Monday, April 15, 2013

Conviction, Part Two

(Personal Photo)

Sometimes, it takes days like yesterday to remember why it's important to surround oneself with positive people:

Last night, I went to a concert. I know a member of the band that backs a very well-known artist, and he put me on the guest list. Everything from the moment I parked my car to the moment I got home accumulated into an overall amazing experience. It was the kind of night you hear about other people having and it makes you a little jealous... and now I have had the privilege of enjoying such an evening!

I picked up my ticket and VIP pass (I almost never get to say that!) and found my seat. The woman next to me was friends with the band's tour manager, and she had extensive knowledge of the layout of the Riverside Theater. We took advantage of our passes and she showed me the basement, where I got to see the city's first air conditioner. It took up an entire room, and had been obviously sitting unused for some time. She explained how it had taken water from the river and moved it through a machine and into these massive coils that cooled the building. It was fascinating!
Milwaukee's first-ever air conditioner! (Personal Photo)
My friend in the band wanted to have his picture with the Bronze Fonz, so we jumped the gate behind the building and crossed the bridge to the statue, where I snapped his photo. He and the rest of the band had to change for the set, so my new friend and I went to the back of the theater to hang out with the lighting and sound guys. I ended up sitting back there for the entire show. During the encore, the head security guard let me leave to bring the band a case of New Glarus beer from my car (I'd brought it as a thank-you gift for letting me in to the show). I made conversation with the roadies as they packed up the gear, and then I took then entire band across the street to Mo's Irish Pub. They drank Rusty Nails and Irish Car Bombs and signed ticket stubs for a few excited fans. We talked about the Brewers and eating oysters.

It was nearly 2am when the crew had the tour bus packed up and they were ready to leave for Chicago. Two of the band members, including my friend, insisted on walking me back to my car so I wouldn't have to go alone. Then I drove them back to their tour bus. My stream of consciousness went something like this: "I'm driving a band through downtown Milwaukee I'm so glad I keep my car clean!"

I tell this story not from a bragging standpoint (okay, maybe a little), but because it reinforces how surrounding yourself with great people yields great experiences. Conversely, being around people who suck the energy right out of you can take its toll. Part one of my conviction process was about putting self-improvement ahead of general goal-making, especially when it came to my health. The second part of my meditations on personal conviction revolve around the relationships I have with others.

I reached a point recently where I realized several of my relationships had become unfulfilled at best, and a few were actually destructive. There were friends who would consistently make plans and then break them on short notice, or sometimes with no notification at all. Entire weekend plans would fall apart when several people would flake on their commitments. Repeated offenders, I decided, no longer had a place in my agenda. Perhaps we were close once upon a time, but it seemed that those friendships had run their course and the season had come to an end. I had some amazing memories with those people, and I will forever treasure them, but we'd grown in different directions and it was time to move on.

Social media can make this difficult. It seems impossible nowadays to completely disconnect from anyone. Just a few short years ago, connections would fall in and out of our lives with a healthy ebb and flow. Now, those ties can linger long past their prime, often exceeding what should have been an expiration date. Social networking has a lot of wonderful benefits, and it is great to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, but it is sometimes those re-established connections don't go anywhere (and perhaps aren't meant to). The act of "unfriending" someone can be viewed as a grievous offense, even if the two people rarely (if ever) speak to one another.

I've had to adapt to understanding a whole new kind of reconnection with a number of people from my past. Several of them are guys I've dated, or who had an interest in dating me at one point. I have discussed my concerns with the beau, about how I was worried that allowing re-established contact and being friendly would be somehow misinterpreted as an invitation to pursue something more. Do I just leave the past in the past? Is it okay to talk to these people again? If so, I felt obligated to throw out a disclaimer regardless... so I did. And yet, despite being clear on my stance, I feel there are some who just don't get the hint. Others have been respectful about it, but this is a tricky road to navigate with others, and it makes me wary. I don't intend to mislead anyone, nor do I want to offend, but in specific cases it's just been more trouble than it's worth, and that tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

There are even members of my family that have been energy suckers from time to time, and I find myself avoiding them. Not forever, of course--- I love my family--- but when matters develop that are not serious and yet demand a lot of unnecessary attention, I find it best to keep my distance so I don't get pulled into that energy quicksand.  It's really helped my relationships with my loved ones, because I don't allow myself to be repeatedly burdened and dulled with small irritants, and instead invest my energy in loving them well... and being there during the serious situations. Choosing my battles by choosing to remove myself from the equation has improved how I relate to my family.

Co-workers have been a different battle. I can't really choose to avoid unnecessary crises when colleagues burst into my office with last-minute requests/demands, who then get miffed if I already have scheduled appointments when they "need" me. I feel like my time has not been very respected or valued, so even though I can't change the lack of planning on their end, I realized I can set up a more structured outline on my end. I started handling the scattered communications of phone calls, e-mails, and office visits by telling everyone they will need to make an appointment. If it is of high importance, it's best to give me as much notice as possible. After all, I'm the only person working in this department, so I can only be in one place at one time. Instead of letting these colleagues stress me out, I chose to weed out the fake or avoidable emergencies as much as possible. Of course, instant matters come up and I deal with those accordingly, but now I only check my e-mail twice a day, and if I'm busy I choose to respond to phone messages later on.

Conversely, I now value the richness of relationships I do have that much more. I meditated and spend a lot of time focusing on ideas about my spirituality, my relatives, my beau, my friends, my church colleagues, my uplifting--- and organized!--- co-workers, and even my connections on social media (of which I have removed over 100 dormant contacts). I evaluated them all and navigated through the aspects that were bogging me down. I could conserve negative uses of my time and energy and invest them in more positive areas.

I also took a good hard look at what kind of role I fill in these relationships. Am I a good, reliable friend to this person? Do I serve well as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin? Is this connection mutually beneficial? Am I giving just as much as I'm getting? I need to be held accountable as much as others do. And while on a journey to self-improvement, it is often times imperative that things, ideas, and even people have to be released. It's not always easy, but I've decided I'd rather take the short-term discomfort of "unfriending" over the long-term draining effects of poor relationships.

(I apologize for the repeated references to "energy." It sounds very New Age-y but I can't think of a better way to describe it.)

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