at least in my head) not looking for a better one.  This is a belief I'm not convinced I should necessarily hold, but it does keep me constantly thinking and looking for better choices and it has helped me out so so frequently, that I have a hard time abandoning it.


My Goal for Existence is to be a Better Person Every Day:  I feel like this whole post feels like I'm bragging or: "Look at me, I'm such a good person", but that's really not what it's intended to be.  This is what I believe and I hold my beliefs because I believe they are correct.  If they're not, or if there's a better one, I'm going to reassess.  I'm constantly evolving, constantly changing.  Maybe I am a good person, maybe I'm not, but I'll tell you what is unequivocally true: I strive for competence and courteousness always, but no matter how good I am, I can always be better.  So maybe my belief tenets disagree with yours, but it could well be that yours are better, and if they are, I'm going to borrow them.

Happy New Year everyone. 

A Year in Review

I haven't blogged much in recent years, that's been no secret.  I'm so busy, it's hard to find time and it's not like I'm really writing for an audience anyway.  But I guess I just want to take the time to go over my year.  Since my party plans were spoiled by a mild concussion, it's something to do (though it's made harder by a dog and a cat and a laptop trying to fit in my lap).

January- Working one of my favorite shows. It was tough show just because it was so mechanically difficult, at this point, I'd already been working the show for almost two months.  The city transfer was super rough, but I got through it.  I had the flu for the first time in my life, but managed to get it while everyone seemed to be busy, so I suffered through it alone.

February- The show from before finished up. I went to Canada for Valentines Day, which was really fun.  I started rehearsals as stage manager for two shows: and original staged reading and a famous Disney kid's show.

March- Kid's show continued, keeping up with two rehearsals is tough.  The stage reading went over great! I was super impressed with the musical the teenagers who were writing it managed to create (certainly better than another new work I saw in March).  I adopted a six month old puppy named Argos.  He's Italian Greyhound/Chihuahua mix and is the speediest thing on the planet.

April- Three tech weeks in a row: the staged reading at the end of March, the kid's show which ran for three weeks, and then another show as props at the theatre I normally work at.  On opening of the kid's show, a scenic element managed to break my pinky finger...that was fun. The last of those productions was probably the toughest track that I had ever run (and certainly the toughest up until that point). The crew was absolutely amazing. I miss them.

May- Opened the show.  Boyfriend broke up with me after six and a half years.  I'm fine now.  I was mostly fine then.  The hardest part was actually the schism that was created between my other friends and I, made worse by the fact that I wasn't sure what I'd done or how to fix it.  I moved out of the apartment, taking Argos with me.  My parents were incredibly gracious and supportive and let me stay with them for three months (the rest of the show run plus a bit) till I found an apartment.

June- Continued running the show in the first city.  Tried not to mope too much.  I spent a good deal of time biking.

July- Transferred the show to the second city.  I was only there for the first week, during which time I was training my replacement.  I got pulled to asm a small Equity show (my first as a stage manager), so I wasn't available anymore.  I did get to fill in for the asm the previous show one day though, because the normal asm was sick.  That was fun.  Started rehearsals for the show I was asming.  Became rather close with one of my coworkers, he's still a good friend.

August- I nearly amputated my left index finger and crushed my middle finger.  I managed to slam it in a heavy metal framed window that was propped open and shouldn't have been (see a previous post).  I ended up with five stitches in my finger.  I was lucky that for once, as asm, I wasn't allowed to touch scenery while backstage.  The production process for that new work was a bit of a bitch, but I loved the show, and it turned out pretty nicely.  I moved to my new apartment at the end of August.  I now live with more fish than I care to admit, my dog, and my cat (who had been living with my family for two years because of my roommate's allergies).

September- I had no shows immediately, which hadn't happened to me since I started theatre.  I refereed high school volleyball, though it wasn't the same.  This month was really hard because theatre had been my buffer since my breakup.  As long as I kept busy, I didn't have to think.

October- I stage managed a small fundraiser, which was high stress, but low time commitment and continued refing volleyball.  The last month of October we started flight rehearsal because in my current show, we're flying people.  I'm props again, but since our crew is small, I help with almost all the flying (it is both a cool and as dangerous and as difficult as I expected).

November-  I basically ran the show.  I don't get along with the crew on this show as well as most at this theatre, there are a bunch of new people.  I have a very difficult track, but it's fun, and keeps me from getting bored (which is one of my least favorite things ever).  I started hanging out with my coworkers more.  We go out the the bar after the last show Sunday.  It's fun.

December-  First, the good: I'm applying to a production management job with the children's theatre company that I work with frequently.  Now, the bad: My youngest sister ended up in the hospital with terrible head pain.  They thought it might be something life-threatening.  I think that's probably the closest I've come to missing a show.  Luckily, it ended up being a terribly migraine (which she'd never had before).  She didn't have aura (the black spots and neurological symptoms) so doctors were extremely confused.  But hers manifest the same way mine do.  Migraines suck, but I'm so glad it was relatively minor. Exactly a week later, my dad ended up in the hospital.  A massive bloodclot in his leg, broke off and made it's way to his lungs causing a pulmonary embolism.  At first my family told me it was relatively minor, but the more the doctors probed, the worse they realized it had been.  He was lucky he didn't die.  It hasn't exactly been a good month.  Today, I managed to minorly concuss myself while running a complicated props handoff sequence.  

So, here I am, sitting at home on New Year's Eve, not able to drink.  It's not that big of a deal honestly; it's just so typical of this fucking year.

Here's to a better one.  I hope with everything I have that it will be better than this one.