Clear Vision

The world is a fucking complicated place, and the complexity should not limit our emotional depth. I’m on the brink of another job change, less than three months into my current position. About this time last year, I started having similar feelings about the job I held then, and decided to move on. I need clarity.

I spent a big chunk of 2019 as a stay at home dad, and I loved every moment of it. Getting to see Henry grow and develop was a joy, and I will treasure that experience forever. While sitting with Henry I had a lot of time to think about what my values were, and what I wanted to put energy into. One of the big takeaways was that while I liked the form factor of a 9-5 administrative assistant job with mundane tasks, it was more important to me to have impact in the lives of others again.

It took a while, but I found a position that fit on paper. I’d be taking persons with disabilities into the community each day, teaching them job skills to lead to sustainable employment, and all the while helping integrate them into the community with destigmatization of their challenges. I’ve got a great team around me, and I really enjoy spending time with the people I support. Let’s get into the minutia of what’s going on, and why I want to change.

The goal for billing is to have a six-hour chunk of time where we are performing activities that fulfill their valued outcomes related to work. Things like learning the expectations of the workplace, appropriate social interactions while working, and job skills like scheduling and completing tasks that were assigned. There are days where travel times and “work” only take up two and a half hours. Tack on an hour lunch, and we’ve still got a big chunk of time to fill. We mostly wind up at one of the two shittiest malls in the area to tangentially discuss job related topics (read: walk around the mall and window shop). Another typical day has over two hours of travel time each for pickups and drop-offs. Subtract an hour lunch, and we’re left with just an hour of volunteering in the day.

Both of those scenarios are equally disheartening to me. The time spent on the fluff around what I’m wanting to do saps my enthusiasm. Days that I drive six or seven hours are physically draining. I love to drive, but it’s just too much for me doing that three times a week. Those long drives have helped me focus on what I truly value about the field and narrow down what I want to be happy.

A person-centered approach where everyone is shown the respect and dignity of choice and afforded the right to risk is paramount. I think that failure is the largest impetus of growth, and everyone should be entitled to that. I want to spend my time fostering that atmosphere by providing people with the information and experiences necessary to make informed decisions.

I harken back to conversations I’d have with my best friend about emotional depth. They would suggest that the world is harshly black and white, with clear, correct answers to each issue. I would push back saying the world is filled with a lot of gray, and that you could have more than one feeling, emotion, or perception about something.

I think it’s okay to be disappointed in someone, but also accept that they can make mistakes and need a chance to move on and grow. I think it’s fair to enjoy what I’m doing, but also acknowledge that I am free to seek out an alternative to make me happier overall. I should strive for the same right to risk and failure that I’ve advocated for so fiercely.

I don’t want to wind up where I was last year, with a job that made me miserable because I felt some sort of demanding obligation to carry on. I don’t want to be a goddamned chauffeur for five hours and a job coach for 45 minutes. I don’t want to keep putting off my education in favor of short-term solutions for employment that sap my energy and drive. That much is certain.

I know there’s a stigma associated with people that change jobs frequently, but I don’t think it’s wrong to try to find the best fit possible for my own mental health and wellbeing.

Here’s hoping I don’t burn bridges with my cherished friends that graciously allowed me to use them as professional references along my pursuit.

Oh, and here’s hoping that I don’t have to walk through Aviation Mall for two fucking hours any time in the foreseeable future either.


View more of my favorite 2019 photos at my portfolio.

Excelsior!


Later 2018!

It’s been a hell of year. Professionally. Personally. Externally. Internally.

I’ve wanted to write a few times over the last two months, but my head was too cloudy, and the pieces of what I wanted to share were too jumbled to put down. I’m in a place where my thoughts have settled a bit, and I wanted to definitively stop my rumination.

To say I’ve taken on a lot of challenges this year would be a massive understatement, and a true disservice to the amount of growth I’ve had in a multitude of areas. I’ve started to be a better friend, I’m a father, I’ve become a decent photographer, I’m on the precipice of beginning a new job, and I’ve continued to improve my self-awareness and objectivity.

It’s fairly easy to pick out flaws and to pontificate on things you’d like to change about yourself. I’m no different in that regard. My problem has been that I’ve had a lifelong struggle with my own high expectations. I’ve started to recognize when I’ve done well enough. I’m moving on from things that I typically nitpicked myself about.

