The Dilemma of a Capable Woman

The Dilemma of a Capable Woman

I was having a chat with a friend of mine who travels quite a bit for work. He was relating a circumstance in which his team’s safety was of concern traveling between the job site and the hotel, and he had been clear with the female team members about no unscheduled cab rides, notifying the concierge of their whereabouts, etc. Apparently the ladies were not excited about this until they realized there was good reason for the precautions.

I could relate. I don’t want to be told what to do.

I also think I’m the baddest bitch on the block.

But I got it. He was taking responsibility for the safety of the team, and wasn’t interested in whether he appeared to be overbearing or patronistic or overprotective. It wasn’t about protecting the women, it was about protecting the team. It’s what a good leader does.

To say I have a hard time with that is an understatement. Because as a woman who has had to work SO HARD to prove that I am capable in my field, and who has had to prove that I am capable time and time and time again when the gender-based assumption was that I am not, the last thing I want is for a male colleague to tell me that I need to be cautious about my personal safety and to decide for me how to accomplish that.

Separating those things is a dilemma. How, as a woman, do you show your capability while letting someone take care of you? How do you not confuse care with control, and how do you let people help with you without being concerned about the impact on how others view you and your abilities?

It was good to hear his point of view, that it wasn’t about anyone’s abilities, it was about making good decisions and what made sense in the circumstances. And it’s good that I have finally begun to acknowledge that you can be completely capable and accept care and concern. And you don’t have to accept anyone else thinking otherwise.

Back to the concept of “and“. This is that.

New Things in Small Towns

New Things in Small Towns

I’m back to work this week, and my brother is healing, praise God.

I admire and respect my Dad so much. He is the best father, and has always been interested in my work. We frequently discuss my projects and how I approach problem-solving, and his advice and insight have been invaluable.

I am seeing a lot of change on the horizon for small towns in Texas. I’m from a region that doesn’t even qualify as a town, so I don’t look as this as an outsider, I see this as someone who has a family legacy in it. I have lived in large cities, but small towns are where my heart is and where I grew up. They are where my family has done business for centuries on two continents, including more than two centuries on this one.

And I really just love them.

One of the challenges of small towns is the frequent lack of knowledge about good policy and good governance. This is an observation, not a criticism. Small towns have difficulty supporting and therefore attracting talent that comes with a knowledge base that supports engineering, planning and other local government functions. Sometimes this works for the community because specialized technical expertise is not required. Sometimes it doesn’t, particularly in situations in which a community is experiencing growth or a substantial increase in visitors.

Texas is growing, and Texans are their own best tourists. It is starting to put a lot of pressure on small towns.

Enter the retiring Baby Boomer.

Ignore the claims about trends of retirees flocking to dense urban places where they can walk and socialize to their hearts’ content. Retirees are coming to Texas for the open land, natural beauty and friendliness of small towns. They are buying ranchettes and subdivided lots, or they are buying RVs and living part time in parks along the Hill Country’s stunning rivers. It is a new trend, and one that can be of benefit to small towns that need the knowledge, skill and experience that these new residents can provide.

These new residents are tax payers, and they are going to want value for their money.

It is of benefit to small town leaders to look to this new group – new neighbors, if you will – as a strategic benefit rather than as a threat. Upending the system is difficult and a challenge, but when the system needs improvement and budgets are tight, quality and essentially free assistance can be a asset that is well worth utilizing.

No Strategy in Old Methods

No Strategy in Old Methods

Change or die.

One of the most inaccurate statements ever. Have you noticed how many people don’t change and yet are still there to be obstructionists, naysayers and general blockaders of progress? It’s infuriating. I am going to have to live a long time to outlive them all. They don’t die quickly or easily.

Change or fail?

That’s not necessarily the case either. Obstructionists who hold their groups or communities hostage can (and do) achieve a remarkable level of success in their goal of progress obstruction. This is also infuriating.

Change or become obsolete?

