When Life is Kind, Relish It

On Saturday morning, the most normal yet magical thing happened to me.

I woke up, much like any Saturday. I didn’t feel particularly well-rested. And I didn’t sleep in particularly late. I gathered my bowl of cereal and sat in bed catching up on some TV.

Eventually, I got up and got dressed, packed a backpack, and headed out the door. I am part of this women’s group in Portland and the meeting this month was in the branch of the library just down the street from me.

One of the reasons I was so excited about my new apartment is because I was finally walking distance from a library. In a city where walking places didn’t make you a little bit crazy.

I was dressed early, but I needed to return some books to the library, and I figured I’d probably pick up some more.

As I walked, I tried to really enjoy myself. I tried to appreciate that the sun was unexpectedly out. The air was crisp and refreshing. The flowers had started to bloom. And the world just seemed, in all its normalcy, a little bit magical.

Before leaving the house, I checked if a book I needed was available at the library. My book club this was suddenly taking place on Wednesday, and I didn’t even have the book! Unfortunately, all the copies of the book were out, and I was still pretty far down the line on the hold list.

That’s ok, I thought. I made plans, then, after my meeting to go down to a bookstore, eat some lunch, and then settle down at one of the many tea shops around down to start reading.

I got to the library and scanned the Lucky Day shelves. These are shelves in every branch that hold the most sought after, new-ish books. There are sometimes great finds in there. It totally just depends on your timing. And I love it!

I found the new Eddie Huang book and checked it out. I still had a few minutes so I went to the fiction section. I rarely just pick up books from the shelves any more. I’m always looking for something or have something on hold. This time was no different. I figured I’d just look under L. Even if they didn’t have this specific book, maybe they’d have something else by the author.

I realized I was in the wrong part all together, the M-Z section of fiction. But still, I walked the shelves, breezily passing my hand over random books. I remember there was a book called Witch of Bourbon Street which made me think of my trip to NOLA from a year ago.

Then I followed the shelf to the A-L section, starting with the A’s.

All the way at the other end, on the top shelf, I found the section I’d been looking for. And there, to my surprise, lay the book I needed to find.

I quite honestly couldn’t believe it.

I was sure when I’d try to check it out, it wouldn’t let me, announcing, instead, that it was meant to be on hold for someone else.

But it went through with no problem.

Now I know this isn’t magic. This isn’t the universe sending a small gift my way. I know. But still, I relish it. I revel in it. I savor the moment the sun shone on me in this strangely normal way. And I allow myself to wonder, maybe it is.

What’s Luck Got to Do with It?

Sometime last  year I read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. At the time, when I read it, I felt a great sense of relief. The book is all about how, sure, hard work is important, but hard work without luck will rarely (if not never) propel  you to greatness. Also, just so people don’t yell at me, I am one to believe that luck without hard work also wouldn’t propel you to greatness. My gut tells me the latter happens more often than I’d like to admit.

Anyway, upon reading that, I felt a great sense of relief. Suddenly, if my achievements turned out to be totally mediocre, it wasn’t entirely my fault. It wasn’t that I didn’t work hard enough (and at times I worked very hard), it was at least partially that my timing wasn’t miraculous.

I’m seeing the story from a different perspective now, from the lucky side.

At the end of last week, I got a promotion at work. It was pretty exciting. And while I had to apply for the job, so the promotion didn’t come out of nowhere, I was expecting at least on other round of interviews. So I was still caught off guard when I got the call.

I excitedly went and told my friend. He had also applied for a promotion, but for a different group in the organization. He was still waiting. That group was less pressed for time. He congratulated me, we chatted, and eventually he asked if I felt comfortable sharing my new salary with him. Which I did. I’m getting much more comfortable talking about salary without seeing it as an actual value of my worth. And we got to talking. How did I end up with a significantly higher salary than him (and no, not in the “I’m a man so I should statistically be making more than you.” kind of way).

So we worked back. Firstly, I got a slightly better review this past year because I had made myself visible to the right people in the company. I also happened to have a boss who took it upon himself to snag his team as much money as he could get his hands on when year-end reviews came about. Last year, after I had worked for the company for only 2 months, he managed to get me a raise, a small raise, but still a raise. This man had made this his mission, and man did he succeed.

So that’s luck #1.

The other thing that differed with us is that I started at my current company as a direct hire and he started as a contractor. We started right around the same time. My situation is pretty rare and most people were surprised to hear that I started directly. The reason, I believe, that I started direct was because I had three years experience at an automotive company. While not a direct competitor, the skills and technical knowledge were still very transferable. And my current company happened to own my previous company at some point in history. He had worked in a totally different industry.

