Becoming Our Caricatures

EverythingIsOffensive

You know that feeling where you really dislike someone, so everything they do – annoying or not – feels annoying to you? Or that person you really think is stupid, so with everything they do, you see it through that lens of anticipated stupidity?

It’s easy to create caricatures of people and then treat them accordingly. And so often when we do that – if we have enough influence over their lives and enough time passes – people eventually evolve or devolve into the caricatures we’ve created.

Have you ever heard the story of the Eight Cow Wife? It’s a poignant story about a woman who was deemed unattractive and undesirable until a man who loved her paid an extravagant dowry for her: eight cows – an unthinkable amount in their society. Knowing that she was so highly valued, the way she thought about herself began to change. She carried herself differently, behaved differently and eventually became externally as beautiful and lovely as she was perceived by the one who loved her. She was transformed from the inside out by the one who loved her; the way she saw herself changed because of the way he saw her. 

When I was a child, my parents gave me a lot of responsibility, believing that I would rise to the occasion. Being entrusted with responsibility developed me into a responsible young woman. My parents’ actions communicating their belief in my capacity and dependability made me believe I was such a woman, and it inspired me to behave accordingly.

But the opposite also holds true. Regardless of the perception – positive or negative – over time, it tends to become the reality.

I have been at the same job for 18 months. There is not much responsibility in my job. Basically when a software package or other IT service line is going “end of life”, I either issue a termination notice, negotiate an extension/upgrade or negotiate a migration to another solution. Every time this needs to be done, my job is simple: I get approvals from Finance, approvals from our Technical team, get approvals from the Board, and send all of those – plus the renegotiated agreement – to a guy named Kevin who processes the agreement for signatures and execution.

Not only do I have essentially no responsibility, but also my job requires no independent thought or creative thinking. Still further, my boss constantly beats me down and repeatedly communicates her belief in my utter incompetence. Just this morning on a team call, Kevin told our boss that he was still waiting on a Finance approval from me – that I was the bottleneck keeping one of our service updates from getting approved. I immediately jumped in, “No, Kevin, I sent you Finance approval on August 9th and then again on the 15th when you said you couldn’t find the first email. Check your inbox.”

Instead of hearing that Kevin was in the wrong, our boss automatically assumed I was the one at fault. After all, I am the completely incompetent one who is incapable of adding any value to the team (a paraphrasing of her words at my midyear review). She verbally lunged at me, “Aurora, Kevin is not the one who provides Finance approval. You are supposed to get approval from the Finance team and then send it to Kevin to process.”

“Yes, I know.” That is the job I have been doing – my only real responsibility – for the past 18 months. I was absolutely infuriated by her condescension. How could she think I didn’t know that?

“I got approval from both Sharon and Bob – ” (our finance focal points) ” – and sent those to Kevin twice already.”

“Oh,” was her response. No apology. No condescension or disapproval toward Kevin. All she said was, “Kevin, please process.” And then we moved on to the next topic.

I am trying so hard not to become the caricature my boss has created of me, but it’s hard to stay intrinsically motivated. I find myself coming in late, leaving early, and no longer even bothering to try to excel at my work. The status quo has become enough for me because: why bother? I will never change her view of me.

I’ve never been a status quo girl. I have always been a high achiever – Straight A student, President of my Girl Scout Troop and Captain of my Soccer Team. In college I was repeatedly on the Dean’s List in engineering and, on the side, got my EMT certification just for fun. Post college I took my songwriting to the next level by releasing an original album on iTunes. These days, I keep a full schedule teaching Sunday School, arranging music for my a Capella group, babysitting foster kids and volunteering at a weekend farmers’ market that fights human trafficking.

I want to keep my passion alive. I want to keep striving to be impactful, make a difference, and be a self-motivated achiever. I have packed a lot of living into my twenty-nine years, and I like that I have been historically ambitious. I don’t want that to stop just because I feel trapped in an unfulfilling, demotivating job where my boss does not believe me capable of adding any value. But it gets harder every day not to succumb to becoming the caricature she has created of me. Why bother? Nothing seems to be changing, no matter how much I pray or how hard I try. 

Authentically Aurora

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Fostering Hope for Foster Kids

Foster BabysitterPart of the human condition is to long for what we don’t have. Every season of life, we reach for the next or dwell on the past. Single people want to be married. Married couples sometimes wish they were still single. Students wish they were finished with school and out in the “real world”. Those of us working in the corporate realm sometimes long for the freedom of being back at university.

