In an age where we have so many options for communicating, we rarely communicate. I mean, yeah – we all still talk to each other – but do we really communicate? If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time on Total Information Overload (T.I.O. – Remember that; I’ll use it again) and sometimes, especially in times of high-stress or high-emotion, T.I.O. is, quite literally, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You know what I mean. It’s the “If I have to deal with/fix/listen to/solve one more problem I’m gonna [insert your own descriptor here]” symptom of a greater issue.

All that being said, at this point we’re only going to get busier. Information is going to continue to flow faster and faster. Things will change so rapidly we’ll eventually be buying new tech every other week as our “old” tech continues to become obsolete just so we can keep up. It’s maddening.

I know when I’m in T.I.O., I tend to shut down. I remove myself from most social media; I don’t write anything I don’t absolutely have to write; I don’t read anything I don’t absolutely have to read; I don’t talk to anyone I don’t absolutely have to talk to. I’m not being mean or even truly anti-social; I’m in full self-preservation mode. To be honest, my withdrawal is probably more for the sake of those around me than for my own. Heaven only knows what might come out of my mouth on an off day – or even an off minute.

You: Where in the heck is she going with this?

Me: I do realize I’ve taken the long way around the barn and I’m currently at risk of running away with the horse. Please hang in there.

You: <sigh> Okay.

(Truth be told, this could be considered – at least in part – a continuation of Tananda’s “Skimmers and Non-Readers” article from several months ago. But it’s also more than that.)

Let me simplify. What is, for all intents and purposes, the most commonly used form of business communication these days? That’s right! Good for you! It’s email. We’re absolutely inundated by, and totally dependent upon, email. I know I am, at any rate. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to weed through it all, and yes, sometimes things get missed. But in my case (and I can truly only speak for myself here) things aren’t missed because I’m lazy. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I miss things because I’m overwhelmed. Total. Information. Overload. I work very hard to make sure I accurately take stock of the information which has been communicated to me and disseminate it appropriately.

Perhaps one has an email which informs one of the date and time of an upcoming event, but the information on said event is buried among the verbiage weeds. You literally have to dig through the barrage of words to find the pertinent information. Even the best of us struggle with such a task. (With apologies, we so-called “writers” – because I would never condescend to truly call myself a writer – tend to err on the side of being overly verbose.)

Let’s pretend you’re like me – a very busy administrative assistant – trying to make heads or tails of not only your own email, but your boss’s in-box as well. Now, let’s pretend you’ve become involved in a chain of back-and-forth emails between yourself, and another (at least one other) individual. Pay attention here:

From:                    Them

To:                          You

Subject:               Quarterly Report

Hey – just checking in to see how that report is going.


From:                    You

To:                          Them

Subject:               RE: Quarterly Report

Hi. Great! Just putting the finishing touches on it. It should be in your in-box by noon.


From:                    Them

To:                          You

Subject:               RE: RE: Quarterly Report

Fantastic. Thanks!

On another note, do you think you’d be able to help with the annual fundraiser this fall?


From:                    You

To:                          Them

Subject:               RE: RE: RE: Quarterly Report

Sure, I don’t see why not. Send me the details.

OK – enough pretend; back to reality now.

You just witnessed one example of something the organizationally challenged abhor. At least, this organizationally challenged individual abhors it. One might even go so far as to call it a peeve, though I think that’s stretching it. Silly, but true.

You:       What in the heck is she talking about? That email exchange looks fine to me!

Me:        Be patient, my young Padawan.

Notice, if you will, the subject change? No, not in the actual subject line – ah ha! – but in the body of the email. Now, consider a few months down the road “Them” comes back to you and says, “…but you said you’d help with the annual fundraiser!” after you’ve publically announced you’d be taking a short leave of absence. And you, being the conscientious person you are, go back to check because you can’t really recall what you’ve committed to and, though you know something came through about it, the details are a little fuzzy. (Hey, it’s months later; you can hardly remember what you had for dinner the night before!) Do you believe you could quickly and accurately find this little gem among the overwhelming number of emails which have hit your in-box since the original request?

