The happiness hangover.

Sometimes my heart gets so full that I can’t help but mope when it inevitably empties a bit. It’s the crappy feeling that shows up after a surplus of joy — a happiness hangover.

It’s what happens all to often on Sunday nights, when angst about the work week sets in. You hold off letting those thoughts in but they always resurface to put a damper on things. In college we called it “Sunday Syndrome” — something we’d lament weekly while heaped together watching Grey’s Anatomy, dreading the week’s classes and homework.

The past week was full of so many special moments for me with my family. I feel so full from our time together, and so empty with them gone.

It hit me last night while we sat around a fire in the backyard after dinner, drinking wine and making s’mores…I took it all in…the baby asleep on my chest, perfect fall weather and a gorgeous moon. I had a momentary panic when I realized how perfect a moment I was in, and that it couldn’t last forever.

Silly to worry so preemptively when I should’ve focused on the present.

I think my current happiness hangover is compounded by the fact that maternity leave has come to an end. There are lots of fears and feelings that accompany this transition. It overwhelms me. The logical part of me knows things will all adjust and be fine, but the paranoid voice in my head is fixating on so many unknowns.

I’m returning to a familiar environment but I feel like a completely different person. Like I should be wearing a sign that lets everyone know, “PS you guys, I may look like the same girl, but I’m not! My whole life has changed!”

It’s hard to grasp the most difficult parts of this situation, because there are so many factors. Perhaps the worst part has been the anticipation?

I’ve spent all day, every day, with my daughter for nearly three months, and it’s been the hardest, most wonderful experience of my life. There were lots of days when every single minute was a struggle, and my only goal was survival. There were also moments so magically poignant and magnificent that my heart could explode with elation. I feel so fortunate to have had this time with her; it allowed us to form a remarkable connection. I’ll worry about her constantly and miss her like crazy–she seems too little to entrust to anyone else–but it’s going to be ok.

It’s time for me to revive parts of the old me and introduce them to the new me. Hopefully they get along. It’s a big leap of faith into a new chapter, and I’m ready.

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Sporks & Hold Music

There are so many occasions when things happen at work and I just have to laugh. Mostly because of the absurdity of the circumstances, but also because if anyone had told the bright-eyed college-student version of me that these things would happen, I would’ve scoffed in disbelief.

Last week I was asked to write an email about sporks. SPORKS! Prior to that, I had to review samples of new on-hold music for our corporate switchboard. These bizarre moments are outliers–certainly not the norm–but they’re enough to keep my ego from ever losing an edge of humility.

As much as I grumble about this kind of activity when I’m in the moment, it always grows into a positive reflection. I think it’s essential that all of us get regular doses of the awareness that we’re never too good for any task, or too important to be included in different types of work. As soon as that mentality is born, it’s really easy to become an ass, and no one likes an ass.

You can’t avoid the occasional menial task, so embrace it. Recognize that there’s a value in everything, even if it’s buried, and when it’s accompanied by obligatory deep sighs and eye rolls.

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The reincarnation of forced childhood apologies.

Sometimes I almost buy into the idea that I’m a real adult, until something completely embarrassing or humbling sets me back a few paces, and I realize there’s no leveling-off point for growing-up. It never ends. There’s always something more to learn, another skill to improve and a new way of approaching a problem. This is not my enlightened take on the journey of life…it’s just the realization that holy crap, I am a permanent work in progress; I may never get this all right.

Case in point: when things happen that give me this crappy feeling that doesn’t have a real name. This particular feeling is a combination of rage, sadness and sheepish defeat, and I’m convinced it’s the reincarnation of forced childhood apologies.

When the feeling sets in I flash back to being six years old, engaging in some sort of gladiator-like death match with my brother, until whichever parent lost the day’s coin toss would pry us apart and force us to apologize. Six-year-old me was an expert grudge holder and I often found the very idea of apologizing to be horrifying. Cue an extremely whiny rendition of, “But I’m not sorry.”

Today, I feel this way when I have to go against my natural instincts to appease a situation, usually at work. Depending on the specifics, the “right” thing to do is not what I want to do, nor how I instinctively would react, and it feels so uncomfortable to go along without making a stink.

The uncomfortable part of this used to be that I felt like I was compromising myself in the process, disregarding my morals and conceding my integrity to avoid a larger battle. But this process is a necessary evil in life, especially in working environments, and rarely has anything to do with me personally. I’ve decided to focus on the fact that the uncomfortable part is just the learning…and that even if I can’t cast the final vote on a decision or disagreement, handling it well is the real definition of being myself, regardless of the outcome.

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It’s amazing, the whole losing thing.

You know what I love about baseball? There’s always a winner and a loser. No matter how seasoned players are, how long teams have played together or how exorbitant a salary budget is, one team will categorically lose every game.

It’s amazing, the whole losing thing. Because when you become a professional athlete you’re at the top of your game. Pun intended. Yet despite decades of experience and the best coaches and trainers in the world, there will still be strikeouts, wild pitches and blooper-worthy errors.

