Cash or credit; paper or plastic; wheat or sourdough; grande or venti; bootcut or straight-leg; warm or cool; volume or length; matte or gloss; MSNBC or CNBC…It’s not even 8AM and these are just a few of the decisions I’ve had to make just to get in gear. And I’m retired now – what was my morning like when I was working?
If this is indicative of the ‘new minimalism’, I don’t get it. I consider it a paradigm for insanity. I don’t want to make any more decisions, it’s hurting my brain and making me cranky. Perhaps this is why I find shopping malls so punitive – just parking is an exercise in over-stimulation. And once you walk inside (choosing one of a hundred different alternatives for egress) there are too many stores, too many people, too many colors…If I go to Nordstrom, am I an ‘individualist’, ‘savvy’, ‘tbd’, ‘petite’? Do I want firm control or moderate control? Anklets or tube socks? Yes.
This is my response going forward. Yes. Do with it what you will, but it seems far better to me than just responding negatively to everything and winding up with nothing and never leaving my house. Yes. I cede all decision-making authority to the salesperson, grocery store cashier and Starbucks’ barista. It’s all fine with me. I just want a cup of coffee, the perfect pair of jeans, a blush that brightens my face so I look naturally healthy and a moisturizer that erases wrinkles. I want a handbag that holds everything and weighs nothing. I want to know which is better – counting calories or protein loading. Are we Lin-ing, Tebow-ing or Winning this week? Yes. Just tell me the lexicon-of-the-moment so I can feel like I know what is going on. It’s fine. I’m overwhelmed with choices and underwhelmed with the results. So whatever you choose, it’s fine with me.
No wonder people don’t feel like working once they arrive at the office. I always thought that the deferral of difficult decisions was a result of a collective abhorrence of provocative dialogue. Wrong – it’s exhaustion. It’s easier to have a cabal of ‘yes’ people around. Ok – it’s exhaustion and ennui, but the latter is a topic for another day. Of course here we are expending all of this energy just to get to wherever we need to be, and if one pauses for a moment it’s clear that none of the choices made along the way really matter. In hindsight, all of these decisions are elevated to a level of importance prompted by the urgency of the moment, not the urgency of the matter. It’s all a bit embarrassing. When I consider the offenses I may have caused by being thoughtless, I’m both rueful and redeemed. I now have an excuse. I had run out of mental energy.
So I guess this means that when we really need to step up to the plate and connect with the ball, it very well may be a swing and a miss. I don’t want to miss the next pitch. From now on it’s ‘yes’ to everything that really isn’t going to matter to me tomorrow. And in response to the more thought-provoking questions? I’ll get back to you on that.
“I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once” — Jennifer Yane
Apparently April is National Anxiety Month – I had no idea. If someone had told me that I had the option of deferring my anxiety, collecting and storing it in one of the many compartments in my head pending one outrageous release from April 1st – 30th, I can’t imagine how much more organized my thought process would be. I really think this deserves more publicity, which is why I’m telling you in February instead of waiting to celebrate in April.
My brain operates much like an active ball in a pinball machine. I know this because my husband has a pinball machine from the 70’s (the kind that make a racket), and he is able to keep a ball in play, hitting multiple targets and causing that damn bell to ring for ridiculously long periods of time. He plays for hours (ok, it feels/sounds like hours). And that is the perfect metaphor for the processes in my head (which could explain the genesis of migraines, but probably not). I tried to follow my thoughts this morning for one minute – one flippin’ minute – and here’s just a portion of the cacophony that plays in my crazy little head…
“I wonder how D is feeling/should email her/Did S get home ok…damn, I’m going to be late for the gym/I don’t want to go to the gym/I have to go to the gym/when do I start looking like I even go to the gym…should stop at Whole Foods and pick up some tilapia/it’s 6AM, who the hell wants to think about dinner…look the sun is rising earlier…Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning (the Beatles)/Good Morning to you, Good Morning to you, You look kinda drowsy, In fact you look lousy, Is this anyway, to start a new day (who taught me that)…Tragic about Whitney Houston/Enough about Whitney Houston…I haven’t called the kids/should I call the kids/does that mean I’m being too intrusive/don’t be stupid, call the kids…I need to get milk too so that it doesn’t snow tomorrow..I never knew there was a place called Chagrin Falls, Ohio..Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, We’re finally on our own, This summer I hear the calling, Four dead in O-h-i-o/Do I have Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ on my iPod?/There’s no way I could exercise to CSN&Y/I look like an idiot on the bike…maybe I should have some more coffee..
