Time to put “The Fixer” on ice

I take great pride in being a problem solver. A helper.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

-Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being
Waiting for “The Fixer”
photo by PositivelyAnne

I take great pride in being a problem solver.  A helper.

I enjoy the puzzle like quality of problem solving and the sort of “high” that comes from seeing a problem resolved and the happiness it brings not only to myself, but to others.   Over the years, besides working through my own personal problem arsenal, I have solved literally hundreds of problems for individuals, groups, companies and organizations I have been associated with.   My track record of success is pretty darn good and so it’s not a stretch to say that I am one of those “go to” people when the junk hits the fan. 

But as I entered my 50’s, I noticed that some of the shine was starting to wear off the challenge of tackling problems day in and day out. At first, it was nothing more than a little irritation or a few bouts of indigestion.

Take a few Tums and move on.

But after my cancer diagnosis and especially during my treatment, I found that tackling any problems, outside my own set of health issues, set off a vicious cycle of anxiousness in me that left me feeling so tired I could barely function some days.  The joy of problem solving was gone!

I talked to my physician.  “Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer treatment and that can lead to a level of depression that can compound that fatigue.”   In other words what I was feeling was totally normal and expected.

But I wasn’t buying that explanation.  Something else was going on with me.  Yes, I did understand that cancer fatigue was real and I was experiencing it, but I was also feeling more blessed and positive about a lot of things in life since my diagnosis.  The little things.  In fact, I was feeling so blessed that the idea for starting this positivity blog bloomed and I began to take pictures and write, engaging my inner muse in a way I had only dreamed about pre-cancer. The only thing that seemed to rob me of energy was solving problems…something I used to love.

So, what the heck was happening to me?

Recently a friend, (who is also a terrific problem solver) and I were discussing the fact that a program at our church was not going to happen this year because a critical volunteer had dropped out and a replacement wasn’t readily available on the horizon.   

 “You and me, we are “The Fixers”, she said, “And, I guess we can’t always “fix things”, can we? “

I remember I stood there rather stunned that she had recognized this “Super Hero” label in herself and more importantly, in me.  

You see the dictionary definition of Problem Solving says this: 

A thinker who focuses on the problem as stated and tries to find a solution.

Merriam-Websters Dictionary

Notice it says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING…NADA…ZIP…ZERO about implementing the solution to the problem.      

That’s where I got off track.  Somehow, I moved from being a joyous problem solver to embracing being “The Fixer”, the implementer, if you will, of the solution, all day, all the time.

And there-in lies the reason WHY I WAS SO TIRED!!!

Why had I let my life as a successful “problem solver” morph into that of a tired, overworked, “problem fixer?”

A negative in my “positivity tool kit”.

Upon reflection, I think it was a combination of a lot of things:  I’m good at team building to solve problems and people know it, so I get asked all the time to help in some pretty dire situations; I’m willing to take on tough problems and stick with it until a solution can be found; and I’m not afraid to do battle with people (who are unreasonable, egotistical, lacking empathy and tact) to achieve a solution.  

All of this can be quite stressful, especially if it’s a daily thing.

But I think the biggest reason problem solving has become such a tiresome chore for me, is that I lost sight of the fact that just because I can provide a reasonable solution to a problem, doesn’t mean that I AM the right person to implement it.  

I do not have to be “The Fixer!”

You might be thinking, why not just say “no?” 

That’s a valid point! I agree, many times I should have said no.  But it’s also true that we live in a culture today that values one stop shopping, in business and in pleasure. How quickly we can get from point A to point Z has morphed problem solving and problem resolution into a single mouse click.

Maybe I got caught up in that mindset.

But let’s face it, sometimes a single click isn’t that satisfying. Sometimes our skill set is better suited to only certain aspects of problem resolution.

In layman terms that translates to:

Not every problem solver is meant to be the implementer of the fix!

I know I am not.  When I think about problem solving, what excites me about it is that I love being the catalog; the wealth of ideas and possibilities that others can peruse, take bits and pieces from and make it their own.

That brings me happiness. It brings others happiness too and that’s important for me not to forget, but to make clear to those I agree to help.

Sure, I can implement solutions, but I’m happiest when I’m number two or even in the shadows.  When I’m the person behind the scenes engaging others to take a solution and implement it into action.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t step up in life. Stepping up is as much a part of me, as problem solving, especially with something I’m passionate about.

