Where Logic Meets Love

The Blessing of Advocates at Work

Saturday, October 30, 2010

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The Blessing of Advocates at Work | Faith Permeating Life
Mike and I have both been very blessed recently in our jobs. We are both poised to take on positions of more responsibility at work, and this is in large part because we both have mentors and advocates at our jobs who are working on our behalf to get us into the positions we want.

I was struck by this because this certainly isn't everyone's experience, and yet it happened to both of us, who work in complete different types of jobs in different industries. What is it that has allowed us both not only to keep our jobs, but to have people actually trying to help us reach our goals?

In case this may be of benefit to anyone else, I thought I'd share my thoughts.

1. We are willing to do our jobs.
This probably sounds obvious, but some of the most difficult people to work with are those who don't want to do their jobs. It's a lot easier to procrastinate in an office job like mine than at a restaurant job like Mike's, but in both cases you'll find people doing what they want to do ahead of what they're supposed to be doing. I've had several ridiculous conversations with someone in another department who was supposed to be doing work for our department to the effect of, "Well, I could do that, but it would be really hard and take a lot of time." So? I also recently had the experience of working on a committee with someone whose one assignment was to ask one question of someone he was already working with, and in two and a half weeks he didn't do it. It's people like this that make us look good simply because we do our jobs.

2. We look for ways to do our job better.
Mike started out as a dish tanker when he was in grad school. I started as a secretary after graduating with my master's degree. It would have been easy for either of us to say, "I could do this with my eyes closed" and just settle in to do what we were assigned. But I'll tell you, Mike was a damn good dish tanker and made things run so efficiently in the dish room that even as he's moved into different positions they're always happy to let him back in the dish room for a day because he can whip it into shape in no time. In my case, rather than just recording attendance for our workshops like I was assigned, I used my downtime to put the huge backlog of paper attendance sheets into our electronic systems, then started running analyses and making suggestions about improving attendance. (I recently checked, and attendance is up 25% since I've been in the position than before I started.)

3. We care about our organizations.
I am a huge advocate for the student voice and the importance of listening to students' feedback. I've joined a few different committees and volunteered to take on extra work -- in one case, even taking the initiative to reorganize an entire committee -- because it's so important to me that we serve our students effectively. In most (if not all) cases, I'm the youngest and most junior staff member there, but that hasn't stopped me for speaking up when necessary to keep things moving smoothly or to ensure that we're not ignoring the student perspective. In Mike's cases, he's started going in one extra day a week (for free) to work with the marketing staffer on fundraising and marketing ideas because it's so important to him that the restaurant become more well-known in the community.

4. We are specific about our goals.
When I had a one-on-one meeting with my boss about a year ago, she told me thought I was a genius and she couldn't believe how cheerfully I did work that was "clearly beneath me." Clearly, at that point I had stood out as an employee, but nothing more than a really excellent secretary. I'm not even sure she knew about all the extra work I was doing for the office I really wanted to be in. As part of my annual performance review, I had to complete a self-evaluation, and so I decided to take a risk and put one of my long-term goals as becoming a full-time staff member of this other office. She completely got behind it and started working to make that happen. I was amazed to find that once she saw value in me as an employee and thought I would should be in a higher position, all I had to do was say what I wanted that position to be and things started to move. Similarly, once Mike found that he probably wasn't going to get a full-time job with his master's degree anytime soon, he agreed to ask for a higher position and better hours at his restaurant job. At this point it sounds like they're just trying to find a way to make it happen.

I say all this to show that promotion doesn't have to be a battle, but neither is something you have to sit back and wait for after putting in your time. You can start in a job that's beneath your skill level and work really hard at it, go above and beyond, and show yourself as a valued employee. That makes it a lot easier to ask for more responsibility, especially if it seems to be a good match for your skills. And I think that even if you don't love your job, if you're really committed to your customers, clients, or students, that can be all the drive you need to stand out as an employee.

Anyone else have tips to share about how to get others rooting for your success at work?

Escaping the False Dichotomies (or Why I Think *gasp* Condoms are OK)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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Escaping the False Dichotomies (or Why I Think *gasp* Condoms are OK) | Faith Permeating Life
Sometimes it feels like I'm the only one with a nuanced view of the world.

Some examples:

1) I spent some time recently reading through some blogs talking about Natural Family Planning, to see other people's thoughts on the matter. I found quite a few variations on the "more children=better" theme, and a lot of people who were very active in pro-life and anti-contraception movements.