But what happens when the world changes around you and you don’t adapt, don’t act, don’t adjust? How long does it take for obstructionism to catch up with you, to bring you and your cronies down, to reveal you for what you are and to cost your hostages more than they are willing to pay? Texas is changing fast, y’all. I’m working on population projection mapping for a portion of the state and the way things were is no longer a viable option. Nor is copying strategies to address change from here, there, everywhere else that has no similarities to you or your unique situation.

Why can’t we have people bike everywhere like they do in Amsterdam???

Amsterdam is a geographically dense city that has a much cooler climate than Texas and bikes make more sense there as a means of transportation for a number of spatial and cultural factors.

Why can’t we have entitlement programs like Sweden???

Sweden is an ethnically homogeneous country bordered by countries that are also ethnically homogeneous, and cultural values are therefore also more homogeneous. Entitlement programs work better when the program participants are consistently contributing to and benefiting from the program, which is definitely not the situation in America.

Why don’t we have the same downtown program success that this other town has???

They are situated 30 minutes from the center of a major metropolitan area and are able to take advantage of a tax base, income and education levels that are considerably beyond what you can feasibly attain at any point in time (short of a catastrophic event). You are situated an hour and a half from a major metro area and are bordered by two of the poorest counties in the state. When you copy what they do you fail because you haven’t acknowledged the unique capacity of your community and the program failures are then exacerbated by your efforts to run programs based on that town, not on yours.

Old methods, copied methods and strategies straight from a book or website or conference simply will not work unless they are creatively adapted to a specific and unique situation. This is not a time to do what has been done before or to do what is known or proven or comfortable or convenient. This is a time to adapt to constantly changing conditions, to use information and technology that are available like never before and to do for places what we are beginning to do for people: acknowledge and celebrate their uniqueness, work with the strengths and support their weaknesses.

We have become much more accepting of the complexity and unique identity of humans. It’s about time we started doing that for places.

 

Ideology or Experience?

Ideology or Experience?

There is a lot in the national monologue about ideology and partisanship and how idiotic the GOP is for supporting ANYTHING Trump does. Fair enough.

If you’ve noticed, none of that extensive monologuing is solving a problem. Or any problem. Or problems. Why? Because we have a problem of problem definition.

We hear a lot of blasting of the ideology with very little said about why people hold the views they do, why they vote the way they do and why they think a certain policy solution or set of policy strategies will work the best to achieve positive outcomes.

But positive as defined by what, exactly? And by whom? And for whom?

At the core, our differences are probably less about what we believe and more about why we believe it. What came first? The experience. The ones that form our views of ourselves, our communities, our politics and our problems, therefore what we believe are good solutions.

Consider it this way:

You have a formal education that did not extend to receiving a university degree, or even an associate’s degree. Your career options are fairly limited, your neighborhood is not stable, you are raising children by yourself without access to daycare or any kind of quality childcare, you can’t save because you spend what little you earn on car repairs, moving expenses and rising costs of living that outpace your wages and you feel that you cannot move up in life because you do not have access to the resources you need to acquire stable housing, to access more stable and performance-driven employment opportunities and to make sure your children have a quality education that can help them rise above the position your family is currently in. You don’t have family, friends or charity that can step in and provide you a step up, so where else do you look? Government resources.

Programs, policies and assistance for you are likely to be most available from federal, state or local government assistance, and your experience shows you that while people may fail you, the government provides, especially when liberal candidates are in office. You have a strong personal interest in liberal candidates being elected because that means you get assistance you don’t otherwise have, and you have so little that taking even that away is a significant threat to you. It has nothing to do with your willingness to work, your ability to work, your values or you future goals, it is about survival and having a chance at a better position in life that does not require so much struggle. Of course the wealthy should pay more taxes, because they already have so much. Of course the government should spend money on job training and education, because if only you had better work skills or a better education you could get a better job. No, you couldn’t care less about foreign policy because it doesn’t affect you and why spend money elsewhere when so many people you know are in need here at home? Yes to transit because your car is not reliable. Yes to rent controls because maybe that will get you and your children into a more stable neighborhood. Yes to entitlement spending because your neighbor, who sometimes watches your kids, depends on it to stay near you and you can’t afford to lose your childcare.