But I know I need to be more comfortable putting out the “stop sign” without fear and taking back control of my own narrative when my plate is full. Fighting cancer seems just as good a time as any. But really it doesn’t have to be that dramatic. When it stops being fun, it’s time to stop!

Just as not every problem is mine to solve;

Every solution is not mine to implement!

Sometimes we all need to put “The Fixer” on ice for a while, including me!

Maybe you are feeling the same way?  I encourage you to take the time to think about whether your current approach to “problem solving” has evolved into something that is leading you down a road to negativity and unhappiness.   And I can assure you, that if you choose to put “The Fixer” on ice for a while, you can trust that it’s going to be o.k.

The wonderful thing about ice is that it melts; so, when it’s time to jump back in and become “The Fixer” again, opportunities will be there.

They always are for talented people like you and me.

Positively Anne 

If you like my site, please click like and subscribe to positivelyanne.com so that it moves up the blog food chain and others can find me.  I figure the more positive souls out there the better, right?!!!  Also, feel free to share your thoughts on problem solving and how it’s impacted your life.  

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Stop collecting wisdom…Cultivate it!

A man does not know what he knows
until he knows what he doesn’t know.
-Laurence J. Peter

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Prior to what I now call my own “Period of Enlightenment”, I’m ashamed to say that once I hit my twenties, my approach to cultivating wisdom, involved nothing more than the curation of “wise” people and “wise” experiences with a sort of impersonal detachment one might feel when walking through a museum filled with marble statues.   I was a “master collector” of all things wise and yet, I felt nothing more than fleeting emotions to what I was collecting.   My passion was sincere in the moment, but I lacked the commitment to truly understand what I was doing.

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Simply put, it didn’t register with me that for wisdom to become an effective tool in my “positivity tool kit” I had to stop seeing it as an inanimate object placed atop a pedestal, where my only interaction would be to periodically admire and pet it. Instead I needed to “cultivate wisdom” as a living, breathing garden.  One that would need my constant attention, daily tending, and yes, weeding!

I am not sure why I chose in my adulthood to become a “collector” vs. “cultivator” of wisdom.  Maybe it was laziness, maybe it was wanting to prove myself to my family, friends, work colleagues, strangers.  Maybe it was fear of what I would discover about myself.  All, l I know is I have been collecting an ark full of wisdom with absolutely no clue what to do with it!

As a young child I think I was much better knowing what to do with the wisdom that was before me.

One example worth sharing is I had a best friend who lived next door to me and she had an older brother.  Her older brother was very creative and artistic and he would constantly change the décor in his bedroom. I am not talking new sheets or a paint color, but a complete transformation something akin to what you would find on a movie set.  There was man’s first walk on the moon, Pink Floyd’s infamous Off the Wall album cover, the undersea world of Jacque Cousteau.  All of it crafted and created by my friends’ brother.  It was incredible, magical and this boy, a kid really, was creating all of this before he passed algebra.   I asked him once why he was always redecorating his room and he said, “It makes me happy!”

It made me happy too!  His creativity was free, joyful, knowing no bounds.  

More on that in a minute…

As I said, somewhere in my adult years, I tossed aside this idea of nurturing and tending and weeding my wisdom garden and I began “collecting” wisdom, in all its’ forms, for the sake of collecting.

And at first, it was fun and exciting this business of “collecting” wisdom.  I was very successful at surrounding myself with some pretty great people and partaking in some amazing activities and adventures. But after a while, the sheer volume of “wise” people and “wise” activities in my life became overwhelming, claustrophobic and scripted.  I didn’t know what to do with all of the wisdom in my collection.   Most of it, I would place on a pedestal, an object left forgotten to gather dust.

And after a while, I wanted to forget all of it because it was just too stressful. 

I felt the imagined eyes of all of my “wise” friends on me day and night and the pressure building inside me that I had to do something really great with all of this wisdom I had been collecting over the years or somehow, I would be viewed as a failure.

It made me literally sick, joyless, depressed. 

When someone would express they thought I was wise, I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone in my wisdom collection was laughing.  I’m serious!

I imagined a great museum hall, with thousands upon thousands of marble sculptures all staring down at me from great pedestals.  Their faces devoid of emotion.

“She has no clue what she’s supposed to do with us, so she just keeps collecting more and more of us!”

