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Posts Tagged ‘character’

For those of you who are not Mad Men fanatics, this will take a bit of ‘splainin’.  Pete Campbell is an Account Executive/Partner at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price – a fictional 1960’s ad agency.  If you’ve watched all of the seasons of Mad Men, Pete’s slimy ways have probably made you feel uncomfortable or dirty at least once – possibly twice – an episode for the past four seasons.

Here’s the thing about Pete: Pete knows what he wants and he goes after it.  He doesn’t always take a path that you or I would prefer – he sometimes turns to manipulation or blackmail – but everything he does is because he wants to be The Ad Man.  The other thing to know about Pete is that he is an account executive (basically a client schmoozer) who fancies himself as a creative.  He is NOT a creative.

That all being said, here are my thoughts on Pete:

On Trying Too Hard: Pete wants to be an Ad Man. Desperately.  He “acquires” all of the things that he thinks he needs to portray the image (wife, apartment downtown, etc), he reads all of the “right” books, he does all of the networking.  But at the end of the day, he often just comes across as trying too hard.  It’s awkward to watch and difficult to like.  It conjures up at least a half dozen memories of stupid things I’ve done or witnessed other people doing.  I think about my first presentations when I worked in advertising or remember terrible sales pitches someone delivered to me.  I shudder at the memories. And I watch Pete and think, “Am I trying too hard? Am I making myself into a person I wish I could be or am I becoming a person that I am meant to be?”

On Taking Shortcuts: Pete regularly tries to find shortcuts, but his shortcuts always come at a much-too-high cost.  Sometimes it’s his own integrity that takes a hit, and sometimes he even jeopardizes family relationships for the sake of authenticating his place in the ad world.  I’m all for taking risks, but the things he’s willing to risk sometimes seem too great considering what he is hoping to accomplish.  How often do I sacrifice a long-term item for a short-term goal?  What are my trade-offs?

On Being Authentic: Pete says a lot of crap to get what he wants and hides a lot of things he does.  There are a lot of things Pete sweeps under the rug, including affairs and a baby with another woman.  Watching his character operate, the amount of baggage he’s carrying around is almost palpable.  It’s like he’s teetering, on the verge of falling over under the baggage’s oppressive weight.  And yet, if you asked him, he’d probably ask, “Baggage?  What baggage?”

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framing

I had some posters in college that I bought at hole-in-the-wall poster store on Belmont near the El stop.  We liked to go in this store to just poke around and find funny or interesting artwork or kitschy posters.  It was the kind of store where they let you sift through their posters for hours and never bothered you about it.  Just a few shops west of the poster store is the locally (perhaps nationally?) famous restaurant Ann Sathers (yuummmmy cinnamon rolls!) and across the street is Igor’s Dungeon (tawdry sex and drug paraphernalia).  While I was in school, I bought 4 posters from this poster store.  The posters were Romeo and Juliet, Jack Vettriano’s the Singing Butler, the VJ Day Kiss and another with a couple hugging at the train station.  These pictures hung frame-less on the walls of my apartments in college for several years before I moved home after graduation.

When I was moving home, Mom asked me if I had any artwork that I might want framed.  I hesitated when she asked and had to think about it before I remembered these four posters – I guess I hadn’t thought much about framing the posters.  I mean, they were the posters that I sticky-tacked up to the wall in my college apartment.  They were the posters that were part of a bigger wall-collage of sorority paddles and random pictures with friends and inspirational quotes.  I had never thought about these posters as art, but when my mom asked me if I had any artwork, I thought, “yeah, I guess I do!”

My mom does an excellent job decorating, but I was still surprised at what an awesome job she did picking out frames for the posters.  While I would have done something more ordinary (and well, lets’ be real – plain) – she picked out these gorgeous ornate frames.  The pictures that I looked at for years on my apartment wall looked COMPLETELY different in the frames she picked out.  They went from being college dorm-room blah to grown-up chic in less than five minutes.  I smile whenever I look at them because they reminded me of something very important:

How an image is framed changes how you see that image.  We talk about this concept in our culture a lot using phrases like “Perception is reality” and “Attitude is everything.”  The way the pictures were framed changed how I interacted with the pictures, where I place them in my current home and how others saw them.  Artists play with this concept by taking ordinary objects and “framing” those objects differently so that the ordinary objects are perceived as art.

I talked in my previous post about the different themes running through my life right now and that definition is one of those themes.  When I think about how I am defined, I realize that the context is just as important as the content.  I am well aware that the same word in different contexts can mean so many different things.  The question, “Why?” can be insulting, intriguing, lamenting, fatiguing and energizing, all dependent on how the question is asked.

I have a lot of different contexts that I exist in.  Sure, I am a wife and a family member and a friend and a coworker, but what kind of person do I want to be in each of these contexts?  I mean, yes, there are things that will be consistent in each area – I am a Christian in all of these areas.  But what kind of wife, family member, friend and worker do I want to be?  And how do I feel about how each of these categories is shaping up?

I like to say “yes” to everything.  It has been an epic battle for me to say “no” more often.  I think when I was younger, it was probably wise to say yes to a lot of things so that I could have a wider experience, but perhaps it is time to become more selective, picking the projects and paths that are of more interest to me.

I lamented the other day that there was nothing that I am passionate about.  I feel that have spent so much time trying lots of different things that I never really specialized in one area.  Today I was thinking on this topic a little bit more and a few patterns of behavior are emerging that give me a few clues about more dominant personality/skill areas that I could work on.

