Changing my mind
I have a new job. Same company, but a new boss and new responsibilities. Intellectually, I am pleased. The new position is challenging, needed and supported. Every detail has lined up perfectly, and yet two months in, I am feeling a little lost. I am overly sensitive and questioning everything. I am tired. Cranky. Slow. Moaning at work/life balance and then when home, staring out the window instead of quilting, reading or riding my bike.
What is wrong with me? I have been asking this question over and over. Snap out of it! This is a great opportunity! Go for a walk and get it together! After moping around for weeks, I finally have a diagnosis. The job will be fine. The problem is me. My world is moving fast and my emotions are a tangle of neurons cowering in my primitive brain, scanning nervously for sabor tooth tigers. I am having a textbook change response.
I have mentored and taught people about adult learning, performance development, and change management for years. Yet I misread the signs in my own behavior, attributing my malaise to outside phenomena like grey weather instead of the obvious internal maelstrom. I ignored what I have told others a million times. Most of our actions are on autopilot. When faced with new circumstances, we are jerked out of habit and into our hard-working cerebral cortex which immediately identifies the unfamiliar. Alarms sound and we run into the cave of our primitive brain where we determine if we safe or not. Here we fight – hate everyone and everything, wonder why this sort of thing always happens to me, prepare to set everyone straight on the matter; or we consider flight – this is scary, I am going to quit, I am going to take a nap and hope it is over when I wake up. Add in the complications of memory and belief, and we shut down. If we do certain things – allow ourselves to mourn loss, ask questions, research details, push ourselves a bit, let time pass – we edge back into the cortex to process the information. We practice and make new grooves. We learn and master new skills. The intensity and duration of this journey varies by event and person, but everyone goes through it. It is human and ancient and why learning is always harder and ultimately more rewarding than staying the same.
But it is uncomfortable. And I am always caught by surprise. All of a sudden I am squinting at my comfort zone, now three miles away, and am overwhelmed by the distance. I forget what it feels like to be new.
This revelation about work led to another, more important insight. This week I am watching both my adult children perform on stage. One son is an Elemental Spirit in The Tempest and another is reciting an autobiographical story at an open mike program. The physical scenario of sitting in the audience as a spectator is so much like the everyday role of parenting adult children that it is hardly even a metaphor. I watch my heart in the form of a person up front and vulnerable, knowing they will be brilliant, or not, and it doesn’t really matter, but I want them to succeed for their own sake. I am the cheering section, waving, clapping, sending out the strongest waves of positive energy I can muster. My oldest has been out of college three years. My youngest is ending his third year of college and applying the graduate school this summer. They have been on their own a long time. By now I have certainly moved through the change cycle and completely assimilated to my new role.
Then, when I least expect it, I am surprised by how much I still miss them, worry about them, and when one gets locked out of their apartment or has a bad day at work, I think without thinking, I am just going to go take care of that. But, of course they already have, with typical grace and aplomb. And it hits me all over again that I am still roaming around in my brain looking for a groove that knows how to be “supporting player mom” instead of “I take care of you mom.”
We are not tidy creatures. We make up models to explain ourselves and that makes us feel better. We can heat map thoughts in our brain and attribute definitions that before we could only guess at. When experiencing change like a new job, naming our reactions and having an incremental prescription helps us feel more in control. Relationships seem on a different trajectory however. We love so deeply and shifts seem so seismic, it takes more than a formula to move us from one place to another. We realize, even years later, that we feel the same ache, the same joy, even the same desire. I imagine my memories and emotions are like bubbles encased by time and habit, when I bump into one with enough force, it pops, and suddenly I am back, feeling the same way I did then, as if nothing has changed.
I will survive my current work blahs. One day I will wake up and feel the pull and excitement of getting good at what I do all over again. I also realize that with my kids it is different. I will be there as my two amazing children stand up with courage and perform the everyday business of adult life. I will shine with pride, support when I can, believe in them completely and probably always be a bit of a mess.