I’ve had a lot of help with that at work. I’m part of a team with exceptionally high standards for themselves, and it took a toll on me. It felt as if I was in a feedback loop of constant evaluation and rehashing of past events. It’s generally coming from a good place of trying to find the best solution to issues that arose, so we can improve the outcome of similar situations that happen. Unfortunately, I started to feel as if nothing was ever handled acceptably, and that I’d never reach a place where I’d feel good about my decision making skills, problem solving, or my accomplishments. In the past, that lethargy would have led to an extended period of depression, but this time around, I used it as a motivational tool to seek a change in my environment.

When I started working for adults with disabilities three years ago, I had no experience in the field. Within eight months my work ethic and dedication led to advancement, and I have been very happy as an assistant manager.

I’ve had an impact in the lives of those I serve, and when that bout of apathy started, I reflected on the difference I’ve seen in their lives over the last three years. It’s a vastly different culture in the house as far as how their independence is respected, and I cannot be happier about that. I played a major role in that change, but I definitely didn’t do it alone.

Yup, we’re the best looking staff group.

The staff that I work alongside of have grown a lot over the time I’ve been in management as well. Their budding leadership reaffirms that I’ve learned how to adapt my style to suit the people I’m trying to teach. I’ve always been good at modelling positive behavior, but I have struggled with conveying what I want. It’s taken trial and error, but I’m happy with how I’ve grown as a leader. Their feedback — direct and indirect — has helped me strive, and I cannot be more proud of our collective successes. I’m about to take over a different program as the manager, and I’m so happy that the effort I invested was returned. I cannot wait to bring my vision to the new team and cultivate a culture shift that will improve lives.

The return of investment at work is only shadowed by the improvements in my photography. I’ve always had a decent eye for framing shots, but the hardware I used to capture what I saw was pretty lacking. I got my first DSLR in 2018, and I have taken pictures at least three times a week since March.

See my favorite shots from 2018 at my photography site, KJF Photos.

When I first started taking pictures, I’d have 100-150 shots of what I was trying to get. Out of those I’d wind up with maybe 4-5 shots worth keeping. Now I have really hit a groove with my shooting. I’m not ashamed to review what I’m taking right on the camera and trash rejects as soon as I see them. If I’ve got time to try again, I’ll make another attempt. If I miss a shot, then oh well. (See? I told you I was working on accepting something when it’s good enough and not stewing! Thank work and fatherhood for that.) 

Henry is a stud. (2 mos)

During Dorena’s pregnancy I was able to logically contemplate the changes and challenges a child would bring to our lives. I’m a planner, and that’s what planners do. We look ahead and play out different scenarios to have some idea of what to expect. What I could never imagine was how rapidly my personal growth would transpire after he popped out.

I guess he didn’t pop out. He was an emergency-ish Caesarean Section so he was more or less lifted out. Being lifted out only took about fifteen minutes when it was all said done, after a stressful sixteen hours of waiting. That was nothing compared to what happened when we got home.

First time holding hands (5 mins)

Within the first 48 hours of having Henry at the house all he did was cry. We couldn’t get him to sleep for more than a half hour, and he was absolutely miserable. In the hospital, we had pre-measured bottles. At home, we had jars of powdered formula that we had to mix ourselves. In our sleep-deprived minds, we misread the label and were only giving him half of the powder he required in each bottle. Of course he was miserable… We were fucking starving the baby!

I stewed over the mistake for three days. I couldn’t sleep more than two hours at a time because I was so hard on myself for making the mistake. There were obviously no lasting ill-effects from my misstep, but I couldn’t let it go. It consumed me. That level of torment has happened to me a few times, because I was so stuck on what I could have done differently.

I’m working on accepting that I can’t change what I’ve already done. The energy wasted on cogitation is better applied to going with the flow. Knowing that I can’t possibly have answers to everything (or that I’ll handle everything perfectly) has been a game changer. I feel more relaxed when I can handle my stress that way.

Sure, I still got sucked into that pattern of self-loathing in November and December. Instead of beating myself up, though, I’m reflecting positively on what I’ve been able to accomplish when the new way has worked. Small confidence builders lead to massive change. This attitude has also carried over into the way I curate friendships.

