Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Fight Song

I've spent the better part of 2015 at work wiping mud off my rose colored glasses. The excitement of December's launch quickly deteriorated this spring. Nothing has gone right and most people are deflated, leaving, or both. I'm repeatedly having to buffer my team from negativity and rumors of downsizing. Reality set in two Fridays ago when my director announced he was moving to another franchise.

"The ship is going down," I said to Leslie as we strolled the flooring aisle of Home Depot later that night.

"Hasn't it been going down for months?"

"I don't think I have any fight left."

"I think you need a churro from Costco."

Saturday I ran errands, dined at a new eatery with friends, drank cocktails. Sunday I opened my most recent resume and got down to business updating that sucker. Then, Monday, I had my one-on-one with my manager.

"You know, we never talked about what your nest step is professionally," she said when we finished reviewing my glowing 360 Peer Review.

"Yeah, I sidelined marketing because I'm pretty sure I'll end up stabbing someone."

"Right, and I totally support your decision there. Just think about it."

More like stress about it. First my director leaves the team and then my manager asks me about my career goals. Good thing I hit the road Wednesday night for a few days at the beach. Though I brought my laptop and a printed out draft of my resume, none of it left my tote. White sand, aquamarine water, and morning mimosas are apparently a solid distraction from work stress.

Last night I got home and this morning I loaded job postings at my company. To be honest, I was looking to see if my director's position was posted. It wasn't. But thanks to my in depth search, I stumbled across an opportunity that got me excited. A job I wouldn't have expected to see but one I couldn't help but want. I immediately texted four people who know my situation, three of whom I work with.

Every single one loved the idea. Every individual highlighted why I'd be so great for the role. And two of them told me they know the hiring manager and they'll back me 100%.

There are many more steps to this process. I have to tighten my resume so applicable skills shine. I have to inform my manager of my decision to throw my hat in the ring for a job that, if I get it, will leave a vacancy on her team. And I have to study the heck out of the Multiple Sclerosis pipeline. Yes, this opportunity is not only meaningful professionally but personally.

At noon I took a break from work to get coffee. As I pulled out of my complex, Fight Song came on. It's poppy and teenager-angsty and summed up my sudden sense of excitement to fight for this job. For the first time in months, I was alive. So I cranked the volume as far as my hybrid Camry would go, threw my fists in the air and screamed the lyrics. I also clipped a curb, but I kept on singing. Turns out I've still got a lot of fight left in me.

Monday, April 06, 2015

I Want to Throw Up

We spend our childhoods being shaped by things beyond our control. As adults, those factors drive decisions, feelings, outcomes. For the most part, we are totally unaware of this imprint. You do what you do because you don't know any differently.

Then a close friends pulls you aside and offers advice. Your sister who knows you better than you'll ever know yourself accuses you of acting like your mom. Your therapist winces when you tell her about something that never seemed that bad in the moment.

Self-awareness is a double-edge sword. It provides comfort when you realize you aren't the crazy one but merely a victim of the insanity that once swirled around you. It paralyzes you as you over-analyze every present-day action in an attempt to avoid old habits that repeatedly steered you down an unwanted path.

"So?" a friend asked the day after I toured a delightful townhouse in the complex I'd come to stalk.

"My offer was accepted," I replied.

"That's amazing!  I'm so happy for you!"

"I want to throw up."

"So?" Leslie asked after my fourth date with an architect.

"He brought me flowers and told me I'm beautiful."

"Yes! I love it!"

"I want to throw up."

I spent my entire life trying to be three steps ahead. It was a strategy to survival. If I could anticipate my mother's wrath, I could prepare. I could hunker down, clench my jaw, and weather the storm. The challenge is that all of that maneuvering instilled in me a false sense of control. After all, no one is ever truly in control.

The architect texted this afternoon to say he'd spent the entire day thinking about me. That cooking dinner together at his house last night, he couldn't get over how amazing I looked. That he wanted nothing more than to skip the meal and kiss me over and over.

My instinct was to rebuke his compliments, beat them back with self-deprecating humor. So desperately I wanted to dismiss his emotions as disingenuous. Then I reminded myself that this is everything I've ever wanted.  I need to live in the moment. And I need to trust what he says is the truth, because we all know my own version of the truth is unbelievably flawed.

Change is good. Getting what you want is good. Now comes the hard part. Now I need to dig deep to believe it, embrace it, and find absolute joy in it.

Oh my God, I want to throw up.

Friday, June 27, 2014

True Identity

One shelf in my apartment is dedicated solely to the creative spirit. It contains writing prompts, a thesaurus and a book of baby names. Pretty much the basic tools needed to write a novel. And at the far end is my thesis from grad school, a collection of short stories that can stand alone but combined tell a larger story of one particular character. That thesis feels like a hard stop. A period at the end of a long winded sentence. The death of my writing career, if you can even call that piece of my life a career.

For the longest time, I identified as a blogger. With my MFA, I segued to a full-blown writer. Such a title felt warranted as I built a portfolio of published work. These days I don't feel like I'm much of either. Instead, I'm a career woman with a prestigious job, a company car and a pension. Just re-reading that soulless sentence sucks the air out of my lungs.