Consider again:

You own a historic building in a medium-sized town and have a small business in that building. Your building is regulated because it is in an historic district, your business is regulated because the government likes to interfere in the affairs of small businesses and you pay a lot in taxes because you are self-employed and your business is returning a profit after three years of struggling. You have worked hard for everything you have, you had to get a loan, you had to take a risk, you work much more than 40 hours per week and you are planning to retire in 13 years if all goes well. However, your plans to update the building are foiled by the local building official who is requiring extra work that will cost you $16,000, the federal agency that oversees your type of business is adopting a new rule that will cost you $50,000 over the next 4 years to implement and the state legislature just voted to increase the business tax, which means that instead of seeing a net gain in revenues this year you will have a net loss for the next two years unless you can increase sales far beyond your projections. Now you have to decide whether to eat the costs or reduce your number of employees. No to more taxes, no to more government, no to more rules, no to more competition and no to screwing over the hardworking Americans who are entrepreneurs and small business owners and who are just trying to earn a decent living!

Is it about ideology or is it about experience? And if we were to acknowledge that our experiences dictate our political views, both on the issues that directly apply to us and on the issues that don’t, both to specific and broad issues, does that move us away from blaming ideological stances and toward acknowledging that if we want the views to change, we must change the experience?

If you want the first person to acknowledge the difficulties the second person is facing, you would have to communicate or share the experience, and vice versa. Want more people to understand what it’s like to be a small business owner? Give them the opportunity to be one. Think government gets in the way too much? Understand the position of those whose lives depend in it getting in the way. Think people are not improving their status because they won’t work for it? Face the same prejudices and be subject to the same constraints and see how well you do. Think people don’t understand your needs, don’t care about you and your situation and are just prejudiced? Understand that their situation may be very different – and even opposite – from yours.

Today I heard a very good city leader say that most conflicts can be resolved by knocking on your neighbor’s door, but we aren’t knocking on doors anymore, we are running straight to government to resolve the conflict. He’s right. But that assumes that government is in the business of conflict resolution. It generally is not.

Is it really as easy as knocking on a neighbor’s door? Only one way to find out.

Walk. Out.

I got thrown out of a meeting yesterday. I hadn’t even spoken.

How long do you stay with a bad situation? How long do you try to improve things or make them work?

Until it’s been enough. Then you walk out.

I watched a meeting disintegrate into a verbal fistfight. I watched people be abusive. I listened to lies and deflections. I listened to accusations. I listened to intimidation. I heard the volume rise. I watched the legal aide spray lighter fluid on the brush pile.

I stopped everyone with a sharp, loud shout, shut it down, announced my departure, set the record on my actions straight and walked out the door.

The room exploded behind me.

After six years the group had failed to organize, to gather strength, to effectively serve the community. The lack of good leadership caused the situation to simmer, the tension and conflict finally hit a boil when the bad actors got loud with their lies and finally hit a wall of loud resistance. That wall was not me. I sat quietly and heard it all – false accusations against me included – until it was enough. Then I walked out.

You walk out when people are not willing to adapt, to change or to admit they have done wrong.

You walk out when people are not willing to recognize their abusive and manipulative behavior.

You walk out when you’re done. And you don’t look back, answer the phone or acknowledge them when they try to follow you out.

 

10 Hours, 3 Testimonies, 2 Days

10 Hours, 3 Testimonies, 2 Days

It’s a busy time at the Texas Legislature.

After the parading and recognitions and special days for their districts and orientation of new legislators and the committee assignment of more than 5,000 bills, everyone starts to get down to business around the middle of April. The substantive bills begin to be heard and days are filled with committee meetings and testimony.