When I was in high school, everything I did was striving toward the goal of getting into West Point. I was the captain of my soccer team, president of my Girl Scout troop, an officer of the National Charity League, member of both student council and National Honor Society, as well as a straight-A student.

I was not the kid whose parents pushed them to work harder, study more and get better grades. I actually got grounded from reading. My parents insisted that I start getting Bs and Cs and that I go out and play more. They had the wisdom I did not at that age; that life is short, and if we are always straining for the next season without enjoying the present, what kind of life is that?

Now instead of feeling perpetually angry and frustrated because I dislike my job, feel unappreciated at work and am pushing 30 with no true marriage prospects in sight, I want to enjoy this season of singleness. There is so much I can do in this chapter of life where I have freedom from spousal responsibility. My parents are still in good health. I have no husband, no children and no pets. I am freer than I will ever be. The world is my oyster.

Last Sunday, I went to an information session on being certified to be a babysitter for foster kids. Did you know that foster parents can only hire certified babysitters to watch their foster children? God has placed within me a longing to build people up and inspire them to be who they were created to be. I am excited about the possibility of learning the unique passions and talents of the foster kids I babysit and then bringing a corresponding project for us to work on together.

I could bring my guitar and write songs with kids interested in music. I could bring my spare SLR camera and teach artistic kids about the light triangle and the effects of adjusting aperture settings. I could bring model airplane sets or a book of logic puzzles. The possibilities are endless. Each activity would be tailored to the needs and interests of each individual foster child.

I would love to spark to flame the inner potential of these kids so many others have overlooked. My heart longs to heal the hurting and uplift the downtrodden; to encourage those without hope and speak truth into those plagued by insecurity. God has placed within me a desire to, in the words of Frederick Buechner, help others find “the place where [their] deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Authentically Aurora

Life at Sea – Part III

blonde-yacht-sailing-sea-sunlight-landscape-woman-wallpaper-817181130I feel like Bryan and I had some really important, enlightening, breakthrough conversations over the last couple days of our trip. We have struggled with emotional intimacy (neither one of us seems to want to be emotionally vulnerable), so I’m grateful that we were finally able to articulate certain thoughts and feelings to each other that will hopefully blossom our relationship as we live out our respective revelations.

I needed Bryan to hear the implications of my struggle with perfectionism and the havoc wreaked by the voice of my internal critic. So often when he – in completely bewilderment – has watched me shut down, it is because his words (unbeknownst to him) have been warped by the perfectionistic voice in my head to tell me that I am wrong or stupid or incompetent and therefore unloveable. The brokenness of this way of thinking is something I’m keenly aware of and still learning to battle effectively and consistently. My hope is that Bryan’s understanding of this struggle will ease our communication going forward.

Bryan needed me to hear his experience with the burden of always having to be the responsible one. The oldest son of six kids, with their father having passed a few years ago, Bryan is also the wealthiest and most highly educated of his siblings. As such, he shared with me that he perpetually bears the brunt of his family’s needs in addition to requests from countless friends for loans, a place to crash for the night, travel advice, networking favors, etc.

Bryan has a way of putting those around him at ease. He is connected and competent, and that unfortunately causes many of those around him to switch off their brains and lean too heavily on him. I did that to him this trip. In an effort to leave my high-strung Type A personality at home and just enjoy my free-spirited vacation, I intentionally didn’t print off our itinerary, and I forgot to call my credit card company to let them know I’d be out of the country. As a result, Bryan was always the one both driving and navigating, paying for expenses I couldn’t cover with my wad of cash, and generally ensuring we survived the day unscathed.

As nice as it was for me to unplug and just depend on someone else (for one of the first times in my life – a deliberate choice I made), Bryan told me that he was hoping for a partner; he expected us to operate as a team, and he had counted on my usual independence, responsibility and organizational skills to come through on this trip. He was disappointed by my dependence and perceived neediness, and I was hurt by his frustration and resultant emotional distance.

We had some hard conversations, but hopefully we now better understand one another so we can engage in healthy, joyful, life-giving interactions in the future. Time will tell if choosing vulnerability was worth the risk.

Authentically Aurora

Life at Sea – Part II

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 3.42.39 PMIn my recent adventure on the high seas, our sailing crew was comprised of starkly different characters. Tony, our skipper, encapsulated everything I’d imagined a skipper would be: rugged and weathered, with a tangled mass of shoulder-length hair, tattooed arms, beer in hand and never clad in anything more than a pair of swim trunks.

