11/30/2018 – On Effort Over Output

I need some new metrics to use to measure my progress. The PTA gig has taught me that my Inner Critic has a near limitless capacity to rip me to shreds with whisperings about how I haven’t done enough, what a lazy lout I am to think that I can close my inbox for the day or attend to other areas of my life. I’m drowning in my own outsized expectations. More fundraising! More restructuring of the organization! More community building! More time in the classroom! He mentioned that he would like me to do this and she mentioned that she needs me to do that and all that in addition to the ever-growing list of things I want to accomplish in every area of my life.

Boundaries, yes. I need firmer lines drawn and more of them. But I’ve also been thinking about the difference between measuring my progress based on effort versus output. How much sleep am I willing to lose for this volunteer effort? Little to none. Do outside forces want me to give more than I already am? Always. I’ve had weeks where I thought about and worked at my PTA tasks from the moment I get up, through my kids eating dinner and taking baths and reading stories, through late into the night, and I go to sleep feeling like shit because progress is slow and I still don’t feel like I’m giving enough.

But that’s because my metric for self-measurement has been based on task completion. When I mark things as done, that’s when I feel good… for about 10 minutes and then generally the pressure mounts around the next thing.

I can give more, I can sleep less, I can shut down other areas of my life in order to give more. GIVE MORE MOAR MOOOREEEEE. Or I can decide to adjust my measurement to focus on effort instead of output. How many hours am I willing to give this week? And the next. And the next. If I reach the end of the week and I’ve given the allotted time but there’s still work to be done that means we either need to adjust our expectations re: how much we’re able to accomplish and on what timeline *or* we need more volunteers. (It’s usually, generally, pretty-much always the latter.)

Effort. That’s how I need to measure my progress from now on.

11/16/2018 – On Trying Again. And Again. And Again.

My Jenna Cole photography website is down, has been for several weeks now and I’m struggling to find the motivation to get it back up again. Thanks to our many relocations, and a few course corrections, this will be the 7th time I’ve put myself out there in this way and said “I’m really doing this. I’m making the photography business a priority and I’m going to do the work build it into something more than it is today.”

Last week my cousin asked if would be too much of a bother for me to do family photos for them. Family photos? One of the few things in life that consistently feeds my soul in exactly the way I need and that I would do every weekend if I could? Would that be too much for her to ask???

She wasn’t using the word bother because she wanted me to do it for free, she used it because she didn’t know I’m “doing this” anymore and thought it might be an imposition. She didn’t know I look out my front window on a regular basis and think “I wish I had someone to photograph in this light.” I found this exchange to be a bit embarrassing (no one is going to buy a biz marketing course from me anytime soon), informative, and a little bit inspiring. Even though I have a handful of repeat clients there’s always some voice in my head telling me I’m not being booked because no one except me finds any value in my work (in that case I should just document my life and pursue personal projects, no need to spend all the time building a website from scratch). But that cousin of mine shifted my inner dialog a bit because I have evidence now, for at least one person, that what I’m facing down is in some way as simple as marketing better.

And yet, I’ve drafted no plans and made little efforts. Because I’m embarrassed. Or conflicted. Or confused. A tangle of emotions that can summed up with the question “Is this optimism+persistence or naivete+failure?” At what point are the website rebrands and the marketing blitzes and the promotional offerings a joke everyone is in on except me?

Or is this just what it is? It’s trying, and trying again. It’s Edison and his light bulbs. It’s every children’s book you’ve ever read about kids who try and try and try and then they flew. It’s drowning out the voices, internal and external, that laugh at our efforts and revel in our disappointments.

I’ll forever be a pessimistic pragmatist about the photography industry today. The consumer and smartphones cameras are so good now that the pool of opportunities will forever be reduced. Not as many people need or want what I have to offer. But there is plenty of evidence that there is something there for me if I’m willing to put in the work.

I just have to try. Again.

9/22/2018 – On Implicit Bias

This week a neighbor hired me to do headshots for himself and his business partner. I told my sister about the shoot, expressing some jitters around posing and directing two men in familiar but not-too-familiar ways. It’s something I’ve never done before and I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like.

And I still don’t know what that would look like because the business partner is a woman.

