by Jennifer Sey
“I had a relapse. I am not like water. I am a stormy sea filled with sharks!”
My friend Kristin wrote this in an email to me a few days ago. We spent two days together in Seattle just after New Year’s discussing her recent foray back to the work world after three years at home with her little girls. She is struggling to maintain equilibrium and manage the contentious interactions that happen as an every day part of working. She is suffering from backaches and restless sleep. She is anxious all the time. So much so that she has a constant debate with herself about whether or not to quit, adding another layer to the strain of the work itself. My New Year’s resolution advice to her was: Be like water.
Bend don’t break. Be fluid and flexible. Ease your mind and follow the tide. Accept that you are working, that you have to. Don’t fight it.
My husband has given me this advice countless times as I am a woman who tends to be more like board than water. But I have been consciously attempting to master the art of fluidity for the last few years and I’m pleased to say, I’ve made significant progress.
My innate tendency is to come at every problem with the rigidity of a baseball bat, convinced that by sheer force of will I can knock the sucker out of the park if I’m stubborn enough. And it has worked for me. As a kid, I set aside the general consensus that I was an athlete of moderate ability to push on through and become a national gymnastics champion. That was oh so many moons ago but it taught me that being like board is not always a bad thing. As an adult, I was persistent enough to insist that my superiors reconsider me for the job I have now, despite not securing the position after the first round of interviews because I wasn’t, as they put it, “a demonstrated Change Agent”. (I’ll show you a Change Agent!) My dogged rigidity is often effective thus hard to give up.
Except if I think about what it does to my soul. And my fingers. Which are picked into bloody shreds, the place where stress manifests itself on my human form. It is for this reason that I have attempted to be more like water, less like board.
My husband tells me this quote is from the Tao Te Ching, the classic Chinese philosophy text. When I look up the quote as I write this, I find Bruce Lee to be the speaker of these words of wisdom, the full phrase being: “Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.”
Whether it comes from the Tao or the famed martial artist, it has worked wonders for me. If I relax and empty my mind, I can move through my day with ease. I get work done more quickly; I don’t perseverate over every possible outcome of each situation. I can handle criticisms and unexpected projects if I just flow, assuming the form that needs to be assumed. Like water in a pitcher.
Kristin’s set back was not unexpected. I have them all the time. A true test came this past week when my Blackberry broke. I am the classic Blackberry addict. Though I hate the stupid “Crackberry” play on words, I’ll admit the term applies to me. I carry it with me always. It is in my purse on the weekends, in my bathrobe in the morning. On lonely nights when I was up until dawn in the hospital with my mom after she was dianosed with lung cancer (no she never smoked). That was when I fell in love with the device. While my mom slept in a drug induced stupor, the Blackberry kept me in touch with friends who offered consoling advice. I was bleary eyed and desperate and that little phone kept me tethered to the calming words of life long friends as I sleeplessly and fearfully awaited the prognosis.
My beloved handheld probably broke from an addict’s overuse. The rolly ball mouse thingy just stopped rolling. I now know this feature is called the track ball. I know this because I visited multiple AT&T stores to get help. Please fix it, I am out of touch! I am not like water! Each young mustachioed gent in need of a case of Clearasil told me the same thing. “It’s the track ball. I’d replace it for you if I could. But I don’t have any. You’re supposed to take it to the warranty center in Colma. But try another store. They might have some.”
I went to four stores. The last kid told me he had some but he couldn’t replace it for me. He wasn’t allowed to. I would have to go to Colma.
I didn’t want to go to Colma. Colma is thirty minutes away from San Francisco. Why isn’t there a warranty center in San Francisco where I live, where many Blackberry users with broken track balls surely live? Why? I suppose it is because AT&T is hoping that many of us with crippled Crackberries will be so desperate to get our track balls back on track that we will say Screw It! I’ll just buy a new one! I need it and I need it now!
I drove to Colma. Several days of not being able to read my emails anywhere, any time was making me more like board than I’d been in a long while. Lest you think I’m a complete nutter (and I may be), my Blackberry allows me to leave work early and get home to see my kids sooner, to stay on top of things in my role as the only global marketer at Levi’s, which generally entails late night notes from Asia, emails from Europe before the crack of PST dawn. If I don’t Crackberry, I come into work to a ridiculously full inbox that takes me most of the morning to wade through. The Blackberry gets me home early enough to have dinner with my family. No I am not good about putting it away. I am awful. But I feel better and get done earlier when I come in in the morning to a clean email box so put your judgement about my addiction in your own crack pipe and smoke it. I love my Blackberry. It makes me more like water, not less.
Upon getting a new track ball, I was overjoyed. In mere minutes I answered my backed up emails in the car in the parking lot of the AT&T warranty store flanked by Old Navy and Bed Bath and Beyond. I felt flowy again.
Of course, I wrote Kristin back. I’d survived my latest test. I’d been a tad unrelenting, more than a little tense. But I flowed into Colma, fingers unbloodied.
“You can do it. Stay calm. Go with the flow. Be water my friend. Keep trying.”