So yeah.  I know I started rambling, but I guess in a nutshell: I’ve got a lot to work on.  And I will probably write more on this because I feel like I didn’t say everything I wanted to.  But it is late and if I don’t go to sleep my context tomorrow will be viewed through sleep deprived eyes…

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I’m not a very disciplined person in a lot of respects.  I try very hard, but because it is not ingrained in my character, I often FORGET to be disciplined.

And last week was a week of discipline.

Something I’ve had drilled into me in my professional life is to nip things in the bud.  The minute something goes down a wrong path, and before it becomes a habit, you have to nip it in the bud.  Because I don’t like conflict, this was a hard one for me to learn both as a manager and as coworker.  But I have found that people respect you more for speaking up early rather than letting something carry on.  Not saying anything is often viewed as permission-granting.

I’m not perfect at this skill, but I work on it.  And because it runs counter to how I would prefer to live, it takes a certain amount of emotional energy.

The other thing I’ve had to get better at is disciplining my thoughts.  This has been on-going since I was little.  When I first started working on this, I was struggling with anxiety in school.  I would get the syllabus on the first day of school, and see that on the last day of the class there would be a… gasp… FINAL EXAM and I would start wondering how I was going to pass that test.  Seriously?  I hadn’t even been through the course yet.

As I’ve gotten older, and hormones have gotten crazier, I’ve had to work on disciplining where I let my thoughts go.  For example, my dear husband has a horrid schedule for the next 3 weeks.  I’m not going to get into the details for safety issues, but it is TERRIBLE.  Plus, he is supposed to get awarded a base closer to home, but the guy who posts the final awards WENT HOME EARLY on Friday, even though the company stated that it would post the results on Friday at 4 p.m. CST.

My natural bent is to go down the, “We will never have another holiday together.  We will never have another lazy Saturday together.  We will never …” And I definitely start down that road, but then I make myself remember that in a few years I will have mostly forgotten this time that we are going through and that it WILL get better.  Sometimes it takes a huge amount of emotional effort to turn this attitude around.

But it is always worth the effort.

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Physically, mentally and emotionally, it’s been rough.  It hasn’t been a crisis of faith, per se, but rather a crisis of HOW to have faith.

I believe in God, check.

I believe that His son Jesus is my Savior, check.

I have found, though, that I sometimes have a hard time figuring out how to look at our recent heartbreak and ongoing struggles to become parents and understand how to deal with it as a Christian.

When I am worked up about everything, I find myself tossed about by these storms and unable to find my bearings.

Which brings me to my aviation metaphor.  Ahem.

As a pilot, Frank has trained extensively.  When he first trained, he learned how to fly visually.  Flying visually is exactly what it sounds like – he would fly only in conditions (clear days, generally) that allowed him to identify landmarks and (most importantly) airports by sight. Flying on clear days is lovely, especially in small planes.

But as a committed pilot with aspirations to fly for airlines, Frank had to take his aviation training to the next level.  He had to learn to fly using only the instruments on the dashboard of the plane.  As part of his training, he actually wore a hood that didn’t allow him to see anything except the instruments in front of him.  He had to do this for two reasons: 1) because sometimes what you think you are seeing is not the whole picture and 2) because sometimes he has to fly in conditions where he won’t be able to visually see landmarks.

One night Frank took me flying.  It was a gorgeous night with a layer of low white clouds under a dome of shimmering stars.  Since there are controls on both sides of the plane, Frank let me take the “wheel” and instructed me to orient the plane so that it would be level with the horizon.  After a few minutes, Frank pointed at one of the instruments that showed how level the plane was relative to the earth.  Even though I thought I had the plane level with the horizon, I was very wrong.  The horizon I thought I was following was really a cloud, not the actual curve of the earth.

It is not enough, sometimes, to fly on sight alone.

Frank’s aviation training is a great metaphor for the grossly uncomfortable position that I am in right now.

Most of the time I can walk in my faith by “sight” alone; I either hear from God or I see landmarks from Him that point the way.  The answers are, for the most part, obvious.

Right now, though, we are stuck in the midst of storms and can’t see the ground or familiar landmarks.  Flying visually is not an option.  We have to rely on faith and the tools that God has given us.

I guess it’s a good idea to keep my seatbelt securely fastened, eh?

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I think running is therapy for me.

It’s me, proving to myself, that I can run.  I can make it each quarter mile further.

Each step is me not caving.

Each step reminds me of the verses in the Bible that say to rejoice in suffering and trials.

Each step reminds me that because I took one step, the next time it will be easier and faster and lighter.

People have said that you run against no one but yourself.

And that’s true.

But you also run for no one but yourself and because God gave us the ability to choose to run.

I run for me and to be closer to God.  Even if I say nothing and He says nothing, it’s sort of like an aligning of me with His Spirit.

I run as fast as I can mentally and physically and emotionally.

Tonight I started crying while I was running, but I kept going.  I ran through the tears and found a good pace and felt better.

I was crying because the thought occurred to me that the saddest and hardest part of what we are going through is the thought that if we don’t have children, who will tell future generations how much Frank and I loved eachother?  Who will tell future generations the great things that God has done in our lives?

And you know, I don’t have anything else to say about that.  It’s just sad.  And yeah, maybe we will have kids.   And maybe we won’t.  I think I’m just sad.

The cool thing about running is that sometimes it gets really hard.  Sometimes I think, “I just can’t go on, I’ll never make the next mile.”  And then, I push and I make it.  That gives me a lot of hope.

So maybe right now it’s hard and I’m just sad, but I will persevere.  And God’s Word says that perseverance builds character and character gives us hope.

In sadness I can have hope.  And that is awesome.

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