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How could it be that I had reached my fifties and so carefully made sure my world was top heavy with experienced, knowledgeable folks of good character and judgement and yet, be so clueless about what to do with it all?

The answer came to me last year when I was perusing Facebook.  I was thinking of launching a decorating site and it crossed my mind to look up my old friend and her very creative brother.  We had moved away in the early 1970’s and although we’d pledged, we’d always stay in touch, we didn’t, and well, I had no idea what paths their lives had taken.

It took me some time and I finally found both of them.  Their faces smiling out from the pages of Facebook, both older.  My friends’ brothers face lined with age and experience and holding what might have been a grandchild.  Both of their profiles required that I send them a “friend request” in order to see more.

My fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to press the request key.  I remember thinking about my friends’ brother, “I wonder if he went on to do something with all of that creativity?”

And then it hit me.  He had.   He had changed me!

I had cultivated the wisdom I had garnered from him as a child and put it to daily use in my life.

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Without even trying, this creative boy next door, had become my lifetime guide, mentor and window into true creativity.

He is primarily the reason why I have been so comfortable redecorating first, the bedrooms of my youth, then apartments and houses I have lived in and taken on the responsibilities of designing dormitory living and eating environments at a major university, reimagining the youth rooms and preschool indoor and outdoor spaces at my church.

No, I am not a designer, architect, artist or any of those things.  I create simply because it makes me happy and I have the wisdom of a neighborhood boy to thank for that.

So now my challenge is to dismantle the remainder of my “collection” of wisdom and begin the process of “cultivating” it purposefully in my own garden.

Maybe I will discover many more positive stories of wisdom seed planting in my life than I realize.

Maybe the pedestals I imagine are not as plentiful in my life and my wisdom garden is full of beautiful blooming flowers, breathtaking buildings and simple, joyous people.  I’d like to think that’s the case, but I’m imagining, much like cleaning out my closets, I won’t remember why I collected a lot of the wisdom that is there.

I guess that’s the way life and wisdom intertwine.   Maybe it just takes some years to figure it out. To wipe away the film that keeps us from remembering the innocence of childhood, when it was as simple as a boys bedroom and before it became so very complicated.

But it is my hope that as I move from a “collector” to a “cultivator of wisdom” that I am more mindful to plant it, tend it and weed it, so that it grows into something that I use, day in and day out,  until there is nothing left.

May you find much success in the journey to “cultivate wisdom” in your own lives and know I will be here, garden tools at the ready, to support you.

PositivelyAnne

 

If you like my site, please click like so that it moves up the blog foodchain and others can find me.  I figure the more positive souls out there the better, right?!!!  Also, feel free to share briefly your thoughts on wisdom and how it’s impacted your life.  

All photos and images are my own, except where noted. 

Practicing Intentional Kindness

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No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  -Aesop

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, like so many of you ( or those you love), cancer figures prominently in my life story.  Specifically breast cancer,  but there were also a host of other medical issues that came about as a direct result of my cancer treatment (I will share some of that in later posts).  To sum it up, I became intimately acquainted with hospitals and medical professionals pretty quickly after finding that first lump and the next fifteen-month journey literally flipped my world on its head.  Now heading into my 2nd year post drama, looking back on that time, I consider it a gift.  For it was during those long months of struggle that I came to understand how important it is to live my life as positively as I can and to do that, I had to not only follow my doctors’ instructions for self-care, but I had to equip myself with a “Positivity Toolkit” to help me navigate my new world post cancer.  

One of the first tools I added to my “Positivity Toolkit” was to practice intentional kindness.

Prior to cancer, I would say it’s a pretty fair assessment that I felt pretty adept at being kind.  Kind with my family, kind with my friends, kind at work, kind at church, kind, kind, kind!  Yep, kindness was a natural part of my personality and I just never questioned it as being anything I needed to work on; let alone understand that the brand of kindness I was practicing wasn’t always leaving me feeling warm and fuzzy. 

In fact, looking back on my life pre-cancer, my brand of kindness actually caused me a whole lot of personal daily stress…maybe even downright misery. 

Didn’t my husband know I was just being “kind” when I said that?

My employee didn’t appreciate the raise I gave them…why do I bother being kind?

I do laundry all day and all I get for my kindness is more clothes on the floor?

