Archive for Taking Charge – Page 2

Commitment

I wasn’t sure what to write about this morning when I woke up. Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew what I wanted to write about, I was just going to avoid it and half-ass something else.

See, I had gotten a bit of feedback on Saturday. My boss that I wasn’t doing enough to step up at my job. Coworkers didn’t feel like I had their backs. For a place where one of the hazards includes being attacked by mentally ill teenagers bigger than you are, that’s serious criticism.

So I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself. After the pity party, I decided to make a change. Turns out it really can be that simple. See, inside the pity party is the implication that I didn’t think I was able to make any kind of change. Experience has proven that this is not true.

I’ve been volunteering for more. Making sure I’m the first one there in a blowout. Offering to take over and tag out for all manner of thankless jobs and paperwork drudgery. I’m only two days in to manning up, but I think I’m going to be okay.

When I buckled down and committed, it was like a bunch of puzzle pieces in my mind clicked into place. The inaction and the leaving the crises to other people were bad habits left over from when I wasn’t allowed to do much more than shadow. Action and effort suit me much better than anxiety and inertia.

I think the lesson here is in committing to a better way of doing things. Once you really go for it, things start to line up. Dan experienced it when he got back into acting and writing. Clark experienced it when he decided to take the plunge and move to New York. And now I’m experiencing it. If it happens that often it can’t just be coincidence.

So, at the risk of being preachy again, here’s my challenge to anyone reading. You know the right thing to do. Get out there and do it.

-Austin

Priorities

I chipped a tooth last night. I was flossing and a piece of tooth just fell right out of my mouth. I don’t know why.

You know those dreams where teeth fall out? I think it taps into that weird tooth paranoia those dreams create. I’m actually pretty worried about it. Like, more worried about it than most of the new job problems I’ve had over the last couple months.

Looks like I’m more vain than I thought I was. Oh, helping treat mental illness in kids? Pshaw. A small dental problem that can be fixed in an hour? Stop the presses, my life is about this now.

I feel a little guilty. When instinct reveals my priorities, they’re always so selfish and petty. Heck, usually the biggest impact on my day isn’t the strength of my lofty ideals, but what I’m planning on doing when I’m done with my shift. I literally care more about my X-box than improving the lives of children.

I can talk a good game, but I’m as much a monkey as everyone else on this rock. I’m not the person I say I am, I’m just a selfish asshole that puts talk before action. Here’s how I know. All the talk I’ve done about wanting to help people? Clearly not, If a chipped tooth is instantly at the top of my list.

Ir’s a silly rabbit hole to go down, I know, but this is where I’m at as of press time. I want to be a better person, but right now I want my tooth fixed more.

Upper Management

One of the first things you have to realize is that you can only ever have agency over yourself. No one else in the world is going to do what you want all the time. The trick is to communicate clearly, and work with what the other person gives you.

When I started work, my boss told me that trying to manage individual kids would drive me crazy. Instead, she told me to manage the milieu. In other words, the kids make their own choices, like every other human being. The mark of competency in this job is to steer them in the right direction by using the environment. If someone looks like they’re about to go off? Start putting away the breakables. If someone isn’t listening to staff? Send in one of their friends to talk them down. If they start making better decisions, they get more privileges.

Take for instance what happened a couple days ago. A bunch of the kids wanted to play cops and robbers in the living room. My first instinct was, no, this is a treatment center and I don’t want you to run around here yelling “bang, you’re dead.” But they were all pretty well-behaved that day so I figured as long as I set some ground rules we could see how it goes. So we told them no running, no yelling, and that they were to play with “paintball” guns. Not only did they meet the expectation, they got along for the day and played that game for a good five hours.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I noticed that the game they were playing was basically the wild west equivalent of a trust fall. One kid emerged from cover to say “bang, you’re (paintball) dead”, and then had to trust the other kid to play along. Entire rule systems rose and fell to tighten or loosen this honor system. The kids started to manage themselves, but also started to try and structure the environment just like the staff do. All the while, I could kick back and let them have fun.

I’m learning this job, slowly but surely. It may be a while before I really figure it out, but in the mean time, I’m learning to count the little victories and insights I find. Even if that insight is that there’s a time to let them play cops and robbers in the living room.

-Austin

The Peanut Butter Incident

Like I mentioned earlier, I try not to give out details for confidentiality reasons. So, here’s the HIPAA compliant outline. There was an incident at my place of work from which I gleaned much professional insight. It starts with me being a hard-ass. It ends with peanut butter being thrown at my head.

When I started this job, my supervisor recommended I start off very strict with the children, and then transition to being more lenient once the precedent was set. Good advice. Then one of my coworkers saw me try to put it into practice. He told me “Dude, you’re getting into power struggles with these kids. The other kids see that, and know that they can mess with you.”

