Sunday, November 25, 2012

Relationships are like Leggos

My first big class - as a trainer - was in I guess early 1990. I'd taught before, so could handle a large group. Maybe 50 people were in this Excel class. First level spreadsheets, and desktops had only been out for a few years, laptops even less. People needed knowledge, guidance. I had been on spreadsheets for 4 years! An old pro.

Still that was a lot of people for my 27 year old self to handle.

A few days ago I looked at the building where it took place, on Roswell Road in ATL. Next door to one of my favorite stores. I like to pause and just remember where all my training work started, how new and nervous I was, how the world looked to me back then.

The class started well enough, me explaining that a cell is the intersection of a row and a column. Then I talked about cell addresses, A1, A2, B1, B2. Fairly smoothly I chattered along. I wasn't great (that would come later ;) but I had most of the class following along.

But there was one spot of disruption. Someone was getting help from those next to her. When I finally stopped long enough to help, I quickly realized that she didn't get the most fundamental concept. A cell. I asked her to press the spacebar, on the keyboard, and she couldn't find it.

It was a moment of complete melt down.

She was totally overwhelmed, slammed against the wall of her greatest fears, unable to follow the most simple command. She ended up fleeing at the first break. I felt bad for her but we had to muster thru the day.

What's interesting about her and that experience for me was how much I got out of it.

I still identify with that sense of being lost. It gave me a chance to become a great trainer and a much better teacher. I began to make sure everyone in my classes got the fundamental concepts. I refused to teach large classes where I couldn't make eye contact with everyone in those few seconds between sentences, after I'd made an important point.

I learned to start class with some basics: here is what we are going to learn, here is the order of things, here is a question box, where I will put your question if we are not to that topic yet or I need to fit it in somewhere else.

Most important, I learned to describe the learning curve, the way a class (and learning curves) could make you panic, or lost or both. I made it clear that breathing was important. And stopping. Here is the list I refined, in the early 90s. Rules for when you were lost:

1. Don't panic.
2. Stop.
3. Breathe.
4. Ask for help.

Later I added "Listen." before Ask for Help, since I usually repeated myself several times on each step.

Yesterday I realized that in relationships I had missed a fundamental piece many many years ago, much like the woman who didn't understand a cell in spreadsheets. It's very simple, but crucial to the entire fabric, the flow and the understanding of relationships with humans.

I hadn't learned that people connect and disconnect and reconnect.

That's it.

I knew it intellectually, I got it cerebrally. But I hadn't got it at gut level, AND I had suffered a trauma around disconnecting. My biological dad had limited relationship skills, so he and Mom split when I was like 3 or so. Common story. But a child's interpretation of events colored my view. Disconnecting meant Dad went away and didn't come back.

It could happen again. Various deaths reinforced this idea/world view.

Swear, I was in my 40s. Fortys. before someone explained one of the most fundamental concepts of relationships to me, the flow: connect, disconnect, reconnect. Natural, normal.

As I considered this, I slowly realized how BIG this was for me! It was REALLY helpful! I'd been doing it, connecting and disconnecting; after all, you are in relationships all your life. But I had such bad anxiety sometimes I hated myself. I sometimes loved shoving people away, so I didn't have to miss them. But often even that would make me freaky after a while.

So just knowing this ONE thing - simple but so important, helped me relax a little. To find the space bar. (smile). Now it helps me relax a lot.

This last week, 10 days I spent in Georgia and TN. It was good to see everyone, tho I spent most of my time with family, helping out around the house, rescuing cats, normal stuff.  Dad's* cancer is treatable, with better radiation than they had a few years ago. So we are hopeful. Cautiously optimistic. Loving him very much.

We also got to see Mama, my sister, my brother, nieces, friends, etc. All this time was full of connecting moments and disconnecting. And reconnecting.

At the end, as we are parting, sometimes we disconnect gracefully, lovingly. Sometimes with tension and internal growling. But we all kind of trust the process a little more. Yeah, I miss them, miss my college kids - and that longing too comes and goes. (Well, not so much with the college kids, but it mainly just simmers :)

My home is peaceful and beautiful. I know, pretty much, where stuff is. I have work that is worthwhile, that requires my attention. And two cats who are wonderful company, whether I like it or not. There are good friends here too. A daughter who needs me. I love my life.

There are letters to write, to send love, to connect. Gifts to think about and forage for, or make.Small stuff. Good stuff. All of it.

It's good to be home.
*Dear Old Dad/ Daddy (not my biological dad, but the Man who Raised me)

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