Saturday, December 5, 2020

In the Words of the Saints

November was a tough month to find inspiration for writing. I actually took a formal step back from my weekly 'Monday Musings and Motivation' emails that I craft for my team because writing was feeling like a chore. And yet, I reread one this week from late summer and was reminded how much language holds. Power, emotion, inspiration, release, growth, knowledge, curiosity, uncertainty, conviction. Words are sustenance, sometimes created or consumed in little snack-sized bites, and sometimes building blocks of a veritable feast. So I sit back down to write, knowing that I can't simply wait for inspiration to strike, knowing that this is a practice more necessary when it is not easy. 

When I am short on inspiration, the Church never fails to shine a light into dark corners, but also often feels too heavy for a blog post. Last week had me hunting for sound bites from the Saints, and that feels a little more digestible. 

This gem from St. Thomas More: Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.

If there were ever a prompt for starting your day with prayer, this would be at the top of my list. I find that setting aside ten minutes in the morning for the daily readings with my coffee doesn't stick well, in part because by the time I hit the office door, those thoughts are long gone. But that's ten minutes that my mind is occupied with good thoughts and unavailable for hijacking by the enemy. Maybe if I was more consistent with the practice, the thoughts wouldn't vacate so quickly. It's frighteningly apparent that the bad thoughts are waiting at every turn to assault our unoccupied minds with lies dressed in glitter and charm. This concept, the cousin of entropy, applies to holiness, virtue, relationships, learning, health (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual). If you aren't moving towards the good, you are moving away, however slowly it might appear to cast the illusion of stagnation. I have felt the conviction in the last few weeks to live the present more intentionally, and I think it starts with good thoughts. St. Paul adds his eloquence: 'Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.' Phil 4:8

A very Chestertonian pearl from St. Augustine: Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.

The few nonfiction books sprinkled into my reading the last several weeks continue to hammer home the message that God is bigger than our finite human minds. His ways are not our own. If we are not expecting great things from Him, how can we possibly receive them? The tiny sliver of the picture that we grasp pales in comparison to His omniscience. I imagine God as a parent, just waiting for His child to ask for something that allows Him to show off His love. I have prayed for miracles and seen them granted, and yet I so quickly forget that I can ask. I've always expected big things of myself, but I've never expected big things for myself. Maybe it's time to start praying big again.

And another because Augustine was the man: If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself

This year in particular seems to have highlighted so many iterations of self-aggrandizement, self-justification, egocentrism, whatever flavor of the day falls far enough from Orthodoxy to be culturally appropriated. We are urged to 'get with the times' and chastised for defending the Truth, a practice so easily misinterpreted as passing judgment. Moral relativism seems to be an assumed universality, and worse, a prerequisite for willing dialogue with many. Yet I was comforted by the words of Archbishop Chaput (which should come as no surprise), reflecting on those who view the Sacramental life as a right regardless of their moral character and obedience, when he said "the believing community has a priority right to the integrity of its belief and practice." This captured what I could not put to words- the sense of injustice I feel when people pick and choose teachings of the faith as if they were not beautifully, perfectly and necessarily intertwined to form the whole. Catholicism is a privilege, one we should be joyfully and desperately sharing, which is received and not created or modified or arbitrarily defined. I feel a tug when wanting to share my faith, between a desire for others to know the home I've found and the hesitation that it will be distorted and only selectively accepted. I applaud those who stand firm and courageous in their evangelization. 

There are so many more snippets of wisdom to choose from. I often wish that I knew the Saints better, knew them well enough to turn to a friend during a difficult moment of the day and seek intercession, and well enough to share them with others who need their example and prayers. Even this brief exercise tonight reveals that they can inspire and challenge and fill my head with the good thoughts that will keep the enemy from sneaking in. That's enough for tonight. 




Sunday, October 4, 2020

Checking the Boxes

While I admire those who are unashamed and unafraid to speak the truth in these difficult times, I also see the backlash and repercussions of doing so and am sad to say that I have let cowardice take the day in my own life. A recent attempt to engage in dialogue landed badly, and so the fear is rewarded. Nevertheless, silence is not the answer, and in order to speak up, I need to get my thoughts in order. Hence the blogging. 

