Lawful vs Chaotic Good

A few weeks ago, Cyd Harrell retweeted this Twitter thread from Karla Monterroso (now a blog post) on Lawful Good vs Chaotic Good. It was inspired by Bernie Sanders dropping out of the primary, but there was a lot there that resonated on the process of making change in this world in general. I’ve since forwarded it to multiple folks.

I didn’t realize that Lawful Good and Chaotic Good are Dungeons & Dragons references. (Thanks, Alison!) It’s a handy framework. I’ve used it several times in conversations recently. It also relates well to the idea of changemakers who are “unemployable.”

We Are Not Freaking Butterflies: An Update on Self-Care and Balance

It’s been two years since I’ve blogged about how my self-care practices have been going, a marked contrast from 2013, which is when I finally double-downed on my commitment to take better care of myself and to live a more balanced life. That was the year I left the company that I co-founded and the team that I loved to start my life and my livelihood over again. It was a hard process, and I blogged about it many times that year, but I was committed and determined, and I was fortunate to have lots of loving support.

Things finally turned a corner in 2015. I am exceptionally proud of this shift, and I love the life I’ve been living, but I remain cautious.

My friend, Jodie, recently told me that she hated when people used the word, “transformation,” to describe changes in their lives. I wholeheartedly agree. We are not caterpillars dissolving into some shapeless goo and emerging, irreversibly, from mummy-like nests in new winged forms. We are human beings. Maybe some wires in our brains get crossed or reinforced in different ways, but our old habits are still deeply embedded, constantly threatening to rear their ugly heads.

People don’t transform. We practice with intention and vigilance, and if we’re really smart, we hack the structures around us to support the lives we want to live.

I started recognizing the shift I wanted and needed to make almost a decade ago, thanks partially to burnout as well as to a relationship that is now ancient history. It took me another two years to take concrete action — hiring a coach and taking my first vacation in eight years. It took me another five years after that to get to where I am now.

Seven years total. Change is hard. It’s also not permanent.

I’ve been obsessing about work the past few weeks. I’m not dealing with any toxicity-induced stress. Quite the opposite. I’m grappling with issues that are complex and stimulating, and I’m not wanting to let go of any of them. I find myself compelled to push through weariness, to keep attacking each problem from different angles. Warning bells have been going off reminding me to disconnect, to slow down, to let go, to exercise, to breathe… and I’ve been cautiously, but consciously ignoring most of them.

I’m concerned enough to write about it, but I’m also heartened, because I’m aware of my self-awareness. I know what’s happening, and I’m letting it happen for now, knowing that I’ll have to make up for it very soon. Hearing the symphony of warning bells is both cause for concern and music to my ears, because there wouldn’t be any sound if not for all the cool little safety mechanisms I’ve put into place over the years.

When I get into one of these work modes, I often start getting curmudgeonly. I’m not mad at anybody, it just helps me think. But it’s also not a good thing if left unchecked. Negativity breeds negativity.

One of my practices is a weekly checkin with my friend and colleague, Kate Wing, which we’ve been doing for three years now. It’s mostly about work stuff, but we naturally weave stuff about our lives into our conversations as well.

At the end of each checkin, we both share a beautiful thing from that week. It’s a simple ritual, but it’s had a profound impact on me. I know I have to share something, and so I pay more attention on a regular basis to things that strike me as beautiful. What I’ve learned from the practice is that I actually experience beautiful things all the time, but instead of lingering on them and letting them soak in, I often just let them slip away. Our weekly ritual has strengthened my muscles around noticing and remembering.

Still, sometimes I need a little stimulation to remember, which is why it’s so helpful to do this with a partner. At the end of this week’s checkin, I couldn’t think of a beautiful thing immediately, so I asked Kate to go first. She shared a story about a moment of repose in the middle of a big meeting, where she stepped into a courtyard to take a breather, and had a brief, lovely encounter with an unusual bird. It was a classic Kate story — simple, sometimes whimsical, often profound.

