November came and went without a single blog posting; the longest lapse since I began. My objective is one post a week, on Sunday, with daily posts during periods of personal intensity. So, what made me stop posting? It is not that I stopped functioning, or thinking, or going to yoga or juggling Haiti. Actually, it is the contrary. I have been thinking and juggling so much, I am unable to find any order of the cacophony inside my head. My mind is a cloud of doubt; there is so much activity swirling around me I am afraid to make any move. Without a clear idea of what to post, I have turned mute. Without a clear idea or how to act, I have become paralyzed.
The first step to any challenge is to identify it, so I consulted Merriam-Webster. The top three definitions for paralysis are:
1. the complete or partial loss of function especially when involving motion or sensation in a part of the body
2. loss of the ability to move
3. a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act
Paralysis is the correct diagnosis for my condition.
Next step, seek out root causes. Ever since I parked the Surly after my 3,000 mile cycling trip, my ‘regular’ life has felt flat. It is the exact same life I had before, but the old refrain ‘how you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Parii’ rings true, even if in my case it was not Parii that had brought such excitement to my life; rather Cleveland and Carmi and Claremore.
A person at drift is more susceptible to the vagaries of the current, so when I came into work one morning to discover an office coup underway, complete with warring partners and legal salvos and rolling heads, I realized I had been floating oblivious to rocky seas all around me. I spent the next few weeks finding my own equilibrium. Which side am I on? Do I want to part of redefining the firm? If so, how? If not, what do I do next?
I had just completed my book, Pedaling Principles, which describes how cooperative decision making strategies could help our country resolve our most critical issues. In that text I described how we worked with healthcare clients to reach accord around major construction projects. Witnessing the principals’ actions at TRO JB, I was repulsed by the narrow, divisive, and ultimately short-sighted moves that every principal involved in the office coup displayed. I spent a few days sucked into the vortex of meetings and recriminations flying through the office, but soon realized that I did not want to be part of either side and so returned to my desk and worked as best I could given that my faith and trust in a firm that has been so good for me had evaporated.
I could not blog because I could not land a fixed position. Although I love the awkward pose because it creates balance out of an unexpected position, the wonder of it is that it creates balance. With my work environment a battle zone, my commitment to work vulnerable, and my heart on the highway, balance was elusive.
The dissatisfaction at TRO JB makes us all confront the basics of our existence in the firm, and provokes us to act accordingly. After a period of foggy ennui, I began to press against the outlines of the situation, to see what felt good for me and where I hit against discomfort. I am still weighing options – do I stay or do I go, and if I go, where and why? But I can sort them now, identity ones that are worthy. My paralysis is loosening.
The point of being the Awkward Poser is not to spiral into the sort of naval gazing described in this post thus far, but to extract my personal experience into larger themes of life. So what have I learned during this period of disappointment and doubt? I have witnessed good people behaving badly in response to difficult conditions. Everyone acknowledges that the discord at TRO JB would have never occurred five years ago – times were flush, there was plenty of work and money to go around, everyone could pursue their particular interests at will; some panned out in monetary success, others in aesthetic success, a few in both. But the environment for architects is difficult now, our workload is off, we have gone through rounds of layoffs, and the coup was fomented by people who lost the big picture out of fear for individaul short term satisfactions. Yes, it is difficult to hold to your vision in the face of adversity, but worthy visions are exactly what get us through difficult times.
The larger lesson I learned is that what I witnessed in my office is transpiring all across our country, writ small. Our nation is in a state of contraction, our fear of losing what we have has eclipsed out ability to see new potential. We spend our time wringing our hands about how the world has changed against our advantage, instead of embracing that change and driving it towards a better society. In my 56 years on earth I have never felt theUnited Statesto be so small, claustrophobic as an office cubicle plopped in the middle of a coup where your back is exposed and the only certainty is that no one has your back.