You see, this is just a snippet of the free association with musical accompaniment in my head. I operate at all times on two mental tracks – a song is always playing in my head along with a concurrent blend of disconnected thoughts running on another loop. Ambidextrous thinking. My hunch is that I’m not unique in this regard (well, maybe about the music part). And if that assumption is correct, then it’s no wonder that anxiety gets its own month. Depending on how much perseverating is going on, it’s entirely reasonable for anxiety to be given its own year.
The funny thing is, I don’t consider myself an anxious person – rather one who has a mind in perpetual overdrive. This thought alone does make me anxious however, which logically suggests that if I stop thinking I won’t be anxious. Well, that’s impossible, for I don’t take well to terms like ‘airhead’ or phrases like ‘if you get too close to her you can hear the wind’. Not that there’s anything wrong with the wind..makes me think of the Joni Mitchell song ‘Twisted’…Bette Midler did a terrific rendition as well..Ah, here I go again. And my husband wonders why I’m tired. I think I need a nap…go into the arms of Morpheus…dream a little dream of me/Mama Cass, loved her. Never mind – I’m going to the gym.
“There is an enormous number of managers who have retired on the job” – Peter Drucker. Ah Pete, you’re killin’ me. I’m not sure if anyone who falls into this category – or anyone supervising people in this category – really wants to be outed. However, this dirty little secret is becoming more and more apparent. The good news (if you want to call it that) is that there’s no need to worry – I’m not sure anyone’s going to get called on it. It requires too much effort. If you were expecting something more salacious – I’m sorry – but I also wanted to get your attention.
There is an interesting article in The Washington Post today about Daniel Pink, his reincarnation from political speechwriter to successful author and his perspective on the effectiveness of merit pay as an incentive for teachers. Many jurisdictions are adopting this methodology, despite the data that underscores its ineffectiveness. The research indicates that extrinsic rewards are successful when the objectives are simple and routinized. “But for complicated jobs that require judgment and creativity, the evidence shows that it just doesn’t work well”. Clearly those are expectations that the best educators embrace, and we as parents seek them out as the teachers-of-choice for our kids. I am not suggesting that we pay teachers less; I don’t think they’re paid enough. Presuming equitable compensation though, is this an effective motivator? Apparently not.
For the sake of this post, can we extrapolate these findings into the world of professional services, C-suites, management, for-profit organizations? As the need for creativity, energy, sound problem-solving and dynamism in management increases, it seems counter-intuitive to me that our tendency is to focus on process-oriented results, limited provocative dialogue and increased structural layering that renders many positions narrower and more circumspect. If you are involved in a different organization and structure, no need to read further. You are in a marvelously unique situation that is not replicated with enough frequency. Enjoy it and keep thriving.
Let’s get a little risky in our dialogues about what factors will distinguish the adequate-from-the-great companies in the years to come. It’s just insufficient to nod to those who talk about their commitment to their people and reflect it by offering limited collective opportunities, provide superficial exercises that are packaged as training and proudly aver that they’re ‘upcycling’ the strong performers when in fact their challenges and objectives have remained the same year over year (or worse, have been marginalized to the point where their talents gradually fade into the background). What if the tenor of the conversation changed and our responsibility was to engage in and develop substantive strategies with our folks? What if we didn’t take the easy out and refused to create any more versions of ‘Groundhog Day’ because of its expediency in the face of our other responsibilities? What’s stopping us? Have we lost our motivation and/or forgotten one of the most critical components of great leadership? When was the last time you turned around to see if anyone was following you? I imagine it would be a serious bummer to realize that there may be no ‘there there’.
If you’re out in front then this is your primary objective. If the goal is to increase employee satisfaction, realize a greater ROI, build an environment where people are jazzed and engaged, then let’s at least begin the hard work. Turn around.