Elle, a curvy blonde in her 50s, is a British lawyer who smokes like a chimney and never ends the evening without her friends Gin & Tonic. Elle lives with abandon and a zeal for life that has led her on countless adventures of dancing in the sand and running off with passionate lovers. She’s lived a full and exciting life but, childless, divorced and advanced in years, she seems lonely. She travels the world but has no one to share life with but the locals who she inevitably befriends, but between throaty laughs, she speaks longingly of community and companionship.

While I found in Elle much that I hope to emulate – her zeal, passion and friendly playfulness – I learned the most from observing Jenna, a single 35-year-old from Boston. Jenna aced all of our written sailing exams, but when it came to working together on the rigging, she tended toward stress, either barking bossy orders and criticisms at other crew members or getting panicked and defensive when Tony pointed out something she needed to do differently.

I saw mirrored in Jenna my own perfectionism and the toll it took on not only her enjoyment of the trip but also her relationships with others. During long stretches of sailing on a single tack, Jenna would often read aloud to us from a sailing book she’d brought along. “Oooh, listen to this article on retractable keels!” I frequently saw Tony and Elle exchange glances – Is this girl for real? – but she remained oblivious to the way her unsolicited readings were received.

One night ashore at a beach bar on one of the many remote islands of the Grenadines, Jenna met a young American man over rum punch. After about six beers, Tony was ready to take the dingy back to our boat, but Elle ssh-ed him and gestured to Jenna. “Look at her! She’s forgotten all about her allergies and her Kindle and her lactose intolerance. Give her some time. She may dance in the sand yet!”

Although I agreed with Elle – this girl seriously needed to loosen up – I remember wondering if those are the kinds of comments people make about me when I’m out of earshot. As sweet at Jenna was, it pained me how much I related to her because I saw in Jenna not only my strengths – intellect, ambition and focus – but also many of the things I dislike about myself.

I know I should be who I am, but I hope that as I age, I will relax, live in the moment, and develop a bit more Elle in my Aurora.

Authentically Aurora

Cannoli and Meatballs

Cannoli girlsBethany is my sanity at the office. She’s a few years younger than I am, but apart from our age difference (well, and 6″ height difference), we’re basically twins.

Bethany and I got similar degrees from the same university, are long-haired brunettes, Christians, and are both well-spoken perfectionists who work in the same department at the same company. We even shared an office for six months when she first started. Now we sit in cubicles next to each other, and I’m relieved we do because some days she is the only good thing about my work day.

Last week Bethany suggested a new place for lunch – some hole-in-the-wall Italian place. Our new workaholic boss had scheduled a meeting over the lunch hour, so in our effort to grab some quick sustenance before the meeting, we ended up arriving before the restaurant opened.

I call it a restaurant, but it was more of a storefront in a pseudo indoor strip shopping  center; like something you’d see at a mall food court. Some cute guy stepped up to the register and offered to take our orders at 11:01, so Bethany placed an order for spaghetti.

“What kind of sauce do you want on it?” asked the broad-shouldered cashier, gesturing to the list of sauce options.

“Just the regular sauce,” said Bethany with a wave of her hand.

The cashier quirked an eyebrow and replied with a sideways smile, “There’s nothing regular here.”

“Okay, I’ll take…” Bethany quickly scanned the menu. “Joey’s marinara.” As she made her sauce selection, Bethany glanced at the name stitched into the buff cashier’s apron. “Oh… And you’re Joey! Hi.”

We all laughed. Sure enough, it was the owner himself taking our orders (and wearing his apron rather well). As Joey turned to me, I smiled involuntarily. He immediately commented, “You have such a pretty smile. What can I get for you?”

My heart fluttered. Surprised at myself, I placed an order for a Caprese salad with turkey meatballs… and Joey’s marinara sauce.

When we sat down, Bethany commented to me, “I usually find interactions like that creepy, but he’s actually genuinely charming.” I completely agreed.

I kept glancing over at Joey as he moved about the kitchen. He had a nice bulk to him; I like bigger guys who are broad-shouldered but trim. I usually dislike Brooklyn accents, but Joey’s suited him. He’s a classic New York Italian.