At one time or another, every player will make a bad throw, drop a fly ball or be tagged out. And despite it all, the game continues.

Even when a team is losing by embarrassing standards. Even when conditions are terrible and the odds stacked against you.

No matter what, one team will lose every game. It’s a painfully simple lesson in perspective.

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Growing up I can’t tell you how many times I was reminded that, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” As I’ve gotten older and developed a career (note: not in major league baseball**), I think I’ve forgotten that it really is about how we play, not just who wins.

I put a ton of pressure on myself to do everything right without mistakes or revisions. Which is kind of dumb. It’s an impossible standard that makes it harder to learn and work productively. Looking back, I’ve had far greater success in the moments where I took a reasonable risk and did what instinctually felt right, than in the instances where every action was carefully planned and measured.

After watching a lot of baseball over the past few weeks I’m reminded that making mistakes isn’t just part of learning, it’s the foundation of learning. If I had to recall the biggest mistakes or worst decisions I’ve made at work, each one taught me a huge lesson. This isn’t to say it’s wise to intentionally flounder around in the interest of gaining new skills, it just means that it’s ok to screw up if your heart’s in the right place and you’re trying your best. At least, that’s my theory.

**I played one horribly bad season of softball in the fourth grade. I do not wish to discuss it.

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It’s like a free playbook for life.

Life’s funny sometimes.

Yesterday, I flipped to a radio station I never listen to and heard Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor. A half hour later, I received two tickets, out of the blue, to see the Cardinals play the Carolina Panthers this weekend. And my husband’s name is James Taylor.

This evening, there was a man outside my gym with a sign stating he was a homeless veteran looking for help. I searched my car and didn’t even have a dollar to give him, or any water or snacks. I usually keep these available for this type of situation and felt awful I had nothing to give. I spent my workout wondering how I could help more veterans. When I got home, there was a flier in the mail showing ways to support a local program that helps veterans in need.

It was a long day at work today, the kind where your basic needs (food and bathroom breaks) may not be met. I was feeling kind of blah, and entertaining all kinds of thoughts on my drive home. Am I doing what I should be? Is this the right career path? Then I checked my email, and saw a note from my internship supervisor from my senior year in college. I haven’t heard from him in years, but he had come across a piece I wrote during my internship in 2005 and wanted to share it with me. It was crazy to read something I’d written so long ago about a really memorable experience. It was exactly what I needed to shake the static out of my head. I love what I do, and that was my reality check.

Taking this particular internship was an impromptu decision that directly impacted my career path. It’s strange that seemingly inconsequential events and actions can come together to guide our course.

Things are simpler than we tend to make them, and life isn’t as intense as it sometimes seems. Lately, the more I open my mind to the signs and opportunities all around me, the more connections I find. It’s like a free playbook for life, where the more you believe it, the easier it gets.  And I dig it.

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It’s impossible to ignore the levity that undoubtedly permeates the stress.

I work in what can be a fairly stressful environment, mostly because of the pace of change and nature of the business. I love my job though, and the people I get to work with everyday. When things get especially challenging, I try to remind myself of the lighter aspects of what I do, and the funny things I’m privy to each week. I should write them down more often, and then use them as blackmail save them for my memoirs.

I’m acutely aware that if my work life was recorded on video it could quite easily be cut and spliced together to create a fantastic reality show. My job is neither glamorous nor wildly exciting, but without fail, one or two hysterical, awkward and ridiculous things happen on a weekly basis. Things that usually make me, at later points in the day, collapse into solitary fits of laughter.

Sometimes, it’s little moments or interactions that make me wonder, what on earth am I doing, and how did I get here? Take this afternoon for instance, I was walking out of the building with an enormous computer monitor in an even more enormous cardboard box. It’s another story altogether why I was was taking it with me, but the better part was watching various people on my floor try to help me carry it, while I stubbornly insisted I was fine.

Let’s be clear – I was not fine. It was a box the size of a Mini Cooper and I was also shlepping a laptop bag and my purse. One particularly intrigued executive insisted somewhat forcefully that he should help me carry it to my car, yet instead of graciously accepting his help, I repeatedly rejected it. Looking back, perhaps it would have been ok to let the person who controls the majority of the corporation do me a solid. You know, out of common courtesy and SANITY. Nah, I’ll just awkwardly assure him that I’m fine and lug my mammoth carton along side me with an idiotic facade of confidence.

There was the day I got scolded by a leader I work with because the temperature in a room where he was presenting was too warm. I don’t respond well when yelled at, and at this moment, I was so taken by the absurdity of the situation that I just went silent – muted by an invisible remote control and unable to speak or yell back. I just stood there thinking about how comical the entire moment was, how badly I wanted to laugh uncontrollably, and that no part of my my MBA program prepared me to handle temperature control issues in conference rooms.