Luck #2.

Then we got to how I even got to work at that previous company. Again, the typical way to get in there was as a contractor. I happened to apply and get into (through hard work and great interview skills) a leadership rotational program there. A year later they very much limited their pool of candidates to people who had either interned in automotive or had done Formula SAE in school. Had I applied a year later, I would likely not have been considered.

Luck #3.

Oh, and the icing on the cake? I just remembered. The guy doing the first round of interviews for that rotational program came to campus for a career fair. I had had a rough day/week/month at school and decided I wasn’t up to walking in a crowded gym in heels for networking. But I sent my resumes in via our career center website to a few positions that really interested me. He picked mine because he saw the address on my resume and realized he had lived in the same house 25 years earlier. BOOM!

Luck #4.

Now, there are a lot more ways I was lucky. There’s everything from the super meta (like luck that I had been conceived in the first place. Luck that I was born healthy. Etc etc.) to the more concrete like getting into a university where that first company recruited, etc etc.

It’s funny, a lot of times if you point out to people that they got to where they are today because of luck, they get insulted. They think that luck somehow lessens the hard work they did. It doesn’t. I went to a really good high school, and I worked really hard to get good grades. I took the most challenging classes I could. I did well on my SATs. I worked my ass off in college, both academically and not, to maintain a good GPA so that I would be noticed by top companies. But with all of that, I was also very very lucky as this post has shown. Anyone that’s successful has to have a little bit of both.

They talked about this tendency on the latest episode of Freakonomics Radio. Tom Gilovich, the interviewee, said:

If you tell people how lucky they are, they don’t like that. They guard against it. They’re like, “Wait. What are you? You’re diminishing my achievements.” But if you ask people, “How has luck played a role in your life?” People can get in touch with their tailwinds, or how lucky they are. So it really suggests an ask-don’t-tell policy when it comes to either luck or particular type of tailwind, or all the other tailwinds.

And that’s all well and true. My friend and I had seen this first hand when we tried to talk to our coworkers about their own luck. But what I also know to be true, is people who are aware of their luck, and are grateful for it, tend to be happier people. If you ask me, it has something to do with that relief that I felt when I first read Outliers, but I’m no expert. At least not yet.

All I know right now is I’m truly in awe of all the things that had to fall in place to get me that promotion and nice pay bump. And I’m very grateful for my luck, which had at least something to do with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fearless Friday: What I’m Wired to Fear

After almost five years of on and off therapy, it turns out I have a fear of abandonment.

I can’t say this is particularly surprising. I think the thread of this theme can easily be seen woven throughout my life. But I do think this current therapist (I think I’ve finally found the one!) was the first one to say it “…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.”

My fear boils down very simply. I am scared anyone and everyone I care about will leave me. I am scared that if I ask for too much or reveal too much of myself, the people I care about will leave me.

I was convinced for a while that if I could just play the perfect person, someone will stay and love me.

But I realized I couldn’t live with that version of myself. At least not for very long. Though for longer than I thought I’d be able to. The number of lies, both to myself and to those I care about was too high. A conflict broke out in me.

The other thing that’s different with my current therapist is that she’s not trying to fix me. Though that doesn’t prevent me from trying to fix myself.

This pattern of mine runs so deep that I can conveniently and without even noticing adjust it to suit my current moods.

For a while here, I unconsciously grasped on to this idea that if I can just get secure enough, if I can overcome this fear, then I will be able to maintain a romantic relationship for good. (By the way, this fear applies to all my relationships, not just the romantics ones. I’m looking at  you, friends). Only once I accomplish              will I be truly worthy of love and acceptance.

Today, again, was filled with coming to terms with myself. It was like the dawning of a new day. A day that had dawned before. Though it was slightly different this time.

Today it dawned on me that my fear of abandonment will never fully go away. It may come up less, or some event in my life may cause it to arise frequently for a while, but odds are, even when I’m in a secure and loving relationship, it’ll rear its head at some point. The key, I realized, isn’t to overcome my fear. As we’ve all come to learn, after all, courage is not an absence of fear. The key is self-awareness. It’s the ability to recognize when a reaction I’m having is a result of the perception that has resulted from this fear. The key is self-compassion, not beating myself up for seeing things through this painful lens. The key is talking about it with the people who love and support me.

Odds are, I will always be afraid that the people I love will leave me. That doesn’t mean I’m gripped by fear 100% of the time. But it does mean I have to keep an eye out for it, love myself fiercely because of it, and tell my loved ones when I’m scared.