I was going to write about ethics today – and it was going to be good. Notes in place, paragraphs in some semblance of order, and then I had one of my many blonde moments. I couldn’t stop thinking about these random ‘duh’ moments of mine and remain amazed that I am here in spite of myself. Full disclosure – I’m not a natural blonde, so I use the adjective loosely and more than a little disingenuously.
Anyway, I’ve conducted a completely unscientific study with a myriad of uncontrolled variables to skew the results and I am sure nonetheless that it’s results are correct – my IQ score drops precipitously at completely arbitrary times. Clearly this suggests that I think at my own risk. This gives me some pause, for who the hell knows what is going to come into this head of mine – and worse, what may come out of my mouth if the trap door between my brain and mouth is temporarily disengaged?
This morning I was listening to NPR while driving to the gym, thinking that it was far too cold for anyone to commit to this schedule of torture, when I heard the following from Cokie Roberts “…Mitt Romney has to get over the hump…”. I swear to you, my first thought was ‘How does Mitt Romney even know The Hump? And, is it really good for him to be associated with the Kardashians?’ Pitiful. I am really pitiful.
I should be embarrassed to tell you this, but it happens all the time. Years ago, upon receiving a job offer, I asked whether the salary was ‘negotiable up or down’. Of the course the prospective employer assured me that they could go lower. Sigh…My husband tells that story regularly just to ensure that humility is always within reach and my cheeks can be rosy without blush on.
When I was looking for a pair of shoes to go with a dress I bought, I told the salesperson that ‘I don’t want them to be too matchy-matchy, just be the same color’. You don’t want to know the look I got – though the woman was very patient with me and spoke in a calm, soothing voice.
I talk to the GPS lady. No, I argue with the GPS lady and still get lost.
Don’t even ask me how long I thought a reference to ‘six pack abs’ was a reference to how much beer a person consumed. Parenthetically, I have never had six pack abs, so I think this is forgivable.
I recently taught myself how to knit by watching youtube videos over and over again. I can’t get farther than knitting shawls and blankets because I can’t get what they mean by the ‘wrong side’ of the piece. Which is the wrong side if I haven’t made a mistake?
Perhaps this is why I have such a great relationship with my dogs. Admittedly, I anthropomorphize their behaviors, and believe that I have a rare connection with their thoughts. I get it when Archie relentlessly chases snowflakes and is totally flummoxed when he fails to catch any; I understand when Teddy looks at me with gratitude when I call him inside, because he’s completely spaced on where he is (despite the fact that he’s in the front yard).
The good news is that none of this has gotten any worse over the years. I was this ditzy in my teens. The occasional flashes of intelligence are merely that – brief occurrences in what is usuallya carnival in my head. The bad news of course is clear – it really is unfortunate that Romney has a thing for The Hump.
Well, we’re coming up on Valentine’s Day – and I wonder about the intent of a holiday marketed by Hallmark as an opportunity to speak of love in the most sincere of ways. I wasn’t going to write about it at all, perhaps in defiance if you will, of whatever societal expectations there may be in plucking on heart strings during this time of year.
But karma is a funny thing. With my husband off on a business trip, snow falling outside (albeit with little conviction), I decided that today would be a good day to attack my closet. Okay, perhaps ‘attack’ is the wrong word for I was prepared to be distracted at the slightest opportunity. After a couple of hours I’d already made bags for AmVets and the Lupus Foundation, filled two trash bags full of hangers and assorted junk and was ready to applaud my diligence, when I decided to brave the top shelves where the really good junk travels (’cause that way I can’t see it when I walk in). Dry cleaning tags galore, safety pins…and to my surprise a couple of letters, almost twenty years apart, involving two different relationships and markedly different circumstances. Rather than tell you what I’m giving away to charities, I thought I would share them with you.
“To Didl [my mom’s name was Dee, friends and family called her Didl sometimes] with love – not to be opened until 11AM February 26, 1975
It isn’t very often that I write to you now, but after all, twenty five years is a long time and this anniversary should be treated in a special way. So it is that when I tell you I love you I won’t really have a chance, or maybe the skill, to say everything. I’ll also say that I want and need you – but that too is only a part.
