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(c) 2009 Lori Lange, Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

(c) 2009 Lori Lange,
Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

My American literature professor spent a lot of class time discussing author Ernest Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” concept. I admit that I am macho enough to admire some of the themes from Hemingway’s works. I suppose that goes back to the German-American pioneer spirit imbued in my genes, or at least in my upbringing.

Well, I have that grace. In a crisis it takes a lot for me to become that cliché character in movies that starts hyperventilating at the first sign of difficulties.

I have walked through many fires and not been burned—even when I have been singed.

I get that I have not worked full-time for years and that when I have worked, it has been as a freelance writer and editor or as a volunteer or as a daughter, wife, or parent. I don’t always know programs or letters, such as Photoshop or SEO optimization. But know that other than some word processing I was taught to do on a Wang system (and, yes, that really was a big computer system in a time long ago, not something obscene), I have taught myself everything. I was handed a manual and told if I read it, then I could probably learn how to create spreadsheets—I’ve been through Lotus, Quattro Pro, and Excel all on my own and I’m damn good at spreadsheets—not because I’ve been trained, but because I’m the sort of analytical person who loves the clarity spreadsheets can provide. I’ve switched from the WordPerfect I loved to Word because my work needed to be put into Quark in chart format—which I learned to do from doing it. Software programs come and go—and I learn them when applicable to what I need to do.

When my circulation boss left right before the auditor called, I figured out how to prepare the requested reports and proofs for the auditor. I read industry resources and called contacts and got the information I needed to meet the requirements and then exceed those as I had more preparation and time to develop my own systems.

In fact, the only time I have been trained to do much of anything in my work life is when I standardized financial data for a McGraw Hill company—I was rather in awe that I got to work for a couple months just learning—what a concept, right? Before I was done with that job, I was the person who created the new training manuals/programs for two specific industry groups.

Writing and editing? Not trained except as a college student and with the introductory studies in my graduate publishing program. But once again, I have utilized written resources and contacts, although I have not really got into watching online videos—I’m not so auditory in my learning style that I have converted to that type of learning, although it’s good to know that I can if I am stumped.

And I can’t tell you how many times my MBA studies have been relevant in both my volunteer work and my family life. I’ve used operations management techniques for standardizing and improving back room operations for large volunteer-run clothing and equipment sales and my knowledge of accounting and finance for analyzing financial reports as oversight for the local school district, a non-profit preschool, and any other volunteer organization I have supported. Plus, without my MBA, I doubt I could have proven to a large hospital and our insurance company just why the billing was wrong and why we were the ones owed money, not the institution.

Then there is all I had to do to “rescue” my mother from the details of her life as she fell into dementia. I had to jump in to her finances and analyze what she had and hadn’t done and come up with a plan for catching up and going forward. I had to manage her healthcare, finances, possessions, and real estate—and still find time to love her and my own kids who were still at home.

At the same time my daughter experienced her own health crisis (the one that led to the big billing problem) that required weekly if not more frequent medical trips as well as handling the human side of that crisis.

Even so, during these twin crises, I was still editing, volunteering, and exercising, as well as managing our own household finances, appointments, possessions, pets, etc. Everything that was essential was completed, but at the same time I didn’t feel I could commit myself to outside work and do it justice.

Those days are past. I have been baptized by fire and am ready to share my abilities with a worthy organization. No, my path has not been straight and I am not an expert in one particular thing. But if a computer program is spitting me out for not having “x” years of experience in this or that, then I will never get a chance to show just how much I can do. I need a hiring manager who has the imagination to understand the assets my life experiences, character traits, and my skills are and how they can add to an organization’s value.

On the other hand, I realize that there is still so much for me to learn about the way workplaces are now. Just because I have an MBA, that doesn’t mean I think I should start at the top. But know that I am a loyal person and when the time comes that I get a chance to dig in and begin at a lower level, I will put my powers of learning to whatever tasks are at hand and grow both myself and the organization that hires me.

I am relevant in so many ways—what I call “grace under pressure” is now called “grit”—and that I have in spades.