So, I learned that there’s a time for being strict and a time for giving them a break.

And then I learned about the peanut butter. It turns out that we try to keep at least a couple jars of the stuff in the building at all times. We don’t deny them food, and kids, as they get older, are hungry all the time. As a compromise, they can request a spoonful of peanut butter at pretty much any time.

The astute reader may already realize that this is a privilege that is easily abused. As a result, I chose to be a hard-ass about this particular rule.

Now, I really wish I could go into details. Needless to say, I didn’t read the situation right, and said no at the wrong time, and got peanut butter thrown at my head. It missed, lucky for me, but it did make a mess.

It’s not important. What’s important is what happened afterward.

The first thing I said (after a few combat breaths) was “You were right. I screwed up.” And all that anger fell away. The kid just wanted someone to hear him/her out, and that string of no’s just built up until it popped, like it would with anyone. And because I admitted I made a mistake, not only did we walk away from this as something we could laugh at, that kid learned a lesson in owning your mistakes that he/she will remember.

The moral is, I’m not perfect. And that’s okay. More than that, because I know that I’m not perfect, it gives me a shot at becoming great at this job. Mental Health is helping other people be more authentic in their lives. We teach people how to be human. And part of that is learning how to be really good humans ourselves.

That day, I learned how to be more human. In so doing, another person learned the same lesson. To me, that’s a victory.

Writing About Writing

It has been getting harder of thinking what to write about these last couple weeks. I try to stay away from the preachy “Let me teach you stuff” posts, because I don’t want to be a holier-than-thou jerk. I’ve gotten away with posts that are, in my opinion, good enough.

The stress of a new job, especially one working with kids, is disrupting. So I  gave myself some leeway. And so did Dan and Clark.

Then there’s the whole confidentiality thing, where I can’t talk about anything specific. Let me give you an example. Say I don’t even use names. Something like, “a kid at that place I work did a thing.” If the parents of that kid stumbles across this and knows the thing I’m talking about? Bam! Sued. So I keep it vague on purpose.

And of course, there’s just pure, old-fashioned laziness. The part of me that only wants to do the bare minimum. Go to work, do my job, go home, go to sleep, repeat. Especially now that I have an income that can let me buy things that cost more than five dollars.

It’s tempting, but it’s no way to live a life. Mediocrity does not leave a legacy.

So if it seems like my posts have gotten a little stale lately, that’s because they have. Phoning it in to get used to a new job is understandable, sure. But like my friends keep trying to tell me, just good enough isn’t good enough.

This is me promising to get back on track, with this post, and hopefully with life, period.

-Austin

Almost There

I’m two hours away from Brooklyn, and I couldn’t be more excited.

My New York family is meeting me at the airport, and soon I’ll get a tour of our new apartment. I’ll even get to look at the city from our rooftop!

So while I’m off meeting Brooklyn, you should check out Dan’s new blog: Tales from Two Cities.

Tales from Two Cities is a public letter exchange between two of the coolest people I know. Adair is a Montana transplant living in Seattle, and Dan is a Montanan in NYC trying to make a name for himself. Together, they tell stories of growth, humor, and big city oddities. They’re off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to reading their stories over the following months.

Thanks for reading, and be prepared for more content, blogs, and experiments in the coming months. With Dan and I in the same city, there’s no telling what could happen next.

Under Pressure

Since I got married, I have been incredibly anxious.I wake up feeling anxious and I go to sleep feeling anxious. It’s been driving me mad, and I couldn’t figure why I so worked up all the time. Was it financial pressure? No, for the first time in a long time, money is good. Relationship woes? No, we are really happy and having a great time together.

I keep thinking that something in my life must be wrong.Turns out, something is terribly wrong, but it has nothing to do with my marriage.

I have not been pursuing my passions. Writing and performing are my life’s works and I have not been actively pursuing either of them in ernest this whole year.

I am in New York City, but I am not going to auditions. I have a laptop and mountains of notes, but I have not been writing, save for this blog. My free time was spent on the wedding planning, and the money I have been earning has been going towards survival in a harsh city. But with the wedding behind me and my new life begun, I am still in old patterns of behavior that don’t yield the results I need.

I learned while I was at school, if I am not writing and not performing, I will get depressed. Very depressed. In the past, I have corrected this by self producing a show, landing a paid contract, and starting a blog.

But now that I am married to the love of my life, my inaction has not lead to the depression I was used to. I am so happy most of the time, that there just doesn’t seem to be room for it. But my new friend, panicked anxiety has started to fill that role quite efficiently. And so the time has come again to relight the fire of my passions.