I know that my love for you has grown richer and deeper through the years. And it is a happy love – one that exhilarates and comforts at the same time. You are a rare and special person and I’m glad that my heart belongs to you. To this I can only add my feelings of pleasure when I think of our past love, and my feelings of joy for that of the present. The troubles we’ve had have bound us together inseparably, and if only for this, they were not too bad. And it seems to me our present life together is the happiest and most fulfilled that anyone could have…
We shall have glorious years ahead! The future is sure to be the greatest part of our lives, and I would really like to hasten it if it weren’t for the pleasures of right now. And so to end this little love note – There’s a poetic line that paraphrased, says it all: Didl, come love with me, the best is yet to come! With that eager anticipation I’ll leave you for a few moments – till I see you later on. I love you.
In the late spring of 1995, my dad was diagnosed with Lewy body disease – a form of Parkinson’s that lays scourge to the body and the mind. His behavior had changed, his gate stilted. The diagnosis confirmed that which we all feared. We spoke everyday on the phone and said little.
I’m typing this only ’cause it’s late in the day, and my handwriting becomes increasing less legible as the day progresses. I figured you shouldn’t have to suffer through trying to decipher my hieroglyphics..
So much has gone on lately, so many things that have made me feel like touching base with you once again – like we did when we used to drive into work together, or walk to school, or just hang out. Those same opportunities don’t present themselves with the same frequency (heck, with the boys clamoring around you, not even remotely :-)), so I’m going to take the writing route and see how I do.
I know we love each other tons, and though it goes without saying, it feels good to repeat. I love you with all I have. You are my dearest friend, most exemplary (and only) dad and truly one of the best [people] I have ever known. There is so much I adore about Andy that is unique to him – and I know how lucky I am that I got it right. Perhaps we are the prince and princess you said we were in your toast to us – time will tell. I can say that at times, he reminds me of you. You have been my caring ear when I’ve needed it, professional adviser when my little cog on this economic wheel begins to creak and groan, a receptive audience to some really lousy jokes, a hand on my back when I have veered off in the wrong direction. I have been blessed with the feeling of your unconditional love even when you’ve been ticked at me and I know it every day.
These past few weeks have been profoundly tough on you and mom and I know that whatever lies ahead is resting more than a little uneasily on your mind. Please, please do not resign yourself to any outcome – have hope, have heart, and lean on me if you want to – I will always, always be here. You are a wonderful man, cherished beyond words – use some of that knowledge to try and lighten your worry a little bit. Whatever is going on, the core of you is exactly the same and that is who I see every time I see you, that is who I hear whenever we speak – and that is who you are. That is what matters.
I guess I’ve gone on a little long – [why] does everyone say I don’t share what’s on my mind – look how wordy I’ve gotten! I just want you to know that I love you, our relationship past, present and future. Can’t wait to see you next week. Love, m
Yes, I cried when I read these – I wasn’t prepared. All the letters are in one place in my office (or so I thought). All I could think about is that regardless of the calendar – there are big, big loves that provide the narrative for our lives and remain part of our days. I often read the wonderful blogs posted by besotted parents of hilarious pre-schoolers and can identify with their indescribable feelings of love. I marvel at authors who skillfully pen classics about unrequited love and love that defies time and space. I’m not sure I have that kinda talent – I’m the one who cries when watching Amy Adams in ‘Enchanted’. How does someone like that even begin to write about it? I’m not going to. I’m just going to tell you what I know – whatever may happen to love over the course of a lifetime – between spouses, parents and children, friends, family – if it’s big, the kind of love that tightens your throat and renders the most eloquent practically mute – you should celebrate it all you can, everyday. It really is all there is.
So this woman named Mimi has written a book about her affair with Jack Kennedy. You can imagine my discomfort upon hearing this announcement. I didn’t get the memo that February was Mimi-Confessionals-Month. After all, I just started this blog in January. How exposed do you expect me to be so early in our relationship? Had I realized that February was going to be our month to tell secrets-of-absolutely-no-consequence-to-anyone, I might have waited until March to start this exercise. This is gonna be tough.