When our orders were ready, instead of calling out our numbers like he did for everyone else, Joey came to our table and delivered our food himself. Later, he stopped by again with two cannolis. “You two are so sweet, I want to make sure you stay that way.” Lines like that shouldn’t work on me, but it totally did when Joey said it with his playful smile and larger-than-life personality.

Bethany asked Joey how we could get on their mailing list to be kept aware of specials (last week’s was his mother’s traditional chicken parmesan recipe). He brought out two customer survey cards, and I wrote, “Great customer service. Fantastic food. I’ll definitely be back!”

When Bethany finished writing, we glanced at each other’s cards and burst out laughing. She’d written, “Good service, Great food. We’ll be back!” We are two peas in a pod. Or perhaps two meatballs in a sub…?

Authentically Aurora

Daily Blessings

Dad DaughterI miss countless blessings every day because they are so seemingly insignificant that I don’t have the eyes to see them. But I want to start noticing these little blessings of each day. Muscle strength and physical endurance are both built up slowly, through ongoing exercise. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and changing your life requires changing daily habits.

Similarly, I want to build my faith through acknowledgement of the blessings of each day that, lately, I have not taken the time to notice or appreciate. Exercising the muscle of faith on a small scale leads to development of a greater faith on a grander scale. So today, I choose to begin by taking that first step in this faith journey of a thousand miles that will last (literally) a lifetime.

I recently agreed to take on a new project at work and am transitioning the project from a colleague named Hannah, so earlier this week Hannah forwarded me a meeting request for a conference call that was supposed to start at 7am today. Only, I was running late to the office (seriously, who schedules a meeting for 7am?), so I didn’t get logged on to my computer until 7:14am.

Being not only a perfectionist but also someone raised in a military family, I considered not dialing into the call at all because I figured it would be better to miss the meeting completely than to dial in so late. But, in my new spirit of releasing my perfectionism, I clicked on the meeting invitation to join the conference call, only to find that there was no dial in information in the meeting invitation.

So I IMed Hannah with a quick, “Hey, there’s no dial in information for the meeting.” She wrote back immediately, “I’ll drag you in to the call via Communicator [our internal messaging system]. Sorry, I just walked in to the office.”

Moments earlier, I’d been filled with angst over being late mingled with irritation over the early morning call, coupled with guilt for not setting my alarm earlier and embarrassment for nearly missing the first meeting of this new project. Basically, lots of negative thoughts and emotions. But God took care of it all.

Not only was Hannah running late to the office herself, but she had also failed to include the necessary dial in information in the meeting invitation, so she probably thought I’d been sitting around for 14 minutes trying to figure out how to get into the call. We all got dialed in, and the meeting went smoothly from there.

I had all that angst over a non-issue that God worked out perfectly. And, truth be told, it would have been a non-issue even if I had dialed in 14 minutes late. I am entirely too hard on myself, but God used this morning’s call as an opportunity to remind me that He is looking out for me even in the little, mundane details of every day.

He is trustworthy and dependable and working for my good and His glory. My prayer is that I would learn to see His trustworthiness in the tiny details of my life so that I can better trust him with the big things.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” -Psalm 37:23

Authentically Aurora

Perspective for Perfectionists

perfectionistI am a perfectionist. As such, I perpetually struggle with extending grace both to myself and to others. This frequently shows up as a harsh voice of an inner critic, which can then lead to defensiveness, passive-aggressive behavior and not loving others well or meeting them where they are.

I really, really want to change – more and more as I see it poisoning relationships that are precious to me but I feel so powerless to do so. If you’re willing, please pray that God would work in me to heal this broken part of me. And I would love to hear your own requests for prayer. “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 1:6

The Enneagram Institute sends out daily emails with thoughts to encourage your particular Ennagram Type (fellow perfectionists, we’re Type One), and these are some quotes I have compiled that I hope to ponder more in the coming weeks.

EXTEND GRACE TO SELF

Accept Grace.

  • Become acquainted with your superego—your inner judge. Learn to distinguish it from your self, to recognize its “voice” and its effects on you.
  • Your lost childhood message was “You are good.” Give yourself this message today.
  • Remember that at your best, you become extraordinarily wise and humane, with superb discernment.

 Release Perfectionism.

