As I settle in to my morning coffee, I have a lot on my mind this morning. A recent conversation with my mom has me oriented in a new and different direction. We both have whatever plague is going around, and made some time on our mutually agreed upon sick day earlier this week to hang out and talk about life, plans, desires, and hopes. My mom (as an ENFP/advocate type) is more of a problem-solver than I am, but sometimes, I (an INFJ/Confidant type) do need that. This past week was one of those times, and talking with her helped tremendously. She challenges me in ways other people don’t to consider what makes me happy, what I need, and of what I need to rid myself in order to flourish. Our relationship is complex, and our life experiences are dramatically different, but my mom has done a tremendous amount of work to learn how to best relate to me, her strange and wonderful daughter. I, for my part, am so grateful to have her as my mom and my friend, even when things feel scary, high-stakes, or difficult.
One of the things we talked about (because I’m often talking about this) was decision. It started off as a meditation on the fact that, come December or January, I have some important choices to make that will impact the next few years (if not the remainder of) my professional life. Those choices involve a non-trivial investment, and while choosing one path does not permanently close the door of the other choice, I know myself. It is unlikely I will turn back in the near term. To make this less vague: I’m considering transitioning into IT rather than education. Over the course of our conversation, I realized that I may be setting a trap for myself going into teaching, without realizing it. Coming to terms with who I actually am (instead of who I might wish I was or who other people see when they look at me), and the (unconventional) things I want from a career and accepting that about myself is an ongoing process, and one my mom is pretty uniquely suited to facilitate, having known me for you know. Thirty-two years. I’m leaning more and more towards honoring the pantologist I am, and entering a field in which substantive career changes can be regular, encouraged, welcome occurrences, and in which advancement relies more on enthusiastic skill acquisition and mastery than it does on formal (expensive, exhausting) graduate education.
There are, of course, other practical benefits to that branch in my decision tree. The pay is more attractive, as is the ability to work remotely. I would be likely to receive some preferential treatment because of my gender, which would be nice for a damn change. I really (really) like solving systematic technical problems, thinking about process improvement, and I like breaking things ( marks of an excellent analyst). I like environments where a desire to continue learning is rewarded, rather than required. I love communicating with people about their needs. I thrive in environments in which learning is self-directed and open-ended. I love having my work be comprised of highly varied, constantly changing, short-term goals rather than long, sloggy, monotonous tasks. I love when my intelligence and creativity are considered assets, rather than things that need to be ‘managed,’ or worse, ‘stifled.’ I also have a background in software testing and test design, and can do technical writing with the best of them. I hate feeling impotent, stagnant, or bored. I like a framework of stability that is internally flexible. I’m honestly kind of a whimsical creature; I like having the freedom to let the winds of my passion change my course. I hate feeling like I need to save the world. I like leaving work at work. I don’t think I would have known any of that as explicitly as I do now, or have reached the conclusions I have reached if my mom hadn’t made time for me, heard me as I am rather than what she might wish or expect me to be, and given me honest and un-self-interested suggestions, insight, and feedback. Thanks, Mumma.
It got me thinking about other sorts of decisions — the kind I am wont to discuss with Kira and Amanda — about lyfecrap, typically of the Person Variety. I’ve had the occasion (and will likely continue to do) to make firm, permanent choices about who stays and who leaves the hub and primary support strands of my social web. Right now, I’m fairly happy with my collection of crazy wonderful weirdos, but there is some behavior surfacing for a few people that fails to acknowledge or accept the kind of person I am and choose to be. If there is one thing I’m really crap at, it’s prioritizing how I make time for myself and others. Even as I say that, I know: That’s False. Here’s what I actually mean: There are not many people I want to see every day. There are, in fact, not many people I want to see more than once every two weeks. There are very few people I would rather talk to than read, cook, or knit. This is not so much an issue with those people, because, as stated, my people are wonderful amazing crazy weirdos who I love. It is more an acknowledgment that “myself” is often the person who needs my company the most.