This evening I attended a talk with Jennifer Weiner, an author that most women in the 90s could personally relate to. She was the every-woman. Plus she was funny and engaging and flawed. I haven't read any of her more recent releases but was incredibly amused by her talk. At the end, members of the audience were permitted to ask questions.

"We have so much in common," this meek skinny girl said while standing in front of the microphone. "I have a story inside me but have writer's block. How do you work through that?"

I cringed at her question. I turned my attention back to Jennifer Weiner and cautiously awaited her response.

"You sit in a chair and write. You can't wait for inspiration."

That's the answer of a writer. It's exactly the answer I would have given. Except unlike the audience member who asked it, the woman who sheepishly returned to her seat with defeat plastered across her face, I felt inspired by those words.

When I got home, I tossed my keys on the dining room table and kicked off my shoes.  I poured a glass of ice water and plucked a craft book off my shelf. I'm still not ready to finish my novel. There are too many limitations to the final steps of that project. But maybe I'm ready to finally tackle that screenplay I've been tossing around in my crazy head for a year and a half. It's a story I adore and believe others would too.

At the very least, I know I'm ready to get back to being a writer.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


A few weeks ago, I sat down in my therapist's office after a lengthy hiatus. Back-to-back travel had me on the road for four weeks straight.

"It's been a while," she said as I settled in.

"It has," I replied as I placed my purse on the ground and adjusted a throw-pillow behind me.

I don't recall most of that session, other than hitting rock bottom. At a certain point, my body image issues entered the conversation. Though the basis for resuming therapy, it had yet to be truly addressed.

"You clearly suffer from some degree of body dysmorphic disorder," she said as she jotted a note.

"No shit. That's what I told you when I first sat down on this fucking sofa. Listen, I appreciate the progress I've made from these sessions. I really do. But I'm so fucking tired of being controlled by this."

Her attempt to provide Freudian and Jungian explanations was lost on me. Anger turned inward. Adopted belief systems. Blah, blah, blah.

"I am at the end of my fucking rope," I confessed as I folded a tissue in half and in half again before pressing a corner to my eye.

She proposed group therapy. You'll like them, she said. It will be good for you, she said. Think about it, she said.

"I'll do it," I replied. "I'm willing to try anything at this point."

The following Wednesday, I sat down in my therapist's office but this time was joined by two men, another woman and another therapist. There were nervous glances and conservative chuckles. There were general introductions and deeper confessions.

"I know marriages are difficult," I started, my voice wavering. "But I'm sitting here in this room and can't help but be envious of all of you. Because at least you've gotten there."

One man leaned forward, pulled his glasses off and confessed, "My wife hates me." The woman next to him admitted she never realized how empty her past relationships had been until she met her spouse. The other man said that looking at me he saw nothing but beauty and confidence, capability and warmth. But in this moment of pain and sadness, he wanted nothing more than to hug me and comfort me.

"Maybe just saying that to Paige is good enough. Is it?" my therapist asked as she turned to me.

I took a moment to catch my breath and dab my eyes. I studied my chipped manicure and thanked the almighty Christian Dior for developing waterproof mascara. Then I spoke.

"It is. Because you don't want anything in return. I know that, at the core, your concern is genuine. Thank you for that."

When the session ended, we each gathered our things and made our way to the elevator. We descended to the ground level, said our goodbyes and headed in different directions. In the real world, you remain strangers for the sake of protecting confidentiality. In the real world, you fight your demons alone. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that seventy-five minutes spent with four complete strangers hadn't left a mark. In a really good way.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Never Be THAT Girl

Monday I started my new job and by the fourth hour, I had already messed up.

"Remember that conference call webinar thing I had to do?" I asked Leslie.


"Well, five us were remotely calling into live training happening in Chicago. After an hour, the screen reverted back to someone's desktop and the call went quiet. I lingered, admittedly confused, and then disconnected."


"Except twenty minutes later, I realized that my manager had said new hire paperwork would be addressed on the call and it hadn't been. So I scrambled to log back on."


"And the first thing I heard when it connected was, 'And that's all we have regarding paperwork.'"

Leslie laughed. "Can you call someone from your team?"

"Right, to admit I can't follow basic instructions? No."

Tuesday I boarded an early flight to have lunch with my new manager and three peers in New York City. Before leaving, I reviewed the New Hire Portal to confirm I had every possible form needed to give my manager. I called the HR-HelpLine to anonymously inquire about paperwork. Come hell or high water, I wasn't going to be THAT girl.

"How did it go?" Leslie asked the morning after my day-trip to Manhattan.


"Did you have all of the forms you needed?"

"I did! Better yet, one of the other new team members sent an all-team email about not using her personal email address. Blah, blah, blah. My manager quickly followed it up pretty much telling us not to send such messages. And it wasn't mean or anything. It just meant someone else has officially been crowned THAT girl. I'm in the clear!"

"Congrats!" Leslie said.