  • How is your superego message: “You are good or okay if you are good and do what is right” affecting you today?
  • Remember it is not beating yourself up that produces change, but self-knowledge and awareness. Today it’s enough to see your self-judgments more clearly.
  • How do you use critical perfectionism to avoid your own fear of being bad or defective?
  • Today, notice if you are being too sensitive to criticism. It would not be surprising, given your constant self-criticism that any further negative feedback from others can be extremely threatening. Can you handle criticism more graciously?
  • Average Ones are locked in conflicts between opposing forces that cannot be reconciled. They keenly feel the struggle between good and evil, the flesh and the spirit, the ideal and the real. Ponder this insight today.
  • Contemplate this truth today: Work on ourselves proceeds layer by layer, from the most external forms of personality to the inner core of our Being.
  • What would it be like if you dropped all criticism of yourself and others today? How would it feel to accept imperfection?

Relax and Be Present.

  • As a dutiful type, you tend to be too harsh with yourself. Remember to nurture yourself with something like massage, nourishing food, and daily surprises.
  • Learn to relax. Take time for yourself without feeling everything is up to you and that if you do not do it, chaos and disaster will result.
  • Be aware of your tendency to push yourself beyond your limits of endurance. You cannot remain effective if you fail to take breaks or refresh yourself.
  • How is the feeling of being frustrated and dissatisfied preventing you from being present in the here and now today?
  • Today, see if you can be aware of your “excuse” for not being Present. “When I have achieved perfection, then I’ll show up.”
  • Remember the virtue of your type is Serenity. When you are awake and present, you accept reality exactly as it is.
  • Try this Affirmation today: “I now affirm that I can allow myself to relax and enjoy life.”

 

EXTEND GRACE TO OTHERS

Would you rather be Right or be in Relationship?

  • Remember that Ones have learned that to be loved they must be good, and to be good they must be right. This belief manifests as a continual need to point out errors or a better way of doing things. Watch for this tendency in yourself today.
  • Embrace these healing attitudes today. “Maybe others are right. Maybe someone else has a better idea.”
  • A major feature of your personality is to become convinced that you know the way everything ought to be. Notice this tendency in yourself today.
  • It is easy for you to become annoyed about the wrongdoings of others. And it may sometimes be true that they are wrong. But will your interference actually help or hurt the situation?

Meet Others Where They Are.

  • Today, notice your tendency to use your personal moral yardstick to improve others. Ask yourself if this is a means to real growth.
  • Ask yourself “Where is a challenge of real love for you?” Does it have to do with accepting others exactly as they are?
  • Remember that the Passion of Ones is Resentment. It is directed both at themselves for failing to live up to their ideals, and at others for what Ones see as their laziness and irresponsibility. Watch for this tendency in yourself today.
  • Understanding others’ personality type allows you to appreciate their good qualities and resist judging their faults.
  • Try this Affirmation today: “I now affirm that I treat others with tenderness and respect.”

 Choose Light-hearted, Easy Relationships.

  • Remember that, as reformers and crusaders, average Ones know precisely where they stand on every issue, and they argue for their positions with the zeal of a missionary. Watch for this tendency in yourself today.
  • What would it be like to have easy relationships today? What new attitude can you bring to your situation that will lighten your interactions with others?
  • Everyone has positive qualities that they usually do not recognize in themselves. Today, can you express your passion without losing your clarity and balance?
  • What would it be like to let go of nitpicking and express your higher qualities of reasonableness and open-mindedness today?
  • Remember, when you are Present you interact with life without trying to prove anything or push any agenda. Be aware of this today.

 

MOVING TOWARD TYPE SEVEN

Let Others See Your Inner Disney Princess.

  • Each type tends to “train” others to see them in certain ways. How have you boxed yourself in by training others to see you as a reasonable, objective person? What can you do today to reveal a new dimension of yourself to others?
  • Today, see if you can do the opposite of your ordinary personality pattern. Suspend all judgment of yourself and see what happens.
  • Average Ones can “act out” the average behavior of Type Seven with those they are secure with (the security point). They can become rowdy, vivacious, and scattered like Sevens. Notice if this happens today.

Set Yourself Free to Exhibit Playfulness.

  • Average Ones want their sense of order to rule everything. Their strict superego is pitted against their feelings and desires, revealing the dualistic nature of their psyches. Watch for this tendency in yourself today.
  • The Direction of Growth for Ones is Seven. Ones tend to exercise too much control over their feelings and impulses. The essence of the move to Seven is that healthy Ones relax and learn to take delight in life. How can you delight in life today?
  • Remember, you will grow by moving toward those things that are symbolized by Type Seven. How can you act on your natural curiosity and playfulness today?

Authentically Aurora