Advertising secrets is tricky (it’s also an oxymoron, but I digress) – you have to choose one that is sensational enough for people to consider it titillating, yet innocuous enough that you can melt back into your life within a couple of minutes. How funny it sounded to me when I heard Mimi say on The Today Show, that she was coming forward now, because “secrets eventually come out”. Sure – they come out if you open your mouth, sweetheart. My hunch is that there are more than a few women and men in history who proffered favors upon our Presidents and we will never know who they are or were, and more to the point, who they did.
Anyway, I’m not trying to shirk my responsibility here. I recognize that as a Mimi I too must stand up in concert with my fellow Mimsters and disclose something really big. Here we go world…big inhalation of breath, cue the violins, please.
My name is Mimi and I’m an accessory slut. I have not made a purchase in eleven months. This is my first public admission of my dalliances with handbag, shoe and jewelry counters from Needless Markup to Nordstrom’s, Louis Vuitton to La Bottega. I swear I never meant for this to happen. I suppose there were early signs that I would grab the delicious red suede glove of Satan the Sartorial. When my mom, sister and I would go shopping at Loehmann’s or Klein’s, I gravitated to the sequins and sparkles, while they would be craving a muted tweed. “Ach, Mimi that’s terrible..come schatzi, look at this classic herringbone..” Sigh…
I started small when I received my first bonus. “Get something for yourself”, my husband said. “Reward yourself – you deserve it”. And so the spiral began with a magnificent ring made for me by my sister-in-law. I found that every outfit looked better with the right accessory. In fact, you didn’t need to shop for anything requiring disrobing if you headed straight for the accoutrements. One handbag a year? Ha – one handbag per season, easy. Yes – I confess I own a pair of Laboutins and a pair of Jimmy Choos. Of course, neither pair can be worn for more than ten minutes without crippling me. Talk about karma. Obviously, things were getting out of control. Why would I buy an accessory that would hurt me? It’s one thing to buy something you’re going to enjoy. This was ridiculous. I had more earrings than I had lobes – or piercings. I was working like a dog, at least I should outfit myself like a designer one. Those were desperate times – but I looked good. And where am I today? Still trying to clean out my closet.
Why tell you this now? Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything more exciting in my history for my contribution to February-Tell-All-Month. And I sure as hell wouldn’t tell you anything that could hurt another person in the process. Which is why I’m a little annoyed with my fellow Mimi. I understand the need to unburden one’s soul – that’s why there are best friends, priests, rabbis, swamis, shrinks. I don’t understand the need to sensationalize a secret in the name of doing the right thing. Don’t ask me to believe that the only recourse for a haunted adolescent conscience is to write a book detailing events from a lifetime ago. I’m not judging the events themselves; I’m judging the value of the “sell all”. And now that I have disclosed my secret to the world, I feel justified to assert the following – “Mimi, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”
“Je ne regrette rien”. My mom used to do a decent, highly entertaining imitation of Edith Piaf (assuming that Edith Piaf was ‘un peu’ tone deaf). Mom had the hand gestures, closed eyes, dramatic intonations down (and her Marlene Dietrich was even better). Of course, she didn’t do this too often either because we would laugh or worse, sing along.
Of course the words of the song aren’t completely true. I have regrets – from absolutely frightening glamour-don’ts to opportunities I dismissed to emotional pain that I have inflicted with and without thought. Happily it’s not Yom Kippur, so this is not an apologia and I’m not seeking forgiveness (though I am sorry). I’m just putting it out there – to live with no regrets is arguably not a lot of living at all. I worry about those of a certain age who maintain that there is nothing in their history for which they would love a do-over. Really? Perhaps someone should speak to Tom Brady this morning. No regrets – puleeze…
What distinguishes those who make peace with their history and those who don’t? Why do some people move on with such grace, while others dig in their heels protecting their positions with indignation and contempt for any suggestion that it may be time to move along? Certainly fear and insecurity are paralytic responses and the term ‘comfort zone’ didn’t find its place in our lexicon out of nowhere. I think there are other subtle and intractable contributors to cementing people in their places. The blurred line between that which we know and that which we must put into practice become increasingly difficult to identify as we move closer to a life changing decision.