Which is how I ended up sitting for ten hours so that I could testify on three bills.

Three of those hours were just waiting for the committees hearing to start.

I don’t find it upsetting to wait, I understand the process, the demands and the scheduling that causes some of the members to have to race from hearing to hearing to speak on their own bills and hear those of their colleagues. I don’t envy the staffers who have to keep it all straight, recommend positions and read the bills in their entirety and provide analysis. It is a wild 140 days, mostly the second 70.

Which is why the action doesn’t stop.

It certainly didn’t stop for my latest diagnosis, which coincided with the first day I appeared to give testimony on a bill.

It’s challenging, not being able to stop to have time to adjust. I’m sure a good many people have felt the same. Things don’t stop for me. And really I’m not sure I want them too. There a part of the ongoing motion of the world that pushes me forward so that I have to acknowledge, adjust and move forward with time. There is a good aspect to it. There is something about the constancy of time that holds a steadiness in the midst of feeling completely overwhelmed.

I have been feeling behind the clock lately. Dealing with personal issues on top of a very intense week of work just stacks on the overwhelming whirl of it all. And that’s when I don’t make time to be calm, to pause, to prioritize healthy choices and get some perspective.

Yep, I can sit for three hours over two days just waiting for meeting to start, but I will not make time for myself. Until today, when I went for a quiet walk after the rain.

10 Hours, 3 Testimonies, 2 Days, 1 Hour.

 

 

Trouble Finds Me

So much of life is perspective.

I have had some…exciting…and challenging clients this year. Challenging because either they or people adjacent to them are in crisis, create crisis or, for whatever reason, thrive on crisis.

I find it exhausting.

I had the comment yesterday that I keep finding trouble. I think it’s the opposite. I am a problem solver. People call me when they have problems they need solved. So really, trouble finds me. Which is a challenge for someone who would really rather avoid crisis and the stress that goes along with it. I occasionally threaten to get a job in a back corner as a data analyst. No one of my acquaintance takes that seriously. My friends think my job is cool. They don’t think it’s a big deal that I get calls after 8 when I have already spent 4 hours on the phone and written 2 documents on the issue that I got the late call about. They wonder why I have a 16 hour day that takes me across the state and back.

From a certain perspective, I do find trouble. I show up to solve most of the problems I’m asked to solve. They don’t come to me, I go to them. I sit in meetings, I study documents, I listen to volume and tone, I watch expressions, I notice who is whispering to who and I get invested so that I can earn trust. If you can’t be trusted, you become part of the problem, not the solution. I provide solutions, and I work hard for the trust to be heard when I present those solutions.

I still think that trouble finds me.

I make myself available, I promote my expertise, I talk about my work (it’s very entertaining when I reenact public meetings and the things people are prone to say in them on the microphone) and because I am in the business of handling trouble and solving problems, trouble finds me.

I was recently introduced to legal counsel who is taking a different approach to problem solving than I take. We have different perspectives on client service and the group organization processes. I was called in because of concern that the legal counsel was not providing what the client needed, they didn’t feel that their questions were being answered and they didn’t feel sufficiently informed to make the decisions they were being asked to make. I showed up with documents that illustrated the answers to a lot of the questions and spent the next day fielding persistent requests from the legal counsel and co-counsel to meet with them to explain my knowledge.

Huh?

I know law because I can read. Surely you can know what I know because…you can read? I get a call when things aren’t working, when problems don’t have a clear resolution or when people need good information to make good decisions. I provide exactly those things to them. If you don’t know how to fix that problem, why are you asking me to explain it to you? I just did your job for you, just say thanks , learn a lesson and move on.

You’re actually going to come to me to find out what I know – when I just talked about it in an open meeting in front of everyone? When I provided you with the same document I provided to everyone else?

Trouble finds me. And sometimes I want to kick it in the teeth.