Henry’s first visit to work (1 mo)

I have started investing more energy into the relationships that fulfill me, and I am loving what’s coming out of that. It’s the first time in over six years that I can truly say I’ve made new friends. The next step is rekindling some friendships that have faded away due to our paths diverging.

I’m not saying everyone that I was close to at one point or another will be getting texts from me every day. What I am committing to is making a goddamned concerted effort at returning positive energy to the people that send some my way.

Here’s to 2019 being a year full of personal growth, professional success, continued friendship building, and making my son laugh at fart jokes.

The Persistent Push

Last week I was getting snippy with the individuals I support, and I was also taking it out on my team. I was terse and more sarcastic than usual, to the point of nitpicking things just to start confrontations. Being mindful of my emotions, I recognized that I was in a shitty mood, and I saw that I was being cynical about my surroundings.

Yoda on Dagobah
Negativity leads to frustration. Frustration leads to hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to depression.

Since I expect so much of myself, when I become aware of my inability to influence the environment, I grow increasingly negative. Regardless of how grandiose my visions are, I fester on my failure to actualize those aspirations, and those bad vibes spiral out of control. It’s this feedback loop of negativity, where I’m frustrated that I can’t do what I want, and I beat myself up to the point of expecting nothing to improve because it hasn’t yet.

Venting to my closest friends about those feelings helped a bit. I was convinced that my awareness of that negativity would help me through it. Unfortunately, I was stuck on how each of the previous days were slogs, and I woke up every morning expecting the worst.

When I was receiving therapy for Persistent Depressive Disorder my therapist introduced me to mindfulness. I have become a proponent of its efficacy and I’m constantly reminded of how powerful that sense of awareness really is. Over the last three days as I realized I was slipping into a negative space, I used my favorite mindfulness technique (essentially the mini-mindfulness exercise at that link) to raise my cognition of myself in the present.

Spaceballs fucking nailed the feeling of now.

The present is awesome. It’s now. It’s not what just was. It’s not what is about to be. It’s now. This awareness allows the opportunity to react to what is actually happening, rather than what I expect to transpire. There’s incredible power in that ability.

It completely diffuses that negative feedback loop. I’ve found that removing my preconceptions brings me into a more positive headspace overall. That positivity defeats my feelings of burnout and depression. When I’m living in the now, I don’t waste my time and energy dwelling on what if’s, could’ve beens, and what-will-be’s.

Each day, each hour, each moment, and each second begins anew. Use that to your advantage and push forward. Persist.

I've been fairly open about my journey with depression. Catch up on the series if you want:
 The Final Push
 The Renewed Push
 I've pushed enough. Let's wrap this shit up.

Settling In

Keith's Toy Collection
Some of my favorite items on display in my collection. Boba Fett, Transformers, He-Man, and some sentimental items with family ties.

I’ve been in the final stages of setting up and cleaning my new home office the last two days. There’s only about half an hour of cleaning to do at this point, so I’m sitting down to write. It’s my preferred option for task-avoidance.

Will, my best friend and podcast partner, made a salient point last week that’s been bouncing around my head since we stopped recording. He mentioned that he doesn’t set a New Year’s resolution because he’s constantly striving to better himself. It felt arbitrary to set a goal and work on it when he’s doing his best to improve every day. Comments like that are why we’re #bffls.

The conversations we’ve had over the years were more significant that those I had with other people in my life. He’s challenged my positions and views like few others, and he helped me become a more open-minded person. My second workiversary is coming up this week, and it seems like a fine marker to use in judging myself.

Since my last anniversary at work, I’ve done a lot and I’m not sure I can even begin to write it all out. Let’s do a CliffsNotes version of the last year!