I don’t care how diligent you are, how organized you are, or how good your memory is. This would be nearly like trying to uncover the proverbial needle from the proverbial haystack.  But – what if you took the same exchange (I won’t reiterate it) and changed the subject to Annual Fundraiser when you hit “Reply” that last time? Not only would it make your life easier, it would make searching it out several months later easier as well. It would also accurately represent the content of the email and document the subject change.

Furthermore, upon separating the wheat from the chaff, you realize that yes, you’d been asked to help with the annual fundraiser, but your request for further details was accidentallyonpurpose ignored and therefore you have nothing further to go on except the original agreement to assist. Therefore, the “argument” in question is invalid. You win.

Yeah, yeah – I know. Asking folks to change the subject in the subject line of an email would be like asking people to reinvent the wheel, or rediscover fire, or relearn how to breathe in O2 and breathe out CO2. And anyway, it was just a suggestion.

Let’s take this one very confusing step further, shall we? We’re going to pretend, for the sake of this argument, there are seven people involved in the email exchange above. Seven. Not a couple, not a few, more than several, but not a lot. It starts innocuously, asking about the status of the Quarterly Report, and then morphs into a request to assist with the fall fundraiser. Are you with me so far? And with responses from the seven folks who all agree to help with the fundraiser, you now have multiple answers, suggestions on what to do, ideas, themes, colors schemes, rules, a ridiculous amount of Reply-to-All instances which have quickly gotten out of hand (thank you very much) and suddenly your in-box is not just overwhelmed, but on the verge of exploding; you along with it. Most unfortunately, there is no possible way to stem the tide at this point. The email has taken on a life of its own and all you can do is hang on and hope you don’t get crushed.

Six weeks down the road, someone asks, “Hey, who came up with the idea of putting glitter on all the banquet table centerpieces? I’d like to give them a piece of my mind! I’m covered with glitter. I think I may even be pooping glitter. My 4 year old daughter thinks I’ve been hanging out with unicorns and fairies.”

Yeah. Good luck with that.

The bottom line is, in a post email in-box apocalypse, there is no hope of ever effectively going back to find out who came up with what idea because, guess what? The subject line still says “Quarterly Report” and didn’t have anything to do with fundraising.

Or glitter.

The New Cheese: Leadership Guide for the Professionally Traumatized


For all of us with professional PTSD…

Today, I had a “skip-level meeting.” Now, for those of you who do not know what a skip-level meeting is (I had to Google it, actually), it is a meeting with leadership to whom you do not directly report. I actually had never heard my meetings with upper management described in this way. It was a little unsettling at first.

So, to give a better idea of what goes through my mind when I have meeting invitations from management, I need to talk a little about my own past relationships with managers. I’m going to attempt not to air any dirty laundry. It’s not exactly my style to talk out of school, but without an understanding of my history, most of what I’m going to impart is not going to make much sense.

I’ve been both blessed and cursed in my employment history. The managers and supervisors to whom I’ve reported have run the gamut and hit all points on the scale of managerial aptitude. I won’t take you all the way back to the Stone Age, but I will say that my initial forays into the world of the working weren’t really all that bad. I personally did not grasp the sitcom stereotype of the horrible boss. I figured, in all honesty, that most employers and supervisors had their good days and their bad days, just like anyone else.

And then… I worked for a dragon. It wasn’t so much that power image of dragoness. It was more breath that could kill at 20 paces and a somewhat ungovernable temper that caused an entire office of people to walk around on eggshells. I suppose this was also my first experience with “skip-level meetings” since I was frequently called into her office (and yes, just like it sounds… always felt like getting called into the principal) though I reported directly to the person below her. It never boded well, to be called into that office, and she was one of those types that actually designed her office with the visitor’s chair sitting lower than hers while she presided behind a large desk. Now that I am older and more experienced, if not wiser, I recognize these behaviors for what they are: Power manipulation. But back in my days of innocence (do not laugh), I just felt exactly what I was supposed to… intimidated.