I am pleased to announce that on Oct 1st, my second blog will launch. Co-written with my dear friend Adair Rice, we will be posting ridiculous correspondence to each other every week.

I am also beginning to search out auditions for performing gigs (along with my wife) and finding a renewed passion for comics that I hadn’t known I’d lost.

It’s not a quick fix, and I know from past experience that when I am unfulfilled artistically, it reeks havoc on my mental state. But, I am confident that with the help of my wife and collaborators, I’ll be back to chasing my dreams until I run out of breath in no time.

-DC

Ties and Smiles

So, I have some interviews this week.

I’ve always thought I was pretty good at them. The last three rounds of jobs I had I got after one interview apiece. In other words, the first people to interview me usually hire me. Pretty cool skill to have, unless you’ve recently become a lot more genuine since the last interview.

See, interviews are all about being selectively authentic. Whip out the good clothes and the small talk, and you’re half way there. It’s a game, one that’s been studied by sharper minds than mine, but one I’m pretty good at anyway.

It’s funny for someone like me, who struggles with authenticity, but the awkward barriers in an interview start to work to my advantage.

Let me give an example. Back when I was interviewing for my old internship, the lady that would be my supervisor made a mistake. She forgot she was interviewing that day, and just kept doing paperwork in her office. As a result, I was kept waiting for over an hour. When she finally remembered I was waiting, I was all smiles and understanding.

Funny thing is, I was just too chicken to leave. The (broken) moral of the story is this: don’t be yourself, and maybe a freak turn of events will put you in a bass-ackwards position of power.

Fast forward to this week. Now I’m doing what I thought I was good at, but I’m doing it with all this pesky new confidence and authenticity. I worry that these might work against me in an arena that values feigning perfection. On the other hand, my hope is that the people interviewing me value authenticity, seeing as how it’s one of the most important traits a counselor can have. The gray areas seem scarier now that I know mine better.

At least I can rely on this- my confidence and my experience have taught me that I’m a valuable person to know. Selling that like I used to is the tricky part.

Thinking about it, interviews aren’t really unique in that. Interviews are just regular first encounters, but bigger. And more formal. And the other person may or may not be giving you money in the future based on that one conversation. So yeah, just like any other day.

-Austin

My Best Friend’s Wedding

When your best friend gets married, their world changes. And when your best friend’s world changes, your world changes.

Except, I haven’t really been feeling that pressure.

Here’s the honest truth. My best friend is getting married to a girl I’ve only met twice. Which means, brass tacks, I haven’t made enough of an effort as a friend. Growing up means growing apart from everyone but yourself. Figuring out how to get out of that is one of the biggest challenges of life.

Most of my friends are, or will be, time zones apart. For a while, this was fine. I had grad school to deal with.I was stressed out, so I was largely absent from the people I care about. It got better, so now I have to own up.

It’s time for me to stop putting my life on hold with flimsy excuses.

Even after Dan and Clark go back to New York. Even as I try to get a job and dig myself out of my own debt pit. Even as, on top of all this, I try to realize that work and money don’t matter, so long as I find something real to live for.

Which brings me full circle. Friends and family, which I consider to be the same thing, have to come first. I forgot that for a while.

I’m not dwelling on it, and I’m not blaming anyone. I’m moving forward to my best friend’s wedding, and I’m damn sure going to be there for the rest of his new life beyond.

-Austin

Past and Present

 

One of the most stinging lessons I’ve learned is just how easy progress can be undone. Moving back to the town where I grew up has brought out old habits. I’m a different person, but old pitfalls are trying to creep back in.

As I’m rediscovering, nothing makes you backslide faster than coming home.

I remember high school, when it was much easier to spend weeks at a time in the basement of my parent’s house, leaving only for food and scarce contact with the outside world (read: Dan). And while I think I’ll never get that bad again that bad again, I have been putting off job applications for a couple weeks now.

Luckily, My friends have kept me from getting anywhere near my previous level of shut-in. Hell, last week I saw a Beatle live. Take that, past basement dweller me!

Of course, it isn’t fair to judge teenage you by present you’s standards. I think a lot of people make themselves miserable when they compare themselves to the past. It’s important to keep moving forward, so that I don’t backpedal into an identity which is not only limiting, but also doesn’t really fit me anymore. Good thing too, because the things I got away with at 16 will definitely not fly at 24.

A 24 year old with no job who lives in his parent’s basement is not an identity with much dignity.

Now for the tricky part, I have to find a way to translate that new self-concept into something that meshes with my hometown. Without the laziness, lack of self-concept, and general “meh” that haunted my teen years.

So, I’ll keep moving forward as a person, get off my butt, apply for jobs, and bring all I can offer to Billings. After Dan’s wedding, of course.

-Austin