It has been enlightening to watch partners retire from the firm with a sense of appreciation and pride, looking forward to their next iterations with delight. The decision to retire was theirs to make; no one suggested that it was their time to move over and aside. They’d committed themselves to the firm for years, arguably sacrificed more than they wanted and gained more than they could have initially thought. Rita Coolidge was right – it’s better to leave when still ‘in love’. One partner advised me when I was considering this decision that I would need to approach my retirement with the same diligence and dedication with which I had worked. It was great advice. I’m taking it on energetically and am watching whatever ambivalence I felt fade in the rear view mirror.
This represents a distinction from those who leave with antipathy and frustration. It’s an interesting and unfortunate phenomenon. They can’t let it go. Whether there is too little to look forward to or too much to let go of, they need to hold on – perhaps for that one moment too long. And it is in that moment that their hindsight will include regret. Whether in one’s professional life or personal history, there is regret associated with poor timing, inability to re-calibrate our direction realistically and with humility, when the ‘should haves’ trump the ‘dids’.
The big tease of course rests with the knowledge that if one risks nothing, one regrets nothing. If we look back on our lives and regret all that we didn’t try, didn’t say, didn’t do – how do we reconcile our inability to move? As one who is geographically challenged, the nice part of heading off in the wrong direction is that I can always turn around. And you know? There’s a lot to be said for being lost for a little while. It’s risky, a bit scary and the likelihood is great that you’ll never be able to re-create the same route. But for that moment in time, you’re free to explore without encumbrances or requirements. For that moment in time, you can sing like Piaf.
Thanks to the wisdom of two of my younger friends, I have joined Twitterdom. I’m not exactly sure what this means for either my consulting practice nor my blogs, but I am fascinated by the exchanges that exist in the ether – comradeship among people who have never met, yet are joined by common interest. I never thought you could put passion into 140 characters, yet my friends J and V have proved me wrong. The power of a delicately placed exclamation point! The seductiveness of a thoughtful question tossed out into the world without anticipation of a definitive answer but the responses of fellow ponderers. I have followers already – though I admit that I have no idea why.
The benefit of a circumspect technological footprint is evident when working in a law firm. The concerns of client confidentiality, the toxicity of leaked memos, the intellectual property that requires protection, the danger of corrupting the platform – these are but a few of the drivers that inform the philosophy. I ‘googled’ myself once and found an article I had written, a quote or two taken from one of my presentations, my name in Who’s Who – man, was I relieved. My footprint was smaller than my actual shoe size. There was nothing remarkable; as entries go, I was anonymous. I refuse to check now – between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, this blog – my God, I am standing virtually naked in cyberspace (not the greatest visual I admit). The good news of course is that no one would recognize me if they fell over me.
I have always been a proponent of the face-to-face conversation – I still am. There is nothing like looking into someone’s eyes, assessing the shorthand provided by body language, enjoying the rhythm of the spoken word. And yet, along with the need to continually get my grey roots highlighted, is the need to continue shading and highlighting the different hues with which I approach my life. I will always delight in the familiar – and I am learning to delight in the experience of the new.
On Facebook there is a discreet group who remember me as a camp counselor. Their memories of me singing, hugging a vulnerable child warm my soul. We all want to be held gently in other peoples’ minds. Of course what I note is that the posted pictures reflect that as hideous as I was in 1972, things got better in 1974 (but the kids were all adorable). There is a nexus where childhood, camp and adult friends meet – at the point where I was convinced that Barbra Streisand and I were going to be thisclose, and my concern for others trumped all other priorities (except Streisand). The consistency between then and now is remarkable despite my awareness that I missed the Broadway boat. For all I have done, have I moved no farther than this? My boss used to say that there was no one better at promoting the abilities and talents of others and no one worse at self-promotion than me. The more things change, the more they stay the same in some ways.
If the core of who I am has remained fairly unchanged, so much around me continues to evolve. This is what engages my curiosity, this is how I want to keep increasing the layers of my life. I’m getting on board folks, albeit tentatively. I am learning from those who are so much more advanced than I in the ways in which communication chains are now being forged – whether for a moment or a lifetime. That said, I hope we never abandon our collective ability to write a love letter long hand and give each other time and space to speak without abbreviation. If I reluctantly enter this accelerated arena, I’m nonetheless enthusiastically drawn to its membership. There is a whole lot of energy out there and it’s contagious.