Escaping from that situation felt like surviving the Titanic. At that point, I figured nothing could be worse… Never challenge worse.

As it happens, my next superior was like a breath of fresh air. Honestly, he smelled better, and he was kind and supportive. I could not have asked for a better teacher and clinical supervisor. I learned a great deal reporting to him, but bless his heart, he was disorganized. Think absent minded professor, but better dressed (I actually believed his spouse assisted with that last bit). However, it detracted not even slightly from my experience as an employee. I learned to remind him of things that were important, and what I got out of the relationship with regards experience and knowledge was well worth any occasional frustration when he couldn’t find the paperwork I gave him three times.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. In this case, my dearly beloved clinical supervisor and boss moved on to greener pastures and we got a new director. It wasn’t bad… for a while.

I’m not going into details of the next several years. Suffice to say that the majority of my current levels of work-related post traumatic response is due to the years that followed. To be honest, I cannot lay all the blame upon my employer. I can lay a large portion of it, because some of the things done were ethically and morally reprehensible. However, I will also say that I take responsibility for my own weaknesses and naivety. Because I lacked confidence in my own worth, I allowed myself to be manipulated and believed that I had no choices but to continue working for someone who made it their purpose to make the workplace toxic to me until I would comply with some, shall we say less professional requests. Eventually, things got beyond what I could tolerate, and I woke up. I handed in my resignation without any idea of where I was going next, but I could no longer put up with what I knew to be… in plain language… just bloody wrong. I walked away with thoughts of leaving my career path entirely. Anyhow, the universe rewarded me for making the right choices, and a new job was offered before the week was out. It came with a pay raise and the second of the most admirable bosses in my life.

Again, I was lucky to have this boss come along at that point in my life. He was everything that his predecessor was not. That said, it was a traumatic occurrence for both of us the first time we had a one-to-one meeting for feedback and supervision. I really do feel sorry for him. It was a little too close to my recent traumatic near-decade of abusive work relationship. He led off with “You are one of the smartest people I’ve met…” and I burst into tears. Yep. Poor dear. He didn’t know what he had done, but that particular phrase in my past always prefaced something truly horrid. Terrible, demeaning statements that left me feeling small and worthless. Hell of a thing, isn’t it, and not expected at all given that you would think being told you are intelligent would bolster the ego. Again, my poor boss was at a complete loss. I excused myself and took a moment to compose. I was absolutely certain that I would likely be considered a complete basket case and my time with my new employer would be curtailed. In all of this, I underestimated my new boss, probably because I wasn’t used to professionalism or compassion anymore. When I managed, with great embarrassment, to reenter the room, I managed to explain what had overwhelmed my ability to maintain composure. He not only did not hold it against me, but he understood. Perhaps he had some sort of experience that was similar in his own past. He recognized that I was recovering from being bullied in the workplace. I am grateful to him for helping me step away from that shadow and remember that a manager doesn’t have to be an ogre. To this day, this is the boss I think of when I am trying to gauge my behaviors and manage my own staff.

I’ve had a few more managers in between. Some good. Some, not so much. One of sad facts of humanity is that we often retain the experience of negative much more readily and with more clarity than the positive counterparts. Thus, my motto of “blessing my teachers” more often applies to the less pleasant interactions in my past. I wish that it were not so.

Going back to my “skip-level” meeting with the director, I was irrationally anxious. It didn’t help that it was rescheduled several times (the director’s schedule is positively ridiculous, and I don’t know how she does it, but that is an entirely different matter). The thing is, by the time that the meeting actually occurred, I was positively freaking out. I had all manner of unpleasant projections of what the meeting would entail. Again, I remind you that we tend to remember most clearly the negative, and just like Pavlov’s dogs, I went straight to my worst experiences of the past. As it happens, the meeting was very positive. She’s a brilliant business woman and understands way more of the corporate political machine and what it takes to run the business than I ever will. My fears were irrational and unfounded (no, kidding). It just made me ruminate on the differences between the leadership I have experienced and the bosses that have been inflicted upon me that resulted in my workplace PTSD.

