We are drawn, by nature, to solve puzzles. For some, it feels like an inviting challenge. Others feel it as a necessary burden, particularly if there is self-doubt that sits behind and underneath every decision.
The Day I Broke my Vision - Part 1
I take personal responsibility for others quite deeply. This is probably why, when it comes to technology, I focused very heavily on what we’re now calling the User Experience.
Maybe it’s because I’m fascinated by people, how they act, how they make decisions, why they choose to do things that may defy my version of logic, or my preferences.
That may come from growing up with an older sister who was severely handicapped: Blind from near birth, and later developing what was finally diagnosed as autism. To communicate and understand her took putting myself in how I would guess she was experiencing and responding to the world.
Due to her need for complete monitoring and supervision for her well being, I became her legal guardian for what became the last years of her life. Just four years apart in age, I am not even quite sure how to map the complexity of our relationship at that point in our lives. I did, however, have that strong sense of responsibility overriding many areas of my decisions involving not only myself for my own desired goals, but influencing other relationships, my work, my career, even my unscheduled parts of my life.
In 2012 I took my sister to the hospital, bundling her into my car, the home attendant along side her in the back seat, and drove to the emergency room in a large medical facility in Long Island.
Accompanying her into the room, I held her hand, while they put in an IV into the back of one of her very small hands. Then I stood a few feet away as they continued to add monitoring devices.
Standing there, with no chair in sight, I noticed my ears start to ring loudly: a sure sign my blood pressure was dropping, and knowing I’m prone to vasovagal syncope, I thought I could fight off fainting just by taking deep breaths and closing my eyes.
I could not.
I came to confused and tongue tied, disoriented and wondering why I was flat on my back and unable to lift my head. My tongue was lazy, my vision distorted and it took a few minutes to understand that I had fainted standing up, and was now lying in a hospital stretcher on wheels, my head locked in place through a surgical collar around my neck, and was going to be admitted, ironically, even before my sister, into the ICU.
In falling from the standing upright position, I hit the back of my head against the wall with enough force to dent it, throwing my brain forward into the front of my skull and creating a massive subdural hematoma, profusely bleeding into my skull and creating what the doctors called, “shaken baby syndrome”.
I arrived in the ICU quickly, shaken for certain, and uncertain what would happen to me next. I took stock of my senses: there was enough of everything working, I seemed to be able to think well enough to remember I had to deal with a rental car I used to get to the hospital…but was I really intact? I would fight this. I will fix this. But just what is “THIS”? And how?
If you hate water cooler chats in the office, you probably hate the seemingly obligatory social chats on Zoom.
Maybe they are even worse for you: the camera on your laptop sits too close and distorts your facial features, or you’re holding your phone in a force position to look as good as your best Insta selfie—only that’s pretty impossible when you’re talking and there’s life going on in the background at home, and this Coronavirus stuff has us all on edge when we’re working on cutting our own hair, shopping for comfort clothing online and hate sending things back, and wearing those uncomfortable masks that leave marks on our faces.
All this concern about our appearance, and for what?
To look appropriate. Whatever that means. To conform and not stick out. To hide either the mess behind us, or something that will indicate we don’t really fit in with the rest of the group. At least, not the way we see everyone else showing up. And one or two are, in our minds, brave enough not even to turn the camera on, despite the cheery instructions to “be on camera, because it improves communication”.
Communication, though may mean exposure, and exposure is dangerous.
It’s one thing to have imposter syndrome. It’s another to be concerned that to be known for who you are beyond the particular skills makes you vulnerable. Vulnerable risks include feeling vulnerable to attacks of sexism, racism, homo and transphobia. You may be worried that you’re going to be judge morally, from those who seem to hold themselves as religious and politically superior—(do I even need to explain that, right now?)
So let’s flip that coin, and put you in control of the situation.
Your Zoom territory is yours. Own it as you like. Swap the built in camera for a cheap one you can plug in and put on a tripod, find the right light, distance, height to get yourself in a flattering position, if you must be on camera.
Study other people’s faces when you’re on that Zoom call, instead of treating it like a mirror, which is what we are all drawn to do.
Play soft music in the background for yourself, music you like, that can’t be heard by others, so you feel less like your space is invaded by others.
And know that, while this may become the norm for many, and may become the default way to work, you still have the right to not surrender your need for privacy or space. You’ll just have to carve it out in a different way.
Turn your Inner Critic into your best advocate: respect and take advantage of your SME on call.
Remember playing the game Musical Chairs? Everyone had to walk in a circle around a collection of empty chairs, with always one less chair than the number of people circling anxiously around them as long as the music kept playing, never knowing when the music would stop. When it did stop you would have to scurry to find a seat, hoping that you wouldn’t be the one left standing. The chairs weren’t musical at all, they just stared at you silently, daring you to sit on one of them or leave the game. There was an odd cruelty of being the last one still circling, with nowhere to land.
Just how often did you win THAT game?
Most of us didn’t beat our opponents every time. And then, that’s what our friends became: opponents in a game of scarcity, as there was always one seat too few. And then we brought that game to the workplace, where it often became harder to make friends because Musical Chairs might be the bigger game we are forced to play. A game simpler than chess, but more primal in need: GET THAT LAST CHAIR AND YOU WIN.
But must life and work really be like that? Here are different ways to look at this from abundance, rather than scarcity:
Your education was probably crafted so that you would fit clearly into a particular kind of chair. If there are none of those types of chairs left where one game is playing, perhaps there’s another elsewhere. Will you have to move, or learn to work remotely to find a chair? How much time will you have to spend searching for a chair? More importantly, what if you decided not to play the game that way?
What about becoming the source of the music, or the maker of chairs, or the one who changes the rules of the game?
What if the game was to share the chairs, and the action of the game was to help one another into different chairs so that everyone had the chance to try out as many chairs as possible? That would be an entirely different game!
It can be your decision to play Musical Chairs or not. It can be your decision to play, yet work on your advantages to try to win. It can be your decision to ask others to play with you, yet change the rules of the game to something where all win, the music doesn’t stop, no one leaves in despair and everyone has had an even better experience for having played.
You can decide, and the music doesn’t have to end with you bereft of a seat in the game.