Alas it’s true, I don’t know yet when to use the hash tag or the @ symbol. I make up my own acronyms because I have no clue what half of the commonly used ones stand for. But as Lao Tzu said, the true leader knows when to lead from the front and follow from behind. Clearly I’m too young to lead this charge and happily will follow your lead. Lol.
Careful now…slowly step away from the mirror. It’s deceptive – whatever or whoever is staring back at you, I swear it’s an inaccurate reflection. Consider this part of the karmic joke, but I promise you that none of us see ourselves in the same way as we are seen by others. From the most intuitive among us to the most clueless, objects in the mirror are way more skewed than they appear.
I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m short. I still can’t fathom what the hell people are talking about. Ok, if I stretch with serious effort, I can make it to 5′. Vertically challenged you say? Perhaps. What do I think? I don’t get it. Being endowed with reasonable intellect and a gentle grasp on reality, I’m aware that literally, I’m not exactly tall. I know that with every step most people take, I usually take three. I also am acutely aware that when I travel on a crowded train I’m usually nose-to-armpit with any other person standing (which is why I hate to take the subway). When in conversation with an upright adult, my neck invariably begins to ache after a while. And my kids eclipsed me before they hit puberty. All of these are fairly strong indicators that I don’t measure up to the national average. Got it.
But I don’t see myself as short. Never have. Just like I never thought my voice was deep, until I answered the phone at my parents’ house and the caller said, “Hi Jack” (my dad’s name). Don’t worry, I’m not completely delusional, though it is comforting to know that all is well in my own little world.
Extrapolate this thought farther though – to more meaningful venues and relationships – and the concept takes on new gravity. How many performance reviews have I given in my professional history? How many mentoring conversations, sensitive dialogues? Easily thousands. How many wrenching moments with friends and loved ones? Too many to enumerate. Rarely have I met the individual who grasps the variance between his/her self-perception and that which others see. Before you insist that you are one of the exceptions to this observation, bear with me a little longer.
It’s easy to encourage someone to expand their technical skills, explore better time management practices, increase their production by x%. Ask your spouse to empty the dishwasher, walk the dog – it’s easy. These are tangible, non-threatening observations and/or requests. We can do those. They don’t upend all that we see in ourselves. They don’t disrupt the reflection in our mirror. Suggest to a manager that more emphasis could be placed on fostering collective accountability, pointedly provide someone with example after example of how their behavior alienates their team, craft a conversation wherein you advise someone who is self-sabotaging – and you will be met with defensiveness, denial or disbelief. I remember tearfully telling my husband that I felt like he didn’t ‘see’ me. “How can you say that?!”, he said. “I see you everyday! Tell me what you want me to be looking at!!” As we say in the South, ‘bless his heart’.
We really want to believe that we are there for each other, committed to doing the right thing (whatever that may be), approachable and at core, highly effective at that which makes the world go round – establishing, maintaining, and growing connections. How many of us can really say that such talent is reflected in our work teams? In our personal relationships? When was the last time you asked someone to give you honest feedback about how you appear? It’s a hard question to pose, for you need to ask someone whom you trust to tell you the truth and not provide you with assurances rather than insight. You need to ask someone who’s holding the Windex, so to speak.
At this point you may be asking yourself why one would – or should – bother with such a quest for information. At the risk of redundancy – because as a supervisor your people deserve your best and without a reality check, you may be failing them royally. Because we are continually changing and adapting to our environment, and our partners need to clue us in to what our actions reflect when held up to our intentions. Because we stare in the mirror far more often than we notice what others see when they look at us. Self-absorption is carefully packaged in denial. With such securely wrapped protections, how are we ever going to feel intrinsically good about who we are and how successful we are with the relationships we have – and need? If we can trust each other enough to ask the scary questions, open enough to hear the uncomfortable answers and resilient enough to look at ourselves through someone else’s lens, ultimately our self-image will be much more reflective of the reality. That said, please don’t tell me that I can’t reach the top shelf in the kitchen – I know, I know.