That right there, is implicit bias. I was never told the gender of the business partner and so, based on everything my brain contains about who business partners are and what they are like, I made the assumption that this man’s business partner was also male. Somewhere deep down in my brain lies the belief that business partners are male because that’s what I was told or that’s what I saw. A little pocket of sexism residin’ up in my noggin. I probably won’t make that same mistake again, but there will be others because noticing this addresses the branch but it doesn’t eliminate the root.

I first heard the term Implicit Bias when I began reading and learning about race relations in America. My studies had helped me to see slivers and cords of racism manifested by people I know and care about, and I didn’t know how to reconcile the overall character of the person with the things they said about other people based on where they were from or the color of their skin. Implicit Bias doesn’t excuse these harmful statements and acts, but it does give us a starting point for the Why.

Why? Because we are all a complicated byproduct of our upbringing and surroundings. We start absorbing as babies and it never stops. The work to identify and address our personal implicit biases is difficult because we generally don’t know they are there until we are forced to confront them head-on. And it’s hard to be honest about these parts of ourselves that we don’t like. I am carrying around elements of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all sorts of other -isms and -ias. I don’t like this, but they will never be addressed through denial or whitewashing.

If I had let shame and guilt take the reigns I wouldn’t have been able to be honest with myself about what this was. Be willing to be honest with yourself about yourself. If you’ve said or done something harmful and now you recognize it, stop. Apologize if you have someone to apologize to. And then make clear to yourself what you did in the past, why you didn’t like it, and how you’re going to change in the future. This is good work, the kind that grates as you go through it but makes you feel strong and improved on the other side. I’ll show you what it looks like.

Past: When a client referred to their business partner I assumed the business partner was male.

Why I dislike this: It felt diminishing for that woman specifically, and for all women. It indicates that when a certain job needs to be done, I unconsciously fill in that role with a male. Imagine if I was in a position to procure talent for a specific position, I don’t want to be defaulting to male to make the candidate fit my preconceived notions.

Future: I believe writing this post will be enough to help me adjust my thinking in the future. I might not be able to stop the thought from bubbling up, but I can catch it and address it much faster next time.

9/17/2018 – On Screwing Up

Taking on the PTA President position was a very quick shift from Solo Actor to Team Player. For almost a decade now almost all of my efforts have been self-directed and generally self-focused. Now I’m Team Captain, and I’m feeling not just the weight of tracking all the moving pieces, but also (especially) that of recognizing or acknowledging the many ways that I screw up. And learning to do so frankly, without dwelling, without excuses.

Yesterday, a Sunday, I began the day at my parent’s house in central WA. I photographed my cousin and her new husband in their wedding attire and felt confident and excited about what I created for them. Drove home, packed up, and made it out the door just after 1pm to get back to Seattle with some extra time to spare before a 5pm meeting with my PTA board.

Except I forgot that driving back to Seattle on a Sunday afternoon always stretches longer than anticipated because all of the other people trying to get back to the city before Monday morning.

And my meeting was at 4pm, not 5pm.

I had said “4pm? That’s great. I’ll be there.” I said those words out loud and then I wasn’t there. Everyone else made time in their weekend, arranged with their partners to handle the kids so we could gather, at my house. The meeting was at my house and I was an hour late.

My husband jumped right in and set up the team to work at my dining room table in my absence. I spent the last hour of the drive talking through the voices in my head telling me I’m a stupid idiot, that everyone else manages to juggle their life enough to be where they say they’ll be, that this particular indiscretion was egregious and outrageous and indicative of many faulty things about me.

This particular form of accountability, accountability to a demanding and complicated group effort, comes with a lot of opportunities to own up to the ways I fall short of my intended Self. Once I calmed down the Inner Critic I was able to think more clearly about what I can do to prevent a mistake like this in the future. This one, being an hour late to that particular meeting? That’s done. The roads are what they are and the speed limits are what they are, and there was nothing I could do but walk in my own front door to a team of volunteers diligently plugging away in my front room. I immediately apologized, they immediately reassured me that it was fine – but I wanted them to know that I don’t find it okay to operate that way. Integrity is one of my core values and I hadn’t lived up to their expectations of me, and my expectations of myself.

I’m not going to dwell on my mistake, that doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m checking my calendar morning and night now to make sure I firmly understand what I’ve committed to the following day. I’ll be budgeting four hours for the Sunday afternoon drive back to Seattle from now on. I’ll extend grace and compassion when others are late or absent. I’ll extend that same grace and compassion to myself.