A recent well-written and, if I may say, blunt post by Mama Needs Coffee called out those who have justified their positions as pro-life while abandoning the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. The idea that supporting a candidate who has done more to protect the unborn than any other in history means that I don't care for the environment, the immigrant, the impoverished, or the minority is as absurd as the idea that all issues are equal and that we should support the candidate who checks the most boxes, regardless of what those boxes are. 

Even our own judicial system doesn't believe that all sins are equal. Can you imagine the outrage if we suddenly started sentencing shoplifters the same as serial killers? There's a reason for hierarchy and weight because there are some rights that are essentially prerequisites to all others.  

As a hiring leader, this all-are-equal stance is akin to saying that I should place all desired candidate qualifications in a table and when choosing between two candidates, the candidate who possesses more than the other should be hired, regardless of the boxes left unchecked. My hiring qualifications may read something like: Doctorate of Pharmacy, Colorado pharmacist license, completion of accredited residency, experience in hospital pharmacy, experience in pediatrics, experience in codes, familiarity with our electronic medical record platform, communication skills, ability to receive feedback, a growth mindset, self-awareness, work ethic, attention to detail, demonstration of longevity, creativity, flexibility, ability to problem solve, and the list goes on. There are obviously "required" qualifications in that list, without which the candidate doesn't even get past the recruiter. They are non-negotiables. And I would argue that there should be non-negotiables in your moral compass. I believe the right to life to be one of those. Some of the other characteristics are still more important than others. I have never thought less of an applicant because they don't have experience with our EMR. It's a nice-to-have. But it will never trump self-awareness. I can teach pediatric nuances, or how to effectively provide medication support in a code, but I can't work with someone who has no interest in self-reflection and self-growth.

Some extremists might say that I should hire her only if she possesses all the qualifications. There is no such thing as a perfect hire, just as there is no such thing as a perfect political candidate. You will never find someone who has it all, and if you think you have, you haven't looked deep enough. But that doesn't mean they can't do the job well. I've watched colleagues sit on an open position because they passed over many qualified candidates who didn't fit their "ideal" only to watch COVID eliminate that open position in favor of financial stability for the organization. While I don't believe that you should fill a hole with any warm body, somebody probably would've been better than nobody. Our country doesn't have the option of sitting on an open position until the perfect candidate comes along. And sometimes you have to take your non-negotiables and learn to work with the gaps. This may look like surrounding the candidate with colleagues who possess strengths in those areas of the candidate's weakness (hmm, also seems to apply to politics and our checks and balances government).

For those who might not be with me yet, let me put it another way. If we look at marriage (again, realizing that for your lifetime partner, you would not settle for the better of two evils, but bear with me), many people generally have a list of what they are looking for in a spouse. Let's pretend I have two prospects:

Now, I'm not saying that candidate 1 doesn't have a sense of humor. But let's pretend that in objective comparison, candidate 2 is funnier, smarter, more active, etc. I hope I don't know anyone who would choose candidate 2 because he has more boxes checked. You could even move two more 'x's to the left and candidate 2 would still be numerically better. But it's kind of like "Mom's vote counts for three" when it's her vs. the two kids and they are deciding on dinner. Fidelity kind of trumps the other characteristics (assuming you believe in the sanctity of marriage, which I realize in current culture is not an assumption to make lightly). 

I don't ever want to be a one-issue voter, just like I hope to never be unwilling to think outside the box as a hiring supervisor. But until our country respects the dignity of the unborn, the tragedy of those millions of lives lost dwarf the tragedies of racism (though abortion is racist), poverty (though the poor comprise a significant majority of the aborted), police brutality, environmental destruction, and the issues of immigration, education, and healthcare. Standing for life is a prerequisite for standing for the family, which I believe to be the single most important change that needs to occur to turn our society around. The family unit, honored and protected and upheld, must flourish for our country to do so. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Your Next Job Interview

I may be an anomaly, but I will literally find myself in the middle of an experience, particularly difficult situations as work, when I think ‘this would be a great story to tell in my next job interview.’ Have I applied for a new job? No. Am I looking for a new job? No. Am I preparing for my next job interview? Abso-freaking-lutely! I prepare for my next job interview every single day, even if I have no idea when or where or for what that interview will be. Part of this is probably driven by the shift in interviewing questions (at least in my world) toward a more behavior-based mindset—“tell me about a time when…”. Interviewers are looking for examples of how the candidate has historically exhibited certain behaviors that predict success in a particular or universal situation. If you can be self-reflective enough to recognize why you succeeded or failed in a particular circumstance, and speak intelligently to how that has driven adjustments to your behavior or skill sets to increase the likelihood of your future success, that tells me far more about you than your resume. 