Mike and I practice NFP, and we love it, and I am absolutely an advocate of it for anyone who is in a stable, monogamous partnership in which both partners can be equally committed to the NFP philosophy. But I believe it's unrealistic to try to operate under this idea that everyone should be abstinent until marriage and that it would be a terrible compromise to meet people where they are. People ARE going to have sex outside of marriage, and I think it's a lot more beneficial to encourage people with STDs to use condoms and people who sleep around to use birth control pills than it is to just try to ignore those people and push for nothing but abstinence and NFP. That's fine if you don't want to be the one handing out condoms, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the people who are.

I think it's possible to be an advocate for and a model of something you believe in without preaching it as the only possible way to live. And I also believe that targeting root problems -- such as poverty and lack of sexual education -- is a more beneficial route than legislating your views.

2) I came across a fascinating debate on the issue of overpopulation in the comments of one of the abovementioned blogs. As far as I can tell, there are two main camps on this issue.
  • The first is "Just look at [fill in the blank city] where there are far more people than can be fed/housed/etc. Clearly the world is overpopulated."
  • The other is "If you took the number of people in the world and divided it by the amount of available food / the amount of liveable space / etc., you would see that there's plenty for everyone. Overpopulation is a myth."

Now certainly, just because one city is overpopulated, you can't extrapolate that to the entire world. And you can't logically tell an American woman that her having seven children is directly contributing to the lack of food for people in Rio de Janeiro.

On the other hand, here's the part no one seems to address: Unless we who have more than enough land and more than enough food are willing to share with those people who do not have enough, the whole "there's enough food and land to go around" argument is also irrelevant. And it seems to me that a lot of the same people who are using "overpopulation is a myth" to argue against birth control and legal abortions are the same people (::cough:: conservatives ::cough::) who condemn any sort of redistribution of resources as "socialist" AND the same people who want to drive out a lot of the immigrants who are "stealing" our jobs/land/what-have-you.

I don't think you can say the world, as a whole, is or is not overpopulated, but I do think we have a commitment to our fellow humans to be responsible stewards of the world's resources.

3) I feel very passionately both about my Catholic faith and about gay rights. The fact that this is somehow considered a contradiction infuriates me. (See this long list for why I don't think this is a contradiction.)

It's frustrating for me in more than one way. It's frustrating to hear hate speech from other Christians, particularly Catholics, and particularly Catholic leadership. I hate hearing the Bible twisted to serve people's political agendas, the same way it was used to argue against interracial marriage, women being able to vote, and many, many other things. BUT I also hate hearing people who are pro-gay speaking unilaterally negatively against religion and religious people.

Now, I completely realize that a lot of anti-gay sentiments come from people speaking from a religious perspective and that this can lead to a lot of confusion and self-hatred for many LGBT people that is only resolved through renouncing religion altogether. But I watched a lot of videos from the "It Gets Better" project and I cringed whenever people made sweeping anti-religious statements. I wanted to yell, "Don't you know that there are people who believe in God who are your allies??"

I was really excited to learn about Catholics for Equality. I found "It Gets Better" videos from a gay teacher of theology and a straight Christian ally. I also spent some time on Saturday watching RobTish's awesome videos, which systematically debunk the main arguments against gay marriage, particularly the religion-based ones. All of these things make me hopeful that religion and homosexuality can stop being enemies someday.

I love the idea behind the Rally to Restore Sanity because it gives me hope that I'm not the only one who wants to have discussions outside of the framework of a false dichotomy. There are so many of these supposedly polarizing issues in this world, and I feel like the generally accepted way of holding an opinion is to plant yourself at one pole and then find evidence to support that view.

I dare anyone to call me wishy-washy on my beliefs for choosing to stand between two fake poles. I feel very strongly about all of the things I've talked about in this post!

My suggestion to you is that next time you stumble upon an either/or debate, ask yourself, "Is it possible both sides are right? Or neither side? Where is the truth is both arguments?"

Naturally, I am open to discussion on any of the above issues or anything else, although I generally find that others have already explained things better than I could. (Thus the rather link-happy post today!)

Just a Number

Saturday, October 23, 2010

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Just a Number | Faith Permeating Life
About a week ago, I took a pregnancy test for the first time in my life.

I didn't want to, and I didn't think I was pregnant. Actually, I was about 99% sure I wasn't. And that is why I'm not going back to this gynecologist.

When I first went to this gynecologist a year ago, I was newly married and naturally had some questions for her. She was efficient and business-like, but did take the time to answer my questions. She seemed to know what Natural Family Planning was and didn't push birth control pills on me, so I was satisfied enough. The nurse beforehand had, of course, asked a lot of questions about my medical history and taken a lot of notes. Not surprising for a first visit.