The time a female leader called me “Babe,” and I was incapable of making eye contact with her for the rest of the conversation because I would laugh…The evening I had an hour-long email exchange with a leader about chia seeds…The day a leader mispronounced the name of the organization on a podcast recording so that it sounded like an inappropriate part of the anatomy.

There are so many entertaining times, days, weeks and months that it’s impossible to ignore the levity that undoubtedly permeates the stress. And it reaches a while new extreme when travel is involved.

Last year, I spent a few weeks traveling with some of our execs while they presented to groups of employees across the country. So many awesome moments. Like, when we travelled across Colorado at night and I sat in the back middle seat, surrounded by three executives on three separate conference calls. I felt somewhat like a schizophrenic because I could hear only one side of three discussions and had absolutely no idea what was going on. It was also tremendously difficult to not ram onto the others because we were in some sort of car with a bench seat and I had no seat-traction or apparatus to keep myself grounded on sharp turns. It was very difficult not to yell, “Sandwich” with my hands in the air as I flew violently into those next to me. Oh, and they all fly business class, and I fly coach. So walking off the jetway to meet them always became an amusing reunion. “What took you so long? Welcome back! What, were you in the last seat on the plane?”

In Chicago, I forgot to order airport transportation for me and the leader I was accompanying to a media taping, so we walked through the snow together until we could flag a taxi. In San Francisco, my boss and I came face to face with an Occupy-Something-or-Other parade that blocked us from our hotel for a solid hour. In Philadelphia, I convinced a colleague I’d just met to walk three miles with me in pouring rain to see the Liberty Bell. And in Tulsa…wait, nothing happened in Tulsa.

The personal and family stories I get are some of the best moments. Watching leaders with oodles of money and power pause in the middle of a one-on-one meeting to Skype their kids or rave about their pets (whose names and snack of choice I know, of course). The banter about sports teams, the vacation photos that subject you to shirtless images of those you really should only see in suits, and the debates about whether to attend shul for the high holidays.

There are so many different experiences that have made me laugh, learn and reflect. They aren’t all good, but the good ones are what seem to stick in my head over time as the less favorable ones are filtered out. I’d never be able to remember or record all of them, but the feeling I get just remembering these few is a trip.

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Going out with a passive-aggressive bang!

For the past year, I’ve done some mindless freelance writing for extra money. I’ve been debating the value of this for months, and today, I quit.

email from project manager:

Good Morning,

Last Wednesday I sent out an email with the subject line “Quality of Content.” This was an important email, and towards the end I asked all of you to reply, confirming that you read and understand the email. You are receiving this email because you did not reply to that email.

I am giving everyone to the end of the workday today to reply to that email (do not respond to this email), and tomorrow I will be giving the list of names to my department manager. If you no longer write for us, I would appreciate a quick reply letting me know you should be taken off of the writers list.

-Brandon

my response:

Brandon,

Thanks for the reminder email, and sorry for not responding sooner. I recognize your frustration in managing a remote workforce of freelancers–I have no idea how you do it–sounds like it’s as enjoyable as wrangling stray, deranged cats.

For the past few months, I’ve tried to assume positive intent with the company’s repeated emails, the tech issues with Process Maker and the overall disorganization in all processes. That being said, it was your last note that’s ultimately pushing me to cease my working relationship with [company name deleted, I’m not a total jerk].

I’m going to make like Jerry Maguire and take off with my fishbowl in tow. I’d love to shout, “Who’s coming with me?” as I virtually stomp out, but it lacks emphasis over email.

All kidding aside, you guys are growing quickly doing great work for clients, and I hope to return to writing for you at some point. Right now, however, I’ve decided life’s too short to deal with the added work and worries. Maybe it’s because it’s a national day of remembrance, and the timing of your message was unfortunate. Or maybe it’s because I doubt that on my deathbed I ever would lament not writing enough press releases. Either way, you and I have never met, likely never will, and this is entirely too lengthy of an email for its purposes. Even as I’m writing this, I’m still not sure why I feel compelled to share any of this with a stranger, other than the fact that it will make an entertaining post on my blog tonight.

I have a journalism degree from a prestigious j-school and an MBA, and I’ve worked in communications for government agencies, elected officials and Fortune-500 companies. I’ve had my writing published in lots of national websites, even the holy grail of Huff Post. Nevertheless, I had some absurd urge to cross a self-imposed paid-freelance-writer barrier. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove, or if I succeeded, but the process has shown me that paychecks don’t equate to quality writing, and that writing for pleasure will always trump assignments. Frankly, even writing this email has been more fun than any of the PR content I generated over the past year.

I engaged in this venture for a new step in personal growth (and some extra cash), but it’s slowly become something I dread. Like homework. Or a dentist appointment. Something that’s important and beneficial but far from enjoyable. I thank you for the opportunity and wish you luck with future writer wrangling.

Please accept this as my formal peacing out. Hope the subtle humor at least made you smile and not want to slam your head into your desk. If you even read this far.

-Jessica

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