The challenge is, you never know in the moment when an event or experience will turn into something relevant for teaching you how to learn, grow, or improve. Therefore, every day could be the story you tell in your next job interview. It could be how you gracefully handled the unsolicited feedback you received from a coworker. It could be how you navigated the hurdle of a catastrophic IT downtime. It could be how you put forth a little extra time and energy into developing a relationship with a peer who seemed to be struggling that ultimately led to effective collaboration. And when you are living it, it may just be one more good or bad day. But if you take advantage of the opportunity to reflect and process, it may become the characteristic example of one of your strengths in your next interview.

One of my former roommates was a medical resident navigating the transition from her first year as intern to her second year as resident having to supervise those darn first year interns. She came home one day complaining about a difficult conversation with one of her interns who had shown repeated unprofessional behavior. She was frustrated by his actions, more frustrated that she was expected to be the one to correct him, but mostly exhausted because the crucial conversation had drained her physical, emotional and mental energy. This is where I think I’m an anomaly because my first words to her were, “Yeah, but what a great example you can use of effective communication, constructive feedback, and courage when you are interviewing for jobs in another year!” It was true though. Those moments that feel so challenging and hard to navigate often teach us the most- about ourselves, about how to be better, about skills that may be worth investing in. 

Granted, viewing every day as preparation for my next job interview is really just a surrogate for viewing every day as a chance to improve myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write down these experiences for future reference. If you are not actively looking for a new job, spend a week pretending you are and ask yourself how your behavior in each situation would have made you a better or worse candidate if you were to share the story in your next job interview. And then tomorrow, be the better candidate.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Success Between Grit and Grace

 Attempt #3 of my exhale via writing: 

How do you define success? It’s a question asked in many contexts, and previously I’ve given a lot of thought to how I would answer it in a job interview. I’ve wordsmithed my way around what I think sounds the most professional and what I consider my greatest successes to date. Usually I land somewhere in the camp of maintaining a growth mindset and helping the team achieve goals, which is true, and I generally find myself most fulfilled when I am effecting positive change for the team. But in reading Between Grit and Grace today, I realized it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Dr. Sasha Shillcut defines success for herself as living authentically and measures her achievements in work and in her personal life against that standard. Rephrased to capture the wisdom of Brene Brown, she lives into her values. I recognize living into my values as living authentically, but never before have I equated it with living successfully. Game changer.

After hours of agony attempting to define my top two values (you don’t get more than two; read Dare to Lead to learn why), I pared everything down to Accountability and Home. I could write a whole blog post on why those are my top two, but it ultimately doesn’t matter for the purposes of using these values to redefine success. The world—secular, capitalistic, egocentric culture that we live in—would judge my success based on my salary, my title, the length of my CV, or even, if measured against millennial standards, my work-life balance or the breadth of opportunities provided to me. By those measures, I have made it. So why do I so often feel like I’m not succeeding? Because I’m not always (or even often) living into my values.

Granted, it’s been a challenging year, with personal and global crises putting Murphy’s Law to shame. But in the midst of it, I have had successes, and it’s apparent that those were the times when I let go of the outside drama and drilled down to what mattered most to me. Green Belt classes and project read-outs? That one is all Accountability. Even when the VP was expecting me to throw in the towel and blame a pandemic, I honored the commitment I’d made to myself. Monday Musings and Motivation? Both in equal measure, attempting to hold myself and my team accountable while still inspiring them to be their best selves in a culture that treasures individuality and uniqueness. When I think back to what hasn’t felt like success, or even those missteps I’d go so far as to name failures, I either dropped the ball on giving my best or using my talents in the most meaningful way (missed Accountability) or I sacrificed relationships or warmth or empathy in the name of accomplishment or task completion (nowhere near Home). What I know without a doubt to be true is that if I live into my values, I can be successful by my own standard, but interestingly also by the standards of the world if that is what I am aiming for. My best, lived as my best self, is good enough.