Coincidentally, I’ve been participating in a management group training about the culture of our organization. Our last session was all about what sort of shadow we cast as a manager. By that, they mean for us to think about how our employees would describe each of us as a manager. We talked about the difference between being a critic and a coach. Critics find flaws, present obstacles, interrupt, nitpick, and listen only to judge or criticize. Coaches encourage, focus on outcomes, find the gold in the ideas presented, are willing to hear other points of view, and listen to understand. That’s a pretty simple, boiled-down version, but I will tell you for whom I would prefer to work.

Each and every manager participating discussed their own nightmares from the past and the common element was those supervisors who were always a critic, but never a coach. That did not mean everyone wanted cheerleaders exhibiting all the traits of Pollyanna. The idea is to be sincere in praise and positives, but if something is wrong to address it as an opportunity for learning or improvement. Yeah, I know. It’s not always possible to avoid the negative entirely. Sometimes, you have to pull out the bitch card (I actually have some of those… I got them for a birthday present one year). However, that should be the exceptions. What I took away from those sessions was that I want to be remembered like my clinical supervisor and the boss that started my road to career recovery. I do not want to be remembered for power struggles and gamey manipulation. I want my staff to know that if I say it I mean it (whether it is bad or good). I want to lead, I don’t want to merely drive.

I hope that not everyone who reads this has had some of the incredibly traumatizing job situations that I have had the misfortune to experience, but I’m realistic. I know that most have had some bad jobs or bad bosses that have impacted you and your expectations of treatment in the workplace. For those who have, like me, moved into management or supervisory roles, I encourage you to be a coach instead of a critic. Lead your people instead of driving them. Be a leader, not a boss. Maybe we cannot change our history, but perhaps the managers of today can help decrease the amount of workplace trauma going forward.

Physical Fit: It doesn’t have to start with a marathon


Unless you are that famed persona of the film, I really can’t imagine that anyone starts off running marathons. I mean, you can start with a goal of wanting to run in a marathon. It’s not really my cup of tea, but most humans don’t go from tuber-hood to marathon-runner immediately.

That’s the thing that people keep saying to me. For those of you following along in my struggles, rants, embarrassments, and victories, you know I never saw myself running anywhere (unless something really nasty was chasing me). Several friends have expressed the desire to get into some sort of fitness routine. When I talk about my running habit, they say things like “I wish I could do that,” or “I could never run,” or “Wow! I don’t think I could ever do that!” Honestly, it’s spectacular for my ego, but it is absolute hogwash.

As of now, I’ve managed to get to a point where I’m running (elliptical, remember the knees) 40 minutes almost every day. On the elliptical, that usually averages close to 5 miles. On the beach, it is considerably less… mainly due to sand and such making it slightly more of an effort, but regardless of distance, the effort is still there. I’m still sweaty and generally feeling it in my legs and backside. That’s really more of the point, no matter what anyone thinks. The effort in the exercise is really what matters. I’m happy that I’ve improved my time and can actually get good distance in those 40 minutes, but I’m not in a race against anyone but myself. What my friends with their comments don’t seem to recall is that I did not start there, and I certainly did not get here very quickly. I had my physical fit over a year ago, and I’m still struggling.

When I first decided to join the gym, I half expected that I would let that lapse like I had before. I would have spent my money and find every excuse on the planet not to go. I’m as surprised as anyone that I’m still going… and regularly. I was also fairly certain that I did not have enough coordination to be on one of those machines without causing myself (and likely anyone in the near vicinity) bodily harm.
What was absolutely zero surprise was that my first efforts were laughable. Quite literally. Grace is not my middle name. However, once I mastered the not-falling-off-and-killing-myself part, the next big hurdle was to actually keep up movement for 10 minutes… in a row. I mean, really? Ten minutes does not sound like a huge amount of time, but when you are trying to coordinate your arms and legs and looking at a timer that is viciously sneering at you… it might as well be a marathon. It was sad. By the time the digits went up to the 10 minute mark, I just stopped. I was out of breath, struggling, muscles weak and hamstrings screaming “What the hell are you doing to us?!?” I had been talked into this by a friend who said, “You need to do the ‘cooldown’ minutes, now.” I won’t repeat my response to that.