This time, though, I was struck by how little they knew or cared about me as an individual.

When the nurse first took me back, she asked me questions I expected, like when was my last period. It then quickly became apparent that she hadn't bothered to look at my chart ahead of time. "Any surgeries?" Before I could answer she flipped back to my chart from last time. "Never mind, I see them." She seemed to be filling out a blank version of the exact same chart as last time.

"Sexually active?" "Sexually monogamous?" I was a little taken aback by this. Sure, it was standard enough information for a gynecologist to have, but it seemed a little insulting to ask the questions so briskly of a married woman. She may not have even realized I was married until she started to ask another question and then flipped back a chart and said, "You live -- with your husband?"

Without going into too much detail, I had brought my cycle charts because my current cycle was pretty screwed up. It looked to me like I just hadn't ovulated at all, but because I'd had a week of heavy spotting in the middle of the month, I knew I should bring it up. I started to explain about the various signs that were out of whack, but it was clear it all went over the nurse's head until I got to the part that I hadn't gotten my period when I expected to.

"You trying to get pregnant?" No, I explained, if I were pregnant I would have a consistently high basal temperature, but I had a consistently low one, as if I hadn't ovulated. But that wasn't my biggest concern--

She came back with a cup.

Naturally I had just used the bathroom before being called back (who wants a GYN exam with a full bladder?), so I had to suck down the contents of my water bottle, pace for five minutes, and then go pee in a cup. It was humiliating enough that I had to wait for my turn outside the one-person bathroom for a good five minutes holding a cup, and then bring a cup of my pee down the hallway back to the nurse, but the fact that it was completely unnecessary just made it all the worse.

The nurse was unsurprised when the test showed I wasn't pregnant, and muttered about the doctor, "Just because you a week late she want to do a pregnancy test. You knew you weren't. You got a chart." Never mind she didn't have any clue what my cycle charts meant.

About five or ten minutes later, the doctor breezed in. "We just doing a pap smear or you need an STD test?"

I'm sorry?

A standard enough question, I'm sure, but I'd been interrogated enough between this and my last visit that she should have known that was an unnecessary question.

The exam itself only took about five minutes, but the kicker is that the second she looked at me she could tell I was about to start my period. So the pregnancy test was even more unnecessary.

Before she left she asked, "You need any refills on any -- wait --" she looked at my chart "--you're not taking any birth control or anything, right? You don't need a refill on anything?"

No, no refills.

"OK, you should get your results in three weeks. Call me if you don't." She turned to head out the door.

"Wait!"

The nurse hadn't told her anything about the cycle I was concerned about. I described the symptoms, and she agreed it sounded like an anovulatory cycle and said it was nothing to worry about.

And that was that.

When I got home, I tried to find a gynecologist in the area who specializes in NFP (or the non-Catholic version, Fertility Awareness Method), but there's no one anywhere close that I can find. In any case, that might be a trade-off if they subscribe to CCL's notion that "responsible parenthood" means "being pregnant as much as possible."

At this point, though, I'd be happy with anyone who bothers to look at my chart before seeing me and knows that they don't have to ask me every time if I need an STD test.

I don't know if I have any NFP- or FAM-practicing readers, but anyone have any suggestions / similar stories?

Building My Happiness Commandments

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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Building My Happiness Commandments | Faith Permeating Life
Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project has a set of commandments, kind of mantras that help her remember how she wants to act during the day. What I love about these is that they're not resolutions, they're not self-improvement type ideas, but rather they're ways of seeing situations and making decisions that help her to be happier with her life.

It's kind of like -- to use a stupid example -- if you're trying to remember which way to tighten something and the phrase "righty tighty, lefty loosey" pops into your head. It's a phrase you've heard repeated that helps you know how to act. These are like this, but for making decisions that lead to greater happiness.

I'm trying to start by identifying some of the ideas I already use on a regular basis. There is one that I've started using more in the past year as a way to overcome anxiety: I find myself telling myself "One step at a time." This seems to happen often when I arrive at work and my brain tries to tell me to "takeoffyourcoat-takeoutyourkeys-openyourlocker-setdownyourpurse-takeoutyourcellphone-changeyourshoes-putyourlunchinthefridge-hangupyourumbrella-checkyourmessages-turnonyourcomputer."