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(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Isn’t it true our strengths can also be our weaknesses?

Each week we discussed a different book in my American novel class. Sometimes I think I took to heart too much from Ernest Hemingway’s outlook on life and living. Not the bullfights and the carousing, just the overly macho way of appearing strong in the face of adversity. That didn’t work out too well for him in the end, did it?

Still, I admire “grace under pressure” and approaching life from the cerebral side. Hemingway’s characters’ emotions remain below the surface of his sparse text, yet we readers can glimpse those emotions through a shortened sentence or the description of the slightest movement.

I like to think that I, unlike Hemingway, do not deny hidden emotions. I don’t want to end up as he did. Of course, mental illness seems to have run in his family, but part of the problem also may have been how he chose to live his life. He didn’t want to appear weak and most likely couldn’t even do so in private.

I can do so in private. I do access my emotions—at least from time to time. It’s just I prefer to work from my head in my dealings with institutions. I approach problems with logic and try to leave out my emotions, even if my reactions to the problems have been deeply emotional. I want others to correct the situation because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not just about me or mine, but about how they do business with customers/clients/patients in general.

See, there’s that Thinker (Myers-Briggs terminology) showing in me again.

But I wonder if I’d get farther if sometimes I let my guard down. I try to explain my emotions, but maybe I appear too calm. What if I let others really see how certain actions have affected me?

I’ve certainly thought that about dealing with the schools. If those in charge could have understood the anguish caused to our son and family, would they have realized how serious the problems were? Would they have believed us when we said he really couldn’t do as much work as they expected him to do? Would they have understood why I could not access the assignment and grading database portal? Did they know how the information there sent me into an emotional tailspin—whether or not the teacher had kept up with inputting the data.

Lately I have begun explaining to the insurance company and the provider how dealing with their billing mistakes is especially hard because each piece of paper reminds me of how difficult our life was in 2009 and gets in the way of moving forward with 2010. The provider passed on my first heartfelt letter to the billing department. I also received and accepted an apology.

Yet, the mistakes—or delays continue—they almost seem to be worse since I explained to the provider what the insurance company told me was causing problems. No good deed goes unpunished? No, I’ve been told the provider followed the insurance company’s instructions. Huh? I don’t know who to believe. All I know is I’m told to be patient with the process.

Of course, I have already been patient with the process—with little success so far. Perhaps new information will make the difference, yet at this point I feel as if nothing I do is going to correct this. In my lowest moments I am afraid I will always be drawn back to the worst period in my life. I may have survived the illness and the treatment but may not survive the paperwork—unless of course I just pack away the papers in between each communication and resolve not to care so much.

Maybe I have demonstrated too much grace under pressure. These papers have taken my time and sense of wellbeing again and again. Yes, I let them, but the humans sending them don’t seem to do what needs to be done.

I am mad. I am sad. And I think that despite how well I dealt with my daughter’s depression, these feelings of not being heard or not being able to effect change could lead me down the road to my own depression if I let them. I feel as if I am screaming into a void—and sometimes I think if those in charge only knew I was screaming, it might make a difference. If I showed my weakness, might it compel them to work harder to resolve the problems?

My therapist thinks it will make no difference—she has been battling her own insurance nightmare and has come to believe that the systems today aren’t set up to work well—and our emotions will get us nowhere with organizations.

She’s probably right, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to swallow my anger and say what’s happening is OK. I don’t want to end up like Papa, whose internal pressure ate up his grace. No, my version of grace under pressure must at least include admitting what’s bothering me.

That said, I have filed the papers again. They no longer dominate my desk. They are not quite out of sight/out of mind, but if the only control I have is to put them away, then I have taken a big step.

Yesterday while I was driving, Green Day’s “21 Guns” began to play. Just because something’s worth fighting for doesn’t mean it’s worth the cost. I’m the one paying for trying to resolve what is beyond my control. Although it feels like surrender, my version of grace under pressure—for now—needs to be a farewell to arms.

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