From there, I really only had a goal of being able to finish the 10 minutes without dying. I wanted to see if I could get to a point where 10 minutes didn’t seem like an Olympic event. And you know, it actually happened. I got to a point where I could do the 10 minutes and the3 minute cooldown. Not bad. Then, I happened to notice that I was close to a mile at the 10 minute mark. I made it my mission to break my 10-minute-mile.

And I did.

Little by little, I found myself decreasing the amount of time it took me to get to that mile. From there, I had to increase the distance to get in more time. I pushed and before I realized what I was doing, I was at 15 minutes, then 20. I was almost in shock when I looked one day to realize that I had been running for 25 minutes and had 3 miles registered on the machine. That’s where I settled for a while, actually. It was enough, I thought. However, I started throwing in a little cooldown period after my resistance training. So, another 5 minutes or so after weights? Now, I was up to 30.

I felt like I was plateauing again. I was looking for results and not really seeing them. A friend and one of my fitness support group started talking about changing my routine and said something about increasing my run to 40 minutes. What the actual…? Is he insane? I can’t run 40 minutes. I’ll die. And out loud I said, “Do I have to do all 40 minutes in a row?” He said that I did not, but that I needed to keep moving and do my resistance training, weights, whatever in between if I was going to break it up. Ok… I’d give that a try. So, I did. I started with 25 minutes before, did my resistance/strength stuff, and then 15 minutes before heading home. Not too bad, actually. It hurt a lot less than I thought it would. After doing that for a while, I decided to increase the before time to 30 and do 10 minutes afterward. One day, I just decided to do both in a row, and voila! I was doing 40 minutes consecutively. No break. Just straight through. I didn’t die. Crazy, huh?

Psychologically, that 40 minutes looked just sooooo unachievable, but somehow I managed to get through it. I managed to fool myself into seeing it in smaller chunks and it wasn’t so insurmountable. My body appears to be much more willing to accommodate the activity than my brain. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to be running any marathons in the near (or even possibly distant) future. I don’t think that every trick I know to fool my brain and body could accommodate 26 miles, but who knows? I didn’t think I could run a mile when I started. I still occasionally feel a sense of shock that I run at all. So, it doesn’t have to start with a marathon. It starts with a step.

Pie and the Dalai Lama: Writing Bios

No… not BIOS. Different topic. Not my bailiwick. Well, it sorta used to be, but I digress. That’s not what I’m talking about. Bios. Biographical content. Those little blurb things that people put on dust jackets and seminar packets and programs for lectures and playbills. Those witty little summaries that people seem to put together that takes all of their life and interests and rolls them into a 150-word attractive package to let anyone interested in more than just the content of the book, lecture, or entertainment production know the real person behind it all. There are at least two of said bios in the About section of this blog. I think maybe all of 2 people have actually read mine. It is, as I said, probably the least interesting part of the whole shebang so… not necessarily worth the read. However, for ALL of the people who would rather know who is typing this drivel, the information is there in pithy commentary laid out to give you the snapshot of who I am.
That said. I HATE WRITING MY OWN BIO. I always do. I generally believe I suck it at, and what do I say? Seriously? No one wants to know about me. Hell, I wouldn’t want to know about me, either. I’m boring. I talk about neurochemicals and the dopaminergic response to antipsychotic medications. I occasionally discuss Dr. Who and Star Trek and many other terribly nerdy things. I obsess about books and… sadly, work. I talk about my cat and spend way too much time considering whether he thinks of me as a food source (the jury is still out).