I get to work about 20 minutes early anyway so I remind myself that I have plenty of time to do everything, and then I find a logical order: Set everything down that I'm carrying. Hang up any outerwear. Take everything out of my bags that doesn't need to get locked up. Unlock my locker. Put my things away. Change my shoes. Put my lunch in the fridge. I make sure to make myself some tea and get myself comfortable before I do anything like turning on my computer and checking my messages. I have a tendency during the workday to get overwhelmed if I have a lot of things to take care of right away (I come back from a meeting where my boss has asked me to do something, my voicemail's blinking, I have 10 e-mails, and someone's coming over to talk to me). So I remind myself: I can only do one thing at a time.

There's another commandment I try to live by, which I don't really have an elegant way of expressing, but which boils down to "Don't get in a pissing contest." As I said, not very elegant, but you get the point. Every so often (like today) I run up against someone who so desperately needs to be right about everything that I have to remind myself that it's not going to hurt if I let them think they're the expert and that they're teaching me something.

This was especially hard today when someone was lecturing me extensively on my own area of expertise. Because the lectures were starting to derail the project at hand, I did try a few times to hurry things along by responding, "I know what you mean, that same thing happened to me before," but I tried really hard not to otherwise show off my own knowledge or "one-up" the other person, and to agree with their suggestions whenever possible. Sometimes when someone is clearly trying to show off I'm tempted to take them down a peg, but I've learned it's not worth it. It doesn't make me feel any better, and it hurts my relationship with that person. And I also think people respect me more when I don't feel a need to show off.

Finally, one mantra I'm working to ingrain in my mind is "Don't feel guilty if you're not doing anything wrong." I am an obsessive rule-follower and feel excessively guilty if I ever break a rule, whether I knew it was a rule or not. Where I think this aspect of my personality interferes with my happiness is where I set up my own boundaries of what I should and shouldn't be doing. So for example, if I plan to do something and don't do it, I feel guilty even if it affects no one but me. (This is partly why I have such a hard time with Mike's tendency not to follow through on things he says he's going to do.) If I'm at work and I've finished my projects for the time being, I feel guilty for not doing work, even if I'm productively working on personal projects. (This happens despite knowing that my coworkers sometimes read the newspaper, watch movies, read gossip blogs, and otherwise engage in far less productive activities.) I'm trying to work on giving myself permission to let go of guilt when it's accomplishing nothing but hindering my happiness.

I'll continue to look out for other ways I can improve my happiness.

What are some of the mantras you live by?

Lessons in Happiness

Saturday, October 2, 2010

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Lessons in Happiness | Faith Permeating Life
In an effort to find things that make me happy, I've been spending some time on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project site.

One common type of post on the Happiness Project is a "happiness interview," in which Gretchen interviews some person about their thoughts on happiness. One question she always asks is "What's something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?"

What's so interesting about this question for me is that I think I had a better handle on happiness at 18 than I do now. I just spent part of the afternoon reading through things that Mike and I wrote to each other in college, and this led me to find a project I'd created in high school and given to Mike our sophomore year of college. A treatise on my worldview, as assigned by my English teacher, titled "Portrait of an Optimist as a Young Woman." (I'm sure you can guess what we were reading at time.)

What I mean is this: Remember this post on how my life was perfect and I was finally happy? Well, I was right. That didn't last. Don't get me wrong: I still love my husband, my friends, my apartment, and (again, recently,) my job. But all it took was six months of mono and some total asshats at work to make me have a complete depressive breakdown.

This is what I get for investing my happiness into my external experiences rather than myself. High-school me would have a right to slap me upside the head. She got it. It's about how you see yourself, and how you deal with what happens to you, that really matters. Not about what happens to you.

[Here's what I don't get, though. This project was done in the spring of my junior year, which was by all accounts the most miserable of all of my high school years, so much so that I have a distinct memory of a February diary entry that I wrote documenting my complete emotional shutdown. I couldn't handle the emotional pain I was going through, and, not being one for substance abuse, I just became completely and utterly numb. I stopped feeling anything. It took until my freshman year of college for me to be genuinely open to my emotions again.

So how happy was I, really? Was it just the absence of pain, the lack of caring, that allowed me to be so positive? I really have no idea.]

I'm trying now, one step at a time, to build back that sense of internal peace and joy that can withstand anything that happens. I'm trying to be more patient with Mike by understanding that my happiness is not dependent on anything he does or doesn't do. I'm trying not to worry too much about the future, keeping in mind that every time in my life that I have had a clear view of where I wanted my life to go, it never turned out that way anyway.

I'm going to try taking out my old rose-colored glasses, dusting them off, and seeing if they still fit. And if they don't, I'll find myself a new pair.
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