One could argue that there are many ways to define what has led to success and failure in my recent months, and given the circumstances one could even make a good case that what we previously defined as failure may be reconsidered in light of new obstacles. But what matters to me and how I show up every day is whether I feel like a success. My emotions don’t lie, and they certainly can be a lot more stubborn than logic. So reframing success and giving myself a foolproof way to achieve it every day is a hopeful way to start the next several months. Accountability is my grit, Home is my grace, and that is me living authentically.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Be Not Afraid

Attempt number two of my new writing efforts:

All the good ones are Schutte. This phrase, uttered by my family many times over the years, passed through my head as Mass this morning closed with Blest Be The Lord. Without a hymnal (hazards of mid-COVID liturgy), the words nevertheless returned with perfect recollection, the mark of a great song. Growing up in the Catholic Church from the mid-1980s on meant repeated exposure to the post-Vatican II musical stylings of the St. Louis Jesuits- a prolific quintet of composers so named because of their inception during their time as Jesuit Scholastics at St. Louis University. While not all would go on to complete their formation, the moniker stuck. Songs like "Be Not Afraid", "Here I Am, Lord", "Though the Mountains May Fall", "Come to the Water", "The Cry of the Poor", and "One Bread, One Body" were ubiquitous in my upbringing. That "all the good ones were Schutte" wasn't necessarily true, but his did seem to be some of the more frequently sung- "Table of Plenty", "You Are Near", "River of Glory", and "City of God."

I had the privilege of getting to know one of the famed St. Louis Jesuits during college and while they were no longer making music (aside from an early 2000's reunion album resulting in one of my favorite new liturgical songs- "O Beauty, Ever Ancient"), I was still a little star struck by Fr. Roc O'Connor. Fortunately, Fr. Roc oozes humility and hospitality and joviality, so it wasn't long before he was just another priest, and the lead clergy in our weekly Eucharistic Adoration nights. Every once in a while, his musical prowess would make an appearance, reminding me of the mark he'd left on liturgy. Each week, a different student would take point on the Adoration programming, noting the daily readings, selecting music that fit the Scriptures, and preparing a short reflection for the other students in attendance. One week I led, I selected "Lift Up Your Hearts" for our opening song. While sometimes music was selected for relevant lyrics, other times I was just seeking a familiar well-known song that would promote participation. This week, it was just a familiar, faithful standard and one I didn't give a second thought to until Fr. Roc, with his 12-string guitar, started enthusiastically jamming out with accompaniment. #facepalm Of course I realized after the fact that he had written the song, and of course he would play it with gusto. 

Another memorable night found the Adoration planning team gathered in a Jesuit lounge in the Admin building. Not the "upper room" lounge, reserved for very special occasions and those with high connections (I claim at least two such VIP nights, ending in access to the coveted rooftop), but still a much cozier atmosphere than a classroom or the library. We held these planning nights once or twice a semester, but this night we hosted a very special guest, Fr. Roc's fellow St. Louis Jesuit, Fr. Bob Dufford. "Duff", as Fr. Roc called him, put us quickly at ease with a witty sense of humor and ready smile. He told us the story of writing "Be Not Afraid", arguably one of the most beloved, relevant, and masterful liturgical songs of our generation. But it didn't start out that way. He had written a first draft and felt like he had a real winner on his hands, so he eagerly shared it with the others. After he finished, they (he probably told us which Jesuit specifically and I've forgotten) jumped in with criticism. Each of the lyrical lines we know so well today have been edited from the original version. 

You shall cross the desert, but you shall not die of thirst

You shall wander far, though you do not know the way

(Taking artistic license as I don't recall the exact words but) The lyrics and cadence of the melody had put all the emphasis on the "You". And the St. Louis Jesuits wanted the emphasis on the despair of the circumstances and the journey, ultimately on God, not on the person who was faltering. By adding a couple key words and modifying the syllable structure of each line, the song went from mediocre to pure genius. As a songwriter, I remember this lesson so vividly and treasure that we got to hear this story straight from Duff's mouth. 