Not only did her story delight me, it helped me remember all sorts of wonderful things that had happened this week. For whatever reason, I received a number of brief, unexpected notes from friends, family, and colleagues that brought me lots of joy. I was aware and appreciative of all of them in the moment, but they all quickly slipped away in favor of my knotty little work obsession. Thanks to this little practice of ours, I managed to scoop them away from the vortex of oblivion, and they have lingered in my consciousness ever since, bringing a smile to my face each time I think about them.

In the midst of these moments of joy, I can still hear the warning bells ring in the distance. These pleasant little victories, like my memories, can easily slip away without constant practice and vigilance. We are not freaking butterflies.

Nevertheless, I’m happy that I can hear the bells at all. I’m going to listen to them a little while longer, before gently resetting them. I’ll do a little work this long weekend, not because I have to, but because I want to. But I’ll also spend lots of it outside, with good friends and good food in this beautiful Bay Area weather, and maybe a little stillness thrown in for good measure.

Make Something. Don’t Be Nice.

sweat_it_out

I’m a private person. Over the years, I’ve found a nice balance between living and working openly while maintaining personal boundaries. I’m consistently surprised by the benefits of being selectively open and vulnerable in public.

My Photo-A-Day project has pushed these boundaries. On the one hand, I’m not that excited by how much I’ve shared about my life, even when they’ve only been tiny windows. On the other hand, what I have shared has resulted in deeper relationships with many people I care about. All in all, it’s been net positive.

Still, I feel discomfort, especially when I’m not feeling great. 2015 has been a stellar year overall, but I’m human, and I have my ups and downs. I’m going through one of those down periods now. It’s nothing serious — no one is dying, thank goodness. I’m going to get through it just fine, and I most definitely don’t want any sympathy. But forcing myself to continue publishing photos that tell an authentic story while also maintaining personal boundaries has been tough. I’ll be glad when this project is over.

I’ve found over the years that you mostly just have to wait out times like these. Sure, I have my coping mechanisms: basketball, music, food, family, friends, etc. They all work to some extent. But there’s really only one thing that consistently helps: Making things.

Make a picture. Make a tool. Write something down. Doodle. Make change. Make music. Make trouble. Make love. Just make something. Express yourself through making. And whatever you do, don’t be nice. Be you. Feel what you feel, and be okay with it.

Practicing the Basics

It’s September 2013, nine months since my decision to leave a decade-long practice and identity to venture into the great unknown. It’s been far more of an emotional process than I had originally expected. Change is hard.

This past year, I’ve felt more compelled than usual to tell the story of my transition as it unfolds. It’s driven by my belief in the importance of working openly and leaving trails, but there’s something more driving me right now.

I’m lucky enough not to suffer from impostor syndrome. A lot of my amazing friends and colleagues do, and I go back-and-forth as to whether it drives them forward or holds them back. Personally, I’m humbled by the amazing opportunities I’ve had over the years, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I have utter confidence in what I think I can achieve moving forward.

I’ve also failed more than I’ve succeeded. I’ve done my share of failing this past year. I’m wise enough to know that failure is part of the game, but I’m still struggling to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with it.

I want to share what I’ve learned from this process, and I also want others to know that this is normal, that everyone — even the most remarkable people — goes through it. The first rule of Changemaker Bootcamp is to be nice to yourself, but that can be an incredibly difficult rule to follow. Believe me, I know.

If I had to name one thing I’ve learned this past year, it is this: Being principled is easy. Living your principles is hard.

I’ve been trying to live some very basic principles, principles that I’ve advocated for years, principles that I’ve helped others try to live. It’s hard. I’d like to think that I’m better at it than average, but even if that were true, it’s not much consolation. If we were all a bit better at living our principles, the world would be a better place. In going through my own struggles, I’m also trying to create tools and structures that others can use as well. By elevating myself, I hope to elevate others.

One lesson I’m still learning is that focusing on the basics reaps the biggest rewards. In particular, I think the most important, basic practice is to be intentional, but hold it lightly. Simply starting with an intention is really hard, and I don’t know that many people who do it well. I’m placing a lot of emphasis on that for myself, and I hope that in sharing what I learn, I can help others with it as well.