gold and gray bullet tweeter speaker

How I Hold it Together

TL;DR: In addition to keeping a fuzzy picture in my head of the ideal state I’m going for, I have friends who are great at distracting me, friends who are great at being present and listening and interests big/deep enough to immerse in and explore feelings and multi-dimensional challenge spaces.

Over the last few posts, I’ve painted a bit of backstory. Rather than continuing to write a timeline of what I’ve been through, I’d like to share more how principles for experience design are applicable to designing one’s way out of personal/professional struggles.

An “Ideal” State

In my last post, I touched on establishing some first principles that at least could inform an ideal state… a destination that I could start motivating myself and my actions towards.

…I needed surroundings, and people, who can help me to shape a more ideal present… to avoid toxicity and reduce friction, this transition was going to need to happen asap. I needed space to process and a place I could ultimately put my things and call “home” so I could move on from “surviving this moment” to processing the hard stuff and healing.

Distilled, my ideal state through this transition has some distinct properties:

  • I have my own place close to where my youngest goes to high school
  • I can easily bike and walk to a variety of parks, pubs and shops
  • My kids are comfortable hanging out or staying overnight at my place
  • I’m making new friends and dating regularly
  • I have control over my income and my expenses
  • I am unencumbered of any legacy dependencies from my life in Philly
  • I can fluidly transition between work, creating, entertaining, meditating, exercising and resting

Of the seven items on the above list, by now I’ve nailed the first four bullets 😉 Transitioning between my different states of being is getting easier, but with only six weeks into living in my new apartment, the habits are still forming.

I’m doing a pretty good job of making new friends while continuing to reconnect more regularly with existing friends from several tours of living and working in Chicago.

I’m dating pretty regularly and that’s going well; a welcome oasis in the crashing waves of change.

Distractions from Difficulties

I have a body-knowledge when it comes to big changes. Over the course of my life, there’s at least thirteen distinct hard-restarts I’ve had to contend with. It’s enough to know that there are phases within phases of transitions, and while each big change is unique, all change efforts share some common properties, which means that change-management approaches that work in one domain can inform how to deal with situations that in-context seem novel and unfamiliar. The type of change I’ve been dealing with is intersectional, so I’m pulling from different domains to inform how I approach things.

In “Comfort With Uncertainty,” Pema Chödrön teaches an important lesson about mindfulness, in that the suffering (boiling it down from a buddhist context, let’s say whatever your burden is), it will surely not be resolved in any one sitting. It is ok, and even healthy, to set it down, collect yourself to work the problem; embrace the struggle when you’re ready for it again.

I know deep in my body, from managing tech teams towards *big* goals over the last two decades (as well as doing full-country road trips with kids and dogs), that planned detours, pit stops and opportunities for serendipity are critical not just to delivering on the desired/expected outcome; it’s vital to ensuring the people and resources that get you there aren’t fully expended when you get to where you’re going.

Friends w/o ALL the Feels

I’ve been very fortunate with a few tours of adulting through Chicago that I have a diverse and eclectic set of career, if not lifelong, friends in the area and so many great friends in Philly. On both sides of changing career and life-directions, it’s been thankfully easy to plan nights out, get-togethers and concerts with friends who aren’t there to be a shoulder to lean on, primarily. They’re there to get me out of my head and into a moment I don’t have to be in control of. They’re there to help me let go.

I’ve learned to tread water well, and making slow but sure progress is easy to maintain since having my own place. Feels weird to think about at 51 only now I’m living alone for the first time, for real. It’s helped me greatly to remove myself what was a large source of my anxiety — the feeling that I didn’t fit in where I was supposed to.

The people I’m surrounding myself with recognize that I’m carrying a burden; they demonstrate empathy and care, and help me to lay that burden down in a way that transforms that burden into something better.

In my first divorce, some truly amazing friends were there for me every step of the way, but I hardly knew myself, at least in terms of neuroscience. Those friends and I don’t talk as much anymore, but for a solid couple of years I leaned so heavy on them. This time around, having maintained a regular therapist/coach for a few years, I don’t need anyone close to me to take on that particular emotional labor as part of being friends with me.

Maybe it’s nietzchian but I’d rather keep my friends as rails against the storms rather than a crutch I become all too dependent on.

Among the plates I’ve learned to spin this time around is how not to burn out my supports: I try to keep mindful of what I’m doing, where and with whom I vent when I need that.

What, When, Where and With Whom to Vent

There’s a great line in “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” where the character of Jeannie Rogers explains of her husband, Dr. Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) that he’s not a saint; he has a temper, but he finds other places to put those feelings so they don’t spill out on others and spread the burden. Mr. Rogers swims every morning, she explains. He plays piano. He prays. In every interaction, he listens with the intent of learning something. That this was a matter of mindfulness for Fred Rogers clicked a lot of things in place for me about my own approaches to things, over the years, and how I’ve had to learn and then unlearn the unhealthy but very stereotypical rituals for grieving or mourning the loss of a relationship.

I designed outlets for venting my feels in ways that wouldn’t spill over onto burdens that have to be carried by the people who are trying to care about me. This blog is one of them. I play disc golf. I bike. I cook. I spend time with friends and family. I volunteer.

Much of the last decade, let alone much of my life, I allowed others’ feelings to be my filters — not just for what and who I listened to, but also what I thought I could write about. By contrast, the last month of living alone but continuing and improving all manner of healthy relationships by having outlets like blogging and music, especially, to vent the feels.

Musically Interrogating the Challenge

In my last Special Interests post, I shared a number of playlists I made. More will be shared this week! Ever since my Radio Genius days, I’ve been narrating my journey, sorta, through making playlists. I’m experiencing a lot of life these days, so I continue to craft a number of playlists, curating distinct collections that serve as vignettes — moments captured by the shadows of what was — the sounds that were there, or what was in my head, for an experience.

At the beginning of the year, I intended to be producing music daily. For so many reasons, I’ve been slow to get into Reason or Logic Pro to compose. However, I’m going on a few weeks where the lyrics and riffs have been flowing like water.

Lyrics and music help me to make concrete (or at least chunk together) feelings and experiences that are hard for me to grok otherwise. I look at some lyrics I captured in 2021 (“kernel panic”) as I attempted to relate the stoic silence at home with how I contributed to it

nothing I can do
wouldn't reference something else
nothing I could buy
that you couldn’t get yourself
so in a world where you don’t need me
what am i to you?

a codependent default;
sometimes it's my reset

forgive me again (again) (and, again)
a thing I need to train
a kernel panic
deep inside my brain
like skips in a record
i never know where

it’s just that everything's clearer
when so much is on the line

maybe you're not trying to leave
but if you were trynna survive
i've had to row that same boat
so i empathize
1 & 1 isn’t always the same 2
that math’s been hard for me to do

With three years of lyrics like this, sporadic as the impulse was, it prepared me to be in this moment and have the tools and workflow ready to write lyrics, fiddle with my bass or a synth, and work the feeling until it’s ready to be put down for a while — all helping move things, move me, towards my ideal state.

Allowing me to move on to something else, be it working, cooking, dropping kids off or preparing another blog post 😉