One fall semester, I found myself on an adventure retreat on the Western slopes of Colorado with a few members of the Candlelight Mass choir. The second night of our trip, they were planning music for our outdoor mass and wanted to incorporate the majestic beauty of the mountains surrounding our campsite. "Though the Mountains May Fall" seemed an excellent choice but none of them could remember the words of the verses. I could, because all the good ones are Schutte, which meant I was suddenly an honorary choir member for the night. Less vocally gifted to be sure, but lyrically confident. 

I doubt I'll come across many outside my family and a couple other Creighton Adoration alumni who feel such a continued connection to the St. Louis Jesuits and the music that changed an entire generation, but I am blessed by these memories and by the songs. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Writing Bug

While I'm not looking to change careers, I've been thinking a lot about broadening my horizons and developing skills sets or side gigs or introductions to using a different part of my brain. Last night I saw an advertisement for a copywriting class. You know, one of those "people say you can't make a living as a writer, but one of my students is now making $8,500 a month and setting her own hours" type of pitches. I'm not looking for a lucrative hustle and I know less than nothing about copywriting, but my wordsmithing has been in high demand lately, so it took very little for me to climb down the internet rabbit hole. Turns out there is a website (or several) where you submit a writing sample and then folks who need something written in a certain voice hire you to produce on demand. Since the bulk of my writing is crafting carefully phrased emails of a sensitive professional nature, I'm not sure my existing portfolio would suffice. So, this may be a one-and-done post, but I'm going to start with the intent of writing a variety of samples. They say write what you know, so while the freelance-writer-for-hire website suggested something more akin to a travel blog, I'm starting with this: 

“Are you on any meds?” My mind fumbled a little bit through the words forward and backward and forward again to make sure I had understood correctly. I would expect the question if I were filling out admission paperwork in an Urgent Care. Less expected on a second date. Of course, the first date had a nice awkward middle when he informed me that he was not interested in switching churches, so “let’s talk about religion.” Apparently, he missed the unofficial, nonexistent class on what topics to avoid on a first—or second—date. I thought everyone took that class. Instead, I was trapped in a car with a guy traumatized by a past girlfriend who was bipolar (and on medication for it, obviously) and determined to learn the medical history of every potential romantic interest before things went too far. This is the price I pay for being single more than a decade removed from college, when every possible organic avenue for meeting people has been exhausted. Sports leagues? Check. Work happy hours? Check. Blind date with a friend of a friend? Check. Speed dating? Not organic, but still tried it three times. A girl reaches a point where she’s pretty sure it’s her, right up until the point where prescriptions are suddenly more important than hobbies. Then it’s definitely him. We also managed to hit politics before the end of the date, at which point he told me he didn’t see us working out. Darn. Atrocious conversation skills aside, this gem got me thinking about human connection and the desire that lives deep inside all of us to be known. What questions can you ask to uncover the heart of someone? What sneaks below the superficial banality of typical introductions? I’m the prototypical melancholic introvert, which means that when I meet someone who could become important in my life, I want to skip the pleasantries and dive straight into what makes them tick.  The easiest path to this is to get them talking about something they’re passionate about, regardless of what that might be. Not only is passion attractive—a benefit when the person you are attempting to learn is your date—but it is also contagious. Even the political, religious, psychiatric-medication-obsessed weirdo was attractive when talking about his passions. My point is, there’s a better way to get to someone talking about passions than “What do you like to do for fun?” We’ve lost the art of conversation. Blame the online dating profiles that give you all the details before you even meet. But I think the art is in the ask. Try “What experience in the last five years has made you feel most fully yourself?” Or “If you could live one day over again, which would it be.” I’m literally making these up on the spot, not that I haven’t thought a lot about it. Even for someone who’d rather eat bugs than talk to a stranger, it can’t be as hard as we make it. I guess I could always just start with “What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked on a date?”

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Another Year in Review

If I don't do this annual traipse through my memories, I'm liable to think that others had all the fun in the last twelve months, traveling to other countries (wait, I did that a couple times), getting new jobs (also me), or having babies (definitely not me).