  1. I moved out and lived in my own apartment. It felt like the only way to express how seriously I needed things to change and improve between me and Dorena. I also wanted to take some time to just focus on myself and have independence and solitude.
  2. Dorena and I did a lot of work on our relationship. We have been together for half of our lives, and we never truly grew up and adapted as we aged. We were stagnant and didn’t know what we needed to move forward. We had to first find out what we wanted, and then we had to learn how to communicate that with each other. It took months of trial and error to find our voices and the best ways to speak with each other.
  3. I moved back in with Dorena. It felt right to do so, and it’s us again, working toward common goals while supporting each other.
  4. Personally I’ve made strides tackling my flaws. I regained my confidence, and my ability to be direct and pointed with my communication. I’ve learned how to convey my feelings more clearly than ever before in my life. I’m taking steps toward improving the important relationships that I value. I’m learning to let go of some of my OCD habits, and to wrangle my untoward expectations. I’m finally starting to accept when I’ve done well instead of pushing for “perfection.” (He says as he incessantly rewrites these paragraphs to make them sound better.)
  5. Professionally I’ve become a stronger leader. I’ve always been a “take charge” person, but this year it’s really clicked how to express my vision and to get people on board with me. I’ve become an effective leader of a team with vested interest,  rather than just being a charismatic guy that people latched onto.
  6. I’m being creative again. Along with starting a podcast with Will, I’ve been drawing again, and I love it. My cartoons are starting to feel decent again. Something I haven’t been able to say about my drawings since high school. It feels great!
A couple quick cartoon sketches
Look! I have some cartooning talent back!

The most important thing to note is that I haven’t felt a tinge of depression at all over the last year. Even through some tough times I felt resolved and determined instead of hopeless and defeated.

Before my conversation with Will about resolutions, my only goal for this year was to focus on more than just mindless internet browsing for my personal entertainment. I wanted to get more out of my one to two hours a day of relaxation, and I’m off to a good start. Don’t get me wrong, I do see the value in the mindless refreshing of social media. I’m not trying to judge and discourage others from using that to veg out, but being a web designer I spent so much time online that I’m a little burnt out on the whole social media thing.

I’ll be varying my experiences in my free time to get a little more fulfillment out of my activities. I’m hoping they’ll be more memorable when it’s said and done than hitting F5 on my Reddit dashboard was. We’ll see. I’ll check in again after I finish establishing my new approach.

A Time and Place to Relax

My mother and father regaled me with stories of my youth, as I expect everyone’s parents to have done. One of my favorites involves my first month alive on Earth. I had colic, and as such I cried a lot.

I originally set to tell the story myself, but looking for photos of me camping with them, I came across the story in my mother’s own words in my baby book.

Pop-Up Camper at Scenic View Campground in Bolton Landing July 1983
Pop-Up Camper at Scenic View Campground in Bolton Landing July 1983

June 29, 1983
Daddy and I decided to go camping on July 4th through the 6th. You’re coming too — it’s just too bad you won’t be able to remember it. We’re hoping that the fresh air will help you sleep better. You’re having a terrible time sleeping because of your being so colicy. You keep us up for hours (7-10) because you’re in so much pain.

Pop-Up Camper at Scenic View Campground in Bolton Landing July 1983
Another shot of our Pop-Up Camper at Scenic View in 1983

July 13, 1983
We took you to Bolton Landing July 4th to July 6th. We couldn’t believe it was you who went with us. You didn’t show any signs of colic while we were there. You slept through everything including four long walks through Lake George Village two nights. You’ve been just as good since we’ve been home. At least now you and I can enjoy each other more and it’s less strain on our relationship. Daddy likes the new you too!

The story has always sounded like one of those perfect weekends. The weather was fantastic, the Yankees threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox on Independence Day, and I never cried again. Dad’s not sure if it was the camping, the Yanks, or the pine scent. I think it’s the lake itself.

Lake George from the Southern Tip
Lake George from the Southern Tip – September 4th, 2017; 6:30 PM

I’ve fallen out of my love for camping as I’ve gotten older, but walking through the village and being on the lake still has that same effect on me. The breeze off the water, the sound of the water rippling as the Minne-Ha-Ha’s pipe organ plays in the distance…

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Serenity.

 

I’ve been going through a pretty emotionally draining time over the last few weeks. There’s been a lot of deep contemplation about what I want to do about my marriage. I’ve been trying to come to a decision if I am up to the task of investing more energy and patience into it in order to see if it can metamorphose and satisfy me for the rest of my life.

For a few hours this evening, I got to stop overthinking and just chill out by the lake. I’m no closer to a final decision, but my mind is refreshed!

Back to the perpetual loop of uncertainty in the morning…