Therefore, when it comes to requests for me to write my bio, I panic. I freeze like a deer in the headlights. I consider running away to a foreign country. My mind becomes a beautiful and drool-inspiring blank. Brilliant. So helpful. NOT! Strangely enough, I have been asked to perform this task more than once. You would think that by now I might be over my phobia, block, general dislike of the task. Not so much. I still stare at a blank screen or page like a monkey doing a math problem and dither between “I like pie,” and “This is my erudite application to be the next Dalai Lama.”

And there you have the crux of the matter. Seriously, if I write this thing from my heart and first impulses, people would walk out of an auditorium as soon as they read the blurb in the program. They would leave the book on the shelf. There is no way anyone would actually put time into anything produced by anyone quite so incompetent.

Obviously, this is the bio produced by the darkest parts of my insecurities and all those self-deprecating instincts instilled by a lifetime of acculturation as a southern female following the footsteps of generations of my foremothers. You just don’t brag on yourself. That is considered rude. Well… it was. I think things are changing a bit, but it is hard, so very difficult to undo all those years of being told that “nice, polite girls do not compliment themselves.”

So, I try to be objective. Take a good, honest look and who I am, what I have accomplished, and put all of that into words that are positive and believable. That is usually when the monster from the closet of insecurities (extra points if you are a Bloom County fan and caught that one) comes out and says, “Really?!? You think you are all that?!? Hahahahahahahah!” And I’m back to “I like pie!”

What makes a bio more difficult to me than say, a resume, is that you can’t have just one standard one that you use for every situation. For authors, public speakers, or subject matter experts who make public appearances, lectures, and book tours, the focus is generally the same every time. They have their field of expertise, their latest book, their regular genre. The audience for these things stays pretty much the same each time, as does their topics of presentation. They probably also have a snazzy publisher/editor who does the despicable bio-writing task for them. For actors and actresses (or do you all prefer to be called just actors or performers… again I digress), different roles are taken, but people just want to know your bio for what else they may have seen you in and what do you do in your off stage hours and for the creepy fans, are you single? For the rest of us mere mortals, we have to consider what is our role this time? Who is the audience? What about my pedigree and credentials is going to be important enough to them to make it worth their time to actually listen to or read what I’ve put together. Different subjects draw different crowds, and while the Board of Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Pastoral Counselors may want to hear me give a lecture on the use of technology in process addiction research and treatment, it is unlikely that they are going to come and hear me sing show tunes from Chicago in a local theatrical review. See? Different audience. There may be overlap, but the professional board probably won’t particularly care that I was in the Dhahran Theater Group production of Guys and Dolls, and audiences wanting to hear me sing “When You’re Good to Mama” are going to take a powder for the production by reading that my interests include the varying PET scans of brains focused on different sensory and cognitive functions.

So, how the hell do I figure it out? First, who is the audience? Usually I have some basic idea of the people who will be attending. If the person inviting me to speak can’t tell me that much… I might actually want to skip it as it may just be a thinly veiled abduction attempt by aliens. The thing about audience is that it lets you know if they want to know your professional credentials and why they should trust your knowledge base, OR they may want to know more about you as a person and value that you aren’t an android (providing you actually are not an android. If you are, that would be fascinating… but maybe awkward). Once I have the audience, I have to think about what my subject matter will be. It always helps me if they give me a word count or some sort of limitation. That way I know whether I need to write a telegraph message or War and Peace (exaggeration of course… NO ONE wants to read a War and Peace variety bio).

After I address the content and what elements I want to include or that I actually want anyone to know about me, I read it aloud all the way through for flow. People usually read the same way I do. They hear it in their head. If I can’t actually read it without the cat looking at me funny… well, funnier than usual, then I probably need to rework it. Then, unless specifically given instruction for longer, I edit to keep it at 150 words or less. Read it through again and send it to a friend or colleague to see if it is actually readable.

One of these days, maybe I’ll have snazzy editors to write something that is less embarrassing and painful for me, but for now… I guess I will just keep trying to keep it somewhere between pie and the Dalai Lama.