So without further ado, I present, probably for only my own sentimentality since I don't blog often enough to have anybody reading this, a summary of my adventures in 2019. As always, it's easiest if I catalog the year in reference to my perpetual New Year's resolution of going somewhere I've never been and trying three things outside my comfort zone that scare me a little. In no particular order...

The year started with a bang as I took an unexpected leap into formal leadership, transitioning into a supervisor role at work. Probably one of the scariest (and definitely one of the hardest) things I've ever done, definitely fitting the criteria of being outside my comfort zone. I committed to a lot of personal growth via trial and error, mentorship, reading (see previous blog), and classes. Probably should have added prayer to that list. Might have gotten me where I am faster or with fewer missteps. While I can't always honestly tell people that I "love" my new job, I am 100% convinced that it is the right place for me to be right now.

Never thought I'd end up in France before making it to Greece or back to Italy, but when the trip of a lifetime literally lands in your lap, and you don't have to learn any French or do any planning, you make it happen. I did sort of try to learn French, but it's really hard when your brain keeps defaulting back to forgotten Spanish--seriously, at the airport on our way out of Paris, the guy at the sandwich shop asked if he had my order right and I said "si" instead of "oui". What a doofus. Aunt Marianne took care of most of the translating at the hotel and restaurants. And because Normandy is such an American-friendly region, English and gestures were functional pretty much everywhere. One of the things that surprised me the most was the gratitude and welcome offered to Americans. We had been told of such sentiments, but I had a hard time believing it given the opposite stereotype often described of France, especially Paris. But it's true- the people of Normandy have not forgotten the sacrifice of the American (and British and Canadian) soldiers who fought to free them from the German occupation. I wish that I had blogged about the trip when I returned so I wasn't reliant on just pictures to remember.
With Uncle Carver and Dad at the TO monument at Utah Beach
The annual Z Family Christmas letter also highlighted another "outside the comfort zone" adventure: waterfall exploring in the Dominican Republic. Any activity that requires the combination of a helmet and a life jacket is probably not for me. The last time I think I was so attired, I almost died in a whitewater rafting boat dump. So the comfort zone exists for self-preservation. Nevertheless, if my 60-something-year-old mother can do it, I suppose I can too. Think combination of canyoneering, swimming, and bumpy painful water slides worn into the rock. Next time I'm joining E to swim with the dolphins.

In the quick look back over the year, the last New Year's resolution check box was hit at Camp W, finally capturing my first outdoor rock climbing experience. With nuns. So that's awesome. I felt a little embarrassed that I didn't make it to the top of the route until I found out that only two people (plus our guides) achieved the top that day- one of the counselors who climbs regularly, and a camper who had done pretty much every route in Jurassic Park over the last 4 years. It's a lot harder than it looks. You watch something like Free Solo and suddenly think grip strength is not that big of a deal. So wrong.

I think this year marked success in finally figuring out how to plan and execute a solo adventure trip. I've done them for years, but never have they felt quite so right as my jaunt to Traverse City: hiking, biking, kayaking, wine, beer, whiskey, pie, and Brene Brown on audiobook to keep me company. To counter the intense planning that went into that one, I then jumped on a Creatio pilgrimage to Chimayo, NM which required zero planning on my part, but turned out to be one of the most physically difficult things I've ever done- walking 44ish miles in 2.5 days with a large pack, sleeping on floors, snacking on the trail, lots of prayers offered up in suffering. Worthwhile, but not something I'm itching to repeat.
Arriving at the chapel in Chimayo after 3 long days!
And that's about the extent of my year. There were of course new(ish) things within my comfort zone (cross-country skiing, foot golf, joining a new Bible Study), old stalwarts (Toxicology lecture, wiffleball and softball, a couple new breweries, Film on the Rocks), and lot of the mundane day-to-day that often brings the most reliable small joys. Oh, and after four long years, my labor of love journal article was finally accepted for publication. Still waiting on the final proof, so maybe that'll be part of next year's annual review. Until then, verso l'alto.

I reserve the right to make this blog as worthless to read as I feel like, and also to write as infrequently as I deem necessary. Just thought I'd let you know since I finally decided to share my blog.