Saturday, August 7, 2010

Following my gut

This week I gave myself a challenge. OR maybe I should say I took up a challenge that I have been trying to give myself over and over during the past few months.

I had received an e-mail about scheduling that would be taking place at work. I, as usual, procrastinated sitting down and responding. If I was interested in more permanent hours I was supposed to send in my current permanent schedule. Because of recent changes at a home most of my hours come from I had just gone under my necessary requirements in hours for keeping in my wait period for my benefits. This put me in the place of needing more hours. Which in turn put me at the mercy of the managers, which put me in a spot of taking whatever they offer, which takes me away from my goal of developing a schedule that's right for me.

I finally sat down and went through my current work times and decided that while I was at this I would commit to making myself a weekend every single week (which would be 2 consecutive days off every week). The expectation is that you will work every other weekend for sure and many go beyond and work every weekend and take their days off during the week. For the first 5 months I did work any and every shift offered to me and quickly learned that doesn't provide for a healthy marriage or a healthy me.

Recently I mentioned how much I have noticed the toll my family, friends and self have taken. Maybe I'm weak, I don't really care, I just know that for me and what I want out of life it wasn't working.

As I sat I carved out one week with Saturday/Sunday off and the other with Friday Saturday off. Perfection really. I left all other days open to their willing. Though I wanted to limit evenings I didn't because I thought that may be pushing it.

I was really proud of myself when I clicked the 'send' button and said good bye to my rather bold e-mail. Though there was a little part of me that feared what the managers thought, a larger part of me had given up on caring. OR perhaps wizened up.

I had decided ahead that by no means did I deserve in work terms to receive anything I was asking for. I decided it was ok for them to say 'No way honey, we're not giving you the schedule of your dreams. You haven't been tortured long enough to have earned it. So, no more shifts for you, say good bye to your benefits!' In that moment I accepted the attitude that may (or probably would) arise and the ramifications of it. I also accepted the fact that work is just work and that old saying (or maybe it's just a saying, or maybe it's just something I heard once) 'Does anyone ever say: I wish I'd worked more, on their death bed?' No they don't.

I decided that I would not feel guilty for being at a place in my life where having my husband/partner at a successful job meant that I didn't need job security in a way I had become accustomed to. By no means am I saying I won't be working full time or that it will always be this way, but rather I am trying to put myself in a place where I love every thing I'm doing at my job (the best I can anyway) and be in a place emotionally where I am not dreading any part of it.

I knew it was a risky and seemingly selfish move but one I was finally ready to make. I was worth it and so were the people I supported that had to put up with me day after day - they deserve to have a worker that is excited to see them. I did it. I put me first. And in doing so I put others first too.

Later the day of the scheduling I was in the office with someone I was supporting for something else and we had to talk to my manager about something. While there she mentioned a possible shift that had come up. I looked at it and it fit perfectly into my request - perfectly. It got me to my 'benefit requirement', it averaged out my permanent schedule to 28.5 hours every week (24 one week and 33 the next), leaving me needing to only pick up a couple of shifts every couple of weeks and I'd reach my balanced goal of 35 hrs a week. It was indeed exactly what I hoped for.

But, as with most things, there was a catch. I was asked to give up a 3 hour every other week shift with someone I had only really gotten to know recently. She was a young lady relatively new to the agency, completely new to getting support and really left without family in her life and struggling to figure out how this life thing is supposed to work. She only has myself and one other staff as supports and still has not really gotten to know any other staff yet. I clicked with her well and she has become fairly comfortable with me (in my opinion) and I was being told to give that up because 'it's 4 hours every week Eva, that's much better than 3 every other'.

Initially I didn't get it. I thought I was being offered a new awesome shift and I just had to rework my schedule to fit my shorter shift in. Then I realized I was being asked to choose and it was a whole other ball game. It was no longer about the person I was supporting, it was a numbers game - one I had no interest in playing.

By the time I had left the office (still with the young lady I was supporting - not the one this shift was regarding), I was doing everything in my power to hold back the tears. My manager had assumed I would jump at the shift. It was clearly everything I wanted. Who wouldn't want it? Was I stupid? No. I wanted it. Really bad. BUT I couldn't fathom giving up on this young lady. I know I am not the be all and end all in her life. In fact I am only 3 hours every other week, equaling very little in numbers. However, I am one more consistent person than she has had in a very long time. Her life over the past couple of years and especially the past several months has been anything but consistent. She needs consistency right now more than anything, and she deserves it. If it were a year from now it might be a whole different story, but it is now and right now I am not ready to leave her.

I continued on with my shift and let myself feel and cry (though as dryly as I could). Luckily the girl I was with is not all that observant and we were very busy so it was ok to do so. When the shift was over I went home and cried for real. I bawled my eyes out, my nose caught a flame and my make up disappeared. I blubbered out an explanation to Wally as best I could as to why I was so distraught.

