Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful for Fledging

In January of this year I started a brand new job in a new field. I have always loved writing, but I had never done it professionally. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was working in an office, writing full-time, and doing projects I had never done before.

In my 20's there were so many things I wanted to do, but was deterred from starting because I felt like it was too late or I wouldn't be naturally good. Back in college I had a gym membership at the YMCA, and it had a climbing wall. I had always wanted to try climbing, but at 20 years old I remember sighing to myself and thinking, "everyone else probably has been climbing since high school, so there is no point starting now when I'd be so behind."

I don't know exactly how my mind-set shifted, but throughout my 20's, it did. I think it takes time to come into ourselves and not feel embarrassed to be new at something. I think we also have to give up needing to be the best, or even good at something in order to justify doing it.

Basically, what I was getting at was the importance of a growth mind-set, which I didn't quite have the language to describe until now. In my work book club we just read The Confidence Code, and one part really stood out to me. The authors write, "The starting point for risk, failure, perseverance, and, ultimately, confidence, is a way of thinking, one brilliantly defined by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck as a 'growth mind-set'.

The key to creating a growth mind-set is to start small. Think about what you praise in yourself or your kids. If you praise ability by saying, "You're so smart" or "You're so good at tennis; you're a natural athlete," you are instilling a fixed mind-set. If, however, you say, "You've worked so hard at tennis, especially your backhand," you are encouraging a growth mind-set.

Making a distinction between talent and effort is critical. If we believe that somehow we're given talents at birth that we can't control, then we're unlikely to believe we can really improve on areas in which we're weak. But when success is measured by effort and improvement, then it becomes something we can control, something we can choose to improve upon. It encourages mastery.

I was at the perfect point in my life to start a new career path and not feel intimidated or overwhelmed by it. I remember going to the final interview, in a downtown skyscraper, with a panel of six interviewers, and just feeling very matter-of-fact.

One interviewer asked me a question about how I would fit into the business culture never having done it before. I invoked my experience of traveling in 28 different countries and that I was no stranger to immersing myself in unfamiliar cultures.

I also said I was good at observing others and not making any sudden moves. "Don't worry, I wouldn't go into a client meeting wearing a mumu and drinking a margarita!" They laughed. "Then again, you guys offered me a beer when I got here today, so maybe BYOMargarita would be normal!" More laughs. As nerve-wracking as the interview was, it was also fun. I committed to being sincerely myself, but without taking myself too seriously or being apologetic of what I didn't know.

This year I have thought of myself as a fledgling writer, and my team has been very nurturing and protective of me taking baby steps in my position in a supported, gradual way. I accepted that I had a lot to learn, and in return, I never felt pushed out of the nest before I was ready. I had time to let my writing feathers grow in a little thicker, a little stronger.
Nest I found, Orcas Island, 2009
I've been able to embrace being a fledgling in other areas this year besides writing. I took a Basic Climbing and Mountaineering class, and learned a ton of new skills. Turns out, learning to climb a decade after feeling deterred is still not "too late." Even a fledgling climber can do exciting alpine climbs, and a fledgling mountaineer can summit Mount Rainier.

Recently I was out on Orcas Island and ran into an acquaintance who lives out there. He asked what I was doing in Seattle these days, and I told him tech marketing writing. "Wow," he said with a laugh. "Sounds really boring!"

For me, it couldn't be more opposite from boring. It provides more learning, challenge, growth, community, appreciation, and stimulation than I've had at any other job. I absolutely love it, and I'm so happy that the fear of not being the best marketing writer didn't stop me from applying. Being a newbie has hands-down been one of the best parts of 2014, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Filling the Cracks with Gold

Part of the fall harvest at the Beacon Food Forest
It was an especially hot and dry summer in Seattle--in fact, the warmest one on record according to Cliff Mass's A Summer for the Record books. I'm thankful I was able to spend a lot time outside and in the mountains. I think that's partly why I'm so resistant to going back to a more indoor existence now. And I know the fall rains are to be expected, and that in fact, Seattleites often Crave the End of Summer.

But there is a certain heaviness that starts to settle in as the days get shorter, a stark contrast to how light summer feels. And it can seem like intense events start happening all at once.
Downtown sunset
I heard a shooting for my first time, while at work in downtown Seattle. It was five shots, very close by. From our fourth floor vantage point, we could see straight down onto the scene across the street, where a man had been shot.

My coworkers and I watched, stunned, as the scene unfolded: the cops arriving and pushing away the crowd, taping off the area, taking witness reports, the firetruck and ambulance arriving, the paramedics attending to the man, then taking him away on a stretcher. Sadly, the young man died of his injuries later that day. We also found out that one of the bullets had hit our building, just 2 floors below me. 

Not long after that, I was running around Greenlake on the outside path at sunset. The colors had been an explosion of pink and orange over the water. It had just gotten dark when my friend and I saw a terrible bicycle accident. At an oddly-angled 3-way intersection, a small truck hit a cyclist from behind.

It was like slow motion as the bike got pulled under the front tire, and the cyclist was barely able to bail off her bike in time. My friend who had his cell phone called 911, while I ran over to the woman. There were already other witnesses there, and already some one cradling the victim's head to help prevent damage to the c spine. She was trembling and had a huge gash in her knee. I asked her her name but she was unable to respond. Her eyes were rolled back in her head, and there was a horrifying gurgling noise from her throat. I prayed that she was able to breathe.

A woman driving by slowed down and said she was a doctor, and asked if we needed help. "Yes!" I said. "Please!" I was so relieved a doctor was there, even though she told my friend in a low voice to tell the dispatcher we needed an ambulance ASAP. I felt so helpless, willing the paramedics to get there faster. No, even faster.

I checked news reports for days after, but didn't read anything about a cyclist getting hit. I figured that no news is good news. Yet, it took me a long time to get the image of the woman out of my head, lying in the street trembling in her fluorescent yellow jacket, unearthly choking noises punctuating the night air.

As the leaves dry up and sink toward the ground, illness and injury and pain seem more on the surface. I can't help but think about the fragility of life; the friends and family battling cancer; the broken heart that is still healing. And of course, the blessing of health, and all the resilience and beauty that is born through facing hardship.

It's like how fruit trees need a certain number of days of cold in order to produce fruit the next year. Vernalization is the "acquisition of a plant's ability to flower in the spring by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter." Maybe humans can experience vernalization too.

The bounty of local apples getting turned into cider.
We got help from a few small superheroes.
And when hardship leaves its cracks, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Kintsugi is "the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise."
From Sang Bleu
I find that oddly comforting, the image of cracks filled with gold, creating a design that is unique to that object.

On my friend Will's cooking blog, he recently posted: "I've been writing lately--heavily--and cooking less and less. But there doesn't seem to be a difference in the end. What feeds you? What wakes you up? Writing is what gets me out of bed."

I've been asking myself what feeds me in this dark time of year; what is my gold that fills in the cracks? That is how to get through to the blossoming of spring.