"Oh, though I totally tore the handle off the front door of my apartment building when I got home last night. I heard it clang onto the brick entryway as I walked toward the elevator.  Some dude tried to get in after me and I pretended to not see him and aggressively pressed the door-close button."

"Meaning, you're still THAT girl but your company has no clue."

"Pretty much."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fragile: Handle With Care

"How did your interview go?" my therapist excitedly asked last week as I settled onto her sofa.

"I think I got it. I should find out tomorrow or Monday."

Her face lit up. A wide smile stretched from ear to ear. Her spine straightened as she leaned forward and exclaimed, "That's fantastic!"

"It is." Neither the tone of my voice nor the shift of my body matched the enthusiasm coming from her chair.

"And did you have a date?"

"I did. Really nice guy. He's originally from Connecticut so we bonded over lobster rolls."

"Are you seeing him again?"

"I believe so," I answered before reaching for my cup of water and taking a small sip.

"Do you want to see him again?"


My therapist settled back in her chair, let her mouth fall slightly open, strained to find the words to summarize her thoughts.

"Yeah, I know," I said.  "I'm looking at how excited you are right now and my response, it's like I'm talking about Brussel Sprouts."

"Nailed it."

We danced around this lack of enthusiasm. I was being cautious about work because it seemed reasonable. She agreed. I was being cautious about love because history dictated such.

"But you can still be excited."

We dug deeper. We discussed this sense of preservation masquerading as caution.

"Like I've said before," she started. "This approach served you well during your childhood. But you're still acting guarded without evidence of needing protection."

I took another sip of water, this time using the liquid to help swallow down the lump lodging itself in my throat. I glanced out the window, as if shifting my gaze would help stave off the tears. Then I admitted that no matter how much I rationally knew I wasn't defective in my physical appearance, I couldn't fathom a man embracing it without hesitation. Clearly he'd someday determine my cellulite wasn't worth tolerating. My soft stomach would eventually become unbearable. At a certain point, my larger two front teeth would morph from cute to unsightly.

"Rationally I get it. Veneers won't fix the problem. This runs deeper than cosmetic dentistry."

"Yes, it does," she said.

"Except it's so ingrained at this point, embedded in my bones....." I paused.

"We're going to tackle this," my therapist said, her voice confident yet warm. "Here, in this space.You'll tell your mom to fuck off. You'll hold your dad accountable for not protecting you. By getting the anger out, you can stop internalizing it. You can stop turning that anger on yourself."

I took in a deep breath, exhaled with a slight huff. I considered what she said.

"You see, I can't connect those dots. For me, that process won't lead to embracing my flaws. And I apologize for dismissing your approach."

She smiled. "You're being honest. I'd rather you be honest. But I still think we should try it."

I nodded in agreement, refraining from admitting fear of failure. This wasn't my first time sitting on a couch, trying to tackle this demon. While strong on the outside, I felt fragile on the inside. Unbelievably fragile. As if my heart was made of delicate glass. And if this effort didn't work, I feared it just might shatter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Third Time's a Charm

"You really should apply," my manager said over lunch in mid-December.

"But there's no relocation," I replied.

"Apply. Get your name out there."

And so I did, throwing my hat in the ring for a promotion that would require a move to the west coast. My California friends were ecstatic at the prospect of me heading in their direction. Leslie panicked. I wanted nothing more than to put my head down and do my job. But I went through the process, answering questions and politely bowing out when it was confirmed I would be responsible for moving myself west.

"You really should apply," my senior manager said two weeks later when my then-manager announced her resignation.

"For her vacancy in DC?" I asked.

"Apply. You have a great shot."

And I did, making it all the way to the final round. I flew to Chicago in early January to sit down with senior leadership. One meeting went incredibly well. The other clued me into the reality that, no matter how tight my Spanx sucked me in, I wasn't getting the job. Though my qualifications far surpassed those of my competition, this was a game of politics and I didn't have a shot in hell.

"Which jobs do you want to go for?" my new manager asked in late January, my inbox flooded with postings he'd sent along.

"I just got to San Francisco for a 24-hour work trip. Let me rinse off this airplane smell, find some food and review what you sent over."

"Apply. You're hot right now. People want you!"

And apply away I did, submitting an application for the third time in two months for a job I was finally interested in pursuing. It was a promotion to a completely different division, removing me from the drama and uncertainty plaguing my current team. It was a title change that would bring with it greater job stability and a very nice salary increase. It was also an opportunity that allowed me to remain in Atlanta, a place that was finally starting to feel like home.

I sailed through phone screens and thoroughly enjoyed my face-to-face interviews, something most people fear like the plague. My scheduled forty-five-minute conversation with the Director ran an hour and fifteen. Peers and managers, both current and former, excitedly reached out to vouch for my competency. With two recent application efforts in my rearview mirror, my interviewing process was a well oiled machine.

"Paige, it's David. Is now a good time to talk?" the recruiter asked yesterday afternoon when I answered the phone.

"It is!" I answered.

"But is it a good time to talk about a promotion? I'm calling to make you an offer."

"It is indeed."