 Yep, I was kind alright.   But the kind of “kind” I was practicing had a price to pay. 

I was fully expecting others to be kind back.

Well, isn’t that the way life is supposed to go?  I’m kind to you, you’re kind to me?  Seems logical right? And for over fifty years I lived my life with those expectations. Then during one of my hospital stays, I saw kindness modeled in an entirely different way (intentional kindness)by a graveyard shift nurse, and I began to understand the importance of making a change in my practiced brand of kindness.    Let me explain.

Hospitals are scary places, period!  I spent enough time in them over the past couple of years to feel pretty comfortable saying that no one goes to the hospital (except for hospital employees and volunteers) with the intent of doing anything other than getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible!  My observation is that in our vulnerability, as patients who have no choice but to lie prostrate, in a hospital bed, beholden to the wims of our disease and our bodies response to the remedy, many patients feel it’s also their inalienable right to morph into Satan and unleash every obnoxious, miserable and all around crabby thing that could ever be said to anybody on the nursing staff. 

Well nurses are trained caregivers, right?    It’s their job to take care of us in all of our crab- fueled glory.  It’s what they are paid to do!!!  That being said, it was shocking to me how many people in the waiting areas, in the ER, in the bed next to mine, in the hospital rooms lining floor after floor after floor, would treat the nurses as if they were the person responsible for them being in the hospital in the first place. 

  “Get me my water!”  “I don’t want to do what you are telling me!”  “You fix me right now or I’ll do something to you!” “Who made this pudding sh**, you?”  “Our family hates you!!!” 

I heard all of these things and much more coming from my fellow patients and even some of their family members.  Now you might be thinking , well people are hurting, a bit of nastiness is to be expected.   Maybe.  But what I saw and heard was this systemic spewing of “negativity”  that knew no bounds.  Nothing was off limits for people to say to their fellow human being, let alone their caregiver.   It made me feel sad and ashamed.

 “Had I ever said anything that nasty to someone trying to be kind to me?”

One particularly late night, I was attempting to sleep after back to back emergency surgeries and I could hear this man verbally tearing into a nurse down the hall.  

“You get your damn behind out of my room, you witch.”  “I do not want you near me!” In response I heard a very calm voice say, “Oh I’m so sorry you are hurting there sweetie..I know it’s hard.  Get some rest and I’ll check on you in a bit.”   Then I heard something crash…maybe a chair…I don’t know.  But it was scary.   I hunkered down in my bed and pulling the covers over my head a million things ran through my mind, but the biggest was: Why would anyone in their right mind become a nurse?  She was just trying to be kind.  She was just doing her freakin job! 

Just then the door to my hospital room opened and this nurse walked in, her face lined with the years and I had no doubt it was the same nurse who the man was yelling at.  I peered skeptically out at her from the safety of the covers over my head.

“Hey there sweetie”, she said very softly. ” I’m sorry.  I’m sorry he’s so loud.  He’s upset and hurting and well, I’m sorry.  How are you doing my dear?”

 “Huh, sorry?”  “YOU ARE SORRY, WHY? (I think I was actually yelling at her)  That guy treated you so poorly, you were just being kind to him and he treated you like crap…you deserve better!” 

Taking my hand, in her careworn one, the nurse sat on the edge of my bed and said something that would change my life.  She said, “Yes, I do deserve better.  But I learned a long time ago that kindness is not what you get, it’s what you give.” 

And there, there in that hospital room, with a crazy guy screaming down the hall, was my introduction to practicing intentional kindness.   Plop…right there in my lap! 

To practice intentional kindness is to give kindness freely and openly, without attaching conditions or expectations that it will be returned.    Powerful stuff!!!

Wow, it’s hard to do.  It really is.  I stumble often.  But the more I practice intentional kindness, I find that kindness is not something I need others to see in me, but something that is living and breathing in my own mirror.  I no longer wear a “kindness” façade with expectations and objectives that no one can live up to.   I am kind because it pleases me! 

So this week, I encourage you to take a look at your own kindness meter and practice intentional kindness with me. 

Together we can do this, one positive step at a time!  PositivelyAnne

If you like my site, please click like so that it moves up the blog foodchain and others can find me.  I figure the more positive souls out there the better, right?!!!  Also, feel free to share briefly your thoughts on kindness and how it’s impacted your life.

All photos and images are my own, except where noted.