Some of my closest, most cherished friendships are with people I talk to once a week, and see once every month to six weeks — sometimes, even less than that. Those friendships are rewarding for me in part because they are comprised of people who are a lot like me: striving, busy, cerebral, and communicative. These are people who know me well enough to carve out space for me to be like, “Actually, most nights I want to hang with my boyfriend or a book and my cats,” and who often echo those (or similar) desires. We all know the steps to the “OMG HOUSE TO MYSELF AND NOTHING TO DO” dance by heart. These are people who know that I’m so there for them that I need to be reminded to be there for myself. These are people who greet my weird existence with enthusiasm and affirmation rather than expectation and disappointment. They are also people who tend to have a strong support network of their own, in which I am merely a beloved, quirky cog. They are people with active, compelling, and entertaining internal lives. All of them, to the last, love to read, and in fact probably prefer it to most other activities. They are also people who recognize that the solution to most of life’s problems involves making a decision, standing by our choices, and requiring solutions of ourselves. They are people who seek me out because I’m hilarious and thoughtful — not because I’m supportive and caring. And when my care is what they need, they each have ways of balancing the content of conversation without my ever asking. In short, they are people for whom I am enough.
There are also people in my life for whom I am not enough, as I am. In these friendships, I am often making tacit judgment calls about boundaries, limits, costs, and benefits. This person would like xyz from me — do I want what I want for myself (an evening alone, one on one time with someone else I haven’t seen (or the occasion where someone would like one-on-one time with me rather than a group setting), a hot bath and a book, time with my Monster) more than I want for this person to feel loved by me today? Sometimes, the answer is “No,” and I prioritize wanting the people I love to feel loved over me wanting to do the “OMG HOUSE TO MYSELF AND NOTHING TO DO” dance. Sometimes, the answer is “Yes,” and I do my best to gently place a limit or decline an invitation. These are friends with whom I am far less compatible, and those friendships require a lot more maintenance energy than I’m often naturally inclined to give sentient beings who do not actually rely on me to continue their existence (my cats, Huginn and Muninn). Combine all of that with the fact that I have a tortuously wonderfully active social and gaming calendar, a gorgeous romantic relationship in which I am deeply, joyfully invested, and like, laundry to do and groceries to get, and lunches to pack (augh haaaate), and it’s like: okay, dudes. Sometimes, you gotta cut me some slack. I do my level best to challenge myself to express love in a myriad of ways, even when that expression is not the expression that comes most naturally to me, such that the love is felt and meaningful for its recipients.
Most of that is pretty unproblematic the vast majority of the time. I’ve been an introvert my whole life, and I’ve been navigating the waters of leading a charmed, beloved, busy existence that entire time with growing rates of success and satisfaction. If my friendship as I give it is unsuitable for someone, I trust them to either change their expectations or exit in favor of friendships that do a better job of meeting their needs. Them being grown-ups and all. However. When the tone of someone’s desires or requests takes a negative turn, when the weight of their unspoken expectations (rather than requests) that I prioritize them hangs in the air, or when I feel I’m being asked to fill roles that are inappropriate or unhealthy, I have a tendency to balk. It’s a one way, non-refundable, no return trip ticket to a swift and healthy creation and enforcement of emotional distance. And as I’ve talked with Ginny, I’ve realized that as I develop, age, and refine the things I want and things I don’t, I realize, I want to shift as she has shifted: to expect more and absorb less from people. And if there is one thing I don’t have room to absorb it is that the friend I am is insufficient. Because hey, adults: If you don’t like it, it’s cool! Go elsewhere! The universe is full of people with whom you could be more compatible! Go find them, and no hard feelings. There are only hard feelings on my end when instead, people cling to a friendship with me expecting that I will change who I am, what I need, and what I want in order to be more available to them. Because you know, lookit: If I did that, I would lose my self, and probably my damn mind. It’s not that the people I love aren’t worth whatever whatever. It’s that no one is worth me trying to force myself to be things I am not. Where you might perceive a shortcoming, I perceive a thing I love about myself that just serves, you know, me, instead of Other People. Where you might see a failure to reciprocate, I see that the ways I naturally express love and care are simply not identical to yours. I am perceptive enough to pick up on when someone’s primary interaction with me involves a measure of disappointment. For the first time in my life, my response to that is no longer Just Try Harder, Rabbit. I’m going to distance myself from that disappointment, and adjust my own expectations such that absorbing that disappointment is not something I require of myself.
Basically, most of this week has involved trying to honor the woman I am, and want to continue to choose to be, rather than the woman people wish I could be for them. I trust, quite firmly, that as that process continues, the people and opportunities who also honor who I truly am, my talents, my skills, and my abilities will rise to the top and affirm that choice.