Yesterday was the first day in awhile that I was able to go for a long walk during my lunch break and come back from that walk without looking and feeling like I’d just spent an hour in the sauna fully clothed. I had my cane with me, more out of habit than necessity now. Physical therapy is helping with my knees and hips, although I’m not as diligent at doing my exercises as I should be.
It does help that temperatures down here in north Florida have lowered a bit. Maybe it’s my age, but I don’t tolerate relentless 100 degree heat with humidity like I used to. And yet …
I go to a hot yoga class every Tuesday. Yup, I don’t mind sweating under controlled conditions, and the heat and movement are good for my joints. With a hot yoga class, the emphasis is more on how well you control your poses, not how quickly you do them.
I sweat heavily in this class. Not as much as some (seriously, some yogis leave lakes of sweat next to their mats) but plenty of sweat for me. When I sweat in this class, I sweat not just for my physical health, but also my mental health. I have to focus on my breathing, on my heart rate, on controlling my movements. I have to concentrate on what I’m doing at that moment and release the memory of my work day through my pores.
So many times I don’t feel like going to hot yoga, especially when it is already 100 degrees outside. I never regret it, though. I never regret the hour and fifteen minutes of total concentration that always leaves me feeling more connected with myself and less anxious about the world in which I work.
Usually I don’t write about my work in a public venue. I write in my journals and for the most part that helps. Today, however, I feel like I have to write publicly and hope that what I write doesn’t find its way to the wrong people. That worries me not because I’m going to share some scandals or shady business dealings. No, I’m more worried about the pettiness of some people, their inability to listen to criticism, their inclination to set new rules and expectations just because they can, not because it’s necessary.
My complaints will seem minor. Please don’t doubt that I know I’m lucky to have a full-time job with benefits. Still, my fuse is short and my sensitivity to principle is deep. Speaking of sensitivity …
I’ve often written about how I am a shy, highly sensitive introvert. It takes a lot of effort for me to give the pretense that I’m comfortable in a group setting, to speak with confidence, to make little jokes so the atmosphere stays warm and friendly. It about kills me, and I can’t always pull it off.
Friday was such a day. I had three back-to-back meetings in the morning. The first one was fine, very collegial with a group from a different division in the agency. The next two … not so good. At best, they were boring. Like watching grass grow during a drought–that kind of boring. The worst came with the last meeting, when I and a coworker were expected to talk about a project we are working on. I’m new to the project so I fumbled and stumbled, losing my confidence quickly and feeling like the worst imposter. My coworker was more articulate since she had been working on the project for a couple of years. The problem was that I am her supervisor, and I had recently assumed a “leadership” role on the project to help her out.
I wasn’t helping her out much in the meeting, and it embarrassed me. I was desperate to get out of there and when the meeting finally broke up, I made a beeline for my office. Only I wasn’t supposed to stay there. I was supposed to drop off my stuff and then go to another conference room for a big luncheon with people that I see more often than I see my own husband. After spending three hours with people, talking and listening, feeling my energy fade, my concentration wane, my anxiety grow, I was supposed to go and experience more of the same for another hour.
Instead, I sat at my desk, shaking. I wanted to cry. I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. The thought of going to the luncheon and having to continue the pretense of conviviality was unbearable. What I wanted was to go for a walk, a long walk, by myself. I had, in fact, already determined that I would do just that. I just needed to wait until everyone was gone from the suite and then I would make my escape.
It was a wonderful walk. I was rewarded with an ibis flying by me so slow and low that I could see the black tips of his wings. A short while later, I watched a Pileated woodpecker hop from one tree to another, apparently looking for but not finding some good grub. The sun felt hot on my arms but an occasional breeze kept me cool enough to make my usual loop.
Back in the office, I felt better and proceeded to finish some up tasks. Of course, no good news gets dropped in your inbox late on a Friday afternoon. I opened an email from the coworker who had coordinated the as-boring-as-watching-grass-grow-during-a-drought meeting and learned that I and the three other people in my little section had tasks to complete within a few days. We are each to write a report on a report.
To wit, we are each to document a document that has been documented.
Late on a Friday, no one I know will have the energy to argue about whether such an assignment can advance our agency’s mission even in the most indirect way.
I’ve given you little context. Many of my colleagues believe in the mission of their work, believe that they can and should do whatever is possible to improve the quality of life and health for their state’s residents. Even if that work is indirect and behind the scenes, they still believe in it.
But there’s been a change in the culture of my workplace, a shift from looking outward and seeing how we can best help those who are helping others to looking inward and seeing how we can best count widgets.
I’ll survive one way or another because I’m at the end of my career anyway.
I just keep reminding myself that there’s a huge world outside my workplace, a world where I can see ibises and woodpeckers, where I read books and poems and stories written by friends, where I visit with friends and my husband and play with my cats, where I can enjoy the simple task of pruning a small rosebush or watch a chickadee drink water from a hummingbird feeder, where I can sit quietly and appreciate the moment.
Thank you for reading. If you’ve gotten this far, please enjoy this gratuitous cat photo!