His response was different than I expected. As I told him I felt that I had no choice but to give up the permanent longer shift they were offering because to give up on this girl just wasn't right, he advocated for what might be right for me: consistency of my own, time for myself. I stopped and listened to his point. He was right in a way and I was glad he was being my reasoning in that emotional moment, but I knew in my gut that for some reason this situation wasn't about me sacrificing my needs but more a gut feeling of doing what I felt was in me to do. Nothing heroic just what fit. He understood and supported whatever decision I would make.

I knew beyond a doubt that I would turn down the offer and stay with the person I was currently supporting. By no means, was this an easy decision to commit to just because I knew it was the right thing to do (and by 'right thing' I mean what my gut was telling me I should do), I mean that's much of the reason I was crying. It wasn't painless to turn down something that seemed so perfect, it hurt to know that I would stop my wait period for my benefits (even though I don't need them it's something I would really like to achieve on my own), it pinched to think that management would likely see me as casual and complacent about my career goals. However it's not all about me, right?

Just as I was about to e-mail my manager and give her the likely unexpected news to decline the larger shift over the smaller one, I ran into the manager of the girl I was asked to give up my shift with, she knew the situation. She too was disappointed in how things were turning out. She knew this young lady wouldn't adapt well to yet more change and told me to hold on for a little longer as she felt it necessary to advocate for this young lady to keep her current staff. It was a glimmer of hope. For both the young lady and myself.

Part of me wasn't really worried about this young lady because I had no intention of leaving but I suppose I was concerned for how management would react to me turning down a perfectly generous shift offer. It would look even worse than the fact that I asked for such a particular schedule. I held tight.

By the end of the next day I had opened my e-mail and learned that all involved agreed that it was best for me to stay with this young lady in the end and because this is what they wanted I would also be allowed to take the offered shift. As far as I know now everything should work out smoothly.

I feel rather guilty because I know that I have only been around for 8 months working (almost a year including my placement) and I have a decent schedule, my perfect one. I will certainly not ever be complaining about it and if I do I sure hope someone is there to kick me in the pants. With that being said though I do feel like following my gut during my time at this place, all the way from the beginning, has rewarded me - I don't mean through people either.

What I mean is, so far I have followed my gut each time I've felt unsure or uneasy about a situation. I accessed my first manager when I didn't feel comfortable with how a situation was being handled and made myself vulnerable to share my feelings, rather than pretending I was good enough to just handle everything myself.

After an unusual med error after 4 straight months of chaos and doing everything asked of me and knowing instantly it was due to fatigue and burn out I fessed up to my then manager that I felt I was in need of a break and I soon took one.

I spent numerous team meetings speaking up and asking questions after questions about how to problem solve or what answers we could come to after being given a bit of a run around. I know that I was becoming an unwelcome voice but one I wouldn't quiet.

Recently I had the privilege of helping Vivvie reunite with her brother in a way that kicked up a little sand in the agency and probably changed how some people looked at me - not sure if that's so good or not, but I don't care really.

I have been avoiding one of the strongest pulls of my heart for a couple of months now to pull back and be more deliberate about my work. To do what is right for me. This was my first step to doing that and I was challenged back with the question: 'But are you willing to do what is right for those you support?' I have mentioned before that I have wanted to be more genuine and immediate in my response to these challenges, I wanted to be able to answer sooner with a real, heartfelt 'yes!'.

I am happy to say that in this newest case I was able to respond quickly with my gut and I felt good about it. No doubt, I was feeling the pain of the possible consequences and selfishly wanted everything my way, but I can't change the human part of me overnight. Ultimately I am happy that I overcame two obstacles: doing what was going to be right for me by carving out a workable schedule and then when what seemed perfect came up being able to still trust in the process of waiting enough to still do what was right for the person I supported.

I don't point out these things to glorify myself, though I'm quite sure that I'm not all that convincing right now. I just need to use these as reminders to myself (and whomever can learn these lessons with me) that by truly doing what's best for you, with the best intentions, you inadvertently do what is best for everyone.

We are so conditioned to play by the rules because we think that is always the safest way live. In this case I was expected to play the numbers game and put in the hours, the years, the time with whatever schedule was given to me, in hopes of someday earning one that would give me time for me. In the mean time I would put experiencing my life on hold to play the numbers game and thus give up on doing what also might be the best thing for many I support as well.

I understand that things may not always wrap themselves up nicely with a ribbon like all half hour sitcoms, but it's been good to learn that by following your heart you live with more assurance than regret, more excitement than disappointment, and more peace than emptiness.

I am beginning to get excited about the new ways I will be able to give back in my life, even in my work, as I do my best to follow my instincts more and discover some time for things that aren't directly related to a paycheque, yet seem to pay much higher dividends.

There is so much more to life.

As usual, I can't wait to share what I discover!